Kylie Masters watched him walk into her shop like he owned it while simultaneously pretending not to notice him. A tricky balancing act that she'd gotten good at. Problem was, like it or not, her attention was caught and captured by the six-foot, leanly muscled, scowling guy now standing directly in front of her, hands shoved in his pockets, body language clearly set to Frustrated Male.
She sighed, gave up the ridiculous pretense of being engrossed by her phone, and looked up. She was supposed to smile and ask how she could help him. That's what they all did when it was their turn to work the front counter at Reclaimed Woods. They were to show potential clients their custom-made goods when what they really wanted was to be in the back workshop making their own individual projects. Kylie's specialty was dining room sets, which meant she wore a thick apron and goggles to protect herself and was perpetually covered in sawdust.
And she did mean covered in sawdust. Wood flakes dusted her hair and stuck to her exposed arms, and if she'd been wearing any makeup today, they'd have been stuck to her face as well. In short, she was not looking how she wanted to be looking while facing this man again. Not even close. "Joe," she said in careful greeting.
He gave her a single head nod.
Okay, so he wasn't going to talk first. Fine. She'd be the grown-up today. "What can I do for you?" she asked, fairly certain he wasn't here to shop for furniture. He wasn't exactly the domesticated type.
Joe ran a hand through his hair so that the military short, dark, silky strands stood straight up. He wore a black T-shirt stretched over broad shoulders, loose over tight abs, untucked over cargos that emphasized his mile-long legs. He was built like the soldier he'd been not too long ago, as if keeping fit was his job—which, given what he did for a living, it absolutely was. He shoved his mirrored sunglasses to the top of his head, revealing ice blue eyes that could be hard as stone when working, but she knew that they could also soften when he was amused, aroused, or having fun. He was none of those three things at the moment.
"I need a birthday present for Molly," he said.
Molly was his sister, and from what Kylie knew of the Malone family, they were close. Everyone knew this and adored the both of them. Kylie herself adored Molly.
She did not adore Joe.
"Okay," she said. "What do you want to get for her?"
"She made me a list." Joe pulled the list written in Molly's neat scrawl from one of his many cargo pants pockets.
—Puppies. (Yes, plural!)
—Shoes. I lurve shoes. Must be as hot as Elle's.
—Concert tickets to Beyoncé.
—A release from the crushing inevitability of death.
—The gorgeous wooden inlay mirror made by Kylie.
"It's not her birthday for a while," Joe said as Kylie read the list. "But she told me the mirror's hanging behind the counter, and I didn't want it to be sold before I could buy it." His sharp blue eyes searched the wall behind her. "That one," he said, pointing to an intricately wood-lined mirror that Kylie had indeed made. "She says she fell in love with it. Not all that surprising since your work's amazing."
Kylie did her best to keep this from making her glow with pleasure. She and Joe had known each other casually for the year that they'd both been working in this building. Until two nights ago, they'd never done anything but annoy each other. So that he thought of her as amazing was news to her. "I didn't know you were even aware of my work."
Instead of answering, his eyes narrowed at the price tag hanging off the mirror, and he let out a low whistle.
"I don't get to set the prices here," she said, irritating herself with her defensive tone. She had no idea why she let him drive her so crazy with little to no effort on his part, but she did her best to not examine the reasons for this.