Real Men Don't Break Hearts

By: Coleen Kwan

Yet somehow Seth had managed to infiltrate the rarefied stratosphere: he was going to marry Paige Kerrigan. Who was this woman, anyway? Someone who rode horses, Ally decided. A tall, athletic woman with a carrying voice. Blond, probably, with pearls and diamonds and linen shirts that never creased. On her wedding day she would wear Vera Wang and Chanel No. 5. Where would they marry? At St. Bridget’s, where she had waited in vain for Seth?

An unexpected spasm rippled through her. She turned around, her hip jarring the counter, and the pile of soap slithered to the ground once more.

“Not again!” She dropped to her knees.

The shop door jingled. “Good afternoon, ladies.” Mr. Cummings’s florid voice floated over the top of Ally’s head.

“Hi, Mr. Cummings,” Ally said, still on all fours as she reached for a bar of soap lodged beneath a postcard stand. “I’ll be with you in a moment.”

“I’ve brought someone to meet you, Ally.”

As Ally struggled with the caught piece of soap, a pair of men’s shoes appeared in front of her. Crocodile, hand tooled, expensive. Definitely not Mr. Cummings’s shoes. They were attached to trousers—finest wool, elegantly tailored, citified. Still on her knees, Ally straightened her back and found herself eye level with a slim pair of hips and a thin leather belt cinched around a taut waistline. Her gaze flew upward, past the crisp cotton shirt, silk tie, flawless jacket, and finally clashed with a pair of simmering brandy eyes. Eyes she could never forget.

Nate Hardy. In Burronga. In her shop.

And here she was kneeling in front of him like a penitent, her face practically in his crotch.

Chapter Two

Ally shot to her feet, the soap bars scattering to the floor yet again. “Blast!”

“Here, let me get those for you.” Nate dropped to his knees, and now their positions were reversed. His head of thick, dark hair hovered so close to her legs she could almost feel his breath on her bare skin. She stood stock still, wishing she’d worn stockings to cover her winter-pale legs, wishing she’d put on a nicer pair of shoes, wondering why she cared at all about how she appeared to Nate. Nate Hardy, of all people. What on earth was he doing in her shop? Today of all days, when she’d just learned about Seth’s impending marriage. Was he really such an insensitive brute?

“Where d’you want these?” Nate stood, his hands filled with soaps, a curiously tentative expression crinkling his face.

Still too flabbergasted to speak, she gestured toward the counter behind her. He tipped the soaps onto the wooden top and brushed his hands.

Mr. Cummings spoke. “You remember Nate Hardy, don’t you?”

Beside her, Tyler let out a low whistle. “Speak of the devil!” she muttered.

Speak of the devil indeed. It was as if she and Tyler talking about Nate had conjured him out of thin air, like a magic spell gone horribly wrong. If only she could snap her fingers and make him disappear in a puff of smoke.

“Nate Hardy?” She cleared her throat and set her tone to freezing. “Ye-es…” She pretended to rack her memory. “Weren’t you arrested a few years back? Was it disorderly conduct or something like that?”

His brandy eyes snapped at her, but his voice remained cucumber cool. “Something like that.”

Mr. Cummings had gone pink to the top of his shining dome. “Um, I have some news for you, Ally.”

She turned to him, regretting the embarrassment she’d caused him. Besides being her landlord, he was a friendly, unassuming man, and he seemed agog with some important information.

“I’m moving to Queensland.” He bounced on his heels several times. “I’ve sold the building just this afternoon. Ally, say hello to your new landlord, Nate.” With a flourish he presented Nate like a magician pulling a rabbit from a hat.

“My new…” Air squeezed out of Ally’s lungs as she felt her eyes goggling. Beside her, she heard Tyler taking in a sharp breath.

“Landlord,” Nate finished for her.

Her new landlord. Oh God, this could not be happening.

“You…you bought this building?” She pointed to the floor. “This building?”

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