Getting up early in the morning, every morning, sucks. A lot.
A strange statement to make for a coffee shop and bakery owner, but there you have it. I, Trish Danvers, am not a morning person. Or an early riser, at least not without seven different alarms set all around my little house just to make sure I got up early enough to start baking the day’s pastries.
Today I was up and already walking to my shop, La Belle Bean, on Belle Musique’s equivalent to Main Street, and it was barely four o’clock in the morning. Ungodly, I know. But I needed the extra time because I had to frost and decorate five dozen cupcakes for the Chamber of Commerce luncheon today. A luncheon I should be attending, but begged off because I couldn’t take the time away from the shop. Everyone needed coffee, or tea, and they chose La Belle Bean because of my delicious pastries, the gossip and the sense of community found within.
Yeah, my place was amazing. And now that I served a small selection of gourmet sandwiches on fresh-made bread for lunch, business was booming. It felt good, and I knew my Aunt Becca would be proud she’d left her business in good hands.
Of course, I had to put my own touch on the place, so a few years ago I got rid of the French country kitchen style and turned it into an adorable little shop with pastel colors. It was girly, with the lavender awning and a handwritten cursive white logo. Inside, the pink and sea green gingham tablecloths with matching branded boxes and bags only made it more feminine, along with the pastel colored mugs that bore the shop’s name along with funny quotes about coffee. It was a dream come true, and best of all, it was all mine.
Since the shop wouldn’t open for another couple hours, I locked the front door behind me and left the dining area dark as I made my way to the pride and joy of my shop, the industrial grade kitchen. Complete with four oversized ovens, stainless steel appliances, large mixers and everything a proper pastry chef could ever want. Not that I was a proper pastry chef, I didn’t go to culinary school or anything. My training came from Aunt Becca, who’d imparted all of her wisdom—baking and business—onto me from the age of ten.
I remember vividly, spending hours beside her at the home I now lived in, or here in this very kitchen, doing just what I did now. Smoothing a thick buttercream frosting over the top in an elegant ‘s’ formation. “Remember to always use a light touch, Trishy,” she’d always say in that soft melodic voice of hers.
On days like this, I couldn’t help but think of her. Though I called her Aunt Becca she was more of a mom to me, taking me in when I was just three years old after my mom died from the cancer no knew she had, and raising me like I was hers.
Every day I worked hard to make her proud. And I knew these cupcakes, all original recipes, had achieved that.
Frosting cupcakes was one of my favorite jobs even though it didn’t require much skill. It helped clear my mind. I’d come up with some of my best ideas for expanding the shop or creating new recipes while doing this mundane task. And by the time each cupcake bore either the Belle Musique flag or the town crest, I was fully awake with a pot of coffee brewing in the corner. Maybe it was the second pot.
Another hour later, and the shop doors were open, but things were quiet as I filled the display case with glazed donuts to start, adding chocolate, sprinkles and jelly and custard filled donuts to the rest of the trays. Cranberry orange muffins with shaved white chocolate went in next, along with banana walnut and blueberry pecan. The baking didn’t stop until around eleven, when I was sure I’d have enough to make it through the late afternoon sugar rush. Then I got started on the breads for sandwiches.
“Hey Boss, how’s it going?” Molly appeared, bright-eyed and full of the kind of energy only a twenty year old could possess. She was beautiful in an unconventional way with cat-like hazel eyes that matched high cheekbones and full lips, capped off with a sleek black bob that made her look more worldly than anyone else in this small southern town.
“It’s going, Molly. Baguettes are in the ovens on the right, rolls on the left.” My kitchen ran like a well-oiled machine, mostly due to my iron fisted control on every aspect of the business for the past few years, but also because Molly followed orders perfectly and made my work life easy. Efficient.
“I saw the specials on the board, so if you do one of each, I’ll take care of them.” At my confused frown her hazel gaze slid to the giant digital clock on the kitchen wall. “You need to get to the community center with the cupcakes,” she reminded me.
“Right. Well I’ll get to that. Thanks, Molly.”
“Anytime,” she said and disappeared into the front of the shop. I loaded up the cart filled with cupcakes and slid it into the lavender La Belle Bean van before double checking my appearance in the mirror. My blond hair was still, mostly, in the ponytail I’d put it in this morning with a few wisps that had broken free during my hectic morning. The denim skirt and sea green t-shirt with the logo splashed across the front looked…as good as it possibly could after a morning of baking. I swiped the smudged mascara from under my lower lashes, and added a quick slick of gloss over my lips and headed out.
There was no one in town to impress, since I’d grown up with all the available men in town. “Whatever,” I grumbled and set out for the community center which was just two blocks away. I could have walked, but even though it was only April, the Louisiana heat would easily melt the frosting, and my van was air conditioned.
The luncheon hadn’t officially begun yet, but the large room reserved for the luncheon was already packed with all the business owners in town, from the bank president, to the souvenir kiosk owner, and every entrepreneur in between. They were grouped in small circles that reminded me too much of high school. Where did a successful pastry shop owner belong in this group? I didn’t really know, but I figured providing the dessert for the occasion was perfect marketing.
Then I spotted him. The bane of my existence for the past six months. Mason Sullivan.
New guy in town.
Dark and brooding hottie.
Next door neighbor.
And total pain in my ass.
He stood laughing with Zeke, who was married to my friend Maddie. Zeke was proof that once in a great while, a leopard did change his spots. He’d gone from playboy to family man the moment he’d fallen for the sweetheart boutique owner.
It was enough to give a girl hope.
Not me, but some hopeful girl out there with stars in her eyes and a belief that Prince Charming, White Knights and other veritable good guys were out there. Though Zeke was a good guy, and I had faith that he and Maddie would go the distance, I didn’t have as much faith in my own future.
“Trish, what did you bring?” In the time it took me to unload the first tray of cupcakes, Zeke had stopped beside me.
I laughed at his boyish eagerness. “Good to see you too, Zeke.”
With one of his patented charming smiles, he pulled me into his side for a half-hug. “It’s always good to see you Trish, but the only thing that gets me more excited than your cupcakes is my wife.” He said the words so easily these days, which made me even happier for Maddie, but also caused a pang of longing I refused to acknowledge.
I stepped back and smoothed a hand over my t-shirt with a polite smile, ignoring the desire to have someone speak of me as openly and as lovingly as Zeke spoke of wife.
“You should stop in and get a few of my new Irish cream filled donuts. Maddie can’t get enough of’em.”
“Save me a dozen if you can,” he said at the same time he plucked a chocolate brandy ganache from the table and walked away, humming while he ate. That right there, was music to my ears.
“Got one for me?” I knew that voice. Somehow silky smooth and gravelly at the same time. Totally sexy and completely wasted on the owner. I turned and barely held in a groan at the handsome man in front of me. Mason was tall with broad shoulders, a thick crop of wavy chestnut hair that always looked slightly disheveled and laughing green eyes that went from jade to forest green in a heartbeat. To add to his bad boy appeal, he had a sleeve of colorful tattoos that, yeah, intrigued me. His long muscled legs wore a pair of jeans like nobody’s business. To cap off his uniform, his black t-shirt tugged across his broad shoulders and wide chest. All in all, he had a starring role in my dirtiest fantasies for the past six months.
“They’re for everyone in attendance,” I told him quickly. “Bon Appetit!” Getting away from Mason was my main objective. We couldn’t spend more than two minutes together without arguing, and this was neither the time nor the place.
“You don’t like me much, do you?” His voice was deep and casual, as if the answer didn’t matter to him at all. And I was sure it didn’t.
I stopped and turned to him with a shrug, avoiding his searing green gaze in lieu of the banner visible over his shoulder.
“I don’t know you, Mason. But what I do know is that you go out of your way to antagonize me, so I think the issue is that you don’t like me very much.” He flashed that panty-melting smile that made me clench my thighs tightly. Good lord, how could someone I loathe be so damn sexy?
“Haven’t you ever heard that a boy pulls your pigtails because he likes you?”
I nodded, because I was sure there was a certain type of woman that behavior worked on, but I wasn’t one of them. “Sounds like something women tell themselves to justify being with a jerk. I’ll see you around.” His words were the perfect reminder of why I kept my distance from him, only getting close in my fantasies.
He called out to me just as I reached the exit. “Save me one of those Irish cream donuts, will ya?”
I bit my bottom lip to keep from smiling back at him and nodded. “Sure.” I stepped out into the afternoon sunshine with a smile on my face. An interaction with Mason that didn’t end with an argument, practically miraculous.
That had to mean good things for the rest of the day.