Her Little Secret, His Hidden Heir(8)

By: Heidi Betts

He definitely didn’t want to close his eyes, though. He was enjoying the view, struck once again by how much he’d missed being near Vanessa.

The divorce had been so cut and dry, finished almost before he knew what was happening. One minute he’d been married to a beautiful woman he’d adored, thinking everything was fine. The next, she’d announced that she couldn’t “live this way anymore” and wanted a divorce. Within a few short months, the papers had been signed and she’d been gone.

Looking back, he admitted that he probably should have fought harder to make their marriage work. At the very least, he should have asked why she was leaving him, what it was she needed that he wasn’t giving her.

At the time, however, he’d been busy with the company and the demands of his family and let his pride take the position that he didn’t want to be married to any woman who didn’t want to be married to him. A part of him, he understood now, had also thought Vanessa was just being dramatic. That she was threatening him with divorce because he hadn’t been as attentive to her as she might have wanted, or that once she saw that he wasn’t going to put up a fight, she would change her mind and recognize how good she had it.

But that hadn’t happened. She hadn’t changed her mind and by the time he’d realized she wasn’t going to, it had been too late.

“Blake showed me some of your financials,” he said, wondering if she’d rap his knuckles with her spatula if he tried to snitch one of the mouthwatering, fresh-from-the-oven cookies. “It looks as though you’re doing fairly well.”

Without bothering to glance in his direction, she nodded. “We’re doing okay. Could be better. We’ve got a lot of overhead, and the rent for this building wipes us out most months, but we’re holding our own.”

“Then why are you looking for an investor?”

Finishing up what she was doing, she set aside her spatula and oven mitt, and turned to face him more directly. He noticed, too, that she straightened slightly, shoulders pulling back as though she expected a confrontation.

“I have an idea for expansion,” she said slowly, obviously weighing her words carefully. “It’s a good idea. I think it will go over well. But it’s going to require a bit of construction and more start-up cash than we’ve got at our disposal.”

“So what’s the idea?” he wanted to know.

She licked her lips and Marc watched the delicate tendons of her throat convulse as she swallowed before answering. “Mail order. I want to start with a Cookie-of-the-Month Club subscription service that could one day be turned into a catalog business for all of our products.”

Judging by the quality of the items he’d tasted so far, he thought it sounded like a damn good prospect. He would certainly consider buying a year’s worth of baked goods as quick and easy holiday gifts for numerous family members and business associates. And maybe even one for himself, because he would certainly enjoy a box of The Sugar Shack’s cookies showing up on his doorstep once a month.

Not that he told Vanessa as much. Until he decided for sure whether or not he was going to invest in her and her aunt’s little bakery, it was better to keep his thoughts to himself.

“Show me where the construction would take place,” he said instead. “I take it you have some back storage area that you could convert, or are maybe thinking of renting the empty building next door?”

She nodded. “The space next door.”

Double-checking the rest of the timers and contents of the ovens, she made her way out of the kitchen, trusting Marc to follow. They passed a narrow stairwell outside of the kitchen but tucked away from the front of the shop so that it was nearly invisible to anyone who didn’t know it was there.

“Where does that lead?” he asked, inclining his head.

If he wasn’t mistaken, he thought Vanessa’s eyes went wide and some of the color drained from her face.

“Nowhere,” she said quickly. Then, apparently realizing that he would know something was at the top of those stairs, she added, “It’s just a small apartment. We use it for storage, and as a place for Aunt Helen to nap throughout the day. She wears out easily.”

Marc raised a brow. Unless she’d aged exponentially in the year or two since he’d last seen Vanessa’s aunt, he found that hard to believe. The woman might be pushing eighty, but there wasn’t a bone in her body that could be labeled old, and for as long as he’d known her, she’d had the disposition of a hummingbird. But he let it go, deciding that if the building’s second story didn’t have anything to do with the bakery or his possible investment, then there was nothing up there he needed to know about.

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