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Faith’s eyes flew open, her pulse spiking. His blonde good looks filled her vision as surely as they’d filled her dreams all freaking night.
How long had he been standing there staring at her?
“I’m fine,” she said, her hand falling away.
She’d been on her feet since ten and run like a crazy thing with an unusually busy lunch crowd. Her father had joined her for a couple of hours until Megan had arrived which had been a help but her lack of sleep last night – entirely his fault – added to her exhaustion.
Faith’s gaze dropped to the sampling paddle. “We have a little taste testing, I see?”
He nodded, placing it on the table in front of her. “Yes. And if my lager’s not the best out of all of these then you can send me on my way.”
It was on the tip of Faith’s tongue to send him on his way now and save them both the hassle but he chose that moment to shrug out of his coat and unwind his scarf and Faith’s ability to think logically went straight out the window.
A suit. The man was wearing a suit.
Yesterday in his beat-up old Levis and Henley pushed up to his elbows he didn’t look like the business man he purported to be but today in a suit that clearly did not come from Kohl’s, he was every inch the businessman. It looked like it had been sewn at midnight by little elves just for him.
It was the type of suit that Ty wore to court. Dark grey, exquisite fabric, divine cut. Add to that a purple shirt and a pear-green tie that picked up the color of his eyes and magnified them tenfold. The jacket clung to his shoulders like a web and the trousers outlined the musculature of his thighs.
Faith stared, she couldn’t help herself. In fact she barely stopped herself from drooling. Did the man not realize what a huge effort it had taken her today to treat him just like another customer after her body’s mini meltdown yesterday? Especially when her subconscious had spun little fantasies starring him in her sleep last night? Fantasies that had woken her and driven her from her bed in the wee small hours to sketch his hands and forearms.
That had driven her to…touch herself.
Just looking at him in the cold light of day without blushing was an effort.
How was it possible that he looked even sexier in a suit?
He undid the button on his jacket as he slid into the booth opposite, completely invading her space. Yes, there was a table separating them but at the moment not even a football field would be enough.
He laid his hands on the table and looked at her, their gazes locking. “Thank you, Ms Sullivan, for seeing me today.”
Faith’s belly tightened at Raf in full businessman mode. His eyes were friendly, his shoulders were relaxed, his smile was easy, and confidence oozed from every pore. But there was a serious set to his jaw and a no nonsense streak to his tone that was just so freaking hot.
She dragged her gaze from the hypnotic pull of his, frightened she’d not only agree to his proposal before he said another word but surrender the entire freaking pub to him as well. Her eyes locked on his hands instead, the bulging veins just as fascinating today as they had been yesterday.
Faith suddenly wanted to sketch them again. Sketch all of him. In his suit. And out of it.
Oh crap. It was official. She had a serious case of lust for Raf Quartermaine.
His hands moved, snapping her out of inappropriate, rapidly devolving thoughts and her gaze followed them up as his fingers settled on the knot of his tie.
“Er…” she said as his hands loosened it, making short work of removing it altogether, the slide of fabric as he zipped it out from under his collar reverberating through muscles deep inside her, snapping them taut. “What are you doing?”
She hoped her voice actually wasn’t as squeaky and breathless as it sounded.
“You need a blindfold,” he said, the tie dangling over one finger as he calmly offered it to her. The tail brushed the table as he undid the top two buttons of his shirt with his other hand.
There were a lot of things Faith needed. Being blindfolded was not one of them. Even if being blindfolded by Raf was suddenly all she could think about.
Faith pulled herself back from the pear-green temptation before her, trying not to think about the symbolism of a man’s tie in a post-Christian Grey world.
And what exactly Raf could do with it.
“Thanks,” she said, clearing her voice of the annoying huskiness and her brain of the annoying images. If he could be all businesslike then so could she. “I’ll just shut my eyes.”
“It’s important to not be able to see the color of a beer before you taste it. There could be a subconscious bias.”
“I won’t peek.”
He wiggled his finger, the tie swishing back and forth a little. “With this on it won’t matter.”
She moved her gaze from the tie to lock with his. If he thought she was going to sit in the middle of Sully’s blindfolded and give him the advantage then he was dead wrong. She already felt excruciatingly vulnerable in his presence.
“You’ll have to make do.”
He dropped the tie on the table with a shrug. But she could see it there in her peripheral vision like a…threat.
Or a promise.
She should demand he put the damn thing away somewhere. Out of sight, out of mind. Because right now she wasn’t sure if she could concentrate on his pitch while she was imagining herself on his hotel bed buck naked, her hands bound behind her back with that tie.
He pulled a notepad and pen out of a backpack. The numbers one to eight were written vertically down the top page. He pushed it across to her side. “I want you to rank each beer out of ten.”
“Okay. But I can tell you right now, no lager is ever going to score a ten on the beer scale for me.”
“We’ll see.” A small smile played on his mouth. Some would have called it cocky. “Now…shut your eyes and put your hands on the table.”
Faith tried not to read anything into his words as her eyes closed. Any fantasies were no doubt in her head only. But it didn’t stop her brain going right back to that tie and being naked in his hotel room.
A cool nudge against her fingertips alerted her to the first glass being presented. “Number one,” he murmured.
Faith curled her fingers around it and downed the shot in two swallows. She grimaced as the flavor assaulted her tastebuds but was grateful to have something else to fill her senses other than a sudden waft of cologne that reminded her of sun and sand and surf.
Even if it was lager.
“Can I score now?”
There was a slight pause before he murmured, “Anytime you’re ready.”
His voice was deep and low with a note of something she couldn’t easily define. But her belly could, twisting hard in response. Faith opened her eyes slowly to find him looking at her mouth before lifting to lock gazes with her. She swallowed against the sudden constriction in her throat before breaking eye contact and scribbling a five on the page, her heart skipping, her hand trembling slightly.
She shut her eyes. “Next.”
He repeated the process seven more times. The highest Faith gave was a seven and a half. But the last beer was in a class all of its own and she just knew it was Raf’s. It was clean and mellow with a hint of something she couldn’t place. It was definitely a cut above.
Faith opened her eyes to find him looking at her again. She quirked an eyebrow. “I’m guessing that’s yours?”
He shrugged. “Why do you say that?”
Faith didn’t answer. Instead she picked up the pen and wrote the number nine. She glanced up at him, tapping the pen against the table before adding a decimal point and a five.
He whistled. “Nine point five.” He clutched his heart then grinned, animating his face from merely good-looking to breathtakingly sexy. “I feel privileged indeed.”
Faith grinned too, she was powerless to resist. “So you should,” she said throwing the pen on the table. “What’s that hint of something I can taste?”
“Ah,” he murmured. “You have a good nose too, I see.”
But he wasn’t looking at her nose. His gaze was fixed just a touch south and her mouth tingled in response. She wanted to lick her lips to ease the buzz but she instinctively knew that would be a very bad idea.
“We age it in old whiskey barrels,” he said after long moments.
Then he launched into a spiel about his fermentation process of which Faith understood about fifty percent but she knew one hundred percent she could listen to him talk forever. Who’d have thought bottom brewing yeast could be so damn sexy?
Next he produced some facts and figures about his market share and projected company sales and a bunch of other good numbers that he spoke about with such passion he had her head spinning and her libido well and truly locked, loaded and ready to rumble.
He’d gone over his thirty minutes and she didn’t care.
“Why here?” she finally asked after he paused for breath and she was able to think straight. “Sully’s patrons are essentially all locals. We do most of our sales after five and on weekends. Except for St. Patrick’s Day, of course. We don’t serve fancy cocktails or tapas so we don’t attract the in crowd. We’re too far away from the trendy areas and we shut at ten during the week and midnight on the weekend. Wouldn’t you be better off in a swankier, more central pub?”
He shook his head. “Baron lager isn’t that kind of beer. It’s a mom-and-pop, meat-and-potatoes kinda brand especially for places like this. Sully’s patrons are exactly the demographic I’m after so if it sells here then I’m confident I can sell it into other places just like this all over the U.S.”
Faith nodded. It all made good business sense. Or she hoped so anyway and it wasn’t just his suit and that tie she could constantly see in her peripheral vision combining forces to bamboozle her. He reached inside his jacket and pulled out what looked like a business card, sliding it across to her.
“I guess the ball’s in your court now.”
She picked it up and ran her fingers over the simple plain white card with elegantly embossed letters. Not the kind of card she’d have pictured a beer man to be carrying. She slid it into her jeans pocket before nefarious thoughts of committing his number to memory won out.
“So…” He smiled and it sucked Faith’s breath right away. “Did I convince you?”
Convince her? About what? The beer? Or about a dozen other things that had flitted through her head as he’d talked. When it got down to it, Faith was sure Raf could convince her of just about anything.
Which was exactly why she should be turning his ass away.
But the beer had been very good. It beat the crap out of the lagers they currently carried. “I will take it to my father,” she said.
She just didn’t hold out much hope that he’d agree. Sullivan’s had been founded on selling Guinness and American beer and the older her father grew the more determined he seemed to be to cling to the old ways.
And no amount of fantasizing about Raf was going to change that. “Just don’t get your hopes up, okay?”
He grinned that big old grin again and Faith swore she could feel her ovaries quiver. “Okay.”
He reached across the table and grabbed the notepad and pen and stuffed them into his backpack. He stacked the shot glasses inside each other, placing them and the paddle into the backpack, zipping it up firmly.
He left the tie on the table between them.
“Good, now that’s over,” he said, returning his full aquamarine attention to her, “come out to dinner with me tomorrow night.”
End of Excerpt