The Harder They Fall

The Harder They Fall
Trish Jensen

April 2012 $11.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-126-5

Food fight, love match, or both? She's a lovable klutz trying to save her family's restaurant chain. He's a stuffed shirt angling to buy it.

Who will trip up and fall in love first?

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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

"I laughed so hard I fell off the couch . . . . Don't read this book while eating or drinking, you might snarf something down the wrong way and hurt yourself. . . . on behalf of all fans of screwball comedies, I'd like to thank you Trish. More, please.” –All About Romance

Food fight, love match, or both? She’s a lovable klutz trying to save her family’s restaurant chain. He’s a stuffed shirt angling to buy it. Who will trip up and fall in love first?

Darcy Welham’s dad is ready to sell his five-star restaurants and retire, but she’s determined to prove she can be trusted to keep the family business going. Darcy’s sure it’s what her mother would have wanted. Only one problem: her life turns into a comedy show when she’s nervous. Pratfalls, spills, slips and fires—all in a day’s misadventures for Darcy. She can’t even wait on tables without dumping food into the customers’ laps.

When supper lands on a sensitive area of businessman Michael Davidson’s finely creased trousers, he tries to have his gorgeous but careless waitress fired, only to discover that she’s the person he has to win over if he wants to buy the restaurant chain for his bosses.

From that antagonistic start, Darcy and Michael soon find that there’s more to each other than first expected. She’s clumsy because she’s got low self-esteem. She may be a disaster as a waitress, but she’s a genius as a cook, with a talent for creating mouth-watering new dishes.Darcy begins to realize that Michael is not a stuffed shirt at heart—he’s patient, strong and brave, which any man who dates Darcy has to be, because she turns into a Danger Zone every time he makes her heart flutter.

Trish Jensen is the bestselling author of STUCK WITH YOU. Look for more funny and romantic Trish Jensen novels coming soon from Bell Bridge Books. Visit Trish at


"Grade A... It was freaking hilarious!  It was a quick fun read that I'll be keeping on my shelf for future 'me' time." -- Gina Hott, Hott Books

"This was a sweet story. . . I just couldn't help but liking it." -- Tracy, Book Binge

"It was freaking hilarious! It was a quick fun read that I'll be keeping on my shelf for future 'me' time." -- Regina Hott, Hott Books

"This romantic comedy lives up to its name." -- Kassandra Lopez, NetGalley

"… such a nice read! The writing flowed easy … and the chapters kept your attention all throughout. Ms. Jensen knows her characters and gives you, as a reader, the chance to know them as well. I … recommend this book for anyone looking to dive into a new comedy romance …" -- Deserie Comfort, NetGalley

"...a laugh out loud, hilarious story about being yourself and finding the one who loves you because of it" -- Taylor Pappas, NetGalley

"Trish Jensen creates entertaining characters... I found myself either chuckling out loud or smiling a silly little grin. The Harder They Fall is a fun, sweet, giddy romance… Read it and enjoy." -- Amy Parsons, Cupcake on Books Blog



Darcy Welham knew she was in trouble when the grilled tuna landed on the man’s lap. High up on the man’s lap. Very high up on the man’s lap.

"Oh, no!” she moaned. "Not again!”

She tried to grab for it before he noticed. She missed. The mass in her hand most certainly wasn’t tuna.

He noticed. He shot to his feet like a missile, knocking her tray out of her hand in the process. Water flew through the air. Before she could yell, "Duck!” he was as wet as one.

Cringing, she chanced a glance at him. His piercing blue eyes narrowed, his ink-black hair dripped water down his face and neck. A muscle in his jaw jerked rhythmically.

Darcy snatched the edge of the white tablecloth and tried to blot at the wet spots on his tailored navy suit. "I’m sorry! I’ll... pay to have it cleaned.”

The man backed up. Darcy followed, trying desperately to save his designer tie.

The crash of china and silverware stopped her in her tracks. With a grimace, Darcy looked over her shoulder.

The good news was, the candle had been extinguished during its fall to the floor. The bad news was... everything else.

She dropped the incriminating cloth as if it had caught fire. Glancing around the room, she realized she’d captured the attention of every single patron of Welham’s Restaurant. Closing her eyes, she whispered a quick, beseeching prayer to God to deliver her from this situation.

Cracking one eye open, she knew her prayer had fallen on deaf ears. Again.

"Darcy...” Tom Murphy, the restaurant manager, said slowly, "May I see you in my office?”

Darcy sighed. Glancing at Tom, she saw the telltale tic begin to twitch under his left eye. That wasn’t a good sign. She also noticed the tuna man staring at her as if he’d like to ward her off with a cross. Darcy didn’t take offense. She’d grown used to seeing that expression on people’s faces. Eventually everyone looked at her like that, including the succession of nannies she’d had during her youth.

"I’m sorry,” she said again. "I’ll go put in another order for tuna—”

"No!” the man shouted. "I mean,” he said, lowering his voice, "I think I’ll just have some coffee.”

Well, there went another tip, Darcy thought. She didn’t think Tom would let her charge the man for his tuna, seeing as it landed... where didthe tuna go? she wondered, looking around.

Anthony, the busboy, had already started cleaning the mess behind her. He must have picked it up. With another sigh, Darcy retrieved her tray from the floor. "I’ll get you that coffee,” she said to the man, who was using his handkerchief to dry his face. She moved to step past him, but her shoe landed on something soft and squishy. Her foot slid out from under her.

Darcy windmilled her arms in a vain attempt to keep her balance. The tray in her hand connected with something solid, and she heard a grunt of pain.

Her bottom landed hard on the floor. Thank God her uniform included black pants, because her legs ended up splayed in a very unladylike position. Peeking through lowered lashes, she tried to determine what she’d hit with the tray.

Since the customer was clutching his nose, she thought she had her answer.

Tom Murphy was trying to console the man. Darcy got a little miffed that he was ignoring her. After all, she was the one who’d fallen on her rump.

Well, she did feel bad about the man’s nose. If she remembered correctly, he had a very nice nose. In fact, come to think of it, all of his features were quite nice. Combined, they managed to make him very attractive. When he wasn’t glaring at her, like he was doing right now.

"I think I found your tuna,” Darcy said lamely.

"First, you flooded the kitchen!”

Darcy. sniffed. "That was my first day on the job. No one told me the dishwasher trap had to be cleared after every cycle.” She waved vaguely. "I wasn’t cut out to wash dishes, anyway.”

Tom Murphy stopped pacing back and forth across his office and pointed at Darcy’s nose. "Then, you nearly burned the place down.”

"You’re exaggerating. It was a small fire. And I warned you I couldn’t cook.”

Tom raked a hand through his carrot-red hair. "The stockroom—”

"That was an accident!”

"Darcy, everything with you is one big accident! Everything!” He threw out his arms. "I thought your father and I were friends.”

"Of course you’re friends!” Darcy protested. "That’s why he sent me here to D.C. Because he knew you’d take care of me.”

Tom dropped like deadweight into his chair. "Modeling,” he mumbled.

"Excuse me?”

"Modeling. It would be the perfect career for you. You’re good-looking. You’re tall and slender. You’ve got great skin...”

Darcy wrinkled her nose. "How dull. Standing perfectly still all day long?”

"That’s the beauty of it,” Tom murmured.

Darcy strolled over to Tom and laid a hand on his arm. "I’m sorry I’ve caused trouble, Tom. But you know why I have to do this.”

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Your old man wants you to learn the business from the ground up.”

"Right. And, Tom, if I can’t prove to him that I can handle the small jobs, he’ll never let me run the company. He’ll,” her voice cracked, "sell to that damn corporation.”

Tom shook his head. "Darcy, honey, maybe it would be best if he sells. Do you realize how much money he stands to make? That we all stand to make? I hate to tell you, but most of the employees want this deal to go through. If any of the folks here caught wind of who you really are, they’d probably lynch you.”


"Honey, your dad was minutes away from signing the papers before you put a halt to it. All of the employees had already been told about the takeover. They were looking forward to it, with all the added benefits. It’s no secret that Ed Welham’s daughter was the one to stop the sale.”

"You don’t think anyone suspects I’m her... I mean, she’s me... I mean, I’m me, do you?”

Tom grunted. "What they suspect is that I’ve lost my marbles for not firing you right after the freezer incident.”

"How was I supposed to know the chef was doing inventory in there?”

"Let your dad sell, hon.”

"It’s my birthright, Tom,” Darcy said softly. "My mother and father started with one little diner in Spokane and worked their tails off to turn Welham’s into the largest chain of five-star restaurants in the country. My mother died making this company a success. I can’t give it up.”

"I know that, hon. I understand how you feel. If it weren’t for this dream of yours, your father would have sold out a long time ago. Can’t you see that you’re just not cut out for the restaurant business?”

"Not the day-to-day operations, maybe. But overall, I can run them as well as anyone. I have an MBA, Tom!” She looked down at the spreadsheets on Tom’s desk. Pointing to a row of numbers, she said, "That should be four thousand, three-eighty-six.”

Shaking his head, Tom erased the wrong figure and penciled in Darcy’s calculation. "Let him sell, Darcy. Then take the profits from your share of the company and do whatever floats your boat.”

"I can’t, Tom. I’d be betraying my mother’s memory.”

Tom clucked his tongue. "Okay, honey. But let me just warn you, your father is still talking seriously with Dining Incorporated. He seems to think this is just a lark, and you’ll get bored or frustrated or thrown in jail for involuntary manslaughter soon enough. In fact, he told me to give this Michael Davidson guy first-class treatment and access.”

"Who’s Michael Davidson?”

"One of the big shots at D.I. He’s going to be hanging around quite a bit for the next couple of weeks.”

Darcy hated the man, sight unseen. "When’s he arriving?”

Tom studied his nails. "He’s here.”

"In the restaurant? Now?”

Tom’s lips twitched. "That’s right, honey.”

Her eyes narrowed. "Where?” she growled.

"A few minutes ago he was seated at 6B.”

Her mouth dropped open. "No!”

"That’s right, hon. You just nearly broke the man’s nose.”

Michael Davidson resisted the urge to scoot as far away from the ditzy blonde as he could get when she came to pour him more coffee. This woman was a walking time bomb. How she managed to keep this job, he had no idea. The moment the papers were signed on the takeover agreement, his first order of business was going to be handing her her pink slip.

Darcy. Her name tag told him her name was Darcy.

Michael mentally added, the Ditz.

"Thank God,” he mumbled, when she managed to pour the coffee without maiming him.

His nose still hurt, and his crotch still tingled where she’d grabbed him. His hair, for the most part, had dried, but he had the feeling it looked like hell.

He raked a hand through it, combing it with his fingers. Stirring cream into his coffee, he suddenly became aware that she hadn’t walked away. He glanced up, arching a brow quizzically.

"How’s the coffee?” Darcy the Ditz asked him.

Something jolted through his system as he stared into her glittering, jade-green eyes. He realized that perhaps "dumb blonde” was not an apt description for her. There was intelligence in those eyes. And something else. Something that looked suspiciously like animosity.

"Hot,” he said, then almost groaned. He hadn’t meant the coffee.

She smiled then, but the smile didn’t climb higher than her cheeks. It didn’t matter. That smile socked him in the gut. She looked like a young Grace Kelly, with pronounced cheekbones, full, inviting lips, and delicate brows above a pair of the most mesmerizing eyes he’d ever stared into.

He sort of regretted that her hair was pulled back in a tight bun. He’d love to see how long it was. He also cursed the uniform, white blouse under a black vest that managed to disguise her body.

Shaking his head to clear it, Michael looked away. "The coffee’s fine,” he said, glaring out the window. He felt uneasy guilt, looking into a pair of soulful eyes that would soon be surveying an unemployment line.

It wasn’t his problem. As soon as he acquired Welham’s, he’d move into the senior vice president’s office. This coup would make his career. He’d be too busy to worry about a beautiful, blond tornado.

Besides, Michael already had two too many women in his life to worry about. His heart lurched at the thought. God, he felt like he’d been worrying all of his life. The image of his mother—trying to remain cheerful while working herself into the ground to give her two children the best—lived with him. Haunted him. Drove him. He’d make it up to her. He had to make it up to her. He had to prove that those years of backbreaking work had paid off. And this promotion would go a long way toward achieving that goal.

Michael swallowed and turned his attention back to his list.

Still, his waitress lingered. He knew without even looking up. Her perfume scented the air around him, reminding him of flowers and spice all at once. A strange curiosity to know exactly what parts of her body she perfumed popped into his head. Did she spritz the back of her knees? The hollows of her hips? Between her breasts?

The tingling in his groin increased tenfold, and he shifted uncomfortably, determined to ignore her. Sipping his coffee, he went back to making notes.

"It’s our own special blend.”

"Excuse me?” he snapped.

"The coffee. We blend it here.”

Michael made a note. Have Welham’s start buying their coffee from Columbia Bean Company. Dining Incorporated owned Columbia Bean Company.

"Would you like some dessert?” she asked, her voice sounding strained.


"Dessert!” she nearly shrieked. "Dessert! You know, the sweet stuff that comes after the main course?”

Michael looked at her, amazed at her impertinence. He started to reprimand her, but he noticed suddenly that she looked furious. Her cheeks were splotchy, her eyes blazed. And worse, the hand holding the coffeepot was shaking.

He pointed at it. "Put that thing down!”


"The coffeepot! Put it down!” he barked like a drill sergeant.

She did. Almost completely on the table. But not quite enough. As if in slow motion, he watched it begin to teeter precariously toward her.

He didn’t know how he got out of his chair. He didn’t know anything except that one second he was watching the beginning of another catastrophe, the next he’d pushed her away from the table and shielded her with his body from the scalding liquid.

He knew it was scalding, because he felt it splash against the back of his slacks. Scalding, all right. Scalding his calves.

He closed his eyes and mouthed a foul word.

He slowly became aware that he was still holding her. The burning of his calves faded in his consciousness as he felt another kind of burn where her breasts were pressed to his chest. Even through the layers of clothing between them, he could feel their fullness, their tautness.

She really was slender. He almost felt he could wrap his arms around her twice. Her forehead was level with his aching nose, which meant she had to be close to five-ten or so. Tall. Tall and thin with really, really great breasts.

And her scent wrapped around him, fogging his usually orderly, precise mind. A rush of colors exploded in his head. The golden silk of her hair. The cream velvet of her complexion. The rosy blush of her lips. The moss green of her eyes. Her snapping eyes. Her angry eyes.

"You can let go of me now,” she demanded.

Michael released her abruptly. "You’re welcome.”

Her mouth popped open a little. "I’m welcome?” she growled... just like an angry kitten. "I’m welcome?”

"Lady, I just saved you from a few third-degree burns. The least you could do is appreciate it.”

"It wouldn’t have spilled if you hadn’t ordered me... orderedme to put it down!”

She had a nasty habit of repeating herself. "Listen, Calamity Jane—”

"The name’s Darcy.” She leaned sideways and looked behind him. "Thank you, Anthony,” she said, with a genuine smile of gratitude. One, he felt, that should have been bestowed on him a few moments ago.

"Darcy, what?” he grilled. He was going to talk to Tom Murphy, now.

"Wel—Wellington,” she barked back.

"Well, Darcy Wel-Wellington. You are a one-woman disaster zone.”

Her chin came up, but it trembled a little. That slight tremble was his undoing. His little sister’s chin did exactly that, right before she started to cry. If there was one thing he couldn’t stand, it was a crying woman. "Don’t you dare start bawling on me!” he ordered.

Her eyes misted.


"I won’t! I don’t cry!”

He liked that in a woman. He released his breath, realizing he’d been holding it in anticipation of crocodile tears. "Listen, I’m sorry.” He massaged the back of his neck. "The coffee probably was my fault.”

She stared at him in surprise. Then she smiled a little. "Would you like some dessert? All of it is homemade, right here. We have apple-tomato pie and pecan-rhubarb pie and coconut cheesecake and strawberry tortes and brownie surprise and—”

"Pecan pie,” he interrupted, half-afraid the pie would land on his head, but also feeling a strange need to make her happy. "Please.”

Her smile did look happy then. He liked it. A lot.

"One pecan pie, coming up. More coffee?”


She nodded, apparently accustomed to people screaming desperately at her. As she walked away, he admired the sway of her hips. Shaking his head, he turned back to the table. The busboy—Anthony he thought she’d called him—was just rising from where he’d been scrubbing the coal-gray carpet.

Michael pulled his wallet from his breast pocket and took out a twenty. Slapping it into Anthony’s hand, he said, "You deserve this.”

Anthony grinned. "To tell you the truth, Darcy’s the best thing that ever happened to me. People slip me sympathy tips all the time.”

"Combat pay,” Michael murmured.

Anthony began to turn away, but abruptly turned back. "But she’s one of the sweetest people I know.”

Michael admired Anthony’s loyalty, and slapped him on the arm. Then he sat down and returned to his notes. Have Welham’s start buying their desserts from Sweet Nothings, he wrote.

He hesitated. Fire Darcy Wellington, he added underneath it.

"Why haven’t you fired her?”

Tom Murphy’s eyes darted around the room, as if he sought escape. "Why would I fire her? She’s reliable, she’s enthusiastic, she’s...”

"Lethal,” Michael supplied dryly.

Tom dropped into his chair. It groaned under his weight. "She’s a little clumsy, yes. But is that a reason to fire her?”

Michael laughed. "Do you know what she did today? She blew up the espresso machine.”

Wincing, Tom said, "I heard.”

"She averages one broken plate and two broken glasses per hour. What’s it costing you to replace all of that tableware?”

"We’re getting volume discounts, though!” Tom said brightly.

Michael’s eyes narrowed. Something was wrong with this picture. He’d been in D.C. a week. Long enough for even the biggest idiot to realize Darcy Wellington presented a health risk to employees and customers alike.

True, she was gorgeous. She was even disarmingly charming—to everyone but Michael. She didn’t spare an ounce of charm for him. He had the feeling she knew she’d get canned the moment the ink was dry on the takeover papers.

What really had Michael baffled, though, was Darcy’s popularity. The employees really liked her... from a distance. And her rueful smile usually made even the angriest customer forgive her. And for some reason he couldn’t fathom, Tom Murphy—touted as one of Welham’s best general managers—willingly let profits nosedive for the sake of Darcy’s employment.

One explanation cut through Michael’s mind. "Are you sleeping with her, Murphy?”

Jumping to his feet—gracefully for a man of his size—Tom nearly bellowed, "How dare you suggest such filth, you—”

"I’m sorry,” Michael said quickly. "That was out of line. I’m just trying to understand this.”

Tom Murphy’s outrage had been swift and strong enough to give Michael his answer. And for some reason, Michael felt relieved.

"She’s a kid!” Tom continued, obviously not mollified.

"She’s twenty-five years old. She’s a woman.” Michael felt his body go taut, just saying those words. Every sensory detail of Darcy in his arms was etched indelibly in his mind. She was a woman, all right.

Michael cursed himself silently for allowing his thoughts to turn sexual. Sex and business didn’t mix. Ever. He’d gotten as far as he had in his thirty-one years by remembering that at all costs.

He grabbed back control of his libido and put a lock on it. Moving to the door, he said, "Tom, I don’t know if you’ve just gone soft, but I promise you this. The moment D.I. takes over, Darcy Wellington is history.”

Darcy was furious.Absolutely furious. She stormed to Tom’s office and flung open the door without knocking. It hit the wall with a satisfying thud. She thought she heard another muffled sound, but she was too angry to pay it any mind.

Glaring at Tom, she plunked her hands on her hips. "I’m going to shoot that no-good snake right between his baby blues!”


"Do you know what he’s doing?” she shrieked. "Do you? He’s watching me. Every move I make—”


"And as soon as I make one little mistake, he pulls out his damned notepad and writes it down!”


"I have half a mind to call my father and have him sell the damned restaurants on the condition that they fire Michael Davidson. Do you know what it’s like trying to pour a bowl of soup when that jerk is staring at you, just waiting to catch you doing something wrong?”


"I hate him! I don’t care that everyone thinks he’s a hunk. I hate him and I hate having him here! Can’t you make him go away?”


"If he keeps it up—” Tom’s florid face finally registered. "What?”

Tom pointed over her right shoulder. Darcy turned, pretty certain of what she’d find.

At first, all she saw was the open door. Then it slowly swung shut, revealing Michael Davidson. A welt had started forming high on the right side of his forehead, and Darcy had the sinking feeling she knew how he’d gotten it.

"Uh-oh,” she muttered.

"Ms. Welham, I presume,” Davidson drawled.

O-o-oh, she hated his smug good looks. She hated his power suits. She hated his sensual lips. And most of all she hated his body. His tall, lean body that had started haunting her dreams, ever since the day he’d held her in his arms.

Her chin jerked. So, she was busted. Maybe it was just as well. At least the toad would know who was really in charge around here. Well, sort of in charge. Well, indirectly in charge. "That’s right, Mr. Davidson. Darcy Lynn Welham. Future owner of this restaurant.”

She flung her arm wide to encompass her domain. Too late, she realized her hand was heading directly for his head. Good thing he had fast reflexes. He ducked just in time.

Darcy snatched her hand back, horrified she’d almost smacked him.

Michael Davidson straightened, glaring at her.

Going on the offensive, she glared right back. "So, you might as well pack up and slither back to whatever hole you call home, Mr. Davidson. Because you’re not getting your hands on my restaurants!”

He stepped forward until they were nearly nose-to-nose. "That’s where you’re wrong, Darcy. D.I. is buying the Welham’s restaurant chain.”

"Over my dead body!”

"You keep blowing up coffeemakers, that shouldn’t take long.”

"That machine was faulty!”

"Right,” he said, smirking.

Oh, she itched to wipe that smile off his face. Preferably with her palm. You’re a nonviolent person, Darcy, she reminded herself. She switched tactics. Smiling, she batted her eyelashes. "Can’t we be friends?” she asked sweetly.

He looked stunned for a moment. His eyes went wide, and his Adam’s apple slipped up and down his throat a couple of times.

Unfortunately, he recovered rather quickly. His smile was lethal. "Not on your life, sweetheart. You’ve just been upgraded from a walking menace to the enemy. And don’t you forget it.”

Darcy resisted the urge to kick him in the shin. She raised her nose in the air and sniffed loudly. "My shift’s over, Tom. I’m going home.”

As she started to march past the creep, she stepped on his foot.

"Ouch!” he yelped. "You did that on purpose!”

She hadn’t, but she decided not to admit it. She smiled, then kept right on walking.

"Darcy...” Davidson said, with an ominous ring to his voice.

"What?” she snapped without turning around.

"Remember this. This is war. You are the enemy. And I take no prisoners.”

Darcy did turn then, but she focused her attention on Tom. Smiling sweetly, she said, "Tom, did I tell you I spilled Mr. Davidson’s entrée on his lap last week?” She waved, her eyes beaming innocence. "It was an accident, of course. I tried to grab it, but I missed.” She nodded encouragement. "Ask me how I know I missed.”

"I don’t think—”

"Come on, Tom. Ask me.”

"How did you know you missed?” Tom asked in a reluctant croak.

"Because,” she said with a flourish, "he ordered tuna, not shrimp.”

Ignoring Davidson’s choked sputters, she whirled and left the office.

War, indeed.




Three days later, Darcy walked into the break room that doubled as the stockroom. Michael Davidson was hanging a colorful chart on the wall. The title across the top read: Sales Per Customer. Listed down the left side were the names of all of the waiters and waitresses. Horizontally he’d listed the dates for each week they’d worked.

"What do you think you’re doing?” Darcy asked.

"Motivating the wait staff,” he answered, without looking at her.

"They’re not your staff to motivate.”

"They will be soon enough.” He turned, pinning her with his deep blue gaze. "And the sooner you get used to the idea, the better off they’ll all be.”

He bent and picked up another large sign, dismissing her.

Darcy fumed. The man was such a jerk. And there wasn’t a thing she could do about him, according to Tom. Not yet, at any rate. But soon, he’d get his.

She looked at the poster he was busy hanging. This wasn’t a chart, but a quote.

I Don’t Know What Your Destiny Will Be, But One Thing I Know: The Only Ones Among You Who Will Be Really Happy Are Those Who Will Have Sought And Found How To Serve.

—Dr. Albert Schweitzer.

"You’ve got to be kidding me! You think hanging up posters of stupid platitudes is going to motivate people?’

He didn’t answer her until he’d finished. "The ones who understand them. Do you want an interpretation?”


He sliced a hand through the air, cutting her off. "Listen, Princess. You might be quite proud of yourself for crooking your finger and bringing a buyout to a grinding halt, but I assure you, it’s temporary. The sooner you realize this takeover is best for everyone—including you, I might add—the better.”

Her retort, when she finally thought of one, was cut off by the entrance of Wendy Walker, another waitress.

"Oh, there you are!” Wendy chirped, sashaying over to Davidson. She tiptoed crimson nails up the sleeve of his banker gray suit coat. "You never answered my question, earlier. Do you want to come to Clyde’s with us tonight, or not?”

Darcy resisted the urge to throw up. Wendy was a very nice woman, when with other women. It was only when a man appeared that she turned into a cooing vamp. And men fell at her feet. Or more appropriately, drooled over her... endowments.

For some reason, Wendy’s flirtation with the creep bothered Darcy more than it had ever bothered her with any of the other men at Welham’s. Maybe because she hated validation that he was an extremely attractive man... when he kept his mouth shut.

Darcy jerked a glass of soda to her lips and glared at the oaf, waiting for him to return Wendy’s banter. When his eyes turned ice-blue, and he smoothly moved out of touching distance, she felt oddly relieved.

"Thanks, but no,” he replied coolly.

Wendy pouted. "Are you sure?”


With that, he left the room.

Wendy watched him go, then turned to Darcy. "He’s gay.”

Darcy almost choked on her soda. "Michael Davidson?”

Nodding, Wendy said, "Has to be. Five of us have tried to get him out on the town, and he hasn’t accepted once. The man has to be gay.”

Gay? Darcy didn’t believe for a moment that Michael Davidson was gay. Fastidious, yes. A real, royal pain, yes. But definitely not gay.

She didn’t know how she knew this with such certainty. She had very little experience with men, and almost none with their desires. But something about the way he looked at her told Darcy that he was well aware she was a woman. And that he appreciated that fact thoroughly.

Of course, that could just be her imagination. Maybe she read a flare in his eyes that wasn’t really there. The rest of his face certainly didn’t approve of her. His lips were continuously pursed in a frown, his eyebrows inevitably raised up in mockery.

And the man did walk around the restaurant almost like a robot, ignoring all attempts at teasing by the bolder female employees. But on the occasions when Davidson trained all of his disgusting, unnerving attention on her, something burned in his cobalt eyes. Something that made her nerves flutter.

Davidson was definitely heterosexual.

But who was she to voice her opinion on the matter? she thought, as she looked at the chart and motivational poster. So, Michael Davidson had decided that spouting platitudes would be inspirational? What a wonderful idea. Darcy spun and left the room, in search of poster board and a pen.

Michael glared at the poster on the wall beside his chart.

Q: What Is Six Inches Long, Two Inches Wide, And Makes Men Act Like Fools?



Tacking up his next chart, Table Turnover Ratios, Michael swore under his breath. He had no doubt who’d put up that poster. He tore it down.

The next day another one had taken its place.

The More I See Of Men, The More I Like Dogs.

—Germaine de Stael

He stalked out of the break room. This was war, all right. All-out war.

Darcy crossed her armsbelligerently while she watched Davidson tack up yet another chart. This one was titled Breakage Chart. And beside it, where her quote about men and dogs had once hung, was yet another stupid platitude.

Happiness Is A By-Product Of An Effort To Make Someone Else Happy.

—Greta Palmer

Darcy snorted. "If you want to make this someone happy, you’ll disappear, Davidson.”

He glanced over his shoulder. "Likewise, Wel—” He stopped, looking past her. "Wellington.”

Darcy turned and found Wendy behind her. Wendy’s big blue eyes went wide, probably in shock over Darcy’s impertinence. Darcy didn’t care. She was too angry to care. She turned back to him, scowling. "What are you going to do, put gold stars by the winners?”

The next day there were gold stars by the winners’ names. He’d pasted three beside Darcy’s name on the Breakage Chart.

Davidson smiled at her as he departed from the break room.

Wendy sighed. "What a waste of hunky male.”

Darcy wanted to scream. Instead she turned to Wendy with an innocent smile. "Oh, I don’t know about that. Davidson’s not all that great.”

"Are you blind, woman?”

"Did you know he adds extra padding to the shoulders of his suits?”


Darcy nodded. "And don’t tell anyone, but I’ve heard he wears lifts in his shoes.”

Michael glanced down at his checklist. "If we start buying our wine in quantity from our select vintners for all of the restaurants, instead of allowing each restaurant to order for itself, we’ll save a bundle.”

Tom Murphy nodded. "I suggested that to Ed many times. He didn’t want to be bothered.”

Checking off the item, Michael moved his pencil down the list. "Ditto with the desserts. We can save plenty by contracting with Sweet Nothings.”

Tom frowned. "You mean, give up the desserts currently on the menu?”

"Right. Sweet Nothings makes damn good desserts.”

"Our desserts are what got us where we are, Davidson. That’s what Welham’s first became famous for. I think changing that would be a big mistake.”

"You’re right,” Michael said, after some consideration. He crossed that item off his list. "Ed made his name creating some of those offbeat recipes.”

"Ed didn’t create them.”

Michael looked up. "Oh. His wife, then.”

"Nope, not Jeannie, either.” Tom smiled slightly. "Darcy created them.”

"Darcy?” Michael repeated dumbly.

Tom’s grin grew wider. "That’s right. I think she was ten when she created the coconut cheesecake.”

"You’re kidding. That’s Welham’s biggest seller.”

"That’s right. She can’t cook worth a damn, mind you. But she knows how to throw flavors together. It’s almost uncanny. Most of the desserts, and a few of the entrées, Darcy created.”

Michael tried to adjust to the news, and failed. Until that moment, he’d have guessed that Darcy Welham was a useless ornament in the scheme of things. A beautiful ornament, to be sure. But useless nonetheless.

If Darcy realized what a positive effect she’d had on the success of Welham’s, no wonder she wanted to hang on to the restaurants so badly. Well, that wasn’t his problem. His problem was getting Ed Welham to part with them.

He looked down at his list, dismissing the twinge of guilt that pricked him. "About the uniforms...”

"What about them?”

"I like them, don’t get me wrong. On the men they’ve got just the right touch of class. But on the women, I don’t know.”

"What would you change?”

Michael looked up. "Something more... feminine, I think. Not sexy, but feminine.”

Lips twitching, Tom said, "I’m surprised you’ve noticed.”

Michael frowned. "How could I help but notice?”

"Well, I’ve overheard a few complaints from some of the female employees. Apparently, they don’t think you notice enough.”

Chuckling, Michael sat back. "Are you referring to the rumor that I’m gay?”

A startled hiss rushed from Tom’s lips. "You know about that?”

"Of course.”

Tom’s eyes narrowed. "You don’t look too upset.”

"Upset?” Michael laughed. "Are you kidding? I’d encourage it if I knew how.”


Sighing, Michael said, "It saves me a lot of hassle. I don’t believe in mixing business and pleasure. Unfortunately, some women don’t give a damn what I believe. So, this is just... easier.”

"I hate to tell you, but Darcy doesn’t believe it for a second,” Tom told him. "In fact, I think her exact words were, ‘If that man is gay, I’m Jessica Alba.’”

Something rocked his system every time Michael heard Darcy’s name. Something that irritated him thoroughly. That something was physical desire. Beyond all reason, he was attracted to the woman who was trying to ruin his career.

The females grumbling about his lack of interest were right on the money. He had no interest whatsoever in any of them. His feelings concerning the women’s uniforms stemmed solely from his desire to see Darcy Welham in something other than slacks, vest and tie. He realized it was a totally unbusinesslike craving; and that, in itself, was enough to make him furious with her.

He stretched out his legs and crossed his ankles. "To tell you the truth, I was wondering if she wasn’t the one to start the rumor.”

Tom grunted. "That just goes to show how little you know about Darcy. She’d never start a rumor like that. "

Michael grunted right back at him. "She started the rumor that I wear elevator shoes,” he retorted, still feeling the insult.

Tom waved. "That was just a little joke.”

Pointing at the man, Michael said, "I overheard her talking to one of the waitresses in the break room. I heard Darcy tell the girl I have big ears.”

Tom did a poor job of stifling a snort of laughter.

"And that my nose is too long,” Michael added, his indignation growing. "And that I pad the shoulders of my suits!”

By this time Tom’s laughter had turned to guffaws. He slapped his knee. "Well, it’s the least you deserve after posting that Breakage Chart.”

Michael opened his mouth, but the crashing of the office door against the wall interrupted him. He winced, praising God that he wasn’t standing behind it this time.

Darcy stood on the threshold, her eyes blazing green fire. Her chest heaved with indignation and the hand she pointed at him shook. But what really caught Michael’s attention was her hair. For the first time, he saw it out of a bun. In thick, glossy waves, it fell nearly to her waist.

"I have a bone to pick with you, Davidson,” she said, her voice low and shaky.

Michael regulated his breathing and slapped a bland expression on his face. "It wouldn’t be the same bone your customer nearly choked on yesterday, would it?”

He knew it was an unfair attack on her, because Darcy certainly hadn’t stuffed the bone down the man’s throat. In fact, she’d surprised Michael by quickly and easily performing the Heimlich maneuver on the customer, effectively saving his life. Still, Michael felt a strange need to distance himself from her, to keep the wall of antipathy firmly in place. If he didn’t, his only other option would be to stand up and walk over to her, tangle his hands in that thick fall of hair and kiss those full, sassy lips.

He settled for the standing part, tossing his legal pad on Tom’s desk.

"You slimy, no-good reptile,” Darcy breathed, taking a jerky step into the office. "How could you?”

"Now, Darcy,” Tom said, scrambling to his feet. "Just relax.”

Michael understood the concern in Tom’s voice. When agitated, Darcy Welham was a tall, blond, nuclear bomb.

Darcy ignored him, her eyes trained murderously on Michael. "If I had a gun, I’d shoot your condescending hide from here to Baltimore,” she threatened.

Only if you were aiming for Tom, Michael thought, but decided not to say. Something in the gleam of her wild eyes told him she was seriously upset. He had no idea what he could have done to cause it. But if whatever had upset her was indeed his fault, he knew he’d do anything to take it back, make it right.

Females in distress were his downfall. Even females he didn’t like. It was his one major weakness, one he’d developed at the ripe old age of eight, when his old man had deserted the family, leaving Michael to care for his mother and sister.

"Tom, would you excuse us for a minute?” he said quietly. "I think Darcy and I need to talk privately.”

Tom almost tripped over his feet in his eagerness to comply. Michael waited until he heard the click of the door before asking, "Okay, Darcy, what’s this all about?”

She stalked toward him. Michael resisted an overwhelming urge to shield himself behind Tom’s desk.

Stopping mere centimeters away from trampling his Ferragamos, she plopped her hands on her hips. "As if you didn’t know, you... you—”

"I’ve got no idea what you’re talking about, Darcy,” he said quickly, before she could formulate a list of new names. "Tell me what’s happened.”

Unfortunately, her eyes filled with moisture. "Everyone knows,” she choked out.

"Don’t cry!”

Obediently, she blinked back her tears.

Breathing relief, he asked, "Everyone knows what?”

"Who I am,” she whispered miserably. "You told them who I am, and now everyone hates me.”

His heart reached out to hers. He took her shoulders. "It wasn’t me, Darcy.”

She either didn’t hear him, or decided to ignore him. "For the first time in my life I felt accepted somewhere, like I honestly had friends. And you ruined it.”

He squeezed her shoulders. "It wasn’t me. I haven’t discussed your connection to Welham’s with anyone here except Tom.”

For some dumb reason, he felt desperate to make her believe him. How could she even thinkhe’d do something that blatantly cruel? True, he had every intention of taking the restaurants from her, but that was strictly business. And she’d benefit, anyway. She’d be one rich young lady when the deal went through.

"Who else could it have been? No one but Tom knows. And I know Tom would never tell anyone.”

He shook his head. "I don’t know, Darcy, but it wasn’t me. I swear it.”

Her lush lips trembled. "It doesn’t matter. They h-hate me now.”

The heartache in her eyes nearly sliced him in two. "I’m sorry,” he whispered.

Without thinking about it, he slid his hands over her collar, lost in the glistening green of her eyes. "I’m sorry,” he repeated softly.

"What am I going to do?”

He didn’t know if she was actually asking him, or just wondering out loud. And he didn’t have a clue how to answer her because, at the moment, he was struggling with what he was going to do. He was going to kiss those trembling lips.

Michael cursed softly before settling his mouth over hers. He glimpsed her startled expression, heard the soft intake of breath, but that didn’t stop him. He was way beyond clear thought at the moment. All he wanted, all he cared about was her lips, soft and parted beneath his.

His gut clenched tightly at his first taste of her. She tasted like a sexy combination of mint and woman. He cupped her neck, his thumbs skimming over her jaw. Tilting her head he slanted his lips over hers and coaxed them farther apart.

Her hands clutched his suit, and Michael braced himself for her to shove him away. She didn’t. Instead, a little sigh sounded in her throat and her lips grew more relaxed and malleable beneath his.

His body responded to the sound and feel of her surrender with a power that surprised him. He went hot and hard all over.

Pressing deeper, he brushed his mouth over hers more insistently, more frantically. He was losing control. Worse, he didn’t care.

"Darcy,” he whispered. He lifted his head slightly and watched her eyes flutter open. A wealth of emotions gleamed in their depths: passion, fear, pleasure and confusion.

The beauty of her swollen lips twisted his heart in knots and tore his good sense to shreds. He covered her mouth with his again while he wrapped her hair around his hands.

His senses flamed, his mind reeled. Tipping her head to the side, he pressed her lips farther apart and plunged into her mouth.

Her body snapped stiff.

Pain exploded in his mouth as her teeth bit into his tongue.

Michael reared back, swearing. "Ouch! You bit me!” He shook his hands to free them of her tangling hair.

"You stuck your tongue in my mouth!”

He examined said tongue with his fingers. It felt as swollen as the Goodyear Blimp. "That’th called a Fwench kith, you twit!”

"I know what it is,” she said, sticking her nose in the air. "I just wasn’t expecting it.”

"A thimple ‘no, thank you,’ would have worked jutht fine.”

"No, thank you,” she retorted, her eyes flashing.

"Now she tellth me.”

Her fists hit her hips again. "Why did you do that?”

Michael dropped his hands, rolling his tongue over the roof of his mouth. "Because I like to French kiss.”

She shook her head, her hair fanning over her breasts. "No, I mean, why did you kiss me at all?”

He plowed both hands through his hair. "God knows. I must be nuts.”

"You weren’t,” she said, her soft voice carrying a dangerous undercurrent, "perhaps trying to distract me from our conversation, were you?”

His hands stilled on his head. "I don’t even know what we were talking about anymore.”

"You letting it slip about who my father is?”

"I told you—” Michael swallowed his retort. The crazy woman had just bitten his damn tongue. He wasn’t about to stand here and plead for her to believe him. "If you’ll excuse me, Ms. Welham, I believe I’ll go suck on some ice cubes.”



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