As the flames shot higher, almost licking the sky, Gillian Landon sunk to her knees. Sobs wracked her body as she watched
her livelihood go up in smoke. A strong hand wrapped around hers and she clung to it like a lifeline.
“How could this happen, Luke?” She wailed.
“I’m sorry baby. So damn sorry.” His voice was hoarse with raw emotion. His body pressed against her from
behind and she sunk against him, allowing him to hold her close as she watched the firefighters battle a lost cause.
Sobs faded to sniffles and in the light of the dancing fire, she saw memories of the past six months in their shadowy depths.
* * * *
Gillian hummed as she smoothed electric blue icing over the dark chocolate cupcake. A buzzer sounded and with a final stroke
of the spatula over the cake, she set it aside. Without thinking, she raised an icing coated hand to her cheek and pushed
stray wisps of mousy brown hair behind her ear. She felt, rather than saw the glop of icing that stuck in her hair. With a
sigh, she moved to the oven to remove the pineapple coconut muffins that were her specialty.
The bells chimed, alerting her to the arrival of her first customer. “I’ll be right there,” she shouted.
With a glance toward the clock, she grumbled, “It’s not even six in the morning yet and already people are arriving.”
Usually people didn’t start showing up until six-thirty or so and she had plenty of time to prepare the daily specialties.
Resigned to the fact that today was going to be one of those days, she picked up the towel that sat nearby, wiped her hands
clean of blue icing and headed toward the front counter.
Surprise stopped her dead in her tracks and she stared at the man on the other side of her counter. His piercing green eyes
were bright as they surveyed her. Curly black hair hung loosely around his shoulders. It was longer than she remembered it,
but no less beautiful. Hit tall, lean, lanky body took up more space than she would have liked, and she found it hard to breathe.
He looked so good, she suddenly felt embarrassed by her dirty white apron that clung to hips she considered huge. Her black
shirt spotted with flour and slacks that were about two sizes too big made her feel frumpy. Oh how she wished she’d
worn her contacts this morning instead of wide wire-rimmed glasses that made her look more like a spinster librarian than
a young, vibrant baker.
When he spoke heat spread through her cheeks and she couldn’t quite meet his eyes.
“Gillian. I didn’t know you were still around Meadowside.” The husky tone of his voice sent tingles through
her as it always had. The years had been good to him. He was more handsome today than he had been in high school and she had
never thought that possible.
“When did you come back to town, Luke?”
“I just pulled into town this morning. Drove all night.”
“I see.” Gillian looked down at her dirty apron, focusing on a big round stain of chocolate. Meeting his gaze
unnerved her and she didn’t like it. “Is there something I can get for you?” She asked, not sure what else
“Everything.” Gillian responded without much thought. His deep chuckle brought her gaze back to him.
“Not much for modesty, are you?” His teasing voice brought a smile to her lips. The heat spread through her cheeks
and she knew she must be a very unappealing shade of red.
“Hey now, none of that.” The twinkle in his eyes as he gazed at her put her at ease. “I’ll take whatever
the special of the day is.”
“Okay. One pineapple coconut muffin and a cup of coffee.”
“Sounds delicious.” He said as she rang up his order.
“Mom told me that Cecilia had to give up the bakery, she didn’t tell me you ran it now.”
Before she could respond, the light tinkle of the bell over the door sounded and she looked up and smiled to greet one of
her regulars. Lucas moved to a table in the corner and when she glanced up at him, she noticed him watching her. He’d
never noticed her in the past, so why take such an interest now? Gillian wondered. Absently, she raised a hand to tuck stray
tendrils behind her ear and away from her face. Once again she cursed the fact that she hadn’t bothered to at least
put her contacts in.