Authors: Cindy Kirk
The interior was still very much a work in progress. Yet every day, with each acquisition, it became more her own. Ami adored the antique chandelier and the exposed brick walls she’d painted a soft turquoise.
She let her gaze linger on the bright yellow shelving holding vintage tea tins, each brimming with an assortment of growing herbs.
As most of the business was carryout, seating in the shop was limited to two tables and a counter with stools by the window. Wanting to build on the boho-chic vibe, Ami had sanded down the tables to bare wood, then painted one a bright watermelon pink and the other an eye-popping cobalt blue. Brightly colored mismatched chairs added to the vibrancy of the room.
When the bakery was closed, Ami liked to sit at one of the tables and enjoy a scone with a cup of tea. She always took her time picking from the eclectic mix of china cups dangling from the mug tree on the counter. With the shop now on winter hours and only open Friday through Monday from ten to four, Ami had plenty of time to sit and savor.
When she’d first purchased the bakery several years earlier, she’d felt like a slacker working such short hours during the winter. After a couple of summers working ten-hour days, seven days a week, she’d come to see this as a much-needed opportunity to relax and recharge.
Until Ami expanded the bakery hours in February, her only employee was Hadley Newhouse. With curly blond hair and expressive blue eyes, the young woman from North Dakota—or so she said—reminded Ami of her sister Marigold.
Perhaps because of that resemblance, Ami had liked Hadley the instant she’d strolled into the shop last spring with the Help Wanted sign from the front window in her hand. Once she tasted Hadley’s Scandinavian breads and pastries, she’d hired her despite a dearth of references.
Ami was a big believer in second chances. Over the past six months, Hadley had proven herself to be hardworking and honest. A friendship between the two women had blossomed, fueled by a mutual passion for baking.
Although her sisters were all proficient in the kitchen, from the time Ami had been a small child, she’d shown an aptitude for what her father called the “womanly arts.” Pies and cookies were now her specialty.
“How was the meeting?” Hadley asked when Ami entered the shop.
Ami rolled her eyes.
“That good, huh?”
“I’m not sure
is the right word,” Ami said with a wry smile.
“Now I definitely want details.” Hadley glanced at the It’s Cupcake Time clock on the wall and grimaced. The small hand pointing to the carrot cupcake with cream cheese frosting showed her shift had ended.
Hadley removed her apron and sighed heavily. “Darn second job. I need to scoot. Promise you’ll tell me tomorrow?”
“I’ll give you all the gory details.” Ami shivered for effect, then paused. “Is it cold in here?”
“I can’t believe you just noticed.” Hadley laughed. “I can practically see my breath. Old Ralph hasn’t kicked on since you left.”
Old Ralph was the ancient furnace she’d hoped would last at least another year. By then she planned to have enough money saved to get a new one. With parts impossible to find, replacement was the only option. “I asked for a bid, just in case Ralph croaked. I wanted to know how much a new furnace would set me back.”
Hadley inclined her head. “What did you find out?”
When Ami told her the quote, the other woman whistled.
“That’s a chunk of change. Do you have it?”
Her directness was only one of the many things Ami liked about Hadley.
“I have some of the money. I suppose I could charge the rest.” A knot formed in the pit of Ami’s stomach. “The problem is I use that credit card for business expenses. Right now I’m able to pay off what I charge each month. Carrying a balance would mean paying high interest.”
Hadley tapped a finger against her lips. “I may have a solution.”
“You’re a rich heiress and I can be your philanthropy?” Ami joked.
A startled look crossed Hadley’s face, then she laughed. “Yeah, right. I’m wealthy. That’s why I work two jobs.”
Ami snapped her fingers. “Bummer. Okay, what’s your idea?”
“Muddy Boots is looking for a cook.” Hadley cast a speculative glance in Ami’s direction, then pulled a tube of lipstick from her bag and expertly applied it to her wide mouth. “Janey got a call and left right after lunch today for Milwaukee. Something to do with her mother. Supposedly she won’t be back until the first of January.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” Ami knew Janey Eversoll’s mother had been struggling since her stroke last month.
“It’d be a perfect way for you to earn some extra cash over the holiday,” Hadley said, returning to her earlier point.
Ami hadn’t considered taking a second job, but it might be the answer. If Beck would allow her to work in the café on the days the bakery was closed, it could be a win-win for both of them. Assuming he’d hire her, of course.
“I am a good cook,” Ami murmured.
“You’re an excellent cook.” Hadley added another coat of mascara to her already thickly coated lashes. “Not to mention you have an in with the boss. You and Mr. Cross have quite the thing going in the mornings.”
“It’s called being neighborly.” Ami ruined the righteous tone by flushing like a guilty teenager.
That made her angry. At herself. At the gossipmongers. She had no reason to feel guilty. It wasn’t as if her banter with Beck had ever had any
Simply thinking of
in the same sentence caused her cheeks to burn. Out of simple embarrassment, she told herself, nothing more.
Thankfully, Hadley’s gaze was on her purse as she rummaged through the contents. Emitting a sound of triumph, she pulled out her cell phone.
“Now that I’ve found my baby”—Hadley gave the phone a loving stroke before her gaze pinned Ami—“let’s talk about what being neighborly means to Amaryllis Bloom. I mean, some neighbors have sex. And Beckett Cross
“I’m not sleeping with Beck,” Ami protested.
“Even if you are, it’s not my business.” Though Hadley’s hands rose in a gesture of surrender, a smile played at the corners of her lips. “Though if you’d want to share what he’s like in bed, I’m willing to listen.”
“I don’t even like the man,” Ami retorted, then immediately felt a flash of guilt. Okay, so that wasn’t entirely accurate. Still, all the talk linking her and Beck—a man she barely knew—flustered her.
“Methinks the lady doth protest too much,” Hadley teased.
“I thought you needed to get to your other job.”
Hadley glanced at the clock. The small hand was now on the chocolate cupcake. She yelped. “One more thing, real quick. When you interview with Mr. Sexy, don’t sell yourself cheap. He’ll be desperate. That means he’s likely to agree to any demands.”
“But I don’t have any experience. I’ve never cooked for anyone but family and friends.”
“That won’t be a problem. You’ll simply pretend you’re cooking for your sexy next-door neighbor.” Hadley slung the bag the size of Texas over her shoulder and winked. “The one you’re not sleeping with.”
Ami laughed and shook her head.
Hadley had barely disappeared down the block—headed to her other job as a server at the Flying Crane—when large white flakes appeared outside the picture window.
Ami shivered. The heat still hadn’t kicked on. If she didn’t take care of this furnace fiasco soon, her pipes would freeze, and then she’d have an even bigger expense.
With a resigned sigh, she pulled out her phone. By the time she hung up, she had an installation date for Wednesday and her credit card had sustained a massive hit.
She wished she could speak with Beck about the job right this minute. But he was likely occupied with the supper rush, and her dad would be here any minute to pick her up.
Tonight they were attending an all-you-can-eat fish fry at the high school. One of her father’s fellow teachers had been recently diagnosed with cancer—the same type that had taken her mother’s life—and the staff had organized a fundraiser to help with medical expenses.
It was these types of events that brought a swell of pride to Ami’s heart and made her love Good Hope all the more. Friends helping friends was a way of life in this corner of the world.
Later, after she’d eaten her fill of whitefish and fries, she would stop by Beck’s home.
Once there, she’d tackle the tour issue with him first. Hopefully it would be a simple matter of putting things in perspective for him. Of pointing out that when he moved here, he hadn’t just gained a beautiful house and a business; he now had an extended family that would always be here for him.
Ami would lay it out in such a way that Beck couldn’t help but see that with such blessings came certain responsibilities. It certainly didn’t hurt that they were headed into a wonderful time of the year, when peace and joy filled every heart.
She could see it now. Beck would catch the spirit and agree to open his house for the tour. Once that deal was struck, he’d generously offer Ami a job with the hours and pay she requested.
Hey, if a girl was going to dream, she might as well dream big.
With a light heart, Ami hummed a tune as she went upstairs to grab her coat. She had a feeling this was going to be the best Christmas ever.
Beckett glanced around the now-empty café and breathed a sigh of relief. His business had survived the evening rush, thanks to Janey’s helper. The former navy mess hall cook, Tom Larson, had stepped up and done his best.
Though there had been a few rough moments tonight, thankfully, business had been slow. The real problems lay ahead. Beck had no doubt that once the Twelve Nights celebrations began, the Muddy Boots café would be swamped.
While Tom was willing to handle the primary cooking duties short-term, he’d made it clear he hadn’t signed on to be in charge of the kitchen. Beck knew if he didn’t hire someone quickly, Tom would be out the door and he’d be left manning the grill.
would be a disaster of epic proportions.
Beck had no doubt there were qualified cooks in Good Hope. And he was willing to pay top dollar. The problem was, who would want to take a job for only one month, and over the Christmas holiday to boot?
Blasted holiday season.
The bells over the front door jingled, a grating sound that scraped against his last nerve. Busy tallying the figures for the day and counting cash, Beck didn’t look up. He resisted—barely—the urge to snarl. “We’re closed.”
“Bah humbug to you, too.”
Beck jerked his head up at the familiar voice. Despite his foul mood, he couldn’t help but smile.
Max Brody, a local CPA and one of Beck’s few friends in Good Hope, pulled the door shut behind him. After making a big production of flipping the sign on the door from Open to Closed, he sauntered across the room to where Beck stood beside the ancient cash register.
Dressed in jeans, a red ski sweater, and Columbia snow boots, Max looked like he should be crossing the countryside on skis rather than quoting tax codes.
Although Beck was several years older than Max, both were athletic men, standing just over six feet two inches. That’s where the similarities ended. Instead of a dark brown, Max’s hair was the color of dirty sand. His body was also more muscular than Beck’s leaner frame. The biggest difference, though, was the accountant’s face held a perpetual smile. Max loved life and it showed.
It had been that way for Beck once. He’d had everything.
“If you keep that scowl on your face, Santa is going to bring you a lump of coal.” Max’s tone might have been light, but his eyes held concern.
Beck lifted a shoulder, let it drop. “I’m not much for holidays.”
“I’d never have guessed.” Max laid an envelope before him with a flourish. “Merry Christmas, anyway.”
Beck raised a brow.
“What I anticipate will be your fourth-quarter estimates for the IRS.” Max rocked back on his heels, grinned. “Now you can’t say I never gave you anything.”
Beck laughed as he picked up the envelope and dropped it into the open leather briefcase at his feet. “You didn’t need to bring it over.”
“The café is on my way home.” Max glanced around the dining area and gave a low whistle. “You’ve made some changes since I was last here.”
Beck assumed the CPA was referring to the spatter of cobalt-blue paint on the white walls and the new mural.
“The blue reminds me of rain. And that mural is amazing.” Max strolled to the far wall and studied the scene, which had been completed only days earlier. It was of a young girl in a bright red jacket with shiny red boots. She stood in the rain, kicking up water. “Who’s the artist?”
“Her name is Izzie Deshler. She also painted the walls. She’s relatively new in Good Hope. Do you know her?”
Max thought for a moment, then shook his head. “How did you find her?”
“She approached me.” Beck saw no reason to mention Ami had given Izzie his name. He’d discovered—just as Ami had said—that the woman was desperate for work.
He’d hired her, figuring whatever she came up with was bound to be better than boring white walls. If it hadn’t turned out to his liking, he would have had her paint over it.
“She’s good,” Max said with what appeared to be genuine admiration. “These changes give Muddy Boots a modern feel.”
Beck hadn’t been keen on the café’s name and had seriously considered changing it. But the place had been Muddy Boots for over forty years. Everyone but him seemed to love the name. “The reaction of patrons to the mural and the paint has been overwhelmingly positive. But really, anything would be an improvement over what was here.”
Last summer, when Beck had walked into the café, he’d been stunned. The pictures the realtor had e-mailed him prior to the purchase had been heavy on the quaint exterior: the large windows facing the main street and a new, crisp blue awning with the café’s name and the trademark bright red boots.
The interior shots had primarily focused on the recently updated commercial kitchen. Nothing had prepared him for the 1970s decor in the dining area. The Formica-topped tables and yellow vinyl chairs were acceptable in the short-term. Likewise, the gray-tiled floor might be scarred from years of wear but would do until he found time to get hardwood down.
But it was the wallpaper, a hideous coffeepot pattern in harvest gold and mud brown, that had to go. He’d wished there had been time to remodel. But Independence Day had loomed, and holidays in Good Hope meant lots and lots of tourists spending boatloads of money.
Beck had settled for having a crew come in and remove the wallpaper. Since he hadn’t yet decided what he wanted to do with the interior, he’d had the walls painted white. The neutral color ended up being the perfect backdrop for Izzie’s blue “rain” splatter.
The accountant returned to the counter where Beck stood. His friend reminded him of a bloodhound that had just caught a scent when he sidled up to the jar holding round, chocolate-covered mints. A popular item, they sold for ten cents each or three for twenty-five cents.
Max unwrapped one of the shiny silver wrappers and popped a mint into his mouth. “You’re making progress, but you’ve still got work ahead of you.”
“I like to keep busy.” Beck had discovered that being exhausted helped him to sleep and not think. “Is there something else I can do for you, Max?”
Beck didn’t mean to be abrupt, but talk of the holidays had given him a headache. All he wanted was to take a couple of ibuprofen and head home.
Apparently finding the first one to his liking, Max grabbed a couple more mints. “I hear you refused to allow your house in the tour.”
“Is that what the
Good Hope Gazette
is reporting?” Beck said with obvious disdain, referring to the town’s weekly paper. Hearing that news was already making the rounds didn’t surprise him. It hadn’t taken him long to discover there was no privacy in a small community.
“Actually, I read it in the
Beck gave a derisive snort. He’d only opened the daily online newsletter once. The gossip feature had turned him off and he hadn’t looked at it since. “Tabloid rag.”
Max inclined his head. “Is the news accurate?”
“It is.” Beck finished closing out the cash register and added the money bag to his briefcase.
The day had started off okay with a red velvet doughnut and coffee for breakfast. It had been all downhill from there.
When Eliza Shaw had approached him, he’d been polite but firm. Finally, when she became a yappy dog that wouldn’t shut up, he’d shown her to the door. “I can’t see having a bunch of people I don’t know traipsing through my house.”
Though some might say his house was too big for one man, the place was slowly beginning to feel like home. It had become Beck’s sanctuary, the one place in Good Hope where he could fully relax.
Max shoved his hands into his pockets, for the first time looking uncomfortable. “The thing is, it’s—”
“Stop right there.” Beck cut him off before he could finish. “Be warned, if you say the word ‘tradition,’ I may have to punch you.”
“Then I guess I’ll have to appeal to your mercenary side.” Max grinned, not at all intimidated by the scowl or the growl. “The home tour is a big moneymaker for the community. It’ll bring in business to the café and all the merchants.”
“I venture that people will still come to Good Hope for the tour, even if my house isn’t open.”
“Probably,” Max reluctantly acknowledged. “But it’s tra—” Catching himself, the accountant stopped, changed direction. “Where’s your community spirit? All I’m asking is that you consider participating. Come on, I know there’s a heart under that scrooge exterior.”
“Oh, so now I’m a scrooge?” Beck lifted a brow. “You seem to be forgetting who gave who a tax bill for Christmas?”
Max’s expression turned sheepish.
Just like he used to when he’d been a defense attorney, Beck drove the point home. “You gave me a tax bill while I gave you chocolate mints. I ask you, who’s the scrooge?”
Ami gazed through the frosted front window of her shop and watched her father’s car drive away in the falling snow. She could have told him to drop her off at Beck’s home, but the request would have provoked questions she had no desire to answer. As she was the only one of his four daughters still living in Door County, his overprotectiveness sometimes bordered on stifling.
Some women might have chafed under his constant questions and concerns, but Ami understood. Her dad worried about her. Worried she’d never find a husband and have children like her sister Primrose. Worried about her decision to remain in Good Hope rather than moving to Chicago like her sister Marigold. Even though he wanted her here, he knew she’d stand a better chance of finding a husband in the big city.
Steve Bloom was a traditional man. He’d been happy in his marriage and wanted the same happiness for his daughters. As much as she understood, Ami was grateful there was Delphinium to take some of the pressure off.
Her father worried almost as much about Fin as he did about her, but for different reasons. The young woman who’d been their father’s fishing buddy and was the next stair step down from Ami hadn’t been back to Good Hope in several years.
Ami jerked the hood of her parka up, zipping it until only her eyes peered out. The gloves on her hands were rated for subzero temps, so when she opened the door and stepped into the night air, she was warmer than she’d been in the bakery.
She didn’t mind the walk. As Ami didn’t drive, she normally got to where she was going on foot or by riding her trusty Schwinn.
Snow crunched under the heels of Ami’s boots, and flakes of white clung to her coat and gloves. Street lamps bathed the sidewalks in a golden glow. Distant music from the Flying Crane wafted on the night air.
Ami hummed along to the popular tune and felt the weight of the day lift as she found comfort in the familiar. Many of the shops had been in existence since she was a child.
There was the Good Hope Market. Next to it was Hill’s General Store, a business that had been in Eliza’s family for six generations. The Muddy Boots café, the business Beck had bought last summer, was dark now, the sign on the door flipped to Closed.
Ami had been as surprised as anyone when she’d learned someone from out of state had purchased the café. What had shocked her more was learning that same person had bought the Spencer-Shaw house.
Her secret wish had been to one day buy the house and turn it into a B and B. She’d done cleaning for Katherine Spencer when she’d been in high school and had fallen in love with the home. Kate, as she’d instructed Ami to address her, had no husband or children and wasn’t particularly close to any of her family.
Ami had hoped by the time Katherine decided to sell the home, she’d have the income that would allow her to buy it.
Obviously not meant to be
, she thought with a sigh.
When she reached the intersection, Ami crossed Highway 42, the roadway that ran the length of the peninsula. The Spencer-Shaw place,
er, Beck’s home
, sat at the corner of the highway and Market Street, directly across the street from Hill House.
The house was impressive: a two-story white clapboard with green shutters and stained glass topping each window. A black iron fence enclosed a yard that spanned two lots. In the spring and summer, leafy trees shaded a spread of sprawling green accented with clusters of colorful flowers.