Authors: Samantha Anne
Copyright © 2015 by Samantha Molina.
All rights reserved.
This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher; exceptions are made for brief excerpts used in published reviews.
an imprint of F+W Media, Inc.
10151 Carver Road, Suite 200
Blue Ash, OH 45242. U.S.A.
ISBN 10: 1-4405-9331-0
ISBN 13: 978-1-4405-9331-4
eISBN 10: 1-4405-9332-9
eISBN 13: 978-1-4405-9332-1
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, corporations, institutions, organizations, events, or locales in this novel are either the product of the author's imagination or, if real, used fictitiously. The resemblance of any character to actual persons (living or dead) is entirely coincidental.
Cover art © iStockphoto.com/Juhasz Peter
Dedicated to all the romance readers, men and women alike, who enjoy a little extra spice with their sugar. May all your endings be happy in every sense of the word!
Thanks to Julie for helping me get more juice from these pages—be my editor for always!
Also, brief apologies to my mother and sisters (biological and otherwise) for not making them a part of the dedication, as there is way too much talk of sex for me to ever be comfortable including you all. Still, I’ll love you forever.
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Ben Preston stepped into Wynne’s Kitchen at Rockefeller Center, knowing full well these next few minutes would determine whether he would take over this store or not. The only information the H.R. manager had divulged was that the last general manager had emotionally collapsed under the weight of the numbers the popular dessert bakery saw on a daily basis, so they were looking for a GM who could handle volume, particularly in a fast-paced environment.
Fast-paced was practically Ben’s middle name. And even though he had admitted his complete lack of bakery experience, the H.R. manager insisted he meet with Wynne and take a look around their Rockefeller Center location. It wasn’t overconfidence that kept him from being surprised, because he worked hard for his reputation—he was the captain, the go-to guy when a company needed a location to succeed.
Ben waded his way through the crowd that waited for service while the counter staff grabbed and bagged items as fast as they could, managing to do so with smiles on their faces
. All this for cupcakes and pastries?
At least this place could provide the much-needed distraction from his pending divorce.
Spotting the woman he guessed to be his new boss, Wynne Lansing, he made his way toward the register. She was all sophistication, even in an apron and street clothes, with a bandana tied around her auburn hair. She looked as if she was ready to throw down in the kitchen with the rest of the bakers. Wynne must have wanted to illustrate that she still remained active in day-to-day operations. Chuckling inwardly, Ben smiled and took her hand to shake it as he introduced himself.
“Wow,” Wynne remarked as she leaned back to get a better look at him. “How tall are you?”
“Six-four, ma’am,” he answered with a smile. “I come from a family of Vikings.”
“Clearly! Well, we have some low ceilings in the basement, so be careful.”
“I’ll be sure to do that. So, tell me about this place.”
Wynne nodded, motioning for him to follow her down into the basement. Her voice was loud and clear over the roar of the excited customers shouting their orders. “This is our flagship location. We call it The Rock for two reasons. One—obviously—we’re at Rockefeller Center. Two, this location consistently sells the most product, sees the most traffic, and is the highest-rated unit in the entire company. We need someone here who won’t just maintain its status but will strive to make it better.”
“Gotcha,” he replied, narrowly avoiding slamming his head on a low ceiling. “How are the other stores performing?”
Wynne practically dashed through what Ben immediately knew to be the prep area. “They’re all doing great, given their locations and challenges. We were hoping to see how you do here, then potentially have you move through the other locations to see what kind of magic you work there.”
He’d already spotted areas throughout the store where his strict fine-dining background might be completely useless. But he also saw where his expertise could be injected, so the fact that Wynne seemed to have already pegged him as the guy to get the job done was encouraging. He’d spent a lot of time in recent weeks questioning everything about his career and life in general—so the ego stroke was rather validating.
“So are you saying I have the job?”
Wynne stopped and turned around. “You came highly recommended. Everyone we called had nothing but amazing things to say about you. I want you with Wynne’s Kitchen. And I’m prepared to meet your salary requirements and exceed them when you prove that your incredible reputation is not unwarranted.”
Ben chuckled. “This is all very intense.”
Wynne shrugged with a grin. “I know what I want.”
“I see that,” Ben replied. “I’m happy to come on board and, frankly, thankful that you’ve put so much faith in me.”
“It’s my pleasure,” Wynne said. “I recently hired a production supervisor in your same position. She lacked experience but has all of the skills I’m looking for to do great. And so do you. We’re a great team, and I know you’ll get the support you need to excel, just like she did. So, do I need to give you a tour of the prep area?”
“Actually, it’s pretty compact. I’m guessing I could point out the sections without doing much more than a spin: prep, dry storage, walk-in, paper goods.”
Wynne laughed. “Exactly. Let’s show you around upstairs, and we’ll get your paperwork started.”
They breezed back through the prep area, where he couldn’t help but notice the amazing smell of caramel as a cook whisked vigorously in a metal saucepan. Ben led the way up the stairs, gradually becoming more excited about the new job with every step he took. He turned the corner to the hallway that led to the main floor and was suddenly met with a pair of eyes that looked like two pools of silvery silk. He stopped short, his sneakers squeaking as he did so. Ben’s vision focused on an unknown woman staring back at him, looking about as surprised as he did that they’d managed to avoid colliding. She was tall, and her jet-black hair was bundled up in a hair net. She clutched her clipboard and continued to stare at him fixedly, her eyes wide. His eyes involuntarily scanned her body. Built like the sexiest of female superheroes, her solid body curved more dangerously than a winding road. He forced his eyes to focus on her forehead.
Wynne stepped around Ben, breaking the trance between him and the girl. “Oh, good—just in time! This young lady is your production supervisor. You’ll be working closely together; she handles all of the production and makes sure you don’t waste money on unused product. She’ll be your greatest asset while you’re getting to know this store. Ben, meet Violet.”
He took a deep breath as he nodded in greeting, knowing full well that with Violet in his store, he was in for a challenge bigger than he ever could have anticipated.
Violet trailed behind Ben and Wynne as they headed toward the cake icer’s station. She wasn’t sure what she’d given away when their eyes met, but she was sure she’d felt her face go from zero to fiery in less than a couple of seconds. She hadn’t reacted that way toward a guy since she’d come to her senses three years ago and left Mr. All Wrong. As a result, she had grown used to being a cool-headed, naturally flirtatious, next-door-neighbor kind of gal. The whole deer-in-headlights display wasn’t a good look for her.
Life had led Violet to Wynne’s Kitchen, and landing this job was a culmination of all the time she’d spent repairing and finding herself. While she didn’t officially have the experience to qualify for the role of production supervisor, the years spent at her grandmother’s knee combined with her time in culinary school provided her with the confidence she needed to be sure that she was the person Wynne needed for The Rock. That Wynne chose to take a chance on her meant Violet was one step closer to her ultimate dream: to own a cupcake shop of her own. But the addition of a new general manager left her more than a little wary.
She’d already gotten a bit of backstory about the new guy from Wynne less than an hour before his arrival. He had no bakery experience, but he’d once been a superstar in the world of fine dining. He was coming to Wynne’s bakery after what Violet understood was a lengthy absence in the industry. Sure, he could probably turn over hundreds of tables a night and wow the elite with his knowledge of white linen service, but did he even know the difference between French and Swiss buttercream? Violet would never question Wynne’s judgment but, knowing what she knew about his résumé, she found herself decidedly unimpressed.
She stopped in the middle of the beverage section and examined Ben as closely as she could now that there was a bit of distance between them. He was tall—so tall. She imagined he had a build slightly larger than that of a swimmer, based on how the blue button-down shirt he wore clung to his shoulders. Her eyes wandered straight down the center of his chest, and she couldn’t help but catch the casual way his slacks hung from his hips. His hair was dark blond, almost seeming brunette in some spots—slightly mussed, it gave him a devil-may-care appearance that forced one corner of Violet’s mouth upward in a grin.
Violet couldn’t miss the blue of his eyes, even from fifty feet away. And though his eyes were deep-set and authoritative, she spotted a kindness in them that would surely take her breath away if she stared for too long. Ben was, at first glance, remarkable. The thought of crushing again after such a long period of self-inflicted solitude made her smile from the inside out, but, given what she had at stake, she knew it was a horrible idea.
Ben wasn’t just an obstacle on the way up the corporate ladder, he was a rung. One wrong move with him could jeopardize everything. The fact that he ignited a fire in the pit of her tummy that she hadn’t felt in years was irrelevant. What mattered was whether the new guy’s appearance in the bakery was going to be a blessing or a curse. And as she watched the muscles in his back flex beneath his shirt, she couldn’t decide which it would be.
She watched with uncertainty as he schmoozed. Violet couldn’t hear a word of what he was saying, but she knew immediately that Ben was just that guy. He obviously had the type of personality that attracted people to him. Having completed her first month at The Rock, she already knew Wynne wasn’t an easy woman to impress. Yet there she was, hanging on to his every word. Violet raised an eyebrow as she studied him, a feeling of dread hitting her in the gut. Violet couldn’t shake the feeling that helping with his training, as she promised Wynne, would be setting Ben up to climb right over her in the race for success.
Ben looked up as if he finally felt her eyes on him. In her rush to feign disinterest, she dropped her clipboard. It bounced off the ergonomic mats and hit the cabinet door beneath the back counter. with a loud clatter. To her horror, everyone behind the counter stopped to look at her; beet-red, she ran her hands down her face. Grumbling, she picked up her clipboard and made a beeline for her station, where Ben and Wynne were waiting.