Authors: J.C. Valentine
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #Humour
by J.C. Valentine
Copyright © 2014 by J.C. Valentine
Cover and interior book design by J.C. Valentine
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the above author of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
For my husband, who supports me in everything I do. I love you! For my children, who are just as proud of my work as my husband, and never hesitate to spread the word to their friends that Mommy is an author. You all bring a smile to my face each and every day.
As always, thank you to my editor, Mitzi, for seeing my vision, making my stories shine, and for being a wonderful friend! Thank you to Kim, my friend and partner in crime for sharing the same kind of crazy and never judging me for it, and for just being you. Thank you also to the wonderful group of women on my street team, especially Lindsay and Laurie, who go above and beyond the call of duty.
Finally, to you, dear readers, for reading. Whether you have been on board since the beginning with the Night Calls Series, or are new to my work, know that I cherish you. I couldn’t be where I am now without you. You give me the courage and drive to create these stories with your wonderful and kind words. I am always thrilled to hear your thoughts, and your feedback is important, so I hope you will consider leaving a review on Amazon, Goodreads, and/or your other preferred retailer sites. Xoxoxox
I heard Demetrius and Meaghan’s voice first, signaling it was time to get up. Groaning, I rolled onto my side, peeled my eyes open, and flinched as morning sunlight blinded me and a hundred—no, a thousand—tiny men drove axes into my skull.
Once again, I’d given myself a hangover.
A chocolate hangover.
It was all Dex’s fault. He’d gone to Hershey Town on vacation over the weekend and, knowing how much I loved my sweets, he’d brought me back a trunkful of decadence.
That devilish bastard. I would kiss him if I didn’t think I might throw up in his mouth.
Slapping my hand over the alarm clock, I relished the few moments of silence I had left before my day got crazy.
My business—my baby, my pride and joy—would be celebrating its grand opening today, and I needed to be there bright and early to get everything ready. This was going to be big. Huge. Epic. I was a business owner. A newb. A…well, I guess you could say I was a virgin.
How many times did a person get to claim that title in their lives? At nine o’clock sharp, I was going to pop my own cherry. It had been one hell of a journey to get here, the worst of which involved a bidding war for the building currently housing my new business. That was half the battle. Now, I just had to prove to myself I have what it takes to be an entrepreneur.
Dragging my sorry ass out of bed, I shuffled across the room to the highboy that had been a fixture in my bedroom since before I could walk, and pulled out the first articles of clothing my fingers came across—purple cotton briefs and a neon pink demi bra.
I lifted my shoulders in a tired shrug. Who cared? No one but me was going to see what was happening beneath the apron anyway.
Slipping into the shower, I cranked the heat up high. A sort of preemptive strike to the sore and stiffening muscles I expected to have by the end of the day. I stayed until the water ran cold, a cool ten minutes later. A whole one minute longer than yesterday. Sharing a water heater with neighbors sucked ass.
My mood jumping up a notch, I opened the wooden box I kept on the counter where I stored all my hairbrushes, clips, ties, pins, and anything else I needed to feel like a real woman.
Selecting a brush, I set to work on the mass of auburn tangles that had formed overnight, gritting my teeth on a few stubborn ones. My morning process was this: shower, detangle, style, makeup, dress, and go.
I didn’t do breakfast. Considering my need to taste every single thing I made—strictly for quality purposes, of course—I needed to save the calories for the shop. After having gone through my routine, I slipped into a sensible pair of walking shoes and tucked my wallet into my back pants’ pocket. Purses are for housewives, of which I am not.
“Check you later, Wilber.” Wilber, my hairless cat, stretched across the couch cushion he occupied, turned his considerably chubby belly toward the ceiling, and gave me a bored yawn—his silent command for me to vacate the premises.
Shaking my head, I yanked open the front door and stopped dead in my tracks.
“Good morning, ma’am. Would you like to buy some cookies?”
I looked down at the fat-faced child covered in freckles peddling her boxes of sin, and narrowed my eyes. “Didn’t I tell you last year not to come around here again?”
Innocent blue eyes peered up at me, completely unaffected by the chill in my voice. “Mom told me that you were a shoe-in for at least one box.”
I spluttered, indignant that anyone would assume such a thing about me.
, in a moment of weakness, I bought an entire stock of Girl Scout cookies.
. “Now you listen here,” I said sharply as I reached into my pocket and withdrew my wallet. “You tell your mother that I don’t appreciate her presumptuousness.” Glancing behind her, I felt my willpower crumble beneath the allure of purple and green boxes filled with chewy goodness. How did one choose?
“Now, since I’ve taken a vow to never raise my hand to a child, you let your mother know that I won’t make the same promise to
, should she dare to cross my path.” Handing her a wad of cash, I pointed to her completely stereotypical little red wagon. “Give me the whole lot. Actually, you’d better leave one,” I amended. “I don’t want the neighbors to think I’m greedy.” Yes, I was falling for the deviltry of baked goods, but who could blame me? The cookies practically sold themselves.
Having been a loyal customer for so long, she didn’t question it. Skipping down the step, the girl took up the handle to her wagon. She turned a brilliant smile on me. “Thanks, Aunt Abby.”
I couldn’t help it. I smiled. “You’re welcome, sweetie. And good job with your presentation. The wagon adds a nice touch.” Passing me box after box, I leaned inside the open door and deposited them on the table that served as a catch-all. Once the last box was stacked, I closed the door and locked it behind me. Stepping down beside her, I ruffled her mop of curly red hair. “Now go con someone else out of their hard-earned dough. I have to get to work.”
“Are you opening the shop today?” she asked my retreating back.
“Sure am,” I called over my shoulder. “I’ll save you a donut, and don’t forget to tell your mom what I said!”
“And tell her I’ll be there Sunday. I’ve got dessert covered.”
My shop was located two blocks from my condo—perfect walking distance. As I rounded the corner my eyes fell on the little slice of heaven I had carved for myself. Along the strip of conjoined brownstone shops, mine stood at the end. The understated sign with the name
in elegant powder pink scrolling letters set against a chocolate brown background and a couple of tiny, decorative cupcakes, bookending each word, hung above the door. It was duplicated in the large window and again on the double-sided sign I would place on the sidewalk later. If customers didn’t know I was there, tripping over the sign would surely tip them off.
I sighed contentedly. Oh, yeah, this was right where I belonged. Ever since Grandma Alice took me under her wing, teaching me the fine art of baking, it’d been a dream of mine to own my own bakery. And it was finally happening.
I’d worked for years—slaving away in culinary school, being beaten down, told my food wasn’t even fit for rats to eat—to get here. A sense of triumph rippled through me every time I set eyes on my accomplishment. Grandma Alice would be proud.
Unlocking the front door, the little bell hanging over the door announced my arrival. Too bad I was the only one there. I paused to soak in the atmosphere. The walls were painted a rich yellow. Photos of my recipes, baked to perfection, were framed and hung every three feet. Five small, metal bistro sets were interspersed throughout the small space, standing out against the terra cotta tiled floors. At the back of the room, a long counter sat, piled high with boxes, various types of wrappings, bags, and an old fashioned cash register that I’d picked up at an antique store a while back. Beyond that, a wall lined with enclosed clear display cabinets stood, already half-filled with cookies, cakes, and other goods that would stay fresh overnight.
Since it was too much work to bake everything as it was needed, I had decided the best course of action was to do what I could at the end of the night to prep for the following morning, and bake throughout the day to keep up with traffic.
Good lord, please let there be traffic.
Since I’d already spent the last week readying the place, the only thing left to do was fire up the ovens and get started on making the muffins.
At nine a.m. sharp, I brushed flour from my hands, flipped the locks on the door, turned the sign over declaring
open for business, and marched outside to place another sign in the middle of the sidewalk.
Now, the only thing left to do was wait.
Nearly two hours passed and I was firmly planted in a chair I’d stolen from one of the dining sets, halfway through reading an article on how to please my non-existent man, when a throat cleared.
“Hold on one sec,” I said, holding up a finger. Was it really a turn-on to greet your man at the door wearing saran wrap? That seemed….vacuum packed. I immediately chucked the idea and the magazine. The only thing I would be saran wrapping was cakes and pies. “Can I help you?”
Standing, I reached under the counter and pulled on a pair of thin plastic gloves from the box I kept there. I turned on my bright, I’m-here-to-serve-you smile and aimed it at my very first customer. “Oh…my.” The words weren’t intended to leave my mouth.
Standing before me was the most insanely beautiful man I had ever seen. He was everything a woman with a healthy libido and functioning imagination searched for in a man, but rarely got. Tall, at least six feet. Lean, but thick. I could tell this was the kind of guy who took care of himself. He had that whole dark and dangerous look going, too, with the black as night hair that was finger combed in that I-just-got-laid style women swooned over, clean shaven, clear blue eyes the color of a swimming pool that I craved to jump into, and a mouth that I could see myself licking like frosting on a cupcake.
Those sinful lips turned up in a smile that, had I been wearing any socks, would have knocked them clean off my toes. Holy mother, this guy was hot!
“Hot?” he asked me, and I felt my eyes bulge.
I did not voice that thought, did I?
He must have caught my look of horror because the next thing he said was, “You’re fanning your shirt. I figured you might be hot.”
Looking down, I saw my hand gripping tight to my t-shirt, tugging at it, fluffing the fabric and creating a cool breeze against my damp cleavage. “Ovens,” I explained, smiling ruefully. “Gets me every time.” What the hell was I saying?
A soft chuckle spilled out of him and I found myself leaning a little closer to catch every deep, husky note. Glancing over my shoulder, he eyed my selection of treats. “Are those blueberry muffins?”
“Yep, fresh out of the oven this morning.” Sensing a sale, I began preparing a bakery box.
“I’ll take one of those, and…” He scanned the shelves. “A dozen assorted donuts.”
“Any kind?” I asked, glancing over my shoulder.
Those blue eyes lifted from their southerly position and landed back on me. He gave me a slow smile. Was he checking me out? Mother, shoot me now, ‘cause I was this close to throwing myself across that counter and kissing him senseless. “Any kind.”
Biting my lip to keep from smiling, I turned and selected a raspberry-filled, a couple of the glazed, custard, and some sprinkled ones to round out the bunch, then closed the box and slid it across the counter. “Anything else I can get you today?” Please say sex. I needed it, badly. The last time I had any was…Yeah, I couldn’t even remember the last time. I was pathetic. I was in need.
Give it to me, big boy
“Nope, that’ll be it.”
. Had I been expecting him to say me? On the floor, right here, right now? The plummeting sensation in my gut said yes. Yes, I had. How incredibly disappointing.
I gave him the total and he passed me his cash. A man who carried actual cash. In a world of plastic, he was a rare find, indeed. “You have a good day now.” I pushed his box across the counter, making sure that when he grabbed it, our fingers touched. I felt that telltale zip of electricity race through my fingertips and up my arm, traveling a quick path to the hot spot now pulsing between my legs. Oh, yes, chemistry was in the making.
“Same to you.” He gave me one last blinding smile and turned to leave, brushing by another customer who had just walked through the door. The
of the bell announced them and I prepared to fill another order.
I waited a beat, watching him walk away, admiring the way his tight ass fit into those worn blue jeans, waiting for him to look back, just once, to confirm what I felt. But no. He never did. Just walked out that door.
Maybe it was just static electricity I had been feeling. With a mental shrug, I got out a fresh box. “What can I get you today?”