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By DONNA KAUFFMAN
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2012 Donna Kauffman
All rights reserved.
Her whole life had been about peanut pie. Well ... for the past twenty-nine years, five months, three weeks, five days, and — Kit Bellamy glanced at the digital clock on the dash of her car — about twelve hours, it had been about pie. Mamie Sue's Peanut Pie, to be specific.
As if there were any other kind.
She'd lived, breathed, walked, talked, dreamed, eaten, baked, boxed, shipped, and sweated over peanut pie, every single day of her life, for as long as she could remember.
So, she was having an understandably hard time embracing the idea that her future was going to be all about cupcakes.
Twenty-nine years. She might have been slightly off on the number of weeks and days, math not being her strong point — a painfully evident truth, given her recent life evolution — but she knew she had the hours part correct. Grandma Laureen hadn't told the story of Kit's mother going into labor right there in Mamie Sue's kitchen just once. No, that story had become part of the Bellamy legend, which was a rich and colorful one, even without the story of Kit coming into the world between the burlap peanut sacks and the six-burner Wedgewood stove. But then, as Grandma Reenie always said, "Bellamy women know how to make an entrance."
What Kit Bellamy was presently trying to figure out, was how Bellamy women — at least this particular Bellamy woman — made an exit.
There wasn't any historical lore on that point. As far as Kit knew, at least in the previous three generations, no Bellamy woman had ever walked away. From anything. Or anyone. Ever. Least of all family, and most of all, the family business.
Kit had done both.
Not that there was a business, per se, to walk away from — or much of a family, for that matter. She'd managed to destroy both of those first. She never should have trusted Teddy. "Having a few investors will allow us to expand Mamie Sue's into the kind of global empire she'd have been thrilled to see come to fruition," her brother-in-law had said, all earnest sincerity and gleaming dental perfection.
Never trust a man with puppy dog eyes and pearly whites.
Kit could hear her great-grandmother's words of wisdom as clearly as if she was sitting next to her. "Lesson learned, Grammy Sue," she murmured. "Lesson so learned."
The past thirteen months had been filled with lawyers, courtrooms, judges, shocking revelations, and the kind of utter betrayal Kit wasn't sure she'd ever recover from. Since Teddy's Big Reveal during what had turned out to be Mamie Sue's Peanut Pie Company's final board meeting she had stumbled from being frozen in shock, into utter devastation and guilt, on through blistering fury, and had only recently settled into merciful numbness.
The Bellamy women who had come before her were surely still rolling in their graves. Kit had fought back, and could only hope they'd have at least been proud of the grit and gumption she'd displayed in striving to save everything they'd all worked so hard for. But even that was a small consolation given that, in the end, Teddy and his fancy Westlake lawyers had won the day.
The company and the women who'd built it had each experienced their share of stumbling blocks and setbacks. "But none of them screwed up so badly they managed to let the damn thing be sold right out from under them," Kit muttered. "Much less to a vending machine snack company." She bit out those last four words as if she'd tasted one of their products. You couldn't call what they sold food.
Mamie Sue's deliciously decadent peanut pie — each and every one of them lovingly handmade with the very same ingredients Mamie Sue had used when she'd started the company in her own kitchen over seventy-eight years ago — should never, not ever, come in a cellophane wrapper. Or be shelved in the E5 slot of a Tas-T-Snaks vending machine, for a buck-twenty-five a slice.
"I should have shot him dead right there in the boardroom," Kit mumbled.
Would a jury have convicted her? She thought not. All she'd have had to do was submit footage of smarmy, self-important Teddy orating his way though any of the board meetings he'd wormed his way into over the last few years now that the older generations of Bellamy women no longer presided over such things.
It was probably just as well that Mamie Sue herself had passed on before Teddy had come on the scene. Kit had just graduated high school when, at ninety-four, Mamie Sue — who'd wielded a rolling pin pretty much every day of her long and bountiful life — had finally proven them all wrong and passed peacefully in her sleep. Up until that moment, they'd been pretty much convinced she'd live forever.
Mamie Sue's daughter-in-law, Laureen, and her granddaughter-in-law, Kit's mother Katie, had continued running the company they'd helped build just as confidently and assertively as Mamie Sue ever had. Unfortunately, soon afterward, Grandma Reenie had begun a rapid decline in health, with the devastating diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer's. Her merciful passing had been followed only a few short years later by the tragic death of Kit's mother and father in a car accident, leaving Kit, who had just turned twenty-four, and her twenty-two year-old sister Trixie, to head up the family company far, far sooner than anyone could have predicted.
Kit had, at least, been involved in the business since she'd been old enough to totter on top of a stool and smear flour on the rolling boards. Trixie's interests, however, had always been more focused on the lifestyle and prestige the family business brought her way — which was why Teddy, Trixie's husband of less than two years at the time of their parents' deaths, had stepped in and taken on what was Trixie's share of the company load.
Kit recalled how relieved the family had been when Trixie had settled on Teddy Carruthers. Trixie had barely turned twenty when she'd gotten engaged, but after spending most of her teenage years bringing home the most amazing array of users and losers — her way of "acting out" when her parents wouldn't enable the lifestyle Trixie was certain she deserved — they'd been so thrilled with her choice, they'd given the couple their heartfelt blessing.
Privately, Kit had always thought Teddy was a little too slick and a lot too full of himself, but all the family saw was that he was smart, ambitious, and came from an established Atlanta family, which meant he wasn't after Trixie for her money.
Even with his too-polished exterior, none of them could have predicted the true nature of Teddy's ambition or the depths of his greed. Least of all, as was now self-evident, Kit.
She allowed herself a moment to savor what the courtroom scene would have been like once the jury saw the heartless deviousness of Teddy's back-stabbing plan — one he'd concocted with the assistance of her "whatever you think is best, dear!" sister, who was far too busy with her new life as Trixie Carruthers, enjoying her country club groups and Junior League engagements, to pay any attention to what her husband was doing with her stake in the family company.
With the help of his slick, high priced, and oh-so-smug Westlake lawyers, Teddy had used his sneaky little investor plan to blindside Kit, the board of directors ... and everyone else at Mamie Sue's, into giving him the leverage to sell the company to Tas-T-Snaks, which was interested only in owning rights to the name of the product itself. They'd be mass producing the product in another country and shipping it out in cartons, putting generations of employees who had invested heart, soul, and faith into the company out on the streets. Right next to Kit.
"Oh yeah. I'd have walked a free woman."
She was a free woman, all right. Free of the family business she'd loved with all her heart. Free of the family — if she could still consider Trixie or Teddy family — who had taken that beloved business and turned it into a colossal joke. All for greed. It begged the question, just how much money did two people actually need? Kit was even free of their equally beloved family home, with the very kitchen Mamie Sue had used to launch her fledgling little business over three-quarters of a century before. The same home Trixie and Teddy had summarily sold the moment the judge's verdict had been handed down on Kit's last and final appeal.
Yep, Kit was free to start her life completely over. From scratch.
She'd spent pretty much everything she'd had and all of what she'd gotten from the sale of the company to pay the lawyers she'd hired to fight Teddy and Tas-T-Snaks. Teddy had been astonished when she'd fought back, unable to comprehend why she hadn't been happy and just skipped into the sunset with the sudden windfall of income he'd procured for her from the sale. And Trixie had had the nerve to ask her why she was betraying her own sister like that, dragging family into court. Kit still almost had apoplexy just thinking about that conversation.
When Kit hadn't backed down, Trixie's righteous tears and Teddy's cajoling "there, there, it's just business" pats on the head had swiftly turned into downright fury when they'd had to spend their own money to fight back.
It wasn't much vindication — Teddy's family's pockets were deep — so Kit sincerely doubted he'd suffer from paying Westlake's steep legal tab, but it made her feel she'd at least done her best in the name of her family. That was what mattered to her, doing the right thing for all of those who'd worked so hard to make Mamie Sue's what it was. Or ... had been, anyway.
Of course, now she was in the same boat they were — scrambling to find new work, trying to start over, figuring out what came next.
She frowned hard to keep fresh tears of anger and guilt from leaking out. She'd cried far too many already. It was just ... how had she let it happen? Why hadn't she seen through his plan? Those two questions would plague her for the rest of her days. Through the shimmer of threatening tears, she spied the sign for the causeway over Ossabaw Sound to her final destination.
If a person was going to start her life over, Kit had to admit there was a storybook feel to the name alone, with a happily-ever-after implied, if not guaranteed. But she couldn't imagine what a happily-ever-after would even look like. She'd be happy to get through the days feeling as if she was contributing something important to something that mattered. Of course, if her business friend Charlotte was to be believed, Sugarberry offered her all that and more.
It had been two weeks since the courts had handed Teddy and Tas-T-Snaks their final victory. Fourteen days since Mamie Sue's officially no longer belonged to a single Bellamy. And almost the same number of months since she'd had regular employment. That she still had this particular job offer, one that was pretty sweet no matter how you defined it, was nothing short of miraculous. Charlotte had come to her with the possible offer right after the sale to Tas-T-Snaks hit the news the year before. But Kit had turned the job down when she'd decided to fight Teddy and Tas-T-Snaks.
A year later, that fight was over. After delays of her own, Leilani Dunne was still interested in finding someone to run Babycakes, the planned shipping and catering business that would adjoin her successful cupcakery, Cakes by the Cup.
Kit knew she should be jumping at the chance and thanking her lucky stars the offer was still on the table. The position was so important to her prospective employer though, Kit wouldn't have taken the position unless she'd stick with it. The last thing she could handle was disappointing someone else.
Hence the five-hour drive to the little barrier island off the Georgia coast — a big change from Atlanta, former home of Mamie Sue's pies, and, if all went well during the on-site job interview ... former home of Kit Bellamy.
Charlotte had warned her Sugarberry wasn't anything like the city, or even like the ritzier islands down in the central and southern part of the barrier chain. Being one of the northernmost islands, it was still largely a wilderness area, only partly developed and inhabited. As she had defined it, it was a traditional small southern town, with a distinctly unique island flair. That part had sounded perfectly fine to Kit. Disappearing to a wilderness island after being front-page news in Atlanta for the past year sounded downright heavenly. It was the rest of it she was uncertain about.
Kit felt confident she had the skills for the job, but in every other possible way, it was about as different from the life she'd had at Mamie Sue's as it could be. She thought about all the stories her mom, Grandma Reenie, and Grammy Sue had told her growing up, about how her great-grandmother, as a young military bride, had started the company in the Bellamy House kitchen during World War I.
Kit loved those stories, had never tired of hearing them. They were inspirational and motivational, but she loved them mostly because of the reminiscing smiles they brought to the faces of the three women as they recalled the fond memories they shared. Kit had loved being a part of that bond, the passing down of so many traditions, feeling connected to something so important, the fruits of the hard labors and talents and dreams of those very same women.
Dreams she'd managed to shatter in the span of six short years.
Kit forcibly tamped down the guilt and anger living inside her. The day was about next steps and new possibilities. Her thirtieth birthday was on the near horizon. She'd sort of made that her mental deadline for getting her act together and having a new plan in place. If all went well, she'd be ahead of schedule on some of it, anyway.
"And we always like being ahead of schedule!" she said, a slight smile ghosting her mouth as she intoned the chipper phrase Reenie had been so fond of repeating.
If it wasn't for the grief and anger, Kit might have been truly excited about the idea of tackling a small, independent business and having her hands in on the initial growth and development. Being part of a new story with its own lore and legends was both an opportunity and a potential blessing. As she bumped over the grid at the far end of the causeway and turned onto Sugarberry, she imagined what words of wisdom, encouragement, or concern the Bellamy women might have offered.
"I know I let you all down," she said softly. "Horribly. Unforgivably. I trusted when I shouldn't have. I took my eye off the ball, because I thought it was safely tucked away. But if there's a way to make you proud of me again, you know I'll find it."
On that, the most optimistic note she'd managed since walking, stunned, out of that boardroom a year ago, she wound her way around the tiny, but charming town square and pulled into the little lot off the alley running behind the row of shops that included Cakes by the Cup. "Here goes nothing." And everything.
She tapped a quick knock on the frame of the screen door at the back entrance as instructed. She could hear music playing through the partially opened door behind the screen. The song was "Theme From a Summer Place," which made Kit smile. Mamie Sue had loved that song, mostly because she adored "that handsome Troy Donahue," who had starred, along with Sandra Dee, in the film of the same name in the late fifties. In addition, someone was talking quite animatedly over the music, making it impossible not to inadvertently eavesdrop.
"Well, I was as stunned as anybody, except maybe Birdie. Could have knocked me over with a feather when she told me that Asher's younger brother had claimed custody of her little grandbaby. But now that Morgan is actually here on Sugarberry, I just don't know what to think."
"Well, I think it's good," came a second voice, younger, steadier. "Great, even. I assume he's here because he wants Birdie to be part of Lilly's life."
"So he says," the older woman responded. "But can you really trust anything a Westlake says?"
Kit had lifted her hand to knock again, but froze at the sound of that name. Westlake. She shook her head. Coincidence. Surely the Westlakes who had helped dismantle four generations of hard work and dedication weren't the only Westlakes in Georgia. The older woman had said the names Morgan and Asher. Neither rang a bell with Kit, but that didn't mean much. She hadn't done any research on the firm Teddy had hired. She hadn't needed to.
The Westlakes were an Atlanta institution, as was their generations old law firm. Despite any successes her pie company might have achieved, the Westlakes ran in very different circles from the Bellamys. They were old money. Very old. Everyone knew of them, like everyone knew of the royal family.
Excerpted from Babycakes by DONNA KAUFFMAN. Copyright © 2012 Donna Kauffman. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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