Seduction By Chocolate
More alluring than Aphrodite, more irresistible than Romeo, the power of this sensuous seductress is renowned. It teases the senses, tempting even the most staid; it inspires wantonness, demanding surrender. Whether savored or devoured, one languishes under its tantalizing spell. To sample it is to crave it. To taste it is to yearn for it. Habit-forming, mouth-watering, sinfully decadent, what promises to sate the hungers of the flesh more? Four couples whet their appetites to discover that seduction by chocolate feeds a growing desire and leads to only one conclusion: Nothing is more delectable than love.
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Seduction By Chocolate
“Wake a naked man? Hmm. Interesting. Anyone special in mind?” Ann Hawkins strained to hear above the happy whirring of four blenders.
Across the room, Matt Davis repeated his message. With gestures.
“Oh. Got it. Bake a naked man. Ouch. Sounds painful.” She cut carrots into fanciful figures while she waited for the blenders to finish.
She didn’t need to hear to understand Matt’s four-letter response. Before she could react, he brushed past her and shut off her blenders. Talk about nerve.
“Damn it, Ann, I said make a naked man.”
She blinked. “Sorry, Davis. I don’t do the Adam and Eve thing.” Her mind was really on the tingle he’d left behind when he passed her. Must be leaping electrons from all the appliances in her kitchen.
He breathed deeply, and she could almost see him gathering his remaining patience into a neat little pile. “I’m asking you to make one naked chocolate man. Life-size, of course.”
“Of course.” He wasn’t kidding. She dropped her knife with a clatter, scattering little carrot figures across the counter.
“Okay, let’s clarify a few important words here. “Naked. As in without clothing or visible covering. Bare.”
“Right.” He nodded encouragement.
“Man. As in the opposite of woman. With body parts not normally viewed during the course of the average day. How am I doing?”
“No.” She picked up the knife and hacked away at the nearest carrot. She’d call this food sculpture Matt Davis Meets Lizzie Borden.
“No?” He looked surprised. Matt did “surprised” well.
“No. Chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry men are not on my menu. Ever.”
“I bet you’ll make an exception this time.” Relaxing, he leaned against the nearest oven and slanted her the killer smile that usually reduced her to a compliant puddle.
“Bet I won’t.” Uh-oh. A Matt attack. First the smile, then the fingers through the hair, finally the eyes. She’d never lasted through the eyes, so she didn’t know what came next.
“We needed a big deal, sweetheart, and this is the biggest we’ll ever get.” He raked his fingers through overlong hair that always had a tousled, I-just-climbed-out-of-bed-after-a-great-night-of-sex look. “Carlson agreed to give Movable Feasts all his catering business if we’ll do this one man.”
“Nope.” She brightened. “How about a swan? I do a great ice swan.”
He straightened away from the oven and moved over to stand in front of her. Six feet of intimidation. No, not exactly intimidation. More like…
“A swan wouldn’t work, Ann.” He placed a finger under her chin and raised her gaze to his. Oh, no. The dreaded tingle. And all the appliances were off. “Carlson’s daughter is giving a bachelorette party for a friend. The swan’s cold. They want hot. Real hot.”
“I guess you’re right. That swan I used for a model wouldn’t stop flapping its wings anyway. And the feathers kept sticking to the ice.” Ice. She could use some now. Because even though the air conditioner was going full blast in the hot Galveston afternoon, standing near Matt created its own sizzle zone. It was easy to explain. He just gave off a lot of body heat.
His mouth remained firm, but those haze eyes of his framed by thick lashes laughed at her, made promises he’d never keep. “I don’t see a problem. You’ve done loads of sculptures. What about that—“
“Pig. It started out as a very big piggy bank for the bankers’ conference. Ended up very small because I kept making mistakes and shaving more off it.” She smiled. “Cute little piggy.” Her smile faded. “If I’d used a real model, it would’ve still been a big pig.”
Matt exhaled sharp, then sat down on the floor, his back propped against the counter. That was Matt. An instant-gratification kind of guy. When he felt like sitting, eh sat. He couldn’t be bothered with pulling over a stool. Instant gratification. He’d been the same when she was seventeen.
“Come down and talk to me, Ann.” Reaching up, he pulled her down beside him.
She edged away from his field of influence. “No naked men. Not a chance. I mean, ice swans are cool, elegant. Little pigs are cute and cuddly. Naked men are hot and…hard. I don’t do hot and hard.”
“Listen to me.” He rubbed his hand down the side of his thigh.
She wished he’d get rid of those worn jeans and try to look more professional. Get rid of those jeans. She didn’t think she’d go there today.
“Uh-uh. Not listening. See?” She clapped her hands over he ears. Now that was a mature reaction, she told herself.
Firmly, he pried her hands away from her ears, then held her hands in his. Aha. Now she knew what came after eyes: physical coercion.
“Look, Ann, when we formed this partnership three years ago, we agreed you’d be the creative genius of the company, and I’d handle the business end.”
He rubbed a rhythmic pattern across the back of her hand with his thumb. It didn’t help her concentration.
“Well, your resident business adviser is telling you that if we don’t get Carlson’s contract, we’re toast. We need money to buy new equipment, hire more help. If we don’t upgrade, the competition will bury us.”
“That’s why I already told Carlson you’d do it.”
“You told him what?” She’d carve his heart out with her carrot knife.
”He wanted an answer right away. If I hadn’t agreed, he would’ve called someone else.”
“Ah the magic word. Called. Why didn’t you call me?” He’d released her hands. A tactical error on his part.
He threw his entire arsenal at her at once. His crooked boyish grin, the one guaranteed to melt steel or a woman’s hard heart. His take-me-to-bed eyes. The fall of his dark, run-your-fingers-through-it-and-lose-your-soul hair. “I knew you’d say no.” Leaning over, he kissed the end of her nose. “Think about it.”
Rising in one fluid motion, Matt strode to the door. “Give Carlson his damn chocolate man, Ann.” His voice was a husky murmur. “If you don’t, we may as well close up shop and go our separate ways.”
She shut her eyes and rubbed her tingling nose. Her eyes were still closed when she heard the door click and knew he was gone. But then, he’d really been gone for fourteen years.
Ann opened her eyes and faced the truth. She’d make the chocolate man. Only to save the business. No other reason. And if Matt Davis walked away from Movable Feats, it wouldn’t bother you at all. Sure.
She trusted Matt’s decisions. Except for the one he’d made when she was seventeen.
Okay, so what was she so ticked about now? He hadn’t consulted her. He’d gotten used to making the business decisions and didn’t think she’d want to bother with money details. Most of the time he was right, but not this time. He’d manipulated her.
She allowed herself a slow, wicked smile to go with her wicked thoughts. Payback would be sweet. Chocolaty sweet.
He’d manipulated Ann. It’d been for the good of the business, but it was still wrong. Matt parked his red Mustang along the seawall, then got out. It had been for her own good, too.
Who was he kidding? He’d done it for himself. Turning from the car, he gazed out at the waves curling in from the Gulf. The sea breeze lifted the hair from his neck and cooled more than his skin.
If Movable Feats went under, they might drift apart again. And he had some unfinished business with Ann Hawkins. Fourteen-year-old business. She had to make the naked man. He opened the car door and slid back into the driver’s seat.
All the way back, he lined up more reasons for their doing the chocolate man, and when he walked through the kitchen door, he was loaded for bear. “Look, Ann, you have to think about—“
“I’ll do it.” She calmly continued arranging a veggie rain forest on a large tray.
“The…” He blinked. “You’ll do it?”
She fingered the hem of her shorts, and his gaze followed the motion, moved down her long legs to her feet. She’d slipped of one sandal and was running her bare foot back and forth against her other ankle. Pink polish. Each toenail was painted with soft pink polish. Very female, very sexy. He pictured those sexy toes sliding up the inside of his thigh and his groin tightened.
“Yep.” Her toes worked harder at her ankle. “Darn mosquitoes.”
His imagination moved to fast-forward. Them. Naked. He’d kiss every inch of that luscious leg, starting at that mouthwatering pink-tipped toe.
“Get me a newspaper, will you? I can hear one buzzing now.”
“Uh-huh.” He pulled the Daily News from the table and handed it to her.
Okay, so he had a pink fetish. Ever since his fifth birthday. His mom had taken him to the bakery and bought him a cupcake with pink icing. He’d complained pink was a girl’s color, until he’d tasted it. Great birthday. Great pink icing.
Whack. Whack. Whack. “Gotcha, needle-nose. Minivampires don’t last long in Ann Hawkins’s kitchen.” She swept her long brown hair away from her face.
Last. He’d always liked to make great things last. He remembered sliding his tongue over that icing. Slowly, letting the sweetness melt on his tongue. Then why the hell didn’t you make it last with Ann?
This time he would. He’d make it go on forever, slow and sweet.
“Wow, hunting mosquitoes is hot work. Are you hot?” She fiddled with the thermostat.
“Always.” He glanced again at Ann’s toes. They would be a great starting point for a hot night of sex. “What made you change your mind?”
She shrugged and slipped her sandal back on. “You’re right. We can’t pass up a chance like this. The business comes first.”
“Yeah, the business.” He’d suggested the whole thing, so why the letdown? What had he expected from her? Damned if he knew.
“I’ve already arranged for the chocolate. A block that size costs plenty. I hope Carlson’s paying us a lot.” She brushed a bread crumb off her blouse.
“He is.” He watched sourly. She could brush him out of her life just as easily. “I’ll show you his offer.” He reached into the back pocket of his jeans.
She waved him away. “Never mind. You always make the best deals.” She took a deep breath as she glanced around the kitchen. “I think everything’s ready for Jo and Francois.”
“Right.” He wished she’d take a few more deep breaths, get his mind off her toenails. “I figure you can do the carving here at night after everyone’s left. If we put the chocolate on something with rollers, we can throw a piece of plastic over it and roll it into the cooler when you’re not working on it.”
She nodded. “makes sense. I sure don’t want to do it during the day. Jo would tell me what to make bigger, and Francois would tell me to make it…” She pinkened. “Anyway, the kitchen it is. Living upstairs is a plus. If I can’t sleep or I get inspired, I can run down to work on it.”
He exhaled on a relieved breath. So far so good.
“Of course, I’ll need a model.” She carefully rearranged a celery stick on her veggie tray.
“Model? Why do you need a model? Can’t you just pick up a copy of Playgirl and find a picture?”
“Uh-uh. I’m not that good. I need a live model. Remember what happened to the pig?” She covered the tray with clear plastic. “Do you want a naked man then inches tall?”
“Live model?” He was starting to sound like a mike with feedback problems.
“I couldn’t possibly work without one. A man has so many…appendages. They’re very detailed.”
Appendages? Made him sound like an octopus. “I won’t go out and hire some stranger off the street.” Jealous, Davis? Damn straight.
He raked his fingers through his hair. Good thing he kept it long, because he needed lots of raking room. “Okay, what’re our options here?”
She finally met his gaze. He didn’t like the strange glitter in her eyes.
“You can model for me. I can relax with you.” She shrugged. “I mean, we’ve been friends forever. Nothing embarrassing about a working relationship.”
He was speechless. He could always think of something ot say about almost anything. But this? Standing naked in front of Ann Hawkins while she studied each part of his body with those big brown eyes? Standing naked while she slipped of her sandals and rubbed one pink-toenailed foot against the other? Naked under her gaze for hours, and hours, and—
“Come on, Matt. It’s not as if I never saw you naked before.”
She’d never seen him naked. Twenty minutes in his backseat with his jeans around his ankles didn’t constitute naked. He frowned. Okay, fifteen minutes.
“It’ll be a cinch.” She snapped her fingers in the face of his glower. “After a few minutes it’ll be just like carving a pig. No big deal.”
No big deal! Carving a pig? He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been this mad. Maybe it was the time in sixth grade when Tommy-the-turd said that Ann’s braces would lock onto a guy’s teeth if he tried to kiss her, and they’d be joined for life. Matt had gotten suspended for fighting, but it’d been worth it when he’d come back and seen the yellowing bruises all over Tommy’s face. No one had ever said anything about Ann again with him around.
Ann stared at him. “Think about it. It’s the only way I’ll carve the statue. Take it or leave it.”
He started for the door.
“Oh, I’ll have them deliver the chocolate tomorrow night when everyone’s cleared out.” Her voice sounded a little uncertain.
“I’ll be there.” He knew his voice was a gruff snarl, but he didn’t care.
“Is it a deal?”
“It’s a deal.” He slammed the door closed behind him with enough force to make the walls vibrate. A pig.
He build up a head of steam all the way back to his Mustang. His first impulse was to hit some bar in Texas City, have a drink, then pick a fight with some kick-butt biker named Destroyer. That would work out his aggression.
But as he calmed down, the impulse faded. Hmm. Seen him naked, had she? Naked at eighteen wasn’t the same as naked at thirty-two. And he did want her to see him in a different light. Hey, naked was about as different as you were gonna get.
If he couldn’t awaken any interest in her when he was buck naked, then maybe the whole thing was hopeless. He didn’t want to believe that. Ever. He’d started the ball rolling, so he couldn’t complain because it’d curved in an unexpected direction.
He’d always been up for a challenge, though. And the stakes were high: a second chance with Ann Hawkins.
He smiled. She’d find out she’d bitten off more than she could chew, chocolate or otherwise. It was the otherwise that made him lick his lips.
Ann Hawkins had made a mistake. She’d felt it leering at her from behind the massive block of chocolate plunked in the center of the gleaming kitchen.
The aroma of rich chocolate overpowered her, made her think of dark nights, tangled sheets, and the hard body of a man with midnight hair and gleaming hazel eyes.
God, she was hallucinating. Shed have to wear a protective mask to filter out the chocolate scent.
What the hck had she been thinking about? She couldn’t sculpt a naked man. Especially Matt Davis. She sighed. Okay, so she hadn’t been thinking at all. All she’d seen was the chance to get back at Matt for agreeing to this without consulting her.
Maybe she could delegate this job, get someone else to do the dirty work. Francois? She hadn’t found anything yet that her head chef couldn’t do with food.
Don’t wimp out now, Hawkins. Ann pulled up a stool in front of the chocolate, tring to imagine it in its new incarnation.
The problem was, she had this reaction to Matt, like the hives she got when she ate strawberries. She was crazy about strawberries, but they weren’t for her.
Not that she was crazy about Matt, because she wasn’t. How could she be crazy about a man after ten minutes in the backseat of his car? Strawberries give you hives, but you’re still crazy about them. She pushed the thought aside.
The bottom line? She’d never been able to look Matt in the eye, or anywhere else, if she backed out now.
She glanced down to check her slacks. Tan. They shouted efficient and in-charge.
Her blouse? White. White for calm, all emotions under control. She frowned. Maybe white hadn’t been the best choice. White for…virginal, and virginal didn’t quite suit the picture of the successful thirty-one-year-old businesswoman she was trying to appear.
She wouldn’t have to worry about getting chocolate on it. Tonight she’d just be doing some sketches, getting a feel for the sculpture. Feel. She’d have to make sure that feeling didn’t enter into this. Neither physical nor emotional. She’d only be able to do this if she was in control—of herself, of her work.
And Matt would have no doubt that she was in charge. She allowed herself a small, smug grin. He’d be naked and she’d be fully clothed. He’d be vulnerable, at her mercy. Yes!
Her power moment evaporated as she heard the front door open and footsteps move toward the kitchen. She scrambled to her feet. For one frantic moment she imagined him standing in the threshold in all his naked glory. She wasn’t ready yet, hadn’t made the mental preparation, couldn’t…
She drew in a deep breath and forced herself to relax. Stupid. He wouldn’t have to take all his clothes off for a few days. She’d carve his head first. Slowly, carefully. Then his chest. That would take a long time. Had to get those pecs just right. Maybe after that she’d skip to his feet. Feet took ages. Toes were very detailed work. And legs? Legs would take a long time to plan.
When he opened the door she gazed at him with what she hoped was a serene expression. “Well, looks like everything’s ready.” Except me.
Striding over to the pillar of chocolate, he circled it. “Milk chocolate? Don’t you think bitter would be a little more…masculine?”
She looked at his worn jeans. She wondered what lay underneath. Briefs or boxers? Maybe…nothing? Her lips curved up at the thought.
“You think my idea is funny?” A small frown line formed between his incredible hazel eyes.
“No, no.” She tried to look serious. “I value your input, but remember that chocolate is for eating, and eventually those women will eat this. Milk chocolate tastes better.” She coughed to get rid of the husky note that had crept into her voice, and blinked frantically to banish the mental picture that refused to go away. Matt and her mouth shouldn’t be allowed in the same thought.
“Okay, you’ve got a point there.” He stood with his back to her, studying the chocolate.
She slid her gaze across his shoulders. His black T-shirt stretched across muscle and flesh. Not the same shoulders she remembered from when he was eighteen. They had been the same width, but without the strength, the maturity.
Surrendering to the pull of gravity, her gaze followed the curve of his back to his buns. Magnificent buns. They hadn’t changed. Every girl at Ball High had rated them as buns to die for. During the frantic moments in matt’s backseat, she hadn’t even gotten a chance to touch them.
And you won’t touch them now if you’re smart, the reasonable part of her brain interrupted.
He turned around and she raised her gaze just in time.
“Look, I had a flat tire on the way over. I feel dirty and sweaty. Do you mind if I use your shower before we get started?” His gaze was steady. No embarrassment. Just a ho-hum sort of attitude.
Cold. Really cold. Well, she was hot enough for both of them. Her face felt like the Hot-as-Hell Chili that was one of her Texas specialties. The thought of him naked him her shower was too much. She needed breathing room to regain her self-control, her business persona, her—“The shower’s all yours. Oh, and keep all your clothes on tonight. I’ll just be working on your head.” Just get out before I run flapping and clucking into the street.
He nodded, then disappeared up the stairs.
Matt leaned against the tiled wall of Ann’s shower and took slow, deep breaths. His pounding heart ignored the him and continued its runaway gallop. Damn, this wasn’t going to be easy.
He’d rather strip in front of a mob of crazed women down at the Bare Truth than stand naked in front of Ann Hawkins and watch her twist a strand of her long brain hair around one finger as she studied his body with detached interest.
Taking off his clothes didn’t bother him. Taking off his clothes in front of someone he’d known since first grade did. Those eight minutes in the backseat of his Ford didn’t count. They had been hot and hungry and frenzied. Normal.
When she looked at him, would she see the ten-year-old who’d dumped his vanilla cone in her lap so she’d notice him? Would she remember standing up, brushing the dripping ice cream from her dress, then hauling off and socking him? He’d sported a black eye and a bruised ego for a week. Shoot, who’d believe he’d remember that?
Or would she just see a business partner? A sexless and nonthreatening one. He turned on the cold water with a jerk, then stood stoically beneath the icy cascade. Hell, anything was better than nonthreatening. Nonthreatening was vanilla pudding, lime Jell-O. He wanted her to see him as…
What? He soaped his body, then scrubbed with enough vigor to redden his skin. He wanted her to see him as someone other than the partner who handled the money, the eighteen-year-old who probably still held the record for doing it in the backseat the fastest, the ten-year-old with the ice-cream cone.
He wanted her to see him as…a man. Sliding the washcloth between his legs, he stopped. Closing his eyes, he imagined her hand slipping between his thighs, cupping him, then—He opened his eyes on a low groan. Who the hell got hard in a cold shower, and what the devil was that woman doing to his mind?
He stumbled from the shower and dried himself quickly. Think boring thoughts. Warm beer. Empty backseats. Pulling his clothes on, he glanced down to evaluate the situation. His body’s reaction was not too obvious. Not great, but okay.
Pausing at the head of the stairs, he drew in a deep breath. The next two weeks wouldn’t be that bad. He’d think of it as unfinished business. Working to correct a misconception he’d given her when he was young and foolish. Right And that episode in the shower a minute ago showed how controlled and unaffected you are.
Choosing to ignore that last thought, Matt strode confidently down the stairs.