Always the baker…never the bride.
Ambitious and fresh-faced beautiful, Liliana McCrory has spent the last couple of years entirely concentrated on building her business baking elaborate gourmet wedding cakes. Just when Liliana’s almost all but given up on the idea of romance in her own life, she literally runs into the dapper best man at her most high profile wedding while carrying a tray of strawberry shortcakes. Despite the instant spark with the mystery man, the appearance of his fiancée by his side quickly dashes any thoughts of potential romance.
Technology innovator and billionaire, Cole Montgomery, always puts family first. After the passing of his beloved wife, Katherine, he focused on rebuilding his family and giving his young son, Jackson, a new mother figure by becoming engaged to the high school sweetheart he recently reconnected with. However, a chance meeting with the radiant natural beauty and business savvy Liliana at his best friend’s wedding plants seeds of doubt about his upcoming nuptials. When Cole hires Liliana to bake the cake for his own wedding, the two find themselves undeniably drawn to each other. As a surprising connection between the two is revealed, will Cole and Liliana listen to the voice in their hearts or risk missing out on the chance at a great love?
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“Now are those two handsome guys or what?” Cole Montgomery asked his five year old son, Jackson, as he adjusted the boy’s bowtie, and they looked at their reflections in the mirror of the chapel dressing room. Father and son were dressed in matching black tuxes and red bowties, and Cole couldn’t help but feel a pang on bitter sweetness as he realized how fast his boy had grown over the past year. With his wavy strawberry blonde hair and dimples, five year old Jackson looked so much like his mother. So much that Cole found it just the slightest bit painful at times. If only…
Cole’s own Irish heritage showed through with his reddish brown hair, green eyes, and ruddy complexion. At six foot three he towered over his son, but if Jackson’s growth spurts were any indication, his son would probably be as tall as him one day. At thirty-two years old, many people in Cole’s life told him he looked more handsome at this age than ever before. Something about an aura of maturity and understanding one often doesn’t have yet until they hit their thirties.
“And now the rings please. And now the rings please,” Jackson said, repeating his cue for his part in the wedding.
The little boy had been so nervous over his part in the wedding that Cole started to believe that his son had inherited his own need to strive for perfection. But he hoped that Jackson would learn to take the time to enjoy the little things along the way. That had been something Cole started to appreciate a little later than he wished.
“You’re going to do awesome, buddy,” Cole said, kneeling down and hugging his son. “I’m so proud of you.”
Jackson smiled and said, “I want to do good.”
“You will,” Cole said. “Don’t worry about it at all. Your Uncle Jack is going to be proud of you, too.”
It also felt like just yesterday that Cole and his best friend, Jack Van Buren, were in college and studying and partying with the kind of boundless energy one has in their late teens. Party until five in the morning and take an exam at eight. No problem!
Jack, along with his brothers, was an heir to a billion dollar restaurant empire. However, Cole came from a middle class family in Wisconsin with two teachers as parents. He got to attend Berkley on a scholarship after working his ass off throughout high school. Despite their different economic backgrounds, the two of them became instant friends after, ironically, crushing on the same blonde girl in their chemistry class. The girl ended up having a steady boyfriend, but the two of them ended up with a longtime friend. Jack taught Cole how to surf and properly flirt with the women. Cole helped tutor Jack through calculus and gave him a reality check when he needed it. And when Cole had his first son, he named him after his best friend.
Jack had been there at his side lending advice when Cole launched his own company, ColeTech, and developed an app that estimated the wait times at the most popular restaurants called, Why Table Wait?. That app made Cole richer than he’d ever dreamed possible. Jack had also supported him when Cole decided he had to sell his company to devote all of his time to his son and his wife, Katherine, during the hardest, darkest part of Cole’s life. Jack had also been the one who left in the middle of the night in New York to arrive in San Diego at the hospital the morning everything changed.
Cole often reflected on the past with a mix of anger and longing. It all happened faster than we thought possible. How could it already be two years?
“There’s my ring bearer!” Jack Van Buren exclaimed when he walked into the room wearing a white tux with his shoulder length blonde hair pulled back into a tidy ponytail. Jack rarely did formal, and Cole knew that he was only having a wedding this fancy to please his fiancée, Bianca, who had always dreamed of a storybook ceremony. The only twist in the wedding was that Bianca was already carrying Jack’s child, but through artificial insemination since Jack had hired her to be the surrogate mother for the child he longed for. It had only been after the two of them had gotten to know each other during the pregnancy that they fell in love. Now that Bianca was eight months along, the two were on the fast track to make things official.
Little Jackson ran to his namesake and grabbed his hand.
“I’ll do good, Uncle Jack!” the boy exclaimed.
“No doubt,” Jack said, picking the boy up and giving him a bear hug.
“Where are your brothers?” Cole asked regarding Jack’s brothers Max and Bruce who served as groomsmen.
“Checking on their wives like dutiful husbands,” Jack said with a smile.
“That will be you soon,” Cole replied with a grin. “Something I wasn’t sure I’d ever see.”
“Me, either,” Jack admitted.
Jack set the boy back down and lightly ruffled his hair.
“As hell, but in a good way. And did you find someone for your fiancée to sit with?” Jack asked, referring to Cole’s high school sweetheart, Samantha, he’d recently become engaged to.`
“She’s sitting with your sister-in-laws,” Jack said. “I’m sure she’s having a grand time getting swept up in her own wedding fever.”
Cole neglected to tell Jack that Samantha had thrown a slight fit that she had to be on her own without him during the ceremony. Cole wasn’t sure what she had expected. After all, he was the best man, and that came with a bunch of duties. Samantha had hardly been this high maintenance when they were in high school, and he often wondered what made her change. Although, he still cared for her deeply, and she had reappeared at the moment he’d felt the loneliest and most lost in his life.
The music coming from the chapel changed to signal that everyone should get ready to take their places.
“Time for you to get married, my man,” Cole said, slapping Jack on the shoulder.
“Let’s do this!” Jack said, his eyes sparkling all of a sudden.
Cole couldn’t get over how Bianca had so quickly run away with his friend’s heart.
“Ready, little man?” Jack said, looking down at the boy.
“Ready,” Jackson answered in such a serious voice for a little boy.
Jack led the boy out of the room, and Cole followed them with a huge smile on his face. Inside though, the music brought back a flood of memories of his own wedding and the day he pledged to love his sweet Katherine until death do they part. How could he ever have imagined that that day would have come so soon?
What can you do when the dream wedding is not your own?
Standing underneath one of the reception area outdoor tents, Liliana pondered that question. She looked out over the kind of setting she’d always hoped to have for her own wedding since she was a girl. She gazed over at the bluff, overlooking the blue waters of the Pacific near Santa Barbara, California. A cool ocean breeze brushed across her cheek, and a slowly setting sun painted the sky in brilliant hues of orange while a harpist played the classical works of Beethoven and Mozart as the finely-dressed guests made their way to the seats. She would describe this wedding as simple by most wealthy family standards but very elegant. For her, the perfect combination. And God knows she’d seen her share of weddings over the past few years. To be honest, most of them had started to blend together in her mind and become just a mix of gowns, first dances, and cake cuttings. But something about this ceremony, this day, felt different for reasons she couldn’t explain or shake.
Cake. That’s where Liliana came in. After having her bakery, Sweet Temptations, named the hottest place to have your wedding cake designed by Los Angeles Food and Drink magazine, Liliana went from a struggling baker barely affording the rent for her business to a workaholic who often spent seven days a week mixing flour, spices, fruit fillings, and secret recipe icings to help make a part of couples’ wedding dreams come true.
Normally, she wouldn’t travel and bring her employees this far from Los Angeles for a multiple day affair as an on-site bakery caterer. But this was Jack Van Buren’s wedding, Jack Van Buren of the family that owned the nationwide chain of Tio Jose’s Mexican restaurants. Usually, she’d just supply the cake that the main caterer would pick up and deliver to the wedding site. But the Van Buren wedding requested an entire spread of her baked goods: twelve flavors of cupcakes, gourmet cookies, and handmade fresh organic breads, and they’d offered a dollar amount that Liliana never dreamed she’d ever see when it came to one single job.
At only twenty-nine years old, she’d found herself on the fast-track of success in the highly competitive world of baking, and she loved every minute of it. Still, it didn’t stop her from occasionally thinking about what it would be like to have a special man in her life. But the last man she gave her heart to proved to be more of a hindrance than a supporter of her career, and the whole experience had proven to be hard to shake off.
“Hey, boss lady! You going to spend all afternoon day dreaming or help us ice these red velvet cupcakes?” her first assistant Grace cracked as she playfully slapped Liliana on the back.
“Sorry,” Liliana replied, smoothing down her white apron, not exactly glamorous attire. “I guess I zoned out for a second. Always the baker. Never the bride.”
“Well, now whose fault is that?” Grace said, reaching out and brushing some of Liliana’s wavy dark brown locks behind her ear.
Part right hand employee, part big sister/mom figure, Grace, still striking in her late forties with her blond curls and infectious laugh, could get away with being blunt with Liliana in a way others wouldn’t dare. A former sitcom actress in the early 1990s, Grace spent all of the money she made back then as fast as she could whip out her credit cards. When the money ran out, she’d found a new passion to bury her depression in…baking, and promptly gained one hundred pounds. After that, future roles had been practically impossible to get. After shedding seventy-five of the extra pounds, she’d answered Liliana’s ad for an assistant deciding if she could keep herself busy enough baking she wouldn’t have time to eat it all, too. Liliana had been skeptical of hiring her at first. After all, Grace was the woman who played the ditzy secretary on the office sitcom Cubicles in Hell, and as her first employee, she could barely pay Grace anything. But Grace persisted until Liliana gave her a shot, and it proved to be one of her best business decisions ever as Grace proved to excel in booking clients in addition to whipping up some yummy baked goods.
“I don’t need another dating lecture,” Liliana replied, dismissively waving her hand.
“If I was your age and looked like you…um…the trouble I could get into,” Grace said wistfully.
Liliana sighed loudly to signal she really didn’t want to get into this right now. She’d grown quite content with letting her bakery be the only commitment she needed…or at least that’s what she told herself. Still, as humble as she was, she noticed she could turn heads on occasion on those rare times she walked away from the oven. At a trim five foot five with just enough curves to be womanly, green eyes, and peaches and cream complexion, men had been known to flirt with her on a regular basis. But ironically, the more time that went by and the more weddings worked, the less romantic she felt overall. Romance had begun to feel like a business.
“The snicker doodles are done,” Jason, her other assistant, an eager twenty-three year old fresh out of culinary school, said as he walked over carrying a tray of the groom’s favorite cookies.
“Great. Thanks, Jason,” she said, glancing back out towards the ceremony as the wedding procession began. “We better quickly wrap up and cross check everything.”
As the three headed back into the catering tent where the groom even had ovens set up, Liliana looked back one more time at the ceremony as the first bridesmaid and groomsmen began making their way down the aisle.
One day, she thought. One day.