Real Men Don't Break Hearts

By: Coleen Kwan

“Yep.” A look of satisfaction spread across his nauseatingly handsome features.


“About twenty minutes ago.”

Twenty minutes? She shook her head. “I don’t understand.” She turned to Mr. Cummings. “You told me not to worry. You told me it would take a while to find a buyer.”

“That’s what I thought.” The old man laughed and patted his protruding belly. “But then this afternoon I met Nate here over at the Red Possum, and we got to chatting, and I told him I was looking to sell and retire. Well, half an hour later we shook on the deal, and here we are. Isn’t it capital? Heh-heh.”

Capital? To Mr. Cummings, everything was capital. At his satisfied chuckle, an impotent frustration boiled up in Ally’s veins. He had no idea what he was doing to her. All he saw ahead of him was endless days of sunshine and fishing. He couldn’t imagine the mess he’d inadvertently tipped her into.

“Er, Mr. Cummings, could I have a word with you in private?”

“Well…” He shot an apologetic glance at Nate before turning back to her. “Certainly, m’dear.”

Ally ushered him into the cramped storeroom at the back of the shop. “Sir, are you sure you know what you’re doing, getting involved with Nate Hardy?” she asked as soon as she’d shut the door behind them. “You must be aware of his reputation—petty theft, vandalism, brawling. If you don’t mind my saying so, you shouldn’t be doing business with him.”

His smile faded as he pursed his lips. “Now, I may look comical, but I’m no fool when it comes to money, Ally.”

Oh, dear. She liked Mr. Cummings. A few years back, his wife, two decades his junior, had run off with her lover, and in the subsequent divorce the woman had gouged Mr. Cummings of half his assets. After all that, he deserved some good luck.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you, but you must admit it sounds dubious that a man you bumped into at the pub wants to buy your property.”

“You’re right, but Nate isn’t a stranger. Yes, he had a troubled youth, but I know of his business reputation. He’s a successful investment manager for a reputable finance company. Has been for a number of years. I’m pretty sure he’s not trying to scam me, and besides, I’ll have my lawyers double-check the contract every step of the way.” He gave her shoulder an avuncular pat. “I know you’re just looking out for me, but believe me—you have nothing to worry about.”

Sure, and the tooth fairy is real, too.

“But why does he want to buy this building anyway? He lives in Sydney. He hardly ever comes down to Burronga.”

“He’s looking for a good investment property; that’s what he said.”

That made no sense to Ally. The rent she paid for the shop and the upstairs flat was hardly spectacular. For all its old-world charm, the building was in constant need of repairs, and the rooms were awkwardly sized and inconveniently positioned. Hardly a prime choice for a savvy investor.

And what about the outstanding rent she still owed Mr. Cummings? The worm in the pit of her stomach reared its ugly head again. The building might have potential, but she was hardly an ideal tenant. And knowing what Nate thought of her, he wouldn’t need much excuse to boot her out. She’d lose the shop and her home.

Ally gulped down the rising nausea. “About the rent I owe you…”

“I know you’re good for it, and I told Nate, too.”

“You told Nate…” The bile bit the back of her throat again. Oh God, things couldn’t get any worse.

“It didn’t seem to trouble him.” His face brightened as if he’d been struck by a brilliant idea. “Why, he might be able to give you some business advice on how to run the shop.”

Business advice! She’d sooner trust a rattlesnake.

Mr. Cummings gave her an encouraging smile as he opened the door of the store room. “Now I know you and Nate are going to get along fine, just fine.”

Like Tom and Jerry. Like oil and water. Yes, just fine.

Still dazed, she allowed him to usher her back into the main shop. Nate was resting against the counter watching Tyler as she re-stacked the lavender soap. Ally’s eyes slitted as she took in the closing gap between Nate’s and Tyler’s heads and the nonchalant ease of Nate’s figure as he leaned against the counter, one thumb hooked into his belt.

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