Read Caught Bread Handed Online

Authors: Ellie Alexander

Caught Bread Handed

 

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To Gordy, the leading man in my life.

 

Chapter One

They say that home is where the heart is. That could be true. But what if my heart was lost? What if my heart couldn't find its way home?

Technically I'd been
home
for six months. Home for me was my childhood town of Ashland, Oregon. It's a magical place with its Elizabethan architecture, charming Shakespearean-themed shops and restaurants, inviting outdoor parks and public spaces, and mild Mediterranean climate. Not to mention the warm and welcoming locals who can make a stranger feel like they've lived in Ashland for decades upon meeting for the first time.

Our family bakeshop, Torte, sits in the center of my hometown. It's located in the downtown plaza just a few hundred feet from Lithia Park and Shakespeare's stairs, a set of cement stairs that lead from the park's expansive lawn to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's theater complex. Walking around the plaza is like stepping back in time. Storefronts are designed in Tudor style with narrow symmetrical buildings, timber framing, and ornate windows.

Ashland has something for everyone from its world-famous stage productions, to its funky artistic community, and wide open spaces perfect for adventure lovers. The only thing it didn't have at the moment was snow. Usually in January, Mt. Ashland's slopes were coated in deep layers of snow. But not this January.

I looked out Torte's front windows. The sun hung low in the late afternoon sky. A group of musicians with banjos and an accordion were busking in the center of the plaza. Two well-dressed tourists stopped in front of the bubbling fountains to listen to them play. It looked like spring outside. Bistro tables had been set up in front of restaurants and shop doors were propped open. It was hard to believe that people were meandering through downtown without coats in January, especially since winter had begun with an epic storm.

A week ago I had been at Lake of the Woods Resort, a remote alpine lodge, for a catering job and had ended up snowed in. Thick white flakes dumped from the sky for three days. Snow fell in record levels causing power outages and making travel impossible. Ashland had been hit by the blizzard too. Customers had to strap on cross-country skis for their morning coffee fix. After the storm blew over the sun emerged from the clouds. It melted the snow and ushered in a stretch of unseasonably warm weather.

I had to admit that I was a little disappointed. I hadn't experienced a winter in over a decade and I had been looking forward to a change of seasons. My work as a pastry chef for a renowned cruise line had taken me to every corner of the globe. It had been an adventurous ten years. I'd seen nearly every tropical port of call, but the ship always sailed under sunny skies. Winter meant island hopping in the Caribbean and swimming in the Mediterranean Sea. Snow was unheard of in the warm blue waters where tourists took refuge from winter's harsh winds and swirling storms.

In anticipation of the cold-weather months in Southern Oregon, I bought myself a new wardrobe of sweaters, jeans, and thick wool socks. From the looks of the busy plaza outside, I wasn't going to need them anytime soon. People milled around the fountains and information kiosk wearing shorts and thin sweatshirts. Definitely not winter attire. They looked like they belonged on the upper deck of the cruise ship, not Ashland in January. Since I'd returned from Lake of the Woods the temperature in Ashland had been holding in the mid-sixties. At this rate, I was going to have to break out my summer clothes again.

The sound of mixers churning in the background and the smell of sweet rolls rising in the oven made the lack of snow more manageable. Breathing in the comforting scents brought an instant calm to my body. Being home again had been better than I had ever expected. When I returned to Ashland six months ago with a broken heart, I thought it would be a temporary stop until I found my land legs and figured out what was next for me. That quickly changed. The community had welcomed me in, and working at Torte with Mom and our incredible young staff had given me a new sense of purpose and direction. There was just one lingering problem (literally and figuratively)—my estranged husband, Carlos.

I glanced across the plaza and shook my head. Carlos was at the Merry Windsor chatting with a bellboy in a green-and-gold-stripped uniform. Of course. I couldn't escape him. I wasn't sure I wanted to.

I watched them talk. Carlos's dark hair fell in a soft wave over one eye. The sleeves of his casual white shirt had been rolled up to the elbows, revealing his bronzed forearms. He'd been telling everyone in town that he brought the Spanish sun with him. “You see, this is how we winter in Spain. We drink in the sun along with some lovely Spanish wine.”

Everyone was charmed by Carlos, myself included. It was impossible not to fall under his spell. His sultry dark eyes and Spanish accent were practically irresistible, as was his naturally relaxed personality. He'd been in Ashland a little over a week and had managed to bewitch everyone in town.

Almost everyone. Richard Lord, the owner of the Merry Windsor, where Carlos was staying, didn't look pleased that Carlos was distracting the bellboy from his work. I shook my head again as I watched his animated speech and hand motions. The bellboy chatted happily as if he and Carlos had been friends for years. Carlos had that effect on people.

My mom, Helen, had the same gift, but she used it differently. Her approach was to offer up a hot cup of coffee, a fresh pastry, and a listening ear. Carlos tended to lure people in with his witty banter and whimsical pranks. Both approaches achieved the same result. Mom and Carlos had a way of putting people at ease. I wasn't sure that I had the same ability. It's something I've been trying to work on. I think that I come across as too serious sometimes.

Carlos turned in my direction and caught my eye. He blew me a kiss and then waved with both hands in an attempt to get me outside. I shook my head and pointed to the kitchen. Heat rose in my cheeks as I left the window and walked back to my workstation. My husband had caught me staring at him. Normally that wouldn't be a bad thing, but right now it was for me. Having Carlos in Ashland for the last week had been equally wonderful and confusing. He was leaving for the ship in three days. I couldn't get distracted now. I had too much to do. Like getting our wholesale orders out the door, I said to myself, focusing on the stack of orders resting on the kitchen island.

I leafed through them, making sure everything was ready for tomorrow morning's shift. Thanks to some new restaurant accounts, Mom and I would finally be able to get the new ovens that Torte so desperately needed. We'd been barely getting by with one functional oven. New kitchen equipment came with a hefty price tag. We had been saving every extra penny for the last six months, and taking on extra wholesale accounts. It had paid off. We were so close that I could almost taste the fresh bread baking in shiny new stainless steel commercial ovens. I'd even gone so far as sketching out how we might make some minor tweaks to the kitchen floorplan and modernize our ordering system.

Having the new wholesale accounts had been great for our bottom line, but it meant that things were very tight in Torte's already small kitchen. I had been coming in earlier than usual in order to bake and deliver bread to our wholesale clients before the morning coffee rush. The long hours were taking a toll on my body. I shifted my weight as I restacked the order forms and surveyed the kitchen. Everything was running smoothly, as usual.

Stephanie, the college student who had been helping with pastry orders in the back, rolled sugar-cookie dough on the butcher block. “Is this thin enough, Mrs. Capshaw?”

Mom tucked a strand of her brown bobbed hair behind her ear and nodded in approval. “Perfect.”

“I'm going to grab a coffee. Need anything?” I asked.

Mom dusted a pan of brownies with powdered sugar. “No, thanks.” Her brown eyes narrowed. She caught my apron as I passed. “Hold up there, young lady.”

“What?”

“How many cups is that for you today?”

“Uh. I don't know. Not that many. Maybe a couple. I haven't been keeping count.” I looked at my feet. If I made eye contact with her I knew that she'd catch me in a lie.

Mom threw her head back and laughed. “Ha!” She turned to Stephanie. “Did you hear that? Not many. By my count you've had at least a gallon.”

“A gallon?” I overenunciated my words and played along. “Hardly.” Then I folded my arms in front of my chest. “Plus it's my duty to carefully sample our coffee offerings. You wouldn't want us serving bitter coffee to customers, would you?”

Mom flicked my apron and shook her head. “Stephanie, you and I may need to stage a coffee intervention.”

Stephanie looked up from the cookie dough and offered us both a rare grin. “I'm in.”

I left them brainstorming ways to keep me from the espresso bar and headed for the front of the bakeshop. As I was about to ask Andy, our barista, for a double Americano, a woman's voice called my name.

“Juliet! You are just the person I wanted to see. Can I bother you for moment, dear?” An elderly woman with silver hair stood near the pastry case holding an almond croissant in one hand and clutching the counter with the other.

It was Rosalind Gates, the president of the Ashland Downtown Association. She wore a black T-shirt with the words
SOS—SAVE OUR SHAKESPEARE
written on the front.

“Sure.” I scanned the dining room and pointed to an empty booth near the front windows.

Rosalind looked a bit unsteady on her feet. “Let me help.” I offered her my hand and guided her to the booth.

“Thanks, my dear,” she said as she carefully lowered herself into the booth. “My hip has been creaky lately.”

Before I could ask her what she needed she pointed a bony finger across the street. “Look at that monstrosity. We have to put a stop to this right now. That woman has gone too far this time. Way too far.”

My eyes followed Rosalind's quivering finger. She was pointing to ShakesBurgers. The chain restaurant had opened last week. Many local business owners weren't thrilled about it. Downtown Ashland is known for its eclectic shops and restaurants. The plaza is a hub for small, family-owned businesses. ShakesBurgers was the first chain to take ownership of a building downtown and most people weren't happy about it. Not only was the neon fast-food burger joint out of place in the historic Shakespearean village, but they had also taken over one of Ashland's beloved restaurants, the Jester.

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