In Benevolence, Washington, the Lamont family’s irresistible handmade chocolates are a cherished tradition–and always a reason to celebrate. And now they’re giving the three Lamont sisters, one by one, delicious chances to start again, make a change, and have their sweetest dreams come true…Neighbors who care, a peaceful routine–accountant Adeline Lamont is glad some things about her beloved hometown never change. But when her grandfather is injured, she has to run the family store, Chocolate Haven, and make its legendary fudge. Trouble is, she can’t get the recipe right to save her life–or Chocolate Haven. And she doesn’t need her ornery new tenant, Sinclair Jefferson, stirring up the pot with his help–and daring Addie to taste her wild side…Once Sinclair gets his hapless brother back on track, he’s leaving Benevolence for good this time. He’s made his life far away from his irresponsible family and their scandals. Trouble is, he can’t quite stay away from Addie’s optimism, enticing plus-size curves, and
kindness to those who need it most. But they don’t seem to have a thing in common–except that Addie’s passion for chocolate, and for Benevolence, is just as contagious as Sinclair’s passion for her. Maybe small-town life has its charms after all…
Addie held the cell phone to her ear as she carefully released milk chocolate hearts from their molds.
Twelve glossy, beautiful hearts. They were perfect. Her day had been nearly perfect too. Good sales. Happy customers. Even newlyweds who’d driven from Spokane to buy a pound of chocolates for their road trip to Glacier National Park.
Yes. Things had been going wonderfully since she’d arrived at the shop. Until now.
“I can’t believe I let this happen!” Nehemiah’s voice rang through the phone, his tone just short of panic.
“You entrusted the dog to me, and I’ve failed you!”
“You haven’t failed me,” she assured him, trying to ignore the sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. Nehemiah was a good guy, but he wasn’t as young as he used to be. He’d been known to misplace his glasses, his cane, his shoes. Maybe he’d just misplaced her giant puppy. “Are you sure he’s not just hiding somewhere?” she asked as she flipped another mold tray, watched the beautiful hearts release onto the marble board.
“Addie, you’re a smart girl, so what would make you ask such a stupid question?” Nehemiah responded.
“He’s huge. Where could he possibly hide?”
“Under the coffee table?”
“Three months ago, he could have gotten under there. Not anymore. I think he slipped outside when I went to get the paper. The storm door wasn’t closed when I got back from the mailbox.”
An open door? That was an invitation for Tiny to run.
The sick feeling morphed to full-out dread. “How long do you think he’s been gone?”
“Let’s see . . . I went out to get the paper before the sun set. So . . .” He mumbled something. Maybe a calculation of the time the sun went down and the current time—six thirty.
“Two hours?” he finally said.
She didn’t curse. She thought about it, though. God, did she think about it!
“Two hours?” she repeated, hoping to heaven that she’d misheard. That maybe he’d said two minutes. Or twenty. Or anything but two hours. One hundred and twenty minutes for Tiny to find trouble.
“I’d say about that. Seems to me I was thinking about starting my roasted chicken when I got in. That would have been about four thirty.”
“And you didn’t see him in the house after you got the paper?” she pressed, hoping against hope that somehow he was mistaken and Tiny really wasn’t gone.
“I wasn’t really looking for him. He was sleeping right near the fireplace when I went for the paper, relaxing on that old throw rug I brought down from the attic. Same as every day. I went into the kitchen, had me some coffee and a couple of those shortbread cookies I like so much. The ones from Ella’s Bakery Emporium? You been there, right?”
“Right,” she managed to say through gritted teeth. She’d been there. She’d eaten a scone. She’d enjoyed every bite of it, but she didn’t want to discuss it. Not while Tiny was missing and presumed to be causing trouble.
“Great baked goods, that girl. She knows how to do things right. Reminds me of my Mary Sue’s baked goods. Mary Sue? She could—”
“Nehemiah,” she interrupted as gently as she could, as kindly. Mary Sue had died the previous spring. They’d been married for nearly seventy years. “I need to go look for Tiny. I’ll call you as soon as I find him.”
“I really hope you do find him, Addie. I really do. I feel responsible for that dog, and I’ve grown to like him. Problem is, I’m too slow and old and he’s too young and fast. Maybe it’s just not a good match, me dog-sitting him.”
Maybe not. Probably not, but she didn’t have another option. Janelle wasn’t going to take the dog. All Addie’s friends had pets or kids or a combination, and she didn’t feel like she could burden them with a highenergy, trouble-finding giant.
That sick feeling, that hard-hitting dread that was building in her stomach seemed to fill her chest, and she could barely breathe. “It’s okay, Nehemiah. I’ll find Tiny, and then we’ll discuss ways of keeping him from escaping again.”
She said good-bye and grabbed her coat from the hook near the back door, the beautiful chocolates left on the marble slab on the counter. She’d managed to mold all three flavors. Milk chocolate, white chocolate, dark chocolate. She’d purchased cute orange and white polka-dot cupcake wrappers to set the chocolates in. Hopefully May would be pleased.
If not, she’d have to start from scratch, come up with another presentation for the chocolate wedding favors May had ordered.
May, who had called three times to ask about the diet, the exercise program, and the dress. The one that still didn’t have a working zipper. Addie walked to the whiteboard list, put a red check near Fix dress, scribbled Find Tiny at the very top, wrote Figure out what to do about Tiny at the bottom.
She wanted to believe Nehemiah could continue to take care of the puppy, but she didn’t want to stress out her elderly neighbor. She also didn’t want to put a strain on their friendship. She’d been there nearly every day when Mary Sue was dying. She’d cooked meals, swept floors, dusted. Mostly she’d just listened to her neighbors share stories of the life they’d had together. As Mary Sue’s illness grew worse, she’d lost the ability to speak, the cancer settling into her brain and stealing her ability to communicate. That’s when Nehemiah had started to talk about what he was losing and about how much he’d loved what he’d had with his wife.
Only he hadn’t been talking to Addie. He’d been speaking to Mary Sue, saying the words over and over again as he held the hand of his dying wife. I loved you the day we met. I loved you the day we married. Every day after I have loved you, and I will love you through eternity.
Thinking about it made goose bumps rise on Addie’s arms and tears burn at the back of her eyes. What Nehemiah and Mary Sue had? That was love, and when she’d seen it, she’d known that what she’d had with Adam had been a poor facsimile. She’d also known that Nehemiah would be lost without that love to guide him, that half of his whole would be gone and that he’d need someone to fill just a tiny bit of the space Mary Sue had left.
She’d tried to do that, making him meals and visiting him every afternoon. It had been harder to do that since Granddad’s accident, but Nehemiah had seemed happy enough with Tiny keeping him company. Until now.
No. She couldn’t add stress to Nehemiah’s life, and she couldn’t hurt their friendship over a dog.
She’d come up with another plan for Tiny’s day care, and she’d bring Nehemiah to the local animal shelter, help him choose an elderly companion dog. One that would spend all day lying by the fireplace and thumping its tail every time Nehemiah spoke.
She locked the shop’s back door, jogged to her car. Thank goodness she’d closed up for the evening.
Without an assistant to man the shop, she’d have had no choice but to close down during business hours.
That wasn’t something Byron would ever have done. Chocolate Haven was his first priority. Always.
Unfortunately, she had other things that needed her attention. Like her accounting business, her dog, her life.
She climbed into the car, pulled around the side of the building and onto Main. A light in Granddad’s apartment was on, the soft glow of it spilling out onto the awning that covered the entrance to Chocolate Haven. Sinclair must have returned, but she hadn’t seen him or his truck.
Not that she’d been looking.
She’d been too busy to pay attention to the comings and goings of her grandfather’s tenant.
Sure you were, a little voice whispered.
She ignored it.
She scanned the road as she drove down Main Street. No sign of Tiny. Two hours was a long time for a dog to be wandering around. He could be miles away, trotting down the highway heading for Spokane or Seattle or Idaho.
God, she hoped not. He was a pain in the butt, but she didn’t want anything to happen to him.
She passed Nehemiah’s saltbox-style house and pulled up in front of her bungalow. She hadn’t left any lights on, and the place was dark and a little lonely looking. She’d have to remember that she didn’t want to come home to that, because . . . well, she didn’t. She jumped out of the car, ran across the yard. Tiny wasn’t waiting on the front porch the way she’d hoped he would be.
Shirlee McCoy spent her childhood making up stories and acting them out with her sister. It wasn’t long before she discovered Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, her mother’s gothic romances . . . and became an ardent fan of romantic suspense. She still enjoys losing herself in a good book. And she still loves making up stories. Shirlee and her husband live in Washington and have five children. Readers can visit her website at www.shirleemccoy.com