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“I don’t believe it.”
Eva Endicott stared at the screen of her laptop. She sat on a stool at the large worktable in the back of Baylee’s Bakery. They opened at six o’clock sharp every morning, but she and Baylee were always there by at least five. They’d prepped for the day and had a few precious moments before opening, so Eva had decided to peek at her email.
“What? What can’t you believe?” Baylee stuck her head out from the small office off the side of the large baking area.
Eva didn’t answer. Her eyes kept scanning over and over again the words on the screen.
Congratulations! You’ve been accepted into the Christmas Cake Competition. Details to come, so be sure to check your email daily.
When she didn’t answer, Baylee stepped out of the office and came over to where Eva sat. “Is everything okay?”
Eva tore her eyes away from the screen and looked at her boss. Baylee’s blond curls were pulled back with a hair tie, the tendrils that usually fell on either side of her face controlled by a large cloth headband.
Eva shook her head. “Yes. Yes! I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for things to sound bad. They are actually really, really good.”
Baylee looked at Eva’s laptop screen. “Well, tell me then!”
Eva hesitated. Baylee had been nothing but kind to her since she moved to Silver Bay, giving her a job at the bakery and encouraging her in her dream of baking for a living. But a part of her was hesitant to share the news. What if Baylee saw this as some sort of…betrayal? Eva shook her head. No. That was too strong a word. Baylee would never see it that way.
Baylee’s big green eyes searched Eva’s, waiting patiently for an answer.
“Sorry. Um. Well, I threw my hat in the ring for a big Christmas Cake Competition in San Jose. I just read the email that said I was accepted.” She looked down at the countertop, nervous about how her boss may respond.
“That’s fantastic!” Baylee jumped up and down then threw her arms around her. “I am so happy for you. No one deserves that more than you.”
Eva smiled, mentally chastising herself for being worried. Of course Baylee would respond this way. It went against everything she knew about Baylee for Eva to think otherwise.
“Thank you.” She hugged Baylee back.
“Okay. You don’t seem nearly as excited about this as I would expect. What’s going on?” Baylee pulled up a stool beside Eva.
Eva sighed, her shoulders slumping. “I don’t know. I am excited. I guess I just didn’t let myself entertain the idea that I would even get accepted.”
“You are so incredibly talented, Eva.” Baylee put a hand on Eva’s knee and patted it.
Baylee’s kindness tended to manifest itself physically—a hug, a pat, a quick squeeze of the hand. Her very presence calmed Eva. It was one of the many reasons she loved working at the bakery.
Eva appreciated Baylee’s words. And it wasn’t even about her confidence. She knew she was a good baker, and cakes were her passion. Not only did she get to be creative in the texture and flavor of the cakes, but for her, decorating them was the same as painting a canvas was for an artist. There were endless possibilities of colors and designs.
“I appreciate that, Baylee. You’ve always been so encouraging to me.”
Baylee stood up. “Well, you just let me know how I can be helpful. I think you can win this thing with your eyes closed.”
Eva nodded and turned back to her computer screen as Baylee went back to the office. She wasn’t trying to be cryptic with Baylee or keep any secrets. But her dream was to one day have her own business. Decorate cakes for a living. And she didn’t feel quite right sharing all of that with her boss. As supportive as she knew Baylee would be, it simply wasn’t a dream Eva was willing to share yet. And she felt it prudent to tread carefully—Baylee was her friend and the best person she knew, but she was still Eva’s boss and the idea of anything Eva did down the road as possibly being competition wasn’t something to be talked about just yet.
She rested her chin in her hand and read the email again. Besides, it wasn’t worth having that conversation if the dream never became a reality. Winning the Christmas Cake Competition would add ten thousand dollars to Eva’s savings for her own business, but she was smart enough to know not to count nest eggs before they were anywhere near the basket. The winner would also have his or her cake featured on an episode of one of the most popular baking shows, Best Made Cakes.
“Hello! Anyone here?” Drew’s voice echoed through the bakery.
“We’re back here,” Eva shouted back.
Baylee shuffled around papers she’d been working on, stacking them neatly on the desk. She came out of the office just as Drew stepped into the back room.
“Good morning, lovely ladies.”
Eva laughed and shook her head. Drew MacIntire was a professional baseball pitcher, as handsome and charming as they come, and madly in love with his wife, Baylee, who made her way over to him and welcomed his embrace and kiss as if they’d been apart for years, instead of maybe an hour or two since she’d left home.
“Get a room,” Eva said. She sat up straight and turned to the doorway as a deep voice said the exact same words at the exact same time.
Her eyes locked with the man who had spoken—Tyler Vance. Drew’s friend and personal trainer. He was also the man that had Eva’s tummy flipping every time she saw him, and made her daydreams a bit steamier than she was used to. Sure, she’d dated and been interested in guys before, but something about Tyler made everything in her stand up and pay attention. It was a response she was still trying to wrap her head around, but the more she thought about it, the more frazzled she became.
He took up the entire doorway. At six foot five and made of solid muscle, the man’s presence was hard to ignore.
“Sounds like great minds think alike.” He smiled at Eva, then cocked his head toward Drew and Baylee, who were still making out in the middle of the room.
Eva looked at the couple then back at Tyler. “I’d like to say you get used to it…”
He laughed, the deep sound echoing through the room, as well as Eva’s whole body, sending a shockwave that had her breaking eye contact with him and turning her focus toward her computer once more. She stared at it as if it held the secret to all she needed to calm down in the presence of Tyler. Her floating screen saver wasn’t the lifeline she’d hoped for though. Her heart still pounded and her level of awareness to Tyler’s proximity was off the charts.
“We can hear you, ya know.” Drew said. He’d unlocked his lips from Baylee’s, but his eyes still stared down into hers, the two of them lost in their own form of nonverbal communication.
“You sure about that?” Tyler teased. “We can give you two some time if you need.”
Drew turned to his friend, leaving one arm wrapped around Baylee’s waist. “All right, all right. You can’t blame a man for wanting to see his beautiful wife whenever he can though.”
Eva rolled her eyes. “You mean every hour on the hour?”
Tyler chuckled again. “Before a workout. After a workout. Messaging her in the midst of a workout.” He held up a finger with each thing he verbally checked off.
Smiling, she pursed her lips and looked away when Drew gave her the evil eye.
“Okay, y’all.” Baylee patted Drew’s chest. “As fun as this is, it’s time for us all to get to work. We have a bakery to open and you two have a pitcher’s arm to keep strong.”
Now it was Tyler’s turn to roll his eyes. He looked at Eva. “You’re right. You’d think you’d get used to it, but I’m not so sure that’s possible.”
“You’re just jealous.” Drew gave Baylee one more kiss then moved towards Tyler. “It’s time we find you the love of a good woman.”
At that, Tyler ducked his head and turned to leave. Not before Eva caught a glimpse of what had to be him blushing. It was hard to believe a man that size could blush but based on the heat that rose in her own cheeks, she decided it was time to get going on work and get her mind off a gorgeous man who rattled her, and him finding the love of a good woman.
Tyler tossed a “Good to see you two” over his shoulder as Drew pushed him out the door, then followed behind. Eva hopped off the stool and closed her laptop. She stored it away off to the side of her small desk in the corner and put on her Baylee’s Bakery apron.
“I swear, those two…” Baylee shook her head and smiled. “Drew’s not wrong though. I’d love to see Tyler find someone special.” She gave a quick glance Eva’s way then headed to open the bakery.
If Eva didn’t know better, Baylee’s comment had implications. Ones that were aimed at her.
She took off the band that held her hair up and redid a messy bun, so it was good and tight. She grabbed a headband from her desk and slid it on to keep her hair out of her eyes and off her face. It was just like Baylee’s and matched the yellow of her apron.
Baylee and Drew could think all they wanted of a woman perfect for Tyler, but Eva couldn’t be it. She had dreams and goals to achieve, and the last thing she needed was a distraction in the form of Tyler Vance.
Attracted to the man or not, she didn’t have time to entertain thoughts or feelings toward anything other than making it on her own. Achieving all she set out to achieve when she moved to Silver Bay.
With that, she pushed her shoulders back and headed toward the front of the bakery. There were pastries to bake and customers to serve. And there were Christmas cakes to think about, especially one that would knock the socks off the judges at the competition and get Eva one big step closer to her dream.
As Drew and Tyler jogged through town to get warmed up, Tyler tried to keep his mind on the workout ahead, but Eva’s face kept coming into view.
They’d met a few weeks before, not long before the Harvest Festival, and each time they’d seen one another since, she got flustered and found a way to disappear. Aware of his size, Tyler was no stranger to being the brunt of stares or even whispered comments, although those were usually because of his past and not only because of his size. His mother used to tease that he was like a kind, gentle little mouse that got misplaced in the body of a lion. As a kid, he found that amusing. As an adult, he’d had to learn the power that came with his size, the ability he had to command a room with his presence, and that he could do so for good or for bad. He’d also had to learn that people make assumptions and there was nothing he could do about that. His responsibility was to be himself. Be kind. Be gentle. Be confident. And let others think what they wanted.
Although Eva’s response to him wasn’t unusual, it was…intriguing. She didn’t come across as afraid of him. Not at all. Of course, Chet Endicott was her brother, and he wasn’t a small guy. He was also a twin, so it wasn’t as if Eva hadn’t grown up around big guys.
No, her response to Tyler was something else. If he had to pinpoint it, he’d say it was attraction. He smiled. Well, he was pretty darn attracted to her as well. Who wouldn’t be? She had those big, round blue eyes that reminded him of lazy days floating in the ocean. Her auburn hair could look like fire one minute and honey the next. It wasn’t a shade he’d ever seen before.
When he’d moved to the small town of Silver Bay, it was initially to live a quiet life, something he’d never done before. Dating hadn’t crossed his mind. The past few years he’d been so focused on getting healthy and then training Drew to do the same. He hadn’t had a lot of time to think about a social life, and as Drew’s trainer, he had to keep the same schedule as a professional baseball player, which made it tough.
But now? Maybe he’d take the time to see if he was right, see if he rattled Eva because of attraction or because of something else.
“Okay, you are thinking super hard and based on that smirk on your face, it has to do with a certain redhead who works with my wife.” Drew’s voice cut through Tyler’s thoughts.
He shook his head. With all the time he and Drew had spent together, it was pointless to try and argue with him. It was also not a topic he was ready to get into with his friend yet either. “Just thinking.” He increased his pace. “Come on. Play time is over. You’re warmed up. Time to actually do a workout.”
“Whatever.” Drew laughed, matching Tyler’s pace. “But when you figure out how you feel about her, I’m here to listen.”
He gave Drew’s back a slap and then gave him a small push. “Get going. Think about your own life and stop worrying about mine.”
Drew waved a hand. “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” He ran ahead a few steps from Tyler, then shouted over his shoulder. “He doth protest a bit much though, I believe!”
Tyler laughed but knew just how to get Drew to shut up. With a “last one to Meg’s Diner buys breakfast,” he sprinted past Drew and took off.
“Oh man!” Drew accepted the challenge and sped up.
Tyler found a fast pace and held it. Although he anticipated his focus on speed would get his mind off Eva, he found with every step thinking of her even more.
Maybe Drew was right. Maybe it was time to see if a beautiful redhead was part of his future.
End of Excerpt