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Taming McGruff (Book 3, Once Upon A Romance Series)

Laurie LeClair
Chapter 1





The bell over the salon door tinkled, breaking the silence. Someone in Priscilla King’s peripheral vision entered.

“Hey, you forget something, Rico?” she asked, walking to the front of King’s Department Store beauty salon. Shuffling through the file folder she carried, full of glossy pictures and detailed printouts for the upcoming remodel, her heart tugged. She longed to make her own unique stamp on the store. She realized even though she helped manage the salon now, this remodel wouldn’t be hers; it was a continuation of the recent Charmings theme in the store and wedding boutique.

If only she could find something she could soar at, prove she was worthy to work there. But, more importantly, she dreamed of proving she was worthy of the iconic King name her late stepfather had bestowed on her and her older sister when he adopted them years ago.

Shaking her head, Priscilla shut the file and glanced up. A tall, dark-haired, broad shouldered man stood beside the reception counter. Intensity rolled off him. His gaze penetrated. Sexy. She sucked in a sharp breath. Her steps faltered. “You’re not Rico.”

“Good deduction,” he drawled.

That voice, deep and low, shot a bolt of heat straight to her center. “We’re closed.” She drew within three feet of him. Up close, he was even more daunting. Strong solid features, lips that barely smiled, and eyes the color of smoke, she noted. A shiver sliced through her at the hot, bold interest lying there.

“I’m here for a meeting.” Still he refused to break eye contact.

Priscilla broke the unnerving stare, glancing at the rest of him. Expensive navy blue business suit, crisp white shirt, silk baby blue tie, top of the line shoes… She grinned. “Well, I don’t think you’re here to apply for the hairdresser position, or the nail tech, are you?”

Ah, the corner of his lip did move, slightly. He raised an eyebrow. “Do you think I’d get the job?”

She giggled, trying to imagine this super masculine man fluffing someone’s hair.

He drew in a swift breath.

“I doubt it.” Inside, her middle tumbled at his reaction to her.

Reaching out, he brushed his thumb along her cheekbone. Warmth trailed a blaze where he touched her flesh. The gentle gesture betrayed the man’s gruff demeanor. “Smudge.”

“Thanks,” she said softly.

“I’m here to see Charlotte King,” he said in a brisk, no-nonsense manner, pulling away. Clearly, he’d put up a wall, a very high one at that.

“Charlie?” What would he want to meet with her stepsister for? At nine o’clock and on a Friday night?

“If you can just point me in the right direction, I’ll be on my way.”

“I can do better than that. I’ll escort you there myself.”

“No need,” he said curtly.

Something made her tease him. “No problem. I’m going that way myself. Unless, of course, you’re afraid of me. I don’t bite.” She shrugged. “Much. But I did skip dinner, so you never know.”

His brows drew together in a frown, obviously trying to gauge her.

Prissy grabbed for her pink tote bag, stuffed the file inside, and then snatched up the keys she’d left on the desk. Leading him to the door, she said, “Come on, I promise I’ll behave.”

He seemed to relax a little, following her.

She reached around him and shut off the lights. Her arm brushed against his. Tingles raced along her nerve endings. His warm breath feathered across her cheek. “You call that behaving?”

His scent filled her senses: fresh, clean, and all male. “Wow,” she murmured, unable to meet his stare. “Me? You are lethal.” She didn’t censor her words, a serious issue that brought trouble on occasion.

He chuckled. It came out raw and ragged. “I’ve never been called that before.”

Darting out of the door and causing the bell to ring again, she waited for him to exit. “Always a first time for everything, right?” She swallowed hard, locked the door, and then dropped the keys in her tote bag. Was she flirting? Was he? “Follow me.”

“Gladly,” he murmured.

She concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other, trying to stay upright on her new over-the-knee, high heel black suede boots as she guided him across the marble floor in the nearly empty store. His big commanding presence at her side made it difficult for her to focus on anything but him.

“Yo,” Bruno, the night guard, called out, rushing past nearly twenty feet away.

“Go. I got this. Trouble?” Priscilla asked.

“Somebody forgot to lock up somewhere. Usual Friday night,” he said. “Thanks for showing him upstairs. I owe you, baby girl.”

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