No Looking Back,
On any given day life is a challenge, at best. For Marla Winters, found beaten on the side of the road, it’s a downright miracle. To look at her smiling face and cheery demeanor one would never know she has no idea where she comes from or what her real name is. She insists on staying in the present until her past comes hurtling toward her with a vengeance. A past she has no memory of, knowing only that she was found at the side of the road, beaten and battered, with only the torn and tattered clothes on her back. New in town and running from a nasty divorce, Peter Jensen is skeptical of Marla Winters claims of danger. As the cop assigned to her case, he’s confident he can get to the bottom of it. When Pete digs deeper into her past, what he never expected to find was love. But solving the mystery surrounding Marla proves more difficult than he thought, as does keeping her alive…
NO LOOKING BACK
By Patricia Gauthier
Copyright 2012 Patricia Gauthier
Copyright Excerpt Refusing to Repent 2012 Patricia Gauthier
Other Titles by Patricia Gauthier
Celebration of Life – Book One of the Celebration Trilogy
Celebration of Love – Book Two of the Celebration Trilogy
Celebration of Passion – Book Three of the Celebration Trilogy
No Looking Back
Refusing To Repent
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“Hi, may I help you?” Or “What can I get for you?” rolled off Marla’s tongue a million times a day. Marla always said it with a smile and gave each customer her full attention. She loved everything about running her own bakery. The smells were incredibly mouth-watering, blending together a variety of freshly baked bread, chocolate macadamia cookies, apple dumplings with warm carmel sauce, and, her all time favorite, cinnamon rolls. The bakery, Sin-A-Mon & Spice, was the first and only organic bakery in her small but busy town of Wynott, population 15,000. Oh, make that 15002, Lucy at the diner just delivered twins last week. Marla loved that she knew all the business owners on a first name basis, even delivering to a few every morning. She loved learning everyone’s little quirks and personal habits that made them unique. John Martin liked his morning coffee very strong and black but had a glass of milk on the side, along with his toasted everything
bagel. Lizzie Michaels could be counted on to show up every morning at eight sharp for her free bagel with egg scramble and cup of coffee. She’d had a very rough road to recovery from a recent injury and money was tight, so Marla went through the motions of ringing her up, allowing her to maintain her pride.
All of her regular customers knew they could count on her to get their orders quickly, so they were in and out the door in no time. She had Megan working the coffee station and Grace and Laura at the counter with her every morning. Betsy worked in the back as the head baker. She was like a mother to all of them, always having her shoulder available to cry on and, if necessary, a swift kick in the ass when needed. She was Marla’s main source of information, okay gossip, with a 100% accuracy record. It amazed her that her baker was so well informed, and never had contact with any of the customers during working hours. Betsy knew everything! She had been invaluable to Marla when she first opened the business, helping her place names with faces, along with a short summary of each person’s life. Nothing nasty mind you, Marla didn’t like that kind of talk, but who was married to whom and where they lived in relation to the bakery. Stuff like that. Occasionally she’d let something slip about a bad break-up they were going through or speculating about a pending divorce and the story behind it.
Marla realized right away that people didn’t care if her bakery was all organic and no genetically modified ingredients were used, they only cared about how it tasted. She insisted on organic and no GMO because she knew those were the best possible ingredients she could use. They tasted the best, most like ‘grandma’s’ baking, and she insisted on the best for her customers. She felt good about selling quality products and that was all that mattered to her. It was more work doing things organically. Products had a shorter shelf life or had to be delivered daily instead of weekly, but Marla didn’t mind. The bakery was her life. If she had friends before she was found by the side of the road three years ago, beaten, bloody and unconscious she had no memory of them. The only thing she had with her was a handbag and the torn and tattered clothes on her back. She had no idea how she’d gotten there or where she had come from. She was terrified at first. Realizing she had nowhere to go and no one to call for help, completely alone with no memories to draw from left her empty and desperate. Word of her dilemma got around quickly, probably with the help of Betsy, and the town embraced her immediately. Before she knew it, she had clothes, a place to live, and people who genuinely cared about what happened to her. She got a job at the grocery store, sold baked goods out of her kitchen and took private cleaning jobs on the side. Soon Marla had earned a reputation as a hard and honest worker. After two years of saving and slaving for other people, she’d decided to open her own business, and since she had a love for baking and a good clientele from working out of her kitchen at home, she decided on the bakery. Sin-A-Mon & Spice had been an immediate success, first out of curiosity on the part of the town, and then because her products were delicious and creative. She was always adding new items to the menu, usually based on the seasonal crops available, along with the standard breads and rolls of most bakeries. She never wanted to be stagnant about her selections. That was boring, and she was anything but boring.
Today’s scuttlebutt around town was about the new police officer that had been hired from New York City. Marla chuckled silently as she heard bits and pieces of speculation about him. Three female employees from the bank conversed in front of her as if she weren’t even there, too excited to tell each other what they knew about the man.
“I heard that he’s single and was wounded in New York and that’s why he’s coming to Wynott.”
“Really? Someone told me he was married but separated from his wife.”
“Jessica saw him unloading a box from his car but she couldn’t get a good look at his face. She said he’s tall through.” All three of them wandered out of the bakery still chatting animatedly.
Curiosity was high about his circumstances and, to everyones frustration, he was not very forthcoming with information about himself. Nothing incited curiosity like secrecy, and several citizens were crawling around on the internet trying to dig-up anything they could on Peter Jensen. Never mind that they’d never even laid eyes on the man, who was moving here this weekend. It was for the safety of the town, they argued, as the group exchanged information as if it were a town meeting instead of the lobby of the town bakery. Marla chuckled to herself, knowing there were more than a few pairs of binoculars being pulled out of drawers around town for the big arrival of Peter Jensen. Poor guy had no idea what he was in for. Oh, they’d be friendly all right, too friendly. She knew from experience that he would barely have a minute to himself as ‘friendly’ citizens made a point of introducing themselves, sometimes at all hours of the day and night. Marla had been through it already and was thankful she was still alive to talk about it. They all meant well, and without their support and encouragement she would have never made it through her ordeal. At least she hoped she’d made it through. Not knowing who you are, where you came from, or how you got there had been hard for her to accept. Finally after a year of investigation by the police, and even a couple of private investigators Marla had hired, she was no closer to answers than the day she had been found on the side of the road. Eventually Marla decided that it really didn’t matter where she had c
Monday mornings were busier at the bakery than most other days. People had a tendency to linger, chatting and catching up on the latest ‘news’ that had occurred over the weekend. Today was no exception. She took a moment to adjust her long auburn hair that was working its way out of the bun she had wrapped it up in earlier that morning. She was pushing in a few pins when she suddenly noticed that the bakery had fallen perfectly silent. Marla turned toward the crowd slowly, a shiver running up and down her spine at the eerie silence. A tall, handsome to the point of Adonis, muscular man, approached the counter. Marla realized this must be Peter Jensen. He reeked sex appeal and authority with his dark hair slicked back, still drying and hanging slightly on the collar of his crisp white shirt. He wore a black and white striped tie and black dress slacks with shiny black loafers. This guy’s persona screamed cop or her name wasn’t Marla Winters, okay, maybe her name wasn’t really Marla Winters. His mirrored sunglasses hid his eyes effectively, reflecting back to Marla her own reflection. She swallowed hard and immediately stepped up to the counter to wait on him.
“Hi, may I help you?” Marla asked cheerfully. No smile was returned as his deep baritone voice snapped curtly.
“Nothing’s good. Everything’s exceptional.” She replied instinctively.
He looked at her and paused. Apparently he didn’t notice that everyone was hanging on his every word.
“Funny, looks just like every other bakery I’ve ever been in.” He shrugged his muscular shoulders.
Could this guy be any more rude? Marla took an instant dislike to him but pushed her feelings aside, firmly planting her feet while gathering her defenses.
“I’ll tell you what, apparently you’re not familiar with our products, so I’ll give you your choice for free today and if you don’t like it, you don’t have to come back. Ever.” She hoped he hated whatever she gave him. Marla chose a man- sized strawberry swirl cinnamon roll with strawberry glaze that was being featured this week and carefully put it in a bag.
“Would you like a cup of coffee, tea, or hot chocolate with that, gratis of course,”
She asked as she walked over to where Megan was standing at the ready with a cup in hand.
“Coffee, black,” Peter answered, still without smiling. His lips pressed together tightly in a grim line. Jeez, does this guy even know how to smile?
Marla grabbed the empty cup from Megan’s hand, filling and capping it quickly. She handed everything to him with a fake smile and instructed him to “have a good day” without much conviction.
Peter turned and walked out the door without even uttering so much as a thank you. Everyone just stared at each other, then at Marla, to try and read her reaction. She shook her head and smiled to herself, blowing out her breath, praying that he wouldn’t come back. She pasted back on her smile and began waiting on customers, refusing to add fuel to what she was sure was already shaping-up to be quite a fire around town for the gossips. She wasn’t going to let one bad apple spoil what was turning out to be a beautiful summer day. She would hear all about how the town felt about her encounter with Peter Jensen tomorrow from Betsy.