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Baker Ava McKaslin stopped humming as she stepped back from the worktable to inspect the wedding cake. Her footsteps echoed in the industrial kitchen, nearly empty except for a few basicsthe sink, countertops and the few pieces of equipment she'd managed to buy off the previous tenant. They'd considered it too cumbersome and expensive to move the industrial oven and fridge, which was just her luck.
She might not have the bakery of her dreams yet, God willing, but it was a start. Besides, her cake was spectacular, if she did say so herself.
But what was with all the silence? She cut a look to the long stretch of metal counter behind her. The CD had come to an end. She'd probably forgotten to hit Repeat again. Okay, she forgot most things most of the time. Since her hands were all frosting coated, she hit the Play button with her elbow. The first beats of percussion got her right back into the creative mode. Although some people found it hard to think with bass blasting from her portable boom box, she thought it helped her brain cells to fire, or synapse, or do whatever brain cells did.
As the Christian music pulsed with an upbeat rhythm, she went back to work on the top tier. The delicate scrollwork took patience, not to mention stamina. Her wrist and arms were killing her, since she'd been at this for six hours straight. Ah, the price of being a baker. She ignored the burn in her ex-hausted muscles. Pain, that didn't matter. What mattered was not failing.
Before she'd bought this place, she'd been unofficially in business by using her oldest sister Katherine's snazzy kitchen off and on for a few months. This was her very first wedding cake in her ownbakery. How great was that? And it was actually going wella total shocker. So far there were no disast-ers. No kitchen fires. No last-minute cancel-lation of the wedding. It was almost as if this business venture of hers was meant to be.
Maybe she hadn't made a disastrous mistake by jumping into this entrepreneu-rial thing with both feet. And, best of all, the remodeling contractor would start work soon transforming this drab commercial space into a cheerful bakery shop in less than a couple of weeks. That was another reason why she was in such a great mood.
"Hello?" a man's voicea stranger's voiceyelled over the booming music.
She screamed. The spatula slipped from her grip. What was a man doing in her kitchen? A man she'd never seen before. Her move. She could only gape at him in wide-eyed horror.
Oh, no. What if he was the backdoor burglar? The thief that had been breaking into the back doors of restaurants and as-saulting and stealing? What if this dude was him?
It would be smart to call 9-1-1, but she had no idea where her cell was. There was no business phone installed yet. Even if she did have her cell or a working landline, it wouldn't matter since she was paralyzed in place.
"Uh, uh, " That was the best speech she could manage? Get it together, Ava. You're about to be robbed. "I've seen your face, so I can identify you in a lineup."
The burglar stared at her. Wow, he was really handsome. And he looked startled. His strong, chiseled jaw was clenched tight in, perhaps, fury and his striking dark eyes glit-tered with viciousness, or maybe that was humor. The left corner of his mouth quirked up as if he were holding back a grin.
Great, she had to get an easily amused thief. "I've got two bucks in my purse. That's it, buddy. There's not another cent on the premises. You've picked the wrong place to rob. So t-t-turn around r-right now and go away. Go on. Shoo."
There, that ought to scare him off or confuse him. She really didn't care which. Adrenalineor maybe it was terrorstarted to spill like ice into her veins.
"Go ahead, call the cops." He called her bluff, crossing his arms over his wide chest. He had the audacity to lean one big shoulder against the doorframe, as if he had all the time in the world. He looked more like a movie star than a criminal. "Explain to the police how you left the front door unlocked."
"No, I" Wait, she did forget to lock stuff. And if he'd come in the front door, then he wasn't the backdoor thief. Maybe. Unless he'd changed his M.O. and was that very likely? She didn't think so. "I did leave the door unlocked, didn't I?"
"Anyone could walk right in. Even the backdoor burglar. That's who you thought I was, right?"
Okay, her mind was starting to unscram-ble. He didn't look like any criminal she'd seen on TV. To make matters worse, he looked better than any man she'd seen on TV. He was handsome to a fault. His thick black hair fell with disregard for convention over his collar. He wore a short-sleeve polo shirtblackwith the little expensive insignia. His clothesincluding his baggy khaki shorts and exclusive manly leather sandalswere top of the line. Expensive.
It was likely that the backdoor thief didn't dress like that or have such a perfect smile. She hit Pause on the boom box. "Okay, I feel dumb now. What were you doing surprising me like that? You just can't go walking into any place you want."
"I'm looking for you, Ava McKaslin." His grin broadened enough to show off a double set of dimples.
Oops. This must be about business, and mistaking a potential customer for a burglar was so not professional. "You've come with a cake order, haven't you, and after meeting me, you've changed your mind."
"No, but it's tempting." The sets of dimples dug deeper as his grin widened.
"I've been sent to check on the cake."
"Chloe's cake?" Oh, no. That can't be good. Suddenly her great mood tumbled.
"Has she called off her wedding?"
"Changed her mind and eloped?"
"Not to my knowledge."
"Has she gone with another baker and forgot to tell me? Has she postponed the wedding?"
"Let me guess. You're more of a glass-is-half-empty kind of girl, aren't you?"
"Hey, disasters happen. I'm a realist." Ava knelt to retrieve the spatula. She tossed it into the sink and washed her hands, turning her back to the guy. He wasn't a burglar. She'd leapt to a wrong conclusion, but his being a thief might be better because he'd come with bad news. She knew, although he had yet to admit it, that he'd come to cancel the first cake she'd made in her bakery.
She grabbed a paper towel to dry her hands. "Tell Chloe I appreciate that she went with me, even if it didn't work out. Is she all right?"
"I hope so, since she's getting married tomorrow."
"The wedding's still on?"
"Sure it is."
She was as cute as he remembered. Brice Donovan took a step closer, trying to act like he wasn't stunned. He'd never met any woman who looked so funny and gorgeous all in the same moment. It was the eyes. Those big violet-blue eyes filled with one hundred percent vibrant emotion. They radiated such heart and spirit that he was sucked right in, like being caught in the vortex of a black hole.
It ought to be terrifying, but he didn't mind it so much. He was glad to see her again. She didn't seem to remember seeing him at Chloe's wedding shower, considering she'd mistaken him for a burglar. But he sure re-membered her. How could he not? She was unforgettable.
And absolutely adorable. Not that he could see much of her; she was standing behind the most unusual cake he'd ever seen. One large heart-shaped layer was stacked off-center on another, and another over that. Satin-textured, smooth ivory frosting adorned with amazing gold lace and ribbons of some kind of frosting, and colorful sugar flowers everywhere.