Authors: Tracy March
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Romance, #enemies to lovers, #entangled publishing, #Series, #doctor, #Contemporary, #suddenly smitten, #bakery, #bliss, #wedding, #small-town, #tracy march, #Holiday, #sweet
“Right, Paige?” Liza asked.
Paige swallowed a delicious bite of potatoes au gratin while everyone waited for her to answer. She grinned. “Could you repeat the question?”
The Queen’s eyes widened as if she couldn’t believe Paige’s social ineptitude, even while Liza and Sylvia chuckled.
Paige’s stomach sank with more than the weight of a perfectly prepared pork chop and cheesy potatoes. She faced the Queen. “I was thinking about the wickedly sinful sauce on the pork chops…wondering if I could place the ingredients. It’s so delectable it had me distracted.”
The Queen seemed to mull over Paige’s excuse. For a second, Paige thought she’d fallen for it. “Did you come to any conclusions? What do you think is in the sauce?”
Tousled curls, prickly whiskers, eager kisses…
The Queen raised her eyebrows as if she was impressed. Paige had no idea why. The mustard taste was obvious.
“And I’m thinking bourbon…,” Paige said, thankful that some random synapse in her brain had managed to fire out a decent guess.
The Queen nodded, and everyone appeared to start chewing again. A collective sigh of relief for Paige practically sent a draft through the cavernous dining room.
“It has a Creole flavor.” Paige couldn’t believe why she hadn’t just stopped while she was ahead, and Liza shot her a look that said as much. Since Liza was seated next to the Queen, there was little risk of her getting caught with her pale green eyes all bugged out. Sylvia shifted her gaze from Paige to the Queen and back. Even Lane looked as if he knew Paige had taken an unadvisable risk.
Paige gulped a swallow of water, since her wineglass was already empty.
After a beat, the Queen beamed. “High marks for you, Paige. That’s one of the specialty sauces we use at our resorts. We call it Creole Mustard Bourbon Sauce, so I’d say your palate is fine-tuned.”
“Just when I thought I’d burned out my taste buds,” Paige joked.
Everyone laughed, even Lane, whose smile disarmed Paige a trillion times more than any interrogation from the Queen ever could. Two super-sexy dimples—confirmed. Paige looked away from him quickly, afraid her gaze might get stuck on him if she didn’t. Just like her mom used to tell Paige when she crossed her eyes, although that had never stopped her.
“So what was the question?” Paige asked Liza.
“I was saying that Cole and I wanted to have a small wedding, and you’d agreed to be my maid of honor—my only bridesmaid.”
Paige nodded. “For sure. I couldn’t let you stand there all alone while you said ‘I do’ to a blissful-ever-after with your All-Star fiancé. Besides, you need someone to catch you if you swoon.” Paige was so happy for Liza, but her heart felt a little hollow, wishing she was looking forward to her own wedding…her own romance. If she could just get out of Maple Creek, she’d meet more single men under the age of sixty—and less uptight than Lane.
Sylvia shook her head, grinning.
“So it’s settled,” Paige said. “You and Cole had that off-the-charts romantic proposal in front of, like, the entire world, so you’re doing a low-key wedding. Can we get on with planning it already?”
“I hear there’s something in the works,” Mayor Warren said.
Paige lowered her eyebrows just as the Queen gave Mayor Warren a sharp look. How would he have heard such a thing if Paige hadn’t? Paige shifted her gaze from Liza to Sylvia and back. “Really?”
But it was the Queen who answered. “The Hawthorne family is honored to host the wedding at Caldera, our resort in St. Lucia.”
Paige’s heart flipped. “For real? We’re going to St. Lucia and staying at Caldera?” She had no idea how she’d ever afford the trip, but she planned to worry about that after her credit card got declined.
Sylvia blotted her mouth with her linen napkin. “Mrs. Hawthorne graciously invited Liza and Cole to get married at Caldera. The resort will be exclusively ours, and totally off-limits to the paparazzi.”
“That’s awesome,” Lane said. “I’ve seen the ads for Caldera. It’s clearly paradise.”
“Our little piece of it,” the Queen said proudly.
“We think the setting will be perfect.” Liza positively glowed. “Especially with winter being so dreary here.” She flashed Paige a worried look. “Sorry I didn’t tell you before now. I wanted to surprise you.”
“I’m totally cool with it,” Paige said.
My bank account, on the other hand…
“When are we talking about?” She might have time to save some money, but less would be coming in now that Lane had hijacked some of Sweet Bee’s business. There wouldn’t be much money left beyond what was needed to keep the place running.
“Cole wanted to tie the knot long before spring training.” Liza absently twisted her engagement ring around and around on her finger and it glistened in the light from the chandelier.
Paige tucked her hands up under the table, suddenly self-conscious about her ringless ring finger.
“And he wants to have some time for honeymooning.” Liza blushed.
Paige instinctively glanced at Lane. Her gaze locked with his, and her blood warmed to a record tropical temperature, heating her face. She looked away quickly. Jeez, she and Liza were just a couple of blushing idiots.
“But spring training starts next month,” Paige said.
“The wedding is a week from tomorrow,” the Queen said, as if she’d lost patience waiting for Liza to answer Paige’s question.
“A week from tomorrow?” Paige practically yelped. Airfare would be astronomical this close to travel time. And that was kind of short notice to ask Cyn to pick up the slack at Sweet Bee’s full-time. She started to panic, then took a deep breath.
“We’ll work it out,” Sylvia said, as if she’d read Paige’s mind. At least her thoughts about airfare and Sweet Bee’s staffing. Paige smiled at her gratefully. Sylvia was the closest thing she had to a mom now, and she accepted Paige with all of her quirks. Always had.
“Has Cole picked a best man?” Paige asked hopefully.
A catcher, a pitcher, a shortstop?
Liza shook her head. “Not yet.”
“We have relationships with the airlines and St. Lucian transportation companies,” Mrs. Hawthorne said with authority, “so we’ll be handling all the travel arrangements. Everything, including accommodations, will be complimentary, of course.”
Paige’s heart skipped a beat. Her gaze darted to Liza and Sylvia, searching for similar surprise yet finding none. “Holy crap!”
Mrs. Hawthorne scowled at Paige’s choice of words, but everyone else smiled. “I’ve even worked it out so Cynthia can cover for you at the bakery.”
Paige gave the Queen a sidelong glance and grinned. “Is this for real?”
“It is,” Sylvia said, which told Paige that everything had been settled between the Sutherlands and Mrs. Hawthorne. Sylvia turned to Lane, who sat next to her. “Have you ever been to St. Lucia?”
He shook his head and gave her a crooked, knowing grin that literally made Paige shiver. Or maybe it was just the drafty dining room. “There’ve been a few things limiting my travel time—med school, residency, minor stuff like that. Traveling pops up now and then in my wildest dreams.”
Paige bit her bottom lip, imagining some of his wildest dreams and wondering if she could make them come true. On second thought, the wildest dreams of a guy as uptight as him probably included pruning bonsai trees and drinking ginger ale. She actually felt a little sorry for him, knowing he’d be hanging out in wintry old Maple Creek while she was living it up in St. Lucia. But then she remembered how unreasonable he’d been and she got over her pity pretty quickly.
Reap what you sow, buddy.
She’d heard that cliché from her parents nearly every day when she was growing up—except they never called her buddy.
“Then you deserve a vacation.” Sylvia clutched his hand and, as ridiculous as it was, a pang of envy shot through Paige. “You have a valid passport, right?”
“Sure,” Lane said. “I keep it updated for my work with Doctors Without Borders.”
“Then I insist that you come to St. Lucia with us,” Sylvia said. “Your mom and dad are attending. Unfortunately, Carrie couldn’t get the time off or we’d have your whole family there. Besides, Liza would like you to play your guitar for the wedding.”
Paige nearly had to cover her ears against the shrieking in her head. She shot Liza an imploring look, begging her best friend to save her, but Liza’s attention was focused on Lane.
Judging by his shocked expression, Paige had no doubt he was blindsided by Sylvia’s invitation. “That’s an incredibly generous offer, and I’m flattered you and Cole want me to play, Liza, but—”
“Cole couldn’t believe we had a family friend who played classical guitar,” she said. “It’ll be perfect, especially considering the setting.”
Of course Dr. Straitlaced would play classical music.
“But I’ve just gotten here,” Lane said. “I promised my uncle I’d take care of his patients while he’s in Europe.”
“And you will,” the Queen said. “But you’ll also take the time to go to St. Lucia. You could say it’s just what the doctor ordered.” She smiled at her own quip. “Two of them, actually. Your uncle, Sylvia, and I have arranged for Dr. Young to come in from Baltimore while you’re away. He’s a dear old friend of the family, and he and his wife will stay with me here at Hawthorne Manor.”
“You’re not going, Mrs. Hawthorne?” Lane asked.
She shook her head. “I don’t travel as much as I used to. My grandson Trent runs the company now, and he’ll be at Caldera to make sure everything goes smoothly.”
Lane furrowed his brow, apparently considering his options. Another cliché from Paige’s childhood echoed in her mind.
Just say no. Just say no!
Her thoughts were shrieking again, and she struggled to keep her voice from doing the same. She had no hope if Lane had been clued in to the advice that a wise person never says no to the Queen.
“You’ve spoken to Uncle Pete about this?” Lane asked Sylvia.
She nodded and gave him her compassionate mother look. “He agrees that you deserve a break.” After a pause, she and Lane shared a glance that Paige couldn’t read, but she knew well enough that there was some sort of understanding between them.
Everyone sat in silence as Lane stared at the bare pork chop bone on his plate. Paige studied the sad expression on his face. Despite herself, her heart went out to him. He’d shown up here in Maple Creek to help his uncle, but maybe there was more to the story. Sylvia sure made her think so. Something was going on with Lane, and maybe that’s what was making him so tense. The guy might need a vacation…
But she still didn’t want him to ruin hers.
“So you’ll come?” Sylvia asked, and Liza looked on hopefully.
Lane nodded slowly, and Paige’s heart hammered with each bob of his head. He shrugged his shoulders and smiled. “How could I refuse?”
Lane excused himself from the table, went to the bathroom, and splashed cold water on his face. He couldn’t believe he’d just agreed to go to St. Lucia. Sure, he could use a vacation, but…
He’d been advised not to say no to Fairleigh Hawthorne, and he couldn’t turn down Liza’s flattering request to play at her wedding. Besides, he was eager to make new friends and figure out where his life was headed now. What better people to start with than the Sutherlands? Not only that, he was a huge baseball fan—go Rangers!—so it would be pretty sweet to hang out with Cole Collins. The trip could be a bright spot in an otherwise bleak existence for him right now…except his parents would be there. As close as they were, as much as they’d supported him, what had happened in Austin had caused some tension between them.
Then there was Paige. Every time he looked at her, he had a visceral reaction, mostly involving heart palpitations and skyrocketing testosterone levels. He was hot for her—he didn’t need lab work to confirm that diagnosis. But there were plenty of problems with that. She had no idea why he couldn’t help her with her Special Recipe program, and he wasn’t about to tell her. The less she knew about his past, the better. He couldn’t risk her telling everyone in Maple Creek about the prescription drug scandal and compromising his credibility. Like some of his former friends in Austin, she might not even believe his story.
Guilt nagged at him—he didn’t want to hurt her business—but he had to look out for himself right now. He couldn’t let the influence of a woman compromise his career again; Stephanie had taught him that lesson by fire. He couldn’t believe he was even
about Paige, considering how he’d gotten burned.
So the trip to St. Lucia could get a little complicated. Paige was going, too.
He dried his face and hands and headed back into the dining room where two incredible-looking pies were set atop a cart next to the table. He stopped short, gazing at them—an orange ice cream pie with what looked like Oreo crust and an Orioles logo in the middle, and an extra-tall pie topped with whipped cream, blueberries, and raspberries in the shape of a star, and a Washington Nationals logo.
“Wow,” he said during a lull in the conversation. “That’s what I call dessert.”
Paige narrowed her eyes sharply at him and looked away. She obviously wasn’t thrilled he was going to St. Lucia—or that he was in the same room with her—but that made two of them.
“These are replicas of the team pies Paige helped Liza and Cole make before the World Series,” Mrs. Hawthorne said proudly, as if she’d had a part in it. “Featured in the
.” Everyone gazed proudly at Paige, and then expectantly at Lane. Paige smiled tightly, but she still wasn’t really looking at him.
Time seemed to pause. Then, in a suspended moment, things started to make sense. He and Paige were in the middle of a fancy matchmaking scheme. He was single. And he’d bet Paige was single, too. Including him in the St. Lucia wedding trip was a way to practically guarantee that they would spend some time together—in paradise. Sylvia and Mrs. Hawthorne had arranged it so he couldn’t say no. Liza seemed pleased about the idea, too, and so did Mayor Warren.
But what about Paige? She seemed less than enthusiastic, and that was being generous. For a second he hoped she was a willing party, but then he realized if she were in on it, what she’d said to him at the bakery didn’t make sense. She’d thought he was married—even said so. And by the time she’d learned he wasn’t, he’d pissed her off pretty good. No way she would’ve agreed to Sylvia and Mrs. Hawthorne’s plan. Besides, she’d looked just as shocked as he was when Sylvia had invited him to St. Lucia, all wide-eyed with her glossy lips puckered. If she hadn’t been blindsided, then she was one hell of an actress, and she seemed a little too free-spirited to worry about pretending.
“They look really amazing,” Lane said sincerely, and everyone—except Paige—appeared hopeful that his opinion of the pies would translate into his opinion of her. He took his seat.
“Wait until you taste them,” Sylvia said.
“Paige keeps us all stocked up on magically delicious goodies,” Mayor Warren said.
Lane couldn’t help but think of him now, and likely forever, as the Lucky Charms leprechaun. He had to admit, there was some resemblance, if only in the mayor’s stature and in the twinkling of his eyes—especially when he talked about Paige. But Lane had had enough of the Paige fan club
the magic talk. Funny how the mayor hadn’t mentioned magic during his checkup, but he was perfectly comfortable talking about it here. “Sorry about the World Series,” he said to Sylvia and Liza, relieved to change the subject.
The two women shared knowing looks. “It was a happy day anyway,” Liza said.
“We lost the Series,” Sylvia said, “but we’re pretty pleased with the son-in-law we won.” She squeezed Liza’s hand just as she had Lane’s a little earlier. “We’ll have another chance at the Series next year.”
“I hope so,” Lane said. It was easy to root for the Sutherlands, even though he suspected they were scheming to match him up with Paige. They seemed to have good intentions, and they probably had no idea that he and Paige had reached a critical impasse practically the moment they met. What he didn’t understand was why Sylvia and Liza would even attempt to set him up with Paige. They knew him and his parents pretty well. Paige wasn’t at all the type of girl they’d approve of, and never the type of girl Lane had gone for. Stephanie had been more Junior League—polite, polished, and predictable, until the scandal. Paige was none of those. Okay, maybe polite…sometimes. But almost everything she said and did was impulsive, unexpected, or irreverent. Sylvia and Liza might do their best to set him up with Paige, but they would never make a match.
“Speaking of the Orioles, let’s have some pie.” Mrs. Hawthorne gestured to the server, a middle-aged woman with a pleasant face and short, dark hair.
“One moment, Mrs. Hawthorne,” the server said timidly.
A collective eyebrow-raising took place around the table, particularly from Mrs. Hawthorne, who was obviously not used to being put off. Henry stepped in from the hallway with an envelope in his hand. Paige looked at him imploringly and shook her head with a tight, jerky motion, but Henry’s steady gaze was locked on Mrs. Hawthorne. He seemed intent on silently assuring her that the server hadn’t been out of line by delaying her request to begin dessert.
“This arrived with the pies and your lemon poppy seed loaves.” Henry handed her the envelope. “Miss Ellerbee said it was important, and that you might want to discuss it while she’s here this evening.”
Mrs. Hawthorne took the envelope from him and looked at it curiously.
Paige had gone a little pale. “That was before I…” She glanced nervously at Lane. “I didn’t realize there would be so many of us here.” She smiled tightly. “Let’s eat pie and worry about that later, Mrs. Hawthorne. We can discuss it privately.”
Mrs. Hawthorne frowned, the lines in her face deepening. “Of course not. If it’s something important to you, then it’s certainly important to all of us.” With a steady hand, she stuck the end of her dessert fork under the flap of the envelope and ripped it open, a Miss Manners “don’t” that surprised Lane.
Paige nervously smoothed her fingers along the draped neckline of her blouse, totally distracting him from wondering what was in the envelope. Instead he imagined his own fingers skimming the smooth, shimmery fabric, the hint of her enticing curves beneath. She stopped square in the middle and absently rolled one of the creases between her fingertips. Lane clenched his jaw and tore his gaze away before anyone caught him looking.
Mrs. Hawthorne had pulled a sheet of paper and a from the envelope. She took a pair of half-moon reading glasses from the pocket of her jacket, slipped them on, and peered down her nose. “‘Dear Mrs. Hawthorne,’” she read. “‘Since you are a valued Sweet Bee’s customer’”—she glanced up over her glasses and smiled appreciatively at Paige—“‘and one of Dr. Hartley’s “Special Recipe” patients, I wanted to let you know that the program will continue in his absence, yet I will not be provided updated information regarding your needs while that uptight jerk Dr. Anderson is substituting. I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. We’ll get back to business as usual once Dr. Hartley returns from Europe. Thank you so much for your patience and for supporting Sweet Bee’s.’”
Lane’s stomach clenched.
What the hell?
He glared at Paige. She briefly looked him in the eyes for once and winced.
Mrs. Hawthorne slowly took off her glasses and leveled her sharp gaze on Lane. “Did you have something to do with this?”
If the whole St. Lucia thing was a matchmaking scheme to get Paige and
that uptight jerk
together, there was no way she was in on it.