Passing Through - Part One
A/N - ok, so I have rapidly started a new story, I promise that I'll be better at updating than with last story. Been a bad six months, but back up and at it. Hoping you all love the start of this story, there's a little surprise in there, but I have a few reservations too. Stick with me, please?? MZxxx
"What an amazing looking cake, if I do say so myself."
There was no one there to hear it, but Natasha Ingram didn't care as she licked her fingers, standing back to examine the two layer coffee and walnut confection that she'd spent the morning making. Another red velvet sponge was in the oven, but for a moment she was captivated by her latest creation, the same enthusiasm that she still gave every cake that came out perfectly.
Nine months she'd been running the cafe that she'd inherited from her grandmother. Well, it hadn't been a cafe when her wonderful grandparent had owned the building, but a knitting shop. One that was struggling to sell more than the occasion ball of wool.
Losing her grandmother was hell, she was more than a parent to her, especially as her parents lived and worked in the US and she rarely saw them. No, Hilda, Nana H, she'd been her main confidante and friend for over half of her thirty one years. Inheriting her home, the shop and the flat above had been little consolation at losing her relative, but converting it to her dream, a cafe where she could bake cakes and make coffee, as well as healthy lunches and smoothies, well it had been her everything, though with that, also came a huge risks. The building was on the fringe of the city, but near to the university, which helped her trade. But everyday was a battle.
Heaven and Hell was born from her love for the indulgent and the healthy. She should have called it 'Everything in moderation', but that was far too stuffy.
The bell above the door tinkled, so she wiped her hands on her apron and carried the cake with her into the cafe.
A tall blonde man was at the counter and his eyes lit up as he spotted her, or rather the cake in her hands. He was wearing an immaculate and expensive looking suit, which made him stand out to her usual relaxed, student clientele.
"Oh my god, I was going to just have a coffee..."
She chuckled, "this is the 'hell' part of the job." She set the cake in the glass fronted display cabinet, then turned to him, "what can I get you?"
"I'll take a skinny decaf latte please, and a black coffee...do you have filter coffee, or just Americanos?"
She grinned, "both."
"Great, a filter coffee too, please. Can I get one piece of that cake, but with two forks?"
That made Natasha grin, "of course." The beep behind her told her that another cake was ready. She was using a quiet Monday to build up her stock for the start of the week. "Take a seat, I'll bring them over."
Retrieving the muffins from the oven, she put them to cool then set about fulfilling the man's order. It was ten thirty, the breakfast rush over, usually a spate of students from the university turned up around midday, but this was the small lull before that rush.
Before she could carry the drinks to the window table, the door opened and a woman burst in, a heavily pregnant woman, with a small blonde girl wrapped around her leg.
"Daddy!" The shy girl squealed, immediately dropping her hiding place to rush across the room, to be scooped up by the blonde man, leaving the woman to try and negotiate past the chairs. Natasha placed their coffee on a nearby table, and then helped move the closely packed seats, to allow the woman to sit down.
"This must be yours." She handed her the decaf, then placed the other coffee opposite.
"Hey, sweetie, can I get you a drink?" She squatted down to make eye contact with the little girl.
She peeped up from her father's side and nodded.
"A glass of milk?" She directed that at the mother who nodded.
She wasn't sure what it was about a happy, contented family that made her heart wrench. It wasn't that she wanted her own child, or a man for that matter, but maybe it was the sense of belonging, the sense of home that she'd lost when her grandmother had died.
It wasn't that her parents didn't love her, they did. They had a great relationship, but they lived in Massachusetts, a long way from her North England home. She'd spent some of her childhood out with them, but since her teens, her home had been here, the two story home above the shop. But without her grandparent...it felt empty, her life felt hollow.
The family represented all that she'd lost and whilst it was lovely to see, it was tragically sad too.
A few takeaway coffees, and her home made granola bars were being snapped up by the passing trade, as the morning started to fly by.
It was near lunchtime, when the same suited man came back into the cafe.
"Back for more cake?" Natasha asked with a grin.
That made him laugh, "sort of...I'm looking for a regular breakfast venue for about thirty people, at least once a week, maybe more. I like this place, you have a healthy breakfast menu – which is important to us, I was wondering if you'd be interested."
She didn't have a poker face and she could feel her cheeks strain from smiling so hard, trade was good, but not brilliant, a regular contract like this would be fantastic.
"That sounds VERY doable. What did you have in mind?"
He opened his briefcase and pulled out a sheaf of papers, "I'm told – unlimited drinks, a choice of maybe five or so of your healthier breakfast options for thirty people...and this is what we're willing to pay."
He handed her the paper, and she fought the palpitations that threatened to overwhelm her.
"This is for..."
"Each occasion. Is that feasible?"
Natasha nodded, "sounds very reasonable."
"Great, look I work for a team, this isn't my area of expertise, my boss, for want of a better term will need to chat through the menu with you. What time do you shut up shop? We could call back around five?"
She had nothing planned, so she shrugged, "that works."
"Good, I'll be here later to finalise things, but in the mean time take my card..."
She took the business card and tucked it into her shop diary, as he held out his hand, "I'm Oscar Wicker. I work for the Hornets. I'm sure you've heard of us."
She hadn't, but she extended her hand anyway, "Natasha Ingram, I guess I'm the owner."
Oscar nodded, then made for the door, "see you at five."
When the door closed, she opened the diary and glanced down at the card.
Oscar Wicker, Operations Manager, North West Hornets.
Sounded like a sports or fitness company, but she had no idea who they were. Yet they were willing to pay WAY above the odds for a breakfast. She could bring in one of her temporary workers to cover the hour or so and it would only be a huge benefit.
She looked to the ceiling and whispered, "I'm thinking that's you looking down on me Nana H."
"Screw this fucking place, and screw this fucking town!"
Bo Holding had pretty much had enough. He wasn't wrong, he'd leave town at the drop of a hat if he could, but he was tied to the town and had no idea how to get out of this mess. As he grabbed his bag and stormed out of the room, he heard a voice, probably that of the idiot teammate he was supposed to room with, calling out, "think you'll find it's a city."
FUUUCCKK! His inner beast was screaming at him and he was about to lose his head. He had to escape. Smashing through doors, he battled until fresh air hit him like a tsunami, moving along the building, he collapsed back against the wall and closed his eyes, breathing as deeply as he could.
"You cannot keep storming off like some fucking teenager, Holding."
Coop. The perfect, wonderful and much loved player coach. The man whose promises had dragged him across the Atlantic to this god forsaken place. The man who seemed to shit gold.
He turned slowly in the direction of the voice, then opened his eyes, "fuck off, Coop. If that prick calls me 'Peep' one more time, you'll be having this discussion through police cell bars. The man is a little fucking shit, hiding behind his insults. Though I suppose hints at my sexuality via a spin off from my name is better than barely hidden racial slurs. I'm experienced racism throughout my career, and never let it get to me, because it's never come with the venom that I get from this guy. I might not be the only American here, but I am the only non-white person in that dressing room. You need to deal with him."
The older man looked at him with a frown, "I'll turn a blind eye to nicknames, but I'll never tolerate racism, what's he said?"
Bo shrugged, as the offspring of a Jamaican model and a Swedish business man, he was used to standing out. His skin was a lot paler than his three sisters who all followed their mother, but would never be white like his father, his dark curly hair wasn't afro, and his eyes were hazel rather than warm chocolate brown of the girls in his family. He was a literally a fifty-fifty mix of the two completely different genotypes and whilst his mother assured him that he was beautiful, unique and special, he always felt different, like he never truly fitted in, especially as the divides between black and white team mates in sport had become so politicised in his own country.
Moving to Britain was part of his chance to get away from that, as well as try and recuperate from a life changing injury, but he had come straight into more of the same, with some jumped up little prick who thought that in his twenty seven years he'd never been called Bo Peep before.
Coop's hand landed on his shoulder, "look Bo, we want you here, we see you helping this still new team to lift a level. I will not tolerate you facing abuse like that. I know dressing rooms and I know you do. Banter is fine, I mean Peep...it's kinda funny? But anything else is a hard no. I'll speak to Vaughn, and I can see that room mates change, but outbursts like that one, just now...not great, mate."
He rolled his eyes, "I have been trying my best."
Coop sighed, "I know how hard it is, relocating like this, come over, tonight. Have some dinner with me, Frey and the kids. It won't change anything, but it might help you switch off a bit..." He could tell that Bo was undecided, "what else ya gonna do? Go back to your home alone, and dwell?"
He groaned, Coop was right, part of the contract with the club was a small apartment over looking some stagnant dock, 'waterside' was stretching it. It was sterile and basically furnished, and he hated it.
"OK. I'll come."
Coop grinned, "good. You won't regret it. It's early days, Bo. I'll speak to Vaughn. We'll sort things."
If only life was as easy as Coop made it sound.
It had been a really busy day, busier than it had been in ages. Natasha was shattered, but happier than she had been for weeks. Making this business work was everything, and she felt as though this imminent meeting could be a turning point in the success of Heaven and Hell. She hadn't had a chance to think about what she was going to say to them, but she wasn't worried. With the few minutes that she had, she pulled together as much information as she could. She was literally sitting back and looking at all she had done, when the door tinkled. Looking up, she smiled at Oscar, then felt her jaw fall open, beside Oscar was a huge, extremely handsome man, tall, dark with a smile on his face.
"Hi, Natasha. This is Coop, Mitchell Cooper, he's the player coach, manager...well, kind of everything, for the Hornets."
She'd never met such an imposing man, and his hand shake matched his presence, flipping the sign to Closed, she locked the door, "grab a seat, and I'll get us a drink. Coffee?" When they both nodded, she disappeared behind the counter and grabbed the pot. Whilst she prepared three mugs, she grabbed her phone and googled North West Hornets and froze.