Sweetie

an excerpt



Chapter 1



"Who is he?" Adamo Hill asked his younger cousin, Gianni, as they peered out through the glass door of Hill's Candy Store.

Gianni shrugged as a group of lawyers who worked in the firm on the top floor of the thirty-four-story skyscraper in the Central Business District in New Orleans stood out front.

Hill's Candy Store occupied a space on the east side of the building, between an exclusive men's clothing store and a coffee shop. They'd occupied the spot for the last twenty years, long before Lewis and Clark Law Firm moved in.

"I have no idea." Gianni watched some of the older attorneys huddling around a younger, taller man in a dark blue business suit. Gianni thought he knew just about every attorney in the firm, since they'd been passing the door or stopping to buy a sweet from them for the last ten years. "He could be a visiting friend or a client."

Adamo whistled. "Look at his suit. I bet he had it tailor-made."

Adamo and Gianni's brothers were into suits and beautiful women, while Gianni couldn't care less about such things. He only dreamed of making delicious candy to titillate the palate and make kids smile.

"Look at the way the suit molds to his shoulders and moves like a second skin," Adamo said.

Gianni looked the man over. He did have muscular shoulders and thick brown hair. "It is a nice suit." He didn't mention the man's hair for fear of being ridiculed by Adamo. He couldn't make out the color of the man's eyes, but they appeared to be dark brown.

"Who are you two watching?" Battista, Gianni's older brother, asked as he came out of the kitchen with a tray of chocolate marzipan. He had two other older brothers, Carlo and Dante, who would be emerging from the kitchen soon to help stock the counters and wait on customers.

"Some new guy," Gianni answered.

Battista looked out the glass door. "Oh, him. He's Mr. Lewis's grandson, James. I've been reading about him in the newspaper lately. He's supposed be a boy genius, graduating from law school at an early age and ready to take on the world."

"Some guys have all the luck," Adamo said, finally taking his eyes off the door and continuing to fill the cash register with change.

"I like making candy," Gianni said. "Who wants to be a lawyer?"

"That's because you've never been exposed to anything else." Battista ruffled his hair. "Mama and Papa have spoiled you and kept you sheltered from the big old world outside this store."

Gianni tried to put his naturally curly black hair back in place. The man outside looked in his direction, and Gianni smiled at him before turning back to his brothers. The group of men stopped speaking and moved toward the elevator. Gianni took one last glance. He could look grand in a suit, too, if he'd been blessed with above average height and a muscular build.

* * *

"Would you like to join me for coffee?" Lainie Clark, the firm's only female attorney, asked James after seeing clients all morning.

"Sure." He needed a breather and wanted to familiarize himself with his new surroundings. "Let me get my jacket." James went back into his office and emerged fully suited in business attire. He followed Lainie out the office and to the elevator.

"You're going to love this place," Lainie told him. "Copeland's has the best coffee in town, and next to the coffee shop is a little family-owned candy store. They have sinfully good chocolate and five of the cutest salesclerks."

They'd known each other since they were kids -- their grandfathers were the original cofounders of the law firm. Lainie was at least five years older than him, a great lawyer with a bubbly personality. He supposed she could be considered pretty. She had nice eyes and long blonde hair.

The elevator door opened on the first floor, and they stepped out into the busy lobby. People went in and out of the numerous little shops. Lainie and James got in line and entered the coffee shop. Moments later they exited with their iced coffees.

"Look at the line for the candy store," James said, watching the customers go entering and exiting the doors.

"The Hills make the best candy in New Orleans," Lainie said, pulling him toward the window. "That's Battista, Carlo, Dante and their cousin Adamo," she told him, naming the four standing near the counters. "And the little cutie at the register is Gianni."

"Tell me more about the cutie," James said.

"He's single, twenty-three, and likes to make candy."

"I'm impressed," James said. "How do you know all of their names?"

"I love chocolate," Lainie confessed. "And Gianni is so sweet. He always gives me samples."

James chuckled. "I'm surprised at you. He's a child."

"You're just two years older than he is," Lainie said. "He's already a famous chocolatier. His parents sent him to Paris to study with the best candymakers in Europe."

"I didn't figure you for a cougar," James teased.

"Don't be ridiculous. You know I'm into old guys. What can someone his age do for me?" She walked away.

James gazed in at the handsome little chocolatier again. He could think of a thing or two.

* * *

"What do you think of this?" Gianni asked Adamo as he stirred a pot of chocolate during his break. He stopped stirring, dipped a clean spoon into the mixture and handed it to his cousin.

Adamo blew on the spoon to cool the chocolate and tasted. He ran his tongue around his lips. "What is this? It's delicious."

"I'm trying something new for Valentine's Day," Gianni said. "What does it taste like? And remember, delicious is not a taste, it's a sensation."

Adamo sampled a little more of the chocolate. "The candy has a creamy texture and is pleasing to the palate. Ah, you used milk chocolate and…" He ate a little more. "Ooh, I tasted cherries and orange."

Gianni nodded. "You know your flavors."

Adamo was a year older than him and had a head of straight black hair he kept cut short and spiky. Girls from the university came in droves just to hear him speak Italian, and he'd had a date every Friday night since they were in junior high. Adamo had lived with them since the age of five when his parents were killed in a plane crash on the way back from a trip to Italy.

"Uncle Gino says my sense of taste is my finest talent," Adamo bragged. He winked. "But I think my finest talents are my good looks and my prowess with the women."

Gianni tried not to choke. Urg, what an egomaniac. "Yuck," Gianni said. "Can we get back to the candy?"

"Your latest creation is excellent," Adamo insisted. "I'm sure the chocolate will be one of the biggest sellers for Valentine's Day." He paused. "Too bad you're not dating anyone. You could name your candy after her. Girls like that sort of thing."

"Really? I guess I'll have to believe you."

Adamo leaned against the counter. "You know the only thing stopping you from dating is you."

Yeah, yeah, yeah, he'd heard the line before from Battista, Carlo, and Dante. Especially from Dante. Twenty-five-year-old Dante knew and remembered the name of every woman he'd ever met. And he constantly tried to analyze Gianni's lack of enthusiasm for the fairer sex.

"I want to make a name for myself before I get married and settle down," Gianni said. "A mate should have more to offer than just a stiff dick."

Adamo laughed. "But you're missing out on life. Becky and I are going to the movies this weekend. And we have plans for sharing a romantic dinner together on Valentine's Day."

Gianni didn't like television or movies and planned to spend this Valentine's Day as he had for the last two years, working the counter inside the store until closing time. He normally did since his brothers always planned to spend the holiday with their dates or wives. "I'll have plenty of time later for fun," Gianni insisted. "And you'll be the first to know when I find that special someone worthy of spending Valentine's Day with." He looked at his watch. "Time to get back to work." He turned off the pot, poured the chocolate mixture into some molds and left them to cool.