First chapter of Sweet Haven
I placed the chocolate I’d pulled out of the refrigerator on the counter and stared at my sister. She’d come in dressed in her usual skinny jeans and T-shirt with the logo of the store on it. All that was missing was her apron. Her blonde curls were tied up in a bun on top of her head, her freckled face devoid of make-up demonstrating flawless skin despite her appalling diet that she bragged about all the damn time. “How can you be heading to Los Angeles? I’ve only just returned home.”
“Big brother, you’ve been back several months, and you only came back to lick your wounds after that dick of a husband decided he didn’t want to compete with a top chef anymore.”
“Let’s leave Teddy out of this for now. I don’t want to think about him. What I do want to know is how I’m supposed to run the store and make all the confectionery I’m supposed to be so famous for?”
Her eye roll and head shake were to be expected when the last thing I wanted to talk about, was her leaving to go and pursue her own dreams.
“There is such a thing as running an ad for an assistant.”
I held my hand up, already getting a headache at the thought of having to interview people who knew nothing about my business, or how to entice customers to buy sweet things when half the town always seemed to be on a goddamn diet.
Returning to my hometown, Sweet Haven, had seemed like a good idea at the time. Opening a confectionery store had seemed like an even better idea. Only that one hadn’t been mine. It had been my sister’s idea, and now she was looking to leave just when things were finally starting to take off. Sweet Haven wasn’t the most forward thinking of towns when it came to stores with fancy candy and chocolates. Initially, it had seemed like a step too far for the town’s inhabitants.
During the first month of opening, I’d had the grand total of ten folk through the door. The thousands of dollars I’d ploughed into buying the store, along with the renovations needed to make it look perfect, had seemed a total waste. In Los Angeles I’d been the king of confection and there’d been queues outside the door to buy the things I sold. Whereas here, they could barely be bothered to try. I’d persevered though, because it was what I did. Teddy was living proof of that. When he’d given up on our marriage, consumed by an ugly jealousy at my success, I’d still tried to work at it.
My shoulders sagged, my sister’s fingers snapping in front of my face. I blinked my sister back into focus. “Sorry, were you saying something?”
“Don’t give me that bullshit. You know I was. Let me sort out an ad and do the interviews for you. I know how picky you are, and I can’t afford to wait ten years for you to make a decision.”
I gave a sheepish smile. “Hey, I’m not that bad.”
There was a look of disbelief on her face as she stared at me. “Yes, you are. How long did it take to pick out the range in the kitchen? I’ll tell you how long—six months! Who takes six months just to pick something to cook on? Then there were the refrigerators and the coolers.”
Seeing she was building up quite a head of steam that showed no sign of disappearing, I side-stepped around the counter, picking up a spiced chocolate and then pushing it between her parted lips.
“Oh… my… just wow,” she mumbled around the chocolate before shutting her eyes and starting to groan like… well, I didn’t want to think about what the sounds were like, not when they were coming from my sister. That was just yuck!
“Now I can get a word in edgeways.”
It was her turn to hold up her hand while she kept her eyes closed. “Chili, ginger, and a hint of something spicy that I can’t quite pinpoint.” Her eyes, a bold blue just like mine, opened to show her appreciation. It gave me the same warm feeling it always did when someone showed enjoyment of the taste explosion in their mouth. It made all the time and effort worthwhile. “Yep, you nailed it. What’s the spice?” She eyed the counter where several more samples were laid out.
At some ungodly hour in the morning, I’d woken with the idea in my head. Once the urge to create had struck, I was doomed until I’d figured out the new recipe. “Take one step closer to those chocolates, and I’ll─”
“You’ll what? Wrestle me to the floor?”
We’d wrestled before, and she was a sneaky fucker when it came to getting her own way. There was a gleam in her eyes that had me stepping in front of her, because I knew damn well she’d risk life and limb for my chocolate. “If I have to. These”—I pointed vaguely toward where the tray sat on the counter— “are to put out on the counter to get some feedback.”
Teasing the customers with new tastes they didn’t need to pay for was how I’d eventually managed to build my business up. It had also been a great way of figuring out what to focus on selling in the store.
The online business Jen had insisted on me starting to see if I could entice my old customers to buy online was showing signs of making a profit after just two months. It was all great, as long as I didn’t think about my sister leaving me high and dry just when my life was returning to some sort of normality. My sister said that I was hiding. I disagreed. I was just giving myself some breathing room after being stabbed in the back by my husband. Correction—my soon to be ex-husband!
“Why are you scowling at me like that?”
“I was thinking about Teddy. I… got the paperwork to finalize the divorce.” Although I didn’t have feelings for Teddy anymore, it was the thought of it being so final. It would be the end of an era, and of all the dreams I used to hope of building with Teddy.
Jen approached me, wrapping her arms around my waist and laying her blonde head against my chest, her bun tickling the underside of my chin. “He’s an asshole, and he isn’t worth spitting on.”
I chuckled and hugged her back. “I know. But it wasn’t just him. I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on how we grew apart. The more successful I got, the bigger the gap between us became. In the end both of us were to blame for our failed marriage. I put so much of myself into building up the business that I forgot I needed to do the same for my relationship. What have I got left, apart from a wad of cash? It just feels wrong.”
“Nonsense, you walked away because he stole from you, and he didn’t want to work on your relationship. He never did, not even at the beginning. You’ve come home and proved that it was you who made the business a success, not him. Your amazing creativity is off the charts, and the townsfolk are seeing that, as are the people in the neighboring towns. Word is getting out, and business is thriving. When your old customers discover you’re doing a delivery service, you’ll be inundated with so many orders you won’t know what to do with yourself. Now all you need is the right man.”
I patted her back as her body vibrated with an enthusiasm that was hard to ignore. “Don’t wish that on me. Men are off limits, and I would like to be able to get some sleep sometimes. Let’s hope for only as much work as I can cope with.”
“What you need, is to get a life! You haven’t been out on one date since you came back. Not one!” She glared at me as if she knew I was about to dispute the fact. “Bill, or whatever his name was, doesn’t count, because you dated him in high school. And you didn’t even kiss him.”
Cheeks heated, I released her and swung around to face the counter. I hated talking about my sex life, but she seemed to have no such issues with wanting all the details. “Let it go. There was no attraction between us. I realized it the minute I accepted his offer. It was more about talking about old times. I told you that.”
“There must be a nice gay guy in town for you.”
I didn’t need to see her face to know there would be a glint of mischief in her eyes, her voice giving her away. “That right there is a no, Jen. You hear me?” I collected the dirty bowls and walked over to the sink, hoping the conversation about my lack of love-life would, like the topic of Teddy had, be dropped. The thing was, my sister wasn’t one for letting anything drop once she’d gotten it into her head that she could help me.
Placing the dirty dishes in the sink, I turned on the faucet while I tried to come up with something to distract her. “Put out an ad then for an assistant.” I glanced back over my shoulder at her. “Just make sure you’re clear about the early starts and how much work is involved.”
“Of course.” A smile spread across her pretty face, her dimples deepening and making my stomach tighten. “I know exactly what you need. Leave it to me.”
“Famous last words,” I muttered as I looked down at the pans. If there’s a God listening up there, make sure she doesn’t land me with a dud!