Her Little Secret, His Hidden Heir(5)

By: Heidi Betts

At the front door, she stopped abruptly, turning to face the two men. “Wait here,” she told them. “I have to warn Aunt Helen that you’re in town and explain what’s going on. She never particularly liked you,” she added, aiming her comment directly at Marc, “so don’t be surprised if she refuses to come out while you’re here.”

He shot her a sardonic grin. “I’ll be sure to keep my horns and tail hidden if I run into her.”

Vanessa didn’t bother responding to that. She was too afraid of what kind of retort might spill from her mouth. Instead, she spun and pushed her way into the bakery.

Keeping a smile on her face and cheerily greeting customers who were sipping cups of coffee, tea or cocoa, and enjoying some of her and her aunt’s most popular baked goods, she hurried to the kitchen.

As usual, Helen was bustling around doing this and that. She might have been in her seventies, but she had the energy of a twenty-year-old. Up at the crack of dawn each morning, she always went to work immediately, gathering ingredients, mixing, rolling, cutting, scooping…and managing to keep track of whatever was in the ovens, even three or four different items all set at different temperatures for various amounts of time.

Vanessa was a fairly accomplished baker herself, but readily admitted it took some doing to keep up with her aunt. Add to that the fact that Helen helped her man the counter and take care of Danny, and Vanessa literally did not know what she would do without her.

The squeak of the swinging double doors cutting off the kitchen area from the front of the store alerted Helen to her arrival.

“You’re back,” her aunt said without bothering to look up from the sugar cookies she was dusting with brightly colored sprinkles.

“Yes, but we have a problem,” Vanessa told her.

At that, Helen raised her head. “You didn’t get the money?” she asked, disappointment lacing her tone.

Vanessa shook her head. “Worse. The investor Brian has me meeting with is Marc.”

The container of sprinkles fell from Helen’s hand, hitting the metal cookie sheet and spilling everywhere. Not a disaster, just a few cookies that would turn out sloppier than usual. And whatever didn’t look appropriate for sale could always go on a plate as an after-dinner treat for themselves.

“You’re kidding,” her aunt breathed in a shocked voice.

Vanessa shook her head and crossed to where Helen stood rooted to the spot like a statue. “Unfortunately, I’m not. He’s outside right now, waiting for a tour of the bakery, so I need you to take Danny upstairs and stay there until I give you the all clear.”

Her fingers moved at the speed of light as she undid the knot at Helen’s waist, slipping the flour-dusted apron over her head and tossing it aside. Her aunt immediately reached up to pat her stack of puffy, blue-washed curls.

Rushing across the room, Vanessa paused to stare down at her adorable baby boy, who was lying on his back in a small bassinet, doing his best to get his pudgy little toes into his perfect pink mouth. As soon as he saw her, he smiled wide and began to gurgle happily, sending a stab of love so deep through Vanessa’s soul, it stole her breath.

Lifting him up and onto her shoulder, she wished she had the time to tickle and tease and coo with him. She loved running the bakery, and was very proud of what she and Aunt Helen had managed to build together, but Danny was her pride and joy. Her favorite moments of the day were those she got to spend alone with him, feeding him, bathing him, making him laugh.

Pressing a kiss to the side of his head, she whispered, “Later, sweetheart, I promise.” Just as soon as she could get rid of Marc and Brian.

Turning to her aunt, who had come up behind them, she handed the baby off.

“Hurry,” she said. “And keep him as quiet as you can. If he starts to cry, turn on the TV or the radio or something to try to cover it up. I’ll get rid of them as quickly as I can.”

“All right,” Helen readily agreed, “but keep an eye on the ovens. The pinwheel cookies only need another five minutes. The baklava and lemon streusel cake will be a while longer. I set the timers.”

Vanessa nodded her understanding, then with Helen bustling off to hide Danny in the small apartment they kept over the bakery, she pushed the now-empty bassinet across the kitchen and into a back storage room. Grabbing an extra white tablecloth with blue and yellow eyelet lace trim, she used it to cover the large piece of telling furniture.

Leaving the storage room, her gaze darted left to right and up and down, searching for any remaining signs of Danny’s presence. A few stray items, she might be able to explain… A rattle? Oh, a customer must have left it—I’ll have to put it in the Lost and Found.

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