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From Temptation to Twins(3)

By:Barbara Dunlop

“Your ancestors were pretty evil to her ancestors,” Matt said.

Caleb didn’t disagree with that. His grandfather had stolen away the woman Felix Parker loved, while his father had ruined Roland Parker’s best chance at a college education.

There wasn’t a lot about either man that made Caleb proud. “I didn’t do a thing to the Parkers.”

“Did you mention that to Jules?” Matt asked.

“She’s sticking to her story—that she had no idea I wanted to build a restaurant of my own.”

“Maybe she didn’t,” TJ said. “You know, this wouldn’t be the worst time in the world to take on investors.”

“This would absolutely be the worst time in the world to take on investors.” Caleb had heard the pitch from TJ before.

“One phone call to my clients, Caleb. And seventeen Neo locations across the US could become forty Neo locations around the world. A million-dollar loss here would be insignificant.”

“Read my lips,” Caleb said. “I’m not interested.”

TJ shrugged. “Can’t blame a guy for trying.”

“Then call her bluff,” Matt said, crossing the deck and dropping into one of the padded chairs surrounding a gas fire pit.

“She’s not bluffing,” Caleb pointed out. “She already extended the noncompete clause.”

“I mean pretend you believe her. That she’s only after her own business interests, and this isn’t some warped revenge against your family. See if she’ll be reasonable about coexisting.”

TJ moved to another of the chairs. “I see where he’s going. Explain to her how Neo and the Crab Shack can both succeed. If she’s not out to harm you, then she should be willing to discuss it.”

“They serve different market niches.” Caleb sat down, thinking there might be merit to the strategy. “And where they overlap, one could be a draw for the other.”

“Cross-promotion,” TJ said.

“I’d be willing to push some customers her way.”

“Maybe don’t make yourself sound so arrogant,” Matt said. “I don’t think women like that.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be the big expert on women?” TJ asked Caleb.

“Jules isn’t a woman,” Caleb said. But even as he spoke, he envisioned her sparkling blue eyes, her billowy wheat-blond hair and her full red lips. Jules was all woman, and that just made things more complicated.

“I mean,” he continued. “She’s not a woman in the way you’re thinking about women. Not that she’s not good-looking, she is. Anybody would tell you that. But that’s irrelevant. It’s irrelevant to the situation. I’m not trying to date her. I’m trying to do business with her.”

“Uh-oh,” Matt said to TJ.

“That’s trouble,” TJ said to Matt.

“It’s not like that,” Caleb said. “The last time I saw her she was fifteen.”

TJ grinned. “And that was a logical comeback to what?”

“She was a kid. She was my neighbor. And now she’s a thorn in my side. This has nothing to do with, you know, our recent discussions about the two of you getting back into the dating pool. How’s that going, by the way?”

Both men grinned at him. “You think we’re going to let you change the subject that easily?”

“Either of you dating?” Caleb asked. “Are you? Because I had a date last weekend.”

Matt had just made it through a bitter divorce, and TJ had just passed the two-year anniversary of his wife’s death. Both had committed to living Caleb’s bachelor lifestyle for the next year. And Caleb had committed to helping them achieve it.

“Hey, Matt?” came a female voice from below on the pier.

“Speaking of women...” TJ said, interest perking up in his voice.

“Speaking of not women.” Matt muttered under his breath as he rose to his feet.

“Who is she?” TJ asked, standing to look over the rail.

“My mechanic.” Matt raised his voice. “Hi, Tasha. What’s going on?”

“I don’t like the sound of MK’s backup engine. Can I have a day to tear it down?”

Through the rails, Caleb could see a slender woman in a T-shirt and cargo pants. She wore a pair of leather work boots. And she had a ponytail sticking out of the back of her tattered baseball cap.

“It’s booked out starting Sunday.”

“That gives me all day tomorrow,” Tasha called back. “Perfect. I’ll make sure she’s ready.”

“Thanks, Tasha.”

“That’s your mechanic?” TJ asked as he watched the young woman walk away.