TROUBLE ON HER DOORSTEP
I am delighted to say that my latest KISS and Modern Tempted release Trouble on her Doorstep is available now from Harlequin and Mills and Boon and all your favourite book sellers.
Who are the lovely couple on the cover?
Allow me to introduce Dee Flynn and Sean Beresford.
Dee Flynn and her friend Lottie run Lottie’s cake shop and tea rooms on a smart London high street. Lottie is the cake master who organises their notorious ‘Bake and Banter Club’ but Dee has one great passion in life – TEA!
Black, green or white. Tea is Dee’s life. That is why she has worked hard to organise a London Festival of Tea in one of the smart Beresford Hotels.
But there is a problem. Sean Beresford has bad news – the hotel she has organised is double booked. No festival!
Dee is not a girl to let Sean off the hook that easily and as they work together Dee soon discovers she could become passionate about something other than tea!
Knock-knock. Who’s there?
When gorgeous hotel magnate Sean Beresford arrives on the doorstep of Dee Flynn’s tea shop, it seems her luck’s in. Right?
Wrong! Sean’s come to tell Dee he’s canceling her latest business venture, leaving her future looking as washed-out as old tea leaves.
Dee’s not about to go under without a fight, and reluctantly Sean agrees to help her find a solution.
He might dress in suits that would make even 007 jealous, and those startling blue-gray eyes will certainly take some forgetting, but he sets Dee’s blood boiling—and her pulse racing!—like no one else!
And that’s before he kisses her….
EXCLUSIVE EXTRACT – READ CHAPTER ONE
Chapter One: Tuesday
Tea, glorious tea. A celebration of teas from around the world.
There is no better way to lift your spirits than a steaming hot cup of builders’ brew. Two sugars, lots of milk. White china beaker. Blend of Kenyan and Indian leaf tea. Brewed In a pot. Because one cup is never enough.
From ‘Flynn’s Phantasmagoria of Tea’
‘Ladies, ladies, ladies. No squabbling please. Yes I know that he was totally out of order but those are the rules. What happens in the Bake and Bitch club…?’
Dee Flynn lifted her right hand and waved it towards the women clustered about the cake display as though she was conducting a concert orchestra.
The women put down their tea cups, glanced at one another, shrugged their shoulders and raised their right hands.
‘Stays in the Bake and Bitch club,’ a chorus of sing song voices replied, a second before they burst into laughter and sank back into their chairs around the long pine table.
‘Okay. I might not be able to snitch, but I still cannot believe that the faker tried to pass that sponge cake off as his own work,’ Gloria sniggered as she poured another cup of Darjeeling and dunked in a handmade hazelnut biscotti. ‘Every woman at the junior school bake sale knew that it was Lottie’s triple decker angel drool cake – you can hardly mistake that icing. And we all know how hard it is to make after last week’s efforts.’
‘Hey! Don’t be so hard on yourself,’ Lottie replied. ‘That was one of my best recipes and chiffon sponge is not the easiest to get right. You never know, I might have become one dad’s inspiration to greater things.’
A chorus of ‘boo’ and ‘not likely’ echoed around the table.
‘Well never mind about dad’s wanting to show off at the school bake sale in front of the other fabulous baked creations you gals create. We have five more minutes before your cakes come out of the oven so there is just enough time for you to taste my latest recipe for a February special. This is the cake I am going to demonstrate next week.’
With a flourish reserved for the finest award winning restaurants where she and Dee had trained, Lottie Rosemount waited until every one of the girls had stopped talking and was looking at the cake plate at the centre of the table before whipping away the central metal dome and revelling in the gasp of appreciation.
‘Individual Cupcakes. Dark chocolate and raspberry with white chocolate hearts. And just in time for Valentine’s Day. What do you think?’
‘Think?’ Dee coughed and took a long drink of tea. ‘I am thinking that I have a week to come up with the perfect blend of tea which will match chocolate and raspberries.’
‘Tea? Are you joking?’ Gloria squealed. ‘Hell no. Those cupcakes are not meant to be washed down with tea around the kitchen table. No chance. Those are after dinner bedroom dessert cakes. No doubt about it. If I am lucky I might get to eat half of one before my Valentine’s Day dinner date gets really sweet. If you know what I mean. Girl – I want me some of those. Right now.’
A roar of laughter and ‘only if’s’ rippled like a wave around the room as Gloria snatched up a cupcake and bit into it with deep groans of pleasure, before licking her fingers. ‘Lottie Rosemount you are a temptation. If I made those cupcakes I know that I would get lucky and just this once I would not think about the risk of chocolate icing on the bedclothes.’
Dee sniggered and had just pulled down a tea caddy of a particularly fragrant pomegranate infusion when she heard the distinctive sound of the antique doorbell at the front door of the Tea Rooms.
Lottie looked up from serving the cupcakes. ‘Who can that be? We’ve been closed for hours.’
‘Not to worry. I’ll get it. But save one of those for me, can you? You never know. My luck might change and a handsome new boyfriend might turn up out of the blue just in time for Valentine’s Day. Miracles can happen.’
Dee skipped out of the kitchen across the smooth wooden floorboards in her flat ballet pumps and in three strides was inside the tea rooms. She flicked on the lights and instantly the long room was flooded with warm natural light which bounced back from the pistachio and mocha painted walls and pale wood fittings.
Lottie’s Cake Shop and Tea Rooms had only been open a few months and Dee never got tired of simply walking up and down between the square tables and comfy chairs, scarcely able to believe that this was her space. Well. Lottie and Dee’s space. They had each put up half of the money to get the business started. But they were partners sharing everything. Tea and cake. Both crazy, both working at the thing they loved best. Both willing to invest everything they had in this mad idea and take a risk that it would work.
A shiver ran across Dee’s shoulders and she inhaled sharply. She needed this tea shop to work and work brilliantly if she had any hope of becoming a tea merchant in her own right. This was her last chance. Her only chance of creating some sort of financial future for herself and for her retired parents.
But suddenly the ringing bell was replaced by a hard rapping on the front door and she looked up towards the entrance. ‘Hello? Is someone there?’ A very male voice called out from the street in a posh English accent.
A tall dark figure was standing on the pavement on the other side of the door with his hands cupped over his forehead. Peering at her through the frosted glass of the half glazed door.
What a cheek! It was almost nine o’clock at night. He must be desperate. And it was lashing down with rain.
She took a step forwards then paused and sniffed just once before striding forwards.
After a lifetime of travel she was not scared of a stranger knocking on her door. Especially on a cold dark February night. Shame on her. This was a London high street for goodness sake, not the middle of some jungle or tropical rain forest.
With a lift of her chin and a spring in her step, Dee turned the key in the lock in one smooth movement and pulled the front door sharply inwards towards her.
A little too sharply as it turned out.
Everything from that moment seemed to happen in slow motion like in some freeze frame DVD where you can scarcely believe what happened so you play the same scene over and over again in jerky steps, just to make sure that your memory is not playing tricks on you.
Because as she flung open the door, the very tall man had just raised his arm to knock again and in that split second he leant forwards he found the door was missing.
But his body carried on moving.
Carrying him forwards into the tea room. And directly towards Dee who had stepped backwards to see who was knocking so loudly.
A pair of very startled blue grey eyes widened as he tumbled towards her, the bright light almost blinding him compared to the gloomy dark street outside.
What happened next was Dee’s fault. All of it.
Either time slowed down or her brain went into overdrive because suddenly she had visions of lawyers claiming compensation for broken noses and bruised elbows. Or worse.
Which meant that she could not, dare not, simply leap out of the way and let this man, whoever he was, fall forwards, flat on his face and hurt himself.
So she did the only thing she could think of in that split second.
She swept his legs out from under him.
It seemed to make perfect sense at the time.
Her left leg stepped forwards to his left side as she reached up and grabbed hold of the soggy right sleeve of his rather elegant long dark wool coat and pulled him towards her.
Then she swept her right leg out, hooked her ballet pump behind his left ankle and flipped him over sideways. By keeping a tight hold on his coat sleeve, even though it was wet and slimy she took his weight so that instead of falling flat on his back his be-suited bottom hit the wooden floor instead.
It was actually a rather good side judo foot sweep which broke his fall and took his weight at the same time. Result!
Her old martial arts tutor would have been proud.
Shame that the two middle buttons on what she could now see was a very smart cashmere coat popped open with the strain and went spinning off onto the floor under one of the tables, but it was worth it. Instead of flying across the floor to join them her male visitor sat down in a long heavy slow slump instead. No apparent harm done.
Dee’s fingers slowly slid away from the moist fabric of his coat sleeve and his arm flopped down onto his knees.
She closed the front door and then sat back on her ankles down on the floor so that she could look at him from about the same height.
And then look again.
Oh my. Those blue grey eyes were not the only thing that was startling. For a start he seemed to be wearing the kind of business suit she had last seen on the bank manager who had grudgingly agreed to give the bank loan on the tea room. Only softer, and shinier and much, much more expensive. Not that she had much experience in men in suits but she knew fabric.
And then there was the hair. The sleet had turned to a cold drizzle and his short dark brown hair was curled into moist waves around his ears and onto his collar. Bringing into sharp focus a face which might have come from a renaissance painting. All dark shadows, sexy foreheads and sharp cheekbones. Although the baggy tired eyes could probably use some of her special home sewn tea bags to compensate for his late nights in the office.
Blimey! She had just swept the legs out from the best looking man that she had seen in a long time, and that included the boys from the gym across the street who stoked up on serious amounts of carb before hitting the body sculpting classes.
Boys like this did not normally knock on her door…. ever. Maybe her luck had finally changed for once.
A smile slid across Dee’s mouth before the sensible part of her brain which was not bedazzled by a handsome face decided to make an appearance.
So what was he doing here? And who was he?
Why not ask him and find out?
‘Hello,’ she said, peering into his face and telling her hormones to sit down. ‘Sorry about that but I was worried that you might hurt yourself when you fell into the shop. How are you doing down there?’
How was he doing?
Sean Beresford pushed himself up on one elbow and took a few seconds to gather his wits and refocus on what looked like a smart café or bistro restaurant, although it was hard to tell since he was sitting on the floor.
Looking straight ahead of him, Sean could see cake stands, tea pots and a blackboard which told him that the all-day special was cheese and leek quiche followed by a dark organic chocolate brownie and as much Assam tea as he could drink.
Sean stared at the board and chuckled out loud. He could use some of that quiche and tea.
This was turning out to be quite a day.
It had started out in Melbourne what felt like a lifetime ago, followed by a very long flight where he had probably managed three or four hours of sleep. And then there was the joy of a manic hour at Heathrow airport where it soon became blindingly obvious that he had boarded the plane, but his luggage had not.
One more reason why he did not want to be sitting on this floor wearing the only suit of clothes that he possessed until the airline tracked down his bag.
Sean shuffled to a sitting position using the back of a very hard wooden chair for support, knees up, back straight, exhaled slowly and lifted his head.
And stared into two of the most startling pale green eyes that he had ever seen.
So green that they dominated a small oval face framed by dark brown short hair which were pushed behind neat ears. At this distance he could see that her creamy skin was flawless apart from what looked like cake crumbs which were stuck to the side of a smiling mouth.
A mouth meant to appease and please. A mouth which was so used to smiling that she had laughter lines on either side, even though she couldn’t be more than mid-twenties.
What the hell had just happened?
He shuffled his bottom a little and stretched out his legs. Nothing broken or hurting. That was a surprise.
‘Anything I can get you?’ The brunette asked in a light fun voice. ‘Blanket? Cocktail?’
Sean sighed out loud and shook his head at how totally ridiculous he must look at that moment.
So much for being a top hotel executive!
He was lucky that the hotel staff that was relying on him to sort out the disaster he had just walked into straight from the airport could not see him now.
They might think twice about putting their faith in Tom Beresford’s son.
‘Not at the moment thank you,’ he murmured with a short nod.
Her eyebrows squeezed tight together and she bent forwards a little and pressed the palm of one hand onto his forehead and her gaze seemed to scan his face.
Her fingers were warm and soft and the sensation of that simple contact of her skin against his forehead was so startling and unexpected that Sean’s breath caught in his throat at the reaction of his body at that simple connection.
Her voice was even warmer with a definite accent that told him that she has spent a lot of time in Asia.
‘You don’t seem to have a temperature. But it is cold outside. Don’t worry. You’ll soon warm up.’
It he did not have a temperature now, then he soon would have judging by the amount of cleavage this girl was flashing him as she leant closer.
Her chest was only inches away from his face and he sat back a little to more fully appreciate the view. She was wearing one of those strange slinky sweaters that his sister Annika liked to wear on her rare weekend visits. Only Annika wore a t-shirt underneath so that when is slithered off one shoulder she had something to cover her modesty.
This girl was not wearing a t-shirt and a tiny strip of purple lace seemed to all that was holding up her generously proportioned assets. At another time and definitely another place he might have been tempted to linger on that curving expanse of skin between the top of the slinky forest green knit and the sharp collar bones and enjoy the moment, but she tilted her head slightly and his gaze locked onto far too many inches of a delicious looking neckline.
It had been a while since he had been so very up close and personal to a girl with such a fantastic figure and it took a few seconds before what was left of the logical part of his brain clicked back into place and he dragged his focus a little higher.
‘Nice top,’ he grinned and pressed his hands against the floor to steady his body. ‘Bit cold for the time of year.’
‘Oh, do you like it?’ she smiled and then looked down and gasped a little. In one quick movement she slid back a little and tugged at her top before squinting at him through narrow eyes. Clearly not too happy that he had even enjoying the view while she was checking his temperature.
‘Cheeky,’ she tutted. ‘Is this how you normally behave in public? I’m surprised that they let you out unsupervised.’
A short cough burst out of Sean’s throat. After 16 years in the hotel trade he had been called many things by many people but he had never once been accused of being cheeky.
The second son of the founder of the Beresford hotel chain did not go around doing anything that was even remotely fell into the ‘cheeky’ category.
This was truly a first. In more ways than one.
‘Did you just deck me?’ he asked in a low voice with a question at the end and watched her stand up in one single smooth motion and lean against the table opposite. She was wearing floral patterned leggings which clung to long slender legs which seemed to go on forever and only ended where the oversize sweater came down to her thighs. Combined with the green top she looked like a walking abstract painting of a spring garden. He had never seen anything quite like it before.
‘Me?’ She pressed one hand to her chest and shook her head before looking down at him. ‘Not at all. I stopped you from falling flat on your face and causing serious damage to that cute nose. You should be thanking me. It could have been a nasty fall, the way you burst in like that. This really is your lucky day.’
‘Thank you?’ he spluttered in outrage. And apparently he had a cute nose.
‘You are welcome,’ she chuckled in a sing song voice. ‘It is not often that I have a chance to show off my judo skills but it comes in handy now and then.’
‘Judo. Right. I’ll take your word for it,’ Sean replied and looked from side to side around the room. ‘What is this place?’
‘Our tea rooms,’ she replied then froze and peered at him. ‘But you knew that because you were hammering at our door.’ She flicked a hand towards the entrance. ‘The shop is closed you know. No cake. No tea. So if you are expecting to be fed you are out of luck.’
‘You can say that again,’ Sean whispered then held up one hand when she looked as though she might reply. ‘But please don’t. Tea and cakes are the last thing I came looking for, I can assure you.’
‘So why were you hammering on door, wearing a business suit at 9pm on a Tuesday evening? You have obviously come here for a reason. Are you planning to sit on my floor and keep me in suspense for the rest of the evening?’
His green eyed assailant was just about to say something when the sound of female laughter drifted out from the back of the room.
‘Ah,’ she winced and her head nodded up and down. ‘Of course. You must be here to pick up one of the girls from the Bake and Bit… Banter club. But those ladies won’t be ready for at least another half hour.’ One hand gestured towards the back of the room where he could hear the faint sound of female voices and music. ‘The cakes are still in the oven.’ Her lovely shoulders lifted in an apologetic shrug. ‘We were late getting started. Too much bit… chatting and not enough baking. But I can tell someone you are here if you like. Who exactly are you waiting for?’
Who was he waiting for? He wasn’t waiting for anyone. He was here on a different kind of mission. Tonight he was very much a messenger boy.
Sean reached into the inside breast pocket of his suit jacket and checked the address on the piece of lilac writing paper he had found inside the envelope marked ‘D S Flynn contact details’ lying at the bottom of the conference room booking file. It had been hand written in dark green ink in very thin letters his father would instantly have dismissed as spider writing.
Well he certainly had the right street and according to the built in GPS in his phone, he was within three metres of the address of his suspiciously elusive client who had booked a conference room at the hotel and apparently paid the deposit without leaving a telephone contact number or an email address. Which was not just inconvenient but infuriating.
‘Sorry to disappoint you but I am not here to pick up anyone from your baking club. Far from it. I need to track someone down in a hurry.’
He waved the envelope in the air and instantly saw something in the way she lifted her chin that suggested that she recognized the envelope but she covered it up with a quizzical look.
That seemed to startle her and he could almost feel the intensity of her gaze as it moved slowly from his smart black business lace up brogues to the crispness of his shirt collar and silk tie. There was something else going on behind those green eyes because she glanced back towards the entrance just once and then swung around towards the back of the room before turning her attention on him again.
And when she spoke there was the faintest hint of concern in her voice which she was trying hard to conceal and failing miserably.
‘Perhaps I could help if you told me who you were looking for,’ she replied.
Sean looked up into her face and decided that it was time to get this over with so he could get back to the penthouse apartment at the hotel and collapse.
In one short sharp movement he pushed himself sideways with one hand, curled his knees and effortlessly got back onto his feet, brushing down his coat and trousers with one hand.
So that when he replied his words were more directed towards the floor than the girl standing watching him so intently. ‘I certainly hope so. Does a Mr D S Flynn live here? Because if he does, I really need to speak to him. And the sooner the better.’
Text Copyright © 2013 by Nina Harrington. Cover Art Copyright © 2013 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited. Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A. Cover art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited. All rights reserved. ® and ™ are trademarks owned by Harlequin Enterprises Limited or its affiliated companies, used under license.
All rights reserved © Nina Harrington