A hard-headed, hard-bodied businessman falls for the gorgeous restaurateur he's been hired to ruin in USA Today bestselling author Lisa Plumley's unforgettable new novel.
Tantalizing. Hot. And mouthwateringly delicious. The pizzas at the Portland restaurant chain Shane Maresca is secretly priming for takeover are all that and more. Unfortunately for him, so is Gabriella Grimani, the business owner's daughter. He had no idea who she was when they had their first X-rated one night stand. Now she's all he can think about. For someone whose career hinges on ruthlessness, that's a slice of disaster.
Tough, take-charge Gabby intends to put her family's restaurants back in the black, and that means no distractions. But somehow Shane keeps getting to the part of her that no one else sees--enticing her to lean on him. To trust him. That could be the biggest mistake Gabby and her business ever made. . .or a recipe for something truly spectacular. . .
Raves for Lisa Plumley's Together for Christmas
"Laugh-out-loud. . . This sweet romance tugs at the heartstrings from the beginning and doesn't let up until the final page."--Publishers Weekly
"Thoroughly charming. . . Lisa Plumley knows how to craft a terrific, heart-warming story with deliciously happy endings."--The Romance Reviews
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Read an Excerpt
By Lisa Plumpley
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2013 Lisa Plumley
All rights reserved.
Portland, Oregon April 20th: Prep Phase
This wasn't going to be an ordinary assignment.
It was going to be a test of everything Shane Maresca believed in.
He realized that fact too late to do anything about it, of course. Quitting wasn't an option. By the time he noticed that something ... weird was going on with him, he was already committed—hip deep in research, reconnaissance, and placement.
In the case of Portland, research meant cracking open the dossier left him by the previous "fixer" who'd taken on this job—and then failed to complete it. Reconnaissance meant scoping out the city's quaint blocks, lush green trees, and idiosyncratic residents. Placement meant situating himself in a high-rise luxury apartment downtown where he'd be comfortable enough—and secluded enough—to do what needed to be done for his latest freelance consulting job.
He had to bring this in cleanly. There was a lot at stake.
That's why, when the dreadlocked and tattooed barista at the coffeehouse nodded at Shane, motioned him away from the shop's busy line, and handed Shane his triple ristretto espresso along with a friendly "On the house today. Enjoy!" Shane could only boggle at him. Yes, he'd ordered the same thing the past three mornings in a row. No, he wasn't exactly undercover here in Bridgetown. Not yet, anyway. Still, the barista had prepped and pulled his coffee order before Shane had even given it.
"You're practically a regular." The barista shrugged his burly shoulders. "We take care of our regulars."
Shane raised his cup in acknowledgment. "Thanks."
Then the weird thing happened. Shane smiled at the barista. It wasn't his usual professional mischief-maker's smile, either. It was a genuine smile. It was a smile that felt connected. Heartfelt. Spontaneous, even. For someone like Shane, who'd fought his way to success in true Dickensian rags-to-riches fashion, that was the freakiest thing of all.
A spontaneous smile? While on the job, Shane didn't do things that were spontaneous. That's why he always succeeded.
Well, that ... and his inborn talent for causing trouble.
Shane didn't do spontaneity. Especially not when it came to revealing his feelings. That didn't pay. As much as Shane liked risks, he wasn't stupid enough to risk being vulnerable—and that's exactly what grinning like a loon made him. Vulnerable.
Realizing what he'd done left him seriously spooked.
Generally, Shane regarded the world with suspicion. It paid him right back with hard times, setbacks, and punches to the face. He was used to that. These days, he usually got in a few good kicks himself. But ever since he'd set up shop in Portland ...
Well, ever since he'd arrived, things had been weird. That was the only way to describe what had been happening to him.
Like a cartoon hero in a freaking Disney film, Shane found himself strolling through sun-splashed, American elm-lined park blocks with a whistle on his lips. He found himself loving the sound of chirping birds in the morning, savoring the tantalizing smells coming from Portland's signature food carts, and embracing every lungful of clean, refreshing springtime air. He marveled at the rosebushes blooming beside the freeways (which thrived despite the traffic thrumming past), and he seriously contemplated shucking his usual suit and wingtips for a pair of Timberlands so he could explore the trails near Multnomah.
That's why Shane's encounter with the barista was the last straw. He was not planning to become a regular--especially not in a place where he'd come to wreak havoc (professionally speaking) on another local business. He meant to remain separate. Impartial. As flinty as the goddamned snowcapped mountain peaks outside, which were visible for miles on a clear day like today.
Striving for that stone-cold ideal, Shane scowled. Ordinarily, six-foot-six bouncers quailed in the face of his scowls. They were among Shane's most useful expressions.
In response, the barista gave a genial nod. "Catch you on the flipside." Then he waved before going back to his machine.
Hell. Not only had Shane been made ... he'd been welcomed.
"I won't be back." Damn it. He'd have to find another coffeehouse. But before he did ...
Shane inhaled deeply of the place's earthy, roasted Yemen Bani Mattari and Sulawesi Toraja coffees, cast a hasty glance at the hipster types waiting in line, then strode to the front. He slid a hundred-dollar bill toward the counter worker. Shane angled his head at the people waiting. "I've got theirs."
The coffeehouse employee stared at his money. Shane half expected the counter worker to accuse him of passing a counterfeit bill. Or shoplifting a pastry. Or something befitting the juvenile delinquent he'd once been.
Instead ... "You're offering to buy everyone's coffee?"
Rapidly, Shane calculated the potential incoming orders. He nodded. "Yeah." He set down his coffee, then went back to his wallet for another bill. "Plus tips. Have a nice day."
The inevitable buzz kicked up as he strode toward the doors, triple ristretto in hand. Murmurs whooshed through the line. Customers nudged one another. A flannel-wearing stoner type saluted him. Two women wearing workout gear smiled at him.
Shane couldn't stop. If he did, he had the unwelcome sensation that he'd want to take up permanent residence in this rain-spackled Shangri-la. After that, who knew? He might start getting to know his neighbors, trimming his own rosebushes, and being recognized by every barista. He couldn't let that happen.
He was supposed to be getting to know his target, preparing for a corporate takedown that would benefit Shane first and the international company his wealthy father sat on the board of most of all. If Shane was lucky, this job would squash the pervasive sense of grimness he felt. It would make him feel something besides a fierce resolve to win and an urge to prove he hadn't just "gotten lucky," the way everyone told him he had.
If he could wipe out that phrase from his own personal lexicon, Shane figured he might have a shot at happiness. Or at least at not feeling as if he were under attack all the time.
You got lucky. No. What'd he'd gotten was tricked. Tricked into believing things could be different for him ... when he should have known that with him as a constant, things would remain screwed up—no matter how many privileges and wins came his way.
This time, Shane swore as he left the coffeehouse and reached the busy sidewalk outside, things would be different.
This time, he would get in, get out, and get the job done with even more detachment than usual. This time, he would triumph, as ruthlessly as necessary ... just as soon as he scrounged up some money for Aussie Bill, the homeless guy who hung out between the coffeehouse, Pioneer Square, and Shane's apartment.
As Shane nodded hello to Aussie Bill and then dropped some money in his battered trumpet case, he suddenly realized what he was doing. A fresh wave of disgruntlement swept over him.
He knew the homeless guy's name. Hell. What had happened to the kick-ass "fixer" everyone in his business respected and feared? What had happened to the guy who could (and did) solve business problems, maximize opportunities, and take down competitors? Someone had to drive down prices during takeovers.
Until now, that someone had been Shane. He'd turned his flair for being sent to detention at a record number of schools into a knack for surreptitiously "fixing" things behind the scenes for the benefit of CEOs and corporate raiders. At thirty-six, he was at the top of his game. He couldn't turn soppy now.
Aussie Bill gave him a grimy grin. "See ya tomorrow?"
Unexpectedly, that same feeling of being welcomed swept over Shane. In Portland, he actually felt wanted—needed for more than his ability to derail a potential business partnership or wrangle a letter of resignation from an unpopular executive.
"No. I'm starting a new job tomorrow." Shane held up his hand toward Aussie Bill in a farewell. "Stay out of trouble."
Bill gave a raspy chuckle. "You too, mate!"
"Trouble's my middle name." Shane couldn't see any reason not to be honest. "I don't know who I'd be without it."
"Only one way to find out, mate. Quit it, that's how."
Quit? Shane could hardly fathom the idea. But as he headed away, making himself disappear among the onrush of pedestrian commuters at the TriMet stop, he suddenly wished he could. He wished he could quit causing trouble and just be for a while.
But since that wasn't going to happen ...
Well, he'd just have to make the best of things. If he played his cards right, Shane told himself as he approached his home-for-the-moment, the mayhem he created might even be fun.
After all, everyone was good at something. Shane Maresca was good at orchestrating chaos. He'd made his reputation on it.
There were hours to go before the 5:00 opening time at her family's pizzeria, Campania, and already Gabriella Grimani felt overwhelmed. Which was disappointing for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that she prided herself on getting things done. She always had. Originator of her middle school math squad, captain of her high school soccer team, and sought-after study-group leader during her years earning an MBA at Portland State University and a bonus degree from culinary school, Gabriella had always found a way to guide her chosen teams to victory. Her parents joked that she'd been born on her own darn schedule and had started bossing around the hospital nurses straightaway. That story wasn't far from the truth.
Whether wearing diapers or kitchen clogs, Gabriella knew what she wanted. She knew exactly how she wanted it. She didn't mind speaking her mind to let people know about that.
Not that doing so had helped her much lately.
In fact, it had landed her in a whole heap of trouble.
Maybe that's why, while Gabriella was still running around doing her usual morning routine, she started imagining things.
It started off innocently enough. She'd gotten up (relatively) early for a head-clearing run. She'd refueled afterward with Stumptown coffee and marionberry pancakes at the café down the street from her house. Then she'd bicycled to the Wednesday farmers market to see what had been newly harvested.
As a restaurateur, it was important for her to network with her local farmers, suppliers, and vendors. It was good for her to know what they had on offer at any given time. As a pizzaiolo who made traditional "Nonna-style" pizzas, Gabriella didn't have much need for produce beyond tomatoes, basil, button mushrooms, and garlic. Truffles, shitakes, and fiddlehead ferns were out. But as she wandered through the market that morning, examining the green spring lettuces, newly dug leeks, berries, and freshly baked baguettes, Gabriella couldn't help wishing she could expand Campania's menu. Just a little. Just enough to remain competitive in the Pacific Northwest's up-and-coming food scene.
Predictably, that traitorous thought made the hallucinations kick in. Because one minute, Gabriella was dreaming up mushroom bruschetta with arugula and a drizzle of hazelnut oil ... and the next she was seeing her father, the longtime head of her family's chain of local pizzerias, ducking behind the piled-up boxes at a central Oregon dairy's cheese stall. What the ...?
Her father should have been at home. Resting. Those were his doctor's strict orders. After the ordeal Robert Grimani had been through while trying to keep their family's pizzerias afloat during a takeover bid, he'd begun having chest pains. His doctor had prescribed medication for his elevated blood pressure, then had ordered him to "cut the stress." Knowing how impossible doing that would be for her husband of thirty-five years, Donna Grimani had phoned Gabriella for help. Immediately after getting that call, Gabriella had ended her self-imposed exile in the coastal Oregon town of Astoria and come home to Portland.
Home to run Campania ... and to see her mother now scurrying away behind a five-foot-tall stack of boxed farm-fresh eggs?
Frowning in confusion, Gabriella followed her. She had to be imagining this. She knew her parents were probably both at home, in the same house Gabriella had grown up in, reading actual paper newspapers and watching television. Maybe, if they were feeling really frisky, they were puttering in their garden.
They definitely had no reason to be casing the farmers market. Or to be hiding from Gabriella if they saw her. Sure, things had been ... strained among the three of them, ever since Gabriella's legendary showdown with her father. But they were all adults. Gabriella had come home to do the right thing. In time, all would be forgiven. Right? Wasn't that how things went?
As Gabriella rounded the next corner, she caught a mushroom purveyor giving her a perplexed look ... and realized she was actually skulking around trying to catch her parents, as if they were hiding from her in a colossal (and imaginary) game of hide-and-seek. She straightened. This was ridiculous.
It didn't take a Freudian psychologist to know what was really going on here.
She was worried her parents wouldn't forgive her. End of story.
Too bad that insight didn't make Gabriella feel any better. Neither did knowing that she hadn't even been aware of the takeover attempt her father had been fighting until it was too late. No one had told her. After the final face-off that had caused their estrangement, Gabriella had deliberately tuned out from the pizza world. Unfortunately, her father had apparently done the same thing. Distracted and distressed—but too stubborn to hammer out a truce with Gabriella—he hadn't overseen all his pizzerias quite as diligently as he ordinarily would have. As far as Gabriella could tell, that misstep had led directly to their family's business becoming vulnerable to a buyout bid.
In a sense, the whole horrible snowball of events was all Gabriella's fault. At least it felt that way to her.
But still ... hallucinations? It was either that, or her parents really had just given her the slip. Inexplicably. They definitely weren't anywhere in sight anymore.
Ordinarily, Gabriella was much tougher than this. The pressure must be getting to her. If she didn't let off some steam soon ...
"Hey, Gabriella!" The mushroom guy held up his hand. "How's it going? Are you guys planning to reopen Reggio soon? It's the pizzeria closest to my house. I hate seeing it shuttered."
"Me, too." The Grimanis owned six pizzerias throughout Portland. All were named after cities the Grimani family had once lived in in Italy. Reggio, Abruzzo, Tropea, Salerno, and Benevento were temporarily closed, thanks to the expenses her father had incurred while trying to fight the takeover. Now, only Campania remained to carry on the family tradition. "If everything goes according to plan, I'll have the other pizzerias up and running soon." She eyed the mushroom vendor, belatedly recognizing him. "If you have any leads on kitchen staff looking for work, send them my way. Staffing's been a beast."
"Yeah. I heard you've been having problems since you came back." Idly, he rearranged a basket of chanterelles. "It's not that surprising. Nobody wants to work for a bad house."
"Campania isn't bad!" Gabriella was shocked he would say so. Especially to her. "None of our pizzerias are--"
"Ever going to reopen?"
"—bad." Surprised by his hostility, Gabriella regrouped. Obviously, she'd missed something here. He'd sounded friendly enough at first, but she'd been distracted. Evidently, she'd misinterpreted him. "As soon as I get my feet under me—"
"You'll run away to Astoria again?"
His bitter tone made Gabriella frown. Her split from the Grimanis' pizzeria business was pretty well known around town. Especially in foodservice circles. But that didn't mean she deserved to be attacked this way. She had an urge to hit back—say, with a snarky comment about his foraged mushrooms—but decided not to. Being defensive and combative wouldn't help. She needed to be smart. So she squared her shoulders and faced this situation the same way she did everything else in life.
"Exactly what is your problem with me?"
Excerpted from So Irresistible by Lisa Plumpley. Copyright © 2013 Lisa Plumley. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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What People are Saying About This
"Lisa Plumley creates charming characters. Her books are a delight!" --Rachel Gibson