Tempting Prince Charming (Ever After #2) by Lauren Smith

1





Thad Worthington hastily shoved his stack of work papers off his lap and onto the seat beside him. “Stop the car!”

His private driver hit the brakes and the Rolls-Royce Phantom stopped along the curb.

“Sir?” His driver’s eyes flicked to Thad in the rearview mirror.

“Just a moment,” Thad said, his gaze drawn to the sight outside his window.

They were on a quiet neighborhood street in Chicago, off Thad’s usual beaten path—by choice, of course—and yet he hadn’t ever remembered seeing this impressive brownstone residence before. The gloom of a wintry, rain-soaked evening had settled on the city, yet this home glowed with warmth and light.

He tilted his head, studying the home with undeniable curiosity. The first floor had been converted into a coffee shop. The Chi-Bean was painted in pale blue letters on the front door.

Something inside Thad shifted, like the deep rumbling of tectonic plates beneath the earth’s surface. He had to go inside.

“Simon, I feel like a cup of coffee. I’ll text you when I’m ready for you to pick me up.”

“Of course, sir.” Simon pulled to the curb and Thad moved his papers into his briefcase. All thoughts of his various real estate deals were, at this moment, tossed firmly to the side. The glowing illumination of that brownstone and its coffee shop made him a moth to it’s warm, welcoming flame.

He stepped out of the car and a thick, misting rain immediately coated his bespoke suit and coat. He raked a hand through his hair and strode toward the entrance, pausing as he read a sign taped to the inside of the door.

“Open Mic Night—Thursdays 8pm to 10pm. All singers welcome. Guitar provided.”

His heart gave a little jolt. Could he do it? Could he sing in public? It was something he’d only ever done in the privacy of his penthouse. Singing opened something inside him, something that spread its wings and took flight whenever he strummed his guitar and let the words of a song pour from his lips.

It was cathartic, like dropping beneath the surface of the stillest lake. And at the same time, his heart came alive like it had been struck by lightning.

He wasn’t afraid of anything in the boardrooms where he made his multimillion-dollar deals, but singing… that cut him open, left him exposed, vulnerable.

He wanted to feel that tonight, surrender to it, and the quiet euphoria it left behind.

He curled his fingers around the door handle and pulled.

A wave of warm air hit him as he stepped inside. He took in his surroundings carefully, noting in the architecture and the quality of the building itself. He’d always believed a building was more than just four walls, that it could resonate as something people could feel to the point where it became part of them. He knew it sounded foolish, but he did believe it.

This place was full of love, from the cozy tables, to the fireplace with an actual fire going, and the stacks of board games nearby. Seats held a mix of college kids, late night dates, and anyone who wanted a place to escape the rain for a bit.

With a charming smile, he strode to the counter where two women were manning the Chi-Bean’s counter. One was a young college girl, a blonde with big green eyes. She stared at him like a kid who’d just walked into the largest candy store she’d ever seen. Thad was used to that response. Plenty of women tripped over themselves when he was around. It wasn’t about his features alone, plenty of men were handsome. And it wasn’t about his tailored suits, which anyone could buy. But if you combined those elements and added in his confidence, poise, and respect, people acted like a movie star had entered the room. He tried not to abuse his power…when possible, but it didn’t stop him from using his charm on the women he met.

The other woman only glanced at him, more interested in her work, but he was instantly struck by the cascade of her black hair that almost looked violet in the room’s lighting. The first girl jabbed her out of the way so she could take Thad’s order.

“What can I get you?”

Thad studied the menu carefully before making a choice. “A large lemon ginger tea, please.”

He glanced toward the fireplace, noticing the empty stool and microphone on a stand. A lone guitar was propped up next to them. It was close to eight. Any minute now, singers would be lining up to pour their hearts out over the mic…and he planned to be one of them.





“Oh my God, Chris Hemsworth just walked in.”

Veronica Hannigan jerked up under the cupboard as she put away creamer bottles in a small fridge, slamming her head against the bottom of the wood counter.