“I’ll tell ya what’s worse than them stupid geese dressed up in people clothes—” Old Man Feeney jabbed a gnarled finger in the air, waggling it around for effect. “Those plywood cutouts Margie Nixon stuck in her yard of the ladies bent over showing off their bloomers. Downright scandalous!”
Gritting her teeth and glancing around the bakery, Cady did a quick inventory to make sure her customers didn’t need an immediate refill of their coffee. She reached under the counter and withdrew an empty jar, setting it on the Formica with a thunk. That garnered a couple of bored looks from several of her elderly customers but they quickly went back to their discussion.
She rummaged through a basket under the cash register and came up with a marker and some Scotch tape. Smiling, she neatly wrote: Cady’s NY Dream Fund. Taping the label to the jar, she slid the container toward her regulars sitting at the counter. “There you go, boys. Tip jar. Fill ’er up.” She winked at Old Man Feeney.
“Ayuh. Good luck with that, Little Miss Fancy-Britches. I think all your tippers are already in New York City.” Feeney and his cronies chortled.
Cady blew out a sigh and rolled her eyes. They were probably right. The people of Scallop Shores were stuck in their ways. They were stubborn. They didn’t like change. They didn’t do fancy. They cringed at exciting.
She’d been trying to get the morning regulars at Logan’s Bakery to try something besides regular drip coffee for almost a year. Mr. Logan had refused to approve the expense of a new espresso machine so she’d gone out and bought one with her own money. Needless to say, it had not been the wisest investment.
Earl Duffy tossed back the last of his caffeine and held the ceramic mug out for more. Like an assembly line, empty coffee mugs were pushed out toward her side of the counter. Dutifully, Cady filled them all and then headed for the display case of pastries. They’d be asking for their second helping of morning sugar now.
“Cady, be a doll and get me another bear claw?”
“I could do with another cheese Danish while you’re at it.”
Down the line she went, refilling coffee and topping off bellies. It was the same thing every day. Nothing ever changed in this town. So dull. So predictable. Crouching, Cady opened a new box of sweetener packets so she could refill the containers on the counter. The tinkling of the bell over the door signaled a new customer. Deciding to have a little fun with her theory that the town was indeed predictable, Cady called out from her spot on the floor to the woman who came in at this time every morning.
“Good morning, Gladys. Be right with you. How’s that hip this morning? I made your favorite today, raisin bran muffins.”
The long pause was enough to wipe the smug smile from her face. The snickers from the old men lining the counter had her cringing. Then the deliciously deep voice that told her “I love raisin bran muffins” made Cady want to sink beneath the surface of the old cracked linoleum. Her cheeks hot with embarrassment, she rose on shaky legs and faced her unexpected customer.
“I’m so sorry. I thought you were someone else.”
Once she got a good look at the source of her mortification, she decided it had been well worth it. This man had city written all over him. In a room full of flannel and denim, his gray slacks, wool blazer, and perfectly crisp white shirt were a welcome sight. His neatly clipped dark hair and baby-smooth cheeks were a direct contrast to all the buzzards turned to him, their own visages long due for a trim and a shave.
“What can I get you?” Cady asked breathlessly.
“I’d like a soy latte—and one of those raisin bran muffins.” He winked. Her heart skipped a beat.
“Look at that, would ya, boys? Someone who’s willing to try one of my fancy coffee drinks.” Cady smirked at the men who made no effort to hide their curious stares.
“Enjoy it while you can. Who knows when you’ll make another?” said one of the regulars.
“Actually,” the stranger interrupted, “if it’s good, I’ll order one every day.” He spoke to the men at the counter but kept his eyes on Cady. Mesmerizing green eyes.
Shaking her head to get herself back on task, Cady rushed to fill his order. Her fingers lightly caressed the espresso machine as she poured, packed, and pushed buttons. Working this fancy coffeemaker, inhaling the heady scent of the beans, and listening to the loud whirs and chuffs as it transformed raw ingredients into a delicious hot treat made her happier than she thought possible. Would it kill the rest of the town to give something different a try? Just once in a while?
Her hand trembled slightly as she set the paper cup on the counter. She shook open a tiny paper bag, snagged a muffin out of the case with a pair of plastic tongs, and slipped it into the bag. Folding the top over, she handed it to the gentleman. He reached out, covering Cady’s fingers with his own. Truth be told, she’d been expecting the touch, but not the jolt that traveled all the way up to tickle her behind the ears. He held her gaze even after he released her hand. Flustered, she broke eye contact.
“Cady’s NY Dream Fund,” he read aloud, gesturing toward the pathetically empty tip jar.
She nodded, irritated with the way her body was reacting as she felt her cheeks signaling a second blush-fest. Stop acting like a ninny. He’s just a man. A gorgeous man who looked like he’d just stepped from the pages of a fashion magazine—or straight out of her fantasies.
Cady’s eyes widened as he stuffed the change she’d handed him into the tip jar. He’d just bought a twenty-dollar muffin and latte! A smile crinkling the corners of his eyes, he gave her another wink and turned to go.
“Gentlemen.” He called the farewell over his shoulder, the bell tinkling overhead once more.
“Them tourists sure are getting here earlier and earlier every year.” Old Man Feeney slowly shook his head.
“No.” Cady narrowed her eyes and tapped her finger to her lips, her gaze focused outside on the man stepping into his fancy foreign car. “This one’s not a tourist. I’m not sure what his story is, but I’ll find out.”