Part 1

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Clementine Bell could make a soufflé so fluffy people swore cumulus clouds were an actual ingredient; she couldn't, however, pay rent

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Clementine Bell could make a soufflé so fluffy people swore cumulus clouds were an actual ingredient; she couldn't, however, pay rent. This was a rather surprising fact considering the word "can't" had never been a part of her vocabulary. Sure, she'd been told she couldn't many times in her twenty-five years of life. She was told she couldn't get into L'Académie de la Pâtisserie. She was then told she couldn't graduate at the top of her class. Even after she started a runaway hit baking vlog from her mom's kitchen, Clementhyme Bakes, people still said she couldn't open a bakery in New York City.

"Mister Sopov, I can't pay my rent today," Clementine said as she slid a raspberry millefeuille dusted thoroughly with confectioners sugar across the counter to her landlord. The bakery, with its pristine black and white checked floor, and pale pink and gold gilded shelves, was completely empty. Unless you counted the dozens of unsold pastries. To be fair, the location of the shop wasn't ideal. A back alley on the Upper West Side wasn't even close to where she'd hoped to find a storefront, but as it turned out, back alleys of side streets were all she could afford. Well, Clementine could have afforded it if she'd had any actual customers. The first few months after the launch, fans of Clementhyme Bakes turned out in droves to try her pastries in person, but with a fan base spread so thinly across the country, the steady stream dwindled to a trickle. And fast. Now she was lucky if she got two fans to stop in over the course of a week.

Mr. Sopov ran his hands over the front of his well-tailored jacket and eyed the layers of golden puff pastry and the generous ripples of cream filling in-between.

"I can't be paid in desserts," he said, even though he couldn't seem to take his eyes off his favorite pastry. "Not anymore. My wife will have a fit if I have to take my pants to get let out again."

"Mr. Sopov," she pleaded, widening her large brown eyes in the hope that he would take pity on her if she looked like a fledgling bird. Again. "I just need one more extension. One itty bitty, one-month extension." She pushed the millefeuille an inch closer to him.

He sighed in resignation then pulled the plate the rest of the way across the counter. "I've already given you two months of extensions," he said with a sympathetic smile before sticking a fork into the layers of pastry. "You are young. I don't want you to get too far into the hole at your age."

Clementine bit her lip and pushed the wisps of brown hair back into the sleek bun pinned at the top of her head. The bakery had only been open for ten meager months and she was not ready to throw in the towel. Not even close.

"Can your parents help you out, Clem?" Mr. Sopov asked. He brushed the stray flecks of powdered sugar from his grey suit. "Your father perhaps?" His eyes watched her hopefully.

That was the trouble with being the daughter of famous pastry chef, Ansel Carlisle. Even though she deliberately used her mother's last name, people assumed she still had contact with him since she'd chosen to follow in his flour-dusted footsteps. In truth, she couldn't even remember a time when he'd been a part of her life and her mom's. Juniper Bell was the one who had taught her to bake, brunoise, and make a Béchamel.

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