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Tempted by the Billionaire

By:Clare Connelly

Tempted by the Billionaire_ A Hometown Hero Series Novel -Clare Connelly,

Someone was breaking in next door.

The thief was being quiet enough, but Willow knew for a fact that the Berries were both at work. Any sound coming from Number Eleven, Seaside Lane at one o’clock in the afternoon was out of the ordinary. With a pounding heart, she slowly eased her chair backwards, pushing up to standing. Her coffee cup was on the edge of her desk, and she knocked it with her hand as she stood. It would have gone flying, had she not acted on her lightning quick reflexes and caught it mid-air.

She sucked in a deep breath.

Don’t overreact, she berated herself mentally. It could be the postman. No, she frowned. That didn’t make any sense. The tiny town of Haymarket Bay had a population of less than a thousand, and the Berries were well known. Ike was the town’s cop, and Anna was a teacher at the elementary school. The postman had long been dropping the Berries’ mail at Willow’s house during the days.

This was not the postman.

Tiptoeing, in case her footsteps served to attract the burglar’s attention, she crept across her bungalow, towards the laundry. At the back corner of her home, there was a window that provided a perfect view of the Berries’ place. Her heart was in her throat, hammering at the speed of light against her slender chest. She slid the door open, wincing when it went too far and clunked heavily against the wall.

She stepped inside, and moved to the window. Ike and Anna’s looked as it always did. A pretty white shack, with a wrap around porch, and over-enthusiastic bright red geraniums tumbling from lacquered cream window boxes. Polly, their black cat, skittered past at high velocity – just a streak of inky fur along the top of the white paling fence. Willow jumped, and then let out a small laugh, laced with self-deprecation. Polly had made the noise. That explained it.

Boy, was she on edge today!

Willow shook her head and, with a small laugh, headed back through her home. The coffee she’d almost spilled only had a sip left in it, and Willow was nothing if not a dedicated caffeine imbiber. Some people chain-smoked, others enjoyed a midday wine, but Willow’s vice was, and long had been, fine Colombian beans.

She flicked the kettle and leaned against the bench, staring absentmindedly out of the window as it began to heat. Willow’s pink lips twisted into a self-derogatory grin as she contemplated her tendency to the dramatic. Even as a child, she’d seen monsters in the wardrobe and fairies in the trees. Everywhere she’d gone, there’d been evidence of the woodland realm. She’d imagined the man who ran the convenience store on their block had been a wizard, and she his pupil. Her school teachers, with their stern expressions and dark clothes, were secretly a coven of witches, working out ways to recruit the school children to their cause. The young Willow had devoured books; especially old fashioned teen crime novels. Nancy Drew. Trixie Belden. She’d whiled away hours lying on her tummy on the dusty floor of the attic, imagining herself anywhere but suburban Chicago.

A flash of colour caught her eye, and she looked lazily towards the Berries’ house again. Her breathing had returned to normal, now that she’d realised her fantasies had run away with her, as usual.

Only they hadn’t.

She ducked down instinctively, then rose a tiny bit higher, so that only her eyes were peeking above the sink.

And she saw him.

The burglar. Or would-be burglar, at least.

He was wearing faded jeans, low slung and firm across the hips, and a dark blue singlet vest, that showed his tanned muscular arms and broad chest. She swallowed. He spun around, a bemused expression on his face. Willow’s stomach flipped, like she was on the loop of a roller coaster. He was all kinds of gorgeous. Eyes so blue they seemed to glisten like the ocean, straight white teeth, and a bone structure that could have been hand-carved from the toughest granite. His tan extended to his face; his hair was blonde, and his stubble matched. Yeah, he was just about the hottest guy Willow had ever seen, but he was still trying to break into her best friends’ house.

She fished her phone from the back pocket of her jeans and dialled Ike’s number. “Damn it,” she cursed, when it went straight to voicemail. Her eyes lifted to the clock. Anna would still be in class.

The man was pushing at the door now, his muscles bulging as he shoved it. But Ike had seen his fair share of break-ins and all the doors at the Berries’ home were solid as stone. It wasn’t going to move, no matter how hard the hunk next door pushed at it.

She looked down to dial the local police station, and when she looked up, the man was gone. She squeaked and crouched lower, while she waited for the call to connect.

The knock came at her door, loud and intense. Three short, sharp and rather impatient rasps. She jumped and dropped her phone, sending it skidding across the timber floor. “Oh, great,” she muttered, looking at the piece of technology as though it had made a sentient decision to betray her.

“Hello?” The man’s voice. Deep, rich, as sexy as his arms. She squeezed her eyes shut.

This was ridiculous. If he were coming to kill her, and steal her possessions, why would he knock? Willow stood, and squeezed her hands into fists by her side. She was a twenty five year old woman. She’d lived on her own for three years. She didn’t need to be afraid like this.

Besides, Ike had put a heavy-duty chain lock on her front door when she’d first moved in. She walked towards it with a confidence that she was far from feeling. As she passed the bathroom, she grabbed a can of hairspray, then kept moving. Her fingers were shaking a little, as she slid the chain across, and pulled the door inwards.

Up close, he was even nicer to look at. She swallowed nervously, as she took in the fine sprinkling of freckles across his nose; the thick black lashes that framed his blue eyes, and the smile that could light a thousand bulbs.

“Hey there,” he said, allowing his eyes to slowly drift from her confused face, down the length of her body.

And though she was still undecided about whether or not he might be intending harm, she couldn’t help the frisson of awareness that tingled through her body. The downside of working from home was that Willow tended to get around in jeans and tank tops most of the time. That day was no exception. Dark blue denim, with a black shirt, her only concession to vanity was the chunky gold necklace she’d popped on when she’d been pulling her hair into a top-knot that morning.

“Can I help you?” She asked coldly, her voice not revealing a hint of the attraction that was zipping through her body.

“Well, I sure hope so.” His accent was different. He was definitely not from around these parts, but she couldn’t pick exactly where he’d come from. East coast, maybe, but she’d have put money on his having spent some time overseas. He turned the full power of his smile onto her, and she felt her toes begin to tingle. “You know Isaac next door?” He hitched his thumb to the Berries’, drawing her gaze across the fence.

“Yeah.” She narrowed her gaze. “Do you know him?”

Damn! This girl was an unexpected surprise. Women were the last thing on Matt’s mind at present, but even a priest would find it hard to resist someone like this. From what he could see through the few inches of the chain lock, she was a goddess. Tall and slim, she had glossy brown hair, enormous brown eyes, like velvet in the middle of her pretty, curious face. Her lips were the poutiest, most distracting things he’d about ever seen, her lower lip so full he might have thought it fake if it didn’t look so totally perfect on her face. She had pert cleavage, and a neat waist, and long legs. Her feet, bare, were topped with bright red toe nail polish, and for some reason, that fact made him smile. Suddenly the time he’d set aside to lay low in Haymarket Bay didn’t seem like the uncomplicated affair he’d intended. “We’re old friends. He said he’d leave a key out for me.”

She crossed her arms across her chest. “And he didn’t?”

His easy smile made her stomach churn. “Nah. Apparently not.”

Willow looked betrayingly over her shoulder, at the spare set she had to the Berries’ place. The man followed her gaze, and grinned when he saw the cluster of keys she was eyeing off.

“I can’t let you in,” she said with a begrudgingly apologetic tone. “Until I speak to Ike.”

The man nodded. “No worries. I’ll give him a call.”

“I already tried that,” she said with a shake of her head. “It’s going straight to voicemail.”

He shoved his hands in his pockets with a slow nod, and looked towards the Berries’ house. “Okay. I guess I’ll wait on the porch til they get home.”

“It’s over a hundred degrees,” she said with a dubious grimace. “You’ll fry.”

He shrugged, and ran a hand through his fair hair. Her pulse was pounding through her body. Not from fear or a sense of danger, but from total bone-melting desire.

“Pretty sure I’ll survive,” he contradicted with a low laugh. “You could always come keep me company.”

She shook her head forcefully, as much for his benefit as to remind herself. She didn’t know him. Yet, if he was a friend of Isaac’s, as he claimed, then he must be a good guy. Ike was a tough judge of character, and he was careful about the people he really let into his life. Willow knew that from personal experience. He thought of her as a friend, and he was protective of her, and supportive of her.