Bait Shop Blues

by Nancy Pirri

Bait Shop Blues

Finding love shouldn't be so hard...

What does a successful businesswoman born and bred in Chicago want with half-ownership of a quaint bait shop in northern Minnesota, willed to her by her grandfather? And how will the reclusive half-owner of the shop convince the woman to sell out her half to him?

For Cassandra Thompson, a Marilyn Monroe look-alike who's recently been dumped by her second fiancé in two years, it could mean a well-needed change in life.

For Leif Halverson, a handsome man of Ojibwa extraction, and co-owner of the shop, it could mean disaster—like falling in love. Leif is far from happy about this city woman invading his territory so he challenges her to a wilderness survival contest where the winner takes all.


Release Date: May 8, 2014
Genre: Contemporary Romance


Chapter One

Leif Flying Eagle emitted a low whistle at the sight of the pretty woman with short, silvery-blonde hair, swinging down the ramp from the Boeing 727. “Well, hell,” he murmured. “She really is a ringer for Marilyn Monroe—just like old Roy said.”

The addition of a woman this beautiful into his tranquil domain could only mean trouble. Leif leaned away from the terminal wall. He’d taken a step toward her when she tripped on a rock…make that a pebble. He couldn’t help grinning at her ridiculously out of place pink high-heeled shoes.

She managed to keep her balance, which was a good thing since he was too far away to make a difference. He resumed his relaxed position, eyed her city-slick pink suit, and groaned. It seemed that Miss Cassandra Thompson possessed a sense of style but no common sense, whatsoever.

As he contemplated the woman who would share his space for a week, he shoved up his sunglasses. He’d had his share of women over the years and had yet to meet one who wasn’t a challenge or trouble, in one way or another.

He rolled his shoulders as she drew closer. It’s about damned time. For fifteen minutes he’d paced the tarmac at International Falls, MN, airport like a caged bear as he awaited her arrival, taking up his slouched position since the pacing hadn’t helped. Why waste the energy?

Leif pulled one hand from his pocket reached up and lowered his sunglasses. Suddenly, airport crewmen appeared from nowhere, eager to assist the curvy blonde. He shook his head in disgust when she released the bag to one guy and rewarded him with a brilliant smile. The guy stumbled. Leif rolled his eyes.

She moved toward him again, her stride short and choppy due to the heels, her hips swinging back and forth, beckoning him. He gazed at her generous breasts tucked into the fitted suit jacket and swallowed the growing lump in his throat. She looked sweet as cotton candy, but more appealing. Scowling, he cursed his partiality for sweets.

The late Roy Thompson, Leif’s surrogate father, had provided a vivid description of his long-lost granddaughter. He still couldn’t believe the only person to ever love him had died so suddenly. It saddened Leif to think how Roy had never gotten the chance to see his granddaughter before his passing. With that thought he made a mental note to try to be nice to Miss Thompson, which shouldn’t be difficult. She was something else—and then some.

He moved toward her when a crewman drove a luggage filled cart out from behind the plane. Leif picked up his stride when she detoured in that direction. He stopped behind her just as she rose up on her toes for a suitcase on top of the heap. He brushed her back and reached above her head, grasped the bag’s handle and lowered it to the ground.

She whirled around and he found himself staring down into the prettiest pair of eyes he’d ever seen. The color reminded him of some emerald-colored jade pendant he’d seen in a jewelry shop in St. Paul one time.

“Leif,” she said, reaching out to shake his hand.

He raised one eyebrow. “Cassandra Thompson?”

She gave him a bright, toothy smile. “That’s me.”

Oh, yeah. Marilyn didn’t compare. Anyone within fifty miles of Crane Lake knew he felt more than a passing infatuation for the actress who’d died years before his birth. But the thought of Cassandra topping his affections for his idol unsettled him. No woman, thus far, had measured up to the perfect MM.

He’d always been honest with women, and they always knew what to expect from him—a good time, but no permanency. He’d been let down too many times to allow himself to take another fall.

Fighting his attraction to this beauty wasn’t going to be easy, though. As a matter of fact, it might be downright impossible. Her lips curled into an engaging smile, and he scowled a moment later when he caught himself returning her grin. He didn’t want to like her. She was his nemesis who’d come to invade his territory, thanks to her grandpa’s will.

He took her outstretched hand and felt his pulse pounding as he held it. He couldn’t speak for the lump in his throat. Finally, after swallowing several times, he managed to say, “How did you recognize me?”

“Grandpa had sent a photo album filled with pictures of himself, you, and Gateway several months ago. How did you know it was me?”

“Your grandpa said you resembled Marilyn Monroe.” He recalled the motion of her hips earlier as she’d made her way down the ramp. Her blonde tousled hair, slightly slanted eyes, and full lips—pouting and kissable—further confirmed the resemblance. Clearing his throat, he said, “I’d say he was right on.”

Her laughter was intoxicating. Suddenly her smile slipped. “How do you feel about that?”

Leif’s eyes narrowed on her as she bit her lower lip and watched him from beneath her long black eyelashes. With her pale blonde hair and eyebrows, he knew she must have slicked on a pound of black mascara because there was no doubt she was a true blonde, unlike MM. He could spot a phony one by the color of her roots from a yard away. Then he noticed her cheeks had turned a deep shade of pink, which he knew wasn’t from makeup. What the hell was wrong with her? He found it difficult to believe she was embarrassed by her resemblance to the starlet.

He shrugged. “I’d say you were one lucky lady,” and he thought, and I’m one lucky guy. My dream lady’s come to life. It was his bad luck that she just happened to be claiming his territory.

He released her hand, pulled it back self-consciously, and jammed it inside his jeans pocket again, disgusted with himself, and his attraction to her. Somehow, he managed to find his voice. “Thanks for being on time.”

She rolled her eyes. “You are so sweet to say that when I know you’ve probably been waiting awhile. Sorry we were late, but it was out of my control. According to the pilot we encountered headwinds from out of the north.”

Leif understood since he knew about flying. “I figured as much.” He watched as a delicate hand swept a blonde lock of hair from her forehead.

“I’m looking forward to reaching my grandfather’s place, and relaxing.”

Her words jarred him, reminding him of her reason for coming to Minnesota. He folded his arms and widened his stance. “My place now,” he said, making sure she heard his possessive tone of voice.

“Half, you mean,” she replied and tilted up her chin. “We’re partners now.”

With her green eyes steady on his and her lips set, she had a look that dared him to say more. His body suddenly felt as though it had been draped with a heated blanket. He clenched his hands into fists at his sides and gritted his teeth.

They’d spoken little more than a hundred words to each other, yet each had staked a claim to Gateway to Paradise. He thought what a name for a bait shop, but what the hell. Who was he to argue with old Roy’s naming the place? It had been paradise to the old man.

Not for the first time Leif wondered what old Roy had been thinking, leaving the place to both of them. Leif just knew it wasn’t going to work out. Wryly, he thought of all the times Roy had tried setting him up with a woman, and wondered if that had been his intention once he discovered his granddaughter’s whereabouts, and that she was single. The old man had often told him it wasn’t good to be alone. Leif remembered Roy’s horrified expression when Leif had replied, “When you throw in the towel and get hitched, that’s when I will.”

“I’m ready to leave when you are, but we’ll need to pick up the rest of my luggage,” she said.

“How many more bags do you have?” he asked, knowing she was trying to change the topic, which was a good thing. They’d have time to hash things over after they arrived at Gateway.

“Just two.”

“Is that all?” he said, trying his best to hide his sarcasm.

Frowning, she tugged the hem of her jacket down. “I can’t very well stay for an extended visit without enough clothing, and at least a few comforts from home, can I?”

“Hold on a minute,” he growled. “What’s this about an extended visit? I assumed you were just visiting a week or so, and that you’d sell out your half of Gateway to me before leaving. Now you’re telling me you plan on staying longer?”

She gave him a wide-eyed look. “One shouldn’t assume anything, Mister Flying-Eagle. I have no plans to sell out, at least, not yet. Grandfather told me all about the gift shop. I can’t wait to see it!”

He rubbed his jaw, his hand covering his mouth to conceal his smile. “Mister Eagle is good enough, Miss Thompson, or just Leif. By the way, Gateway to Paradise is mostly just a plain old bait shop.”

“Gifts, too, according to my grandfather’s letters.” She gave him a dimpled smile. “You know, if I like it here, I may end up staying permanently.”

“Permanently?” Leif’s voice croaked, his heart sinking at her words.

She raised her hand to her brow, shielding her eyes from the sun’s rays as she looked to her left. “There’s the rest of my luggage.”

Leif shook his head when she rushed away once more. This was getting ridiculous. She paused beside another stack of luggage. When she reached up for a bag, he started after her again. Who did she think she was, Superwoman? He reached her side and they bent down simultaneously, reaching for the same bag. She got there first and his hand covered hers.

His heart started pounding, ricocheting against the walls of his chest when she smiled. Her face was so close he could see every fine pore of her perfect skin. He also noticed that her eyes seemed to be a darker green at this close range.

“I’ve got it,” she said softly.

He yanked his hand from hers, as if he’d been burned. “I’ll get the others.” He snatched up the remaining two bags and strode away. Half way across the tarmac he heard her calling him.

“Leif! Please slow down, won’t you?”

He stopped and waited for her to catch up. When she reached him he said, “Sorry.” Then he glanced at the bag on rollers that she pulled along behind her. “How about I take that?”

She shook her head. “I’m fine, thanks.”

He faced forward again, checked his watch, and saw that he still had plenty of time to pack his gear and check over the seaplane before taking off on his fishing trip. But he’d heard talk earlier on the radio about the possibility of a storm heading their way. That meant his departure could be delayed, which would be a damned shame. The money he earned for the fly-in fishing trips paid plenty. He hated having to cancel one, but if it stormed he had no choice.

They reached the black Ford Ranger Leif had rented, and he lifted the bags into the truck’s flatbed. Then he moved to the passenger side and opened the door for her.

His temperature skyrocketed when she hiked up her narrow skirt, revealing a tempting view of a shapely thigh. He watched her settle onto the seat then tug her skirt down to her knees.

Leif slammed the door shut, but not before he glimpsed her skirt riding midway up her thighs again. He shook his head, more confident than ever that this woman didn’t fit into his wilderness world, and never would. If she were sensible she’d return home to Chicago a.s.a.p.

“How far is it to Gateway?” she asked as he climbed in beside her.

“About forty miles to the east. Buckle up, Ms. Thompson.” He waited until she pulled the strap across her chest before throwing the truck into gear. Then he checked his rearview mirror and glanced over his shoulder before pulling away from the curb.

She frowned. “That’s more than an hour away, isn’t it?”

“Nope. More like ten to fifteen minutes or so, depending on the wind.”

“Huh. I thought I was in Minnesota. Sounds more like the Chicago Expressway to me. How fast are the speed limits around here, anyway? And what does the wind have to do with anything?”

Leif accelerated and flicked a devilish grin her way. “You’ll find out soon enough, darlin’.”

Ten minutes later they arrived at another airport, a very small one with just two runways, and a rental car agency. Leif parked the Ranger, moved around to Cassandra’s side, and opened her door. He left her to close it as he’d already moved to the back of the truck and proceeded to haul out her three pieces of luggage. 

Cassandra moved to his side and tugged on the bag he’d tucked under his arm. He didn’t say a word, but shrugged and released his hold on it. Inside the rental agency office he handed over the keys to the truck then took Cassandra’s elbow and guided her outside. They arrived alongside a tiny plane equipped with pontoons. He opened the door and waved at the passenger seat.

She looked at him, her jaw gaping. “You’ve got to be kidding!”

He glanced at his watch and said, “There’s a possible storm heading this way so I’d like to get to Gateway sooner than later. Hop aboard. Trust me, it’s safe.”

Leif smiled in response to her narrow-eyed look, praying she’d tell him to take her back to the airport. He clenched his jaw when she stepped up on the pontoon but paused when she couldn’t raise her leg high enough to get into the plane. Her skirt was just too damned tight. Damn but the woman was stubborn.

Heaving a deep sigh, he clasped her waist and hoisted her inside, then slammed the door shut.

~ * ~

Cassandra knew a thunderstorm when she saw one. Up ahead, cumulus clouds were darkening and rapidly sprawling across the sky. The wind’s gusts buffeted the plane up and down, and from side to side. It seemed her co-partner had a penchant for daring maneuvers, besides.

“Ohmigod!” she suddenly blurted out, slamming her eyes shut when he nosed the plane down sharply, then brought it up again, leveling it out.

“Sorry,” he muttered. “Didn’t want to hit the hawk that was flying straight at us.”

As she gripped the armrests, she decided she was going to die. She just knew it. She’d climbed aboard the seaplane with this stranger, who flew as daringly as Evil Knievel used to drive his motorcycle. She imagined the plane’s motor sputtering, dying, and the plane nose-diving into the water. There it would make a big splash and shatter into smithereens.

“Now, don’t worry,” Leif said, patting her hand. “I think that storm’s a ways off. We’ll be at Gateway soon.”

Cassandra darted a quick look at him before focusing on the threatening clouds once more. “How soon?” she croaked, hating the fear in her voice. But then, she was lucky she could speak at all. From past experience, she knew that fright had a way of paralyzing her vocal chords.

She held onto the sides of her seat with both hands, her bottom bouncing as the plane battled the turbulence. The plane was so small her shoulder brushed against his arm—his exceedingly muscular arm—every time either of them moved. The only good thing about the plane was that it had been painted bright sunny yellow.

“Oh, I’d say about as long as it takes for an eagle to soar two-hundred feet to the water below to scoop up his supper.”

She wondered at his cryptic reply. “Which is how long?”

“Soon.” He glanced at her, then returned his gaze to the instrument panel. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you’re questioning my ability to pilot this plane.”

What was this guy, a mind reader? “That’s an understatement,” she muttered. “Why didn’t you tell me the bait shop couldn’t be reached by car?” As she peered down below at the miles and miles of water she added, “And couldn’t we have traveled by boat?”

“Sure, but that’s miles and miles of water down there. It would have taken us almost an entire day to get to the shop. Plane travel, by far, is the quickest, easiest way to reach Gateway.

She’d always been in control of her life, with the exception of being stood up at the altar. It was difficult placing herself in this man’s hands—any man’s hands—no matter how capable he might be. And, he was sinfully handsome, besides. She could fall for him very easily, if she allowed herself, which she wouldn’t. Grudgingly, she decided that with his rugged good looks he likely attracted women from far and wide.

“I understand. It’s just that I’ve never before traveled in such a tiny plane.” She peered out the window and gulped at the patches of gray below, her stomach close to heaving.

He stared at her, raised one eyebrow. “You’re afraid, aren’t you?”

She loosened her death grip on the armrests and twisted her hands in her lap. “Oh, no, well, perhaps a little.”

“You’re safe with me.” He threw a few more switches on the control panel.

His soothing voice and confidence calmed her somewhat as he pointed out certain areas of the landscape below. And then she stared at his hands, mesmerized by his long fingers. Fingers she could imagine touching her. Everywhere. She squirmed in the uncomfortable lumpy seat. The brown leather cushion had dulled from the frequent beating of the sun and was slit in places.

“You know, I was surprised to hear Roy had a granddaughter. He’d told me often during the past fifteen years he had no family.” He raised his brow. “Makes me wonder why you suddenly appeared out of nowhere.”

Cassandra frowned. “The private investigator he’d hired had learned about the car accident that had taken my parents’ lives. After that he managed to track me down. Didn’t Grandpa tell you he’d been searching for us?”

“Yeah, he did.” He gave a short irritable laugh. “About two days before he died.”

“Oh! I’m sorry. You must have been surprised,” she murmured. She tried to imagine how she’d feel if someone had butted into her business, Pretty Woman Cosmetics. She’d be furious.

“Not just surprised but stunned. Roy then told me he’d had a falling out with his only son years ago.”

“Unfortunately, that’s true. I was three years old at the time.”

“Roy was real torn up when he heard about your father’s death.”

She sighed. “I imagine he was, seeing as my grandfather and father hadn’t spoken to each other in years. He said it was the saddest day of his life, and he’d forever regret they hadn’t mended their fences. I wish I’d had the opportunity to see Grandfather before he passed away. I was so young when my parents took me away from here that I’ve no memories of him.”

As she peered out the window, the beauty of the vivid green treetops caught her interest, but then she shuddered at the grayish-colored water. After awhile she sank back in her seat and grimaced, identifying the pungent odors in the plane. Leather, gasoline and the distinct odor of fish blended together, yet each scent was distinct.

She was uncomfortably conscious of his maleness. Virile and confident, but without being macho and overbearing would aptly describe him—the little she knew of him. Yet, her awareness of him as a very attractive man was starting to bother her. He was just another handsome man. She’d dated plenty of good-looking guys and had learned her lesson well. She bit her lip thoughtfully, gauging her attraction to him and decided, in the end, she must be experiencing some sort of chemical imbalance.

To her relief, Leif soon leveled the plane over a small shimmering lake. He descended and she let out her pent up breath when he landed smoothly. The plane coasted to a stop when the pontoons bumped against a long, sun-bleached, wooden dock. He released his seat belt, opened the door, and jumped out. He walked along the pontoon, then vaulted to the dock where he looped a thick rope through a ring. The man was agile as a cat!

She released her seat belt. It was now or never. She opened the door, turned sideways, and froze. Cassandra found herself surrounded by water—cold, glassy, and dangerous, splashing noisily against the weathered dock. With the exception of taking a long, luxurious bath or a brisk cool shower in the safety of her bathroom, she’d always been terrified of water.

She looked up when she heard Leif call her name. He was motioning for her to leave the plane. Be brave. She started to slide from her seat when he suddenly appeared in front of her. He offered her a confident smile as he helped her from the plane, then guided her down the pontoon.

He’d settled his hands on her waist and his touch sent little shivers down her spine. She teetered on one heel as she stepped onto the dock, breathing easier now that they’d settled on firm ground. She’d packed a sensible pair of flats in one of her bags, and knew she’d wear them every day from now on and chuck the heels!

“You’re safe now,” he said, stepping off the dock after her. He picked up a suitcase, tucked it under his arm, then snatched up the two larger bags. “But you’ve got a problem, Miss Thompson,” he said, moving ahead of her.

“I do?” She stared at his broad shoulders covered in a khaki-colored shirt, the sleeves rolled back to his forearms. She looked at his arms, fine hairs glinting in the daylight, even though the sky was overcast.

He lengthened his stride and she tripped along in her high heels to keep up with him, admiring his strong, athletic body.

“Northern Minnesota is nothing but water with a bit of land thrown in here and there,” he said conversationally. “I’d advise you to get used to it sooner rather than later.”

“I’ve heard the Minnesota slogan, ‘Land of Ten Thousand Lakes’ before. I also discovered on the flight here that it wasn’t an exaggeration.”

“I’ll bet a day’s pay you don’t swim, do you?” he asked, glancing at her over his shoulder.

She shook her head as heat seeped into her cheeks. Damn! How had he guessed? Silly question! How could he not have guessed? She’d been uptight the entire flight. And he’d caught her gawking out the window at the water below. For some reason, flying high in a large, commercial plane, didn’t frighten her, but this small plane had.

He had just placed one foot on the stairs leading up to a long, low log cabin when a German Shepherd bounded across the dock toward them. Laughing, Leif dropped the bags, went down on one knee and roughed up the dog’s fur. “Hey, there, Shep. Glad to see me?”

Cassandra smiled down at them.

Leif turned to her as he rose, his hand still stroking the dog’s thick coat. “Meet Shep.”

She approached the dog, hand out. Shep cocked his head and stared at her with dark, soulful eyes. When she was close enough he dipped his head and rubbed it against her hand, welcoming her touch. She grinned. “He’s very friendly.”

“Course he is. I can’t have a dog at Gateway if he scares the customers.” He picked up her bags and climbed the stairs. When he reached the landing he stuck out his foot and nudged it into a gaping space where the screen had once been attached. He set her bags down on the floor and held the door for her.

Cassandra stepped through the doorway then stopped in front of the transaction counter. She bent from side to side to see around the shelving, searching every nook and cranny.

White pine logs that had been stained a golden brown glistened in the mid-day light passing through the windows. The center of the large square room was open, with merchandise stacked on shelving and hanging from hooks, hugging the four walls of the store.

She sighed at the disappointing selection of adult merchandise, but one shelf piled high with t-shirts caught her interest. She lifted one and unfolded it. A huge bug with horrid wide eyes stared at her, the words ‘Minnesota’s State Bird’ splashed below the insect in big wiggly letters. Not only were the shirts unattractive they appeared to be one-size-fits-all.

After refolding the shirt she moved across the room to the children’s area. There the selection was, to her delight, plentiful. Shiny silver harmonicas and Native American drums decorated with colorful feathers sat neatly on a shelf. Fancy feathered Indian headdresses and authentic coonskin caps hung from a pegged tree. Tiny canoes made of birch bark and plastic Native American Indians and Cowboys hung from hooks in packages.

As she touched one item, then another, her smile slipped when she noticed spider cobwebs dangling from the metal hooks protruding from the pegboard that held the merchandise. With a finger she pulled one down, then another, pausing when she heard Leif’s voice filled with irony.

“Okay. I get the message. The place needs cleaning.”

Cassandra glanced at him over her shoulder and arched one eyebrow. “Obviously you have no allergies to dust.”

He shook his head. “Do you?”

She nodded.

“Dusting isn’t a priority.” Stepping closer, he said, “And I don’t want Maxie working too hard. She’s got a bad heart.”

Cassandra frowned and asked, “Who’s Maxie?”

“My store clerk. You’ll be meeting her soon.”

“Is there some reason why you don’t dust?”

He straightened to his full six-foot plus height and looked down his nose at her. “Cause I’m the fishing guide, and I work every day at it.”

“Fishing, hmm?”

“Yeah. I get paid to take folks fishing.”

She widened her eyes. “No kidding? Uh, why would someone pay you to take him fishing? Don’t you just throw out a line, sit back and wait and see what’ll bite?”

His jaw tightened and his complexion reddened. “No, that’s not how you fish up here,” he said, sarcastically. “I know where the fish are—the customers don’t. There’s a technique to it.”

“I see,” she said, trying to understand. She’d never been fishing but she couldn’t imagine it being all that difficult. She folded her arms and tilted her head as she met the irritated look in his eyes. “How well do you get paid for guiding?”

“Fifty a head each trip.”

“And how many fishermen per trip?”

“Four to six.”

“How often during the week do you guide?”

“Four to six days a week.”

She whistled in appreciation.

Leif grinned. “So, you see why I don’t dust.”

“I can see where you wouldn’t have much time, so I’ll dust.”

Leif shrugged. “While you’re here it’s fine with me.”

She turned back to the merchandise and thought over Leif’s explanation. She wondered how many months a year he earned that kind of income. Lakes froze over in the winter so he wouldn’t be doing any guiding then. She recalled her grandpa telling her he went ice-fishing in the winter, though.

As she frowned at the cobwebs hanging from the merchandise she wondered how well the stuff sold, guessing those cobwebs had built up over a period of time.

She sauntered around the store some more, glimpsing Leif sitting on a bar-type stool behind the counter, cigarette between his lips, watching her. Heat rose up her neck and into her face at his unwavering look. Quickly she turned back to her inspection.

The long windows nearby were spattered with bird droppings, and appeared to have not been washed in a long time. The window sashes, once white, had dulled to a yellow-gray color. The screening on the door as they’d entered the store had loosed and now flapped in the hot southerly breeze. None of this bothered her, though. With a good cleaning and the hired services of a handyman, the place would be perfect. And an expanded line of merchandise for vacationers to choose from would also help.

She ducked out of the way of an oncoming moth, then turned when someone called out Leif’s name. A tall, spare woman wearing a pair of denim blue overalls passed through a beaded-curtain and entered the storefront.

“Thank heavens you two got here before the storm hit,” the woman said. She stopped directly in front of Cassandra and took her hands. “Welcome home, Cassandra.”

“It’s temporary, Maxie,” Leif muttered.

Cassandra bristled and scowled at him. She’d had about enough of his sarcasm for one day. Just one more cynical remark from him and she’d deck him. Tugging her jacket over her hips she breathed deeply and schooled her features, giving him a long, cool look. “Sorry. Did you say something?”

“This is Maxie, our head store clerk,” he said, his voice clipped.

Maxie rolled her eyes. “Other than Leif, I’m the only clerk.”

“I’m happy to meet you.” Cassandra squeezed the older woman’s hands. Maxie released her and smiled down at Cassandra.

As Maxie informed Leif of the happenings of the day since he’d left Gateway to fetch Cassandra, she stared at him closely. Now that she wasn’t focused on surviving the flight, she could take in the full measure of the man.

She admired his thick, dark brown hair, and vivid blue eyes contrasting sharply with his tanned complexion.

Cassandra had learned from her grandfather’s letters that Leif’s mother was of Ojibwa heritage, but that his father was unknown.

Whatever Leif’s father’s nationality, Cassandra thought the two people had managed to produce a splendid specimen of manhood.

Her face turned hot when he turned, focused his blue gaze on her and abruptly said, “I’ve got to check over a few things on the plane before I leave.” Then he strode outside.

She stared after him, long after he left, until Maxie waved her hand in front of her face. “Uh, Cassie? Come on, sweetie. I’ll show you to your room. It was your grandfather’s so don’t mind the masculine decor. You can change it, if you decide to stay.”

Was that a hopeful tone she heard in Maxie’s voice? Her outlook lightened at the prospect of someone being happy about her presence. But, she was also exhausted from the trip and didn’t feel much like socializing.

Hesitantly, she said, “Do you mind if I rest a bit?”

“Heck, no!” Maxie replied, “I was going to tell you to catch a few winks before dinner.”

Half an hour later, Leif returned to the store, looked around, then turned to Maxie. “Where is she?”

“If you mean Cassandra, I told her to take a nap.”

“I need to talk to her before I go.”

Maxie shrugged. “There’s no telling how long she’ll sleep. Besides, you can’t leave yet. There’s a storm brewin’ out there.”

“I checked the radar. It looks like most of the bad stuff’s going to stay south of us. Guess I’ll have to wait until I get back to talk to her about a few things around here.” He frowned. “And no gossiping about me while I’m gone.”

“Not a peep from me, boss, unless Cassandra asks.”

“Great,” he grumbled as he strode around the counter and made his way down the hallway to his room. With the efficiency of someone who packed often, he loaded his duffle bag and hauled it into the hallway, closing his door just as Cassandra opened hers.

His breath hitched at the sight of her tousled hair and sleepy eyes, his gaze sliding down her womanly curves.

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