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. And she doesn't need her ornery new tenant, Sinclair Jefferson, stirring up the pot . . .
Once Sinclair gets his hapless brother back on track, he's leaving Benevolence for good this time. 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 . . .
“McCoy writes satisfying prose . . . [a] sugar-dusted tale.” —Publishers Weekly
“McCoy tosses in a little mystery, a little romance and a cute puppy named Tiny. What more could anyone ask for . . . a wonderful small town read.” —Fresh Fiction
“A delicious small-town treat.” —Library Journal
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By Shirlee McCoy
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Shirlee McCoy
All rights reserved.
The dress wouldn't zip.
Seeing as how the wedding was ten days away, that was going to be a problem. Adeline Lamont expelled all the air from her lungs and tried again. The zipper inched up her side, every slow, excruciating millimeter reminding her that she had bigger problems than a butt-ugly, too-small, tangerine-colored bridesmaid's dress. The fudge, for one. The chocolate shop, for another. Neither of which was being dealt with while she was trying to shimmy into the most hideous dress she had ever seen.
"Addie!" May Reynolds called from the other side of the bathroom door. "How's it going in there?"
"Peachy," Adeline called back, the zipper finally finding its way home.
The last thing she wanted to do was spend twenty minutes explaining her inability to fit into the dress to May. Too much to do. Too little time.
And now ...
She glanced in the mirror above the sink. Orange. Lots of it. Skin too. Shoulders. Arms. Chest. All of it pasty and white from too many days in Chocolate Haven's kitchen. She needed to get outside, get a little fresh air and a little sun. She'd add that to her list. The one she'd been adding items to all day.
"Addie!" May knocked frantically. Probably with both her wrinkled fists. "Please tell me it fits! I don't have time to alter it. I barely had time to make it!"
"I wish you hadn't," Addie muttered, tugging at the huge ruffle that drooped over her chest and fluttered to a stop somewhere in the region of her stomach.
"What's that, dear?" May yelled, her voice edged with panic. The poor woman would have heart failure if Addie didn't open the blasted door.
Then again ...
Addie eyed the white flesh burgeoning out of the bodice of the dress.
... she might have heart failure when she got a look at Addie squeezed into the dress.
A lose-lose situation any way Addie cut it, so she opened the door and stepped into the narrow hall that led from the front of the shop to the kitchen.
It smelled like chocolate. Vanilla. Maybe a hint of the blood, sweat, and tears she'd been pouring into the place since Granddad had broken his hip and femur. She gagged, but managed to keep down the sixteen pounds of fudge she'd consumed while taste-testing batch after batch of Lamont family fudge.
God! If she ever ate another piece of fudge again, it would be way, way too soon!
"Dear God in heaven!" May breathed. She stood just a few feet away, hands clasped together, her blue-white hair a little wild. "You have breasts!"
Addie would have laughed if the dress hadn't squeezed all the air from her lungs.
"Most women do," she managed to say, her head swimming from lack of oxygen or, maybe, too much sugar and too little real food. When was the last time she'd eaten a meal? Two days ago? Three?
"Not Alice," May huffed. "Your grandmother was reed slim. She wore clothes beautifully. Didn't matter what, she looked good in it."
"I am not my grandmother," Addie pointed out. And even she wouldn't look good in this dress, she nearly added.
"You're standing in for her at my wedding, dear," May responded, tugging at the bodice of the dress, trying desperately to get it to cover a little more of Addie's flesh.
Wasn't going to happen, but Adeline let her try. Just like she'd let her insist that Adeline be maid of honor at her wedding since Alice had passed away five years before the big day. Sure, Adeline would be the only under-thirty member of the wedding party, but she loved May. She'd loved Alice. For them, she'd stand at the front of Benevolence Baptist Church wearing a skintight tangerine dress. She just hoped to God that Randal Custard didn't decide to do a human interest story on the event. Sure, it was cool that May had found true love at seventy-six years old. Sure, it was wonderful that she was finally getting married after so many decades of longing for marital bliss.
What would not be cool or wonderful would be a picture of Addie plastered across the front page of the Benevolence Times, her fudge-stuffed body encased in tangerine satin! Since she'd turned down Randal's dinner invitations seven times in the past month, it might just happen.
"May," she finally said, the thought of Randal and his camera and that picture souring her mood more than the last mediocre-tasting batch of family fudge had. "The dress isn't going to cover any more than it's already covering."
"But I measured you," May responded, giving the bodice one last tug. "And I never measure wrong."
"I may have gained a pound or two since I took over the shop for Granddad." Or ten, but who was counting? "I'll lose it before the wedding."
"Promise?" May asked, her lined face caked with powder, her drawn-on eyebrows giving her a perpetual look of surprise. She'd always been a little high-strung, a little nervous. The exact opposite of Adeline's grandmother, who'd been calm in the face of crisis, reasonable in the face of difficulty.
"Of course," Adeline assured her.
What else could she do?
"All right. I guess we'll just make it work," May said, probably channeling someone she'd seen on some sewing or fashion show. She'd been a home economics teacher at Benevolence High for nearly thirty years, had owned a fabric shop right next to Chocolate Haven up until a month ago. For as long as Adeline could remember, May had been obsessed with fashion.
Too bad that obsession had never translated into a good sense of style.
Unique was more the word for it.
Or atrocious, horrible, dated.
Adeline could think of a dozen other words, but it was late, she was tired, and the kitchen needed a thorough scrubbing before she left for the day.
"Of course we'll make it work." She cupped May's elbow and urged her toward the front of the shop. "The wedding is going to be beautiful. Every last detail of it."
"How could it not be?" May raised her chin a half inch. "I've planned every last detail. Every flower, every bow, every song."
Every word that Jim and I shall speak during our vows. Every strain of music that shall play during the reception, Adeline added, mentally repeating the spiel she'd heard dozens and dozens of times.
Scrooge, her better-self whispered.
She was a scrooge. She could admit that.
But ... doggone it! She was an accountant. Not a chocolatier. Not a shopkeeper. Not a master creator of the coveted Lamont fudge. After nearly three weeks of trying and failing to be those things, she was getting grumpy.
The too-tight tangerine dress wasn't helping things.
Poor May wasn't either. She meant well. Addie knew she did, but May had a habit of making mountains out of mole hills and creating drama everywhere she went.
"I know you have," Addie soothed as she bypassed the glass display cases that had been in the shop since the doors opened in 1911. She'd already stocked them for the following day — chocolate bonbons in beautiful foil wrappers, milk chocolate truffles with cocoa powder dusted over them, chocolate mint bars, chocolate mallow cups. Chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate.
It's what the Lamonts did.
Only it didn't seem to be what Adeline could do.
Sure, the chocolate was there, but the fudge was missing, and that was the thing that had put Chocolate Haven on the map.
May must have noticed the full display cases. She paused next to them, leaning in to study the goods, her left eye twitching. She was going to ask about the wedding favors, because that was how May was.
Please don't ask, Adeline willed, but May's mouth opened and out it came.
"How are the wedding favors coming along?"
"Great," Adeline lied. Truth? She'd made twenty of the five hundred chocolate hearts May had ordered. She'd had to toss every last one of them, because what should have been a beautiful high-sheen chocolate exterior had been rough, dull, and bumpy.
"Oh! Wonderful!" May's surprised eyebrows lifted a notch. "I'd love to see them. How about —"
"I've got so much work to do, May, and I know you're busy with wedding preparations," Adeline said, cutting her off. "How about we wait until I have a few more to show you? I've only done the milk chocolate, and you wanted dark chocolate and white chocolate as well. I'll put together a little sampler for you one day this week."
"Well, I ..." May glanced toward the kitchen. "Are you sure they're turning out okay?"
"Absolutely certain," Adeline said with so much emphasis, her chest nearly popped from the dress.
"Good, because I can't have anything go wrong." May reached out, yanked at the tangerine ruffle. The dress didn't move. "Not one thing."
"The favors will be perfect," Adeline assured her. "And I'll jog every night from now until the wedding."
"You may need to run," May murmured, releasing her hold on the dress. "Or sprint. That might work."
"Sure. Sprint. Sounds good." Adeline wasn't even sure she could manage a jog. It had been a while since she'd had any kind of fitness routine. A while meaning years. She'd try, though. Because there was no way on God's green earth she was standing in front of five hundred of May and Jim's closest friends, looking like an overstuffed orange sausage!
"Okay. Good." May offered a wan smile. "Now, I really have to get going. Doris Linder is creating a special updo for me and the wedding party. I'm going to have her do a trial style on me tonight."
"Doris?" Addie hoped she'd heard wrong. Doris had been doing hair in Benevolence, Washington, for longer than Addie had been alive. Maybe longer than May had been alive.
"Who else would I have chosen?" May patted her hair. "She does a wonderful beehive."
"Your hair is too short for a beehive."
"Have you never heard of extensions?" May stepped outside, cold February wind ruffling her short locks. "The other ladies and I will have them. Your hair is plenty long enough to do without."
Thank God for that, Addie wanted to say.
She kept her scrooge-mouth shut.
May hiked her purse a little higher onto her shoulder and picked her way across the sidewalk that separated the shop from the street. She'd parked at the curb, her gold Cadillac gleaming beneath the streetlight.
"I'll call you tomorrow," she said as she climbed into the car. "To see how the weight loss is going and set up a time to see the favors."
"You do that," Addie said as she let the door swing closed, locked it, and flicked off the light.
Now maybe she'd be left alone. To get out of the dress. To clean the kitchen. To close out the register so that she could finally go home to the puppy she'd adopted four months ago.
He was probably miserable penned up in Nehemiah Shoemaker's back room. It had been sweet of her neighbor to offer to take care of the puppy while Addie helped her grandfather, but Nehemiah was nearly ninety and Tiny was too big for him to handle. The two of them spent most of their time in Nehemiah's family room, watching reruns of Hogan's Heroes and I Love Lucy. Nehemiah seemed to enjoy Tiny's company, but the puppy needed some time to play outside. If Adeline had known that Granddad was going to break his hip and femur ...
But she hadn't, so she'd adopted a puppy because she'd been just a little lonely in her 1920s bungalow.
"It will be okay," she told herself. "Just get out of the stupid dress and get back to checking things off the list. Go through it one item at a time until you finish. And you will finish. Eventually."
She tugged halfheartedly at the zipper. It didn't move. She tugged a little harder. Nothing. She scowled, sucking in her gut and yanking the zipper with all her might as she walked into the kitchen.
Something gave. She yanked the dress around so the zipper was in the front, eyeing the damage. The top part of the zipper held fast, but the middle section had opened to reveal an inch of pasty white skin.
Holy heck, she'd busted the thing!
And now she was stuck. An overstuffed sausage in synthetic orange casing. She'd have to cut herself out and replace the zipper. Good thing she'd taken two years of May's home economics class. She knew how to take out a zipper and how to replace one. What she didn't know was how to get out of the mess she'd gotten herself into when she'd agreed to take over Chocolate Haven for her grandfather.
She stalked to the whiteboard that hung near the back door, snagged a dry-erase marker from a drawer, and scrawled Fix zipper across the bottom of a list she'd been working on all day.
She probably should have written Go for a jog beneath that, but she didn't have the heart to.
The thing was, she'd left her house before dawn, had been shut inside Chocolate Haven all day, smelling chocolate, eating chocolate, serving customers chocolate, and trying her best to recreate some facsimile of her family's fudge. The last thing she wanted to do was jog off ten pounds of extra weight so that she could fit into May's god-awful choice of a bridesmaid's dress. As a matter of fact, right at that moment, all she wanted to do was go home.
She grabbed her faded blue jeans and soft gray T-shirt from the bathroom and searched for scissors. There were none in her grandfather's tiny office. None in the front of the shop. Which left the kitchen. Several batches of discarded fudge sat on the counter there. The last and final batch lay in the sink, the scissors she'd used to try to hack it from the pan sticking out of the rock-solid mess.
She didn't dare get within a foot of it. If she got chocolate on the dress, May would never forgive her.
She bypassed the sink and walked out the back door. The stairs to Granddad's apartment were there, pressed up against the side of the brick building. An empty parking lot lay in front of her, separating the row of brownstones from a public green. Addie and her sisters had spent hours playing there when they were kids.
That had been before everything else.
Before Dad died.
Before Willow had gone quiet and secretive.
Before Brenna had decided Benevolence was the worst place in the world to grow up.
Before their family that had once been close and loving and wonderful had turned into four people going four separate ways.
She jogged up the stairs, metal clanging under her feet. She fished the spare key out from under the potted plant on the landing, had barely touched the knob, when the door creaked open.
Surprised, she peered into the apartment, eyeing the shadowy furniture and the oversized TV they'd bought Granddad for Christmas. That would probably be the first thing a thief would go for. Not that there were many thieves in Benevolence.
She stepped into the silent apartment and flicked on the light. Granddad should be there, sitting on his plaid sofa, eating chips and salsa and watching The Price Is Right. Instead, he was lying in a hospital bed, waiting for the doctors to decide if he was going to need a third surgery on his leg. The thought left a hollow ache in the region of her heart.
From her position, she could see down the narrow hall that led to two bedrooms, a bathroom, and small office. Despite the unlocked door, the apartment looked untouched, the empty feel of it reassuring.
"There's no one here," she said aloud.
A door slammed, the sound so jarring, she screamed — probably loud enough to wake the dead — and took off, her jeans and T-shirt falling from her arms as she ran.
* * *
Sinclair Jefferson had seen a lot of things in his thirty-four years of living, but he'd never seen anything quite like the woman who was barreling toward him. Body encased in a skintight orange thing that could have been a dress or a costume, she sprinted down exterior metal steps as if all the demons of hell were chasing her.
If she saw him, she didn't let on.
As a matter of fact, if she kept coming at the pace she was, she'd crash into him. He stepped to the side, pulling his real estate agent, Janelle Lamont, with him.
"Watch it," he cautioned.
"How can I not? It's like a train wreck. I can't look away," Janelle murmured, her attention focused on the orange-encased lunatic who skidded to a stop in front of them.
"Mom!" the lunatic yelled. "There's someone in Granddad's apartment."
This had to be one of the Lamont sisters, then.
Excerpted from Sweet Haven by Shirlee McCoy. Copyright © 2016 Shirlee McCoy. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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