28 Aug Coffee Shop Girl Sneak Peek
“This place needs to burn to the ground.”
My barista, Anthony, shoved a coffee mug into the sink as he stomped away. Milk splattered the floor at his feet as he tore around the cabinet, heading for the door. The bitter scent of burnt coffee lingered in the air.
Halfway into the Frolicking Moose Coffee Shop, I stopped. “What happened?”
A car pulled up at the drive-through window, the driver peering into the mayhem I’d just walked into myself. I set aside my purse, taking in spilled chai powder, a broken mug on the floor, cream on the counter, and a few hastily tossed dollar bills next to the register, which lay open. Bills spewed from the wrong slots.
Anthony held up his hands. “I’m done. This place is a freaking disaster. Not even an MIT genius could work here.” He started to back away. “The espresso machine stopped working, and the register won’t shut. Again. I burned a batch of coffee while following the ridiculous directions you gave me, and three people have been waiting for ten minutes out there. Five have already driven off. Oh, and the steamer probe is busted.”
I used my hip to push the cash drawer closed, but it kicked back out. The lights weren’t registering. The words espresso machine sent a prickling sensation down my back. “Did you grind the beans?” I asked.
“Please tell me put ground espresso beans in the machine, Anthony,” I whispered.
Half-hysterical, I hurtled to the machine. “We covered that yesterday! There’s already a grinder. Now all the espresso drinks will have grinds in them. We’ll have to rinse the whole thing out.”
“Whatever. I’m done. You don’t even have to pay me, Bethany.” He walked backward now, steps away from disappearing forever. “I’m out.”
“Wait!” I called. “Please, not today. Give me just one hou—”
The front door slammed shut.
Panic pulsed through me. Why did he have to do this today? Today, when I had the biggest meeting of my life!
I quelled the fluttery sensation in my stomach, squared my shoulders, and let out a breath. I’d get through this and still attend my meeting with Dad’s old chum. My absolutely life-altering appointment.
Good thing I’d worn my favorite lipstick today. There was no power like a woman with the right shade, even at eight o’clock in the morning.
“All right,” I said, keeping my voice modulated. “It’s okay. I can still meet with Dave and get the funding I need to start the—”
A bang on the window brought me out of my spiraling anxiety.
“What’s going on in there!” A scowling, white-haired man shielded his eyes from the sun. He squinted from beneath bushy eyebrows. “Where’s my coffee?”
I could do this. Moderating disasters was my jam. Thanks to Mama, I’d been doing it my whole life. Tearing an apron off a hook, I slipped it over my pantsuit and bustled over to the window in knock-off Louboutin high heels. The bells on the door jangled, admitting someone I barely saw out of the corner of my eye. I called out, “Just a minute!” over my shoulder.
“Hi there.” I turned back to the drive-through and pasted on a bright smile. “Just a quick shift change. Sorry about that. What did you order?”
My gaze returned to the inert machine. I paused, then held up a finger. “Ah . . . those aren’t available right now. The machine is . . . prepped for the cleaners.”
He scowled. “Fine. Black coffee.”
“I can do that! The last batch of coffee burned, but I’m putting a new pot on. Would you mind waiting?”
The old man flipped me the bird and punched the gas. His tires squealed away. Stunned, I blinked, then let out a long breath. One down. Three cars waited behind him.
The first driver pulled up with an angry glare, and I clenched my teeth. Fantastic. Mrs. Jones, the wrathful old lady that the whole mountain town of Pineville feared.
“Good morning, Mrs. Jones,” I said with a forced smile.
“My coffee ready yet?”
Her nostrils flared. “I’ve been in line for fifteen minutes.”
“I understand, and I apologize. I—”
“I didn’t give my order to you.”
“Did he quit? Is your business falling apart? You’ll never be your father, you know. You’re doomed to fail.”
My jaw tightened until I thought my teeth might break. Heart pounding, I let out a long breath. “The coffee will be another eight minutes.”
Ten, actually, but let her wait.
She rolled her eyes. “I’ll make it myself. It would probably be faster to harvest my own beans.”
With that, her ancient Cadillac window eased upward, then her car inched forward. I threw myself back into the shop, dumped the coffee out, and frantically poured water for a new pot. A movement out of the corner of my eye caught my attention as I reached for the last of the ground coffee beans.
A tall, broad-shouldered man stood at the counter. Sooty hair, caramel eyes, a dark shadow of stubble on his face. He wore a white T-shirt and a pair of jeans. Underneath the thin white material, I could just make out a hint of tattoos on his left shoulder. The ink trailed to his elbow.
I swallowed hard, taken aback, and forced myself to look back at the coffee maker. The last thing I needed was a large, Viking distraction.
“Just a second,” I croaked.
He kept his eyes on the chalkboard overhead, which I doubted Anthony had updated with the flavor of the day.
Please don’t ask for amaretto, I thought. Please don’t ask for—
“Do you have amaretto?” he asked.
With a grimace, I said, “No, that was from yesterday and we ran out. I believe today is . . . peppermint?”
“Is that a question?”
“Everything is a question today,” I said with a sigh, then headed back to the window, my heels clicking against the floor. “Hold that thought, please.”
I arrived at the window just as another car drove through without stopping, the driver’s lips pressed into a thin line. Relief slid over me like cool water when a familiar SUV pulled up. Jada, a middle-aged woman I thought of more like a mother than a friend, peered out at me.
“Rough day?” she asked, lips parted in a dazzling smile. The woman always had perfect teeth set in her dark brown complexion. She’d lived in Thailand for six months doing humanitarian work as a doctor, and still came back with her grin sparkling. She toyed with the end of a long, thick braid that rested on her shoulder.
I slumped against the window. “Anthony just quit and everything is broken, including myself. In good news, I dreamed about Jason Momoa last night.”
She grinned. “That’ll offset any bad day. I’ll take my usual scone, then. Who needs coffee?”
My nose wrinkled. “No one. Gross. I can’t believe my dad made a living selling it. Scone is free of charge.” I grabbed one from a nearby shelf and shoved it at her without a bag. Then I flipped a light switch on the wall that turned off the OPEN sign out front.
“I’m late to see my patients,” she said with a wink as she threw a twenty into the shop. “Talk to you later.”
No other car came up behind her, so I spun around with a deep, bolstering breath. Time to tackle Mr. Viking, get him something, and send him on his way so I could officially close and take stock of this madness. This utter, chaotic disaster was drowning me in stress and debt, preventing all my professional advancement into the beautiful world of real estate.
Setting aside that unfortunate thought, I stepped up behind the open register. “What can I get you?”
His gaze dropped from the board, meeting mine. My breath caught, but I fought through it, forcing myself to maintain eye contact. His eyes were liquid gold. I’d never seen such a color before.
“We are fresh out of that.”
My voice quieted to a squeak. “That too.”
A flicker of amusement passed over his face as he reached into a back pocket. “How about you tell me what you do have?”
“Scones,” I said, “and bottled water. Until I can figure out the mess that my now-former employee left behind, that’s about as much as you’ll get. Eventually, I’ll have coffee again for you, but it may take . . . fifteen minutes at this rate.”
“Breakfast of champions.” He tossed some cash onto the counter. “Scones and water sound great.”
I slid it back. He had to be kidding. The scones could double as hockey pucks, but I’d take whatever mercy he offered.
“On the house.”
He left the money on the counter as he turned to sit down. My fingers itched to take it, but pride forced me to leave it there. The last thing I needed to be doing was turning away money.
But still . . .
My eyes darted to a clock that featured a prominent salmon Dad had bought while fishing in Alaska. Then I sighed. Nope. Already missed the scholarship meeting with Dave.
Slumping, I leaned against the counter.
“Do you have internet?” the Viking asked. His voice rumbled low and deep, like a roll of thunder sliding across a mountain meadow. Despite my desire to get rid of him, I wanted to wrap myself in it.
“Yes. The password is on the board. Do you want the scone warmed?”
He settled onto a table with his back to the door, leaving his chiseled face in full view. I fought off a swear word and left the cash sitting there. I really didn’t want him to stay. Could I force a customer out?
Dad would turn over in his grave, then reach out and slap me.
With a sigh, I grabbed a new water bottle from the mini fridge beneath the counter, warmed a chocolate chip scone on a plate, set the cash next to it, and delivered them to him without looking at his golden eyes.
He was already tapping away at his computer when he said, “Thanks.”
When I turned to go, my eyes snagged a flash of something near the floor. Loose pants. Thin, specialty shoe. Odd kink in the material. I knew those signs very well.
Grateful to return behind the counter, I made sure the OPEN sign was still off, braced myself for whatever I would find, and set to work. At least Anthony walking out meant I wouldn’t have to pay wages, though shutting down in the middle of rush hour meant I’d lose half of my usual sales for the day. Maybe they’d balance out.
Trying not to total up the lost money of all those cars sailing by, I started mopping up spilled milk on the floor so I could clean up glass shards from the broken cup. I lost myself in the task.
I will not cry.
Not again. There had been enough crying the last eight months to satisfy a lifetime. Still, my mind wandered back to Dave. To the pitch I had planned for the last two months.
A deep throat clearing caught my attention. I gazed up to see the Viking at the counter again. His broad shoulders blocked out the rising sun behind him, casting him in silhouette.
“The internet is turned off.”
His lips tightened, but I couldn’t tell if it was amusement or annoyance now.
“Sorry.” I straightened. “Sorry. That wasn’t about you or . . . I mean . . . give me a second.”
Muttering under my breath again, I stood up, hands milky, and slipped into my closet of an office just down a short hall. Sure enough, the blinking lights were dead.
Register wouldn’t shut.
“Ha!” I called. “Got you now, sucker.”
“Sorry! Not you. Not . . . that was . . . excuse me just a moment. Need to flip a breaker.”
Properly horrified now, I slipped out of my office and down the hall, toward a set of spiral stairs that led to the attic where I lived. My feet were already starting to ache in these shoes. I kicked them off into my attic bedroom and started back up the steps to the very top.
Five minutes later, I crawled out from an access to the electrical panel, dust clinging to my recently dry-cleaned outfit, and returned to the annoying beep of the register.
“Should be up in a moment,” I called and ducked back into my office. With my forehead pressed to the wall, I let out a deep breath, and muttered, “One problem down, 4,153 to go.”
I reached for my lipstick.
Just another day in the life of the owner of an almost-decrepit coffee shop in the middle of the mountains.
One that had just missed her golden opportunity to pursue her ideal life.
Coffee Shop Girl, the first book in the new Coffee Shop Series, comes out on October 4th!
It’s available for preorder now at your favorite retailer.