Merciless Sinner (What Alex Wants #1) - E.M. Gayle

Chapter One


“I really hate fake holidays,” I grumbled as I piped the final petal on the thirty-third frosting rose.

“You say that every year, Harper.” My best friend Zia sat on a stool on the opposite side of the workbench watching me put the finishing touches on the cupcakes for what would be one of the dessert bar’s busiest days of the year.

“And every year I mean it.” I lined up the latest rose on the counter and flexed out my aching fingers. Only sixty-seven more to go before I could call this order complete. “I’ve been here since midnight, baking and frosting hundreds of pink and red cupcakes.”

“Speaking of… Why the hell are you doing this alone? It’s seven a.m. and we open in just a couple of hours. Shouldn’t someone be here helping you?”

“I told everyone else to be here at eight. Just because I don’t have a personal life, doesn’t mean I have to inflict my holiday pain on my coworkers. Besides, I’m not alone. You’re here.”

“Your lack of a life outside this shop is all your own fault, missy. Your divorce has been final for over a year now. It’s way past time to get back on the horse. Don’t you think?”

I winced at Zia’s mention of my divorce. The circumstances of my marriage and subsequent ‘divorce’ were convoluted at best. Horrific if I had to be honest. I’d run away from that scandal as fast as my bus ticket would take me and as far as I was concerned I wasn’t that girl anymore.

Hell, I barely recognized the memory of her.

Zia dipped a finger in the frosting bowl and sucked the sugary confection into her mouth. “Mmm,” she hummed in obvious delight. “God, I love this stuff. Are you ever going to give up your recipe for it?”

“Nope. The whole point of a secret recipe is keeping it a complete secret.”

Zia frowned in my direction. “Fine. That just means I need to stay focused on your love life instead.”

I groaned. What had I gotten myself into opening the door to my meddling friend on Valentine’s Day? She may have also been my boss as the owner of this place, but if Zia ever got out of bed before nine in the morning, you could count on her having an agenda. And apparently today that meant my missing sex life. “Let’s not and say we did, okay?”

“No way, no how. You’re not getting off that easy. I have an idea.”

Before I could start down my list of arguments against whatever Zia might have planned, the chime at the front door buzzed.

“Saved by the bell.” I set down the icing bag and wiped my hands clean on my apron as I swept past Zia. I hurried out of the kitchen and into the restaurant area before my friend got in another word.

I didn’t think twice about getting a delivery this early. I often did. What with all the fresh ingredients I needed on a daily basis to keep up with demand. Zia’s idea to open a dessert bar not far from Central Park has been a solid idea. But when she’d gotten plucked out of thousands of applicants for a new cooking show on the food network, her personal pet project exploded.

I spied the uniformed deliveryman as expected standing on the other side of the glass front door with a long white box in his hands. I frowned, furrowing my brow. What kind of delivery was this?

With quick precision and anxious curiosity, I turned the multiple locks and yanked open the door. “Can I help you?” I was certain he’d come to the wrong business and would now need directions to his real destination.

“I have a delivery for Harper Allison. Is that you?”

I nodded. “Yes, it is. But--”

He thrust an electronic clipboard in my face before I could finish. “I’ll need you to sign in the box on the screen please.”

I scribbled my name and handed it back to the delivery guy, who exchanged the long white box tied in red silk ribbon for his clipboard.

“Happy Valentine’s Day,” he murmured as he wandered off in the direction of his truck, which was nothing more than a standard delivery service that provided no clues to the origin of the strange package.

I stared at the box, dumbfounded. Who in the world would send me a package on a day like today? Since my ex there had been no one at all in my life and my former husband wasn’t about to