He's stubborn, but he loves his rewards...especially the sensual kind.
Rafe McCall has a reputation as the Closer. He rakes in serious cash to make deals happen. Convincing small restaurant owner Frankie Ritacco to sell his business for property development should have been a piece of cake. So Rafe blows into Wilcox, Iowa on his Harley, convinced the deal is all but done. But he is so, so wrong...
For starters, "Frankie" is a woman. A stunning, stubborn woman who wants to preserve her idyllic small town. The Crossroads Café is a family legacy Frankie plans to leave to her future children, and there is no way she's selling-even to a sexy millionaire who makes her heart race. But her café is in serious trouble, and Rafe must decide if he can close the deal...or if he's found the deal breaker of a lifetime.
Each book in the Men of the Zodiac series is STANDALONE:
The Millionaire's Deception
The Millionaire's Forever
Ten Days in Tuscany
The Millionaire Daddy Project
Revenge Best Served Hot
The Prince's Runaway Lover
Seducing the Colonel's Daughter
One Night with the Billionaire
The Greek Tycoon's Tarnished Bride
Blurring the Lines
Her Sworn Enemy
About the Author
Born and raised in the Chicago area, Wendy worked in the field of social work for twelve years before deciding to concentrate more on her writing. With several books already published and several more in the works, most days you can find her pounding away at her laptop spinning tales and inflicting mayhem on her hero and heroine until they beg for mercy.
She loves to write contemporary romance or romantic suspense all infused with a touch of
humor and, of course, the happily ever after.
Read an Excerpt
The Millionaire's Deception
A Men of the Zodiac Novel
By Wendy Byrne, Robin Haseltine, Alethea Spiridon Hopson
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2015 Wendy Byrne
All rights reserved.
He walked into Crossroads Café looking like sex and sin with a chaser of trouble. Chiseled cheeks covered with stubble, a black T-shirt tucked into worn jeans hung low on his hips, a weathered leather jacket tossed over his shoulder: he looked like he'd ridden something, or someone, hard over the last few days.
Frankie peeked out the window and spotted the Harley parked in front and couldn't decide if she was disappointed or intrigued. A steamy hunk of bad boy was not what she needed in her life right now. But it looked as if she didn't have much choice when he ambled inside and gave her a panty-melting smile.
"What would you like?" She noticed the long dark lashes first, but tried not to look at his eyes because she knew she'd find a mischievous sparkle that said you want some of this, dontcha?
"Some coffee would be great." He gave her another one of those smiles. "And maybe a menu."
Duh. Of course he came into a café to eat. A handsome face and she leaked brain cells. She plunked a menu in front of him and contemplated scooting away to avoid the deadly vortex of maleness.
But before she could make her getaway, he touched her hand. "Unless you want to give me a recommendation."
"Well ..." Again with the soulful looks. Geez, would the guy knock it off. "I hope you like Italian, because that's our specialty. Anything from frittata to lasagna to sausage and peppers."
"Italian, huh? I wouldn't have figured that with the name Crossroads Café." When he shrugged, his shoulders moved in a way that every muscle was visible. Yowza, she needed a fan to keep the pheromones from exploding around her. He examined the menu for a few seconds. "A mushroom frittata with home style potatoes."
"Unless you want to sit down and chat." He gave her one of those heated looks that squirmed through her until she wanted to beg for mercy.
And she almost slid into the seat next to him. Bad. Bad. Ms. Francesca. Not getting laid in a while was clearly affecting her rational mind.
It didn't hurt that he was the only guy under sixty who'd walked through that door in a long time. The town of Wilcox needed a serious gentrification if it hoped to fight the takeover from those slimeballs at Probst. Which reminded her, she had a stack full of protest signs waiting to be assembled in the back. Volunteers were coming in around four, and it was already a little after three.
But it appeared Mr. I-Dare-You-to-Resist-Me had other ideas to occupy her time until then. Of course, that might very well be her imagination on overdrive.
She hovered outside the booth, ready to do the smart thing and bolt. Instead, she decided to play with fire and engage him in conversation. "What brings you to Wilcox?" Could she get any lamer? Apparently not, since it's what her shriveled-up brain came up with for conversation. At least she didn't slide into the booth next to him and ask him his astrological sign.
"Road trip. Thought I'd take the bike out and see a bit of the country."
Dead silence filled the air.
Say something, you dolt. She was Italian. Born in Italy, in fact. Engaging in conversation was something she excelled at. She opted to take the intelligent way out of the situation. "I'll get going on that frittata." Phew. At least she had an excuse to hole up in the kitchen and collect her thoughts.
Get a hold of yourself. Men like him weren't attracted to women like her.
Francesca Antonia Ritacco was the lanky, frizzy-haired, braces-wearing geek who always smelled like spaghetti sauce. In fact, rather than call her Frankie like her parents did, the boys in high school called her Titi to remind her of what she didn't have. Luckily in the intervening ten-plus years, she'd lost the braces, learned how to tame her thick, curly hair, filled out—more in some areas than others. She glanced at her chest and sighed. Life goes on, as her mother would say.
She cracked open a few eggs, whipped them to the right consistency, threw in some spices and tossed them into the pan with the simmering mushrooms and onion, and topped it off with some Parmesan cheese. Then she let the custard start to gel before inserting the cast-iron pan into the oven to brown the top. She threw some cut-up potatoes into a pan and allowed them to cook to crispiness before she made her way back to his booth, steaming plate in hand.
His dark hair fell slightly onto his forehead while he texted as she delivered his order. Being a server since she was old enough to carry a plate, she'd learned to be unobtrusive, and slid the food on the table before turning to make her escape.
When he grasped her arm and looked at her with his sultry brown eyes, she nearly jumped out of her skin. Being this skittish wasn't her normal reaction, but today had been different from the minute he'd walked in the door.
"Is it always this empty here?"
She glanced at the clock. "I'm not expecting anyone until about three thirty or so."
He held out his hand. "Rafe."
Reluctantly, she grasped his hand. She didn't get to finish her side of the introduction before Dustin walked inside.
"Hey, Titi. How's it shaking?"
"Your name is Titi?" Rafe looked between her and Dustin and raised his eyebrows.
A shiver wormed its way through her as his gaze zeroed in on her breasts. "Nickname from long ago." She turned her frustration toward Dustin. "What do you want?"
"Is that any way to greet a former fiancé?" He gave her a smooch on the cheek and winked. "Besides, I came to help."
She rolled her eyes. Now she was really in trouble. Dustin loved to butt his nose into her business. And with a strange man paying attention to her it was like an open invitation. "Back room. Everything is set up by the desk."
"Yes, ma'am." He saluted and strolled toward the kitchen.
"I assume the engagement ended badly?" Rafe's eyebrow quirked and an easy grin spread across his face.
This guy was trouble with a capital T. She could feel it, see it, smell it as it wafted around him like the lure of fresh bread coming out of the oven—eating one slice turned into six, and before she knew it she'd be three pounds heavier, but wouldn't regret one minute of the indulgence.
She frowned. "You might say that. We were incompatible. He thought getting married meant he could still keep a girlfriend or two on the side." The whole Dustin fiasco had been a blessing in disguise. "I wasn't exactly seeing it that way."
He laughed. "Looks to me like you dodged a bullet."
"My mama didn't think so. She thought every nice Italian girl should be married before she was thirty, and preferably a virgin." She couldn't help but chuckle. "She was hoping for some grandbabies before she died."
"Your mom's dead?" His gaze narrowed as he scrutinized her, a hint of pity in his eyes.
"She and my dad died in a car accident over two years ago." She gulped down the perpetual lump in her throat as she walked away.
Why was she telling her life story to a perfect stranger? Would someone please enlighten her, or hit her over the head with something, or perhaps superglue her lips? Anything to help this incessant rambling brought about by one sizzling-hot male.
* * *
Rafe examined the interior of the small café. Not what he expected at all. The terracotta floor and the fresco painting on the walls, paired with the red plaid curtains on the windows, brought the feeling of Italy to small-town Iowa. From the dining area, the kitchen area was visible through a well-designed archway. Despite the drab exterior, the interior was warm and welcoming.
From what he could gather after a superficial observation, it appeared to be the local hangout. According to his intel, the average resident was close to retirement age, which worked well for the job he had to do for Probst. People of that age wanted to move south and live the good life. Most of the younger folks in town left years ago when the plant closed its doors. Fortunately for him, that fit into his moneymaking scheme perfectly. Starting with the Frankie Ritacco guy who owned this place. From what he'd learned, if Frankie caved, the rest of the town would fall right in line.
They didn't call Rafe "the Closer" for nothing. He got paid for getting the job done, and gobbling up this town and its picturesque setting along the Mississippi was part of the plan. A cool six million was his take for getting Frankie to accept the offer.
Which suited him perfectly. It added to the war chest he'd accumulated over the ten years since he'd graduated from college.
Not knowing where his next meal was coming from, or when, while growing up had been the great motivator behind his success, as well as that of his twin brother's. Being looked on with either pity or disdain had led him to take charge as an adult. Now that he could control his own destiny, he intended it to be exactly how he wanted it to be. Although he and his brother were estranged, he'd kept tabs on Luke's professional progress. After completing a stint in the Special Forces, Luke had made his mark in the forensic accounting field.
With a healthy bank account, a New York loft, and all the finer things in life, Rafe had set his sights on accumulating as much money as he could. As far as he was concerned, the more money, the better. He needed a cushion so large that it ensured that no matter what happened, he wouldn't have to worry about money ever again.
And closing high-level deals like this was what he was meant to do. He couldn't imagine doing anything else.
The guys Probst sent before him didn't know how to read this situation. They waltzed into town in their Brooks Brothers suits and ties, flashing money and hoping to seal the deal. Instead, they got run out of town by a guy named Frankie wielding a shotgun.
He, on the other hand, knew the secret to getting things to fall his way. In order to discover the Achilles' heel that would force the town to break his way, he had to gather his own intel. The only way to do that was to observe them in their natural environment like a hunter stalking prey.
And the smoking-hot waitress by the nickname of Titi, with legs that seemed to go on forever, wasn't a bad way to start his observation. He wished she weren't wearing a pair of Levi's so he could see those legs in the flesh. And man, that long dark curly hair of hers practically made him salivate.
"How was the frittata?" the woman in question asked while she looked at him with the most amazing brown eyes. Between her eyes and the incredible mass of hair, he wasn't sure which was sexier.
He forced himself not to focus on the fact that Titi filled out her red T-shirt withcrossroads cafe emblazoned across her chest quite nicely. "If that Parmesan cheese you put in there were any fresher, I'd swear I was in Italy." He glanced around as another group marched through the door. "I'd ask you to sit down but it looks like you have your hands full."
"Carl will be in shortly to take over kitchen duties." She smiled and her eyes seemed to twinkle. "He and my pops used to compete as to who was the best cook."
"My pops, of course. No one could make lasagna like he did."
He felt a little bad when she got misty-eyed and drew in a shaky breath. She clearly loved her parents and, based on the tremble of her lips, missed them as well. Still, he had to wonder why she'd stuck around this rinky-dink town after they died. Getting back with her ex-fiancé didn't seem to be high on her list of priorities. So what was the draw for her?
Clearly, she'd worked at this place for a while. And since Frankie was the owner, Rafe couldn't help but wonder how much influence Titi might have over the guy. He also had to consider the possibility she was involved with Frankie. That might explain why she'd stick around a town that was destined for change.
Why did the idea that she and Frankie were intimately involved make Rafe grind his teeth? He dismissed the errant thought and concentrated on the task at hand — culling for information.
"How long have you worked here?" Getting some insight could only make this whole thing a slam dunk in quick order. And it would be a nice win-win for him if he got to spend a little quality time with Titi. Maybe invite her back to his hotel room and let nature take its course.
"I think forever." She ran her fingers through her hair and settled into the bench seat across from him.
"Ever think about doing anything else?" Keep her talking—that was his agenda right now. The more intel he got, the better and quicker he could get the hell out of this Podunk town and head back to his comfort zone in Manhattan. He might very well go insane if he had to stay here more than twenty-four hours.
"Yes and no. Went to college, but working here is in my blood."
She bit off a sexy laugh. "Born there. Francesca Antonia Ritacco. Frankie for short."
Oh holy hell ... wait a damn minute. The implausibility of it hung in the air. This was the gun-toting monster who'd fended off and terrorized anyone Probst sent her way? He couldn't get that lucky, could he? Hells yeah, of course he could. He barely resisted doing a fist-pump to celebrate his good fortune. Schmoozing her into submission wouldn't be a hardship at all.
Thinking about X-rated activities with the person he needed to persuade would only help his cause. Seduction would be the way to play this. She was attracted to him. He was attracted to her. What would be the harm of letting his libido take charge and get the deal done?
His smile broke free. This would work in record time. Rafe was the Closer, after all. And he was even better at this particular game.
Could this job get any easier? Sweet-talking beautiful women, until they pretty much did anything he wanted them to, was another one of his specialties. Can you say, piece. Of. Cake?CHAPTER 2
"Since I'll be hanging around the area for a day or two, what's there to do?" Rafe asked with his panty-melting smile firmly in space.
Frankie barely resisted the urge to fan herself.
Was he flirting with her? Was he going to ask her out? "You do know you're in Iowa, right? If you're into gambling, there's a—"
He stopped her with a hand to her lips. Yowza. There was something about a man's slightly calloused fingers on sensitive parts of the body that was a huge turn-on. Then again, maybe she was thinking about sensitive areas other than her lips.
"I'm not into gambling. Besides, you can pretty much do that anywhere across the country. I was thinking of something unique to do."
His eyes were mesmerizing her. They had to be. Maybe he was some kind of hypnotist, because try as she might, she didn't want to stop looking at him.
"If you like outdoor stuff, which it seems like you might ...?" She flapped her hands in the air like some kind of crazy Italian woman. Yes, the legend was true. Italians spoke with their hands. Tie her hands behind her back, and she probably couldn't utter a sound. Bad to think about tying when in the presence of his hotness. "I mean ... you look like ..." Holy crapola she'd dug herself into a hole. She didn't want him to think she found him attractive. Did she? "Rock climbing." The words spurted out. Finally. For some odd reason it gave her a sense of victory.
"I've done some rock climbing. Sounds like fun."
"There's a place near Monticello called Indian Bluffs. It's not far from here. It's a little more private than many of the other places around." Finally she'd reestablished her talking rhythm.
"Do you want to come with me?" Was it her imagination or did his voice become more gravelly?
She opened and closed her mouth several times before the words tumbled out. "I have a restaurant to run."
"You give yourself time off, don't you?"
She drew in a breath. If she wanted to stave off the takeover of Wilcox, she needed to be strategic, and she needed to be at the top of her game. Getting drawn into a fling with a knock-your-socks-off handsome stranger wasn't going to help in that regard. "Not possible." The words that spurted from her mouth were not the ones circling her brain. That was so not a good idea. But a gal needed a little fun while the big bad Probst wolf was knocking at her door, didn't she?
Excerpted from The Millionaire's Deception by Wendy Byrne, Robin Haseltine, Alethea Spiridon Hopson. Copyright © 2015 Wendy Byrne. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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