Ever since the sudden death of her mother left Emma in charge of caring for her grandmother and the family’s French bakery, she has survived by rejecting change. The last thing she wants is an ex-boyfriend with commitment issues. But while making a delivery to the matchmaker sisters’ café, Emma opens a door and is transported to eighteenth-century Paris, on the eve of the French revolution.
Björn has made a mess of things. He returned from fishing in Alaska believing his relationship with Emma would go back to the way things were, only to have Emma smash a pie in his face. But when Björn learns she is in danger, he leaps at the chance to save the woman he loves, even if she wants nothing to do with him.
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"Emma, did you hear? Björn Erickson is back in town."
Emma Grey gave a quick nod to her grandmother, tucked a rebellious curl behind her ear, and pushed a tray of sugar cookies into the oven. She had heard, in fact; that seemed to be the only thing anyone could talk about.
Located just outside Seattle, Emma's bakery was the heart of a cozy retail shopping area, nicknamed the Village by its residents. She'd awoken this morning confident that today would be like every other.
Then she'd learned that her ex-boyfriend had returned.
Björn had been gone eleven months and twenty-eight days, not that she'd been counting, and in all that time she received not one phone call, post card, or smoke signal from him.
She turned back to her prep station in the kitchen and rolled out more cookie dough. She ran her French pastry shop and her life by a simple philosophy: a place for everything and everything in its place. There was comfort in routine, in knowing your strengths and in knowing your place. She had a safe existence where each day folded into the next. If the consequences meant that you were disconnected from the outside world, that was a small price to pay. She reached for a heart-shaped cookie cutter and attacked the dough she'd prepared. Connections meant risks, and risks resulted in heartbreak, a lesson she'd learned from her mother.
Emma had inherited Emma's Boulangerie the summer she turned eighteen, when her mother had died, and for the past ten years the bakery had remained the same. The French décor was the same, the recipes were the same. Her grandmother took care of the customers, and Emma baked. Her mother used to say there was little room for anything else in life, and Emma agreed.
With its wood cabinets painted meadow green, the kitchen looked like something out of the 1960s, almost a replica of the one used by Julia Child, her mother's favorite chef. There was a six-burner gas commercial range, a refrigerator, and an electric convection wall oven. In tribute to the way Julia Child had arranged her kitchen equipment, copper pots, pans, skillets, and utensils hung from pegboards that covered the walls, and knives were arranged on magnetic strips between the kitchen windows and above the sink. The Julia Child theme spilled out into the pastry shop. Pink-and-black wallpaper depicted images of her beloved Paris. A dozen round, wrought iron tables and chairs, like the ones in outdoor cafés overlooking the Seine River in Paris, were available for customers in the front of the shop. The finishing touch was the letter E embossed on the starched linen tablecloths and napkins.
While she cut the dough into heart shapes, her grandmother, whom everyone called Gigi, was in the restaurant preparing for customers. The windows were closed to keep the shop warm and cozy against the February chill. A fresh pot of coffee was brewing, and the smells of baked bread, vanilla, cinnamon, and chocolate laced the air. Everything was as it had always been: tranquil and orderly. A place for everything and everything in its place.
She reached for one of her recipe books on the shelf above the sink and straightened the small silver-framed photo of a young man. He was cover-model handsome, with a corporate haircut and a well-fitted dark suit. The man's appearance was a stark contrast to Björn's. His family might own the Pisces Fish Market, as well as the Village land and buildings, but Björn was more at home fishing in Alaska than in a boardroom in Seattle's financial district.
She moved the photo more to the center of the shelf. It had accomplished the goal of answering annoying questions regarding her love life. Whenever anyone asked her who she was dating, she'd point to the photo that had come with the frame. She'd explain that the man's name was Jared Montgomery, a name from one of the romance novels she'd read. He was honest and trustworthy. A man who wouldn't leave when things grew complicated.
She adjusted the frame again, knowing full well that she was reversing a projection of her failed relationship with Björn onto her imaginary boyfriend. But imaginary or not, Jared Montgomery served his purpose. When anyone in the Village asked why they'd never met him, she explained that he traveled ... a lot.
Jared had bailed her out on more than one occasion. This year she might even send herself flowers on Valentine's Day. Peach-colored roses, perhaps, and a box of dark chocolate truffles.
Emma pressed her hand against her heart. It beat out of control. Thoughts of Björn had that effect on her. She breathed in deeply the kitchen's rich aromas, trying to bring it back under control. The Bavarian mocha cream cake cooling on a wire rack nearby was one of her favorites: it reminded Emma of her mother. Yes, her life was perfect. She loved her bakery, and the Village was more of a family than a series of retail stores, and thanks to her imaginary boyfriend she avoided a broken heart.
Out in the restaurant she heard the bells over the door chime, announcing their first customers of the day. She recognized the familiar voices.
Dora Jenkins, mother of twin grammar-school-aged girls Caitlin and Catherine, said her children, who dressed only in pink or purple, were both her joy and the reason she lived on coffee, chocolate croissants, and Village gossip.
Mr. Digby followed closely behind Dora and her children. He walked with a limp and reminded Emma of how a Dickens character might look, with his wire-rimmed glasses. Dora had started the rumor that Mr. Digby had a crush on Gigi, a claim Emma hoped was true. Her grandmother deserved a little love in her life.
Emma's grandmother greeted them all with a smile in her voice. She also made sure no one ventured into the kitchen. That was Emma's domain. The only other person allowed in besides Gigi was Daisy, their part-time helper.
The kitchen window slammed open on its hinges, and a cool breeze swirled into the room, and with it the scent Emma always associated with Björn: the salt sea. Outside, a cat wailed and scratched against the door.
Emma wiped her hands on a linen towel and crossed over to the window, half expecting Björn to be waiting outside as he'd done when they were children.
They'd been best friends all through school. He'd even taken her to prom when her own date had stood her up. But all that had been before their lives were turned upside down. Both of their mothers had died within months of each other, and a year ago, Björn's youngest brother, Sven, had drowned in a fishing accident off the coast of Alaska.
But Björn wasn't outside, just her snow-white cat, Ella. A flyer drifted into the room when she opened the door for the cat. It was an advertisement from the new owners in the Village: The Matchmaker Café was having a grand opening ball on Valentine's Day. Parties, especially Valentine's Day parties, weren't for her. She tossed the flyer into the trash as Ella stared up at her and meowed.
"Well, hello to you, too, Ella," Emma said with a smile as she blocked the cat from entering her kitchen. "Have you returned from your adventures so soon? You know you are not allowed in the kitchen. I left you food and ..."
In the next instant, smoke billowed out of the oven and smothered the kitchen in a snow-globe haze as Ella meowed again and then retreated to her spot on the back porch, as though she'd accomplished her goal.
Emma rushed over to the oven and yanked out the cookie tray. Heat lit up her fingers. She bit back a scream and dropped the tray. Burned sugar cookies broke over the tile floor as though made of glass.
Her grandmother appeared in the archway that separated the kitchen from the retail area of the bakery. "Are you all right, sweet girl?" Gigi wore the bakery's uniform: crisp white blouse and ankle-length skirt covered in an explosion of wildflowers. Her salt-and-pepper curls framed rosy cheeks and warm brown eyes that always reminded Emma of her mother. "Should we invite Björn over for dinner before he is overwhelmed with invitations? Dora said the Village is all abuzz."
Emma kept her thoughts to herself as she bent down to pick up the mess. The reason she knew he was back, even before Gigi had mentioned it, was that at four o'clock this morning he and his father had made enough noise to wake people for miles around, including the whole Seattle area. Now the village was buzzing like demented bees. Björn was a confirmed bachelor, who besides looking like the actor who played Thor in the Avenger movies was a nice guy. When his older brother Sven died and his father's health declined, Björn had taken the lead in overseeing their fishing fleet in Alaska, while his younger brother, Jorvy, ran the Pisces Fish Market.
"I'm sure Björn is too busy for dinner."
Gigi stared past Emma to the mess on the floor. "Is everything okay in here?"
"Everything's fine," Emma lied as she stood, pushed her aching hand behind her, and reached for a broom to sweep up the broken cookies. Why hadn't she used a hot pad to take out the cookie sheet? She hadn't made such a silly mistake in years, and she hadn't burned anything since she was a child. What was wrong with her?
Gigi seemed to accept Emma's response as she reentered the bakery, where customers were grouped around tables, sipping coffee and eating pastries. Her voice rose above the hum of conversation as she turned to Mr. Digby. "I've told you before: you can't clean that ridiculous antique rifle on my linen tablecloth."
Emma smiled as she peered at the scene, keeping out of sight. Mr. Digby's eyes twinkled as he pretended he was offended that Gigi had called the replica he'd built of a French blunderbuss rifle ridiculous. Gigi pretended she was upset with him as she brushed an imaginary speck of dust from his shoulder. Mr. Digby had been coming into the bakery every morning for as long as Emma could remember. Emma had asked her grandmother once if she were interested in Mr. Digby romantically, but Gigi had said they were too old for such nonsense and had changed the subject.
The smoke detector clicked, then shrilled overhead. Emma glared at it and whacked it with the blunt end of the broom handle. "Seriously? Now you decide to sound the alarm? My cat has better instincts. Ella tried to warn me that my cookies were burning." She whacked it again for good measure. The detector hushed as though embarrassed.
She headed over to the sink to run cold water over her hand. Like so many things in the bakery, the smoke detector was outdated. It was getting more and more difficult to find replacement parts for her appliances. Money wasn't the issue. Her bakery was doing very well. But Emma had vowed to keep it exactly as it had been the day her mother died in a fatal car crash. The day Emma had been too busy to help with the errands. She turned off the water, dried her hands, and resumed her sugar-cookie project.
She glanced at the Valentine's Day card she'd used to bookmark her cookie page. On it was an image of a couple: a black-and-white silhouette pasted over a heart cut out of pink construction paper. She'd had the card since fourth grade. On the back was the unsigned message, A Valentine for Emma. Her secret admirer had never revealed himself, but she'd recognized Björn Erickson's handwriting.
The card had always seemed so grown-up and out of place next to the cartoon and joke-style valentines she'd received in grammar school. She wasn't sure why she felt compelled to recreate the design after all these years, but once she'd begun the challenge, she couldn't let it go.
Emma stood over a batch of cooled sugar cookies and positioned an image of a couple about to kiss over the first in the row. Designing the image and transferring it onto edible sugar sheet paper was the easy part. She'd used the technique before, with her mother's designs. The problem was that she couldn't capture the couple. Something didn't look right. The couple looked like they were fighting instead of on the verge of kissing each other.
Focus, she told herself. You can do this.
She anchored her elbows on her work table, holding the piping bag filled with white frosting, and outlined the heart with shell-like swirls.
Startled by the male voice, she pressed too hard on her pastry tube and a big glob of frosting plopped onto the center of the cookie, completely obliterating the faces of the man and woman.
She'd recognized Björn's voice instantly. One minute she'd been daydreaming about him, and the next he'd appeared as though her thoughts had conjured him out of thin air.
His voice, deep and rich, filled the Boulangerie and flowed toward her like warm caramel. Her heart sped up a notch. Ten notches, if she were being honest. Emma patted her hair into place, feeling the butterflies in her stomach that awakened whenever Björn was around. Remember, he just wants to be friends.
He stood silently on the back porch as though waiting for her to respond, then a Golden Retriever puppy, all big paws and floppy ears, tried to squeeze past him. He blocked the puppy from entering in much the same way Emma had prevented Ella from sneaking into the kitchen.
Emma wiped frosting off her hands, drawn to Björn by the memories they shared from their childhood. She'd forgotten how broad his shoulders were and how his shoulder-length blond hair and blue eyes made her imagine what a Viking warrior might have looked like. Well, maybe she hadn't so much forgotten as pushed the thoughts out of her mind and out of her dreams.
The puppy barked, bringing her back to earth. "You can't bring him into my kitchen," Emma said. "You know the rules."
"Sorry," Björn said, restraining his active puppy with a nod as he attached a leash. "Shark and I are in the stage where we're positioning to see who is the alpha dog in this relationship. I think he's winning," Björn said with a grin as he focused on the burnt cookies in the wastebasket. "Since when do you burn cookies?"
"Everything's under control," she shot back. "And I meant both you and your dog aren't allowed in my kitchen." She winced, knowing how that must have sounded, but he was on the back porch and probably hadn't heard her.
What had gotten into him? He was as much a stickler for rules as she was. Her kitchen was a place of business, not a place for friends to gather.
She thought for a moment that he might have changed his mind about returning to the doorway, then was surprised at the sudden regret she would feel if he didn't come back. She shook it off, as the words her mother had said, on almost a daily basis, repeated in her thoughts. Build a wall tall and thick enough around your heart, and you won't get hurt.
But just as she turned back to her project, Björn reentered the kitchen. He moved toward her with a fluid, athletic gait that stalled her heart mid-beat. It was easy to picture him on the high seas, battling storms while fishing for salmon.
She shook her head free of the fantasy and held up her hand. "You can't come in here."
"You keep saying that. I just wanted to see you. It's been a long time." His gaze landed on the Valentine's Day card.
She closed her recipe book and returned it to the shelf. "You left without saying goodbye." Had all the oxygen gone out of the room? If his smile warmed her heart, his expression heated her blood. Just when she had thought she was over him, he'd waltzed back into her life and in mere moments turned it upside down.
He stuffed his hands into his pockets. "It was not a good time for me."
Her stomach knotted. Was it possible he still blamed himself for Sven's boating accident? She lowered her voice, wanting to reach out for him, but held back. "It didn't work out for us as boyfriend and girlfriend, but we're friends. Best friends. Maybe we shouldn't have messed with that relationship." She paused. "I'm always here if you need me."
He reached for the hand she'd burned and turned it over. "You burned your hand. I wish you'd be more careful."
She played along with the shift in conversation. This was classic Björn. He changed the subject when the topic was uncomfortable. She forced a smile. "This from a man who fishes in the ocean, where waves are as tall as New York skyscrapers."
The corner of his mouth twitched into a smile as his large hand wrapped around hers.
It felt like they were holding hands. She cleared her throat. "You named your dog Shark," Emma said, searching for a distraction.
"You named your cat Nutella after your favorite breakfast spread."
"Ella for short," she defended, easing into the comfortable banter they had shared as children.
Excerpted from "Falling in Love with Emma"
Copyright © 2018 Pam Binder.
Excerpted by permission of The Wild Rose Press, Inc..
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