Delectable Desire (Harlequin Kimani Romance Series #331)by Farrah Rochon
Is he too sweet to be real?
It's not unusual for Carter Drayson to be swayed by a pretty face. The artisan baker is a connoisseur of feminine beauty, and when sweet, delicate Lorraine walks into Lillian's bakery, he thinks only of how soon he can have her. Little does Carter know that she is Lorraine Hawthorne-Hayes, heiress to a/em>… See more details below
Is he too sweet to be real?
It's not unusual for Carter Drayson to be swayed by a pretty face. The artisan baker is a connoisseur of feminine beauty, and when sweet, delicate Lorraine walks into Lillian's bakery, he thinks only of how soon he can have her. Little does Carter know that she is Lorraine Hawthorne-Hayes, heiress to a jewelry dynasty. And he never expected her to make him feel this way .
Lorraine is wary of Carter with good reasontoo many men have fallen in love with her bank account and not her heart. But Carter has a fortune of his own, and in his arms Lorraine discovers a passion she's never known. Is she just his treat of the week? Or will the perennial player actually become her lifetime love?
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Carter Drayson rubbed his hands together in anticipation as he approached his workstation in the kitchen at Lillian's, his family's bakery. It was stocked with all of the necessary ingredients for his newest creation, a salted-caramel, dark chocolate cake. As he surveyed his supplies, Carter realized he was missing the most important ingredient: flour. He strode over to the pantry where the drums of high-quality cake flour were stored.
He entered the pantry and stopped short.
Instead of flour, Carter discovered a caramel-colored beauty who looked as edible as the cake he was about to make. She crooked her finger.
"Come here, Carter," she whispered in a silky voice.
His mouth went dry as he took a step forward.
"No, Carter, why don't you come this way?"
He whipped around, finding another incredibly hot woman perched on the counter, her dark, smooth thighs crossed. Her breasts were precariously close to spilling out of her low-cut top. She reached over and picked up a sliver of the Belgian chocolate he'd chopped for his cake. She parted her soft, full lips and placed the chocolate on her tongue.
Carter groaned, taking a step toward her.
"Don't go there, Carter. Come here."
He turned to his right and found a third woman. This one was honey-colored and, as far as he could tell, completely naked. She had locks of silky, light brown hair flowing down her body, strategically covering all of her luscious girl parts.
He tipped his head to the ceiling and laughed. "This must be heaven."
"Caaaarter," the three women sang.
Carter's gaze shot back to the counter. Miraculously, all three were now perched there, sitting side by side.
And now all three of them were naked.
The dark chocolate beauty picked up a plump strawberry and bit into the tender fruit.
"Do you want a piece of this, Carter?"
"Oh, yeah, baby," he groaned.
His caramel goddess held out a bowl of fluffy whipped cream.
"How about this?" she asked, scooping some up with her finger and sticking it between her lips. Her eyes closed as she ran her tongue up and down her finger, licking it clean.
"You're the cake artist, Carter," Miss Honey said. "Why don't you come over here and show us what you do best?"
This was definitely heaven.
Carter walkedno, more like glidedacross the floor. Dark Chocolate held out the half-eaten strawberry to him.
As he leaned forward to bite it, the oven's timer went off.
Ding. Ding. Ding.
Wait. That wasn't the oven. It was his phone. "Nooooo," Carter growled.
His eyes popped open. Just as he'd feared, he was lying in his bed, twisted up in the sheets. He closed his eyes, but it was too late. The dream was gone.
Ding. Ding. Ding.
"Dammit." He reached over and grabbed the phone.
"Hello," he bit out.
"Carter, where are you? You were supposed to be here an hour ago."
It was his cousin Belinda. Great. If the incredible dream he'd been in the midst of hadn't already rushed out of his head, it sure as hell would be gone now. Carter peered at the clock on his nightstand. He'd slept right through his alarm.
"Carter, are you still there?"
"I'm here," he said, yawning and stretching.
"Grandma Lillian wants to meet with us. You need to get over here now."
"I'm on my way." He disconnected the call and closed his eyes again, hoping against hope that Dark Chocolate and her ripe, juicy strawberry would reappear, but she wasn't there. Instead, he saw his grandmother frowning at him. That instantly iced his smoking-hot dream. And lit a fire under his ass.
Carter hopped out of bed. He grabbed a quick shower, making sure he scrubbed away remnants of the previous night's hard partying.
Last night had been epic, especially for the middle of the week. He'd complained about having to fly solo now that his best friend and fellow baker at Lillian's, Malik, had gone and gotten himself hooked up with a womanhis cousin Belinda of all peoplebut Carter was no longer complaining. Not having Malik around meant more women for him, and he'd had no problems collecting phone numbers last night. He had four new ones stored in his cell. Now he just needed to remember which number went with which girl. He knew he should have snapped their pictures last night.
Clean and dressed in slacks and a pressed polo shirt, Carter snatched a banana from the bowl on his kitchen counter as he made his way out of his condo. He sank into the soft leather bucket seat of his Basalt Black Metallic Porsche Panameraa little something he'd bought himself for his thirtieth birthdayand swiftly made his way through the tree-lined streets of Glenville Heights. He sailed past the Drayson family's gated estate on his way to the Kennedy Expressway. A half hour later, Carter pulled into the garage just off North Michigan Avenue, steps away from the bakery.
His grandparents had been lucky to snatch up this prime real estate on Chicago's famed Magnificent Mile. In fact, they owned the entire building. Various businesses leased the offices on the floors above, but the bottom floor was reserved for Lillian's. Named after his grandmother, Lillian Reynolds-Drayson, who'd first ensnared the taste buds of Chicagoans while working at a local cafeteria, the bakery had a loyal customer base that couldn't get enough of Lillian's sweet treats.
Carter always felt a measure of pride when he thought about how his young, widowed grandmother had made a way for herself and her son, before his grandfather, Henry Drayson, had swept her off her feet. The story of the first time they'd met, and the early days of the bakery, was a staple around the holidays.
Carter entered through the back door. On one side of the hallway was the massive kitchen, which took up a majority of the first floor. The other side housed several offices that were used to conduct bakery business and a storage room for the extra bakeware and packaging materials. The front area comprised the showroom, which faced Michigan Avenue.
As he walked up the hallway, Carter strolled past framed photographs of Lillian's throughout the years, starting with his grandmother holding Uncle Dwight in her arms in front of the modest first storefront on Chicago's South Side, and ending with the family picture they took outside the Michigan Avenue store when Lillian's was featured in a local magazine last year. The rich marble facade of this location was a far cry from the little nondescript building where Lillian's had first gotten its start.
Carter stopped and turned at the sound of his father's voice.
"What's up?" Carter asked.
Devon Drayson did not look as if he was in the mood for exchanging idle chitchat. "Why are you just getting here?" he asked.
"Had a long night," Carter answered with a grin. "Believe me, it was worth walking in an hour late."
"An hour and a half," his father corrected him. "Carter, when are you going to start taking your work seriously?"
His spine straightened in protest. "I do take my work seriously. Do you know how many people come to Lillian's specifically requesting that I design their cakes?
My work brings in more business than anyone else around here."
"I'm not discounting your talent, just your work ethic. You should have been here to open the bakery early this morning, not strolling in hours late as if you don't have a care in the world."
This from the king of the carefree lifestyle. His father had perfected bachelorhood, never even coming close to marrying. Yet he had the nerve to talk about how Carter lived his life?
"I know what it's like to be young and single, but there comes a time when you have to think about the long-term, Carter." His father took a step closer and lowered his voice. "You know that your grandparents will soon let go of the reins of this business. Now, do you want a piece of it?"
Carter was tempted to say no, but that would only cause him more grief. The truth was, he'd been questioning a lot lately whether he still wanted to be a part of the family business.
He had never felt as if he was as much a part of Lillian's as his cousins were, and he placed much of the blame squarely on the shoulders of the man standing before him. After all, it was his father's fault that Carter was the only illegitimate grandchild. As the only bastard of the bunch, Carter had always felt as if he had to work extra hard to prove that he belonged.
His grandparents had never made him feel like an outsider, but Carter knew they didn't approve of his father's perpetual bachelorhood. The fact that his father had never married Carter's mother had been the subject of many disagreements over the years.
But that was his father's issue. Carter had nothing to do with that. He was a part of the bakery's legacy, too, dammit.
"I have as much stake in Lillian's as the others do," Carter said.
"Then start acting like it," his father demanded. "You need to show everyone in this family that you are committed to this business."
"Maybe the family needs to show that they're committed to me," he countered, letting the frustration he normally hid behind a carefree smile rise to the surface. "I didn't have the advantage of growing up on the great Drayson Estate the way Belinda and Drake did. I wasn't there every Sunday afternoon like Monica and Shari. Yet I put just as much time into Lillian's as they do. No, I put in more. I bust my ass for this business. So, tell me, Dad, does the family value my input? Does everyone here realize just what I bring to the table?"
"Don't get full of yourself, Carter. You may be a good baker, but there are others out there. Just because you have Drayson blood running through your veins doesn't mean you get an automatic pass. You need to straighten up, or you're going to find yourself cut out of this business."
With that his father turned and went back into the sales office.
Carter stood in the hallway for several minutes, trying like hell to rein in his fury. He was damned tired of always having to defend himself. From his teenage days, when he'd worked as a delivery boy, to now, as one of the head bakers, he'd given Lillian's one hundred percent of himself. But his best never seemed good enough for his family.
Carter thought about the phone call he'd received last week from a representative of Robinson Restaurants, one of the hottest restaurant conglomerates on the East Coast. The man Carter had spoken to had been extremely interested in Lillian's, and specifically in what Carter had accomplished as the bakery's premier artisan cake designer. When he'd asked if Carter would be interested in becoming the executive pastry chef for the Robinson Restaurants Group's flagship New York location, he had been floored.
The offer had warranted some serious soul searching. He was torn between loyalty to his family's business and the appeal of finally being somewhere where his work was appreciated. Discussions like the one he'd just had with his father did nothing but tip the scales in New York's favor.
Despite what Devon believed, Carter knew there wasn't a damn thing wrong with his work ethic. He put his heart and soul into Lillian's, pulling sixty-hour workweeks, spending his time off at home working on his decorating technique. He loved this business, but he wasn't sure the feeling was mutual.
Oh, he had no doubts his family loved him, but did they value him? Maybe it would take his leaving to show them just how much he was worth to Lillian's.
The emergency meeting for which his grandmother had summoned the Drayson grandchildren turned out to be a slightly beefed-up version of their normal weekly status report, with the exception of a more in-depth discussion of Lillian's involvement in You Take the Cake, a reality TV show their family had agreed to participate in. His aunt Daisy had flown to Los Angeles to meet with the show's producers and sign the contract. Lillian's was officially on board.
Unfortunately, so was Brown Sugar Bakery, owned and operated by onetime Lillian's employee and ultimate backstabber Dina English. Dina was a four-letter word in more ways than one around this kitchen. Carter was personally looking forward to annihilating Brown Sugar Bakery on national television. He could only hope there would be tears involved.
After the meeting, his younger cousin Shari approached him. Like the rest of the Drayson clan, Shari had come up in the ranks at the bakery. She, too, specialized in cakes, along with Lillian's ever-popular gourmet cupcakes.
"Have you finalized the details for the event at Lincoln Park Zoo?" Shari asked.
Carter nodded. "We're providing four cakes in all. A Bengal tiger, a silverback gorilla, a giraffe and a Nico-bar pigeon. One of my former classmates is loaning me a few of his students from the culinary school he just opened. We're going to transport the tiger, gorilla and pigeon, but the giraffe will have to be constructed on-site."
"Sounds as if you have everything under control."
"I always have things under control," Carter snapped, grimacing at the unwarranted bite in his tone. He blamed the earlier conversation with his dad for his irritability.
Shari eyed him curiously. "Maybe you should lay off the clubbing and get more sleep at night. You'd be in a better mood."
Carter let her remark pass. It was no mystery to his cousins that he liked to have a good time, and he made no apologies. He was young, single and financially set for life thanks to his family's business. And, according to popular opinion, he wasn't hard on the eyes, either. Why the hell shouldn't he get out there and enjoy himself?
He took a cursory tour around the kitchen, making sure everything was going according to schedule. They had several big orders to get out today, including a cake for an event being hosted by the mayor's office. Lillian's most important asset was its reputation, and Carter made it his business to make sure every dessert that left this kitchen lived up to his grandmother's incredibly high standards.
Amber Mitchell, one of their assistant bakers who doubled as the receptionist, rounded the corner. "Carter, there's a guy out front who needs to speak to someone about setting up an event tasting. Belinda and Drake are both busy with other customers. Can you talk to him?"
"Does this guy have a name?" he asked Amber, who'd turned her attention to a cake that was ready to be frosted.
She hunched her shoulders. "Probably. He's in a three-piece suit and is wearing an awful toupee."
"That helps," he drawled.
Carter headed for the retail area. The hard work happened behind the scenes in the kitchen, but it was the storefront that truly awed the bakery's customers. The opulent, yet tasteful, decor was just one of the things that made the name Lillian's synonymous with class and sophistication.
Gilding burnished the rich mahogany woodwork, sparkling under the illumination of crystal chandeliers. The polished marble countertops that were inlaid with ribbons of copper and gold made a statement about Lillian's long history of catering to Chicago's elite.
Sunlight streamed in from the huge windows that faced North Michigan Avenue. Nestled inside the bay windows were displays of lavishly decorated cakes and delectable desserts. They had discovered over the years that showcasing the bakery's products was, by far, the most effective way to entice patrons to step inside the store's welcoming glass doors.
Carter spotted the gentleman in the three-piece suit. He was peering into the custom-made glass display case that ran the width of the store.
"Carter Drayson," he greeted, holding out a hand. "How can I help you?"
The man returned the handshake. "Lowell Thompson. I'm a client of Bowen and Associates on the third floor. Howard Bowen recommended Lillian's for an event my company is sponsoring next month."
"Howard is a very good customer."
"He tells me Lillian's sells the best desserts around. I'm new to Chicago, so I'm still learning my way."
"Well, let me give you the most delicious tour you'll ever take in this city."
Carter retrieved a small silver platter from behind the counter and picked out several sweets from the array of intricately decorated cupcakes, pies and Lillian's famous petit fours.
As Lowell Thompson sampled a dark chocolate espresso cupcake, Carter explained that nearly every item could be made in miniature sizes, more suitable to cocktail parties and other catered events.
"You have an impressive operation going here," the man commented.
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I am loving this series. I can hardly wait for the last book.