Cooking Up Trouble(9)

By: Judi Lynn

“I owe you,” Ian called after her.

“We’re neighbors. It’s what we do.” She heard Lily’s charming laugh on her way to her pickup. How wonderful it must be to feel that secure in a man’s love. Lily had never once worried when she saw Ian, in a towel, trailing behind Tessa. Her mind tried to push away the image of Gary, locked in a clinch, with Sadie. There’d been no mistaking what they were up to.

She climbed into her pickup and started the engine. She leaned back against the seat for a second and squeezed her eyes shut. Maybe Grams was right. Not every man was like Gary. But after the hurt of his betrayal subsided, she had to admit that wasn’t her only worry.

She’d been with Gary for their first three years of college. He swore he loved everything about her. And when Grandma had offered her the farm, he’d encouraged her to go for it, to follow her dreams. When he graduated in one year, he’d follow her. It had all sounded good on paper, so she’d happily dropped out of college to do what truly inspired her. Gary would join her later, and they’d make Orchard Knoll their home.

Tessa shifted the truck into drive and started for her place. It was like Ian and Lily were exactly what she and Gary could have been. The similarities practically smacked her in the face. Tessa had tried to surprise Gary, too. When the weather had turned bad that first year she’d taken over the farm, Tessa had locked up everything and driven back to St. Louis. She’d knocked on Gary’s door without warning, hoping for a happy reunion    . Well, that’s not the way things had worked. No happy surprise, no sirree. Instead, there was only shock, humiliation, and hurt. Lots of hurt.

But the real doubts and fears didn’t come until later. Then, she had to wonder. Maybe she wasn’t special enough to keep a man’s interest. After all, the minute Gary graduated, he married Sadie. Tessa’s mom sent her the announcement in the newspaper. And according to any news she got from home, Gary and Sadie were living happily ever after. Sadie, obviously, had something she didn’t. And that worried her. Maybe she wasn’t enough. Maybe the same thing would happen with every man she met.

She pulled into her driveway and parked in the garage. She took a deep breath and let out the old pain and confusion with a whoosh. Perhaps if she used the beauty products her mom sent. Maybe if she wore more dresses and ribbons. But she was what she was, and she had no desire to fake it. She’d rather be alone than pretend to be someone she wasn’t. She’d be found out eventually, anyway. So why risk it?

Chapter 4

Fridays were always busy. This one had been busier than usual. Good temperatures brought more customers. People drove from other towns to shop at the bakery. When she and Grams locked up the barn, Grams headed straight for home. “Have to rest up for tomorrow.”

Tessa walked to the house and opened her refrigerator door to stare at leftovers. Nothing looked appealing. Ian was with Lily tonight. It had never bothered her to eat by herself before, but it felt lonely now. She wrinkled her nose, tossed a hot dog in the microwave, and flicked on the TV. She flipped through channels while she ate, couldn’t find anything that interested her, and reached for the newest Ilona Andrews novel. A few hours later, when she couldn’t keep her eyes open any more, she called it an early night.

Before Tessa opened the barn on Saturday morning, Luther showed up for work. She walked outside with him and got him started on the huge beds for lettuces. Greens could take cool temperatures and thrived in early spring. The boy, as usual, said as little as possible. He’d never win any prizes for charm, but seemed even moodier than usual. She thought he’d be in a decent mood today, since he was going to graduate on schedule a month from now. He hated school, always threatened to drop out, and she always encouraged him to stick it out. She told him she’d do cartwheels through her strawberry patches if he managed somehow. But he obviously didn’t feel the joy she did.

He’d already broached the subject of working full time for her, for as long as she could use him. Easy to do in the growing seasons. Not so easy once the snow fell. But she meant to line up something else for him by then. She’d ask everyone she knew if she had to.

After she left Luther, she joined Grams behind the counter of the bakery.

“How’s Luther?” Grams asked when Tessa took her place at the second cash register.

“Grumpier than usual. I thought he’d be happier, since he’s almost out of school, but I thought wrong.”

Grams gave a knowing nod. “Real life’s staring him in the face. He’s always told us he wants to move out and be on his own, but that takes money for rent and bills. It takes a full-time job.”

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