The door had to be stuck. For as long as Riley had been a student at Ashmore College, the campus coffee shop stayed open until midnight. Sometimes later, when students were busy prepping for midterms or finals. It wasn’t even ten tonight.
Riley pressed against the large glass window at the front. Darker than usual inside, but still a light or two on. The sign on the door said CLOSED. That couldn’t be true. Riley had gone there for almost three years now, and the shop was always open at this time. She yanked the door again. And again, until it rattled.
A guy shouted to her from somewhere inside the shop. “Hey, it’s locked.” He had a smooth voice with a subtle, foreign-sounding accent. She couldn’t see what he looked like.
Why was the man inside the place alone, in the semidark? Was he some kind of robber? Riley backed up when the tall guy stood at the other side of the door.
The lock clicked open. “Are you crazy? Why were you pulling on the door like that? You could’ve broken the fucking thing.” The words were harsh, but his low, calm tone never changed. “I’m finishing closing for the night.”
Her upper lip quaked. “Sorry—” Riley moved a step forward. “Wait, you work here?”
“Yeah, I do.” He seemed amused by her fear.
He was new. She practically lived at the campus coffee shop and had never seen him before. Riley would have remembered a good-looking man like him. Tall, with smooth, caramel-colored skin, his long legs encased in dark jeans. His black T-shirt fitted his just-muscular-enough frame. He was built like, and talked like, one of the famous South American soccer players in the games her younger brother, Patrick, had watched on the weekends when she had lived at home.
His dark hair was shaved close to his scalp, and he looked dangerous, a little like a gang member. A sexy-as-hell gang member. Riley’s nipples beaded against her bra.
“Wait a second. You’re supposed to be open until midnight.” No man had ever gotten Riley wet just by looking at her.
“Not tonight.” The scowl never left his face.
With the kind of day Riley had already had, she didn’t need this right now. She wanted to get her cup of coffee and head back to her small, lonely dorm room. She wouldn’t be able to relax or catch some sleep there, but she could squeeze in more work on her American Literature project revision. Riley had obtained special permission from her college to stay in the student dorms during the break under unusual circumstances.
Ashmore happened to have one of the most comprehensive research libraries in Upstate New York. And she needed access to it.
Stuck on campus to redo her final paper while her classmates enjoyed their two-week vacation. Ugh. She also knew she was lucky her professor had been kind enough to let her revise the paper so she wouldn’t fail his class. If she didn’t rewrite the paper, he’d flunk her.
Three days ago, two weeks had seemed like a long time, and Riley was confident she’d be able to redo her class paper. Now she wasn’t as sure. It wasn’t like she could just brush up a few paragraphs and be done with it.
Her cross-country coach had already warned her she wouldn’t be on the team next year, her senior year, if she bombed the project. And as a junior, if she failed, she wouldn’t graduate next year, and the botched paper would be a scar on her transcript. She couldn’t run home to her parents and forget about the class and school forever. Her father would freak out about wasted tuition money, even though he had enough money to last him more than a few lifetimes.
Yesterday, her dad visited her at the campus to tell her how disappointed he was that she might flunk a class, and when she asked him to take her home, he flat-out refused. Her mother would have caved in. But Riley’s mom wasn’t around. She’d died of brain cancer when Riley was a freshman in high school.
It was awful losing her mom, Karen, in that way. First, her mother’s mind left them, then her body. Her father had arranged for her mom to be cared for at home for as long as she could be. Now a small part of Riley felt she had initially failed her project on purpose to upset her father. To see what he’d do when he found out she wasn’t his good little girl anymore. And hadn’t been since her mom died. Well, he’d reacted worse than she expected.
As much as she detested being in her father’s clutches back home, and his unsavory business schemes, she was concerned about the influence he had over Patrick, who was still in high school and too young to leave like she could. Riley’s father had made it clear he wouldn’t consider welcoming her in their home again until she improved her grades. And he had gone as far as encouraging Patrick to cut off communication with her. Riley’s soul ached for the connection she once had with Patrick. While failing had
pissed off her dad and distanced her from him, she hadn’t counted on being isolated from Patrick too.
She decided to argue her point with the man standing in her way. He might have been very nice to look at, but no one came between her and coffee. “You’ve always been open until midnight before.”
“No, we’re open until ten for the next two weeks
. For the vacation. We’re closed now, little girl. Good. Night.”
“You can’t do this to me—”
“What are you, some spoiled little rich girl?” His words held the force of a cold gust.
Riley inched a step back at his bluntness. Her eyes burned with tears. “I’m not spoiled. I…” He was a stranger, and it shouldn’t matter to her what he thought of her. But it did. She used all the determination she had left not to cry in front of this sexy stranger and tried to think positively. At least the coffee shop would be open some of the time. Even the library had limited hours because of the break. She knew she wouldn’t get anywhere by being rude to him. He turned to walk away, and Riley shouted at his back. “Wait. Please.”
He stopped leaving and faced her, frowning. Then he nodded at her to speak when she remained quiet.
She gave him a sweet smile despite his attitude. “Can I please get a cup of coffee? I’ve been at the library doing research the whole day, and I have more work to do when I get back to my dorm.” For Riley, saying please to this brusque stranger was almost as hard as swallowing rocks. When he didn’t respond, she waited a moment, then went all out in her begging. “Sir?”
His soft, full lips edged up on one side. She bet he would be an amazing kisser. And what else could those lips do? Riley’s skin got hot, and she struggled to push aside her steamy thoughts.
Wait. Was he actually smiling at her? Not quite. But it was a start. He seemed to like when she begged. “You think you can use your charm to get what you want?”
She frowned. “No, sir, I—”
“You don’t have to call me sir.” His intense gaze wouldn’t stop piercing through hers. “We have limited service, you know, because of the break? No one’s around.”
“Oh, right.” Most everyone else, like her friends, was vacationing somewhere warm and boozy and hot-guy-filled, without her. Riley was stuck in tepid Upstate for the entire break. With this guy making an appearance, her night already seemed warmer.
“What are you doing here anyway? Aren’t all of you supposed to be on vacation?”
All of you.
Like the students were a different breed of human. A smirk lit up his face, and Riley’s cheeks felt hot. The reason for her being there was none of his business. “Are you going to let me in?”
He kept silent.
All right, so he wasn’t going to let her inside until she told him something. Riley cleared her throat. “Well, like I said, I stayed behind to work on a project for my class. That’s why I’m here.”
“Isn’t the semester done?” He paused and gave her a full-on grin. “You failed or something?”
Once he got started, the guy wouldn’t drop it. “Must be hard knowing your friends are having a good time. Without you.”
Blood rushed to Riley’s ears. The guy was so abrasive it burned her, because he expressed out loud what she was thinking. He’d figured her out without her telling him much, and he didn’t even know her. She blinked back tears. Already, she hated him. Hate
was a strong word. She disliked him. Very much.
He reached down and touched her chin with his large hand. Riley didn’t allow guys she didn’t know to touch her unless she wanted them to, but she let him keep his warm, rough fingers on her skin. She found the sweet gesture so surprising because of how tough he looked that she wanted to yield.
“Hey, don’t cry. I didn’t mean nothing by it. You’re one of the only students I’ve seen around, so I just thought it was weird, you know? I guess I’m kind of an asshole, huh?” He watched her through his eyelashes.
“Yeah.” She’d agreed a little too loudly. She thought he would laugh. Instead he grinned at her on one side of his mouth again. Riley peered up at his large dark eyes. “Who else is still around?”
“Not a lot of students for sure. Lotta older people.”
“Some, and some staff, like me.”
“You don’t look much older than me.”
“I’m probably not. I’m twenty-one.”
She hadn’t given much thought to the people who worked at the coffee shop, and his young age surprised her. Suddenly his gesture seemed too intimate for a stranger. Riley turned her gaze the other way. He took his hand off her. She wasn’t going to tell him she was twenty.
His heavy-lidded eyes peered down at her, as though he was contemplating the disruption to his closing schedule and what to do with her. Beautiful eyes. Then he stepped aside and gestured for her to enter the coffee shop. “Come in. I’ll make you a coffee.” He turned his back to her. “For free.” He tossed the words over his shoulder.
“Um, thanks?” Riley guessed he seemed safe, but she took her time following him into the dimly lit shop.
Behind the counter a black apron hung to his right, but he didn’t put it on. He smiled at her with teeth that were very neat compared to his rough appearance. “I have to turn on some of the machines. Hold on a sec.”
Riley got turned on watching him move. She touched her face and felt her warm skin.
“How do you like your coffee?” he asked.
She brought her hand down quickly. “Uh, could I have a latte?”
He laughed. “You’re going to make me work hard, huh?” There was his real smile, a little boyish for someone so tough.
Riley’s reply came out softer than she intended. “If you don’t mind.”
“Why not? I’m still here, right?” He touched a switch, and the interior brightened. “That’s a helluva lot better. Now I can see you.” He gave her a wink so bold she didn’t know how to react.
His strong fingers put effort into making her drink, and the muscles of his caramel arms bunched together when he ejected the foam into a large coffee cup. The way he worked was almost sexual.
It was generous of him to give her a big-sized drink, considering she wasn’t paying. He showed her the rose design he’d made in the foam, and she smiled.
“You’re talented,” she said.
He shrugged off the compliment. “That was nothing. I can make lots of things on the drinks.” He secured a lid on the cup and passed it across the counter to her. There were small tattoos of white skulls, yellow crowns, and black hearts bleeding bright red droplets on his tan hands, all spreading across his knuckles. She quickly looked away. They sort of looked like the gang-symbol tattoos Riley had seen on a TV show. Did he have the colorful, scary tattoos anywhere else? Riley decided she’d take the latte and then scram before she found out whether he was a genuine gangster. That would be too close to home for her liking.
Yet he tempted her.
His faded silver medallion on a similar-colored chain glinted under the café lights as she held her warm latte cup, and they watched each other in silence. She didn’t know his name, but she wondered what those big, muscular hands would feel like on her body. His tough-guy hands on her naked skin. Riley’s thighs and then her pussy tingled, and she imagined his hands moving across her skin.
He wasn’t wearing a name tag. All the other employees at the coffee shop wore them. She was ashamed she had been too preoccupied with herself to remember any of their names. She’d always been polite to the people who worked at the café, but she’d never talked with them the way she was talking with him now. He caught her looking at the spot on his shirt where his name tag should have been.
“Hanzi,” he said. “That’s what I’m called.”
What an unusual name. He reached out to her and clasped her fingers in his large, hot hand, which was actually a little more calloused than she expected.
The name didn’t sound South American. So what was his accent? She introduced herself. Then an idea came to her. “Are you a student here?” Riley balanced the latte in one hand as his hand pumped hers. She couldn’t help feeling that the way he shook her hand seemed sensual. Like he wouldn’t let go unless she begged him. And she sensed he liked when she did that.
His powerful, dark gaze stayed glued on her as she spoke. “Where are you from?”
“I was born in Macedonia.”
Hanzi gave her a tolerant smile. “In Eastern Europe.”
Her own ignorance startled her. “Oh. Interesting. By the way, I can give you a tip.”
“Extra money. You know, like, for your help? It’s the least I can do if you’re giving me a free drink.”
He looked at her like she’d insulted him. “I don’t need your money, little girl.” A slow smile curled up his lips, and Riley tried to hold his stare but couldn’t.
She looked away. Was he going to keep calling a woman he didn’t know a little girl? And here she considered herself some kind of feminist. Then why did she like it so much?