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Authors: Opal Carew

His to Claim

BOOK: His to Claim
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.

 

To Matt.
I miss you,
but I’m glad
you’re following
your dream.

 

Acknowledgments

As always, thank you to my wonderful editor, Rose Hilliard, and my fabulous agent,
Emily Sylvan Kim. Thanks to my husband, Mark, who is my biggest fan (as I am his.)
Thank you to Laurie, who helps me with so many things. Thank you to my two sons, Matt
and Jason, for always being supportive of my work. A special thank-you to Matt, for
helping me research setting for this and the previous connected book, and for helping
me figure out a band tour that makes sense. Finally, thank you to the lovely Katy
Cartwright for the artistic inspiration, information about an artist’s journey, and
for designing the lovely bluebird tattoo for me!

 

Contents

Title Page

Copyright Notice

Dedication

Acknowledgments

No Strings

Savage Kiss

Rock Hard

Wild Ones

Breaking Storm

Perfect Rhythm

Epilogue

Also by Opal Carew

About the Author

Copyright

 

No Strings

Melanie’s heart stopped as the bell over the door rang and she glanced up to see a
tall man in a dark gray suit walk in. Something about his tall, broad-shouldered form
and expensive suit reminded her of Rafe for a moment. But it was just one of her regulars.

“Hey, beautiful. The usual.”

They chatted while she fixed him his typical latte, then she handed it to him with
a smile. He winked and then headed for the door. She knew he was flirting with her.
It had been going on all week, and although he was a very attractive man, she wasn’t
interested.

She glanced around the store. The few customers were happily chatting over their coffees
and there was no sign of a new customer coming into the shop.

“I’m going in the back to grab some more sugar,” she said to her friend Sue, the other
barista on duty, who was currently refilling the thermoses of milk after their recent
rush.

The fast-paced influx of customers had left Melanie a little drained. She wasn’t used
to being on her feet for eight hours a day. But it was better than the intense attraction
to her former boss, Rafe, driving her mad every day.

“Okay. Then, if you don’t mind, I’ll take my break,” Sue said.

Melanie opened the storage cupboard and grabbed a pack of raw sugar, another of white
sugar, and some artificial sweetener, then carried them to the lobby and started filling
the condiment stand with the small packets. Once done, she returned to the bar and
tucked the leftover sugar packets under the counter.

The bell over the door rang, signaling a new customer. Melanie stood up and glanced
toward the door to see a man in a charcoal suit talking to Sue. She sighed. It looked
like her admirer was back, and she knew Sue would do what she could to play matchmaker.
Sue pointed in Melanie’s direction and the man turned.

Melanie’s heart stopped when she saw his face. This was not the customer who’d been
flirting with her all week.

As soon as he saw her, his lips turned up in a sexy, crooked smile—the one that always
melted her heart—and he walked toward the bar.

He was a striking figure in his expensive, well-tailored suit that accentuated his
tall physique and broad shoulders. His dark, glossy hair was combed back and his stunning
sky blue eyes ringed in navy were locked on her.

“Hello, Melanie.”

“Mr. Ranier.”

He chuckled. “Haven’t I always told you to call me Rafe?”

She nodded. His authoritative brother, Dane, had insisted on being called Mr. Ranier,
but Rafe had always preferred a more casual address.

“Rafe, what are you doing here?”

“Getting a coffee, for starters.” He glanced up at the board. “What do you suggest?”

“Iced coffees are quite popular right now. We have one with a hint of cinnamon and
orange.” She knew his brother would want a regular coffee, but Rafe was always willing
to try something new.

“Sounds good.”

“To take with you?” she asked as she reached for a takeout cup.

“Actually, that depends. Can you join me?”

“Of course she can.” Sue smiled as she returned to the bar. “In fact, Melanie was
just about to go on break.”

Melanie glanced at Sue. “I thought you were going now.”

“I’ll go later.” She glanced at Rafe and smiled. “In fact, you go sit and I’ll make
you both something.”

“But if the manager sees…” Melanie said under her breath.

“She’s gone for the day, and I’m not going to tell.”

Melanie walked to a table in the back corner, wanting to be discreet.

“This is cozy,” Rafe said as he sat down across from her.

“So why are you here?” Melanie asked with a smile. “Besides the coffee.”

“Does there have to be a reason?”

“This isn’t anywhere near where you work or where you live.”

“Why don’t you think I was at a meeting nearby?”

Her eyebrows arched. “Were you?”

He shook his head. “No, I came here to see you.”

Her stomach clenched at the admission. She didn’t work for him anymore. They had been
friendly in the office, but they hadn’t been friends. He’d been her boss. There was
only one reason she could think of for why he’d be here. The one reason she’d been
dreading, and hoping she wouldn’t have to deal with.

He wanted to know why she’d quit.

Even though Jessica had ultimately chosen Rafe’s brother, Melanie had finally come
to terms with the fact that she would never have a chance with Rafe. And she didn’t
want to tell him.

She’d worked for him for over two years and … she’d fallen in love with him. But in
all that time, he’d never given her a second look. Then when he’d fallen in love with
her best friend, Jessica, it had broken Melanie’s heart. It had just been too painful
to keep working with him, and to watch the two of them together.

That’s why she’d quit.

And she couldn’t tell him any of that.

Sue came to the table with two iced coffees, then returned to the bar.

“I was surprised to find you were working as a barista. It’s quite a change from an
office environment.” He sipped his coffee.

“How did you find out where I was?”

He shrugged. “I checked your personnel file. Someone from this location called for
a reference.”

“So you just came by to see if I was here?”

“That’s right.”

She shook her head. “I still don’t understand why.”

He leaned forward, his sky blue eyes intent. “I just want to make sure you’re okay.”

She straightened her back. “Of course. Why wouldn’t I be?”

“You up and left a good job … a job you seemed to be happy at … for no good reason.
And here you are working at a job for probably minimum wage. I don’t get it.”

“I needed a change. I like the freedom I have here.” And it was true. She might have
left to free herself from her obsessive love for Rafe but she’d come to realize that
she was seeking an even bigger freedom from the rules she always bound herself by.

“Freedom?”

“I’m not tied to a nine-to-five existence. I’m not tied to a desk. I don’t have a
boss hovering over me.” As soon as she said it, she realized he’d take it the wrong
way.

“Did I hover over you? Is that why you left?”

“No, I don’t mean that. It was the nature of the job. I couldn’t leave my desk without
getting someone to cover for me and handle phone calls. I needed to keep on top of
both your schedule and your brother’s. What I did was totally driven by what other
people needed.”

“Isn’t that true here?”

“People come in for coffee, and maybe something to eat. It’s not a big commitment.”

He frowned. “I’m sorry, Melanie. I didn’t realize you were unhappy.”

“No, it’s not that. I wasn’t really unhappy.”

“If I had known, I could have found something else for you. Something you’d enjoy
doing. It’s a big company.” He leaned toward her. “We still could. Say the word and
I’ll call personnel.”

Sweet, helpful Rafe. “No, thanks. I’m happy here.” She finished her iced coffee and
stood up. “I should get back to work.”

“Wait, Melanie. Just give me another minute.”

She sank back into the chair.

“Please tell me one thing.”

She stared at him, dreading whatever question he was about to ask.

“Did I do something?”

“No, Rafe. You didn’t do a thing.”

In fact, that was the whole problem.

*   *   *

As soon as her shift was over, Melanie changed and grabbed the bottle of nail polish
she’d stashed in her purse this morning. She couldn’t wear polish to work, and she
was a real fanatic, so she carried it with her and put it on after her shift if she
was going out. She was meeting Jessica after work and she hated going out with naked
nails.

She rolled the bottle between her hands to mix it up without creating air bubbles.
It was actually part of a collection of polishes Rafe had given her to thank her for
helping him pick out a gift for Jessica. He was always so thoughtful.

She brushed on the polish. A simple two-coater in turquoise, but with trendy black
speckles for interest. She finished with her favorite fast-dry topcoat.

She didn’t see her former roommate, Jessica, much these days. Jessica had moved into
Mr. Ranier’s place. And who wouldn’t? Not only was she staying with the man of her
dreams, who happened to be beyond gorgeous, he was also a billionaire who lived at
the Ritz-Carlton residence, where his luxury apartment had a spectacular view of the
Philadelphia skyline.

Melanie grabbed a bus to the great little deli she and Jessica had discovered a month
ago.

When Melanie stepped into the restaurant, she saw Jessica at a table by the window,
a drink in front of her.

“Hey, how’s it going?” Melanie asked as she tossed her purse on a chair, then sat
down across from Jessica. But she didn’t need to ask because the glow in Jessica’s
face said it all. Now there was a woman in love!

“We picked out the flowers today,” Jessica said. “It was so funny being in a florist
shop with Dane. The two women who worked there stared at him in awe, and they seemed
intimidated by him, even though he was as charming as could be.”

“Well, he does have a very commanding presence. You know that.” She leaned in close.
“I’m not surprised he brings that quality into the bedroom,” she said with a grin.

“Does he ever.” Jessica laughed, not at all embarrassed.

That’s one of the things Melanie loved about her friend. Jessica was willing to jump
into an exciting situation and run with it.

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