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Excerpt from COFFEE CAKE CHAOS

Nearing the Steele Mansion, her hands tightened around the wheel. This was not her first time here. Once, Sawyer had her come over for a swim in their pool. The elegance of the place took her breath away then. How would it look now that she was older?

She reached the long Steele drive and slowed down, suddenly self-conscious. Passing along the tree-lined drive, doubts and memories rose like ethereal shadows. Her car wasn’t new, but it looked nice and her mechanic cousin kept it running for her. Some of the other caterers in town had company vans. She wasn’t there just yet. The roof came first. In the meantime, she borrowed her sister’s minivan when she needed more space. With two hundred guests, she would need it.

Her first visit had been in July when she came to swim. It was hot and Sawyer thought it a good plan. His folks were out of town. They’d swam, played, and splashed, laughing and kissing beneath the watchful eyes of the servants. Sawyer taught her how to cannonball off the high dive and how to kiss underwater.

Later, they slipped up to his room, certain they’d escaped the servants’ monitoring.

The house spilled into view and she paused, taking it in once more. Three vaulted stories covered in verandas, porches, and patios All covered by an impressive roof.

Stately trees and manicured lawns, landscaped gardens, and flower beds anchored the mansion. There was a lot of catering potential. Elizabeth wanted an outside event, which might mean a tent.

After parking, she stared for a moment at the house and marshaled her courage. Fingers gripped around her portfolio, she approached the twin wooden front doors at the end of the winding brick walk. Steeling her nerves, she inhaled deeply, swept her hair into place, and knocked.

A portly housemaid swung the door open, her mouth pursed into a silent inquiry. Aviana broke into a smile, shoulders straight.

“Hello. I’m with Aviana’s Tasteful Affairs Catering. I have an appointment with Mrs. Steele.”

“One moment.” The maid ushered her into the tiled foyer and motioned for her to wait. Feeling like a dog commanded to stay, she waited, spinning around to study the[mel1]  area. It probably looked the same, but she didn’t remember. It spoke of elegance and wealth. Sawyer was lucky to have grown up surrounded by such lavishness. She might not have had things growing up like he did, but she always had the love of her family.

“Aviana.”

She whirled at the soft purr of her name, her breath escaping. “Sawyer?”

His long hair was now neatly clipped, but still dark with a little wave she remembered. The impetuous grin he always wore was replaced with seriousness about his firm mouth and darkening his storm gray eyes. The boy of her memory was gone. Here stood the man he’d become. An electric thrill shot through her.

He nodded, looking almost relieved as he stretched out a hand. Touching, warmth shifted from him, spreading quickly through her.

“It’s nice to see you again,” he said. “Come on in.” Cupping her elbow, he guided her along the hall to a narrow archway. Squeezing through, the room opened into a spacious, sunny solarium. He led her to an upholstered chair and released his hold.

Folding into the chair, Aviana realized how quickly she missed his touch. How much she had missed it. He slid into the chair opposite her and quietly studied her a moment, his hand resting against his chin.

“So you’re a caterer now?”

“I am. A fairly successful one. A well respected one.”

He smiled, reminding her of the Sawyer from their youth. Her heart skipped at the simple sight of his dimpled smile. Not as carefree as he used to be, his smile could still melt ice.

“And you’re getting married. Congratulations.” Forcing the words out, she knew she didn’t sound very complimentary but it seemed appropriate. His smile immediately faded and a heaviness filled his face.

“Thanks. Okay, so would like to see the preliminary plans?”

When she got this job, she wondered how she was going to balance a professional air while every muscle in her heart was constricting. She congratulated him because it was expected, but instead of making him pleased, he actually looked unhappy.

“Sure,” she said slowly, struggling to understand why.

He rose and stretched a hand to her. She stepped into his hold like the years between them never happened. Their eyes met and held, as Aviana held her breath. She knew she’d never be able to stand by and watch him announce his engagement to some other woman. The pounding in her heart did not lie. She still desired Sawyer.