MOCHA PLEASURES (JULY, 2016)
Trusting in the sweetness of love
Jackson Drayson has never been one to stick to the rules—or resist a dare. So when he’s challenged to jumpstart a patisserie that rivals his cousins’ shop, Lillian’s of Chicago, he’s all in. Between his good looks, captivating manner and newly discovered gift for innovative cake designs, Jackson is soon winning over legions of customers, including Grace Nicholas. The willowy, reserved master baker is also Jack’s chief competition—and the one woman who seems immune to his legendary charms.
The delectable desserts she creates at her family’s leading Seattle bakery are all the temptation Grace needs in her life. A lover’s betrayal has made her wary of trusting another man. But Jackson can be so passionately persuasive…until Grace is accused of stealing his shop’s top secret recipe. Torn between loyalty and love, will Grace make the decision that can assure her a lifetime of sinfully sweet pleasure?
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“Are you going to help me, or stand there staring off into space?”
The customer’s tone was clipped, full of annoyance, but she had a lovely voice. The gap between her two front teeth enhanced her exotic, one-of-a-kind look. The more Jackson stared at her the more he wanted her, desired her, imagined himself stealing a kiss from her lips. “I’m Jackson Drayson, one of the owners of this fine establishment.”
Her eyebrows drew together in a questioning slant, but she didn’t speak.
“Lillian’s is Seattle’s favorite bakery, and I’m confident you’ll love our pastries, especially our baguettes and croissants. They’re better than the ones they make in France!”
“You’re not the only bakery in town.”
“That’s true,” he conceded, “But I’ve tried the others and they’re not even in our league. Our baked goods are the best in town, and we’ll prove it next month at, Bite of Seattle.”
A scowl bruised her delicate features. “For a newcomer, you’re awfully sure of yourself.”
“Draysons always are, and for good reason. Our sister company, Lillian’s of Chicago, has been in business for over fifty years, but its humble beginnings won’t stop us from expanding our beloved pastry empire, and winning the hearts of America.”
“Thanks for the history lesson.”
To let her know he was interested, he wore a broad grin, and leaned over the counter. “What’s your name beautiful, and when can I take you out? Is tomorrow soon enough?”
“I don’t mean to be rude, but I came here to eat, not to make a love connection.”
An awkward silence fell between them, but Jackson was determined to make her smile. Down but not out, he spoke in a casual, relaxed tone, refused to show her words had rattled his confidence.
“You must be a foodie,” he teased, “because I’ve never seen anyone take twenty minutes to order.”
“Is that a crime?” she quipped, arms crossed. “I didn’t realize I was being timed.”
His gaze strayed from her eyes to her lips. He liked watching them move, imagined how they’d feel around his—Jackson slammed the breaks on the thought. Luscious Lips was stunning, no doubt, one of the sexiest women he’d ever seen in the flesh, but he could do without her frosty attitude.
“I’ll have a Pistachio cupcake.”
Jackson punched in her order, and took the ten-dollar bill from her outstretched hand. Their fingers touched, brushing against each other, causing an electric current to shoot through his body. He stood, frozen in place, his leather, Kenneth Cole shoes rooted to the floor, unable to move. Their attraction, the chemistry crackling between them was so potent it consumed the air, making it impossible for Jackson to do anything but stare at her. Embarrassed by his physical response to her touch, he broke the spell by giving his head a shake, and taking a deep breath. He had to get a hold of himself, had to quit fawning over her, or he’d be the laughing stock of the bakery. His employees were watching him, all wearing the same puzzled expressions on their faces, and Jackson wanted to kick himself for acting like a horny, pimple-faced teen.
Man, snap out of it! yelled his inner voice. You’re a player, not a scrub, so get your head in the game, or she’ll never, ever give you the time of day.
“Can I get my change? I’m pressed for time, and I don’t want to be late for work.”
Snapping out of his thoughts, he nodded, and gave Luscious Lips her money. Seconds later, he handed over her purchase. He expected her to turn and march off—giving him another view of her perfectly round backside— but she opened the dainty, white take-out box, immediately took out the cupcake, and tasted it. Surprise flashed in her eyes, and Jackson didn’t know if that was good or bad. Once again, he was captivated, unable to look away.
She chewed slowly, thoughtfully, and then said to herself, “The vanilla extract is excessive. Half a teaspoon would have been more than enough.”
Jackson raised an eyebrow. What? Where does she get off criticizing my baking? He’d followed the recipe to a tee, and customers had been raving about his cupcakes all morning. Oddly enough, he was insulted by her critique and turned on. Luscious Lips obviously knew something about baking, and how to leave a man breathless. As she marched out the door, switching her shapely hips, Jackson felt himself go hard, and his pulse throb in his ears.
Curious, he opened the case, grabbed a Pistachio cupcake from the top shelf, and took a bite. The cupcake was moist, and flavorful, but the vanilla extract was excessive. Dang it if she wasn’t right! His desire for Luscious Lips cooled, evaporated like smoke. Jackson loved women, and in all his twenty-eight-years he’d never met a female he didn’t like—until now. Why did she have to be so cold? Why did she have to dog his baking? Didn’t she know how hard it was to wake up at five a.m., and bake hundreds of pastries after a night of clubbing?
Hearing his cell phone buzz, he took it out of his pocket, and punched in his password. He had two new text messages. As usual, Diego, was checking up on him. He’d call his buddy during his lunch break to touch base with him. Friends since the fifth grade, Jackson considered, Diego Maldonado, and his large, loving, Portuguese brood his second family. Reading the second text, he couldn’t believe his good luck. His ex-girlfriend wanted to know if he was free tomorrow night. She had two front-row tickets for the T.I. concert, and VIP passes for the after party at Trinity Nightclub. Did he want to go?
Hell yeah, Jackson thought, immediately responding to her message. He’d dated the brilliant paralegal for three months, but called it quits when she started dropping not-so-subtle hints about moving into his Beacon Hill condo. They weren’t soul mates, but they’d always be great friends. Jackson hung out with all of his ex’s—except Mimi. They hadn’t spoken since he’d called off their engagement last year, and he had no intention of ever speaking to Mimi Tanaka again. As far as Jackson was concerned she was dead to him.
Remembering the night they broke up, he realized he’d dodged a bullet ending their relationship. Marriage wasn’t for everyone, and Jackson was smart enough to realize it wasn’t for him. He had decades of bachelorhood ahead of him, years of skirt chasing to enjoy, and he wasn’t going to screw that up by getting hitched. His brother and sister were over-the-moon, walked around the bakery all day long with permanent smiles on their faces, but Jackson had zero desire to find love. That didn’t mean he didn’t value and respect women. He did. Thought they were exciting, fascinating creatures, and for that reason one would never do.
“We’re running low on éclairs and we’re out of lemon scones as well…”
Jackson blinked, returned to the present. Kelsey Andrews, an intern from, Seattle Culinary of Arts, sidled up beside him, eyes bright, smile in place, curls tumbling around her face. Yesterday, after work she’d invited him to Zani Bar for drinks, but he’d turned her down, lied and said he had plans with his dad. Kelsey was ten years his junior, and he didn’t want to give her the wrong idea or encourage her advances. Work place romances never worked, and if he hooked up with the fresh-faced barista Mariah would kick his ass.
“If you don’t mind manning the till, I’ll head to the kitchen and make another batch.”
“No problem,” she said, her gaze full of longing. “Anything for you, Jackson.”
Put off by her seductive tone, Jackson stalked out of the bakery and into the bright, and spacious kitchen. He grabbed an oversized mixing bowl, and the ingredients he needed from the cupboard. Getting down to work, he put all thoughts of Luscious Lips out of his mind. She wasn’t the only beautiful woman in town, and if she didn’t want to go out with him it was her loss, not his. He had things to do, had to finish the pastries before the insane lunch rush, but this time when he made pistachio pudding cupcakes he’d go easy on the vanilla extract.
Despite himself, he wore a rueful smile. What a morning. What a woman, he thought, remembering their terse exchange. Jackson was mad at himself for not getting her name, wished he knew more about her besides her penchant for pistachio pudding cupcakes. He had a feeling Luscious Lips would return to Lillian’s one day soon, felt it in his gut, and when she did he was going to get her name and her phone number—even if it meant using every trick in his arsenal.