“Sounds better than I’m desperate and come with my own sprinkles.”
“But Nolan?” Delta’s tone shifted to that motherly warning she gave me when she thought I was being naïve. “He’s still trying to get in your pants.”
Gross. “He won’t.”
“He’s not bad looking.”
“He’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
Delta snorted. “Clothing he wants to strip.”
“I won’t trust him, but I’ll take his money. Lord knows he has more where that came from.”
“And then what?”
Easy. “And then we hope the check clears before I prove he burned down my candy shop.”
She sighed, but she pulled the phone away like I wouldn’t hear it. Her voice softened.
“Josie, Nolan didn’t set the fire. The police proved it, the fire marshal proved it—”
“He didn’t do it himself.” I wasn’t a fool. “He has the money and the connections to hire someone to do it for him. Hell, you know who his family is, where they get their money—”
“That was a long time ago. Times have changed. Nolan’s an egotistical asshole, but he’s running for state representative. His family bought the town fifty years ago, but they’re…legit now. Why would he risk his political career to destroy your store?”
Delta had been my best friend since kindergarten, but some things I couldn’t share with her. “He punished me because I refused his offer last year. He wanted more than the property; he got off on the thought of a little ebony princess hanging on his arm.”
“…He didn’t actually say that.”
“During his proposal. He happens to like that I’m the most…unique woman in town.”
“You mean the darkest.”
Delta grumbled a profanity. “Well…even if he’s a creeper, he didn’t burn down your store.”
“I know it was him,” I said.
“I’ve got almost all the proof I need to come forward—”
“This isn’t about Nolan.” Delta interrupted me. “You have to get over Maddox.”
And it circled back. Like it always did.
The shop was only one part of my frustration. I missed the candy and the cookies, the dozens of shiny baking sheets, and the framed picture over the register—me as kid with Granddad, Nana, and an ice cream cone four scoops too big.
My throat tightened. I pretended it didn’t. I wasn’t talking about Maddox in the middle of the ruined lot, surrounded by the entire town of Saint Christie as they walked their dogs and greeted neighbors and spread rumors after a long day of gossiping at work.
According to the town, Maddox was a criminal—a walking, talking, tattooed curse. When he visited, all of Saint Christie locked their doors at night. Single women crossed to the other side of the street, and the police—as well as every old lady peeping through her blinds—kept a close eye on him.
To them, he was the reason my shop was gone.
To me, he was the only man I ever loved.
“It’s getting late,” I said. “I’m gonna get started on the cookies. Nolan wants them hand-delivered the day after tomorrow.”
“You’re not going to his house?”
I knew better than that. “He agreed to meet me for coffee.”
“Do you need any help?”
The last time Delta entered my kitchen she accidentally baked a knife into an apple pie, broke the handle of my best copper-bottomed pan, and melted the groom topper on the Miller’s wedding cake with a Crème brûlée torch I specifically hid from her. Delta swiped a Lego man from her kid brother to replace the plastic figure, but it just wasn’t as elegant.
“I’ll be fine,” I said. “I like baking on the weekends. I like baking any time.”
Delta howled, which I’m sure her office loved, but it was a Friday and they were probably relieved she wasn’t pole dancing next to the Xerox machine. I promised to call her on Saturday and headed home.
Or…I went to my apartment.
I lost my home in the fire—the cute little rooms over the shop. But my new apartment was comfortable, if only because I packed every available space with fifty-pound bags of flour, tubs of sugar, a variety of nuts, cocoa powders, chips, and baking spices. Even my linen closet was filled with brown sugar and corn syrup and cookie sheets.
My apartment still teased with a vanilla scent from the last batch of cookies I made. It’d only get better. I dumped my recipe book on the table and sorted through what’d work best for the event. Nolan ordered an obscene quantity of cookies…