Some couples just click. Others require a hard hat and a stud finder.
Tulle and Tulips, Book 3
August 20, 2013
Warning: Contains a hard-hatted, hard-bodied hero who’s good with his hands, and a woman who’d like him to build a bridge over her sexual boundaries. Nuts and bolts never had it so good.
Monday mornings have a reputation for sucking, and today is no different for Burton Anderson. One year ago, his “perfect” life full of prestige, money, success and travel crumbled in the glaring light of betrayal.
This morning? This close to making his new construction business a success, a date gone awry has left him handcuffed to a toilet in a housewares store. Naked. And the first customer of the day is coming down his aisle.
Planning and shopping for other couples’ Big Day is about as wild and crazy as buttoned-up Leigh Schyuler gets. Until she gets an eyeful of Hearth and Home’s daily special. He’s definitely a “designer” temptation while she’s “off the rack”.
But there are risks, and then there are risks. Burton isn’t sure he can once again trust his heart to a woman who holds the power to ruin him. And Leigh discovers too late that indulging in a little no-strings sex is tying her dream of Devoted Love into hopeless knots…
The gentle trill of a feminine laugh clanged like an alarm in Burton Anderson’s head. The nightmare wasn’t foreign after six years, but he’d thought he’d driven it back. Unlike the other times he relived the dream, the laugh didn’t turn to pathetic tears that morphed into evil glee.
This laugh remained gentle. The laugh sounded carefree and happy.
Pulling himself from the morass of sleep, Burton stretched. His neck protested movement and his head did the hangover throb he hadn’t allowed in years. His back popped with loud cracks running the length of his spine which it only did when he slept on too hard a surface or in a bad position.
His eyes snapped wide. He’d definitely slept in an awkward position on a too-hard surface—Hearth and Home’s linoleum-covered concrete floor. More awkward than the position was how he’d gotten in it, and it hadn’t involved enough alcohol to earn the current headache.
He tugged at his wrist. Metal clanked against metal and his memory flooded back with the horror of the discovery to come. The wall of clocks nearby told him Hearth and Home wasn’t due to open for customers for several hours. It was even too early for the employees to come in, but someone had. That same someone would discover him—in all his nudity—in a few short moments.
Attempting to minimize his exposure, he scooted up so he sat beside the toilet. With his wrist handcuffed to the pipe behind the show floor toilet he wasn’t able to move far. The mock bathroom, like the three others around the bath section, was complete with shower, garden tub, sink and fancy hooks for hanging towels.
“I love the setup.” The woman’s voice sounded prim. And close. “You’ve made it easy for people to envision what items complement each other.”
“We want everyone to be able to outfit their home with ease.”
That was a voice Burton knew well. It belonged to the Mark Dixon, manager of Hearth and Home. The man who possessed no sense of humor, and he would not appreciate finding his lead contractor naked. There was no explanation good enough to keep himself employed. Nope. After this, Burton would never again be trusted with another construction contract, because this client was sure to tell everyone of his unprofessionalism.
“I could say I hate you for it. With places like this why do people need me?”
Soft, shy, the woman laughed again. Her shoes smacked the paved floor with a dull thud rather than the thwack he’d grown familiar with over the years of feeding a shopping addiction. Conservative flats. Shy laugh. Professional shopper? This woman didn’t sound like the type to appreciate his nudity any more than Mark.
She and Mark stepped into view. Mark’s head was bowed to his phone. The woman studied the wall of clocks. Both kept their backs to Burton. Each ticking second hand shortened the gap between secrecy and discovery. With the shrinking distance he saw his success as a new business owner vanishing.
“Without you, Leigh, how else will those brides and grooms know how many towels or place settings to register for?” Mark adjusted a mantle clock so it sat perfectly straight on a display shelf. “And there’s no one better than you at picking out those little touches that finish off a look.”
She touched her fingertips to Mark’s arm, pulled back quickly, as if she immediately regretted the gesture. “Who needs caffeine when they can have flattery in the morning?”
Mark ignored the woman’s touch. Her joke seemed to go unnoticed, perhaps because it seemed odd for the woman with a pencil skirt and snug bun to make jokes.
“Listen, Leigh. I have to go deal with something. Make yourself at home and I’ll be back as quick as I can.”
“Take your time. Thank you.”
Leigh stayed focused on the clocks, as if she was studying each one carefully. Mark turned and walked past Burton without looking up from his phone. Burton breathed a sigh of relief that he hadn’t been discovered by the boss. If he could get the woman—Leigh—to help there was a chance he could keep his embarrassment a secret.
When he was certain Mark was out of earshot, Burton cleared his throat. “Leigh. Hi.”
She didn’t flinch or even react for several seconds. Thinking she hadn’t heard him, he opened his mouth to call out again. Then she turned.
Her green eyes were unblinking and her cheeks were flushed red. With her brown hair pulled into a bun, subtle makeup, and clothes that hugged her figure without being tight, the woman’s image was a contradiction of sophistication and sex.
She defined the cliché lines about elegance in simplicity and leaving something to the imagination. His was certainly going to be working overtime.
“I wonder… Could you… Could I get your help?” He’d never suffered from a loss of words. Quick thinking and the ability to put a great spin on most any situation had been the secret to his success in the business world. Facing a blushing librarian who only needed a pair of reading glasses to top off the image had his brain short-circuiting.
“Who are you? What are you doing here?” She took two steps in the direction Mark had taken. “I’m going to get Mark.”
“No! Please. Don’t.”
“You’re in his store, handcuffed to a display toilet. I think he deserves to know.”
“I… There’s an explanation.”
She stood and faced him. Her hands weren’t on her hips, but the look in her eyes said they could land there any moment. Damn she was beautiful.
“Please.” He should be begging or pleading his case. He could only stare and think how sexy she was.
“Give me one good reason.”
Any sense of humor she’d shown with Mark vanished. Burton could have had a better shot with Mark.