Laura Browning 

Teacher. Editor. Author.

The Secret Ingredient - Excerpt

 When the bell over the door sounded, he looked up. Becca Allred. While he could appreciate all those curves and curls, he could do without the distraction. Eli slid out of the booth where he’d been working and stalked toward the front door. She had a box in her hand and a smile on her face.

“I brought you a peace offering and an apology.”


When he didn’t say anything, her pale green eyes skittered away. She was too close, too overpowering, with a face and figure that positively screamed sex. Don’t look at the boobs. Did she always have to wear something that made him want to reach out and touch? He’d lusted after her from the moment she’d developed curves in junior high school.

“Sorry about yesterday. I didn’t think.” She tried to smile again, but it was a little more guarded than before. That was good. He needed her to go away so he could concentrate.

“No, you didn’t think. But you’re not a parent, so you wouldn’t understand. Stay away from my boy, Rebecca.” He used her full name, remembering how she’d hated it as a kid. “Go back to your little shop. And keep your peace offering.” He shoved the box back in her hands.

When she raised her gaze again, her eyes positively snapped with 
temper. It was like watching lightning bolts crackling across the sky, and against his will, his body stirred. And that just irritated him more. He wanted her to be chastened not pissed.

“Are you always this rude or is it just me you can’t stand?” she asked. “I’m sorry I tried to be friendly to your son. I’m sorry I didn’t realize he was yours. I’d never seen him before. What more do you want?”

“I want you to take your ass out of my restaurant and back across the square to your little shop.”

Nearly as tall as he was, she thrust her chin forward and slapped one hand on her hip. “That’s the second time you’ve referred to my business as ‘your little shop.’ Is that the real problem, Eli? Are you feeling threatened by the prospect of a little competition?”

His eyes narrowed. “You got that right, honey. All you are is a little competition. Mercer’s has been here for two generations, and we’ll still be here when you’ve gone back to whatever hoity-toity restaurant you came from.”

She tossed her long hair over her shoulder, shoved the bakery box into his chest, and stormed toward the door.

“We’ll see who’s still here when the dust settles,” she flung over her shoulder and shoved the door open so that it slammed against the recessed entryway.

Eli stared at the squashed box in his hands and at Becca’s retreating form, his eyes drawn like a magnet to the sway of her hips.

“Damn, Eli,” Ruthie said. “A little hard on her, weren’t you?”

“She’s a spoiled little princess who’s never had to earn her way. We’ll see how long she lasts.”