Sweet Thing – Chapter One & Update

The publication date of Sweet Thing, the swoony new installment in my Masters of Romance series, is being pushed into September—but for good reason! When I started this book, I had no idea how deeply in love I’d fall with sweet, oblivious himbo Aaron Upton and his blue-haired and easily flustered personal assistant Patrick, and I need a little more time to make sure their story shines like the gem it is.

What can you expect from Sweet Thing? All the feels, unparalleled pining, a doting personal assistant with a secret identity that’s about to make his life much more interesting, delicious boss/employee tension, a former autobody mechanic turned sweet small town gay romance author, plenty of hijinx and humor, a plucky barista best friend, a Cosgrove’s worth of ripped blond brothers who love (to tease) their littlest brother dearly, a betting pool, and a sex bag… amongst other things.

Check back here soon for the cover reveal and the full blurb! And to make sure you never miss Emma Alcott updates or new bonus content, be sure to join my newsletter!

Keep reading for a sneak peek at the first chapter of Sweet Thing…

CHAPTER ONE

Patrick

There’s a coffee shop in Lincoln Square, Chicago, named—wait for it—The Coffee Shop. Creative, I know. It’s tucked between a Cuban bakery and an independently owned bookstore on Western, where one brick facade fades into the next. Its windows are painted with its name and logo, and there’s a little patio section on the sidewalk right outside the front door, but it’s not exactly the flashiest coffee shop in town. If you were to pass by it on the street, you’d probably overlook it.

But what passersby don’t know is that The Coffee Shop has a secret.

It’s where Aaron Upton, bestselling gay romance author, does all his best work.

And where I, Patrick, his easily frazzled personal assistant, am about to do what’s never been done before.

I’m going to tell him how I feel.

“Look at this,” Morgan, my co-conspirator and barista extraordinaire, whispers as she places a large white cup on the counter in front of me. In it is a latte, its foam poured in such a way that on the surface, there are three hearts. They’re arranged in a triangular formation, with each heart being one of the triangle’s points. “You can’t get any clearer than that.”

I glance at the latte art and lean toward her to whisper back, “Why three hearts?”

Morgan narrows her eyes. “Why not?”

“I just think it might be confusing.” I peek over my shoulder at Aaron, the gentle giant with a heart of gold seated at the two-person table next to the window. The cafe is crowded and there are several people occupying the space between us, but it’s impossible to miss him—and not just because he is the most heartbreakingly handsome man in the room.

Aaron is large.

He’s thick with muscle and broad of frame, and when he stands, he’s always a good head above everyone else. Even me. While seated it’s a little less obvious, but he’s still big enough that he makes the table he’s sitting at look undersized in comparison—like he’s hunkered down for a children’s tea party, waiting to be doted on by a little girl with questionable opinions on what constitutes proper finger food.

In other words, he’s not the kind of guy you lose, no matter the crowd. And since I’m hopelessly, painfully, stupidly in love with him, I’m even more aware of where he is, because where he is, my heart is, too.

Today, Aaron is wearing his favorite white t-shirt—an old relic from his family’s body shop with a flaking TOUGH STUFF logo printed across the chest—and a black zippered hoodie he perpetually leaves unzipped, no matter how cold it gets. His short blond hair is still a little damp from showering, and his beard, as always, is closely trimmed and carefully shaped. His attention is trained on the laptop open in front of him, and while he reads what’s on the screen, he absentmindedly folds a straw wrapper into teeny-tiny squares using his thumb and index finger. Whatever he’s reading must be good, because he’s so engrossed he doesn’t notice when one of the cafe’s patrons bumps into the edge of our table. All he does is steady his laptop, then reaches out to steady mine, never once looking up from the screen.

What I wouldn’t give to see him half as invested in me.

Aaron must feel my eyes on him, because he abruptly looks up and meets my gaze. The second our eyes meet, it’s like all the blood rushing through my body turns electric. I tingle from the tips of my toes all the way up to my scalp. My heart throbs. Then Aaron smiles, and the wrapper tumbles out from between his fingers like he’s forgotten all about it.

Like all he cares to think about is me.

My throbbing heart is no longer the biggest of my worries—if the way my cheeks burn is any indication, my whole face is about to catch fire. You’d think that after a year of working for the man, I’d be numb to his charm, but you’d be wrong. I’m as smitten with Aaron as I was on the day he interviewed me for the position… and, unfortunately, just as awkward and jittery. Which is why, when I jerk my hand up to wave at him and almost knock the entire coffee condiment organizer off the counter, Morgan snickers instead of gasps. She’s so used to my nerves and the disasters they cause that she catches the organizer before I even realize it’s on a collision course with the floor.

By the time I smile at Aaron and whip my head back around to face her, she’s smoothing out the sugar packets that got jumbled.

“Confusing, my ass,” she says with a smirk, then abandons tidying up my mess to slide my cup half an inch closer to me. “Sure, Nyx is a little… oblivious… but hearts are hearts, my friend. When has a heart meant anything other than L-O-V-E?” She hesitates, and her brows and lips both pinch inward in thought. “Well, apart from like, anatomical models and medical dramas and stuff… but you’re not bringing him a heart transplant. You’re bringing him a latte. There is absolutely nothing confusing about that.”

The heat of my undying love has fried my brain, so while I know that what she’s said isn’t right, I can’t articulate why. On the inside it feels like I’m flying—Aaron smiled at me—and trying to reason anything out beyond how incredibly amazing it feels is out of the question. The best I can come up with is, “But there are three hearts.”

“Which is like, three times the love.”

“It should be two hearts.”

Morgan looks at me as though I’ve lost it.

I sigh. “He’s very literal.”

“Which is why three hearts is the way to go.” She taps the cup with one of her long nails. This week, they’re painted dark crimson and match her dark, smoky eyeshadow. A goth girl’s fantasy, softened slightly to appease Corporate America. “There’s you,” she says, no doubt referring to the heart closest to her tapping. “Then there’s Nyx.” She taps illustratively near the second heart. “Then there’s Aaron, his pen name.”

I stare into the frothy depths. “I… don’t think that’s how it works.”

“Why not?”

“Well, for one, because Nyx and Aaron are the same person, but more importantly, because they’re arranged in a triangle.” I hurry a glance over my shoulder and find Aaron has gone back to reading. The smile he gave me when our eyes met hasn’t gone away, but it’s not quite as bright as it was when he was looking at me. A little residual pang of joy hits me hard. Before it can distract me, I refocus my attention on Morgan. With her crown of black braids, tiny build, and dark, expressive eyes, she’s cute, but she’s not my type. Although, to be fair, I never thought blond-Norse-god-with-a-killer-body-and-just-the-right-amount-of-chest-hair was my type, either, until I met Aaron. And the more I think about it, the less I’m sure this whole “type” thing holds water, because if Aaron were to go hairless and put on a hundred pounds, I’d still think he was more handsome than a shirtless Henry Cavill. Which, well… let’s just say I’m a big fan of The Witcher and leave it at that.

What was I talking about again?

Triangles?

Right.

I gesture at the latte. “When Aaron sees hearts in a triangle, he isn’t going to see it as a declaration of love. He’ll see it and think ‘love triangle,’ which is pretty much a cardinal sin in the world of romance.”

Morgan waggles an eyebrow. “Which means that when he brings it up, you can tell him he’s got it wrong and explain the true meaning behind it while you tell him how you really feel.”

“I think I would rather swallow a fistful of bees.”

“Patrick.” Morgan sighs. “What am I going to do with you?”

“Drive me to the nearest hive?”

She scrubs her face in frustration, then shakes her head wildly and stares me down, and while she’s barely taller than five feet, she’s intimidating when she means business. “Patrick Miller Neumann, you are not backing down, so help me God. I will escort you to your table myself and start the conversation for you if I have to. How long have we been planning this? A month?”

“Six weeks.”

“Six weeks. And don’t even get me started on how long you’ve been pining for him, telling me you’ll confess your feelings next week, or tomorrow, or next weekend, or once Mercury is out of retrograde, which… ugh. I said that I’m not getting into it, and I’m not getting into it, but Patrick, come on. You’ve got this. I’ve seen the way he smiles at you. He doesn’t smile like that at anyone else. What are you so afraid of?”

“Do you want a list?”

Morgan glares at me.

Looks like lists are off the table.

And, speaking of tables, above the din of conversation that fills the shop, there comes the screech of chair legs dragging on the floor. I look over my shoulder in a hurry and see that Aaron has gotten up and is on his way over to us.

I’m doomed.

My only hope is that Morgan takes pity on me and engages Aaron in conversation while I scramble to figure out what to say, but the more I think, the more ridiculous everything sounds. How is it that I’ve spent six weeks planning this without having come up with something smart, or intelligent, or funny to lead with? All I have is this love triangle latte. The hearts are cute, sure, but it’s just coffee.

Coffee Aaron asked me to get him.

It’s not like I’ve hired sky writers to scrawl my feelings over Chicago for everyone to see, or choreographed a flash mob to some sugary pop song that will win his heart over for good. All I have is this latte… and it’s a far cry from a grand declaration of love.

“I can’t do it,” I whisper in a panic to Morgan. “Save me.”

Patrick.

“Please?”

Morgan sighs. “You owe me.”

“My life, my firstborn son, beneficiary status in my will—anything.”

“Mm… your undying devotion should do,” she says, then sidesteps so she’s standing next to me. Cool as a cucumber, she leans forward and rests her weight on her elbows before flashing Aaron her best customer service smile. “Nyx! Hey there, big guy. I was wondering when you’d come over to say hi.”

A large, firm hand plants itself on my back. It seats itself a little lower than between my shoulder blades, but is still far enough from the small of my back that it remains innocent. Not that innocence matters when Aaron Upton is touching me.

One brush of his thumb against my spine and I go rock hard.

We’re talking granite.

Obsidian.

Diamond.

If I back away from the counter, Aaron will see it. The whole café will see it. What’s worse, when Aaron touches me, I get full-body shivers. I try to mask them the best I can, but my best is still way too noticeable. Aaron tenses, then takes his hand away like he’s afraid he’s repulsed me, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m crushed, but my erection flags. A silver lining around my rain cloud of a life.

“Oh, hey Morgan,” he says cheerfully as he takes a small, polite step away from me. “Sorry I didn’t come to see you sooner—I got lost in a good book.”

She waves him off. “Nah. No need to apologize. You’re working, I’m working… it’s all good. How is work going, anyway? Are the dicks touching yet? I remember last time we spoke, you were struggling with a little writer’s block and were having a hard time getting it written.”

“Almost.” Aaron smiles at her. “I’m hoping to be able to write that scene this afternoon. At this point it’s less about writer’s block and more about if I’ll be able to tear myself away from what I’m reading.”

“Aw, you’ll get there.” Morgan winks. “You’re a writing beast. I know you’ll pull through.”

“Thanks.”

“And speaking of getting things, I take it you’re here for your latte. It’s already made. Patrick and I just got a little sidetracked talking. Patrick”—she says my name with emphasis—“would you hand it to him? I don’t want to be rude and reach across you.”

I’ll admit, I’ve been distracted by Aaron-shaped things, so when Morgan turns the conversation on me, I’m taken by surprise. My eyes widen. My brain, occupied with thoughts of what could have been if only Aaron had placed his hand on lower parts of my body, stumbles to a halt. I freeze. Morgan arches a brow and nods at the latte, which is where it’s been this entire time—right in front of me.

“Oh,” I mutter. “The, uh, latte. Yeah. Let me just…”

I pick up the cup by the handle and turn to give it to Aaron, but what I don’t realize until I’m mid-rotation is that he’s standing way closer to me than I originally thought. I bump into him and, in my frantic attempt to self-correct, reel back, slamming my hip into the counter.

Aaron grabs my arm to steady me, but being as sensitive to his touch as I am, it doesn’t help much. My knees go weak, my heart hammers against my rib cage, and my sad little semi comes roaring back to life. In a desperate bid to keep him from noticing, I fake losing my footing so I can adjust my position to try to hide it, but my attempt at modesty backfires—I stumble for real, and as I do, the latte sloshes forward. The sweet bean juice inside threatens to spill over the lip of the cup. Somehow I manage to find my balance and save the drink, but not without a setback—the three hearts Morgan so artfully arranged don’t quite look like hearts anymore. The one at the peak of the triangle has stretched point-first across the surface of the latte, forming a long, white shape with two round bumps at its base. The hearts on the sides have stretched less and still somewhat resemble hearts, although they’re nowhere near as pretty as they were before I made a fool out of myself. But prettiness isn’t my main concern.

Oh, no.

Because the heart that got stretched?

It doesn’t look like a heart at all anymore.

It looks like a misshapen dick.

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