Christopher Rice is taking us back to Sapphire Cove—the luxury beachfront resort on the sparkling Southern California coast where strong-willed heroes release the shame that blocks their heart’s desires—and I have a little sneak peek for you from this unputdownable age-gap romance filled with secrets, scandals, and oodles of spice. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.
At 7:30 p.m. on the dot, Ethan knocked on the door to Sapphire Cove’s penthouse suite.
“It’s open,” boomed a youthful voice in response.
On the other side of a black lacquer dining table, Roman Walker turned from the open deck door. In response to Ethan’s solicitous smile, he raised one dark eyebrow and wet his full lips with the tip of his tongue.
Night was minutes away from taking hold of the horizon outside, and the two-room suite was filled with pillar candles inside cylinder vases. In their flickering light, the cake slices spread across the table on bone china plates looked like they were melting.
When the young man took a step away from the taffeta drape fluttering in the ocean breezes, the light from the chandelier over the dining table revealed subtle gold highlights in his brushed-forward hair that matched the stud in his left ear. The thick choker around his throat looked like a bronzed collection of little finger bones.
He wore some designer’s lusty take on a varsity letterman’s jacket, snugger than any high school would allow. Despite its shiny leather, the black and white team number patches on the sleeves triggered years of frustrated adolescent fantasies Ethan had cultivated while repressing his sexuality at a conservative Southern high school where football was king. His black jeans looked poured on, and Ethan knew if he let his eyes drop below the guy’s waistline, he’d encounter a well-highlighted bulge. But when he stopped himself short, he ended up staring at a band of flat, tan stomach visible above the man’s shining belt buckle. He was either shirtless underneath the jacket or wearing a midriff shirt.
There was one other fact about the scene before him that was far more significant than the details of his body—Roman Walker was alone.
No sign of the wedding planner Ethan had met with several times; no gaggle of friends and assorted hangers-on whose presence would justify the champagne bucket at one end of the dining table.
A champagne bucket accompanied by two flutes.
Danger, Will Robinson, Ethan thought instantly.
There had been a time in his life when he’d regularly entered hotel rooms with strange—sometimes threatening—men, and it had left him with a set of spidey senses for the presence of an agenda that went beyond even the cautions his boss and supervisor had given him earlier that day. He sensed one now, straightened, and left the door open behind him as he entered the room.
Strengthening his smile, he stepped forward firmly and extended his hand. “Good evening, Mr. Walker. I’m Ethan Blake, the hotel’s executive pastry chef. I’m so grateful you were able to come out this evening, and I’m so very sorry if some of our earlier samples weren’t to the liking of our bride and groom. I’m sure we’ll come up with something they’ll just adore.”
Gazing into his eyes with unnerving intensity, shaking his hand as if their joined arms were stuck in molasses, Roman Walker said, “Oh, yeah, this isn’t about them. I wanted to meet you in person. You know, get a sense of the man behind the cake.” His voice sounded breathy but distant. Like an attempt at seduction mired in distraction.
“Apologies if I misunderstood.”
“I mean, don’t get me wrong. I want to make sure you’re working your absolute hardest.” Roman’s eyes scanned Ethan’s body, traveling low enough to make clear that yes, this had been some attempt at bad porn dialogue.
Ethan smiled. “Rest assured, this will be one of the finest wedding cakes I’ve ever made.”
“Close that.” The young man jerked his head in the direction from which Ethan had just come, then wet his lips with the tip of his tongue.
The order was both brusque and inappropriate, but Roman Walker’s tone and drowsy half smile suggested Ethan would be happy with the end result once he complied; Ethan felt otherwise.
“Perhaps we leave it open a little, if you don’t mind. The room tends to get a bit warm, especially if it’s been unoccupied all day. And sugar heats up the blood, as I’m sure you well know.”
“Sugar is poison,” he said. “But sometimes poison can be addictive, right?”
“One way of putting it. Have you had a chance to try any of the samples?”
Was Roman’s sudden glare meant to be seductive? Even if it wasn’t, Ethan thought it best to swiftly put some distance between it and him by walking along the edge of the table and taking up a position a few paces away.
“No,” Roman finally said. “I was waiting for you to lay it all out for me, big man.” The fitfluencer leaned against the edge of the table and looked from Ethan to the cake slices. Big man. Sugar is poison. Flirting, or making a dig about Ethan’s weight? Ethan was pretty regular with his gym time, but his abdomen had developed a mind of its own when he turned thirty-five, and no amount of sit-ups had been able to restore the washboard stomach of his youth. When he saw Ethan’s blank expression, Roman laughed, an awkward, nasally sound that didn’t match the poised perfection of the rest of him. “Sorry,” he said quickly, “you just, uh. I’m a little nervous.”
“Oh, you shouldn’t be, Mr. Walker. Rest assured, all the resources of this hotel are at your disposal. We’ll make sure your employers are nothing but pleased, I guarantee it.”
“No, I mean about you, Mr. Blake. You look as good as you do on TV.”