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Sweet Expectations

SWEET EXPECTATIONS

Daisy McCrae knows that change can be sudden—and devastating. And while it doesn’t have to be a bad thing, change has the power to turn your whole world upside down….

Running the family bakery and living in the store’s attic might not be Daisy’s dream life, but she’s beginning to understand what being content feels like. And then she gets some unexpected news. In one moment, Daisy’s calm existence turns into chaos. Now she’s struggling to keep it together, especially with renovations at the bakery spiraling out of control.

But when a box of recipes and mementos is found hidden behind a wall in the bakery, Daisy suddenly has something to cling to—a mystery that echoes her own troubles and gives her the opportunity to figure out what she really wants out of life….

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SWEET EXPECTATIONS Excerpt

Chapter One

Saturday, 4:00 a.m.

14 days 4 hours until grand reopening

Income Lost: $0

Some disasters meander or stroll into our lives at an easy pace. A leaky dam, a slow-moving storm, or a crack in a foundation all creep up nice and easy. If we’re paying attention, we see the trouble coming and can dodge, bob and weave, or duck to avoid calamity.

I’ve never known that kind of catastrophe. No sir, my kind of trouble never ambles or strolls. Nor does it saunter, promenade, simmer, or fester. My trouble steams into my life like a runaway freight train, a Cat 5 summer twister, or a sweeping avalanche. It strikes like a snake, hits hard, and takes no prisoners.

Boom. Fast. Just like that. Disaster hits.

Consequently, I’m now good at rolling with the punches, picking myself up, and moving forward. I don’t dwell on the past too much anymore. Eyes forward is my new motto.

But as I clutched the little white pregnancy stick and stared at the test strip, willing a minus sign, I wasn’t sure how I’d handle this jam. A baby wasn’t like an expensive pair of shoes that needed returning, a bounced check, or a really bad hair perm. A baby was forever.

And ever.

Threading fingers through my dark hair, I fought back the nausea and allowed a groan to rumble in my chest as I thought about my boyfriend, Gordon. We’d broken up last year. It had been a bitter, sad breakup leaving me far more wounded than I could have imagined. I’d tried to move on with life, but regrets over Gordon always lingered. In the last month, we’d both landed back in Alexandria, trying to rebuild broken careers, and somehow we’d found our way back to each other. There were days when our rekindled love touched on miraculous.

However, in a bid to be mature and thoughtful about our newfound love, we’d not reestablished relations, if you know what I mean. No nookie. No sex. We were going slow. Didn’t want to upset the apple cart. Friends-before-lovers kind of situation, because the first time we’d been together, the sexual attraction had been hot and furious. Couldn’t-keep-our-hands-off-each-other kind of sex. We were intimate by the second date and had moved in together after a month. Gordon had asked me to marry him by week six, and by week nine, I’d freaked out over the looming commitment and pushed the self-destruct button on us.

So this time the theme was slow and easy.

Don’t get me wrong, since our reunion, sex had been on both our minds, big, big time. Old sparks still flickered bright and hot.

However, Gordon was the one staying strong, suggesting we nurture a friendship before we jumped into bed. I didn’t like it, but I understood. Gordon wanted me to be sure about him enough as a friend as well as a lover.

A simple concept except for the fact I’d just peed on a pregnancy stick.

Gordon and I had officially broken up last year and officially gotten back together four weeks ago. A muddled middle filled the months we’d been apart, and halfway through our separation—exactly four months ago—I’d made a less-than-wise choice I thought was forgotten forever.

I stared at the still white window of the stick. If it went nuclear pink, it meant I was four months pregnant. I didn’t need a calendar or any fancy guesswork to know the day. March 21. It was my last night in my Washington, D.C., apartment. The financial management company I’d worked for had gone under overnight, a casualty of the mortgage market. The job prospects were slim, so I’d yielded to pressure from my mother and agreed to come home for a few months and manage the family bakery. My newly widowed sister struggled with the job and in Mom’s mind it could be a win-win for everyone. I was not thrilled about the move. I loved my family, but the bakery held bitter memories of a birth mother who had abandoned me at the shop when I was three years old.

Needless to say my last night in Washington wasn’t happy. Self-pity brimmed as I pined for the past and dreaded the future.

So, to cheer myself up, I’d invited friends over for a final good-bye. The six of us had gathered to mourn the demise of our beloved company and to toast my bright, albeit underemployed future. Bonded by grief and loss, we clung to ties doomed to fray even as we swore we’d lunch, text, and talk all the time. We were more than friends, we’d said after I’d opened the sixth bottle of wine. We were family.

Yada, yada, yada.

One key friend, now to my great regret, lingered longer than the rest. Roger Traymore. We’d both been tipsy as we’d argued the roots of our company’s demise. We’d both fought hard to save the company. Worked crushing hours. Endured difficult meetings with clients and watched others buy us out and cut us loose.

In those hazy, drunken moments, we both understood each other. We were kindred spirits. And our momentary bond had translated into sex. Not super-great sex, but in the big picture the sex didn’t matter. What mattered was the condom had broken. I’d been too drunk to worry, but when the sun rose, we’d sobered enough to realize the gravity of it all. Instead of acknowledging what had happened, I’d been as anxious for him to leave as he was to go. And on the heels of more empty promises of friendship, we’d scattered like two rats from a sinking ship.

He took a job teaching in China, and I moved home across the Potomac River to Alexandria, Virginia, to my parents’ bakery, which also teetered on financial oblivion.

Out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Long story short, if the white stick turned pink, I was not only starting my fourth month as the Union Street Bakery manager, but I was entering my second trimester.

Pregnancy. Knocked up. Bun in the oven.

Damn it.

Clutching the stick, I walked across my attic apartment located atop the bakery and set it on my nightstand. Sitting on my squeaky bed, I buried my face in my hands. Don’t borrow trouble. Don’t borrow trouble.

Glancing up, I surveyed my tiny attic apartment. My parents had converted the third-floor space into a room when I was a kid. They’d cleared out the junk, finished the walls and added a bathroom. Not hugely spacious but okay for me now. Since my return I’d whitewashed the walls, added a desk for papers and a chest of drawers to stow clothes. There wasn’t a lot of storage space, but I didn’t need much now. I’d saved one all-purpose black dress but had sold my other D.C. clothes weeks ago for quick cash to pay the bakery’s electric bill.

There was a small television in the corner. It wasn’t attached to cable, but I’d bought a digital converter and on a good day it broadcast four channels. My red bike hung above my desk on twin hooks, a rag rug warmed the floor, and blue thrift store curtains covered the two dormer windows. In the corner, I’d also squeezed in another twin bed that doubled as a couch. No kitchen, but the bakery in the basement had all the cooking power I needed. My attic was not huge, but it worked for me.

For me.

Not me and a baby!

I sat on my sofa bed, unmindful of the squeaky spring poking my backside, and switched on my nightstand light so I could stare at the strip under the bulb’s glare. The white had turned a very faint pink tint, but it wasn’t exactly dark pink. And I was pretty certain it was supposed to be a dark pink. The back of the box said a pink plus sign indicated positive results. It didn’t say faint pink or a little bit pink. No such circumstance as a little bit pregnant.

“How pink is pink enough?”

Damn. With a groan I curled up on the side of the bed and stared at the stick, willing it to fade to white.

It hadn’t occurred to me until yesterday to buy a pregnancy test. I’d been walking by the Potomac River on the trail, trying to settle my stomach and doing my best to figure out when I’d had my last menstrual cycle. I’d missed last month and the month before, but with the job loss and the transition, I chalked the delay up to stress. Unlike my sisters, my cycles weren’t totally regular, so I didn’t get too worked up. I’d considered talking to Mom, but she was like my sisters. Like clockwork. Her biology wasn’t mine.

The fact was, no matter how much we loved each other, I was the daughter she’d adopted and not birthed.

When I was three, my birth mother had abandoned me in the bakery’s outdoor patio. It had been Easter time, and the place had been a crush of tourists and regulars enjoying our very decadent hot cross buns. Sheila McCrae, the hippie bakery shop owner, had spotted me sitting alone. She’d stopped her frenetic collection of dishes and trash and stopped to make sure my mom was close. After several minutes, she’d realized my mother wasn’t hovering close or standing nearby with a watchful eye on me. I was alone. My birth mother had vanished, leaving no traces or clues. There’d been a police investigation but my birth mother had gone. So Sheila had folded me into her family as effortlessly as she folded whipped egg whites into a batter, and life had gone on for both of us as mother and daughter.

Though Mom loved me like her biological daughters, we did not share genetics. The only person to ask would have been my birth mother, whom I’d met for the first time months ago. Our recent reunion wasn’t exactly storybook. She’d been clear she didn’t want a relationship. She’d rebuilt her life with a husband and two young sons, and there was no room in it for me. She’d given me some biological information and had said she’d answer questions.

But her sudden arrival into my life had left me stunned and had silenced the millions of questions I’d had as a kid. Now as I stared at the light-but-not-dark-pink stick, the questions flickered to life. What was it like when she was pregnant with my two half brothers and me? Did she have morning sickness? Did her feet swell? How much weight did she gain? How was the delivery? Genetic time bombs in the family tree, maybe?

Damn.

Stupid stick. It had stirred up more questions for my birth mother, Terry, and more of my own unresolved emotions. Even if the stick stayed a light, light pink, today’s stirring had disturbed the cauldron.

So why exactly did she leave me? I’d never really gotten the question answered, other than she’d been young and troubled. Why do you love your sons but don’t want to see me again? I imagined them to be special young boys who gave her no trouble at all.

I shook the stick, held it upside down, and then studied it again. No change.

Me. Daisy Sheila McCrae. With a kid.

The image simply did not compute. I’d never pictured myself with children. My sister Rachel had two of the cutest girls in the world, and I’d give my life for them. My older sister, Margaret, always talked about marriage and having a family one day, and I could picture her sitting cross-legged on the floor, finger-painting with a half-dozen redheaded children. Both my sisters grew up assuming motherhood would be a part of their lives. But for me babies hadn’t been in the master plan.

Logically, I understood my abandonment was a big part of the no-kid policy. What if I made a baby and couldn’t raise it? My mom always assured me I’d be a great parent, but the fear I’d hurt my child never left.

Some people say young children forget trauma, but they’re wrong. We might not have words or vivid minute-by-minute memories, but we remember on a cellular level.

And with no genetic background to review, making a baby was akin to Russian roulette. I know, I know, we all play a form of the game when making a baby, but my genetics had been such an unknown for so long, a baby hadn’t made sense.

Since my reunion with Terry, I’ve gained a good bit of medical history and could trace back her family—my family—for several generations. I had more answers now than I ever did. But the extra knowledge wasn’t enough to prepare me for motherhood.

I glared at the stick. Was it a little more pink? Was it pink enough? “One simple direct answer is all I want. Yes or no?”

Footsteps sounded on the stairs leading to my room, and I glanced at the stick as if I feared it would somehow shout, Daisy might be pregnant!

I hustled into the bathroom, took one last look at the sorta pinkish center and tossed it in the trash. Smoothing hands through my hair I glanced at myself in the mirror and smiled.

“If you were pregnant,” I whispered, “then it would be bright pink. The box promised it would be pink within a minute and it’s been five minutes. Don’t borrow trouble.  There’s no baby and Gordon and I will be fine.”

“Daisy?” My sister Rachel’s voice echoed from outside my door.

“Be right there, Rachel.” I combed fingers through my hair, pulled the rubber band from my wrist, and twisted and secured my hair in a topknot.

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Praise for SWEET EXPECTATIONS

When Daisy McCrae’s already semi-scrambled life abruptly turns even more upside down, it leads to deeper soul-searching , exploration of family ties, and a quest for the ultimate meaning of her purpose and direction . . . with Daisy’s narration alternating with her sister Rachel’s, the story unfurls at a slow yet steady pace, nicely layering characters, subplots, and backstory. “–Booklist
Absorbing characters, a hint of mystery and touching self-discovery elevate this novel above many others in the genre.”—RT Book Reviews

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