Return to Heartland: A Heartland Cove County Romance, страница 1
Return To Heartland
A Heartland Cove County Romance
About the Author
Return From Heartland: A Heartland Cove Country Romance, a novel, 1 st edition: July 2017
Published by Amazemo Books, Ontario, Canada
Copyright © 2017 by Jacquie Gee (Jacqueline Garlick)
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the publisher, except for purposes of promotion by the media, not to exceed 10% of the content.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or have been modified and used fictionally, and any resemblance to actual events and/or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. This book features the fictional town of Heartland Cove, which was inspired by and pays homage to a small town in New Brunswick, Canada, but is not intended to be the same.
Created with Vellum
Random thought on happiness: It does not always come to those who wait, but it does come to those who recreate. Themselves. It’s been a long journey, but I’ve done it. Revamped myself from heart to toe.
I am proud to say I am now emotionally Teflon. And a little bit smarter as well.
Or so I think.
My heels click the pavement as I glide down Sixth Avenue making my way to work. That’s right: Sixth Avenue, New York City—I made it! I actually made it! *squeee* (Stops to complete a twirl.)
Mid-July sunshine reflects off the skyscrapers overhead, painting me in angular slashes of warm silvery light. The aroma of dozens of vendors' food carts tantalize my palate, their exotic scents wafting past on a gentle breeze, from mustard-smothered sausages to tangy kati rolls. There's so much to choose from, so many cool things to experience here.
This is so not Heartland Cove.
I pull to a stop at the corner to wait for the light, close my eyes, and breathe in deep. There it is—Biryani’s. One of my all-time favorites. That’s it. I’m making the trip back up here for buttered chicken at lunch. The light turns green, and I cross the street, then turn left onto Forty-Fifth. My head swivels side to side as I take in my favorite sights along the way, weaving through the rush hour sidewalk traffic, which seems to get thicker every day. Ming's Chinese Eatery—gawd, how I love their dim sum. Root and Leaf, my fave one-stop organic soupery. Shoppsey’s Burgers—for when I just can’t do the ‘my-body-is-a-temple’ thing any longer. And of course, the pièce de résistance, tucked inside the alleyway about a block ahead, a little off the beaten path but still visible from the street, is my very own establishment—the one and only Fondant & Lace, Fine Cupcakes and Lingerie.
Well, the one I own with Tia.
We’re located down the short but quaint Shubert Lane.
Actually, it’s Shubert Alley, but Tia and I changed the sign a while back to Lane to make it sound more appealing. So far, the city hasn’t noticed.
I catch a glimpse of my appearance in the polished black marble exterior of the bank and pull to an abrupt stop, coaxing a couple of unruly strands of my scarlet red hair back into my updo, wishing I’d applied more spray. My locks are probably too long and heavy to wear in this style, but I like the way I look when my hair is up. Besides, it helps to beat the heat. I note my green-blue eyes are more green than blue today. It alternates. I should not have worn pink on a more green than blue day.
Oh, well, they’ll change again by noon.
I walk on, a little skip in my step because I’m getting closer. Anticipation tingles in my feet. I can see it now, peeking out from around the corner of the next block, through the sea of people streaming up the sidewalk. My eyes meet the faux frosted lettering that swirls across the front windows and my cheeks hurt from smiling. I still can’t believe the place is mine. Ours, I should say.
Shards of sunlight bounces off the bright pink and white candy-striped awnings. The hot-pink-painted door shines like candy. The place couldn’t look any girlier, what with all those fancy outside dressings, and the pale pink and cream Victorian damask paper I chose for the walls inside. Tia and I really knocked ourselves out creating this place, and I’m so very glad we did.
We even sprung for a crystal chandelier to hang in the entryway—somewhat of an extravagant expense, agreed, but I still think we made the right decision. It’s the perfect visual to greet customers when they walk in. That, and the pleasing jangle of garden chimes that go off above their heads, alerting Tia and me to their presence. The chimes are from home—from the souvenir shop my family runs, back in Heartland—the only piece of Heartland Cove I bothered to haul with me to New York. I gladly left everything else behind—except for Mom, of course. I miss her daily. Sometimes, hourly. The day she retires, I’m relocating her to New York, whether she likes it or not.
And if she gets bored, she can help in the store.
I pick up my step, watching as the rest of it unfolds, taking in the full visual of the shop. There’s nothing else like it in the city. Well, at least at this end. Sure, there’s lots of other specialty cupcake stores—throw a rock, and you’ll hit one on almost every corner now, thanks to Sex in the City—but honestly, none of them can hold a candle to the taste of our creations. Or at least that’s what I’m told.
The surly, balding bank manager at Fillmore Bank and Loan agrees. “Fondant and Lace takes a completely different approach to selling pastries,” I told him confidently, the day I went for the loan. “Where else in town can a girl go to pick up a luxurious cupcake and a pair of swanky panties at the same time?” I sounded thrilled about the idea.
He was less so.
“Here, try one!” I slid forward, presenting him with my three-time award-winning New York Buttercream Supreme. He raised a wooly brow. “It’s made with the world’s finest organic sugar, and there’s no additives.We make all our co
“Anything for our customers.” I smiled and leaned closer, lowering my voice. “We also carry a full line for the opposite persuasion.”
“You don’t say?” His eyes lit up like a pumpkin’s. The rest, as they say, is history. Tia and I got the loan—along with a second one from Tia’s parents for the extra incidentals we incidentally didn’t realize would be extra—and Fondant & Lace, Fine Cupcakes and Lingerie was born!
Sales have been steadily stupendous ever since. We’ve almost been open a year, now. Which reminds me, I need to come up with a signature anniversary cupcake and panty combo. I mentally tap my chin. It needs to be something great. Something that will knock customer’s socks off…or I should say, panties.
I’m lost in thought, meandering the last few strides toward the corner, when… “Oh!”
I bounce to the right, heels skittering left, inadvertently clacking shoulders with someone on the sidewalk. I fall back into the glare of a beast of a woman at least six feet tall and twice my width. She looks like she might wrestle for a living. “I’m sorry,” I say. “I—I guess I wasn’t looking.”
Her crouching-tiger eyebrows don’t relax.
“I… I guess I need to be more careful.” I try again, adding a smile to the apology. She tightens the grip on her Louis Vuitton bag. “Here,” I say, rummaging through my Louis Vuitton knock off. “Let me fix this.” I fumble around for an embarrassingly-long time before locating what I’m searching for. Between the packets of sucrose and half-eaten protein bars I come up with the prize. “Here you are.” I award her with a lacy, ruffle-edged, discount card.
The storm front that’s settled upon the woman’s face doesn’t lift.
“It’s a coupon,” I explain, “for a free cupcake from the very best place in town!”
“The famed Magnolia Bakery?” she asks.
“No,” I shake my head. “The other very best place in town.”
“Oh, you mean Butter Lane?”
“No-oh.” I feel my cheeks reddening.
“No,” I scowl. “It’s for Fondant & Lace, Fine Cupcakes and Lingerie.” I tap the card and tilt my chin over my back, in the direction of the shop. Tia’s right, that name might have been a mistake.
The woman scowls.
“The one and only Cupcakery and Sexy Panties Place in all of New York,” I add, extending an arm backward like I’m a super model. “I’m sure you’ve heard of it.” I glance back, smiling proudly, and when I face her again, she’s gone.
I scan the crowd, spotting what I think is her back, escaping about a half block up the sidewalk. I spring to my toes, cup my hands, and shout after her. “We’ll see you later, then!” Or not. “The coupon’s good for any cupcake of your choice!” I wave. “But no panties! Only a cupcake. We’ll see you later, then!”
“Cheapskate,” someone mumbles in the passing crowd.
“Yeah, well.” I drop back into my shoes. “I didn’t have to give her anything.”
People these days. I smooth down my skirt and walk on, rubbing my bruised shoulder. That would never happen in Heartland Cove, I huff. In Heartland Cove, someone would say, ‘excuse me,’ or ‘oh, no, it was my fault’ or ‘oh, why, thank you so much for the coupon!’ Then again—I look disparagingly back in the direction the fleeing woman—New York is no Heartland Cove.
I round the final corner and head off down Shubert Lane, making sure to jump over the grate in the sidewalk just outside the front door of our shop. I’ve already sacrificed enough heels to that thing. I swear the city gets a kickback from Jimmy Choo’s for putting them outside all fancy woman’s stores.
I push through the nasty cloud of subway steam that exhales from the grate, waving the odor from my face as I step inside. The cheery tinkle of customer warning bells rings out above my head as I cross the threshold, and all is right with my world.
She doesn’t look up. She doesn’t have to. She knows who it is. Instead, she continues preparing noon hour sushi orders for her family’s food cart down the street. It’s all part of our pre-opening ritual. We go through it every morning from five thirty until nine thirty, before opening our own shop. Tia and I roll out the sushi for her parents then we roll out the fondant for ourselves. In turn, Tia’s parents deduct the hours as payment on the low-interest loan they hold for us. The one we are more than grateful to have.
“Big order today?” I grab an apron and snap it out, tie it around my waist, and slide behind the counter ready to help.
“Convention.” Tia sighs, running her arm along her forehead, brushing sticky rice bits from her dark, chunky bangs. She sounds tired. She should. She’s been here since five. We spell off, every other day, alternating the early morning, pre-opening shift. I had the easy shift today.
“Aaaah,” I respond, snapping on a pair of latex gloves, then digging into the rice and folding it around chunks of crab.
Tia looks up, her flawless features crinkling. “I almost forgot.” She sounds concerned. “Your mother called.”
“She what?” I say. At this hour? I check my watch. Nearly nine here which means it’s nearly ten there. She never calls this time of day. She should be in the store getting ready for customers. I wonder what’s up?
“Actually, it was not your mother,” Tia clarifies. “It was about your mother.”
“My mother?” Now I’m really worried. Mom and I talk on Skype at least twice a week, but this week I’ve been so busy I—
“Something about your mother being sick and trouble at a bridge?” Tia continues.
“What?” My heart flops. “Who was it that called?”
A frazzled spark flashes in Tia’s eyes. She can’t quite remember, I can tell. Anxiety spikes in me until at last, she comes up with the name, though she mispronounces it badly. “Some Mrs. Peberson. Mart-a, I think?”
“Martha,” I correct her. “Peterson.”
“Yeah, that’s it.”
“That’s strange.” I scratch my chin. Why would she be calling instead of Aunt Penny? Martha Peterson lives next door to my mother. She’s mom’s closest neighbor, at least in proximity, next to Aunt Penny, but they’ve never really been friends. Aunt Penny and Mom work together every day, why wouldn’t she have called?
Tia blurts. “She said she need to speak to you right away, that’s all, nothing more.” Her English gets a little choppy when she gets nervous. She and her family only arrived here three years ago. I should be so talented, to pick up Chinese as quickly as she’s learned English.
“Did she say anything else?”
“No. That was it.”
My stomach turns inside out. Mrs. Peterson? I pull off the latex gloves and fumble through my purse for my phone. Something must be wrong. I knew Mom hadn’t sounded right the last time I talked to her, but… I swallow. Why didn’t I make time to call her this week? No sense in getting upset yet, I finally find the phone and cast off my apron, let’s just go make the call and see.
“How long ago was that?” I holler back to Tia. I’m already on my way to the door.
“About ten minutes.” She dabs the sweat from her forehead with her wrist. “I told her I’d have you call as soon as you get in.” She holds up the number I’ve forgotten on the counter, hand written on today’s sushi receipt.
“Thanks,” I say, doubling back to grab it, then rush out the door. Reception is better in the street, sadly. One of the pitfalls of cheap rent. I push out into the street, searching my phone for bars, and nervously punch the number in my phone when I finally get four. I chew my nail as it rings, and the phone crackles, threatening to drop. I dash to the other side of the street to hold the connection, just as someone picks up.
“Hello?” I say. “Mrs. Peterson?” She verifies. “This is Becca, B
I glance back at the frosted writing on the cupcakery window. It appears to be melting now, as I listen intently to Mrs. Peterson—
Mom. Alzheimer’s. Mom has Alzheimer’s? So they think. Who's they? Good results with early detection these days. Don't worry. But she could sure use my help. “What with the new mayor threatening to tear down the bridge and all. It’s a lot of stress for one woman, let alone one suffering with her symptoms.” Symptoms? “Then there’s the little matter of her wandering.” There’s that word again. Wandering? Wandering, where? “She always did like to go for her walks…but with the river being so close…”
What is she talking about?
“Rebecca? Rebecca? Are you still there?”
The news rushes over me like the rapids over the rocks in a river back home, tugging me this way and that over its jagged edges. Just like the day I nearly drowned. I feel the water rising over my face, sweeping away my breath, about to drag me off in its currents, but my father’s no longer here to save me.
“I wouldn’t have called, it’s just that—” Mrs. Peterson prattles on something about taxes, I find myself being pulled away. Away from Tia, the shop, and everything I’ve dreamed. “Yes, Mrs. Peterson, I’m here.” I glance backward over my shoulder, at Fondant & Lace, Fine Cupcakes and Lingerie.
My shop. Our shop. Tia and me. The one we fought so hard to open.
“No, Mrs. Peterson, I’m glad you did,” I say, biting my lip. It took everything I had to leave Mom and start this place. To leave Heartland. My family. My history. My home.