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Hot buttered rum standal.., p.18
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       Hot Buttered Rum: Standalone Romance (Silk Stocking Inn Book 4), p.18

           Tess Oliver
 

  Tears clouded my eyes as I hiked my way to the front of the house. This was all my fault. How silly I was to think I could have a wild, devil-may-care weekend and then just drive away from it without a second look back. I’d stepped out of my comfort zone, and now I was paying the price. And worst of all, I’d let my guard down and fallen for a man who’d snuck out of my bed this morning without so much as a good-bye. I’d never done anything so reckless or stupid in my life. It was going to be hard to forgive myself for this embarrassing blunder.

  I hurried to my car, anxious to return to my normal, predictable life. I hoped the way back would be as easy as Coco had described. It all seemed more than improbable, and my hostess was the most improbable of all. No wonder it had all seemed like a dream. The entire weekend had just been a damn illusion, a mirage, a figment of my imagination. Yet it had left me with a feeling of despair that I was sure would not go away anytime soon.

  I sat in my car, feeling just a bit relieved at the familiarity of the dashboard, steering wheel and leather seats. My tiny silver dragonfly dangled from the rearview. I fingered it, hoping it would bring me back to reality and help relieve the sudden rush of homesickness I was feeling.

  I allowed myself one last glance at the house, more to assure myself that it existed than for any other reason. I blinked at it in disbelief. Long, lush vines dripping with fat blooming roses traversed the entire front side of the house. Suddenly nothing about the decaying facade looked shabby. The roof shingles and missing porch balustrades had been replaced. It looked nearly as picture perfect as its interior.

  I shook my head and started the motor. I was done with this twisted prank. Obviously, I’d fallen prey to a horrid scheme. I wasn’t sure what the payoff had been for my pranksters, but I wasn’t sticking around to find out.

  My tires chewed the gravel drive as I turned my car around and fled down the driveway. I turned right. A massive oak tree with a trunk as wide as my car and roots that snaked up and over the hardened ground loomed in the distance. I put my foot on the gas and raced toward it.

  Chapter 19

  Cara greeted me with an enthusiastic smile and a cup of coffee. I had spent the night sitting alone on the couch, watching Mad Men reruns, eating ice cream and trying hard to erase the weekend from my head. Then, with a heavy heart and a mint chip migraine, I’d plodded off to bed where I’d spent the first hour staring at the ceiling and the next six tossing and turning.

  “They’re already sprucing up the corner office for you.” Cara’s heels click clacked along the floor behind me. “The movers will come tomorrow morning. I’ll help you pack up your things after I’m done with my morning work.”

  I looked around at my office. “This is a perfectly acceptable office. Why do I have to go through the hassle of moving?”

  “Uh, your own executive bathroom? And there’s even a tiny dinette with a refrigerator attached. Ooh, which reminds me, can I keep my yogurt in there? Nina from payroll is always taking mine and pretending that she thought it was hers. Only she never actually remembers to bring one.”

  I lifted my cup to remind Cara that I couldn’t chat until after I’d finished my first cup. She was more excited about the promotion than I was. I took hold of the door to let her know it was time for her to go.

  Cara’s bottom lip jutted out. “But I wanted to hear all about the weekend.”

  “I know, but not right now. I don’t really want to talk about it.”

  For the first time since she’d greeted me, she seemed to notice that I was feeling down. “Are you all right? You look upset.” She pointed to her own eyes. “You’re sort of puffy like a blow fish as if you’ve been cry—” She stopped and her eyes widened. She lowered her voice. “You’ve been crying.”

  “Please, Cara, not right now. I’m fine. I’ve got some calls to make.” I dreaded the idea of talking business this morning but hoped that the sooner I threw myself back into my job, the one part of my life I could always count on to keep me satisfied, the sooner the past weekend would fade away.

  “I’ll let you get to work then” Cara said hesitantly. “Oh wait, jeez, nearly forgot. Mr. Taylor wants you to drop by his office as soon as you get settled this morning. Guess he wants a debriefing with the new V.P..”

  I sighed. “So early?”

  “Actually, the timing is probably perfect. Maintenance is sending some heating and air conditioning company here this morning to check the vent system.” She glanced up to the screen vent at the top of the wall in my office. “They are starting in your office.”

  “Any other bad news, Cara?”

  “No, that should be it.” She walked out and closed the door behind her.

  I put my purse away and settled into my desk chair. Cara had already turned on my computer. My meadow screensaver blinked back at me from behind the folder icons. I could almost picture the rusted gazebo in the center of the field. I’d never done anything like that in my life.

  I slumped back against my chair. I thought I could throw caution to the wind, kick off my shoes and every other carefree idiom I could think of. But I’d been wrong, and it was coming back to bite me in the butt . . . and hard.

  I sat forward and, just because I liked to torture myself, I typed in the words Silk Stocking Inn. I’d tried to find it once before, when Coco had denied she knew anything about a website. I’d sat right in this office and obediently typed out my deepest fantasy for the stranger on the other end. Now there was no hint of the website. Not even a trace of information about the Silk Stocking Inn or Coco . . . or Grayson. It was as if I’d slept through the entire weekend and been stuck in a forty-eight hour dream.

  I ran my finger down the list of clients I needed to call this morning and decided to delay the calls until after my meeting with the owner. With any luck, the vent maintenance worker would be finished with my office by the time I got back.

  Cara knocked at the door and poked her head inside. “The heating and ventilation man is here.” She rolled her eyes behind her and then shook her hand like she’d touched something hot.

  “Cara, not really in the mood for your mimes today.”

  She slipped inside and closed the door. “He’s gorgeous,” she whispered, and then opened the door. “Come on in.” Cara walked over to my desk to get out of the way.

  The top of a ladder entered the room, followed by the bottom half and the man carrying it. I stood up so abruptly my chair shot back and hit the window.

  “Tried to warn you,” Cara whispered from the side of her mouth.

  My heart thumped a loud beat against my ribs, and I wondered if anyone else could hear it. I steadied my hands on the desk and stared at him in shock.

  Grayson’s dark blue eyes smiled casually back at me, as if he was meeting me for the first time. “Sorry to interrupt your work day. I’ll only be a few minutes.” He spoke to me exactly how any complete stranger would. Only the tall, broad shouldered man in front of me was anything but a stranger. He carried his ladder to the wall with the vent and busied himself with his work.

  My head spun and I swayed a little, relying on my desk to keep me from falling to the floor in a dead faint.

  Cara had pried her eyes from the hot maintenance man just long enough to notice my distress. “Jessi, are you all right? You look pale.”

  I finally released the breath I’d been holding. “I’m fine. I just need to go outside and get a little fresh air before I go to see Mr. Taylor.”

  Barely able to put one foot solidly in front of the other, I shuffled out of the office and headed straight for the elevators. I smacked the down button and then pressed my arm against my stomach to keep from throwing up. The only possible explanation for any of this was that I was losing my damn mind.

  The doors popped open and several coworkers stepped out. A few congratulations were tossed my way, but I could
barely hear them. Unable to speak coherently, I nodded and smiled and slipped quickly into the elevator. My shaky finger pressed the ground floor button. The doors slid shut, but a large hand stopped them from closing completely.

  My eyes stared wide as the doors opened and Grayson, or the ventilation man, or whoever the hell he was, stepped inside. The familiar scent of his soap sent another wave of dizziness through me, and I braced my hand against the wall of the elevator. He walked to the back of the elevator. The doors slid shut.

  I swallowed hard, trying frantically to decide if I should face him and ask him what the heck was going on, but I was terrified that he wouldn’t know me. That would only solidify the notion that I was losing it.

  “What floor?” I asked so shakily I was sure he didn’t understand the question.

  I could sense him nearing me. My heart was close to leaping straight out of my chest. Then his large hand, a hand I knew intimately, pressed against the wall in front of me. “You didn’t say good-bye.” His deep, smooth voice was so familiar a small sob popped from my lips.

  It took every ounce of my courage to turn around and face him.

  “You left. Your things were gone. You’re the one who didn’t say good-bye.” A rush of relief nearly made me sink to my knees. I hadn’t been imagining anything. I wasn’t completely insane.

  “I had to go help my sister. I needed my tools.”

  “But your room, the bathroom, it looked as if you’d never even been there.”

  “It was my last day working for Coco. I was moving back here to the city to start this job. I’m sure she cleaned it so that it was ready for the next guests.”

  The elevator stopped. Grayson dropped his hand. Several people stepped on. We all stood in what I liked to call awkward elevator silence. I was sure everyone could hear the wild beating of my heart.

  We reached the ground floor. Without hesitation, Grayson grabbed my hand and led me out of the elevator to the stairwell door. He opened it and we slipped inside where we could be alone. No one ever took the stairs in a high rise.

  I faced him. “But you pretended we were strangers just now.” My eyes ached with tears. “I thought I was losing my fucking mind.”

  He stepped forward but I backed up, not completely sure any of this was real yet. “Your assistant was standing right there. I didn’t want to get you in trouble. And I figured if I grabbed you and pushed you up against the wall for a kiss like I was wanting to do, then I’d probably lose this job on the first day.” His deep voice thrummed off the stairwell chamber walls.

  He reached up and wiped away a tear from my cheek with his callused thumb.

  I swallowed to relieve the ache in my throat. “So you’re here? You’re truly flesh and blood? You’re real?”

  “I’m the real deal, darlin’, but in case you need some solid proof —” He pulled me into his arms. His mouth covered mine, and I melted against him as he kissed me long and hard.

  Red Velvet Cupcakes

  Printable recipe card

  Ingredients:

  Cake

  •1 cup all-purpose flour

  •⅓ cup cocoa powder (unsweetened)

  •¾ tsp baking soda

  •½ tsp salt

  •2 eggs

  •¼ cup + 2 Tbsp sour cream

  •⅓ cup milk

  •½ cup butter

  •⅔ cup granulated sugar

  •1½ tsp vanilla

  •1½ tsp red food coloring

  Frosting:

  •6oz cream cheese (softened)

  •½ cup butter

  •1 tsp vanilla

  •¼ tsp salt

  •1½ cup powdered sugar

  •2 Tbsp milk

  Yields 12 cupcakes.

  Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Prepare muffin pan with paper muffin cups.

  2. In a medium bowl, stir together dry ingredients: flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.

  3. In a separate bowl whisk wet cake ingredients: eggs, sour cream and milk together.

  4. In a large bowl cream together ½ c butter, ⅔ c granulated sugar, 1 ½ tsp vanilla and red food color.

  5. Add half of the dry mixture and half of the wet mixture to the large bowl and mix to combine.

  6. Add remaining dry and wet mixture to the large bowl and mix just until combined.

  7. Spoon batter into muffin cups until ⅔ full.

  8. Bake for 18-20 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean.

  9. Prepare frosting. With an electric mixer, cream ½c butter and cream cheese. Add 1 tsp vanilla and slowly add the powdered sugar. mix until a thick “frosting” forms. Add 2 Tbsp milk and mix again until the frosting is shiny and well combined.

  10. Wait for cupcakes to cool completely before frosting.

  Salted Caramel

  Silk Stocking Inn

  Tess Oliver & Anna Hart

  Salted Caramel

  Copyright© 2016 by Tess Oliver & Anna Hart

  This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.

  All Rights are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

  Chapter 1

  He shouldn’t have caught my attention, but he had. My eyes followed the fiery skull on the back of his leather cut. The swagger in his walk was only made more pronounced by the shit kicking motorcycle boots shoved beneath his faded and ripped jeans. He looked ridiculously out of place in Kennedy’s Korner, the bistro slash coffee bar slash hip hangout for the intellectual elite. At least that was what my current boyfriend, David, considered himself. His self-absorbed friends were equally pompous.

  David took a drink from his crafted beer. The biker caught his attention too, only his reaction was the opposite of mine. I was intrigued by the intimidating, out of place stranger. David was, most decidedly, not. His nostrils flared wide in disgust, a facial expression he and his friends had seemingly practiced in a mirror because they had it down to an art. “Good god, since when does Kennie allow ogres into his place?”

  Chandler and Tara laughed at his comment. I, on the other hand, was bored with my group and kept an interested eye on the man.

  Tonight, David and Chandler, his roommate from Yale, along with Chandler’s girlfriend, Tara, were busy in one of their more mind-numbingly, dull political debates. I knew it was best to keep my opinions to myself when it came to David and politics. David had grown up an east coast aristocrat in a typically uptight and proper family setting. I’d grown up on the opposite side of the country with my single mother, who was, most assuredly, not an aristocrat or uptight. We’d even spent a good portion of my younger years living in a commune where we’d grown our own food and dyed our own clothes—with vegetable dye, of course. But my rather unorthodox upbringing had always been filled with love, and my mom had encouraged me to grow my mind at every opportunity. I’d graduated at the top of my class in high school, and I’d gone on to Berkeley to earn a degree. I was working my dream job as head librarian in a large public library. I’d met David at work, where he had been spending a lot of time doing research for his master’s thesis.

  With all of my table mates deep in debate, I took the opportunity to watch the rather dangerous looking but fascinating newcomer. He strolled briskly, boots stomping with confidence, across the polished wood floor to a blonde who was sitting at the bar counter. She looked like the type who might sing in a band or deal cards at a posh casino. Her face broke wide in a gl
eaming white smile the second she spotted the man.

  The biker’s tattoos rolled back and forth on his massive bicep as he wrapped his arm around the woman and kissed her. It wasn’t a peck either. It was long and intense. Watching it made a flush warm my face.

  “What do you think, Emmie?” David’s question pulled my attention back to our small, circular table.

  “Uh no, David, you know I won’t get into a political discussion with you. It will only end up with you feeling superior and me being angry.” I wasn’t completely sure when it had happened, but the elation I had experienced when David and I first started dating had dissolved.

  My curt comment had covered the table with an awkward silence. I was sure I’d have to endure a lecture about it on the way home tonight.

  I sat back and sipped my coffee, signaling that they may continue with their tedious conversation while I enjoyed my latte. I heard a chain jangle and the massive boots pound the wooden floor behind me. As my friends regained their debate momentum, I snuck a peek at the biker and his girlfriend as they walked out of the bistro. No surprise that they didn’t stick it out in the haughty, tedious place for long.

  Quickly, my active imagination created a scenario of what the rest of the couple’s night would be like. Crazy make out session in a dark booth in the back of some rock n roll biker’s bar, a place that was the complete opposite of Kennedy’s Korner. Then off to an unobtrusive apartment to finish what they’d started in the bar. Sheets everywhere, lots of naked skin and maybe a little wild play in the midst of it all. A man like that would not be dull in bed. Envy was my middle name tonight.

  After my cohorts had finished with their closing arguments, none of them any more enlightened than when they’d started the inane debate, we paid the check and went our separate ways.

 
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