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The Perfect Indulgence


After swapping lives—and coffee shops—with her twin sister, Chris Meyer is certain her New Yorker uptightness has melted in the hot California sunshine. But finding inner peace is tough with four guys vying for her attention, including the one who turns her mellow zen into a way-too-sexy zing… 

Zac Arnette doesn't mind a little competition, because he knows the attraction he and Chris share is smoking hot! They agree to a friends-with-benefits fling—which fits in with Chris's new laid-back style. But she might not want to give up her favorite new indulgence when it's time to return to NYC… 


 
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A few customers came in, which kept Chris busy for a while, then she had time to stand and take in the aura of the place.  Old workaholic Chris would have been studying sales reports, worrying how to improve, brainstorming new blends and new drinks and special bakery items.  New mellow Chris just wanted to absorb what she and her sister had created here, and how the café was bringing so much pleasure to its customers and to the community of—

A familiar figure caught her eye, making its way among the outside tables, heading for the shop’s front door.

Zac Arnette.

Chris’s heart sped, her breath stuttered.  Immediately she relaxed her shoulders and closed her eyes for a long healing breath.  Zac had been away for a long time and now he was back.  There was no reason for anxiety or tension.

“Hello.”  She smiled peacefully, aware of a few butterflies still trying to wreak havoc.

But she accepted this reaction, didn’t fight it, didn’t shame or blame herself, even though she didn’t really understand it.  Zac was one of Eva’s best friends—in fact they’d had a half-serious pact to get married if neither of them found anyone else—but personally, she found him overbearing and bossy and, when he got her flustered and annoyed about something, infuriatingly smug.  He’d get this amused look on his face, as if he loved that she was struggling, loved that he’d gotten to her.  It made her sooo—

Ahem.

Not to be blaming him for who he was of course.  She accepted that.

“Hello, Chris.”  His blue eyes were warm and the butterflies got some more fluttering to do.  Perfectly natural.  Zac was a very handsome man.  Too surfer-blonde for her taste, she liked dark East Coast guys with high energy and sharp edges, but . . . yes, very handsome.  He looked a little like the guy who played Thor in the movies, but more real, less model-perfect.  Really, very, very handsome.

Oh.  Right.  She said that. 

“You’ve been away a while.”  To her surprise, her tone was tinged with acid.  Immediately she smiled more brilliantly to take away any impression that she cared that he’d disappeared for months without a word to her, though he’d filled Eva in extensively and often on the reason and progress of the trip.

Which was fine.  This wasn’t a competition.  Of course not.  He had every right to do what felt best to him.

Chris accepted that.

“Family stuff.”  He came right up to the counter.  She’d forgotten how big he was.  In her mind, Zac had shrunk to a size that wasn’t quite so overwhelming.  Her breath was having a little trouble again, and her heart refused to conform to the peaceful pace she recommended. 

Argh!  Why did he have to— 

No, wait, she accepted her own part in this.

“My younger brother, Luke, got into some trouble.  I flew east to help him out and brought him back home with me for a while.  Why, did you miss me?”

“Oh.  Well.  No.  I don’t—”  She felt her face flaming.  Her jaw clenched.  She wanted to smack him.  Three months of inner peace shot to hell in two minutes.  Thanks, Zac.

No, no, no.  She assigned no blame.  Inner peace was her own responsibility.  “I noticed you were gone, does that count?”

“Sure.”  He looked smug.  Smug!  She knew he would do that.  And it made her want to smack him harder.  “You changed your hair.”

“I did.”  Only that morning, a short asymmetrical wig which she particularly loved because it took herself out of her comfort zone, made her look a bit wilder, more unpredictable, which helped make her feel that way too.  But with Zac looking at her much too carefully, she only felt exposed as a fake.

So?  She wasn’t one.  Just a beginner at unearthing new feelings and new parts of herself.  This was all part of her transformation, freeing herself to explore new potentials.  She’d spent too long watching other people really live while she stood sensibly on the sidelines, held there by the weight of her parents’ values and expectations.

She refused to care whether Zac liked the new look or not. In fact let him think it was permanent.

“Nice.”  He did not sound enthusiastic, still studying her. 

“Something else has changed about—”

“What can I get you?”  She wanted to remind him that their relationship was customer/barista, and he had no place giving opinions on her appearance.

No, wait.  He did.  He had that right, and she accepted it.

Oh man.  She needed to get back to her favorite cliff to mediate.

“How about a tall French Roast and . . .”  His blue gaze faltered, then resumed with renewed intensity, which unsettled her further.  “And the chance to spend time catching up with you.”

Chris blinked.  Blinked again.  She should be breathing cleansing and healing breaths right now.

She wasn’t breathing at all.

Was Zac asking her out?  No, no, he couldn’t be.  He didn’t mention a place or event.  He wanted to find out what she’d been doing while he was gone.  Probably just being polite.

“Well.”  She turned away to pour his coffee, finding it much easier not to look at him.  “It’s not busy here now.  We can talk.”

He didn’t answer.  Chris turned back, holding out his mug.  His eyes pinned her.  She felt like she’d suddenly started moving in slow motion.  “Actually, Chris, I meant I wanted to have dinner sometime.”



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