Authors: Mahalia Levey
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Copyright © 2015 by Mahalia Levery
Second E-book Publication: August 2011
Cover design by Dawne Dominique
Edited by E.L. Felder
Proofread by Courtney Karmiller
All cover art and logo copyright © 2015 Dawne Dominique
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED:
This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission.
All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.
For my readers, thank you for your continued support…and to sweet treats and sexy men!
“Girl, you know that hunkalicious man is into you. Why don’t you put him out of his misery and take him up on his offer?”
Zoey stopped mid stride to the display case with a tray of assorted truffles. “Who?”
“Come on. Zoey to reality.” Marie put the finishing touch on a three-tier chocolate cake.
“Marie, I don’t have time for a man. Bills don’t pay themselves, and when the day is over, all I want to do is veg, alone. Investing in a relationship is an emotionally draining endeavor, which I don’t have the luxury of time for, at this point in my life.” She unloaded her chocolates, resting the metal sheet on her aproned hip.
“I love you enough to keep it real, and I’m your assistant. Meaning, what did you hire me for, if not to assist?” Her exuberant apprentice/best friend yammered on, as relentless as her namesake, the ankle-biting Yorkie, Princess, who yapped day and night. Today, her spunky assistant sported pink and blue highlights in her midnight-black, cropped bob. The added colors enhanced her ice blue eyes and colorful, tattooed sleeves on both arms. Bright red, shimmery gloss adorned her pursed lips.
“When the timing is right, I’ll go on a date. Satisfied?” Noncommittal agreements worked best for her intrusive friend.
Marie snorted. “Hardly. What more can you ask for than perfection? Tall and lean with those sexy, mesmerizing, bedroom eyes. The kind you could literally drown in, mesmerized to the point of forgetting your name or the topic of conversation. I mean, even his hair is perfect, not cropped short, but not overly long, just a tad bit on the side of ‘I wanna slip my fingers through and toy with those messy curls’. And his ass. Even I drool over such a fine tight set of steel buns on display as he walks away, thinking ‘come back’, so he can walk away all over again on repeat. Don’t tell me you haven’t imagined what’s behind door number one. I sure have, for him and his sexy brother. And, you know me. I fall for the tattooed, pierced, sinful, break-your-heart type of men, not a sexy corporate type. Except your admirer doesn’t even notice I’m alive. Hence, ‘Operation Get You Some’. You can’t land a boyfriend and hot, sweaty sex, if you don’t engage in some flirtation.”
Zoey had to admit Marie spoke a minuscule amount of truth. Self imposed celibacy sucked monkey balls. “If I make him a friend with benefits, will you get off my back?”
“No. That’s too easy. You’ll use him to scratch your two-year itch, kick him to the curb, and then exile him faster than who would’a thought.”
Zoey placed the variety of chocolate bark out, and began cutting the thick sheets into squares. “I haven’t even had coffee yet.”
“Good. You can hold out until we open. Think about it. Your soon-to-be man comes in to order at the same time every day. His accent is to die for. I’ll hold the fort. Ya’ll can have a coffee date.”
“Live vicariously through me, why don’tcha?” Hmm, Mr. K. Trakis, of Trakis, LLC. Thanks to Marie and her fishbowl contest, she had a partial name and a business address.
Of course she wanted him, dreamed about him. But, in his presence, she got rock star syndrome, becoming stuck on stupid. His smile stole words off the tip of her tongue. His muscle-ripped body caused her to stare and drool.
“Just sayin’.” Marie shrugged, and plated the chocolate-dipped dried fruit, and set them to dry.
Hmm. Too easy. She questioned the integrity of how his card had been picked.
“I know that look. A customer drew this exact card yesterday. Call him and tell him he’s this month’s winner.” Marie pursed her lips in a sourpuss expression.
“Well, he did win a free dessert.” Zoey smiled, and turned to her stocked shelves of unassigned cakes. “He’s been here every morning for the last month.” To keep her idle hands busy, she piped the insides of mocha cupcakes with a caramel cream filling.
“Take the initiative. Be aggressive. Don’t make me do our cheer from high school.” Marie put her hands on her hips in preparation for launching into the cheer.
“Aggressive? Me? And don’t you dare.”
“No, the invisible person sitting in the corner. Set your mind to something and you’re like a steamroller—not a damn thing can come between you and keeping your eye on the prize. Look out or become a flapjack. Besides, who calls every winner?”
“Hey! This is the first month.” Laughter bubbled out of Zoey’s mouth before she could stifle it. She could take a lesson in putting herself out there from Marie, who never was alone for long. Her friend had a knack for finding the good ones, trouble was, she possessed too free of a spirit to be held down for long, and the males tended to not like that quality about her.
“Just call him already.” Marie picked up the business phone and handed the receiver to her. “Need me to dial?”
“Pushy broad. No, I got this.” After peeling off the plastic gloves, she dialed the number from the business card. Three rings in, a voicemail began playing. At the tone, she began her message, “Mr. Trakis. This is Zoey Gray, from Indulgence. We’re giving you a courtesy call to inform you that your business card was picked for this month’s winner. Thank you for participating in the drawing, and we hope to see you soon.” She hung up quickly.
Marie clapped her hands. “That was perrrfect.”
“Now, can we get back to work, please?” Zoey considered the topic closed and resumed decorating the gourmet cupcakes for the tiered stand out front. Marie stopped her incessant chatter. The aroma of brownie supreme coffee filled the air. Her favorite blend of nuts and cocoa roasted over organic coffee beans, ground to deliver a cup of java to begin her day on the right foot.
“The front is fully stocked. As soon as you’re done playing with topping decorations, I’ll take the tray out for you.” Marie held out a Styrofoam cup of Joe…a peace offering.
Zoey accepted and took a hefty swig. “You are the best assistant ever, even if you’re a tad on the insane side and ignore personal boundaries. Let’s open up.” She headed to the front to flip the sign.
Marie’s exuberant personality worked well with her workaholic nature. No one knew better than her friend what success meant to her. The focused drive cost Zoey innumerable relationships. Men didn’t like coming in second to a business, so her inability to put forth the same energy to both, or balance the two, created an irreparable hole.
Given the country’s waning economy, many stores had closed up shop. She took pride in being part of the African American local community where owning a business, much less succeeding in the first five years, was rare. In addition, since diabetes was among the top five causes of death for her culture, she made it a priority to have sugar-free treats, cakes and chocolates, that tasted as delicious as the higher-caloric and sugary versions. Ambition became both her strong point and weakness. No, she hadn’t lost faith in finding a soul mate. By her calculations, once she attained enough financial security, finding a man would become her top priority. Until then, her love for chocolate reigned supreme.
Zoey wiped the dry erase board clean and put up the day’s special along with the price.
While Marie helped customers, she boxed their purchases, topping their parcel with a stamped ‘buy ten, get one free treat’ offer as a way of saying, “thank you, we appreciate your business,” and giving them a smile on their way out. Her nerves jangled in anticipation of Mr. Trakis’s arrival. Regulars sat at their usual tables, conversing quietly over coffee and her famous Belgium chocolate scones.
“Good morning, Mr. Espinoza, Dr. Thomas, and Mr. Saint James.” She topped off their coffee mugs with a wink. They’d long since acknowledged her while in conversation, opting to slip a sly hand about her waist and offer a half-hug of thanks, and then waving her off while entering into a long, drawn out discussion on politics for the day.
“Need me to go be the mediator today?” Marie wiped off the surfaces of a few vacant tables, making sure to refold and tidy the local newspapers they kept for those who wanted reading material.
“Nah, I think the old men are good to go. No raised voices this morning. Besides, today is Dr. Thomas’s shift at the ER, and he always gets beeped away mid-conversation. Why else do we get to hear the same debate all over again the next day? None of them can pick up where they left off.” Zoey replaced the pot on the warmer, her gaze drifting over the seating area. Having an inviting and welcoming atmosphere pleased the folks who came in and out of her shop. Goddess Pastries might’ve taken a slew of her customers, but she refused to get too down over the decline in revenue. She stayed well above the red line, and still would, even if it killed her. Dareia seemed like a nice enough person, and maybe even a competent pastry chef, but there’s no way that little chica was going to wipe out years of hard work.
Instead of waiting like an overly enthusiastic teenager stalking her customers, she refilled the condiment station and restocked cutlery. The sound of the door chime and staccato tap of shoes on her wood floor froze her in place. Where there had been nothing before her minutes ago, Italian loafers came into view. Zoey lifted her gaze from the floor. Mr. Trakis’s olive complexion and lean, muscular frame reminded her of male models she’d seen gracing the latest men’s magazines.
Mesmerizing blue-green eyes signaled a five-alarm meltdown, and the stubble gracing his normally clean-shaven face tempted her to rub her cheek across his. Every inch of him called to her, from his perfectly cut hair to the hard planes of his face and chiseled jawline. She licked her lips, tempted to pour chocolate liqueur over his mouth and suck the sweet syrup off. Her thoughts turned to body painting, and she rested assured she had enough chocolate liqueur in her facility to cover him a thousand times over and dig in to her heart’s content.
“Where is he?”
“Who?” Finally, the cat let go of her tongue.
“The person who put a scowl on your beautiful face?” Her latest fantasy—obsession—leaned into her.
I will not blank out…I will not…blank out. “No one put a scowl on my face. I was just thinking about something.” Damn the gravitational pull. Her nose came up to him about the middle of his chest. She craned her head up to regard him. Darkened blue-green irises, making them appear a flashing grey, leveled with hers. “Hungry eyes.”
“Yes, they are.” The corners of his eyes crinkled in amusement. The sensual mouth she itched to lick widened into a broad smile. Blinking once and then twice, she realized to what he referred.
“I was—” How did one explain that his eyes reminded her of her favorite movie and the song from the popular soundtrack? But she got the distinct feeling he knew. Awkward silence filled the space around them. Even her regulars stopped speaking. So, her conversational skills with mammothly handsome men who smelled divine needed work.
“Khristos.” He held out his hand.
Zoey clasped hers around his and shook. A combustive spark speared up her arm. Gasping, she let go and stepped back to regulate her beating heart.
“Zoey, my name’s Zoey.”
“Well, it’s nice to finally meet you, ‘Zoey, my name’s Zoey’. I wondered what I’d have to do to get your attention. I got your message a few minutes ago. Thought I’d come by personally to say thank you for picking me.”
“Oh, yes.” If one brief touch affected her this much, what would his kiss do to her? Frazzled by his potent effect, she took precious moments to force her brain to work. The sexy man had stuffed his hands in his pockets.
“May I buy you a cup of coffee?”
“Sure.” Zoey removed her apron and draped it over her arm.
Khristos placed his palm at her lower back, the light touch causing her skin to pebble. Together they moved up in line, waiting their turn to order.
What would you like?”
“I drink raspberry chocolate truffle coffee with a hint of nutmeg and lots of whipped cream on the top.” His innocent question sparked dirty thoughts.
Drop your hand a bit lower…what wouldn’t I like? Really, what kinda question is that to ask a woman who has muscle atrophy in her hooha?
“Aha, you’re one of those foofoo-coffee types.”
He grinned and dazzled her. In the light, his eye color changed. Intrigued, she waited to see if they’d turn from hazel to a darker hue of gray.
Pffft. “You don’t know what you’re missin’. The flavors are delicious. What do you drink?”
“I take my coffee black.”
His tone reminded her of coffee connoisseurs who took tiny sips out of miniature cups to test the flavor and robust tastes of different signature coffees. She scrunched up her nose, thinking about drinking coffee with no enhancement. “I’d never be able to drink an entire cup of black coffee.”
“Good thing there are options then, for different blends.”
When Khristos smiled, his entire face lit up. The darker shadow of his irises shimmered. Taken aback, Zoey willed air to enter her lungs so that she could catch the breath he’d stolen.
“We’re up.” Marie stared at him. Zoey clicked her tongue at her ogling assistant to garner her attention and gave her a silent message to stop gawking and take the order already.
“What can I get you both?”
“She’ll have a raspberry chocolate truffle with nutmeg and a heaping dose of whipped cream, and I’ll have a mocha java coffee.”