Have you ever gone through a bad break-up that made you question everything? Brooke's ex asked for a divorce after he got his green card. Not realizing her marriage was a sham, Brooke was devastated. Afterward, she was afraid to take risks in her business and her love life. She's protected herself ever since by keeping her walls high. The last person she should be interested in is her child nemesis and her newest competition, Ben. There's only one thing she's certain about—Ben isn't a safe bet.
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"I know you’re worried about the competition, but I think this will be an amazing opportunity for you.”
I’d always thought Ben brought out the best in me. Maybe I’d gotten complacent as the only coffee shop, but I wasn’t ready to credit Ben for motivating me to step things up.
“We make a good team,” Hailey added.
“We do.” I think it was because she wasn’t emotionally invested in my business. She could see the bigger picture, the possibilities and risks, that I couldn’t.
Hailey’s expression turned serious. “Can we talk about something personal?”
I leaned forward in my chair. She and Ryan recently got together, and he had an eleven-year-old son, Corey. I couldn’t help but wonder if she was pregnant. “Of course.”
“I saw how you reacted to Ben showing up at the garage,” Hailey spoke carefully.
It took me a moment to respond. I wasn’t even sure how I felt when I saw him. “I was just surprised to see him after all this time,” I finally said.
Her brow furrowed. “Was that it? It seemed like you were attracted to him.”
I scoffed, hoping she didn’t see under my bluff. Heat coursed through my body at the fluid way he’d unfolded from his sports car, my brain sparking with possibilities until I recognized his face. “Trust me. I’m not attracted to Ben Monroe.”
“Why not?” Hailey tipped her head to the side as if she were merely curious.
I searched for the right words to phrase what he was to me. “He’s my competition.”
He was the one person who could destroy everything I’d worked so hard to build.
“For now. When you expand into a wine market, he won’t be.” Hailey smiled triumphantly.
I shook my head. “I don’t even know if it’s a possibility.”
Hailey smiled. “The more I think about it, the more I love the idea.”
I shook my head, resisting her excitement. “Things like that take time. I need to make sure we have the funds required, that the business can run during construction, that customers would like the change, and the big one, that the coffee shop can thrive in the meantime. If Bean Rush takes all our business, I won’t have the cash flow for an expansion.”
I had to depersonalize what was happening with Ben as much as possible. I needed to focus on his business as a storefront, not as a single dad with an adorable seven-year-old girl. That rabbit hole was fraught with obstacles.
Hailey tipped her head slightly. “You’re so practical all the time. For a business owner, you’re afraid to take risks.”
The observation hit me square in the chest. “I opened a business. I’m not risk averse.”
Was she right, though? Ever since Levi walked out, I’d been scared to make any moves. I didn’t trust my judgment anymore when I’d always been so decisive.
“Aren’t you? You won’t consider Ben as anything more when you’re obviously attracted to him. I haven’t seen you interested in anyone since I’ve known you.”
“You know why.” My jaw ached with the pressure of grinding my teeth. Hailey was one of the few people I’d confided in about that situation, and I disliked talking about it. I wanted it to settle on the bottom of the ocean of my brain and never let it come to the surface.
“Just because one guy is bad doesn’t mean they all are.”
“Hmph,” I grunted, placing my disagreement in that one sound.
“You can’t blame everyone for what Levi did.”
“That’s not what’s happening.” But I shifted on my chair. I was pretty serious about not getting involved with anyone, much less with someone like Ben. He wasn’t a safe bet.
She gave me a look.
She wouldn’t let me get away with it. “I might be a little risk averse.”
Sympathy filled her face. “I get that, and I’m not going to push you, but please run the numbers on the expansion. I think this could be good for the store.”
I breathed a sigh of relief that she was letting the subject of dating go. Just the thought of trusting someone again gave me chills.
Hailey had been the force I needed lately, encouraging me to sell books in addition to coffee and pastries. I’d lost some of the initial excitement about opening a business. As a result, my ideas had shriveled up. I’d been stagnant, doing the same thing every day.
“Will you consider giving dating another try? It doesn’t have to be Ben. It’s just—I’ve never seen you react to anyone. It was like there was this thing between you. Chemistry, I guess,” Hailey added with a soft smile.
Ever since her brother’s best friend, Ryan, moved back to town and Hailey connected with him, she’d been happy. She wanted the same for me. I didn’t blame her for wanting me to be happy, but I wasn’t the same person. My track record wasn’t the best. I couldn’t help my history any more than she could change who her mother was. Her mother had left her and her brother, Jake, to live with her grandmother when she was six and he was twelve.
“Please?” she pleaded.
“I promise I’ll keep an open mind.” I probably wouldn’t, but I’d think about doing it…someday.
Hailey sighed. “You’re impossible.”
I smiled. “But you love me anyway.”
She nodded. “We’re going to get through the opening of the new coffee shop and your childhood nemesis being back in town.”
“I’m so glad I’m not going through this alone,” I said as she hugged me. I was grateful that Hailey had her grandmother sell their family’s Spice & Tea Shoppe so she could pursue her love of writing because it had prompted her to offer her help in my store. And with Ben back in town, I needed her more than ever.
The question was, did I have the guts to go for the expansion? To even explore the idea? Or was I stuck in a rut? I had to admit taking the risk in my business sounded more appealing than attempting to date again.
All I had to do was remember the gleeful satisfaction on Levi’s face when he announced he’d gotten his green card and wanted a divorce. He pursued me because he’d thought I’d fall for him, and I did. I never suspected it was fake.
He’d used me, and I had no idea. How could I ever think about dating again after that? I couldn’t trust my instincts or my judgment. It was safer to avoid it altogether.
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