Emily Black is not looking for love, and neither is Gabriel Hunter-Law, but after a chance encounter it becomes clear nothing is as it first appears and life will never be the same again.
Emily Black put her life on hold to look after her difficult elderly mother. On the southwest coast of England, one of the highlights of Emily’s week is when she goes to buy coffee, where she quietly flirts with a shamelessly sexy and attractive barista. After an unexpected encounter during a night out, Emily discovers her nameless barista is the enigmatic Gabriel Hunter-Law. Gabriel, from an infamous wealthy family, has a reputation of being a heartless playboy millionaire and notorious bachelor.
On impulse, Gabriel offers Emily a place to stay for the week to avoid her brother’s imminent visit, because he would like to get to know her better. Although initially shocked by the suggestion, Emily accepts. They quickly end up in a passionate, physical relationship. As events in both their worlds collide, Emily discovers the dark secrets Gabriel hides, which ultimately may be the reason they cannot be together. Is their bond strong enough to fight for a happy ending, or will the ghosts from the past, which Gabriel obsessively tries to conceal, succeed in tearing them apart?
Late. Horribly, inexcusably late. I move in a half-run, clutching my mother’s shopping. The heavens open, and it starts to rain. Heavy rain. Hard penetrating rain, which soaks me quickly. My feet slip in my sandals, slowing my pace. I watch everyone around me dart towards the nearest shelter or retrieve umbrellas and hurriedly put on rain macs. The most I can do is pull my arms around me over my blouse, as if this will somehow shield me from the relentless water. I drag my hair back into a loose ponytail so it is not dripping around my face like seaweed.
My mother will be furious, but there is no way around it. I stop outside the coffee shop for the last items on the list, pulling the push door as I always do and stumbling inside.
It’s empty. There is none of the usual background chatter, just the low whirring of a fan on the counter. The bleached wood benches are tidy and scrubbed clean, the lunchtime rush long since ended. No one stands at the counter as I squelch towards it, my sandals slapping inelegantly against the stone floor. He appears from the kitchen, the man I have been quietly flirting with and secretly crushing on for the last few months, since I came home to look after my mother. I exchange snippets of conversation with him about the weather, the flower market, world news, and my mother’s health. Every time, I dream of a deeper conversation, but I am under no illusion it will happen. I know virtually nothing about him. He always turns the conversation back to me. It makes me feel special and less invisible than I usually do.
Good customer service, I guess. I do not even know his name, but he always smiles. His smile lights up his entire face as his warm brown eyes twinkle mischievously. He is tall, broad, and tanned with high cheekbones and light stubble. His dark brown hair is sun-kissed and outgrown from a shorter traditional style, long and floppy on top but brushed back from his face. He looks like he has just stepped out of a magazine or off a surfboard.
I do not kid myself there is anything in this. He is undeniably gorgeous. I see the way other women swoon and hang on his every word while buying deli treats and sandwiches, women far more alluring and attractive than me. Still, he brightens my day, even for the briefest of moments. Except for today. Today I resemble a drowned rat. I inwardly curse that he is in. He is not always. I assume he is part time, studying maybe or something. I have no idea how old he is, but I guess maybe late twenties. He seems far too confident and self-assured to be younger.
He smiles when he sees me. Then frowns, looking slightly amused. “No coat?” His voice is husky and deep, lips full and inviting to be kissed.
I flush and hesitate to answer, feeling the colour rush to my cheeks. “N-no, I-I didn’t see the weather forecast.” Not very imaginative, but true. I rarely get time to catch up on such things, and my mother is permanently glued to the cookery channels.
He smiles again. “Storm Olivia from the Caribbean or somewhere.”
The fan turns towards me. The breeze hits me, and I shiver as the air moves through my wet blouse. I squirm awkwardly under the intensity of his gaze while trying to locate a coherent thought.
He strokes his fingers along the counter in front of me, frowning once more. “Wait there.”
He disappears into the back of the shop. The fitted black t-shirt he is wearing and tight black jeans cling to his frame and accentuate his muscles. He comes back and places a fawn coloured jumper on the counter with an expensive looking man’s umbrella. I stand motionless, not understanding.
“You’re cold, and it’s tipping down,” he explains plainly.
I realise he means to lend them to me. I feel shy and stupid. “Oh, no. I couldn’t.”
He raises an eyebrow. “I trust you to give them back. Anyway, your shirt’s gone see-through, it’s so wet. Much as I am enjoying the view, I don’t suppose it was the look you were going for when you left your house this morning.”
His voice is unusually commanding as he runs his eyes down to my chest. I follow his eyes with mine, horrified. He is right. My blouse is clinging to me and completely transparent. You can see my breasts fighting to escape my bra. Worse still, my nipples are hard as bullets from the cold and pushing through the lace. My only saving thought is he at least cannot see my bra has gone slightly grey from over washing. I chastise myself instantly for thinking he would be remotely interested in my bra. I know without looking my cheeks are bright red. I stand there utterly mortified. Defeated, I reach for the jumper. There is a pause. A moment of silence cackles between us with an unexplained intensity.
He smiles kindly and breaks it with his sympathy. “The usual?”