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Truly, Madly, Sweetly
A Sweet Love Story
By Kira Archer, Erin Molta
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2016 Kira Archer
All rights reserved.
Natalie checked her mirrors, held her breath, and eased her truck out of the parking space at the depot. She waited for an opening in the traffic whizzing by — a delicate operation that was sometimes more than her frazzled nerves could take. She loved Hoboken, loved being so close to New York City, and was thrilled she'd finally managed to save enough to get her own food truck (scratch that — mobile cupcakery). But the traffic ... the traffic she could definitely do without.
Navigating the delicate ecosystem of food truck vendors was harrowing enough. They were angry that she, a relative newcomer, was getting a prime location. The only reason they hadn't run her out of town was because the lady she'd bought the truck from had taken her on as a sort of informal apprentice the year before she retired. Since Natalie was more or less taking over the woman's cupcake business, the other vendors grudgingly considered her grandfathered in. Well, at least the bitch-outs were down to once or twice a week rather than every day. Yay for improvements!
The blaring honk of the truck behind her jolted her out of her ruminations and she punched the gas, lurching into the flow of traffic, holding her breath until she made it safely onto the narrow street. Gina, her BFF and sometime business partner, was so much better at the driving thing.
Unfortunately, Gina had had a hot date last night and was still MIA, so Nat had to wing it on her own through the incessant honking horns and wall-to-wall moving metal death traps. Give her a nice, safe train any day.
Then again, the food truck allowed her to peddle her delicious wares all over the city and hopefully, she'd be able to make enough to buy her own bakery one day. A real storefront, maybe in a gorgeous old brick building ... with a green and white striped awning over the door like the one her dad used to take her to on her birthday every year. The daydream kept her company while she made the drive to the PATH and pulled into her sell spot, a prime place across from the busiest exit of the train station. All those harried Wall Street drones disembarking from their busy day jobs were always jonesing for a good sugar rush. And the moms and nannies ferrying kids between activities and shopping trips were generally good for a sale, too. Business had been amazing.
Not to mention, she was parked right next to the gelato truck which allowed her to indulge in her favorite pastime: ogling one particular suit who had a serious addiction to the frozen stuff. No matter what the weather, if the gelato truck was there, her heavenly hunk of blond deliciousness never failed to stop by for a cone. One day she'd rev up the nerve to try and convert Mr. Gelato from ice cream to cupcake — maybe.
Natalie popped open her windows and set about straightening the mess that Gina had left the night before. She rearranged the selection of cupcake toppings in alphabetical order, her shoulders relaxing a bit once everything was back in its proper, logical, and organized place. She made sure the counters gleamed, the cupcakes were displayed in the most optimum way, and she was ready for her first customer. The other vendors glared good morning at her and she smiled sweetly back. She'd win them over ... eventually.
Gina showed up three hours later, bounding into the truck in a sickeningly good mood. "Sorry, sorry, sorry!"
"I had to drive," Nat pointed out.
"I know, totally my bad," Gina said, wrapping the neon pink and green apron with their Street Cakes logo emblazoned on it around her waist. "I'm amazed the truck is still in one piece."
Gina ducked and the cupcake Nat threw at her bounced harmlessly off the wall. "Your aim seriously sucks."
Nat snorted. "Tell me something I don't know."
"Go take a break. I'll hold down the fort for a few minutes."
Nat grinned and grabbed a bottle of water. A nice little stroll did sound good. "Just for a minute. Don't burn the place down while I'm gone."
"I'll try." Gina stuck her tongue out, the little girl gesture looking totally out of place with her favorite heavy eyeliner, lip ring, and pink streaked black hair. "Get out of here."
Nat stepped outside the truck and took a deep breath, lifting her face to the slight breeze. The end of summer had given way to slightly cooler days, but it still got uncomfortably hot inside the truck. She closed her eyes and took another good breath and stepped around the side of the truck onto the sidewalk.
Right into a man who'd been innocently enjoying a cone of chocolate gelato.
Her forehead collided with his elbow ... the elbow that was attached to the hand that held his cone ... the cone that had been lifted to his mouth ... the cone that was now plastered all over his face and, from what she could tell, was also lodged a good way up his nose.
The gorgeous, perfectly sculpted nose that belonged to her Mr. Gelato.
"Holy crap! I'm so sorry!" Nat turned around and grabbed a handful of napkins from the ledge of her truck, throwing a horrified glance at Gina who was staring with her jaw hanging open.
"Here," she said, trying to mop up his face.
He hadn't moved or said a word and Nat worried that the gelato had somehow made it so far up his nose it had frozen his brain and paralyzed him. She opened her mouth to apologize again when he suddenly lifted a finger, his face screwing up into a horrible grimace. He snatched the wad of napkins from her and she jerked back. But instead of throwing them in her face as he had every right to do, he brought them to his own face and sneezed. Explosively.
Nat gasped and turned back to grab another handful of napkins, thrusting them into his dripping hands.
He took them, nodded his thanks, and blew his nose several more times.
"Here." Gina tossed her the baby wipes they used for sticky situations and Nat turned back to Mr. Gelato, who seemed to be doing much better now that he'd cleared his sinuses of the frozen treat.
"I'm so, so sorry. I didn't see you there."
One corner of Gelato's mouth quirked up. "Obviously."
Nat gave him a hesitant smile and handed him the wet wipes. He mopped his face off and cleaned up his hands before getting as much of the goop off his shirt as he could.
"You missed a spot," Nat said, reaching up to wipe a bit of chocolate from the tip of his nose. He didn't move but stood still, watching her with a pair of unbelievable blue eyes. Almost gray. Like the color of the sky just before a storm, when it should be too dark to see anything, yet the sun manages to shine through. The ring surrounding the iris was such a dark shade of gray it was almost black. The combination was striking.
Nat also couldn't help but notice her head would fit perfectly into the hollow beneath his chin. And she bet it would feel pretty damned wonderful to have his arms wrapped around her, arms that were encased in a gorgeous tailored suit. If the straining seams were any indication, they were probably everything her imagination was cracking them up to be.
His smile grew wider, showing a row of straight, white teeth. A tiny scar cut through his upper lip just at the right corner. She had an outrageous urge to kiss that spot. She bit her own lip instead, trying to get a grip.
"I think you've gotten it all," he said. "Might have taken off a few layers of skin, too."
Nat blinked and dropped her hand, her face flaming hot. She'd been standing there dabbing at his face like some hypnotized monkey. He must think she was totally insane. She took a big step backward, hoping he realized she came in peace, despite the mess she'd made of his beautiful shirt.
"I'm so sorry," she apologized yet again. "You have to let me pay to get your suit cleaned. Here." She snatched a business card from her back pocket and thrust it into his hand. "Just call me and let me know how much it is. I, ah ..."
He still stared at her with a mixture of amusement and something else she couldn't quite pinpoint. At least he wasn't screaming at her or threatening to sue or anything. Though the scrutiny made her squirm. She decided she'd better cut her losses while she could and make a quick getaway.
"I gotta go," she said, suddenly wanting to be anywhere else but there. "Sorry again!" she called over her shoulder.
He looked like he was going to say something but she didn't stick around to find out what. Gina could continue to watch the truck. Nat needed to get a good, solid grip first. She turned to scurry off as fast as her unfashionable, but comfortable, orthopedics could carry her.
* * *
Eric hurried inside his brownstone, flipping on the lights. He tossed his ruined shirt onto the couch, a smile on his lips at the thought of Cupcake's face when she was mopping him up. She'd looked perfectly edible. That delicious, kissable mouth hanging slightly open, those gorgeous hazel eyes wide with surprise, curls as deep brown as the chocolate he loved so much, escaping the bun she had them tucked in. He'd seen her around town in that crazy pink and green truck, but he'd never been big on cake so he hadn't stopped. He might have to rethink his position on that particular dessert.
"Pathetic," Jared said. His friend trailed in and stood staring at him, his face puckered in disappointment.
Eric looked over, his brows raised in surprise. "What?"
Jared shook his head. "Some crazy chick ruins a shirt that cost more than I make in a month and you're just standing there with a dumbass grin on your face like you're happy about it. You should be suing her for damages, not trying to figure out the best way to ask her out."
"I haven't asked her out."
"Yet," Eric agreed.
Jared shook his head, picking up the shirt. "She's trouble, man. Usually they end things by destroying your shit. I wouldn't want to find out how this chick ends things if this is how she starts it." He chucked the shirt at Eric who caught it effortlessly.
Eric grinned. "You only say that because you haven't met her."
"Whatever, dude. Some chick trashes my stuff, the last thing I'm doing is hitting her up for a date."
"And that's why you're twenty-eight and have never had a relationship that's lasted longer than thirty minutes." He grabbed a water bottle out of the fridge and headed for the bathroom.
"Where are you going?"
"Gotta take a quick shower."
"You're going to be late."
Eric ignored him and closed his door. He knew he didn't have much time, but he couldn't head back out until he'd showered. He loved chocolate, but being covered in all kinds of sticky sweetness was only fun in certain circumstances. Meeting his favorite aunt's lawyer to find out what she'd left him in her will wasn't one of those occasions. He wasn't going anywhere until he'd washed it off.
He dropped the rest of his clothes in a heap on the floor, grabbed a couple aspirin from the medicine cabinet, and chugged them down with a few swigs of water. Then he climbed in the shower and cranked the water up as hot as he could stand it. Having frozen chocolate shoved into the far recesses of his sinus cavities gave brain freeze a whole new meaning. He bowed his head under the stream of water, enjoying the slight sting of the scalding water.
He loved his home. It came courtesy of his grandparents and it was the first thing he'd owned without help from his corporate bigwig father or socialite mother. The only thing that was truly his and his alone. It brought new meaning to the words "fixer-upper" but he was slowly turning it into his dream house. The first thing he'd renovated had been the bathroom, and he'd spared no expense — turning it into a luxury oasis. His father thought it was frivolous. Maybe it was. But his father's disapproval made him love it even more. A small show of rebellion in a life of unquestioning obedience.
Eric had wanted to go to art school. But while Jared had gone on to become a graphic designer, Eric had given up his dream so he could get "a real job," as his father had put it. He'd tossed his paints and brushes and gone to the college his parents had chosen, gotten the degree they'd wanted, taken the job his father had lined up for him. Eventually, he would step into his father's shoes and run his corporation. Schneider Financial Consultants would become Schneider and Son. His father's plan since the day his son had been born. Leaving the son in question very little to say in the matter.
For now ... well, for now, he'd enjoy the hell out of his Italian marble shower fitted with two massive showerheads and enough side jets to sandblast the gelato off him in a matter of seconds. He'd deal with the rest of his life later.
Eric grabbed the soap and lathered it into every inch of his tense, frustrated body. The bubbles ran in cascades over his rock solid abs. He made a mental note to be sure to hit the gym the next day since he wouldn't have time that night. Those hard-won abs wouldn't stay rock solid if he didn't keep on top of things. Especially with his love of all things chocolate.
Speaking of keeping on top of things ... A delightful vision of Cupcake (or Natalie as her card had said, though Cupcake suited her to a T) lying beneath him, her body covered in chocolate sprinkles he could lick off, one at a time, invaded his mind. All the blood drained from his head, rushing south where it thought it would do him the most good. Eric opened his mouth, letting the hot water fill it, washing the faint taste of chocolate away. He had no time to humor his favorite appendage. And it would have been a poor substitute for the funny, beautiful woman who was tormenting his thoughts, anyway.
"Eric!" Jared shouted from outside the door. "You better move it!"
Eric turned the water off and stepped out, grabbing a towel to rub over his head. He caught a glance at his watch and swore. He was really late now.
He threw on a soft pair of faded jeans and the first shirt his hand touched when he opened his closet and headed for the door. He and Jared hurried out to his car and hopped in. His destination was only a few blocks down, but if he had to transport some heavy objects, he didn't want to be doing it on foot.
"So what do you think your aunt left you?" Jared asked.
"I don't know. I'm meeting her lawyer at that old bakery she's had sitting around forever. Maybe she left me the building. Or something in it."
"What the hell would you do with a bakery?"
Eric shrugged. "It's just an empty building, as far as I know. I guess I could sell it, or lease it. Maybe tear it down and sell the land, if the building is in bad shape. I haven't been there in years. Used to love going there, though. But I have no clue what condition it's in now. Guess we'll find out."
He slowed down as they neared the old bakery.
Eric looked out the window and his heart jumped at the sight of a blindingly pink and green food truck trying to maneuver into a narrow space in front of the building. "Cupcake."
"Who?" Jared asked.
"The girl from the train station, the cupcake truck."
"The one who shoved gelato up your nose? What the hell is she doing here?"
"I don't know."
He cranked the wheel and parked his car against the curb behind the truck. Time to go see what the girl he wanted was doing in what he hoped would soon be his building.CHAPTER 2
Natalie had nearly made it all the way into the spot when a buzzing insect flew through her window and landed on her cheek. The damn thing stung her mid-swat. She yelped and her foot jumped on the gas. The truck shot backward and abruptly stopped with a sickening crunch. Boxes and canisters toppled from a shelf just behind the driver's seat, a jar of chocolate sprinkles pinging off her head.
"Crap," she muttered, her eyes watering from the throbbing pain in her cheek and head. She'd have to re-alphabetize everything again. That always took forever. A shouted curse had her stomach lurching into her throat.
She glanced in her mirror at what she'd hit. "Double crap." She sighed. A pretty silver Prius that hadn't been there pre-bee was now lodged firmly up her truck's tail pipe.
And things had been going so well.
Nat put the truck into drive and pulled forward a little, cringing at the squeal of metal as her truck pulled away. She climbed out, her hand over her smarting cheek, and went to face the seriously pissed driver.
"I'm so sorry," she said.
Excerpted from Truly, Madly, Sweetly by Kira Archer, Erin Molta. Copyright © 2016 Kira Archer. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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