Book 3 The Bakery Sisters Series
"They're calling you a ruthless bastard," Diane said as she scanned the article in the business magazine. "You must be happy.
Matthew Fenner looked at his secretary, but didn't speak. Eventually she glanced up and smiled.
"You like being called a ruthless bastard," she reminded him.
"I like respect," he corrected.
He nodded. "Fear works."
Diana dropped the open magazine on his desk. "Why is it so important for you to be the bad guy?" she asked. "Don't you ever want someone to think you're nice?"
Being the nice guy meant getting screwed. He'd learned that a long time ago. He picked up one of the messages by his phone. Ironically, the woman who had taught him every aspect of that lesson had just called.
His secretary sighed. "I worry about you."
"You're wasting your time."
"Don't panic. I only do it on my off hours."
He scowled at his fifty-something assistant, but she ignored him. While he would never admit it, the fact that he didn't intimidate her was one of the reasons she'd lasted so long. While he had a reputation for being the kind of business man who left his competition bleeding on the side of the road, he didn't enjoy watching his staff cower. At least not all the time.
"Did you have anything else?" he asked, then looked pointedly at the door.
She rose. "Jesse called again. That makes three calls in three days. Are you calling her back?"
"Does it matter?"
"Yes. If you're going to continue to ignore her, I'd like to just tell her and put her out of her misery." Diane frowned. "You're usually more clear with your BGFs. They rarely phone after you dump them."
"I've asked you not to call them that."
Diane blinked innocently. "Have you? I'm sorry. I keep forgetting."
She was lying, but he didn't call her on it. Referring to the women he dated as BGFs—short for bimbo girlfriends—was her way of showing disapproval. She complained his women were interchangeable—like fashion dolls. All physically similar, unnaturally beautiful and lacking in heart and brains. She wasn't wrong.
What Diane couldn't bring herself to believe was that he dated them on purpose. He wasn't looking for more.
"She's someone I used to know," he said, then wished he hadn't. Diane didn't need the information. That part of his life had ended a long time ago.
"Really? Does she actually have a personality, or—" She waved her hands in front of her face as if to keep from fainting. "A brain?"
"You can leave now."
"Why is she back in Seattle? Is she nice? Would I like her? Do you like her?"
He pointed at the door.
Diane walked across his office. "So you're saying the next time she calls to put her through, right?"
He ignored her and she left.
Matt rose, then crossed to the window. His office was at the top of a downtown high-rise with an impressive view. His business life defined every aspect of success. He'd made it. He had everything he wanted and more—money, power, respect and no one to answer to.
Slowly, deliberately, he crumpled the note with the message from Jesse and tossed it into the trash.
Despite the promises of several famous poets and a couple of tear- jerker country songs, Jesse Keyes discovered it was possible to go home again, which was just her bad luck. Not that she could blame anyone for her current circumstances—she'd decided to return to Seattle all on her own. Well, okay, maybe she'd had a little help from the cute guy in her life.
She glanced in the rear view mirror and smiled at her four year-old son.
"Guess what?" she asked.
His dark eyes brightened as he grinned at her. "Are we there yet?"
Gabe clapped his hands. "I like here."
They were in town for the summer or however long it took to get her past in order and her future set. Give or take a week.
Jesse put the car in park, then got out and opened the rear passenger seat. She unbuckled Gabe from his car seat and helped him out of the car. He stood next to her and stared at the four story building.
"We're staying here?" he asked, his voice low with awe. "Really?"
The extended stay hotel was modest at best—a local place. Jesse didn't have the money for one of those fancy national chains. But the room came with a kitchen and the online reviews had said it was clean, which is what mattered to her. Once she had an idea of how long they were staying, she would look into renting a furnished apartment in the University district. It was summer, which meant empty rooms while the students were away and cheap rent.
But to Gabe, who'd never been in a hotel in his life, their temporary shelter was exciting and new.
"Really," she said, taking his hand. "Want me to get a room on the top floor?"
His eyes widened. "Can we?" he breathed.
It would mean more stairs for her, but she would feel safer up top. "That's what I asked for."
His new favorite word. He'd picked it up at daycare. About the four hundredth time in a day she heard it, it started to get on her nerves, but when that happened she reminded herself that cool was a whole lot better than some other words he could have learned.
Thirty minutes later they were testing the bounce in the two double beds as Gabe tried to decide which one he wanted. He picked the one by the window, which was fine with her. She unpacked the single suitcase she'd carried up the three flights of stairs. She really had to think about starting to work out again. Her heart was still racing from the climb.
"We're going out for dinner," she said. "How about spaghetti?"
Gabe flung himself at her, wrapping both his arms around her thighs and squeezing as hard as he could. She stroked his soft, brown hair.
"Thank you, Mommy," he whispered.
Because eating his favorite food ever out in a restaurant was a rare treat.
Jesse wondered if she should feel guilty for not cooking, then decided she would beat herself up later. Right now she was tired. It had been a five hour drive from Spokane, and she'd worked well past midnight the previous evening, wanting to earn every last tip she could. Money was going to be tight while she was in Seattle.
"You're welcome." She dropped to her knees so she was at eye level with him. "I think you'll really like this place. It's called the Old Spaghetti Factory." A perfect, kid-friendly restaurant. No one would care if Gabe made a mess and she could have a glass of wine and pretend that everything was all right.
"Do I meet my daddy tomorrow?"
Jesse's heart raced again and this time it had nothing to do with taking the stairs. "Probably not tomorrow, but soon."
Gabe bit his lower lip. "I love my daddy."
"I know you do."
Or at least the idea of having a father. Her son was the reason she'd decided to face all the ghosts in her past and come home. He'd started asking questions about his father a year ago. Why didn't he have a daddy? Where was his daddy? Why didn't his daddy want to be with him?
Jesse had debated lying, simply saying that Matt was dead. But five years ago, when she'd left Seattle, she'd vowed to live her life differently. No more lies. No more screwing up. She'd worked hard to grow up, to make a life she was proud of, to raise a son on her own, to be honest, no matter what.
Which meant telling Gabe the truth. That Matt didn't know about him, but maybe it was time to change that.
She didn't allow herself to think about meeting Matt. She couldn't. Not and keep breathing. So for now, there was only her son smiling at her and the love she felt for him. The rest would take care of itself. At least she hoped it would.
Because it wasn't just Matt she had to face. There was Claire, the older sister she'd never really known, and Nicole, the older sister who probably still hated her guts. Talk about a homecoming.
But she would deal with that tomorrow. Tonight there was the promise of spaghetti, then a rousing evening of cartoons and quality time with best part of her life.
"Are you ready?" she asked as she grabbed her purse, then held out her arms to pick up Gabe.
He jumped into her embrace—loving and trusting—as if she would never hurt him, never let him down. Because she never would— no matter what. At least she'd gotten that part right.
Jesse checked the address on the piece of paper, then glanced at the portable nav system Bill had let her borrow. They matched.
"Someone's been moving on up," she murmured, taking in the long driveway that led to a house on the lake in the very upscale part of Kirkland.
There was security gate for the property, but it was open. She was grateful she didn't have to explain her presence to whatever staff might be at the house. Not that she could imagine Matt with staff. They would get on his nerves. At least they would have, five years ago. No doubt he'd changed. The man she remembered would never have lived in a massive, sprawling estate with bronze sculpture on the lawn.
She raised her eyebrows at the confusing piece of modern art, then drove past it. She parked near the wide, double doors, behind a BMW convertible. As she climbed out she tried not to think about how shabby her ten year-old Subaru looked in comparison. Still, her car was dependable and the all-wheel drive meant the Spokane snow wasn't a problem.
She patted the dashboard in a silent apology for noticing how pretty the BMW looked, gleaming in the sunlight, then grabbed her purse and climbed out. Before heading up the stairs to the front door of the huge house, she checked to make sure her most recent pictures of Gabe were in the front pocket of her purse. She had a feeling that seeing Matt was going to make her nervous. She didn't want to have to search for the photos.
The front door seemed to soar to the sky. She would guess it was maybe fifteen or twenty feet high and solid wood. Visigoths would have trouble breaking into this house. She swallowed against the sudden tightness in her body, reminded herself to keep breathing no matter what, then pressed the bell.
Somewhere deep in the house, a chime sounded. Jesse waited, knowing it could take a while for someone to walk the length of the house. She counted to ten, then twenty. Was she supposed to ring the bell again? It was nine-thirty on a Saturday morning. She'd hoped Matt would be home. Of course there were a thousand places he could be. The gym, the office, maybe at a friend's house. Make that a girl friend. She doubted he was at the grocery store because he was—
The front door opened. Jesse braced herself to see Matt again, only to find herself staring at a tall, slender redhead wearing a very short, sexy nightie and apparently nothing else.
The woman was in her early twenties and beyond beautiful. Her eyes were large, dark green and framed with incredible lashes. Her skin was the color of cream, her breasts pointed at the ceiling and her wide mouth formed a perfect pout.
"Ma-att," she whined, drawing his name out to two syllables. "I hate this. It's one thing for you to keep telling me we're not exclusive. I accept that. I hate it, but I accept it. But to have one of them show up here on my date? That's just wrong. I hate it when you're mean."
Jesse hadn't thought the moment through. If she had, she would have realized that a woman answering the door was entirely possible. It had been five years—of course Matt would have moved on. Probably several times.
"I'm not a date," she said quickly, wishing she'd taken more time with her appearance that morning. All she'd done was shower, slap on moisturizer and mascara, then let her long, straight hair air dry. She'd been more focused on getting Gabe ready.
The redhead frowned. "Ma-att, come on! Who is she?"
The door opened wider and Jesse instinctively took a step back. Not that a couple of feet of distance was going to lessen the impact of seeing Matt.
He was as tall as she remembered, but he'd filled out. An open short-sleeved shirt hung over worn jeans. She could see his muscled chest and the dark hair there.
Her gaze rose to his face, to the eyes that were so like his son's. Recognition tugged in her belly, making her realize that despite the time apart, she still missed him. Probably because with Gabe around she could never forget him.
Matt had always had potential—in the past five years, he'd grown into it. He exuded power and confidence. He was the kind of man who made women wonder who he was and how they could be with him.
He spoke her name calmly, as if he wasn't surprised to see her, as if they'd just run into each other last week.
The redhead put her hands on her hips. "Hey! This isn't right. Go away. Shoo."
Shoo? Jesse held in a smile. Was that the best the other woman could do?
"Wait for me in the kitchen, Electra," Matt said, never taking his gaze from Jesse. "This won't take long."
"I'm not leaving. Who is she? This is my time, Matt. You promised."
Electra? Her name was Electra? Did she have a golden lasso and a flying horse?
"Wait for me in the kitchen," he repeated, his tone stern.
The redhead stomped off. Matt waited until she'd disappeared before stepping back.
"Come in," he said.
Jesse walked into the house.
She had a brief impression of space, lots of wood and incredible views of the lake and the skyline of Seattle in the distance. Then she turned to Matt and drew in a breath.
"Sorry to drop by without any notice. I have been trying to call."
His gaze was as dark as she remembered, but much more unreadable. She had no idea what he was thinking. Was he upset? Annoyed? Or was she just someone he used to know, someone who was keeping him from his morning coffee?
Seeing him was unsettling—an odd combination of familiar and strange. The last time they'd been in the same room, he'd been so angry, so hurt. He'd lashed out to destroy her and he'd succeeded.
"You didn't get my messages?" she asked, sure he had.
"What do you want, Jesse? You went to a lot of trouble to track me down. It's been a long time. Why now?"
So much for idle chit chat, she thought, suddenly feeling awkward and nervous. Couldn't they have started with something easier, like "How are you?"
There were a thousand things she could say, a thousand excuses or explanations. None of them seemed to matter.
She opened her purse, pulled out the pictures, then handed them to him.
"Five years ago I told you I was pregnant and that you were the father. You didn't believe me, even when I said a DNA test would prove the truth. He's four now and he keeps asking about you. He wants to get to know you. I'm hoping enough time has passed that you want that, too."
She wanted to keep talking, explaining, defending herself. Instead she forced herself to press her lips together and stay silent.
Matt took the photos and flipped through them. At first he didn't register much more than a small boy. A boy who was laughing and smiling at the camera. Her words had meant nothing to him. A child? He knew she'd been pregnant. His child? Not possible. He'd refused to believe it then and he still didn't believe it. She was back because he was successful and she wanted a piece of the pie. Nothing more.
He went through the pictures a second time, then a third, noticing things like the way the kid looked almost familiar. There was something about his eyes that...
He saw them, then. The similarities. The curve of the chin reflected back at him every morning as he shaved. The shape of the eyes. He recognized parts of himself, hints of his mother.
"What is this?" he growled.
His child? His child?
"His name is Gabe," Jesse said softly. "Gabriel. He's four and a really great kid. He's smart and funny and he has a lot of friends. He's good at math, which he probably gets from you."
Matt couldn't focus on her words. They washed over him like rain, making no sense, then moving on. Anger flared, then grew into fury. She'd had his baby and never bothered to say anything?
"You should have told me," he said, his voice thick and cold with rage.
"I did. You refused to believe me, remember? Your exact words were that you didn't care if I was pregnant with your child. You didn't want a kid with me." She squared her shoulders. "He wants to get to know you, Matt. He wants to get to know his father. That's why I'm here. Because it's important to him."
But it wasn't important to her. She didn't have to say that—he already knew it was true.
He thrust the photos back at her, but she shook her head. "Keep them. I know this is a lot to take in. We need to talk and you need to meet Gabe. Assuming you want to."
He nodded because he was too enraged to speak.
"My cell number is on the back of that first picture. Call me when you're ready and we'll set something up." She hesitated. "I'm sorry about all of this. I wanted to talk to you before coming by, but you weren't available. I wasn't trying to keep him from you. It's just, you made it so clear how much you didn't care."
Then she was gone. He watched her go.
Something inside of him yelled that he needed to go after her, but he didn't bother. She might run, but she couldn't hide. Not from him. Not now.
He closed the front door and started for his office. Electra glided into the hallway.
"Who was that? What did she want? You' re not seeing her, are you, Matt? She didn't look like your type."
He ignored her and walked into his study. After shutting the door, he crossed to his desk where he sat down. He spread the pictures out and studied them one by one.
Electra pounded on the door, but didn't open it. He heard something about her threatening to leave. He didn't bother to respond.
He had a son. He'd had one for over four years and he'd never known. Technically Jesse had tried to tell him the kid was his before she'd left Seattle, but she'd known he wouldn't believe her. Not after what had happened. She'd done this on purpose.
He reached for his phone and dialed a number from memory. "Heath, it's Matt. Do you have a minute?"
"Of course. We're heading out on the boat, but I have time. What's up?"
"I have a problem."
He quickly explained than an old girlfriend had shown up unexpectedly with a four year she claimed was his.
"The first thing we'll need to do is establish paternity," his lawyer told him. "What are the odds you'll come back as the father?"
"He's mine." Matt still couldn't believe it. He stared at the pictures and hated Jesse more by the minute. How could she have kept this from him?
"So what do you want to do?" Heath asked.
"Hurt her in every way possible."
The Bakery Sisters, Book No. 3
September 2008/December 2018 reissue
Jesse Keyes has done some serious growing up. With a steady job and a vibrant four-year-old son, she's in a far better place than when she left Seattle five years ago…pregnant and misunderstood by almost everyone in her life.
Now it’s time to go home and face her demons. But her sisters, Claire and Nicole, aren’t exactly impressed with the new and improved Jesse. And then there’s Matt, Gabe’s father, who makes it clear that he never wants to see her again despite the lust that still smolders between them.
Jesse doesn’t know if she can make up for all the mistakes of her past. But the promise of sweet nights with Matt might just give her the extra incentive she needs to make it worth the trouble…
COPYRIGHT © 2018 BY SUSAN MALLERY. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. WEBSITE DESIGN & MAINTENANCE BY WEB CRAFTERS.
SUSAN MALLERY IS A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF CONTEMPORARY WOMEN'S FICTION AND ROMANCE NOVELS.