Hope Burns

By: Jaci Burton

Chapter 1




THIS WEDDING WAS going to be a disaster.

Molly Burnett didn’t know what had possessed her to agree to come back to Hope for her sister Emma’s wedding. Love for her sister, of course. But she knew what was at stake. She never came home, hadn’t been home since she’d left when she was eighteen.

That had been twelve years ago. She’d moved around from town to town, state to state, never setting down roots. Permanence just wasn’t Molly’s thing. And she sure as hell had never once come back to her hometown.

Until now. Even as she drove past the city limits sign her throat had started to close up, her breathing becoming labored. If she hyperventilated, crashed the car, and died a week before Emma’s wedding, her sister would never forgive her.

Then again, with all the sputtering and coughing her ancient Ford Taurus was doing, it might just do itself in before she had a chance to crash it into anything.

“Come on, George,” she said, smooth-talking the car. “Hang in there.” She didn’t have a new—or a newer used—car in her budget. Old George, currently fifteen and she hoped heading toward sixteen, was just going to have to suck it up and keep working.

At the next stoplight, George shuddered and belched rather loudly, making the two little kids sitting in the backseat of the car next to her point and laugh. She gave them a smile, then gently pressed the gas. Obviously having cleared his throat, George lumbered on and Molly sighed in grateful relief. Gripping the steering wheel and forcing deep, calming breaths, Molly drove past the First Baptist Church, her favorite donut shop, the florist, and Edith’s Hair Salon. So many places still stood, all of them so familiar.

And yet a lot had changed in twelve years. So much progress, so many new businesses had cropped up. New restaurants, the hospital was bigger than she remembered, and they’d widened the highway. When she’d lived here, there’d been only one shop to stop at for gas and sodas along the main road. Now there was one at every corner.

She purposely turned off the main road, determined to avoid the high school. Too many memories she wasn’t ready to face yet. She headed toward the main strip of town. There was a new bakery, and on impulse, Molly decided to stop and buy some goodies for the family.

She headed inside, the smell of sugar and baked goods making her smile. This place definitely reminded her of home, though it hadn’t been Cups and Cakes last time she was home. Red and Helen Osajeck had owned the Hope Bakery for as long as she could remember. Her mom had told her they’d retired several years ago and sold the bakery.

She wondered who owned this place?

She browsed the display case, her stomach rumbling.

“Can I help you?”

She stood, and smiled at the familiar face from back in high school. With light brown hair and brown eyes, she was still as pretty now as she had been in school.

“Megan? Megan Lee?”

Megan frowned as if trying to place Molly’s face, then grinned. “Molly Burnett? I can’t believe it’s you. Are you back in town for Emma’s wedding?”

“I am.”

“Then welcome home. I’m so glad to see you after all these years.”

“Thanks.” She looked around. “And you work here?”

“Actually, I own the shop. I bought it two years ago after the Osajecks’ retired. I worked for them all through high school, and during breaks from college. I wanted to own my own bakery, and the opportunity fell into my lap when they decided to sell. And of course, you don’t want to hear all those details.”

Molly grinned. “No, really, that’s fantastic. Congratulations. Also, it smells wonderful in here. I’m going to have a hard time figuring out what to buy.”

“Thank you. Have you gotten settled in yet?”

“No. I’m just driving into town, and thought I’d stop and buy some goodies on my way.”

“You’ve come to the right place, then. May I make some suggestions?”

“Definitely.”

Megan took out a box, and between the two of them, they filled it with éclairs and cream puffs.

She left the store, having survived her first reunion     with an old friend from Hope. She made her way outside, stopping short as she spotted a very fine male ass bent over, inspecting her car.

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