Excerpt from The Harder They Come by Kaenar Langford, final edition may differ.

Chapter One

“What are you looking at?” Ellaina asked Nell and Jade as the kitchen door swung shut behind her. Setting down a tray of pies, she joined her two waitresses at the counter, trying to figure out what had captivated the women. It was lunchtime and the Starlight Café was full, definitely not a time to be standing and staring out the window.

“Not what, who,” Nell whispered.


Instead of answering, Nell just nodded towards the sidewalk in front of the café. Ellaina followed her gaze. And sucked in her breath.

She’d always thought reactions like these were just fanciful musings from the romance novels she secretly liked to read. There was no way they could take place in real life - the speeding up of the heart, the flush warming face and neck, the delicious dampness between the legs. Yet those very things were happening to her thirty-nine year old body as she watched the man climb off the shiny black and chrome motorcycle to stand beside the beast.

He was tall, well over six feet, with wide shoulders encased in a black leather jacket. As he unzipped it, Ellaina caught a glimpse of a black T-shirt tucked into a pair of worn jeans, but it was his face she wanted to see. He lifted the visor, slipped off the helmet and set it on the seat of the bike, answering her silent wish. Long, dark brown hair framed a lean face, a beautiful face that belonged on the cover of a magazine, not gracing the main street of Spring Ridge, Texas. It was a face that just happened to have a body to match.

Her mind was full of questions, starting with a simple one, How did that powerful motorcycle pull up out front without me hearing it? and moving to more complex ones like, Where did a man like that come from since he certainly doesn’t belong in Spring Ridge? and most importantly, Why does he have to be so much younger than I am?

The response to the first one was easy. He’d arrived while she was in the kitchen getting the fresh pies. And the answers to the other two didn’t really matter since question three shut down any discussion on the subject.

If she had to guess, she’d say he was about ten years too young. A man who looked like that, especially a younger man, wouldn’t have much interest in a woman who was facing forty candles on the cake next year.

Dragging her gaze from the window, she made a shooing motion with her hands. “Don’t you two have jobs to do?”

At the sound of her voice, Nell and Jade started, as if awakening from a trance.

Turning to first one, “I’m sure there are customers needing attention, Nell,” and then the other, “Can you put the pies in the display case and then see if there are tables to be cleared, Jade?” she managed to bring things back under control.

And that’s what she prided herself on, her control. That’s how she ran her café, and her life.

Nell and Jade resumed their duties, leaving Ellaina alone behind the counter.

When the bells above the front door jingled and the screen door slammed shut, she looked up.

Was that how it really happened? As soon as your eyes met, the breath left your lungs in one fell swoop? You knew everything was out of your control and nothing would ever be the same?

He smiled, and she was a goner.

* * * * *

As he pulled the bike in front of the little café and dismounted, Luke realised how tired and hungry he was. Maybe tomorrow he’d get a chance to get out and buy some more groceries, but for today his home renovations had kept him too busy to bother. It was his first day working on the old house, and once he’d started, he hadn’t wanted to stop. Until his growling stomach reminded him he hadn’t had anything to eat.

As a successful businessman, he could have paid someone to do the work for him, but it wouldn’t be the same. Tearing up carpet, sanding floors and stripping woodwork was exhausting, but the sense of satisfaction from doing the work himself more than made up for the aches and pains.

The new kitchen was a different story though. He’d designed it, but the job needed a skilled craftsman, and he was pleased with the progress Mac Tyler was making. Mac was a local. Luke had bumped into him at the hardware store, and Mac was the one who’d led the fledgling renovator through the list of supplies he’d need for the jobs he wanted to do.

When Luke had asked him to do an estimate for the kitchen transformation, he’d been surprised at how easy it had been to work with the man. As they’d kicked around ideas for Luke’s designs, Mac had taken the plans and offered suggestions that would only make the finished product better. The new kitchen was going to be spectacular.

In fact, he couldn’t wait for it to be finished. Cooking was something he loved, but with the kitchen torn apart, and now part of the main house as well, it probably would be easier just to eat out for awhile. Luckily he’d spotted this café on his way through town a few weeks ago, the same day he’d seen the For Sale sign on what would end up being ‘his house’, the same day the doctor had told him to slow down or he was headed for a heart attack. For someone who prided himself on his clear-thinking approach to any business venture, he was still unable to say why the house had called to him so loudly that he’d bought it before the realtor had even finished the tour. He just knew he was supposed to buy it, so he did.

Standing outside the Starlight Café, Luke realised this was his first foray into the culinary culture of Spring Ridge. Setting his helmet on the motorcycle’s seat, he checked the place out. The baskets of hanging flowers and the brightly painted bench outside made it look welcoming. Through the window he could see the place was packed. Hopefully that meant the food was good.

The moment he pushed open the wooden screen door, the tantalising aroma of freshly baked bread made his mouth water. That mouth-watering phenomenon continued as his gaze locked with that of the beautiful woman behind the counter. He smiled, a big wide smile, and decided right then and there that moving to Spring Ridge might be one of the best decisions he’d ever made.

As he drew closer, the first thing Luke noticed was her eyes, startlingly blue and openly curious. That was good, because he was curious too. Curious to know if she tasted as sweet as she looked, curious to see her spread out on his dining room table in the dappled sunlight of evening, curious to know if she would mind if he cleared the counter and took her right now.

A few steps and he could be beside her, lifting her onto the smooth, cool surface, pushing her skirt up, tugging her panties down. All that pale, warm skin against the dark countertop. He’d smell her arousal, know she was wet and ready for him. That was good, because once his zipper came down, he would be sliding inside her, no foreplay, no niceties, just his heavy shaft pressing into her. With her legs in a V up against his chest, he’d make himself set a gentle rhythm, lulling her, wooing her. Turning his head, he could lick the soft skin of her calf, long languid strokes that would match the motion of his cock.

A sigh would come from her, or perhaps a giggle, as he moved and set his tongue to the sole of one of her feet. He knew she’d be so sensitive, trying to shift away from the too-much pleasure, but he wouldn’t let her. When her hands came to rest on the backs of his thighs, gripping the taut flesh, he’d know she needed more. And he’d be happy to offer it, spreading her legs so he could lean towards her, meeting her as she lifted her head, her hands now cradling his face. She would taste sweet and a little bit spicy, making him think of a juicy peach pie. A nibble at her lips, the slide of his tongue inside her mouth would draw a moan from her, and that gentle in-out swing would change. Anchoring her with his arms around her legs, he’d pull her forwards to meet each thrust, the sound of flesh slapping flesh mingling with the low rasp of his voice as he told her how good it felt to be inside her, how close to the line she pushed him.

As the object of his fantasy cleared her throat, he was reluctantly tugged back into the café, where he tried to assume an innocent look. But he could tell by her frown that she wondered what he’d been thinking.

* * * * *

Ellaina was sure she must have misread the outwards show of open lust on the man’s face. She could have sworn he was ready to clear the counter and have his wicked way with her. And she was equally certain she would have had a hard time finding a reason to say no, except that she didn’t know him and he was years younger than she was. Two good reasons to say no, actually.

Praying that a sound, other than begging, came out of her mouth, and that he couldn’t smell her arousal, she straightened her spine and tried to regain control.

“Hello,” she said, almost a little too brusquely. “What would you like?”

The heated look he sent her in response gave her a very clear idea of what he wanted, and now she felt herself blushing.

“Would you like some lunch? You’ll have to wait a few minutes for a place to sit, but we have take-out if you don’t want to wait.” She knew she was rambling, but he made her feel so flustered. Ellaina hoped he would order something to take with him. The draw of this man was too powerful, and he was too young. It was good to keep reminding herself he was too young.

Luke offered his hand as well as a grin. “Hi, I’m Luke, Luke Mason. I just moved into the old Lawson house over on Pine Street.”

Oh damn, he must be able to see how off balance she was around him. She could tell from the warmth of his smile he wanted to put her at ease. But the gleam in his eye might almost mean he was delighted with her reaction. That was impossible though. Ellaina managed a laugh and reached out. “Sorry. I’m Ellaina McReynolds.” Making a gesture to include the café, she continued, “I’m the owner of the Starlight Café. Welcome to Spring Ridge.”

His hand clasping hers had only added to her awareness of him, accentuating how much bigger and stronger he was, and she could have sworn he dragged a finger across her palm as he drew back.

“I’m sorry I can’t chat right now,” she said apologetically, “but we’re really busy.” What she really meant was, ’Thank goodness we’re busy. Otherwise I’d have you naked and splayed out on the counter’.

“No problem. I have to get back to my renovations,” Luke said with a come-and-warm-my-bed-smile.

Ellaina didn’t have to be able to read minds to see what was behind his words and that smile. Time to take control.

“So would you like to eat me or go for take-out?” All she could do was blink at him, like a bunny in the headlights, unable to believe the words that had fallen from her mouth. So much for taking control.

“I think I’ll go for take-out, but can I have a rain check on the other?” Luke asked with a wicked grin.

“I can’t imagine what made me say that,” Ellaina stammered.

“Can’t you?” Luke asked. Then he apparently decided to let her off the hook. “I’ll have a turkey club on whole wheat with lots of mayonnaise and a large coffee, cream no sugar.” There was a pause as he surveyed the pies in the glass display case. “And a slice of that fabulous looking lemon meringue pie too, please.” He looked up to find she was still staring at him. “Did you want to write that down?” he asked innocently.

”Oh, yes,” Ellaina said, grabbing a pen and paper.

Luke repeated the order, and this time she diligently jotted it down then wheeled around to set the paper in the opening that led to the kitchen. As the cook grabbed it, she steeled herself to face Luke again, hoping she could revive her control. But it was so very hard to do when she turned back and met that naughty, get-on-the-counter-for-me smile.

“That’ll be about ten minutes. Would you like your coffee while you wait?” Please say no, please say no, or I’ll never get anything done. I’ll have to spend all my time looking at you.

He hesitated, and something in his expression made her stomach tighten with longing.

After a moment, he merely shook his head, but the wicked gleam in his eyes remained. “Mind if I just sit on the bench out front?”

Ellaina nearly sighed in relief. I’ll make the sacrifice and let you go so I can pretend to get back to work.

“Sure. If you want to pay now, I’ll bring your order out to you when it’s ready.” She meant that Jade would take it out to him, didn’t she? That was Jade’s job, doing the take-out. Not this time. She’d fight for one more chance to look at him, to hear his voice while all the time reminding herself he was too young, much too young.

After Luke had paid, Ellaina surreptitiously watched him head out the door. Luckily she didn’t start to fan herself even though she wanted to because she turned to find Jade and Nell looking at her, smiling. She had hoped they hadn’t seen the interchange between the two of them. Struggling for something to say, she blurted out the first thing that popped into her head. “What a nice young man.”

The two women broke into gales of laughter.

“What?” she said indignantly. “He’s nice and he’s young.”

“You can kid yourself,” Nell said sagely. “But you can’t kid us.”

“What do you mean?” Ellaina asked, but they’d already gone back to work.

“Well he is nice. Nice and young,” she muttered to herself as she slipped an extra big piece of lemon meringue pie into a take-out container. “What do they expect me to do? Fall at his feet? Ask him out?”

Despite her inner protests, all she could think about while pouring his coffee were those sexy green eyes and that let-me-please-you smile. Oh, she was very certain his I-can-please-you grin was based in reality. He looked like a man who would take his time making love with a woman. A woman lucky enough to fall into his bed would never want to leave. And that, Ellaina thought, was part of the problem. Once a man like that got into your system, you’d never get him out. You’d be addicted. Did she want that? Yes! No. The correct answer was no. She had a café to run and her life was already full. Isn’t it?

But she couldn’t help fantasising about what it would be like to watch a gorgeous creature like that strip off his clothes while she lay naked and aroused, hand between her legs, cream flowing, as he grabbed his T-shirt and pulled it up and off. She’d want to see that lusciously tantalising flesh revealed ever so slowly, but he’d have other plans. Maybe it was better that way. Nothing like instant gratification.

And she’d like the way he wouldn’t want to take his time getting naked because she knew he’d make up for it once he crooked his finger and beckoned her to him. Beckoned her to him? No way would she come to any man’s call. Unless it was to undo his jeans and slide them down. She’d get on bended knee to do that. And crawl to him to yank them open and see how long and thick he was. A man that size would be generously endowed. Ellaina was sure of it.

What kind of pleasure would he like? Her tongue smoothing across the slick head, teasing the tiny slit? Or perhaps her hand wrapped tightly around him, sweeping up and down while she slid the crown into her mouth?

The sharp sound of the ‘order’s ready’ bell made her jump, and she reluctantly let the fantasy dissolve. But not the wanting.

“Take-out’s ready,” the cook called and he put the bag in the window slot.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Jade making a bee-line to grab it for delivery to Luke, but Ellaina triumphantly snatched it up herself.

“I took the order so I may as well deliver it,” she pronounced.

Jade and Nell burst out laughing again. Doing her best to ignore them, Ellaina slipped the container of pie and a plastic fork in on top of the sandwich, snagged the cup of coffee and crossed to the door.

Well, I was the one who took the order. It would be rude of me not to deliver it, she justified to herself as she stepped outside.

It looked like a sleepy jaguar had invaded the bench in front of the café, with that thick, dark hair and the way he was basking in the warm sun, hands behind his head, legs stretched out before him. He kept his eyes closed, and she took advantage of the opportunity to study him. He’d thrown his leather jacket on the bench, letting her see how the black T-shirt embraced his powerful body, hugging his thick biceps, outlining his muscular chest. As he lazily opened his eyes and turned towards her, Ellaina couldn’t help thinking how it would feel to wake up to that in the morning. Rolling over and seeing him beside her, languidly opening his eyes and smiling at her as the sunlight crept across her bed. The look he gave her made her wonder if he knew exactly what she’d been thinking. She thrust his order at him.

“Here’s your lunch,” she said.

Those gorgeous green eyes seemed to sparkle as they settled on her. “Care to join me?” he asked, setting the coffee on the ground before taking the bag and shoving his jacket along the bench.

A quick, “I have to get back to work,” and she ducked through the door and out of sight.

Copyright 2007 Kaenar Langford