“THEY WANT them Black Forest cheesecakes done in thirty,” Melanie said, chewing on a stick of gum.
Adalia sighed and blinked a couple times. “I’m not a miracle worker. Besides, I hardly think anyone in the store is going to riot if I don’t get it out on time.”
Annie’s Market specialized in nothing but providing loads of baked goods to as many customers as possible – in short, the quality was terrible. The recipes in the bakery section were set and Adalia’s creativity was stifled, but a job was a job and God knew she needed the money after that debauchery with Trent.
Melanie shuffled out of the kitchen and the doors swung in her wake. The girl had about as much finesse as a bull on steroids. She’d worked there for a week as Adalia’s manager, and it was difficult to respect her.
Failure, failure, failure. The word repeated itself in her head.
Measure out the flour, failure, weigh the sugar, failure, beat the eggs, failure. It didn’t matter what she did or which way she looked at things. She’d messed up. Big time.
Melanie shoved back into the kitchen. “Store manager says to get ‘em done or you’re in trouble.”
“You went to the store manager?” Adalia stared at her and shook her head.
“Yeah, and there’s some guy here to see you.”
Adalia’s heart leapt into her throat, and she stopped moving completely. Screw the Black Forest cakes, what if Trent had arrived? Mortification paralyzed her; she was glued to the spot.
The last thing she’d want was the billionaire to see her slumming it in a tiny store bakery.
“Who?” Adalia whispered.
Melanie raised an eyebrow. “Derick or something, I didn’t hear proper. Get them cakes ready.” She turned and charged out again, still chewing gum like it was her air to breathe.
“Derick,” Adalia said to herself, shaking her head in confusion. Who the hell was Derick? She dusted off her hands on her grubby apron and strolled out of the kitchen and into the kiosk area.
It wasn’t Derick; it was DeShawn.
“Hey baby,” he murmured, resting his elbows on top of the glass case, and gazing into her eyes. “I’ve been thinking about you all day.”
“I’m honored,” she replied, and the sarcasm was lost on him. She didn’t want to see Trent, but she surely didn’t want to see her ex-boyfriend either. He’d pretty much messed with her mind for long enough, and she didn’t need that added pressure or drama.
“You working here now?”
“No,” she grumbled. “I just come here to work out.”
“Nothing,” she said with a sweet smile. “What do you want, DeShawn? I’ve got things to do right now.” She glanced out over the empty store and made eye contact with the manager.
He glared at her and tilted his head to the side like the oversized buzzard he was. “Hurry up,” he mouthed then tapped his cheap Kmart watch.
She forced herself not to roll her eyes at the authority figure. Once upon a time, she’d loved baking, but that was when she’d been able to create something from fresh, not stick to the plan, no matter how disgusting it was.
“Baby?” DeShawn’s voice interrupted her train of thought.
“What is it?” She snapped her focus back to his face. “Like I said, I’m busy.”
“And I said I want you back.”
Agony erupted in her chest, pushing aside every other emotion. She’d been through so much, tasted a hint of success and then fallen hard. All she wanted was to get back on her feet and move on with her life, but DeShawn was back.
“Why? Give me one good reason why.”
“Because I love you, baby,” he said, leaning over the case of day-old cakes to grab at her arm. She didn’t jerk it away and he managed to bring it up and take hold of her hand instead. He brought the tips of her fingers to his lips and kissed them gently.
There wasn’t heat like there was with Trent, but it still brought out something in her. Something good. A long forgotten memory of what it was like to be touched by a person who cared.
Did DeShawn truly care?
“I don’t trust you, and I don’t need that,” she said, pulling her hand from his grasp and wiping the back on her apron with a sour expression.
“You never gave me a chance to prove myself to you. I love you so much, baby, and you ain’t never given me the chance to show it.”
“What are you talking about?” she spat, trembling from head to toe. “I gave you every chance in the world to show your love for me and you didn’t make any effort whatsoever.”
“I came to your daddy’s place to talk to you.”
“What?!” Adalia laughed out loud and the manager shot her a look of pure loathing. “I’m not talking about after I dumped your sorry ass. By then, it was too late. I’m talking about before. Because when it really mattered, you didn’t give a crap.”
“I was high a lot of the time.”
“Precisely.” Adalia gripped the low-slung counter with both hands.
Melanie appeared beside her. “You gotta get back to work. The Black Forest cakes aren’t gonna bake themselves.”
“What the hell does a store need two managers for?” Adalia blurted, then snapped her mouth shut.
Melanie glared at her for a minute then charged off again, muttering to herself.
That meant more trouble for her. The bakery manager chewed and steamed her way over to the store manager and flung her arms around, describing what Adalia had said in minute detail, apparently.
“You realize how busy I am, right?” Adalia breathed slowly, through the anger and disappointment in herself.
“Yeah, true that. Look, girl, I can’t live without you. I’m not gonna treat you bad again. Only give you what you deserve. You gotta believe me.”
“No, DeShawn, all I ‘gotta’ do is work and keep this damn job so I can earn enough money to make rent this damn month.”
“So, come live wit’ me.” DeShawn grinned and spread his arms wide, then scratched beneath the line of his do-rag. His muscles rippled beneath his tank top, but she didn’t have that spark with him.
Maybe she’d never feel that chemistry again. Hell, she’d probably imagined it in the first place.
“I’m not moving in with you, DeShawn. There’s no question about that in my mind.”
“Aight,” he said, then rapped his knuckles on the glass counter. “So lemme take you on a date.”
The store manager held up a hand to Melanie’s face, then walked past her and marched in Adalia’s direction.
Some of the shelves in the store leaned skew, the cans had a layer of dust which matched the grime on the front windows. Hardly any sunlight made it through to the back, so the fluorescents buzzing and clicking overhead made perfect sense.
“You need to leave now,” Adalia murmured, bracing herself for the complaints from the manager. “I ain’t leaving,” DeShawn said. The manager, Mr. Hubbard, was almost at the kiosk.
“I ain’t leaving until you say you’ll go on a date with me.”
“Do you realize I could lose my job over this? Do you even care?”
“I care about you, but I ain’t gonna take no for no answer, and you need to see that, girl.” DeShawn seemed oblivious to the risk he’d put her under just by showing up. She was at the end of her tether with him and with everything else.
Mr. Hubbard was steps away.
“Fine, I’ll go on a date with you. Just get outta here!” She hissed it at him, then plastered up a broad smile.
“Adalia,” Hubbard said, stopping beside DeShawn. “I’d like to see you in the kitchen for a moment.”
“Yes, sir,” she said, still with that sick, fake smile on her lips. It suited how she felt inside: nauseated by the situation and what she had to do each day. She was a sellout.
“On Friday, baby,” DeShawn called out after.
The kitchen doors swung shut behind her.