Fourteen months ago
This is going to be so freaking good…
Rich, creamy strawberry icing. Decadent chocolate cake. My mouth salivates and my stomach rumbles as I go for a bite of what is probably the worst breakfast choice ever – a cupcake, plucked fresh from the display case of my bakery, Lovely Cakes.
I’m running late for a meeting with a potential client who wants to order a whole lot of cupcakes for a corporate gala. Of course that’s great for business, but running late, not so much. And honestly, I am never late, but this morning has turned out to be one I’d rather start over. After stumbling out of bed way too late courtesy of a late-night crazy-hot romance read and an alarm that never went off, I’ve spent exactly three minutes in the shower, two minutes frantically putting on clothes and makeup, and zero minutes drying my hair. To top things off, the elevator in my building was conveniently out of service and I had to race down seventeen flights instead. Mentally I give myself a high-five, pleased that I have made it this far in one piece. Hence my breakfast choice. Just something to hold me over during the meeting, I reason.
I’m texting my client to let her know I’m running ever so slightly behind while I’m gobbling up the cupcake and power-walking in stilettos down the crowded streets of Chicago’s financial district. So of course it’s no surprise when I run straight into something. Someone, that is. A head-on collision.
The cupcake ends up half in my mouth and half on my nose; the strawberry icing conveniently spreads in between. To add embarrassment to an already messy situation, my feet stumble back and I lose my footing, tripping backwards and landing on my ass. Awesome.
This morning keeps getting worse. I’m beyond annoyed.
“For the love of cupcakes, watch where you’re–” Going is what I’m about to say, but that’s before I lock eyes with the knee-wobbling, head-spinning, mischievous gaze of a man.
Honestly, the cupcake doesn’t even compare.
I may be a closet romance junkie, but I’ve never been a believer in love at first sight. Until just now. Okay, fine – I know it can’t actually be love, but god, I’d like a bite of that. Or a few. Calm down, my rapidly beating heart; this must be an apparition. It’s not physically possible, but he is the most stunning man I have ever run into. Not that I’m in the habit of running into men, or people in general. Normally I am the epitome of grace. Except right now, it appears.
“I am so sorry,” the sexy stranger says, and the sound of his husky voice does funny things to my body. “I shouldn’t have been texting and walking. Let me help you up,” he offers as he reaches down to me.
“Umm … ouch. I’m … okay,” I stammer. So much for my usual suave self. Normally words come so easily to me, I swear. I must have a concussion from the fall; that’s it. Except I didn’t actually hit my head. Nope, I’m undone by his rugged face, his captivating eyes, and his apologetic smile.
I reach out and take hold of his hand, and the soft yet firm touch of his fingers jolts me. As he pulls me up, I lose my balance again, and my body collides with his. As if instinctively, his arm reaches around my waist to steady me. Just as instinctively, my palm presses against his abdomen. Jesus, his abs are harder than the Rockies.
Our faces are mere inches apart, our lips nearly touching, his breath of air mine, my breath of air his. Right now I can’t even spell the word “cupcake.” But I can with certainty spell out this: mischievous eyes gaze at me; dark, short-at-the-sides, messy-on-top hair tempts my fingers to play with it; just enough stubble, like he could do something about it but chooses not to, frames his square jaw; and those lips … that bottom lip, in fact, whispers “taste me.”
I can’t help it. My thoughts impulsively wander to what he would look like naked, without his black suit and crisp shirt. His fresh, just-showered scent is intoxicating.
He shifts awkwardly, and I realize a few things:
First, I’m still clinging to a stranger I fell into like an idiot.
Second, before he moved, I think I felt something hard. Down there. Maybe.
Third, I have cupcake all over my face.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” the stranger asks with genuine concern.
“Umm … hmm.” This is getting ridiculous. I can speak. Perfectly fine. Just apparently not right now.
“Here.” A grin lights up his face as he pulls a tissue from his pocket and gently wipes the icing from around my lips, clutching the back of my neck to steady me. Which apparently has the opposite effect, since it weakens my knees. I have to remind myself to keep my eyes from closing and to not lean into the comfort of his hand.
“There, much better,” he acknowledges, after taking what seem like a couple of very drawn out minutes to get me cleaned up. And then it feels like time stands still. He’s just smirking and staring. Blatantly. Like he’s absorbing me. Inhaling. Exhaling.
“God, you smell like strawberries and chocolate. My favorite.” He grazes my lower lip with his finger, and I nearly tremble from the shivers that travel all the way down to my toes. If I was unable to move a moment ago, I am now barely able to breathe. I feel as though I’m about to melt like icing on top of a just-baked cupcake.
Two things come to mind right then.
One: Who says that to a complete stranger?
And two: God, I want to hear him say things like that to me over and over again. Preferably while we’re naked.
And so I don’t move at all, I don’t dare to blink. I just drink in this Prince Charming who appears to have become my whole world within a mere moment. He is absolutely stunning. No one in my fantasies has ever compared. No one has even come close. This moment – it is pure bliss.
Just when I think nothing can ruin it, a car horn brings me back to reality. Client meeting!
I pull from his hold and mumble, “Umm, thanks … gotta go … running late.” Really smooth.
I turn swiftly, utterly embarrassed, and start to walk away, but all the while I have this strange feeling that his eyes are following me. Even his unseen stare is giving me goose bumps. I’m seriously contemplating sprinting so that I can get out of the bubble I suddenly feel trapped in.
I’m not some swooning girly-girl, I swear. I’m a responsible adult who owns her own business and makes decisions based on logic and research and… Ugh! It’s just that no one has ever had this effect on me. Only this incredibly sexy, deliciously fuckable stranger. Clearly I need to get out more.
“Hey, wait!” I hear him yell, and I turn back hesitantly. What could he possibly want now?
“Don’t forget this.” He jogs toward me, holding my phone. “I guess I wasn’t the only one walking and texting,” he teases. His closeness, his scent, and that damn sexy smile overwhelm me once more.
“Right … umm … thanks,” I mumble, again, and I feel my cheeks blush. By now they must be the color of ripe strawberries. I snatch my phone away less than gracefully and fumble with it between my fingers. No, this cannot possibly get any more embarrassing. “Later, stranger,” I blurt out, but I realize almost instantly the chances of seeing him again are pretty slim.
“Later, cupcake,” he replies, still smirking, as he takes a few steps backwards before finally turning around and making his way back through the crowd. And I just stand there, frozen.
Minutes pass before I finally manage to get a hold of myself. Well, probably not minutes exactly, but it sure seems like it. And then my phone buzzes, a meeting reminder confirming that I am now very, very late. I start jogging, a skill only black-belt stiletto-wearers like me have mastered, but as my steps take me farther away, I can’t stop thinking about those smoldering eyes and the delicious bottom lip that I really, really want to bite. The stranger’s face is embedded in my mind and I am … Smitten? Love-struck?
I may be in danger of losing a client this morning, but at least my fantasy life has taken a turn for the better. This delicious stranger has just shot up to the top of my book-boyfriend roster. Maybe I am a bit of a swooning girly-girl after all.