Sinfully Sweet, страница 1
An omnibus of novels
Janelle Denison, Jacquie D’Alessandro, Kate Hoffmann
WICKEDLY DELICIOUS by Janelle Denison
This book is dedicated with my deepest gratitude to the men and women serving in the armed forces, most especially those whose brave service to our country will prevent them from spending this Valentine’s Day with the people they love. Thank you for all you do and for the sacrifices you make.
And to Brenda Chin, for providing the inspiration for P.B. and J. And no, I don’t want to “baby” sit.
And, as always, to my wonderful husband, Joe, who is more sinfully sweet than chocolate, and our terrific son, Chris, who’d better remain sweet and not even consider sinful xox.
– Jacquie D’Alessandro
REBECCA MOORE FOLLOWED her younger sister, Celeste, through the spacious lobby of The Delaford Resort and Spa, feeling much like a plain sparrow in an elegant, gilded cage-out of her element and surrounded by an opulence that was completely foreign to her. Certain she’d never set foot in such an exclusive hotel again in her lifetime, she took it all in, from the lush, green plants and tastefully neutral decor, to the large, elaborate fountain dominating the middle of the lobby.
While Celeste was marrying into money and had become accustomed to spending it, Rebecca had learned at a very young age to be frugal and economical when it came to parting with cash. Years of scrimping and saving, and being practical with her purchases, had become a way of life for her. Now, even at the age of thirty-two, she just couldn’t imagine splurging hundreds of dollars at a luxury resort when a room at the Holiday Inn would do just as well.
But the next three days weren’t about what she would have preferred. This weekend was all about her sister, Celeste, and her much anticipated marriage to Greg Markham the Third. And both the wedding and reception would be taking place at The Delaford, thanks to the Markhams’ unending generosity and bottomless financial resources.
Since Greg was their only child, they’d insisted on a large, luxurious wedding, not to mention paying for everything, including what the bride’s family should have been responsible for. With both of their parents gone, and no close relatives to speak of, the bride’s family-specifically, Rebecca-just didn’t have the kind of money to pay for such a grand and lavish ceremony and reception, and she was grateful that Celeste was getting the kind of no-expense-spared fairy-tale wedding every girl dreamed about.
“Would you stop thinking about the cost of everything and just enjoy yourself this weekend?” Celeste said as she pushed the button for the elevator.
Her sister’s tone was laced with amusement, but the knowing look in Celeste’s gaze dared Rebecca to refute her claim. Of course, Rebecca couldn’t argue where her thoughts had strayed. The habit of being penny-wise was just too damned ingrained for her to deny.
“Don’t worry, I have every intention of having a great time while we’re here,” Rebecca assured her sister with an indulgent grin. “I have a bunch of wedding-related festivities to go to, not to mention a swanky ceremony to attend.”
Celeste laughed, her pretty cornflower-blue eyes sparkling happily. “Yes, you do. And if you play your cards right, you might even get lucky this weekend.”
Rebecca didn’t care for the sly note she detected in her sister’s voice, but before she could ask what Celeste meant the elevator doors slid open and they stepped inside. The interior was just as elegant as the rest of the hotel, with flooring gleaming in marble and the walls mirrored and edged in gold trim.
Catching sight of their reflection together, Rebecca was once again reminded of all the extreme differences between herself and her sister that went beyond the six years that separated them. While they both possessed blonde hair and blue eyes, Celeste’s hair was long and flowing with no definitive style, and Rebecca’s cut was sleek, smooth, and a manageable chin-length. Her sister wore cute, trendy outfits that matched her bubbly attitude, and Rebecca preferred a more tailored, practical look that was a direct reflection of her own sensible personality.
Then again, with Rebecca taking on a parental role to Celeste at the young age of sixteen while their father was working, she’d done her best to make sure that her ten-year-old sister was spared the kind of adult pressures, responsibilities and worries that Rebecca had taken on after their mother had passed away. In a lot of ways, Rebecca had treated Celeste more as a daughter than a sister, in an attempt to make sure that her younger sibling enjoyed a carefree childhood as much as their unconventional lifestyle had allowed. Judging by the radiant, vivacious woman Celeste had become, Rebecca knew she’d done her job well.
As the elevator started its upward climb, Rebecca turned to Celeste, unwilling to let her sister’s earlier comment slide without finding out what was behind the cryptic remark. “So, what do you mean by ‘get lucky’?”
An oh-so-innocent smile curved the corners of Celeste’s pink, glossy lips. “Well, it’s Valentine’s weekend, and a certain someone is going to be here,” she replied meaningfully. “And since you’re my maid of honor and he’s Greg’s best man, you’ll be spending an awful lot of time together. It’s a perfect scenario for Cupid to strike two people who need love and passion in their lives.” Celeste sighed dreamily, obviously thinking of her own passionate love-life with her soon-to-be husband.
Rebecca knew exactly who her sister was referring to and she highly doubted that Connor Bassett, one of San Francisco’s most eligible and wealthy bachelors, had any problems finding love or passion. Most likely, with his sexy bad-boy looks and the allure of his fat bank account, both were thrown at his feet on a regular basis by very willing women.
Rebecca shook her head at her sister’s whimsical hopes. “You’re way too much of a romantic, Celeste.” And Rebecca was much too practical to believe in a mythical character such as Cupid.
“One of us has to be,” Celeste said with a wave of her hand. The huge, three-karat diamond on her left hand ring finger caught the light in the elevator, nearly blinding Rebecca with its brilliant sparkle. “You’ve spent all these years raising me and giving up your own personal life in the process. I managed to find my Prince Charming. Is it so bad of me to want you to find yours?”
Her sister had a heart of gold, but if Celeste believed that Connor Bassett was Rebecca’s white knight, her sister was sorely mistaken. The man might have the ability to send her hormones into a frenzy whenever he was near, but he just wasn’t her image of an ideal mate. The man was six years younger than she was and spent his days playing video games. Sure, he’d made millions as a gaming expert, but he squandered his money on the most frivolous, self-indulgent things. His devil-may-care way of life went against her much more modest, pragmatic outlook. Other than her intense physical attraction to Connor, the two of them just didn’t mesh. The last thing she wanted was for Celeste to hold out any hope that the two of them would hook up in any way.
“I’m sorry to disappoint you, Cece,” Rebecca said, using the nickname she’d given her sister as a baby. “But my Prince Charming is definitely not Connor.”
The elevator came to a smooth stop. When the doors glided open quietly, they stepped out together, making a left toward the north wing of the hotel where Celeste’s room was located. “You have to admit that he’s a dream to look at,” Celeste said of her own fiancé’s best friend, apparently not done trying to sway Rebecca. “And he certainly couldn’t be more obvious about his interest in you.”
Rebecca laughed at that, becaus
“Connor is fascinated by anything wearing a skirt and high heels,” Rebecca said lightly. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen him with the same woman twice.”
That observation didn’t seem to concern Celeste as they continued down the corridor. “Well, he’s coming solo this weekend.”
So, he was experiencing a slump at the moment. The man was entitled, but Rebecca wasn’t looking to be his weekend replacement. “The only arm candy I’ll be for Connor is during your wedding,” she told her sister. “That’s it.”
“You’re getting too stuffy in your old age,” Celeste said, the concern in her tone overriding the insult behind her words, which Rebecca knew her sister hadn’t intended. “You need to live a little, Becca. Break out of that parental mode you’ve been living in since Mom died.”
Becoming a maternal figure to her then ten-year-old sister had been a necessary transition for Rebecca, then eventually a habit she couldn’t break. Their father, Curtis, had worked for a plumbing parts company that required him to travel often, which had left Rebecca in charge of things at home-not only raising Celeste, but cooking and cleaning, and even handling the finances. And it hadn’t taken Rebecca long to discover that her father spent more money than he earned and charged thousands of dollars on his credit cards on big ticket items and never paid off the revolving balance. Mainly because he couldn’t.
“I’m getting married and moving out of our apartment as soon as I get back from my honeymoon with Greg,” Celeste went on with her sisterly lecture. “You’re going to be all alone for the first time ever, and you don’t even have a boyfriend to keep you company. Heck, for that matter, you’ve barely dated in the past few years.”
“I haven’t found anyone worth dating,” she said with a nonchalant shrug. “There is a guy in the accounting department at the hospital who’s asked me out a couple of times. Maybe after this weekend I’ll go to dinner with him and see how it goes from there.”
“Ooooh, that sounds so exciting and adventurous,” her sister said with an exaggerated roll of her eyes. “The two of you can discuss hospital billing codes while eating your meal.”
“Stuart is a nice guy,” Rebecca said in automatic defense.
They came to a stop at a set of double doors and Celeste retrieved a plastic key card from her purse. “I’m sure he’s very nice, but if he’s a pencil pusher, my guess is that he’s boooorrrring-just like every other guy you’ve dated,” she added beneath her breath.
Stuart was stable, responsible and dependable. Not that she expected her sister to understand Rebecca’s need to find a man with the kind of qualities and traits their own father had lacked. Rebecca had done her best to protect Celeste from the harsh realities of their lives after their mother’s death so she’d never been truly aware of their father’s erratic spending sprees, which had eventually put their house into foreclosure and had forced him to file for bankruptcy.
Celeste had lived a carefree life, never needing to worry about money as a child because Rebecca made sure her sister always had whatever she needed. But for Rebecca, the loss of the only home she’d ever known had been absolutely devastating. Even though her father had died of a heart attack over ten years ago, that event in her life had cemented a deep determination to make sure she never found herself in that kind of dire financial situation again. And that meant finding a man who knew how to manage money much better than her own father had.
Celeste opened the door to her room, and Rebecca followed her inside, once again stunned by what awaited them. She stared in silent wonder at the extravagance of the suite-from the elegant furniture, to the richly textured draperies, to the opulent-looking decor. Everywhere there were fresh flowers arranged in expensive crystal vases, their intoxicating scent filling the air around her.
“Wow,” Rebecca breathed, admiring the elaborate crown molding framing the ceiling of the living room, which gave way to cream-and-gold patterned wallpaper. “Greg’s family certainly didn’t spare any expense on the bridal suite, did they?”
“Will you stop already?” Celeste said in exasperation as she set her designer straw handbag on a glass-topped table.
Rebecca grinned. “Hey, you’ve had three years to get used to living this kind of life. I’m just getting my first glimpse of ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.’”
Winking at her sister, Rebecca looped her arm through Celeste’s and guided them toward the open French doors that led to a terrace. Once they reached the wrought-iron railing, they had a perfect view of the landscaped courtyard below, as well as the rolling fairways of the resort’s golf course. Beyond that they could see the faint outline of the shops and boutiques that lined one of the main streets in town.
“So, what’s on your agenda for the afternoon?” Rebecca asked, hoping that they’d have some alone time to spend together before everything turned crazy for the wedding.
“I’m meeting with Greg’s mom to go over some of the last-minute wedding and reception details with the planner,” Celeste said, her expression apologetic. “I have no idea how long everything is going to take.”
Rebecca experienced a familiar stab of regret, along with a small pang of jealousy she valiantly tried to shake off. The past few months had been difficult for her, especially having to watch her sister bond with Greg’s mother, Carole, over the wedding preparations, when Rebecca wished it were her instead.
When Celeste had first announced her engagement, Rebecca had wanted to be a part of the planning, but with her work schedule and the Markhams footing the bill, it had been easier for Carole to accompany Celeste during those outings. Not that Carole ever made Rebecca feel unwelcome when she had gotten the chance to join them, but it was always a painful reminder that she was losing her sister to another family, and soon Celeste would no longer be a part of Rebecca’s life on a daily basis.
“That’s fine,” Rebecca said, and swallowed the tight knot of emotion gathering in her throat. “I understand.”
“Thank you.” Celeste appeared relieved. “While I’m gone, I need you to do me a favor, if you can.”
Rebecca squeezed her sister’s hand. “Anything, you know that.” And she meant every word. There wasn’t a thing she wouldn’t do for her sister.
“There’s a brand new candy shop a few blocks from here on Larchmont Street that makes the most incredible chocolates and confections,” Celeste said, her expression turning to one of heavenly bliss, since chocolate was one of her greatest weaknesses. “When I was here last week I placed a special order for some petits fours for tonight’s cocktail get-together with the bridal party and family. I was hoping you could pick them up for me so that would be one less thing I have to worry about today.”
Rebecca figured running the errand for her sister was better than sitting alone in her hotel room for the next few hours thumbing through a magazine. “Consider it done.”
“You’re the best!” Celeste wrapped her arms around Rebecca in a warm, exuberant hug. “The shop is right down the street and close enough to walk to, or you can take a cab instead, if you like.”
“I think I’ll walk.” Rebecca wasn’t about to miss the chance to enjoy such a gorgeous, sunny day by taking a cab ride. “What’s the place called?”
“Sinfully Sweet. And I can personally guarantee that the shop lives up to its name.”
Rebecca was definitely intrigued by her sister’s comment. While chocolate wasn’t one of her basic food groups as it was for Celeste, she di
Together, they took the elevator back down to the lobby, then Rebecca waved good-bye to her sister, heading out of the hotel and down the resort’s entry road that led to the main streets. In no particular hurry to reach the candy shop, she strolled along casually, taking in the sights while enjoying the warmth of the sun on her skin and the slight breeze tousling her hair.
When she reached Larchmont Street she made a right as her sister had instructed, and sauntered past specialty boutiques, a quaint outdoor café, and other unique stores. She window shopped along the way, admiring clothes and jewelry and other one-of-a-kind novelties and antiques until a designer handbag boutique gave way to an adjoining shop displaying in their window the most delectable-looking candies and chocolates. The glossy black and gilt name on the window, Sinfully Sweet, confirmed that she’d reached her destination.
She entered the store and was instantly enveloped by the rich, sweet scent of expensive chocolate. All around her she was surrounded by an array of tempting, tantalizing candies, including different-sized heart-shaped boxes for Valentine’s Day and dozens of colorful foil-wrapped chocolates displayed on a table in the center of the shop.
Everything in the place definitely looked sinfully sweet and smelled just as wickedly delicious.
Other than a quick “I’ll be right there” from the back room, Rebecca was completely alone, and she took advantage of that fact. Closing her eyes, she breathed in slow and deep, inhaling the drugging scent of the chocolate. The fragrance alone was like an aphrodisiac to every one of her senses.
She inhaled again, mainly because she just couldn’t help it. There was something about this place that made her feel sensually charged, and she found herself wondering if it was possible for a woman to have an orgasm just from the rich, decadent smell of chocolate.