ELYSSA ROSE didn’t need a man in her life. She definitely didn’t need Jaxon McCall in her life. No man had ever managed to irritate her as much as this one did. Of course she knew that was his goal. He wanted her to give up on her dream. He wanted her to throw in the towel after only one month. Oh, he didn’t really care about her or her dream. In fact he’d have been happy for her to pursue her dream as long as she did it in another location. He didn’t care one whit about her—he was only interested in her building.
She stood in the side window of her corner shop, A Rose in Bloom, pretending to rearrange a couple of flower vases while glancing across the street. She could see through the large glass window to the inside of the fitness center where a number of people were lifting free weights in some kind of unison dance. She strained her eyes, but she didn’t think she could see Jaxon, known as “Mack” by his friends. For a moment she thought she spied him, but when the man twisted her direction she could tell it was someone different. Jaxon’s shoulders were definitely broader, and he had a more well-defined six pack. In fact, his was more of an eight-pack in her opinion.
Not that she found him attractive. He was so obnoxious she could never be attracted to him. Oh, he had all the right stuff—an incredible body, piercing blue eyes, dark hair, cropped close on the side and wavy on top, a chiseled chin, dimples that danced when he laughed. But he thought he was God’s gift to women, and he couldn’t understand why she didn’t fall all over him like all the other females he met. In other circumstances she might have considered dating him, but she hated him with a vengeance. He was doing everything in his power to discourage her in her efforts to turn the building her uncle had left her into a successful flower shop. She’d seen him looking lustfully in her direction from his gym window. But he wasn’t lusting after her—he only wanted her building.
She put her hands on her hips and glared as if she could sear him with her eyes wherever he was hiding, probably in the back office of his small gym. He could lust all he wanted, but she would never give up her shop. Sure, business was slow right now, but she was saving plenty of money by living in the small apartment on the upper floor. She was strong and determined, and she was gifted with flower arrangements. She only had to hold out until she was discovered, and her business would take off. And she had plenty of time to work on her flowers since she had no social life whatsoever.
“Why don’t you come try us out?” She jumped as the deep voice behind her jarred her out of her reverie. The object of her hatred was standing behind her, and he’d caught her staring at his gym. She paused to move a vase of flowers to a different shelf before turning to face him.
“I’M NOT INTERESTED—” Elyssa started to speak, but the words stuck in her throat. Opening and closing her mouth like a guppy, she stared at his bare chest. Well, she didn’t just stare at his chest—she also checked out his tight abs. And then her eyes dropped down to his legs, following the line of his well-defined quads down to his shins, backed by bulging calf muscles. What am I doing? She forced her eyes back to his face where she discovered a satisfied smirk.
The blood throbbed in her temples as she glared at him. “I think you’re in the wrong place… the homeless shelter is down the street, six blocks from here.”
“Homeless shelter?” He blinked, tightening his lips just enough to make one cheek dip in, hinting at a dimple.
“I assume that’s where you belong since you don’t have any clothes to wear.”
He glanced down at his chest and back, a slow grin spreading on his face. “I was working out, and I forgot I hadn’t put my shirt back on.”
“I’ll thank you not to come into my shop without a shirt in the future.”
Donning a t-shirt he’d evidently carried inside, he waggled his brows. “I’m just glad to know we have a future.”
“We don’t have a future!” she sputtered. Slamming her hands onto her hips, she took a few steps toward him with what she hoped was an intimidating expression on her face. “What do you want, anyway? Why are you in here?”
He held up his palms. “Wait! Don’t go all postal on me. I only wanted to offer you a smoothie, a protein drink … On the house. We’ve got a promotion going on, and I thought you might like to come over and try one.”
“I detest smoothies.”
His eyes widened. “That’s because you haven’t tasted one of mine.”
“Believe me, I won’t like your smoothies, either. Why would anyone want to blend a bunch of healthy things into a drink? Turkey, egg, and broccoli. Wheat germ and brussel sprouts. Smoothies are gross.”
“The only thing I want to mix into a drink is a slash of cream in my coffee. And I can just go upstairs to my apartment to get it.”
She rolled her eyes at him, knowing his invitation was only a ploy to get her to look at his building. Judging from his guilty half-smile, she knew he knew that she knew. So far, she’d refused to even consider trading spaces. He wanted her to move to his smaller building so he could have her larger space. Well, that’s not going to happen.
His smug grin morphed into a wide O. “You’re living upstairs? In this building? By yourself?”
“Yes, of course. It saves me a lot of money in living expenses, so I have plenty to last until A Rose in Bloom is making money. So you see, there’s no reason for me to consider moving my shop to a smaller building, like yours.” She savored her moment of triumph.
“This neighborhood isn’t safe for a girl at night.” His brows furrowed over his eyes, making him look stern. “There are two nightclubs just up the street, and all the other businesses except my gym are closed in the evening. In fact, we always assign a guy to walk girls to their cars after dark.”
“Well, I don’t really go outside after dark.” Elyssa crossed her arms, trying to keep her voice steady and confident.
Without responding to her remark, he strode to the front door of the shop, fingering the lock. “You have a deadbolt here right next to the single pane glass window in this door. Anyone could break in.”
Peering over his shoulder, she inspected the tarnished lock. “I’d hear them if they broke the window.”
“Yeah? So what would you do if you heard someone break the window?”
“I would… I would call the police. Nine-one-one.” A slight warble in her voice betrayed her uncertainty. Hopefully, he didn’t notice.
“And by the time the police got here, you could already be dead.”
“Fine! I’ll buy a better lock. Now please go away.”
“Look, Elyssa—” His hand touched her arm, sending an electric current all the way down her spine.
Jerking away, she rubbed at her skin to rid herself of the goose bumps peppering her entire arm. Please, don’t let him notice.
The corner of his mouth twitched, and the gaze from his deep blue eyes seemed to burn right through her corneas. “Perhaps you should turn your thermostat up. You seem to… eh-hem… have a chill.”