Tease Him (ManTrap Book 2)

CHAPTER ONE

Ashlyn

Most of the time the university town of Arborville was quiet and peaceful; some might even say boring. Nestled in the corn and cows of the Midwest, the town boasted a major state university and a sweet corn festival every end of summer. It also had a lively and thriving downtown area which is where my business was located.

I wouldn’t be bragging to say that I had the funkiest and most successful nostalgia shop in the entire state of Illinois. People all over the country contact me when they need a rare vintage item such as a music album in pristine condition, a pet rock mint in box, or maybe a cool toy from the fifties. If I don’t have it, I have the connections that can get it. I’m grateful for the success and I never take it for granted, which was why I was all about giving back to the community.

“It’s not going to make any difference,” my assistant Katie said with a shake of her head. “They’ve already made up their minds. They want the jobs the project will bring in, not to mention the prestige of having a technological center right here in Arborville. Kyle Lewis could be the next Elon Musk.”

“Kyle Lewis is a pain in my ass and I don’t even know the man. All I know is that he wants to take a wrecking ball to one of the most historic neighborhoods in this town. If I can get the town council to declare that block a historical landmark, he’ll have to find another location.”

“They’re afraid he’ll find another town.”

I shoved a stack of papers into a worn leather messenger bag. I’d been researching this topic for days. I was loaded for bear and ready to make my case.

“There are several other suitable locations,” I argued. “In fact, I have three that I can suggest just from my research. And I’m one person. He has a staff of hundreds. He should be able to find a dozen better places for his metal and glass monstrosity.”

“You don’t know that he’s going to build it in metal and glass.” Katie tidied up the sales counter. “You’re just guessing about that.”

“Maybe I’m embellishing a little bit but he’s a tech guy. Do you think his new buildings are going to be trimmed in gingerbread? Nope, they’re going to be modern and cutting edge or whatever else they call it.”

I wasn’t the biggest fan of technology. It had its place, of course. I had a computer in the store and great software to keep track of inventory and money. I used the internet a great deal as well and I had a Netflix account. I had a cell phone that my friends forced on me and it was currently at the bottom of my purse. It might even have a charge. I was always forgetting to plug it in.

Technology was not my enemy. But I wasn’t stupid and naive enough to think it was my friend, either.

“I just don’t want you to be disappointed,” Katie said, settling onto the barstool behind the counter and holding out the pink paper. “The council isn’t going to change their minds. They’re looking at this like it’s a feather in the cap of the town.”

“I’m completely prepared. I’ve been working on this for days.” I held up the messenger bag. “I have charts, graphs, and reports. I have data. I’m not going to rely on sentiment for this. I have a good case.”

“That’s good, because Kyle Lewis didn’t get where he is by being haphazard and unprepared. He’s a genius inventor and supposedly one of the smartest men in the country.”

“He also hates anything old,” I shot back, slinging the bag over my shoulder. “He’s going to take a wrecking ball to those beautiful old homes to make way for something cold and sterile.”

Katie sighed and tapped the newspaper. “He certainly doesn’t look like a horrible person. Have you seen his picture? He’s a hunk and a half.”

“I don’t have time to moon over a photo. I’ll see him in person tonight.”

“Speaking of seeing people, did you call your grandmother back?”

I hadn’t but I would.

“Not yet. I’ve been busy with this project.”

“She’s just going to call back. Is it time for her to visit again? It seems like she was just here.”

My grandmother visited twice a year no matter how busy she was. She’d raised me after my mother died and we tried to keep in touch as much as possible despite our crazy schedules.

“She was just here for a few days after Thanksgiving. She’s calling to see about the council meeting. She must think it’s already happened. I’ll call her in the morning.” I checked the clock on the wall. “Which is my cue to get out of here. Are you sure you can close up by yourself?”

Laughing, Katie waved away my concerns. “Don’t worry about it. I got this covered. We’ve already put the closed sign on the door and all I need to do it close out the register and lock up. Easy peasy. You’re just afraid to delegate.”

Katie knew me well. “You’re so efficient you’re making me obsolete.”

“Then take a few days off for a change. You work like a mule and never take any time for yourself. Enjoy the fruits of your labors once in a while.”

I kept planning a vacation but somehow, I never actually left.

“I’ll think about it. Have a good evening. See you tomorrow.”

I slipped out of the back door and walked briskly down the street. City Hall was only three blocks away and to say that the evening was freezing was being polite. January was always cold and gray but the last few days had been especially chilly, the temperature hovering near zero. The cold air seeped up under my skirt, turning my legs blue and making me wish I’d chosen another “professional” outfit. I wanted to impress tonight at the meeting and my usual blue jeans weren’t going to do that.

A big gust of wind came up behind me and practically pushed me into the building, a beautiful structure of brick and stone. It had been built just after World War II and it still had the original marble floors. My high heels made loud clicking noises on that floor as I hurried to catch the elevator.

“Hold the elevator, please,” I called out, trying not to slip, fall, and make a fool of myself. I didn’t wear high heels on a daily basis and I sure didn’t make a habit of sprinting in them. Luckily, a hand snaked out of the elevator car at the last minute and pushed the doors open.

It looked like luck was on my side tonight and I wouldn’t have to trudge up five flights of stairs.

There was only one other person in the elevator, a tall man with dark blond hair. I couldn’t see his face because he was bent over his cell phone. People didn’t look each other in the eye anymore. They just stared at their phones. Still, I’d been raised to be polite even if someone else wasn’t.

“Thank you. I appreciate you holding the elevator.”

“You’re welcome. It was cold in the lobby.”

The man still didn’t look up though, his gaze trained on the piece of technology in his hand while his thumbs tapped out a message that had to be more important than actual human contact.

The elevator was slow at the best of times and it rumbled and shook as it rose. I could hear the familiar whine and grind that the residents of Arborville had come to know and love. This was something that Kyle Lewis would never understand. This building was amazing because of its history. It had a story. Newer buildings simply didn’t have the same soul or presence.

The half-circle dial over the doors moved from floor three to four before the elevator car shuddered and came to a halt. I reached over and pushed the number five on the panel again.

And again.

Nothing.

This was not good. I could already feel the walls closing in on me.

“I don’t think pushing the button over and over is going to help.”

But would it hurt? I was desperate here.

He’d looked up from his phone and I was able to see his face now. Handsome. Warm brown eyes that matched his leather jacket and a nice square jaw covered in well-trimmed scruff. Not quite a beard but definitely not clean shaven. He was dressed casually in blue jeans and a white button-up shirt. Too old to be a student, he appeared to be somewhere in that murky area of his thirties. Maybe a professor?

Either way, he didn’t seem to be grasping the seriousness of the situation.

“We’re not moving.”

His gaze went up to the dial over the doors where the arrow was pointing right above four. So close to my destination it was maddening.

“Because we’re stuck.”

“Stuck?”

“Stuck.” He held up his phone. “I’ll call 911. You might want to relax. As old as this elevator is, we could be here for awhile.”

Stuck in an elevator. Did I mention my claustrophobia? This was awful. All I needed was a knife-wielding clown to make my nightmare complete.

The nice-looking man dialed and spoke calmly to whomever had answered. My fingers itched to grab the phone from him and plead with the person to get help here quickly but I had to realize that my emergency may not be the worst happening at the moment.

It just felt that way.

“They’ll be here as soon as they can. They’re dispatching the fire department.”

An image of me climbing down a ladder while the wind blew my skirt up showing off my lace panties and cellulite ran through my mind, making me cringe.

Note to self: Always dress like you’re about to climb a ladder.

I let my heavy messenger bag and purse slide to the floor and took a deep, cleansing breath. These walls weren’t going to defeat me. I was fine.

“So I guess we wait. Or maybe we could try and pull the doors apart. I saw that in a movie once.”

“And if we’re stuck between floors? What then?”

Definitely a professor. Probably in engineering or mathematics. Driven by logic.

“One of us could climb up to the next floor. I mean, if it isn’t too far.”

He was eyeing the doors as if contemplating my suggestion. “I suppose I could give you a boost.”

Another image – of him looking up my skirt this time – crossed my brain. I really needed to stick to pants going forward.

To my shock and surprise, he actually seemed to take me seriously, stepping forward to try and pry the doors apart even shedding his coat beforehand. I couldn’t help but admire the play of muscles under his shirt as he tried but sadly failed to pull the doors open. He tried several times, but in the end gave up with a grimace.

“Sorry, they aren’t going to budge. Even if I could get these inside doors open there’s an outer set as well.”

I hadn’t seen that part in the movie.

“I appreciate you trying. That was very nice of you.”

I was beginning to think he was a very nice man indeed. Nice looking, nice acting. Other than the phone thing, he was well-mannered and I was finding lately that particular trait was becoming as rare as an original, never-opened Led Zeppelin album. I could practically hear my friend Shelby screaming in my ear.

Ask him for coffee.

Show him you’re interested.

Shelby was engaged and wanted everyone to be in a happy relationship. She’d even written a how-to manual on how to trap a man. Since I wasn’t interested in hunting or trapping anyone, I wasn’t her target audience.

I did take a moment, however, to check his left hand for a ring. Nope. He was single.

Single, handsome, and we were stuck in the elevator for who knew how long. Was this the universe smacking me over the head? I was usually oblivious to things like this. Especially when I was stuck in a small confined space that might run out of oxygen. Should I breathe shallowly?

“It’s no problem,” he assured me with a smile. He had a dimple in his right cheek. Yep, he was cute. Really cute. “I was happy to try. You seem like you’re in a big hurry to the fifth floor.”

“I am and it’s really important that I be there. They’re voting on building a tech center here in town. You may have read about it in the newspaper.”

I didn’t mention the claustrophobia. I didn’t want to freak him out thinking that, well…I would freak out. I wasn’t going to. I was almost sure of it.

“I think I did read about it. A technology campus, right? Is that a bad thing?”

The newspaper certainly had made it sound like rainbows and unicorns.

“It’s a terrible thing. Kyle Lewis wants to tear down several historical homes that have been in Arborville for generations.”

Rubbing his chin, he nodded as if he understood. “I don’t think you need to worry. They won’t vote until Kyle Lewis is there and he’s late, too.”

“How could you possibly know that?”

His smile widened, full of mirth and mischief. “Because I’m Kyle Lewis.”

The universe had a sick sense of humor.