Her first year had been a rather daunting crash course not only in the art of artisan chocolate making, but also in how to start and run her own business, especially in the wake of her parents’ horror at her chucking in a lucrative career to do something so risky with "so little upside," as they’d put it. Fortunately, she’d been able to sign up several small stores in town before the cushion her grandparents had left her came anywhere near close to running out.
Moving to the lake and starting her own company doing what she and her grandmother loved had been like following a faint ray of light, but she’d always known it would grow bigger every day. That’s what her grandparents had taught her—to believe in herself and others, no matter what. The whole community had helped her succeed, which only proved that belief to be true.
After cleaning up the kitchen, Brooke walked back into her bedroom, stripped off her jeans and T-shirt, and slipped on her bikini. It was a daring purchase that had sat unworn in her dresser until the house next door became vacant and she could be certain that no one would see her wearing it. She was just heading out to the front porch when her phone rang. When she looked at the caller ID and saw her mother’s number, her gut tightened for a split second before she picked it up.
"Hi, Mom, thanks for calling me back."
"Darling," her mother said, "it’s always so nice to hear your voice. I just wish you didn’t live so far away. Your father and I worry about you. Is everything all right?"
When, Brooke wondered, would her parents stop worrying about her? Especially since she’d only ever done one wild, stupid thing in her entire life…and that had been a decade ago.
"Everything’s fine. It’s great, actually." She had some fairly big news to give them and hoped they’d respond well to it. "Did I ever mention to you that Dad’s colleague, Cord Delacorte, came out to the lake to visit me a short while back?"
"Oh, Brooke," her mother said in an extremely concerned voice, "please tell me you aren’t dating him. He’s a brilliant businessman, but from the rumors we heard during his visiting professorship a few years ago, he’s exactly the kind of man you should be staying away from."
I’m not sixteen anymore, she wanted to shout.
Instead, she told her mother, "Don’t worry, Cord and I aren’t dating. In fact, he’s happily married."
Besides, didn’t her mother realize that men like him never looked Brooke’s way? She was too cute. Too sweet. A good girl through and through, especially after her one attempt at being bad had gone so horribly wrong.
Quickly, she explained that Cord had been given a box of her chocolates as a Christmas gift. He’d enjoyed them so much that he’d driven the two and a half hours from Seattle to Lake Wenatchee to make her a business proposition about expanding the reach of her chocolates beyond her local area, starting with a small boutique storefront in Seattle that he’d oversee. If that went well—and he seemed very confident that it would—he wanted to look toward further expansion into other large cities and even mail-order. Just this morning she’d signed the partnership papers.
"Why didn’t you tell us about this before now?" her mother asked. "I would have liked to look over your partnership agreement before you signed anything."
Brooke’s gut tightened just a little more. "Don’t worry, I found a great lawyer here, and we went over the agreement carefully several times."
Her mother was silent for a long moment. "Well, at least Cord isn’t a stranger, and I know your father thinks very highly of his business acumen." Brooke heard someone speak to her mother in the background, likely one of her half-dozen legal aides. "I’m sorry, honey, but I’ve got to go now. I’ll give your father the news. I’m sure he’ll want to discuss it with you as well."
Brooke sighed as she hung up the phone, more thankful than ever that she had a lake to jump into to clear her head. She loved her parents, but they could be a tad overbearing, even from across the country. One day soon, she hoped they’d finally realize she was all grown up, her big mistake was well behind her now, and that she was more than capable of making good decisions on her own. It was why she hadn’t involved them in her new partnership plans. Not because they wouldn’t have had great advice, but because she needed to prove that she could do this—and do it well—on her own.
Finally moving out to her covered front porch, she breathed in the sweet-smelling air, scented by fir trees. She didn’t bother to wrap a towel around her bikini-clad body as she headed down to the dock in front of her house. She’d always been on the curvier side—a sharp contrast to her slim and willowy mother—and as she’d hit her mid-twenties, though her weight hadn’t gone up more than a half-dozen pounds, her curves had become much more pronounced.
Brooke walked across the short stretch of grass and was nearly at the sandy shore when she heard a truck come up the driveway next door. From where she was standing, she could see a man get out and put a sold sign up in front of the house.
Wait a minute—hadn’t the house only gone up for sale a day or two ago? Sure, it was on a perfect stretch of sandy beach, but it still seemed like the sale had happened at warp speed. More than that, though, even after all these years she simply couldn’t imagine anyone but the Sullivans living there.
The Wild Sullivans was what her parents had christened them, utterly appalled by the behavior of the family next door. Oh, how Brooke had secretly longed to be as wild, and as free, as they were. She had also, if she was being completely honest with herself, had more than a couple of moments of longing for parents as warm as Mr. and Mrs. Sullivan. Her grandparents were full of hugs and smiles for her, but her parents were more inclined to praise a good grade than applaud a perfect cannonball off the dock. Heck, they probably didn’t even know what a cannonball was, whereas Max and Claudia Sullivan had been out there going head-to-head with their own kids in the competition. It still made her laugh to think of that day when she and her grandparents had been roped into being the judges.