Blow Me Away: The Beginning
Jase Dvornakov’s abs made Heather Reese seriously reconsider swearing off men.
Gawking at the smokin’-hot florist while he had his own private dance party for one wasn’t Heather’s thing. She was a woman in control of her own destiny. That’s what she tried to tell herself, anyway. Still, she stared through his storefront window in the posh Cherry Creek neighborhood of Denver, Colorado. Her feet remained cemented on the sidewalk, a burst of her breath fogged against his window, and she memorized every move shirtless Jase made—instead of opening the stupid door to step inside.
His hips thrust, shoulders rolled, and…who was she kidding? She couldn’t look away. If he was going to put it all out there, she might as well appreciate the view. The man had moves. She’d give him that.
It was like watching one of her favorite game shows: Which door was she going to pick?
Shops along their street were barely starting to open; it was too early for a dance party at her friendly neighborhood flower shop. Apparently, Jase—her neighbor—didn’t agree.
She shook the foamy haze from her brain.
Sweet Goddess of Gold’s Gym, this man distracted her. She opened door number one and stepped through, stumbling over her feet only a little.
“Hey, Jase.” As soon as the words slipped past her lips, she knew they couldn’t be heard over the music blaring through the shop.
She cleared her throat and shifted in her pink Heather’s Cookie & Co. embroidered polo shirt, hopeful the man dancing across the concrete floor would pause long enough to toss a glance her way.
Not because she wanted him to glance her way but because she needed his attention. So she could give him his poster.
Advertising the senior “senior” prom for the nursing home where she volunteered.
He didn’t. Instead, he continued gyrating his hips and stuffing lilies into a wreath with a gold banner that read, In Loving Memory, Phyllis.
“Jase?” she called, raising her voice over the music.
Okay, that got his attention. He finally glanced her way, paused mid–posy thrust, and a wicked smile crept across his lips. “Heather. Hey.”
Her blood heated from his gaze, tingling as it swished through her veins.
Oh, for pity’s sake. Her body begged her to grin back, say hey to him, and get her out of the drought that had become her dating life.
She told her body to hush. She had spent months detoxing from men and their unkept promises. Men and their unwillingness to fit her into their lives.
Okay, maybe not all men, just the ones she’d dated.
There was absolutely no need to jump back in and take another hit just because Jase said, “Heather. Hey.” All sexy-like.
Two quick strides brought Jase to the cash register. He flicked a switch and the music zipped to a stop.
Heather gripped the stack of posters in her hands. Her brainchild. A prom for the senior citizens at a nearby retirement home. Something to get them up and moving and having a good time. Also, another distraction to prevent her from breaking her no-men rule. “Sorry. I can come back later, if you’d rather.”
She inhaled a long breath of floral-scented air and tacked on a smile.
“Don’t be sorry.” He scrawled something on a notepad. “Now’s good. I just lost track of time. Didn’t hear you come in.”
“That would explain the dancing, and the lack of clothing.” She gestured to his bare pecs and quickly glanced away to the assortment of potted cactus plants dotted along the windowsill.
“Oh, ah, right. I got distracted. I work best when I’m in the zone.” He yanked a thin white T-shirt from under the counter and tugged it over his head.
There, much better. Sort of.
“So…” She set the stack of posters on the countertop and tapped her fingertip against the top one. “I brought you a poster for your window.”
He studied her handiwork and flicked the end of a pen against his palm in time with the beat of the now turned-off music.
“Prom, huh? Fun.” He dropped the pen, rubbed his hands together, and locked his gaze to hers in a way that made her insides purr in anticipation.
What are “things you shouldn’t do” for five hundred, Alex.
No men for you, Heather. Eye on the…well, the poster, in this instance.
“This is at the retirement home up the street?” he asked.
“You know it?” Of course he knew it, it’s not like their street was that big.
“Yeah, I know it.” He lifted a corner of his lips, just the one corner. Damn, that was sexy. Elvis sexy.
“I volunteer there, and they’ve lost a lot of residents lately. Some passed away. Some moved. So I had this idea to help drum up new business. A way to showcase the place for new seniors.” Okay, she should get to the other reason she’d stopped by. “I was…ah…also hoping you might be willing to help out with flowers? It’ll be a fun opportunity for us to get to know each other better.”
He stilled when she mentioned getting to know each other better.
“I mean, not like that. You know. For everyone to get to know each other better. You as a business owner to get to know some of the residents. And they can get to know each other. Not for…” Us, she finished in her head.
“Dean said you’re single.” Jase squinted his espresso-colored eyes in that way guys tended to do right before they dropped a mammoth pickup-line bomb. He’d never looked at her like that before, but she’d witnessed his pick-up line game before. It was strong. “You and your guy broke up.”
Dean was her friend Claire’s husband. Jase was friends with the significant others of her two best friends. Which meant they ran in the same circle, saw each other regularly. She’d chatted with him. Danced with him at their friends’ weddings. All that time, she’d been seeing Logan, so she had ignored any of the chemistry between her and Jase.
Logan. Ugh. They had broken up. But that had nothing to do with anything.
The lies she told herself were sometimes mammoth.
She’d been 100 percent into Logan. Certain that they were heading to a chapel with a white dress and forever bells. She’d been epically wrong.
“Logan and I broke up a while ago, actually. Why?”
“You look hungry,” Jase announced.
“Don’t do it, Jase.” She shook her head.
Oh, he acted so innocent, but she knew better. Knew what was coming.
“Do what?” he asked.
“Give me whatever line you were about to throw at me.”
His eyes danced. “What line?”
“You know what line.”
“Fine. Your loss.” He didn’t wink. He didn’t have to. He paused a beat. “You want to hear it, don’t you?”
She tilted toward him, just a touch. “I already ate. I’m not hungry.”
An English-muffin-sandwich thing about twenty minutes ago.
He leaned forward, elbows on the counter, and flashed another grin. “I’m thinking you look hungry because you’re the girl I’m about to ask to dinner tonight.”
A sigh escaped her lungs. Cue the horrible pickup line. She’d called that one. Still, this was new. Jase had never asked her out before. He was a flirt, but he was an equal-opportunity flirt. She’d never read more into it.
“In that case, you look like the guy I’m about to turn down.” She bit her tongue to prevent it from turning that no into a yes and toyed with the edge of the stack of posters.
The flash of teeth against his lips nearly undid her. Nearly. “I’ve been waiting for you to ditch your boyfriend.”
Well, she wasn’t the one who’d done the ditching, but he didn’t need to know that.
He straightened, standing at his full height. She hadn’t noticed quite how tall he was before. Tall and built and…nope. That assessment about summed him up.
Heather didn’t date cocky guys. Not anymore.
She had dated her fair share of players in the past. Mark, Ben, Craig…they all had a great time with her until they were ready to move on. She was nothing but a good-time-girl to them. Then she had started seeing Logan. Who she thought wasn’t a player. She’d gotten in too deep, and it had turned out he was the king of players. He’d played her, anyway. She had been certain they were in the kind of relationship that lasted. But what she’d thought was a relationship with potential was tossed aside after the newness wore off. He’d gone off to find his next conquest.
It ended. She swore off men.
And opened a cookie shop. As one does.
“Heather?” Jase stuck tape on the corners of the top poster.
“Hmm?” Her eyes met his again, because she refused to show weakness.
“You catching that?” he asked, his focus returning to the poster and the tape.
Poster in hand, he moved to the front window and pressed it against the glass, smoothing it before turning back to her. “Catching the little buzz we have going on between us.”
“A little… The thing is…” C’mon, Heather, be strong. You are the cookie lady now. You don’t date. You are all you need. That’s what the podcast she’d been listening to said to her over and over again. Mantra in hand, she slapped on her I’m-in-charge-here-buddy mask. “It would never work between us.”
The edges of his lips ticked up ever so slightly. “You can’t know that.”
Oh, she knew.
He sauntered toward her.
Unwilling to back down, she stepped toward him. Expression firm, she said, “I can already see exactly how this whole thing would play out if we let it. You’d start with a horrible pickup line.”
“Guilty.” His hands fell to the belt loops of his jeans.
Her palm itched to press against the front of his tee, but she refrained. “Then I’d counter with a witty response. This time, my reply would be even better. Funny, intelligent…everything.”
“Now, that I’d like to hear.” Nothing but a foot of crackling air sizzled between them.
“Trust me, if I had said it, it would have been epic. You can’t repeat something like that. It has to happen in the moment.” She shook her head, the sleek ponytail she’d carefully arranged earlier brushing against the collar of her jacket.
“That right there is why we wouldn’t have worked out. I mean, you couldn’t even come up with a snappier reply.” He crossed his arms, the little veins of his muscled forearms flexing with the motion.
“Oh, I would’ve. It would’ve been the best response in the history of pickup line replies.”
“I don’t believe you.” The glimmer in his eyes lit up his entire face.
He was enjoying this exchange entirely too much.
Control. She needed the power back. “Trust would’ve always been one of your issues in our relationship.”
“Maybe you just couldn’t be honest with me about how you felt. That’s probably why we would have always argued.” He raised his eyebrows in a clear ultimatum.
She stepped the tiniest bit closer to him. “Let’s say you threw out that awful line again. The one about taking me out.”
“I’m with you so far.” He glanced down to the floor in clear acknowledgment of her movement forward, but he held his ground.
“We’d banter for a good bit—”
His face sparked with humor. “Sounds about right.”
“Both of us would get that tingly feeling of attraction. You know the one.” So maybe she made her voice a little breathier than usual. Sue her.
His mouth parted, the exaggerated fullness of his lower lip apparent. “You have a tingly feeling?”
She shook her head and raised a hand. Not touching his chest like she desperately wanted to, but getting within millimeters. “That’s not the important part. Eventually, you would convince me to go on a date.”
“I’d take you to this great taco stand. I love tacos.”
“Despite that, I’d probably let you take me out again. And again,” she said, not willing to acknowledge the way she wanted to nip at his lip with her teeth.
He nodded. “I’m digging this relationship so far.”
“Eventually, you’d ask me to move in. I’d say no. You’d pressure me, even though I wouldn’t be ready.”
“What can I say? I wouldn’t want to spend a night away from you. No use paying for two apartments.”
She shrugged, dropping her hand. “I’d cave, and we’d finally move in together—”
“Do we get to hook up first? Don’t skip that part.” This time he moved forward, just a smidge.
She stayed put. She refused to back up first. “Of course. It would be awful. Sorry Speed Racer, but I need more than three minutes of go time.”
“That’s not what you’d say after you screamed my name.” He leaned forward, the whisper of his words brushing against her ear.
God, there wasn’t but a breath of space between them. She was all turned-on Heather, ready to throw her why-have-a-man-when-you-can-have-cookies resolve away.
His breath smelled of cinnamon candy and coffee, turning her knees effectively to melted butter.
No, she stopped herself. Back to the fictional breakup at hand.
Cookies were just fine for her. Better, even.
“Then we would be horribly irresponsible one night and, surprise, it’s a boy!” She waved her hands and grinned.
He frowned. “I’d never be that irresponsible.”
“It would happen. And then you’d insist we get married in a huge production I’d totally resent.” Now, she stepped to the counter to grab the rest of the posters.
“C’mon, baby. I’d tell you we could keep it small.”
She held the posters against her front like weak card-stock armor. “It wouldn’t matter, you’d be all kinds of grumpy when you stopped getting your full three minutes on top. Before you could say ‘honeymoon,’ we’d hate each other. The divorce would be sweet relief for everyone involved, and we’d never speak again.” She flashed him a goodbye smile. “Aren’t you glad we aren’t doing that?”
He followed her to the door, opening it for her. “That’s tragic. But we could still have an affair every once in a while, right? Let’s move straight to that. Avoid all the other stuff.”
Every alarm bell in her head rang out. He’s a player. He’s not a cookie. He’s a player. He’s not a cookie.
She patted the anchor tattoo inked on his bicep. “Sorry, sweetie. I think it’s best we let the breakup stick. I’ll see you—”
“Jase, thank goodness you’re here,” a female voice called from behind her. “I have a ribbon emergency.”
Jase tore his gaze from Heather’s, stripping nerves she hadn’t realized he’d exposed.
A perky cheerleader-type with a button nose breezed past Heather into the shop holding a floor-length formal gown. “Cassidy changed her mind about prom. She’s wearing green, so we need to match the ribbon to this dress instead of the purple one I brought in before.”
Time to go. Heather moved out the door but glanced over her shoulder at Jase. “So, you’ll help out with the prom thing?”
The dark intensity of his gaze held her in place. “Absolutely.”
“And, Heather?” He flashed a grin, and the fuzzy Jase-induced haze filtered over her vision again. “Sorry I broke your heart.”
“You’ve got that wrong, bud. I did the breaking up.”
“See, that’s why it never worked. You always have to be right. Even when you’re wrong.”
Heather opened her mouth, but the now wide-eyed, green-dress-wielding customer caught her attention.
“Should I come back?” the woman asked.
“Nope. He’s all yours.” Heather hustled outside into the cool morning air before either of them could say anything more.