A CEO in Her Stocking: Reclaimed by the Rancher

By: Elizabeth Bevarly


 Clara Easton was dabbing one final icing berry onto a poinsettia cupcake when the bell over the entrance to Tybee Island’s Bread & Buttercream rang for what she hoped was the last time that day. Not that she wasn’t grateful for every customer, but with Thanksgiving just over and Christmas barely a month away, the bakery had been getting hammered. Not to mention she had to pick up Hank from his sitter in... She glanced at the clock. Yikes! Thirty minutes! Where had the day gone?

 With luck, the customer was someone who’d just remembered she needed a dessert for a weekend party, and Hey, whatever you have left in the case is fine—I’ll take it. But the visitor was neither a she nor a customer, Tilly, the salesclerk, told Clara when she came back to the kitchen. It was a man asking for her as Miss Easton. A man in a suit. Carrying a briefcase.

 Which was kind of weird, since no one on the island called her anything but Clara, and few if any of her customers were business types—or men, for that matter. Moms and brides pretty much kept Bread & Buttercream in business. Clara was intrigued enough that she didn’t take time to remove her apron before heading into the shop. She did at least tuck a few raven curls under the white kerchief tied on her head pirate-style.

 Though the man might have fit right in on the island with his surfer dude good looks, he clearly wasn’t local. His suit was too well cut, his hair too well styled, and he looked completely out of his element amid the white wrought-iron café sets and murals of cartoon cupcakes.

 “Hi,” Clara greeted him. “Can I help you?”

 “Miss Easton?” he asked.

 “Clara,” she automatically corrected him. Miss Easton sounded like a Victorian spinster who ran a boardinghouse for young ladies required to be home by nine o’clock in order to preserve their reputations and their chastity.

 “Miss Easton,” the man repeated anyway. “My name is August Fiver. I work for Tarrant, Fiver and Twigg. Attorneys.”

 He extended a business card that bore his name and title—Senior Vice-President and Probate Researcher—and an address in New York City. Clara knew probate had something to do with wills, but she didn’t know anyone who had died. She had no family except for her son, and all of her friends were fine.

 “Probate researcher?” she asked.

 He nodded. “My firm is hired to find heirs who are, for lack of a better term, long-lost relatives of...certain estates.”

 The explanation did nothing to clear things up. From what Clara knew about the two people who had exchanged enough bodily fluids to produce her, whatever they might have for her to inherit was either stolen or conned. She would just as soon have them stay long lost.

 Her confusion must have shown on her face, because August Fiver told her, “It’s your son, Henry. I’m here on behalf of his paternal grandmother, Francesca Dunbarton.” His lips turned up in just the hint of a smile as he added, “Of the Park Avenue Dunbartons.”

 Clara’s mouth dropped open. She’d spent almost a month with Hank’s father four summers ago, when she was working the counter of Bread & Buttercream. Brent had been charming, funny and sweet, with the eyes of a poet, the mouth of a god and a body that could have been roped off in an Italian museum. He’d lived in a tent, played the guitar and read aloud to her by firelight. Then, one morning, he was gone, moving on to whatever came next in his life.

 Clara hadn’t really minded that much. She hadn’t loved him, and she’d had plans for her future that didn’t include him. They deliberately hadn’t exchanged last names, so certain had both been that whatever they had was temporary. They’d had fun for a few weeks, but like all good things, it had come to an end.

 Except it didn’t quite come to an end. When Clara discovered she was pregnant, she felt obliged to contact Brent and let him know—she’d still had his number in her phone. But her texts to him about her condition went unanswered, as did her messages when she tried to call. Then the number was disconnected. It hadn’t been easy raising a child alone. It still wasn’t. But Clara managed. It was her and Hank against the world. And that was just fine with her.

 “I didn’t realize Brent came from money,” she said. “He wasn’t... We weren’t... That summer was...” She gave up trying to describe what defied description. “I’m surprised he even told his mother about Hank. I’m sorry Mrs. Dunbarton passed away without meeting her grandson.”

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