Seduced By Fire
Partners in Play - 1
Tara Sue Me
To Ginger, who unknowingly started everything.
This novel holds a special place in my heart as it was written following a very difficult time in my personal life. They say when a door closes, a window opens. If that’s the case, Seduced by Fire is my window.
There were many people who helped make this book what it is and I am forever grateful to them.
To Rebecca Grace Allen, who has been the world’s best crit partner, brain stormer, chat buddy, and friend a person could ask for. You stuck with me in the early days and wouldn’t let me give up. Thank you.
To Cyndy Aleo, who forces me to be better and never lets me settle. You’ll never know how much your support has meant. Thank you.
To Danielle, who makes me laugh, makes me think, and helps in innumerable ways. You have been indispensable and I can’t imagine doing this without you. Thank you.
To Lauren and Christina, who encouraged me to continue. You guys . . . there aren’t enough words. Thank you.
To Lauren and Tonya, who gave feedback that helped tremendously. I hope you know how much I value your comments. Thank you.
To Claire Zion, who took my words and made them so much better. I am blessed to have you as an editor. Thank you.
To Kathy, who is always there to offer just what I need. You’re good people, Kathy. I hope you know that and I hope you know how much you mean to me. Thank you.
To my husband, who is my support, my encourager, my idea bouncer offer, and my champion. I don’t know how you manage to do it all and stay sane. Thank you.
And to my readers, who allow me the privilege of telling them a story. I am honored. Truly. Thank you.
According to Julie’s best friend and business partner, Sasha, men only bought flowers for two reasons: to get in your pants, or to get back in your pants. While Julie didn’t think that to be an absolute truth, once Sasha made up her mind, she didn’t often change it.
The front door of Petal Pushers, the floral shop they owned together, opened with a melodic ring. After seeing the two customers walk in, Julie decided to make her case once again.
“Look at those two,” she said with a whisper, making sure the customers couldn’t hear. “I highly doubt he’s trying to get into her pants.”
Sasha looked up from the computer where she was placing an order for next week’s stock. The “he” in question was tall, with sculpted angular features, and dirty blond hair, but the woman by his side wasn’t the usual trophy girlfriend. She was an older woman, dressed for the chilly weather in Wilmington, Delaware, in a winter white coat that probably cost more than Julie made in a year.
“Never know these days.” Sasha punched a few keys on the computer. “I need to make a few calls. Can you handle these two?”
Julie waved her to the back office and turned her attention to the couple still standing by the door. This time she noticed how expensive the guy’s coat was while he talked on his cell phone. The woman with him admired a floral arrangement displayed for an upcoming wedding.
“Good afternoon,” Julie said. “Welcome. Can I help you with something?”
The older lady smiled. “My great-granddaughter has a ballet recital tonight. I wanted to pick up some flowers.” She turned to the guy, still on his phone. “Daniel, do put that away and come here.”
The man at the door spoke a few more words before disconnecting. “Sorry, Grandma. It couldn’t wait.”
She rolled her eyes. “It never can.”
“I heard that.” His voice was low and deep and as he approached, his gaze met Julie’s. Blue steel was her first thought when she saw his eyes. Hard and immovable. She actually squirmed under their scrutiny.
For a second, she thought he realized the effect he had on her, because something in his expression flickered with understanding. Just as quickly, though, his mouth upturned into a soft smile. “We’re looking for something to thrill the heart of a five-year-old ballerina.”
Julie stood and told herself to focus on the sale, not the customer’s eyes. “Your daughter?”
The older lady laughed. “Heavens no, dear. Not Daniel,” she said as if the idea of Daniel having a daughter was the most humorous thing in the world. “It’s for his niece.”
Daniel appeared unaffected by his grandmother’s words. He only raised an eyebrow to Julie and proceeded to take off his leather gloves.
He pulled one finger at a time free, and for whatever reason, Julie found herself unable to stop watching the mundane task. His fingers were long, and as he took the last glove off and kept it in his fist, she admired the elegant but subtle strength in the way he moved. Her mind drifted, imagining those fingers brushing her skin. Those hands on her . . .
How would his touch feel cupping her chin, trailing downward, across her breasts? Lower, brushing her hips, inching closer—
He smacked the gloves against his palm.
“The five-year-old in question,” he said, eyes lighting at her startled expression, “loves ruffles, ponies, and all things princess.”
Focus, she scolded herself. Flowers.
“Sounds like she would love pink roses.”
“Pink roses. Excellent suggestion, Ms. Masterson,” he answered with a whisper and a glance at her name tag. “That’s exactly what I thought, but Grandma thought wildflowers.”
“Based on what you said, the roses. Definitely pink roses.”
“We’ll take a dozen.” His blue eyes were steady on hers and she leaned closer as his voice dropped further. “How about you, Ms. Masterson, what type flowers do you like?”
“I’m not really a flower-type girl.”
She shrugged. “I guess it comes from working with them all day.”
It wasn’t that she didn’t like flowers; she just didn’t like getting them from men. In her opinion, there were plenty of other more romantic gifts.
“Daniel,” his grandmother said. “Have you decided on something?”
He winked at Julie. “We’re going with pink roses. She’s guaranteed to love them.”
After they left with the roses, Julie tried to decide what it was about him that made her react the way she did. He had a breezy confidence about him, but a lot of her male customers did. There was something, though, about the way he moved that seemed somehow more.
“They leave?” Sasha asked, returning from the back office and running her fingers through her dark spiky hair.
“Yeah. And you were wrong—he wasn’t trying to get into anyone’s pants. He was buying flowers for his niece.”
Sasha flipped through the day’s receipts. “Daniel Covington doesn’t have to try to get into anyone’s pants. Women just drop them at the mere sight of him.”
Julie looked up from the new arrangement she had been working on. “You know him?”
It really shouldn’t have surprised her. Sasha knew everyone. It was one of the reasons the shop had been so successful. Julie was the business-minded one, Sasha the people person.
Or maybe she had dated him. Sasha was known for her ability to run through men like tissue paper. Every other month, it seemed she was on the arm of a new guy. New and improved. Highly disposable. But certainly Julie would have remembered Daniel.
“I don’t know him, know him,” she said. “But I know of him. He’s the senior vice president of Weston Bank.”
Second-largest bank in Delaware.
That certainly explains why he didn’t blink at the cost of a dozen pink roses in January.
“Wealthy and good-looking,” Julie said with a sigh. “The universe is so unfair.”
Sasha’s head snapped up. “Not you, too.”
“Not me, too, what?”
“Wanting to drop your pants for Daniel.”
Julie picked up the flower she’d been trimming and twirled it between her fingers, trying not to remember how she had imagined Daniel’s hands and what they’d feel like on her body. “I don’t want to do any such thing. What’s it to you, anyway? You’re always telling me to get out more.”
“I didn’t mean with him.”
“Are you telling me I’m not good enough for the senior vice president of Weston Bank?” She pointed the flower at her friend. “Don’t make me come over there.”
She added the last as a joke, but in reality she was just covering the hurt at the suggestion she wasn’t good enough for someone like Daniel. Hurt, yes, but there was also anger at her friend. How dare she insinuate she couldn’t date an executive? Besides, who was Sasha to judge? It wasn’t like she had a stellar record with the opposite sex.
“I’m just telling you, you’re not compatible.”
“And I thought you didn’t know him.”
“I don’t,” Sasha said in the tone of voice that told Julie the topic wasn’t up for further discussion.
Julie tried to decide if she wanted to push it. What did Sasha know about Daniel that made her so certain they weren’t compatible? She wondered again for just a second if they had dated.
“Doesn’t matter anyway,” Julie finally said. “He just came in to buy roses. It’s not like I’ll ever see him again.” Because the universe really wasn’t fair.
Sasha looked at her apologetically and nodded toward the trimmed flowers Julie was working with. “On the other hand, people we would be okay never seeing again always seem to pop up. I took a phone call in the back.”