“Mom, what are you doing here?” Angie dropped the cake pan onto a cooling rack and blew on her singed fingers. What the hell was Mom up to this time? Why wasn't she running the pasta factory? And why was she dressed for a party?
“Dropping off the keys. My flight leaves in two hours.”
“Jean-Pierre has rented a villa in Nice.”
Angie shut the large commercial oven door. “Who’s running the factory while you’re sunning yourself on the Med?”
“I’ve been running things for the six months since your father died. I came second to Pasta Perfecto once already, and I’m not doing it again. It’s your turn to run the company. You’ll need to be there tomorrow to sign some checks.”
Angie propped her fists on her hips. “My turn—are you crazy? We don’t take turns running an entire company.”
“I don’t see why not. It’s a family business, and you’re family. Anyway, I’ve got to run. Au revoir, my darling and bonne chance.”
Angie watched her mother disappear through the door in a flurry of silk. And thought about the three wedding cakes she had to finish, as well as the desserts on the restaurant menu.
“Who was that?” Jason strode through the door from the dining room.
Angie tucked the ring of keys in her pocket and went into the walk-in cooler for more butter. Cooling off was a good idea. She leaned against a shelf and counted to ten, and then kept going to twenty. Of all the hair-brained stunts her parent had pulled…
She grabbed the block of butter and went back into the kitchen. “That was my mother, saying goodbye. How are the bookings for this evening?”
“Not bad, for a Thursday. Are you almost done?” He glanced at his watch.
“Yes, sorry. I’ve been behind schedule all day.”
“I don’t mind you using this place for your cake thing—”
“And I appreciate it. The good news is I’ll be out of your hair for a couple of days.” She explained the reason for her mother’s visit, and the need for a quick trip up to Maine. Angie made sure the large wall oven was off before crossing to her workstation and pulling off her cap. She relished the brief wash of cool air on her scalp.
Her boss glanced at his watch again, his lips pinched in the annoying pucker that screamed I’m not happy. “You’ll be back when?”
Angie shrugged and dumped her baking pans in the sink. “I’ll be back after service tonight, before midnight anyway, to finish the cakes. Then I’ll be back from Windswept day after tomorrow. Sunday at the latest. I’ll have your desserts done before I go.” She took a deep breath and wondered when she would sleep.
“I don’t have to remind you opening day for Imagine-Two is less than three weeks away.”
“No, you don’t.” She started washing her pans, imagining her boss’ face under the plastic scrubby. What an arrogant bastard. Nothing mattered to him except his restaurant. Which was why he had earned two Michelin stars for Imagine. And had been divorced twice, with the third set of papers still warm from the lawyer’s printer.
She set the pans in the rack to dry and took off her apron. She rubbed the back of her neck, already feeling the tendons bunch and ache. A long car ride wasn’t going to help. “Look, I know this isn’t the best time for me to be gone. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
She headed out to the parking lot reviewing all the things she had to do. She’d throw a few things in a bag, call Billie and beg her to deliver the cakes on Saturday, and head back to the restaurant to finish up. Dammit, she had enough to worry about with trying to get her own cake-baking career off the ground. She didn't have time to do her mother's job too. She had a strong, sick, actually nauseating feeling there would be more than a few checks to sign.
“Let me know for sure when you’ll be back.” Jason stood in the restaurant’s service door, his entire body one giant scowl.
“Gee, you’re all heart, Jason.” She climbed in her car and brushed a few cake crumbs from her sleeve. Traffic was light this time of night, and if she were lucky she’d be in Windswept before dawn. And maybe get a few hours sleep before discovering what emergency at the factory had driven her mother away.
The next afternoon, Angie stood in the silent pasta factory, surrounded by sights and smells from childhood. She still remembered the stomachache she’d gotten from eating too much raw pasta dough. Now all the mixers, rollers and prep tables stood silent.
She pivoted, seeing the place her dad had worked so long and hard to build. Locating an artisan pasta company in a small town where most people either fished or farmed had been a big gamble. One that had paid off while her dad was alive. Because he’d lived and breathed the business. She’d often wondered why he sacrificed his marriage in the bargain.
Angie walked into the small office in the back corner. Nothing had changed since the last time she’d been here. For his funeral. His worn leather chair stood empty, reminding her again of the hole his sudden death had left in her life. She lowered herself to the cool surface, sinking into the dent left by the large man, letting her gaze flick across the messy desk. He’d always been such a stickler for organization. The piles of papers and folders on the disheveled desktop would have driven him crazy.
What had her mother been doing? Nothing?
She stuffed a stack of unopened mail into her purse, turned off the lights and locked the door. She’d make some calls and find out where everyone had run to, and why there wasn’t a backlog of orders, like there should have been. But right now, if she didn’t crawl into a bed soon, she’d fall asleep where she stood.
It was a short drive to her dad’s house. Except now it was Mom’s house. She hoped there was a bottle of wine in the fridge, or maybe some rum. Anything to help shut down her brain.
Angie paused at his roadside mailbox to grab another pile of junk mail. The door opened in the neighboring house and a stunning blonde emerged.
“Hi, who are you?” She descended a few steps and gave Angie the once over.
“Angie Davis. Who are you?” Tired and cranky, she didn’t have time for any of this social shit.
The other woman’s face took on that fake look of sympathy mastered by soap opera stars. “Are you here to help your poor mother? The dear woman works so hard. Your father was a lovely man.”
Angie raised her eyebrows, taking in the sculpted jeans, perfect make-up and bright red nails. Her face heated as an unwelcome thought intruded.
“How well did you know my dad?” Oh god, why did I ask? What if she says--
“Oh, hardly at all. I moved in a couple months before he passed. I’m Jill, by the way. I was out of town when you were last here, for your poor father’s funeral.” She flicked a glance over Angie’s disheveled clothes. Jill looked like she wanted to cry over Angie’s appearance. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
Angie bit back a relieved laugh, and shuffled through the pile of mail. “No, thank you. I’ll be leaving tomorrow, I hope.” She frowned, looking at an envelope addressed to her, in her mother’s handwriting. She tore it open and pulled out two bright pink tickets.
“Ooh, you lucky thing. Two tickets. They’ve been sold out for weeks.” Jill scampered across the small strip of lawn and plucked the bits of embossed card from her fingers. “You’re at table three, close to the front.”
“But I didn’t—” Angie took the tickets back and read more closely. A charity auction. Tomorrow evening.
Cripes, she was so tired her bones ached. She pulled a sheet of notepaper from the envelope, thick and expensive with a watermark showing this writing paper was preferred by the queen. Definitely from her monarchy-loving mother. The note said she was passing on the tickets, it would be good for Angie to get out. Blah blah blah.
“Crap. I didn’t come prepared for this.” She leaned against the stair railing. There was no more room on her ‘to do’ list.
“I bet I have something you can borrow,” Jill offered.
Appropriate clothing was not what Angie had been worried about. Mixing and mingling with the local movers and shakers, all the small business owners, was the last thing she wanted to do. Having to smile for more than a few minutes would require super human strength. Then there was the problem of not having a date. Although, given the items up for sale, she doubted it was a date occasion. Where the heck did they find twelve eligible bachelors in this backwater? At least ones with their own teeth.
Cripes, she needed to get back to Boston.
She was about to refuse the offer of borrowed clothes when she got an idea.
It could be a charitable donation. Maybe save on taxes. Catching a glimpse of Jill’s pedicure peeking out from her sparkly sandals, complete with miniature palm trees on the big toe, she felt sure the other woman would enjoy a party. And have at least one friend who’d love to go to the social event of the year.
“Are you busy tomorrow evening?”
Jill squealed. “Oh, I was hoping you’d ask. I’d love to go. We’ll go for drinks first, I know the perfect place. You can relax and have fun, take your mind off your problems. Come over around five tomorrow, and we’ll get you fixed up.” She spun on her high heel and skipped into her house.
“Wait, I wasn’t…” Angie sighed. This was probably for the best. Her mother had paid for the tickets, a member of the family should make an appearance. Otherwise there would be gossip.
Maybe getting out for an evening would be fun. If nothing else, it would fill time until she could solve the mystery of what was up with the family business.