There’s nothing more cheering than a good friend when we’re in trouble —
except a good friend with ice cream. — from Rosie’s “Little Book of Ice
Alexander West ignored the rapping on the shop door, the call for
attention. The closed sign was up, Knickerbocker Gloria was out of
business. End of story.
The accounts were a mess, the petty cash tin contained nothing but paper
clips and he’d found a pile of unopened bills in the bottom drawer of
the desk. All the classic signs of a small business going down the pan
and Ria, with her fingers in her ears, singing la-la-la as the creditors
It was probably one of them at the door now. Some poor woman whose own
cash flow was about to hit the skids hoping to catch her with some loose
change in the till, which was why this wouldn’t wait.
He topped up his mug with coffee, eased the ache in his shoulder and set
about dealing with the pile of unopened bills.
There was no point in getting mad at Ria. This was his fault.
She’d promised him that she’d be more organised, not let things get out
of hand. He was so sure that she’d learned her lesson, but maybe he’d
just allowed himself to be convinced simply because he wanted it to be
She tried, he knew she did, and everything would be fine for a while,
but then she’d hear something, see something and it would trigger her
desperation. It didn’t take long for a business to go off the rails and
then she’d be ignoring everything, including the scary brown envelopes.
He frowned. It was the same voice, but whoever it belonged to was no
‘I’ve come to pick up the Jefferson order,’ she called out. ‘Don’t
disturb yourself if you’re busy. I can find it.’
—but inside, and helping herself to the stock.
He hauled himself out the chair, took a shortcut across the preparation
room — scrubbed, gleaming and ready for a new day that was never going
to come — and pushed open the door to the stockroom.
All he could see of the “voice” was a pair of long, satin smooth legs
and a short skirt that rode up her thighs and stretched across a neat
handful of backside. It was an unexpected pleasure in what was always
going to be a very bad day and, in no hurry to halt her raid on the
freezer, he leaned against the door making the most of it.
She muttered something and reached further into its depths, balancing on
one toe while extending the other towards him as if inviting him to
admire the black suede shoe clinging to a long, slender foot. A
high-heeled black suede shoe, cut-away at the side and with a saucy bow
on the toe. Very expensive, very sexy and designed to display a foot, an
ankle, to perfection. He dutifully admired the ankle, the leg, a teasing
glimpse of lace — that skirt was criminally short — and several inches
of bare flesh where her top had slithered forward, at his leisure.
The combination of long legs and dark red skirt, sandwiched between
cream silk and lace, reminded him of a cone filled with Ria’s homemade
raspberry ripple ice cream. It had been a while since he’d been within
touching distance of temptation but now, recalling that perfect mix of
fresh tangy fruit and creamy sweetness he contemplated the idea of
scooping her up and running his tongue along the narrow gap of golden
skin at her waist. Licking up the refreshing sweetness…
‘I’ve got the strawberry and cream gelato and the cupcakes, Ria.’ Her
voice, sexily breathless as she shifted containers, echoed from the
depths of the freezer. ‘And I’ve found the bread and honey ice cream.
But there’s no Earl Grey granita, champagne sorbet or cucumber ice
Cucumber ice cream?
No wonder Ria was in trouble.
He took a final, appreciative look at the endless legs and calling the
hormones to heel said, ‘If it’s not there, then I’m sorry, you’re out of
Sorrel Amery froze.
Metaphorically as well as literally. With her head deep in the freezer
and nothing but a strappy silk camisole between her and frozen to death,
she was already feeling the chill, but either Ria had the worst sore
throat in history, or that was—
She hauled herself out of its chilly depths and turned round.
She instinctively ran her hands down the back of a skirt that her
younger sister — with no appreciation of vintage fashion — had
disparagingly dismissed as little more than a pelmet. It was, however,
too late for modesty and on the point of demanding who the hell the man
leaning against the prep room door thought he was, she decided against
Silence was, according to some old Greek, a woman’s best garment and,
while it was not a notion she would generally subscribe to, hot blue
eyes above a grin so wide that it would struggle to make it through the
door were evidence enough that he’d been filling his boots with the
Whoever he was, she wasn’t about to make his day by going all girly
‘Out of luck? What do mean, out of luck?’ she demanded. ‘Where’s Ria?’
Brisk and businesslike was her first line of defence in the face of a
sexy male who thought all he had to do was smile and she’d be putty in
So wrong — although the hand propping him up against the doorframe had a
workmanlike appearance; strong, broad and with deliciously long fingers
that looked as if they’d know exactly what to do with putty…
She shivered a little and the grin twitched at the corner his mouth,
suggesting that he knew exactly what she was thinking.
She was just cold. Really. She hadn’t stopped to put on the cute,
boxy little jacket that completed her ensemble. This wasn’t a business
meeting, but a quick in-and-out pick-up of stock.
While the jacket wouldn’t have done anything for her legs, it would have
covered her shoulders and kept her warm. And when she was wearing a
suit, no matter how short the skirt, she felt in control. Important when
you were young and female and battling to be taken seriously in a world
that was, mostly, dominated by men.
But she didn’t have to impress Ria and hadn’t anticipated the freezer
diving. Or the audience.
The man lounging against the door frame clearly didn’t feel the need for
armour of any kind, beyond the heavy stubble on his chin and thick brown
hair that brushed his shoulders and flopped untidily around his face.
No suit for him. No jacket. Just a washed-out T shirt stretched across
wide shoulders, and a pair of shabby jeans moulded over powerful thighs.
The sun streaks that brightened his hair — and the kind of skin-deep tan
that you didn’t get from two weeks on a beach — only confirmed the
impression that he didn’t believe in wasting his time slaving over a hot
desk, although the suggestion of bags under his eyes did suggest a heavy
‘Ria’s not here.’ His voice, low and gravelly, lazy as his stance,
vibrated softly against her breast bone, as if he’d reached out and
grazed his knuckles slowly along its length. It stole her breath,
circling softly before settling low in her belly and draining the
strength from her legs. ‘I’m taking care of things.
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From the book
BUT VANILLA by Liz Fielding
Text Copyright © 2013
by Liz Fielding
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2013 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
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