The Semi-Sweet Hereafter

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Authors: Colette London
like Hugh’s?” I asked, encouraging her. Jeremy and Phoebe had run separate businesses, but they must have collaborated. Plus, Nicola needed to know I was listening.
    â€œThat’s right.” Nicola offered me a biscotto. I demurred. She shrugged and kept eating. It was remarkable that she managed to pack away so many goodies. Unfortunately, she caught me noticing and gave me a defensive look. “I haven’t tasted sugar for months. Jeremy had all of us on his ‘clean eating’ plan.”
    Aha. The same healthy-eating kick Phoebe had mentioned—the one championed by Jeremy’s trainer, Liam Taylor. I doubted we’d get along. His approach to eating would give me nightmares.
    â€œCome by Primrose,” I offered. “I’ll hook you up.”
    Nicola laughed, that awkward moment between us forgotten. “I might just do that, if you’ve managed to improve things already. I heard the baked goods really went downhill at the shop after Jeremy hired away all Phoebe’s bakers. But maybe he wanted to get a jump on consolidating their assets for himself before the divorce papers were served. Who knows with him?”
    I almost choked on my latte. “ Divorce papers? ”
    â€œYou didn’t know?” Nicola looked perplexed. “I thought that was why Phoebe needed your help—because Jeremy had poached all the talent on her staff. She was at risk of being exposed as a talentless fraud. They had epic fights about who owned what, who was responsible for what, and whose fault everything was.”
    â€œFights?” I hadn’t known about any marital discord. Even the staff at Primrose hadn’t gossiped about Phoebe’s marriage.
    Of course, I didn’t know if Nicola was trustworthy or simply bitter—eager to bad-mouth her former boss. I did know that I didn’t much care for her take on Phoebe. Calling Phoebe Wright a fraud was putting a pretty harsh spin on things.
    Wealthy people routinely started boutiques, candy stores, art galleries, and more—businesses that produced an income but were actually hobbies. If you could do the same, wouldn’t you?
    On the other hand, the staff at Primrose was surprisingly green. And they were mostly newcomers to the shop. Hmm.
    Maybe, just as Phoebe had pretended to be “working out” new recipes, she’d pretended to be “temporarily shorthanded,” too. That had been her excuse for needing my troubleshooting skills.
    I didn’t like the idea that she’d hidden her true problems from me. But then, someone like her would value privacy and propriety, wouldn’t they? Her personal life wasn’t my business.
    â€œAs I said, Jeremy wasn’t an easy man to deal with. I’m sure he stole away those bakers out of sheer spite.” Nicola looked me square in the eye. “He was mean, Jeremy was. Before he died, he found time to blackball me in the industry, just because I corrected one little typo. Now I’m unemployable.”
    â€œBut you have other skills,” I tried. “Your degree?”
    â€œDidn’t get me a job before Jeremy and can’t now, either.”
    â€œCan you bake?” I hoped to cheer her up. “I’ll hire you.”
    â€œThanks, but I need to think about my next move more carefully this time. I jumped into that job with Jeremy, and that was a disaster, to say the least.” Nicola shifted her gaze to the tabloid paper lying beside my latte. She gave me a semi-smile. “You’re lucky you never knew him, Hayden. I certainly wish I never had. We’re all better off now that Jeremy is gone.” Then she thanked me for bringing her things, took them upstairs with her, and left me behind with more questions than answers . . . and more food for thought than I’d counted on getting.
    Also, a major appetite for cake. I ventured to the café’s counter and bought a wedge of triple-layered mocha, then

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