Cooking Up Trouble

By: Judi Lynn

A Mill Pond Romance



ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I’d like to thank my agent, Lauren Abramo, at Dystel and Goderich for being so patient and supportive of me. Without her I never would have tried to write romance. I didn’t think I could do it. She had faith in me though, and pushed me forward. I’m so happy she did.

I’d also like to thank my husband for always believing in me, whatever I try. And my daughters Holly and Robyn. Holly reads all of my roughest work and steers me in the right direction. Robyn’s the best cheerleader a mother could have.

I’d also like to thank Mary Lou Rigdon (who writes Regencies as Julia Donner) and Ann Staadt for being my trusted critique partners. They catch almost everything. And Paula Adams for prodding me to always add layers to my characters.

And thanks to my sisters Mary and Patty Thompson, who take me out to eat when I’m in a funk. And to Heidi Gatto who’s the best “adopted” daughter anyone could want.





Chapter 1

Buck Krieger was busy with another customer, so Tessa finished loading the last of the blueberry bushes into her old, beat-up pickup alone. She rubbed her lower back. Before making the drive here, one town over, she’d dug the holes for each and every bush, and her muscles felt it. The new patch was going in the long, rectangular plot on the east side of her property, right after the strawberry beds.

A breeze whipped strands of her tangled, coppery hair across her face. She scraped them behind her ears. She’d used the new, fancy combs her mother had sent her, but they couldn’t tame her thick, wild locks. She’d given up and tossed the combs into her purse. That’s what she got for trying to look feminine when she was doing outdoor work.

Her mom would be disappointed. Mom tried, bless her, sending make-up kits, wrapped in pearly pink paper, and certificates for facials or manicures. If Mom saw her fingernails this spring, she’d die of heart failure. Dirt rimmed every one of them. It was impossible to keep them clean when she worked in the gardens every day. That wasn’t even the worst of it. Mom would sit on her and smear sunscreen on her face if she saw the new sprinkle of freckles that peppered her nose and cheeks.

Bushes loaded, Tessa started down the narrow, nursery drive slow and easy. Winter had washed enough gullies in the gravel to make for a bumpy ride. She’d paid in advance, but Buck still stopped her to say his goodbyes. “You already have plenty of blueberries for jams. These are for pies, right?”

Tessa smiled and nodded. The man loved his pies. When she’d inherited her grandparents’ small farm, it came with plenty of orchards and berry patches, and he’d become a steady customer.

Buck leaned against her truck for a short chat. “People were in here, asking about you earlier today. Thought they’d drive out to your place and look you up.”

“I didn’t see anyone. I wasn’t at the house, though. I was working on my berry beds. Did you get their names?”

“Ann and Rich York. Seemed like nice folks.”

She couldn’t hide her surprise. No, make that worry. Why would they look her up? Gary’s parents had always been kind to her, welcomed her into their lives with open arms when Gary took her home to meet them. She gulped a deep breath.

Buck frowned. “Guess it’s a good thing you missed them.”

Tessa squared her shoulders. “They’re my ex’s mom and dad. Nice as can be, but I don’t need the memories.” It had been three years since she’d walked into Gary’s apartment and found Sadie in his arms. Three years since she’d taken off her engagement ring and hurled it at him. He’d called out to her when she stomped down the stairs, but what was there to say? It was over. Done.

Buck nodded. “Some things are best left in the past.”

She forced a smile. “Well, these bushes aren’t going to plant themselves. I’d better get going.”

Buck backed away from the pickup. His expression said he was sorry he’d ruined her day, but how could he know?

When she reached the country road at the end of Buck’s drive, she turned left toward her white bungalow and the acres it sat on. She’d turned the barn in the side yard into a farm stand and bakery. She closed the stand each winter and didn’t reopen until the first of May, two and a half weeks away, but she sold baked goods all year ’round on Fridays and Saturdays with special requests available by order.

She was halfway home, flying past farm fields, when she saw a sleek, black car parked on the side of the road. A dark-haired, lanky man stood beside it, waving his arms to get her attention. He wore a suit and black shoes that gleamed in the sunlight. She pulled up beside him and rolled down her window.

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