Excerpt - Baking from the Hart
Book 10: Once Upon A Romance Series
“Finally! My John’s here!” Gretchen Hart ogled the tall, scruffy-looking hot guy who walked through her shop door, the bell over it ringing. Whether the pink and white bakery had one measly customer sitting at a tiny white table or a line out to the sidewalk, she’d still think he’d have dominated the entire place and secured her undivided attention.
Just Desserts, is right! Wow, what a looker!
He pulled up short, head jerking back slightly, whipped off his aviator sunglasses and hooked them in the top of his denim shirt. “Are you waiting for me? Or do you always greet your customers with that hungry, desperate look?”
Oh, man, that raspy voice. A slight buzz began in her nerve endings. Those gorgeous eyes —mesmerizing green with brown flecks. What I wouldn’t give to run my fingers through that thick, dark hair and along the dark stubble on his jaw. Her legs wobbled at his direct, intense stare. That body wrapped in faded jeans and me! Down, girl!
With heat creeping in her cheeks, Gretchen refocused. “Did you get stuck in traffic?” She didn’t wait for him to answer. Instead, she turned to the gleaming silver counter and picked up the top pink pastry box. “Never mind. John, the address is on the paper. Four dozen of my best cream puffs and chocolate eclairs. Hold out your arms.”
His slight grin and the way he cocked one eyebrow made her gulp. Hard. Just because you haven’t had a date—a real one—in eight months doesn’t mean you can fall at the feet of the gorgeous man, Gretch! She could just picture her twin brother laughing at her now! But John did as she asked. Gingerly, she piled the boxes one by one in his waiting arms.
“Is that a—?”
The cooing sounds came from behind her.
“Baby on your back?” He followed her motions and must have gotten more than a glimpse. “Ah, isn’t the baby supposed to be the other way?”
Gretchen closed her eyes for a second and bit down on a bubbling retort. “I’m shorthanded right now. She’s…curious. Back-to-back in the carrier is best when she’s here.”
Stretching for the small box she’d prepared, she shifted. The baby giggled.
“She likes that. You should see her smile. And her hands and feet are moving, too.” The awe and wonder mixed in his features did the strangest things to her insides.
He likes babies. Chalk one up for the cute guy!
The sound was infectious. Gretchen joined in the baby’s glee. He did, too, chuckling. The anxiety of this rush job and getting it delivered on time eased. The rideshare company had sent their guy, John, to deliver the goodies and she would rest easy with the payment added to the sales today and possibly repeat ones in the future.
He nodded to the small box she set on top.
“That’s for you. Your tip.” A blast of heat rushed to her face, surely burning dots of red on her cheeks. Biting her lower lip, she grabbed for the nearly empty tip jar. She upended it. The coins clinked on the metal counter. She plucked out the two dollar bills and shifted through the quarters. “Four dollars and—”
“Save it. Looks like you need it more.”
His words weren’t harsh, just the truth. And that stung even more. “I’ll make it right next time, okay? My van broke down and my help is sick…” Gretchen choked up, feeling the strain. And I’m taking care of my niece while my single brother works two jobs out of town.
Out of the corner of her eye, she glimpsed the Dallas newspaper on the counter, folded to reveal King’s Department Store’s announcement of holding a baking contest. The ten-thousand-dollar prize jumped out at her when she first read it and it did again now. Did she dare? Today was the last day to enter. 5 p.m.! Since the ever popular franchise coffee place opened last month just five streets over, her sales dropped. Like a ton of bricks.
The prize money would save the bakery and her little family. The new equipment she needed to create gorgeous wedding cakes and send the bakery into an entirely different direction seemed the best way to not only meet the bills but become highly successful. Not to mention, finally living her dream. Put this little place on the map and boom! We’ll have brides-to-be begging to hire Just Desserts to whip up wedding cakes, one tier after another to the sky and back!
“And…I’ll work it all out, like I always do. I don’t know why I’m telling a delivery guy all this.”
“Delivery guy?” His brow furrowed. Somehow it didn’t mar his handsome, rugged features.
“Thank goodness they came through in a pinch. So, John…” She felt the warmth on her back and stiffened. “Did she?” Please, don’t wet—or worse—on me again!
“Turn.” When she did, he inspected it thoroughly.
As she peeked over her shoulder, she noted his eyes were unreadable. “That bad?”
“Take the boxes back.”
One at a time, Gretchen returned the pastries to the counter.
She reached out, grabbed a few dozen from the nearby container, and then handed them to him. “I have wipes and diapers in my office.”
Little Lola laughed, throwing her head from side to side, and wheeled her arms. More warmth hit Gretchen near her shoulders. Did she? My hair! She kept it short for several reasons, but still, Lola’s aim could have hit there. “Which end?” How did it get that high?
Phew! “I guess feeding her hot cereal a few minutes ago and then slinging her on my back wasn’t such a brilliant idea.”
“Good deduction.” The smile in his voice blunted the terse words. “That and essentially giving her a theme park ride.” He finished up and held out the dirty napkins. “Trash?” He found it before she could direct him.
Gretchen grabbed for the nearby bottle of hand sanitizer. “De-yuck?”
His grin flashed. Her heart tripped over itself. And she slammed a hand down on the pump. A large glob squirted into his hands. “Share?”
A muscle quivered in her cheek as she tried to smile. She released her hold on the bottle and held up her palms. He’s going to touch me! With the utmost care, he slid his hands over hers, working in the pungent gel. Hot! Erotic! Damn!
Silence, except for the baby cooing, thrummed to life. Beating and pulsing in the air.
Looking up, she captured his intense stare. Whoosh!
“Th…thanks.” Gretchen broke contact and took a tiny step back. She cleared her throat. “Let’s try this again, shall we?”
“First…” His voice lowered, tickling a place deep inside her. Reaching out, he brushed back her sweep of bangs. The warmth of his fingertips trailing over her skin caused a slight quiver to dance along her nerve endings.
He touched me… No one had done it with such tenderness in years. Gretchen released a shivery breath and tried to ignore the man and return to her mission. In record time, Gretchen had gently handed over the boxes, one at a time. She deposited the smallest one on top.
“We good?” She flicked a glimpse at the clock on the wall. Biting her bottom lip, she realized the delivery was already fifteen minutes late.
He followed her glance, looked back at her clasping her hands, and then nodded curtly. “Address on the paper, right?”
“Three blocks away. If I could, I’d have walked it myself. It’s just…”
“No worries.” He hesitated at the door, sweeping her with a long, lingering stare.
Gretchen warmed, from the inside out. What was he thinking? Her dress code of late: black yoga pants and slip-on bright pink sneakers to match her equally vivid pink vee-neck top with Just Desserts in black lettering on the left side. It seemed little barrier to his laser-sharp gaze.
He captured her stare, holding steady. Something electric crackled between them. He hesitated, shook his head and pushed open the door with his muscled arm. His mouth lifted on one side.
Tingles raced down her spine. “Thanks. For me.” She shrugged. “And for Lola.”
Gosh, could he get any sexier than the one eyebrow raised? She stuck her thumb over her shoulder. “Baby. Girl.”
Oh, yeah! Sexy just got even better with that full-on megawatt smile of his. He nodded and shoved on the door more, actually opening it for the elderly couple coming in.
“What a nice young man, don’t you think so, Herbert?” The woman, sporting gray hair and round spectacles, beamed up at her John.
“Yes, very good of you,” the older man, leaning on his black cane, agreed, and shuffled in the shop.
The pair exclaimed over the pastries in the case, talking a mile a minute at what they’d select.
“Anytime.” But he looked at Gretch as he said it.
“Wait! Your last name? So I can ask for you next time.”
“Doe. Just call me John Doe.”
He left and disappeared down the sidewalk.
Gretchen’s middle dropped as she rushed to follow.
“Ah, miss, can we have a blueberry muffin and one of those giant peanut butter cookies?” The woman’s voice halted her. “Tea for me. Coffee for my honey here.”
Customers came first. Gretchen gulped and then blew out a hot breath. First, ring up the sale. Next, call that rideshare back. Pronto!
Less than ten minutes later, she clutched the phone, listening while she unseeingly noted the loving couple smiling and sharing their treats at the table closest to the coffee bar.
“Nope, no John Doe. Our driver got a flat. Running late. He’ll be there in a half hour tops.”
Her blood ran cold. What have you done with my cream puffs and eclairs? The loss of her biggest order for the week drummed in her head. The thought of how she’d cover the missed sale and juggle the bills without the money grabbed her by the throat. She’d already spent it, ordering new supplies for a special wedding cake she longed to make.
She never should’ve trusted him in the first place. You have the worst luck when it comes to people, especially men, Gretch!
Being superhot did not cancel out being a no-good thief! Who in the heck are you, John Doe?!