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Love wasn’t the daily special when a grumpy small-town baker delivers a baby in his bakery. Now, all he can think about is that sweet bundle and her tempting single mother.

Having a baby in a bakery gives new meaning to taking the bun out of the oven.

I’d been in Curmudgeon Bakery for one of those lemon baby-Bundt cakes I’d been craving since I found out I was pregnant.

The draw had nothing to do with the baker himself. Tall, tatted, and edgy, looking more like a biker than a man who makes baked goods. I hardly knew him other than taking a tumble in a rainstorm in front of his shop . . . and then tossing myself at him after he rescued me.

We shared a moment but it’s not what you’d think.

Months later, he delivered my baby among his cookies and cakes. Talk about a second chance encounter.

Then he whips up a plan to pretend to be my baby’s father, and everything heats up from there.

My body.

My heart.

My willingness to accept a perfect stranger’s kindness despite him telling me over and over he isn’t who I think he is.

I beg to differ.

He’s that sugary drizzle on a citrus-flavored, guilty pleasure that’s bad for the hips, but together—him, and me, and baby—we’re the perfect blend of ingredients that might do all our hearts some good.


EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT: Sterling Heat

L.B. Dunbar

Expected Release Date: 21 September 2023

Book Series: 

A curmudgeon small-town baker ends up delivering a baby in his bakery, only to find himself unable to stop thinking about the sweet little bundle and her tempting single mother. . . . in L.B. Dunbar’s newest romance, and you can read the first chapter right here.

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Chapter One

Enya

October

Falling on my backside in front of a handsome man was the last thing I expected to happen today.

Then again, the day has been full of surprises.

After leaving the small-town bakery with only minutes to spare before it closed, a torrential downpour came out of nowhere as I stood on the shop’s stoop. Balancing my tote and a paper bag containing one of the most delicious-looking baby-Bundt cakes, I snapped open the travel umbrella I’d found in the bottom of my oversized purse and risked the deluge.

However, when stepping onto the sidewalk, a gust of wind careened along the storefronts on the quaint main street and jacked my umbrella. The flimsy thing snapped backward to look like an art deco buttercup flower, offering no protection from the cold, pelting rain which rode the wind and came at me sideways. In an effort to right my worthless umbrella, I spun on my heels in hopes the gusts of the gale would snap the thing back into its proper position. The wind took me as well, forcing me backward when the umbrella momentarily expanded. As I tried to maintain my balance, the heel of my over-priced stiletto slipped into a grate in the sidewalk. Struck by the ridiculous physics of a thin spike wedging into an even slimmer slat opening, my ankle gave way and I collapsed onto my ass.

“Miss, are you alright?” The broad and slightly rebellious-looking man from the bakery I just left asked me.

Perfect. Just perfect.

For a moment, I sit on the rain-drenched sidewalk, allowing the chilly drops to batter me, plastering my hair to my face and further drenching my already soaked dress.

This is what I get for wanting to celebrate.

For wishing for something more in my life. For grasping at something I never thought I’d have.

I almost laugh until the concern in the dark blue eyes of the large man standing over me has me swallowing instead. His jeans are saturated at his ankles, above a pair of solid biker boots. His white T-shirt is plastered to his body, the opaque material accentuating dark hairs on his chest and the solid muscles of his upper arms. He’s thick in the midsection. Firm might be a better description. A paw of a hand extends toward me and slowly I lift mine to accept his help.

My umbrella is nowhere in sight. The bag containing my miniature cake tragically sits in a shallow puddle on the sidewalk. My foot has slipped out of my shoe. My wounded pride is the only thing present. I’ve never been so embarrassed. And my backside uncomfortably aches.

“Let’s get inside, yeah?” he yells over the torrent of rain, swiping at his face to clear the drops. His eyes are kind. His voice rough. A sprinkling of silver peppers among his temple and over his ears.

I nod and accept his assistance, as he holds my hand and gathers up the remains of a soggy paper bag. Once we enter the cool breeze of the bakery, he tosses the waterlogged sack on the counter and turns to face me. The thickness of his hand is a comfort as he pushes back my hair, effectively exposing my mortified blush. His gentle fingers glide through the wet strands, tucking an errant lock behind my ear. His thumb trails a blaze of warmth down my cheek. Heat infuses my whole body, from my frozen toes to the tips of my ears. It’s a welcome sensation beneath the cool air-conditioning.

I shiver. Teeth chattering. Tailbone throbbing. I’m off-balance wearing only one shoe.

“We should probably get you out of those clothes.” The depth of his voice has my body humming in a new way, but I still choke around my next word.

“What?”

“Got a change of clothes in that bag?” He nods at my tote which surprisingly remained looped over my arm; however, water drips through the seams. I’m certain everything inside is as soaked as the leather. Why do bag companies make totes without closures? And why did I own something that couldn’t protect my belongings?

Oh right, it matched my now-ruined shoes.

“No.” I can’t hold my teeth still.

“Only speak one word at a time?” His rugged tenor matches the hitch on one corner of his lips, suggesting a smile is hard won from him. Still, the expression is doing strange things to my lower belly.

Or maybe that’s something else inside me fluttering.

Don’t be ridiculous. I only took a test this morning. Surely, I can’t feel anything yet. Although I’d read home-tests are ninety-nine percent correct, I won’t know anything with certainty until I see my doctor.

“I-I’m sorry. I ruined the cake.” Hopefully, he can’t decipher between welling tears and water on my face as I’m on the verge of crying over a silly lemon cake. Then again, maybe it’s simply my emotions which have been pinging all over the place since this morning.

“No worries.” He pauses, stepping back to size me up while tipping his head. His hand still holds mine or maybe mine is clinging to his. I don’t want to let go. His palm is so warm. His fingers strong. “I have a T-shirt that might fit you more like a dress, but it’d be warmer than what you are wearing.”

At thirty-eight, everything in me should clang like warning bells. I don’t know him. I’m not from this town. No one knows I made this stop. But while his sapphire eyes could be interpreted as dangerous, the heat in them glides over me like a protective blanket.

I nod, blindly following him to the back of the bakery, limping on my one heel.

When we step inside the office, he releases my hand. Rummaging through some boxes, he pulls out a large T-shirt with Curmudgeon Bakery on the back. He scowls at the shirt before handing it over to me.

“It’s going to be loose on you, but it will be dry. I’ll step out while you change, but if you hand me your things, I’ll toss them in the dryer.”

I weakly smile. “It’s dry clean only.” A tumble in a dryer would ruin the material of my dress. If it isn’t already destroyed.

His eyes roam my soaked outfit, like a physical caress. From the collar of my dress, trailing right down to the saturated hem plastered to my thighs, those warm eyes peruse every inch of me. He takes a deep inhale through his nose, his wide chest puffing out with the movement, before pausing a second. Then he turns his head to the side. Without a word, he slips around me and softly closes the door.

Once he leaves, I glance down at my dress, suctioned to every curve and dip of my figure. My nipples are protruding peaks giving away how cold I am. Or is it something else? My body reacting to the way he was looking at me. The heat in his gaze. Warmth fills my cheeks once again. I shiver at the possibility he might have liked what he saw.

Shaking my head, I dismiss crazy thoughts. He wasn’t looking at me in any way other than he might stare at a drowned rat. With shaky fingers and chilled limbs, I work to remove my clothing. Deciding my bra and underwear will only cause discomfort under the dryness of a fresh shirt, I remove them as well. With the oversized T-shirt on, I run my hand over my backside, confirming the length covers my butt. Every attempt to bend forward forces me to catch my breath and wince at the pain in my tailbone.

Glancing around the office, it’s an accountant’s nightmare. Papers stacked like lopsided pancakes on the floor. A box brimming with receipts rests on a file cabinet. The desktop is covered in haphazard piles. But the thing that attracts my gaze the most is a large zipper sweatshirt draped over the back of the desk chair. Taking the liberty, I swipe up the soft cotton and wrap myself in another layer for warmth. The collar smells like vanilla and motor oil, which is a strange yet surprisingly refreshing combination. I smile to myself as I inhale what I assume is the scent of the curmudgeon baker himself.

A soft knock comes to the door, but it opens before I answer. “I figured you might want these. I don’t have shoes that would fit you.” That crook of his lips happens again. He’s making a joke. He’s also holding out a pair of socks when he glances at my feet. His feet must be four sizes bigger than mine. “Or you can keep hobbling on one foot.”

When he looks up, the flame in his eyes flares. His gaze lowers from my face to the sweatshirt dangling too long on my arms and the T-shirt that hits just above my knees.

“Thank you.” My voice is still unsteady but I’m not certain it’s the cold making my throat rumble. I shrug and smooth my fingers down one side of the open zipper. “I hope you don’t mind.”

He shakes his head, and I take the socks from him, wincing as I bend forward to slip them on.

“Are you hurt?”

“Besides my pride?” I joke then reality hits me. Am I hurt? Did I do any internal damage? Is everything still good in there? “My backside is killing me.”

At the mention of my ass, he chokes, and I glance up to find him swiping his thick fingers around his mouth, stroking at the bristly hairs on his chin. He looks more like a biker than a baker but he’s the man who filled my cake order. He has swapped his wet clothes for a dry pair of jeans and a light gray Henley shirt. His close-cropped hair is damp. A towel hangs over his shoulder.

“Are you the curmudgeon baker?” I ask, righting myself and wincing again as pain shoots up my spine.

“A joke from my family,” he mocks.

“But are you the owner of Curmudgeon Bakery?” I tip my head. He’s solid brawn, and I can’t imagine his hefty fingers delicately decorating baby-Bundt cakes, but the judgement is unfair.

“Yeah.” His gaze lowers to the floor and the corner of his mouth tips up again. Pride fills his voice while his cheeks pinken the slightest bit.

“What? Only answer one word at a time?” I tease.

His head pops up and those dark eyes dance with mischief. He stares at my saturated hair. “I brought you this.” Dragging a towel off his shoulder, he hands it to me and arches a brow. “And that was four words.”

With a cheeky smile, I mutter, “Thanks,” and rub the material over my face, inhaling a stronger blend of vanilla mixed with laundry detergent. My makeup must be a frightful mess.

He tilts his head toward the storefront, “How about some coffee?”

With a nod, I finger comb my long hair as best I can. Following him into the bakery while wearing his socks, I twist my hair around itself, forming a messy bun. He points to a long wooden bench, and gingerly I sit, wincing before trying to balance on one cheek.

The sexy baker rounds the display counter, and I take the opportunity to glance at his well-sculpted backside. Nice.

He pours two mugs of coffee, and then comes to the table, setting down each steaming container. “I’ll be right back.”

Disappearing through a door marked Private, he quickly returns and holds out a bed pillow. “For your ass.”

I laugh as he takes a seat across from me in a chair. “I’m Enya, by the way. Enya Calloway.”

“Nice to meet you, Enya Calloway.” He lifts his mug, watching me over the rim. In typical conversation this is where he should tell me his name, but he doesn’t offer, and I don’t ask.

There’s something very unconventional about this man.

As silence grows, I glance around the bakery. Display cases line one side while the long, wooden, booth bench where I sit, and a scattering of tables line the opposite wall. The floor is giant black and white squares while subway tiles decorate the wall giving the place an old-world-bakery atmosphere. Or maybe it’s New Age as the stark white, clean lines have made a resurgence. With the hum of the air conditioner no longer buzzing, music can be heard.

“Imagine” by John Lennon fills the space.

“Beatles fan?” I hitch a brow, glancing at him over the rim of my mug. He shrugs, all casual coolness across from me, watching me drink my coffee. One arm rests against the back of the chair beside him; the other hand cups his mug. Silence has never been so comfortable, but I can’t keep quiet for long. I glance up at a quote on the wall.

There is NO HOLE in Kindness

The capitalized Os are shaped like donuts.

“Strange quote.”

“This location used to be a donut shop.” He offers, as if that explains everything.

“Donuts have holes.”

He shrugs. His smirk matches my smile. “Bundt cakes do as well.” He tips his head to read the quote himself. “It was here when I bought the place. Figured it brought the previous owners thirty-two years of business luck. I left it on the wall.”

Taking a second glance, a faint outline surrounds the quote, as if fresh paint didn’t match the original color.

“Maybe it’s a metaphor. Like kindness is cyclical.”

He shrugs again and scoffs while lifting his mug. “Maybe it was a nicer way of saying don’t be an asshole.”

Glancing back at the quote, I mutter, “Maybe.” Unfortunately, I’ve known a few assholes in my thirty-eight years. Lowering my gaze, I look at him again. “Got any other quotes for good luck?”

His lip quirks up on one side and he tips his chin. “What do you need luck for?” Those heavy blue eyes scan my face.

Do I need luck? I should already feel like the luckiest woman in the world. But my eyes instantly well. Damn my emotions.

“I’m pregnant.” Saying the words aloud for the first time feels strange. A little unreal. A lot exciting.

His arm along the back of the chair slips to the seat. His hand on the handle of his mug flattens on the tabletop. His entire demeanor shifts, and that hint of danger becomes more apparent. An invisible wall goes up around him. He leans forward.

“Husband must be happy.” His rugged tone, which once sounded friendly, is now jagged.

“No husband.” With my gaze aimed at the table, the wood surface blurs from the threat of tears.

“Boyfriend, then?” His voice croaks on the term.

I shake my head. How do I explain my situation to a stranger?

“You’re the first person I’ve told.” A sour lump fills my throat when I’m actually ecstatic deep down.

“Shit.” The gruffness filters into my ears, but all I really hear is the pulsing of my own heart.

I’m going to have a baby.

Suddenly, I’m hefted off the bench and wrapped in thick arms. My head is pressed to his chest where the rapid rhythm of his heart is a steady song. Thrown off guard at first, my arms are trapped between us, but slowly, I loosen them and circle his waist. Tears slip down my nose.

I don’t know why I’m crying. This is what I wanted.

Still, I’m scared . . . and his simple questions remind me I’m doing this alone.

“Want me to kill the bastard? I know people.” The ferocity in his question tells me he isn’t joking but there’s no one to harm.

I shake my head against his solid pecs, anxiously giggling despite the flow of tears. “I’m good.”

His hand glides down my back, pausing just above my ass. His other hand cups my head, holding me against him. I close my eyes, inhaling the vanilla and motor oil scent of him. We stand like this for long enough the awkwardness of hugging a stranger should settle in, but I don’t want to move.

And I don’t know why I told him this monumental truth.

As I pull back, his hand at the base of my spine keeps me close to him. His eyes search mine and I wish I could read his thoughts. I wish I could tell this stranger all of mine.

Wishing is what got me where I am, though. Pregnant and alone at thirty-eight.

“I was here to buy a Bundt cake. A little celebration of sorts.” The explanation sounds even odder than telling him I’m pregnant. While some might pop champagne, I can’t. A baby Bundt cake felt appropriate for a future birth. In roughly eight months, I’ll have a birthday to commemorate.

He huffs, swiping back at the hair coming loose from my makeshift bun. Abruptly, he releases me, and the reality of standing in borrowed socks and a stolen sweatshirt hits me. He must think I’m a nut.

As he walks away, I shamelessly check out his backside, rounded and firm in tight-fitting jeans. He circles the counter once more but quickly returns to where I stand. A baby-Bundt cake sits on a small plate and two forks are in his hand. He nudges me to return to my seat and he slides into the chair across from me again.

Placing the plate between us, he holds up a fork and nods for me to do the same.

“To babies and Bundt cakes.” His tone rings slightly somber. He taps my fork like we are clinking glasses of champagne and then he pushes the plate in my direction, suggesting I take the first bite.

The moist lemon cake perfectly balanced with a rich buttercream frosting melts in my mouth. As I close my eyes, I moan, not even exaggerating the orgasm on my tongue. The texture. The flavor. Chef’s kiss.

When I open my lids, his eyes smolder at me, and the strangest fantasy fills my head.

He’s the father of my baby and he’s so excited by my announcement he wants to take me on this table to commemorate the good news.

My eyes widen. Horror fills my face in a heated rush. My imagination would only complicate matters.

Softly, he chuckles, pulls the plate closer to him and fills his fork. As I watch him take a bite, he sucks at the utensil, taking his time to savor the experience within his mouth. A place on me that has no business beating, pulses like a kitchen mixer, strong and fierce. Slowly, he removes the tines, taking his time to release the fork, now clean of cake. My mouth dries, curious about the mystery of his tongue. Wondering what his lips might feel like clamping onto parts of me. How firmly does he suck? How roughly does he kiss?

My body heats but shivers return with the carnal need to ask these questions.

I still don’t even know his name.

However, as we share this piece of cake, and the silence between us fills with another Beatles tune, I fight back my lust and come to a decision.

A simple act of kindness might be more seductive than spreading me on this table.

No holes is a metaphor. Kindness goes around and around in quiet gestures, like fresh socks, a warm sweatshirt, a celebratory piece of cake, and a secretive smile.

And one day, I hope to repay the curmudgeon baker for his generosity in a grand way.

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