His to Claim

By: Opal Carew

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.

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