The line of women and a few men began forming outside Signed Sips around two in the afternoon. The book signing did not begin for another five hours. I hadn’t known what was happening at first and thought the ladies outside were waiting to enter. When an hour had passed and the line had only gotten longer, I had asked Hillya what they were doing.
“They’re here for the signing,” she told me.
“But that’s hours away,” I replied confused.
“Yes, and the line will continue to grow. It’s Colleen Hoover and she always brings a crowd. This will be our third summer to have her here. Last year, there were over three hundred in her line. We sold tickets this year. Each reader gets a drink of their choice, a slice of cake, and one of her new books to be signed for their ticket price. I had hoped it would lessen the number of people, but we sold three hundred and sixteen tickets.”
My mouth dropped open in shock. This was going to be a long evening. “Do we have enough cake?” I asked.
Hillya laughed. “Yes. What do you think I’ve had Emily in the back doing all morning. She’s slicing the cakes. I started making them yesterday morning. We have blueberry cream, cinnamon coffee cake, and lemon pound cake. There should be over four hundred slices when we are done. However, if you will go in the back and make up some of your banana loaf and chocolate cake, I will run the front. Having gluten and dairy-free options tonight will be good advertisement.”
I glanced once more at the line of over twenty women and one man outside. “Do you think I should take them some water after I get the cakes in the oven?”
Hillya nodded. “That would be nice of you. Maybe take them some of the items in the bakery case that have been there since yesterday. We need to clear them out today anyway.”
“Okay, I’ll be back out in about thirty minutes,” I told her and headed for the back. It had to be at least ninety degrees outside today and those people were out in the heat, waiting to meet an author and get books signed. I had never known there were readers that dedicated. I was looking forward to the evening more than ever now.
This was a distraction I desperately needed. I had barely gotten any sleep, woke up at four to bake, delivered the items, and stayed instead of going home like Hillya suggested to get some more sleep since it would be a late night. Saul was in my head and had been since he kissed me the other night.
I had compartmentalized him before. I didn’t allow myself to think of him too much and I could shut it down. Until that kiss. It was as if my lips knew what I was thinking about and they would tingle from the memory. Saul had been an issue since day one, but now he had made it even worse. I was not here to develop feelings for a guy. Especially one who didn’t feel the same.
My reasons for coming here had been deeper than that. I had to keep remembering why I came and stop thinking about Saul. His brooding was too much for me and his life was much darker than anything I’d ever experienced. I didn’t need that kind of damage in my life. I was trying to fix me; Saul would do the opposite. I feared he could destroy me if I gave him the power.
“Oh thank God, please tell me you’re back here to slice cake,” Emily said as I walked into the kitchen.
“Afraid not. I have to make a couple banana loaves and a chocolate cake, but I promise I will slice them when they are ready,” I told her.
Emily groaned. “Why would so many people come to get a stupid book signed? Just buy the damn thing on your phone and read it. Who needs to meet the author? Heck, I can’t remember who wrote the last book I read.”
Laughing, I began to get my ingredients and place them on the counter. Apparently Emily wasn’t a big reader. I would guess her last book was one she had to read for a class. If she truly loved reading, she would remember the author’s name. Now, the line forming outside was shocking to me, but I did find it cool. I just had never considered going to stand in line to meet someone before.
“Do you remember the last book you read and the author’s name?” she shot back at me.
I grinned as I poured my ingredients into a bowl. “The Perfect Game by J. Sterling.”
“Oh my God. Please don’t tell me you go to book signings and wait in line for hours.”
“No, I go to the library and pick out books, read them, return them, repeat,” I told her.
Emily sighed. “I don’t care much for reading.”
“You haven’t found the right book yet. When you do, it changes things. You’re reading the wrong things,” I explained.
“I’m reading what I have to read to pass my classes,” she replied.
“Exactly. Why don’t you get one of the books from the author coming tonight and try it out? Might be your thing,” I suggested.
I glanced over at her while I stirred the batter. She did not look convinced, but she shrugged. “Maybe.”
The rest of the afternoon, I ended up baking three of the banana loaves and two chocolate cakes, which came to fifty-eight slices. I took cups of water and baked goods to the thirty- seven people in line at four- thirty, and I made a dairy-free espresso martini for Hillya to try out. She had cases of red and white wine and her signature cocktail she was offering was an espresso martini. She just hadn’t considered that those with dairy allergies couldn’t have it. I gave her another option and she went and added it to the chalkboard menu.
By seven o’clock, the author was here and the line was almost at three hundred people. It wrapped around to the back of the building and then was separated into three sections. Hillya had hired some security to keep things safe and orderly out back. Per city ordinance, we could only have sixty people in the shop at a time. Mrs. Hoover was friendly but swift with each reader, making them feel special while they came up to the table but not letting them stay too long. She was obviously a pro at this.
I poured more white wine than anything, but occasionally, there was an espresso martini order. Three of those had been for the dairy-free martini. My banana loaf and chocolate cake had also been a surprise to those with allergies. I had heard several of the readers talking about the fact we had those options.
Twice Emily and I had been asked if we were sisters. I was surprised the first time, but after the second time a lady asked, I figured it had to be the pale skin. That and we did work well together.
Mrs. Hoover managed to get through four hundred readers in three hours. I was amazed. When she finally got to leave, we led her through the back and sent her off with a large bag of baked goods. She and her family were in town for a mini-vacation and we had enough slices of cake left to feed another hundred people.
Once the place was emptied out we began the clean-up. I was washing pans in the kitchen when Emily came running back there.
“HOLY HOTNESS, there is a sexy as hell guy asking for you out front. He came in and I told him we were closed and he said he was looking for you,” she gushed.
I immediately thought of Saul, but why would he be here? He had kissed me and ran off. Coming to my work place this late seemed odd. Rio was waiting on me at Gran’s to go through the attic. I was exhausted, but I didn’t want to cancel either. I was curious about the man who could be the father of both of us.
Drying off my hands on the apron I had tied around my waist, I walked around Emily and headed for the front of the shop. When I saw Drake standing in front of the empty bakery display, I was both disappointed and relieved. Although why he would come looking for me I had no idea.
“Hey,” I said.
He turned at the sound of my voice and flashed me the charismatic smile of his that made it okay for him to ask girls questions about blow jobs and get away with it. “Henley,” he drawled out my name.
“Drake,” I replied. “You wanted to see me?” I asked, thinking of the dishes I still needed to wash and Rio being at the house waiting on me.
“Yeah, when are you leaving?”
“Uh, hopefully I can get out of here in thirty minutes, but I-”
“Have Rio at your place. Yeah, I know,” he said interrupting me.
I just nodded and waited for him to say more.
He cleared his throat and glanced at the front door. “Can you step outside a minute?”
“I guess,” I replied frowning.
Hillya was sweeping the far side of the store where the signing had been held. She glanced up at me and I assumed whatever Drake came to say he wanted privacy.
“I’ll be right back,” I assured her and she nodded.
Following Drake outside, I was curious, but I hoped this was quick. When we were outside on the sidewalk, he turned to look at me. “It’s about Rio,” he said.
If he was here to warn me off Rio, I was going back inside. I raised both my eyebrows and waited. Drake cleared his throat and for the first time since I had met him, he looked like he was struggling for words.
“Saul is playing his guitar again. He is closed-off in his room, but he’s playing it. Writing a song it sounds like,” he paused and I took advantage of it.
“Saul plays the guitar?” I asked surprised by this.
Drake shifted his feet. “Yeah, he does but he hasn’t in a long time. We’ve been friends since he moved here. Rio and Saul were friends first then me. Anyway, Saul plays the guitar when he’s happy or maybe that’s not the word. He’s not really happy. He plays it when he’s inspired. When life doesn’t seem like shit. When he has hope,” Drake shrugged. “He started playing it the night you came to the house or that’s the first time I heard him play at least. I wasn’t sure what had him playing again but then he said something about you and the way he looked when he said your name… I realized you’re the reason he’s playing again.”
I held up my hand to stop him. “No, Drake. I can assure you one hundred percent that it is not me that has him playing again. He doesn’t like me,” I said the first part with conviction, but the last part I wasn’t completely sure about. Last night had me questioning his dislike for me.
Drake ran his hand over his mouth as if trying to cover his grin. “You think so, huh?”
I nodded but said nothing.
“Then explain to me why he threw a glass against the wall and then just walked out of the kitchen without a word after he found out that Rio was at your house tonight?”
This had to be exaggerated or misconstrued. “I find it hard to believe it was because of me and why would he throw a glass against a wall? It was probably an accident.”
Drake let out a short laugh. “No, Henley, it wasn’t an accident. He asked where Rio was when I was getting a bag of chips. I casually said ‘told me he was headed to Henley’s’ and then I turned around to face him. BAM! Glass shattered against the wall. Then he walked off.”
As difficult as it was to believe Saul had smashed a glass over Rio being with me, last night’s weird conversation and kiss did happen. He had kissed me like he wanted to kiss me. It had been almost desperate. I shook my head.
“He has Fleur,” I reminded him.
Drake frowned. “Not anymore. Did you not hear about her insanity on the roof of her car?”
“I saw it,” I told him.
“Right, well, do you know why she was on the damn roof of an unparked car in the middle of the street?”
“She was high or drunk,” I replied.
“Wrong. Saul had broken things off with her, told her to leave again, and she flipped her batshit crazy switch.”
Drake shrugged. “Saul ended things with her. She was wailing about him not loving her and that he wanted someone else.”
“He ran after her to bail her out of jail,” I informed him.
“Of course he did. That’s what Saul does. He rescues people. He got her ass out of jail, although I thought she could have used a couple days of reality check, and then he called her rich daddy in Mobile to come get her.”
I glanced at the window to see Hillya now vacuuming. I had to get back inside.
“Listen, Drake. If you are here to tell me not to date Rio or whatever, I am not dating him. We are friends and will only ever be friends. I don’t know why Saul broke the glass, or whatever. But this is a conversation that y’all need to have at your place. I don’t think it has anything to do with me, but I am flattered that you believe I could draw Saul’s attention.”
Drake stared at me a moment then laughed. I wasn’t amused and glared at him ready to just leave him out here and go back inside. Today had been too long and I didn’t have nearly enough sleep for all this.
“Rio and Saul have been best friends for a long damn time. Don’t be what comes between them,” Drake said. “You’re more dangerous than you realize.” He winked then and turned to walk away.
I didn’t respond and I only stood there a moment, looking at him walk out to the road before going inside and finishing up. My mind was turning over everything Drake had said, though and by the time I left for the night, I wasn’t sure what I believed anymore.