A man discovers that love can show up when you least expect it—and in a much different form—in this piping-hot romance from the author of Due Diligence and Just Business.
Brian Keppler, owner of Ground N’At, the coffee shop beneath SR Anderson Consulting, doesn’t have time for a relationship. His most recent girlfriend broke up with him because he’d become married to his shop, which is falling apart without his favorite barista, Justin.
As he struggles to stay afloat, the arrival of handsome British high-tech whiz Robert Ancroft becomes another complication. Rob quickly becomes a fixture at the shop with his sharp wit and easy charm, and Brian soon finds himself looking forward more and more to Rob’s visits—to the point where his heart skips a beat when he walks in.
But will Brian be able to come to terms with his previously unexplored sexual identity and find happiness now that he has a chance?
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Another fine Saturday. Rob locked his bike up and headed down the street to Grounds N’at. The past week, the weather had been a mix of rain, wind, and chill, but the skies had finally cleared and spring warmth had returned. Perfect day for a bike ride.
He needed the exercise after the week he’d had in the office. Juggling customers, prospective customers, and releases during the same week never mixed well. Sales wanted one thing—or, rather, everything—and engineering knew they could deliver only a fraction. You had to be on your best behavior, meanwhile everyone was stressed trying to get the product out on time.
Made for some tense meetings at times.
But it was Saturday and all of that was hours behind him. He’d biked off all his stress climbing to Squirrel Hill from his house in Bloomfield. The “hill” part of the name was very very apt.
Right now, he wanted a cup of coffee, a glass of water, and another shot at flirting with Brian. Hopefully that lovely man was working today. He ought to have texted, but he enjoyed the element of surprise.
He pushed open the door, stripped off his sunglasses, and Brian was there, thank goodness. He wasn’t behind the counter though, but sitting at one of the tables, opposite a nervous-looking young man who had a balled-up napkin in front of him.
Brian’s arms were crossed and his expression was shuttered—though it opened a fraction when he met Rob’s gaze.
Brian raised his eyebrows, then focused on the young man.
A strange flare of heat rose in Rob’s chest before the situation made sense. He knew that look, in both the young man and in Brian. This was an interview. Despite the surroundings, grilling a candidate was a universal thing.
Rather than bother Brian any more than he had by walking in the door, Rob strode to the counter and ordered a latte from the barista—a black man with tribal tattoos around his arms. He found a table about as far from Brian as he could get, but from where he could watch Brian’s back—and waited for him to finish.
A tiny regret for not texting, but he’d wanted to see what Brian did with his number.
Couldn’t quite put his finger on the cause of the hesitations embedded in Brian’s flirtations. It was curious.
He liked a challenge, though.
Even though Rob couldn’t see Brian’s face, he knew from his tension and the posture that this particular candidate wasn’t impressing him. Rob studied the kid—couldn’t be much older than nineteen—and wondered what Brian saw that Rob didn’t.
Sure, he was young, but this was a coffee shop. Didn’t young people thrive in jobs like this? A supplemental income for college? Goodness knows, he’d done some odd jobs while at university. Working in a coffee shop would’ve been a blessing.
After ten minutes or so, Brian rose and shook the kid’s hand in a friendly way. The kid nodded, said something in response, then took off through the front door, the bell ringing in his wake.
Brian deflated once the kid was out of sight. For a few moments, he stared out the window, his hands on his hips, t-shirt stretching over those shoulders and across his trim back. The pose framed his arse beautifully.
So very nice. Rob shifted in his seat.
Brian swung around, scanning the shop until he found Rob. The smile that lit up Brian’s face was warm and inviting and tightened Rob’s chest, along with his dick.
Seemed he’d made an impression after all.
Determined strides brought Brian to Rob’s table. “You came back.”
“I said I would.” Rob waved a hand at the other seat. “If you’re not busy.”
He pulled it out and sat. “I am, but I can take a breather.”
For him. The words weren’t there, but they hung in the air. Rob smiled across his latte. “You were right about Silk Elephant. Plenty to nibble.” He took a sip.
That earned him a blush from Brian. “Were you satisfied?”
“Mostly.” The coffee was warm and smooth in Rob’s mouth. No whipped cream to play with, though. “I would’ve enjoyed company.”
A calculating look from Brian. “There are other days to the week besides Saturday, you know.”
“True. But I’m a workaholic, as well.” He put the cup down. “Were you free any of them, anyway?”
That wince spoke volumes.
“I’m guessing you’re interviewing to fix that?” Rob took another swallow of coffee.
Brian ran a hand through his hair and leaned back in his chair. “Trying to, anyway.”
“That kid not the right person?”
“That kid is a kid.”
“So?” Kids. Coffee shop. Rob didn’t see the issue at all.
“I need someone for weekends and mornings. Most college students have classes during the hours I’d want them here during the week—and they want their weekends free.”
That made sense. Of course there would be scheduling conflicts in a business like this. “So why interview him?”
“Because they often say they can work those hours in e-mail—then let me know they can’t during the interview.” He huffed a laugh. “I need an older grad student or someone who wants a part-time job. But grad students have a tendency to be busy and . . .” He shook his head. “It’s been rough, finding the right people.”
“You have some good staff already.” He gestured at the barista behind the counter.
Brian gave the man a nod. “Mark’s great, but he usually can’t work weekends. He’s doing me a favor so I could interview. I should take over so he can go home to his kids.”
Mark watched them from the counter, and his smile was interesting. So was the way his gaze flicked between the two of them.
Someone had put one and one together.
“He makes a mean latte,” Rob said, letting his gaze linger on Mark, before focusing on Brian.
Brian eyed him, a nervousness pouring tension back into his frame. “Better than my spicy mocha?”
“No.” A simple answer.
Brian took a breath. “Your latte’s almost gone.”
Rob deliberately drank the rest before setting the cup down. “I guess I’ll have to order something from you, won’t I?”
Brian swallowed, and rose. “I guess you will.”
He stood and they both headed to the counter. Rob stuck his cup in the dirty dish bin. Brian ducked behind and conversed while Mark untied his apron. A hit of red touched Brian’s cheeks when Mark chuckled and said something Rob couldn’t catch in a low, deep voice.
On the way out from behind the counter, Mark clapped Rob on the shoulder once—then he headed for the door.
Brian eyed Mark’s back—then stared at Rob when the bell rang. “He knows.”
“Knows what?” Rob took a seat and laced his fingers in front of him on the counter.
Brian didn’t answer that, though his eyebrows rose into his sandy hair. He rotated to the sink and washed his hands. “So, what are you in the mood for today?”
“Whatever you want to give me.”
Brian damn near jumped out of his skin. “What are you . . . why are you . . . what is this?”
Ah, so he was conflicted. “You tell me.”
Time to dig. “What do you think it is that Mark knows?”
Brian shook his head and headed for the coffee grinder. The next several minutes, Rob watched Brian craft some kind of drink, his movements sharp and precise. Chocolate—dark, from the looks of it—and some kind of syrup. Cinnamon. Other spices. Frothed milk.
Whipped cream with little chocolate shavings on top.
Brian slid it in front of Rob, his face a mask.
It was almost too pretty to drink and he had no idea what to expect. Only one way to find out.
When the coffee hit his tongue Rob closed his eyes. A mocha—a very dark, bitter one with a hint of spice and orange. Exquisite. Tantalizing. He licked the cream off his lips and opened his eyes.
An extraordinarily satisfied look greeted him.
Rob put down the mug. “What is this?”
“You tell me.” Brian lowered himself to his stool.
Well, he deserved that. “This,” he said, “is two men seeing how the other reacts.”
Brian swallowed a chuckle. “That’s what I thought.”
Maybe he’d misjudged Brian’s intentions. “Does it bother you?”
That question seemed to catch Brian off guard. “No, I just—” The fucking bell on the door rang and Brian started. “Hang on.”
One customer seemed to bring a flood of more and kept Brian moving around behind the counter. How he managed to keep everyone’s orders straight, especially the more complex ones, Rob didn’t know. Brian didn’t write anything down, and yet he managed to turn out beautiful drinks either in ceramic or paper cups.
When he finally served the last of the customers, he came back and plopped down. “Look, I’m not used to this.” He gestured between the two of them. “I don’t know what to expect—or what’s expected.”
Brian’s hands shook a bit, which was intriguing. Worried? Turned on? Hard for Rob to tell.
“Right now? Coffee. Chatting. I’d like to pick your brain about this city.” He sipped the dark chocolate–orange creation. “I also wouldn’t mind your company, but that’s entirely up to you.”
Brian was exactly the kind of man Rob wanted as a friend. More would be exquisite, but he knew better than to expect it.
He’d been wrong about men and their desires before.
The tension in Brian melted. “Okay.” He drummed his fingers on the counter. “My schedule sucks, though. It’s—well. There are a lot of shifts I’m covering at the moment.”
“Hence the interview.”
Brian nodded, his focus on the door.
Rob rolled the coffee in his cup to gather the bits of froth clinging to the sides. “You know, I have some background in business. Maybe I can help you?” He had no idea how. “At least be a sounding board?”
Brian stared at him. “I thought you were an engineer?”
Yes, and no. Guilt pricked at his pride. “I am, but I’ve been involved in a few startups. You learn the business side of things.”
A thin smile graced those lush lips. “Pretty sure running a coffee shop isn’t anything like a high-tech whatever.”
No, but business was business. He gave a light shrug. “An offer, nothing more.”
“Thanks.” There was honest warmth in that. “I’ve been through this before, though.”
“What, the flirting or the business issues?”
Brian’s laugh and his ruddy cheeks were things of joy. He rocked on the stool, his whole body shaking. “The business issues.”
Not the flirting. “How’d you fix it last time?”
“I hired a non-traditional MBA student named Justin White.”
Right. Sam Anderson’s assistant. Married to the CFO of the company. Todd had mentioned the name a few times. “He created a hole you can’t fill.”
Brian’s smile slipped away. “Something like that.”
There was so much more Rob wanted to ask about the business. His brain itched to solve this problem, find the perfect solution, and make the company work—but Brian was right. This wasn’t like CirroBot or any of the other tech firms he’d help start.
Brian was tensing again, too. Time to change the subject. “So, if you had Easter Sunday free and the option of going kayaking on the rivers downtown or hiking out at Settler’s Cabin, which would you do?”
That was all Rob needed to say to make the stress vanish from Brian. “Your camera waterproof?”
Good god, no. “I don’t need to take photographs.”
Brian rested his forearms on the counter. “But you want to.”
They were close. He only needed to lean in to shorten the distance between them to mere inches. He did just that and murmured, “There are many things I want.”
Brian parted his lips, shock reddening his skin, but he didn’t move back. “Kayaking’s better with a friend.”
“So’s hiking.” And more private, because the things he wanted to do to Brian’s lips would be very difficult in a kayak.
A quirk at the corner of Brian’s mouth. “But I have to work tomorrow.”
Both disappointment and elation twined through Rob and goosebumps rose on his skin. Brian wanted to go with him. “You work on Easter?”
Brian laughed. “People want their coffee fix. Especially those who gave it up for Lent.”
That made sense, from a business perspective. Still, it stung. “So, you’re saying I should go hiking.”
Brian nodded. “Then come back and show me what you shot.”
Definite interest. “Then that’s what I’ll do.” He opened a bit of space. “Assuming you’ll tell me your schedule.”
“I will.” Brian pushed off the counter and straightened. “That’s one of the bits of paperwork I need to do today.”
“Don’t let me keep you from your work.” Though what he wanted was Brian away from the shop and in his bed. Or Brian’s. Didn’t matter.
“You’re not.” Brian tugged his shirt down, stretching the material over his shoulders and pecs. “Mind me working next to you?”
Never. Not in a million years. He shook his head. Brian vanished into the back of the shop, and reappeared with a laptop and paperwork.
“You never did tell me what you call this drink.” Rob tapped the saucer.
“Doesn’t have a name. I made it just for you.” Brian’s grin and the sound of the shop door’s bell zipped through Rob, making him shiver.
Brian was a fucking delight. He might not know how this would end, but he was going to have so much fun finding out.
5 out of 5 stars
Daily Grind is the 4th book in Anna Zabo's Takeover series. While each book can be read as standalones for a fuller reading experience I suggest reading them in order since the characters make appearances in the other books.
Daily Grind is the story of Brian, the owner of Grounds N'At, and Rob, the sexy ginger Brit who is a part of CirroBot. You may have previously met Brian in Eli and Justin's book, Just Business, as Justin's former boss. Since Justin left him to work for Sam's company, Brian pretty much eats, sleeps, and breathes the coffee shop. While he likes his other employees, he takes too much upon himself because he doesn't easily trust that others will do what needs to be done.
We start out the book with Brian working the counter at the coffee shop, during a lull in the business he's thinking over everything that's got to be done until this sexy ginger haired man wanders in for a cup of coffee. See Brian recently has acknowledged, at least to himself, that he's bisexual. He's thought about it for years but kind of shoved those thoughts in the closet and dated women. So back to the sexy ginger man... He also notices Brian and while he sits and has a coffee at the counter, they flirt back and forth with each other. There is an instant connection, along with some serious attraction, and a lot of common interests between them. Rob, the sexy ginger, is intrigued enough with Brian that he wants to date him and works on Brian to go out with him.
Their first introduction is a bit of a meet cute between Rob and Brian, at least to me ...and it's a perfect introduction to both men and who they are. It also sets the tone of the story, because Brian is very tied to Grounds N'At and this is where he spends 90% of his time. The coffee shop also plays a large part into their relationship because of everything that Brian is dealing with through out the story. So having their first meeting there is also a touch ironic.
So the time that Brian and Rob get to spend with each other as they're dating may not be much but it's enough because they are just perfect for each other. The both love being outdoors, love photography, love to explore the area, and are really into spending time with each other. Unfortunately Brian's shop eventually comes between them, mostly because Brian's so wrapped up in the shop and it's problems that it overwhelms him and kind of makes him crazy.
There are times that I wanted to throttle Brian for how wrapped into his own head he is, especially in relation to Grounds N'At. When people offer him help he can't accept it and will take on whatever task it is on his own shoulders because he can't easily trust that they'll do it how it should be done. The walls close in on Brian and he starts lashing out in detrimental ways to both the business and himself. Rob, has been around this block of stress on his own before so while he's mostly laid back about Brian being a workaholic, he also tries to help lessen the stress for him.
I thoroughly loved both of these characters, again only wanting to throttle Brian occasionally because he doesn't reach out. He and Rob together was just about as perfect as you could get because they were honestly the other's ideal match. This story felt like something that would happen in real life and that's something I enjoy reading. From the descriptions of the characters, the pace of the story, the content of the story, well it all added up to a excellent read and probably my favorite book in the series so far.
I highly recommend Daily Grind as one of my top reads for 2017 so far and encourage you to pick up this entire series if you haven't read it yet.
About the Author:
Anna Zabo writes contemporary and paranormal romance for all colors of the rainbow and believes passionately that happy ever afters are for everyone. Anna lives and works in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.