Tinsel (Lark Cove Book 4)
by Devney Perry
Sofia Kendrick has always cherished her tiara. As the youngest daughter of a wealthy New York family, she’s lived the life of an American princess. But after two scandalous divorces and a breakup smear her name across the society rags, the shine from her crown has dulled. People call her superficial, even gaudy.
She’s nothing more than tinsel.
Desperate for escape and starving for peace, Sofia heads to Montana for a holiday weekend with her brother. But she doesn’t get the relaxing vacation she planned. Instead, she’s put to work in a bar alongside Dakota Magee—a man who does not want her help. A man who is set on teaching her a few lessons about real life and hard work. But Sofia has a couple of life lessons of her own to teach. Like how to fall in love.
Excerpt Tinsel by Devney Perry
Tinsel is the fourth and final standalone in the Lark Cove series. This is Sofia and Dakota’s story
“Did I do something to piss you off?” I crossed my arms over my chest as Thea walked into her office behind me.
“I know you’re not happy.” She held up her hands. “I wouldn’t be either, and I’m sorry. But just . . . go with me here. Okay?”
“I don’t need help doing my job.”
“You’ve worked here for five years, Dakota. I know you don’t need help doing your job.”
We hadn’t worked a shift together in ages. I didn’t want her thinking I couldn’t handle this place on my own, even for an event.
While her business partner, Jackson Page, and I worked the bar, Thea was in charge of managing the business. She still bartended a weeknight here and there, and she covered every third weekend. But mostly, she spent her days in this office.
Jackson had cut back on night and weekend shifts too these past couple of years. He and Thea both had young families. They didn’t need to be working until two in the morning when I had nothing else to do and wanted the money. So I’d spent a lot of hours in this bar alone, and I’d learned quickly how to handle a large crowd.
In the summers, we’d often get a rush of people who’d just come off the lake looking for beer and pizza. Even with every table full, I had no problem making sure the bar was packed with only happy customers. The same was true in the fall when we’d get a crush of hunters looking to unwind after a long day in the mountains.
In five years, not once had someone complained to me or my bosses that I took too long to pour them a drink. I worked my ass off for each and every quarter in my tip jar. And I might not be the smartest guy in the room, but I sure as hell knew how to hustle.
New Year’s Eve did get crazy. People would pack themselves inside the bar like sardines in an aluminum can. But it was nothing I couldn’t handle. Alone. Something Thea knew.
So since that speech she’d just given in the other room was complete and utter bullshit, I was curious why she’d made me her sister-in-law’s babysitter.
“Do you want to tell me what this is really about?” I asked.
My eyes narrowed. “What about her?”
“She needs to find some purpose.”
“And she’s going to find it at the Lark Cove Bar?”
Thea shrugged. “Maybe. It’s worth a try. It worked for me.”
Logan walked into the office, shaking his head as he closed the door behind him and turned to his wife. “Well, that was interesting. You know I try and stay out of things at the bar unless you ask for my input, but do you think this is a good idea?”
“It’s a great idea,” she said.
Logan frowned. “She’s never worked a day in her life.”
“I know that. But she’s smart and can learn. More importantly, she’s trying. These last few years, she’s been trying. Remember she helped your mom with that charity auction last Christmas? And she volunteered for the committee to put together the foundation’s donor gift bags. This could give her another experience and show her we trust her. And even though I know you don’t need it,” she looked my way, “Sofia can help while we’re gone.”
“I don’t have time to babysit her.” I scowled. “If she’s never done this before, it’ll take me longer to teach her than to just do it myself.”
We’d be busy on New Year’s Eve, and I couldn’t afford to spend the night mopping up her fuck-ups.
“Think of it as a promotion then. You’re now the official trainer of new employees. She’s your first student.”
“Do I get a raise?”
She grinned. “Only if she can make a decent margarita by the time I get back.”
“Then I’m fucked,” I grumbled.
Logan gave me a sympathetic look.
At least he was on my side. I didn’t want to get into an argument with my boss, but maybe he’d be able to convince Thea that having Sofia underfoot was a giant clusterfuck waiting to happen.
“Baby, she’s no bartender.” He placed his hand on her shoulder. “If you are trying to teach her some kind of life lesson, let’s not put your business at risk. She’ll flake out.”
Thea rolled her eyes as she walked behind her desk and unplugged her laptop. “Give her some credit. It’s not like she’s going to burn the place down. She’ll probably mess up on some drinks. Maybe she’ll break a bottle or a couple glasses. My budget can withstand a few mistakes.”
“Logan, she’s your sister.”
“That’s my point.”
“I need you to trust me here.” Thea rolled up the power cord to her laptop, then with both items tucked inside her purse, she came and stood in front of her husband. “Sofia just got a very public, very harsh reality check. This could be good for her. I know your sister and I got off on the wrong foot, but she’s family. I really do want the best for her.”
“I want that too. She’s my sister, and I love her. But none of what was written in that magazine article should have been a surprise. We’ve all tried to talk to her, but she chose not to do anything with her life.”
“I hear you.” Thea nodded. “But maybe she’s done more than we’ve all recognized. Maybe that’s the reason she’s taking this article so hard. Whatever it is, that magazine hit hard.”
I had no idea what magazine article they were talking about, but I didn’t need to read it to get the gist. Sofia had probably gotten slaughtered by some reporter and she was here in Montana to hide and lick her wounds.
“She’s questioning everything about her lifestyle right now,” Thea said. “And personally, I think it would be good for her. Maybe she’ll get a tiny dose of reality.”
“And you expect me to deliver it,” I huffed. “Gee, thanks. I don’t think this is going to work, Thea. I just met the woman.”
“It’s not you but the setting. This is as far out of her comfort zone as it gets. Maybe hard work in a new environment will give her some perspective. It could motivate her to make more significant changes in her life.”
“All while you and Jackson are gone,” I muttered. I was going to be the unlucky bastard to teach Sofia this life lesson Thea was so hell-bent on delivering simply because I was here and not on vacation. “Where are you going anyway?”
She nodded. “I’ve always dreamed of going. When I was in third or fourth grade, my teacher taught us all about countries in Europe. She gave us all these postcards of the Eiffel Tower. It seemed so magical and far away that I kept it. Logan found it in my art workshop a few months ago and promised me a trip to Paris for my Christmas present.”
Well, shit. I had my own desires to see the far-off places in the world. I didn’t want to deal with Sofia, but I wouldn’t object and keep Thea from her dream trip.
One afternoon after I’d been working here for about two years, Thea told me how she’d grown up. She hadn’t lived like the Kendricks, who had money coming out of their ears. As a kid, she’d known more hungry days than full. She’d worn more secondhand clothes than new. And she’d lived through most of her childhood alone in a New York City orphanage without any family to rely upon.
That was, until a woman had started working as a cook at the orphanage. Her name was Hazel.
Hazel had claimed Thea as her own all those years ago. And when she’d come across Jackson attempting to shoplift a candy bar, Hazel had done the same for him.
Eventually, all three had migrated to Lark Cove, Hazel leading the way back to her childhood hometown. She took over this bar after her parents had passed, and when she was ready to retire, Thea and Jackson took over for her.
The three of them had their own makeshift kind of family. When Hazel had married my uncle Xavier, it’d brought me into the mix too.
They’d all supported me through a lot these last five years.
Whenever I went home to visit the reservation and came back angry that my family members still held a grudge over me leaving, Xavier would have me over for dinner and let me unload my frustrations over beer and Hazel’s famous goulash.
When I’d told Thea and Jackson I was starting my own side business buying and managing rental properties in Kalispell, Thea had spent hours teaching me some accounting basics for my new company.
And when I’d bought my first place, a complete dump with the right price tag, Jackson and Logan had spent a weekend with me and my uncle cleaning the place out.
I owed them.
If dealing with Logan’s younger sister for a few days would help them out, I’d put up with the princess.
“So what exactly am I supposed to do with her while you’re gone?”
Thea grinned. “Start with the basics. Fill the cooler with ice. Empty the dishwasher. Whatever you want. And then give her more responsibility from there. I have faith in her, and I bet she’ll surprise you. In ten days, she might even have graduated to mixing drinks.”
“Okay—wait. Ten days?”
“Well, we’re closed New Year’s Day, so it’s technically only nine. And Jackson will be back to help cover while I’m gone, unless you want the extra hours.”
“You know I do.”
I never turned down extra hours. Not once in the years I’d worked here. I’d work every single day if they’d let me because I needed the money.
My paychecks and tips went straight into the three properties I’d bought over the last five years. And if those were breaking even, I put everything else into savings for a down payment on the next opportunity.
If Thea wanted to take a ten-day vacation with her husband, I’d be more than happy to take on her hours. There was a property I’d had my eye on for a couple of weeks, and I was worried that someone might come in and buy it if I didn’t get an offer in soon. But I was still two thousand dollars short.
“Do I have to split my tips with her?” I asked.
Logan chuckled. “She’s not an employee. She’s more of an unpaid intern.”
“But don’t let her quit.” Thea shoved her finger in my face. “I mean it. Make her come to work. She, um, doesn’t have a car either so you’ll have to pick her up and drop her off.”
“Christ,” I grumbled. “Fine.” Babysitter. Chauffeur. Was I going to be her chef too?
“I owe you for this,” Thea said.
“It’s all good. Have a fun vacation. Send me a postcard of the Eiffel Tower.”
“You got it.”
I’d never been to Paris—I’d never been out of the country. But one day, I was going to travel the world. Maybe I’d start keeping postcards myself of the places I wanted to see.
“I think I have everything I need from here,” Thea told Logan, taking one last glance around the office.
“Happy New Year.” Logan shook my hand.
“You too.” I followed him and Thea out of the office and down the hallway back into the bar.
To my surprise, Sofia hadn’t run away and wasn’t still hovering by the door. She’d gone to get the broom out of the supply closet and was attempting to sweep up the peanut shells around one of the tables. She’d created a decent pile of them in the time we’d been talking in the back.
Maybe she wasn’t hopeless.
Charlie, Collin and Camila raced around her legs as she stood guard over her pile. The look on her face was sheer terror as she shuffled around, trying to protect the peanut shells from the kids.
Her outfit was ridiculous for the freezing Montana winter. We’d gotten five inches of fresh snow over the last few weeks, but Sofia was dressed for a warm autumn afternoon of boutique shopping.
Her shiny, leather pants hugged her long, fit thighs all the way to her calves like a second skin. There was no way those were warm. Her olive sweater wasn’t much better. It was loose, draping over one shoulder to show off her smooth, tanned skin. The material was no doubt cashmere or something else expensive, but it was too flimsy and completely impractical for below-zero temperatures. One tug at the collar and I could split the thing in half.
Fuck my life.
My brain might have categorized her as a hassle for the next ten days, but my body saw her without any filters. She was sexy, head to toe.
I schooled my features, making sure the flash of attraction was hidden. I didn’t need Thea and Logan concerned I was going to make a move on my new charge.
In all the years I’d worked here, I’d never seen Sofia before. I’d met her older sister, Aubrey, a couple of times when she’d been out to visit. But Sofia hadn’t come into the bar while I’d been working.
Sofia was different than her older siblings. They were all good looking, with the same straight nose and deep-brown eyes, but Sofia’s hair was a shade darker than everyone else’s in the family. She must have dyed it nearly black. But as she shifted underneath one of the overhead lights, a shimmer of Logan’s brown snuck through.
But more than just some minor physical differences set her apart from her brother and sister. Sofia had a different kind of presence.
She was missing the power and command that shrouded both Logan and Aubrey. She didn’t have the confident air that typically preceded them into a room.
They all screamed money. But she took it to the extreme.
Enormous diamond studs decorated her delicate earlobes. Her perfume permeated the bleach I’d used on the bar earlier. The floral tones were strong but not overpowering, which meant it was damn expensive. Add to that her clothes, and she was the odd one out with the rest of us in jeans.
Just like her snow boots.
Though, snow boots was a loose term for the things on her feet. The leather only came up past her ankles, and the wedge heels were at least four inches. Who wore high-heeled snow boots?
High-maintenance women. Rich women.
Even Logan, with all his millions, was dressed similarly to me in jeans and a thermal. Though, he probably hadn’t bought his clothes at Boot Barn.
For the most part, Logan had become just another guy around Lark Cove. If you didn’t know him, you wouldn’t suspect he could buy the whole town with one swipe of his credit card. He coached Charlie’s soccer team with Jackson. He worked here at the bar with Thea on her weekends. He actually made one hell of a good old-fashioned.
I bet his sister only let the finest champagne touch her supple red lips.
In a different time and place, I’d be up for the challenge of chasing her around this bar to try and steal a taste of my own.
Except in this situation, thoughts of winning Sofia’s attention were ridiculous.
“Okay. We’d better get going.” Thea had pulled on her winter jacket while I’d been watching her sister-in-law guard a pile of peanut shells. “I’ve got everything I need on my laptop to place this week’s supply order, but I won’t do it until after New Year’s, so just email me if you run out of anything.”
I nodded. “’Kay.”
“Let’s go, guys!” Logan announced and the kids scrambled toward the pile of coats and hats and gloves they’d left by the door.
Thea went over to Sofia and hugged her good-bye. “Thanks again. And have fun.”
“Fun?” Sofia gaped. “I, um . . . this is not what I had in mind.”
“Trust me. Working here isn’t so bad.”
“Best job ever,” I muttered. Normally it was.
“Dakota will pick you up and drive you home,” Thea told Sofia. “Spare key to the side door is under the mat. And you can always call Hazel if you need anything.”
Sofia nodded, her eyes wide and unblinking.
“Thanks.” Thea waved at me and joined her family by the door. “Call me if you need anything.”
“I won’t.” I waved back. “Enjoy your trip.”
“I will.” The excitement she had for her Paris vacation filled the bar. “Bye!”
Logan came over to give a stunned Sofia a hug and kiss on the cheek, then he walked his family to the door.
With every one of his steps, Sofia’s face went a shade whiter. The light from outside flashed bright as Logan opened the door and ushered the kids outside. When it slammed shut behind them, Sofia’s entire body flinched.
Her eyes stayed fixed on the door. Her hands clutched the handle of the broom like it was a security blanket.
Sympathy and annoyance swirled in my gut. I was irritated to be stuck with her for ten days. But I had the overwhelming urge to pull her into my arms and promise this wouldn’t be the worst experience of her life.
I shoved those feelings away, keeping my face impassive. The best thing for both of us was to get back to work. The quicker we did that, the sooner this would all be over.
“You can finish up there.”
Sofia’s head whipped around at my voice.
My chest tightened at the tears welling in her eyes. If she was going to cry through the next ten days, I was fucked. Crying women were a weakness of mine, along with beautiful women with dark hair and full lips.
So yeah, fuck my life.
I strode down the length of the bar to the cutting board I’d left out earlier. I had a couple more limes to slice up before we opened, so I placed the fruit on the board and picked up my knife.
Sofia was still standing with the damn broomstick in her white-knuckled grip. She didn’t move an inch in the time it took me to finish one lime.
“Get to work.” It came out harsher than I’d meant, and she flinched again. I glanced up, narrowing my gaze at the peanut-shell heap by her feet.
“O-okay.” She propped the broom against a stool. Two seconds later, it slid off the rounded edge and smacked into the floor.
Christ. Maybe she hadn’t been the one to sweep earlier. Maybe one of the kids had done it for her.
“Sorry,” Sofia muttered, dropping down to her knees. Then with both hands, she scooped up some shells.
My chin dropped as she stood and carefully walked them to a garbage can at the end of the bar, losing a couple as she went. She tossed the pile in and then scurried back to the pile, bending to pick up more.
I don’t know how to sweep.
That’s what she’d told Thea, and it hadn’t been a lie.
I put down my knife, wiping the lime juice on my jeans as I walked over to the supply closet. I opened the door and grabbed the dustpan and small brush, then took them over to Sofia.
She was still kneeling on the floor, picking up shells one by one and putting them into her palm.
“Here.” I bent down, setting the edge of the dustpan next to the remaining pile. Then I used the brush to demonstrate what to do.
She dropped the shells in her hand in the pan and hung her head. “I’m such an idiot.”
“Don’t say that,” I snapped, again harsher than I’d meant. Hearing her run herself down was worse than seeing her cry.
“Forget it,” I muttered, sweeping the shells into the pan.
“I’ve never done this before. Any of this. Unless it involves shopping or makeup or my hair, I’m basically useless.”
I huffed and positioned the dustpan. Sofia’s eyes were on the floor, her chin dropped to her chest, so I hooked my finger under it and tipped her head back.
The minute her doe eyes met mine, my heart squeezed.
Those crying eyes.
They were going to ruin me.
Sofia’s eyes were a kaleidoscope. Every piece of happiness or shred of pain, she spun for the world to see in those chocolate pools. She didn’t keep anything for herself, no secrets or hidden agendas.
Her eyes were so full of hopelessness at the moment, I’d do anything to make that look go away.
Letting go of her chin, I slid my palm up her face. Her breath hitched as a firestorm ran up my arm.
Why was I touching her?
I didn’t drop my hand.
The heat from my touch colored her cheeks, and her chest heaved underneath that flimsy sweater. Her pink tongue darted out between her lips, wetting the bottom one as her eyes held mine.
The hopelessness was gone—I’d accomplished one thing at least. Except the lust in her gaze was exponentially more dangerous.
She was attracted to me. I knew it just like I knew how to mentally tally up three beers, a vodka soda and a shot of Jack. She was attracted to me, and I was attracted to her.
Panic sent my hand flying away from her face. I stood in a flash, staggering back a few steps and crunching a peanut shell under my boot. Then I turned and put the bar, my cutting board and knife between us.
“When you finish with the floors, you can take a bar rag and wipe off all the tables.”
“All right.” Sofia nodded and went back to work.
It took her three times as long as it would have taken me to finish sweeping the floors. I used up every shred of patience by not ripping the broom out of her hand and finishing the job myself. We hadn’t even opened yet, but my mood was shot by the time she walked over to the rag, pinching it between her thumb and index finger.
Her nose scrunched up at the scent of bleach on the white terry cloth. Holding it as far away from her clothing as possible, she walked over to a booth against the far wall and started wiping.
What the hell was taking her so long? Couldn’t she hustle it up? The last thing I needed was her taking an hour to clean the tables, not only because we were opening in ten minutes, but because as she bent over, the hem of her sweater rose up, giving me the perfect view of her ass encased in those hot-as-fuck leather pants.
I concentrated on the neon sign in the window as she cleaned, but my eyes kept drifting down to her backside.
When she left that booth for the next, she’d missed all four corners of the booth’s table and left a puddle in its center.
I frowned. I’d have to either redo it myself or teach her the right way to clean a damn table. My cock, which was begging to become Sofia’s babysitter, loved the idea of bending over her, covering my hand with hers and using long, sure strokes to clean that table.
“Shit,” I muttered, making an adjustment to my dick as I went around the bar. I walked to the booth, swiped the rag from Sofia’s hand and nudged her out of the way with my hip. “Like this.”
After cleaning the booth’s table and another one, I handed back the rag.
“Sorry.” Her eyes were full of tears again.
I didn’t comfort her this time. Instead, I strode out of the bar, down the hallway and straight into Thea’s office, where I took a red marker and circled January eighth.
It might as well have been a year.