Hannah Beacon hated working on holidays but knew better than to say a single, negative word. While the day after Thanksgiving technically didn’t count as a nationally recognized celebration, she cherished Black Friday. Since her daughter’s birth, she had dedicated months to planning her route with minute-by-minute precision. Several times, her foresight had earned her the rare praise of her best friend, and partner-in-shopping, Sam Holt. And when Sam Holt declared herself impressed, she meant it. For years, Hannah had avoided the family business, Perfect Rise Bakery, on the all-important Friday by waking early and standing in line for deals.
With a sigh, she rolled her neck. Being part of a family business meant carrying her weight. And she should be glad for the work. Following the economic downturn, her parents had considered closing. At the time, she was off on her LA adventure. She had assured Mom and Dad that she was fine with the decision. When, months later, her circumstances had changed, and she had needed a job, she was glad an unexpected business had rescued the town’s economy. Or she wouldn’t have an hourly schedule to complain about.
A timer beeped.
She shook off the doldrums, grabbing a rag and pulling a tray of sprinkle cookies from the oven. The air hung heavy with the scents of melting butter, caramelizing sugar, and sweet hope. She couldn’t be in a sour mood in the midst of mouthwatering smells, nor would she harbor even the slightest twinge of a grudge about coming in to finalize the big holiday order for Under Covers’ special collaboration launch party. Both Noah Kidwell, owner of the fashion brand, and her parents had saved her.
She loaded the next tray of cookies into the oven and twisted the dial, setting the timer. She enjoyed the satisfying jingle of the old school devices. Her brother, Mike, argued in favor of updates and modernization. He wanted to streamline and automate everything he could. After she had burned a batch of brownies, activating the overhead sprinklers, because of her confusion on setting the internet-enabled oven, she stuck to the tried and true. Coming home had been about that sentiment, too. She was nothing if not maddeningly consistent.
She jumped, pressing a hand to her collarbone, and catching her breath. The bakery was supposed to be closed to customers. Had Mike forgotten to flip the sign the night before? Smoothing her apron, she tightened her ponytail, plastering on her movie-star smile. She’d greet the customer with a kind word and get back to business. Passing through the swinging door separating the kitchen from the front of house, she snatched a peppermint stick from the jar on the counter. A little extra sugar never hurt a sour conversation.
She crossed the black and white hexagonal tiles in the original building, not sparing a glance for “or the darkened interior of the café expansion to her left. Another of her brother’s ideas. She couldn’t argue with his acumen. He expanded the business at a risky time and doubled the profits in the first year, a rare feat. Taking over for their parents, Mike had a clear vision and constant drive. He’d need both. Hannah loved the bakery, but her focus would always be her daughter.
Twisting the deadbolt, she unlocked the accessible entrance next to the revolving door. “I’m sorry, we’re cl—”
“Closed?” Jake Grant arched a brow and smiled. “Hi, Hannah. Sorry to drop by unannounced. I had it on good authority you’d be here today.”
She gulped. As the town’s sole lawyer, he knew everything about everyone.
“Sorry.” He scrubbed a hand over his face. “That sounded creepy. Amy told me you’d be working on the order for tonight.”
“Oh, sure. Come inside. It’s too cold to linger outdoors.” Hannah held the door open wide, standing to the side.
The lawyer, currently dating her other best friend, Amy Parker, entered the building. Dressed in an overcoat and suit, he was as formal as ever. Was today special?
After six months, Hannah waited for an official statement about the pair’s future any day. Since hitting thirty, she was no longer surprised when an engagement was announced within a year of striking up a romance. As a young bride whose wedded bliss floundered in less than a decade, she hardly had any right to look askance at anyone else’s relationship choices. Still, she wanted the best outcome for her loved ones. If she served as a living example of mistakes to avoid, her pain held a purpose.
Jake adjusted the leather messenger bag strap on his shoulder. “I didn’t think stars opened the door by themselves.”
She glanced at him sidelong and let the door swing shut. “One commercial is hardly a breakout role.”
Over the summer, she had joined in the unofficial test run of the Under Covers launch at megastore Fulham’s. While she and her daughter had enjoyed the Christmas in July spectacle, she hadn’t noticed cameras. “Within a few weeks, she’d been approached with a release form and signed off on the use of her image in the thirty-second spot.
In the past month, the commercial had aired, and she hardly had a day without someone mentioning it. Six years ago, shortly after learning she was pregnant, she’d given up on her Hollywood dream. Maybe the limelight wasn’t done with her yet. She dusted her palms on her apron. “How may I help you? Did Amy call in an order?”
“No, no, nothing like that.” He held up his hands, facing out his palms. “I’m sure you’re swamped with the party order.”
She pressed together her lips together, holding back the question threatening to roll off her treacherous tongue.
He twisted his neck, scanning past her. “Is Mike here?”
Oh. Her stomach twisted. She’d rather add to her workload with a last-minute request for a dozen cupcakes than deal with legal business. “On his way.” She smiled and crossed her arms.
The candy stick poked her arm through the thick sweater. She extended it. “Peppermint? Or maybe I can get you a coffee? Mike should be here soon, if you don’t mind waiting.”
“Actually, I can drop off the paperwork, and you could pass it on. I don’t need to stay and get in your way.”
“Sure, whatever you want to do.” She tucked the candy into her back jeans pocket.
He opened the bag and slid out a folder, handing over the plain, manilla file.
She accepted the nondescript package. She didn’t need to open it to examine the contents. Inside, she’d find the paperwork mapping out the next steps for the Beacon family. She wasn’t in the mood to look through the preliminary details. Without Mike, she never would have taken the first step to securing the future. She gripped the folder in both hands. “I’m sure everything is in order. If he has questions, Mike will call.”
“I’m sure of it.” Jake chuckled.
She lifted the corner of her mouth. “He is very thorough.”
“No explanations needed.” Jake held up his hands. “Changing the ownership of the business and the family home and establishing living trusts for both your parents aren’t unusual requests. But the time sensitive nature makes every choice imperative. I appreciate another set of eyes on my work.” He cleared his throat. “I am glad for a moment alone. I wanted to bring up something… personal.”
“Of course.” She softened her tone. “I’m always available to help. Did you have an idea? Or a plan?”
He wrinkled his brow.
“I know what shape she likes and her size. I can also set up whatever you need. If you wanted to use the bakery, you are more than welcome. We could place the box inside a cake. Or—better yet—you could use a gingerbread house if you’re planning for a Christmas Eve or Christmas Day surprise.”
He stared at her blankly.
Wasn’t she included in his proposal scheme? When Amy had returned to town and started dating her longtime crush, she had turned to Hannah for advice and support. Hannah encouraged the couple. She’d never seen a more well-matched pair. The five years age difference would have been a scandal as teens. Since hitting the third decade milestone, the discrepancy wasn’t even a blip on the radar.
She couldn’t believe she overstepped. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to insert myself in your engagement plans.”
“Engagement? No, I’m not ready to…” He slipped a finger under his collar. In his supposed off-hours, he remained the consummate legal professional. “We’ll talk about Amy later. I’m here to discuss you and your situation.”
Squinting, she tipped her head to the side. What was her situation? She considered her part of the family arrangement a fair shake. A 30 percent stake wasn’t the equal split Dad wanted. Considering her brother’s unwavering dedication and countless hours, she readily accepted his proposed terms. Besides, she’d own the house. Had Dad disagreed enough to approach the lawyer? “I don’t follow.”
Jake blew out a sigh. “Mind if I speak frankly?”
“By all means.” She dropped her arms to her sides. She didn’t want the Sunday school teacher misinterpreting any of her physical cues.
“Are you ready to file for divorce?”