love of steel [the callens 7] (siren publishing ménage everlasting)

The Callens 7

Love of Steel

Jade Callen, a beautiful, sexy blacksmith from Intrigue, Wyoming, is more comfortable bending steel than capturing a man’s heart. That’s because she fears she’ll end up like her mom—barefoot and pregnant. When her two heartthrobs, real estate developer Logan Smithfield and hunky theater director Parker Brandt, decide she’s the one, they ask her to create a wrought-iron sculpture for Logan’s model home and one for Parker’s new set.

Their contrived interactions are designed to break down Jade’s defenses. When Logan brings her to New Orleans for an architectural weekend, his plan works and she melts into his arms. Parker’s love of art then brings them together in a fiery way. But when talk turns to how many children she’d like, she mistakenly believes the two men only want her as a baby factory, and she withdraws. What will it take for them to permanently forge an unbreakable triangle?

Genre:
Contemporary, Ménage a Trois/Quatre, Western/Cowboys

Length:
43,612 words
 

LOVE OF STEEL

 

The Callens 7

 

 

 

 

 

Melody Snow Monroe

 

 

 

 

 

 

MENAGE EVERLASTING

 

 

Siren Publishing, Inc.

www.SirenPublishing.com

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A SIREN PUBLISHING BOOK

IMPRINT: Ménage Everlasting

 

 

LOVE OF STEEL

Copyright © 2012 by Melody Snow Monroe

E-book ISBN:
978-1-61926-883-8

 

First E-book Publication: August 2012

 

Cover design by Les Byerley

All art and logo copyright © 2012 by Siren Publishing, Inc.

 

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This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission.

 

All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.

 

 

PUBLISHER

Siren Publishing, Inc.

www.SirenPublishing.com

Letter to Readers

 

Dear Readers,

 

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Love of Steel
by Melody Snow Monroe from BookStrand.com or its official distributors, thank you. Also, thank you for not sharing your copy of this book.

 

 

Regarding E-book Piracy

 

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This is Melody Snow Monroe’s livelihood. It’s fair and simple. Please respect Ms. Monroe’s right to earn a living from her work.

 

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DEDICATION

 

 

I’d like to dedicate this book to all the women who work with their hands and can sweat like a man. God bless you.

LOVE OF STEEL

The Callens 7

 

MELODY SNOW MONROE

Copyright © 2012

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

“A little to the right.” Jade Callen instructed her cousin Dustin to adjust the handcrafted iron sign attached to the signpost at the ranch entrance. It needed to be perfect. After all, it was the thirtieth-anniversary present she’d made for her parents.

“That good?” He looked down from the ladder.

“Perfect.” The letter
S
sat inside the letter
C
, which stood for the Spencer Callen Ranch. She was pleased with the way the scrolls on the ends of the letters added a bit of dimension. “What do you think, Dad?”

He rubbed his chin. “It looks great. About time that old wooden sign got replaced.” He wrapped an arm around her shoulder. “Your nice little hobby came in handy.”

Her hands clenched at his comment. He probably hadn’t meant to trivialize her accomplishments, but she wished he’d recognized all the hard word and skill it took to become a blacksmith. “Dad, this isn’t a hobby. I make money creating iron designs.”

“For the time being. As soon as you meet the right man, you’ll settle down and do what comes naturally.”

Don’t argue with him today
. She had no intention of becoming barefoot and pregnant like her mom. Getting knocked up at sixteen and popping out nine kids translated to a nightmare to her. The only good she could see was that her mom seemed happy.

Dustin got down from the ladder and tossed it in the back of his truck. “You want to ride back with me, Jaden?”

It’s Jade
. “Sure.” She didn’t know why her whole family called her by her full name. It sounded too much like a man’s name.

She hopped into Dustin’s front seat and inhaled that new-car smell. “How’s Tracey doing?” Dustin’s wife was due to deliver their first baby any day now.

“Uncomfortable, but she’ll be fine. I swear Colby never leaves her side, which is why he couldn’t make the celebration today.”

“I totally understand.” He sounded so excited. She wanted children but on her own terms.

They followed her father down the half-mile dirt drive. Dad parked in the garage while Dustin pulled in front. “Looks like almost every relative is here.”

She chuckled. “Free food and good company always draw a Callen crowd.” Smoke from the barbecue billowed from behind the ranch. As soon as she opened the door, the smell of charcoal and sizzling steak hit her. She inhaled. “I love a good cookout.”

“Amen. Heath volunteered to do the grilling.” Dustin’s sister got a great deal marrying the Watson brothers. Boy, could the man cook or what?

A group of musicians were setting up under a large tent. Apparently, another cousin’s husband, Jackson, did lighting for the band Righteous Warriors, and they agreed to come play for free. Given they did concerts to packed concert halls, it was a real coup to have them here.

She rubbed her arms as she rushed inside. Even though her parents’ home was eight-thousand square feet, the oversized living room was packed, and the noise was a bit loud. She ditched her coat on one of the chairs and immediately spotted her best friend and assistant, Dakota Smith. Her bleached-blonde, spiked hair that had streaks of magenta, green, and blue was hard to miss.

She slipped next to her friend. “Hey.”

Dakota turned around, slightly bent her knees, wrapped her arms around her shoulders, and looked to the ceiling. “Your brothers are
so
hot.”

“To you maybe.”

Morgan was a year younger than she was, and Clint was two years younger, but she’d have to be blind not to see they were hunky men. “Go talk to them.”

Dakota rolled her eyes. “They hate me.”

Jade had suggested that if she got rid of the nose ring, the eyebrow studs, and the tongue ring that maybe her brothers would realize what a great girl she was. “They do not.” She didn’t want to get into this tired discussion.

Dakota’s eyes widened, and she grabbed Jade’s wrist and shook it. “Oh, my God. Logan Smithfield is here. He’s talking to Dustin, and they’re standing by the front door.”

Jade froze. He was the man of her dreams. Okay, he was one of two dream men. Logan had to be one of the most eligible bachelors in Intrigue. The man not only owned his own jet plane, but he was developing a thirteen-hundred-acre plot of land with green homes. Callen Construction, owned by Dustin, was doing the building.

She retrieved her wrist. “Do you see Parker Brandt?” He lived in Logan’s guesthouse. Not being related to anyone here, there was no reason for him to be here except that Logan might have wanted someone to hang out with.

“No, but he could be anywhere.” Thank God she had Dakota to scour the room for her. Jade wouldn’t know how to act if Logan or Parker spotted her staring.

A group had congregated outside to chat while the food cooked, and she bet there’d be a group in the game room, shooting pool. Parker could be anywhere.

“Jaden.” Her fourteen-year-old baby sister tugged on her arm. “Did you see him?”

She groaned out loud. Why did the youngest girl have to be the one who’d found about her little crush? “Yes, now scat. Go help Mom. This is her anniversary, and she shouldn’t have to do all the work.”

“She likes to cook and prepare for parties.”

“Go.” It would be hard to socialize if the rug rat was underfoot.

“Fine.” Her sister pranced off toward the kitchen.

A bowl of chips sat unattended on the coffee table. “I’m famished.” She wasn’t, but she needed something to do with her hands.

“I’m going to go bug Clint and Morgan.” Dakota winked, as if her best friend realized Logan would never approach with her hanging around.

Jade chuckled. “You do that.”

She’d just picked up a handful of chips and had popped some in her mouth when she felt rather than saw a presence behind her. The shadow on the table in front of her had changed. She turned around, inches from the most gloriously perfect man she’d ever met.

She quickly swallowed. Her laugh came out too quickly. “Logan. Nice to see you here.”

Oh, God, I have potato flecks around my mouth.
She quickly swiped a hand down her face and prayed she’d gotten them all.

His gaze ran down her entire length. Thank God she’d worn a V-neck peach blouse with ruffles around the neck to draw attention to her chest. Too bad she was too thin to have any cleavage, though. At least her overly muscled arms were covered. She straightened. There weren’t many men she had to look up to. At five feet nine inches, plus the two-inch heel on her new cowboy boots, she often towered over most.

“You’re looking good.” She loved the sparkle in his dreamy blue eyes, which shone with sincerity.

“So are you.” That wasn’t a come-on but the truth. Some might say he was a bit too well groomed, but men who sold million-dollar homes had to appeal to the wealthy.

“Do you have a moment?”

“Sure.” For him, she had a lot of moments.

He led her closer to the dining room, where there were fewer people. “I wanted to talk to you about commissioning a piece for the model home I’m designing.”

Her pulse raced. Getting that kind of exposure would be huge. She’d done a few small pieces for him, like wall sconces and a mailbox stand, but nothing this grand. “Sure.”

“I stopped by your store the other day to ask about a staircase I heard you’d created. You weren’t there, but Dakota was nice enough to show me the one you’d built for your home.”

Why hadn’t her friend told her? Maybe Dakota thought she’d stepped over the line by allowing a client into her home, which sat above the store in a three-story converted factory. Usually Jade’s place was neat, but she couldn’t vouch that it had been pristine the day he’d stopped in. When she’d done the renovations, she had to repair the staircase that went from the second to the third floor, and she’d installed an intricately designed metal railing. “That is my pride and joy. It took me close to three months, working around the clock to make that.”

“I can believe it. I wouldn’t need anything that feminine, but I loved how you wove the metal through each other.”

He thought it feminine? That thrilled her.

Dustin came over and slapped Logan on the back. “Got a minute? There’s someone who’d like to meet you.”

Damn
. He’d already had his time with Logan. Couldn’t Dustin see this was her big chance to impress her dream man? Her makeup was perfect, complete with false eyelashes, sculpted eyebrows, and glitter eye shadow. The last time Logan had come into the shop, she was in blacksmith mode. Her long hair was pulled into a ponytail, sweat coated her body, and her steel-toed black boots were anything but feminine.

She kept her gaze on them as Dustin pulled his boss away. Her cousin had no idea how he’d messed up her dream moment.

Dakota rushed up to her. “How did it go?”

She jerked at the intrusion.
It was way too brief.
“I guess okay. He wants me to make a staircase for a model home.”

“Oh, my God, that’s freaking fantastic. I thought he might ask. That was why I didn’t tell you about his visit. I wanted it to be a surprise.” She inhaled and squeezed her eyes shut for a moment. “That means lots of late-night meetings to discuss exactly what he wants. You’ll have to do some samples and bring them over to his mansion. Wow, girl, you hit the jackpot.”

She hadn’t thought of all the possibilities. “Maybe.”

Dakota glanced behind her, winked, and made some dumb excuse why she had to leave. Jade couldn’t understand why her friend had to rush off until she got another tap on her shoulder. She spun around praying it wasn’t Clint or Morgan complaining about Dakota. It was Logan again!

He shifted his weight. “Sorry about that. Dustin wanted me to meet the solar-panel installer.”

A worker had come to a party? What was up with that? “I totally get it. When you work for yourself, it’s a twenty-four-seven job.”

He grinned, and she had to work hard to keep from swooning.

“I wanted to ask you something else.”

No way he’d be asking her out on a date. They’d known each other for about three years, and except for the few jobs she’d done for him and Parker, he’d not acted interested. “Sure.”

“Parker has a new play coming out.”

Parker always had a new play coming out. It’s what he did. “That’s great.” Parker owned the town’s community theater and directed the plays there. The best part was that Logan often starred as the leading man and she could sit for two hours and admire him.

“It’s set in New Orleans, and Parker wanted me to ask you if you might be willing to do another set design for him?”

She loved giving back to the community, but the last time she helped design and build the set, it took her three weeks. During that time, she wasn’t able to make or sell any of her work. The words tumbled out. “I’d be happy to.”
Damn
.

She’d saved enough money to live three months without an income. If it meant she could be closer to her two hunky men, she’d do it.

“That’s wonderful.”

Reality sunk in. “I do have a few commissioned pieces that I have to get out, but I should be able to make it work. The play won’t be for a while, will it?”

“I’m afraid casting starts tomorrow.”

Oh, shit.
She’d have to give up sleep, but the sacrifice would hopefully be worth it.

An outside bell rang, signifying the food was ready. She wove her fingers together, thankful for the interruption. “I guess that means we need to head outside.”

Logan probably dated women who’d traveled, could speak several languages, rode a horse like a pro, or could dance with the stars.
Me?
Not so much.

Used to standing in front of a furnace all day heating and bending iron, she didn’t do well with the cold. She grabbed the coat she’d tossed on one of the dining room chairs and followed the group out to the eating area. Already there was quite a long line to get the food.
Cheaters
. Between the three Callen brothers, and their entire family and friends, there had to be more than sixty people who’d accepted the invitation.

Logan leaned in close behind her. “The spread looks amazing.”

The hairs on her neck stood up from the closeness. She forced herself to concentrate on the meal. There were bowls of mashed potatoes, several large vegetable dishes, three different kinds of meats, and an array of desserts that boggled the mind. Her mom, with the help of her younger sisters, had really gone all out. Had Jade not had a client deadline, she would have helped. Her mom said the fact that she made the new sign was a big enough contribution.

As she filled up her plate, she glanced at what kinds of foods interested Logan. Like her, he avoided all the fried stuff and the cream sauces. Given his well-defined body, she wasn’t surprised he watched what he ate.

Once she finished piling the food onto her plate, she purposefully didn’t sit with Dustin, because then she’d be uncertain if Logan wanted to be with her or with her cousin. Dakota waved to her, but Jade infinitesimally shook her head. There was no way Logan would want to be involved with the two of them. Dakota was a bit on the outgoing side, and as such, turned off a few people with her chatter.

Jade sat at the end of an empty picnic table next to the heater. The beginning of April was too cold for her, even though no one else seemed to mind.

“May I join you?”

Her heart skipped a beat. “Absolutely.”
If you hadn’t asked I’d have been terribly disappointed.

She loved how polite he was. He didn’t swagger like other men or act super tough. No, Logan Smithfield was cool personified.

He slid across from her and smiled. Only now did she realize how hard it would be to eat with him watching her.

He waved a fork. “I have to tell you that I was amazed at what you’d done with the factory. It had been sitting idle for as long as I can remember.”

She’d purchased the factory about eighteen months ago. It took her the next twelve months to get it inhabitable. “I did put a lot of sweat equity into making it livable.”

“The floors and walls are fantastic.”

She couldn’t help but smile. “They took about a month to sand down the wood floors, stain, and then seal them. I thought they came out beautiful.” Talking about the renovation was dear to her heart. Given he was a green developer, she figured he’d appreciated what went into her design. “I think my favorite part might have been the skylights and solar tubes in the top floor.”

His brows rose. “You’ll have to give me a tour.”

Her throat turned dry and her hand shook. Her imagination ran wild thinking about having Logan in her home, seeing her feminine bedroom and her unusual bathroom where she’d lined the shower walls with steel then glazed them with porcelain. “I’d love to.”

“If I recall, your place used to be an ice-cream factory. Was there anything you could salvage?”

“Not much. About the only things left behind were the vats. Most were too big, but one of the smaller ones I was able to use as a bathroom sink. I also repurposed the industrial-size sink to use in my kitchen.”

“That’s so creative. I’m hoping I might get some ideas for something I’ve been dreaming about.”

She leaned closer. “Are you thinking of getting into the renovation business?” They would have more in common if he did. She’d learned a lot of what to look for in a used building. The first few she’d contemplated buying were pure money pits.

“Perhaps. I kind of got the itch watching what Parker did with the old theater.”

“He did do an amazing job, especially in restoring the ornate sculptures.” Now the city could enjoy plays all year long. Hopefully, he was making a go of it.

Since Logan had dug into his meal, she didn’t want to be rude and not eat. She cut her steak and took a bite. Juices dripped down her chin, and she immediately wiped them off. Logan’s eyes twinkled.
Damn
. Why couldn’t she have aimed better?

The small lift to his lips disappeared. “Tell me where you get your inspiration for your ironwork.”

She paused, unsure how to answer. There was no question who she imagined seeing the finished product—Logan Smithfield. “Actually, your home designs gave me a lot of inspiration.” Her pulse raced wondering if she’d been too honest.

He grinned. “I’m flattered.”

 

* * * *

 

Last night’s cookout had netted a lot more than Logan had hoped, yet he couldn’t get Jade out of his mind. She was a beautiful and independent woman who, he bet, could succeed at anything she set her mind to. That was refreshing. In his line of business, many of the women he interacted with either felt that they needed to act like a man to succeed in the male-dominated business or were gold diggers. Jade was neither. Her love of her job intrigued him. Like him, working hard seemed to be built into her DNA.

He pulled in front of the theater and was lucky enough to get a space. After periodically interacting with her for a few years, she’d piqued his interest more than ever yesterday. Since he and Parker loved to share, he wanted to get his best friend’s take on possibly pursuing her.

When Logan entered the theater, Parker was on stage directing two actors. He slipped into one of the stadium seats to watch the rehearsal. Parker had to be one of the most passionate men he’d ever met. Not only could he get into a character’s head and help the actor understand what to do, but his artwork belonged somewhere other than on a backdrop. Logan had a few of Parker’s pieces scattered in some of the model homes, but his friend claimed he didn’t want to spend time painting commissioned pieces when there were plays to write and direct.

The current show,
My Heart’s Desire
, was about to open, and Parker was giving final directions to the lead actors. Logan would have auditioned, but with the development about to open, he didn’t have the time. Now that Jade had agreed to build the set for the next show, he might have to rearrange his priorities.

“That’s a wrap, gang. See you tomorrow for the show.” Parker patted both actors on the back.

Logan got up and ambled toward the stage. Had he heard more of the dialogue, he would have clapped.

Parker looked up and smiled. “Hey, what brings you here?”

“Thought that since the show opens tomorrow your immediate job is mostly done. I was hoping we could grab a beer. I know you’ll be busy working on the next show by tomorrow.”

Parker laughed. “Understand my workload, do you?”

He guessed that meant Parker would be willing to spend some time going out. “How about the Raging Bull? It’s Thursday, so it shouldn’t be too crowded.”

“Perfect. Let me grab my jacket.”

While Logan waited, he looked around the theater. Parker had done a remarkable job on a shoestring. He’d restored the ceiling that lit up with the night sky and had redone the gold-leaf molding to its original grandeur. Just this year the theater broke even. Logan’s way of supporting the arts was to let Parker live free in his guesthouse.

Parker returned. “Let’s go.”

He hoped Parker shared the same infatuation with Jade he did. Sharing a woman was not a decision either took lightly.

Chapter Two

 

Parker thought it a bit odd that Logan would show up at the theater, but he was willing to go out for the night, in part because he knew Logan had gone to Spencer’s anniversary party as Dustin’s guest. He was a bit jealous that his best friend had the opportunity to mingle with the alluring Jade Callen for the night.

They found two stools at the rather empty bar. Canned music played in the background, and the locals were behaving themselves for a change.

“How was the Callen anniversary party?” Jade had been on his mind ever since Logan mentioned the invitation.

“Great.”

“Have any good chats?”

Logan burst out laughing. “Why don’t you just ask me what you want to ask?”

Damned man could see through him like a hole in a backlit drop cloth. “How was Jade?”

“Beautiful as always.” Logan polished off the beer and asked Jackson for another one.

“Did you ask her about designing the staircase for your model home?” He was sure Logan came up with the request as a way to get a chance to work with her again.

“You are Mr. Curiosity tonight. Yes, I asked her about the staircase, and she said yes.” He got that damned smirk on his face.

“What?”

“I also asked if she’d do the set for your next play.”

Logan hadn’t even read the damned thing. “You did what?” He wasn’t angry, just surprised.

“I thought it might be nice if the three of us had something we could participate in together.”

Even for Logan that was a bit overboard. “How do you know I can use her talents?” While she was great with a hammer and nail, her specialty was ironwork.

He shrugged. “I told her the play was set in New Orleans. I figured with all the balconies there, you’d need her.” Jackson slid another beer across the bar for Parker.

He nodded to the bartender. “Thanks.” That would never work. “The play mostly takes place inside of an apartment. I’m not even sure if there are many outside scenes.”

Logan drank some beer, placed it back on the bar, and wrapped both hands around the bottle, as if he were composing his argument. “Then reset it in New Orleans. What’s the big deal? One city is as good as another.”

His jaw lowered. “I set it in Los Angeles for a reason.” Something was up. “What’s really going on?”

Logan looked along the wall across from the bar. “Want to get a booth?”

That was code for him wanting to talk about something more personal. “Sure.” They carried their drinks over to the vacant seats. “Spill.”

Logan told him about his visit to Jade’s place last week. “You should see how she’s renovated the old factory. I only saw the staircase, but from the living room, I could see into the kitchen since she’d designed an open floor plan. Not only is the wrought iron staircase a masterpiece, but she created a six-foot side-range hood that’s amazing. You’ve got to see it.”

“If she invites me, I’ll be sure to go. But why lie to her about the set?”

Logan tapped his fingers on the table. “When I was with her, something inside my head clicked. I want her. I think she’s the one. I needed an excuse to get the three of us together.”

“You’re serious?” He’d had the same thought but had dismissed it thinking that Logan wanted a more worldly woman.

“Totally. What do you think?”

“My cock got hard the first time you said her name. I wasn’t sure
you
were that taken with her.”

Logan leaned back. “I admit I had a bit of a problem with her at first. She’s bold and shy at the same time, and you know I go for a more aggressive woman. I never thought Jade would be the type to ever put the moves on us, but I swear she likes us.” He scraped at the label on the glass bottle. “She asked about you.”

Parker sat up straighter. “Oh, yeah? I didn’t think she even noticed me.”

“She noticed. Trust me. I just said you were working on a new play and she commented about how talented you were.”

That pleased him. “I did try to get close to her when she worked on another set for me, but she seemed too self-conscious for anything to work between us. I don’t think she’s bought into the idea of a ménage lifestyle. Her parents are monogamous.”

“I think all of Josh’s family are into ménages now, and Jade doesn’t seem put off by any of them.”

“You might be right. But her cousins marrying is a recent development.”

Logan finished shredding the label. “I also think she changed a bit once she opened her shop. Being a business owner gives you a new perspective on things.”

“I know. It takes dedication and a willingness to work with others.”

“That’s how I got on the topic of her helping with the next set.”

Logan was notorious for getting people to do what he wanted them to. “I’ll be the first to admit that she’s not only great with ironwork, but she’s awesome with a hammer.”

Logan polished off his second beer. “Can you tweak the play and set it in New Orleans?”

He quickly raced through the scenes, seeing if he could adjust them to fit. “Possibly.”

A grin spread across his face. “Got a good role for me?”

“Actually, I wrote the play with you in mind.”

“I’m flattered.” Logan leaned forward. “How about a role for Jade?”

“You been smokin’ crack? She doesn’t act.”

Logan waved the bottle. “Just a bit part where I have to kiss her.”

Now he saw the reason for the request. “You’re really hooked on her, aren’t you?”

Mr. Cool dragged a thumb down the bottle. “Yes.”

He wouldn’t have guessed. “You asking if I’m interested in sharing?” They’d had a few women together over the years, but none of them had been someone they wanted to spend the rest of their lives with.

“Yes. Maybe it’s the fact that the development is drawing to a close and I want someone to share it with, but when I saw Jade this time, something snapped. It was like I’d found the last piece to my happiness puzzle.”

Happiness puzzle?
He laughed. “Could it be because you’re getting up in age?” He enjoyed goading Logan.

The chest puff was expected. “I’m all of thirty-five. You’re pretty long in the tooth, too.”

“I’m two years younger than you. Here’s the problem. I think she’s terrific. Her artistic talent is unparalleled. I admire her entrepreneurial spirit, and she’s independent.”

Logan leaned back in his seat. “But?”

“Why isn’t she taken? She’s twenty-nine. Hell, her mom had a slew of kids by that time.”

“If I recall, Jade did date, but I don’t think she was really serious with any of the guys.”

He finished his beer. “My point exactly. Do you think she even wants a long-term relationship?”

“From the way she dresses and how she watches me, I’d say yes.”

Or maybe she wanted to get laid.
No
. That wasn’t Jade. She was too retiring, as if the wall she’d built around her was made of steel. He contemplated what Logan had said. Having a woman in his life would be a dream come true, but given his busy schedule, he might not be home as much as a wife would want. “I’m hesitating because I don’t want to make the first move and get shot down.”

Logan cocked a brow. “Like that would happen? The women flock to be in your plays.”

It was true they were always trying to hit on him. “Jade’s amazing, but she doesn’t seem to be able to close the deal.”

“What do you mean?”

“I think getting close to a man scares her.”

“Then we need to show her what she’s missing by not being with us. If we can get her to come to us, are you in?”

Parker leaned forward on his elbows. “You bet.”

 

* * * *

 

Parker had spent the last three days thinking how to restage the play in New Orleans, and he’d finally figured out how to do it. Once he rewrote a few scenes, he had to make a rough draft of the set design. Now he needed to see if Jade was still on board with helping him.

He had expected her to contact him about what he wanted in the way of ironwork, but she never called. If he’d been able to wait a few more days to see if her curiosity got the best of her, he would have, but since there were only six weeks between plays, he had to get moving on the set.

He walked into Jade’s shop and hoped she was in the back creating her designs. They needed to talk about when he needed the project completed.

Dakota bounced over to him. “Hello.” Her eyes glistened.

“I need to speak with Jade.”

She grinned. “I’ll see if she’s
presentable
.” Dakota rushed into the back. He wondered what that was about. Did she always act excited around customers? Or was she excited
for
Jade? He hoped it was the latter.

Dakota returned. “Jade said she’ll be right out.” She stepped closer. “I think she needs to change for you.”

For me?
“She doesn’t have to go to any trouble.”

“It’s really hot in the back room with the furnace and all, and I think she’s trying to save you from seeing her all sweaty.”

He laughed, pleased that Jade cared enough to want to look nice, but a little bit of sweat on a woman never bothered him. Hell, when he made love with a woman, their body heat always made the two of them slick.

About ten minutes later, Jade entered through the back door into the store. She had on big black boots, skinny jeans, and a fresh tank top. Sure her face was a bit smudged, but she looked beautiful to him.

“Hey. I didn’t expect you.”

“I guess I should have called.” He waved his rolled-up plans.

“Are those the set designs?”

“Yes, but I’m always open to suggestions.”

The bell above the door rang, and two people he’d never seen before came in. Jade’s gaze dropped to her feet as if she absolutely didn’t want a potential client to see her like this.

“Can you come into the back?”

Just my plan
. “Sure.”

She led him into a stifling-hot room. “Let’s go into my apartment where it’s cooler.”

She wouldn’t get any argument from him. He followed her upstairs. As soon as he stepped into her spacious second floor, a blast of cool air greeted him. “Quite the contrast.” Her home wasn’t what he expected. While it had the feel of a medieval castle because of all the iron, the purples and rose accents clearly had a woman’s touch.

“I know. I’m working on a way to get some of the heat from downstairs to the upstairs. I’m afraid in the winter this place will be brutally cold.”

“Logan is great with designing a space that has good airflow. Maybe he can help you brainstorm.” He hoped that hint wasn’t too obvious. While he wasn’t sure that Logan actually knew how to retrofit a heating system, he bet the developer could find someone who did.

“I’ll keep that in mind when I have some extra money to finish the renovation.” She walked over to a table and moved the salt and pepper shakers to the counter. “How about spreading out the designs here?”

He unrolled the paper and grabbed the two shakers back and used them to hold down the paper. Jade scooted into the kitchen and brought back two ceramic mugs and placed them on the vacant corners. He took that moment to check out her staircase and kitchen.

“I can see why Logan was so excited about you doing a staircase for him. Yours is beautiful.”

“Thanks. It took a long time, but I loved working on it. I wish I had thirty hours in a day so I could make more big pieces.”

“You and me both.”

She leaned over the table and studied the print. One thing about Jade was he didn’t have to explain much to her. She was a quick study.

“So we’re talking about two iron balconies?”

“Yes, but they don’t have to be very ornate. We could maybe fill in the spaces with some painted woodwork. From the audience, no one would know.”

She smiled. “That’s an idea.” After she studied the rest of the set, they discussed some alternatives that might work for both scenes. “If we place them on a rotating lazy Susan, these two could work in tandem.”

“Shit. I hadn’t thought of that. That’s brilliant.” Her plan would save money, too.

Her cheeks colored.
Cute
.

“Can I get you something to drink?”

She probably was thirsty from working next to the furnace. “Sure.”

She brought out two glasses of ice water and handed him one. She motioned he take a seat.

He wandered over to the leather sofa. “I have something else to ask you.”

“Sure.”

From this angle, he got a good view of her house. There were a few paintings on the wall that he liked. “Who painted those mountain scenes?”

“Dakota.”

“I’m impressed.”

She smiled. “I keep telling her she’s good, but she doesn’t believe me.”

A lot of people had told him the same thing, but since he hadn’t been trained, he chalked their compliments up to small talk. His large backdrops looked good from a distance but not close-up.

He studied the work. “I wouldn’t have taken her for a landscape artist.”

“What would you have expected?”

“Something a bit more modern perhaps.”

She smiled. “Dakota is an interesting person. On the outside, she appears confident, but on the inside she’s filled with self-doubt.”

“Aren’t we all…” He let his voice trail away. Jade sat on the edge of the seat. Either she didn’t want to get the seat dirty or she was anxious for him to go. He preferred to think it was the first choice. “I have a proposition for you.”