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Riding Red(3)

By:Alexa Riley



“Yep, born and raised,” she says, turning and leaning her hip against the counter next to the register.

“Was most everyone around here born and raised here?” The town seems so tightly knit, like there’s this club I can’t seem to break into. It’s like I haven’t performed some secret rite of passage yet or something. Every day I keep hoping something will give; that it’s just a fluke people aren’t coming in yet. Maybe they don’t know the bakery is back open, but I’m starting to think in a town like this everyone knows everything about everyone.

She shrugs her shoulders, and I can see her choosing her words carefully. “Most are from here, but Alp— I mean, my brother, likes to welcome in strays from time to time.”

“They don’t seem too welcoming to me,” I mutter, not wanting to insult her brother. Why would it be his job to do the welcoming? I hadn’t even met the man, and if he’s some kind of welcoming committee for the town, then he sucks at it. I’ve been here for three weeks, and I have no idea who he is.

“Well, it will just take some time.” She leans in a little closer to me, and I hear her sniff.

“Did you just smell me?” Grabbing my shirt, I sniff myself thinking maybe I stink or something, but all I smell is sugar. No matter how many showers I take I think it’s ingrained from cooking sweets all the time.

“No,” she says, stepping back from me like I asked her a crazy question when she's the one sniffing me.

“You like working here, Gwen?”

“I love it! You’re not going to fire me because I smelled you, are you? I can decorate the shop if you like. Halloween is in a few days, and I'll get it done today. Or it is the treats? You hate them? I can do them over again. Just show me how you like them. Please, you can’t fire me. No one else will hire me. My brother won’t let them and…and—”

“Gwen. Calm down,” I say, cutting her off from her rapid-fire rambling. “I’m not going to fire you. I…it’s just…like a second ago when I made the suggestion about the decorations, you snorted like, “no one is coming in here,” and, well, if no one comes in here, neither of us will be working here.”

“Oh!” She sighs like it’s no big deal, and I just stare at her, not understanding her at all. “They’ll come after.”

“After?” I wave my hand trying to encourage her to finish her sentence.

She hesitates and then looks around the room. “After Sheriff Wolfe stops scaring people away.” She says the words like I pried them from her using torture.

At hearing his name, my eyes shoot to the front window to see if he’s loitering outside my shop again. I thought cops drove around in their cop cars, eating donuts, but the one here walks up and down Main Street all day, eating my cookies and drinking my coffee. He stops in front of my bakery more than anywhere else and glares in here like I’ve done something to offend him.

It was his family who owned the bakery before I did, but I was told that he wanted to sell it. The lawyers explained that he didn’t have the time to run it, which I could understand if he was the sheriff. And no way could I see him running a bakery. He’d eat himself out of house and home.

The man was a jerk-face. A sexy, giant jerk-face who was my biggest customer, but still a jerk-face, and he could barely form a sentence on the best of days. At first I thought maybe he could only grunt and growl. But then I saw he didn’t have a problem speaking to other people. I’d heard him talk to Gwen a few times and everyone else, but with me it was like I was too much of a bother or something. If he couldn’t stand me, why was he always hanging around all the time? Why did he sell me the shop? It’s not like I twisted his big, hairy, muscled arm or something. In fact, it was the opposite. I remember that day like it was yesterday.

When I came to see the place, I was so excited. I knew before I’d even got here I was making an offer. The pictures online showed me it was everything I wanted. The place was even decorated in my favorite color, red. All I'd have to do was get a new sign.

I was so excited to finally see it in person, but the first time I walked inside all I saw was him. I thought he was sitting at a mini table in the bakery, but it didn’t take me long to realize the table wasn’t mini. No, he just made it look that way because he was so big.

I stood mesmerized by him, my whole body coming alive. It was a feeling I’d never felt before, like warmth washing over me. His big silver eyes grew bigger at the sight of me. But then he stood from the table and stormed out of the bakery. Just before he hit the door, he threw over his shoulder, “It’s hers.” He made it clear he was done with me and the bakery. Or so I thought.

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