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With Christmas season in full swing, baker Regina San Valentino is up to her elbows in cake batter and cookie dough. Between running her own business, filling her bursting holiday order book, and managing her crazy Italian family, she's got no time to relax, no room for more custom cake orders, and no desire to find love. A failed marriage and a personal tragedy have convinced her she's better off alone. Then a handsome stranger enters her bakery begging for help. Regina can't find it in her heart to refuse him.
Connor Gilhooly is in a bind. He needs a specialty cake for an upcoming fundraiser and puts himself—and his company's reputation—in Regina's capable hands. What he doesn't plan on is falling for a woman with heartbreak in her eyes or dealing with a wise-guy father and a disapproving family.
Can Regina lay her past to rest and trust the man who's awoken her heart?
Page Count: 216
Word Count: 55465
Regina’s tips for surviving in a big Italian family: 1. Ignore behavior that will never change.
“Regina Maria, get down here. A guy wants to see th’owner.”
My mother’s loud, shrill voice exploded up the bakery’s staircase to my office, pulling me out of my monthly receipts review. I winced from the piercing shriek neighborhood dogs had been known to cower from and pressed the intercom on my desk phone that connected to the front of the bakery. “I’ll be right there, Ma.”
I didn’t bother telling her she should use the intercom and not resort to screeching like a vecchia strega—an old witch—if she needed something. After three years of working for me at the bakery and a lifetime spent listening to her interact with others, I’d come to realize it was a lost cause trying to change a behavior that was ingrained in her DNA.
I did a quick swipe through my unruly hair to make sure it was still secure in its ponytail and ran a hand down the front of my apron. I’d been up since three a.m. baking, and before going into my office I’d been covered from chin to knees in white streaks. I looked like I’d been slashed by a homicidal pastry chef wielding a flour-coated knife. With my order book in my hands, I jogged down the stairs.
Since opening my own bakery, Angie’s, made possible with a loan from my father—and by loan, I mean the kind you don’t pay back with interest that only an Italian father with lots of connections can grant—I’d been busy seven days a week, sixteen hours a day. Running your own business is a fulltime job that never allows a day off, never allows a respite from the chaos. My life, literally, is my business. I even live above the bakery in a rent-free apartment courtesy—again—of my father, so I was never far from home or work. Sometimes I’d go a week without even venturing beyond my storefront.
Pathetic? Yeah, maybe just a smidge.
“I stuck him at a corner table and gave him a cuppa coffee and a cookie,” my mother told me when she spied me. At a spit above five foot, Ursula, my sixty-eight-year-old mother, is as round as she is tall, but blessed with more vitality than that battery-powered bunny who’s super energized. The fact that she drinks a gallon of espresso a day—straight—adds to that vivacity. Her thick childhood Brooklyn accent was still on yelling mode in order to be heard over the din in the bakery.
I kissed her plump cheek. The scent of almonds and warm sugar wafted up to me from the cookie-laden tray in her hand.
“He give you a name?”
She shrugged, the corners of her lips tugging down to her chin as her shoulders lifted up. When I’d been little, I’d thought they were connected because I never saw my mother lift her shoulders without her mouth pulling down into a frown.
“Somethin’ American, I don’t remember what.”
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