Saturday, February 7, 2009

Bittersweet - (Unedited)

I've rewritten this story about four times and think I'm almost done. I'm so glad, given the current chaos of my world :)

Coming soon in ebook from Aspen Mountain Press and in paper as a part of the Hot Comfort anthology from Manlove Romance Press.

(c) 2009 by Maura Anderson

Dark chocolate and sex—a perfect combination. Too bad he had a lot of the first but none of the second, at least none that involved a second person. Maybe his naughty treats would inspire the recipients to have a good time, though.

With a sigh of satisfaction, Brandon carefully tucked the remaining dark chocolate box in its nest of crimson waxed paper and set it inside the heavy delivery box. One last check to ensure that there was enough space to allow the fragile boxes to travel without sticking or breaking and he closed the container. A few pieces of tape secured the elegantly printed lid and he set it on the long steel table behind the counter with the other three he’d already filled.

Done. Not that he should have taken this large an order with this short a deadline to start with. If his staff had agreed to it, he’d have chewed them out. But the bride had been difficult to say no to and it made a convenient distraction from his own thoughts. Work filled that bill and he liked the added bonus of making someone’s day.

Shirlee planted herself just within his field of view and just stood there until he looked her in the eye. Her crossed arms nearly made him laugh. If you discounted her youth, the pierced eyebrow, the Doc Marten boots and the multiple skulls and crossbones that littered her clothing, the strict schoolmarm expression might have been a bit more effective. Instead the raised eyebrow and grumpy, chastising look made him bite his tongue—hard. A few steps back to his large work area for the clipboard with the order information and he held it out to her.

“Here’s the order form and they’ve already paid. Pick up is supposed to be by six today.”

“Umm, Brandon, has it escaped your notice that we closed at four? That would be an hour ago?” Now she looked downright annoyed. “Why do you keep letting people talk you into nearly unachievable rush orders and weird pick-up and delivery options?”
“Umm. Because I don’t want to turn business away in this economy?”

One heavily penciled eyebrow lifted and Shirlee stared at him in blatant disbelief. She clearly wasn’t buying it, not even for a moment.

“Okay, because I like to make people happy?”

Yes, the rush order for twenty five sex-toy candy boxes had kept him late at work for a week but it’s not like he had anywhere else to be. The weather had been too drizzly and rainy to make him want to go for an evening ride and his cats were always happy to see him whenever he arrived. Hell, he didn’t even have to be home to catch his favorite television shows—TiVO had that covered. But work kept him from thinking too much.

This bride was the friend of a friend, too. He couldn’t help it that he still had a soft spot for love and lovers. Too bad it wasn’t mutual. His chest tightened with a deep ache. No, he didn’t have any time to think of that. Jason and his betrayal was years in the past. Pushing the memories away didn’t ease the ache at all.

“You might be a sucker for other people’s romances but, Boss, how are you ever going to get a date if you don’t ever get out of here?” Shirlee shook her head, setting her currently shaggy green hair into motion. Then she gave him a naughty grin “You could be sucking something a lot more fun, after all.”

“I don’t need a date, Shirl. And do not set me up with any of your friends again. When I want a date, I’ll find my own. And somehow I don’t think discussions on what to suck are something I want to have, thank you. Especially at work.”

She rolled her eyes and stuck her tongue out before she turned to grab the army bandolier she used as a purse off the hook behind the counter. After a few steps toward the door, Shirlee came back to pick up the order clipboard. Damn, he’d have enjoyed teasing her about her OCD coming with a lack of follow-through. But she’d remembered in time. A few moments were all it took for her to put the papers in the filing basket and hang the now-empty clipboard on a nail in the prep area’s project wall, then head off toward her car.

Alone, Brand flipped the lock on the store’s front door and treated himself to a mocha. The richly scented steam hit his lungs and he sighed. How come he could smell coffee a mile away but he was almost immune to the scent of chocolate now? He could still smell it but it didn’t register unless he concentrated on it. It seemed to have lost its allure. Ah well, maybe it was just one of the greater mysteries—he was too exhausted to ponder it for long.

He loved his store and his edible art but he needed to sit for a while. He reached one booted foot out, hooked the tall counter stool and drug it closer. A groan escaped him at the tight ache that seemed to consume his back and legs when he sat down.
It made for a long day when he came in at three a.m. Again.

Maybe he did need a good fuck. The insomnia had grown worse and when he managed to get to sleep, he kept waking up again and again, thrashing around in bed and thinking far too much. Why the hell couldn’t he sleep, even after he worked himself into a near stupor? For that matter, why did he keep working so hard?

He’d finally succeeded. The business his relatives thought would fail in its first year was making a nice profit now. His income was good without having to sell his soul to the corporate world or work in someone else’s space. Even in the growing uncertainty of the recession, he managed to see a small increase.

Too bad Jason couldn’t see him now.

No. That was the past and it needed to stay in the past. The future needed his attention and he had a great idea for a pomegranate and dark chocolate truffle addition to the aphrodisiac candy series.

He drained the rest of his coffee and refilled it before going back to his work area. Selecting ingredients from his huge storeroom, he focused on the treat he wanted to created instead of what might have been.

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