Home > Torn (Billionaire Bachelors Club #2)(6)

Torn (Billionaire Bachelors Club #2)(6)
Author: Monica Murphy

“You’re right.” His vivid green eyes dim. “I’m an arrogant ass and I’m sorry. Forgive me again by coming with me on this date? I’ll make it up to you.”

I’ll make it up to you.

There is a hint of sexual promise in his request, in that one specific sentence. I’m drawn to all that heady temptation, despite wanting to also knee him in the balls and tell him to go to hell. God, I hate rich dudes who think everyone owes them something. They are the absolute worst because usually, in the end, they always get what they want.

I’ve dealt with plenty in my lifetime. My family is both populated with and surrounded by wealthy, powerful men. We move in the same social circles. I went to high school and college with plenty of those who were going on to be successful, wealthy men—and women too, of course.

Except for me. My family is still drowning in a sea of debt, and it’s only a matter of time until they decide to close the bakery once and for all. I think they believe it’s a fun little project for my Aunt Gina and me. Like we’re pretending to be business owners.

None of them understand how much this bakery means to Gina. Or me. I’ve only been running it for a year, but I’ve worked here off and on since I was a teen. It became my after-school job, my summer job . . . I met my first boyfriend here. Had my first kiss out in front of it, too.

Autumn Harvest has tremendous sentimental value to me. I also think it has tremendous potential, if only I could find the extra funds to make it really shine. Not that anyone cares.

“What do you say?” Gage’s delicious rumble of a voice draws me from my thoughts and I blink up at him, still caught in hazy longing for the past. I make bad decisions when I’m feeling like this. All based on what my heart says versus my head.

My heart is almost always, always wrong.

“Say about what?” I ask, wanting to hear him ask me out on the dinner date again. I need to stall. I need to rationalize with my overexcited thoughts how going out with this guy is a huge mistake. My change of heart in regard to Gage is confusing even to me.

He smiles, the sight of it sending a flurry of butterflies fluttering in my stomach, and I stand up straighter. Determined not to act like a silly, simpering female.

I want to though. Just looking at him, listening to him talk, sets me on edge. In a deliciously scary way.

For whatever strange reason, I’m fairly positive Gage Emerson has set his sights on me. And I think I kind of like it.

His smile grows. God, he’s pretty. “Go out with me. Come on, Marina. It’ll just be a simple dinner, and in return you can have thirty minutes of Archer’s time, or however long you need, to tell him all about this mysterious proposition.”

“And what do you get out of this arrangement?” I ask warily.

“Why, the pleasure of your company of course,” he says smoothly. Effortlessly.

Men who speak too effortlessly tend to scare the crap out of me. Usually means they’re hiding something. My one long-term boyfriend in college was like this. Very charming . . . and eventually, he became toxic to my mental state. He was a liar and a manipulator. I don’t need another one like that in my life.

So what is it about this guy that I’m drawn to? Because I am. I can’t deny it.

I study Gage for a long moment, letting the anticipation roll through my veins. Saying yes would be tremendously easy. So would saying no. In fact, refusing him would be even easier. Then I’d never have to worry about Archer Bancroft or the good idea I want to bring to him. I wouldn’t have to put on a phony show for Gage while going out on this date with him. Being something that I’m not; I do that constantly.

“Take a chance,” Gage murmurs, his decadent tone reaching right into me, shaking me up. “Say yes, Marina. You know you want to.”

“Hmm. Funny thing is I don’t want to.” I try to sound irritated and instead it comes out breathless. What is wrong with me?

His expression goes from confident to crestfallen, like I flipped a switch. “You hate me that much?”

“Hate is a pretty strong word, so let’s just say I’m not your biggest fan.”

“So you won’t go to dinner with me.”

I slowly shake my head, disappointment filling me, and I push it aside. I’m doing the right thing. I need to remember that. “You’ll probably try to pull some funny business, and I’m a little behind on my self-defense classes.”

“Funny business?” His lips twitch, despite his sadness just a second ago over my rejection. “You sound like your aunt.”

“You’re right. I do,” I agree. “Going out to dinner with you would be a mistake, Gage. We both know this.”

“We do?” He sounds surprised.

“I do. And I can’t afford to make any more mistakes in my life. I’d rather date no one than fall for some gorgeous guy who’s out to manipulate me. Right?” I offer him a tentative smile, but he doesn’t return it. I can’t blame him. I just called him a mistake. We’ve insulted each other, lobbing them back and forth like a tennis ball for the last ten or fifteen minutes. Imagine an entire evening just the two of us? Tearing each other apart with our words. Maybe tearing off each other’s clothes with anxious, eager hands . . .

Swallowing hard, I usher him out of the bakery with a few choice words and a firm push on his shoulders so he goes through the door. I slam it shut behind him, turning the lock with a forcible jerk. The loud click rings out—I know he heard it—and he glances over his shoulder at me one last lingering moment before he heads off into the sunset. As in for real, he walks toward the sunset, no doubt in search of his car.

Walking back toward the kitchen, my entire body begins to relax. I’m thankful to be out of Gage’s presence. It’s too overwhelming, just flat-out too much. He makes me think things, say things I don’t normally ever think or say. I’m a nice person. I don’t reject people or call them names. And I called him a disgusting pig. Talk about harsh.

What the heck is wrong with me?

Gage Emerson is what’s wrong with you.

I barely hold back the snort of laughter. God, ain’t that the truth?

Chapter Four

Marina

MY EYES BURN as I flip through the stack of bills yet again, pulling one out in particular that I’ve been avoiding for a while. I order flowers from a local florist—not the one Gage used because I so can’t afford that place. Gina and I use them to decorate around the café where we can, knowing they add a nice touch. The customers appreciate them, as do Gina and I.

The flower order has gotten smaller and smaller over the last year. I’d started choosing the cheapest flowers they had, too. And now it’s finally time for me to bite the bullet and cancel the order outright. I hate having to do it but we can’t afford the expense. I’m trying my best to cut corners where I can.

And this is the next corner being cut.

Deciding I can piece out the bouquet Gage sent me and use the large variety of flowers for decoration over the next week or two if I stretch it right, I slap the bill on my newly made “call tomorrow” pile and sigh wearily.

Sometimes it feels like we’re spinning our wheels. I’m doing everything I can to make this bakery work, but competition is stiff. There are popular bakeries and cafés all over the valley. The locals and the tourists love to get their eat and drink on so we’re all battling against each other, trying to fulfill that need.

No one—and I mean no one—can make a cake like my aunt, but not enough people are discovering them or discovering our bakery. I got her out of the ruthless catering circle despite the loss of decent revenue. I had to do it. Baking and decorating elaborate wedding cakes every weekend was both exhausting her and killing her creativity. She does her best work when she can let the wild ideas fly.

Lately she’s made some true masterpieces. They taste so delicious, and look so beautiful, it’s almost a crime to carve into them. I have about a bazillion photos on my phone of her cakes, like I’m a proud mama dying to show them off. I need to create some sort of brochure featuring them all.

Another sigh leaves me, and I’m feeling stuck. We don’t have enough money in our current advertising budget to do much beyond the chalk easel I set outside the front door every morning announcing our daily specials. We do a lunch special featuring sandwiches with our artisan breads and homemade soup that Gina also makes, so we get a terrific lunch crowd. Our morning crowd is okay too, but we’re no Starbucks.

Grr. Just thinking of giant conglomerates makes me frustrated. Small towns gripe all the time about Walmart coming in and destroying local businesses. I’m starting to believe them one hundred percent. Walmart, Starbucks, they’re all soul-sucking destroyers of the local business economy.

Yet I frequent our local Walmart at least once a month. Don’t do Starbucks anymore, though. Why would I, considering I have an espresso machine here in the bakery and I know how to use it? Besides, I can’t hand them four dollars plus for a coffee when my place is barely making it.

Propping my elbow on the edge of my desk, I rub my forehead, feeling the unmistakable tension there. I always get headaches when I pour over the bills. Who wouldn’t, the task is so depressing. I press my fingertips into my skin in a circling motion, trying to ease the stress, but it’s no use. The only thing that could cure my stress is a bottle of wine and a soak in my tub.

I remember my earlier encounter with Gage and glance over at the flowers sitting on top of the filing cabinet. I brought them in with me earlier when I knew I’d get stuck back here going over our bank account and the invoices due. If I’m going to do the drudgework then I need to make the spot pretty, right?

Plus, just looking at them makes me think of him. The things he said—both the good and the bad. And he says terrible things. It’s like he doesn’t even think. He’s a successful businessman worth billions. Some of that is family money, but the guy is smart. Right? So how can he conduct business when every time he opens his mouth he says something crazy?

I can almost forget about the terrible things he’s said when I think about how freaking gorgeous he is. How those beautiful green eyes seem to see right through me. Just one glance in my direction and he sets my skin on fire. Leaving me so hot I feel almost fevered every single time he looks at me.

And that his touch is my only relief . . .

Closing my eyes briefly, I stifle the moan that wants to escape and sit up straight, shuffling the stacks of bills into their own haphazard organized piles that only I understand. I drop them all into my desk drawer and shut it with a satisfying thud, then wipe my hands. Like I’m all efficient and totally handled yet another stressful workday, going over bills and taking care of business.

I so didn’t handle it. I barely made a dent in our past-due situation. Yet another fun night trying to manage everything at the bakery, while it all falls down around me no matter what I try and do.

I push away from my desk and stand, then grab my sweater and purse hanging from the little coatrack I keep in the corner of the room. Hitting the light switch as I exit my office, I walk through the kitchen, smiling when I see everything shiny, bright, and clean. My aunt prides herself on keeping an immaculate kitchen and scrubs until it’s spotless every single evening before she leaves.

 

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