Her Little Secret, His Hidden Heir

By: Heidi Betts

At the front door, she stopped abruptly, turning to face the two men. “Wait here,” she told them. “I have to warn Aunt Helen that you’re in town and explain what’s going on. She never particularly liked you,” she added, aiming her comment directly at Marc, “so don’t be surprised if she refuses to come out while you’re here.”

He shot her a sardonic grin. “I’ll be sure to keep my horns and tail hidden if I run into her.”

Vanessa didn’t bother responding to that. She was too afraid of what kind of retort might spill from her mouth. Instead, she spun and pushed her way into the bakery.

Keeping a smile on her face and cheerily greeting customers who were sipping cups of coffee, tea or cocoa, and enjoying some of her and her aunt’s most popular baked goods, she hurried to the kitchen.

As usual, Helen was bustling around doing this and that. She might have been in her seventies, but she had the energy of a twenty-year-old. Up at the crack of dawn each morning, she always went to work immediately, gathering ingredients, mixing, rolling, cutting, scooping…and managing to keep track of whatever was in the ovens, even three or four different items all set at different temperatures for various amounts of time.

Vanessa was a fairly accomplished baker herself, but readily admitted it took some doing to keep up with her aunt. Add to that the fact that Helen helped her man the counter and take care of Danny, and Vanessa literally did not know what she would do without her.

The squeak of the swinging double doors cutting off the kitchen area from the front of the store alerted Helen to her arrival.

“You’re back,” her aunt said without bothering to look up from the sugar cookies she was dusting with brightly colored sprinkles.

“Yes, but we have a problem,” Vanessa told her.

At that, Helen raised her head. “You didn’t get the money?” she asked, disappointment lacing her tone.

Vanessa shook her head. “Worse. The investor Brian has me meeting with is Marc.”

The container of sprinkles fell from Helen’s hand, hitting the metal cookie sheet and spilling everywhere. Not a disaster, just a few cookies that would turn out sloppier than usual. And whatever didn’t look appropriate for sale could always go on a plate as an after-dinner treat for themselves.

“You’re kidding,” her aunt breathed in a shocked voice.

Vanessa shook her head and crossed to where Helen stood rooted to the spot like a statue. “Unfortunately, I’m not. He’s outside right now, waiting for a tour of the bakery, so I need you to take Danny upstairs and stay there until I give you the all clear.”

Her fingers moved at the speed of light as she undid the knot at Helen’s waist, slipping the flour-dusted apron over her head and tossing it aside. Her aunt immediately reached up to pat her stack of puffy, blue-washed curls.

Rushing across the room, Vanessa paused to stare down at her adorable baby boy, who was lying on his back in a small bassinet, doing his best to get his pudgy little toes into his perfect pink mouth. As soon as he saw her, he smiled wide and began to gurgle happily, sending a stab of love so deep through Vanessa’s soul, it stole her breath.

Lifting him up and onto her shoulder, she wished she had the time to tickle and tease and coo with him. She loved running the bakery, and was very proud of what she and Aunt Helen had managed to build together, but Danny was her pride and joy. Her favorite moments of the day were those she got to spend alone with him, feeding him, bathing him, making him laugh.

Pressing a kiss to the side of his head, she whispered, “Later, sweetheart, I promise.” Just as soon as she could get rid of Marc and Brian.

Turning to her aunt, who had come up behind them, she handed the baby off.

“Hurry,” she said. “And keep him as quiet as you can. If he starts to cry, turn on the TV or the radio or something to try to cover it up. I’ll get rid of them as quickly as I can.”

“All right,” Helen readily agreed, “but keep an eye on the ovens. The pinwheel cookies only need another five minutes. The baklava and lemon streusel cake will be a while longer. I set the timers.”

Vanessa nodded her understanding, then with Helen bustling off to hide Danny in the small apartment they kept over the bakery, she pushed the now-empty bassinet across the kitchen and into a back storage room. Grabbing an extra white tablecloth with blue and yellow eyelet lace trim, she used it to cover the large piece of telling furniture.

Leaving the storage room, her gaze darted left to right and up and down, searching for any remaining signs of Danny’s presence. A few stray items, she might be able to explain… A rattle? Oh, a customer must have left it—I’ll have to put it in the Lost and Found.

A handful of diapers? I keep those on hand for when I watch a friend’s baby. Yes, that sounded plausible.

A half-full bottle in the fridge or a prescription of ear drops in Danny Keller’s name from a recent infection? Those might be a little tougher to justify.

She used a clean towel to brush away some of the worst of the spilled sprinkles and grabbed the pinwheels from the oven to keep them from burning, but otherwise left the kitchen as it had been when she’d walked in. Then she pushed back through the double swinging doors into the front of the bakery…and ran smack into a waiting Marcus.


Marc’s arms came up to seize Vanessa as she flew through the double doors from the kitchen and hit him square in the chest. The impact wasn’t hard enough to hurt, although it did catch him slightly off guard. Then, once he had his hands on her, her body pressed full-length along his own and he didn’t want to let go.

It had been a long time since he’d held this woman. Too long, if the blood pounding in his veins and the heat suffusing his groin were any indication.

She was softer than he remembered, more well-rounded in all the right places. But she still smelled of strawberries and cream from her favorite brand of shampoo. And even though she’d cut her hair to shoulder-length, she still had the same wavy copper locks that he knew from experience would be soft as silk against his fingertips.

He nearly reached up to find out for sure, his gaze locked on her sapphire blue eyes, when she pulled away. He let her go, but immediately missed her warmth.

“I told you to wait outside,” she pointed out, licking her glossed lips and running a hand down the front of her snug white blouse. The material pulled taut across her chest, framing her full brea**sts nicely.

He probably shouldn’t be noticing that sort of thing about his ex-wife. But then, he was divorced, not dead.

In response to her chastisement, he shrugged a shoulder. Her annoyance amused him all to hell.

“You were taking too long. And besides, this is a public establishment. The sign in the window says Open. If it upsets you that much, consider me a customer.” Reaching into his pocket, he retrieved his money clip and peeled off a couple of small bills. “Give me a cup of black coffee and something sweet. You choose.”

Her eyes narrowed and she skewered him with a look of pure disdain. “I told you I don’t want your money. Not even that,” she added, her gaze flickering to the paltry amount he was holding out to her.

“Have it your way,” he told her, sliding the bills back under the gold clip and the entire bundle back into his front trouser pocket. “So why don’t you start the tour. Give me an idea of what you do here, how you got started and what your financials look like.”

Vanessa blew out a breath, fluttering the thin fringe of her bangs and seeming to come to terms with the fact that she wasn’t getting rid of him anytime soon.

“Where’s Brian?” she asked, glancing past his shoulder and searching the front of the bakery for her financial advisor.

“I sent him back to his office,” Marc answered. “Since he’s already familiar with your business, I didn’t think it was necessary for him to be here for the tour. I told him I would stop in or call after we’ve finished.”

Tiny lines appeared above Vanessa’s nose as she frowned, bringing her attention back to him, though he noticed she wouldn’t quite meet his gaze.

“What’s the matter?” he teased. “Afraid to be alone with me, Nessa?”

Her frown morphed into a full-fledged scowl, drawing her brows even more tightly together.

“Of course not,” she snapped, crossing her arms over her chest, which only managed to lift her generous brea**sts and press them more snugly against the fabric of her blouse. “But don’t get your hopes up, because we aren’t going to be alone. Ever.”

As hard as he tried, Marc couldn’t stop an amused grin from lifting his lips. He’d forgotten just what a fiery temper his little wife had, but damned if he hadn’t missed it.

If he had anything to say about it, they very well would be alone together at some point in the very near future, but he didn’t bother saying as much since he didn’t want to send her into a full-blown implosion in front of her customers.

“So where do you want to start?” she asked, apparently resigned to his presence and his insistence on getting a look at her bakery as a possible investment opportunity.

“Wherever you like,” he acquiesced with a small nod.

It didn’t take long for her to show him around the front of the bakery, given its size. But she explained how many customers they could serve in-shop and how much take-out business they did on a daily basis. And when he asked about the items in the display cases, she described every one.

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