Story of Us (Love Unexpected)(5)

By: Jody Holford

He could do that. He had his rules. Maybe he ought to write them down after all. Right after keeping his hands off any women connected to relatives of friends, he also didn’t play around at work. Business and pleasure were not a good combination, and he’d never crossed that line. It didn’t make him feel great that it was this realization that pushed him to decide. If he hired her, he’d stick to his own unwritten code. Hell, it would probably fade five minutes after working with her anyway. What he felt right now was just pent-up energy brought on by a self-imposed dry spell. That’s all. He’d hire Sophia Strombi, his friend would thank him for it, and doing so would be like a guarantee he’d keep his hands off.

“You have a resume I can see?” he asked, ignoring the way her grin tangled his insides. “I can’t just hire any person off the street, you know.”

She laughed and opened the suitcase she probably called a purse, pulling out a folder and sliding it along the bar to him. When he took it, their fingertips touched, and Declan wondered how it was that just that simple touch had him more excited than he’d been in longer than he could remember.

He shook his head, opening the folder. He was either doing the right thing, or he was setting himself up for a life-changing disaster.

Chapter Three

Sophia expected a slow, easy introduction, seeing as it was New Year’s Day. She thought she’d observe and learn the ropes, ignoring the fact that while she had her employment settled, nothing else in her life was. She might have come home, but maybe she hadn’t changed all that much. She could hear her father’s voice in her head as clear as if he were standing next to her: You jump without looking. Make a plan. The only plans she truly excelled at were professional ones. In Arizona, she helped turn more than one business around with her marketing and promotional expertise. Her worries were sidetracked by the surprise of how many people walked through the double doors of On Dec within minutes of opening.

“You really don’t have to stick around today. Don’t you need to get settled?” Declan turned the blinds, letting in the deceptive sunshine. He glanced at her over his shoulder, and she realized she was staring at the way his muscles bunched with each movement. Right. Way to be professional.

Getting settled meant she would have a place to stow her luggage, and at the moment, she didn’t. After getting the lay of the land, she’d check into a hotel or something and then pull on her big girl undies and stop by Pop’s. Maybe. She hadn’t set foot in there in more years than was acceptable.

“I’d rather know I have my employment settled,” she said.

Declan walked beside her as they went back toward the bar. “I’m pretty sure an extra day isn’t going to hurt anything. Unless you’re avoiding seeing your family.”

She looked up at him and smiled at his knowing expression. She’d only ever known him through her brother, despite her teenage fantasies, but apparently, she was an open book. Or he was just too good at reading what she didn’t say. Or good at reading women in general if all the rumors are true.

A woman came from the hallway and went behind the bar. Declan took Sophia’s elbow and led her in the same direction. She shook his hand off, a little disconcerted that his touch managed to make her elbow feel like a hot spot.

“Hey, Cora. Happy New Year,” Declan said. He went behind the bar, but Sophia stayed on the other side. Today, she was an observer.

“You too, honey,” the tall, lean woman with sculpted arms and purple hair said as she hugged Declan. He kissed her cheek, and Sophia felt her muscles twitch. He was every bit the charmer and ladies’ man he had been years ago.

Looking over at her, he smiled, and she knew it was silly to feel that the smile he gave her was more intimate, more familiar, but she couldn’t help it.

“This is Sophia Strombi. She’s the new manager. Sophia, this is Cora.”

Cora came around the bar, her hands behind her back as she tied her apron and then extended one hand. “Welcome to On Dec. Strombi? Isn’t the owner of the pizza place named Strombi?”

The waitress looked back and forth between Declan and Sophia.

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