A frown creased Grace’s forehead. Did she know this man? Something resonated in her memories but no name bobbed to the surface. He resembled the faceless man of her fantasies. The hair, short and styles instead of long and shaggy. Was he someone she’d seen on TV, except she watched cooking shows, not sports, prime time or movies?
“How did you get in here?”
“By the door.”
His crooked grin brought a name closer to the surface. Did he look like someone she should know? “Why did Bonnie let you come into the kitchen?”
“The arrival of a flock of customers derailed her.”
Grace sucked in a breath. Who was he? He was too young and too well-dressed to be one of the men her mother had dragged home years ago. “Do you really think the cupcake is good?”
“I do.” He finished the last bite and crumpled the paper. With a flick of his wrist he tossed the small wad into the trash bin across the room. “You’ve achieved a miracle. Edible fruitcake.”
His smooth words spread over her skin like a swatch of velvet. Whoever he was he talked about the treat like a man who knew food. Was he a rival? Had he come to steal her recipes? He certainly hadn’t appeared to ask for a job. Not when he wore what looked like custom-made clothes.
“What will you call this one?”
Grace stepped back. The cold marble of the worktable edge pressed against her back. “Fruitcake.”
“Not like any I’ve ever tasted.” He grinned. “I hate holiday parties where the hostess pushed dark dense stuff she’d ordered by mail or baked.”
Grace laughed. “I’ve eaten some of that kind. This was my sixteenth try to make an edible one.”
He stepped closer. “Persistence pays. You’ve created a light cake with the traditional flavors and the right amount of fruit. The touch of rum in the frosting is perfect.” He raked his fingers messing his perfectly stylish dark hair. “Is it legal?”
“Just a flavor essence.” Definitely the competition. Warmth shone in his deep brown eyes. When he stepped in her direction she grasped the pastry bag. “Who are you?”
“Don’t you remember me? I’ve never forgotten you.”
The dimple in his left cheek made her want to touch. Seduction filled his voice. A whiff of evergreen beneath the aroma of the bakers reached her. He oozed the kind of danger she had to time to allow in her life. The suggestive gleam in his eyes raised a need to run. Only, she was trapped.
He placed his hand on her arm. Though the touch was light she felt as though his fingers branded her. “Think back, Grace.”
“I’ve never seen you before.”
“Sure you have.”
“I sure remember you. Years a go I made a play and you turned me down. When I said you would be sorry, you said I would be the one to regret.”
With warp speed her thoughts flew to the fence between the group homes. Was he really? He looked so different from the boy she’d known. The features of the face in her thoughts matured and became the man crowding her space.
“Jules Grayson, what are you doing here?”
“Representing Good Eatin’. Since you refused to sign the contract for a future feature article I thought the personal touch might work. I didn’t realize who you were until you turned.”
A smile broke her somber mood. “Most of my communication was with Allie Blakefield.”
“You and I spoke twice but the moment I mentioned the magazine you hung up. Just listen to my spiel. I’m sure I’ll do a better job of making the case than I did years ago.”
Though knowing he didn’t plan to steal her recipes her instincts remained on high alert. Her thoughts raced from what had been to what ifs. Not a good place to be.
“I sent the proposal back unsigned. The feature doesn’t fit with my plans for growing the business. A year from now or maybe two I might take a chance. I’ve seen too many in this field move to fast and fail.”
His eyes narrowed. “You didn’t read the proposal carefully. All expenses are covered by Good Eatin’ and you’ll be paid for the recipes the magazine prints.”
“That’s not why. You’ve seen my entire staff. I’m baker, decorator, bookkeeper and sometimes salesperson.” She scowled. “I’m even the cleaning crew with Bonnie’s help.”
A buzzer sounded. “Move. I need to pull the pans.” She pulled on gloves and went to the oven. One by one she transferred the trays from the oven to the cooling rack.
“Cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg,” he said. “What are they?”
“Add a touch of vanilla and you have Pumpkin Pie.”
He inhaled. “I could be tempted to try every flavor.”
“Think of the calories.”
He arched a brow. “I can think of ways to work them off.”
Grace removed the last tray from the oven. She had no intention of asking how. “Since you’ve come for that reason why don’t you leave? I’ll give you a box of today’s favorites. Share them with your significant other.”
“There’s no one.”
She returned to the work table and assembled the dry ingredients for another batch. She placed flour and a sack of chocolate powder with the eggs and butter. “You should leave.”
She pulled cayenne and powered jalapenos from the spice shelf along with vanilla beans. “I’m making Chocolate Fire and I don’t want a cleaning bill for your light gray jacket and trousers.” He had definitely succeeded in the ten years since he’d left the group home.
“We need to talk about the offer.” He crossed his arms.
Grace slid past him for the baking powder, salt and milk. “I know the opportunity would be great. I’m just not ready to take the risk.”
“Your cupcakes impressed Allie Blakefield. That’s hard to do. Besides restaurants Good Eatin’ features small establishments producing good food. Have dinner with me and we can discuss the pros and cons.”
Again his temperature-raising grin appeared. “I can’t. We’re open until nine tonight. Then there’s clean up, planning for tomorrow and a run to the bank.”
“What time do you close tomorrow?”
“I’ll be by then. We’ll go to dinner. You choose the place.” He closed the distance between them. His lips brushed hers. “Years ago you said no. I was a fool and crude. Won’t happen again.”
Grace froze. Her knees locked and kept her upright. His whispered words and hot breath swirled over her. She felt as if she’d been sucked into a whirlpool with no escape. He’d been trouble as a teenager. As an adult he’d become dangerous.