Chapter 1 ~ Rock with You

RockwithYou2_RGB301 (4)Carly Taylor crouched behind the display case, peeking out between the blueberry muffins and the orange-cranberry scones. A man stood just inside the door, baseball cap pulled low, talking on his phone. He’d never come into A Piece of Cake Bakery before. And it was probably just her imagination playing tricks on her, but she could swear it was Sam Weiss. As in, one of the hottest rock stars in America.

Carly peeked at him again from behind the scones, then leaned over to pick up the napkin she’d pretended to drop to give herself an excuse to snoop. Sam Weiss probably lived in Hollywood. There was no way he’d be standing here—sans entourage—in the doorway of her little bakery in Haven, North Carolina, a town in the Smoky Mountains so small that it barely registered as a blip on the map.

Nope.

She was daydreaming, as usual. She’d listened to Sam’s latest album, Renegade, this morning while she baked, and now she was imagining him here in her shop.

“What are you doing down there, Carly?”

Carly looked up to see her grandma, Marlene, peering at her over the glass countertop. “I, ah, dropped something.”

“Lost in your thoughts again?” her grandmother asked with a wide smile.

“Something like that.” Carly climbed to her feet, clutching the dropped napkin.

Her grandmother’s friend Dixie stood beside her, her blue eyes twinkling mischievously. “Daydreaming about that handsome young man over by the door, I bet.”

Carly resisted the urge to glance in his direction but felt herself grinning anyway. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Well, we’re on our way out,” her grandmother said. “Aqua aerobics to work off those muffins.”

“Worth every calorie,” Dixie added.

The two women waved as they headed for the door, walking past the mystery hottie as they left. Carly’s grandma had created this bakery and run it happily for over twenty years. She’d retired six months ago, handing over the reins to Carly.

But owning A Piece of Cake had been anything but a piece of cake for Carly so far. Profits were down, way down. She needed to get her head out of the clouds—and her mind off certain rock star look-alikes—before she ran her grandmother’s pride and joy straight into the ground.

With a heavy sigh, she tossed the napkin she still held into the trash.

“Hi, Carly.”

She turned to find her friend Emma Rush on the other side of the counter. “Hey, Emma.”

“I’m headed to a job site, and I need one of your cinnamon buns to fuel me.” Emma gazed longingly at the row of pastries.

Carly smiled. “And a coffee to go?”

Emma nodded. She came in about once a week for a cinnamon bun and a coffee before work.

Carly plucked a bun and slid it into one of her pastry bags. “Did you see that guy by the door when you came in?”

Emma glanced over her shoulder. “What guy?”

Carly followed her gaze. The faux rocker in the baseball cap was nowhere to be seen. She shook her head. “He must have left. He was hot, looked kind of like Sam Weiss.”

Emma gave her an amused look. “Well, if he comes in, you should feed him one of your cinnamon buns. I bet he’d ask for your number.”

Carly felt her cheeks flush as she filled Emma’s coffee cup and pressed the lid into place. “Doubtful.”

“You never know.” Emma paid for her order, and with a wave, she headed for the door.

Carly glanced at her watch. Talia had called in sick today, which meant she was on her own for the day. The weather report was calling for freezing rain later so maybe she’d close early. At any rate—

“What do you recommend?”

She looked up and into the blue eyes of Sam Weiss—or his noncelebrity twin. Look-alike or not, he was ridiculously hot, and she was a dork because her cheeks were burning. He wore a leather jacket over a black T-shirt and dark-washed jeans. But his eyes…wow. He still wore the baseball cap pulled low, with a sinful amount of stubble on his cheeks that all screamed Rock God.

“If you have a sweet tooth, you should, um, try a cinnamon bun. They’re my specialty.”

He leaned in, resting his elbows on the counter. “I do have a sweet tooth, especially for a pretty woman who bakes. This your place?”

That voice. Sweet Jesus. It was smooth as caramel with just a hint of a Southern twang, and she’d know it anywhere. Sam Weiss is in my shop! And did he just hit on me?

“Yes.” She cleared her throat because why did she suddenly sound like Minnie Mouse? “Yes, this is my shop.”

A slow smile curved his lips. “A pretty woman who bakes and owns her own business. I like you already.”

“Thanks.” She really shouldn’t keep staring, but whoa, her brain was short-circuiting because…Sam Weiss. In her shop. Looking like sex on a stick, and he smelled pretty awesome, too, like some kind of expensive cologne. Yum.

“I’ll try one of your cinnamon buns…” He paused, glancing down for the name tag she never wore since everyone in town already knew her name.

“Carly,” she said, still sounding a bit like she’d inhaled helium.

“Carly.” He met her gaze again, and the sound of her name on his lips made her knees wobble. “And a coffee, black.”

“You got it,” she said with a smile that felt weird on her face, and God, why was she being such an idiot? “For here?”

He nodded, watching her intently as if he’d figured out by all her bumbling dorkiness that she’d recognized him because, really, how could he not? At least he looked amused instead of annoyed.

She dished up a cinnamon bun and a cup of coffee without dropping anything or making a further fool of herself, and he paid in cash—denying her the thrill of seeing what name might be on his credit card. He probably went by some cool alter ego when he traveled anyway.

“Thanks, Carly,” he said in that butter-soft voice that made her feel all hot and fluttery inside. Then he leaned in, winked, and pressed a finger to his lips, making a silent, Sh.

And oh my God, he knew she knew. Which meant it was definitely him. And she grinned like an idiot while he walked to a table in the back and sat, long legs stretched in front of him. A muffled beep from the direction of the kitchen told her she’d forgotten to take the last batch of butterscotch pecan sandies out of the oven.

So much for keeping her mind on business this morning. But at this exact moment—her eyes still on Sam Weiss—she didn’t care. Not even a little bit.

***

He’d been made by the babe in the bakery. Sam Weiss settled himself into an alarmingly pink chair and took a bite of pretty Carly’s cinnamon bun. It melted in his mouth like gooey, sugary perfection.

Damn. That was seriously good stuff.

He glanced over at the sexy woman who’d baked it. Tall, blond, and curvy, with the prettiest doe eyes and pink lips. She stirred something in him. Attraction, definitely. But he’d felt something else, too, when he stood at the counter with her. He’d felt a buzz of inspiration that he hadn’t felt in a long-ass time. Too damn long.

His manager, Donny, had marooned him here in the middle of nowhere and told him to stay off the radar, focusing on writing his next hit and staying out of the tabloids. The shit storm with Manuela, his former housekeeper, had come on the tail of the worst year of his career. Renegade, which was supposed to have been the album that cemented his superstar status, had been a commercial flop.

Now he was here in Haven, North Carolina, looking for his muse.

And he might have just found her.

Right now, Carly was serving a couple who’d come into the bakery. He watched her for a moment unobserved, her genuine bubbly smile, the one that had captivated him before she recognized him and got all adorably flustered.

He reached for the stack of napkins he’d brought to the table and started to write.

Sweet as sugar, sexy as sin

Thirty minutes later, he’d filled four napkins. A lot of it was crap, but some of it was decent. He felt a sizzle of excitement he hadn’t felt in months. With his coffee and cinnamon bun long gone, he stole one last glance at sweet Carly behind the counter, then stood and headed for the door.

She watched him go.

He raised a hand in her direction to say good-bye. Under different circumstances, he’d have asked for her number. But he wasn’t here to get laid. He was here to write music, nothing else.

But make no mistake, sweet Carly was going to fuel his fantasies tonight.

***

Carly checked the weather report again on her phone. Freezing rain was supposed to start around six. She lived only ten minutes from the shop so she made the executive decision to close at five thirty. Then she could be home, safe and warm, before the roads started to get slick. She posted a message on A Piece of Cake’s website and Facebook page.

Then she tapped her fingers against the countertop. The shop was deserted already. Maybe she’d rent a movie tonight, if she didn’t lose power. A chick flick, pajamas, and wine sounded like the perfect recipe for an icy evening alone.

At least it might help take her mind off the bakery’s troubles. Closing early today wasn’t going to help her pay the bills. Neither was the lousy weather that had driven away most of her afternoon customers.

The bakery’s phone rang, and she walked over to answer it. “A Piece of Cake Bakery. How may I help you?”

“Carly?”

She almost swallowed her tongue when she heard the butter-smooth voice on the other end of the line. “Yes?”

“It’s Sam.”

Sam. She felt herself grinning like an idiot. Why in the world was he calling her? And apparently she and Sam Weiss were on a first-name basis now? Holy crap. “Oh, Sam…hi.”

“Do you make deliveries?”

No. But for him? “Sure. When?”

“Tonight.”

Um…“I’m closing early because of the weather, but I could drop something off on my way home if you live in town?”

“Weather?”

“Yeah, this rain is supposed to start freezing soon.”

“I didn’t know.” His voice…it did all sorts of weird things to her insides, stirring her up and melting her down at the same time. “Never mind then. I don’t want to put you at risk.”

Oh, no way was she missing out on this opportunity. “No, it’s fine. The roads aren’t supposed to get slick until later. What did you need delivered?” At least her voice wasn’t doing that Minnie Mouse thing this time.

“Whatever you can spare,” he said. “I’ll take anything you’ve got.”

Wow. Was he having a party or something? In this weather? “Okay. How many people are you feeding?”

“I’ll take some of everything you have. 245 Twisted Branch Lane. And feel free to tack on a rush delivery fee, whatever you need. I appreciate it.”

“No problem.”

“Bye, Carly.” With a click, he was gone.

Carly stood for a moment, staring at the phone. Had that really just happened? Sam Weiss was here in Haven, he was throwing some kind of party at his house, and he wanted her to bring the sweets? With, like, two minutes’ notice? None of it made any sense, but business had been slow today because of the weather, and she was struggling to turn a profit on a good day. So if he wanted to pay her for all of today’s leftovers, she would be happy to deliver them to him. And if it meant the chance to see his house and Sam himself again? All the better.

In theory.

In reality, she’d probably be shy and awkward, but either way, this would make an awesome-sauce story to tell her friends at their next Girls’ Night Out.

She hustled into the back for delivery boxes, then set about filling them. An assortment of cupcakes. Honeyed pecan tarts. Several different kinds of cookies. Black forest brownies. Carrot cake bites. A whole candied lemon pie—why not? She slipped it into a box.

In case any of his guests would be spending the night—and with the ice they were expecting, some of them might not have a choice—she packed up several boxes of breakfast offerings as well, including all of her remaining cinnamon buns. She felt slightly presumptuous as she started carrying it all out to her car because, goodness, she’d packed a lot of boxes. The biggest order she’d ever assembled, and completely on the fly.

This day was officially bizarre.

Sam had good timing, though. If not for the slow business day and closing early for the weather, she might not have been able to pull this off for him on such short notice. By the time she’d loaded her backseat and trunk with delivery boxes, she was cold and wet, but the rain was still just rain so she should have no trouble getting to his place before the roads turned slick.

Since she hadn’t had a customer in almost an hour now, she went ahead and flipped the sign on the front door from Open to Closed and locked the door. If she had time, she really needed to stop at the market on her way home for a few ice storm supplies. PB&J fixings. Batteries. Wine.

But first things first. In the bathroom, she fixed her bedraggled appearance as best she could. She brushed her hair and freshened her makeup. She’d have to keep on her practical winter boots; there was no way around it. The ground was saturated with a full day’s rain, and her feet would be soaked through while she unloaded her car in anything else.

Here goes nothing.

Swallowing down a ridiculous burst of nerves, she locked the back door and hopped into her car. She was on her way to Sam Weiss’s house! Would it be creepy if she took a sneaky picture of him with her phone while she was unloading all the goodies? Her friends were never going to believe this actually happened without photographic evidence.

Twisted Branch Lane was on the other side of town, about a fifteen-minute drive from the bakery. It was a quarter to five now so she should be in good shape even with the weather. She pulled onto Main Street and headed east. This side of town boasted steep, winding roads with houses and rental cabins that had sweeping views of the Smoky Mountains.

She turned left onto Twisted Branch Lane and drove. And drove. She passed a handful of rental properties near the start of the road, but they grew more spread out—and bigger—the farther she went. She’d never been this far down the road before. It was about as remote as you could get inside Haven’s town limits.

And that tap, tap, tapping on her roof sounded an awful lot like ice.

Crap!

Now she’d have to unload everything quickly and head straight home. Forget the sandwich supplies and batteries.

She rounded a turn, and Sam’s house came into view. Whoa. It was huge, a classic-looking mountain cabin with oversized windows and a deck overlooking the mountains and valley below. Cabin seemed like the wrong word for this place. It had to be at least two thousand square feet inside. Her own cabin would probably fit inside the living room of this house.

No cars were visible in the driveway. She’d arrived before the party guests, which was good because she had no desire to mingle with Sam’s fancy friends. She tapped her brakes as she glided down the hill to his driveway, and her wheels spun slightly on the gravel road.

Slush was gathering on her windshield now, and she might be in big trouble if she didn’t get out of here quickly. She eased the car into the driveway and turned off the engine. Gulping a fortifying breath, she got out of the car and walked toward the front door.

It opened before she got there. Sam stood in the doorway, wearing the same long-sleeved black T-shirt and dark-washed jeans he’d had on earlier. Without the baseball cap, she got the full effect of his tousled brown hair, and damn, he was gorgeous. He gave her a warm smile, then turned his eyes skyward. “I’m afraid you were right about the weather.”

“It wasn’t supposed to change over for another hour,” she said, stopping on his front porch with her hands shoved into her pockets.

“I’m sorry for bringing you out in this, although I’m not sorry for the chance to see you again.” Now his smile was flirtatious. He probably flirted with every woman he met, but try convincing her silly hormones of that. Her stomach was a massive swarm of butterflies right now.

“I’m afraid your party might get canceled,” she said.

He raised one shoulder, looking unconcerned. “Can I help unload your car?”

“Oh, um…well…” She definitely should not let Sam Weiss help unload her car, but the rain had turned to full-on sleet now, and as much as she’d love to stand here and chat with him, she really needed to get out of here fast if she was going to make it home in one piece. “I guess we need to do this as quickly as possible if I’m going to make it back up that hill.”

He nodded, grabbed a leather jacket from inside the door, and led the way to her car. She slipped on the driveway, and Sam’s arm shot out to catch her. “Don’t suppose I could convince you to stay until they’ve plowed the roads?”

She shook her head. “They aren’t going to be plowing these roads. If I don’t get out of here right now, who knows when the roads will clear up.” Worry settled in her stomach. What if she couldn’t make it back out? Crappity crap crap.

“Do you have good tires?” he asked, his brows knitted in concern.

She nodded. “I wasn’t sure what to bring. I hope I didn’t bring too much.”

He glanced into her car, piled high with delivery boxes, and laughed softly. “It’s perfect. Thank you.”

She raised the rear hatch, and she and Sam grabbed as many boxes as they could carry. Five minutes later, they’d transferred everything to his front porch, where he’d insisted she leave it to get back on the road more quickly. He handed her several crisp hundred-dollar bills—at least one more than she had planned to charge him—and wow, if it wasn’t sleeting like crazy, she’d definitely stop on the way home for an expensive bottle of wine to go with her peanut butter and jelly.

“I don’t like this at all, Carly,” he said, kicking at the icy slush coating his driveway. “Even if you make it up the hill, how will I know you’ve made it home safely?”

“I’ll be fine,” she insisted, even though she really wasn’t sure of that at all. “We get ice like this here in the mountains a lot.” And she always got home ahead of it and stayed in until it had passed, but it was too late to change things now.

“Hand me your phone,” he said, his voice quiet but with an authoritative tone that had her yanking her phone out of her back pocket and handing it to him. He typed something into it and handed it back to her. “Call me when you get home so I know you’re okay.”

She nodded, breathless. Sam Weiss’s number was in her phone.

He stepped closer, his fingers brushing against her cheek as he tucked a soggy strand of hair behind her ear, and holy crap, she couldn’t breathe. Maybe she’d always had a bit of a celebrity crush on him, but real-life Sam was way better. He made her heart race, and her belly turn into a big puddle of mush, and she really needed to go before the roads got so bad she killed herself on the way home, but…

“Drive safe. And call me. Promise?” His voice was hypnotizing, his blue eyes locked on hers.

“Promise.” Her voice was little more than a whisper, and this was getting ridiculous now. She managed a silly wave as she sloshed back to her car—grateful for her boots—and climbed inside.

Sam stood on the porch next to the pile of delivery boxes, watching. She backed up the car, turned, and started up the hill toward reality. Halfway up, her tires started to spin, and oh, no, this was not good.

She glanced in her rearview mirror to see Sam still watching from his porch. Her tires spun again. The car was losing speed. She nudged the accelerator, knowing if she stopped now, she’d never make it to the top. The car fishtailed, and she let out a squeal as she careened toward the edge of the road.

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