Husband Rollover (Husband Series Book 4)(10)

By: Louise Cusack

“Shall we?” He gestured toward the booth, but the way he was looking at me was so smoldering, I felt my shoulders droop. The resistance was leaking out of me, and in the end I just went to the booth and slid in, staying close to the edge as a form of self-protection so he couldn’t sit beside me. Right in that moment I felt so overwhelmed by his presence, I needed the personal space.

Thankfully, he sat across from me as if he’d always intended to, but his smirk remained. This time it had a look of triumph about it, as if he was used to manipulating women and was pleased with himself that yet another annoying female had fallen for his tall-dark-and-stubbled manly charms—which niggled me no end.

My instinct was to take him down a peg, but I knew how much being featured in his documentary series would mean to Jill, so I kept my trap shut. Despite aforementioned aversion to smarmy Brit food critics, my job was to smile sweetly and pretend to be amenable, ignoring the whole hot-and-bothered thing he’d ignited.

Louella could keep a lid on her emotions. Surely I could emulate that for half an hour? How hard could it be?

“Pet…” He leant across the table and put one hand over mine, looking at me straight in the eye with those soulful I can give you the best night of your life peepers. Skin against skin made my heartrate kick up, just when I’d started to settle it down, so I had trouble concentrating on his words.

“Your little town has charm, so external shots will be easy, but inside your shop…” He glanced around with a pitying glance. “Looks like a rainbow vomited across it. And I hate mess. So…” He patted my now-stiff hand twice, then withdrew his. “If you clean up all the shite you’ve got lying around, and assuming your food isn’t rubbish, we might have something to work with here.”

I slowly pulled both my hands off the table and pressed them down onto my thighs, hard, telling myself that I absolutely could not resort to violence, despite the fact that I very much wanted to smack the smirk right off his stubbled face.

Jill. Think of Jill.

No. It wasn’t working. I could feel my face, which had been flushed with infatuation, now hot with embarrassment, despite the fact that I knew our customers loved the quirky nooks where we offered everything from spiritual books and Dryzabone cat coats to crystal teapot stands and handmade greeting cards. Our merchandise was high quality, sourced from all around the world, with many items unavailable elsewhere in Australia.

I should have been proud as hell, but instead, a tight, sick swirling in my stomach told me I was humiliated beyond my ability to pretend. But vulnerability was the last thing I was showing this critical bastard, so I straightened on my side of the booth and said clearly, “Fuck you, mate, and anyone who looks like you. This is my shop, set up my way, and I’m not changing a thing, especially not for a wanker like you.”

I’d said it softly enough that other patrons around us wouldn’t have heard, but he did. Loud and clear. His eyes narrowed and we stared at each other across the table in profound silence until a shadow fell over the solid timber surface and tiny Marika cleared her throat.

“Menus,” she squeaked, and placed them carefully in front of each of us. Then she backed away.

“How very pleasant,” Max said in a low growl that other customers wouldn’t hear. “Fuck you and anyone who looks like you. Charming.”

“Just about as charming as you are, Mr. Banks, strolling in here with a stick up your arse, throwing insults around—”

“I insulted your décor, Ms Wynde,” he said coldly. “I had no idea who designed it. I was told you were the manager. I expected you could manage a change of stock placement for the purposes of a feature segment. I didn’t insult you personally, and I certainly didn’t expect you to insult me. That was completely unprofessional.”

My breath hitched up high in my chest as I considered what he’d just said. Unprofessional.

Was it?

Well yes. We all knew that. But had I been personally insulting?

I breathed through my open mouth while I stared back at him, trying to justify things in my mind, but I had nothing.

So he kept going. “Will you apologize for getting personal?”