Her Little Secret, His Hidden Heir(2)

By: Heidi Betts

He slowed his speed, taking the time to examine the storefronts as he passed. A drug store, a post office, a bar and grill, a gift shop…and a bakery.

Lifting his foot from the gas, he slowed even more, studying the bright yellow awning and fancy black lettering declaring it to be The Sugar Shack…the red neon sign in the window letting customers know they were open…and the handful of people inside, enjoying freshly made baked goods.

It looked inviting, which was important in the food service industry. He was tempted to lower his window and see if he could actually smell the delicious scents of breads and cookies and pies in the air.

But there was more to running a successful business than a cute name and an attractive front window, and if he was going to put money into The Sugar Shack, he wanted to know it was a sound investment.

At the corner, he took a left and continued down a side street, following the directions he’d been given to reach the offices of Blake and Fetzer, Financial Advisors. He’d worked with Brian Blake before, though never on an investment this far from home or this close to Blake’s own offices. Still, the man had never steered him wrong, which made Marcus more willing to take time off work and make the long drive.

A few blocks down the street, he noticed a lone woman walking quickly on three-inch heels. Given the uneven pavement and pebbles littering the sidewalk, she wasn’t having an easy time of it. She also seemed distracted, rooting around inside an oversize handbag rather than keeping her attention on where she was going.

A niggle of something uncomfortable skated through his belly. She reminded him somehow of his ex-wife. A bit heavier and curvier, her coppery hair cut short instead of left to flow halfway down her back, but still very similar. Especially the way she walked and dressed. This woman was wearing a white blouse and a black skirt with a short slit at the back, framing a pair of long, lovely legs. No jacket and no clunky accessories, which followed Vanessa’s personal style to a T.

Shifting his gaze back to the road, he tamped down on whatever emotion had his chest going tight. Guilt? Regret? Simple sentimentality? He wasn’t sure and didn’t care to examine the unexpected feelings too closely.

They’d been divorced for over a year. Better to put it all behind him and move on, as he was sure Vanessa had done.

Spotting the offices of Blake and Fetzer, he pulled into the diminutive three-car lot at the back of the building, cut the engine and stepped out into the warm spring day. With any luck, this meeting and the subsequent tour of The Sugar Shack would only take a couple of hours, then he could be back on the road and headed home. Small town life might be fine for some people, but Marcus would be only too happy to get back to the hustle and bustle of the city and the life he’d made for himself there.

Vanessa stopped outside Brian Blake’s office, taking a moment to straighten her blouse and skirt, run a hand through her short-cropped hair and touch up her lipstick. It had been a long time since she’d gotten this dressed up and she was sorely out of practice.

It didn’t help, either, that all of the nicer clothes she’d acquired while being married to Marcus were now at least one size too small. That meant her top was a bit too snug across the chest, her skirt was a good inch shorter than she would have liked and darned if the waistband wasn’t cutting off her circulation.

Thankfully, the town of Summerville didn’t require her to dress up this much, even for Sunday services. Otherwise, she may have had to invest in a new wardrobe, and given what a hard time she was having just keeping her head above water and her business afloat, that was an added expense she definitely could not afford.

Deciding that her appearance was about as good as it was going to get at this late date, she took a deep breath and pushed through the door. Blake and Fetzer’s lone receptionist greeted her with a wide smile, informed her that Brian and the potential investor were waiting in his office, and told her to go right in.

She took another steadying breath and before stepping inside sent a quick prayer heavenward that the wealthy entrepreneur Brian had found to hopefully invest in her fledging enterprise would find The Sugar Shack worthy of his financial backing.

The first thing she saw was Brian sitting behind his desk, smiling as he chatted with the visitor facing away from her in one of the guest chairs. The man had dark hair that barely dusted the collar of his charcoal-gray jacket and was tapping a tan, long-fingered hand on the arm of his chair, as though he was impatient to get down to business.

As soon as Brian spotted her, his smile widened and he rose to his feet. “Vanessa,” he greeted her, “you’re right on time. Allow me to introduce you to the man I hope will become an investor in your wonderful bakery. Marcus Keller, this is Vanessa Mason. Vanessa this is—”

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