Shannon Stacey

Her Younger Man

Sutton's Place, Book 5
Harlequin Special Edition
July 25, 2023
ISBN-13: 9781335594181
ISBN-10: 1335594183

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Age is just a number.

Riley McLaughlin knows he shouldn’t get involved with a coworker, especially when she’s also his boss’s mom. But widow Laura Thompson is everything he wants in a woman, and their age difference simply doesn’t matter. And though she’s drawn to Riley more than she’ll ever admit, Laura has never been one to jump headfirst into adventure. Town gossip has already run rampant—will Riley and Laura give them something to really talk about?

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Chapter One

Happy Monday, Stonefield! We’re halfway through July and everybody’s tired of hearing “Is it hot enough for you?” because the answer will almost always be yes. (Except for the people who are about to comment that they wish it was hotter and our postmaster, who was stationed in Yuma in his twenties and has some stories about heat.) Town Hall has been fielding complaints about the grass drying and turning brown in the town square. They suggest you take it up with the people who complained about the cost of running the sprinklers. Stay cool, Stonefield!

—Stonefield Gazette Facebook Page

Having the hots for his new boss’s mother wasn’t a problem Riley McLaughlin ever thought he’d have in life, but here he was.

He’d only known Laura Thompson for five minutes and he was already…enraptured. It was a strange word he would have bet would never pop into his head, but he was taken with her and that was the only word he could think of.

It had been instant, too. Lane Thompson—one of the two owners of D&T Tree Service, along with his cousin Case Danforth—had shown him around the industrial garage and dirt parking area they called the pit before leading him up to the house.

“We have an office,” Lane told him as they walked, “but it’s not a real office, like open to the public. My mom runs the company out of her home office, though locals stop in sometimes, rather than calling. But it’s also our house, so at first if you need something in the office, it’s best to call or text first. You’ll have more interaction with her than the other guys do since you’re coming in as the lead foreman, though, so eventually you’ll probably just go in and out like Case and I do.”

“Okay. And your wife works in the office, too?”

“Sometimes, if my mom needs to be out.” Lane chuckled. “Evie’s been helping her mom out at the family thrift store since her sister had a baby. And she works in the taproom and handles the social media for all of those businesses, so she’s pretty busy. We’re also newlyweds for the second time and we have a six-month-old baby. She’s pretty busy.”

“Wait. You’re newlyweds for the second time?” Of course it was possible to be a newlywed more than once, but the we in that context tripped him up.

“We married and divorced young, and then she left town. Luckily, when she came home to help open Sutton’s Place after her dad died, we figured it out. Forever this time.”

“Congratulations on figuring it out, and for the baby.”

“Thanks. Anyway, you’ll run into Evie in the office, but she’ll probably just tell you to come back when Mom’s around. Don’t take it personally.”

Riley nodded as they climbed the porch steps, giving himself a moment to file that info away in his mind. Most of it he already knew since it had come up when they met at Sutton’s Place Brewery & Tavern for an informal interview. He knew he was being brought in because Lane was the head brewer and part owner of the brewery—along with some of his family—and had a new baby. Plus Case had recently married Evie’s sister Gwen, and they wanted to start a family. They had a lot going on and didn’t want the tree service to suffer, so Riley was going to make sure that didn’t happen. He’d pick up any slack, run the crews and be the go-to guy they could trust with the business they’d inherited from their fathers.

It felt weird walking into somebody’s home, and Riley thought it would be a long time before he was comfortable just walking in to get to the office his boss led him to. Lane knocked twice on the doorjamb before stepping through the open door. Riley followed and stepped out from behind Lane just as the woman at the desk spun her chair to face them.

The woman’s hair was dark, with deep shades of brown shot through with gray. It was piled on her head in a very messy knot, and her dark eyes lit up when she saw her visitor was her son. The laugh lines around her eyes deepened as she smiled, and then she turned that gaze on Riley.

“You must be the new guy,” she said in a warm voice. “Come in and have a seat.”

“This is my mom,” Lane said. “She handles the office, and she’ll get you set up with paperwork and anything else you need.”

“Laura,” she said, giving her son an admonishing look before turning back to Riley. “My name is actually Laura Thompson, not Lane’s mom, but you can call me Laura.”

Riley thought it might be best if he kept calling her Lane’s mom in his head, even if he couldn’t say it out loud. “It’s nice to meet you, Laura.”

Before sitting in the armchair she gestured to, he paused to shake her hand. One, it was the polite thing to do, and two, he wanted the brief physical contact to assure him he felt nothing. Sure, he’d always had a thing for dark-haired women with gorgeous smiles, but he’d just met this one.

But her hand lingered in his for a few seconds too long, and he was close enough to inhale the fresh, slightly citrusy scent of her before he sat in the chair. He set the bottle of water he’d been carrying on the floor next to his foot.

“I’ll leave you two to the paperwork,” Lane said. “Come on out to the garage when you’re done, and I’ll find you a spot to stow your stuff.”

And just like that, he was alone with Laura—Lane’s mom, he told himself again—and he leaned back in the chair while she sifted through papers. He noticed a framed photo on her desk, and he had to squint a little to make it out. Based on Lane’s younger appearance, it was an older family photo, and he found himself leaning in slightly to see Laura and the man he assumed was Lane’s dad. Lane had told him a little about the company during the interview, so he knew that Joe Thompson had died about a decade ago, and Case’s dad had died a few years later—leaving the company to be run by the two cousins.

“That was taken right after Lane and Evie got married,” Laura said, and he was embarrassed to have been caught staring. “The first time.”

Riley didn’t admit he’d barely noticed Lane and Evie. “It’s a great picture.”

She nodded. “It’s always been my favorite picture. For too many years, I had a version of it with Evie cropped out in the frame, but I’m glad to have the original back again, the way it was meant to be.”

After she found the papers she was looking for, she put them and a pen on a clipboard and held them out to him. Leaning forward to take it from her put him close to her again, and he had to force himself to focus on the instructions she was giving him instead of the way being this close to her made him want to be even closer.

The forms were the standard kinds for any job, along with some extras pertaining to insurance and safety and all manner of things. It took him a while to fill them all out, especially since his senses wanted to stay tuned in to what Laura was doing.

She’d turned back to her computer after handing him the forms, enabling him to peek at her through the corner of his eye without her noticing. She was wearing a long floral blouse made out of some kind of flimsy material over a pink tank top, and pink capri-length pants. Her sandals showed off toenails that were a glittery hot pink, which made him smile.

When Laura turned, as if she’d sensed him staring at her feet, Riley cleared his throat and forced his attention back to the form he was supposed to be filling out. The only thing worse than thinking the boss’s mom was hot would be the boss’s mom knowing he did.

Actually the boss knowing it would probably be worse. Since he was here to fill out paperwork and technically his first day wasn’t until tomorrow, it wouldn’t be a good idea to piss off Lane before he’d even started. Then there was the fact Lane was strong and knew his way around chainsaws. And also owned a commercial wood chipper. Not that Riley was a slouch in the strength and chainsaw department, but they’d probably be even odds in a fight.

He didn’t want to get in a brawl. He also didn’t want to lose the job he hadn’t even started yet.

“All done,” he said in a voice that was rougher than he’d intended. Luckily she didn’t seem to notice as she spun her chair back to face him.

When he handed the clipboard back to her—minus the paper with the guys’ contact numbers listed—he was careful to extend his arm fully, rather than lean in again. Then he tried to find something—anything—to stare at rather than the way she ran the end of her pen back and forth across her bottom lip.

She frowned and tapped the lucky pen on the paper, in the area where he’d filled in his current address. “That’s a bit of a commute.”

“About forty minutes,” he said. “It’s a hike, but it’s doable. Lane said I can leave my gear in the shop, so I can ride my bike, which takes some of the sting out of the drive. After a couple of weeks, if everything’s working out for everybody, I’ll probably start looking for a place around here.”

She frowned. “You’re going to ride a bike back and forth?”

“Oh, a motorcycle kind of bike, not a ten-speed. My Harley.” She laughed—a low, self-deprecating chuckle—and he wanted to hear more of it. “I’m not sure how far I’d get down the road before somebody called the police to report a man with a chainsaw in his bike’s basket.”

That was better. A real laugh that filled the room and made her eyes crinkle. There was nothing sexier to Riley than a smart woman with a great sense of humor, and he got the impression Laura laughed a lot.

When he’d seen the ad for the job, he’d given it a lot of thought. It was a big change, and he’d have to leave the tree service he’d been with for years. And despite the way he’d shrugged it off for Laura, the commute would be too much—especially in the winter—and he’d have to move. He was used to being close enough to his family to stop by for still-warm cookies or to fix a leaky faucet. But he’d also been unhappy with the stagnation at his current job. He wanted more authority, and more variation in his work days.

The back and forth of the pros and cons list had felt endless. But one thing he hadn’t even considered was that he might find the new boss’s mother incredibly attractive.

He was in so much trouble.

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