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A Taste of Love: Richard

By Marie Rochelle



Description

Dawn Summers has loved Richard Drace since she laid eyes on him three years ago. However, after a horrible incident in his office she finally realizes Richard is never going to return her feelings. She leaves in a fit of anger, declaring to never set foot in his presence again -- until he seeks her out to help save his failing business.

Richard Drace isn't known for saying "I'm sorry," but he'll do anything and everything in his power to get Dawn back into his life. He promises himself that he will be the man Dawn wants and needs. Is it too late for him to win Dawn back and make her realize that she has shown him his first taste of love?

Elements: Interracial (BW/WM), one scene of mild bondage
Reissue -- Second Edition


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Excerpt

Chapter One

“What are we going to do about the chaos going on out there?” the waiter asked his boss, who was seated behind the desk in front of him. The dark-haired man opened a bottle of pain relievers and tossed back two, followed by a large gulp of coffee.

“Steve, just go back out there and try to settle everyone down,” Richard Drace told his new employee in the nicest voice he could muster.

“Sir, it’s going to take more than a free meal to please the livid man at table six,” Steve exclaimed. “He wants to speak with the manager,” he emphasized with a wave of his thin, bony hand.

Richard jumped up from his seat so fast that the chair rolled back and crashed against the wall. “Tell him he doesn’t get everything he wants, and if he isn’t happy with the service at D4, maybe he needs to leave,” he snapped.

“Okay, I’ll do that,” Steve said before he raced out of the room, closing the door quickly behind him.

Falling back down into the leather seat, Richard couldn’t believe how out of hand his life had become in the last six months, and it was entirely his fault. Why did he hire another employee when it couldn’t afford to pay the eight he already had?

“Shit,” he groaned under his breath, worried about the future of his business.

Of course, he knew the reason for his problems, like everyone else who was outside that door. He wanted to prove he could do the job as well as she had. Yet, the books hadn’t been the same since she walked out of this very office with a box in her hand. It would have only taken two minutes for him to run after her and whisper the words he had been thinking about for months now.

He dropped his head to the desk, and it landed with a loud thump. It almost blocked out the noise coming through the door. “Can’t I get a moment’s peace?” Richard mumbled inside the empty room. “It never sounded like this when she was here.”

The sounds of dishes breaking in the kitchen that he couldn’t keep filled with food sent him flying out the door.

“What in the world are you doing in here? Those dishes are expensive, and I can’t afford for one to get broken. Damn it! Watch what you’re doing!” he yelled, gaze swinging back and forth over his nervous crew.

“Mr. Drace, it was only one dish,” Steve answered, tossing the plate into the trashcan by the sink.

“All of you came whining to me, asking for your jobs back, and I gave them back to you. However, I lost the best manager I had in the process. So, Steve, it’s more than one dish. I’m slowly losing my business because of all of the chaos that goes on in this kitchen. None of you are carrying your weight, and it’s beginning to overflow to the customers and the service they’re receiving.”

“I don’t think all the blame should be put on us,” Melissa, another employee, chimed in. “We do a lot here. I don’t know how you can ask me to do anymore. All of us already give you more than a hundred percent of our time.”

Richard bit back his quick comment and slowly addressed his employees. “Now, we all are going to pitch in by doing extra jobs or working longer hours, making it over a hundred percent,” he remarked, taking a look in Melissa’s direction.

“Starting now, we don’t have any personal lives outside these doors. If I say you have to work an extra shift, it will get done without a complaint, or you can quit and I’ll replace you with someone who wants the job.” His voice held an edge of warning. He wanted his staff to realize that they might have gotten rid of the wrong person. “I’m going out for a while, and when I come back, I want this kitchen clean and my customers happy.”

Storming away from the group, Richard walked out into the dining area of his dream and noticed how empty the restaurant was now. Customers had stopped coming in like they used to when Dawn was the manager. D4 had only been open six months, and he was already having money problems. His brother Lee had offered him a loan, and so had Zack, but he had declined both offers.

For once in his adult life, he was tired of being the brother who couldn’t make any of his plans work out long-term. Owning his own business had always been a dream of his, and now it might have to end if D4 didn’t pick up any more business than this.

His pride had cost him the brilliant Dawn Summers. For the few weeks she had been the manager here, the place had overflowed with customers and word of mouth had been hot. In the back of his mind, he thought most of the male customers came to get a look at how beautiful she was.

She had a way of making everyone feel welcome as soon as they walked in the door and got seated. More than one person had asked where she had gone, and after he told them, they had left without even ordering a meal.

Daily his business continued to go down the drain, and he didn’t know how to stop it. If he lost any more money, D4 would be just a memory in Houston. Without saying a word to the crew, Richard hurried out of the building, shoving his hands into his pockets, deciding on what to do.

****

Spreading out the newspaper on the picnic table, Dawn pulled the red Sharpie pen out of her handbag and searched for another job. Her eyes dropped down to the want ads and skimmed over them. “I can’t stand one more day at that place,” she complained as a bird sang above her in a tree. “Why did I even say yes?” Because I have bills to pay and an empty checking account won’t help me with rent, water, or cable, she thought.

Biting into the apple, she prayed she would spot another restaurant manager’s job, so her four-year business degree wouldn’t be wasted. Thinking about her old manager’s job brought Richard Drace front and center in her mind. “Stop thinking about that man after what he did to you,” she scolded herself, tossing the apple into the trashcan beside her. “He didn’t want you in his life or business, so why are you still giving him a second thought?”

Yet, his compelling, magnetic eyes were rooted in her mind like a bad dream. All she had to do was close her eyes, and there they were, staring back. “Richard Drace is one man who’s way out of your league.” D4 had been in the papers a lot lately. She remembered reading a critic’s comments just last week, wondering how a business started out with such promise only to slowly fade into the background.

Several times she had wanted to go back and offer Richard some help, but the last instance they had been together was different from any other time. He had pressed her back against the wall with his tall, towering body and leaned down like he was going to kiss her until Melissa burst in on them. Ashamed at being caught in that position with him, Dawn shoved Richard away and then rushed from the office.

Deep down, the love she felt for Richard was still there, waiting to be stoked by him. But Richard wasn’t interested in her like that and never would be. It had pained her seeing him out with Emily two nights ago. Swallowing down the hurt at the memory, Dawn looked back down at the newspaper in front of her. “Get over him and move on. Once I have enough money saved up, I can get out of this town.”

****

Walking with his head down, lost in his own personal thoughts, Richard didn’t see Dawn sitting at the bench until he was almost upon her beautiful form. The afternoon sunlight bounced off her shoulder-length black hair that now had a kinkier look to it. She was just as he recalled—gorgeous. Moving softly so he wouldn’t startle her, Richard stopped in front of the table, blocking out the sun.

“Hello, Dawn.”

Dawn looked up and gasped when she found him standing above her. “What are you doing here?”

“Can I join you?” he asked, pointing to the empty seat. It was fate. He was meant to leave D4 to find her.

“Sure,” she replied, sliding the newspaper closer to her.

A smile touched the side of his mouth as he slid in front of her and noticed the want ads. “Are you looking for a job?” Richard drawled with the Texas accent he knew Dawn loved so much.

“Girl has to pay bills,” she answered, looking at him quickly and then back down at the newspaper.

Closing his eyes, Richard said a quick thanks and reopened them. He took the paper away from Dawn and pitched it into the trash. “I have the perfect job for you.”

“Hey, don’t do that,” she snapped, getting up, reaching towards the paper.

Richard touched Dawn’s arm, noticing how soft her skin was. “Please sit back down so we can talk,” he said softly. Her eyes filled with suspicion as Dawn did as he asked.

“Would you think about coming back to D4 as manager?” his silky voice asked.

Her eyes widened in shock, as Dawn drew back from him in amazement. “Y-you can’t be serious?” she stammered.

Leaning forward on the bench, he said in a controlled voice, “I wouldn’t joke about my business. I know you read the papers and saw that D4 is in a lot of trouble. I know you can help me get it back on top.”

Jumping up from the picnic table, Dawn grabbed her purse without answering him and headed back to her car in the parking lot. She had moved so fast that Richard sat there, stunned, before it dawned on him to get up and follow her.

“Stop!” he yelled, chasing after Dawn. Catching her at the grass’s edge, he spun her back around to face him. “Did you not enjoy working with me?” he questioned.

“It was okay,” she replied, shaking off his touch. Moving to her car, she unlocked it and got in without taking another look in his direction.

“Please reconsider coming back,” Richard pleaded as Dawn was closing the door. “I need you,” he pleaded, stepping back from the car as she pulled out. Richard hoped he had reached the soft spot that he knew was inside Dawn.

****

When Richard got back to the restaurant, there wasn’t a customer in sight, and the crew was in the back, cleaning up the kitchen. “Everyone can stop working and go home,” he told his employees. Everyone stopped working and stared at him like he had spoken a foreign language.

“Are you saying we’re fired?” Melissa asked.

“I can’t afford to keep paying you and save D4 at the same time.” Richard replied, looking at his stunned workers. “So I’m going to let you go and close down for a while. Hopefully, I can hire another manager or, if I’m lucky, get Dawn to come back.” He heard the groans coming from Melissa. “If you have a problem with Miss Summers, you can leave now because I have spoken with her and offered her the position back.”

He wasn’t going to be dumb and allow Melissa or anyone else to cost him Dawn again if she came back to work for him. While she was gone, he had started to realize that he wanted a little more than an employer and employee relationship with his stunning former manager.

“I’ve your paychecks back in the office if you come with me. I’ll pass them out,” Richard stated, going toward the back of the building. He paid his staff and thanked them for their service. All of them but one filed out of his office in a state of confusion, and he could understand why. Melissa stayed behind and gave him a harsh look. He didn’t need three guesses to know what her problem was.

“Do you really want to bring Dawn back?” she complained, standing at the edge of his desk. “She had such horrible people skills. I don’t know if I can come back here if she comes back as manager.”

Richard knew now that Dawn was right about Melissa and he should have never hired her back. The way she lingered behind him and gave him her advice was something he didn’t appreciate.

“Melissa, you don’t have any say if Dawn comes back as manager or not. You’re my employee, not my business partner. I think it would be best if you took your check and left,” he said, holding it out to her between two fingers.

Snatching the check out of his hand, Melissa stormed towards the door. “Well, I can promise you that I won’t be back if Dawn is rehired. I can’t work for someone like her.” With that, she marched out of the room.

Reclining in the desk chair, he looked around the small, cramped space that he called his office. D4 was the most important thing in his life right now. Dawn had to come back to help him save it. Seeing her today in the park had been a sign she was meant to be in his life. It had been almost two months to the day since she walked out of this office.

Richard couldn’t believe how touching her today affected his blood pressure. It had shot up to a dangerous level. He wondered what made Dawn want to leave her current job. The last time he had heard about her, she had a good job working for a firm. Hell, he didn’t care about the reason as long as he could convince her to come back. Pulling a legal pad from his desk, Richard started writing down ideas for how to save his business.

****

“How long do you want me to work for you?” Dawn’s voice broke through Richard’s thoughts as she came into his office.

He wanted to be surprised to see her, but he wasn’t. He knew that Dawn loved the time she spent here at D4. Sitting up straighter, his gaze slowly traveled up her body, finally making eye contact. He couldn’t stop the pleasure he felt from shining through.

“I can’t say, because I don’t know how long it will take you to save my restaurant,” he confessed. Thank God, she’s going to take the offer. Stay calm and don’t scare her away.

“What went wrong after I left?” Dawn asked.

“Do you mind having a seat so we can talk better?” he asked, pointing to a seat in front of her.

Coming further into his office, Dawn sat down on the edge of the chair and stared at him. Richard saw the uneasiness on her face and the distrust in her eyes. He hated that he put that look on her face, but he would try his damnedest to get rid of it. “I’m really glad you decided to take my offer.” Richard smiled, lighting up his already handsome face.

Dawn kept herself calm. “I should let you know that when D4 is back up and running the way you want it, I will leave,” she tossed out, shocking him. “Too many of the employees don’t like how I run the business, but I can’t allow a place as beautiful as this to fail.”

Looking at her mouth, Richard wondered what it would be like to kiss her. Dawn looked so striking in her lavender top and matching skirt. They brought out the richness of her lovely brown skin.

Focusing back on the words coming out of her luscious mouth was hard, but he did it. “Dawn, I fired the staff. If you want to hire all new employees, we can. I’m a hundred percent behind you this time,” he stated, staring straight into her eyes. “I want to you know that I’m willing to do anything to help you.”

Dawn didn’t seem to trust how agreeable Richard was being with her. “I don’t understand the change in you. The last time we talked about this, you let me know I was just the manager and nothing else. Did you wake up one day and change your mind?” she asked, arching one eyebrow over soulful eyes.

Chuckling, Richard loved that Dawn still had the outspokenness he found so sexy. “Can’t I admit to being wrong without you rubbing it in more? I know you were the one who kept the suppliers and investors happy when I wasn’t around to do it. You wouldn’t believe how many of them told me I needed to hire you back.”

Folding his hands, he placed them on the desk, leaning forward to be a little closer to her. “Dawn, I think you have your own mini-fan club,” he teased, making his drawl more noticeable. “How did it get past me how much they liked you?” he asked, flashing a sexy smile.

Crossing her unbelievable legs, Dawn adjusted her skirt before answering him. “You were busy with your girlfriend Emily, and then you had to keep Melissa happy so she wouldn’t quit. Other things were more important to you at that critical time, and I took on the problems of D4. Isn’t that what a good manager does when the owner is MIA?”

Pissed off by the way Dawn pointed out his flaws, Richard wanted to hurt her back. “The reason I stopped coming around was much as I should have was I got tired of you constantly having a crush on me.”

Dawn took his insult without batting an eye. “I guess we both know where we stand with each other. If you don’t have anything else to say, I’d like my job back.”

Richard wanted to take the words back. Dawn didn’t have to come back, but she was doing it. Clearing his throat, he said, “I should apologize for what I just said.” He watched her face for a reaction.

“Why should you apologize when you meant every word? Your honesty is what I like the best about you. Don’t change it now,” Dawn retorted. “The only thing I wanted to add to my agreement is that you’ll give me a good reference when I leave.”

“I can’t believe you’re serious about that,” Richard said, confused, as he got up and moved within touching distance of Dawn. “You’re really going to leave after you help me? What if I want to hire you permanently?”

Dawn shook her head. “I can’t agree to that. Like I said earlier, I’ll help you get D4 back up and running, but after that, I’m leaving Houston and would appreciate a reference from you,” she informed him staring straight into his eyes.

Perched on the edge of the seat, she waited for an answer. Words left Richard at the possibility of Dawn no longer being in the same town. He would agree to her wishes for now because, in the end, Dawn wouldn’t leave him or the restaurant. “You have a deal, Miss Summers,” he said.

Following his movements, Dawn stood up and shook his hand. “Good. I’ll see you tomorrow morning at eight o’clock sharp.”

“Why can’t we get started right now?” he asked, shocked by the fact that Dawn was leaving.

“I’ve a date,” she replied, going out the door without looking back.

Richard didn’t like being jealous, but he was. Dawn didn’t need any distractions from him or the restaurant. He needed her free for any time he might want her. Oh, you want her and not at only to help with D4. Tomorrow, they would set some ground rules about dating while helping him out. There would be no outside dating until D4 was up and running smoothly again. The only man she was going to be spending any time with was him.

Instead of following Dawn and finding out who her date was, Richard decided to stay at D4. He had to make sure all the windows and doors were locked and the security alarm was set. Richard wondered who Dawn had a date with, because during the two months she had worked for him, he never saw a guy around her.

Why did he care so much anyway? Dawn only wanted to be his employee now and nothing else. So why couldn’t he forget how so soft her skin felt hours ago, or how her perfume still lingered in the room? Yet he did notice how Dawn didn’t look at him like she used to, and it did hurt a little.

Richard knew he needed a night out to push Dawn to the back of his mind. Until he came to grips with the fact it might be too late and he might have already lost her to another man, Emily was always happy to hear from him. He would drop by her house on his way home. If Dawn had a date tonight, he sure in the hell was going to have one, too. Even if it wasn’t with the woman he wanted.

****

“I’m so happy you came by,” Emily said, handing him a brandy. “I’ve been thinking about you. Did Zack tell you I asked how you were doing?” Emily asked, placing her hand on his thigh as she joined him back on the couch.

Richard glanced down at Emily’s hand and the blatant invitation she was giving him, but tonight, like every other time, he wasn’t interested in sleeping with her. Removing her hand, he laid it on the seat between them.

“How are things going at work for you? Are you still up for the promotion?” he inquired, trying to show some interest in her life. Yet his mind was on Dawn and her mystery date. What were they doing at this exact moment? Where they kissing or, worse, making love?

As much as he hated it, Richard gave his attention back to Emily and flinched as she lit a cigarette, took a long puff, and blew it out before answering. Coughing, he gave Emily a long look. “Do you mind putting that out? You know how much I hate it when you smoke.”

Emily got rid of the cigarette while blowing the rest of the smoke out of the side of her mouth. “Sorry, I forgot you aren’t a smoker.”

“Please try to remember next time,” he suggested, placing his drink on the table as he tried to think of a reason he wanted to stay.

“I don’t know about the promotion yet. I might hear something by the end of the week.” Fixing her hair, she slid closer to him on the couch, touching him lightly on the arm.

“Baby, have you decided what you’re going to do about your business? I could help you,” she suggested, touching the back of his hand. “I know a lot of people who are always looking for a good investment.”

Richard removed Emily’s hand from his. “I’m getting some help from a friend,” he told her, bored. God, why did he keep coming back here? Emily talked nonstop, and he forgot how much it drove him up the wall. He needed to be home figuring out a way to win Dawn back.

“Do I know this friend?” she asked.

He didn’t have time for Emily’s attempt at sneaking information from him. This had been a bad idea, coming over here, because it was always the same. Emily would try to seduce him into her bed, and he would tell her no. When would he learn to stop making the same mistake?

“Yes, you do know this person,” he said, standing up to leave.

Emily jumped up with him. “Oh, you don’t have to leave so soon.” She pouted, trying to make him stay.

“I’m afraid that I do,” he said, going to the door, needing to get away from Emily’s whining voice. It was too much for him to take this late at night. Dawn would be on time tomorrow, and he wanted to be at D4 before she got there. He strolled across Emily’s beige carpet and opened the front door.

“Are you going to tell me who the friend is?” Emily asked as he went through the open door.

“Dawn,” he yelled back, closing the door with a loud click.