Right, so I’m going to torture you guys…. Recently I posted about revising Breaking Bread based on feedback from you dear readers and from my beta team. Many of you thought the romance part of the story needed a little something more. This probably won’t be Chapter One –I need to really write a good opening hook– but it will be the first time you see Maya and Brad interact. Hopefully, this time, its clear that Maya is attracted to Brad, helping the romance develop a bit more naturally. Let me know what you think.
Stifling a yawn, I flipped the lock on the front door and turned off the “Open” sign. Twelve hours is a long time to be on your feet. Owning a restaurant –while a labor of love– is not for the faint of heart. I came in before 5:00 most days to bake so that the bread would be ready when we opened every morning at 6:00 AM. My cafe, Le Boulangerie, had been open a little over a year and although things were going well, I still felt like it was too soon for me to sit back and take it easy. Besides, I had plans. I wanted to buy the building where I was leasing the space for the cafe.
As I made my way to the back of the shop, I turned off lights and double checked that the equipment was powered down. The dough for tomorrow’s loaves was prepped and ready to go into the ovens first thing in the morning. I grabbed my purse, set the alarm and exited through the side door which led to the rear courtyard where I had additional seating. The tables, with their chairs tucked tightly beneath them, were empty. Except for one. A tall, handsome man was lounging in the chair nearest to the door with his feet propped up on another. My startled gasp alerted him to my presence. As he looked up and smiled, my heart did a little flip in my chest. Damn.
“Brad Logan, you scared the crap out of me,” I scolded my landlord and childhood friend.
“What are you doing here?”
“Maya,” he said, getting to his feet. “Do you have a minute?”
“I guess so.”
He picked up a folder from the table.
“What is it now?” I asked, exasperated. He was constantly making improvements to the building, which was increasing its value and putting it further and further out of my price range.
“I want to see what you think of the ideas I have for the basement.” He opened the folder and took out the sheets of paper it contained. “Adam did some drawings.” Adam Quinn was a local architect who did amazing design work. He was also a friend.
I frowned and crossed my arms. He said, “Come on, Maya. Just take a look?”
I sighed heavily. “All right.” I trudged over to stand beside him. “What’s Adam’s bright idea, this time?”
Brad grinned. “Check this out,” he said, spreading the drawings out on the table.
The designs confused me at first. “What am I looking at?” I asked.
“Ovens,” he said, obviously pleased with himself. “You’ll be able to expand your seating area by half if we move the ovens to the basement.”
I gaped at him. “Are you kidding me? Now you’re messing with my business, not just the building. Forget it, Brad.”
He looked like a puppy who’d just been kicked. I rolled my eyes. “Look, I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but we’ve had this conversation a hundred times. I will not accept your charity. End of discussion.” I turned on my heel and marched out of the patio area, past the high brick wall that separated it from the alley.
“It’s not charity, if you let me be an investor,” he said, hurrying after me. “When the business grows, you could pay me back with a little interest.”
“Why can’t you just drop it? Huh?” I said, spinning around to face him.
He rested his hands on my shoulders and held me in place. “Because I care about you, Maya. We’ve been friends forever. I hate to watch you struggle when I could make things so much better for you.”
I looked up into his warm brown eyes, full of sincerity and hope. It would be so easy to acquiesce. Brad and his sister Olivia –my best friend– had just inherited a fortune. Neither of them had a clue how to spend it and as a result, they had both offered to help me with my fledgling business. Olivia, at least, had understood when I refused, but Brad was proving to be more difficult. I sighed. He just wouldn’t acknowledge the other issues at play.
I took his hands from my shoulders and held them between mine. “Sweetie, I explained this already. I have to do this on my own. I’ll never live it down if my family finds out you helped me. They still think I’m going to fail. They’ll say you’re propping the business up and I wouldn’t be able to do it without you.” I squeezed his fingers. “Come on, you said you understood.”
He looked at his feet and pulled his hands free to run them through his hair. “They don’t have to know.”
I smirked. “They already suspect.” I crossed my arms in front of me. “Ever since you bought the building out from under me.”
He reddened. “I just didn’t want you to lose it, Maya. What if another buyer grabbed it before your offer was accepted?”
“Seems to me that’s exactly what happened,” I snapped, then immediately regretted it. I said, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I know you meant well.” I scrubbed my hands over my face. “But it sure has made things complicated.”
He reached out and tucked a stray lock of hair behind my ear. “It doesn’t have to be.”
I looked at him through my lashes. God, when had he gotten so cute?
I sighed and took his hands again. “You’re a sweetheart, Brad. But we are done talking about this.” I gave his hands a squeeze and let them drop. “I have to go. I’ll talk to you soon, ok?”
“Yeah, sure,” he said, swallowing hard.
I left him standing in the alley as I walked down to the street behind my building. He was still watching me when I turned the corner toward my Jeep.
My apartment was stifling. September hadn’t brought any respite from the summer’s heat. I fired up the air conditioner in the living room window and stood in front of it while the air cooled. I rested my arms on top of my head and closed my eyes. I was exhausted. Sometimes I felt sorry for myself on a Friday night when I had nothing to do, but not tonight. I would take a bath, put on my pjs and crawl into bed early. The breeze soothed and I found myself daydreaming, so when my doorbell rang, I nearly jumped out of my skin.
Not expecting anybody, I cracked open the door to peek out into the hallway of the stately old home that housed my apartment. Long, lean and movie star handsome, his thick, black hair pulled into a tail, Juan Paolo Serrano leaned casually against my doorjamb. JP was my hairstylist and one of my best friends. He flashed a smile that made women weak in the knees. Most women, that is. He and I had never gone down that road.
“JP what are you doing here?” I asked, opening the door wide.
He leaned in to kiss both my cheeks on his way past me. He held up a bottle. “I brought wine. We will commiserate tonight, eh?”
“And what are we commiserating, my friend?”
“Loneliness,” he said dramatically. “I’m alone. You’re alone. We could change that but you won’t have me. Your beautiful friend, Olivia, has been stolen away from me by that contractor. And all the women I meet at the salon assume that I’m gay.” He plopped heavily onto one of the counter stools. “We might as well drown our sorrows, what do you say?”
I laughed. “Oh, sweetie. What happened? Bad day?” I pulled two glasses from the cabinet and dug around for a cork screw.
He laid his head on the counter. “You have no idea.”
I set a glass of the wine in front of him. “Want to talk about it?” I asked.
He sat up, put his elbows on the counter and rested his chin in his hands. “Mrs. Amanda Curtis-Stevens. You know who I mean?”
My jaw dropped. “Like the car dealership Curtis-Stevenses?”
“That’s the one.” He sighed and took a gulp of his wine. “She came in for a color and a perm today.” Another gulp and I refilled his glass. “I warned her. She already has too many chemicals in her hair. Plus she blows it dry, does the curling iron and the hot rollers…” He shook his head. “It’s a mess.” He waved a hand. “She wasn’t having it. She insisted that I do what she asked for.” He looked up at me miserably. “I’m thinking you can guess the rest.”
“Yeah. It was a disaster. Gerard promised free hair extensions until her own hair grows back.” He swallowed hard. “Just so she wouldn’t sue.”
“You have got to be kidding me!” I said, appalled. “Tell me Gerard knew it wasn’t your fault at least.”
He squeezed his eyes shut. “Oh, he knew. But it didn’t stop him from hanging me out to dry.” He laughed sharply. “The only good thing to come out of this is that she is now insisting that Gerard work on her himself. She is his problem now.”
I patted his arm. “Well, there you are. That’s a silver lining if I ever heard one.”
“Enough of my woes. Tell me about your day,” he said.
I swirled the wine around in my glass. “I had a good day, I guess. Busy as usual.”
“What?” I replied, narrowing my eyes.
“You had a good day, you guess?” he repeated, gesturing for me to elaborate.
I sighed and sat down next to him. “It’s Brad again. Always with the new ideas. This time he wants to renovate the basement so I can move the ovens down there and free up dining space on the first floor.”
“That’s a wonderful idea. What’s the problem?”
I frowned at him. “It’s my business! I can’t afford to be making those changes! I mean, who does he think he is trying to take over like that?”
Juan Paolo grinned wickedly and raised his eyebrows. “I think he is a rival for your affection. Should I be jealous, my darling?”
I snorted. “You have nothing to worry about JP. Brad is one of my oldest friends.”
“You’re blushing,” he said. “Are you sure he’s just an old friend?”
I hesitated long enough for JP to throw his head back in a satisfied laugh. “I knew it!”
“Cut the crap, JP. It’s not like that.” I drained my wineglass. “It’s just…”
My cheeks heated. “He’s really cute.”
Juan Paolo refilled my glass and said, “And you’re just noticing this now?”
“Well… it’s been years since I last saw him. We were awkward teenagers then. I kept in touch with Liv but Brad moved to Boston for college and then stayed up north for work.”
“Hmm, maybe it’s time you got reacquainted, eh?”
I rolled my eyes. “He’s lucky we’re even still friends the way he’s been interfering with my business and my building.” I took another big gulp from my glass.
“Let’s order food from Rafaela’s before we’re both too drunk to drive,” JP suggested.
“Screw that, let’s just get them to deliver.”