A Spicy Seduction
Jules Grayson sat behind the mahogany desk in his office. “Why me?” He propped his elbows on the leather desk pad.
“Trust me,” Tony said.
Jules stared at his friend. Trusting others wasn’t part of his personality. “Why can’t one of your other friends be best man at your wedding?”
“They come in pairs. Lauren doesn’t want her friend to feel out of place. You’re the only bachelor left in our circle.”
And he intended to stay that way for a long time. “So why do I have to meet her now? The rehearsal would suit me fine.”
Tony grinned. “Trust me. You’ll like Grace.”
Jules straightened. He used to know a girl named Grace. She’d been the only one who had turned him down. Just thinking about her brought memories of a time and place he didn’t want to remember. “I really don’t want to cross the river.”
“Just for this weekend meet and two days for the wedding.” Tony rose. “What do you have against the village?”
“Do you have to ask? The group home. Your father rescued me from false accusations.” Jules clenched the steel letter opener. “I’ll come. Some time on Saturday, do the meet and greet and leave Sunday morning.”
Tony paused at the door. “There’s a plus. You won’t have to enter the village. My house is a couple of miles away.”
“Go. Let me get some work done.”
Moments after Tony left Mrs. Jamison entered with a stack of mail. She dropped the pile on his desk. “Buzz when you need me.”
“Will do.” He slit the top envelope and groaned. Not what he wanted to see. Before leaving for her honeymoon, Allie Blakefield, editor of Good Cookin’ Magazine had given him an assignment. Having contracts signed wasn’t his usual chore for the Good Magazine Group but he’d agreed. Allie wanted the owner of Cupcakes Sweet and Spicy to agree to a feature.
With three letters and four phone calls the woman’s answer had been no. Allie returned Monday. Today was Friday.
His hand hovered over the phone. A call wouldn’t work. He’d already tried several times. A visit to the bakery might do the trick. He didn’t want to go there. The bakery was in that place. He sucked in a breath. Never leave a job undone was his rule.
When Allie asked, he’d figured obtaining the contract signature was a no-brainer. What bakery wouldn’t want to be featured in a national magazine? He’d had a failsafe plan. Mail the contract. Make a phone call or two. Answer questions. Contract signed. Hadn’t happened. Time to spread some charm.
Jules buzzed Tony’s cell. The moment his friend answered, Jules’ gut clenched. Though he hated asking, he would. “Jules here.”
“You are not backing out.”
Jules chuckled. “You’re right. Just wondering if I could come tonight. Have some business for Good Cookin’ across the river today.”
“No problem. I’ll call Lauren. What time?”
“Around noon. I’ll drop my bag off, see to business and swing back.”
“Good enough. TGIF. I’ll be home around three. Good luck with your whatever.”
“Sales pitch.” Jules disconnected. He shoved two copies of the contract in his briefcase and tended to the rest of the mail. Nothing urgent. The clock chimed the half hour.
With briefcase in hand he paused at his secretary’s desk. “I’ll be out of town until Monday. Buzz my cell if anything needs to be handled quickly and take the afternoon off.”
Jules waved. When he thought of his destination his stomach churned.
A half hour later he sat in the driver’s seat of his Jeep. He clutched the keys in his fist. Waves of nausea assaulted him. He gulped a breath. He could do this. Two events had forced the trip across the bridge to the
Hudson River village where he’d grown up.
The day ten years ago when he’d left he’d vowed never to return. Trouble comes
in three. Not that business and a wedding were the problem. Trouble existed in
memories of the place where his life had imploded.
His weekender and briefcase sat on the passenger’s seat. He’d packed enough clothes for the weekend.
You can do this. The words spiraled in an unending chain in his thoughts. He shoved the key in the ignition, revved the engine and drove from the underground garage. As the vehicle emerged into the light, Jules grinned. Something about being above the sedans and coupes made him feel powerful. He wove through traffic heading for the upper deck of the
. Hard rock poured
from the speakers. George Washington
A glance at the sky showed gathering clouds. Snow predictions meant an early covering of white over city sidewalks and brown suburban lawns.
Not long after hitting the
Palisades Parkway the feeling of doom
he’d pushed aside leaped into his thoughts like the demons kids feared lurked
in the closet or under the bed.
He gripped the wheel. The vehicle veered right. If he didn’t calm down he would run off the road or into another car. He spotted the turn-off for an overlook and pulled into the parking lot.
Get a grip.
Jules climbed down and walked to the railing at the edge. He stared at the gray waters of the
A blustery wind slapped his face. Across the river he saw the skyline of the
city where he’d rather be.
You can do this. The mantra rang in his head. He revised his plans. Drop case at Tony’s. Visit Bakery. Charm owner. Obtain signature. Today’s plan sounded right.
He returned to the Jeep and soon entered the flow of traffic. After leaving the parkway he sped along the winding road and finally saw the turnoff to Tony’s house. As he reached the development he located his friend’s massive house. He pulled into the long driveway, grabbed the overnighter and strode to the door.
Lauren answered the ring. She held her infant nephew on her hip. Jamie burbled.
“Hello to you.” Jules stepped inside and kissed Lauren’s cheek. He ruffled Jamie’s hair. “I gather the man warned you.”
“He did. Good to see you but you cost me ten dollars.”
“Bet Tony you’d find a way to bail and here you are a day early.”
Jules winked. “I’ve come to convince you to run away with me.”
She laughed. “Just like those old rumors. When I think of the days in the group home, I cringe. I wonder how the Pattersons got the idea we were together.”
“Pure invention ala Charlene.” He put a finger on her lips. “No talk about those times or places.”
“Fine. I’ll show you to a guest room.”
Jules hung his coat in the foyer closet and followed her past the living room to the wide staircase. Why had Tony bought such a large house? He’s asked his friend for a reason weeks ago.
“For the kitchen. It’s a cook’s dream.”
Lauren opened the door of a room just beyond the stairs. Jules dropped the bag at the foot of a massive four poster bed. Warm shades of brown and green gave a cozy feel to the space.
“The bath is through this door and connects to a second guest room.” Lauren cracked the door. “Since you’re the only guest you won’t have to worry about locking the door,”
Jules shook his head. “Just how many bedrooms are there?”
Lauren laughed. Seven counting the master, nursery and the third floor suite.”
Four on this floor. One in the suite. Two powder rooms on the first floor and one with a shower in the basement. Thank heavens there’s a cleaning service. Would take me a month just to vacuum and dust.”
Jules followed her downstairs. “I need to do a bit of business for Good Cookin’. Means going to town.”
“No. I’ll tell you at dinner. What time do we eat?”
“Six thirty or so. Do you want lunch?”
A lump filled his stomach. “I’ll grab something in the village.” Maybe when he finished at the bakery his appetite would return.
She patted his arm. Had she sensed his uneasiness? “There are some great places. Want me to recommend one?”
He snagged his coat from the closet and left. Cupcakes, here I come.
When he reached the village he saw Christmas had arrived. Probably between Halloween and Thanksgiving. The shops bore lights and festive decorations. The light poles were wound with red, green, gold and silver.
He made a turn and found he’d driven down the street where the group homes were located. He gripped the wheel. His two years at the boy’s home had been a drag. Circumstances had made him a ward of the court. His attitude had brought him here.
His stomach lurched. He slowed to a crawl and rolled past the pair of houses separated by a fence. This trip along memory lane had been a bad idea.
You can’t go home but this had never been his,
A stray bit slipped into focus. Grace two years younger than he was, pretty. He’d flirted with her and decided she would be his next conquest. With laughter she’d turned him down leaving him to fend off the girl he’d had no desire to screw.
With a groan he turned the corner and looked for a parking space. His plan formed. Charm Ms. Sutton. Get her signature. Return to Tony’s.
A flurry of snowflakes dotted the sidewalks with dark circles as they melted.