Oh my God!
Victoria’s heart rapped to a thunderous beat, adrenaline pumping furiously throughout her body. Her fingers hovered above the keyboard, the reconciliation of the monthly inventory coming to a screeching halt as desire swept through her. Unable to tear her gaze away, she peered over the top of her computer monitor.
Who is he? she wondered as she gawked at the magnificent god who’d sauntered through the entrance of the Literary Ladies’ Book Nook and Café. She inhaled, trying to slow her rapid breaths. “May I help you?” she asked.
Unhurried, his eyes traveled over the rows of bookshelves. “Maybe,” he answered, turning his attention toward the long, mahogany checkout desk, his smoldering sapphire gaze lingering over her. He flashed a smile that could rival any she’d ever viewed on the silver screen. With his perfectly aligned set of white teeth, he could be the poster child for any famous brand of toothpaste.
Victoria flushed, her heart fluttering in response. It should be illegal for a man to be that hot.
Suddenly, he pointed toward the arts and leisure section, his attention drawn to the bookshelves located in the far-right corner of the room. “I think I’ve found what I’m looking for.”
“O-okay. Let me know if you need help with anything.” She cringed at the unnaturally high pitch of her voice.
From the café, Jennifer, her best friend and long-time business partner, must have noticed him, too. Full-speed ahead, she hurried through the maze of magazine racks, stopping once she’d reached the opposite side of the desk. “You’re not fooling me.” She winked, her canny expression knowing.
Victoria shrugged. “About what?”
Leaning across the desk, her sassy, auburn-haired friend taunted, “You’re full of shit. I saw you staring at that hottie when he walked in.” She smirked and nodded toward the stranger.
Embarrassment flooded through her. She lowered her voice to whisper-hiss, “Shut up. He might hear you.” Peeking over her shoulder, Victoria prayed he hadn’t.
Well over six-foot, he had a body that could turn any woman into a sinner. And as if that weren’t enough, he’d also been graced with unbelievably handsome, chiseled features. Victoria was sure that he was a man used to being noticed. Broad-shouldered and muscular, the man had to spend hours in the gym sculpting his breathtaking physique.
Dressed in a fine woolen coat, he looked as if he’d stepped off the cover of GQ. How she’d love to run her fingers through his jet-black hair. The mussed locks had been styled into an unkempt look that tapered down the base of his head, fading around his ears and ending at the nape of his neck into the razor-cropped style of a classic movie star. The dark stubble that shadowed his unshaved, angular jaw only intensified his masculinity.
Jennifer nudged her shoulder. “Ask him if he needs help.”
“No.” Victoria shook her head. “I already did. He said he’d found what he was looking for.”
“So? Maybe he changed his mind.”
With a sigh, Victoria folded her arms over her chest. “I’m not going to pester the poor guy. Anyway, I’m sure if he needs help, he’ll ask.”
“Honey, that guy is sex on a stick. There is absolutely nothing poor about him.” Jennifer smiled slyly. “You know…I caught him checking you out.”
Victoria shot her an incredulous look. To think a man who looked like him would ever notice a frumpy introvert like her was ludicrous. “He’s probably looking because you’re acting like a weirdo.”
Jennifer cocked an eyebrow and pointed to herself. “Me?”
Casually, he flipped through a thick hardcover coffee-table book, occasionally stopping to admire one of its glossy pages. He must have sensed they were talking about him because he glanced up and smiled wickedly in their direction.
Victoria quickly averted her gaze. “He’s looking,” she whispered.
“Excuse me, ladies,” the man’s deep voice called out.
Goosebumps rose over Victoria’s flesh, her stomach somersaulting.
Jennifer let out a throaty laugh, straightening from her position against the desk. “Now’s your chance. Go for it. I’ve got my eye on you,” she said and quickly walked back to the café.
“Yes, sir.” Victoria felt the pull of her stupid grin. Sir? He wasn’t an old man. In fact, she’d be willing to bet they were the same age.
His lip twitched, seemingly amused. “Do you have any recommendations regarding books on art history?”
“Yes, I do.” Victoria sprang from her chair, banging her knee into the corner of the desk.
Concern etched his face. “Are you all right?”
Victoria grimaced and hobbled toward him. “I’m fine,” she lied, trying to ignore the sharp pangs that ripped through her knee. “We have a few good books on the subject. Not as many as I’d like. They aren’t one of our better sellers.” Stop rambling! She picked up a step stool and placed it beside him, climbing onto it. She balanced on tiptoes and reached up to the top shelf where her personal favorite book on the influence art has had on society’s acceptance of cultural norms was kept.
He stepped closer. “I could—”
Victoria jerked as his shoulder brushed her arm. The step stool wiggled beneath her feet. Oh, dear Lord. Why hadn’t she secured it before she stepped onto it? She lost her balance, the book smacking to the floor. As the stool tipped onto its side, a pair of masculine hands clamped around her waist, preventing her fall.
“Oh…my,” she sputtered as he crushed her to his chest.
“I could have gotten that book for you,” he said, his arms tightening around her.
Palms spread over his hard pecs, Victoria craned her neck back, unnerved by his mischievous expression. “I should have asked you. I wasn’t thinking.”
“As long as you’ve remained uninjured, there is no need to second-guess.”
He really is a splendid specimen of a man. Victoria flicked her tongue over her top lip, unsure how to handle the raw desire that flowed within her.
Gently, he lowered her to the floor. “I’m glad I was here to keep you safe and sound,” he said, his large hands remaining a bit longer than necessary around her waist.
“Thank you.” Victoria blushed, snapping back into reality. Picking the book up from the floor, she handed it to him. “This is one of my personal favorites.”
Gorgeous blue eyes studied her. “You’re an art fan as well?” he questioned.
Victoria swallowed, unable to think straight as his fingertips brushed her own. She nodded in response. “Yes, of all types.”
“Well, I’ll have to read it then,” he answered huskily.
“Maybe you should look at it for a few minutes first before you buy it.” What was wrong with her? It wasn’t good business to discourage a sale.
“Not necessary. Anyone who’d risk her life to recommend a book to me must be passionate about its contents. That is endorsement enough for me.”
Tongue-tied, she nodded wordlessly and spun around to return to her desk. She willed herself to act natural when she realized he was following close behind. “Are you sure you’re all set?” she asked as they reached the register.
“For today.” He pulled a wad of cash from his black leather billfold. “Is the proprietor of this shop available to speak with?”
Seriously? Victoria ran her fingers absently over the stray blonde strands of hair that had loosened from her ponytail. “May I ask why you’d like to speak with her?” she stammered, wondering if she’d done something to upset him.
“I think she should know how lucky she is to have such a valuable employee working in her bookstore. You’re a real asset.”
“How nice of you to say.” Instinctively, Victoria pushed the side of her glasses securely into place. The damn things were always sliding down the bridge of her nose. She extended her hand. “I’m Victoria Hathaway, co-owner of this establishment.”
Why is he looking at me like that? she wondered, noting the flicker of surprise in his eyes. “I’m the proprietor of this bookshop along with my business partner, Jennifer Jordan.” She gestured toward the café. Not surprised to see Jennifer looking in their direction, Victoria motioned for her to join them.
“It’s nice to finally meet you, Ms. Hathaway. I hadn’t expected to see you working at the register. It’s refreshing to see such a hands-on approach.”
Victoria furrowed her brows. How did this man know who she was? “Are you new to the area?” she questioned.
“Yes, I am. I’ve meant to familiarize myself with the local retailers on Thames Street for the last month.” He extended his hand to capture hers in a firm handshake. “I’m Henrique Santana.”
She tore her hand from his. “What are you doing in my bookstore?”
Jennifer strutted quickly toward the register, her lips set in a thin line. “What’s going on? You look upset, Vicki.”
“This is Henrique Santana,” she said.
Jennifer’s eyes narrowed. “You’re not welcome here.”
“With all due respect, Miss…”
Jennifer folded her arms, dismissing his attempt at a formal handshake. “Jordan. Ms. Jennifer Jordan.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Ms. Jordan.” Henrique lowered his proffered hand, shoving it into his coat pocket.
Jennifer made a loud snorting sound. “I sure as hell cannot say the same about you.”
“Me neither.” Victoria ripped the receipt tape from the cash register and crammed the book into a plastic bag. “I would appreciate it if you took your business elsewhere from now on, Mr. Santana.”
“That’s unfortunate. I must admit, I found your store quite charming.” He looked pointedly at Victoria. “Although, I do question if the locals will remain faithful to your business once construction has been completed on the new resort and upscale shopping mall.”
Victoria’s face reddened. “Mr. Santana, I asked you to leave.” She thrust the package at him. “And please, don’t ever come into our store again.”
He walked toward the door, stopping to add, “While you do offer an adequate assortment of books and the scent from the café is enticing, I’m not sure that your quaint shop will be able to compete with the major retailer that is currently scouting out the area. I’ve heard they also have a café inside where patrons can relax with one of the many books offered in their vast selection. It reminds me a lot of your own establishment.”
Victoria sucked in a breath, feeling as if she’d been ensnared within a lion’s den. He assessed her briefly, a shiver jolting down her spine as he opened the door. An arctic blast swept through the room and then he was gone.
Henry stepped onto the sidewalk, the stream of frigid air doing little to thwart his hard-on. What had possessed him to goad the prim and proper shopkeeper? Surely, with Santana Construction’s lawyers hounding her to sell her property to him, she hadn’t needed him to taunt her. Yet, for some reason, he hadn’t been able to stop himself.
He had a sneaky suspicion that there was much more to Victoria Hathaway than met the eye. It had taken every ounce of restraint not to remove her Coke-bottle glasses. Soft-spoken, she gave the impression of being shy and reserved. But her fierce reaction to his quips led Henry to believe that she’d make a noble opponent. Chin raised, she’d proven that she wasn’t a woman to be underestimated. If he hadn’t noticed the slightest quiver of her lip, he’d never have realized he’d rattled her. And, shamefully, he’d enjoyed every second of it.
Beep! Beep!! Beeeeep!!!
Henry jolted back onto the sidewalk, his heart pounding. He’d been so engrossed with thoughts of the sexy bookseller that he’d almost gotten himself killed. Lusting after her would be detrimental to his plans. He’d come to Newport with a mission—one that forced him to stay clear of Victoria Hathaway.