For readers of Jill Shalvis and Susan Mallery, USA Today bestselling author Serena Bell teases all five senses in this poignant, tantalizing novel of fantasies long hidden . . . and finally indulged.Aspiring chef Lily McKee noticed Kincaid Graves the first time he walked into the dingy diner where she waits tables. With his ice-blue eyes and primal tattoos, his presence puts Lily on edge—and reminds her of all the unfulfilled longings she isn’t pursuing while she’s stuck in this dead-end job. Without a doubt, the man is dangerous to her long-term plans of leaving town and hiring on at a real kitchen—and yet, she hungers for him, if even for just a taste.Kincaid didn’t come back to his coastal Oregon hometown looking for a good time or a good meal. The ex-con has a score to settle, old wrongs to set right. But Lily, equal parts innocence and insight, brings out an impulsive side of him he thought he’d left behind in the past. And it only takes one intense moment of weakness between them to make him consider the possibility of an entirely new future—and the promise of passion beyond either of their wildest dreams.
In prison, you perfected the art of watching without seeming to watch. You learned to keep an eye on everyone and everything, to monitor subtle shifts, the changes in weather that warned of coming disaster.
You didn’t lose that habit overnight. Kincaid Graves could sit in his booth in the diner, read his book, and see and hear everything. He knew where she was, every second. He’d watched when the burly Greek had invited her to cook, seen the way she danced behind the counter, graceful and efficient. He’d monitored the movements of the other cook, too, so he knew the guy had been in her space, had messed with her grill.
He’d watched her scrape the grill and start over, and he’d watched her wield a hot spatula against her oppressor the next time he’d messed with her. She’d eked a smile out of the guy, even—the guy knew toughness when he saw it. She might not be from around here—something Midwestern in her accent said she wasn’t—but she had good pioneer spirit. Build, burn it down, rebuild.
She was beautiful, this close. Huge green eyes, arched eyebrows, pixie face, pointed chin, wide, full mouth. Those eyes. Hadn’t he read that people were programmed to go nuts for big eyes, something to do with the urge to care for young, vulnerable creatures?
This was all apart from how bad he wanted her. She was tall and slim, with small, high breasts and a tiny waist, and he wanted to pick her up and wedge her against the wood paneling and surge into her under that absurd little skirt.
He couldn’t trust those impulses. He’d been the better part of a decade without sex with anything other than his fist. He was hyperaware of all the waitresses, dressed to bring in tips in short skirts and booty shorts and teeny-tiny tops. His cock was decidedly unpicky these days, willing to get hammer hard for any halfway appealing visual.
Her eyes were another thing entirely. Always moving, taking everything in. Sad all the time, sadder still after she’d been booted out of the kitchen. He’d wanted to shake the asshole owner, to make him see: She’s the only one around here who knows what she’s doing. Listen to her!
Those eyes took people’s measure, were thoughtful without being calculating. She spent time at each table, never seemed rushed, talked earnestly with customers, advising them. Getting to know them.
Those eyes, when they looked at him, held something speculative, something greedy. His cock hardened. Ever-hopeful idiot.
“I’m Lily,” she said.
He already knew that. The waitresses here didn’t wear name tags, but he’d heard her say it to other customers. Still, it was different, hearing her say it to him. Introducing yourself, that was the beginning of something. A friendship, a relationship.
He didn’t need or want either of those things. For one thing, he had a job to do, a mission. He was going to find a way to get his grandmother’s money back and make sure it went to the kids she’d loved so much. For now, that was where all his energy needed to go. And besides, even if there might at some point in his life—if he could remake it—be room for a woman, it wouldn’t be a woman like Lily. It would be someone less refined, angrier, more worldly, someone who had already set aside bright, innocent dreams. The other waitresses were closer to it. A single mom with a deadbeat ex-husband—Grant had told him—who’d done time for cooking meth. Another, thirty-something, chronically single, her age showing in every line of her face and in her dead eyes. It would be harder to scare away a woman like that. To disappoint her.
This woman, this Lily, did not seem like the sort who would be able to assimilate Kincaid’s life story. In a rage, I held a knife, a knife I’d used to chop onions since I was eight years old, to a man’s throat, and I told him if he hurt my grandmother again, I’d kill him. I cut him. Not deep enough to kill. But deep enough.
“I’ll take the check,” he said, instead of answering her implicit question. “Get out of your way.”
Even though he wanted to stay. Because it was a place to be, because there were people here and that felt like company, even if he didn’t interact with them. Because he was used to constant clamor, to being surrounded by human life and foible, and if he went home now it would be another night in that small, dark, lonely cabin. His P.O.—parole officer—had strongly advised him against spending time in bars (“Shit happens in bars”), which left him only a few options for hangouts. This was his favorite.
“You want to stay? Sit and read?”
It was as if she’d read his mind, and the way those green eyes bored into him, maybe she had.
“He’ll be pissed at you.” He gestured with his head at the tubby Greek owner.
“He’s already pissed at me.” She smiled and shrugged.
Brave girl. “You’ll lose tips.”
They both knew he’d tip her well. He’d gone out of his way to tip all the waitresses here generously, in hopes of a favor like this one coming his way. The chance to sit a little longer where the noise in his head wasn’t louder than the noise outside.
“But you do have to tell me your name.”
She’d noticed his evasion, then. “Kincaid Graves.”
“Kincaid,” she repeated. “Nice to meet you, Kincaid.”
“Nice to meet you, Lily,” he said.
USA Today bestselling author Serena Bell writes stories about how sex messes with your head, why smart people sometimes do stupid things, and how love can make it all better. She wrote her first steamy romance before she was old enough to understand what all the words meant and has been perfecting the art of hiding pages and screens from curious eyes ever since—a skill that’s particularly useful now that she’s the mother of two school-aged children.
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