Sydney was never big on sports.
It wasn't that she was athletically challenged. It was just that chasing a ball around a court, or watching other people do it, had never really been high on her list of favorite things.
However, as she stood at the center of the Carlu Round Room, surveying the best of the NBA that Toronto had to offer, she had to admit that professional sports definitely had a few attractive features.
"Thank you, Sydney."
Sydney grinned and folded her arms as she considered her younger sister.
"For Christmas in October." Lissandra bit her lip. "Look at all those presents."
Sydney turned in the direction where Lissandra was staring, just in time to catch the burst of testosterone-laced eye candy that walked through the main doors. Tall, muscular, and irresistible, in every shade of chocolate a girl could dream of sampling. She was starting to have a new appreciation for basketball.
Sydney's eyebrows shot up. "Is that ...?"
"Yes, girl. And I would give anything to find him under our Christmas tree," Lissandra said, as her eyes devoured the newest group of NBA stars to steal the spotlight. "I love this game."
Sydney laughed. "I don't think it's the game you love."
"You laugh now," Lissandra said, pulling her compact out of her purse. "But when that hot little dress I had to force you to wear gets you a date for next weekend, you'll thank me."
Sydney folded her arms across the bodice of the dangerously short boat-necked silver dress that fit her five-foot-nine frame almost perfectly. It was a bit more risqué than what Sydney would normally wear but seemed almost prudish compared to what the other women in the room were sporting. At least it wasn't too tight. And the cut of the dress exposed her long, elegant neck, which she had been told was one of her best features.
"I'm here to work, not to pick up men," Sydney reminded her sister.
"No, we're here to deliver a spectacular cake." Lissandra checked her lipstick in the tiny mirror discreetly. "And since that cake is sitting over there, our work is done. It's playtime."
"Focus, Lissa." Sydney tried to get her sister back on task with a hand on her upper arm. "Don't forget this is an amazing opportunity to make the kinds of contacts that will put us on the A-list. Once we do that, more events like this might be in our future."
"OK, fine," Lissandra huffed, dropping her compact back into her purse. "I'll talk to some people and give out a few business cards. But if a player tries to buy me a drink, you best believe I'm gonna take it."
Sydney smirked. "I wouldn't expect otherwise."
"Good." Lissandra's mouth turned up into a naughty grin. " 'Cause I see some potential business over there that has my name etched across his broad chest."
Sydney sighed. Why did she even bother? "Be good," she said, adding a serious big-sister tone to her voice.
"I will," Lissandra threw behind her. But since she didn't even bother to look back, Sydney didn't hope for much. She knew her sister, and she'd just lost her to a six-foot-six brother with dimples across the room.
Sydney eventually lost sight of her sister as the crowd thickened. She turned her attention back to their ticket into the exclusive Toronto Raptors NBA Season Opener event.
Sydney stood back and admired her work again, loving the way the chandelier from above and the tiny lights around the edges of the table and underneath it lit up her creation. The marzipan gave the cream-colored square base of the cake a smooth, flawless finish, and the gold trim caught the light beautifully. The golden replica of an NBA championship trophy, which sat atop the base, was, however, the highlight.
She had to admit it was a sculpted work of art, and one of the best jobs she had done in years. It was also one of the most difficult. It had taken two days just to bake and decorate the thing. That didn't include the several concept meetings, the special-ordered baking molds, and multiple samples made to ensure that the cake tasted just as good as it looked. For the past month and a half, this cake job had consumed her life. But it was well worth it. Not only for the weight it put in her pocket, but also the weight it was likely to add to her client list. Once everyone at the event saw her creation, she was sure she would finally make it onto the city's pastry-chef A-list, and Decadent would be the go-to spot for wedding and special-event cakes.
She stood near the cake for a while, sucking up the oohs and aahs of passersby, before heading to the bathroom to check that she hadn't sweated out her curls carrying up the cake from downstairs. She took in her long, dark hair, which had been curled and pinned up for the night; her slightly rounded face; and plump, pinked lips; and was satisfied. She turned to the side to get a better view of her size six frame and smiled. Even though she had protested when Lissandra presented the dress, she knew she looked good. Normally she hated any kind of shimmer, but the slight sparkle from the dress was just enough to put Sydney in the party mood it inspired. OK, so Lissandra may have been right—she was there for business—but that didn't mean she couldn't have some fun, too.
* * *
By the time she reapplied her lipstick and headed back, the room was full.
She tried to mingle and did end up chatting with a few guests, but her maternal instincts were in full gear and it wasn't long before she found her way back to the cake. She was about to check for anything amiss when she felt gentle fingers on the back of her bare neck. She swung around on reflex.
"What do you think you're doing?" she said, slapping away the hand that had violated her personal space.
"Figuring out if I'm awake or dreaming."
Sydney's eyes slid all the way up the immaculately toned body of the six-foot-three man standing in front of her, to his strong jaw, full smirking lips, and coffee brown eyes. Her jaw dropped. And not just because of how ridiculously handsome he was.
She cringed. "Wow. That's a name I never thought I would hear again."
"And that's a half tattoo I never thought I'd see again."
Sydney slapped her hand to the back of her neck self consciously. She had almost forgotten the thing was there. It would take the one person who had witnessed her chicken out on getting it finished to remind her about it.
Hayden Windsor. Now wasn't this a blast from the past, sure to get her into some present trouble.
She tossed a hand onto her hip and pursed her lips. "I thought Toronto was too small for you."
"Then what are you doing here?"
"Right now?" His eyes flitted across her frame in answer.
"Stop that," Sydney said, her cheeks heating up as she caught his perusal.
"Stop what?" he asked with a laugh.
"You know what," she said. She shook her head. "You are still the same."
He shrugged in an attempt at innocence that only served to draw Sydney's eyes to the muscles shifting under his slim-fitting jacket.
"I can't help it. I haven't seen you in almost ten years. What, you gonna beat me up like you did when you were seven?"
"How about we continue this argument over dinner?" he asked.
"They just served appetizers."
The corners of his lips drew up in a scandalous grin. "Come on, you know you're still hungry."
He was right. That finger food hadn't done anything for her—especially since working on the cake had kept her from eating all day. But she wasn't about to tell him that.
Sydney smirked. "Even if I was, I don't date guys who make over one hundred thousand dollars a year."
He raised a thick eyebrow. "That's a new one."
"Yes, well," she said, "it really is for your own good. This way you won't have to wonder if I was with you for your money."
"So how about we pretend like I don't have all that money," he said, a dangerous glint in his eyes. "We could pretend some other things, too—like we weren't just friends all those years ago."
"I'm not dating you, Hayden," Sydney said, despite the shiver that ran up her spine at his words.
"So you can ask me to marry you, but you won't date me?"
"I was seven years old!"
"And at nine years old, I took that very seriously," Hayden said, his brow furrowing.
Sydney laughed. "That would explain why you went wailing to your daddy right after."
He rested a hand on his rock-solid chest. "I'm an emotional kind of guy."
"Hayden! There you are. I've been looking all over for you!"
Sydney turned to where the voice was coming from and fought her gag reflex. A busty woman with too much blond hair sidled up to Hayden, slipping her arm around his.
"This place is so packed that I can barely find anyone." The woman suddenly seemed to notice Sydney.
Samantha gave Sydney a constipated smile. "So good to see you."
Sydney didn't smile back. "Wish I could say the same."
Hayden snorted. Samantha dropped the smile, but not his arm.
Sydney glared at the woman in the red-feathered dress and wondered how many peacocks had to die to cover her Dolly Parton goods.
"So I guess you two know each other?" Hayden asked, breaking the silence that he seemed to find more amusing than awkward.
"Yes," Samantha volunteered. "Sydney's little bakery, Decadent, beat out Something Sweet for the cake job for this event. She was my main competition."
"I wouldn't call it a competition," Sydney said, thinking it was more like a slaughtering.
"How do you know each other?" Samantha probed.
Hayden grinned. "Sydney and I go way back. Right, Syd?"
Samantha raised an eyebrow questioningly and Sydney glared at her, daring her to ask another question. Samantha opted to keep her mouth shut.
"So this is where the party is," Lissandra said, joining the small circle. Sydney caught the flash of recognition in Lissandra's eyes when she saw who exactly made up their impromptu gathering.
"Hayden? Is that you?"
"The very same," Hayden said, pulling Lissandra into a half hug. "Good to see you, Lissandra."
"Back at you," Lissandra said. "Wow, it's been ages. I probably wouldn't recognize you except Sydney used to watch your games all the—oww!"
Lissandra groaned as Sydney's elbow connected with her side.
"Did she?" Hayden turned to Sydney again, a smug look in his eyes.
"Well, it was nice to see you all again," Samantha said, trying to navigate Hayden away from the group.
"Samantha, I can't believe you're here." Lissandra's barely concealed laughter was not lost on Sydney or Samantha. "I thought you would be busy cleaning up that business at Something Sweet."
Sydney bit back a smirk as a blush crept up Samantha's neck to her cheeks. Samantha went silent again.
"What business?" Hayden looked around at the three women, who obviously knew something he didn't.
"Nothing," Samantha said quickly.
"Just that business with the health inspector," Lissandra said, enjoying Samantha's discomfort. "Nothing major. I'm sure the week that you were closed was enough to get that sorted out."
Hayden raised an eyebrow. "The health inspector shut you down?"
"We were closed temporarily," Samantha corrected. "Just so that we could take care of a little issue. It wasn't that serious."
"Is that what the exterminator said?" Lissandra asked. Sydney coughed loudly and Samantha's face went from red to purple.
"You know," Samantha said, anger in her eyes. "It's interesting. We have never had a problem at that location before now. It's funny how all of a sudden we needed to call an exterminator around the same time they were deciding who would get the job for tonight's event."
"Yes, life is full of coincidences," Sydney said dryly. "Like that little mix-up we had with the Art Gallery of Ontario event last month. But what can you do? The clients go where they feel confident."
"Guess that worked out for you this time around," Samantha said, glaring at Sydney and Lissandra.
"Guess so," Lissandra said smugly.
Sydney could feel Hayden eyeing her suspiciously, but she didn't dare look at him.
"Well, this was fun," Sydney said in a tone that said the exact opposite. "But I see some people I need to speak with."
Sydney excused herself from the group and made her way to the opposite side of the room toward the mayor's wife. She had only met the woman once, but Sydney had heard they had an anniversary coming up soon. It was time to get reacquainted, and get away from the one man who could make her forget what she really came here for.
By the time the hands on her watch were both sitting at eleven, Sydney was exhausted and completely out of business cards.
"Leaving already?" She was only steps from the door, and he was only steps in front of her.
"This was business, not pleasure."
Hayden's eyes sparkled with mischief. "All work and no play makes Sydney a dull girl."
This time her mouth turned up in a smile. "I think you know me better than that."
His grin widened in a way that assured her that he did. "Remind me."
She shook her head and pointed her tiny purse at him. "I'm not doing this here with you, Dub."
He stepped closer and she felt the heat from his body surround her. "We can always go somewhere else. Like the Banjara a couple blocks away."
Sydney scowled. Him and his inside knowledge.
"If we leave now we can get there before it closes."
She folded her arms over her midsection. "I haven't changed my mind, Dub."
He grinned. "That's not what your stomach says."
Sydney glanced behind him, and he turned around to see that Samantha was only a few feet away and headed in his direction. Sydney wasn't sure what string of events had put Samantha and Hayden together that night. The woman was definitely not his type. Or at least she didn't think Samantha was.
"I think your date is coming to get you," Sydney said, her voice dripping with amusement. "Maybe she wants to go for Indian food."
"How about I walk you to your car?"
Without waiting for a response, he put a hand on the small of her back and eased her out the large doors into the lobby and toward the elevator.
"What's the rush?" she teased.
"Still got that smart mouth, don't you."
"I thought that was what you liked about me," she said innocently, as he led her into the waiting elevator.
"See, that's what you always got wrong, Nini." He leaned toward her ear to whisper and she caught a whiff of his cologne. "It was never just one thing."
Sydney tried to play it off, but she couldn't help the way her breathing went shallow as her heart sped up. And she couldn't keep him from noticing it, either.
His eyes fell to her lips. "So what's it going to be, Syd? You, me, and something spicy?"
He was only inches away from her. So close that if she leaned in, she could ...
A familiar voice in the distance triggered her good sense. Sydney stepped forward and placed her hands on his chest.
"I think you're a bit busy tonight."
She pushed him out of the elevator and hit the DOOR CLOSE button.
He grinned and shook his head as she waved at him through the gap between the closing doors.
"I'll see you soon, Nini."
For reasons she refused to think about, she hoped he kept that promise.
It was one hour and a quick stop later before Sydney found herself walking through the front door to her home.
"Syd? Is that you?" JJ called from somewhere upstairs.
"Yeah, it's me," Sydney called back to her sister as she kicked off her shoes at the door. She padded through the short hallway into the open-concept living-dining area. Her eyes glanced carelessly around the house that had been her home for the last eleven years, after she'd moved out of her mother's home to live with her dad, Leroy.
Leroy had initially bought the five-bedroom dream house for himself; Sydney's mother, Jackie; and all the children they hoped to have. But somehow it had not worked out the way he had planned, and when Leroy and Jackie split up, Jackie packed up Sydney, Lissandra and JJ and moved them to a dream house of her own. That dream house had seen Jackie through a rebound marriage that produced Sydney's half-sister Zelia; a short-lived reconciliation that produced her brother Dean and another rebound marriage that gave Sydney her other half-sister Josephine. As it was, Jackie had been with that house longer than she had been with all of her husbands combined.
By the time Sydney had hit eighteen, the drama of living with a revolving door of stepfathers had been too much for her, and she decided to move in with her father. Her two closest younger sisters, Lissandra and JJ, followed suit not long after, and the four of them became each other's new family. That was, until Leroy died a year and a half ago. Then things changed again. Now it was just her and her two sisters.
"Oh my goodness, what is that smell?" JJ asked, coming down the stairs and into the kitchen. She went immediately to the take-out bag that Sydney had placed on the counter.
"Is that curry?" Lissandra asked, entering from the living room. "From Banjara?"
Excerpted from Get You Good by RHONDA BOWEN. Copyright © 2013 by Rhonda Bowen. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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