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LAUREL placed the last paperback book on the display before ruefully draping the glittering length of silver and green tinsel so that it didn’t obscure the front cover of the new blockbuster of the reigning king of adventure stories. How could you make a bookstore window look Christmassy anyway? She had tried several weeks ago to give the window some of the festive appearance of the other shops along the street, but she had to admit it hadn’t been very successful, a few strategically sprayed bursts of artificial snow—that was going to be hell to get off when the time came!—a few decorations and sprigs of holly, did not make a Christmas display. Luckily books sold this time of year without that added incentive, and this delayed paperback would quickly be sold out before Christmas.
She sat back to admire the display, the person standing on the other side of the glass catching her gaze. Catching her gaze? Polly, her assistant, was leaping up and down in an effort to try and attract her attention!
Laurel frowned at her as Polly kept talking and frantically pointing, colour entering her cheeks as she saw they were attracting quite a crowd by their antics. She gave an embarrassed shrug, motioning to Polly to come inside and explain to her. She wanted people to look in the window, but not at her!
She crawled backwards on her hands and knees to the small door at the back of the window, ignoring the people who still gawked at her as she tried to manoeuvre out of the small space she had left for herself when she arranged the displays.
‘Laurel, your brother is here to see you,’ Polly told her breathlessly.
She narrowly avoided the display of hardbacks at the back of the window, cursing the publishing company for this late distribution of the paperback that had necessitated her disturbing the window. ‘It can’t be my brother,’ she dismissed curtly as she felt the floor beneath her foot, easing down on to its firmness with a sense of relief, closing the door behind her, feeling hot and bothered as she straightened the black skirt she wore, brushing off the thick material the fluff from the lemon window bedding she had been kneeling on.
‘Laurel, he says he’s your brother,’ her assistant insisted a little desperately.
‘And I told you—Oh!’ She broke off abruptly as she saw her ‘brother’ standing beside the flushed-faced Polly. She should have known it was him!
‘Steady,’ Reece put out strong hands to grasp her shoulders as she swayed precariously, slightly dizzy from her exertions in the window. ‘Here,’ he neatly plucked a piece of green tinsel from her blonde hair and held it out to her.
Laurel snatched it from his hand, at last knowing the reason for Polly’s antics outside the window; obviously the young girl had been trying to tell her about the tinsel in her hair. ‘Reece,’ she greeted tightly, blue eyes flashing as she turned to her assistant. ‘Shouldn’t one of us be seeing to the customers?’ she said pointedly.
Polly looked more flushed than ever, hastily making her excuses.
Laurel turned angrily back to Reece. ‘Why are you here?’ she demanded icily. ‘As you can see, I’m very busy,’ she added impatiently.
He nodded, looking around the crowded shop. ‘Business looks brisk.’
‘It is,’ she acknowledged tersely. ‘So I really don’t have any time to waste…?’
‘We can’t talk here——’
Her gaze sharpened. ‘Is it Amanda?’
‘Would you really care?’ Reece drawled derisively. ‘When was the last time you saw your mother? Two months ago, wasn’t it?’ He arched a dark brow.
Her mouth tightened. ‘I don’t believe my relationship with Amanda is any of your business,’ she told him coldly.
‘Or lack of it,’ he mocked, his firmly chiselled mouth twisting scornfully. ‘But, Laurel, I am your brother.’
‘Could we get out of here?’ His terse request showed he had tired of the game, scowling as a customer pushed past him on her way to the till. ‘I don’t want to discuss personal family business in this crowd. It’s almost one-thirty, don’t you have a lunch-break coming up?’
She gave him a contemptuous look. ‘It’s only a week to Christmas, our busiest time of the year, no one in a shop takes lunch-breaks,’ she derided. ‘Not if they want to take the money.’
‘And is that so important to you?’ His golden-brown eyes narrowed.
She gave a harsh laugh. ‘A banker asks me that? Without money you wouldn’t be in business.’
‘But the making of it isn’t more important to me than my family,’ he told her hardly. ‘And whether you like it or not you are part of that family.’
Laurel stiffened. ‘I don’t have a family,’ she dismissed harshly. ‘Now if you’ll excuse me,’ she frowned worriedly as Polly began to look very harassed as she continued to take money at the till, ‘I really do have to get back to work.’
Reece grasped her arm as she would have walked away from him without a second glance. ‘And I really have to talk to you,’ he bit out. ‘I’ll come back once you’re closed this evening.’
It was a statement, not a request, and with a disinterested shrug Laurel walked away to take over from Polly. By the time she had the chance to glance up again Reece had gone.
Why had he come? She could easily have found that out if she had given him a few minutes of her time. But she hadn’t felt inclined to do that. Reece was a man who told people to ‘jump’ and didn’t even take the time to see if they did so; he knew that they would! But this was her shop, her living, and she didn’t ‘jump’ for anyone.
‘See you later tonight,’ Polly came into the office to say good night once the shop had closed for the day, Laurel sitting at her desk doing the books, the other woman lingering in the doorway.
And Laurel knew why she was lingering. The younger woman had been giving her curious looks all afternoon, obviously waiting for an explanation about Reece’s claim of being her brother. Laurel hadn’t given her one, and she didn’t give her one now either.
‘Fine,’ she gave a bright smile. ‘About eight.’
‘Yes,’ Polly confirmed