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Authors: Jennifer Moorman

Tags: #baking, #family, #Romance, #southern, #contemporary women, #magical realism

The Baker's Man

BOOK: The Baker's Man
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A Novel
Jennifer Moorman

The Baker’s Man
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locals is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2014 by Jennifer Moorman
www.jennifermoorman.com
Cover Design by Julianne St. Clair
www.juliannestclair.com
Second Edition
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or otherwise—except for the use of brief quotations in critical articles or book reviews—without prior permission in writing from the publisher.

For Tracey, Jenna, and Sherry,
whose encouragement helped shape this ball of dough into a story.

Prologue

The older generation of townspeople still talked about that night in late July when the southbound train carrying sugar cane and cotton was late because the on-duty conductor had eloped instead of going into work. Two hours passed before anyone realized the train hadn’t pulled out of the station, and it took another two hours before a substitute conductor could be found.

So four hours later than usual, the train barreled through Mystic Water, blasting its horn at every crossing and waking everyone from a deep sleep. The train brought with it an intense summer wind that swept over the town, uprooting half the willows along Jordan Pond. It plucked sunflower petals and created twirling yellow tornados. It caused the sleeping birds such anxiety that they erupted into twilight birdsong and didn’t stop until about the time Bea’s Bakery opened for business.

Nobody slept that night, not with the train and the wind and the birds. More than half the town showed up at the bakery in desperate need of a cup of Bea’s Give-Me-a-Jolt Java, and that’s when they saw him—Joe O’Brien—looking like a man who’d climbed out of an Irish novel, broad-shouldered, red-haired, and green-eyed. He helped Beatrice behind the counter like he’d been born to be her partner.

Some said he’d jumped from the southbound train. Others said he’d appeared like magic. Everyone agreed they’d never seen a man look more in love with any woman than Joe was with Beatrice.

1
Peanut Brittle

Bea’s Bakery offered cure-alls in the form of pastries, chocolates, cookies, cupcakes, and specialty drinks. Everyone in Mystic Water depended on Beatrice O’Brien to soothe their pains, give wings to their hopes, and spark their passions. Bea’s Bakery supported the town’s needs like columns supported the Parthenon. Her doors were always open no matter what time of day. Delilah Gill swore that one midnight, Beatrice brought over a batch of sea salt caramels that changed her life forever. Delilah never revealed how she was altered, but Mystic Water had their suspicions, especially after Delilah moved out of her mother’s basement, finished her law degree, and became the judge of the local court.

Beatrice offered love and happiness to the whole town until she was eighty-five. One Saturday morning rainstorm clouds, smeared gray and gloomy, gathered in the sky, refusing to pour. Mystic Water suffocated beneath a humid, summer haze that clung to the skin like syrup. When the doors to the bakery refused to open, the townspeople gathered around outside, confused and unsure of how to go about their day without treats or coffee or the famous Saturday morning brownies. Beatrice’s son finally opened the doors with slumped shoulders and defeat in his eyes like a messenger of doom.

For three weeks after Beatrice’s death, no one in Mystic Water could even look at chocolate without feeling the drag of sorrow. Coffee tasted bitter on the tongue. Shoppers in the grocery store glared at pastries. Then news of Bea’s granddaughter blew through the town like a honeysuckle wind, sweet and nostalgic. Anna O’Brien would be reopening the bakery and following in her grandmother’s footsteps.

Opinions divided the town. Half refused to even test her creations when the time came because they felt the disappointment would be too great to bear. The other half hoped the ability to create delectable treats ran in the blood. Within days, Anna quieted the doubters and uplifted the buoyant with her grandmother’s recipes. Within a month, she’d charmed them with her own creations, and Bea’s Bakery was once again the wellspring of the town.

˜˜˜˜

When people ate what Anna O’Brien baked, they smiled wider, laughed louder, and left the bakery she’d inherited with more confidence than when they’d first arrived. Her chocolate chip cookies made Dennis Hillman propose to Julie Farmer on their fourth date. Her Oreo brownies caused Roger Jackson to think he could dance the Charleston like he did in the ’40s. One sip of her Saturday morning hot chocolate made everyone a good neighbor. People in town swore Anna could make anything better than the original, and they were right. It was a skill she inherited from her grandmother Beatrice.

The late October afternoon sun eased its way toward the horizon and turned the sky outside Bea’s Bakery the shade of caramelized sugar. Anna leaned her hip against the counter, watching the last of the Tuesday shoppers flitter down Main Street on the way to their cars. Evening customers shuffled into Mackie’s Café, beckoned in by the scents of flank steak marinated in a Merlot reduction and rosemary mashed potatoes that melt in the mouth. Looking over her shoulder, she smiled at the calendar tacked to the wall. The red heart she’d drawn around today’s date marked the two years she’d spent loving Baron Barker.

Her cell phone vibrated in her apron pocket. She fished it out and accepted the call with a smile. Before she could even say hello, her best friend, Lily Matthews, burst into a conversation as though they’d already been talking long before the phone rang.

“I know you love surprises, but I also know you love to plan, and guess what Jakob just told me about Baron? They were having lunch, and Baron said he’d been offered the architectural job at the firm in Napa Valley—”

“He got the job?”

“We always knew he would get it, and Baron told Jakob he’ll be leaving soon, but he has a surprise for you. A surprise he’s going to tell you tonight. This is it, Anna. He’s going to propose, I just know it.”

Anna’s free hand flew to her heart, and her eyes darted to the clock on the wall. There were only ten minutes left before the bakery officially closed. She passed through the wide, arching doorway that led to the kitchen. The aroma of crushed garlic, fresh tomatoes, and bubbling parmesan cheese and béchamel sauce filled the room. Anna was baking an authentic Lasagna Bolognese—Baron’s favorite—for tonight. The prepared garlic bread sat on the counter, waiting to be toasted beneath the broiler. She’d even carefully wrapped a vintage bottle of their favorite wine.
This is it
.

“Anna, are you there?” Lily asked.

“Yes,” Anna said. She lowered her hand and rested it against the cool stainless steel countertop.

Her cell phone beeped in her ear, notifying another call was coming in. She glanced at the screen and smiled. “Baron’s calling,” Anna said. “I’ll call you back tonight—unless we get carried away with all the excitement.” Anna swapped calls.

“Hello?” Anna tried to inhale deeply but found the breath being pulled from her lungs like taffy stretched between two fingers.

“Hey, Anna-Banana,” Baron said. “What time are you coming over?”

Anna’s heart pounded a
rata-tat-tat
against her ribs. “As soon as the bakery closes?”

“Perfect. I have a surprise for you.”

“See you soon,” Anna said, and Baron disconnected. She danced a jig around the kitchen and shoved on a pair of oven mitts. She tapped a mittened, happy rhythm on the countertop and then opened the oven. Melted cheese oozed and bubbled, and she breathed it in. “Baron, you’re going to love this.”

Anna slid the lasagna into an oven-safe bag and covered the garlic bread with aluminum foil. She’d broil it at Baron’s townhouse. She grabbed the bottle of wine and the chocolate sweets she’d wrapped up for him earlier. Then she bundled herself into her car and drove across town feeling as though a trapped hummingbird was fluttering in her stomach.

˜˜˜˜

Baron lived in an end-unit townhouse. The entire building was a combination of stones in an assortment of browns, ranging from tan to sepia. The woodwork was stained a dark chocolate, creating an overall masculine and imposing structure. Numerous times, Anna had tried to convince Baron to at least put plants on the front porch to break up all the brown. He always reminded her he was dreadful with greenery—a class-A plant killer.

She hiked up the stairs to the porch with her arms loaded down. The door was unlocked, and with careful maneuvering of the dishes, she managed to turn the knob without dropping dinner on the welcome mat.

When she didn’t see Baron in the living room or kitchen, she called up the stairs, “I’m here.”

“Just got out of the shower. I’ll be right down,” he said.

Anna put the lasagna on the stovetop and turned on the broiler. Then she slid the garlic bread into the oven. She pulled plates and glasses from the cabinets before opening the bottle of wine. By the time she heard Baron bouncing down the stairs, the table was set and she had his favorite music—jazz—playing on the satellite TV channel.

Anna grabbed the bread from the oven and switched off the broiler. A breeze blew stray pieces of Anna’s auburn hair into her face. For a few seconds, the napkins on the table fluttered like butterflies. The scent of the ocean filled the air.

Within seconds, Baron stepped into the kitchen. His tall frame cast a long shadow across the tiles, and as always, his blonde hair was disheveled like someone who’d spent the day sailing or surfing. He grinned and scooped Anna up into a hug before she could even say hello. Baron squeezed her and kissed her neck, and all at once she was overwhelmed with the smell of a wind blowing across the sea and the strength of his arms tight around her, feeling as if she’d be blown miles and miles away from shore if he weren’t the only thing holding her to the earth.

When he returned her to her feet, she steadied herself and exhaled. “Well, hey you,” she said.

“It smells like an Italian feast.” He glanced over her shoulder at the bread and then turned to look at the table. “What’s with all the great food? You trying to win me over?” He winked.

Anna’s smile faltered. He’d forgotten. “It’s our anniversary.” She hoped she didn’t sound as disappointed as she felt.

Baron’s eyes widened, and then he winced. “I’m a jerk,” he said. “I forgot, but thankfully one of us is a decent human being. It smells great.” He smiled, cupped her face, and kissed her. “I say we eat, and then I’ll share my surprise.”

Anna’s stomach dropped. She tried to catch it before it busted through the floor, but it was hopeless. She couldn’t stop the smile that stretched across her face. “I can’t wait to hear it.” She served squares of lasagna onto their plates, and her hands trembled.

Baron poured two glasses of wine, and once they were seated, he said, “Let’s toast to new beginnings.”

Oh, this is it
! Anna clinked her glass against his. Baron cut into the lasagna, took a bite, and moaned. “You make the best lasagna in the world. If you didn’t already own a bakery, I’d tell you to open a restaurant.”

“I wanted to make your favorite,” she said as she smiled into her glass.

“You’re the best.” Baron managed to shove another few mouthfuls of lasagna and bread into his mouth before he put his fork down. “I thought I could wait until dessert to tell you, but I’m too excited. I’ll be right back.” Baron jumped up from the table and rushed upstairs.

Anna lifted her napkin from her lap and placed it beside her plate. Her heart pumped so wildly she could barely breathe. She raked her fingers quickly through her hair and wished she’d applied lipstick or gloss or something to make her look less like she’d come over right from work. When Baron bounded down the stairs, she held her breath. He appeared at her side and held out a white paper sleeve, the kind given in airports that held boarding passes. Her smile fell into her plate of lasagna, but she took the offered surprise with both hands.

BOOK: The Baker's Man
11.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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