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She back-stepped out of his grasp. “My life just got really complicated, and I don’t have time for a meaningless fling with someone obsessed with buying my family’s business, which, by the way, we do not want to sell.”

“Ouch.” His lips disappeared into a straight line hidden by his mustache and beard.

He rubbed the short hairs, and she could almost feel the scratch of his beard against the curve of her shoulder. Her nipples hardened at the flashback, and she fisted her hands tight enough that her nails bit into her palms. Time to nip this shit in the bud before her resolve drowned a slow death in his blue eyes.

“Sorry, that came out rougher than it should have, but I know all about you and your reputation.” She chewed the inside of her cheek. “I’ve read the papers, seen you on TV. You’re not someone I’m interested in.”

His body stiffened. “That didn’t seem to be the case last night.”

Her palms turned clammy, and her stomach did that floaty, shimmy thing again. Refusing to let on, she shrugged her shoulders and angled her chin higher. “Guess we’ll just have to chalk that up to the smexy elves’ bad influence.”

“Too bad.” He set his cup down on the table with enough force to make her wince. “You might have found there’s more to me than what the tabloids report.”

Which was exactly what she didn’t want to discover.

Her office at Jacobs Fine Furnishings would have been the safe haven she desperately needed if discovering a financial bloodbath on par with the grossest slasher movie ever was her idea of utter relaxation.

With each number in the company financials, her ulcer expanded. By the time she closed the folder holding the report, she could buy a tanker truck load of Maalox and it wouldn’t be enough to sooth the burn. She pushed the folder across the cheerful, yellow desk, needing it physically away since she couldn’t escape the bad news.

Unless she stayed, the family business was going under. Soon.

That would kill her dad. He’d built it up from nothing, starting with a workshop in an old barn on the family farm. Besides their family, the business was all Dell Jacobs cared about.

She glanced up at her dad as he sat in the teal blue, straight chair, searching his face for the hazy, confused look that had come and gone after his stroke. One side of his face fell slacker than the other, but Dell met her searching gaze straight-on, and the knots in her shoulders loosened a bit.

“Don’t you go all soft and start treating me like an invalid. I’m not dead yet.” There was enough spit and vinegar in his tone to convince her he was his normal, cranky self.

Keisha hid her grin. He was a pain in the ass, but he was her dad. “Pops, how long has it been like this?”

Dell fidgeted with a ring of plaid fabric swatches and averted his gaze locked to the oversized hummingbird sculpture hanging on the wall over her left shoulder. “We’ve always flirted with the edge a bit.”

“A bit?” Her spine snapped so straight she practically heard a boing. “You fell off the financial cliff six months ago when clients started dropping like flies. Why didn’t you tell me about the bank loan? There’s a balloon payment due in two weeks, and we don’t have anywhere near the amount of money it would take to pay. Why didn’t you tell me about this before it got to be such a mess?”

“I’m your father,” His voice turned ninety degrees until it had a hard edge. “You better watch your tone with me. I started this business, and I don’t have to justify how I run it to anyone.”

“You do when you expect me to pick up the pieces.” It wasn’t quite a yell, but the words came out louder than she’d meant, and her dad deflated in front of her. Her stomach twisted with guilt. “Pops, I’m sorry.”

His cane jiggled under his weight as he slowly stood and shifted from foot to foot. “I wouldn’t need you so badly if your cousin hadn’t left us high and dry. You’ve said no to running the company before, and damn it, I know you have other things happening in your life, but, Baby Girl, this isn’t just furniture.” Dell tapped an arthritic, gnarled knuckle on the manilla folder. “This is your heritage.”

Forget the Catholics, when it came to guilt, no one topped her dad. “Pops—“

“It’s our family legacy.” He sighed. “Doc Sorensen says if I don’t step back, he won’t be responsible for what my heart does. After the fiasco with Tyrell, I can’t trust this company to anyone else but you. “

She understood, she did, but that didn’t make accepting it any easier. “You don’t have to give me the hard sell, Pops.”

“Good, because there’s one more thing I have to tell you.” He went back to staring at the hummingbird.

“Please tell me it’s that we’ve got a rich relative who really, really wants to give us some cash.”

He shot her an ornery grin that took about twenty years off his appearance. “What’s wrong? You can’t stand a challenge?”

“Stop stalling.”

“We lost the Barrington Inn account.”

He may have said more, but white noise crackled in Keisha’s head as she processed the latest blow to the company’s bottom line. The boutique hotel chain accounted for sixty percent of the company’s revenues. Without them, they’d tank within the year. If they could last that long.

“They’ve been with us for more than a decade. Why would they kick us to the curb now?” she asked.

“Because I asked them to.” Gabe stood in her office door, his brawny, tall frame taking up much of the space. The heated anger in his eyes sucked the oxygen right out of the room. “It was the quickest way to ensure your father’s company went out of business.”

Bitterness filled Gabe’s mouth at the sight of Keisha standing behind a yellow desk uncluttered by anything except for a hot pink laptop, a jungle cat in-and-out box, and a vase filled with miniature pinecones painted dark purple. Simple, bright, and unexpected. Just like her. He ground his teeth together to stop himself from saying something stupid since it was too late not to do anything moronic.

No, you took care of that this by making a play for a girl whose father ruined your family. Way to forget your promise to yourself.

He’d spent the night with his nemesis’s daughter. And he wanted to do it again. Even knowing who she was. A direct shot to the gut wouldn’t have been as effective in knocking the air out of his lungs.

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