Never Say No to a Caffarelli(10)

By: Melanie Milburne

POPPY WAS WAITING on one of her regulars when Raffaele Caffarelli came in the following Monday. She tried to ignore the little skip of her pulse and focused her attention on Mr Compton who came in at the same time every day and had done so ever since his wife of sixty-six years had died. ‘There you are, Mr Compton,’ she said as she handed the elderly gentleman a generous slice of his favourite orange-and-coconut cake.

‘Thank you, my dear,’ Mr Compton said. ‘Where’s your offsider today?’

‘She’s visiting her mother,’ Poppy said, conscious of Raffaele’s black-as-night gaze on her. ‘Can I get you a fresh pot of tea? More cream for your cake? Another slice to take home for your supper?’

‘No, love, you’d better serve your other customer.’ Mr Compton gave her a wink. ‘Things are finally looking up, eh?’

Poppy gave him a forced smile as she mentally rolled her eyes. ‘I wish.’ She went to where Raffaele was standing. ‘A table for one?’

His dark eyes glinted. ‘Thank you.’

She led him to a table near the window. ‘A double-shot espresso, no sugar?’

His mouth twitched at the corners. ‘You have a good memory.’

Poppy tried not to look at his mouth. It was so distracting. So too were his hands. She could still feel the imprint of those long, tanned fingers around her wrist. She felt shivery every time she recalled them against her white skin. His touch had been unforgettable. Her body still hummed with the memory of it.

He was dressed casually in blue denim jeans and an open-necked white shirt with the sleeves rolled up past his strong, tanned wrists. He had twelve to eighteen hours of stubble on his jaw. He smelt divine—a hint of wood and citrus and healthy, potent, virile male. He oozed with sex appeal. She felt the invisible current of it pass over her skin. It made her heart pick up its pace as if he had reached out and touched her.

Poppy put her chin up to a pert level. ‘I don’t suppose I can tempt you with a slice of cake?’

His eyes smouldered as they held hers. ‘I’m very tempted.’

She pursed her lips and spoke in an undertone in case Mr Compton overheard, which was highly unlikely, given he was as deaf as the proverbial post, but still. ‘Cake, Mr Caffarelli. I’m offering you cake.’

‘Just the coffee.’ He waited a beat. ‘For now.’

Poppy swung away to the kitchen, furious with him, but even more furious with herself for being so affected by him. She’d been expecting him to come back. She had tried not to watch out for him but every morning she had looked towards the manor to see if his flashy sports car was parked out front. She had tried her best to ignore the little dip of disappointment in the pit of her belly when it had failed to appear. She knew he wasn’t going to give up on trying to acquire the dower house any time soon.

She had read up on him in some gossip magazines Chloe had given her. He had a reputation for being ruthless in business. ‘Single-minded, stealthy and steely in terms of determination’, one reporter had said.

Poppy suspected he was equally ruthless in his sensual conquests. His latest mistress was a bikini model with a figure to die for. Poppy couldn’t imagine a slice of cake or a chocolate-chip cookie ever passing through those filler-enhanced lips.

She carried the coffee out to him. ‘Will there be anything else?’

‘What time do you close?’

‘Five or thereabouts,’ she said. ‘I try to be flexible in case I get late-comers. No one likes being rushed over their cup of tea.’ She gave his cup a pointed look before adding, ‘Or coffee.’

His coal-black gaze glinted again. ‘I have some business I’d like to discuss with you.’

Poppy stiffened. ‘I’m not selling my house.’

‘It’s nothing to do with the dower house.’

She looked at him guardedly. ‘So...what is it about?’

‘I’m spending a couple of weeks at the manor to get a feel for the place before I start drawing up plans for the development,’ he said. ‘I don’t want to employ a housekeeper at this stage. Are you interested in providing dinner each day? I’ll pay you handsomely, of course.’

Poppy chewed at her lower lip for a moment. She could do with the money, but cooking him dinner each night? What else would he expect from her—her body dished up as a dessert? ‘What’s wrong with eating at the village pub? They do a pretty good bar snack. There was no way she was going to recommend he try Oliver’s restaurant.

He gave her a droll look. ‘I don’t eat bar snacks.’