Anything but Vanilla - By Liz Fielding


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 Cream’

‘Hello? Shop?’

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 closed in.

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 true.

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 depression...get her hopes up. Then, when they were dashed, she’d be ignoring everything, especially the scary brown envelopes. It didn’t take long for a business to go off the rails.


He frowned. It was the same voice, but whoever it belonged to was no longer outside—

‘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 of the chair, took a short cut 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 a very bad day and, in no hurry to halt her raid on the freezer, he leaned against the door making the most of the view.

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 home-made 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.

‘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 cream.’

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 luck.’

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.

—not Ria.

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,