Power Play - Amelia Wilde

PROLOGUE

ELISE

There are some men you can kiss once, just once, and they take up permanent residence in your brain.

For me, that’s Gabriel Hill.

I think about him as I mix twenty pounds of cake batter for a wedding cake. I think about him while I put them in the oven. I think about him while I prepare buttercream.

Music blasts over the speakers. Megan Thee Stallion. It makes my body want to move, which is helpful when your day starts before dawn.

Gabriel Hill is almost unearthly in his handsomeness. He’s good-looking enough to get any man or woman, any person, he wants. Rich enough, too.

Being charming on top of that is one step too far. It’s over the top. Artificial. Like a filling that’s been flavored with a saccharine raspberry syrup instead of fresh raspberries.

Because Gabriel Hill hates me.

And he should. But he doesn’t know the half of it.

Megan Thee Stallion raps about putting your back into it, and I bounce around the rubber mats on the floor, waving my piping bag like it’s a phone lit up during a concert. I have hundreds of buttercream roses to pipe, in pale pink and mint, the colors of the wedding.

The last time I saw Gabriel, he was in his brother’s office. I was there to get something for my best friend, Charlotte. It had been a hell of a week. Her dad had died. His death had come in the middle of a very public sex scandal between Charlotte and Gabriel’s brother, Mason. I was trying to be a good friend.

I knew something was wrong as soon as I walked in. Gabriel’s expression was placid at first glance.

Then he looked up.

There was darkness in his eyes.

It shocked me. I thought his eyes were lighter than his brothers’. They always seemed brighter, anyway. Lit with amusement. I remember the three of them from when I was younger. I remember, if only vaguely, their dad.

But when he looked at me…

Electric energy. Anger, even.

It ran in currents over my skin. Rose in my veins like cake in a pan. Surrounded my heart.

Why didn’t I run when he came toward me? He’s tall. Beautiful. Scary.

His accusations about the consortium and my parents and how they murdered his parents got to me. Being in the same room as him got to me. It was like he peeled the skin from my body and found all the things I was trying to hide.

When I was near him, all the guilt I’ve tried to push away over the years came rushing back. I felt the truth in every inch of me: I owe him. I owe Gabriel Hill for what I took from him. His parents. His brother, as whole as he was before he suffered a catastrophic injury. The life he would have had.

I left my parents’ house because of how horrible my parents are. I abandoned that world.

A lot of my friends turned their backs on me.

Charlotte didn’t, and I want to return that loyalty. And keep her friendship. And keep her safe.

But Gabriel reminds me… I am the danger.

When the cakes are done baking, I take them out to cool on racks.

They cover almost the entire surface of the kitchen, like confectionary tectonic plates. That’s how it feels, really. As if I’m on my own planet, where everything is edible.

That’s what I love most about owning a bakery. Making delicious things for people to enjoy at birthday parties and graduation celebrations. When I do weddings, I meet with every prospective bride and groom myself. It would be easy to grow my bakery into something monstrous. I’m sure my father would berate me about not growing bigger if he had the chance. Employees could be having those meetings. Employees could be baking. But I like it small and personal. I like creating with my own two flour-covered hands.

I insist on it, actually.

The chorus to the song is about a man going down on a woman, but I don’t flush. I don’t look away, because I’m alone. That’s why I listen in private, where I can admit that I actually want that. Well, I want to try sex. I’m not so sure about the oral sex part.

But if Megan Thee Stallion likes it, maybe I would, too.

Then the music stops.

One second it’s playing at full volume. The next there’s dead silence in the kitchen.

My ears ring. My first thought is a power outage. Those happen sometimes in the city, but the red light is still on outside the commercial ovens.