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Authors: Elaine Overton

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Sugar Rush

BOOK: Sugar Rush
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SUGAR RUSH
 
by Elaine Overton

KIMANI PRESS

Prologue

Prologue

Galveston, TX

Sitting on the deck of his beachfront home, Alberto Montagna was having second thoughts about accepting his new assignment. Although in truth it was more than second thoughts, it was more like the seventieth time he’d told himself to call his agency and tell them to rescind his acceptance of the offer.

It seemed so unfair that he, Alberto Montagna, one of the greatest bakers of all times, was reduced to accepting an assignment in some small-town bakery whose only appeal was its lack of appeal.

You must hide, his lover, Carlotta, had said. My husband is a powerful man with a fierce temper, she’d said. He will destroy you in both name and body, she’d said.

Of course, the greatest problem was that she’d not said any of this soon enough! Actually, she’d said it after they’d made love and with the forenamed husband storming up the stairs toward the bedroom.

Alberto absently rubbed his puffy cheek. Good, he thought,
the swelling was finally going down. Lifting his lightweight tunic he checked the red, sore patches covering his flat midsection. They, too, were starting to heal.

He shivered, remembering the beating he’d received at the hands of Max Gonzales. Each punch had felt like a stone being pounded against his body. But the beating had not been enough.

Just as Carlotta had predicted, Max Gonzalez had dedicated himself to making sure Alberto could not find a job at any decent bakery or restaurant in the tristate area. Alberto had been seriously considering packing up his house and moving to Europe when his agent, Tom, had told him about a little bakery in Tennessee.

Tom suggested he take the job, lay low and allow Max Gonzalez to cool off. Perhaps if he waited six months or so, then he could return to his beloved Texas. It was a good idea. But, the closer it came to the time to commit, the more he began to reconsider his options.

Just then his cell phone rang and he answered. “Hello?”

“Alberto, my love. I have left Max.”

Alberto sat up in his chair. It was difficult to hear over the noise in the background. “Carlotta?! Is that you, my angel?”

“Yes, I’m at the airport in Houston. My flight to New York leaves soon. Can you meet me there? At our special place?”

Despite pain in all parts of his body Alberto shot to his feet. “I’ll be there by midnight, sweet darling.”

“I’ll be waiting,” she said, her sultry voice sending an erotic thrill throughout his whole body. “And, Alberto, be careful.”

Chapter 1

Chapter 1

Memphis, TN

Carlton Fulton stormed down the long, plush-carpeted corridor leading to the office of the chief financial officer of Fulton Foods. It was midafternoon on an unusually hot May day and the roll of documents twisted in his tight, knuckled fist was moist with the sweat of his hand. His full lips were stretched taut against his somber brown face. Seeing the vein throbbing at his temple, his employees hurried in every direction away from him.

Without knocking he threw open the double doors to the executive suite that matched his in size and comfort. The startled secretary inside bounded to her feet.

“Good morning, Mr. Fulton.” She forced a smile, but he could see the fear in her eyes.

“Is he in there?” he practically growled, nodding toward the closed oak-paneled door behind her desk.

“Um, yes, sir. Should I let him know—”

Before she could finish, Carl stormed by her desk and slammed
open the door. He walked to the edge of the desk, behind which a young man sat, distracted by a phone call.

The young man on the phone was his nephew, Eliot Wright. Eliot bore such a striking resemblance to a younger version of Carl that many people assumed he was Carl’s son and not that of his only sister.

The younger man glanced up with a puzzled expression. In answer to his unspoken question Carl held up the crumpled papers in his hand. Eliot slightly lifted an arched black eyebrow, his expressive brown eyes showing nothing more than mild curiosity.

Even in his fury, Carl found he was impressed by his nephew’s unflappability. Eliot had changed a great deal over the years, Carl thought with pride. He was a strong, forceful man who got the job done no matter what it took, no longer the timid little boy who almost wet himself when asked his name. Carl took full credit for the transformation.

“Look, Steve,” Eliot said into the receiver. “Something has come up. Just let me know when you get the meeting set up.”

Carl tapped his foot rapidly, depleting what little patience he had as he waited for the call to end.

“All right, try to make it sometime this week. Talk to you later.” Eliot returned the phone to the cradle and sat back in his high-back leather chair. “Morning, Uncle Carl. I would say goodmorning, but it’s obviously not.”

“It certainly is not!” Carl tossed the balled-up papers on the desk. “This is the third major account we’ve lost to that little hole in the wall. The third,Eliot! What are you doing about this?!”

Eliot picked up the papers and attempted to unmangle them as much as possible.

His eyes glanced over the pages and a low “Hmm” was his only answer as he read through the discharge letter from one of their major accounts. “When did you receive this?”

“This morning—by e-mail, no less! They didn’t even have the decency to call and tell us they were canceling the contract.” He leaned across the desk to point out something in the e-mail. “See that?”

Eliot’s brows crinkled in confusion. “That can’t be right.”

“You better believe it is! Morningside, those smug bastards, wanted us to know just how much they were sticking it to us.”

“No wonder Mayfield Bakery got the contract. That’s an excellent bid.” Eliot muttered, more to himself than anyone else.

Carl only glared at him in response.

Realizing his mistake, Eliot flipped through the few pages. “I mean, Morningside is a four-hundred-bed nursing home.”

“I think you’re missing the point,” Carl hissed through his teeth, trying not to reach across the desk and strangle his nephew.

Eliot continued to read, seeming to have forgotten Carl’s presence, but Carl knew despite his nonchalance his nephew didn’t miss anything. And he had the uncanny ability to comprehend a complicated situation in a matter of minutes.

“This is the thirdlarge contract we’ve lost to this bakery. What are you doing about them?”

“I’ve got Steve looking into our options.” He shook his head in confusion. “I just don’t understand how they can afford to run their operation when they’re offering up bids like this.”

Carl’s eyes narrowed on his nephew. “Hell if I know. That’s what I pay you for.”

He turned and headed back out of the office but paused at the door and looked back. “Eliot, I do not want to get another e-mail like that one.”

Eliot tossed the papers down on the desk and sat back in his chair. “Don’t worry, Uncle Carl, everything’s under control.”

“It better be. Do whatever you have to do, but I will notbe undercut by some rinky-dink operation. Do we understand each other?”

Eliot nodded slowly, and Carl knew they were in complete agreement. For all his surface calm, Carl knew that his nephew was a win-at-all-costs individual. Eliot would be as ruthless as necessary to achieve his goals. He knew this, because that was how he’d raised him.

 

Eliot waited until his uncle left the office before picking up the crumpled letter and rereading the rejection of their bid and contract cancellation by one of their oldest and most reliable clients.

Although he’d hid it well, Eliot shared his uncle’s concern. The amount of the bid they’d submitted to Morningside Nursing Home to service their kitchen and vending machines had been extremely low. They’d wanted to be sure to secure the contract, and yet once again they’d been underbid by the smaller bakery. It was the third time in three months they’d been outplayed by this particular bakery.

The first loss he’d chalked up as a fluke that could not be repeated. But after losing the contract for a private school, it had become clear they had a growing competitor they needed to take seriously. After learning everything he could, Eliot had put together a buyout offer for the competitor—a ploy that had been successful in dealing with previous upstarts.

That was almost two weeks ago. This morning when his uncle had barged into his office, Eliot had been on the phone with their attorney, Steve Ingerman. According to Steve, Mayfield Bakery had rejected the offer.

Eliot toyed with the crumpled papers, frowning thoughtfully. He’d hoped they would accept the offer, but of course he had a contingency plan.

Mayfield Bakery was a small proprietorship. Thanks to some recent upgrades in their equipment and the streamlining of their operation, they were now producing and packaging a unique line of cupcakes, cookies and assorted pastries on a much larger scale than previously possible.

The company was owned by a woman named Mae Anne Mayfield. She also ran the day-to-day operations of the bakery with the help of a small staff. And apparently the little bakery was doing so well they were now negotiating with one of the leading bakers in the industry—Alberto Montagna.

Mayfield Bakery was renowned for an exceptional line of pastries that both looked and tasted like they came out of some loving grandmother’s kitchen and were made with the finest ingredients. But the operation had one major weakness—the small upgraded bakery could never produce the massive quantity of goods that Fulton Foods’s industrial-sized bakery and packaging plant produced on a daily basis. The small staff Mayfield
employed could never compete for the larger contracts, the hospitals, corporate businesses and larger school districts that Fulton Foods, which averaged a payroll of two hundred employees, serviced regularly. Not to mention the obvious drawback of such a “boutique” operation. The expensive ingredients, the manpower to process the homemade-like pastries had to cost a fortune, Eliot surmised.

Despite Mae Anne Mayfield’s shrewd business sense and cunning, Eliot understood that no business had unlimited resources, and eventually the laws of economic nature would take their course.

But instead of simply waiting for them to go under, Eliot had asked Steve to set up a meeting with Mae Anne Mayfield. He planned to make an even more generous offer to buy the small operation and absorb their unique line of products and services into Fulton Foods. He would even offer positions within Fulton’s corporate hierarchy to Mayfield and her staff for three distinct reasons.

The first and most obvious was that he could not afford to wait. The second reason was that what he’d seen of the Mayfield product was exceptional. If he could get the recipes and find more practical ingredients to produce pastries with the same taste and texture at a lower cost, the revenue potential would be unlimited.

Finally, Eliot would sell his soul to prevent future visits from his uncle, like the one he’d just received. Even after twenty years, seeing his uncle approach him with the lookon his face could still send a shiver of terror up Eliot’s spine.

He had to remind himself that he was not that same terrified ten-year-old boy. He was a man now, more than his uncle match in both size and strength. But the habits of a lifetime were hard to break.

For those reasons, he would make every attempt to absorb Mayfield Bakery, rather than destroy it. One way or another, through cooperation or brute force, Mayfield would yield to the greater strength of the largest baked-goods supplier in the Memphis area and learn what their predecessors already had: that Fulton Foods had an in-house enforcer willing to do pretty much anything to win.

Chapter 2

Chapter 2

Meanwhile in Selmer, TN

“Sophie! Look ou—”

“Whoa! Whoa—ouuwwee!”

The loud crashing sound reverberated through the building and brought people running from every direction.

“What happened?” Lonnie, Sophie Mayfield’s cousin, was the first to arrive. “Sophie, did you fall?”

Sophie bit her tongue to keep from lashing out at the younger woman as she stated the obvious. She knew Lonnie couldn’t help her simplistic thinking. But with her leg throbbing painfully, Sophie was finding it hard to be sympathetic.

Wayne was immediately at her side, struggling to help her to her feet. “Sorry, I tried to warn you.”

Trying to stand on her left leg proved impossible, as the sharp shooting pain raced up her spine. “Ouch-oww.” She shook her head frantically. In too much pain for words, she tried to signal to Wayne that standing was not an option.

Apparently he understood, because he gently lowered her back to the floor. “That bad, huh?” His big brown eyes were filled with concern.

“What happened?” Mae pushed her way through the small group to find Sophie bracing herself against the walk-in refrigerator.

She gestured over her shoulder “I fell off that stupid step stool.”

Mae pushed her flour-covered apron aside and knelt beside her granddaughter. “Let me see.” As soon as she touched the injured leg Sophie howled in pain.

“Dante, call for an ambulance,” Mae called to the last person who’d joined the group.

With a quick nod, the slender teen loped off to make the call.

“I’m sure it’s just a sprain. Give me a minute. I’ll be fine.” Sophie smiled up at the huddle of worried faces. “Really.”

To prove her point, she attempted to stand again, but the pain returned with three times the intensity, and a muttered curse slipped from her lips.

“Just sit your ass down,” Wayne muttered in his gruff way. “You’re not going anywhere anytime soon.” He crossed the room to examine the step stool.

“I told you we should’ve got rid of that thing a long time ago,” Mae said, shaking her head, her eyes focused on the rapidly swelling leg.

“You want some water or something?” Lonnie asked, wringing her hands in distress.

Sophie did not like the looks of that hand-ringing. “Lonnie, look at me.” She used her stern voice to gain the girl’s full attention. “I’m fine. Understand? I’m fine.”

Lonnie nodded, but her eyes were still filling with tears.

Just then, much to Sophie’s relief, Dante returned. “Paramedics are on the way.”

“Dante, can you take Lonnie out front with you to wait on the paramedics?” Sophie jerked her head in the direction of the front door. Dante frowned down at her for a second, before understanding hit.

“Oh, right, right.” He took the girl’s hand. “Come on, Lon, let’s go look for the ambulance.”

“But, what if Sophie needs something?”

“I’m fine, Lonnie. Go with Dante.” Sophie forced her most confident smile despite the pain coursing through her leg, and she breathed a sigh of relief as the two left the room together. The last thing she needed right now was a Lonnie meltdown.

Wayne grunted behind her. After five years of working together, Sophie recognized the sound. “What did you find?”

“The bottom bolt came out. Damn thing’s rusted.” Wayne gathered up the pieces. “I’ll take it out back and dump it.”

Mae watched him leave and shook her head once more. “Told you we should’ve got rid of that thing.”

“I know, Grandma, I know.” Sophie shifted, trying to find a more comfortable position, but nothing worked to lessen the pain.

“What were you doing up there, anyway?”

“Trying to reach those boxes.” She pointed over her head. “Have Wayne get them down while I’m gone. We have to get that order for Centerfield Academy ready by Tuesday.”

Seeing her grandmother’s distant expression, Sophie frowned in worry. There was so much to do, and only Sophie knew that Mae Anne was no longer up to the task of running a busy bakery. A fact she’d tried hard to keep from the rest of the family.

She knew Wayne could easily manage the day-to-day stuff, but she needed to be there to help with the new clients. And then there was the new baker she’d hired.

The baker no one but she knew about. The baker they could not really afford but needed desperately. Sophie had thought it best not to say anything to the others until he arrived. Mae would not take well to being edged out of what she considered her kitchen. And she knew Wayne, Lonnie and Dante would probably be less than eager to accept an outsider, especially given his sophisticated background. Sophie knew she would probably have to referee for a while. Which was why she needed to be at the top of her game over the next few days, not hobbling around with a bum ankle.

What a lousy time for this to happen.“Grandma?”

Mae blinked rapidly, as if startled. “Yes, I heard you. Have Wayne get the boxes down.”

Sophie nodded, satisfied that the task would be completed.

Mae’s wrinkled face took on a troubled expression. “What if it’s more than a sprained ankle?”

“It’s not. I’ll go to the emergency room, get a bandage and some painkillers, and be back here by nightfall.” She reached out and touched the older woman’s arm. “Don’t worry.”

Mae nodded in agreement, but it did nothing to allay the concern in her eyes. Just then Wayne walked back in from the alley.

“Wayne, I need you to get the Centerfield order ready to go.” Sophie looked up at him, grateful to have such a competent assistant.

“No problem,” Wayne answered, watching as the paramedics maneuvered the stretcher through the narrow hall that lead to the back kitchens.

“And keep an eye on Lonnie. You know she doesn’t handle stress well.” She sighed, trying to think of all the things that would need to be done in her absence. “And have Dante clean that tunnel oven in the back.”

“Uh-huh,” Wayne muttered, moving to the side to make way.

Despite his seeming lack of interest, Sophie knew from experience that Wayne’s mind was like a trap and he would remember precisely everything she was saying.

“And if you have a chance can you review that contract for the Fielding wedding? Sheila Marks called this morning; apparently she and her fiancé are beefing again. Check the cutoff date for the deposit return.” She shook her head. “This is the third time she’s done this to me.”

After checking her vitals, the paramedics gently lifted her to the stretcher. “Oh,” Sophie added, “and remember to—”

“Sophie!” Wayne snapped.

Sophie’s eyes widened. Wayne hardly ever raised his voice.

“I got this,” he said, returning to his typical monotone. “I got this.”

Sophie took a deep breath. “I know.” And she did, but the habits of the last five years were not easily broken.

They heard a commotion at the front of the building.

“I’m going with you,” Mae announced, pulling her stained apron over her head.

“Grandma, you don’t have to. I’ll be fine.”

“Hush, child.” She glanced at Lonnie and Dante as they led the way into the back area. “Lonnie, run upstairs and get my purse.”

“Yes, ma’am.” The girl hurried away.

Sophie started to argue, but what was the point? It was a well-known fact in Selmer that Sophie Mayfield had inherited her stubborn nature directlyfrom her grandmother.

Wayne and Dante watched in silence as the paramedics rolled her down the hall leading to the storefront.

“Back to work, guys,” Sophie called playfully. “We have a growing business to support.”

 

“I want to keep you overnight.”

“What?!” Sophie stared up at her doctor. “But you said you could just cast it and send me home.”

“That was before I saw the X-rays.” Dr. Michelson frowned at her over the top of his bifocals. “That break left a pretty nice tear, young lady. For it to heal properly you are going to have to stay off your feet.”

“Fine—send me home and I’ll stay off my feet.”

He huffed in disbelief.

Sophie frowned. That was the problem with a small, tightly knit community. Sometimes your neighbors and friends knew you too well. “But, Dr. Michelson, I have a business to run.”

“Well, it looks like Mae and Wayne are going to be on their own for a while.” Dr. Michelson continued to scribble something on his pad. “I’m confining you to bed rest for the next six to eight weeks.”

“Six to eight weeks?!”

“Sophie, I would appreciate it if you would stop screaming in my ear.”

“Sorry. Dr. Michelson, but we just signed this really important contract. Is there anything you can put on it to protect it? I know—maybe if I were on crutches or even in a wheelchair…”

Eric Michelson watched her for several seconds before crossing the room to pick up one of the X-rays. Holding it up to the light, he pointed to a blurry white patch. “See that? That
is the broken bone. Because of its location the healing could go either way. If I set it and you keep it still for the next six weeks, it should heal completely and you will be as good as new. If not, the bone will not heal properly—and for the rest of your life, you will probably have chronic pain in your ankle. Is that what you want?”

“Of course not.”

“Then let me do my job. That bakery was standing long before you were born, and since I delivered you I can attest to that fact. Trust me, it will survive without you for six weeks.”

Sophie bit her bottom lip to keep from expressing her own doubts about that. Before she was born her grandmother was a young woman working alongside her new husband, helping to build their family business. But today, her grandmother was an eighty-year-old woman with a failing memory. And Sophie had noticed that a few times Mae seemed to just stop paying attention right in the middle of a conversation. But when Sophie had asked, Mae was too proud to admit that anything was wrong.

“Sophie,” Dr. Michelson said. He watched her with compassionate eyes. “You’re a grown woman. When I release you tomorrow you, of course, can do what you want. But I want you to understand the price you’ll pay for the stubborn streak you seemed to have been cursed with.”

She nodded. What was she supposed to say? Yes, Dr. Michelson, I want to be crippled forever.As much as she hated it, she knew she would take his advice. It was the only reasonable thing to do.

As he turned to leave, her mind was already calculating what needed to be done over the next six weeks. “I’ll go get you a room and let Mae know what’s going on,” he said. As he opened the door, Mae shuffled past him.

She wrapped Sophie in a tight hug, as if Sophie had been diagnosed with a terminal illness.

“The nurse in the hall said they were checking you in to the hospital.”

“Grandma, I’m fine.”

“I’m keeping her overnight to allow the cast to set, and afterwards, she’s going to be on bed rest for six weeks.” The doctor
pushed his glasses up on his nose. “Mae, I need your assurance that Sophie will be off her feet for six weeks.”

Mae’s eyes narrowed on her eldest granddaughter, and she nodded with determination. “Don’t you worry, Dr. Michelson, she will.”

Sophie did not miss the small smirk on Dr. Michelson’s face as he glanced at her once more before letting himself out of the room.

“Grandma, I left my cell phone at the store. Can I borrow yours? I need to call Wayne and let him know what’s happening.”

Mae dug around in the bottom of her worn purse and came up with the small cell phone.

“Where is your leg broke exactly?”

“Actually, it’s the ankle. Thanks.” She turned it on, and the phone immediately shut off.

“Ankle? Never heard of anybody breaking their ankle.”

Sophie frowned at the phone and turned it on again. And once again it automatically turned off. Her lips twisted as understanding came. “When was the last time you charged your phone?”

“I don’t know.” Mae pulled a small stool closer to the bed. “Did you want me to bring you something to eat? Hospital food is so bland.”

“Um…no. Where’s your charger?”

“My what?”

Sophie frowned again. “Never mind.”

She settled back against the stretcher, deciding to just wait until she was assigned a room and call Wayne from there. But, unfortunately, the useless cell phone in her hand gave her a bigger and more immediate concern than the goings-on at the bakery.

She knew her grandmother would insist on driving herself home, instead of waiting for someone from the store to come get her. She glanced at the window, where the light was already beginning to fade. “Maybe you should get going. It’s getting late.”

“No, I’ll stay until they get you settled in for the night.”

That’s what I was afraid of.She twisted her lips, considering whom she could call or depend on to come if they said they would, and out of her large family there was not a single one. It would have to be someone from the store.

Sophie had bought the phone cell for Mae almost six months before, after having one of the greatest scares of her young life. She was working in the store late one night when Lonnie called and told her that Mae had not returned from a church revival she’d attended earlier.

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