4. ROPED IN

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The morning light streaming through my window wakes me up. I wake up with a start. A little disoriented for a second.


Then the events of yesterday come back to me. I refuse to think about Aaron. I check my phone to see the time.



It's switched off.



In my anger, I had switched it off. I still don't feel strong enough to face reality. I'm twenty-five years old and I am single. This wasn't a part of my life plan. This is a disaster.



My stomach grumbles, snapping me out of my sorrows. I take a quick shower and dress in the best clothes I can find in my closet. Those are the only ones that my mother will approve of. I tie my hair up in a bun and head downstairs for breakfast.


I leave my phone on my dresser, switching it on can wait. After all it's Sunday.



Breakfast is ready on the table. My mom is already seated at the table. Today she is dressed in a beautiful green top and black pants. She looks as if she came out of a fashion magazine. She is sitting at the head of the table but she is not sitting alone. The seat on her left is occupied by none other than Ryan.


The moment I lay my eyes on him, I find him looking at me, his gray stormy eyes assessing me I think. I can't place that look.


He looks amazing. His blond hair falling on his forehead, his full lips curved into a ghost of a smile and a single smooth eyebrow raised, amused. He is dressed in a white t-shirt and jeans.


My stomach grumbles again and I snap out of my trance. I realize that I had been staring at him with my mouth open.


I snap my mouth close, with an audible sound.


'Morning mom' I nod at her 'Ryan' I acknowledge him. He is definitely trying to suppress a laugh.


I walk into the kitchen and get a hold of my bearings. I sit on the right side of my mother which also happens to be right opposite Ryan.


I am going to pretend like nothing ever happened. I have a lot on my plate without adding Ryan to it.


It's just a matter of a few days and then I'll be off, back to the city.



'I am surprised you woke up so early' my mom says to break the ice.



I make a humming sound in my throat. I am busy gobbling my food. I feel famished.


I have no intention of speaking to either of them while I eat.



'Claire, did you know that Ryan is a professional chef?' My mom says loudly, trying to break the awkward silence.



I stay mute, still gobbling down my food. I know my mom very well; she is trying to make me take the bait which I'm not going to. I still can't believe that she invited him over, even after the talk we had yesterday. I told her I am not ready to date but apparently she didn't get the message.


Speaking of him, he is staring at me. I can feel his clear gray eyes piercing me, watching my every move.



'He went to Cordon Bleu and now owns the best restaurant in the city.' My mom continues speaking. Either she doesn't notice that I'm not interested or she chooses to ignore me. I don't know which one is it but either way she keeps talking about him with a lot of enthusiasm. Occasionally she stops to let Ryan speak. They mainly talk about his business and its possible expansion.



I decide to tune out of the conversation completely until their conversation turns to the annual bakeoff.



The bakeoff is a part of the Halloween carnival and it is the best event of the carnival.


The annual bakeoff is the event of the year, in this town. Ever since I can remember my mom would take part in this competition. One member of each family participates in this. People prepare for it for the entire year. It's sort of a big deal for the people of this town.


The competition lasts for three days; one round each day and at the end of the competition the winner gets the prestigious baker's trophy and of course bragging rights.



'Are you entering the bakeoff this year, Cara?' Ryan asks with a smile.



I tense. I think I know where this conversation is going now. My mom has that look on her face. I know that look very well.



'Actually, this year Claire is going to enter.' My mom replies, mirroring his smile.



And... crap!


I am doomed. I am shocked, with my spoon stuck in mid-air and my mouth open, I am sure I look ridiculous. I just got roped into a challenge that I know nothing about. I am a disaster when it comes to cooking. I quickly regain my composure and try to salvage the situation.



'Mom, I don't think I can enter this year. I have a lot of work to do and I'm probably not even going to be here for the competition.' I try to explain, hoping she understands what I mean.



'Oh honey, I am sure you can stay here for a week.' She replies, looking at me as if I have completely lost my mind.



'It's in a week?' I say in disbelief.



'Is it going to be a problem, Claire?' Ryan asks looking genuinely concerned. This is the first time he has talked to me since I came here. His voice is rich, warm and velvety.



'No! It's okay.' I say hurriedly 'It is completely fine.' I don't want him to know that I still have absolutely no handle on cooking.


I am sure he is going to enter the bakeoff and letting your competitor know your weakness is the perfect recipe for a disaster.


I school my features into a practiced smile and look composed.



'Are you entering this year, Ryan?' I ask him, holding his gaze.



'I am' He replies, looking amused. He hasn't broken our eye contact yet. He is challenging me. The game is on.



Just then the phone rings, shattering our little game.



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