"Very few romance writers create characters as well developed and realistic as Bretton's. Her books pull you in and don't let you leave until the last word is read."—Booklist (starred review)
"Once again Bretton produces a wonderful, heartwarming story full of strong emotion, humor, charming pets,
delightful characters and a lovely romance. There's also a poignant secondary romance. The way Bretton
brings all this to life and pulls it all together for a satisfactory conclusion are what make her a wonderful
--Susan Mobley, ROMANTIC TIMES
"Good pacing and dialogue make this warm-hearted story one that readers are sure to relish. The romances
have both serious and funny elements. If you like light-hearted, feel good, romantic tales, you are sure
to enjoy reading JUST DESSERTS."
--Marilyn Heyman, ROMANCE REVIEWS TODAY
"There are surprising, funny twists to this story and a lot of touching episodes to pique the emotional side.
I found Barbara Bretton's JUST DESSERTS to be highly entertaining, cleverly written and hard to put down.
Being a witty and warm read, I recommend JUST DESSERTS and look forward to reading other novels by this author."
--Kay Quintin, FRESH FICTION
"If you've not ever read Ms. Bretton then you are in for a real treat with Just Desserts."
--Sandi, A Romance Review
"Just Desserts is a fun, romantic read. I enjoyed it and recommend it for all those who like a great story
filled with humor and romance."
--Victoria Kennedy, Midwest Book Review
"JUST DESSERTS is a warm family drama filled with tender humor . . . Fans will appreciate Barbara Bretton's
invasion of South Jersey as everyone receives their JUST DESSERTS."
--Harriet Klausner, Genre Go-Round Reviews
"Ms. Bretton gives her readers an easy, yet NOT bland, story with wonderful,
vibrant characters and wholly believable situations. You'll want her
backlist in your library, if it's not there already."
--Amanda Killgore, Huntress' Book Reviews
Once upon a time, Hayley believed that a good woman (her) could turn a bad boy (her ex) into a knight in shining armor (pure fantasy.) Ten years of marriage to Michael Goldstein finally drummed the truth into her head. People don't change with time. They just become more of who they were to begin with...
Hayley Goldstein should be jumping for joy. She's been offered the chance of a lifetime: to bake a cake for world-famous rock star Tommy Stiles. But why would such a celebrity send his big-time lawyer to her small-time South Jersey bakery? Hayley's had enough hard knocks in her life to always suspect the worst. And she has a sneaking suspicion that this is about more than just cake...
Well, lawyer Finn Rafferty has to admit she's right. The truth is, Hayley is Tommy's long-lost daughter, and the aging rocker wants to meet–and maybe spoil–Hayley and her daughter. With her world turned upside down, Hayley will need help letting down her guard and hanging onto the things that matter most. And Finn may just be the man for the job . . .
The other attorney leaned forward and fixed Finn Rafferty with a look meant to remind him which one of them had Harvard Law on his side.
"Our own report on outstanding paternity claims against your client came in yesterday," Hampton Sloan IV said in the clipped and highly enunciated way of those to the manner born.
Finn, whose own background was more blue collar than blue blood, leaned back in his chair and fixed Sloan with a look meant to tell him that he already knew the answer.
"And--?" he prompted. These Ivy League types had a real jones for making you beg.
"To my surprise, the names on your list are no longer an issue."
Tell me something I don't know. This wasn't the first time (and it probably wouldn't be the last) that he had been down this road. "No surprise to me. Those names have been vetted more than once."
He had to hand it to aging preppies with Roman numerals after their names. Being wrong didn't even register on Sloan's patrician features. Finn, however, was having a tough time keeping "told you so" from registering on his.
"Glad it all checked out." He gathered up the signed documents scattered across the top of the cherry wood desk. "Mr. Stiles will countersign and then we can consider the pre-nup a done deal."
The smile on Sloan's face should have tipped him off but he was already planning his escape route from the city. "As I said, Mr. Rafferty, the original list you provided checked out but our investigators turned up one more name that seems to have escaped notice."
"We didn't withhold any names, if that's what you're implying. The list was complete and current."
"It would seem your investigators didn't go back quite far enough, Mr. Rafferty." Sloan slid a crisp manila folder across the desk. "I think you'll find this very interesting."
Finn, who had been hoping to hit the road before rush hour started, looked down at the folder. "'Maitland'" he said, reading the label. "What's this?"
"Read the summary page, counselor." It was never a good sign when the other side's attorney looked that amused.
He flipped open the folder. The summary page was on top of the paper-clipped stack. "Where did this come from?"
"Like I said, our investigators are very thorough."
"We're talking Tommy Stiles, the man who actually wants to know if he has other kids out there."
"Then he should be exceedingly happy if this turns out to be a DNA match."
A graduate of Harvard Law would have tendered an enigmatic smile, slid the folder into his briefcase, then waited until he was safely ensconced in his own cherry wood and leather office before he read the contents.
Finn, however, had graduated SUNY Stonybrook and he read it twice while Sloan watched.
NAME: HAYLEY MAITLAND GOLDSTEIN
MOTHER: JANE MAITLAND
FATHER: THOMAS JOSEPH STILES
PLACE: LEXINGTON, KY
MARITAL STATUS: DIVORCED/MICHAEL GOLDSTEIN FEBRUARY 1999
CHILDREN: 1 daughter (NAME: Elizabeth )
OCCUPATION: BAKERY OWNER
CURRENT RESIDENCE: 418 Main Street, Lakeside NJ
He met Sloan's eyes across the wide expanse of antique desktop. "I don't know how in hell we missed this. Our people are relentless when it comes to tracking down paternity claims." Tommy was probably the only superstar on the planet who was actually disappointed each time a claim was found to be without merit.
Sloan leaned back in his chair and for a moment he looked almost human. "It was a fluke," he admitted. "The original birth certificate was amended two weeks after the baby's birth to read ‘Father Unknown.'"
"That's not uncommon," Finn said. "Usually the original is destroyed."
"Not this time." According to Sloan's people, the hospital in Kentucky had held onto the original records in a basement storage room where they stayed for years until they ended up being scanned into the county's genealogical database two months ago. "Quite clearly a mistake on their part but an interesting turn of events for our respective clients."
"'An interesting turn of events'?" Finn said, meeting the other lawyer's eyes. "That's one way to put it."
The other way was holy shit but he kept that observation to himself.
Midtown traffic was hellacious as usual. It took Finn almost an hour to make his way from West 57th across town to the Queensborough Bridge entrance but he barely noticed it. The Maitland folder was open on the passenger seat and each time traffic ground to a standstill, he read more of the background information Sloan's people had uncovered about Jane Maitland and her daughter Hayley.
The more Finn thought about it, the less he believed there was anything to it. There was nothing unusual about reverting to Father: Unknown status. More than likely Jane Maitland and Tommy had come to some kind of understanding about paternity and the issue was dropped. The only reason it was being addressed now was because some over-zealous record keeper had saved the original documents instead of destroying them.
Traffic at the entrance to the Bridge was at a literal standstill. He dug deeper into the file and found a photo of Dr. Maitland. He couldn't quite match up the fiercely intelligent but plain-looking scientist with nineteen year old guitarist Tommy Stiles. Call it sexist on his part, but the whole thing just didn't compute. Not even when you factored in the whole older woman/younger man dynamic.
A dead end, he told himself as he waited for traffic to start moving again. Nothing more than a formality.
And then he saw it Jane Maitland's curriculum vitae.
She was an oceanographer.
A world famous, prize-winning, planet-changing oceanographer.
Suddenly it all started to make sense.
He looked more closely at the paperwork. Hayley might have been born in Boston but her mother had been teaching at Princeton during the years before and after. Tommy had grown up right outside Princeton.
And there was the ocean . . .
Traffic on the LIE was almost non-existent once he reached the Suffolk County line. Two hours ago he had been certain this new prospect would turn out to be a dead end like all the others. Now, the more miles he racked up, the more certain he became that the Stiles family was about to increase by two.
New Jersey . . . the ocean . . . the timing.
By the time he rolled past the sign welcoming him to East Hampton, he was reconfiguring Tommy's pre-nup to include the Goldstein girls as legitimate heirs.
He made the turn onto Greenleaf Path on autopilot. The toughest part would be getting Tommy alone so they could talk. The place was usually bursting at the seams with family, friends, friends of friends. Sometimes the only way they could get any work done was to head down to the beach and talk business while they walked the shoreline.
Like many of the other beach houses, Tommy's didn't look like much from the road. Two stories of sun-bleached shingles set on what passed for a hill in the Hamptons. It wasn't until you wound your way up the driveway that you got a real sense of the place. Ten bedrooms, twelve full baths, and two guest houses tended to make an impression.
The first time Finn saw the place, he was a scared sixteen year old kid with no family and enough baggage to fill the hold of a 747. Tommy Stiles was his father's best friend, and when Jack and Mary Ann died, it was Tommy who opened up his heart and his home to Finn.
And how did Finn repay him? He had done his level teenage best to throw it all back in the guy's face.
The Hamptons were another planet to the kid from a small town in central New Jersey. The people were aliens who might as well have been sporting antennae and wearing shiny silver jumpsuits. The house sat so close to the water that it was practically built on beach sand and there were times when it seemed like a stiff breeze would send it hurtling into the Atlantic. Tommy's kids – and there were a hell of a lot of them – all had one thing in common: they hated the ocean. When the winds kicked up they retreated deeper into the house, hiding beneath headphones and loud music, counting down the minutes until the sun came out again.
Not Finn. The briny smell, the percussive sound of the waves breaking along the shore, the silvery glint of sunlight against the dark, unknowable ocean. It got into his blood fast and hard and before long he loved it the way Tommy did.
It seemed like another lifetime. He could barely remember the angry, lonely kid who had shown up on Tommy's doorstep with his father's Stratocaster, an old leather jacket, and what was left of his heart.
Tommy wasn't like anyone Finn had ever known. You couldn't get a rise out of the guy. You couldn't make him angry. The house had reverberated with enough teenage rebellion and adolescent angst to fuel a thousand TV movies but through it all Tommy's gut-level goodness carried them through.
Everyone loved Tommy Stiles. Even his exes loved him. The place looked like a Mormon family reunion on holidays and birthdays, what with the former wives and girlfriends and kids who flew in from far and wide to be with him. A man had to be doing something right to be loved like that.
Definitely not the kind of guy who'd cold-bloodedly ignore his first-born child.
Willow's Porsche was angled at the head of the driveway near the path that led to the front porches. Willow was young but she knew how to mark her territory. As the presumptive next Mrs. Tommy Stiles, she was also making sure the others in line to the throne understood exactly how important she was in the hierarchy.
Zach and Winston, Tommy's teenage sons by LeeLee James, a backup singer with a smoky alto and world class legs, were staying at the house this semester. Their matching black Highlander Hybrids were tucked in behind Willow's sportscar. The Toyotas were expensive carrots being dangled in front of their teenage noses by Tommy, who hoped that the prospect of wheels would inspire them to knuckle down and hit the books. They were good kids but academia wasn't their strong suit. Both of them wanted to follow in their father's footsteps and go out on the road as musicians but Tommy was hanging tough on the subject of college.
There were a few cars he couldn't identify parked off to the side and a LIPA repair truck near the garage. A quiet day for once. He claimed his usual spot across from the mailbox.
The entrance foyer was an enormous, light-filled room with marble floors the color of beach sand. The walls had been hand-painted by artisans flown over from Italy who knew how to turn bare plaster into a sunny day. Twin staircases flanked the foyer. One led to the guest wing. The other led to Tommy's nominally private space. The concept of privacy wasn't big on the rocker's list of life's necessities. Left alone in a room, Tommy would try to make friends with a house plant.
A hot pink tricycle lay on its side at the foot of the guest staircase, a naked Barbie under the front wheel. He had learned to expect the unexpected when Gigi, Tommy's youngest, or some of the grandchildren were in residence. It wasn't unusual to find Barbie head-first in one of the nine full baths or a Darth Vader action figure in the microwave.
He performed his civic duty by plucking Barbie from danger then dropping her into the basket suspended from the handlebars. He then righted the trike and pushed it to a safer spot against the wall. Friends who were parents claimed that was like trying to save the Titanic by plugging the hole in the ship with your finger but he didn't have kids so he gave it a shot anyway.
Music blared from the media room. Kids' laughter rang out from one of the game rooms. He heard the click-click of high heels along the upstairs hall and the sound of someone practicing on a tenor sax. A quiet day Chez Stiles.
Anton was sitting at the table in the sun-filled kitchen, deveining shrimp. Some musicians went into detox before a major tour. Anton, the Afterlife's drummer, cooked.
"You staying for supper?"
Finn grabbed a Coke from the subzero fridge. "Depends what happens after I drop a bomb on TS." He took a long pull from the soda bottle and waited for the sugar rush to hit his bloodstream.
"You mean like the bomb he dropped on us yesterday?"
"This would be what–his third farewell tour?" Finn took another gulp of Coke. "I don't see him hanging it up before Springsteen or Joel, do you?"
"I don't know," Anton said, popping the tail off a large crustacean. "You've gotta admit there's something in the air around here. Even Willow's thinking about swapping modeling for writing kids' books."
Finn wisely decided to keep his opinion on Willow's career path to himself.
"Where is he?" he asked, tossing the soda can into the recycle bin.
"With Jilly in the spa. He's getting highlights."
"Better him than me," Finn said, draining the bottle.
"Amen, brother. Why do you think I shave my head?"
Finn was still laughing when he walked into the huge space that served as salon, gym, and occasional day care center.
Tommy was reclining in an uber-luxurious leather barber chair in front of a wall of perfectly lighted mirrors. Jilly, his stylist of many years, lifted one of her color brushes in greeting when she saw him.
His boss greeted him with the lopsided grin that had won him almost as many fans as his records. "Mission accomplished?" Pre-nups were part of the modern courtship ritual, like the Harry Winston diamond and the Reem Acra gown. They were a fact of life no sane adult who had achieved any measurable degree of success would ignore.
"They agreed that the claims on the list were all unfounded."
"I take care of my own. I wouldn't let a child of mine go unrecognized," Tommy said as Jilly the stylist tilted his head to the left. "A little more color up top, Jilly. I'm seeing a lot of grey these days."
"Any more color and you'll be Donald Trump's long lost brother."
She and Tommy exchanged friendly banter while Finn tried to be patient.
"Listen," he said finally, shifting the manila folder from his right hand to his left. "We need to talk."
"Go ahead. Jilly knows all my secrets."
"Not all of them," Jilly said, "but I'm willing to learn."
Finn smiled but said nothing. Tommy studied him for a second then met Jilly's eyes in the wall of mirrors. "Can we break for a few?"
Finn followed Tommy out onto the multilevel deck overlooking the ocean.
"It's probably nothing," Finn said without preamble, "but Sloan's people did an additional background check and found someone."
He handed Tommy the folder. "Her name was or is Jane Maitland. You were nineteen. She was forty. Sloan's people found an original birth certificate for a baby girl named Hayley that cites you as the father." He gave him a condensed version of the discovery. "Jane is an oceanographer, a pretty renowned one with two doctorates. She's teaching a course in Mumbai this year on the impact of climate change on coastlines throughout southeast Asia."
Tommy peered closely at the grainy newspaper clipping photo of an austere, grey-haired academic. The caption read, Respected oceanographer rings the global warming bell in Mumbai.
Finn tried to imagine what the good doctor might have looked like almost forty years ago but the best he could come up with was the image of an austere, brown-haired academic.
Tommy shot him a look. "She's almost eighty."
"She wasn't eighty when you--"
Finn cut him off mid-sentence. "Not my type."
The other thing Finn knew about Tommy was that all women were his type.
"What about the daughter? Do you have a photo?"
"If the other side has one, they didn't pass it along. She owns a bakery in South Jersey, halfway between Philly and Atlantic City." She was building a name for herself by providing crazy expensive cakes for weddings, bar mitzvahs, and the occasional gubernatorial inauguration party.
Tommy looked up at him. "They're from New Jersey?"
"Maitland spent fifteen years at Princeton. The daughter was born there."
He could see recognition dawning.
"I grew up two miles from Princeton. You'd be surprised how many University types showed up at our gigs."
"My father told me a little about the early days." Jack Rafferty had grown up in the house next door to Tommy. Two working class kids with big dreams that, except for one of them dying young, had almost all come true.
"We played a lot of small clubs between Princeton and New York. Springsteen owned the Shore. We were out to claim the rest of the state. Thousands of people moved in and out of our circle during those years." Tommy turned back toward the ocean. "She told me her name was Jean. I didn't understand half of what she said to me. We spent a weekend together. I never saw her again."
And there it was. He waited a moment before he asked, "Your choice or hers?"
"Hers . . . mine." He shrugged. "Both of ours. I tried to phone her but the number she'd given me was for a diner on Route 1."
"So you're saying it's possible."
Another silence, even longer and more uncomfortable than the previous one.
Finn nodded. "Between A.C. and Philly."
"About a four hour drive," Tommy said. "If we leave in the morning we can get there by noon."
"You're kidding, right?"
"The hell I am. You tell me I might have a grown daughter I've never met and expect me to sit on my fat ass and do nothing? You know me better than that."
Unfortunately Finn did. There were no halfway measures where Tommy was concerned. "Not a good idea, Tom. You have the rest of your family to consider." He paused. "And there's Willow."
"I'll say I need to check out the venue for the benefit next week in Atlantic City."
"Why don't you let me do my job before you put yourself out there. Let's find out who we're dealing with."
Tommy opened his mouth to argue the case then stopped. "Shit," he said. "I'm doing satellites tomorrow morning for the benefit, print in the afternoon, and a sit-down with Show Biz Extra in the evening."
"Okay," Finn said, not quite managing to mask his deep sense of relief. "I'll call in a few favors. We should have a pretty good idea where we stand by the end of the week."
Tommy said nothing.
"Are you going to tell Willow?" Finn asked.
"Not yet." Tommy's fiancée was a twenty-four year old super model-slash-high school dropout who was three months pregnant with his seventh child.
Or maybe his eighth.
"I need to meet Hayley Goldstein."
"That could get messy, Tom." Which pretty much nailed the Best Understatement of the Millennium award for Finn. "She's lived thirty-eight years without you in her life. No guarantee she wants to meet you."
He could see the wheels turning.
"You said she's a caterer. Hire her for the after-party."
Nuclear warnings sounded inside Finn's head. "She's not a caterer, Tommy. She bakes cakes." Fancy, expensive cakes but cakes just the same.
"So have her bake a cake for us."
"Listen," he said carefully, "I don't think this is a good idea. Let me run our own background check, see what I can find out, before we take the next step."
"What does she bake, those fancy cakes like you see at weddings, right?"
The warnings reached Defcon 3. "Right."
"So tell her we want her to bake us a set of drums or a guitar." He waved his hand in the air. "Whatever. The kids would love it and it would add a little something to her bottom line."
"Tom, let's pull it back before we get crazy. She's a stranger. Her bottom line isn't your problem. Why don't you stay focused on next week's show and let me do my job."
Jilly popped out onto the deck. "You have thirty seconds before those highlights seep into your brain, TS! Get in here now!"
"See what you can find out," Tommy said as he headed toward the door. "I want this moving."
It was Tommy's call. Not Finn's. If Tommy wanted to take the private jet and fly down to South Jersey and confront Hayley Maitland Goldstein with news that, assuming it was true, would turn her world upside down then that was exactly what Tommy would do.
That was the thing about superstars. Even the nicest among them, which definitely included Tommy Stiles, got what they wanted when they wanted it.