Investment banking intern Carina Chen doesn’t need any distractions – especially the sexy, guitar-playing barista she rooms with for the summer.
Free spirit Dylan Jewell appreciates the delightful universe of women who vie for his attention. His goal in life is to do good, make happy coffee, and help the homeless.
When Carina moves in, she insists on rules of conduct to quell her instant attraction to Dylan. But when her boss asks her to turn Dylan into a businessman, she can’t think of a reason not to take advantage of his hospitality.
Their chemistry is white hot, but Dylan refuses to play Carina’s game, unable to understand how he can fall in love with a woman who puts profits in front of people. When Carina realizes Dylan isn’t budging, she risks all to gain a single night with him. Will her gambit backfire or will Dylan discover Carina’s true heart before she runs away with his?
Set in Berkeley, California, Whole Latte Love is an opposites-attract romance mixing bluesy rock music, hot, steamy love scenes, and financial shenanigans.
Gem-Blue-Eyes and Latte Hearts
Carina Chen had no time for nonsense.
“Show off.” She couldn’t help glaring at the shaggy-haired barista as he demonstrated the art of milk frothing to a gaggle of college girls.
Hair flipping and eyelashes fluttering, they oohed and ahhed nonstop while he spun milk underneath the steam nozzle. When he layered the milk over a cup of espresso, they squealed as if they were in the middle of a group orgasm.
Carina elbowed her way through the crowded coffee shop and ordered her cup from the female barista, whose line was much shorter. Serving lattes didn’t require sleek muscles and gem-blue eyes.
“Yummy.” Her friend Sheila checked her watch. “I come just to watch the show. Wonder which one he’ll take home tonight.”
“Only one?” Carina set her cup on the table. “Enough about him. I still haven’t found a room for the summer. Didn’t you say you had a friend needing a renter?”
Sheila stole her gaze from the demonstration of coffee-making prowess and licked her lips. “Yeah, let’s wait for his break, and I’ll introduce you.”
Carina looked toward the espresso machine. “Him? Never mind. I’m not sure I could stomach the guy. He’s got to be full of himself.”
Sheila’s eyes wandered back to the front counter and lingered. “You have to admit, he’s hotter than the Sahara.”
“That’s exactly my point.” Carina watched him hand a steaming mug to a perky cheerleader. His mischievous smile did funny things to her insides and it wasn’t even directed at her. “I need a quiet place to crash after my eighteen-hour days, not some bachelor pad with nightly orgies. I can imagine the revolving door on his bedroom. No thanks.”
Despite her hasty denial, warm flutters bubbled in her belly when the barista stepped out from behind the counter. He was broad-shouldered, but not bulky, and he moved with the easy grace of a mountain lion as he collected the empties. Heck, the man probably boosted Abercrombie & Fitch’s stock price two full points each time he bent over to wipe a table.
“You could at least meet the guy before you pass judgment.” Sheila folded her arms. “Look, the important thing is, he has a great apartment close to the Berkeley BART station.”
Easy access to rapid transit was a point in his favor, but … “You sure he’s safe?”
“I promise. Dylan’s a boy scout. Besides,” Sheila said with a sly smile, “an orgy or two might do you some good.”
While Carina struggled to close her gaping mouth, Sheila raised a hand to wave him over.
Dylan wiped his palms on his apron and pulled a stool from the next table.
“Hey, what’s up?” He greeted Sheila with a nod and trained his eyes on Carina.
Up close, he was even more swoonworthy. Wavy brown hair hung almost to his neck, and his jaw was stubbly, as if he’d forgotten to shave a day or two. His presence filled all available breathing space between them, and his piercing gaze felt like a tractor beam drawing Carina toward him.
“Dyl, this is Carina Chen. She needs a room to rent,” Sheila said. “She’s working at Mogul this summer.”
“Nice to meet you,” Dylan said. “Investment banking?”
“Intern analyst.” Carina tamped down the pride swelling in her chest as well as a more worrying heat in her lower regions. “I got the offer two days ago, last minute.”
“Cool!” He gave her a thumbs up, and the thick silver cuff on his wrist glinted in the late afternoon sunlight coming through the window. “My roommate moved out two days ago. Must be fate.”
It had to be the sun’s heat that was making her sweat under her suit jacket. Nope, it was definitely not Dylan’s sideways grin nor the way his veins moved over his large hands when he flexed his fingers.
“How much?” Carina’s voice barely squeaked past her tight vocal cords.
“Your share of the rent’s twelve-hundred a month. We split the utilities. You get your own bedroom but we’ll share a bathroom.”
Sharing a bathroom with a guy might get tricky. Where would she hide her feminine products?
“You’ll love it,” Sheila cut in. “It’s close to shopping, restaurants, and the campus.”
“That’s so much more than I paid in Philadelphia,” Carina said. “I don’t know Berkeley very well. Is that what rentals go for around here?”
“It’s much less than San Francisco, especially the Financial District.” Sheila hopped off her barstool. “I gotta hit the loo. Text me when you’re ready to leave.”
“Wait, I’m not sure.” Carina faltered. Why was she acting like this was a blind date? It wasn’t like she hadn’t lived in a coed dorm before. Besides, a guy satisfied to work in a coffee shop was not her type, so there should be no worries whatsoever about wanting him for a boyfriend.
Dylan placed his smartphone on the table. “I have to get back to the job. Call yourself from my cell so I’ll have your number.”
Zing. His killer grin hit the mark, right between her thighs. The guy knew what he was doing. Oh no, she wasn’t giving her number to that kind of man. She’d ask Sheila if she knew of any women needing roommates. She still had one more day to hit the streets and go over listings, and she most definitely was not going to be another phone number on his to-call list.
“I still have a few other places to check out.” Carina picked up her coffee cup. “Do you think I could get a takeout cup for this?”
Dylan grasped the handle, his fingers lingering a beat too long against hers. “Even better. I’ll make you a new one. This one’s cold.”
Carina’s cheeks warmed as a tingly shiver worked its way up her arm. Geez, she wasn’t usually this hormonal.
“Wait, your phone …” Carina picked up Dylan’s phone and walked toward the counter where he prepared the coffee. A poster plastered on the wall showed him strutting with his guitar onstage with a band called The Licked Blues. They had a gig at a club later this evening. Typical. Another guy wasting his life away with no prospect of financial success.
“Almost done.” Dylan layered the espresso on the bottom of the cup and dipped the milk pitcher up, then lowered it and cut across.
Carina gasped as a creamy heart floated to the top.
He handed her the takeout cup and rested one elbow on the counter. “Carina, if you room with me, I’ll have one of these for you every morning.”
His voice caressed her name like the languid beckon of a lover calling her back to bed.
Carina swallowed hard, but before she could respond, Dylan swung toward an elderly woman positioning her walker to get out of a booth. The college girls waved and vied for his attention, but he took his time helping the woman to the door before going back for their orders.
I’m a goner now.
Carina typed her number into Dylan’s phone.
Rachelle Ayala is the author of dramatic fiction crossing genres and boundaries featuring strong but flawed characters. She writes emotionally challenging stories and is not afraid of controversial topics. However, she is an optimist and laces her stories with romance and hope.
Rachelle is an active member of online critique group, Critique Circle, an active member of the California Writer’s Club, Fremont Chapter, and a volunteer for the World Literary Cafe. She is a very happy woman and lives in California with her husband. She has three children and has taught violin and made mountain dulcimers.