Her Little Secret, His Hidden Heir(7)

By: Heidi Betts

Despite her discomfort at being around him again, he’d never seen her so passionate. While they’d been married, she’d been passionate with him, certainly. The sparks they’d created together had made Fourth of July fireworks look like the flare of a wooden matchstick in comparison.

But outside of the bedroom, she’d been much more subdued, spending her time at the country club with his mother or working on various charitable committees—also with his mother.

When they met, Vanessa had been in college, not yet decided on a major and he freely admitted that he’d been the driving force behind her not graduating with the rest of her class. He’d wanted her too much, been too eager to slip his ring on her finger and make her his—body and soul.

But he’d always expected her to go back to school, and would have supported her a thousand percent, whatever she wanted to do with her life. Somehow, though, she’d gotten distracted and fallen into simply being his wife. A Keller woman whose main purpose was to look good on his arm, add reverence and prestige to the family name, and help raise money for worthy causes.

He wondered now, though, if that’s what she’d wanted. Or if she’d maybe wanted more than to be simply Mrs. Marcus Keller.

Because while he knew she was proud of the fundraising work she’d done while they were married, she’d never talked about it with this level of enthusiasm in her voice or this much animation to her beautiful features.

He also wondered how well he’d really known his own wife, considering that—with the exception of a few romantic, candlelit meals she’d prepared for him while they were dating—he hadn’t even realized she liked to cook or was a world-class baker. But after sampling some of her creations, he decided that if a successful business could stand on its product alone, she may just be sitting on a gold mine.

Finishing the last bite of the banana nut muffin she’d offered, he actually licked his fingers clean, wanting to savor every crumb.

“Delicious,” he told her. “So why didn’t you ever bake like this while we were married?”

He didn’t know if it was his tone—which he’d thought was pleasant enough; he certainly hadn’t meant for it to sound accusatory—or the question itself that got her dander up, but she immediately stiffened and took a step away from him, the brief pleasure he’d noted on her face fading away.

“I don’t think your mother would have appreciated me messing up her pristine kitchen or getting in Cook’s way,” she replied tersely. “It might have been the Keller family estate, but she runs the place like a monarchy.”

No doubt she was right. Eleanor Keller was rather stuck in her ways. Raised in the lap of luxury and used to servants bustling around her, ready to do her bidding, she wouldn’t have looked kindly upon her own daughter-in-law doing something as lowly or mundane as preparing a meal or baking desserts, regardless of how talented she might be in that respect.

“You should have done it, anyway,” Marc told her.

For a minute, Vanessa didn’t reply, though her mouth tightened into a flat line. Then she murmured, “Maybe I should have,” before spinning on her heel and leading him away from the counter and display cases.

She pushed through a set of swinging doors painted yellow with The Sugar Shack emblazoned on them in a playful white font and led him into the kitchen. Along with a wave of heat wafting from the industrial ovens lining one wall, the smell of baking was even stronger here, making him hope Vanessa might offer to let him sample a few more items as part of his tour.

While explaining the setup of the kitchen and how she and her aunt shared both baking and front counter duties, she moved around checking timers. Slipping a thick oven mitt on one hand, she began removing cookie sheets and pie pans, setting them on a wide metal island at the center of the room.

“A lot of the recipes are from Aunt Helen’s personal collection,” she confided, using a nearby spatula to transfer cookies from sheet to cooling rack. “She’s always loved to bake, but had never considered opening her own shop. I couldn’t believe she wasn’t earning a living with her talents, since everything she makes tastes like heaven. I’m pretty good in the kitchen myself—I must get it from her—” she added with a lopsided grin “—and I guess after a bit, the two of us decided to make a go of it together.”

Marc rested his hands on the edge of the island, watching her work. Her movements were smooth and graceful, but also quick and efficient, as though she’d done this a million times before and could do it with her eyes closed, if necessary.

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