The last thing Mitchell Blake needs is another hot-shot consultant to "save" his glassblowing factory, but this one is different. She is hiding something. If he can unearth Jaye's secrets, he might have good reason to fire her. There's just one problem. His business partner, the one who keeps hiring these consultants, is his father. Good old Dad forgot to get a hotel room for this consultant, so guess what? She has to stay in Mitch's extra bedroom. No problem. Living with this woman will give him the chance to figure out why she took consulting job that nobody else wanted. Doesn't take long to figure out that this gorgeous woman can shatter his safe, lonely life.
Before Jaye Davis joins her family's software business, she takes one last consulting job in a remote town in northern Pennsylvania. It's the perfect place to hide from the future she doesn't want and the past she can't escape. At Blake Glassware, no one knows about her ultra-rich father or cheating ex-boyfriend. She needs a little time to be by herself, but she'll get precious little of that if she has to live with a brawny glassblower who doesn't want her around. They have little in common. She wants to build an online store for his business. He believes e-commerce will destroy Blake Glassware. Every time they fight at the factory, they have to return home to the same house. Together. And he's so handsome, he makes her heart stop.
She's diamonds and high heels. He's denim and work boots. When they discover that Blake Glass ware is in dire trouble, they need each other more than ever.
Sometimes, trouble makes everything as clear as glass.
* CLEAR AS GLASS won five Romance Writers of America chapter contests and was a finalist in the 2015 Book Buyers Best contest. *
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A branch cracked, loud as a gunshot. Something big was near her car. Something menacing. Something heavy enough to snap a thick branch in two. Jaye Davis dropped the lug wrench and snatched her flashlight off the pavement, pointing the thin beam into the tangle of trees. A bear-like shape disappeared behind a gnarled oak.
Jaye’s heart collapsed to the size of a hummingbird, quivering in her chest. The only weapons within reach were her high heels, a sputtering flashlight, and a greasy car jack. She flicked a glance at the dark October sky. If there were any angels drumming their fingers on Heaven’s countertop, could they swoop down and help right now?
Dry leaves rustled and she aimed the light at a thorny shrub. The beam landed on a pair of round eyes and long ears.
Not quite an angel, but the little rabbit would keep her company while she dealt with a flat tire, a valley with no cell reception, a big something in the woods, a consulting job hundreds of miles from home, and a new client waiting for her to show up.
Help wasn’t on the way. No one seemed to live this far north in Pennsylvania. She was five miles from the tiny town of Shinglehouse, but she hadn’t spotted a shingle or a house anywhere in these wooded mountains. Just bunnies, bears, and the monsters in her mind.
The shadows behind the tree trunks shifted, stretching long fingers into the Allegheny National Forest. An engine’s menacing growl vibrated behind her, and she whirled toward the two-lane highway. Headlights approached, bright enough to hurt her eyes. Jaye shielded her gaze and took a step back. Her right heel pierced a layer of dry leaves and sank into soft earth.
A battered pickup materialized, parking in front of her car on the gravel shoulder. The engine rattled to a stop and the driver’s side door swung open.
A man stepped into the glare of her headlights. He was a little older than she, perhaps in his early thirties. His knit cap, red sweatshirt, and faded jeans were ordinary enough, but he had the broad shoulders and lean core of a linebacker. Something in the glint of his gaze looked smarter and kinder than any of the football players she’d known.
“Looks like you’ve got a flat.” His oven-warm voice bounced off the bare maple limbs overhanging the road. “Anyone coming to help?”
“Nope, but I’m not alone.” She jabbed a shaky finger toward the woods. “There’s a bunny nearby. Maybe a bear, too.”
One blond brow arched, disappearing under the ribbed cuff of his hat. “Neither one can change a tire.”
“Guess I’m in trouble.” She tucked her wobbling fingers into a fist. This man was six feet taller and at least one-hundred-and-eighty pounds heavier than the average bunny. For him, removing a lug nut would be as easy as twisting a cap off a water bottle.
A shiver zinged down her spine. Should she trust him? Even though her prayer for help had been answered, she would’ve preferred a smaller, less-intimidating guardian angel—one with translucent wings and fairy dust. Not one who could crush a beer can with a careless squeeze of his big hand.
Overpowering her would be just as simple.
Cold wind cut through her wool skirt, slapping against her skin like she wore nothing at all. Jaye felt vulnerable and exposed, which was ironic. She’d fled to this remote part of the Appalachian Mountains to avoid those emotions, not put herself at the mercy of an imposing stranger.
The man reached into his truck and came toward her. Light from her headlights backlit him, masking his expression. Something dangled from his hand. A gun?
Jaye’s heart squirted in front of her lungs and banged against her ribcage. She pointed her flashlight in his direction but the beam fizzled and died.
The stranger kept coming, like a monster from the woods.
She swung the worthless flashlight and hit him below the belt. The jarring impact made the light flicker to life.
Whatever the man held dropped to the pavement with a loud, metallic clatter. He grunted and bent over.
“Don’t take another step.” She backed away, aiming the watery beam at the grimace twisting his mouth.
“Why’d you hit me?”
Some distant part of her brain registered that this man’s voice fell an octave after being clobbered in the groin. “I thought you were going to…”
His head notched up. “Going to what?”
“I have no idea.”
A puzzled frown crinkled his brow. “Why didn’t you ask?”
She kept the light pointed like it was the business end of a gun. “Because sex maniacs and murderers don’t tell people they’re sex maniacs and murderers until it’s too late.”
His eyes widened.
Even in the dim light, she could tell his irises were a dark, slate blue. Not a hint of depravity filtered into his steadfast gaze.
One big hand opened, palm out. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to scare you. My fault. Not yours.” He braced both hands on his thighs and blew out a sigh that misted in the cold October air.
Jaye didn’t dare look at the fly of his jeans. “Are you…hurt?”
“Yeah. Being mistaken for a sex-crazed murderer stings like hell.” His gaze flicked to her car. “I’m gonna change your tire. Probably should’ve mentioned that before I came toward you.”
Accepting his help didn’t feel right after nailing him in the nuts. “If you could remove the flat, I’ll put on the spare.”
“No way. I’ll take care of everything.” He picked up an item beside his foot. “Your flashlight is about to die. Use mine.”
She gripped the metal tube and offered an apologetic smile. “I thought you were carrying a gun.”
“No wonder you slugged me.” He cleared his throat and met her gaze. “Defending yourself was the right thing to do. You had no idea if I was up to no good, and you bought time to run away.”
The unexpected praise sent a curl of warmth into her chest. Grateful he wasn’t holding a grudge, she pointed his flashlight’s bright beam toward her flat tire. Her gaze crept over her car’s hood to the trees crowding the road. “A few minutes ago, I heard something in the forest. What lives in these woods?”
The man knelt by her flat. “You probably heard a possum or a whistle pig.”
She jerked her gaze toward him. “What the heck is a whistle pig?”
“A groundhog.” He gripped the wrench with hands the size of dinner plates and loosened the remaining lug nut with an efficient yank.
“Whatever I saw was bigger than a groundhog. More like a bear.”
“Doesn’t matter. He’ll fall to his knees if you hit him with your flashlight.” He looked over his shoulder at her. “Aim for the same spot you got me.”
She burst out laughing and covered her mouth. “Sorry about that.”
“Forget it.” He gave her an all-is-forgiven grin.
Her angel-trapped-in-two-hundred-pounds-of-muscle was a handsome man. Handsome enough to distract her from any bear shuffling through the woods. Yogi Bear. Smokey Bear. A grizzly bear. Didn’t matter. She couldn’t look away from the man kneeling a few feet away. “Thank you for stopping to help. I was beginning to think no one lived out here.”
“Plenty of people out here, but everyone is watching the game. I would be, too, but I have to meet some guy my father hired.” With a few industrious pumps of the jack, he raised the front end of her car. “Every year, he brings in some outsider to screw up our business.”
Foreboding skittered down her bare neck, sticking cold fingers under the collar of her blazer. “An outsider?”
“Yeah. A consultant who doesn’t know the first thing about our glassblowing factory.” He carried her flat to the open trunk. “Now I’ve got to come up with a good reason to fire some jerk I’ve never met.”
Her insides kinked. A few minutes ago, she hit him in the nuts and called him a murderous sex maniac. Now, he had very good reason to fire her. “You must be Mitch Blake.” She angled the flashlight at her chest. The bright light beamed off the ruffled white blouse peeking from the lapels of her blazer.
“Your father hired me.”
Mitch’s gaze dropped to her skirt. “I’m supposed to meet someone named Jayson Davis.”
“I’m Jayson, but I’d rather you call me Jaye. Sorry about the confusion. If it’s any consolation, this isn’t the first time someone didn’t expect me. My father was convinced I’d be a boy. He liked the name
Jayson too much to change it.” The confession eroded her confidence. Would Mitch be another man she’d never please?
The muscles along his jaw tightened, hard as the cold pavement. “Does my father know you’re a woman?”
“I have no idea. We made arrangements via email. He never asked.” Mitchell Blake was acting like a sexist oaf who thought women didn’t belong in a factory. Jaye gripped the flashlight, tempted to whack him in the nuts again. “Your father said he’d provide a place for me to live during our four-week contract. Could you point me to the hotel?”
“You’re not staying at a hotel.” Mitch’s terse words bounced off the road. “You’re living with me.”