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Cold Blooded Brew

Book 4 in the Killer Coffee Cozy Mystery Series

Meet Roxanne Bloom, ex-lawyer and who likes to be called Roxy by her close friends. She’s the owner and operator of The Bean Hive coffee shop in Honey Springs. Kentucky.

But when a dead body is dumped on her doorstep like a sack of coffee beans, the cozy coffee shop becomes an all-out crime scene and everyone in the small town is hankering for some good gossip.

Sheriff Spencer warns her to be careful because everyone is a suspect. Roxy’s snooping lawyer skills are on alert and she can’t help but brew up a few clues to help find the cold blooded killer.

Cold Blooded Brew

Excerpt

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Chapter One

The blinding dazzle of the sunrise path on Lake Honey Springs was breathtaking from the Bean Hive Coffeehouse’s front windows. The rainbow sheen of oil left on the water from a passing boater was a sure sign that summer was near.

Every time I walked past the front windows of my coffeehouse, I took the time to stop, peer out, and take in the beauty that made living in Honey Springs, Kentucky so inviting.

Debbie Cane, my soon to be sister-in-law, walked up behind me and looked over my shoulder, holding a ceramic coffee mug that had the Bean Hive Coffeehouse logo on it. “I swear you’ve got the best spot on Honey Lake Boardwalk. And the best coffee.” She stuck her nose in the steam of the warm summer blend.

Wait for it, I thought as I watched her close her eyes, her chest lifting with her inhale and a smile curving along her perfectly hot-pink-painted lips.

There is it, I thought, sighing with a feeling of joy bubbling up in my heart. That expression alone was the reason I left my job as a lawyer, moved to Honey Springs, and opened a coffeehouse.

Okay, to be honest—because I always felt like I was in a courtroom under oath and really never had a great poker face—I moved to Honey Springs because I’d found my law partner, who was also my husband at the time, doing more than client consulting. Maybe it was consulting, but not in the typical way. All of my consulting with clients was with clothes on. Regardless, it wasn’t my ideal of a partnership, professionally or personally.

I licked my wounds and found myself lost in many coffee shops until I realized one day that I too wanted to own a small coffee shop.

“I’m glad you like it.” I patted Debbie on the arm.

“I need a favor.” She clamped her teeth together with her mouth open a little and a look of hope in her eyes. Her amber hair hung past her earlobes in loose natural curls of the kind that made me slightly jealous. The sooty-gray pantsuit complemented her ivory skin. “Do you mind watching little Timmy for a while?”

I glanced over at her son and smiled. He’d already made himself at home in the shop and stole everyone’s heart with his adorable dimples, his sheriff’s star pin stuck to his shirt, and the cowboy hat that dangled from a lanyard down his back. “He’s always welcome here,” I said.

The bell over the front door dinged as the door opened. An early-summer scent filtered through—it was a combination of the Lake Honey Springs, mixed with the wood planks along Honey Springs Pier and a hint of boat diesel. It wouldn’t be long until these early mornings in the shop were filled with tourists who called Honey Springs their vacation destination.

Lake Honey Springs was wide enough and big enough for large engine boats, big game fishing tournaments, or relaxing in rented cabins with beautiful lakefront views. It was a magical place to live and work.

“I love staying with you, Aunt Roxy.” Timmy’s smile widened, as did his dimples.

“You like staying with Pepper.” I winked at him and tousled the five-year-old’s shaggy dark hair.

Pepper heard his name and jumped up from his bed next to the counter to scurry over for some pats and rubs. He was a very smart dog. I’d heard that about Schnauzers, and Pepper proved it.

The timer on my watch buzzed, and I hit the end button and turned to Debbie. “Timmy’s a great help. And we could use a good sheriff around here.” I pointed through the swinging door in the back of the coffeehouse that led to the kitchen. “If I don’t get that breakfast casserole out of the oven, it’s gonna be stinky in here.”

“I’m off, then,” Debbie chirped. “You be on your best behavior for Roxy,” I heard her warn Timmy as I shoved through the door.

“You heard Aunt Roxy. I’m a good sheriff.” Timmy nodded and followed me into the back.

The kitchen smelled of warm maple syrup and fried chicken, an addictive combination that was deadly to the waistline. The Bean Hive was first and foremost a coffeehouse, though, and nothing went better with coffee than a smidgen of food and bit of conversation. It was the chatter and laughter of customers that filled me with happiness. Knowing that I’d created something with my own hands that satisfied my clientele was my purpose.

Each week, I made a breakfast casserole for the morning customers, a soup special for the lunch customers, and a few sweet treats for folks who would swing in at odd hours.

“Good morning!” Bunny Bowowski pushed through the door with a grin, grabbed a Bean Hive apron off the hook, and replaced it with her brown pocketbook. I smiled every time I saw her in the black pants and Bean Hive logo tee that I had deemed our work attire. At first, she was very resistant to anything but her usual housedress and some sort of hat, but she came around to the idea. It was probably one of the best ideas I’d ever had, because it was a no-brainer to jump out of bed, throw on the uniform, pull my hair up in as much of a bun as I could muster with my mop of curls, and head out the door so early in the morning.

“Something smells awfully delicious in here. Is it you?” She leaned into Timmy, who’d found a spot on the stool that butted up to the steel work station in the middle of the room where I prepped not only the food, but crafted all the coffee blends that made the Bean Hive stand out.

Timmy laughed. “No, silly. It’s her food.”

“I think you’re right. Look at these.” I stood over the oven with pride.

Each single-serve cast-iron skillet had just the right amount of my chicken and waffle casserole, along with perfect golden-brown edges that would make any mouth water. Gently, I touched the top of one to make sure the casserole part had baked evenly. I felt Bunny creep up behind me.

“Oh, Roxy.” She bent her head over the stove. “You’ve gone and outdone yourself.”

I bounced on the balls of my feet, and a smile pulled up one corner of my mouth. “I think you’re right.” I jerked the towel from the tie of the apron around my waist and used it to grab the handle of one of the mini skillets. “I want you and Timmy to be the first to try one.”

There was no arguing from her or him. “Perk of the job.” Bunny joked.

Both of them followed behind me back into the coffeehouse. I put a mini-skillet on the counter and retrieved two forks and some napkins from underneath the counter. I left her there to help Timmy with his syrup and cut his food. I wanted to give her a moment with the dish so she could tell me what she really thought about the taste. Women in the south, especially Honey Springs, took their cooking seriously—it was almost as serious as church, and that was sayin’ something.

I gazed around my coffee shop, with its exposed brick walls, original wood beams on the ceiling, and fireplace, all of which added up to create the cozy atmosphere I wanted for my customers. There were two large windows in the front that gave the perfect view of the boardwalk and the pier that led out into Lake Honey Springs. The few café tables inside of the shop were filled with customers. Even stools underneath the long window bar up front were filled with folks who liked to come in and read the morning paper while they enjoyed a freshly brewed cup of coffee.

“It’s going to be a gorgeous wedding.” Mae Belle Donovan held her pinky out as she lifted a cup of hot tea up to her lips. She was a regular morning customer, and she liked to hold court with all the other little old ladies in Honey Spring.

“Holding court” was just another way of saying “gossiping.” Around these parts, gossip was part of the daily routine, just like getting out of bed in the morning.

“Hmm,” Louise Carlton hummed when I passed. She brushed a strand of her silver hair behind her ear. “I did hear it was going to be changed to All About the Details.”

“But my invitation says Central Park.” Another woman in their group didn’t sound so sure.

“Either way, Pam Horton is going to make a beautiful bride.” The three women nodded.

Louise Carlton called me over. “Roxy! Is it all right if I come by in the morning with the new Pet Palace adoptee?”

“Absolutely.” I patted her shoulder as I walked past her. “I look forward to meeting the fur baby.”

Louise was the owner and founder of Pet Palace. It was Honey Spring’s idea of an SPCA no-kill animal shelter. Every week, I featured an available pet to be adopted, and we had a one-hundred percent adoption rate, which started with my very own Pepper.

“I’ll see you in the morning.” She twiddled her fingers.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Timmy jump down from the stool. Pepper followed him over to the wood-burning fireplace. Even though it was going to be a warmer day, I still had a log burning for ambiance. On one of the two couches, two customers enjoyed their visit with each other, while Timmy and Pepper had decided to snuggle up on the other one.

I glanced back at Bunny. She flashed a big smile and gave me the okay gesture before she pointed to the waffle-and-chicken casserole. Bunny was older, and when she half-jokingly said she’d help out when I was swamped one day, she became my first employee.

I picked up stray napkins and cups left behind by customers on my way back to the L-shaped counter. I always looked at the displays to make sure they were inviting for customers. The four chalkboards that hung down from the ceiling added a nice touch of a homey, cozy feeling. The first chalkboard had the breakfast special for the week written on it, the second had the weekly lunch special, the third had a list of pastries and specialty drinks, and the fourth had all the business stuff, such as hours and catering information.

“He looks so much like Tim,” Bunny said when I walked over to the tea bar next to her.

“I don’t really remember Tim that much.” I tried to recall the times I’d spent in Honey Springs each summer, but I had been so focused on Patrick Cane, Tim’s brother, that I barely knew my own thoughts. “He’s definitely got the Cane features.”

I bent down and opened the door to the old dresser to get out the packaged sweeteners, creamers, and tea bag refills. The tea bar worked on the honor system, with a nice selection of gourmet and loose-leaf hot teas, along with an assortment of cold teas. There were antique tea pots from Wild and Whimsy Antique shop, which happened to be the first shop on the boardwalk, just in case a customer came in and wanted a pot of hot tea. I could fix it for them, or they could fix their own to their taste.

There was a coffee bar down the counter on the opposite end that was set up pretty much the same way. The customers would leave their money in a jar and be on their way. People in a hurry really liked this option, and it worked well.

The alarm on my watch sounded again, reminding me that I had an appointment with Babette Cliff at All About the Details, the event-planning shop a couple of doors down from the Bean Hive.

“Since he’s so cute, do you mind keeping an eye on him while I run over for my appointment with Babette?” I asked Bunny, making my way around the counter to the freshly brewed coffee pots that contained the popular summer blend.

“Of course, I don’t,” she mumbled through a mouthful of casserole. “You’ve really outdone yourself. Savory and sweet.”

I couldn’t help but smile with pride as I made two coffees in to-go cups. I untied my apron and stuck it on the chair behind the counter. I grabbed my coat from the back of the chair and put it on. We were still having that in-between-seasons weather where it was cold in the morning but hot as a goat’s butt in a pepper patch in the afternoon. “You are a dear.” I kissed Bunny on the cheek as I passed her on my way out of the coffeehouse.

The voices of men yelling directions such as “go right! No, go left! Now forward!” echoed off the limestone walls of Lake Honey Springs. They were guiding the drivers of trucks hitched up to boat trailers and attempting to maneuver their toys into the water.

The boardwalk was starting to come alive with the early-summer tourists who rented cabins for family outings and long vacations at the lake. The boardwalk was a one stop shop for tourists if they didn’t want to head into town. We had everything from restaurants to specialty shops for all of their shopping needs. The Bean Hive was smack dab in the middle, right across from where the long pier shot straight out into the lake. It was nice, in the late morning, to enjoy a cup of coffee while taking in the beauty of the lake.

The sun had come up and rested right where it was going to stay until high noon, when it would begin to work its way down the shoreline before finally ending in the most perfect blue-tinted sunset anyone this side of the Mississippi ever did see.

“It looks like someone needs a little morning pick-me-up,” I said to Babette, the event coordinator and owner of All About the Details.

She was sitting in the middle of the large entryway on one of the two white couches. She’d taken pride in making the event center feel like a cozy home, as did the rest of our small town. The floor of the event center was gray concrete, but the cream shag carpet in front of the couches and under the coffee table made it comfortable. The folded-up quilts on the edge of one of the couches were a nice touch, too.

All About the Details was true to the name. The inside was definitely about the details of what the shop was about. When you walked through the double doors, it opened into an entryway that was decorated with different items used at the annual Honey Festival that was just about a month ago. The three large, bright yellow and black constructed beehives on each side of the walkway that led down to a large ballroom that was the perfect spot to have a wedding. The tables had white linen tablecloths and about ten chairs around each table. There was a stage in the very front. The lighting was available in any color or multiple if wanted. There were place settings on the tables with fine china and stemmed crystal to go along with the cloth napkins and sterling silverware.

“I’m going to need more than a cup of coffee,” Babette said, barely looking up from the coffee table she was hunched over. “I’m not sure who’s getting married to Truman Phillips, Pam Horton or Hillary Canter.” She ran her hand over her hair and pulled down her ponytail. She paused then took another stab at gathering the messy mass of blonde into a knot on the top of her head. “I really need this event, financially speaking.”

“I can guarantee this will help.” I held out the hot to-go cup of coffee with the Bean Hive Coffee House logo printed on it. “It’s my new summer blend. Out today.” I was really proud of the logo. In the center was a honey bee with a coffee bean as the body. It was adorable.

Babette took the coffee. A sense of joyfulness filled my soul as I watched her jaw relax before she took a sip.

“You just might be right. This is delicious, Roxy.” She took another sip and slipped her flats off her feet, digging her toes into the shag carpet. “Where are my manners?” She moved the bridal books that sat next to her and patted the couch. “Sit, please. I can use the distraction.”

“What’s going on?” I sat down and looked at a three-ring binder that was filled with all sorts of clippings, photos, and notes—and not in an orderly fashion. The Phillips’s Wedding was printed along the spine of the binder, but it was a far cry from the work I’d seen out of Babette in the past.

“This wedding was all the talk this morning during Mae Belle’s court session.” I unzipped my light coat and put on the back of the couch. “Apparently, there’s been a mix-up with the venue.”

“I thought it was going to be the best event in my portfolio. I just adore Pam Horton and Truman Phillips. Their families are amazing, and there’s no real budget.” She pulled a photo of a cake from the binder and handed it to me. “Look at this cake. Beautiful. Almost too pretty to cut.”

My jaw dropped. “Wow. Look at all the pearls. Who on earth is going to make this around here?”

“Emily Rich over at The Bee’s Knees Bakery.” She caught me off guard. Really off guard.

“Are you sure?” I asked. “She just opened, and I don’t think she’s ever done anything so elaborate.”

It wasn’t that Emily Rich wasn’t a great baker. She was. In fact, I was instrumental in her opening The Bee’s Knees Bakery after she graduated from high school and worked a summer for me.

As most parents did, her parents wanted Emily to go to college and fulfill her career dreams the educational way. Emily had other plans. She was a whiz in the kitchen, and when she worked in my coffee house—where I did make some basic pastries to go with the coffee—she went above and beyond with amazing desserts that I never wanted to make.

She was still new and had very little formal training. I hated to see her take on a much bigger project than she could handle, because that could be a downfall of a business. I knew that because of the coffee house. The worst thing for a new business was a bad review, especially in a small town like Honey Springs.

“It’s not Pam who wants this cake. It’s Hillary Canter.” Babette rolled her eyes so hard, it looked like she hurt herself. “I’m supposed to meet with Emily this afternoon to show her the photo. I hope she can do it, because Hillary has no problem firing her and getting a new baker.”

“I thought we were talking about the Phillips’s wedding.” I hesitated, blinking and baffled. “Who is Hillary Canter?” I asked since she’d mentioned her a couple of times.

“Oh, I forget that you didn’t grow up here.” She shook her head. The messy bun toppled to the right, and the ponytail holder dropped onto the shag rug when she bent over to look through the binder.

“Meet Hillary Canter.” Babette shoved a photo of a woman about our age in a two-piece cream suit, wearing a feather head topper and with a glass of white wine in her hand. Her long black hair cascaded down her right shoulder.

“No teeth?” I questioned.

“Of course, she has teeth.” Babette moved the photo so she could see it. “Beautiful teeth. Amazing body. Money. And she’s Pam’s best friend.”

“I mean she doesn’t smile with an open grin.” Not that it was bad, but when a southerner didn’t smile with a big, wide smile, it seemed like she was hiding something. My aunt Maxi told tell smile and smile bigger every time she took a picture of me. Once, she told me that she didn’t trust a woman who didn’t smile without her teeth showing. “Never mind.” I waved it off.

“You’d think she was getting married,” she said with a raised eyebrow. She shoved the photo back into the binder, flipped the pages a couple of times, and took out a clipping of another cake, a simple four-layer white cake with pink and yellow roses lining each layer. It was beautiful, and it was definitely more along the lines of what Emily could do.

Babette let out a long sigh. “Now that the wedding is right around the corner, Pam is listening more to Hillary. She’s wondering if Hillary is right about the wedding guests and how they are expecting fancy and not simple.”

“I love a nice and simple wedding.” My insides warmed, and I touched my ring finger, which had my engagement ring on it. “Lake Honey Springs pier has the perfect backdrop to make for an elegant wedding.” I shrugged. “I think the bride and groom are the centerpiece, not some silly, fancy cake.”

“Are you thinking of the wedding you’ve envisioned for you and Patrick?” There was a wry grin on her face as she stared at me, waiting for my answer.

“Ever since the fire, we put any talks about a wedding on the back burner,” I said, remembering a few short months ago when my Christmas tree had caught fire and burned down a portion of my cabin. “I’ve been so busy with the remodel, and Patrick knew I was stressed.”

“I’m so glad that you finally reconnected with him,” she said, taking another sip of her coffee. “I remember when we were in high school and you’d go back home from summer break. He was lovesick for months.”

“You think he was,” I laughed remembering how I’d met Patrick Cane as a young teenager when he came with his daddy to fix something at Aunt Maxi’s house. My heart still fluttered when I saw him with a hammer. “I was a girl. My poor parents.”

“Years later, here you are.” Her chest heaved as she took in a big breath. “And I’ve got to make a dreaded call to Pam to figure out what she’s going to do. Tomorrow is the deadline for any sort of changes, and right now”—she shook her head—“there’s nothing set in stone for her big day, and I’m getting very frustrated.”

“Well, I hope I could bring you a little joy with the coffee.” I pulled my jacket back on. “What was it that you wanted to see me about today?”

“You know.” She looked as though a light bulb had gone off in her head. She bent back over the wedding binder and flipped more pages. She pointed at the page she ended up on and tapped it with her nail. “I completely forgot, but in the early stages of planning, Pam asked for a fancy coffee bar.”

She flipped the big binder to the front and drew her finger down the very first page, which appeared to be a list of sorts.

“Keep in mind, this was before Pam let Hillary get involved.” The tone in her voice changed from upbeat and high, to low and snarling. “Like I said, I’m meeting with Pam, and we are going to discuss my meeting with Emily about the cake. I’ll remind her about how she asked about a coffee bar. Why don’t you just so happen to bring me a couple of to-go cups of this amazing summer brew?”

“Nine a.m.?” I asked, knowing that was a good time to leave Bunny after the rush of the morning crowd.

“Nine a.m.,” she confirmed, standing up alongside me.

“I’ll be here.” We shook hands, and I made a mental note to put it on the calendar as soon as I walked back to the coffee house.

“What was it that you came by for again?” She asked.

“We were going to discuss some joint events, but it looks like your plate is full.” My stomach rumbled to life. “Besides, I’ve got to get back and get ready for the lunch customers.”

She held the cup up in the air as a sort of cheers, thanking me. “Do I taste a hint of strawberries?” she asked after taking another sip. “It’s so frothy.”

“Strawberries, rhubarb, orange, even some chocolate.” I smiled and zipped up the light coat. I didn’t tell her the rest of the recipe. Some things were meant to be kept a secret, even in Honey Springs.

 

Chapter Two

 

Lake Honey Springs bobbed with a few waves from the no-wake zone that extended from each end of the boardwalk. With the sun beating down at full strength, the boaters and tourists were everywhere.

The boardwalk had almost reached its one-year anniversary of the new renovations, which had provided a much-needed economic boost. From what my mama had said, almost all of the cabin rentals were filled. Patrick’s construction company, Cane Contractors, was busy as all get out with jobs from locals who owned and rented cabins for income and needed to bring their cabins out of winterizing.

I did a little window shopping at Queen for the Day, the bridal and women’s boutique that was located between the Bean Hive and All About the Details. Not that I had any place to go all dressed up, but it was nice to look.

From the outside looking in, I noticed Pam Horton, the soon-to-be bride, standing in front of a mirror in what looked to be a two-piece suit. But it looked like every other person in there was fawning over Hillary Canter. At least it looked like the Hillary Canter from the photo that Babette had showed me.

Pam caught me staring at her. She gave a faint smile with an even weaker wave. With a big smile on my face, I gave her a big wave, held up my coffee cup, and pointed to the coffee shop, waving her a gesture to come by. She slid her gaze over to Hillary then back to me, offering me a big nod.

I gave a last wave and headed next door. I might’ve been a little biased, but the smell coming out of my shop was better than any smell coming out of any shop on the boardwalk. The scent of cinnamon, sugar, and vanilla bean mixed with warm, roasted coffee rushed out of the door when I opened it.

There was never a better feeling than stepping into the coffee house and seeing what I’d imagined come to life. I loved being a lawyer, but I loved filling people’s souls with happiness even more.

“Hi, Pepper.” I bent down when I felt my fur baby. He nudged my leg with his nose. I rubbed my hand over his salt-and-pepper fur and looked into his big brown eyes. His cute and fuzzy mustache tickled my face as he gave me a kiss. “You’re a good boy.”

“How was Babette?” Bunny asked from behind the counter, which she was wiping with a rag. The Bean Hive apron was tied tightly around her girth—she was such a grandmotherly figure.

“She was good. She’s busy with the Phillips’s wedding.” I gave little information because I could tell she was fishing for some good gossip.

“Hi, Aunt Roxy.” Timmy had a broom pan in his hand. “I’ve been workin’.” He yawned.

“You have?” I looked at Bunny with big eyes.

“What? He wanted to help and I needed it. Those early morning people are half asleep when they come in here. They make a mess spilling coffee and crumbs all over. I bet they don’t treat their houses that way,” she grumbled under her breath and made her way over to a table to clean it off.

Before she put the salt and pepper shakers back in the middle of the table, she polished the cow-shaped dairy creamer holders that I’d gotten from Wild and Whimsy Antique then rubbed her hands on her apron. “I’ve put in a couple more of the coffee-mocha Bundt cakes in the oven because those slices are going fast.”

“Thank you so much,” I said, guiding a very sleepy little boy over to one of the couches.

Timmy fussed when he realized what I was doing, but he climbed up on the couch, and I swear he was asleep before his head hit the cushion. His little sheriff’s badge fell on the floor. I picked it up and stuck it in my pocket. I took one of the quilts off of the old wooden ladder I used for a couple of blankets and as a magazine rack and draped it over him.

Pepper jumped up and curled his furry little body into the bend of Timmy’s legs.

“See? I wore him out for you.” Bunny chuckled. “Now you can get more work done.”

I glanced over the glass counter in the back of the shop and noticed that I needed to refill the goodies. “It looks like I need to amp up my production with the tourists back in town,” I said.

“They seem to get here earlier and earlier each year.” Bunny made a very good observation.

“I don’t blame them. When I would come to spend my summers with Aunt Maxi, I thought Honey Springs was a slice right out of heaven.” I let out a long happy sigh.

“Have you got this week’s lunch menu ready to go?” she asked, standing over the tea bar. She bent down, opened the two front doors of the cabinet, and refilled the items that needed it. She was quick to refill, clean, and do anything around the shop.

“I do.” I wiggled my brows. “You think the chicken and waffles was good, wait until you taste the sunny summer soup.”

Just the sound of it put a smile on both of our faces.

“I wanted something that I could easily unthaw in a pot because I’m going to be spending every night this week just being in my cabin.” I tried not to show too much excitement, but I couldn’t stop my grin from rolling my lips over my teeth.

“Tonight’s the night, huh?” Bunny asked, clasping her hands together. “I just love working here and keeping up with you young whippersnappers.” She stood up and waddled back to the counter. She didn’t need the money I paid her. She claimed she just liked getting out of the house in the morning knowing she had someplace to go. It was a perfect union between us.

“I love having you.” I turned, poured two cups of the Bean Hive’s Highlander grog, and leaned on the counter, pushing one to Bunny. We stood there in silence enjoying our drinks. I looked out over the shop at the wooden-pallet furniture, comfy seating, and old pieces of antiques I’d picked up from Wild and Whimsy Antiques and forgot for a minute about all the cooking I had to get done. I was happy. Honey Springs had finally become my home.

“Are you going to the wedding?” Bunny asked.

“I wasn’t invited, but Patrick was,” I noted, taking another sip. “I guess I’m his other.” I held my hand in the air and wiggled my ring finger. “Since I’m not from here, I’m sure she didn’t invite me because she really doesn’t know me.” I looked at Bunny and smiled. “Though we are thinking about doing a coffee bar at the wedding.”

“Coffee bar? Whoever heard of that?” Bunny held a hand to her heart. “Well, aren’t you something? What is a coffee bar?”

“Apparently, Pam has.” I shrugged and brought the cup back up to my lips. “I’ve read in some of the wedding magazines that coffees bars are just as popular as liquor bars.”

“Wedding magazines? Have you been looking at wedding magazines?” The voice that come out of nowhere made me squish my eyes closed.

“I’ve got to start looking around to see who’s listening before I open my big mouth,” I joked, turning to face Aunt Maxi. I wagged a finger at her. “Don’t be going and getting big ideas.”

“What good is that ring if it really doesn’t signal nothin’?” Her disapproval of my long engagement was apparent in the tone of her voice.

She used her fingers to fluff her short hair so that it stuck straight up. She lifted the front flap of her messenger bag and dug out a can of hairspray that said “very stiff hold” in bright-pink letters.

“Don’t you spray that stuff in here.” I waved my hand in front of my nose to clear the air, since she clearly wasn’t going to listen to me. “Stop,” I protested every time she pushed the aerosol button down. “If my customers want to smell hair products, they can meander right on down the boardwalk to The Honey Comb.”

I sucked in a deep breath and turned to go into the swinging door between the shop and the kitchen. The glass counter wasn’t going to fill itself up with goodies. Pepper scurried along next to me.

“I’m not kidding. Everyone that’s gotten engaged after you has either gotten married, or is getting married, or has set a date. Can’t you just set a date?” she begged as she walked on my heels into the industrial freezer. “Patrick Cane is still the most eligible bachelor until ‘I do’ comes out of his mouth. Without a date, he can’t say ‘I do.’”

“Here.” I dragged a tray of chocolate-cherry scones that were a customer favorite and that I liked to keep on hand for times just like this. “Take those out there and put them in the oven.”

Aunt Maxi lingered a second too long.

“Patrick and I are just fine. Now that the cabin is finished and I get to move out of your and mom’s house, I’ll be able to think about things outside of my living arrangements.” It wasn’t a promise to her that I’d make a date. It was a promise that I had more time.

“Your cabin is ready?” She asked and blinked rapidly. There was a little sadness in her voice. “I was enjoying having you stay with me, like old times when you were a little girl.”

“I loved it too, and I really appreciate it.” I walked out of the freezer with my hands full of trays of scones. “I’m so ready to get settled back in, and so is Pepper.”

Pepper’s floppy ear perked up when I said his name.

“Ain’t that right, Pepper? Me and you want our house back.” I sent smooches his way. He danced on the tile floor in delight.

When I looked up, Aunt Maxi had already put the trays in the oven and turned the manual click timer on. She looked at me with a sadness in her heavily-blue-shadowed eyelids. She wore red rouge in a perfect circle on each of her cheeks, and they looked like little clown noses.

“Stop it.” I hurried over to her and wrapped my arms around her. “We’ll still see each other just as much.”

“Not with Penny around. She’s be stopping by and taking up all your time like she did before the fire.”

“You know me and mama. We can’t be around each other for long periods.” I gave her a good squeeze before I her out of the hugs.

Penny Bloom, my mama, wasn’t a big fan of Honey Springs when I was a little girl. She never came to visit Aunt Maxi with me and my dad. It was the whole sister-in-law thing—they never got along and were very jealous of my dad’s affection. He was the perfect man, and I’d missed him so much since he died. It was comforting knowing that I was going to marry Patrick, because my dad knew him and they really liked each other. I couldn’t help but feel good in knowing he was looking down on us with a big grin and a thumbs-up.

Regardless, Mama had decided to move here a few months before. She wasn’t sure what she was going to do with her life in Honey Springs, but she found a calling in the real estate industry. She’d been doing really well, and it kept her out of my hair. She and Aunt Maxi had reached a truce. Despite their differences, I had to say that I was pretty proud of the effort they’d put in to finding a new common ground.

“Guess what I might be doing for Pam Horton’s wedding?” It was something that was going to pick Aunt Maxi’s mood right up. She loved to brag about me and the Bean Hive. After all, she did own the building where my coffee shop was located. All the marketing and business we could get was welcomed.

“Fighting for the bouquet?” She was relentless. “They say that whoever catches the bouquet will be the next to get married.” She crossed her fingers and held them up in the air.

“Finger cross all you want, but I won’t be in that ridiculous crowd to catch any silly flower arrangement. Babette Cliff said something about Pam wanting a specialty coffee bar for the reception,” I said.

“Coffee bar? We live in Honey Springs. Not some highfalutin city like New York, where they pay way too much for watered down drinks.”

Her lack of enthusiasm sort of surprised me. “I thought you’d be excited that people are recognizing The Bean Hive as a great choice for their catering needs and daily coffee consumption.” I put out of my head any notion that she was going to understand.

“Roxy, Pam Horton is here, and she wants to talk to you.” Bunny peeped her head around the swinging kitchen door before she stepped in. “And the afternoon staff is here, so I’m going to head out.” She disappeared, only to pop her head right back in. “Debbie is here, too.”

“Tell Pam and Debbie I’ll be right there,” I said. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Have fun moving back into your cabin. If you need help, don’t call me.” She untied the apron from around her waist and hung it on the hook on the wall. She grabbed her brown pocketbook off another hook and adjusted it in the crook of her arm. “I’m too old.”

“You’re damn right, you’re old.” Aunt Maxi took a sip of her freshly poured coffee.

“Oh, shut up, Maxine.” Bunny glared at Aunt Maxi. “I might be old, but at least I’m not some bitter old biddy. And keep your hands off my Floyd.”

“I don’t want that old coot.” Aunt Maxi glared at Bunny. “He’s the one who wants me.”

“Well, I never,” Bunny gasped. She walked forward as though she was really going to do something, but we all knew she wasn’t.

“Enough,” I said, pushing open the kitchen door. “Bye, Aunt Maxi.”

After I greeted the couple of afternoon employees, who came to work right after their classes at the Honey Springs High School, I walked over to a free bar stool at the window next to where Pam had found a spot. I wasn’t empty handed.

“Hi, Pam,” I greeted her. “How about a cup of our famous Spring Coffee Blend to go with this warm scone?” I asked.

“You’re so kind.” Pam’s eyes softened, and the corners of her lip slightly turned up. “I’d love a cup. But I can get it.”

To say that I didn’t know her was not really very accurate. Honey Springs was small, and everyone knew everyone and mostly all of their business. Patrick and I had run into them a few times while we were out to supper, but that’s as far as it had gone. It was most likely that Patrick had been invited to their wedding because their parents knew each other or the Cane Construction Company had done some work for them.

“Don’t be silly. It’s a service we offer.” I got off the stool and headed over to the coffee bar to retrieve both of us a cup, but not without going over to talk to Debbie first. She was sitting on the couch with a sleepy Timmy in her lap.

“You’re better than any playdate.” Her eyes softened. “It’s been a long day.”

“You doing okay?” I asked.

“Timmy’s sitter quit on me over the weekend. I’m currently looking for someone.” She shook her head. “Bliss of a single parent. I do all the work.”

“I’m sorry.” Though I didn’t know her before I moved back and started dating Patrick again, I still could feel her pain from the loss of her husband. “Is there anything I can do?”

“Patrick is going to keep him a couple of days this week.” She positioned herself on the edge of the couch before she jockeyed Timmy into position so she could stand.

“He is?” I asked, realizing I’d not talked to him yet, which was very unusual.

“Yeah. He said he’s had to cancel a few contracted houses.” She hoisted herself and a very limp little boy to stand.

I stood up with her and held my hands around her in case I needed to do some quick catching. She laughed.

“I’m an old pro.” She winked. “You’re going to make a great mother one day.”

“One day real far away.” I walked with her to the door and let her out of the shop.

I went back to retrieve the coffee for Pam and me. The usual afternoon crowd was starting to trickle in since school had let out. In came the parents who had dropped their kids off for practices and the high school kids that came in for social hour were my afternoon crowd.

“How’s the wedding planning going?” I asked her, sliding the cup in front of her, careful not to spill. “You looked a little overwhelmed next door.”

“That obvious?” Her brows dipped. She lifted the coffee with both hands. “I don’t know. It’s just not feeling like my wedding. That’s all.” She took a sip and then another. The pause between sips was apparently all she needed to just let loose. Her lips started going a mile a minute. “I guess it’s my wedding and I need to take charge. If Hillary wants to get married, maybe she should plan her own wedding. But she’s so bossy that no man can stand being around her. Truman and I never fight. Never.” She shook her head and pinched off a piece of the scone then popped it in her mouth.

“Ever since I let Hillary talk me into the different cake, the different color scheme, and all this fancy stuff, Truman and I haven’t gotten along. She even talked me into changing the bridesmaids’ dresses because she doesn’t look as thin in the ones I’d picked out,” she mumbled with a mouth full of pastry. She swallowed. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t’ve unloaded on you, but sometimes it’s good to tell someone who’s just impartial.”

“I’m sorry you’re going through this.” Apparently, it wasn’t the time to bring up the coffee bar for her wedding. I didn’t want to be like another Hillary in her life. “Is Hillary your best friend?”

I wanted to know so I could establish what sort of boundaries they had with each other.

“Yes. For years.” She took another bite of the scone then took a sip of coffee.

“Have you told her that you don’t want to do all those things she’s suggesting? Because really, she’s merely suggesting the changes. It’s you that has to implement them.” All of those years of law school did come in handy sometimes, especially the classes where I learned to listen to what the client really wanted. It was my job to come out of the courtroom with more.

In my head, Pam wanted an amazing wedding, but she wanted to keep her husband happy and her friendship with Hillary intact. It appeared that she didn’t know how to do that.

“No. She’ll get mad and stomp around pouting. I hate it when she does that,” Pam said.

“Why don’t you sit down with Truman and go over the dream wedding that you two wanted? If none of those details fit in with what you’ve got planned right now, then maybe you do need to have a little come-to-Jesus meeting with Hillary and tell her what’s what,” I suggested, merely trying to give her power back.

It was good advice, and I could tell by how her jaw relaxed that she had become receptive to what I was saying. Plus, if they went back over the plans they’d originally had, a coffee bar might be in there.

Just then, the bell over the coffee house door dinged, and none other than Hillary Canter walked in.

“There you are.” She tugged on Pam’s shirt. Her long hair laid perfectly across one shoulder. “Honey Springs sure could use a Starbucks.” She slid her gaze over to me. “It’s not that your little shop isn’t cute”—she shrugged—“I just like a nice cup of coffee. That’s all.”

“No offense here.” I bit back the words I really wanted to say. Though I wasn’t following my advice to Pam, it was my business, and it wouldn’t look good if I got into a fight with someone standing in my shop.

“It offends me.” Pam jumped off the stool and thrusted her fists down to the ground as she came nose to nose with Hillary.

It appeared to me that Pam had suddenly found her voice.

“You can’t come into someone’s place of business and say hurtful things. You have no idea how good this coffee is.” The volume of Pam’s voice escalated with each word. She flung her ring finger in the air and wiggled her engagement ring in Hillary’s face. “This is mine. This wedding is mine. I’m sick and tired of you trying to make it yours. Maybe, just maybe, if you were nice or even the slightest bit kind, you’d get a boyfriend who would want to marry you.”

“You ungrateful little nobody!” Hillary’s nostrils flared. “You can never have the wedding you want without me.”

In one fluid motion, Pam twisted around, grabbed her cup of coffee, and threw it on the front of Hillary’s shirt.

“You. You!” Hillary’s jaw dropped before her lips squished together and her eyes lit with fire. “You have lost your mind! And you”—Hillary hissed in a hateful tone, and she jabbed Pam’s chest bone with her finger—“You can find another maid of honor because you don’t deserve me!”

Suddenly, Hillary stopped. Her chest heaved when she sucked in a big breath. Her right eyebrow rose a fraction of an inch. Then, it was just as if the devil himself made an appearance right there in the front of my coffeehouse. A satanic smile spread across Hillary Canter’s thin lips.

She cleared her throat. “I wasn’t going to tell you, but in light of your lack of friendship and what you’ve done to me today, Truman made a pass at me a couple of weeks ago. At first, I thought it was just a kiss, but later realized he wants a real woman.” She shrugged and slowly tilted her head to the right. “Sure, I resisted at first.” She scrunched her nose. “But I too get awfully lonely and I’m a real woman.”

Pam wasn’t going to let that go even as Hillary turned to exit the coffee shop. “You are a liar! I hate you! You’re dead to me!” Pam screamed after her.

“Are you okay?” I asked, ignoring the slamming shop door that Hillary had used extra strength to close.

“No.” Pam shook her head and rushed off to the bathroom.

I stood there for a minute wondering if I should follow her or let her be. Then I decided that if I was in her shoes, I would want someone to check on me. My conscience was right. I headed in there and found her slumped over the sink throwing water on herself, but she wasn’t alone.

Loretta Bebe, of all people, was slowly dragging her hand up and down Pam’s back.

How did she slip into the coffeehouse without me hearing her? I eyed her suspiciously.

“Now, now dear,” Loretta’s southern voice oozed with comfort. Her words were drawn out with long sounds that made one-syllable words into two. Mr. Webster had to be rolling around in his grave. “It’ll all be just f-iiiine.” She patted and rubbed again. “You can take yourself down the boardwalk to Touched by an Angel Spa and get all these feeling worked out with a good mass-age.” Loretta’s twang made words sound so much more different than how they were supposed to be pronounced.

“Or you can get a spray tan. A little color this time of the year makes everyone feel so good. Not that I’d know.” She drew her face up to look at her reflection in the mirror. Her very tan face stared back at her before she noticed I’d walked in. “Honey, my skin color is all natural, since I’m part Cherokee.”

Yeah, right, I wanted to say, knowing that all the talk around town was that Touched by an Angel Spa had a running tab for Loretta and her tanning bed habit. If she wanted to think that everyone believed she was part Native American, it was no sweat off my back. Who was I to judge?

“Roxanne.” She nodded at me.

“Low-retta,” I said her name the exact way she pronounced it.

She didn’t pay me any attention and went right back to rubbing on Pam. “Honey, we all get cold feet.”

“Cold feet?” Pam’s brows formed a V when she looked up and back at Loretta’s reflection in the mirror. “I don’t have cold feet. I’m trying to keep myself from not running after my ex-bridesmaid and choking her to death.”

“Violence never solved anything”—Loretta smiled—“but vengeance is so rewarding.” She winked and turned on the balls of her black flats. She stuck her perfectly manicured red fingernails in her short-on-the-sides coal-black hair and raked a few stray pieces into place. She stared at me as she brought her fingers to the corners of her mouth and wiped away any lingering lipstick. “Look at Roxanne here. She got the ultimate revenge on that ex-husband of hers by moving here and snagging the most-eligible bachelor in Honey Springs while opening up her little dream coffee shop.”

“I’m not sure vengeance is a good thing either,” I said, making sure Pam wasn’t getting any silly notions from Loretta. Loretta was the last person on earth who should be giving advice.

“I don’t know if your little spat had anything to do with that mean, nasty Canter girl, but I do know that her mama and daddy have spoiled that little girl all of her life. Damn near sent them into bankruptcy.” Loretta’s brows rose. “Now, they’re so broke, they busted all Ten Commandants, if you know what I mean.”

I didn’t know what she meant, and I wasn’t going to stand there and let her gossip about the Canters and their financial issues. It wasn’t her tale to tell. Besides, Pam and Hillary were still friends. They were just going through a few growing pains, and that’s what friends did with different seasons of their lives.

“Even if her parents are going through some financial issues, it doesn’t give Hillary to right to just bowl over anyone she wants. Poor Emily Rich had brought some of her petit fours to last month’s Southern Women’s Club, and Hillary was standing in for her mama. She had the audacity to make fun of Emily and the simple flower Emily had decorated the tops of them with.” Loretta pasted a smile of nonchalance onto her face. “Emily didn’t let her get away with it, either. She stuffed one in Hillary’s face. Hillary said that she’d not see the last of her.”

“That’s what that message was all about,” Pam groaned. The corners of her mouth turned down. “Hillary called and told me that Emily was a fake and I really needed to rethink getting the cake from her because she uses box ingredients. Then, she threw it in there how you only get married once.” She gulped and looked up at me. “Oh, God.” She buried her head in her hands. “I called Emily and left a message that I just couldn’t use her bakery.”

“The nerve,” Loretta spat. “That girl needs to be put in her place.”

Loretta wasn’t making things better. She was making it worse, and Pam cried harder. “I’ve got it from here.” My lips formed a thin, straight line. “Thanks, Loretta.”

“Mmhmm,” she replied. “Any time.” She waved her hand in the air. The stacked-up bracelets on her wrist jingled as she gave us a finger wave. “I’ll be seeing y’all.”

I waited until the door was completely closed to see if Pam was okay, because Loretta Bebe loved gossip, and I was sure she was standing outside of the door with a very curious ear to the crack.

“What can I do for you?” I asked, plucking a tissue from the box on the shelf next to the sink.

“Nothing.” Pam took the tissue from me and wiped the tears from underneath her eyes. “Do you think what she said was true? You know, about Truman.”

“Has Truman acted any differently?” I wondered.

“No. He just keeps saying that Hillary isn’t the bride when I tell him what she tells me to do.” She sniffed.

“I still think you need to talk to Truman about it. Find out if what Hillary said was true or if she was just nursing a bruised ego after you threw hot coffee on her.” I winked. “It was the good coffee, too. Such a waste.”

Both of us laughed.

“Did you see her face?” A little color came back into Pam’s cheeks.

“Did I? It was great.” I chuckled. “But I wouldn’t take what she said for truth until you talk to Truman yourself.”

“I’m not marrying Hillary. I’m marrying Truman. And if she’s lying, and he didn’t make a pass at her, I’m not letting her ruin my one and only wedding. I’m going to go home and tell Truman exactly what I want for our big day. You were right. We need to sit down and go back to what we’d planned when we first got engaged and what we’d envisioned. Not what Hillary envisioned.” She wadded the tissue up in her hand and tossed it into the trash can below. “I’d not be one bit upset if I never saw her again.”

So much for the still friends and all that changing-with-the-seasons crap.

She shook her hair, lifted her chin, and walked towards the door. She stopped with her hand on the doorknob.

“Roxy,” she said over her shoulder, “would you like to do a coffee bar at our reception?”

“I’d be honored.” I nodded and smiled, knowing that Pam was going to be okay, and I was going to rock that coffee bar.

 

Chapter Three

 

“Are you sure?” I asked the salesgirl and twirled in front of the mirror that hung on the outside wall of the dressing room at Queen for a Day. “I’m not used to wearing a dress while I’m catering something.”

Morgan and Crissy had come by the coffeehouse after they got off of work, and we enjoyed a cup of coffee before I got the big idea that I needed something to wear to tend the coffee bar at Pam’s wedding, just in case the wedding was still a go.

Pepper sat on the floor, staring up at me. He always looked at me with loving eyes. Morgan and Crissy nodded.

“It looks great on you, doesn’t it, Crissy?” Morgan stood behind me next to Crissy and stared at me.

“Fabby.” Crissy’s mouth formed an O. “And we can straighten your hair. It’ll look so good.” Crissy was always trying to get her hands in my hair. It must have been some sort of hairdresser mentality.

“Right, Jana?” Morgan asked the salesgirl. “It’s perfect on her.”

“Not only will you be representing your business, but you’re also an invited guest,” Jana said, putting a hand on each of my shoulders. Both of us looked at me in the little black dress that was much tighter than what I normally wore. There was something about a younger girl telling me that I looked good that made me instantly believe her.

I adjusted the plunging V-neck to cover up some skin that I wasn’t used to showing then readjusted the sleeves.

“Honey, you could use a little help in that department.” Crissy put her hands inside her bra and gave a little boost to her girls.

The sales clerk continued to readjust the dress on me to make it fit how it was supposed to. I couldn’t help but notice her name tag.

“I’m just fine with what I was given.” I nodded and wiggled my shoulders back a smidgen. “I think I’ll take it.”

“Great.” Jana adjusted the dress again to sit a little lower down on the bust—too low for me.

“Good choice.” Morgan nodded and slipped into another dressing room with Crissy so they could try on something they’d picked out.

“I had it on and just hung it back up.” The angry voice echoed into the dressing room.

Pepper jumped to his feet, his ears back. He never liked for anyone to raise her voice. The sales clerk’s eyes widened, and she hurried down the dressing-room hall to see what was going on.

“Then you aren’t getting it, and I want it.” Hillary’s familiar voice pierced my eardrums. Her words sounded firm and final.

I peeked around the corner of the dressing room and noticed Babette and Hillary both tugging on a sleeve of a long white coat.

“I put it on the hanger to step back and take a look at it.” Babette jerked the coat towards her. “Now let go,” she demanded through clenched teeth.

“Ladies.” Jana tried to calm the escalating tension between the two. “Let me have the coat before you two rip it to shreds.”

Both women reluctantly dropped the coat into the sales clerk’s hands.

“Now, let’s see if we can be adults and settle it as such.” Jana looked at Babette. “I saw that you tried this one on first. I’ll just look at the size and grab another one.”

“There’s not another small.” Babette’s tone became chilly.

“And I can’t wear a medium, but the small is probably too small on you,” Hillary retorted in a nasty tone.

“Are you calling me fat?” Babette asked offensively.

“No. Maybe you are big-boned, but you certainly aren’t a small.” Hillary’s voice was flat and vicious. “Jana, aren’t you going to do anything about this?” Hillary put her hand on her hip and swung it out to the side.

“I’m. . .” Jana pinched her lips together. She appeared to be confused and upset.

“Yes. She’s going to ring me up.” Babette lunged towards the coat.

I hurried back into the dressing room and pulled the curtain shut. Quickly, I got my clothes back on, grabbed the hanger, and draped the dress over my arm. I didn’t want to miss what was going on.

While I was changing, I could tell Jana was trying to find a resolution to the issue by telling the women that they could get the medium altered or even have the dry cleaners take it in. It appeared that Babette had tried on the coat first and had been deciding whether or not she wanted to buy it. Hillary hadn’t tried on the coat, but wanted it.

“I need it for the wedding since it’s going to be outside, in Central Park, under the gazebo, which Pam has always dreamed of since she passed it as a little girl,” Babette said. It was obvious she was directing that at Hillary.

“Gazebo? Let me guess, she’s now having pink bridesmaid dresses, too?” Hillary laughed at the thought.

“As a matter of fact, she is.” Babette crossed her arms across her chest. “And they are going to be beautiful.”

“Whatever.” Hillary’s voice dripped with sarcasm. “You can have that ridiculous coat. I’m out of here and out of this stupid town.”

“Good riddance!” Babette called after her. She turned Jana. “No one would miss her if she turned up missing or gone forever.”

Jana and Babette turned to face me when I walked out of the hall to the dressing rooms with Pepper trotting next to me.

“You just missed it.” Crissy’s eyes were huge, and she wore a giddy look on her face. “Babette just gave Hillary Canter a fit, and it’s going to be all the talk tomorrow at the Honey Comb.” Crissy twisted more than just hair when it came to gossip. She started as soon as a client sat down in her chair at the salon.

“I swear, I should’ve became a hair dresser instead of owning a pet store, because animals can’t talk back when you want to gossip.” Morgan laughed and broke the tension on Babette’s face.

Babette busted out laughing. “She’s something else,” she whispered. “I had that meeting with Emily and Pam fired her from doing that cake all because of Hillary. It was awful. Emily was crying. Hillary is a disgrace, and I just wish she’d leave this town.”

“When was the meeting?” I asked because I wasn’t sure how much time Pam had after she and Hillary had their big blowup.

“It was a couple of hours ago, but Hillary wasn’t there. Pam had said they were in a disagreement at the time.” Babette looked between me, Morgan, and Crissy.

“Was that before or after the big blowup at the Bean Hive?” Morgan asked.

“Big blowup?” Jana asked. “I thought they were thick as thieves. At least, that’s how they act when they come in here to get the dresses for the wedding.”

“Pam threw a hot cup of coffee on her. In retaliation, Hillary told Pam that Truman made a pass at her.” My words were greeted with gasps. “I tried talking to Pam and told her to talk to Truman. If there’s no merit to what Hillary said, Pam said she was going to talk to Truman about what they really wanted for their wedding and not do what Hillary suggested.”

“Maybe they do want a fancier cake, then,” Babette said.

“Yeah. You’re probably right.” I held the dress out to Jana.  “I’ll take it.”

“I’ll take this.” Babette tapped the white coat on the hanger.

“And I’ll ring you both up at the register.” Jana gestured for us to follow her.

“Great choices, ladies.” Crissy stuck her fingertips in my hair. “Now, let’s talk about what we are going to do with this.”

“Later,” I grumbled, pulled my phone out of my back pocket, and used the paying feature on it to buy my dress. I rarely carried a purse or other items now that my cell had almost everything I needed on it.

“Can you hold that until tomorrow for me?” I asked Jana. “I rode my bike today, and I don’t want to go back into the coffee shop tonight since the high schoolers are working.” I looked at Babette. “If I went back in there, I’d find more work to do, and tonight I get my cabin back.”

“That’s wonderful news.” Babette clapped her hands together. “I still have an early meeting with Pam. We are finally going to finalize all the details of her wedding.”

“You need to schedule a girls’ night, since the cabin is ready,” Morgan said. She was met with nods from my friends.

“I’d love to.” I smiled and patted my leg. “Let’s go, Pepper.”

Babette, Morgan, Crissy, and Jana were right behind me. While Jana locked the door and flipped the door sign to closed, my friends and I said our goodbyes.

There was nothing better than living a short bike ride from the boardwalk. It was something I’d missed so much since the fire. Not that I was able to ride my bike in the freezing cold temperatures of the winter, but every chance I got, I liked to ride my bike. Pepper loved it, too.

Since the warm late afternoon spring sun was on the way to setting, I knew it was going to be a little cooler. I zipped up my jacket and picked Pepper up. I held on to one of the bike handles to steady it while I straddled the bike and placed Pepper in the basket that was strapped to the front. I used a little blanket I’d gotten at Walk in The Bark Animal Boutique, another shop on the boardwalk, and tucked it around him.

“Look at that.” I let out a long and satisfying sigh when my eyes took in the beauty of the orange and yellow rays the setting sun had dripped over the calm lake. “I’ve missed this.”

Another thing about having my cabin back was being back in my element and not rushing to a car just to drive to Aunt Maxi’s or my mama’s for the night.

“It feels like we are getting our life back.” I checked on Pepper’s safety one more time before I put one foot and then the other on the pedals.

The sound of the wooden planks of the boardwalk thumped under the bike tires. As I passed Bee’s Knee Bakery, I could see Emily in there, baking away. It appeared that the supper crowd had already gathered at Buzz N and Out Diner. All the tables looked filled, a much welcome sight compared to the past few months when it was just too darn cold to leave the house.

Crissy Lane waved a pair of scissors at me out the window of the Honey Comb Salon. The freckles that dotted her nose gathered in a big lump as she scrunched her face into a big grin. Her freshly dyed bleach-blond hair was a sure sign spring had arrived, because in the winter she dyed her hair back to red. She mouthed that she’d call me later.

Crissy and I had hang out each summer when I was a teenager. She was a wild one, and I lived vicariously through her. Now that we were adults and lived in the same town, we hung out on a regular basis.

Pepper nestled a little more into the basket, but not without sticking his nose out into the fresh country air once we hit the curvy two-lane road that took us right to the cabin.

The trees were lined up like soldiers on each side. Lake Honey Springs ran along the road on the left, with beautiful cattle and horse farms behind the line of trees on the right. The leaves were almost finished budding and covered almost the entire road like a bridge, making it seem later in the day than it really was.

The cabin was up on the left, just about a four-minute bike ride from town. It was all I could afford when I moved back. There was no denying that it was a bit run down, but it was mine and with a little TLC, it quickly become a cozy home. When Patrick and I began dating, he was good about fixing little odds and ends. He knew I took pride in doing a lot of things on my own and figured I wouldn’t notice things like a new roof or gutters, though I did and thanked him for everything he’d done.

My heart was broken after the fire. Buying the cabin was the first true adult thing I’d done. Yes, I graduated from law school, which was no easy task, and I got married. It was as if I didn’t let myself stand on my own two feet, though, and at times I truly believed that was why I was taking my time with marrying Patrick. I felt good about only relying on myself. Once Patrick and I got married, I knew it would all change.

When Patrick’s company, Cane Construction, started work on rebuilding my cabin, I would stop by on a daily basis. Over the past month, I hadn’t been by, because Patrick insisted he wanted the interior to be a surprise. I was impressed how even my mama was able to keep it a secret. Aunt Maxi, forget it. She couldn’t keep a secret to save her own life. Patrick swore he wouldn’t tell her anything or let her into the cabin until I saw it first.

The closer I got, the quicker I pedaled. The small cabin windows were illuminated with an orange glow from the inside lights. The covered front porch looked the same with the two steps leading up to it and the two rocking chairs on either side of the front door.

I pulled up and stopped the bike shy of the steps. “Are you ready?” I asked Pepper.

He licked my face and wagged his little stubby tail, wiggling to get out of my arms. He scurried around the yard, sniffing as if he were someplace he’d never been.

“Welcome home.” Patrick stood at the front door with Sassy, his black standard poodle who was as much a love muffin as Pepper, next to him. He had on his standard blue jeans, cowboy boots, and T-shirt. Pepper darted into the house after he heard Patrick’s voice.

I didn’t blame him. Patrick’s voice made me want to jump into his arms. But I restrained myself. “Thank you,” I said and walked up the two steps to come face to face with him. “My mama’s not here?” I asked.

“Nope. She was all set to come, but she said something about a client and a mortgage. She rambled something I didn’t understand.” He shrugged, his chiseled jaw giving way to the big smile that was always on his face. That smile sent my heart right on down to the tips of my toes. “It’s just me and you and these ornery two, darling.” He took a step out of the cabin and swooped me up in his arms. His lips met mine, and he gave me a soft kiss.

“Are you sure you don’t want to run down to the courthouse and take my last name?” He offered the justice of the peace on a daily basis.

He’d probably drop me if I agreed, so for my own safety, I shook my head.

“I’m gonna keep asking,” he warned. “Are you ready to see your remodel?”

“I could just stay right here the rest of my life.” I rested my hand on his chest. “But I do smell something good coming from in there.” I tried to sneak a peek over his shoulder.

“Don’t you dare.” He tucked my body closer to his. “I hope you like it. I worked really hard to make sure it was exactly what you’ve ever dreamed this place to be.”

He gave me another gentle kiss on the forehead and brought my head a little closer to his ear. His warm breath sent chills all over my body, and the thought of spending every waking moment with that man for the rest of my life, nearly caused me to tell him to go ahead and take me to the courthouse.

“I love you, Roxanne Bloom,” he whispered before he took two steps backwards into the house and uncurled me from his arms. “Welcome home, darling.” He sat me down and continued to hold on to me when he felt my knees go wobbly.

“Patrick,” I gasped, looking around. “It’s beautiful.”

I strained to see through the tears. The cabin was still the same layout, with an open first floor concept. The kitchen was located on the right, the family room on the left, and a smaller eating area toward the back. The guest bedroom was in the far-right corner along with a guest bathroom, and right across from it was my laundry room. Off the back of the cabin was a deck, which overlooked a wooded area that I loved so much—especially in the morning, when I would sit out there and sip my coffee.

There was a set of stairs that led up to my bedroom, but I had to see all the fancy decorating. Long gone were the dark, wooden cabin beams that used to be the walls. The walls had been drywalled and painted white. The open shelving in the kitchen had been updated, and the old, creaky wooden floor had been replaced with a light-grey wooden floor.

“I hope you love it.” His southern voice was music to my ears. “I gave the designer all those southern home books you look at and told her what your favorite home-remodel shows are. She said you’d love the French country look, whatever that was. Now I see.”

“The wood burner.” I was so happy to see that they were able to salvage the fireplace with the insert. There was nothing better to make my little cabin more homey than a nice wood-burning fire in the morning.

“So, I take it that you like all this white?” He asked. “Even with those two?” He gestured toward the dogs.

“Even with those two.” I pointed to his boots, which had mud stains around the soles. “I love all of it.” I wrapped my arms around his neck and kissed him. “Thank you. I love it.”

“Are you hungry?” He asked.

“Starving.” My eyes grew to the size that I thought my stomach was.

“Good. I got takeout from the Watershed. I got you a big steak supper to fill that belly so you can get a good night’s sleep.” He walked out of my hug and into the little eating area.

The farmhouse-style table was set with several white candles and two place settings. He’d even brought our good friend, Jim Bean whiskey, to the welcome home party. He poured a little whiskey in two small glasses and handed one to me.

“To the love of my life. May we always be safe and warm in each other’s arms,” he toasted, and we both took a sip before sealing the deal with another kiss.

end of excerpt

Cold Blooded Brew

is available in the following formats:

Mar 10, 2018

ISBN-13: 978-1977087522

Digital:

Print: