“Of all the places you could have ended up, why are you here? Why didn’t you go home?”
“This is home. I’d think you would be happy to see me here, establishing a business, putting down roots.”
“When your roots pull mine out, we have a problem.”
Leslie Baker, owner of Potter Lake’s original hometown beauty shop, the Curl & Dye, has a problem.
Her problem isn’t her dwindling customer base. And it’s not the shifty, shady Mayor of the idyllic lakeside town.
Her problem is a muscular, handsome, 6’4” former basketball superstar with a solid physique and colorful sleeve tattoos. Kade “KC” Cavanaugh is back in Potter Lake following his NBA retirement and the business he’s opened, a slick and shiny co-ed salon, directly competes with Curl & Dye.
KC is all too eager to to pick things up where they left off fifteen years ago, but Leslie can’t forget how he pushed her away after an intimate encounter, then dropped out of college and left her behind for the bright lights of professional ball.
Though she won’t admit it, time and maturity have eaten away at Leslie's anger and her long-buried attraction to Kade Cavanaugh has resurfaced.
With a vengeance.
Now there is a larger problem: Leslie and KC find themselves in the center of a city wide drama, and with both sides of Potter Lake at war and their livelihoods at stake, the two have to stop sniping at each other and start working together.
And maybe, in the process, forget the past and revive a budding romance that was very special...a very long time ago.
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I sensed movement at the door and opened my mouth to let the customer know that we were just about to close. To my surprise, Kade Cavanaugh stood in the doorway.
Earlier in the day he'd worn a pair of shorts that looked like he'd pulled them straight from the dryer and a misshapen t-shirt. Tonight, he wore khaki carpenter shorts and a form fitting black t-shirt that spread over his pecs and hugged his biceps and...whew.
I reached out to grip my chair since I was a little light headed. A lightning bolt of attraction punched me in my chest and rushed through my body so quickly, so fiercely, it took me by surprise.
I inhaled deeply, sucking in a steadying breath before I addressed him. "Evening, KC. I'd have thought your shop would be too busy for you to be over here, checking out your competition."
He smiled, quietly laughing while his eyes surveyed the salon, starting at the reception desk, a plain old desk from Caine Brothers Wood Works. Then he took in the mismatched leather chairs that comprised the waiting area; the salon chairs with peeling vinyl patched with black tape and the shampoo bowl that was a refurbished and redesigned laundry sink.
To the naked, and maybe the more upscale eye, the Curl & Dye wasn't much to look at. But people came to the Curl & Dye for the atmosphere.
"I mean, with all due respect, Leslie..." KC shrugged and gestured toward the small salon. "You're not my competition."
That lofty, lightheaded feeling was zapped as quickly as it came on. I felt like I landed face first on the pavement. There went my moment of attraction.
Tamera stood beside me, her arms crossed. "Look who decided to slum it over on the old side of Potter Lake."
"I’m not… slumming. I hadn't been over here since I moved back and— "
"And you decided to pop in and start some shit with us?"
KC's eyes narrowed and his brows formed "V" of irritation. The glare he gave Tamera gave me an uneasy feeling.
"Tam, why don't you close out the day for me? Pull the receipts and get the deposit ready." I led her to the front desk and pulled out the chair for her to sit.
As soon as she was settled, I grabbed KC's arm and guided him back out of the shop into the warm evening. I heard Tamera grumbling, not even under her breath, as she sat at the desk and began the daily closing ritual.
"What do you want?" I asked him, noticing the enormous black Escalade parked in front of the window. "We're about to close up."
He shrugged a shoulder, tossing his keys from one hand to the other. Back in college he used to do the same with a basketball. "I just... was around and— "
"Bullshit. You have no reason to be on this side of the lake except to be snooping around this shop. So... what? You wanted to gloat? To say some more shit about stealing my clients?"
"I'm not steal—" He heaved a deep sigh and shoved both hands into his pockets. "I felt bad. About earlier. You surprised me by showing up at the shop. I felt cornered and I get mouthy when I feel like that. Listen, I think we got off on the wrong foot— "
"No, I think the foot we got off on was right. You came out here and opened a business in direct competition with mine— "
"That was not my intent, Leslie. I keep telling you, I didn't know this shop was here."
"Well, now you do."
I paused, giving a wide-eyed stare at ruggedly bushy eyebrows, at long, undeservedly lush lashes, at almond shaped eyes, at full lips and well-edged goatee.
Damn, he was fine. Had always been fine but... damn, he was fine.
"Now I do," he acknowledged, with a head nod. "All I'm saying is that we should be able to co-exist."
I gestured toward the building that was The Curl & Dye, catching a glimpse of Evonne and Tamera standing in the middle of the shop watching us talk. I pulled him away from the window, toward the driver side door of his truck.
"It would be one thing if you were just a barbershop. Most of the men in this town do their own hair; they only come to me if they want something real nice. That cheap cut you offer is perfect for them."
He scoffed, but I ignored it. "We can't co-exist because women are going to your shop instead of mine, for services I offer, my mother offered, my Grandy offered for years. Your shop could lose a customer or three and it wouldn't hit your bottom line. I need every client I can get. Your shop is some kind of..."
I shrugged, shaking my head. "Get rich quick scheme, it seems. Except you're already rich, so now you're just being greedy. The Curl & Dye is my bread and butter. It keeps me and my parents in food and electricity and Grandy in good care at Primose Gardens. It's about more than a cheap haircut."
I began to back away from him and his truck and his intoxicatingly sexy smelling cologne. It was making me heady and I was feeling all kinds of really familiar feelings from being too close to him.
"I just want to run my shop, KC."
"And I want to run mine," he responded, a hand splayed across his chest. "What do you want me to do, Leslie? Close up, give up my business ‘cause you got first dibs?"
I sighed, lifting my face to the starry sky. "No," I finally answered, making my way toward the front door. "I want you to stay out of my way. You do your thing over on that side of the lake and I'll— "
"Leslieeeeee!" Gisela's high pitched wail made me whip around, my eyes wide in expectation. She tore through the shop from the back room out to the parking lot. "The pipe busted again! Hurry!"
"Shit!" I hissed, rushing back inside where water was gushing from the back room and quickly spreading through the shop and toward the front door.
"Where's your shut off valve?" I heard KC yell, hot on my heels.
"Behind the washer!" I yelled back. Tamera was already pulling the washer away from the wall. KC helped, easing the old monstrous machine out of its spot and reaching his long arms behind it to shut off the water at the valve. The busted pipe stopped gushing, now just trickling out what was left inside.
Gisela and Evonne grabbed the towels stacked on the shelf and began sopping up water. Tamera grabbed the mop and bucket and began swiping waves toward the drain under the sink.
KC was squatting in front of the pipe, inspecting it. "Looks like it's been soldered a couple of times. Not very well, though. This pipe needed to be replaced a long time ago, Leslie. It’s not to code."
"I know," I said, leaning against the doorjamb. "The last time Jessup was here, they said it was a temporary fix until I replace them." I waved a hand at the mess that was our plumbing system. "The whole place needs to be redone. I just haven't... yet."
"I could probably give you a better fix. At least replace this pipe. It'll buy you some time."
KC looked up at me from his squatting position. His eyes were earnest, his expression neutral. It was as if time had never passed and we'd never had that conversation where I gave him an ultimatum. And he didn't take it.
I chuckled, grabbing his arm, then laughed at the thought that I could pull him up. He was well over a hundred pounds heavier than me. "I don't need you to fix my pipes, KC."
Not those pipes, anyway.
Once he'd slowly made his way up, I urged him out of the shop and toward the front door. "I have a daddy and a granddaddy, and believe it or not, there's still a plumber or two over here. They'll come out and take care of it."
KC stood next to his truck and glanced back at the other girls working hard to clean up the mess, like he didn’t want to leave.
"Go on, get back to your shop. They must be helpless without you telling them exactly how to give that cheap ass haircut y'all do."
"You got jokes." KC chuckled, the sound of it a light rumble from his chest that hit me directly in mine. My feelings were all out of control and I needed this man and his eyes and his laughter and his chest and his cologne to get the hell off of my side of Potter Lake.
He opened the driver side door and climbed up into his truck, slamming the door shut. The truck roared to life a moment later, then I heard the quiet whirr of the window sliding down.
"Not for nothin, but you know my dad is a General Contractor. I learned the business inside and out, growing up. I know my way around a busted pipe and some plumbing, too. Let me know if you need some help. Aight?"
I rolled my eyes and turned to go back inside. I would have to be bleeding and on fire to ask that man for help.