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Decaffeinated Scandal

Book 5 in the Killer Coffee Cozy Mystery Series

Welcome to the Bean Hive Coffeehouse where the coffee is as hot as the gossip.

Maybe the killer drank decaffeinated.

Coffeehouse owner turned amateur sleuth Roxy Bloom is serving up all the fall coffees tourists love at the Neewollah Festival, where all the proceeds are going to save the Bee Farm from a major resort development.

When Camey Montgomery, owner of the Cocoon Inn-Honey Springs only Inn, is seen fighting with the development owner and he shows up dead in the Inn, she’s named the number one suspect.

Roxy must put her sleuthing kills to work not only to prove Camey didn’t kill anyone, but calm all the jittery citizens in Honey Springs by bringing the killer to justice.

Decaffeinated Scandal

Excerpt

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Chapter One

“It’s looking like you’re going to be ready after all.” I stood on the steps of The Cocoon Inn with one hand gripping a commercial coffee carafe and the other holding a to-go Bean Hive coffeehouse box filled with Lunch Lady Brownie Bars.

“I’m not sure, but Camey sure is working me like crazy.” “I’m not sure there are enough hours in the day, but I’m doin’ my best.” Newton Oakley hunched over the flowerbed next to the front steps, digging up enough dirt to place an orange mum. Pepper, my curious little Schnauzer, was standing next to him, watching his every move.

Newton sat back on his haunches, took his gloves off, and gave Pepper a few scratches under his salt and pepper beard.

“I think we’re all working hard to make sure this year’s Neewollah Festival is the best yet.” The name of our three day fall festival – Halloween backwards – still did not roll off my tongue easily. It was something I was going to have to learn to say since making the small, quaint town of Honey Springs, Kentucky, my home. “You be sure you grab a cup of coffee this morning. It’s a new fall blend that I’m sure you’re going to love.”

“I’ll have to come in and warm up after I get this row of mums planted.” He gestured over his shoulders at the orange, yellow, and red mums sitting in the leafy grass behind him, ready to be planted.

“Good morning!” Camey Montgomery met me at the top of the steps. There was a plaid blanket draped over her forearm. “Let me throw this on the rocking chair and I’ll help you.”

The sound of Camey’s voice made Pepper dart up the steps. My nosey little dog loved everyone, but he particularly loved Camey. She was the treat lady.

“I’ve got it.” I protested, but she’d already put the blanket over one of the many white rocking chairs lining the large plantation porch.

“Don’t be silly.” She pushed her long red hair over one shoulder and took the box from me. “I can’t risk you dropping my box of goodies,” she laughed and nodded towards the door.

“Every time I walk in here, it still takes my breath away.” Pepper and I stepped into the white mansion, built circa 1841, that was situated right on Lake Honey Springs and I turned around to look out one of the floor to ceiling windows that offered guests a spectacular view.

“Yeah. I’m so lucky,” she said, reaching into the bowl of dog treats she kept on the counter for the furry guests that accompanied their families.

“Yes, you are.” I heard the familiar voice of Walker Peavler, Honey Springs’ most recent transplant.

“Walker.” I couldn’t stop smiling while he and Camey embraced into a sweet kiss on the lips. “I’ve not seen you in a while, but I’ve seen Amelia. I can’t believe how she’s grown.”

Walker had been a single man with custody of his granddaughter. He’d stolen Camey’s heart while staying at the Cocoon Inn. Since he had a sales job and traveled all the time, he could live anywhere. It truly was a perfect union. He and Camey were both in their fifties and Honey Springs was a fantastic place to raise a child. If you didn’t know their back story and saw Walker, Camey, and Amelia out and about around town, you’d never know that Amelia wasn’t Camey’s biological granddaughter. The only thing the three of them did not share was the same last name. Camey had decided to keep her last name when they got married due to her business and how much time it’d take to get all the documents changed.

“Amelia sure is something special.” He leaned back and looked into the hospitality room. “She’s going to be late for school if she doesn’t hurry up.”

“She’s eating her oatmeal. Run upstairs and grab her coat.” Camey shooed him off to their living quarters in the inn.

I followed her into the hospitality room where I replaced the commercial coffee carafe with the new one. The focal point of the room was a large, beautiful fireplace directly across from the entryway. A few snaps and pops filled the room as the wood crackled in the fireplace, making the unseasonably cool morning cozy and the room very inviting.

“Roxy! Pepper!” Amelia jumped up from a small café table and ran over to greet us. “Did you see my pumpkin?” She giggled as Pepper gave her a sweet kiss along her nose.

“I didn’t, but I know without seeing it that it’s going to win the pumpkin carving contest.” I bent down and gave her a hug. Pepper demanded one too, so of course I gave him one.

“Your granddaddy went to grab your coat, so you better eat up before you’re late to school.” Camey gave Amelia a scrub on the head with her fingertips, sending her back to the table. “She’s more excited about the pumpkins than her costume.”

“To be a kid again.” I laughed and took the box of brownie bars from Camey. “I’ll get these arranged and then I’ve got to get back. I left Bunny alone.”

“Oh, dear.” Camey and I both knew my senior citizen assistant, Bunny Bowowski, wasn’t the best person to leave alone. “I hope the Bean Hive is still standing when you get back.”

Both of us laughed, me a little more nervously than her.

“Let’s go, squirt.” Walker shook the lightweight coat with an extended arm, summoning Amelia.

“Don’t forget to look at my pumpkin,” she reminded me as she darted past us. “Love you, mama,” she called to Camey. “Bye, Pepper.”

“I love you too. Have a great day,” Camey called out to Amelia.

“Come down to the coffeehouse later and I’ll let you take Pepper for a walk.” I waved goodbye.

“I will,” Amelia said with a giggle and waved over her granddad as he lifted her in the air and placed her over his shoulder.

“I’m so happy for you,” I said to Camey as I arranged the brownies on the three-tiered platter. “You look so happy and content.”

“I am and I can’t wait for you to join us.” She peeked around my arm and reached for a brownie. “Have you and Patrick set a date yet?”

“We have plans to meet that Justice of the Peace, Brandy Cliff.” The thought of marrying Patrick Cane sent a wave of joy through my body that I never thought I would experience.

I had been married once before and it wasn’t pretty. I knew when he asked me to marry him something was off when I didn’t get the giggles and squeals. But with Patrick, I instantly knew the first time I saw him and that was when we were teens. Life went on and we ended up losing touch. Here we were eleven years later and happy as could be.

“I told him it was fine for Brandy to perform the ceremony, like she did for you and Walker. I’ve gone through one marriage and another lifetime to get back to Honey Springs, so any way I become Roxanne Bloom Cane is perfect for me.” I smacked Camey’s hand away when she went for another brownie. “If you don’t stop, your customers aren’t going to get any.”

“It’s crazy. I’ve been craving chocolate and I just can’t get enough of your fresh baked goodies.” She licked her lips and brushed her hands together. “I better get to work before I lose my customers.”

“You’re not going to lose anyone. Not only do they love you, but you’re the only place for them to stay during the Neewollah Festival.” I picked up the empty coffee carafe and followed her out to the entrance.

“Not from what I hear.” She shook her head with a frown on her face.

“What did you hear?” Apparently, the gossip hadn’t gotten to me yet, which was unusual.

“There’s been this guy snooping around the courthouse and PVA office about land near or on Honey Springs Lake. Asking about how the economy is each season.” She gnawed on the edge of her lip as she referred to the Property Valuation Administration office.

“A guy?” I questioned. “There are a lot of tourists that come into the Bean Hive asking about our small town, but it was just chit-chat. I’d chalk it up to just being nosey.”

Her brows pulled. “Some property along the lake over at the Bee Farm.”

“The Bee Farm?” The more she talked, the more confused I got.

“Ask around today,” she leaned over and whispered as a mom and dad and their little boy walked up to the check in desk.

It wasn’t the whispering that made me want to call my mom right away, but the quick head nod Camey had gestured towards the family standing inside her inn. My mom was a local realtor, so maybe she’d heard.

“Have a good day, Roxy,” Newton called as I hurried down the steps to get back to the coffeehouse. He’d only gotten a couple more mums planted.

“Bye!” I yelled, with a ton of questions in my mind about the possibility of the Bee Farm selling its land.  “Come on, Pepper.”

 

Chapter Two

 

“Why the long face?” asked Bunny as she waddled up to me at the bar top along the front of the Bean Hive.

When I moved to Honey Springs after my divorce, Aunt Maxi decided I was going to open a coffeehouse since I had always loved coffee and all things related to the magical bean. I was lucky to find a prime location in the middle of the Lake Honey Springs boardwalk. The windows along the front of the shop were perfect for a long bar top with stools so customers could enjoy the amazing views Kentucky offered each season.

“Don’t tell me you and Patrick are having issues.” There was concern in her voice.

“No, not at all.” I held the warm mug of coffee between my hands, my elbows propped up on the bar. I barely swiveled the stool and glanced at her. “When I delivered the coffee and goodies for Camey’s hospitality room, she mentioned that the Bee Farm might be selling off some land.”

“I’m not sure why that’d be on your mind.” Bunny used the edge of her apron to wipe down some of the bar.

“The Bean Hive, the Cocoon Inn, the Bee’s Knees – all the shops in Honey Springs count on our abundance of bees. The Bee Farm is our primary tourist destination. Visitors love taking the ferry from the marina, spending the day learning about the bees, and getting fresh honey.” There was a pit of sadness in my stomach. “If the Bee Farm sells some of its land, what will happen to the bees?”

“Well, I didn’t think about that.” Bunny unpinned the bobby pin she’d put next to her ear to keep her gray, chin-length bob out of her face and repositioned it. She also took the opportunity to adjust the shawl that she wore over her apron.  “I reckon you’re gonna need to look into that.”

“I guess.” Not that I could really do anything about it. If Andrew and Kayla Noro wanted to sell, they could sell. “But if they did sell, it would be a great place for a resort,” I murmured to myself as I took the last sip of coffee from the mug and glanced over the boardwalk and across the lake at the Bee Farm, which was an island in Lake Honey Springs.

Sometimes it was nice to go to the marina and get ferried over for a late afternoon visit to the Bee Farm, tasting the samples or just hiking the nature trails.

“I can’t worry about that right now.” I got off the stool and looked around the coffeehouse .

The breakfast rush had come and gone. Soon we’d see the lunch crowd. Though we were a coffeehouse , I kept items on the menu to appeal to everyone.

The Bean Hive was located in the middle of the boardwalk, right across from the pier.  The exposed brick walls and wooden ceiling beams were already there when I’d decided to take Aunt Maxi up on her offer and rent the building from her.

I wanted the coffeehouse to be as adorable as Wild and Whimsy Antiques, Walk In The Bark Pet Boutique, The Crooked Cat Bookstore, and the Buzz-in-and-out Diner, to name a few other shops along the boardwalk.

I’d watched a few DIY videos on YouTube to learn how to make the coffeehouse exactly what I wanted. I couldn’t be more pleased with the shiplap wall I’d created out of plywood painted white.

I’d bought the four large chalkboards that were hanging from the ceiling over the L-shaped glass countertop.

The first chalkboard menu was over the pie counter and listed the pies and cookies with their prices. The second menu was above the tortes and quiches. The third menu, before the L-shaped counter curved, listed the breakfast casseroles and specialty drinks. The fourth and last chalkboard displayed lunch options and catering information.

There was a coffee bar at one end of the counter and a tea bar at the opposite end. Both operated on the honor system.

Customers who wanted regular, brewed coffee could fill their own mugs or cups and drop their payment in a mason jar I provided. I made sure to keep regular coffee and some specialty blends stocked and refreshed in commercial coffee carafes.

The tea bar was the same, only I also provided antique teapots from Wild and Whimsy. There were different blends of tea in bags as well as glass jars of loose tea. All the honey was purchased from the Bee Farm and I sure didn’t want to have to buy products for the coffeehouse that weren’t local.

“I’ve got to get lunch on.” The crackle of the fireplace caught my attention. I walked over to add a few more logs to last the rest of the afternoon and couldn’t resist the urge to fluff up the pillows made from coffee bean sacks that were scattered all over the couches.

When I looked up, the slim tree I’d set up in the corner of the coffeehouse made me smile.  It was covered with twinkling lights and a combination of fall and coffee-themed ornaments. There were even a few that resembled shops here on the boardwalk and the thought of someone from the outside building something here like Camey said made me sad.

My heart sank when I looked at the cute honey pots from the Bee Farm. My eyes shifted to the café tables dotting the inside of the shop. They were decorated with fresh cut swamp sunflowers and garden mums in beautiful fall colors from Jean Hill’s garden in milk glass vases of all shapes and sizes from Wild and Whimsy. It was what a shop owner in a small town did – support the other shops in town – and the Bee Farm kept us in honey. I glanced across the lake at the island and blinked when a couple of tourists on rental bikes rode by along the boardwalk.

“Earth to Roxy.” Bunny waved the dry broom handle in front of my face. “It’s almost time for dinner and you’ve still got the northern beans boiling.”

“That’s right.” I snapped out of my thoughts. “I’m not going to get a thing done if I don’t stop this daydreaming.”

Dinner around here was what most people referred to as lunch. Then we had supper, which most of the world called dinner. Southern was a way of life. You had to be born into it, not transplanted, and I wondered if this guy who was snooping around Honey Springs had realized this yet.

“Come on, Pepper,” I called Pepper to come back to the kitchen with me while I took the beans off the stove and added celery, carrots, onions, and a bay leaf along with a nice big ham hock.

It wasn’t too long before I heard a familiar voice screeching my name.

“Rocks-ann, where are you?” Loretta Bebe pushed through the kitchen door with her pocketbook swinging from the crook of her arm. Her short hair was as black as the midnight sky and matched her brows.

“Good Lord,” Aunt Maxi pushed through after her. “Low-retta, if you don’t stop going to the fake and bake, your skin is going to be the same color as the L’Oreal black excellence cream you keep pasting on that hair.”

“Are you crazy, Maxine Bloom?” Loretta dug her glittery long nails into the edges of her hair. “This is natural and I’m Cherokee.” She tugged up the sleeve of her sweater and rotated her arm around so Aunt Maxi could take a gander at all sides. “Purebred Cherokee.”

“Unless the fake and bake beds down at the salon are made by a company called Cherokee, then you ain’t real Cherokee.” Aunt Maxi wasn’t going to let it go.

“Look at you.” Loretta did the unthinkable. She pointed at Aunt Maxi. “That hair of yours is all stuck up around your head like a bird’s nest.” She curled up on her tiptoes and tried to get a look at the top of Aunt Maxi’s head. “Are you deliverin’ a bird from the Pet Palace for  Louise?”

“Don’t you be goin’ and pointin’ no finger at me.” Aunt Maxi glared.

“You two, it’s almost dinnertime and I’ve got to get this bean and ham soup done. I don’t have time to fuss with you.” I grabbed the white pepper and put a dash in each pot of soup. “What do y’all want?”

“My, my.” Aunt Maxi drew her hand up to her chest. “Someone’s testy today.” She nudged Loretta with her elbow.

“Seems to be.” Loretta and Aunt Maxi had now turned on me.

“I guess I have a lot on my mind and I’ve got too many things to do without trying to cram my brain with you two.” I gestured my wooden spoon between them before I stirred each pot, combining all the ingredients.

“What’s on your mind?” Loretta dragged one of the steel stools up to the kitchen’s island workstation, Aunt Maxi quickly doing the same. “We are all ears.”

“Hold on.” Aunt Maxi took her coat off and hung it on one of the hooks. “I’m gonna grab us a coffee. I’ll be right back.”

“While she’s gone, I wanted to make sure we were all set for the Halloween treats for the animals that you said you’d donate during the Neewollah Festival.” Low-retta – that’s how she pronounced her own name in a deep southern drawl – said.

“They are on my list.” I used the wooden spoon to point to the whiteboard on the wall. It was where I kept the weekly orders and weekly menu.

Catering wasn’t something I’d thought about when I opened the Bean Hive, but it had been a wonderful side hustle that brought in extra income during the off season. Which made me think about the Bee Farm again. Had they had an off season with the bees?

When Aunt Maxi returned to the kitchen with cups of coffee and blueberry scones, it dawned on me how I could get her out of my hair for the day. “I’ve got a good story for you to investigate for your Sticky Situation article in the newspaper.”

“I’ve been looking for a good scoop.” She’d recently started writing the gossip column for the Honey Springs Tribune. “I figured I’d just do a piece on the festival. I mean all those cute little kids and fur kids,” she said in her smooshy Pepper voice and pinched off a piece of the scone for him.

My loud sigh that told her I didn’t approve of her giving him some went unnoticed. She clearly didn’t care because she gave him another pinch.

“Pepper, down.” I pointed to his bed and walked over to the island, leaning my hip on it. “Camey told me there was a man in town asking around, possibly looking to purchase land on the Bee Farm.”

“Interesting.”  Aunt Maxi dug into the hippie bag she had slung over her shoulder. “Tell me more.” She had her little notebook and pen out, ready to take notes.

“That’s all I know.”

“What does this mean for the Honey Festival?” Loretta’s voice dripped with concern, almost on the verge of tears. “No one is going to take festivals away from me now that I’m the president.”

“I wished you’d shut up about being the president of the Beautification Committee.” Aunt Max dropped her pen. “You act like you’re Honey Springs royalty or something. You won because nobody else wanted to do it.”

Aunt Maxi could be a bit harsh at times, but that was one of the things that I liked about her. She spoke the truth.

“Maxine Bloom.” Loretta bolted up. “I don’t know why I even thought we could enjoy a cup of coffee together. You have no manners.” She jerked her pocketbook back on her arm. “The only culture that you will ever know is a yeast infection.”

Loretta stormed out of the kitchen, leaving me and Aunt Maxi with our jaws dropped plum down to the ground.

“The nerve.” Aunt Maxi lifted her chin and set aside Loretta’s jab. “What was it you were sayin’ about the Bee Farm?”

“There’s not much to say. She just said someone was snooping around.” I opened the door to the walk-in freezer and took out pumpkin and cinnamon cookies along with a couple of apple-honey pies.

“You mean to tell me this is just hearsay?” Her nose curled.

“I’m saying exactly what she told me.” I turned the ovens on to three-hundred and fifty degrees, the right temperature to warm the cookies and the pies. “Don’t you think it’s something to explore?”

“This ain’t much of a scoop for the Sticky Situation.” She stood up and walked back over to get her coat. “Sometimes the juice just ain’t worth the squeeze.”

Then she prattled on to tell me how many people come through Honey Springs to see if the small tourist town was a good place to open a shop and retire. Blah, blah, blah.

I’d completely tuned her out when the warm smell of cinnamon, baked apples, and pumpkin along with a hint of honey circled my head and filled the kitchen with the scents of fall. It was my favorite season, though it wasn’t the busiest.

“Roxy, get out here.” Bunny stuck her head in the door.

I glanced up at the clock.

“It’s time for another round.” I gave Aunt Maxi a kiss, leaving her in the kitchen while I went to help Bunny take orders.

There was a small line of about ten people. Bunny and I both took orders. I smiled at the couple I’d seen earlier at the Cocoon Inn with their son as they stepped up to the counter.

“Welcome to the Bean Hive. What can I get ya?” I asked.

“I’ll have a mocha latte with a drizzle of caramel. He’ll have a hot chocolate.” The woman had a hint of an accent.

Upon closer inspection, it appeared she’d been hiding behind her shoulder- length black hair earlier. She was much older than I’d anticipated. She had brown eyes with deep crows’ feet. Her thin lips had little wrinkles around them like she was a smoker, but her uptight outfit told me she was probably much too proper to do so.

“Ron, the waitress is waiting.” She nudged her husband.

A light giggle escaped from Bunny as she put her hand up to her lips.

Ron was looking all around the ceiling and along the counter as though he were checking the place out. Maybe I was paying way too close attention to him because Camey had pointed them out to me at the inn earlier.

“I’ll have a black coffee.” His eyes searched the closest chalkboard. “Venti or whatever you got.”

“We’ve got one size. Nothing fancy here.” I took the opening. “I’m Roxanne Bloom, owner of the Bean Hive. Welcome to Honey Springs.” I emphasized owner.

“Roxy for short,” Bunny stole my line. But I only let my friends call me Roxy. These weren’t friendly people.

“Roxanne is just fine,” I corrected Bunny.

It’s wasn’t that I was the owner and not a waitress. It was her uppity attitude that got my tall panties all wadded up in my craw.

“Owner?” Ron asked with a curious tone. “Honey, I’ll wait for your latte. You take Jimmer on over to the table to wait. I’m Ron Harvey and that’s Bev, my wife.”

They took their seats while Bunny made the pressed coffee and shook the whipped cream to put extra foam on the little boy’s hot chocolate.

“How’s business this time of the year?” he asked me, his arms folded.

“Good.” I couldn’t quite put my finger on him. Normally, I was great at reading people since I’d been a lawyer in my former life. Technically, I’m still a lawyer. I did keep up my license in case I ever did go back.

My degree has come in handy a time or two while living here in Honey Springs after a couple of my friends were wrongly accused of murder. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy being a lawyer. I just liked being the owner of a coffeehouse much better.

“I mean, like flow of customers and tourists in Honey Springs.” He talked with his hands, making it hard for me to read him.

“We are a seasonal tourist town.” I knew I should probably keep my mouth shut, but I couldn’t stop myself. “Are you the man snooping around here about the Bee Farm?”

“I’m a businessman.” He looked at me with tired blue eyes. The kind that appeared to be dehydrated and the result of drinking too much, maybe trying to keep up with the younger crowd. And I didn’t mean the little boy. “I’m always looking for a good place to invest my money and I believe real estate is it.”

“Thank you,” his wife took her latte from Bunny and then handed the boy his hot chocolate.

“A good investment. Is that right?” I handed him his coffee. “We believe in community and helping each other. It’s not about the almighty dollar. If it were, I’d still be a lawyer.”

“You mean to tell me you make more money brewing coffee than you did being a lawyer?” He scoffed.

“Ron, let’s go.” His wife walked up. Her face was red. I could tell she was embarrassed by her husband’s comment.

“I’m telling you that you owe me ten dollars and fifty-two cents.” There was no humor found on my face. This man was up to something and I needed to know what it was.

 

Chapter Three

 

Before I even heard the voice, I heard the jingling bracelets after the bell over the coffeehouse  door dinged.

“I hope you brought me a new adoption client.” I quickly wiped down the counter, looking over my shoulder.

Pepper darted around the counter to see who Louise Carlton from the Pet Palace had brought us and get some love from Louise.

“Hello, Pepper.” Louise, who was middle-aged, wore a long-sleeved, light blue, knit shirtdress with buttons going up the front. Bracelets and bangles were piled all up and down her right arm. She wore a pair of brown cowboy boots and her silver bob with blunt bangs was the perfect finishing touch to her style.

Pet Palace was our version of an SPCA and Louise was the owner. Aunt Maxi hooked me up with Louise after I moved to Honey Springs. I’d bought and moved into a run-down cabin on the lake. Aunt Maxi had insisted I needed a guard dog and I was looking to get a furry companion. When I walked through the kennels at the Pet Palace, I’d passed by Pepper’s cage, but Pepper was not going to go unnoticed.

In true Pepper style, he yipped and jumped until he got my full attention. As Aunt Maxi liked to say, that was all she wrote. Pepper and I were a team from the get go.

“You’re going to love this little one.” Louise set the carrier down. Pepper had already dug his nose underneath the small blanket draped over it. “This is Norman.”

“Pee-yew!” I fanned my hand in front of my face when Louise pulled the blanket off. “Norman stinks.”

Pepper yipped, moved into downward dog position and stuck his nose in the cage. Norman growled at Pepper. Pepper took a step back, but continued to wag his little stubby tail.

“Norman is a pug. He’s got gastrointestinal issues.” She fussed with her hands as though she was brushing it off.

My face was blank. She looked at me, tilting her head with a faint smile. Her armful of bracelets jingled when she clapped them before dropping them to her stomach. Norman grunted a couple of times before expelling more gas.

“You are going to take him, right?” She brought her hands up in prayer position.

“You know that I love you and I love all animals.” I sucked in a deep breath. “Do you smell that?”

Louise blinked a few times, her long lashes getting caught in her bangs. She pushed them out of the way.

“That was the smell of cinnamon, honey, pumpkin.” I drew my shoulders up to my ears. “All the smells of fall that give a person all the feels of the season and the upcoming festival. Mix in a little of Norman’s toots and we smell like an outhouse.”

“I took him to see Regina Fowler, the vet at the Honey Pot Veterinarian Clinic, and she put him on a special food,” pleaded Louise. I pointed behind her, toward the door. “I’ve got it in my car. But she said that it’ll take a special person to adopt Norman because he will most likely have to be on this special food the rest of his life or at least until we can get his system in check.”

“In check?” I mumbled. “He’s in system failure.” My eyes met hers. There was a deep look of concern in her eyes. I gave in. “Fine. He deserves a home too.”

“Roxy!” Louise reached for me. “Someone is going to love him and it’s going to be all because of you.” She put a hand out and twisted her body towards the door. “I’ll be right back. I’ll go grab his information.”

“Hello, Norman.” I bent down and looked into the kennel. He was a cute white pug with a few brown splashes. His little round black eyes told me he was a little frightened. “If you could just hold a few of those little toots in, I’ll have you in your forever home in no time.”

I unlocked the cage, like I normally did with all the animals, so Norman could walk around and get used to his surroundings until someone adopted him. Pepper sat next to the cage staring at the open door, waiting for Norman to come out. Pepper was used to the routine since we hosted at least two pets a month.

“He is a cute feller,” I said after I heard the bell over the door ring, thinking it was Louise.

“More dogs?” Ron’s wife and their little boy were standing in the doorway of the coffeehouse.

“Hi.” I put my hands on my knees and pushed myself up to standing, brushing my palms down my apron. “I thought you were someone else. But yes.” I pointed to the cage. “Like I told your husband earlier, we are a very close community and we help each other out. The Bean Hive is kinda a foster family for the animals at the Pet Palace.”

The boy with her walked over to the cage and took a look at Norman.

“I think that all animals should have homes and if I can show potential pet owners how the animal will act in an environment other than a dog shelter or kennel, they are more apt to imagine what the animal would be like in their home.” I looked back down at Norman with a set of fresh eyes. “Norman has some special needs, but we are working with the local veterinarian to help him.”

Norman poked his head out. He had little black circles around his eyes, his ears stuck straight up, and there was the pinkest skin around his black nose and black lips.

“He’s so cute,” the little boy’s voice escalated, sending Norman back into the cage. “Mimi, can we keep him?”

“No, Jimmer. We have your pawpaw.” The uptight lady made a joke and I couldn’t help but laugh out loud.

“This is your grandson?” I asked, which made sense because I’d noticed earlier she and Ron were much too old to have a child of this age.

I went ahead and made my way around the counter to finish making fresh pots of coffee for the afternoon crowd before the afternoon staff came in. Bunny Bowowski left after the lunch crowd every day, leaving me here alone for a few hours. I didn’t mind. I was able to clean, refill, restock, and bake some items for the next day.

“Yes. Step grandson. He’s been staying with us for the summer.” She moseyed up to the counter. “My husband, Ron, who you met earlier…” I couldn’t help but notice how she rolled her eyes. “He and his daughter have a very volatile relationship. She’s a grown woman who can’t pay her bills, but I blame Ron for that.”

“I’m so glad you get to see your grandson.” Apparently, this woman needed an ear to listen.

This was what I loved about coffee. It brought people together. It opened doors for conversation and many problems had been solved over cups of this magical drink.

“It’s not been easy.” She groaned and looked over at him trying to coax Norman out of the cage. “I’m not used to little kids and when Ron told me that we were going to keep him so his mother could work all summer long, I knew he meant that I was going to have to take care of him.”

“I’m sure he’s enjoying it.” There was just enough coffee in one of the carafes for two cups. I got out two mugs and put them on the counter and grabbed a few ingredients before I filled them.

“It’s been a rough summer. This is our last week with Jimmer. Ron planned to come here for business and it just so happened that you’re having your little Neewollah Festival, the perfect opportunity for him to say he did something with us this summer before Jimmer goes home.” There was a little bitterness in her tone.

“You are staying at the right place since the festival takes place on the beach in front of the Cocoon Inn.” I drizzled at least two teaspoons of caramel syrup, maybe a smidgen more, in the bottom of each mug, along with a couple tablespoons of half and half and a dash of salt. “Oh, if you don’t have a costume, be sure to check out All About The Details.” I glanced up at the time as I filled each mug, remembering the appointment Patrick and I had tonight with Babette. “Babette Cliff is renting costumes for very cheap. I’m sure she’s got plenty left.”

I grabbed one of the Honey Springs boardwalk brochures that had a map with all the shop locations and a couple of discount coupons.

“Some of these have expired since we really do cater to the lake crowd during the summer, but there are still plenty of good deals.” I handed her the cup of coffee. “Like this free salted caramel coffee blend just for you and me.”

I picked up the other cup I made for myself and we clinked the mugs together.

“Bev.” She finally smiled at me. “My name is Bev.”

“Roxanne Bloom, but my friends call me Roxy.” I smiled back and looked over her shoulder as Louise came back through the door with Norman’s packet of papers under her arm.

“Do you want to adopt Norman?” Louise saddled right on up to Jimmer.

“I want to but Mimi said no. We’ve got Pawpaw.” Jimmer was as serious as a heart attack.

Louise looked over at Bev and they both started to laugh.

“I understand that.” Louise joked back, though she wasn’t married.

“I hope I don’t understand.” I held up my finger with my engagement ring. “I’ve got an appointment with the wedding planner this afternoon.”

“Marriage is all good.” Bev had relaxed a little since she’d walked in here. “I wasn’t prepared for the stepchild. Everything that goes wrong is blamed on me and I’m sick and tired of it. I’m going to tell his daughter that too when I see her tomorrow.”

“She’s coming into town?” I questioned, tossing the used filters as I cleaned the commercial coffeepots. Grabbing the big jar of my own Harvest Blend, I counted out the scoops needed to make the perfect brew.

“Yes. All members of the board are coming here. I don’t know why he gave her a job when she wasn’t doing anything at her previous employer but it’s the I-wasn’t-a-good-father syndrome Ron is trying to make up for.” She sighed and took another drink of her coffee.

“There’s such a syndrome?” Louise had made herself a cup of tea from the tea bar. I watched her pour from the Bee Farm honey pots into the steaming cup.

“No.” Bev cackled. “That’s what I call his actions towards his daughter. She was addicted to painkillers. She’s in her late thirties, thrice divorced, can’t hold a job, and is barely a mother.”

I looked around to see where Jimmer had gone, because I didn’t want him to hear what Bev was saying about his mother. She was still his mother. He’d walked over to the tree and was looking at all the fall ornaments. Pepper was standing between his legs, just begging for some attention.

“That’s a shame.” Louise was buying into this woman’s story.

I listened to the two of them while I finished making the regular coffee and a pot of decaffeinated, which was a sin. Whoever drank decaf should be shot. In my opinion. Just sayin’.

I excused myself through the kitchen door to retrieve the three carafes of coffee I needed to brew. School would be letting out for the day and that was when Camey picked up the last hospitality coffee for the day for her guests.

Laughter filtered through the door and I knew Louise and Bev were still talking about Bev’s situation. I was really sad for Jimmer. Especially if he was in an environment where Bev didn’t want to keep him for the summer and his grandfather was always working.

The afternoon was getting away from me, so instead of baking something new, I decided to get Snickerdoodle Mini-Cheesecakes out of the freezer along with some Red Velvet Chocolate Chip Cookies. These were items I’d baked ahead of time and frozen to serve later. Setting them out now would give them the perfect amount of time to thaw.

The white single platter with the thick stand was perfect for displaying the Red Velvets. A dome lid I’d picked up from Wild and Whimsy was a perfect fit. I stacked a few on there and went back into the coffeehouse, placing the stand on the counter at the corner of L shape. It was a perfect place to let them sit and thaw as the warmth of the fire glowed from the fireplace.

“We do love it here. I’m sure you will too.” Louise touched Bev’s arm and got up from the stool she’d pulled over. “Looky there.” She pointed to one of the couches in front of the fireplace.

Jimmer had nestled his back up against the couch and Norman had snuggled in next to him. Jimmer slowly rubbed his hand down the pug as he stared into the fire. Norman’s little eyes were closed and the loudest snoring I’d ever heard came out of him.

“Big sounds come from that little dog.” I shook my head and prayed his cuteness would get him in a forever home. I walked over to the fall tree and rearranged some of the ornaments as I liked to do each day.

I liked to rotate the pumpkins, leaves, acorns, pine cones, and coffee-themed ornaments so they each got equal time on the front of the tree to be seen by the customers. The orange lights glowed, adding a warm touch to the seasonal display.

“I didn’t mean to come in here and take up your time.” Bev pushed the coffee mug away from her. “I wanted to come in and apologize for Ron’s behavior. I keep telling him that if he does buy the land on the Bee Farm and open the resort, that I’m the one who’ll be involved in the community like every other time he’s opened a new resort and moved me there for a few years.”

“Resort?” I stuck the pine cone back on the tree without worrying about its placement. I hurried over to her. Was Camey right?

“I’ve said too much. Jimmer, Mimi says it’s time to go,” she referred to herself in third person.

“What resort?” I wasn’t about to let her leave without getting at least one detail.

“My husband has a company that buys uninhabited land all over the world. For the last five years he’s been looking for the right sleepy little town for a resort and golf course. The Bee Farm is perfect.” There was sheer delight on her face.

“I didn’t know the Bee Farm was for sale.” Louise’s brows knitted together.

“Honey, anything is for sale for the right price.” Bev waved Jimmer over. “Thank you for the fancy coffee, Roxy. It was delicious.”

“Roxanne. My name is Roxanne,” I muttered under my breath as Bev and Jimmer walked out of the coffeehouse .

 

end of excerpt

Decaffeinated Scandal

is available in the following formats:

Sep 21, 2018

ISBN-13: 978-1723763663

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