Read an Excerpt
Stirring Up Trouble
“Now those are some nice-looking buns.”
Madelyn Chamberlain looked up in time to see Emmett Sawyer walk past her bakery. He was up early for a night owl—or perhaps he was up late for him—but as always, the shaggy, laid-back owner of Woody’s, the local bar, was looking casually delicious. He managed to make a simple T-shirt and jeans look sexy. Of course, it helped that his well-worn jeans fit him like they were custom-made. Just the sight of him wearing them caused an uncharacteristic tingle to run through her body. “They sure are,” she muttered to herself.
“Maddie, do they have nuts in them?”
Emmett disappeared from sight, and Maddie turned to look at Miss Dotty as she perused the bakery case. Apparently, Miss Dotty had been referring to the honey buns, not Emmett’s well-fitting jeans. “No, if you want nuts, get the sticky buns instead. They have toasted, candied pecans.”
“Oooh . . . sticky buns.” Miss Dotty moved to the next case and got engrossed in the daily selections.
Maddie was always dumbfounded when customers came in and stared at the choices as though they weren’t the same every day. When she bought the Rosewood Bakery from the late owner’s daughter, Maddie worked with her father to put together a solid business plan. Part of that was being smart about supplies and offerings. When she reopened as Madelyn’s Bakery & Tea House, she decided to serve a standard set of baked goods available on a regular basis. Each day, in addition to any custom orders, she featured one special item, like lemon tarts or chocolate éclairs.
It’d worked well for her so far. Some people came in and got the same treat every day. Others came in on the same day each week for their favorite special. She normally sold out of the white-chocolate-raspberry-cheesecake bars by noon every Tuesday. They did well enough that she was considering adding them as an everyday offering.
Miss Dotty, a daily visitor, had a sweet tooth and no desire to actually bake anymore. Each day, the older woman would wander into the shop and stare intently at the display case, spending upward of fifteen minutes in the shop. And no matter how many questions she asked or how many other items she eyed, she always left with a cinnamon roll.
“You know, I think today I’ll just have my usual,” Dotty decided.
Maddie smothered a grin. “Sure thing.” She slid open the back of the case and pulled out a cinnamon roll. She already had a small pastry box ready to go by the register. “That’s three-fifty.”
Miss Dotty fussed in her purse for a few minutes and then finally pulled out a few rumpled bills. There seemed to be an endless supply of wadded-up bills in the bottom of Miss Dotty’s leather Coach bag. Surely Miss Dotty could afford a wallet, but it seemed that everything just gathered in the bottom; a stockpile of tissues, pennies, receipts, and stray dollar bills.
Maddie was handing back her change when her soon-to-be sister-in-law, Pepper Anthony, came into the bakery. Pepper worked at the hair salon next door.
“Morning,” she said, moving past Miss Dotty to peruse the treats.
Although they were almost family, Pepper and Maddie weren’t close. According to her brother Grant, it was Maddie’s fault, because she was a stuck-up brat. But it wasn’t her fault she had high standards she held everyone—herself included—to. There was no good reason why someone couldn’t put their very best effort in every day, be it in their appearance, their job, or their attitude. Some people were just too lazy to make the cut. And she felt no reason to play nice with people she didn’t have an interest in.
Of course, now that those people were her customers and some of them would soon be members of the Chamberlain family, Maddie had to find a way to be nice to everyone. And she was trying. But it was hard. For all the grief she got from people for being mean to them, she’d had her fair share of mistreatment from others. Being a young, single daughter of the great Chamberlain family had made her a target of gold diggers and haters alike. Only people like her best friend, Lydia Whittaker, understood what that was like.
“Hey, Pepper,” Miss Dotty said as she dumped her change into her purse and scooped up her cinnamon roll box. “Do you have any openings this week?”
“I’m not sure, Miss Dotty. I’ll have to check my calendar,” Pepper said. “I’m taking some treats over to the firehouse right now, but if you want to come by this afternoon, we’ll see what we can find.”
“That sounds good. I think I need a new look.”
Maddie got a large cardboard container out for Pepper’s order. Regardless of how they felt about each other, Pepper was a good customer. Maddie’s brother Grant had a sweet tooth and Pepper wasn’t inclined to bake, so she stopped in fairly often to get treats for him and the other firemen.
“I like your look,” Pepper said. “What’s prompting the change?”
“Well,” Miss Dotty said with a conspiratorial look in her eye, “I think I want to start dating again.”
Maddie froze in her tracks. Miss Dotty was a widow in her late sixties. Her stroke several years back had taken her from eccentric to downright kooky. Maddie kept waiting for the day Miss Dotty decided to streak nude through the square. The idea of her dating was a little disconcerting.
“Ever since the bachelor auction last Valentine’s Day, I’ve been thinking about trying my hand at romance again. I was disappointed, of course, when you outbid me for Grant, but I know he’s too young for me. I need to find someone like Bert. He and Vera have really hit it off.”
“Bert and Vera are dating?” Maddie couldn’t help but ask.
“Yep,” Pepper answered. “For about two months now. They got together at the Fourth of July picnic and have been nearly inseparable since then. You haven’t heard?”
“No,” Maddie said. She didn’t like Pepper’s tone, implying she was stupid somehow for not noticing. Did people not realize that she’d spent all summer getting her new business going? She’d completely overhauled the old Rosewood Bakery. Madelyn’s was on a whole other level. It was elegant and refined, featuring a new selection of French pastries she’d mastered while studying in Paris. The interior was redone with intricately designed blush-and-cream wallpaper and new wainscoting—which hadn’t put itself up, thankyouverymuch. The crystal chandelier was imported from Marseille.
And that was just the beginning. She was working on opening a tea shop in the room over the bakery and was already hosting princess-themed birthday parties there. She didn’t have time to worry about what others were doing, especially when it came to two old people making out like teenagers all over town. “I don’t work in the beauty shop, so I’m not privy to the town gossip. Not that I really care.”
“You should care,” Miss Dotty said. “You might be young and beautiful now, with your choice of suitors, but that won’t always be the case. Someday you may end up like me—an old, withered-up widow with needs. Bert and Vera have given me hope that maybe that itch can get scratched.”
Oh dear Jesus. That was the last image Maddie wanted in her head. She took a deep breath. No, no. She was not going to let those pictures settle into her brain. It was bad enough when she found out that Bert had been responsible for the demise of Rosewood Bakery’s previous owner, who’d died from a heart attack after joining him in a night of passion.
“What can I get you today, Pepper?” Maddie said, trying desperately to shift the subject away from senior sex.
Pepper turned back to the case with a twinkle of amusement in her dark eyes. She seemed to get some pleasure out of Maddie’s discomfort. Someone should enjoy it, she supposed. “Give me a blueberry, and an apple cinnamon muffin, a slice of the orange pound cake—”
“That’s Grant’s favorite,” Maddie piped up brightly.
Pepper looked at her with a deadpan expression. “Yes, I know. A cinnamon roll,” she continued, “and a Bavarian cream horn. That’s for me, so could you put it in a separate box?”
“Sure thing,” Maddie said, although she didn’t really want to. Her pastry boxes were custom-made, pink with embossed gold lettering on the top. They weren’t cheap. Every time she handed one out, she watched that money slip away. She probably needed to invest in some bags for smaller items and some plain boxes, saving the nice ones for more important things. She just hated to do it. It was one of the touches that made Madelyn’s special, and it was good advertising. Advertising her father insisted she didn’t need, given she was the only bakery in town.
Shaking off her father’s doubts, she boxed up Pepper’s order and rang her up. She ignored Pepper and Miss Dotty’s idle chatter while she ran Pepper’s credit card. She was about to slip the signed receipt into the cash drawer when the chime on the front door announced another customer. It was quite the busy Thursday morning.
Maddie looked up in time to see Miss Francine, the owner of the local flower shop, Petal Pushers, rushing through the door. She came by every morning with a bouquet of fresh flowers that Maddie displayed on the counter. She was clutching a bouquet of pale pink hydrangeas and white dahlias, but she didn’t seem particularly interested in the flowers.
“Oh my heavens, have y’all seen it?” Miss Francine was red-faced and absolutely horrified. She thrust the bouquet across the counter to Maddie and shook her head in dismay. “It’s disgraceful.”
“Seen what?” Miss Dotty asked.
Miss Francine took a moment to recover before she could speak of the dreadful thing. “Someone has spray-painted a giant penis on the side of the Piggly Wiggly.”
Miss Dotty snickered. Pepper smothered a snort of laughter. Maddie just sighed. This town was so unrefined sometimes. She worked hard trying to bring some culture and elegance to Rosewood and just when she was starting to make progress, a ten-foot wiener shows up on the side of the grocery store and sets her back months.
“I could see it out the window of my shop this morning. I went to turn the Open placard and there it was in bright red paint like a damn neon sign. Some teenager’s prank, I’m sure. Pat Kincaid, the manager of the grocery store, is out there painting over it right now, but the damage is done. The elementary school bus already went by and all the kids saw it. Clark Newton at the newspaper even snapped a few pictures for the front page of the Rosewood Times tomorrow.”
“There’ll be some interesting discussions around the dinner table tonight,” Pepper mused.
“Indeed. I’m so rattled by the whole thing—I think I might get a little something, Maddie. My blood sugar feels low from the shock of it all.”
She must really be rattled. Miss Francine was not the kind to indulge in sweets and empty calories. For a woman in her sixties, she hadn’t yet fallen prey to the ravages of time. She was nearly six feet tall with the body of an Amazon and a head of neatly coiffed red-gold hair. Miss Francine gazed at the morning’s offerings while Maddie arranged the flowers in a crystal vase.
The hydrangeas were a particularly lovely shade of pink today. A pale, rosy color that went with the wallpaper without overpowering it. They were perfect. Yesterday’s gerbera daisies had been a little too bright for her taste, but part of the agreement she made with Miss Francine was that in exchange for a reduced rate it was florist’s choice and a placard on the counter that noted they were from Petal Pushers.
“Well, I’d better get these treats to the boys before my first appointment,” Pepper said. “I’ll see y’all later. Thanks, Maddie.”
Maddie raised a hand as Pepper slipped out of her shop. That just left Miss Francine and Miss Dotty, although she didn’t really know why Miss Dotty was still here. Nothing better to do, apparently.
Maddie didn’t have that problem. Sunday was her only day off. She got up at 3:00 a.m. every day but Sunday, arriving at the shop by four to start baking the day’s goods. By the time the sun came up, she had trays of cinnamon rolls and sticky buns cooling, muffins and breads baking, and pastry cream whipping up in the mixer. When she opened at eight, most things were ready to go for the day.
The shop closed briefly after the lunch rush for her to get a bite to eat, then reopened and stayed open until five thirty. It was nonstop every day but Sunday, when she went to church, had dinner with her family, and spent the evening working on the shop’s books. Math wasn’t her forte, but she couldn’t afford an accountant. She’d get a much-needed assistant before she got an accountant.
With a sigh, Maddie leaned against the back counter, which was lined with a display of faux cakes. It was only nine in the morning and she was exhausted.
She perked up, moving down the counter where Miss Francine was standing. Miss Dotty was nowhere to be seen, which meant Maddie must’ve half dozed off and not noticed her leaving the shop. “Yes, Miss Francine?”
The woman tilted her head, looking down her long, narrow nose at Maddie. “Are you getting enough sleep?”
“No,” she replied before she could stop herself. “I try to be in bed by seven or eight at night, but sometimes I just lie there while my brain spins. And lately, when I do fall asleep, I get woken up by the noise from the bar.”
Miss Francine narrowed her gaze. “That’s right. You bought the old Victorian across the street from Woody’s, didn’t you?”
“I did. And I love that house, I really do. But between the noise at the bar going until all hours and the stench from the pizza place always in the air, it’s turned out to be less than ideal.”
“Can you move?”
Maddie shook her head. “No. I just bought the place. What little money I do have is tied up in it and the bakery. I owe my father and my grandmother my firstborn. And really, the house is perfect. I wish I could just pick it up and drop it in a different part of town.”
She’d gotten used to the smell of Italian food constantly wafting in through her open windows, but she couldn’t get past the noise. During the week, the bar was open until ten thirty. Fridays and Saturdays, it was open until two in the morning. Not even earplugs and a sound machine could muffle the music, laughter, voices, honking cars, and drunks shouting in the street. One morning, she actually found vomit on her lawn.
“Have you spoken to Mr. Sawyer about the noise?”
Mr. Sawyer? Somehow that name didn’t suit Emmett at all. He was more like a surfer who’d lost his way and wandered inland. He didn’t belong in a town like Rosewood. She couldn’t fathom why he would come to a place like this if he hadn’t been born and raised here. But for some reason, he’d decided to buy Woody’s, revive it, and make her life miserable.
“I tried, once. He told me that while he’d try to tone things down after ten, there were no sound ordinances in Rosewood until that time and, technically, he could make all the noise he wanted before then. Although he tried to be diplomatic about it, he basically told me I shouldn’t have bought a house by the bar. He was there first and if I didn’t like it, I could move.”
Miss Francine nodded in understanding and sympathy. “I always thought it was a shame when they built that bar so close to such a beautiful, historic home. Have you called the cops?”
“Not yet. I feel bad distracting them from doing real police work.”
“Like what?” Miss Francine pressed. “We live in Rosewood, dear. The last lick of crime we had around here was Pat Kincaid’s wife peeping in windows trying to catch him cheating on her. It’s been months since that happened. I’m sure they’d like something to do.”
Maddie frowned. Her brother Simon was a local officer. Perhaps she could get him to help. “Okay. I’ll try that next time.”
“You do that. You need your rest. When 10:01 rolls around, you have that number ready to dial. If they get called out there enough, Woody’s will eventually get fined. Hit him in the pocketbook since he wouldn’t respond to your polite request.”
Maddie would love a good night’s sleep. Just a solid few hours without being woken up would be heaven. “What if that doesn’t work with him? What if calling the cops just makes Emmett angry and he gets louder?”
Miss Francine smiled a smile that told of younger years of deception and craftiness. Maddie had no idea about her past, but she got the feeling they would’ve been partners in crime if they’d been born in the same era.
There was a wicked glint in her eye as she leaned into the case and spoke in the sweetest southern lilt. “Then, my dear Madelyn, that means war.”
With a groan, Maddie grabbed the pillow beside her and tried to smother herself. Maybe she would pass out and get some sleep. When that didn’t work, she rolled over and looked at the neon-green numbers on her alarm clock—9:52. Damn it.
She took a deep breath and tried to suppress her anger. Every night. Every. Night. The thump-thump-thump of the music across the street vibrated in her chest. The sound of people laughing drifted up to her bedroom window. It was Thursday night. Didn’t these people have jobs or homes or someplace else to go?
She felt like the Grinch. Oh, the noise! Noise! Noise! Noise!
Giving up, she sat up in bed and looked around her bedroom with blurry eyes. As much as she loved this room, it had become her nightly prison. Well, a prison with damask wallpaper and chenille blankets. The master suite was on the second floor, facing the street and the bar across from it. The lights of Woody’s parking lot lit up her lace curtains and cast her room in a golden glow.
Maddie flung back her comforter and got out of bed. She grabbed her cell phone off the charger and carried it down the hallway to her guest room. This room was smaller and filled mostly with boxes and junk she wasn’t sure what to do with yet, but it had a bed and it was at the back of the house. At this point, she wanted to be as far from Woody’s as she could get.
She switched on the light and moved a couple of plastic totes filled with her winter clothes off the bed. She pulled back the eyelet lace comforter and switched on the small Tiffany-style lamp on the bedside stand before she turned off the overhead light.
Maddie crawled into bed and snuggled into the soft sheets. She felt her body instantly relax into sleep. She turned off the lamp and found that the room was blessedly dark. And quiet.
With a sigh, she closed her eyes. The elusive fog of sleep wrapped around her, luring her off to her much-needed rest. She was seconds from oblivion when she heard it.
“Oh my God. Oh my God. That is the funniest thing I’ve ever heard. Curt! Curtis! You’ve got to hear this.” The shrill but slightly slurred woman’s voice was like an ice pick in Maddie’s ear. “Jesse, you’ve got to tell that story to Curt.”
Maddie gritted her teeth and screamed in frustration. She couldn’t hear the music in this bedroom, but the people loitering in the parking lot might as well be sitting on her bed as they told their drunken tales.
“I love tequila!” someone shouted. Another woman, judging by the high-pitched shriek. “Tequila is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I really mean that.”
Maddie was certain the woman wouldn’t feel the same way come morning. Tequila certainly wasn’t the best thing to ever happen to her. Tequila, vodka, rum, whiskey, beer . . . all of it was crossed off her list and had been long before she moved in across the street from Woody’s. Alcohol lowered your inhibitions, dulled your senses, and left a person vulnerable.
She knew as well as anyone what could happen to someone in that state. The biggest mistake she’d ever made involved a bottle of wine and a solid dose of naïveté. She’d regretted that night her whole life and couldn’t fathom why someone would deliberately put themselves in that position. Dollar shots on ladies’ night just didn’t seem like a good enough reason.
That’s when they started to sing. At first it was one or two drunks, then a whole chorus of them joined in for a rousing rendition of “American Pie.” All twenty-seven verses.
This was too much. Maddie couldn’t take any more.
Rolling over, she picked up her phone. It was after ten now. If things quieted down soon, she could get five hours of sleep. A whopping five to get her through a nearly fourteen-hour workday. Owning your own business wasn’t for sissies. And neither was living across the street from the only bar in a small town with nothing to really do in the evenings. This town needed more community activities, especially for the younger, single residents. Perhaps the Jaycees or the fund-raiser committee could organize something.
She didn’t blame the bar for being what it was. But she desperately needed sleep. People could party all night Friday if she could just get some quiet weeknights.
Maybe Miss Francine was right. Technically, the bar was breaking the sound ordinance. Maddie’s wasn’t the only home within earshot. It was right to report them. Let Emmett and the cops work it out. She dialed the local authorities and waited for someone to answer.
“Rosewood Sheriff’s Department,” a chipper woman’s voice answered. “How can I assist you?”
“Hello? Yes, this is Madelyn Chamberlain. I’d like to make a noise complaint.”