Read With Strings Attached Online

Authors: Kelly Jamieson

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Erotica

With Strings Attached (5 page)

BOOK: With Strings Attached
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Dylan choked on his beer. “Uh…well, that’s good.”

She grinned. “It’s true. Chocolate boosts serotonin, the brain’s antidepressant, and it stimulates the secretion of endorphins, which helps with stress levels and even pain. And there are anti-oxidants in it that protect our body from damaging free radicals.”

He gave her a look—a raised eyebrow, one corner of his mouth lifted.

“Seriously. I studied Food Science in college. Ended up working for Matterhorn Chocolate in San Diego. Big corporate job. I was in a cubicle coma most days.” She sighed. “Well, I worked in a lab a lot of the time too. It just wasn’t for me. Did you know that almost half the world’s chocolate is made by only two companies?”

He shook his head. “Nope.”

“Well it is, and one of them is Matterhorn. But the more I learned about chocolate, the more I knew that wasn’t what I wanted to do. There’s a huge difference between that kind of chocolate and small batches of finely crafted chocolate. I had some money saved up, so I moved back here and started making my own chocolates. I got a job waitressing for a while, to keep me going, but I quit that about six months ago so I could work full-time on my own business.”

“That’s great that you could do that. You must be doing well.”

“It’s going well,” she agreed. “But at times, it’s almost more than I can handle.”

“You do it all by yourself?”

“Yeah. I have a little help now. There’s a girl I work with…mentor…long story…she’s fifteen now and was looking for a part-time job, and so I offered to pay her for a few hours a week. I could use more help, but I’m trying really hard to save up so I can open a store.”

“Where do you sell them now?”

“I sell a lot at the farmers’ market on weekends, and I’m getting lots of special orders through my website—corporate orders, weddings, parties—big orders like that are coming in now, mostly through word of mouth, which is great. People can custom order the kinds of truffles they want, and my chocolates have to be fresh, which means I have to work my butt off when the orders come in, but…” She shrugged and smiled. “That’s how it goes. One day I’ll have my store and make more money, and I’ll be able to afford more help.”

Matt appeared and slid two glasses of beer across the bar toward them and waited expectantly while they tasted. Dylan took a big drink, letting the taste and the bubbles explode over his tongue and down his throat. “Damn,” he said. “That’s killer, dude.”

Matt grinned. “Thanks.”

“I’ve had this before.” Corey lifted her glass. “It’s one of my favorites.”

“You guys want food?” Matt asked. “I’ll bring you menus.”

“I’m starving,” Dylan said. “Need some grindage.” He caught Corey’s questioning look and laughed. “Grindage…food.”

“Ah.” She shook her head, smiling. “Surfers apparently have their own language. So can you actually make money from surfing?”

“Yeah. Of course it depends on the event and how high you place. The big events that make up the World Tour pay about four hundred grand if you win.”

“Four hundred…holy crap!”

He laughed. “Yeah. Needless to say I haven’t won that much yet. I’ve been doing okay, this year’s been my best so far, so I’m making enough to keep me traveling. Not lots left over, but enough. I just signed a big sponsorship deal with Jackson Cole, and I have a few other smaller sponsors. That definitely helps.” He grimaced. “Until this stupid accident.”

“So if you don’t surf, you don’t make money?”

“Exactly.” His gut clenched. “And it impacts whether I qualify for the tour next year. Like I said, I was doing okay for points. So even missing the rest of the Billabong Pro, I could make up for it, but I’m gonna have to surf the hell outta those waves in the next competition.”

She tipped her head to one side and studied him. “You can do it.”

He met her eyes and tipped his head. “How do you know that, babe? You don’t even know me.”

“I just have a feeling.”

He wished he shared her confidence in him. The warmth in her eyes, the sweetness in her smile pulled at him, and he actually shifted closer to her.

Matt slapped down menus on the bar and Dylan started. “Uh…thanks, bro.” He picked one up and perused it. “Burgers,” he said. “One of my favorite things. Oh, this sounds good—guacamole, jalapenos and pepper jack cheese. That’s what I’ll have.”

“I’ll have the California wrap,” Corey said.

Matt flashed a grin. “You got it, candy girl.” He disappeared, and Dylan turned back to Corey, wanting to get back to that eye-lock and the resulting flash of heat. He smiled at her. “Matt says you two are just friends.”

Once again, their eyes met and held, and she nodded slowly. “Yeah. That’s right.”

He watched her cheeks pink up and her eyes sparkle, and he also couldn’t help but notice that her nipples became very visible beneath the thin T-shirt she wore.

Matt returned and leaned against the bar to talk to them.

“This place is awesome, dude,” Dylan said, waving a hand. “You’re doing great.”

“Doing okay.” Matt nodded, and Dylan rolled his eyes. The guy was always like that, too fucking modest.

“It’s not okay. It’s full on derelict. Seriously, man.”

Matt grinned. “Okay. Whatever you just said. Yeah, business is good. Some of my most popular beers are being sold in stores now. I can’t keep up with the demand.”

“You need to expand.”

“Yeah. Just gotta do it right. I don’t want to get myself in financial trouble.”

“I guess.” Dylan was a risk taker. That’s how he earned his living. No fear. He shut out the voice in the back of his head that said,
yeah, right, dude
. All he’d ever wanted was to be the best, to win it all, and he was damn well going to do it, even with a busted foot. “But you gotta spend money to make money, right?” He held his beer glass with both hands, elbows on the bar.

“I don’t want to risk what I have by trying to do too much, too fast. It would be nice to expand, though. Get my beer out there for more people to enjoy.”

“There ya go.”

“If I want to increase production much more, I can’t do it here,” Matt continued. “I don’t have enough real estate here to expand the brewery. I’d have to move.”

“You could move the brewery and keep the pub here,” Dylan said. “Right?”

“Yeah. I guess I could.” Matt nodded.

Dylan could have pushed harder. He figured everyone should be like him, always competing, trying harder, wanting to be the best. Matt was the kind of guy who could get into a rut, satisfied with the status quo. Cautious. But it sounded as if he’d thought about expanding, so maybe he wasn’t that stuck. Maybe he did have ambitions for his business. Corey too, she’d left a corporate job with one of the biggest companies in the world to live in a grotty little building making chocolates, but it sounded like she had some ambitions for her chocolate business.

Matt looked at Corey, apparently done talking about expanding his business. “How was your day? Make lots of chocolate?”

“Yup. Lots and lots.” She smiled at Matt. “Gotta be ready for the farmers’ market tomorrow.”

“Hey, Matt!”

Matt turned to see who’d called him, spotted the man at the bar. He lifted a hand in greeting. “Hey, Josh. How’s it going?” He moved away to talk to the guy, then got stopped by two women who smiled and flirted with him. Dylan watched Matt talk to them, serving them drinks, chatting and winking at them. The guy probably didn’t even know they were coming on to him. It didn’t look like he was making any kind of move to get phone numbers or ask one of them out. Bizarre. Dylan shook his head and looked at Corey, who was also watching Matt talk to the two girls.

“He doesn’t even know they’re flirting with him,” she said, echoing his own thoughts. “He’s determined he’s not going to date anymore.”

“What happened with him and Lysett?”

Corey sighed and looked down at her beer. “I don’t know all the details. He never said much. I gather she wanted a little more excitement.” She shook her head. “I can’t say much because I haven’t got the best track record at picking out guys, but I don’t know why she didn’t appreciate Matt. He’s a good guy.”

“Yeah. A great guy.” Dylan tipped his head to one side. So if she thought Matt was such a good guy, why wasn’t she interested in him? “But girls always seem to want the bad boy, don’t they?”

She blinked at him. “Um…yeah. Some do.” He could’ve sworn she looked guilty.

“Matt says you don’t date either.”

One corner of her mouth lifted. “You guys have been talking a lot about me, apparently.”

Dylan gave her a slow smile back. “A little. Just wanted to make sure I wasn’t stepping on any toes.”

Her forehead creased. “How so?”

“By doing…this.” And he leaned over and brushed his mouth over hers in a soft, sexy kiss.

 

Matt pulled some draft, wiped the bar clean, refilled a shelf with clean glasses out of the dishwasher, poured a couple of glasses of wine. All routine stuff for him. But the whole time he was watching Dylan and Corey sitting at the bar, leaning so close together and staring into each other’s eyes as they talked.

His gut was so tight it hurt and he had no idea why. He’d wanted his two best friends to meet, and he’d wanted them to like each other because they were both important to him. Dylan, his oldest friend, even though they didn’t see each other much these days. And Corey, a newer friend. He’d known her for a long time, too, although some of those years she’d lived in San Diego.

Looked like they were getting along really well.

So that was good. Yeah. He swiped the cloth across the bar again.

He shot another glance toward Dylan. His oldest buddy seemed different this visit. It was hard to put his finger on. Matt frowned as he wiped the bar. He seemed…not quite as confident and aggressive as he had in the past. But then, he had a busted foot and a cast on his leg that was keeping him from doing what he loved, so that probably explained it.

Matt moved back down the bar to talk to them, but got held up by Josh Busher, one of San Amaro’s police officers, wanting another pale ale. He smiled and opened the beer, handed it to Josh with a clean glass. A few more people wanted drinks, and he pushed down his impatience and frustration and chatted with customers as he served them drinks, all the while watching Corey and Dylan out of the corner of his eye.

One of the servers arrived with the food they’d ordered, setting it in front of them, flirting with Dylan like every other chick in the world. Matt sighed. Why was he so annoyed about this? Corey had every right to flirt and have fun. Just because Dylan was a bit of player didn’t mean he was going to break her heart. She knew he was only here for a while. And she’d said she wasn’t getting involved with anyone again. Although Matt had heard that before.

Hell, this probably had nothing to do with Corey and Dylan. He’d been feeling pissy ever since he’d visited his mother that morning.

Finally he got everyone settled with drinks and snacks and was able to return to where Corey and Dylan sat. “How’s the food?” he asked.

“Kickin’,” Dylan said through a mouth full of food, the thick burger in his hands. “This thing’s so big I can’t get it in my mouth.”

Matt smirked. “That’s not what your last girlfriend said.”

Corey choked on a laugh and Dylan grinned. “Good one,” he said. “But you don’t want to get into size comparisons.”

“With you? Why the hell not? I got you beat there, buddy.”

“Okay,” Corey said. “Enough. This wrap’s really good.” She smiled at Matt and something inside him softened a little. “You know those two girls down there were coming on to you, right?”

He frowned. “What?”

She grinned and jerked her head toward the other end of the bar. He looked and saw the two girls he’d waited on earlier, one with short dark hair and big eyes, the other with long, wavy auburn hair and a nice smile.

“Yeah, those two,” she said, still smiling. “Did you get their names?”

“No.” He frowned even more and shook his head. “Why would I? I’m not interested in them.”

“Why not? They look hot, dude,” Dylan said.

Matt’s insides clenched and annoyance rose. “I’m not looking,” he said and shot Corey a reproving look. “You know that.”

“Yeah, yeah.” She shook her head and picked up her napkin to touch it to her mouth. “I know. I just wanted to make sure you know they like you.”

Matt rolled his eyes.

Dylan gestured at the big-screen televisions located throughout the pub. “The game should be on soon. Do we get any volume?”

“You’d never hear it in here,” Matt replied. “Who’s playing?”

“Padres against the Giants.”

“Too bad Booker’s injured,” Corey said. Dylan gave her a look. “What?” she asked. “He is. He took a line drive in his face in the third inning last game. Fractured his nose.”

“She knows baseball,” Matt told him.

“Cool.” Dylan took another bite of his burger. Corey reached over and snagged one of his fries. “Hey!” He shot her a mock glare. “Those are mine.”

She grinned and popped the French fry in her mouth.

BOOK: With Strings Attached
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