Matteo Leonelli is getting by, running his old-fashioned family bakery in the heart of Belleview, North Carolina. He’s struggled to keep the place going since his parents passed, and his cakes don’t taste the same without someone to share them.
Then, Matteo meets Ethan, a thoughtful, handsome artist, who sees Matt in a way no one has before, who touches him as if it’s a privilege. One date, and Matt is in love, dancing among clouds of meringue as he bakes up a storm to prepare for the holidays.
Ethan Price is getting by, running his family banking firm. He had to abandon his dreams of becoming an artist, but he gives it his best effort in his father’s memory. Then, he meets a man who makes his stress melt away like butter on warm bread. Matt, who smells like cookies and looks like a Caravaggio painting. Ethan is in love, head over heels as he rushes through the business of the day so he can see Matt again. He plans to sweep him off his adorable feet.
Disaster strikes as Matt’s bakery loans come due during the holidays. The news is just as shocking as the man who delivers it. Ethan isn’t the sensitive artist of Matt’s dreams, but a cold-hearted banker, and Matt’s heart crumbles like shortbread. As Christmas draws near, Matt works to save his bakery, while Ethan works to win him back. Beneath the sparkling lights of bakery windows displaying holiday treats, they must decide: can Ethan reconcile his passion for art and his love for Matt with his obligations to the family business? Can Matt forgive Ethan and open his heart to a love so sweet it outshines his pastries?
With determination, well-placed mistletoe, and a dash of cinnamon, they just might.
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Love on the Rise
A.C. Thomas © 2021
All Rights Reserved
It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining, birds were singing, and Matteo Leonelli had finally gotten laid.
He whistled some Sinatra as he patted down the dough for the next morning, then covered it with a clean flour cloth to rise overnight.
Suppressing a yawn, he piped the last batch of the cupcakes of the day with lemon cream. Lemon was the theme because Matt felt like a tart in the best way possible. Sweet and sharp and bright with satisfaction. And, notably, like the guy who had gone home with his date the night before.
Nothing could bring him down, not even the slow grip of sleepiness tugging on his heels. Matt’s date had kept him up all night, and he’d only gotten a few hours of rest. Matt had stayed over, even though he needed to be in the bakery by 4 a.m. to start the bread and pastry for the day.
It had been worth it.
He could have happily worked all day on zero hours of sleep if his date, Ethan, hadn’t curled up around him after round two, long limbs wrapped as tightly as the wisteria vines that climbed the bakery porch. He had been big and warm and whispered sweet nothings into Matt’s sweaty hair until they’d both fallen asleep.
Matt hadn’t even minded being the little spoon, although sometimes it rubbed him the wrong way when people just assumed. They thought since Matt was small, that was where he belonged. Ethan had never commented on his size. In any measure.
Matt was short and compact, not svelte by any means, but he wasn’t muscular either. He existed somewhere in the soft, gray area in between. Strong enough to haul fifty-pound bags of flour but equipped with a layer of padding from tip to toes.
That used to bother him, but as he’d gotten older, he’d only grown more comfortable with himself. He didn’t worry about his perpetual lack of abs so much anymore. He was a baker, not an athlete.
Sure, things had been rough when he was a kid, and his classmates had called him names like “doughboy.” But now? He was finally comfortable with himself.
Comfortable enough to fuck with the lights on.
All the better to appreciate the view of his partner. And, oh, what a spectacular view it had been.
Ethan was classically handsome, like an Old Hollywood heartthrob, and deceptively willowy in his clothing, but all wiry muscle underneath. His height merely gave the impression of slenderness because he was so stretched out. But there was plenty of him to hold on to.
His broad shoulders had provided a firm, solid ledge for Matt to cling to, and his big hands had caressed Matt’s few extra pounds as if they were something to covet, a bonus in his eyes. As if there weren’t an inch of Matt that was extra or overflow. It had felt as if he truly appreciated every ounce of him.
Matt could count on the thumbs of both hands how many times a lover had treated him like that, as though he were nothing less than irresistible.
It was addictive.
So today, Matt was floating on a cloud, lighter than his nonna’s famous meringue. He bit back a grin as his phone buzz-buzz-buzzed with a text notification, the fifth one from Ethan since Matt had reluctantly crawled out of his hotel room before dawn.
The guy had no chill, but Matt wasn’t exactly complaining.
Can’t stop thinking about you. It’s impossible to focus on work when I know you smell like cinnamon sugar and sex. I just want to lick you all over to see if I can find the source.
Oh, cheese crepes, that was hot.
His cheeks burned after reading that one, hotter than the antique brick oven at his back.
Matt fanned himself surreptitiously while he checked the clock. All he had left for the day was a meeting with the bank, and then he could leave the bakery to Miz Rose to run upstairs and get ready for his date.
His second date in as many days. Matt had big plans. He was even going to exfoliate, and he didn’t do that for just anybody. He hoped Ethan would appreciate the snickerdoodle scent of his sugar scrub.
Neither of them had been able to pretend they didn’t want to see each other immediately after last night. It was refreshing to meet someone who laid all his cards on the table, who didn’t play games.
Maybe Matt was acting like a lovestruck fool, but so was Ethan. They were in the same ridiculous romantic boat, and he had never felt better. He was finally lucky in love. It had only taken a decade.
He hurried to finish the cupcakes, prepping for the lunch rush before his meeting with the bank. The bakery usually flooded with locals around noon, and he didn’t want to run out of cupcakes again. Last time, the lovely ladies of Central Presbyterian had threatened a riot.
The year-round jingle bells attached to the bakery door rang out their cheerful call, and Matt set down his pastry bag to turn with a smile on his face.
A smile that immediately froze once he saw who had walked through the door.
He looked much less approachable than he had the night before, in his soft sweater and jeans, rangy limbs sprawled around the table to brush up against Matt wherever he could, charming smile framed by an artful scattering of dark stubble.
Now, he wore a black suit and carried a briefcase. A man of the exact same height and coloring followed him, dressed so similarly he’d be identical if not for the bald patch on his head contrasting with Ethan’s thick chestnut waves.
Ethan stumbled, staring wide-eyed across the shop at Matt as his companion walked right into him with an irritated curse.
Ethan’s pale skin flushed pink as he stepped aside and avoided Matt’s searching gaze. Instead, he lifted his briefcase to the nearest tabletop to fiddle with the latch.
What on earth was he doing here? Matt hadn’t given him the address to the bakery. They hadn’t even exchanged last names last night, the chemistry between them so strong they’d barely finished their meal before stumbling love-drunk to Ethan’s hotel room.
After that, they’d been too busy for conversation.
Sure, they’d talked a little at dinner, but all Matt really recalled was the insistent thump of his heart when Ethan had first raised clear gray eyes to his. The low rumble of Ethan’s voice as he’d mentioned his hotel with a searching glance.
The scrape of wallpaper against Matt’s shoulders when Ethan had pinned him to the wall the moment the door clicked shut behind them.
All memory of their light conversation had faded in comparison.
The balding suit held out his hand with a perfunctory approximation of a smile. “Mr. Leonelli? Preston Price. We’re here representing Price Banking. Where should we conduct the meeting?”
Matt wiped his flour-dredged hands on his apron, then caught Price’s grimace as he gingerly shook his hand. Afterward, Price held it slightly out from his body as though he didn’t wish to touch any of his belongings until he had washed it first.
Ethan just continued to stare into his briefcase as if it held state secrets.
Meet the Author
A.C. Thomas left the glamorous world of teaching preschool for the even more glamorous world of staying home with her toddler. Between the diaper changes and tea parties, she escapes into fantastical worlds, reading every romance available and even writing a few herself.
She devours books of every flavor—science fiction, historical, fantasy—but always with a touch of romance because she believes there is nothing more fantastical than the transformative power of love.
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