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Chapter One

Keisha Jacobs would give up her favorite ratchet box wrench for the ability to reach through the phone and strangle the rich asshole on the other end of the line. However, the fact that such an action happened to be physically impossible was a blessing. Few things were as sparse around Jacobs Fine Furnishings as bail money.

But the bills? She surveyed the stack of envelopes filling the leopard print inbox on the corner of her office desk. Oh, there were plenty of them.

Unclamping her jaw before she broke a molar, Keisha sucked in a fortifying breath through her teeth. There. Much better. Sort of. “I don’t care how much money you offer, Mr. Campos, Jacobs Fine Furnishings is not for sale.”

“Everyone has a price.” He delivered the comment with the honeyed voice of someone used to getting his way. Too bad for him she’d already fallen for that ploy. Once. With another smooth-talking uber-stud. All it had gotten her was an overpriced wedding dress and nowhere to wear it. “Not me and not this company.”

Keisha slid her fingers across her laptop’s built-in mouse pad. The screen flickered to life. She scrolled up The Harbor City Post’s website to an old photo of a clean-shaven, square-jawed hottie in a tuxedo with a model-slash-actress-slash-singer type on each arm.

Figured.

Three’s Company: Harbor City’s bad boy billionaire, Gabe Campos, hits the town with two beauties for the annual Fashion Fights Hunger gala at the Harbor City Museum of Modern Art. Looks like he doesn’t just have the Midas touch when it comes to money.

The article under the photo waxed on and on about how Campos relaxed by building furniture.

“Why don’t you meet me, and we can discuss this in person?” Gabe’s smooth voice slithered down her spine, tempting and oh so dangerous. “I can have my helicopter pilot fly down to Salvation, Virginia and bring you to Harbor City. We can chat about the acquisition over dinner. I’d love to finally see the face that goes with that Southern drawl.”

She rolled her eyes at Gabe’s image on her screen. “Do you think because I live in a small town that I’m a total noob?”

“I’m just trying to be friendly.”

Keisha snorted. “No, you’re trying to buy cheap.”

“So you’d be willing to sell if I increased my offer?”

Man, this guy would not take no for an answer, and it was making her nuts. Six month of flirty negotiations coupled with his maddening stubbornness had her twitching in her seat. “Absolutely not.”

“That’s a problem.” His voice turned from sticky sweet to flinty in a heartbeat.

“Not for me it’s not,” she retorted.

“It will be.”

The dial tone buzzed in her ear before she could think of a better come back than, “Oh yeah?”

“Well, that sounded like it went well.” Her best friend, Ellen, stood in the doorway still wearing her red-checked waitress uniform from The Kitchen Sink diner under an unzipped, thick winter coat. She held a white bakery box in her arms.

“Please tell me that’s chocolate, because I need it.” Keisha hung up the phone and let her chin drop to the desk. The giant poof of her natural ebony afro floated around her head like a force field.

“Yes.” Ellen sauntered into Keisha’s brightly lit office, her red uniform mixing in perfectly with the eclectic vibe and vibrant colors. “And I’m totally holding the cake hostage until you agree to weave your interior decorating magic on my place before you leave for the big city.”

“Is it lava cake?” Keisha lifted her head and tried to read the small print on the side of the white box. Only the most delicious comfort food could make up for dealing with Gabe “I’m-Richer-Than-Bruce-Wayne” Campos any better. The man was a fucking silver-tonged, muscle-bound menace.

Ellen winked. “Oh yeah, baby.”

Keisha sat up like someone had waved the green flag at the Talladega race track. “It’s a deal.”

“Wow, you didn’t even put up a fight.” Ellen sat down in the teal guest chair and unpacked two personal-sized cakes of chocolate goodness, plastic forks, and napkins. “You do remember what my place looks like? The fake wood paneling? The Virginia Hokies wallpaper in the bathroom? The lime green kitchen?”

“Yes, yes, and yes.” Keisha sank her fork into the cake, and a river of gooey chocolate spilled out. “But I just hung up with Mr. Ego-the-Size-of-His-Bank-Account.”

“Again? What is his deal? With all the money he’s got, why would he be interested in a small business like Jacobs Fine Furnishings? No offense.”

“None taken,” Keisha said around a bite of lava cake. The moist cake on her tongue gave way to the decadent chocolate sauce hidden inside the bite, and her eyes almost rolled back in her head from the pleasure. “He gave some sort of cock and bull story about how he’s a big Jacobs Fine Furnishings collector and has always wanted to be a part of the craft, so he figured buying the company was a way to do that.”

The explanation had set off her bullshit meter faster than a Ferrari with nitro in the tank.

“Why not say yes to all that money?” Ellen asked.

“Because there’s no way I’m going to be responsible for my dad having a second stroke. Once was enough. If the disaster of my broken engagement caused the stroke, what do you think selling Jacobs Fine Furnishings would do to his heart? We can’t even get him to take a two week vacation, let alone sell the place. It took four months for him to agree to let my cousin, Tyrell, train to be his replacement. And that only happened because the doctor said he’d have another stroke within six months if he didn’t get his stress level down.”

Her dad had started the company in his parents’ barn and had a knee-jerk aversion to anyone whose last name wasn’t Jacobs running the family business. Any deal to sell was destined to fail—no matter how much money Gabe offered.

“I could never work with my mom.” Ellen shook her head. “We’d kill each other within a week.”

“Well, I won’t be working with dad for much longer. Once I get the official job offer from Epson and Callahan Interior Design in Harbor City, I’m out of here, and this whole place becomes Tyrell’s problem.”

Finally. Her new life was about to start. She’d worked her ass off to pay her dues as an interior designer, and the idea of being single and free in the big city made her stomach fizzy with excitement. She loved her family, but at twenty-six, it was past time she handed over the sash for being Miss Responsible for Everyone Else.

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