What’s the harm in a little cookie nookie?

 

When the secret aphrodisiac formula to Chicago baker Amie Patterson’s biggest seller is stolen, her Passionate Hearts cookies are in danger of being lost forever, and with them, her biggest profits. To make matters worse, the cookie frosting inadvertently inspired a hot clinch with her best friend and business partner, Nathan Ellison.

It was just a fluke—she would never endanger her friendship with Nate—but when she can't ignore her attraction, and it turns out one of  Nathan’s academic colleagues is the thief, Amie fears she’ll lose everything—her bakery, her friend, and everything else that matters.

Nathan isn’t about to let that happen, though. He’s a certified genius—and he’s also been in love with his best friend for years. However, saving the day might mean ruining his professional reputation--or losing Amie forever. 

Chapter One

 

     “Oh man, you are so hot,” Harold Kravitz—Dr. Harold Kravitz—whispered in Amie Patterson’s ear. His hand rested on her shoulder almost shyly as they walked up the stairs of the old brownstone together.

He wasn’t the kind of guy she usually dated, but he was cute in a geeky professor way, with his close-cut brown curls, his serious blue eyes and wire-frame glasses. He’d mentioned playing racquetball, and his physique was nice enough, she was pleased to note.

     He’d asked her out for Valentine’s Day, and she given him a definitive no – abut Valentine’s Day was a week away, so tonight was perfect. It had been a stressful day at work, and she could use to blow off some steam.

     The good doctor seemed fine with that, if curious about why she didn’t go out on Valentine’s Day. She simply told him she never had. She’d always just stayed home and relaxed. Sort of like on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, when none of the vampires came out on Halloween. On Valentine’s Day, she stayed home and relaxed – after work, of course. Valentine’s and the days leading up to it were always insane at the bakery, one of their busiest holidays.

     When her pal Nathan was around, they usually hung out together, grabbed a pizza, and watched Buffy DVDs. Totally platonic.

     That ritual had started back in college. She didn’t go out, and he hadn’t exactly been a lady’s man back then, so she hung out with him. As years passed, it became a thing. And, an evening she looked forward to.

     Amie always looked forward to time with Nathan.

     But Nathan wasn’t here this year, so she’d be on her own. That was fine, too.

     Tonight, she’d get laid, have some fun, and then she’d send the cute scientist on his way.

     I’m gonna rock your world, Dr. Kravitz, she thought with a secretive smile as she impulsively pushed him up against the wall near her apartment and found his lips for a kiss, pushing her doubts down deep.

     He was a decent kisser, thank God, and they seemed in full agreement about how this evening was going to end.

     Amie looked down the hall where a door shut, though she didn’t see anyone, and stepped away. She’d lived in this apartment building for six years and knew most of her neighbors. On top of that she was a local businesswoman with a reputation to protect.

     They’d had a pleasant enough evening. Harold had sprung for a very nice dinner and a show, and she’d cut him some slack on the social graces. After all, Harold was a scientist.

     Amie knew that social dexterity was not the strength of the scientific male. She might even have reason to claim a certain expertise in the type. After all, Nathan was a super-brain and famous science guy—well, famous in his world—and he was her best friend.

     Nathan was the one guy on earth she could trust, and a total sweetheart, but he was still a scientist. A true-blue genius. They’d met in high school, but he’d finished in one year and zoomed ahead, earning his second Ph.D. when Amie had only been in her sophomore year of college.

     She’d be lying if she didn’t admit that Harold was fulfilling a fantasy she’d held on to for a while. Well, in a sort of indirect way. Back in the day, Amie had thought of what it would be like to sleep with Nathan. He was sweet and handsome, despite his refusal to part with his glasses and somewhat haphazard academic mode of dress.

     She’d given up buying him beautiful designer shirts and so forth for holidays because he never wore them, though he admired them as gifts. Nathan was just…Nathan.

     After they were out of school, she’d thought about making a move, but when they opened a business together, the door to sex was closed firmly shut.

     As time went on, she didn’t want to risk destroying the one real relationship she had with a truly decent guy. There was a world full of men to bring home for a night, but good men were a rare find.             And Nathan was her friend. A true friend.

     She’d be an idiot to ruin that with sex.

     Opening her apartment door, she led Harold in by the tie and when the door shut, she turned on a low light, sliding her coat off and hanging it in the closet before taking his. Their hands touched, and her heartbeat picked up a little. The territory south of her belly button started to get that warm tingle of anticipation that signaled good things on the horizon.

     Amie loved seduction and everything that physical coupling had to offer. It was fun, energizing, and she was good at it. Knowing that gave her a sense of control. She could, with little effort, have any man she wanted. And usually did.

     Tonight, that was enhanced by Harold’s shy approach. She liked how he wasn’t all over her the second the door was shut. He let her take charge.

     She wondered if Nathan—never mind! She stopped, taking a breath and banishing the thought as           Harold stared at her as if she was the best thing since pink Popsicles.

     “Make yourself comfortable. I’ll be right back,” she said with sexy promise in her voice.

     “Hurry back. Please,” he said it so politely, so focused on her and still visibly excited that she couldn’t resist kissing him one more time.

     Taking in his moony-eyed gaze she hoped this science guy wasn’t tenderhearted.

     “You know this is a one-night thing, right?” she said, a hand on his face as she held eye contact. She liked the rules of the game to be clear.

     He nodded and she smiled. “Good. I’ll be right back.”

     She moved into her bathroom, washed up quickly, spritzing on some perfume and picking a black lace gown from her lingerie closet. Something told her Harold was a traditionalist. She took her hair down from its knot and shook it out, approving of her image in the mirror.

     On her way back out to the living room, she saw her cell phone light up on the dresser where she’d left it. She looked down to see who had left her a message.

     Nathan!

     Without hesitation, she picked up the phone and called her voice mail to check.

     “Amie? You there? It’s me, Nathan,” he said in the message, as if she wouldn’t recognize his voice. “I’m back a few days early, and the guy subletting from me isn’t out of the apartment until Sunday. Let me know if want to come by or grab dinner. I’ll be up late. Man, have I missed you.”

     She smiled, holding on to the phone for a second, feeling all warm and fuzzy at his words. She’d really missed him, too.

     Nathan was a very busy guy. Since college, he’d been in high demand as a speaker and guest lecturer. He still did that now that he was a professor at the university—when he wasn’t working on government contracts associated with the department’s high-security experiments. When someone had a gift like Nathan’s, everyone seemed to want a piece of him.

      Those speaking engagements had always paid quite well, as did his many publications. As his college years had been completely funded by a scholarship, he’d been accumulating quite the bank account since he was young.

     Not so for Amie. Even with her modest scholarship, she’d had to work all through college to be able to afford the necessities. However, Nathan was never arrogant about his accomplishments, and he never acted as if he was better than everyone else. Quite the opposite, when she’d met him, he was a bit of a loner. And a bit lonely. Maybe they both were.

     They became friends, and eventually he became her silent partner, bankrolling her bakery at the beginning. He’d also developed their “secret ingredient” — a cookie icing that included “pheromone extract” that gave female attraction a boost.

     In other words, eat a cookie or two with that icing on it, and the mutual attraction between any woman and her guy--or gal--was treated to a little extra spark.

     Nathan had helped her open the bakery in a part of town she never could have afforded, but his pheromone formula had put her bakery on the big map. She’d done television interviews, and Frosting     Dreams had become a tourist attraction of sorts.

     After a few write-ups in food and women’s magazines, she was even considering online sales.

To do that, she’d have to hire another baker, but she needed to make sure she was hiring the right person and had been stalling. When it came to her business, she was nowhere near as daring as she was in her social life. She’d been meaning to ask Nathan his opinion; maybe he would like to conduct interviews with her.

     Amie was a social butterfly and Nathan was more solitary, but they’d both had troubles in their youth that drew them together. He’d been a social outcast because of his intelligence, and she’d grown up with a domineering father. Amie had watched her mother suffer under his control, as did Amie herself.      She had no desire to attach herself to any man for longer than a night or two. Nathan was the only man she had any long-term relationship with, and they were only friends.

     Men she dated were for sex, and none of them seemed to mind.

     Nathan was the exception to the rule, in a platonic way. He’d never made a move on her, and for that, she was grateful. He was as dedicated to his work as she was.

     Nathan had dated three women that she knew of, one in college and two after that, but he was ultimately married to his work. Not many women could put up with his frequent absences and the times when, even though he was sitting right there with you, his mind was off spinning some theory.

The women he dated tended to be almost as smart as he was. Amie knew she didn’t compete in that area. She wasn’t stupid, but she was hardly on Nathan’s level when it came to brain power.

      Dialing quickly, she called his cell, casting an eye toward the front room, where Harold was waiting for her.

     “Hey, you,” he greeted her warmly on the second ring.

     The same surge of comfort and happiness overcame her, too, hearing his voice.

     “Hey you, back. I’m sorry, I just got your message. I was—”

     “Out on a date, yes. It’s Friday night. I’m sorry. I’m a little bleary on what day it is. They’ve all blended together lately. Who’s the lucky fella?”

     “Actually, um, he’s…”

     “There. I understand,” he said easily. “You didn’t need to call me right back. We can get together this weekend.”

     Her smile faltered at his easy acceptance of not seeing her after so long an absence. Suddenly the sexy night she’d had planned with Harold wasn’t so exciting.

    “No, I want to see you. It’s been a while,” she said, letting her black gown fall to the floor and quickly donning comfy underwear, yoga pants and a sweatshirt that claimed “Baking is My Superpower” instead.

     “How long are you home for?”

     “I’m teaching, so I’ll be here for the year this time. Wanted to get home a few weeks before the semester started to get ready. Didn’t I tell you before I left?”

     “Nope,” she said, though there wasn’t any blame in her tone. She was used to him forgetting details  like that.

     “Listen, there’s no hurry. Go enjoy your date.”

     “Are you okay?”

     “Braincloud,” he said wearily, and she grinned, understanding immediately.

     “Braincloud” was the inside joke they shared after watching the movie Joe Versus the Volcano to describe the complete fog and exhaustion Nathan suffered when he came out of his work-saturated life.

     He worked with such intensity. In college, he’d get so stuck in a project that he’d forget to eat, sleep, or to even leave his room. Once, he’d stayed in his room for so long working out a problem that the people in adjoining rooms thought something was terribly wrong and called her, the dorm student rep, to check it out.

     He’d barely noticed when she’d gotten security to open the door and they found him amid a forest of books and papers, his attention completely tuned to his work. He hadn’t eaten for two days, and Amie had taken it upon herself from then on to bring him food when he was working.

     Eventually, it became a ritual. She’d come to his lab or his dorm room with food and they’d share a break. She made him laugh, and he helped her get through three years of required math for her business degree. She baked him things all the time, and it had been his idea for her to open a bakery.

     When other guys were trying to find the best way to get into her pants, Nathan had just enjoyed her company and never asked for more. When she’d been turned down by one bank after another to start her business, having a weak credit history and no rich parents to back her up, Nathan had stepped up and loaned her the money. He’d had plenty saved and had been collecting money from patents and other work for years.

     It paid—in the literal sense—to be a child genius, and he was more than generous in sharing with Amie, no questions asked. Later, when he developed the icing formula, she’d signed him on as partner. Even though she had been paying back his loan, it was only fair that he shared in the profits. Those profits had been growing lately, as Frosting Dreams became an established city landmark.

     “You haven’t eaten, have you?” she said knowingly. That was part of why he sounded so out of it, most likely.

     “I’ll call room service, promise. Listen, you have someone waiting—go have fun,” he said, starting to hang up.

     “Wait. This guy, you know, it isn’t important. I don’t think we were clicking anyway,” she said. “I haven’t seen you in forever. I’ll be there in an hour with a pizza. Where are you?”

    He told her, and she called in the order for their favorite deep dish, thinking about how to let Harold down easily. It wasn’t fair, getting the guy all worked up and then fleeing the scene, but she wasn’t in the mood anymore.