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For the past year, Tasha has thrown herself into her catering business with her sisters, but she’s been keeping a secret. The hot, moody owner of Prime Beef, is the only man she ever loved. The man she left behind in college, and thought she’d never see again, until he showed up across the street. For the past year, Jericho Smythe has been waging a war with himself. Did he want to know why Natasha had broken his heart and left without looking back, hell yes. But he’d found himself paralyzed by the glimpses he’d gotten of her at Three Sisters Catering, and knew he wasn’t ready for a confrontation. Neither of them are content with their lives, but so much has happened in the time that has passed. Can the right amount of spice remind them of the love they’d shared? A Touch of Cinnamon may be all that's needed to give Tasha and Jericho back the richness they’ve been lacking.
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A Touch of Cinnamon
Copyright 2018 Bethany Lopez
Published January 2018
Cover Design by:
Red Road Editing / Kristina Circelli
KMS Freelance Editing
Interior Design & Formatting by:
Christine Borgford, Type A Formatting
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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STORIES ABOUT MELISSA—SERIES
Ta Ta for Now!
Nissa: a contemporary fairy tale
FRIENDS & LOVERS TRILOGY
Make it Last
I Choose You
Trust in Me
A TIME FOR LOVE SERIES
Novella—For Eternity—Coming Soon
THE LEWIS COUSINS SERIES
Too Enchanting—Coming 03/2018
THREE SISTERS CATERING
A Pinch of Salt
A Touch of Cinnamon
Always Room for Cupcakes
Lei’d with Cupcakes
More than Exist
Christmas Come Early
Leap of Faith
Beau and the Beastess
Love & Recipes
Love & Cupcakes
Katie and the North Star
A TOUCH OF CINNAMON
Also by Bethany Lopez
Excerpt of More Than Exist
About the Author
To my children, for asking, “Did you write a chapter today?” and “Did you finish your book yet?” Your love and support mean more than I can express. I love you.
“’LO,” I SAID SLEEPILY INTO the phone.
I’d been up late studying for a quiz, and didn’t bother looking at the face of the phone to see who was calling. I just wanted the ringing to stop.
My name on my sister’s lips, in that tone, had me sitting up and coming fully awake.
“Millie, what’s wrong?” I asked.
“It’s Mom . . . Tasha, you know I wouldn’t be calling unless it was serious,” my oldest sister said, the pain in her voice tearing me apart. “You need to come home.”
Tears pricked my eyes as the reality of what she was saying crashed down on me.
Our mother had been downplaying her illness for so long, I’d begun to believe she’d be okay. But, Millie telling me to leave school and come home meant the worst thing imaginable was happening . . . our mother was dying.
“I’m on my way,” I stated simply, then pressed end and sat on my bed, staring at nothing as my mind raced.
It’s a sign. That’s what the voice in my head was telling me. A sign that I was so caught up in Jericho, I’d been losing sight of everything else. My family, my studies, my independence.
I’d left my mother, sisters, and the only home I’d ever known, so that I could find myself and figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Instead, I’d met Jericho, become infatuated in all things Jericho, and had forgotten my real reason for being here.
I’d skipped holidays and birthdays, opting to stay with Jericho instead. Not wanting to leave him even for a short weekend.
And now, my mother and sisters needed me, and I needed to go home.
I packed quickly, grateful for the first time that my dorm room was too small to hold too much stuff, so it didn’t take long.
Thirty minutes later, I’d sent an email to my advisor letting her know what was happening, my small car was loaded down with all of my belongings, and I was turning out of my dorm parking lot and headed home.
I kept my eyes straight ahead as I passed Coffee Time, the coffee house where Jericho and I’d had our first date, and where he was probably right then drinking a cup and surfing the internet while he waited for me to meet him.
I knew he’d hate me, but I hoped, eventually, he’d realize that what we’d had was more than either of us could handle, and was bound to burn out soon. And, maybe, one day, he’d forgive me for leaving without saying goodbye.
Because if I’d seen his face, or even heard his voice on the phone, there was no way I’d ever be able to leave.
Natasha ~ Present
“HAVE YOU HEARD FROM MILLIE yet?”
I looked up from my planner to see my sister Dru coming into the office. She looked nervous, which was weird, because Dru didn’t get nervous.
“No, why? Does Claire need help out front?” I asked.
Dru waved her hand and said, “No, she’s got everything under control.”
I narrowed my eyes, took in the way she was bouncing slightly on the balls of her feet and fisting her hands at her sides. She wasn’t nervous, nervous, she was excited, nervous. Something was going on.
“What is it?” I asked, pushing my chair back and standing. The movement caused my back to twinge, so I placed my hand on my lower back and stretched from side to side. I guess I’d been sitting too long.
“What’s what?” Dru asked quickly, suspiciously. “Nothing’s going on.”
“Oh, something is going on . . . You know something that I don’t and you’re going to tell me what it is.”
“Or what?” she asked, jutting out her chin and cocking a hip. Now she was trying to deflect her lie by getting feisty. I knew my sister’s game all too well.
“Or, I’ll get suddenly sick on Saturday and you’ll have to deal with Mrs. Gunderson, Mother of the Bride from Hell . . .”
Dru lost all signs of feistiness and cried, “You wouldn’t!”
“You know I would,” I taunted. I wasn’t bluffing and she knew it.
“But, she made Big Stan at the flower shop cry,” Dru protested.
“She makes everybody cry. Now, spill. What’s happening with Millie? Did something happen in Graceland?”
Dru bit her lip, looked at the clock, then sighed.
“Oh, fine, they’ll be back any minute, so I kept my promise to Jackson and didn’t spill his secret.”
“His secret?” I asked, then my eyes widened and my mouth dropped. “Did he propose at Graceland?”
Dru squealed and nodded, and we clasped hands as we both started jumping up and down.
“Either Kate Spade is having a seventy percent off sale, or someone spilled the beans,” I heard Millie say dryly.
Dru and I turned to see her standing in the doorway of the office, her hand out in front of her to show off the ring. We took our jumping and squealing to her and both grabbed her hand at the same time.
“You said yes!” I exclaimed.
“She said yes,” Dru mimicked.
“I said yes!” Millie cried, and started jumping with us.
“Oh my God, it’s beautiful, and so totally you,” Dru said as she leaned in to get a bird’s eye view of the ring.
“Tell us everything,” I urged. “Did he get down on one knee? Recite poetry, or . . . oh, more Keats? Was Kayla there? Where did he do it?”
Millie laughed at our exuberance and suggested, “How about we grab some coffee and I’ll tell you everything.”
“Okay, but let’s go down to Rooster’s,” Dru suggested. “I know you’re just getting back, but I could use a change of scenery.”
We walked through the kitchen, Millie stopping to give Claire a hug and ask how things had been while she was gone.
“She can give you the lowdown on the kitchen later,” Dru said impatiently, pulling Millie toward the door. “I only have thirty minutes until my next meeting, and I don’t want you skipping any details.”
Millie laughed and said, “All right. Claire, I’ll come talk to you in a bit.”
“Sure thing, Mills, everything’s great here. Go catch up with your sisters.”
We made it through the kitchen and into the storefront, where Millie had to stop to say hi to a couple other people, then we were finally out on the street in front of Three Sisters Catering.
“Maybe we should have snuck out the back,” I said with a laugh, then allowed my eyes to drift across the street, like they always did when I went out the front door, and I stopped dead in my tracks, ‘cause he was there.
Standing outside of Prime Beef, the steakhouse he’d opened mere months before we’d opened up shop right across the street, was Jericho Smythe.
The man I’d fallen in instant lust, and almost as immediately in love, with, in accounting class my freshman year of college. The man who’d consumed my thoughts and feelings for over a year after that meeting, and who I’d unceremoniously left without so much as a Dear John letter years ago.
The man who still hadn’t spoken to me, but had only glared at me from afar.
The man who still made my heart yearn, my breath quicken, and my knees go weak with just a glance.
I turned my head quickly and grabbed my sisters by the hands, urging them to keep walking toward Rooster’s.
“I’m guessing you two didn’t talk things out while I was away,” Millie said softly, her eyes on Jericho.
I shook my head.
“Well, I’m pretty sure Jackson’s going to have him involved in the wedding in some capacity, so you won’t always have the luxury of having Main Street between you. You need to swallow your pride and talk to him, Tash. Explain what happened and clear the air so that you can at least be civil to each other.”
I smiled sadly and nodded, but stopped myself from correcting her.
It wasn’t pride that kept me from talking to Jericho, it was fear. Not fear that he wouldn’t understand, and would never forgive me. But, fear that he would . . .
Jericho ~ Present
THE PAIN THAT HIT MY gut was as instantaneous as the rapid beating of my heart at the sight of her.
It happened every time.
Every. Single. Time.
I did my best to ignore it, to ignore her, but I’d been trying that since I’d arrived over a year ago, and it was just as impossible now as it had been then.
Not when I could hear the sexy timbre of her voice, see her gray-blue eyes widen with fear every time they landed on me, or feel the weight of her longing. Because whether she wanted to admit it or not, it was there.
Just as I still longed for her.
I stood a moment longer, watching the three sisters walk down Main Street, Natasha’s bright-red bob swaying with each step, then forced myself to turn away and walk inside.
I strolled through Prime Beef, glancing around at my staff and making sure the dining room was ready to open for lunch. I didn’t bother going into the kitchen, I knew my head chef, Hector, would have everything under control. That was why I’d hired him, after all, so that I wouldn’t have to worry about what was going on in the kitchen.
I was a business major with a hospitality minor, and Hector was a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu with ten years of experience. We made a great team, and although I ultimately owned Prime Beef, I considered him my partner.
Prime Beef wouldn’t be what it was without both of us, and I was extremely proud of what we’d accomplished in such a short time.
Still feeling the effects of my Natasha sighting, I headed for my office, pulled open my mini fridge, and grabbed a cold water. I sat at my desk, uncapping the water, and took a long drink, then I leaned back in my chair and closed my eyes.
Out of all the places in the world I could have opened my restaurant, a small town may not seem like the obvious choice. In fact, Hector had tried to talk me out of it a couple times, arguing that we’d fare better in the big city, but I wouldn’t budge.
Natasha had talked about this place a few times while we were together, but she’d either downplayed the quaintness of the town, or hadn’t been able to see it for what it was at the time. She had been hell bent on getting away from her hometown and becoming independent, so maybe she hadn’t realized what she had here until she’d gotten older.
Not me. The second I’d walked down Main Street, I’d known there was no place else I’d rather live and work.
Coming from the streets of Philly, I’d known hard, cold, and hungry, but what I hadn’t known was beauty, warmth, and community.
It was true, I’d originally come here to find Natasha. To confront her about her cowardice. To rage at her for leaving me without so much as a goodbye. To find out why . . . But, I hadn’t done any of those things.
Instead, I’d bought a prime piece of real estate on Main Street, informed Hector that I’d found our location, and hired a moving van.
It was a stroke of luck that three months into development, Natasha and her sisters had set up their own business and moved in right across the street. At that time, I’d already been living there for four months, and I still hadn’t run into Natasha.
To say she was shocked would be an understatement, and to say seeing her had rocked me to my very core would be completely accurate.
She’d cut and died her hair, and had obviously gotten a few years older, but she still looked exactly the same. My first instinct had been to go to her, to take her into my arms, and tell her how much I’d missed her, but the look of utter horror on her face had stopped me cold.
Yes, she’d left me without looking back, and yes, I’d come here to rail at her for breaking my heart, but never in a million years had I expected to see that look on her face.
My confidence had fled and I’d become uncertain of how to proceed, so I decided to wait. To give her time to come to terms with my being here, and to let her come to me when she was ready.
That had been over a year ago, and she’d never come.
No, instead, she scurried away like a frightened mouse any time she laid eyes on me.
Hell, the one time we’d actually been in the same room together, at a bar with her sisters and our mutual friends, she’d looked at me like I was the offender, and had fled the bar almost in tears.
Her sisters had also looked at me like I was the leaver instead of the leavee, which was totally baffling.
I was the injured party here, not her, so why had they all acted like I was the asshole? And, why did Natasha’s eyes widen in fear whenever she saw me. She had to know that no matter how angry with her I was, I’d never harm her in any way.
I opened my eyes and let out a heavy sigh.
I’d been fucking around for over a year, confused, and yes, scared of what finally confronting Natasha would mean. Would she regret leaving me, or was she happy with her decision? Did she still feel anything for me, or had she moved on?
These were the thoughts that kept me up and night, and no matter what the answers, it was time to stop torturing myself.
I was going to finally man up and confront Natasha.
Natasha ~ Past
I MOVED THE STRAP OF my backpack up more securely on my shoulder, then let out a short breath as I fought for the courage to open the door.
I’d only been on campus for three days, and today was the first day of class.
I was terrified, felt completely awkward, and I missed my sisters.
“C’mon, Tash,” I muttered, then lifted my hand and pushed.
Voices chattered happily as I entered the lecture hall and glanced up, checking the wall clock to make sure I wasn’t late when I saw all the people that were already inside.
Nope, I was five minutes early.
I’d planned to be fifteen minutes early, but I’d spent five outside of the Math Complex, urging myself to enter, and another five in front of the classroom.
Not wanting to bring any sort of attention to myself, I moved to the right and started scooting past the chairs in the back row, with the intention of getting to the middle as quickly as possible, getting everything out of my bag, and sitting before anyone noticed me.
My head was down as I shuffled, my long chestnut hair falling around me, obscuring my face. Which was why I didn’t realize anyone else was in the row until large boots came into sight, just as I was tripping over them.
“Oh,” a male voice grunted, then I was being steadied by a pair of strong hands. “I’ve got you.”
I looked up, struggling to contain my mortification, then froze as lightning struck me on the spot.
He was tall, so very much taller than me, with dark hair and striking features. His hands on my arms felt like brands, and his eyes seemed to consume me with their intensity.
“You okay?” my dark stranger asked, his voice deep and thrilling to my ears.
“Uh, yeah, sorry,” I managed, although I’m not sure how.
I was captivated, mesmerized, staring up at him as he grinned slightly down at me.
He was obviously older, and a lot more confident than I was, and there was something about him that exuded strength. He had a sureness about him . . . I wasn’t sure how else to explain it.
“Take your seats,” I heard ordered from the front of the room, and knew our professor had arrived and was ready to start class.
Yet, I found it almost impossible to move.
Luckily, the deep-voiced man who was still holding me upright was still able to function, and he moved me to the side and turned me, then slid my backpack off of my shoulder and urged me to sit in the seat.
The seat next to his.
I sat with a thud, accepted my backpack, and opened it quickly, avoiding all eye contact with my neighbor as I pulled out my notebook, accounting book, and the bag that held my pens and pencils.
Once I had everything laid out, I shifted in my seat and tried to focus on what the professor was saying. It was extremely difficult though, because I was hyper aware of the long, jean-clad leg that kept brushing innocently against my bare leg.
Sparks flashed with each touch, and I fought to control my breathing and keep my gaze straight as I felt him watching me.
When I didn’t give him the attention he sought, although I did notice that the table in front of him was empty, no book, paper, or any sort of writing utensil, my stranger reached in front of me, zipped my pouch open slowly, and took a pen from inside.
I waited, unsure of what he was going to do but desperate to find out, then flinched slightly when his fingers brushed against my wrist as he turned it on the table. I felt the whisper of the pen on my flesh, then glanced down when my wrist was released.
That’s what he wrote on my wrist, his name. It felt like he’d written it on my soul, and I swear, I could still feel the heat of his fingers on my flesh.
Tap, tap, tap.
I glanced over to see my pen tapping on the table as he waited.
I gave one last glance at the professor, to make sure we weren’t about to be called out for not paying attention, then took the pen from Jericho’s hand and reached for his arm.
He turned it for me, so the underside of his forearm was facing up, and I braced myself as my hand made contact with his tanned skin. His forearm was strong, muscular, although not overly so. It was also soft and warm, and I found myself wondering what the rest of him would feel like.
Hoping my hair concealed the blush on my cheeks, I put the tip of the pen to his forearm and wrote, Natasha.
Before I could pull away, Jericho captured my hand in his, turned it, and wrote in my palm.
He’s asking me out? Is this real life?
I glanced around the room, sure that this was some sort of freshman hazing, where the mysteriously hot upperclassman found a naïve underclassman to mess with. It had to be a joke. Why else would a guy like Jericho be interested in taking a girl like me for coffee?
I’d grown up with my sisters as best friends, our father had left us when we were little, and our mother had raised us. The town I came from was small. So small that we knew we couldn’t get away with anything without our mother finding out, so we never tried.
That was part of the reason why I’d left home to go to school. Not just to get out on my own, but to actually live a little. To make decisions, good and bad, and to handle the consequences of those decisions on my own.
So, even though I was sure it was a joke, and I knew I might end up getting hurt or humiliated, I took the pen from his hand and wrote, yes, on his palm.
I dropped the pen then, turned away, and focused completely on what the professor was saying. I opened my book and took notes, all the time aware of Jericho next to me, and the fact that after class, I was going on my first college date with the hottest guy I’d ever seen.
It took all I had not to squeal out loud, but you can bet your bottom I was screaming on the inside.
It was time to start living.
Jericho ~ Present
I GOT UP EARLY, EARLIER than most, and although initially it had been because I was working to get my fledgling restaurant up and running, now it was a force of habit.
I’d already gone for a morning run, showered, and dressed for my day, now I needed coffee. I strode through my ranch-style home, glancing out the large, unencumbered windows to enjoy the view of my three acres, like I did each morning. It was a view I loved, and had never thought I’d ever be able to experience.
As a boy, I’d lived with the loud sounds of the city, wandering dirty streets, and learning how to take care of myself, while I fought not to get caught up in a way of life that could ruin any chance I had of ever getting out.
My mom was a junkie, strung out more often than not, and my father . . . a ghost.
When I was sixteen, I’d lived on my own in our one-room apartment. My mother had been serving one of her stints in jail, and I’d found a job working as a busboy in a local kitchen. The pay sucked, but they gave me free food, and let me work around my class schedule.
I’d come home late one night after my shift, eager to get in a shower and finish up my homework, so I could get at least a few hours of sleep. When I saw a strange car parked on our street, I’d thought nothing of it, even though it was obviously expensive.
We often had people of means stopping by to buy drugs or score a hooker from our complex, but when I got to my door, I was wary when I found a man in a suit leaning casually against it, his eyes on his phone.
“You lost?” I’d asked, trying to sound tough.
I was already taller than most men half my age, but I wasn’t looking for any trouble.
“Jericho Smythe?” the man asked, putting his phone in his pocket and looking me over.
“My name is Barnes, Clive Barnes, and I’m your grandfather’s lawyer,” the man replied.
“I don’t have a grandfather,” I said, then moved passed him to the door.
“Well, you did . . .” he said, and I turned to look at him, curiosity getting the better of me.
“Did?” I asked.
“Your father’s father, Jerome Smythe, has unfortunately passed away.”
“You know my father?” I asked, unable to keep my cool at the possibility of finding out information on the man my mother refused to discuss.
“I did,” Mr. Barnes said, his tone cautious.
I didn’t notice his tone, however, as excitement coursed through me.
“Does he know about me? Can you tell me where he is?” I asked eagerly, all pretense gone.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Smythe, your father passed away about ten years ago.”
All hope fled me as a crushing sadness filled me. It may seem strange, to feel so forlorn over someone you’d never even met, but I’d always held on to the hope that one day my father would come for me, or I’d find him, and I’d be able to escape the life I’d been living.
“Oh,” I managed.
“Anyway, Mr. Smythe, what I’m here to tell you is that as your grandfather’s only living heir, you’ve come into a bit of money . . .”
A bit of money had been an understatement, as it turned out. Unwittingly, my father had helped me escape the life I’d been living, at least inadvertently. My mother hadn’t made it out of jail that time, instead getting more time added to her sentence, and leaving me to raise myself.
With my inheritance, I’d been able to go away to school and never look back. It had also given me the ability to follow my dreams and open my own restaurant, and to buy my house, on this land.
I didn’t take a bit of it for granted, and I was mostly happier than I’d ever been . . . except for that year in college when I’d had Natasha.
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