Never Say No to a Caffarelli(3)

By: Melanie Milburne


‘Indeed you don’t.’

Poppy handed him a menu to bridge the little silence that had ensued. Why was she talking about loyalty and commitment to a perfect stranger? Chloe, her assistant, was right: maybe she did need to get out more. Oliver’s betrayal had made her horribly cynical. He had wooed her and then exploited her in the worst way imaginable. He hadn’t wanted her; he’d used her knowledge and expertise to set up a rival business. How gullible she had been to fall for it! She still shuddered to think about how close she had come to sleeping with him. ‘Um, we have a special cake of the day. It’s a ginger sponge with raspberry jam and cream.’

The dark-haired man ignored the menu and sat down. ‘Just coffee.’

Poppy blinked. She had forty varieties of specialty teas and he wanted coffee? ‘Oh...right. What sort? We have cappuccino, latte—’

‘Double-shot espresso. Black, no sugar.’

Would it hurt you to crack a smile? What was it with some men? And who the hell went to a tearoom to drink coffee?

There was something about him that made Poppy feel prickly and defensive. She couldn’t help feeling he was mocking her behind those dark, unreadable eyes. Was it her Edwardian dress and frilly apron? Was it her red-gold curly hair bunched up under her little mobcap? Did he think she was a little bit behind the times? That was the whole point of Poppy’s Teas—it was an old-world experience, a chance to leave the ‘rush, rush, rush’ pace of the modern world behind while you enjoyed a good old-fashioned cup of tea and home baking just like your great-great granny used to make.

‘Coming right up.’ Poppy swung away, carried her tray back to the kitchen and put it down on the counter top with a little rattle of china cups.

Chloe looked up from where she was sandwiching some melting moments with butter-cream. ‘What’s wrong? You look a little flushed.’ She narrowed her gaze to slits. ‘Don’t tell me that two-timing jerk Oliver has come in with his slutty new girlfriend just to rub salt in the wound. When I think of the way he pinched all of those wonderful recipes of yours to pass them off as his own creation I want to cut off his you-know-whats and serve them as an entrée in his totally rubbish restaurant.’

‘No.’ Poppy frowned as she unloaded the tray. ‘It’s just some guy I have a feeling I’ve seen somewhere before...’

Chloe put down her knife and tiptoed over to peek through the glass of the swing door. ‘Oh. My. God.’ She turned back to Poppy with wide eyes. ‘It’s one of the Three Rs.’

Poppy screwed up her face. ‘One of the what?’

‘The Caffarelli brothers,’ Chloe said in a hushed voice. ‘There’s three of them. Raffaele, Raoul and Remy. Rafe is the oldest. They’re French-Italian squillionaires. The seriously-silver-spoon set: private jets, fast cars and even faster women.’

Poppy gave her head a little toss as she went to the coffee machine. ‘Well, for all that money it certainly hasn’t taught him any manners. He didn’t even say please or thank you.’ She gave the knob of the machine a savage little twist. ‘Nor did he smile.’

Chloe peeked through the glass panel again. ‘Maybe you don’t have to be nice to horribly common people like us when you’re filthy rich.’

‘My gran used to say you can tell a lot about a person by the way they respect people they don’t have to respect,’ Poppy said. ‘Lord Dalrymple was a shining example of it. He treated everyone the same. It didn’t matter if they were a cleaner or a corporate king.’

Chloe came back to the melting moments and picked up her butter-cream knife. ‘I wonder what he’s doing in our little backwater village? We’re not exactly on the tourist trail these days. The new motorway took care of that.’

Poppy’s hand froze on the espresso machine. ‘It’s him.’

‘Him?’

‘He’s the new owner of Dalrymple Manor.’ Poppy ground her teeth as she faced her assistant. ‘He’s the one who wants to turf me out of my home. I knew there was something funny about that woman who came by the other day with that pushy agent. I bet he sent her to do his dirty work for him.’

‘Uh-oh...’ Chloe winced. ‘I know what this means.’

Poppy straightened her shoulders and pasted a plastic-looking smile on her face. ‘You’re right.’ She picked up the steaming double-shot espresso as she headed towards the door leading out to the tearoom. ‘This means war.’

* * *

Rafe cast an eye around the quaint tearoom. It was like stepping back in time. It gave him a sort of spooky time-warp sensation where he almost expected a First World War soldier to walk in the door with an elegantly dressed lady on his arm. The delicious smell of home baking filled the air. Fresh cottage flowers were on the dainty tables—sweet peas, forget-me-nots and columbines—and there were hand-embroidered linen napkins on each place setting. The teacups and plates were a colourful but mismatched collection of old china, no doubt sourced from antique stores all over the countryside.