Sweet Hell

By: Rosanna Leo

Chapter 1

There were usually two men Josie Marino had contact with at the ungodly hour of five in the morning. Not good contact. Certainly not sweaty, chest-heaving, “take me, take me” contact. And definitely not contact with Petter, the Norwegian male model who lived next door.

Nah. That would have been too perfect, wouldn't it?

Instead, most mornings, Josie had to settle for haggling with her two least favorite men on the planet. Nelson Tate, the deliveryman from her most important supplier. And Dionysus Iros. Worst. Customer. Ever.

Because of the business, she just had to put up with Nelson. He'd been delivering dry goods to her family bakery for years. Had known her parents, schmoozed with her brothers, and basically enjoyed making life hell for her. Not that he was a vicious sort. He was just far too handsy for her liking.

In the case of Dionysus, he was just an early bird and a womanizer. And couldn't function without the coffee she brewed first thing in the morning. Invariably, he was already waiting for her when she got to the bakery each day.

Oh, joy of joys.

Not that he was a horrible person either. He just intimidated her with his unearthly good looks. Men like him, not that most men came close to looking like him, rattled her. They were best kept at a distance.

Dionysus was so bloody perfect; Josie wanted to shake him to see if she could muss his seemingly unmussable hair. Most days, though, she just contented herself with a lot of grumbling in his presence. He unnerved her, with his sexy brown eyes and long, dark waves of hair any woman would die for. To say nothing of his body... No, it was best not to say anything about that smoking body at all. She couldn't help hating him, just a little. No man should look so divine at dawn, when she felt about as put together as a cavewoman.

To makes things worse, the man acted as if he were a Greek god. His parents, in a tragic case of bad judgment, had even named him after one. It was no wonder he was so obnoxious.

On this morning, too, he was waiting at the door when she got there. Looking as if he'd just tumbled off the cover of GQ, and the birds weren't even up yet. At least today he didn't have a sleepy bimbo on his arm, like he often did.

"Mr. Iros,” Josie drawled, yawning, as she unlatched the bakery door. “You're losing your touch. I haven't seen you with a woman in, what, forty-eight hours?” She pushed ahead of him into the bakery, catching the scent of wine on him.

God, how much did the man drink? She was sure he dabbed a little bit of the stuff behind his ears, and splashed it on his face instead of aftershave.

On any other man, the strange cologne would have been a red flag. An indication he drank more than coffee in the morning. But on this man, it just smelled delicious. As if the scent were his pheromone, oozing out of every pore, inviting her to mate with him. In very dirty ways.

He chuckled, low and deep, and sauntered in after her as if he owned the place. Within seconds, he was seated at his usual spot at Josie's counter. “Just be a good girl and fetch my coffee.” He lowered his shades and peered at her through sensuous dark eyes that should have been bloodshot at that time of the morning, but weren't. “And don't forget. Make it a tall, half-skinny, half-one percent, extra hot, two shots decaf, two shots regular latte with whip. And exactly..."

"I know, I know,” she interrupted. “One hundred fifty degrees. Has it ever been anything less, Your Highness?” She pasted on her sweetest of smiles and turned to prepare the elixir of the gods. She heard him huff as he flipped open the day's newspaper.

"No need to call me that, Josie. ‘My Lord’ or ‘He From Whom All Good Things Come’ will do just fine."

She reached for the one percent milk, and contemplated tossing in some heavy, artery-clogging cream just to soften up some of his sculpted muscles. A man with that kind of body had to be on some sort of special diet. With that brawny physique he must spend hours a day at the gym and ingest copious amounts of protein powders.

She snuck a peek at the bulges rippling under his sleeves, turning her head sharply when he grinned.

It was one thing to look like God's gift to women. It was another thing to act like it.

Feeling frustratingly hot, she lashed out at him. “You know, I'm not a barista. This is just a small, family-owned bakery. I don't understand why you persist in coming here with your outrageous coffee orders. Would you care for a pinch of Madagascar cinnamon while I'm at it? I could swim to Madagascar for you."

She turned, only to find him already staring at her over the top of the paper. His expression said in no certain terms he already had an idea where to put her Madagascar cinnamon.

Josie, fifteen. Greek god, love.

Although she was usually able to keep up with their vocal sparring, she felt a little winded as he looked at her. He had annoyingly seductive eyes, eyes that sometimes dwelled a little too long on particular parts of her anatomy. Even now, they dipped down to her neckline, lingering, considering. She blushed, wishing she'd gotten up a little earlier to make an effort with her toilette. Oh well, the man had seen her in her sweats and an unmade face for months, and he hadn't run out screaming yet.

"The reason I come here,” he said, grinning, “is because you, my angel of caffeine, make the best coffee in the world. And I've drunk coffee all over the world, so I know. But of course, I'm also drawn in, day after day, by your sweet and charming temperament. That, too, is unlike anything I've experienced. Now, where's my coffee?"

She rolled her eyes and handed it to him, resisting the urge to spill some on his Armani suit. She watched him take his first sip, as she always did, because in the first two months of their acquaintance, he'd sent the coffees back, demanding she make them better. And as infuriated as it made her, she'd grown strangely proud when he'd started showing approval. Now, it was just a bizarre morning ritual. But it still surprised her some days to realize how much she wanted him to like the beverage.

How much she wanted to please him.

Her fevered mind produced a disturbing oh-so-hot image of her wrapping her limbs around his hard body like a horny pretzel. Pleasing him in other ways that had nothing whatsoever to do with coffee. With an audible swallow, she quashed the lurid picture, and tried to ignore the aftershock. The ripple of excitement working its way down her spine, around her hip, and right into her sex.

"So,” she ventured, trying to look like a normal person with normal urges. Wiping down the counter and trying not to listen to his almost sexual sighs of satisfaction at her coffee. “What gives? You haven't brought any of your bed warmers here in a long time. Has Toronto run out of women?"

As much as Josie wanted to snicker at her own humor, she found she was holding her breath a little, waiting for his answer.

When Dionysus Iros started frequenting the Marino Brothers Bakery months ago, he'd usually bring his conquests with him. Josie had seen him with numerous girls of every persuasion. White, black, Asian, Outer Mongolian, Finnish, Maori, Pygmy. Every possible kind she could think of. He'd had them all. He'd kick them out of his always-warm bed, take them for an early consolation coffee at Josie's, and then say, "Hasta la vista."

The man loved women. Lots of them. Which was another reason he pissed her off on a regular basis. Of course, it had nothing to do with the fact he never once propositioned her. God, no. Sure, he was a constant fixture in her nighttime dreams. The star of the nocturnal reel of pornography that played over and over again in her head. Yes, for months, she'd gotten all hot and sweaty thinking of him, and then had to watch him with other women.

That didn't mean she wanted him for real.

Besides, it would never work. She wasn't really his type. Her legs weren't seven-feet long. Her dress size wasn't sub-zero. Her boobs were a respectable C-cup, rather than a double F. And, last she checked, her brain was still in working order. Most days, anyway.

But lately his perfect track record didn't appear so perfect. It had been some time since Josie had seen him with a woman. Weeks, in fact. And there was something in his normally unflappable demeanor that was distinctly ... flapped.

For a man who radiated charm and control, he was definitely stressed.

He stared at her, a little shocked. “What business is it of yours who I sleep with?"

"None,” she stated as if she didn't care. “Just curious. There's been a significant decrease in our coffee revenues since you turned monastic on me, that's all."

He laughed, and the baritone beauty of his voice shook her, reached deep down into each private recess of her body. Tickling her. Making her hate him even more.

"Josie, Josie,” he said, flashing perfectly even teeth which bore not a hint of coffee stain, even though he drank gallons of the stuff. “Maybe I stopped bringing those women because it was just too hard on them."

She frowned. “What was?"

"Seeing you,” he replied, no longer quite so jovial, his anxiety showing in the tiny creases at the corners of his eyes. “After all, when confronted by all this"—he waved his hands at her body—"magnificence, it can be a bit much for a regular woman's ego. Just look at you. The old sweatpants. The T-shirt encrusted with some sort of bakery sludge. Most of your hair pulled so lovingly back into a messy ponytail. And wait ... could it be? Yes. That's yesterday's makeup I see."

"Hey...” she began.