A Recipe For Love
by Heidi Vanlandingham
“Wouldn’t you like a warm, soft, gooey cinnamon roll to take with you?” Holly Cavanaugh asked. She pushed the delft-blue platter closer to Jessica, the mayor’s new secretary. Holly casually waved her hands over the still steaming rolls, hoping the mouth-watering scent would help her make a much-needed sale.
“I really shouldn’t,” Jessica sighed, glancing forlornly at the decadent glazed rolls. “My boyfriend is taking me to the Nearlywed Game at the lodge tomorrow night and I have to fit into my dress.”
Holly bit back a groan and plastered a smile on her face and hoped it didn’t look as fake as it felt. “I understand,” she lied. “Tell the mayor I said hello and that I hope Martha likes her present.”
Jessica glanced down at the pretty, red-ribboned box in her hands. “She will love it. Your red-velvet heart cake is her favorite and with his present as a topper… Well, what wife wouldn’t like getting a diamond ring for Valentines?”
Holly crossed her arms, leaned against the shiny stainless steel counter, and smiled. “I’m sure Martha will love it.”
Ten minutes later, Holly stood, still leaning against the counter, as she stared out into the empty street. Dirty snow mounded the curb in front of her store and sidewalk salt glinted like dull diamonds. She glanced up at her favorite picture of her grandmother hanging over the end of the counter. Taken before age had wrinkled her skin and grayed her near-black hair. The vibrant, relaxed smile still showed the woman who’d raised her after her parents’ death.
“What am I going to do now?” Holly whispered. “A warning would’ve been nice, you know. Although I really can’t blame you, Nana. How does one plan Alzheimer’s?”
A sharp, tangy smell wafted through the room, pulling her back to the present. “Oh, no, no, no…” Turning too fast, she slid across the floor in her socks, her shoes abandoned after the last customer, caught herself on the edge of the preparation table then swung around the edge to the stove. Smoke poured from behind the closed oven door, bitter and thick.
She grabbed her oven mitt and jerked the heavy, commercial door open. Coughing, she waved her mitt-covered hand in front of her face a couple of times then held her breath as she quickly pulled the cookie sheet out and dropped it onto the stovetop. Instead of pretty sugar cookie hearts, she stared at shriveled black lumps.
“Well, if that isn’t art imitating life, I don’t know what is,” a male voice said, startling her out of her brooding.
A man appeared next to her. In her kitchen. Staring at her burnt cookies. “I should probably be worried. You know, scream or something… After the day I’ve had—just don’t care. Do your worst.” She held her clenched fists out in front of her as if waiting for handcuffs.
He stared at the cookies then glanced over at her and smiled. “I’m not here to arrest you—well, not technically. But why did you have to kill the cookies?”
“Harrumph. I didn’t do it on purpose! Why would I kill them, knowing I’d have to bake more?”
“Good point. And murdering cookies isn’t a felony. Yet.”
Standing side by side in front of the dead goodies, she turned her head. And stopped breathing. The not-too-tall man standing next to her was still gorgeous. The new sheriff had been in town long enough for every single female in town to set her sights on him. Self-consciously, Holly casually ran her non-gloved hand down her dark ponytail and pushed it over her shoulder, letting it fall gracefully to the center of her back. Hopefully, she’d managed to knock off any flour.
Brett Landers watched her try to wipe the flour from her rich, chocolate hair and didn’t have the heart to tell her the ponytail wasn’t where the white flour had settled. She was still beautiful—exotic. Her kohl-lined eyes made their brown-eyed depths look like deep pools of chocolate, reminding him of the Egyptian queen, Cleopatra. Although, he seriously doubted the queen would have walked around with flour on her nose.
“Sooo, why are you here? Since you aren’t going to arrest me for felony assault on sugar cookies…” She heard his soft sigh and just knew it had to be bad news. She held out her hand, palm up. “It’s okay. Just give me whatever it is.” She ignored his raised eyebrow, even though he looked even cuter. He made her want to smile.
Brett inwardly cursed his ever-horrible timing. The last thing he wanted to do was cause her more grief on top of what she evidently already had. She had gumption though—he liked that. Her doe-like brown eyes pulled at his soul. Shaking his head, he held out the folded foreclosure notice, now rolled into a tube in his tight grip. “I really am sorry about this.”
Holly stared at the rolled paper then shrugged. “Can’t fight the inevitable, I guess.” She pulled the paper from his hand and opened it, blinking back the tears and already knowing what it said.
“You can keep fighting. There’s still time. After all, I’m the sheriff…”
“Hasn’t done much for me yet, now has it?” Forgetting she had left her shoes near the front counter, she kicked the large tub of shortening partially shoved under her prep table. Pain shot through her toes and up her leg. “Ow, ow, ow!” She grabbed her toes and hopped on one foot.
“Shouldn’t you be wearing shoes in a bakery? You know, health regulations and all?”
“Hmmm, that’s an idea. Where’s the chocolate frosting?” He wiggled his eyebrows.
Before she could throw out a witty retort, his two-way radio spit out a blast of static then she could hear the dispatcher’s voice clearly as it shouted the sheriff’s name. “Sheriff Landers, Val Hart needs you up at SweetHart Lodge, stat. He’s putting together a search party for a lost guest.”
Brett pulled the radio from its holster. Holding it near his mouth, he pushed the talk button. “Roger that, Connie. Tell Val I’m headed that way now.” He looked down at Holly, now seated on top of the shortening tub, the foreclosure notice limp in one hand. “I really am sorry.”
She waved his apology away with her empty hand. “Go. Be a hero and find whoever’s lost.” She watched him walk through her front door, her eyes glued to his very nice backside. “Only I could fall for my executioner.”
She threw the notice on the counter and stood up, wiping her damp palms against her jean-clad legs. “Time for some cookie resurrection.” She threw the charred remains into the nearby trashcan and began rolling out the rest of the sugar cookie dough.
~ ~ ~
Pushing the last sheet of cookies into the oven, she heard several raps against her glass front door. Setting the timer, she glanced up at the clock then turned to find the sheriff staring at her through the door. She twisted the silver lock sideways and swung the door open. With one hand pressed against her hip, she asked, “It’s almost eleven, what are you doing here? Did you find the missing person?”
He shook his head and walked past her into the kitchen. Unzipping his heavy, khaki-green coat, he hung it next to hers on the wall rack then faced her. “Had to call the search off until morning—don’t want to risk anyone else getting lost in the dark. Now, how can I help here?”
“What?” She frowned. “There’s noth—”
He covered her mouth with his hand. “Shut. Up. There is always something that can be done. We just have to find out what it is.” He dropped his hand and grabbed her oven mitt, pulling out the cookies while she hit the timer’s off button. He glanced down at the golden cookies and grinned. “Much better than dead ones. Do we frost these now?”
“I wish you’d get over that—and I plan on frosting them in the morning, if you must know.”
“Or now, which means we can concentrate on the showpiece.”
The furrows between her eyes deepened. “What are you talking about? I’ve already finished the cake.”
His bright sky-blue gaze speared hers. “Val said this Valentine’s thing was a big deal for the lodge. And that it could be what saves your bakery. Serendipity is catering the entire event, right?”
Holly nodded, speechless.
“You need to make the desserts stand out. They need to be different from anything else usually served.”
Her eyes narrowed. “What do you think I’ve tried to do?” She stepped forward, toe to toe, and poked the center of his muscled chest. “I’ve done this my entire life! Don’t tell me how to do my job.”
He held up his hands in silent surrender and pressed his lips together knowing she would not appreciate his smile. Holly Cavanaugh was a striking woman. But angry, she was magnificent. Before he could stop himself, he leaned forward and held her face in the palms of his hands and kissed her.
“I have an idea,” she mumbled against his lips.
“That tearing sound you just heard? Yeah, that was the sound of my man card being revoked.” Brett chuckled. “If you’re able to think cohesively during my kiss, then maybe I need to rethink my technique.”
She glanced up at him. “Huh?”
He kissed her again and for a second, rested his forehead against hers. “What is it?”
She blinked. “What is what?”
She grinned. “Oh, that.”
“So my kiss did have some punch to it.”
“Whatever you need to believe, Sheriff Landers.” She side-stepped his hand as he playfully tried to smack her behind and practically skipped toward the bookshelf hanging above the coats and pulled down a small, spiral notebook decorated with Hershey kisses and yellow roses. Chocolate and flowers. Wonderful memories flooded into her head. Every Valentine’s Day, her grandfather gave her grandmother and her chocolate and flowers. She shoved the bittersweet memory from her mind and flipped to the last page in the notebook and smiled.
“My own creation. Nana would let me play with leftover batter—whether cake, cookie, or bread dough—to see what I could create. This was my last creation. I had almost finished when Val called to tell us Grandad was dead. I’d forgotten about it until now.”
“What is it?”
Her smile widened. “Cake Balls.”
“Excuse me?” he choked out in a strangled voice.
She rolled her eyes. “Men. Are your minds always in the gutter?”
Brett nodded. “You’re really serious? That’s your big idea?” He didn’t think he’d ever seen a smile so brilliant as he watched her face come to life.
“Yep. Just wait until you taste them.” She turned away from the strangled, choking sounds coming from behind her. “Men,” she muttered.
~ ~ ~
She placed the last confection on the silver tray as beautiful rich orange and deep red streaks lit up the morning sky. Wiping her hands on the last clean dishtowel, she turned and found herself wrapped up in Brett’s strong embrace.
“You’re amazing, Holly Cavanaugh,” With his thumb, he wiped chocolate from her cheek. But, before he could kiss her, she shoved one of the small cake balls into his mouth. A burst of tangy orange blended with the smooth, creamy chocolate. The more he chewed, the better the flavor. Swallowing, he moaned. “Oh. My. God. That was better than sex! You won’t be able to keep these on the shelf.” He pulled her into his embrace and whirled her around. “Sweetheart, the lodge and participants of the game they’ve scheduled won’t know what hit them!”
Her heart tightened into a compact, little ball. He’d called her sweetheart! Somehow during the night, she’d fallen head over heels for Brett Landers and had no idea what to do with his new knowledge.
“Holly?” Brett frowned down at her. “Are you going to give me an answer?”
“Umm, can you repeat the question?” The nervous racing of her pulse slowed to a fluid, steady beat when he gave her a sexy smile.
“I asked if you would be my valentine.”
She nodded, teary-eyed but happier than she’d been in a long time. She wrapped her arms around his neck and whispered against his warm lips, “Yes, I will definitely be your valentine for as long as you want me.”
“How does forever sound?”
She smiled. “Forever sounds delicious.”