Where have I been? That’s a silly question because I obviously haven’t left the house or even wandered very far from my desk because of all that’s going on OUT THERE. But I’ve been away and a stranger, haven’t I? I’m sorry but I come bearing wonderful news. We’re blowing this pop stand and going someplace “new” and exciting! We’re going to Bisbee and meeting a whole new cast of lifelong friends and a very special pair of soulmates in Haunted Hearts. Cace and Lorrie are the most fated mates I’ve ever written but Lorrie broke them when he left town twenty-five years ago. Lorrie thought he had to make something of himself but he’s learned how stupid that was and has returned to collect his man and make amends. It’s a rocky road but Lorrie’s ready to do the work. Unfortunately, a ghost and a few copycat killings complicates things and Lorrie turns to “The Bachelors’ Club” to find a killer and solve a mystery. How about a whole chapter excerpt? See below!
The shoe finally dropped after the morning rush. But it felt more like an anvil and Cace knew it was coming. He woke up nervous and cried in the shower. He burned himself twice while steaming milk and spilled a 5 pound bag of beans behind the counter.
“Please take a break,” Owen ordered and pointed at Cace’s chair at the table. Baxter used his foot to push it out and gave the seat a pat.
“You look like hell,” Baxter noted as Cace collapsed into the chair and scrubbed his face with his hands.
“Yup,” Beau grunted into his mug. “You’re wearing two pairs of reading glasses and your eyes are as red as Russ’s coat but you’re fine.”
Russ was wearing a dashing berry red velvet blazer but Cace had a feeling Beau wasn’t exaggerating all that much. Cace glanced down at the pair of reading glasses hanging from his shirt pocket as he touched the pair resting on top of his head. The door opened and time stopped, a record scratched and there was a moody lowering of the lights as Lorrie Nixon walked in.
Of all the coffee shops in all the towns in all the world, he walks into mine.
“The nerve of this asshole,” Beau muttered as he started to rise but Cace threw him a hard look.
“You need to work that out someplace that isn’t my place of business. I can take care of myself,” he said quickly as he stood on legs that didn’t feel solid and wobbled forward.
“Here come the fireworks,” Baxter whispered to Russ as he took cover behind his mug.
“There aren’t going to be any fireworks,” Cace repeated under his breath then turned to face Lorrie.
But there were fireworks when Lorrie pushed open the door and stepped inside Cace’s coffee shop. They weren’t the good kind of fireworks, though. They were terrible, like a forgotten box in a basement under an old stack of burlap sacks next to an overturned kerosene lamp. An awful burst of longing and pain merged with joy and nostalgia as Cace was hit with a barrage of memories. Why did I think I was ready for this?
Cace didn’t see the renowned yet aloof artist, as Lorrie shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans and scanned the menu and counter. His long blond hair was less golden and more ash with streaks of grey and there was grey in the stubble that clung to his jaw but he was the same Lorrie Cace kissed by the Lavender Pit when they were fourteen. Lorrie’s gaze tightened on Owen for a moment. Cace knew by the twitch in Lorrie’s jaw that he was getting burned too and it hurt. They used Jake’s sister’s eggs but Owen looked so much like Cace at twenty, they could have been twins. There was a shimmer in Lorrie’s eyes when he finally found Cace and they both understood why it took him almost a week to make his way to The Bisbee Bean Company.
Don’t do this where they can hear, Cace warned himself and hurried between the handful of tables and chairs so Lorrie wouldn’t need to venture too far past the counter.
“It’s great to see you again, Lorrie,” Cace said loudly as he offered his hand. Cace smiled and could feel that it was too tight. Lorrie noticed but he grabbed Cace’s hand and pulled him into a hug.
“It’s been way too long. You look great, Cacie,” Lorrie said as his hands spread and patted. Cace held on for a moment and wondered why it felt exactly the same and how Lorrie could still smell the same. He sniffed hard and wondered if he actually caught a whiff of pyrite and other sulfides from the pit or if it was just his imagination. Cace cleared his throat so his voice would work and pulled in a deep breath as he leaned back and pretended to look Lorrie over.
“Still wearing your hair in a bun,” Cace teased and Lorrie pulled a face.
“All the kids are wearing their hair in buns now. I told you it would be in style one day.”
“Is it, though?” Cace wondered out loud then rolled his eyes and gave Lorrie’s shoulder a shove. “It still works on you. How have you been?” He asked then silently begged Lorrie to keep this neat and relatively painless.
“Pretty good but a lot of procrastinating on all the unpacking. I’ve barely had a chance to look around and see what’s still here and what’s new,” he said. Cace pushed out a loud, relieved breath. That was safe enough.
“I think you’ll be impressed. Just about everyone’s still here but we’ve had another little boom and some new businesses came in. Warren’s a lot nicer,” Cace said.
“That’s great. How have you been?” Lorrie asked with a quick tug at his glasses. They were the same thick black frames and the soft blue of Lorrie’s eyes was as seeking and mesmerizing as Cace remembered.
“Great,” Cace said weakly but there were more of the dreadful fireworks in his psyche’s basement. “Great. We stay pretty busy and I just ordered a panini press so we can add hot sandwiches to the menu soon.”
“Oh?” Lorrie’s brow cocked because Cace was rambling. He always rambled when he couldn’t run away from something uncomfortable. Cace’s lips pulled tight and he gave him a hard look.
“You’ve had me walking on eggshells for days.”
“I thought it might get easier if I gave it a while or if we crossed paths naturally,” Lorrie confided sheepishly. He pushed his hands deeper into his pockets and grimaced at his Dr. Martens. They were flecked with paint and Cace snorted. He wouldn’t be surprised if they were the very same Docs Lorrie bought with his first paycheck. Not that Lorrie couldn’t afford a new pair. He had a sculpture in The National Gallery of Art and painted two presidents. He was worth millions but he was ridiculously sentimental and superstitious. His mom was a palm reader and raised Lorrie to believe in tarot and crystals and he wore the friendship bracelet Cace gave him when they were seven until they broke up.
“How did that work out for you?” Cace asked. Lorrie hummed and grinned drowsily as he swayed closer.
“It hurts a hell of a lot more than I was expecting but you really do look great, Cacie. Can I steal you away for an hour or two? I could use a tour guide. Everything’s changed and I can’t remember anyone’s name,” he murmured and it was low and warm and tickled. Like it always did, once Lorrie’s voice got deeper. Cace held up a hand and shook his head.
“Nope. That’s a terrible idea and you know it,” he stated firmly. “And you never forget a name or a face. You have a photographic memory and a mnemonic for everything.”
“You said you were glad I was coming back.”
“I am. It’s great for you and for the town,” Cace said and Lorrie made a knowing sound.
“But not for you. You’re still mad at me,” he accused. Cace shook his head again.
“It’s fine and I’m glad you came to clear the air. I’m not mad at you because I understand and everything worked out for the best. But I don’t want to open that can of worms or we will end up mad at each other and I don’t need that kind of stress and awkwardness. Let’s just be adults and give each other space. You know Baxter and Beau, and Russ knows his way around just as well as we do by now. I bet he’d love to give you a private tour,” he said as he waved at the group around the table in the corner.
“I’ll catch up with Baxter later and steer clear of Beau until I know he won’t crack my skull open,” Lorrie replied, dismissing Russ.
“I’ll have a word with Beau,” Cace said. He looked like he wanted to harm Lorrie so Cace gestured for him to dial it down.
“I’m not sure if he’s ready to forgive me. I tried to slip in and get a beer at Eloy’s six years ago and he threw an Electric Brew at me.”
“Give him time. He can’t hold a grudge and he’s too soft to stay mad,” Cace said.
“Still all bark?”
“Oh, he could split your skull, if he was half as mean as he looks. He’ll hop over the counter and start swinging if things get out of hand in Eloy’s but he’s still a pushover.”
“Good to know,” Lorrie chuckled but it became heavy. “I hope you didn’t think I was looking for anything more than a chance to talk it out and see if we could start over.” He raised his brows hopefully but Cace’s lips twisted.
“I think we’ve said the most important things. I’m not mad at you and we’ve cleared the air. I think we can start over from here and treat each other with respect and professionalism. We’ve both got businesses to run and we’re practically neighbors.” He smiled brightly and offered Lorrie his hand. Lorrie hesitated for a moment then grabbed it and pulled Cace close.
“Respect and professionalism? You always were the hard one,” he whispered. Cace hated his body for the shiver that skipped down his spine and the hairs that stood on the back of his neck.
“What is it you want? A fight?” He rasped and the drowsy charm was back. Lorrie flashed Cace a wicked grin as he pulled his wallet from the back pocket of his jeans.
“Absolutely not but I was expecting one,” he admitted behind his hand then stepped around Cace and headed for the counter. Cace’s head pushed forward but whatever was supposed to happen in his skull didn’t so he just blinked at the postcards. “You must be Owen. I’m Lorrie Nixon. Your dad and I go back,” Lorrie announced and Cace was horrified as he retreated from the nightmare unfolding in his coffee shop. Owen knew who Lorrie was and was immediately dazzled but he didn’t know who Lorrie was. Cace was dizzy and a little nauseous as he watched his past and present collide. He reached behind him to make sure he didn’t bump into anything as he backed away then fell into his seat at the table.
“That looked rough,” Russ said then yelped when Beau hit him in the back of the head.
“Stop hitting people, Beau,” Cace muttered but his heart wasn’t in it. Cace felt like he could use a punch in the face and wondered if Beau would be willing to accommodate him. “Or, maybe punch Lorrie.”
See what I mean? We’re off to an angsty start and we haven’t even got to the ghosts and MURDER yet!