Mountain Man's Baby PlanBy: Nikki Chase
“Honey! I didn’t know you were back!” Bertha’s kind eyes gleam as a grin breaks out on her soft, wrinkled face. She walks around the counter at an impressive speed for someone her age and size, wiping her butter-covered hands on her floral apron.
“I just got into town last night.” I return Bertha’s grin as she drowns me in a big, warm hug.
“Oh, if you’d told me you were coming to Ashbourne, I would’ve baked a special batch, just for you.” She tightens her hug, smushing me against her ample chest.
“Anything you bake is special, Bertha,” I say honestly. “Everyone knows you’re the best baker in town.”
“Oh, come on. Don’t you try and flatter me.” Bertha lets me go and waves a dismissive hand. “I was already about to give you some freebies anyway.”
“Honestly, Bertha, I’m not twelve anymore. I can afford to pay for your cupcakes now.”
“Of course, you can. Your parents are so proud of your job in the big city. They’re always telling everybody how well you’re doing.” Bertha walks back behind the counter. “But the main reason my son opened this business for me was because he found out it was my life-long dream to have a shop of my own. I just want to feed everyone and make their day better. So, Sophia, honey, you’ll only be helping me fulfill my dream by taking my cupcakes for free.”
“Oh, okay. Just this once, though.” I give Bertha a smile.
“Okay. Just this once.” Bertha winks at me, making me wonder if she’ll really take my money on my next visit. She grabs a box and a pair of stainless-steel tongs, ready to grip some cupcakes. Pointing at the colorful rows of cupcakes inside the refrigerated glass display cabinet, she says, “Take your pick.”
Bertha’s so cheerful nobody would’ve guessed that she’d lost her daughter in a brutal murder a few years ago. Luckily, she then found her long-lost son, who’s now determined to make up for the years they were apart.
As I take a closer look at the selection, Bertha continues to ask me about my life. It’s nice that she’s interested in how I’m doing, but to be honest, the reason I’m back here is to escape what life has become over there, so I’m not really in the mood to talk about it.
“You’re still working at the Holt Bank?” Bertha asks.
“No,” I answer.
“Oh, where do you work now?”
“Nowhere. I’m taking a sabbatical.” I give Bertha a polite smile.
“Oh, you quit? Your parents didn’t say anything about that.” Bertha knots her eyebrows in concern. “If you need a new job, I can ask my son, Caine. He’s always working on some new project. He may need a smart girl like you on his team.”
“Oh, no. That won’t be necessary,” I say quickly. “I need a break from . . . everything.”
“Of course. Your parents go on and on about how ambitious and hard-working you are, but you’re not a robot. Everyone needs a little break from time to time.” Bertha gives me a sympathetic smile. “Whenever you’re ready, though, I can ask around in case there’s a vacancy that’s just right for you.”
“Thank you, Bertha. I appreciate it.”
Although Bertha is just a small-town baker, her offer is nothing to sneeze at.
Her son, Caine Foster, is a big shot who runs multiple big companies in various industries. Bertha has also gotten married recently to Caine’s dad, an old flame, and the man used to practically run the city, before he finally retired.
“Unless . . .” Bertha’s lips curl up as she stares at me.
“Unless what?” I ask, raising my gaze from the pretty little cupcakes.
“Unless you want to move back here permanently and start a family. It could be good for you.”
I laugh wryly. “Well, Bertha, it could be good for me. But I don’t even have a boyfriend.”
I stop myself from telling her the story of how the man I thought I was going to marry finally left me when he found out the truth about me.
There’s something about Bertha that makes people confide in her, and I’m no exception, but I don’t want to talk right now. Not about that. I’ve already beaten that dead horse to a pulp with my girlfriends.