Copyright Erin Nicholas 2020. All rights reserved.
No one fell in love over cheesy potatoes.
That was ridiculous. There was nothing sexy about cheesy potatoes. Or potatoes without cheese, for that matter.
But lust? Well, that was a possibility. Apparently.
Because watching Grant Lorre eat cheesy potatoes across her best friend’s mother’s dining room table was making Jocelyn Asher hot.
Of course, Maggie McCaffery’s cheesy potatoes were award-winning. Seriously. She’d taken home the purple ribbon four times from the Dubuque County Fair and twice from the Iowa State Fair. And Grant seemed to agree that they were delicious. He’d made a sexy groaning sound when he’d first taken a bite, and Josie had been mesmerized as his lips closed around the tines of his fork. Never mind how her heart rate had picked up when he’d turned the fork and licked it.
She was a mess. Purple ribbon or not, Josie was pretty sure that getting worked up over watching a man eat potatoes meant she was hard up.
She took a long drink of iced tea and tried to remember the last time she’d had sex. If she wasn’t forgetting anyone—and how sad would that be—the last time had been with Ben Davis. After Kara Davis’s, now Tibbin’s, wedding.
Last week Kara had been into Buttered Up, the bakery where Josie worked with her best friend Zoe, to order a miniature version of her wedding cake to celebrate their first anniversary.
Josie sighed. That had to explain the sexy potato thing going on across the table. It had to.
But then Grant laughed at something Aiden, his best friend and Zoe’s fiancé—yes, it was one big happy group at this table—said, and Josie felt her neglected lady parts clench. Yeah, it wasn’t the potatoes.
As weird as getting turned on by potatoes might be, it might have been preferable to being turned on by the man who had been coming into the bakery nearly every morning for the past two weeks, but hadn’t so much as asked her to have a cup of coffee with him.
He’d asked her if the blueberries in the muffins were locally sourced. He’d asked her if they had any gluten-free cinnamon scones. He’d asked her for a lemon slice for his cup of hot water. But that was pretty much the extent of the things he’d asked her over the course of the time they’d known each other.
Oh, and he’d caught her when she’d fallen. Twice.
The first time she’d been up on the stool reaching for a bag of flour. Her shoulder pain, which was becoming more and more of an issue, had jabbed her hard, and she’d dropped the flour and slipped off the stool.
But Grant had been there. He’d caught her. In his arms. Very gallantly.
The second time, she’d been up on a ladder, dusting the bakery’s shelves, and he’d startled her. She’d twisted, and her foot had slipped off the rung—or something. She wasn’t totally clear on what had happened because she’d been all about Grant then too—and he’d, again, swept her up before she’d hit the floor. Like a freaking knight in shining armor.
But both times he’d simply set her on her feet and gone on with his day.
She, on the other hand, was now getting hot and bothered by side dishes.
Honestly, he’d probably even make green bean casserole sexy and that should truly be impossible.
Then he’d started coming into the bakery every day. He placed his order with Zoe some of the time. When he did order from Josie that was all he did. It wasn’t like they’d even been flirting. But every freaking time he came through that door, she felt herself get a little happier.
It was like when five-year-old Sammie had come in that afternoon and seen the unicorn cupcakes Josie had made. The little girl had lit up. Everything about her had gotten brighter.
Josie felt for Grant the way Sammie felt for unicorn cupcakes. For sure.
“Are you all right, honey?”
Josie pulled her gaze away from Grant’s fork—which was lying innocuously next to his plate—to look up at Maggie. “Oh yes. I’m fine.” She gave the other woman a mostly sincere smile. Maggie was lovely and Josie, and Jane, Zoe’s other closest friend, had dinner with the McCafferys almost once a week.
At least, it used to be that way. Before Aiden had moved back to Appleby and he and Zoe had fallen in love and he’d become a regular at the table. And before Jane had fallen in love with Aiden’s friend Dax, and he’d taken up the third seat on Maggie’s right.
Not that Josie didn’t love Aiden and Dax too. But things around this table had changed, and she’d been feeling like a fifth wheel for the last couple of weeks. Henry, Zoe’s little brother, had told her she could be his date. He was cute, smart, and funny. But he was also only eleven so she was still, for all intents and purposes, the single girl at the table.
“You’ve barely touched your food,” Maggie said with a worried little frown. “Are you sure?”
It was very unusual for anyone to leave food at Maggie McCaffery’s table, it was true. And it wasn’t because Josie didn’t love Maggie’s pork chops, and yes, cheesy potatoes. She’d just been distracted throughout the meal. Which was entirely Grant’s fault. Which made no sense.
He was a suit-wearing, rich city boy who worked in an office, loved spreadsheets, drank hot water with lemon and worried about gluten, and who was, apparently, not attracted to her.
She didn’t need him. There were dozens of guys in Appleby—okay, a dozen, plus or minus—who were interested in her. Guys who happily ate gluten—a good thing for a guy dating a baker. Guys who wore good old blue jeans and worked with their hands and appreciated every dollar they earned and freaking drank coffee, the hot beverage God intended to be paired with baked goods. Gluten-free or not.
“I’m… feeling a little off,” Josie said, deciding to be as honest as she could. She wasn’t sick. She was annoyed. But that was “off” for her. She was bubbly and happy and optimistic, and much to her chagrin, sometimes, romantic.
A guy who caught her from falling off a ladder, who literally had swept her up and saved her, was supposed to at least want to take her on a date.
Especially if he was her age, handsome, and looked amazing in a suit.
She’d always thought she was a blue-jeans-and-flannels girl. Grant Lorre was making her think she’d been wrong about that. Very, very wrong.
Even tonight he was wearing a button-down shirt. He didn’t have a tie or jacket on, but he’d paired the shirt with jeans, and she would very likely always find flannel shirts lacking now. Which was going to be a problem. Small-town Iowa guys liked their flannel.
“Oh, honey.” Maggie put her hand on Josie’s forehead in a very maternal way, and Josie had to fight a smile. “Do you need some ibuprofen? Or how about lemon cake?”
That made the smile even harder to hide. The McCaffery family absolutely felt that lemon cake—or really any cake—was as medicinal as actual medicine. And Josie had really never had reason to doubt that belief, as a matter of fact.
“No, I think maybe I just need to head to bed early tonight.”
That wouldn’t hurt, and just getting away from Grant’s sudden presence in her social circle and his cheesy-potato sexiness was probably all the remedy she really needed. She hadn’t been expecting him to be here tonight. That was probably what was throwing her off.
She didn’t know the guy. She saw him for, like, three minutes each morning. Sure, she’d felt his rock-hard chest and his big biceps and had slid along his long, firm body as he’d caught, held, and then lowered her to the floor. Twice. But she was probably making it all better in her memories than it really was. Like how people remembered movies as being better than they really were. Or high school.
She just needed to get her mind around the fact that he was, evidently, sticking around Appleby. So she’d be seeing more of him. Even though he was from Chicago. And lived in Chicago. And worked in Chicago. And had come to her tiny hometown only because his best friends had decided they were all going to buy a snack cake factory, and Grant, from what she’d overheard from Aiden and Dax, was the money guy and kept everyone else in line when it came to business and investments.
So he was here babysitting his friends. Helping them get things going with their new venture. Making sure no one blew through several million dollars without any supervision.
Josie internally rolled her eyes. It was weird to her that Aiden and Cam—Zoe’s older brother—were millionaires. They’d met Dax and Ollie and Grant in college and had accidentally invented the fastest-growing online gaming phenomenon of the decade. So they were accidental millionaires. She supposed it was good they had someone like Grant around. Twentysomething guys fresh out of college with unlimited disposable incomes and no accountability could definitely get into some trouble.
Not that she knew anything about disposable income. She’d never had it and doubted she ever would.
Anyway, Grant was still here. Possibly because Aiden and Dax and the others still needed overseeing. But how long was that going to go on? Aiden and Cam were almost thirty. Dax and Ollie were twenty-eight or -nine. Did they really need Grant looking over their shoulders indefinitely?
And if so, did he have to do it with Buttered Up muffins and scones in hand? Couldn’t he just go straight to the office in the morning? Oliver seemed to manage. He was the only one of the five partners who she’d only met a couple of times. Ollie didn’t make regular stops at Buttered Up. He survived.
Then again, his assistant, Piper, did come in regularly and took treats back for Ollie, so there was that. But surely Piper could get Grant’s scones too.
Now, though, Grant was showing up at Maggie’s for dinner too. That was way worse than the few minutes in the bakery. He’d been charming and sophisticated and polite and intelligent tonight. She assumed. She’d kind of tuned out a lot of the particulars of the conversation, but he’d smiled and laughed and made others smile and complimented Maggie, and in general, seemed like a really nice guy.
Hot and nice.
She really needed him to have a flaw. Or four.
No, just one. She could cling to one.
Like the hot-water-with-lemon thing. What was that? That wasn’t a real drink. At least not in the morning before starting the workday.
Yeah, that was a flaw. She could work with that.
That was good because she didn’t want to start avoiding Maggie’s dinners altogether, and she was not going to keep leaving early and missing dessert. Buttered Up bakery had been in the McCaffery family for three generations. These people knew how to bake. Plus, she really did love the camaraderie and fun of the dinners at the McCaffery house. Even with the lovey-dovey new couples who made her own romantic heart yearn for what they had.
Yes, she yearned. For love. She was the romantic of their group. Zoe had always been too picky to really fall in love, and Jane had been too busy to even entertain the idea of letting a guy into her life full time. Josie, on the other hand, had been wanting it to happen for… ever.
And now she’d had not one, but two, incredibly romantic moments with a guy who only wanted lemon slices—for hot water, for heaven’s sake—from her.
“Well, okay, honey,” Maggie said, still looking worried. “I could get you some hot water with lemon and honey.”
“No!” Okay, that was a definite overreaction. Hot water with lemon was not the problem here. Josie smiled. “No, I’m okay. I’m just going to head out.”
“All right. But text me tomorrow and tell me how you are.”
Maggie leaned over and kissed the top of Josie’s head. Josie did feel cared for with the gesture. Maggie had been like a second mom to her all her life. She and Zoe had been best friends since first grade. Josie’s own mom and dad lived about fourteen blocks from here, but she loved Maggie and Steve dearly.
“Okay,” she promised Maggie. Her smile was much less forced this time.
As Maggie moved away, Josie’s gaze drifted to her best friend, sitting a few seats down.
Zoe was looking at her with an eyebrow up. Yeah, Zoe wasn’t falling for it. They worked together long hours every single day. Zoe had known Josie most of her life. They’d shared all their secrets. Zoe knew that Josie was fine. At least physically. And she was going to want to know what was going on.
So far, it had gone mostly unnoticed that Josie wasn’t talking much or paying attention to the conversation. That was one positive about having Dax Marshall around. He could talk to anyone about anything and made it a personal mission to have everyone laughing and enjoying themselves no matter the occasion. She swore that he could make a root canal fun. But she should have been doing a better job eating. A too-full plate would not go unnoticed at Maggie’s table.
“You’re sick?” Jane asked, pulling Josie’s attention to her other best friend as Maggie and Steve carried dishes out of the dining room. “I saw you eat the last piece of carrot cake in three bites and chug a cup of coffee just before we came over here.”
Josie scowled at her. “Shh.” She did not want Maggie to overhear that.
“What’s going on?” Jane asked. Though she did lower her voice.
“Nothing. I’m just… full.”
That would make sense. She had just eaten cake and coffee before coming over, and that should definitely mean she was full. Of course, her body didn’t work that way. She had a crazy-fast metabolism, which sounded like a blessing, and most of her girlfriends assured her that it was, but was actually a pain in the ass. She was hungry all the time.
Still, it did help since her career was making cakes—and pies and cookies and everything in between—and she really liked sweets. Being around sugar all day made it difficult to resist, and the stuff she and Zoe did with sugar was amazing, if she did say so herself.
“You’re just full,” Zoe said in a very yeah-right tone. “What’s really going on?”
“I’m just in a weird mood.” Josie flipped her hand as if to wave it all away as no big deal.
She really needed them to drop it. At least as long as Grant was around. She had no qualms telling her girlfriends that she was all mixed up about Grant. She was pretty sure they suspected it anyway. But no way was she admitting it to him. Or his friends.
She had been stoically avoiding looking at him since she realized she was fantasizing about him and root vegetables, but now she sneaked a glance.
Surprise and heat arrowed through her when she found his eyes on her.
He was watching her as if he knew exactly what was going on. Which was crazy. How could he know? They hadn’t even talked about the weather. How would he know that she was borderline obsessed with him?
She frowned. Maybe this happened a lot. Maybe women became obsessed with him all the time. The dark good looks, the air of indifference, the money, the suits, the smooth sophistication. Sure, those could do it. Some women might even overlook the hot-water-and-lemon thing.
Dark good looks made some things easier to overlook for sure.
“So I’m just going to go,” Josie said, scooting her chair back and standing.
It seemed imperative, suddenly, that she get out of here.
“You really think you’re just going to get away with acting weird and leaving?” Zoe asked. “Really?”
Josie gripped the back of her chair and pressed her lips together. She looked from Zoe to Jane. Then to Grant. She lingered there. Then looked at Zoe again. Josie shook her head. “No, I know you’re not going to let it go, but for now, it would be great if you’d just… give me some space.”
Zoe’s eyebrows went up again, but her look didn’t say you’re-full-of-shit. She looked concerned. “Just tell me you really are okay. Like mostly, generally, for the most part, okay.”
“I am,” Josie promised. “It’s just… weird. You’re going to think it’s super weird when I tell you, I promise.”
“You’re going to tell me too,” Jane interjected. “For sure.”
Josie nodded. “Absolutely.”
“Will we need wine?” Jane asked.
“Spiked lemonade,” Josie said. “Lots of spiked lemonade.”
“Got it,” Jane said.
For the three of them “spiked lemonade” generally meant there was a family issue or a guy issue they needed to talk about. Otherwise they stuck with the mellow, happy effects of wine. Spiked lemonade was for the serious stuff that needed numbing or the tearing down of inhibitions or both.
“’Night, everyone,” Josie said, looking around the table. She saved Grant for last.
She didn’t know him. He wasn’t a friend or a member of her friends-that-were-family family. He was a friend of a friend—two of them actually—so that meant that he had potential to be a part of that family though. Eventually.
And she was really going to have to figure out how to not have dirty thoughts about him when they were doing the simple family stuff with the rest of these nice people. Especially if, God forbid, he ever brought a date.
She shuddered. Then rolled her eyes at herself. She was jealous of a possible future date of the guy who wasn’t her type and who didn’t even like her cupcakes?
Everyone liked her cupcakes.
She couldn’t date a guy who didn’t like her cupcakes.
That would be like a… painter who dated a guy who didn’t love art. Or woman running a dog rescue who dated a guy who hated dogs.
No, actually, no one should date someone who hated dogs. That was just wrong on every level.
Still, she couldn’t date a guy who didn’t swoon over her cupcakes. Period.
Grant Lorre only bought muffins and scones. Those were Zoe’s specialties. Everything in the bakery was made from Zoe’s family’s recipes, of course. But Zoe wasn’t as… culinarily gifted… as Josie was. It wasn’t an insult to her friend. It was just a fact. Like saying Zoe had more freckles or Josie had bigger boobs. Josie was just better in the kitchen. So Zoe stuck to the basics. Muffins, cookies, scones. Zoe could decorate the basic cookies and cupcakes, of course. She’d been doing it since she was old enough to hold a whisk. But if anyone needed something special—a cake that looked like a dinosaur or cupcakes that looked like cats—that was Josie’s expertise.
She always did a few cute little things for the bakery case to go alongside the basic vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry with the swirled icing. And she wouldn’t lie, she loved the fact that her stuff usually sold out first.
But not to Grant Lorre.
Grant stuck with the basics.
He had no idea how moist and sweet her cupcakes really were.
And yeah, she meant that to sound a little dirty. Even if it was only in her head.
She was losing it.
“’Night, Jose,” everyone echoed in multiple variations as she started for the front door. She couldn’t face Maggie again. Maggie would either get even more worried… or she’d figure out Josie was lying about not feeling well.
She was feeling fine. Horny. But fine.
She really didn’t want to explain that to the group at dinner.
“I’m going to head out too.”
Josie froze in the doorway between the dining room and foyer as Grant spoke. She slowly turned back.
Grant was getting to his feet. He laid his napkin by his plate and smoothed a hand over the front of his shirt as he stepped around his chair.
“No dessert?” Dax asked. Dax Marshall never skipped dessert.
“Nah. I have some stuff I need to do yet tonight,” Grant said.
“Something more important than lemon cake?” Dax said, clearly not believing it.
“Definitely,” Grant answered.
Then he glanced at Josie.
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