“Maybe this had nothing to do with Zeke. Pam talking to him earlier could have meant she needed insurance.”
“Try telling that to Alexis,” Gracie said with a sigh.
He took a bite, chewed, then swallowed. “Want to tell me the secret to your success?” he asked. “I’ve never tasted cake this good.”
“Sorry, no. Besides, you don’t strike me as the baking type.”
“You’re right.” He pointed at the article from People. “You didn’t tell me you were famous.”
“I’m not yet, but I’m becoming better known. That’s nice. More work, but I can handle it.” She glanced over at her schedule. “At least for now.”
“Have you thought any more about expanding?”
“I haven’t had time. I think it would be exciting to be a big company doing wedding cakes all over the world. Then I remember how much I enjoy talking to my customers, figuring out the perfect cake for them and then making it myself. Do I want to give that up? Plus are couples really interested in a cake from a big company?”
“There are a lot of options between doing everything yourself and being multinational.”
“I haven’t decided what I’m going to do.”
He finished his cake and reached for his mug of coffee. Gracie took a moment to mentally pinch herself. Riley Whitefield was in her kitchen, visiting. Just talking and smiling. After all the years she’d had a crush on him, and then even more years of completely not thinking about him, it was strange to be here now, with him. What would her mother’s octogenarian neighbor have to say about it?
She winced. “Maybe we should have pulled your car into the garage,” she said.
He raised his eyebrows. “Worried about your reputation?”
“Pretty much. This is Los Lobos and I’m who I am and you’re, well, you know who you are.”
“I have for a long time now.”
She laughed. “Good point. I’m just saying that if people knew you were here….”
“Right. And you don’t want that any more than I do. For me, it’s just a matter of everyone questioning my mental capacity, but you have an election to win.”
“Are you kicking me out?”
He looked good sitting in her kitchen. Handsome, masculine. She got a little shiver in her belly every time she looked at him. Which meant if she was actually attracted to him, she would be in big trouble. But she wasn’t.
Still, when he stood and said, “Why don’t you walk me out?” she couldn’t help the flicker of anticipation that rippled through her, and as she trailed after him, she took a moment to appreciate the great butt Jill had mentioned on their lunch date.
He stopped by the front door and faced her. “We don’t have any answers. Not about Zeke or Pam or who took the picture.”
“There were always rumors of alien landings up on the bluff. Maybe they’re responsible.”
“I’m sure that’s it.”
As he spoke, he stared deeply into her eyes. There was an intensity to his gaze that made her swallow hard. She felt unable to look away—like a small creature trapped by a predator. Only she had a feeling her fate was going to be a lot more thrilling than any field mouse.
“Were you always this pretty?” he asked as he reached out and cupped her cheek and jaw. “Weren’t you skinny back then, with braces?”
“Oh, yeah. I had quite the ugly duckling phase. It lasted six long, painful years.”
His fingers were warm and gentle against her skin. Her heart rate had increased to a beat per second far more normal for a hummingbird than a twenty-eight-year-old woman who knew better.
“You used to watch me,” he said, moving a little closer. “I remember those big, blue eyes following my every move. You scared the hell out of me back then.”
“I’m really sorry about that.”
“Apology accepted,” he murmured right before he bent down and kissed her.
A part of Gracie’s brain refused to comprehend this was happening. There was no way Riley was in her house, kissing her. The cosmos simply didn’t work that way. Yet she felt the tender brush of his lips against hers, along with the accompanying tingles as her body responded. She felt his hand leave her cheek as he wrapped both arms around her and drew her close.
She went because she wanted to and found herself pressing against him.
They’d hugged before. In the car when she’d lost it and he’d been so kind. But this was different. This was body against body, her arms around his neck, breasts flattening, thighs brushing and her tilting her head to make the kiss go on forever.
He read her mind—or maybe he wanted it, too—because he settled his mouth on hers as if he had no intention of moving. Heat blossomed inside of her and seeped into every cell. She breathed in the scent of him, felt the smooth texture of his shirt beneath her fingers and the thick, strong muscles that tightened.
When he teased her bottom lip with his tongue, she had the sudden thought that this was destiny. As she parted for him, she told herself it was closer to insanity. But when he swept inside to claim her, she couldn’t think at all.
He moved with the confidence of a man used to pleasing a woman. He tasted of coffee and sugary frosting and something else even more delicious. As he explored her mouth, he rubbed his hands up and down her back, drawing her closer, making her want to arch against him and purr.
One hand slipped down to her butt and cupped the curve. When his fingers squeezed, she suddenly wanted more than just a kiss. Need swept through her, making her swell, making her weep, making her want him. And just like a man, he decided that was the moment to stop kissing her.
He pulled back a little and looked into her eyes. “That was something,” he said.
She liked that he sounded a little breathless, as if he’d been caught off guard by the passion as well.
He brushed a loose strand of hair off her forehead, then kissed her lightly. “You’re not in my plan,” he said.
“You have a plan?”
“Want to tell me what it is?”
“Want to tell me the secret ingredient to your cake?”
“Okay. No. So how do I get in the way?”
He cupped her face in both hands and pressed his mouth against hers. Instantly liquid desire made her want to melt.
“That’s how,” he said as he withdrew. “We can’t do this, Gracie. I have rules and one of them says the woman in question is easily forgotten. We both know you’re not that.”
She pressed her hands flat against his chest. “Are you referring to my stalker girl past? Haven’t we talked about you letting that go?”
“This has nothing to do with your past. Good night.”
He opened the door and walked away. She stood there for a good three minutes as she replayed their conversation, and the kiss. Then she shut the door and twirled through the small living room.
In the words of Sally Fields (sort of) at the Academy Awards—He liked her. He really liked her.
DOING HER BEST not to think about the kiss interspersed with castigating herself for thinking about it had kept Gracie up most of the night. The good news was she completed all the dots and roses she needed for the wedding cake. The better news was the kiss had been about a million times more fabulous than what she’d imagined all those years ago, and she sure had done her share of imagining. The bad news was she was dead on her feet by the time dawn arrived and she heard the thunk of the local paper being tossed onto her porch.
She tightened the belt on her robe and opened the front door. After pushing her hair out of her face, she shuffled to the edge of the porch and picked up the paper. She was back inside before she’d pulled it out of its protective plastic wrap and flipped it open.
Her shriek was involuntary, as was her anger and sense of disbelief. This could not be happening! It was impossible. It was grossly unfair. It was there in black and white.
The front page of the Los Lobos Daily News showed a somewhat grainy but very viewable picture of Riley and herself standing in the middle of the motel parking lot and holding hands. They both looked incredibly startled—which was about the flash, not getting caught, but no one looking at the picture would know that.
Just as bad as the picture, was the headline. “Mayoral Candidate Caught in Love Nest.” Even worse was the note that a reprinting of the fourteen-year-old “Gracie Chronicles” could be found starting on page nineteen.
Gracie rolled up the paper and pounded it against the wall. “Why? Why? Why? What is going on?”
She didn’t have any answers, which only made her more frustrated. She paced the house, then, with sleep impossible, showered and dressed for the day.
A quick glance at the clock told her it was barely after seven. What time did Riley get up? She didn’t know his number so she was going to have to head over to his house. She wanted to catch him before he left for the bank. But she wasn’t excited about the thought of her car being parked in his driveway. Not now. Not when—
Her cell phone rang. Wary about who could be calling at this hour, she let it ring twice more before answering with a cautious, “Hello?”
“It’s Riley. Did I wake you?”
“No. I haven’t been to sleep yet.”
“Did you see the paper?”
They spoke at the same time. Gracie sank onto a kitchen chair.
“I can’t believe it,” she moaned. “This is horrible. What’s going on and who’s behind it?”
“We have a whole list of suspects,” he said, sounding grim. “Everyone from the mayor to Pam.”
She processed that information. “I agree Pam could have something to do with it, having lured us to that motel in the first place, but why would she bother?”
“Haven’t a clue. Maybe she’s secretly hated me all these years. Yardley has to be annoyed I’m up in the polls. Of course after this morning, that may change.”
The mayor? Gracie didn’t know anything about him. “Are you saying the mayor could have convinced Pam to drive to that motel, then turned the lights out and while putting a photographer in place, all the while hoping we would follow her, get out of the car, walk around and be in exactly the right place for an incriminating photo?”
There was a moment of silence followed by a chuckle. “You’ve cut right to the heart of the matter. That sounds pretty improbable.”
“Of course that doesn’t leave us with many theories.” She grabbed the paper and smoothed it out on the table. “I can’t believe this happened. I’m involved in a sex scandal. Do you know what my mother is going to have to say about this?”
“Somehow I doubt that’s the worst of your problems. Did you read the description of me?”
“No.” She quickly scanned the short article. “Riley Whitefield, a man who wears an earring. Are you kidding? There’s no mention of you running the bank or anything nice. I’m guessing the newspaper editor isn’t a fan.”
“Apparently not. Plus the ‘Gracie Chronicles’ dig up the past. Anyone who didn’t know the story does now.”
“This can’t be good.” She propped her elbows on the table and rested her forehead on her free hand. “Do you have any idea of how people are going to run with this?”
“What do you mean?”
“This town.” She felt her stomach start to churn and looked around for her bottle of Tums. “Everyone is going to think we’re getting together after all these years. Don’t forget, I’m a legend.”
“Which makes me what?”
“The object of my affections. Oh, God, this is so humiliating.”
“Tell me about it.”