Never Say No to a Caffarelli(6)

By: Melanie Milburne

‘Seriously, though, what about the bills?’ Chloe asked with a worried little frown.

Poppy tried to ignore the gnawing panic that was eating away her stomach lining like caustic soda on satin. Worrying about how she was going to pay the next month’s rent on the tearoom had kept her awake for three nights in a row. Her savings had taken a hit after paying for her gran’s funeral, and she had been playing catch-up ever since. Bills kept coming through the post, one after the other. She’d had no idea owning your own home could be so expensive. And, if Oliver’s rival restaurant hadn’t impinged on things enough, one of her little rescue dogs, Pickles, had needed a cruciate ligament repair. The vet had charged her mate’s rates but it had still made a sizable dent in her bank account. ‘I’ve got things under control.’

Chloe looked doubtful. ‘I wouldn’t burn too many bridges just yet. Things have been pretty slow for spring. We only sold one Devonshire tea this morning. I’ll have to freeze the scones.’

‘No, don’t do that,’ Poppy said. ‘I’ll take them to Connie Burton. Her three boys will soon demolish them.’

‘That’s half your problem, you know,’ Chloe said. ‘You run this place like a charity instead of a business. You’re too soft-hearted.’

Poppy ground her teeth as she started rummaging in the stationery drawer. ‘I’m not accepting his charity.’ She located an envelope and stuffed the change from the coffee into it. ‘I’m handing his tip back to him as soon as I finish here.’

‘He tipped you?’

‘He insulted me.’

Chloe’s expression was incredulous. ‘By leaving you a fifty-pound note for an espresso? I reckon we could do with a few more customers like him.’

Poppy sealed the envelope as if it contained something toxic and deadly. ‘You know what? I’m not going to wait until I finish work to give this to him. I’m going to take it to him right now. Be a honey and close up for me?’

‘Is he staying at the manor?’

‘I’m assuming so,’ Poppy said. ‘Where else would he stay? It’s not as if we have any five-star hotels in the village.’

Chloe gave her a wry look. ‘Not yet.’

Poppy set her mouth and snatched up her keys. ‘If Mr Caffarelli thinks he’s going to build one of his playboy mansions here, then it will be over my dead body.’

* * *

Rafe was in the formal sitting room inspecting some water damage near one of the windows when he saw Poppy Silverton come stomping up the long gravel driveway towards the manor. Her cloud of curly hair—now free of her cute little mobcap—was bouncing as she went, her hands were going like two metronome arms by her sides and in one hand she was carrying a white envelope.

He smiled.

So predictable.

He waited until she had knocked a couple of times before he opened the door. ‘How delightful,’ he drawled as he looked down at her flushed heart-shaped face and sparkling brown eyes. ‘My very first visitor. Aren’t I supposed to carry you over the threshold or something?’

She gave him a withering look. ‘This is your change.’ She shoved the envelope towards his chest.

Rafe ignored the envelope. ‘You Brits really have a problem with tipping, don’t you?’

Her pretty little mouth flattened. ‘I’m not accepting anything from you.’ She pushed the envelope towards him again. ‘Here. Take it.’

He folded his arms across his chest and gave her a taunting smile. ‘No.’

Her eyes pulsed and flashed with loathing. He wondered for a moment whether she was going to slap him. He found himself hoping she would, for it would mean he would have to stop her. The thought of putting his arms around her trim little body to restrain her was surprisingly and rather deliciously tempting.

She blew out a breath and, standing up on tiptoe, stashed the envelope into the breast pocket of his shirt. He felt the high voltage of her touch through the fine cotton layer of his shirt. She must have felt it too, for she tried to snatch her hand back as if his body had scorched her.

But she wasn’t quick enough for him.

Rafe captured her hand, wrapping his fingers around her wrist where he could feel her pulse leaping. Her lithe but luscious little body was so close he felt the jut of one of her hipbones against his thigh. Desire roared through his veins like the backdraft from a deadly fire. He was erect within seconds; aching and throbbing with a lust so powerful it took every ounce of self-control he possessed to stop from pushing her up against the nearest wall to see how far he could go.