Delightful: Big Sky Pie #3

Delightful

Adrianne Lee

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For Jami Davenport, a plotting genius, my personal cheerleader who writes re
al
ly great male POV.

THANK YOU:

Larry and Spooky—for making me laugh when I most need it.

Kate Cassidy, registered sanitarian with Flathead City-County Health Department—for helping me keep the facts straight.

Karen Papandrew—for having an eagle editing eye, and for offers of help and cheering me on when I needed both.

Gail Fortune—my fabulous agent.

Jessica Bromberg—for offering me so many promotional opportunities.

Claire Brown—for giving the Big Sky Pie series such great covers.

Alex Logan—for her red pen edits, her knowledge of punctuation, her hard work on my behalf, and all the times she makes me smile.

A
couple of bites of my caramel apple pie and a man will look puppy-eyed at you,” Molly McCoy, proprietor of Big Sky Pie, said. “A whole slice and he’s liable to get down on one knee and offer a ring.”

“Hah,” Andrea Lovette, assistant manager of the Kalispell, Montana, pie shop, scoffed as she filled in the space for
Specialty of the Month
on the blackboard menu. “Oh, I’ll give you that the pie smells like a little piece of heaven, but if all it took to snag a husband was a delightful mix of cinnamon, caramel, and green apple stuffed into a flaky, buttery crust, every marriage-minded female this side of Flat Head Lake would be flocking to our doorstep in droves. And that is sadly not the case.”

“I’m worried about the falling receipts, too, dear.” Only Molly—red hair spiked, bright blue eyes full of smiles, wiping her hands on her apron as she surveyed the café and nodding approval—didn’t look worried. Sunlight spilled into the room, glancing off the red tablecloths, beige walls, and accents of white and giving the space the warm ambience of a tearoom. “It’s a known fact that restaurants generally lose money the first year or two after opening. I discussed that with my accountant before I applied for a building permit to remodel this place. So stop fretting.”

“But we started out with such a bang.” Andrea leaned back slightly on the stepladder and studied her handiwork, checking the lettering for spelling and readability. Satisfied, she descended the ladder, set it behind the front counter, and glanced around the empty café, each booth and table set and ready for customers. If only some would come in. She met Molly’s gaze. “That huge chamber of commerce event at the mall, our grand opening gala, catering a couple of weddings and anniversary parties…”

Molly helped herself to tea. “Summer is always going to be a big season for us with all the tourists adding to the regular customers, but we have to expect business will dip once autumn arrives. Folks are busy gearing up for winter, or dieting before the holidays, or school’s starting.”

Seeking a diversion, Andrea glanced out the front windows. No cars in the parking lot, no one walking toward the door. She sighed. “I guess being a single mom of two, I’m always thinking of the budget’s bottom line.”

“You need something else to busy your mind. Like a man.”

“Okay, there seems to be a theme to this conversation.”
A theme about me, men, and marriage.
Andrea strode to the coffee counter, refilled her mug, and added a layer of caffeine to the anxiety in her stomach. “You aren’t adding matchmaker to your résumé, are you?”

“No dear.” Molly retied her apron around her middle, a middle that had shrunk considerably since her triple-bypass surgery four months ago. The heart-healthy diet was doing wonders for her figure, even if she grumbled constantly about “rabbit fodder.” But now there was a mother-knows-all expression in her twinkly blue eyes. “I just noticed that wistful look you had at Nick and Jane’s wedding this past summer. The same look that comes over you whenever Quint and Callee are in here together. You miss having a steady fella in your life.”

Andrea breathed a little easier, tucking a strand of thick blond hair behind one ear, glad that there were no blind-date setups to cancel. On some level, she knew what Molly said was true, but she found herself denying it. “No. I don’t.”

“You do.” Molly gave her a sad, indulgent smile. “Maybe it just takes one to know one, dear.”

Andrea’s heart clutched. Molly had lost her husband suddenly last winter, and his loss was still keen. She crossed to Molly and hugged her around the shoulders. “Donnie Lovette was no Jimmy McCoy. He was not the love of my life. I was young and stupid and should never have eloped with him or agreed to spend our first years on the rodeo circuit. My sons paid for those bad decisions.”
Were still paying.

“Ah, but then you wouldn’t have had Logan and Lucas, and your life would be so much poorer for it.”

Andrea couldn’t dispute that. Her sons were the only two things she and Donnie had gotten right. “But if I had it to do over, I’d only consider marrying someone who would make a great father, someone steady that the boys and I could count on.”

“You’d marry someone you didn’t love?”

She shrugged. “If he was a great father, sure. Why not? Love is overrated.”

Molly’s eyebrows rose in disbelief. “You’ve seen proof to the contrary of that lately, right here in this very pie shop.”

Andrea moaned to herself. “Yeah, well, I’m too busy for a serious relationship.”

Molly laughed. “Love doesn’t work like that. It’s inconvenient. Messy. It comes along when you least expect it, or aren’t looking for it, or really can’t see how to fit it into your life.”

That’s a scary notion.
Was it true? Andrea wouldn’t know. What she thought was love when she married Donnie had more likely been raging teenage hormones. She’d never met a guy who’d made her feel whatever it was she saw in Callee’s and Jane’s eyes. She probably never would, given her weakness.

When it came to the opposite sex, her radar zeroed in on bad boys as if it were hardwired into her genes. She couldn’t help herself. Line up a wall of eligible husband-types, toss in a confirmed bachelor, blindfold her, and she would chose the one-night-stand guy. Every. Single. Time. It was her fatal flaw, the thing she would change about herself, if she could. That thing she could never tell Molly.

“You know, this is just the kind of conversation that would be great on our reality show,” Molly said, sipping her tea with the innocence of the Pope.

Andrea winced. This past summer, without bothering to first okay it with her staff, Molly had contracted with a Los Angeles production team for a pilot to be shot and shopped to the networks. Filming was supposed to commence by the end of this week. Even though the staff voted to go forward with the pilot, the closer the time came for shooting to start, the more misgivings Andrea had.

And the giddier Molly became. “I can’t wait for the camera crew to show up.”

Andrea could wait. She foresaw nothing but chaos and disaster in this undertaking. There was too much potential for things to go wrong. Close-the-shop wrong. “I have some serious reservations about the reality show. This is a small town. The bulk of our customers are people we know.”

“Don’t you see? That’s the beauty of it. They’ll tell their friends and family to watch the show. It will up our viewers and our ratings.”

Andrea wondered why Molly couldn’t see the pitfalls. The downside. “We’ll become instant celebrities. The public will feel as if they know us personally. We’ll have no buffer between them and us. Anything we say on the show is going to be out there, reviewed, dissected, analyzed. Everyone will be gossiping about us.”

Molly’s grin widened. “Of course they will. And they’ll be coming in for pie.”

“But have you seen how cutthroat shows like
Project Runway
and
Survivor
can be?”

Molly shook her head, giving a dismissive wave of her hand. “Those shows are contests. We’re a family here. We’ll be more like…the Kardashians.”

Every bad consequence Andrea had ever imagined bounced through her mind.

“Besides, dear,” Molly said, “we need the exposure to get folks back in here on a more regular basis. That will help the bottom line you’re so anxious about. I’m counting on it to put us back in the black.”

This shot down every objection that had occurred to Andrea. Molly was more concerned about the downturn in business than she was letting on. Andrea understood on a very basic level. Sometimes you had to do whatever it took to take care of your child, and to Molly, this pie shop was like a child. “All right, then. I promise I’ll do my best to ensure the pilot is as entertaining as …
The Real Housewives of Kalispell
.”

Molly’s brows arched. “There is no such show. Oh, ha. I see. That’s funny.” They laughed. Then a familiar, determined gleam returned to Molly’s eye. “Now let’s work on getting you a husband. Hmm. Who would make a good candidate?”

“Oh, no you don’t.” Andrea raised her palms to ward off the very notion.

“Okay, I’ll have to think on it anyway.” Humming, Molly retreated to the kitchen.

Five minutes later, the bell over the door sounded, and Andrea turned toward it in anticipation of customers, but it was only Suzilynn, their part-time counter help, arriving after school. The pert brunette, whose ponytail reached to her waist, had a friendly demeanor, did as she was told, but was not a self-starter. Her eyes popped wide behind wire-rimmed glasses. “OMG. It smells like my grandpa’s apple orchard in here, only a gazillion times sweeter.”

“Molly’s newest recipe.”

“Maybe we should prop open the door to lure in some customers. This place is deader than my cell phone.”

“It’s early yet,” Andrea said, trying to reassure herself as much as to counter any bad vibes that statement conjured.

“If Ms. McCoy would play rap music instead of country, I could get my friends to come in after school.”

Andrea bit her tongue to keep from reminding the girl that Big Sky Pie was a pie shop, not a teenager hangout. “Or maybe you could suggest they bring in their families for dessert after dinner.”

Suzilynn’s mouth puckered as if it were full of vinegar. “Their families?”

Andrea gave up, feeling old for not relating to this teenager. Not that long ago, she’d been a teen, right? “Until someone comes in, you can keep busy refilling the sugar holders. I have to make a couple of phone calls.”

“If someone does come in, should I get you?” Suzilynn pushed her glasses up her nose.

“Not unless it’s a stampede. Just take orders and serve the desserts.” Andrea stifled her frustration. Suzilynn was capable of handling the café alone as long as there were no more than two tables of customers at the same time. Andrea seriously doubted that would be a problem today.

As Andrea stepped into the kitchen, a sorrowful country tune issued from the CD player. The kitchen staff was gone, the last of the day’s pies were cooling on the racks, and Molly was wiping down the work area to ready it for tomorrow, singing along, making up words she didn’t know, her voice off-key. Sunlight shone in through the row of windows at the back wall and glinted off the stainless steel appliances. The cabinets were French Country, creamy and soothing, the large island workstation a solid slab of marble, its consistently cold surface the best for rolling pie dough.

Andrea made her calls, then came back out to find Molly finishing up. Molly handed her two pies. “These need to go out front. And I’m heading home.”

“See you tomorrow.” Andrea carried two pies to the display cases in the café. As she settled them onto a glass refrigerator shelf, she noted that in her absence a couple of men had arrived.
Good.
They sat in the middle of the three booths, conversing in low tones, viewing something on an iPad. The baby-faced one didn’t seem much older than Suzilynn, a lanky, pink-cheeked kid, all legs and arms he had yet to grow into. The other guy was shorter, but well built, and surprisingly tan for someone with natural red hair. They were halfway through the specialty dessert à la mode.

Suzilynn had served them without mishap, Andrea was glad to see. Maybe all the girl needed was some confidence-building encouragement. She made a note to herself to offer praise whenever she could. She motioned for Suzilynn to see if the men needed more coffee. Suzilynn blushed, glanced at Baby Face, and caught his eye. His flirty, puppy-dog grin brought to mind Molly’s words about the caramel apple pie.

Andrea shook her head, smiling to herself, and then she realized the redhead had focused on her. He said something she couldn’t hear to his companion, and then both guys were glancing at her like they were auditioning the future mother of their children.

Andrea’s spine stiffened.
As if.
Molly was wrong. She didn’t need or want a husband. A man couldn’t define her life or make it better. In fact, given her one and only foray into that not-so-happy state of matrimony, she’d rather avoid it forever. But was that fair to her two little boys? Mommy-guilt fell over her like a wet blanket. They had no man in their lives, no father figure, and there were just some roles a mom and grandma couldn’t fulfill. For their sakes, shouldn’t she try to find a guy who would make a wonderful stepfather? Didn’t she owe them that?

Of course she did.

The bell over the café door jangled, announcing more customers, and before she could even glance up to greet the new arrivals, her bad-boy antennae began to twitch. A moment later, he filled the doorway, tall, blond, tan, with mirrored aviators and an unconscious swagger. Her knees went weak.
God help me.
He wore Harley boots, torn jeans, a leather jacket, and an I-don’t-give-a shit-about-anything attitude. Exactly her type.
Be still, my heart.
But that disobedient organ boogied inside her chest like a drunken line dancer, her pulse thrumming to the beat of an erotic guitar.

She braced herself and carried a menu to his table near the café’s bay windows. “Welcome to Big Sky Pie. May I get you something to drink?”

“Depends,” he said in a drawl that rivaled Sam Elliott’s gravelly voice. He lifted his face, the lenses hiding his eyes. “What are you offering?”

Tingles rocked through Andrea, and she almost responded, “My body,” but swallowed the words. “We have milk, coffee, espresso, tea, and water.”

“Espresso.” He rattled off some concoction with five ingredients.

Andrea laughed. “This isn’t Starbucks. Our espresso is the basic brew.”

“Then basic it is.” His smile flashed teeth that were brighter than the porcelain sink in her apartment bathroom. Her gaze fell to his hands. No wedding ring. Not that that meant a thing. His kind never wore rings. She’d bet he was on a road trip, out for a good time with any and every female who crossed his path. No strings attached. Again, exactly her usual choice in lovers.

She swallowed hard as thoughts of making love with this man began stirring sensuous images and heating her blood. She turned to get his drink, but he stopped her. “Andrea?”

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