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Ezra Grayson sits in his palatial estate and lords over the hamlet of Brooktown. He owns everything. Except her. Adeline Bishop runs Bishop Bakery, one of the last non-Grayson businesses in town. She’s sent the mysterious Mr. Grayson one of her signature Christmas cakes–while also refusing all his offers to buy her bakery–for the past 5 years. This year’s cake delivery brings their feud to a head. Ezra decides to confront Adeline, but he doesn’t expect the curvy baker to be quite so sweet. When naughty meets nice, who will get their just desserts?
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Charles shuffled outside my study door, his steps quiet but the floorboards squeaking minutely.
I sighed and sat back in my chair, my gaze fixed on the mahogany panel separating us. How long would it take for him to knock this year? The wait time seemed to increase each December, and this one—the five-year mark—seemed to be the worst yet.
Snow fell outside my window, blanketing the grounds in a white that sparkled in the fading daylight, and a fire roared in my sitting area. Everything seemed almost idyllic. Beautiful, even. But there was one problem. One person, really, that ruined everything.
I pinched the bridge of my nose and turned toward the fire. That woman simply didn’t understand that I wanted nothing to do with her or her little insults. In fact, I wanted nothing to do with her, ever, beyond the one business deal that she’d denied me for five years running.
Charles cleared his throat.
Here it comes.
A faint knock, the last rap of his knuckles a little louder, as if he’d gained some backbone during the process.
“Come in.” I rose and walked to the wide leather couch in front of the fire as he strode to me, his steps measured.
I sank down and stared at the orange flames. “Again.”
He walked around to stand slightly to the side. “Yes, again.”
I didn’t want to look at it, but then again, I’d given Charles specific instructions to bring it straight to me if it arrived—when it arrived. And here it was. That woman didn’t miss an opportunity to thumb her nose at me. Not surprising, given who her father was. The bastard. It seemed his mean streak carried over to his daughter.
“Well, let’s see it.” I waved Charles over.
He approached, his gray hair shining in the light from the fire, and not a single wrinkle on his black butler attire. Leaning forward slightly, he held out the offending item.
A scowl twisted my mouth as I inspected it. Fine white icing, piped red poinsettia flowers, perfect sweeping garlands of green adorning the sides. A slight crust of pecans—or perhaps walnuts—along the bottom edge. Beautiful. No doubt delicious. She’d outdone herself this year. In the attractive cursive I’d come to abhor, she’d written her usual ‘Merry Christmas’ message across the top and adorned it with iced green holly sprigs.
“She went all out this year.” I stared at the icing, imagining how she must have smirked and laughed as she created it. Hateful creature.
“Yes, sir.” Charles nodded, well aware of the long-running feud between Adeline Bishop and me.
“Have you seen her bakery?” I asked as casually as I could.
He hesitated, his lips thinning.
“Go on, you can tell me.”
“I may have passed it a few days ago on the way to pick up some dry cleaning.” He winced.
“And—” He took a deep, steadying breath. “It’s decorated for the season.”
“Decked out?” I knew it would be. It was every year. I owned all the other shops on her street—each of them neat and respectful. No ludicrous holiday fluff, or colored lights, or ridiculous Santa kitsch tainted their exteriors. Only simple swags that acknowledged the season without being ludicrous about it. In fact, the entire business district would be perfect if it weren’t for the bakery. Truly, if it weren’t for the bakery’s owner.
“Decked out indeed.” He nodded. “She even has neon candy canes in the window this year.”
Was that a hint of a smile at the corner of his lips?
“You approve, do you?” I glared up at him.
He shook his head vehemently. “No, sir. Of course not. It is gaudy and entirely reflective of that woman, so much so that I refuse to pass by it again until the holidays are over.”
Good answer. I settled back into the leather, my thoughts dragged back to her. Just like they were every Christmas. At least she was on time.
“Shall I throw this to the dogs?” He straightened and pulled the offending confection out of my line of sight.
“I wouldn’t. Perhaps she finally got around to poisoning me this year.” I re-trained my gaze on the fire.
“Surely not, sir.”
“You can’t trust a Bishop. Her father taught me that.” I pointed to the side table without looking. “Put it there. I’ll take care of it.”
“I’m more than happy to dispose—”
“Just leave it,” I snapped. God, that woman put me on edge.
“Yes, sir.” Charles gingerly set it down, as if it were a bomb, and left the room with quick steps.
The longer I stared at the perfectly circular cake, the delicate icing, the more I realized that it was a bomb. And it had blown me up for the final time.
I gritted my teeth. Adeline wouldn’t ruin any more of my Decembers with her flippant cake deliveries. It was time to end it. She may have been Brooktown royalty because of her father, but the Bishops’ time was at an end. This was my time.