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Power Play
Author: Amelia Wilde








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. Then someone clears his throat.

I whip around, brandishing the piping bag like a weapon.

It’s as if my thoughts conjured him. Gabriel Hill.

No. Why would he be at my bakery in a middle-class part of town? I must be hallucinating. The sugar fumes must be getting to me. Except the longer I stare, the more it’s clear… It’s him.

Panic tightens a fist around my throat.

His lowered lids dare me to run. They promise to catch me. “Elise Bettencourt. Exactly the person I wanted to see. The one who has the answers I’ve been searching for.”

“You want the secret to a fluffy cake batter?” I manage, my voice surprisingly even.

My voice is even, but my cheeks flame from humiliation. Megan’s words about sipping me like a sippy cup seem to echo in the room. He must have heard them. There’s even a glint in his eyes.

A sexual glint. This is a man who would have done that.

Lots of times, if his reputation is to be believed.

“Maybe,” he says about the fluffy cake batter. “We could start there. Though I’ll take a lot more than that before I’m done.” He’s even more imposing than he was the last time I saw him, in a bespoke black suit with a black and dark blue tie. He looks tall in the doorway, forbidding.

And he looks like the life I’ve tried to leave behind. The guilt I’ve tried to ignore.

The clashing of worlds, two of them colliding.

He comes in like he’s the one who belongs here and not me. He touches the countertops, the edges that aren’t covered in cake. He touches a calendar on the wall that has my delivery schedule. He touches the decals that I put on my row of white KitchenAid mixers.

They’re gifts, the decals. One of the mixers has black blobs that make it look like a cow. Another has pink text that says Domestic AF. Another has blue and black rectangles that make it look like a Droid.

His hands look clean, but I still don’t like him touching anything. It’s like he’s leaving his mark.

His green gaze is curious. And hungry. He looks at the cakes as if he’s never seen one before. As if he’s never seen one that he wanted to eat more in his life.

A row of drying buttercream roses lines the large tray in front of me.

He picks one up and pops it into his mouth. It’s not a small rose. More than a mouthful, really, but he doesn’t hesitate. And when he meets my shocked gaze, I see the knowledge of that song. This is how it would be when I eat you out. Wholeheartedly. Without hesitation.

Gabriel’s eyes flutter closed, and his head tips back, just a little. From the movement of his jaw I can tell his tongue is working through that frosting.

He makes a sound that’s more like a grunt. Mmm. It’s more sexual than the song by far.

I don’t know what I’m feeling—pure hot rage or pure hot something else. Something like desire, watching him swallow one of my roses. Then he opens his eyes and licks his fingers clean.

Oh my God.

“You know about the consortium,” he says, as casually as if he’s commenting on his favorite flavor of cake. “The one that killed my parents. The one that your parents were part of.”

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