1. The Meeting
I stare out at the ocean from my back porch as my mother's voice fills my ears.
"I think you should meet him, Ember. He's a very nice man. Handsome, too," she says. This is the third time my mother, Anne, has attempted to convince me to attend a blind date. You can say she's adamant that I need a man.
"Mom, please. I'm twenty-three years old. I understand you want me to settle down, but is blind dating the best way to go about it?"
"Sunshine, when I was your age, I was already married and pregnant with you. You can't stay cooped up in that house on weekends anymore. You need to interact somewhere besides work," she scolds.
"I love my house, mother. And I interact just fine. Thank you."
Truth is, I know she's right. My favorite pastime may be staying at the home my father built just for me and reading all weekend, but I do need to interact more. Bookworms are not known for being popular.
"I know you do, baby. I just want to see you smile more. I would also like to have grandchildren before I die. I'm not getting any younger, darlin'."
I sigh heavily, knowing she has won me over. "When and where?"
She squeals. "There's a diner across the street from the bakery. Be there tomorrow night at eight. Thank you so much for doing this, sunshine. You won't regret it," she states before giving me dead air.
What have I gotten myself into?
* * *
The Next Day...8:57 p.m.
I run my finger along the rim of my wine glass, cursing myself for agreeing to this. I should have just stayed home and indulged in To Kill A Mockingbird for the night. My date is almost an hour late and I'm starting to realize what a joke blind dating is.
I down the rest of the wine and stand from the table, straightening my dress. I go to the front desk to pay the bill when a man in a suit walks in and stands beside me. He's very tall, his 6' 2" frame towering over me at the height of 5' 3". He's silent, but I see him eye me from his peripheral vision.
"You're Anne Holbrook's daughter, aren't you?" He asks suddenly.
I look up at him to find his dark blue eyes cast down at me. "And you are?"
He smirks. "I'm your date."
"You're late and I'm leaving," I retort, walking away after receiving my receipt.
A hand clasps around my upper arm. "Wait. Let me explain," he says. "I'll buy you a drink."
I shake my head in refusal. "I've already drunk three glasses of wine, but thank you. The gesture is appreciated, Mr.-"
"Lancaster," he finishes, holding out his hand. "Troy Lancaster."
I shake his hand once and drop it. "Ember Holbrook," I respond before starting to walk again.
"You're not going to let me explain?" His voice calls from the entry. I blow out a breath and continue walking until I realize he's at my side.
I stop. "You don't quit, do you?"
He laughs. "You're sweet. Come on, you can't just leave," he says.
"Really? I think I can. I waited for you for an hour. I'm bored and very regretful that I agreed to this."
He sighs, the smile falling from his face. "Look, I'm sorry. I got held up in a meeting. I planned to be here early. I don't usually do this sort of thing."
"Welcome to my club," I murmur. I continue to my car before getting in and driving away under the watchful eye of Troy Lancaster.
* * *
I wake the next morning to the sound of my alarm. I roll over and hit the snooze button, groaning in annoyance. I stumble out of bed about five minutes later and into the shower.
Usually, I have to be at work by seven, but today I've decided to wait until nine to go in. Thanks to a wine hangover, I will probably be sick to my stomach at the scent of freshly baked sweets.
Today is definitely an only-coffee day.
After emerging from the shower, I wrap a towel around my hair before heading to my closet where I pick out a pair of shorts and my employee t-shirt with the bakery's logo on it.
I air dry my hair, letting the chocolate brown locks form into waves. I slip on a pair of flip flops before gathering my keys, purse, and coffee.
I arrive at the bakery in record time, the familiar sign of Em's Sweet Dreams highlighted with lights by the entryway.
My mother opened her bakery about a year after I was born with the help of my father. She told me at a very young age how the name of the bakery came to be and how she decided to name it after her only daughter; me.
After Daddy died when I was eighteen of kidney failure, Mom has devoted the majority of her time to the bakery and her customers, making the business a money-maker and an actual tourist attraction.
After a few minutes of staring into space, I finally walk in, only to be greeted by my mother. She's wearing a long tie-dye skirt and a tank top, her hair in a braid. I also notice that she's talking to no other than the man who practically stood me up last night.
What the actual frick is he doing here?
"There she is," Mom beams from behind the cash register, her cheeks and eyes wrinkling with a smile.
"Mom? What's going on?" I question, my eyes bouncing between her and Troy Lancaster multiple times.
"Mr. Lancaster decided to come in today. He wishes to speak with you. Isn't that great?" She squeals, clapping her hands.
Yes, I said clapping her hands.
Son of a nutcracker.