And Tara had energy to burn.
Kate Watson had taken the blue ribbon in baking the past five years at the county fair. The only reason she hadn’t before that was because she hadn’t entered. She’d started working here last week, and one of the first tasks Tara had asked her to take on was to figure out Addie’s cookie recipe.
Addie wasn’t sharing, but so far, Kate’s attempts hadn’t been right, either. She had given the customers plenty of delicious alternatives, though.
“That might be a good idea.” Tara went to the metal counter where the bowls of dough sat, waiting. She pulled out the big ball of sweet-smelling, light gold dough and plopped it onto the floured surface.
Push. Pull. Repeat. She felt the resistance, felt the pressure in her shoulders as she continued the repetitive motion. The rhythm helped her focus, helped her think—smooth, even thoughts. She closed her eyes and let herself slip into the motion.
In the darkness behind her eyelids, images wavered. Images of him. Morgan. Last night. He’d yanked on that battered jacket, glaring at her with anger and something else, something she’d ignored, in his eyes.
Hurt? Pain? What had hurt him? Her comments? The men he’d had to confront to protect her? His past? Why hadn’t she seen that?
She’d been angry at his comments, at his stepping in when she hadn’t asked him to. But if he hadn’t? If he hadn’t been there, and she’d been alone with those jerks, what would have happened?
She shivered. She didn’t want to think about it. Didn’t want to think about how he made her feel, made her want something she shouldn’t. He wasn’t hers to want.
And maybe it wasn’t all his fault. She recalled the brief kiss she’d given him. Yep, she owed him an apology. She opened her eyes, seeing the bright white subway tile, nearly blinding from the fluorescent light’s glare. The shelf over her head held flour and yeast. All the pieces that made up the bread she was now making.
The scent of all those particulars wafted around her and she savored the aroma, anticipating the sweet buns and loaves she’d have to serve her customers once this all came out of the oven.
Another scent shattered the sweetness. What—
The remnants of cologne and the scent of the damp outdoors. She frowned and turned her head. Morgan had come in the back door and stood there with a water bottle in his hand, his shoulder against the doorframe. How long had he been there? She hadn’t heard any footsteps.
He smiled. “My grandmother used to make bread. I’d almost forgotten about that until now.” He took a deep swig of water.
She’d worked enough. Quickly, she put portions of the big ball into the loaf pans to the side of the counter. She covered them with the damp cloth to rise again, then dusted off her hands. Finally, she turned to face him. He hadn’t moved. Except to finish the water. He crushed the bottle, the crack of plastic overly loud in this quiet corner of the kitchen.
“My mom liked to bake more than she did cook.” She untied her apron and lifted it over her head. She hung it on the hook by the table. “That’s how I got the opportunity to do most of the cooking.”
The air in the room felt thick and awkward. She wanted to say something, wanted to say the right thing this time and not make matters worse.
“You’re thinking too hard,” he said.
Tara laughed, at herself and at his ability to boil it all down. “Maybe. I do that when it’s important.”
She looked up then. She’d moved closer to him than she’d at first thought. Or he’d moved… There were mere inches between them. Staring into his eyes, she tried to see the anger or the pain from last night. Neither was there. What was he thinking? What did he want from her?
“I owe you an apology,” she finally said. “What I said was…inappropriate.”
He laughed. “Maybe it sounded like that. But you were right.”
“I was?” Did she look as shocked as she sounded?
* * *
MORGAN WAS A bad boy at heart. He knew that. When he’d gotten married, he’d wanted to be reformed, had actually let himself believe in the dream of happily-ever-after, two-point-five kids and picket fences. He’d told himself he’d accomplish what his old man had never managed.