He’s everything she didn’t know she needed…
Allison would rather fix computers than worry about sex. That is, until the newest barista in town changes everything. All it takes is one hot stare with his sinful baby blues to remind her she’s not just one of the guys. She has lusty needs only he can fulfill.
Patrick’s coffee shop is on the verge of an epic failure, until Allison takes charge of his computer system. He may not know anything about motherboards, but he does know how to take control both in and out of bed. Now Patrick is determined to get what he wants—Allison in his cuffs. His sensual mastery awakens an intense passion and under his command, he’ll unlock the geek girl’s darkest desires.
Warning: Collars. Cuffs. Clamps. Coffee.
You may never look at your local barista the same way again.
This story was previously published elsewhere under the title Hardware in 2010, and has been significantly revised and expanded for Ellora’s Cave.
4-1/2 Stars & TOP PICK “This story would suit the first timer and the more sage reader as well.”
~ Bibliophile For Life, Night Owl Reviews
5 Hearts “Ms. Brookes has written a wonderful book that has some absolutely incredible sex.”
~ Amy, The Romance Studio
4 Cups “Allison may be a techy geek with a passion for comics and gaming, but that is only half of her personality. With Patrick she turns those passions in a whole new direction that drives her right over the edge into a world of kink. Patrick, who makes high marks in my book for being a genuinely great guy, is as totally enthralled with her quirky mannerisms as he is with her body. What a fantastic way to start a series!”
~ Lototy, Coffee Time Romance
“I was fascinated with the switch of who the geek in the story was as usually it’s the man. Told from both pov’s, I adored this book. Usually in the past books I’ve read, the sex had been rushed and quick to happen, so it was refreshing to read this book and watch how it wasn’t rushed…”
~lonewolf, Sensual Ride (review of Hardware)
5 Stars: “Sara Brookes has written an awesome story…Allison is a strong woman who is successful in her job and secure in herself. Patrick is able to see things in Allison which no one has ventured to discover. He was the star baseball player in college and his strong character has been shaped by a violent childhood and a strong will to know his own desires. The plot flows at a wonderful pace so we get to know both characters. We experience the wonders of a relationship starting to bloom.”
~ Michele, The Romance Studio (review of Hardware)
4 Stars: “The two of them have a great relationship where nothing is held back. It is very loving and not selfish at all.”
~ Tigger9, Night Owl Reviews (review of Hardware)
4 stars: “Patrick’s fascination with Allison is not difficult to understand – it is hard not to like a woman who loves fixing computers and geeks out about video games. Top this with her willingness to try new things in the bedroom, and Patrick has found himself a perfect partner.”
~ Dawn, RT Book Reviews (review of Hardware)
5 Stars: “Sara Brookes remains true to the romance genre and brought tears to my eyes a couple times. The characters are well-developed and easy to fall in love with.”
~ Jessica, Mark of the Stars (review of Hardware)
4 Stars: “Have you ever read one of those books that just seem to have everything it needs to be a perfect romance? [This]…was one of those books.”
~ Rebecca, The Romance Reviews (review of Hardware)
An Excerpt From: TAKING OVER ME
Copyright © SARA BROOKES, 2013
All Rights Reserved, Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Inc.
Allison Stuart stood outside Perfect Shot, conducting a debate about going inside. Even the lure of her favorite cup of java on the other side of a panoramic window couldn’t negate the fact a line ten people deep stretched away from the front counter. The shop had just undergone an ownership change. Given the length of the line, she couldn’t decide if the purchase was for the better.
As tempting as it was to walk away, she couldn’t ignore the fact she’d volunteered to make the coffee run this morning. If she came back to the office empty handed, she might as well have walked into one of Dante’s circles of hell. Coffee was life blood to an office full of IT specialists. Get between a room full of geeks and coffee and you may as well kiss your motherboard goodbye.
If there was anyone you didn’t want to piss off, it was your computer guru.
As she shifted her weight between her feet, trying to decide to make the plunge, she looked at the new awnings, benches, café tables and bright yellow umbrellas. The set-up was more than personable, inviting customers to take a load off and order a cup of coffee. Maybe even try a fresh pastry. The brand-new neon sign would even draw in the tourists once they started inundating the town next month. But all of the shiny packaging couldn’t mask the monstrous line that would be enough to scare all those potential consumers away.
Knowing she didn’t have much of a choice—as Java Joint a few blocks away just plain sucked ass—she steeled herself and opened the glass door. The rich and alluring aroma of freshly brewed coffee filled her nose, causing her to close her eyes in ecstasy. That scent alone was certainly enough to tell her she’d made the right decision.
As soon as she stepped at the end of the line, she heard the customer in front of her grumbling about the wait. Evidently, she wasn’t the only impatient one. No coffee early in the morning could lead to more than a few disgruntled customers. It could even be a potential business killer for the new owner.
Standing on her tip toes, she peeked over the long line of people. At the counter, the man behind the register appeared to be ready to pull out his hair. The short gentleman in front of her turned and she gestured to the counter with her chin. “Looks as if the official Grand Opening morning isn’t going so hot.”
The customer snorted, rolling his eyes. “Ain’t that the truth?”
“Shame. Alex seemed so on top of his game during that interview last week.”
“Pretty words to sell overpriced coffee.”
Alexander Conners, the new proprietor of Perfect Shot, had used the interview with the local news to boast about how he and his brother Patrick were going to show this town something new. Judging by the state of things at the moment, that promise seemed to be going nowhere but bust. Though, anything was better than the previous owner’s attitude. She’d nearly given up on the place a few months ago when she’d come in one morning to find the store completely void of inventory.
A coffee house with no coffee?
Talk about epic fail.
The man with wavy hair standing behind the register staring blankly at the machine in front of him seemed to be experiencing an epic fail of his own. He wore an ill-fitting logo shirt for the store that had the telling creases of being new. It appeared as though he’d quickly pulled one from a stack without care about the size.
Of course, how it did or didn’t fit was only a matter of opinion.
To her, the tightness of the shirt fit his well-defined arms and chest well enough that she realized, late for work or not, she suddenly didn’t mind the wait in line. It certainly gave her an interesting view while the time continued to tick away. To the customer in front of her, who kept sighing in exasperation, the view obviously wasn’t as attractive. The frustrated man tugged on his windbreaker as he stepped out of line, the small bell over the door chiming softly as he exited the store.
All the better for me.
Her gaze fell back on the frazzled man behind the counter. She bit off a soft giggle as his lips moved in a string of obscenities. A quick glance to the customers in front of her showed they seemed too annoyed and inconvenienced to pay much attention to anything else. The handsome employee brushed back the deep chestnut shock of hair that had fallen across his eyes. She was suddenly overcome with the desire to shove her fingers through it just to see if it was as thick as it looked.
Christ, Stuart, horny much?
More amused than annoyed now, a quick glance at her watch showed ten minutes had passed. The keys of her cell phone clacked under the tips of her fingers as she tapped out an apologetic email to her boss. Never one to be far from his own means of communication, Stephen Anders immediately replied with a confirmation. Working with other technology geeks certainly had its advantages—the latest and greatest gadget always seemed to be close at hand. He even followed it up with a request for a few pastries.
As her plan began to solidify in her mind, she shot a bright smile to the customer behind her before moving from the line. She ignored the curious stares of the other customers, knowing they’d appreciate what she was about to do. Stepping behind the counter, she tucked her oversized messenger bag under the pastry case to keep it out of the way.
A row of sky-blue aprons hung from a row of pegs lining the wall. She selected one, wrapping the thin strings around her waist twice before tying them off. The new colors chosen to represent the business were comforting and soothing. Two things most people looked for as they relaxed with a cup of their favorite coffee. Of course, the blue and brown color combination was all the rage right now, if the colors at the kitchen store she’d been at last week were any indication. The Conners’ men knew how to market their wares. Now if they could only figure out the rest.
After gathering her hair into a high ponytail, she tapped the front of a hand sanitizer dispenser, rubbing the cold gel into her skin as it dissolved. Ready to help out, she perched a hand on the divider beside the paper to-go cups. The cashier continued his quiet tirade, not even noticing she stood there staring at him. More than amused now, she considered standing there watching. The close proximity certainly didn’t diminish those tall, dark and handsome features she’d noticed earlier. His profile was magnificent. Wide shoulders, lean waist. And obviously helpless around computers.
She decided to put him out of his misery, lightly tapping on his elbow. “I’ve got this.” Turning, she grinned at the first customer in line. She’d have to turn on the charm in order to deter some of their annoyance, but it couldn’t hurt to give it a shot. Customer Service 101 was one of the first things taught when dealing with the general public. “What can I get for you?”
The relieved man quickly fired off his coffee order as she clicked open a blue marker lying on the counter beside the register. After scribbling the custom drink on the side of the cardboard cup, she nodded and smiled at the next customer in line. “And for you, ma’am?”
She listened attentively as she noted the neatly folded newspaper in the woman’s hand. She automatically reached for one of the ceramic cups. Years of barista duty in college had taught her customers who remained in the coffeehouse usually enjoyed the homey touch of the reusable mugs. As the milk steamed, she squirted various syrups in each cup.
Taking a moment while the milk heated, she glanced over to see the befuddled man still staring at her with an expression of utter amazement. “If you keep this up, no matter how handsome you are, we aren’t going to get a whole lot accomplished. How about you charge him for his macchiato with an extra shot?” She kept her voice purposefully cheerful, both for the frustrated customers and the man standing beside her.
The barista blinked his gorgeously deep-blue eyes a few more times. “I’d be more than happy to if the computer would actually do something other than just beep at me.”
Quite the problem.
She, of all people, knew how unpredictable computers could be because she worked with them on a daily basis. Unlike most people, she’d thrived on the eccentricities of temperamental machinery since childhood. Dismantling something only to turn around and reassemble it was a near daily occurrence throughout junior high. It was easy to sort through the pieces of the puzzle and put them delicately back into place. To her it was more than just a hobby. Little had she’d known those years had been the building blocks to her path to become a computer specialist.
“Have a calculator handy?”
“I think so. Back in my office.”
“Perfect. Next option was to put some fancy arithmetic skills to use. I don’t know about you, but I’m not a fan of early morning math. Especially before I’ve had coffee.” He laughed as he ducked into the back room.
Faced with the loss of technology, only one option remained. She turned to the line of customers, setting the steaming hot coffee on the counter. “That’ll be three fifty—cash only.”
They worked smoothly together for the next half hour with customers offended with the request for cash directed to the ATM machine at the bank next store. Most people who frequented this type of upscale coffeehouse would happily pay whatever amount for their fancy coffee in an equally fancy cup—a testament to the fact the world ran on caffeine.
As Allison set the last cup of coffee—a small decaf of the special house blend for the sweet old woman still in her nightdress—on the counter, she wiped her hands on her now coffee-stained apron. Time to get down to the business at hand—fixing the register. Her mouth salivated at the prospect as her hands itched to work on some piece of broken mechanical equipment.
“Want to give me a chance to look it over?” She pointed to the register he leaned against, nodding in thanks as he moved out of the way.
“Can I get you something to drink?” The frustration in his voice had vanished.
Evidently, her little plan to help had worked. Good. To know she’d brightened his mood would put a bright spot on the rest of her day. “Doppio, please,” she responded as she tapped on a few keys to see if it would garner a response. While the strong drink wouldn’t help fix the equipment, it was what she’d initially come for.
She noted the slight hesitation before he depressed the button on top of the espresso machine to make the double. “You know, that’s nearly lethal.”
A piece of her wispy blonde bangs fell into her eyes as she studied the keyboard. “Habit, really. Started when I was a senior in college to get them through all those grueling finals. I’m addicted now, so it’s too late to stop.”
“West coast. Pacific Tech. Worked as a barista to help pay for everything my scholarships didn’t cover. You know, you should really have your boss look into updating the system he uses. I wouldn’t even give my grandmother this antique. It’s a good five years behind the curve. Maybe more.” She tapped her fingers impatiently against the equipment while it rebooted. “I swear, slugs move at a faster pace.”
“Here you go, one double espresso.” He pointed to the pitch-black liquid in the demitasse cup as he flashed a brilliant smile. “I’m not responsible for the damage done to your stomach when you drink that.”
Despite the inviting smell of the bold coffee, the blank screen on the small monitor unsettled her. Some sort of welcome image should have popped up by now. The fact it remained as black as her coffee didn’t bode well for the status of the system. “You know, sometimes there is screwed and then just outright fucked. Sorry to say, this has the misfortune of being the latter.” The espresso was steaming hot and strong, bursting its bold flavor on her tongue as she swallowed. A sigh of appreciation slid from her lips as she lifted the cup to sip again. Perfect Shot immediately rocketed to the top of her list for the best coffee she’d ever had. “I have to say, you may not have a knack for computers, but you pull a mean doppio.”
“Glad to know I can do something right.” The snide tone made her frown.
“Where’s your help?”
“Just me this morning. Alex had to meet with one of our suppliers to negotiate a contract. Can’t have a coffee house without any coffee. Told him I could handle it for an hour or two without any help, but of course, I didn’t expect the register to crap out on me.”
She shrugged. “Computers are finicky beasts. Especially when they’re as old as this one. I know your boss is trying to get his feet under him with just buying this place, but he really should think about fixing the equipment first. Considering this one is about a useful as a paperweight. He could have probably picked up two registers for what he doled out for this steaming machine. Looks top of the line.”
“Alex is my older brother, not my boss. Patrick Conners, at your service.”
She took his outstretched hand, her heart jumping at the feel of his skin pressing against hers. “Nice to meet you, Patrick.”
He moved away after the introduction, cleaning the equipment now that the morning rush of customers had abated. The disclosure about the relation to Alex certainly explained a lot. The similarities between the two brothers were evident now that she wasn’t rushed for time. Their builds were similar, as was their height, which appeared to be a few inches more than her five foot seven. However, she didn’t recall Alex’s hair being as dark or glossy as Patrick’s when she’d watched the interview. Their eyes were the same rich blue, but Patrick’s held the specter of something. As if he hadn’t slept well for a few days.
That look was all too familiar to her. Each time she’d gotten lost on a gaming bender, that smudged darkness had greeted her in the mirror the next morning. While she could usually go a few days with little to no sleep, he didn’t strike her as the gamer type. If fact, he appeared to be the clean cut, all-American type who’d routinely ridiculed her all through school. All because she hung out with the members of the math club instead of getting drunk after the Friday night football game.
He was definitely some kind of athlete, she thought. Her two older brothers’ obsession with sports had been imparted on her enough to know Patrick wasn’t tall enough for basketball. Lacrosse, maybe? Possibly even swimming. Those arms were too built to simply pull coffee shots. Football?
Colorful ink flashed under the sleeve of his shirt as he reached for a fresh towel. Tattoos weren’t something she expected to see on someone who appeared to be as straightlaced as Patrick. While Alex’s brother was certainly attractive with his neat haircut and clean-shaven square jaw, he was exactly the type of guy who wouldn’t give her the time of day. A man with his good looks wanted a woman as a showpiece because they believed it would somehow enhance their status.
The last of her espresso left a bitter taste in her mouth. She’d spent too many years with her nose buried in computers for men to give her a second glance. A social life had never been her top priority. Ten years after school, she didn’t regret her decision. Situations such as this reminded her why she loved her work so much.
Not only could the Conners brothers find the help they needed with their grand re-opening, she could help them down the line too. Damn. Those stupid business classes that had been required for graduation would come in handy after all.
She pulled a business card from the pocket of her bag before handing it to Patrick. “Tell Alex to give me a call. I’ll see what I can do to give him a break on some new computer equipment.”
Patrick tapped the edge of the card as he read off the information printed on it. “Allison Stuart, Information Specialist with Bullseye Technologies. Seems as if you’re my fairy godmother.”
Oh how I wish I really was. Her fingers hooked through the belt loop on her jeans as she smiled at his joke. “Your brother has a good thing here. I know a lot of locals were sad to see the previous owner run the place into the ground. Besides, I’m lazy and I don’t want to have to go across town just for a good cup of espresso if this place folds.”
“Java Joint is just around the corner.”
“You’re kidding, right?” She tried her best not to be offended by the idea. While the small town had more than its fair share of coffeehouses, Java Joint is one of the worst. “Have you had their coffee? I’d be better off licking the engine on a Harley.”
His snort was loud enough to turn a few heads. “So your reasons for helping are entirely selfish?”
“Absolutely.” As she pulled the apron over her head, the loop caught in her hair, pulling out the tie she’d used. During the fight with the two fabrics, her watch chimed the hour. “Think you can handle this by yourself now? I really need to get to work.” A rush of wind blew past her as soon she asked. A short girl who appeared to be barely out of her teens dumped a pile of books on the floor, signaled she’d be back and disappeared through a swinging door.
“Lucky you. Looks as if your help has arrived.” Just as she bent to retrieve the bag from under the pastry case, she remembered Stephen’s request for a few treats. A customer now, she move around the counter and pulled out her wallet.
Patrick held up a hand and shook his head. “No way. I won’t have you paying after you just bailed my ass out of trouble. Whatever you want—on the house.”
“I wouldn’t let Alex know you’re letting your profits walk out the door.” She pointed to a selection of berry scones, cinnamon rolls and coffee-flavored Danishes, then waited while Patrick packaged them. As he ducked down to get an additional box, she dropped a twenty into the tip jar. She wasn’t about to stiff the brothers during their first full week.
Patrick slid the overfull box across the counter toward her, her fingers brushing against the back of his hand. Firm. Warm. How does the rest of him feel? More than likely, it wasn’t a deliberate gesture on his part, but she didn’t mind either way. It wasn’t often a guy took the time to flirt with her. Even if he forgot about her the second she walked out the door, so what. The warm tingling sensation now flooding her lower abdomen reminded her she was very much still a woman despite the adeptness with computers and affinity for video games.
He broke the connection as he turned to give directions to the newly arrived barista. “Mitchie, get me a set of pastry sleeves in the back. I’m running low up here.” Something in the tone of his voice gave off a commanding quality Allison’s body seemed to reach for. With his back turned, she had a perfect view at the way that horribly fitted shirt pulled tight across his broad shoulders.
Authoritative presence. Confident, but polite. Tight ass. Strong hands. Ripped body. Holy shit—he’s lethal. Caught up in admiring everything she found attractive about him, she jumped when his hand brushed against hers.
“I’m going to fix you another espresso before you leave.”
“Can I just get a large black instead? Not sure I can handle anything that strong again.” She never turned her back on an excellent cup of coffee—especially a free one. “And I need one of those gallon-sized carriers for the guys at the office.”
“Easy enough.” Less than a minute later, he popped a lid on a paper cup decorated with Perfect Shot’s logo. “There you are. One piping hot cup of liquid gold. And a take-along to fuel the office crew.” He leaned on the counter as the corner of his mouth lifted in a sexy half smile that had her stomach performing cartwheels.
She smiled in return. “Thanks. Hope your day gets better.”
“Oh I think it’s substantially improved already.” As his captivating smile grew wider, he winked before moving away to accept a small box from Mitchie.
Allison swallowed hard as she turned away from the counter, ordering her frazzled nerves to settle. That look. Christ on buttered corn. It made her feel as if she was the only woman in the room. Maybe even the world. Surely he had to act that way toward all of his customers. Right? He had to be charming to everyone no matter whom they were, especially if he wanted them to be a returning customer. It’s just good business.
She gripped the cup as she stepped out of the coffee house. Her whole body vibrated, warming her as if it possessed a rosy afterglow. An overall sense of calm washed through her, tingling all the way to her fingers. She couldn’t seem to wipe the smile off her face at a very memorable chance meeting.
Screw it. Who the hell cared if he was only being nice in order to get her to return? From now on, her daily morning cup of coffee also meant an eyeful of man candy. Talk about customer service done right.