“So you’re going out with him tonight. Again.”
Great. Talk about now being able to deal.
I turn to find my mother standing in my doorway, her arms crossed in front of her chest, her expression sour. She’s reluctantly gone along with me dating Gage. Only lately has she piped up and vocalized her opinions. I think she’s afraid I’m falling for him.
“I am.” I mirror her position, feeling defensive. Since my dad has been out of town so much doing God knows what, she’s become even more of a meddler. I know I live at home, but I’m freaking twenty-three years old. I’m hardly here anyway. I spend quite a few nights at the little house Gage keeps here in St. Helena. I stay there sometimes even when he goes back to his place in San Francisco to conduct business. Hopefully, someday soon I’ll go with him.
But with my obligation to the bakery, I can hardly leave. Before Gage came into my life, I had no reason to leave.
Now I want to be wherever Gage is. Silly, but true.
“Do you know why he was in San Francisco last week?” She drops her arms at her sides and strides into my room, her expression full of fierce determination. “Do you? Did your new boyfriend tell you about the meeting he had with your father?”
“Wait. What?” I blink at her, not sure I heard her right. “Daddy and Gage met?” And Gage never told me? I knew they were getting along and had discussed setting up an appointment to talk further, but Gage didn’t tell me they’d talked in San Francisco.
She nods, the satisfaction on her face painful to witness. It’s almost like she wants to hurt me with this news. “It’s happening, Marina. Gage Emerson is buying the entire strip of buildings the Molina Corp owns on Main Street. They’ll belong to him within the next sixty days as long as all the paperwork is processed in a timely manner and they hit no snags.”
Sixty days. I can’t believe he didn’t tell me. I don’t understand why he kept this from me. What was his motive? Was he afraid I’d freak out? I’m more upset he kept it a secret. I’d finally come to grips with the possibility of losing the bakery. This revelation is throwing me for a loop.
“He’ll most likely close down the bakery since it’s the only business within the strip that’s still owned by us. Unless the two of you can come up with some sort of lease agreement together? I’m sure he’d be willing to work with you,” she says snidely.
“Why do you hate him so much?” I ask, my voice quiet. Inside I’m reeling, devastated by Gage’s betrayal. When exactly was he going to tell me about this? Never? Right before he shut down my bakery? It makes no sense.
My mother trying to tear me down doesn’t make any sense either.
“I don’t hate him. I dislike what he’s done to us.”
“Mom.” I go to her, grabbing her hands and giving them a squeeze. “We had to sell. You and Dad both worry about your retirement, about everyone in the family ending up with nothing when we’ve all counted on the properties to earn us income. This way you’ll have ready cash flow and won’t have to worry so much.”
“He stole your future,” she says bitterly, jerking out of my touch. “That man you’re dating and spending the night with stole everything from you! Don’t you get it? You’re our only daughter, you have no real prospects beyond the very man who’s ruining your life, and you act like you’re making the right choice! What in the world is wrong with you?”
I blink at her, shocked by her outburst. Mom doesn’t have outbursts. She’s always calm and cool and so very, very wise. I used to go to her all the time when I was younger for advice. She’s great under pressure—the exception being when it comes to me and the choices I make.
“He’s not stealing from me,” I tell her. “Can’t you see how this will help you guys? I’ll be fine. I don’t need the bakery.” But I do. What will I do without it? Gina has a job lined up already. Archer is secretly trying to woo her. He’s totally being a dirty rat, but can I fault him for it? No. And at least he tells me to my face.
Gage just keeps his secrets to himself and pretends everything’s fine. So do I. But everything is definitely not fine. I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself when I lose the bakery. There’s no point in denying it now.
Autumn Harvest is done for.
“You needed to know,” Mom says firmly, going to sit on the edge of my bed. “I can’t stand that he’s kept you in the dark. You need to come up with another plan.”
“Like what?” I sit on the bed next to her, my mind too full trying to process everything.
“Break it off with him. Finish your time at the bakery until it closes. Then go to Italy and visit your cousins,” she suggests hopefully. “You can have a nice three-month-long vacation there. Enjoy the sights. Meet new people.”
Dread fills me. The trip to Italy is one all unmarried Italian girls make in the hope that they can find a husband. Either they end up staying there for the rest of their lives with their new husbands or they bring them home. I’ve seen a few cousins do this very thing. Only one came back, with a macho, irritating-as-hell Italian who refused to speak English and bossed her around all the time.
She eventually divorced him, not that anyone could blame her. Though her mama acted like she thought her daughter was going straight to hell.
Sometimes, I really despise being a part of such a traditional family.
“I’m not going to Italy,” I say vehemently. She needs to know that suggestion can’t even make its way onto the table.
“Fine. Break up with him. Find something else to do. Go work with Gina at the hotel. You need to do something. Unless you have no problem living here with us for the rest of your life, unmarried and miserable.”
“Are you living in the stone ages? What in the world is wrong with you?” I stand, glaring down at her. “You act like my being single and jobless is a kiss of death!”
She stares up at me pointedly, not saying a word.
She doesn’t have to. I heard what I said. And it’s slowly sinking in that yes, indeed, being single and jobless is the kiss of death.
Yet again, proving how life can change in an instant. I’ve gone from bad to fabulous to absolutely terrible.
All in the matter of approximately four weeks.
“I LOVE AUTUMN Harvest.” Ivy sighs, scrolling through the photos of the bakery I just uploaded on my laptop from my phone. “But we can definitely spruce it up for her. I’m almost finished with Matt’s job and have something lined up right after it, but I can do this on the side. The bakery and café already have good bones, so it won’t be too difficult. I can put something together quick.”
“I don’t want some slapped-together job, Ivy,” I warn her, scrolling through the photos of the bakery that’s so much a part of Marina, I can’t imagine her not working there.
The bakery I now own. The building I’m going to give her as a gift.
Right before I ask her to marry me.
“I still can’t believe you’re doing this.” Ivy smiles at me, slowly shaking her head. “I never thought I’d see you fall, Gage. You were such a jackass about Archer and me getting together. And now look at you.”
“Hey, I was trying to protect you. I know how Archer is. Was,” I correct when she sends me a pointed look.
“And I know how you were. A workaholic stick-in-the-mud who only found pleasure with the many cars you purchased.”
Jesus. She makes me sound like a total loser. “Thanks a lot,” I mutter.
She nudges me. “I only say that because I’m your sister, and I can be brutally honest.” Pausing, Ivy contemplates me. “Can I tell you something else?”
“Can I handle it?” I ask warily.
“Oh yeah.” She smiles, her eyes going soft, almost misty. She’s so damn sentimental lately, I don’t know what’s wrong with her. “Marina is so good for you. And you’re good for her. I love seeing the two of you together. I’m so excited. And thankful I like her.”
“Yeah?” An ache forms in my chest, making me grab my sister and pull her in for a hug. “Thanks, Ive. It means a lot to have your approval.”
“You’re welcome.” She pulls away from me, pressing her hand against the side of my head. Her eyes are swimming with tears. “I’m so glad I get along with Marina. She’s going to make a great sister-in-law.”
“Why are you crying?” I catch a tear with my thumb as it slides down her cheek, worry consuming me. My sister doesn’t cry much. She doesn’t have reason to cry. Archer keeps her too damn happy for her to ever be sad.
“Don’t worry about me.” She waves a hand, sniffing loudly. “I’m just pregnant.”
“What the hell?” I stare at her, overcome with . . . all sorts of overwhelming emotions. Happiness. Shock. And plenty of murderous thoughts because holy hell, Archer impregnated my sister? I could kill him.
“Stop looking like you want to kill Archer.” Reaching out, she grabs my hands, clasping them tightly in her own. “This is a good thing. We’re going to have a baby.” She sniffs, the tears streaming down her cheeks freely now. “I’m so ha-happy.”
“You don’t look or sound happy to me. Jesus, Ive, you’re not even married yet! Mom’s gonna have a cow.”
Ivy burst out laughing, looking like a hysterical mess. Mascara-streaked tears line her face as she laughs. “You sound just like you did when we were kids.”
“Well, it’s true. She’s going to flip. She’s been working on your wedding for months.” Years, probably, not that I’m going to say it. Our mom’s been living for this moment and now Ivy’s going to waddle down the aisle with a big ol’ belly?
Yeah. That’ll go over real well.
“We’re bumping the wedding date up a few months. Mom already knows. So does Dad,” she says.
Ivy rolls her eyes. “Of course, he knows. What, you think I’d leave the father of my baby as the last to know? I don’t think so.”
“No, you leave that honor to the uncle of your baby.” I smooth her hair out of her eyes, feeling overprotective of my baby sister . . . who’s going to have a baby. Holy hell, this is crazy.
“We haven’t had a chance to talk, and you’ve been so busy.” She grabs hold of my arm, giving it a squeeze. “Don’t tell Marina. I want to tell her, but I couldn’t tell her if you didn’t know.”
I hug her again because I can’t resist, kissing her forehead. “I’m so happy for you, Ive. Even happy for that bastard you’re going to marry. I hope you know what you’re getting into.”
“I do.” She smiles as she withdraws from my embrace. “No regrets. I’m the luckiest girl in the world.”
I hope someday I can make Marina half as happy as Archer makes my sister.