Title: Baked With Love (A Match Made in Heaven, Book 3)
Author: Peggy Jaeger
Genre: RomCom, Small town, Friends to lovers, surviving loss, divorce, independent woman, Family
Innkeeper Maureen O'Dowd lives to cook and bake, spoils her family and friends, and is an expert at keeping secrets, especially about the man who's held her heart for years.
Police Chief Lucas Alexander is dealing with an aging father and a moody teenage son, and he's in love with a woman who only wants to be friends.
How can these two fiercely private people reveal their feelings for one another without destroying the friendship they already have? And if they're successful, will another secret, if revealed, drive a wedge between Maureen and Lucas that can never be repaired?
In a feeble attempt to hide my embarrassment, I grabbed a few plates of salad and carried them out to my dayroom where we were due to celebrate.
I was surprised when Lucas tagged after me, holding two plates in his own hands.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Helping. What does it look like I’m doing?”
“Lucas, you’re a guest. You don’t need to help. Go back and visit, I’ve got this.”
He laid the plates at two table settings, then fisted his hands on his hips as he regarded me. Brows grooved, chin dropped a few notches and his head cocked at a bit of an angle, his expression seemed...vexed.
“What?” I asked.
His eyes narrowed.
“You’re here to help celebrate Nanny’s birthday so, duh”—I lifted my hands from my sides—“that makes you a guest.”
He took a step closer, the intensity in his gaze, alien to me.
“What’s the matter? You’re looking at me like I have three heads.”
Another step and he was right in front of me. I had to lift my chin to keep his face in focus.
“That’s really how you see me? As a simple guest?” He wrapped one of his hands around my upper arm and gently squeezed, all the while his gaze lasered on mine, the expression drifting across his eyes questioning.
“Of-of course you’re not simply a guest.” I amazed myself I was able to get that much out. The heat from his hand was as hot as a branding iron. It was a wonder my skin wasn’t smoking. “You’re a-a friend, too. Good golly, you’re practically family.”
I nodded. “A good one.”
I didn’t have a clue what was behind his head tilt, but it was no wonder Lucas was so good at his job. I can imagine all kinds of criminals vomited up confessions when he trained his heated, pointed, and spill-your-guts glare at them.
“That’s what I am, Maureen? A good… friend?”
I swallowed, the sound cutting through the tension between us.
Why did he make it sound like an accusation and not a fact? He was a friend.
“Aren’t you?” I asked, my voice now a whisper.
We stood so close I could discern the palette of individual greens in his eyes. So close it would take nothing to lift up on my toes and press my mouth to his like I’d dreamt of doing for most of my life.
“Is that what you want me to be?” he asked.
In truth, no, it wasn’t. Not even close.
But I could never say those words out loud, no matter how much I ached to.
But dear God, I wanted to. So much.
Fear was the reason I didn’t now, and never had, told him what I really wanted of him, how I felt about him. Lucas was too important to me, too much a fixture in my life. Confessing I loved him, and not in a good friend kind of way, was something I feared would change our relationship forever, and possibly not for the better.
I swallowed again to buy precious time to answer.
Cathy’s voice stopped me from doing so when she entered the room.
“Hey,” she said from the doorway, peering at the both of us. “What’s going on?”
I would have jerked out of his grip, but Lucas held me in place for a beat, as if knowing my intent.
“I’m helping Mo set up,” Lucas told her with his trademark calm when he finally let go of my arm. I put as much distance as I could between us. He turned to her, a smile on his face. “Hey. Just get here?”
Her head ping ponged from him, to me, then back to him again, her left eyebrow lifting high on her forehead. “In the kitchen, flirting with Nanny. Why?”
“Good. I need to talk to him about his bachelor party. I’ve got a couple ideas I want to run by him.”
“Oh good Lord.” Cathy shook her head. “Please tell me it doesn’t involve strippers or anything illegal.”
He kissed her cheek and grinned. “I’m the Chief of Police, Counselor. I’d never condone illegal activity of any kind.”
“I didn’t hear you deny anything about strippers,” she said to his retreating back.
His deep laugh echoed in the breezeway.
Slowly, she zeroed her attention in on me, folded her arms across her chest, and pulled her face into what Colleen calls Cathy’s killer lawyer stare.
Just like Lucas, Cathy is exceptionally good at her job. But in my sister’s case, I was immune to her penetrating, tell-me-all-your-secrets expression. I’d had a lifetime living as her baby sister and I’d apprenticed at her knee when she’d dealt with our grandmother by using diversionary tactics.
“So.” She ambled toward me. “Lucas.”
I blanked my face. “So Lucas, what?”
She took a beat then said, “Lucas and…you?”
I kept my eyes steady on hers, knowing if I glanced away she’d take it as an affirmation of her unsaid suspicions. Or worse, weakness. Like I said, I’d watched her my entire life and knew exactly how effective she could be when she wanted information someone was unwilling to give. She was a master of the silent wait-out, an interrogation technique she used frequently when she was in court and questioning a witness. Nine times out of ten, her silence would get to the person and they’d blurt things they sworn to keep hidden.
But we weren’t in the courtroom today, on Cathy’s turf. We were in my inn, on mine. And if I knew how to do anything, it was keep my own counsel.
After several moments of noiseless staring, Cathy grinned at me.
“You’re like a locked vault with a missing key. Not opening for anyone.”
Since it wasn’t a question, I didn’t feel the need to answer her.
Nanny’s voice rang out from the kitchen.
“That doesn’t sound good,” I said.
Buy Links (including Goodreads and BookBub):
Universal Link: https://books2read.com/u/3n88ve
What makes your featured book a must-read?
If you like a true friends-to-lovers romance, BAKED WITH LOVE should be on your reading list! There is so much going on in Maureen O’Dowd’s world that romance is the last thing on her mind. But when Chief of Police and good friend Lucas Alexander makes his feelings known and tells her he wants to be more than friends, the love she’s always had for him explodes into something deeper and more meaningful than anything she could have imagined. Friends to lovers is always a fun story to read because you love waiting to see who compromises on what for the relationship.
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Peggy Jaeger writes contemporary romances and rom coms about strong women, the families who support them, and the men who can’t live without them.
Family and food play huge roles in Peggy’s stories because she believes there is nothing that holds a family structure together like sharing a meal…or two…or ten. Dotted with humor and characters that are as real as they are loving, Peggy brings all aspects of life into her stories: life, death, sibling rivalry, illness, and the desire for everyone to find their own happily ever after. Growing up the only child of divorced parents she longed for sisters, brothers and a family that vowed to stick together no matter what came their way. Through her books, she has created the families she wanted as that lonely child.
As a lifelong diarist, she caught the blogging bug early on, and you can visit her at peggyjaeger.com where she blogs daily about life, writing, and stuff that makes her go "What??!"
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Amazon Author page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00T8E5LN0