From Boss to Bridegroom

Free From Boss to Bridegroom by Karen Kirst

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Authors: Karen Kirst
chignon at the base of her swanlike neck. How would she react if he were to sink his fingers in the beguiling mass?
    â€œThat all depends,” he said on a sigh.
    â€œOn what?”
    â€œOn what it is I’m waiting for.”
    She didn’t have a response, merely watched him with that stoic expression.
    â€œI have a question for you.” He imagined he could see her pulling her armor in close.
    â€œYes?”
    He took his time pouring coffee into the cups. “Why aren’t you gloating?”
    â€œExcuse me?”
    â€œYou warned me. I didn’t listen, and now—” he replaced the kettle on the stove “—they see me as the bad guy. I’ve been waiting for you to rub it in.”
    â€œYou’ll be waiting a long time.”
    He held out the mug. She studiously avoided his fingers. Quinn had noticed she took pains not to accidentally touch him. Why was that?
    She wasn’t shy. What, then? Did he make her uncomfortable? He frowned at the notion.
    â€œYou’re not the type to point out a man’s errors in judgment?”
    â€œI clearly don’t need to. It hasn’t even been a week and you’ve already seen the effects of your decisions.”
    â€œYou think I should open my store to loiterers.”
    â€œFolks will eventually get over you moving the merchandise around. The organization makes sense.” Against the blue mug, her fingers were long and slender, piano-playing hands, his mother would say. “Prohibiting folks from gathering for harmless fun and conversation, on the other hand, strikes them as callous and unfeeling. They won’t forgive you for that.”
    â€œIt was purely a business decision,” he defended.
    â€œThe wrong one.”
    The ringing of the bell echoed through the store, and Nicole left his quarters to go and greet the new arrival. He refused to be disappointed at her departure, even if, for a couple of minutes in her presence, the magnitude of his problems seemed to have receded.

Chapter Six
    F or the remainder of the afternoon, Quinn didn’t attempt to wait on anyone. Instead, he focused on assisting Nicole and interacting with the customers in a nonthreatening way. He mulled over their conversation. She was right—in order to gain their favor, he was going to have to think less like a businessman and more like a member of this community. He was going to have to invite the checker-playing, tobacco-spitting gossip-sharers back.
    Around five o’clock, an hour before closing, Kenneth and Timothy swaggered in and headed straight for the counter. Neither man observed him in front of the notice board. Remaining where he was, Quinn switched his attention to Nicole, curious to see if her behavior altered. He didn’t buy her denial that no issues existed between her and the cocky blond.
    What was she hiding? And why?
    In the middle of helping a young mother with a fussy toddler clinging to her hip, Nicole’s smile wavered the moment she became aware of the young men’s presence. Her shoulders went rigid. When her gaze sought out Quinn across the store, widening when she encountered his steady perusal, his feet carried him straight to her side. Somehow, he sensed she needed him.
    â€œKenneth. Timothy. What can I do for you?”
    â€œAfternoon, Mr. Darling.” With smooth cordiality, Kenneth tapped a battered hat against his leg. “Came in for shaving soap. But Nicole knows what I like. I’ll wait for her.”
    Nicole didn’t react, didn’t acknowledge their conversation in any way.
    â€œI wouldn’t want you to wait needlessly.” Quinn moved to the case holding shaving supplies and opened the rear panel. “What brand?”
    The flaring of his nostrils was the only sign of his displeasure. “Colgate.”
    Quinn wrapped up his purchase and took the payment. “Thank you, gentlemen. Have a good afternoon.”
    â€œIf you have any other jobs

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