Authors: Shirley McCann
Tags: #contemporary, #suspense, #Cozy Mystery
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2014 by Shirley McCann
Originally published by Wild Rose Press
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by AmazonEncore, Seattle
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and AmazonEncore are trademarks of
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Cover Designer: Debbie Taylor
This title was previously published by Wild Rose Press; this version has been reproduced from Wild Rose Press archive files.
“Damn it, Miss Thomas!” The booming voice echoed in the empty diner. I jerked my attention toward the cold stare of Harry Winslow’s narrowed eyes. “Stop daydreaming and get to work for a change.”
Had someone come in? I wondered. My gaze flittered over the twelve empty tables.
It isn’t my fault customers prefer the other two eating establishments in Clayfield to your greasy-spoon cuisine, I wanted to point out.
“I was just finishing up,” I answered instead. I bit my tongue and quickly wiped away the remaining grime from the table I was cleaning. I placed the wet rag on the utility cart, then watched as a customer entered through the front door.
“I realize it’s almost closing time,” Mr. Winslow said in his customary sarcastic voice. “But we have a customer. Would it be too much of an inconvenience for you to take his order?”
“Right away,” I answered, vowing never to forgive my father for pushing me into this job. Dad thought it would be the perfect place for me to work while I waited to hear from the numerous job applications I’d submitted to law enforcement agencies. Thirty years ago, Dad and Harry Winslow had been high school classmates. So naturally when he asked his old friend to offer temporary employment to his only daughter, Mr. Winslow had obliged.
At the front entrance, I reached for a menu from the wooden compartment on the side of the cashier’s booth and tucked it under my arm.
“Guess this job isn’t nearly as exciting as digging up dirt on people for profit.”
I leaned against the counter and sighed. It was the kind of statement I would expect to hear from Heather Marlow. She and I had been high school classmates also, but we were never considered friends. Acquaintances would be a more accurate term.
“It’s definitely not the job I had in mind,” I answered with a forced smile. If my uncle Bob hadn’t reneged on his promise to hire me for the summer at his private investigator’s office, I wouldn’t be stuck working for the rotund, obnoxious Harry Winslow in the first place. I was sure everyone in town knew of my disappointment, but I didn’t plan to make this a permanent career.
“At least Justin will be happy you’re not doing anything dangerous now that he’s back in town,” Heather remarked. “I’m assuming the two of you will be together again?” Talking with Heather about Justin Banks was not an option. Justin and I had been together since middle school. I was in sixth grade when he was in seventh, but we had parted ways just after his graduation five years ago. I’d heard he was back in town, but I hadn’t seen him yet. For all I knew, he had a wife and kids by now.
Since I had no intention of discussing my love life—or lack of love life, as the case may be—with Heather or anyone else, I forced another smile and walked away.
The last minute customer had already seated himself at table twelve near the back of the diner. With menu in hand, I approached him, where I was met with a set of unfriendly dark eyes.
“Would you like a minute to look over the menu?” I asked, politely. All I needed was a customer complaint to Mr. Winslow. While it wasn’t the job I wanted, I still needed an income, no matter how small.
“Just coffee,” the man replied sharply.
“How about a piece of pie to go with that?” Three months of working at the diner had taught me to always suggest dessert.
“Apple, cherry, or banana cream?”
He drew in a long deep breath, then let it out quickly. His head lifted slowly, annoyance evident in the deep creases around his steely brown eyes. His coal black hair was slicked back away from his face, giving him the appearance of a gangster.
“Apple,” he stated. His sharp tone indicated finality.
Why me? I rolled my eyes. Why did I get all the weirdoes?
Many times I’d been tempted to storm out and find something more suitable. Unfortunately there wasn’t exactly a stream of employers standing in line to offer me temporary employment. Clayfield, Missouri, was a small town, home mostly to farmers, retirees, and the few people willing to commute the long distance to Springfield, where there were more employment opportunities. I had to keep telling myself this job was only temporary until I landed the job I truly wanted. And living with my parents allowed me the opportunity to avoid housing costs while I searched for the perfect spot. I couldn’t wait until my application with the police department went through the appropriate channels.
I returned promptly with the man’s order and placed it on the table along with his check. I watched while he reached for the sugar, shaking the small packet incessantly before ripping it open. He poured half into the steaming cup and half onto the table.
As I watched him stir his coffee, my gaze strayed to the window facing the intersection. Approaching storm clouds darkened the sky. An uneasy feeling brought an involuntary shudder. A low rumble of thunder echoed in the distance, causing me to regret my decision to walk to work instead of borrowing my mother’s minivan—my parents lived only a few blocks away. While I usually enjoyed the long walk to and from work to clear my mind, a walk in the pouring rain was something I hadn’t bargained for. And my parents were vacationing in Florida for the next two weeks, so begging for a ride home would do me no good either.
A bolt of lightning zigzagged across the sky, followed by a loud clap of thunder that shook the building.
I glanced at the clock. Twenty minutes until closing time. I considered asking Heather for a ride home. She loved showing off her new red sports car. Surely I could put up with her mindless chatter long enough to get home safely.
I’d just picked up the coffee pot to offer a final cup of brew to my only customer when the front door swung open.
Heather screamed, “Close the door!” The wind had caught the door, flinging it open longer than necessary, while a torrent of rain flooded the entrance.
My heart skipped a beat when I recognized the tall, dripping wet, blond-haired young man bounding through the door.
Justin struggled to pull it closed against the gusty wind and rain. “Sorry,” he said to Heather. “I hope this lets up before you go home. It’s quite a storm.”
Heather reached up a manicured hand and smoothed her hair back into place. “Welcome home, Justin.” My stomach lurched. I knew Heather had a crush on Justin through high school. Apparently nothing had changed. My eyes shot bullets when she leaned her voluptuous figure across the cashier’s booth, giving Justin more than just a casual glimpse.
“Nice to see you again, Heather,” Justin replied. He removed his dripping raincoat and draped it across a hanger hear the entrance. “Again, I’m really sorry about the mess.”
She waved her hand, brushing away his apology. “Couldn’t be helped.”
“Am I too late for a cup of coffee?”
Heather turned in my direction. “I’m sure Denise can come up with a cup.”
I tried to evoke disinterest by keeping my gaze on the beverage cart, while my ears remained on alert. Although Justin and I had ended our relationship a few years ago, I’d never been able to get him out of my mind. Seeing him here now brought back feelings I thought had died.
I waited to approach him until he seated himself at a table. Smoothing imaginary wrinkles from my work uniform, I made my way over to him. I inhaled a sharp breath before speaking. “The kitchen is closed.”
Justin raised his wet head, his deep blue eyes melting my cool demeanor. It was hard to resist such a perfect specimen. His wavy blond hair contrasted with his deep golden tan. His damp shirt clung to his muscled body.
He folded his hands on the table. “I heard you were working here,” he said. Our eyes met and held for an awkward moment.
“I assure you, it’s only temporary.” His warm smile rekindled old memories. Portraying an ease I didn’t feel, I spoke again. “There’s still some pie left, if you’d like something to eat.”
“Just coffee,” he replied. “If you’ll join me.”
I noticed the pleading look in his eyes. I glanced around the diner for Mr. Winslow, nervously running my hand through my short thick hair.
“You cut your hair!” His statement startled me. I quickly lowered my hand and faced him again.
“Yes, I did,” I answered a bit too harshly. “I thought it would be a more suitable style for Uncle Bob’s office.”
He bit his lower lip and weaved his fingers together. He seemed to be contemplating what to say. The subject of me working with my uncle Bob had always been a heated topic between us. I’d been prepared to work in law enforcement since the sixth grade. He heaved a heavy sigh before he spoke again.
“So how about that coffee?” he asked, obviously trying to steer the conversation to a more neutral subject. “And your company, of course,” he added. “You will join me, won’t you?”
“I don’t think my boss would like that very much.”
I started to walk away when Justin reached for my hand. “Then promise me you’ll let me drive you home. I know you’re staying at your parents’ house for now.”
I directed my attention toward the front of the diner. “Thanks for the offer, but I wouldn’t want to cause problems between you and your new girlfriend.” I spat out the words with a venom I didn’t know I possessed.
His gaze followed my lead to where Heather was watching us with obvious disapproval.
“Ah yes, Heather Marlow,” he said slowly. “You know, I thought she worked in the school office now. Is this just a temporary position for her as well?”
“I have no idea,” I answered. “But she seems very interested in you. Why don’t you ask her yourself?” I didn’t mean for my jealousy to show its ugly face. I wished I could have taken back my venomous words.
Justin turned back around, meeting my gaze. “She’s not my type. I don’t go in for gorgeous glamour girls.”