- Book 1
- Book 3
- Book 4
Publisher: Bantilly Publishing
Date: 10 April 2018
Series: The Blackbridge Series #2
ISBN (epub): 978-1-925696-17-2
ISBN (mobi): 978-1-925696-18-9
ISBN (print): 978-1-925696-19-6
With sparks like these, someone's bound to get burnt...
Mai On is devastated when her landlord sells her building to a property developer and the bakery she’s worked so hard to build is threatened. The last thing she needs is an outsider tearing down everything that matters to her. She’s determined not to be swayed by the sexy, charming developer.
After costing his company millions of dollars, Nicholas Shadbolt is desperate to prove himself. Taking on the re-development of a rundown building is just the stepping stone he needs towards redemption. What he’s not expecting is Mai’s determination to save her livelihood--or the fire she ignites in him.
But attraction isn’t all that's simmering in Blackbridge. Someone is out for blood. And when danger threatens the woman who’s stolen his heart, Nicholas knows he has more at stake than just his reputation.
The clock on the wall taunted Mai On with its slow-moving minute hand. Maybe the battery was dead. It was either that, or the day was dragging as badly as it seemed.
Normally she loved working out the front of the bakery, catching up with friends and neighbours, and hearing all of the positive comments about the delicious baked treats in the big glass cabinets, but normally she’d had a midday siesta to catch up on sleep. Today she’d been working since one a.m, and maintaining a friendly and bright façade was becoming more difficult as the day wore on.
She breathed a sigh of relief as the jingle of the bell above the door signalled the last of the lunch rush customers had left.
“Thank God,” Sylvia said, taking off the powder blue apron she wore and throwing it on the bench. “I’ve got to go to the toilet, I’ll be right back.”
Mai nodded as her employee dashed out through the kitchen to the back. She could handle this. She’d done much longer days when she’d first set up the bakery a couple of years ago. She was just out of practice.
Mai collected a couple of dirty dishes from one of the small tables lining the big, glass windows, and wiped the wooden surface.
Turning back to the counter, she smiled. This was all hers.
She’d designed the bakery to have a nineteen twenties feel, like the building it was in. The display cabinets had wide, rounded glass with powder blue name tags for each item. Smudged fingerprints at toddler-height marred the perfection, but she didn’t mind. It was a joy to see the excited faces of children trying to decide which treat to choose.
She smoothed the tissue paper used to wrap the bread and stacked a couple of small white cardboard boxes neatly on the bench ready for the next customer. They’d almost sold out of bread for the day, so she transferred the remaining loaves to one wicker basket and tipped the crumbs into the bin. The big glass jar containing Florentines was almost empty, as was the shortbread jar. She’d need to make more tomorrow.
Simply reviewing her place, planning for tomorrow, soothed her, lifting some of her fatigue.
She’d worked hard to make it a success, and no one could take it from her now. She would grow; she’d buy the building she was in, then expand into the empty unit next door. More tables meant more customers. On the Way would become even more of an icon in Blackbridge.
Mai smiled as she carried the plates back into the kitchen.
The bell over the door rang and she hurried back out. “Hi, Aaron!” She’d left messages for her new landlord over the past couple of weeks, but he hadn’t returned her calls. She hadn’t seen him since his father’s funeral when he’d inherited the building, and he wore the same black suit, still a little too big for his small body, his thinning grey hair combed perfectly in place. She hadn’t heard there was a funeral in town today.
He took a step back. “Mai, I, ah, didn’t think you’d be here.”
“Jodie called in sick. What can I get you?”
“A sour dough loaf and a custard tart, please.”
She took the loaf from the shelf and wrapped it. “Any update on when you’re putting this building on the market?”
Aaron fumbled through his wallet. “How much?”
Mai frowned. “Did something go wrong with probate?” She boxed up the tart.
“No. It’s sold.”
It took a second for his words to sink in. “What?”
“I sold the building.” Aaron shuffled away from the counter, staring out the window.
“This building?” Mai clenched the edge of the counter. “The building you promised to sell to me after probate went through?”
Mai shook her head, refusing to believe him. “Today is not the day to be joking, Aaron. I’ve been on my feet since one this morning.”
“I’m sorry, Mai. I got a better offer.” This time he briefly met her eyes, guilt in his expression.
Her breath left her like the air out of a failed soufflé. “Who? There’s no one in Blackbridge who’s interested.”
He cleared his throat. “It’s, ah, a Perth company.” He swallowed and handed over a twenty dollar note. “Shadbolt Property Developers.”
The words made her stomach churn. She stared at him. “You sold out to some money-grubbing city property developer?”
Aaron bristled. “It’s not like that, Mai. He offered to buy the building and the land behind it. You only wanted the building.”
“Why didn’t you tell me, give me the opportunity to bid too?” Her brain couldn’t quite process what she had heard, but anger seemed like the right emotion.
“You couldn’t afford it.”
“How the hell would you know what I can afford?” She shoved his change at him.
“Don’t be angry, Mai. It was a business decision.”
Mai breathed deeply as the anger in her head snapped and snarled to be let out. This pathetic little man had betrayed her, had sold her livelihood out from under her. Letting out the breath she tried to be rational. Perhaps nothing would change. She had a lease. “When does settlement go through?”
He winced. “Today.”
No wonder the slime ball hadn’t answered her calls. This is what she got for being patient, for not wanting to be pushy during Aaron and his family’s grieving process. She’d waited too long. “All right. Do you have some contact details? I’d like to speak to my new landlord.”
“Not on me. I’ll email them to you. I’m sure he’ll be in touch.” He shuffled towards the door. “I gotta go.” He fled.
Mai closed her eyes.
“What does that mean?” Sylvia walked out from the kitchen where she’d been waiting and slid the apron back on, tying it around her curvy body.
“I don’t know.”
“They won’t shut the bakery will they?”
She had no idea. Property developers had a bad reputation in the south of Western Australia. “I doubt it,” she said with more conviction than she felt. “We have a lease.”
“Does it cover the owner dying?” Sylvia asked.
“I’m sure there’s a provision, don’t worry about it. I’ll call the new owner as soon as Aaron sends me his details and get it all sorted out.” Mai forced a smile on to her face. “I’m going to whip up some more shortbread biscuits while we’re quiet. Give me a yell if you need a hand serving.”
Sylvia nodded and Mai escaped to the kitchen.
Her mind whirled as she got the ingredients out of her walk-in storeroom. This could not be happening. She had a plan – she’d received the pre-approval from the bank and was ready to take the next step in her career. Now, she could lose everything she’d worked so hard to build, not to mention her apartment upstairs. She could become jobless and homeless instantly. Her stomach twisted so violently that she dumped the ingredients on the stainless steel bench and closed her eyes, taking a couple of seconds to settle herself.
She shook her head. No need to jump to the worst possible conclusion. Just because a property developer had bought the place didn’t mean he would knock it down. The building had history, and yeah, it might need rewiring and the plumbing was occasionally temperamental, but it was still pretty good for a century-old building.
But Aaron had sold the block behind the building as well. It was full of weeds and building rubble and had been empty forever. It also stretched the length of the block. No one bought an empty plot of land without planning to build on it.
She inhaled the sweet scent of the vanilla bean as she added the seed to the mixing bowl and then turned on the mixer. The whir was like meditation music, calming her thoughts. She’d been through troubles before and come through them. The best case scenario would be if the developer only wanted the block and she could buy the building from him.
Or perhaps he’d keep the building and honour her lease.
He couldn’t knock it down. This was her home, she’d had her first taste of independence here, it was where she’d pursued her dream, and the place where she’d met Hannah, Kit and Fleur, back when it had been a lolly shop and she’d just moved to town.
It was full of life-changing memories.
Without the bakery she was nothing.
She removed the mixture from the bowl and gently formed it into a ball, the soft, creamy dough almost sensual against her fingers. She rolled it out and used the heart-shaped cutter to make the biscuits before putting them on a tray and in the fridge to cool. After quickly cleaning up, she scanned the shop where Sylvia was serving Gladys and her young grandson. Mai hurried out and offered the boy a melting moment from the jar they kept for children.
“You’ll never make any money if you give your biscuits away.” Gladys handed over the exact change.
Mai grinned. Gladys said the same thing every time she brought one of her grandchildren in. “Everyone deserves a treat.” She waved as they left the bakery.
Sylvia took off her powder blue apron and folded it. “I’m off now.”
“All right.” If only she’d been able to stay back for an hour to close up. “Have fun on your date tonight.”
Sylvia grimaced. “Maybe. Dating at my age is like playing Russian roulette.”
Mai chuckled. “Forty-five is not old.”
“No, but there aren’t any decent eligible men in town.” She waved as she walked out the door.
With the last of her staff gone and the bakery thankfully empty, Mai slid into a seat to rest her aching feet. It was never very busy at this time of the day. If she closed early, she could get some more baking done now, because tomorrow would be bedlam.
The idea was way too tempting.
With a groan she forced herself up and then went around the small eating area, pushing in the chairs and checking the sugar bowls.
Sylvia had already cleaned the sticky fingerprints off the cabinet glass and rearranged the treats so the cabinet didn’t look so empty. Mai loved making all of her products, breads, cakes, biscuits and pastries, but tonight would be long and hard as she had additional special orders for New Year’s Eve.
Her plan to hire another baker would have to wait until she’d cleared up the mess Aaron had left her in.
With the front of the bakery clean and inviting, Mai headed back to the kitchen. She’d do the Florentines next because she could leave the mixture if she was interrupted by customers.
The bell on the front door rang.
Speak of the devil. “Be right there.”
The man standing in her bakery talking on his phone was not her usual clientele. Despite the thirty degrees temperature outside, he wore a dark grey suit that fitted him to perfection. The jacket framed his shoulders, hugged his waist and stopped just short enough to show how his pants defined his butt nicely. Mai took another look just to make sure.
He was probably in his early thirties but flecks of grey shot through the dark brown at his temples. Still he was a nice piece of eye candy and definitely not from around here. She would have heard about a guy this gorgeous by now.
She cleaned the coffee machine as she waited for him to hang up.
His voice was low, but she caught some of the words.
“Let me know if I can do anything to help,” he said. “I can be back in Perth in a couple of hours. The project doesn’t need me here.” He was silent for a moment and then sighed. “All right. I’ll talk to you later, Mum.”
She liked a guy who called his mother.
As the man hung up he turned to Mai and smiled. “I’m sorry to keep you waiting.”
Holy cow. Whoever this guy was, he had a killer smile – friendly and open and a little bit flirty. Be still my heart. She called dibs – she’d spotted him first.
Mai cleared her throat. “Nothing to apologise for. What can I get you?”
“What do you recommend?” That smile again. She willed her pulse rate to slow.
“Do you prefer sweet or savoury?”
“I’ve always had a bit of a sweet tooth, though I try to control it.” He brushed a hand over the front of his suit. “I don’t get to exercise as much as I’d like.”
His body looked plenty fine to her.
She mentally rolled her eyes. That was the kind of comment Kit would have made. What was wrong with her? She scanned the sparse cabinet. “If you want something small, the jelly cakes are light and fluffy,” she said. “Or if you want to be more decadent, then the bee stings are divine.”
“The bee sting it is,” he said. “And I’d love an espresso as well.”
“To have here?”
“Yes, please.” He was silent as she set the coffee machine going. “I was actually hoping to catch the owner, if she’s available.”
Mai put the bee sting onto a plate and slid it in front of him. “What about?” She took the fifty dollar note he handed her.
“I’d prefer to talk directly to the owner.”
Everything clicked into place: the suit, the out-of-town vibe, the coyness. Hell. “You’re from Shadbolt Property Developers.”
He raised his eyebrows and gave a short nod.
Mai counted his change as her brain whirled. “The building’s new owner.”
“Yes. How did you know?”
“Aaron was just in. He mentioned it.” She turned to the coffee machine, brushing at the flour on her apron, then smoothed back the loose strands of hair that had fallen out of her bun. As she reached for the cup, she subtly sniffed at her armpits. Not too bad. Still it wasn’t the most powerful position to start from. She handed the man his espresso. “I’m the owner.”
“You’re Mai On?”
He held out a hand. “Nicholas Shadbolt. It’s lovely to meet you.” His smile was pure charm, his teeth perfect and white, and a vision of a great white shark baring its teeth popped into her head.
She shook his hand, his skin firm and smooth, the type that used a computer for work. Not like her own that had calluses and burns from years of work in the kitchen.
“Do you have time to talk?”
She hesitated. She wanted to know his plans, but she also wanted to scream at him for daring to buy the building. The irrational, grumpy Mai was running on only a few hours’ sleep. She fought back the banshee. It wasn’t the kind of first impression she wanted to make. “It’s not a great time,” she said. “I’ve had an employee off sick and I’ve got a lot to finish.”
“What about tomorrow?”
She laughed. “New Year’s Eve is one of my busiest days.” She tucked a stray hair behind her ear. Her brain wouldn’t cooperate, wouldn’t process all the work she had to do, but this had to be resolved as soon as possible. “If Jodie calls in sick again the only time I’ll have free is before work.”
“Fine. What time is that?”
“One a.m.” The burst of surprise that flashed over his face was intensely satisfying.
“You’re the baker as well as the owner?”
“All right. Shall I meet you here at one?”
Mai gaped at him. “Seriously?”
“I’m always serious about business.” He smiled.
Annoyance waged a war with respect. She shouldn’t have opened her big mouth and challenged him, but she could hardly back down now. She needed to know his plan, had to find out where she stood. Her chest squeezed and she breathed through the stress. “I can give you thirty minutes,” she said. “Knock on the front door and I’ll let you in. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do.” Without waiting for his response, she escaped into the kitchen.