To make a small fortune, start with a large fortune and open a bakery. That’s the advice Marcus Wilson has heard. Unfortunately, Marcus doesn’t have a large fortune—just a bakery, A Slice of Heaven, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and the determination to make it successful. He needs more help than he can afford, so when he hires accountant Gregory Southland, it’s for hours in the shop as well as on the books.
Gregory takes a second job at the bakery to help pay the bills now that his health is improving. Soon he’s looking forward to spending time with Marcus, but as the business—and their relationship—grows, so do the complications: First Marcus’s stepmother involves him in a cause that could give the bakery a reputation it doesn’t need. Then Marcus and Gregory disagree over whether to involve A Slice of Heaven in a civil rights dispute. To top it off, Gregory’s ex-boyfriend makes an appearance just when he is at his most vulnerable. But the greatest complication by far is Marcus and Gregory’s struggle to learn to trust each other and themselves, especially when it comes to baking up matters of the heart.
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Marcus managed to get one of the wedding cakes done and the other nearly finished, as well as some items made for the store, before exhaustion caught up with him. Once he’d cleaned everything up, Marcus grabbed a few papers he wanted to review at home before turning out the lights and leaving through the front door. On his way home, he dropped the day’s receipts at the bank before continuing home on the slightly crisp evening. As he walked, he realized he’d dropped something. Turning around, he saw it was the brochure Becky had given him for the Harrisburg Bridal Show. He shoved it back into the papers he was carrying before continuing on.
He wasn’t in a rush to get home to his empty apartment. The town square was filled with people walking or sitting on benches, enjoying the spring warmth in the evening air. Marcus would have loved to take a seat and enjoy the evening, but he still had work to do tonight so he could go back to the store in the morning and get everything done he needed to.
“Hi, Marcus,” Sebastian called from across the street, and he stopped as the head waiter from Café Belgie hurried to meet him. “Are you headed home?” He and Sebastian had known each other for a while, but it was becoming neighbors that had made them friends.
“Yes. I just closed the bakery,” Marcus supplied as they fell into step, heading one block south before turning onto Pomfret Street. Marcus sighed softly. He was so tired his eyes were closing as he walked. “These days are killing me. Thank goodness the bakery is closed on Sunday and Monday.” He usually spent most of at least one day sleeping.
“When do you have time for yourself?” Sebastian asked, and Marcus groaned softly.
“I barely have time to shower and eat. On my days off, I plan what I’ll be doing the rest of the week.” Marcus yawned and covered his mouth. “I haven’t had a meal with friends in six months, and don’t get me started on the fact that other than customers, I haven’t interacted with another man in so long I’ve almost forgotten what they look like. Even if I could get a date, I couldn’t find the time, and if he took me to dinner, I’d fall asleep in my soup.”
“It sounds like you need some help at the bakery,” Sebastian observed as they approached the next corner.
“I do, but I’m in an impossible situation,” Marcus explained as they crossed the street. “I need the business to grow, but that means more labor than I can afford right now. Hopefully soon I’ll be able to hire some help, but right now I’m stuck.” Marcus knew exactly where he was at, a catch-22 that he didn’t see an easy way out of.
“You know if there’s anything we can do to help, Robert and I will,” Sebastian said. “He’s addicted to your cinnamon rolls, and would probably issue a ruling from the bench to keep them coming.” Sebastian’s partner, Robert, had been elected a judge about a year ago.
“More than anything I need to bring in more business for things like my cakes and cheesecakes. I can make them in larger quantities, and they sell for an amount that really makes the effort worthwhile. I’m just not sure how to do it.” They reached the steps to Sebastian’s place, and Marcus stopped. “There’s a market on the square, and I’ve thought of trying to sell things there, but then I’d be away from the store.”
“I hope you work it out,” Sebastian told him. “Your stuff is the best there is. Even Maureen says so, and she doesn’t compliment anyone else’s baked goods.” He winked when he mentioned the pastry chef at Café Belgie. She’d been in the shop a few times and had seemed pleased. “I’ll see you soon,” Sebastian said as he unlocked his front door, and Marcus said good-bye as well before heading into his building and up the stairs to his apartment in the back.
Inside, Marcus set his papers on the small table and found something to eat. While the microwave heated his dinner, he sat at the table and went through the papers he’d brought home. Most of it was junk he threw in the trash, but the flier for the wedding show caught his eye. That would be a way to bring in extra business. He thought about it, but like everything else, there was a cost and it appeared to be rather high. Also, in order to do the show, he’d have to close the store, so he’d not only be into it for the booth rental, but would lose a day’s business at the store, as well. The timer went off, and he got up, took the plastic container of stir-fry out of the microwave and brought it back to the table. He really wished he wasn’t doing this on his own. That hadn’t been the original business plan, but it was the way things were now. Not letting himself dwell on it, Marcus got one of those individual-serving containers of milk out of the refrigerator. While he ate, he went through the rest of the business mail as well as his own before cleaning up and heading into the living room. He turned on his television, found a channel that worked, and settled down to watch.
It felt amazingly blissful to just sit down for a few minutes. When his phone rang, Marcus nearly didn’t bother answering it, but when he looked at his cell, the display read “The General,” and he knew he’d better answer it. “Hi, Dad,” Marcus said after pressing the connect button.
“Did you just get home from work?” his father asked without a hint of concern about the late hour. He might as well have been asking if Marcus had just finished taking out the trash.
“Yes. I was at the bakery by four this morning,” he supplied, not that his father would care.
“When I took Green Beret training, we regularly spent eighteen hours a day working,” his father said.
“Yeah, I know, and when you were young, you walked to school through the snow without shoes, uphill, both ways. Yeah, I get it.” Marcus was feeling grumpy and not really up for his father’s self-aggrandizing at this particular moment.
“Don’t be smart,” his father snapped.
“Did you call for a reason, or simply to harass me after I’ve worked for sixteen hours and need to get up early tomorrow to do it all over again?” Damn, he sounded whiny, and he hated that. He loved his job, and he loved the bakery. There were times when he wished he had a more normal life, but he’d chosen to do this and he was going to see it through. “What did you need, Dad?” Marcus added, changing his tone.
“I would like you to come to a family dinner on Sunday.” That meant that Katherine, Marcus’s stepmother, had invited her children over for dinner, and his father, not to be left out, planned to have his son there was well. The invitation might have been phrased politely, but it was an order and Marcus knew it. He hated these things. His stepbrothers and even one of his stepsisters were officers in various branches of the military, exactly what his father had hoped for him.
“What time?” Marcus asked, too tired to argue with him. He knew there would be hell to pay one way or another if he didn’t agree, anyway, so he made it easier on himself.
“Drinks are at five with dinner at six,” his father informed him in a tone that said Marcus should very well know that. “I’ll see you then.” His father hung up, and Marcus set the phone by the chair. After turning off the television, Marcus turned out the lights and walked to the bathroom. It was barely eight thirty, but he was exhausted and he needed to get to bed. He tossed his dirty clothes in the hamper and showered quickly before getting into his side of the bed and then turning off the light. Why he still slept on one side of the bed, Marcus wished he knew, but he did. Maybe it was his mind’s way of telling him that somewhere down under the exhaustion, worry, and drive to make his business a success, there was a man who simply wanted to find someone to love and love him back. Marcus sincerely hoped he was out there, but had no idea how he was ever going to find him. Closing his eyes, he let his exhaustion take over.