by Rachel Van Dyken
Lucas Thorn wasn’t born a cheater. All it took was a single moment—say, a certain disastrous incident on the night before his wedding—and boom. Reputation destroyed forever and always. So now he owns it. He has a lady friend for every night of the week (except Sundays—God’s day and all), and his rules are simple: No commitments. No exceptions.
But a certain smart-mouthed, strawberry blonde vixen is about to blow that all to hell.
Avery Black has never forgiven Lucas for cheating on her sister. And suddenly being forced to work with him is pretty much a nightmare on steroids. Of course, it does afford her the opportunity to make his life as difficult as possible. But no good revenge scheme comes without payback. Because he didn’t become the Lucas Thorn without learning a few things about women.
Now Avery’s lust for vengeance has turned into, well, lust. And if Lucas stops cheating, it’s definitely not because he’s falling in love…
The office building loomed ahead of me. I squinted up at it, covering my face with part of my hand as the sun cast its glare against the glass.
“What are we looking at?” Lucas whispered in my ear.
I let out a little yelp and jumped away from him, and I would have run into a passing biker if Lucas hadn’t pulled me out of the way with his coffee-free hand.
“Must you be such a pain in the ass?”
“Must you try to kill me?” I fired back.
He rolled his eyes. “Let’s go.” He started walking, hauling me with him.
We weren’t walking in the direction of the office.
“I will seriously shove this Starbucks up that skinny ass if you don’t stop talking and just listen for once in your life.”
I shut up and followed, but only because he’d said “Starbucks” and was very purposefully moving in the nearest outpost’s general direction. If I looked pathetic enough, would he buy me coffee?
That was what my life was coming to.
My shoulders slumped at the thought when we walked into the building. The smell of fresh baked goods hit me with full force, and my stomach growled loudly, saying to everyone, I’m a hungry bear and may eat my young. Out of the way, please!
I followed Lucas to the line, still tempted to speak, but I figured if he wanted noise from me, he’d say something like, “You may grace me with your voice now, Avery.”
Even though I wasn’t talking, every time I heard someone order pumpkin bread I sighed, loudly, so loudly that the barista eyed me cautiously. Chill, Starbucks, I’m not going to steal a piece of pumpkin bread.
My mouth watered.
I mean, I wasn’t that desperate.
But if I took two, maybe three, steps toward her, yelled “Fire!” and then screamed nonsense about a bee attacking me, the pumpkin bread she had in hand would probably fall to the ground, and it would be wasteful if I didn’t rescue it from the ants.
All creatures deserve food—but pumpkin bread was too good for ants, too rich, and they’d explode all over the floor from the richness and it would be my fault—for saving the barista’s life, right? From the bee?
I think I just confused myself.
“Why are you breathing so heavy?” Lucas asked from my right.
I snapped out of my pumpkin-bread daydream and shrugged. “Sorry, low on sleep.”
He gave a noncommittal nod and then it was his turn, greedy little bastard already had one coffee now he was getting two! “A venti macchiato and a large coffee with room for cream, two slices—”
I elbowed him hard in the ribs.
“Sorry, um, three slices of pumpkin bread, thanks.”
He handed the barista his card, while my greedy eyes locked on the pumpkin bread as the barista placed it into a bag and gave it to him.
With an exasperated sigh, he shoved the bag into my hands. “Just leave me one bite.”
“No promises.” I was already digging into the bag, my mouth watering as I followed him around the counter with a little pep in my step.
Lucas grabbed our drinks and motioned toward one of the tables. I sat, stuffed more pumpkin goodness into my mouth, and managed to chug some coffee almost all at once.
Lucas shook his head. “I always forget how seriously you take your pumpkin bread.”
I moaned and took another huge bite. “My theory is this.”
He leaned forward, a smile curving around his gorgeous mouth. “Alright, out with it.”
More pumpkin bread found its way into my mouth as I talked—I didn’t even care if I looked like a starved animal. “Pumpkin bread has the same addictive properties as cocaine.”
“That’s your theory? That it’s a drug?”
“Right.” I sighed and leaned back. “Except it doesn’t make you skinny, unfortunately.”
His smile widened, and he grabbed a small hunk of bread. “Want to know my theory?”
“Yes, that’s exactly what I was thinking—I hope Lucas tells me his theory so I can eat his portion of bread.”
Lucas scooted the bag toward me and whispered, “Merry Christmas.”
“Oh, pumpkin gods.” I moaned again.
His eyes darted to my mouth.
“What?” I wiped my lips. “Is something on my face?”
“No.” He looked away. “So my theory is this . . . pumpkin flavoring is a conspiracy by the government to see how many ways we can market a flavor and make money off it.”
“Boo.” I gave him a thumbs-down. “Thanks, grinch. Oh, and stop ruining holidays.”
He smirked. “You’ve known forever that Santa isn’t real. Still doesn’t stop you from leaving him cookies every Christmas Eve, then sneaking downstairs and eating them all by yourself.”
“One”—I held up a finger—“it’s genius because nobody will touch them for fear that I’ll get mad. Two”—I held up a second finger—“when everyone else is sad about the Christmas cookies being gone, I know I’ll have them all to myself. It’s like . . .” I sighed, “. . . a Christmas present. To myself.”
“Except for that one time.” He smirked.
“Cruel man.” I glared at him. “How dare you eat my cookies?”
He shrugged. “They were sweet.”
Was it hot? In this little Starbucks? By the window where the sun was searing me alive like I was under a magnifying glass?
I tugged at my sleeveless blouse.
“About Saturday . . .”
Uncomfortable conversation, here we come! I strapped in and waited for the inevitable. And then realized, to my dismay, that he’d just bought me coffee and food without letting me go to the office.
My eyes filling with tears, I shook my head a few times. “Lucas, I may give you crap, but I really need this job.”
He frowned, like he was confused.
“Don’t say another word.” I held out my hands. “I’ll do anything, Lucas—and I mean anything—to keep this job. I wasn’t kidding when I said my parents were chomping at the bit to get me to move home, and I don’t want to. It’s not just about me being defiant; they want me to take over the family business.”
Lucas burst out laughing and then sobered. “Oh, you’re serious.”
“I can’t sell chicken, Thorn.”
“I mean, to be fair, Avery, your parents own a very lucrative organic meats company. I’m sure they could offer you at least five figures.” His smile was way too smug, but I still had to be nice to him rather than throw him off a cliff, because he could fire me.
Rachel Van Dyken is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today Bestselling author of regency and contemporary romances. When she’s not writing you can find her drinking coffee at Starbucks and plotting her next book while watching The Bachelor.
She keeps her home in Idaho with her Husband, adorable son, and two snoring boxers! She loves to hear from readers!