A short silence came over the line. “Not if it involves a lawsuit, dude. Maybe you should let this one go,” Tristan advised.
“Don’t let your ego get you into any more trouble. You have enough jobs to keep you busy,” Cal said.
“I’d never do anything to jeopardize Pierce Brothers. There must be a good reason she wants the restaurant redone so fast, and I intend to find out. Either way, the job will be good for the company. Plenty of exposure.”
“What are you gonna do?” Cal asked.
Dalton tightened his lips. “What I do best.”
“Seduce her until she’s smitten, then break up with her?” Tristan piped up.
“No, asshat. Get the job and the girl. Then we both win.”
Cal sighed over the line. “Famous last words.”
Dalton hung up on his brothers and started the ignition. Satisfaction hit as he imagined Raven waiting for him to contact her. Though he was tempted to drive over right now for their meeting, he knew it was best to let the tension build. Linger. Settle.
It always made the surrender so much sweeter.
Raven waited the rest of the day, but Dalton never contacted her.
Dammit, she was running out of time and needed an answer today. Maybe she’d made a big mistake going to Cal first. Dalton was probably insulted. Would he refuse the job out of spite? Well, that would prove what type of man he really was, right? She didn’t need him or Pierce Brothers. She’d find someone else, and maybe the work wouldn’t be as pristine but it would do.
She finished closing up and heard a tap at the door.
Ignoring her wild heartbeat, she called out, “Who is it?”
His rich, smoky voice rolled out his name with deliberate precision, as if to remind her who he was. Like she needed a reminder. Bracing herself, she unlocked the door and stepped aside.
He walked in.
No, more like swaggered. The delicious roll of his hips and his staggering height gave her the impression of confidence without arrogance, sexual assertiveness without aggression, grace without delicacy. He smelled of lemon and varnish and a smoky type of wood that reminded her of tangled sheets and musky sex. His jeans were ripped at the knees, his work boots scarred, and his shirt dirty. That glorious hair was pulled back from his face, emphasizing his carved features.
She tried hard not to drool or look affected as she locked the door again behind them and turned to face him.
“Thanks for finally showing up.”
His brow lifted. His hip cocked out, and she tried not to lower her gaze to admire the way the denim stretched to accommodate him. “Didn’t know we had an appointment.”
“Cal said you’d be over this afternoon.”
“Cal’s not my keeper,” he said mildly. “In fact, Cal only runs one third of the business. He builds the houses. Do you need a house built?”
Oh, he was here to torture her. No anger marred his face or leaked through his voice. That would’ve been easier to deal with. Instead, he intended to toy with her until he made his point. She thought about the prestigious magazine article that could take her restaurant to the next level, gritted her teeth, and decided to play the game. “No.”
“Ah. Wait, maybe you needed Tristan? Do you need to sell a house or redesign one? Flip one?”
If she weren’t so pissed, she could’ve laughed. This man was a master at the game. “No.”
“Then what do you want, Raven?”
“I think you know already. I apologize if I made some type of error asking the wrong person, but all I need right now is a yes or no. Do you want the job or not?”
It was her best play, but damned if he didn’t smile real slow and sexy. “Not going to be that easy, darlin’. You took the time to explain everything to Cal, so now I’ll need you to repeat the specifics of the job and exactly what you need. It would also be nice to know why you refused to ask me.”
She tried not to squirm under his hot stare. Her tummy was doing that weird flip thing that made her a bit light-headed. How did a simple conversation with him turn into a feast of verbal foreplay? “I thought it would be better to keep it simple,” she clipped out. “You’ve made it well known you’re interested in more than my bar.”
His eyes darkened. “I am. But when I take a job on, I don’t disrespect the client or my company. When I work at your place, there’s a trust between us I refuse to break. I give you my word, I won’t lay a hand on you or make any advances that would make you uncomfortable.” He paused, his gaze sweeping over her face. “Unless you ask nicely, of course.”
She swallowed hard. “Fine.”
“I need to know you believe me, Raven.”
She did. And though she was tempted to lie, she couldn’t. It wouldn’t be fair. “I believe you.”
His muscles relaxed. “Good. Why do you need such an extensive job done so quickly?”
“Good Food and Fine Spirits magazine wants to do a feature article on My Place. I need it ready for the photographers.”
A genuine smile curved his lips. “That’s wonderful news; congratulations. You’ve really done amazing things here in such a short time.”
Raven smiled back. She loved talking about her business. “This could lift the restaurant to the next level. But I’ve been neglecting the cosmetics until I had the guts solid.”
Dalton nodded. “Makes sense. Your menu and cocktails are stellar, and your staff is amazing. You did the right thing waiting. I know how much money a new business sucks out.”
She sighed and glanced at the mighty bar that sagged with age. “Yes, but it’s time. The investment will be worth it. Can it be completed within the time period?”
He scrunched up his face in thought. “It’s tight but doable. I’d have to delay another job, but I don’t think that will be a problem. How many stools?”
“A dozen. I’m open to ideas.”
He walked over, studying the motley scarred stools lining the bar. Then ran his hand gently over the surface, caressing the cheap gold rails with the lightest touch. Shivers raced down her spine as she imagined that hand on her body, on her naked skin. His fingers would be the slightest bit rough, but skillful. Would he be able to play her body as deftly as he stroked a piece of wood to glory? “I think I know what will work. I have a variety of samples to show you, and I’ll sketch out my ideas tonight. I can come by again tomorrow, around closing.”
He drew his hand away and she let out a relieved breath. Already her skin felt hot and stretched over her bones way too tight. She took a step back for more air. “Good.”
“I’ll also have a schedule, but you’ll need to close the place for a while.”
“A week to do the main parts of the job. The rest I can finish off-site.”
“Okay. I’ll take care of it.”
“Good.” A short silence fell between them, pulsing with crackling energy. “How many places did you try before settling on Pierce Brothers?”
She jerked back. How did he know? His shrewd gaze told her his bluff had worked perfectly. Damn. “A few.”
He stalked her, closing in on her precious distance and taking up her air. “Why?”
Because your family destroyed mine. Because your presence makes me feel like I’m betraying my father.
“I thought it would be easier.”
The words were the truth. He seemed to accept her response, nodding slowly, his gaze shredding her barriers and probing too deep for comfort. “Yes, I can see why,” he murmured. “I can take the job, Raven. I’ll make your bar so damn beautiful everyone who sees it will compare every other one out there to it.” His poetic words tugged at her soul, but she fought back. “You just have to do one thing for me.”
“Ask me nicely.”
She stared at him. He made no move toward her. Still, his aura wrapped tight around her with pure demand. The knowledge of what he wanted to take from her might seem ridiculous to someone else. After all, it was a simple admission.
But to her, it was so much more.
He was forcing her to ask for something she wanted. Something only he could give her. The demand bristled with connotations and a seething intensity that stole her breath. Long moments passed. He kept still, waiting for her to take the first tiny step in surrender.