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Southern Pasta Shop Mysteries Boxed Set (Books 1-3)

Southern Pasta Shop Mysteries Boxed Set (Books 1-3)

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Southern Pasta Shop Mysteries Boxed Set (Books 1-3)

Lunghezza:
853 pagine
14 ore
Pubblicato:
Feb 28, 2017
ISBN:
9781943587919
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

From USA Today bestselling author Jennifer L. Hart comes a boxed set of three deliciously deadly mysteries featuring restaurateur Andy Buckland and her hilarious zany Italian family. This boxed set includes the first three, full length novels—and tasty recipes!—in the #1 bestselling Southern Pasta Shop Mysteries series, including:

Murder Al Dente
Pretty please with spaghetti on top?
Andy Buckland has always dreamed of being a chef. But after a live studio audience is stricken with food poisoning during her debut cooking show, she finds herself blacklisted in the culinary community. The only job open to her is working in her family's southern pasta shop, and, to make matters worse, her first assignment is serving baked ziti to her former lover and his spoiled bride-to-be at their engagement party! But a broken heart and a bruised ego are the least of Andy's troubles when she discovers a dead body at the party with the words "welcome home" written in flour next to it. Is it a warning? A threat? Or a frame-up job? Andy is determined to find out. With the help of her over-the-top Italian family, Andy will prove that she has what it takes to not only cook the best dish in town but also catch a killer, too!

Murder À La Flambé
If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen...
Andy Buckland isn't thrilled when sexpot celebrity chef Lacy L'Amour decides to open a competing ethnic restaurant in small-town Beaverton...right across the street from Andy's pasta shop, the Bowtie Angel. And matters heat up when L'Amour sets her sights on both Andy's customers and her man, Malcolm Jones, who has been acting strange lately. But all of that pales in comparison when Andy’s long lost daughter is suspected of arson. Suddenly the town’s outrage reaches a rapid boil, and the future of the Buckland-Rosetti clan is about to go up in flames. Can Andy beat the competition, keep her man, and catch an arsonist before her hard won reputation is reduced to cinders?

Murder Al Fresco
Redemption never tasted so sweet...
Andy Buckland is no stranger to TV. The worst moment of her career happened when a live studio audience got food poisoning from one of her dishes. But when the pasta guru is given a slot in the televised cooking competition Diced Showdown, she sees her chance at redemption. In exchange for the shot at vindication Andy and her fiancé, Malcolm Jones, are tasked to find the identity of a mysterious blogger who has a nasty habit of revealing detrimental secrets of the show’s top celebrity chefs. A little undercover sleuthing is one thing, but when her hometown is taken over by the show’s production and one of the judges winds up dead, Andy’s afraid she’s bitten off more than she can chew, and she might just choke on a dish best served cold.

Southern Pasta Shop Mysteries:
Murder Al Dente – book #1
Christmas Al Dente – holiday short story
Murder A La Flambé – book #2
Murder Al Fresco – book #3

Pubblicato:
Feb 28, 2017
ISBN:
9781943587919
Formato:
Libro

Informazioni sull'autore

Jennifer L Hart knows that surviving as military spouse takes persistence, comfort food and a stellar sense of humor. Her books often focus on people who've lived the military lifestyle and zany antics of neurotic heroines, who like to eat, drink and have fun. Her works include the Misadventures of the Laundry Hag mystery series, the Damaged Goods mystery series and Murder Al Dente, coming soon from Gemma Halliday Presents.  

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Southern Pasta Shop Mysteries Boxed Set (Books 1-3) - Jennifer L Hart

DENTE

by

JENNIFER L. HART

* * * * *

Dedication:

To my critique partner-in-crime, Saranna DeWylde,

who read every stinking version of this book until it was a book worth reading,

all because she believed it could be so.

Love you, doll.

* * * * *

PROLOGUE

Five minutes, Ms. Buckland. Mimi, Chef Zoltan Farnsworth's assistant, poked her head into the closet I'd been given to use as a dressing room.

I grinned at her. Thanks. He has you herding the entire studio, now, huh? Why do you put up with him, Mimi? She was a talented pastry chef in her own right, but Zoltan Farnsworth treated her like dirt. Not that that was unusual for him. Farnsworth treated everyone like dirt. It was practically his brand.

He is not so bad. She paused, seemed to consider, and said in her careful Asian accent, "Well, he is bad."

Hey, when I'm Flavor TV's next big thing, I'll hire you right out from under his mustache. I took a deep breath, checked my appearance one last time in the chipped mirror, and pasted on a smile. First I have to go out there and blow their doors off.

You will do very well, I am sure. Mimi offered me a smile, dipped her head, and bustled off.

I made my way to Studio C where a live audience was already tasting samples of the culinary concoction I'd whipped up. Much to my relief, everyone appeared to be enjoying themselves. My cell buzzed, and I checked the display. A text from Donna Muller, my best friend since high school, and I grinned at her message.

Knock 'em dead!

Donna knew better than pretty much anyone else how hard I'd worked for this moment. After being raised by my very Italian grandmother and great aunt who ran the small town's pasta shop, it was possible I had marinara instead of blood.

One of the techs signaled me, and I quickly stowed my phone, lifted my arms, and let him attach my microphone. We did a sound check, and I was good to go.

All set? The producer, Stacy DeAngelo scurried over, tablet in hand. She didn't wait for a response but gave me a light shove in the direction of the stage.

My nerves got the best of me when I saw what appeared to be a sea of faces, all of whom looked at me expectantly. Oh no. I'd told everyone I knew about this. My grandfather, Pops, was tuned in along with my great aunt Cecily. The entire population of Beaverton, N.C, all 21,086 of them, were probably watching the Atlanta based television station.

Kyle was watching. No, no he wasn't. The sheriff had more important things to do on a weekday afternoon than watch his ex-girlfriend make an idiot out of herself on live television.

Then, my canned music started and my feet unfroze. Is it just me or does pasta get a bad rap? I asked the audience. Mostly smiles, but a few nods. Let me tell you, there is not a more versatile food in the world. It can be light or heavy, served as a side dish or the main course, or even dessert.

I lowered my voice to a hush, which of course the microphone projected. Just don't tell my great aunt Cecily I said that. She's a purist.

Several chuckles. My confidence grew, and I returned to my normal easygoing drawl. Today, I'm going to show you linguini's true potential when served with fresh clams in a white wine sauce. So, here's what you'll need. I'd been over the spiel at least a thousand times in my head, and as I spoke, I moved around my kitchen, which was really a set that had been made to look like a cozy country kitchen. Nothing too ostentatious. Flavor was a relatively new cable channel, and I was supposed to be a girl-next-door kind of cook. Al Dente, my brand spanking new cooking show, focused on the ins and outs of pasta, not high end appliances. But the new countertops practically sparkled, and I could see my face in the gleaming stainless steel refrigerator as I extracted the clams.

While the water came to a boil, I added a little background to my instructions. "In Italian, al dente means 'to the tooth.' The perfect al dente pasta will have a little resistance when you bite into it. Nothing ruins a meal like overcooked noodles. Cooking times will vary depending on the shape of pasta and thickness. For instance, vermicelli or angel hair will take less time to cook to al dente perfection than fettuccini or shells."

The first segment of the show seemed to fly by, and before I knew it, I was being signaled that it was time for our three minute intermission.

You're doing great. Stacy looked up from her iPad, her expression approving. She'd gone to bat for me with the network execs when I'd pitched her the concept for the show. She said she'd seen something in me, and she'd fought hard to get me this chance. I wanted to prove her right. "By this time tomorrow you'll have a ton of sponsors."

I beamed. I can't believe it, but at one point I actually forgot I was on camera.

That's how it goes. We're back in ten seconds.

My return to the stage-slash-kitchen was much smoother this time, and I talked about pairing wines with different dishes. Before I knew it, the meal was assembled. Smells great. Just the right combination of garlic and wine really brings the pasta and clams together in perfect harmony. Don't take my word for it though, what does our audience think?

Thunderous clapping accompanied by a few wolf whistles. Perfect.

And we have a special treat for you. Chef Zoltan Farnsworth is here to join me for the tasting. It hadn't been my idea, but the network insisted a guest spot by their number one cooking show host would help boost my numbers.

From the sound of the audience clapping to greet the pastry chef, they were right.

Farnsworth strutted like a peacock and did a little faux air kiss thing in greeting. It smells…pungent in here, he said with a smug smile.

Jeez, not exactly a compliment. He couldn't have gone for aromatic or fragrant? I made my tone light as I said, Garlic will do that. One of my favorite scents in the world.

After dishing out a serving for Chef Farnsworth, I sat down to mock eat my own serving of pasta. How is it?

Excellent, Farnsworth said, surprising me. Maybe he wasn't such a bad guy. Though a bit more salt wouldn't hurt.

I didn't roll my eyes, but it was a struggle. Well— The sound of retching came from the audience, and my head whipped around so fast I bumped my microphone. Was I being heckled?

Then again, from another section. Definitely vomiting this time, and my heart stumbled in my chest. What's going on?

Frantic movement caught my attention, and I turned in my seat to see Stacy, her eyes huge, her face pale. She was mouthing something to me.

Something that looked like bad clams.

I was on my feet in an instant. Don't eat it! I shouted at the audience.

Some people looked startled, others angry.

My phone buzzed again, but I ignored it. Multiple people were bent over, obviously sick. Oh dear sweet Lord, I'd given my audience food poisoning on live television. Zoltan was on his feet, hands in the air, ranting about incompetent cooks. About me.

Call 911, I said to Mimi, who was hovering by Stacy's side. We need to get these people medical treatment, now.

We'll take care of it. Stacy said, not unkindly. You'd better go, Andy.

But—

She shoved me again, this time in the direction of the exit. Go.

I went, stunned by what had just happened.

CHAPTER ONE

Three months later….

Pops? It's Andy. If you're there pick up. Pretty please with spaghetti on top? My hands- free device was on the fritz, and I had my cell cradled between my ear and my shoulder, praying my grandfather would hear my voice and pick up the damn phone.

My thumbs drummed impatiently against the leather steering wheel as I waited for the jerk driving in the mammoth SUV in front of me to accelerate to the fifty-five mile per hour speed limit. Tree branches extended over the back road like gnarled fingers, reaching out to squeeze the life out of me. Or maybe that was just my internal panic mode hitting DEFCON 2 at Pop's lack of response. After what had happened on my very short-lived cooking show, I didn't have any trouble imagining the worst case scenario.

Okay, well, just so you know, I'm on my way into town for a visit. Should be there in about forty minutes. Love you.

Disconnecting the call, I swallowed and prayed Aunt Cecily had been exaggerating about Pop's being depressed. Sure, he'd had a rough time adjusting ever since Nana passed on, but that didn't mean he was ready to roll over and die. We Bucklands were a tough bunch of nuts to crack.

Nuts being the operative word.

What was the SUV driver's damage? Apparently it wasn't enough for him to cut me off at the city limits, but he also felt the need to meander along like a constipated mule. Skippy.

I was just about to let loose with a whole string of un-ladylike words when I finally caught a break. The double yellow line on the side nearest me split into little slashes. The SUV was so big and black it blotted out the entire road, but this close to my destination, I knew the traffic flow was typically light. With a quick glance in the rearview mirror, I moved into the left-hand lane and punched my foot down on the accelerator.

So did the SUV.

Just not as quickly.

The sickening crunch of metal drowned out my scream. My seat belt pulled taut, and my head whipped forward and back in a motion I hope never to repeat as my well-honed driving instinct took over and my foot slammed down on the brake hard enough to keep my head from being lodged up the other driver's sphincter.

My heart pounded against my ribcage like it wanted out. I pushed hair out of my face and sucked in a steadying breath. After a quick survey, which consisted of wiggling my fingers and toes to make sure everything that was supposed to be attached still was, I unbuckled my seat belt.

Just as someone else yanked open the driver's side door.

Stay still, a male voice ordered in a manner way too brisk to be a native to this region of the country. A warm palm rested on top of my hair, gently, but firmly holding my head in place. You might have damaged your spine.

I looked up into the bluest eyes I'd ever seen. Wow. A girl could drown in those eyes and die with a smile on her face. I tried to blink myself back to reality. What had he said? Spinal damage, right. Wouldn't I feel something like that?

Not necessarily. His gaze ranged over me in an assessing manner. And not in a hey baby, what's your sign approach. More like the way I studied the engine of my car, Mustang Sally, when something acted hinky. Any blurred vision?

I loved his accent, though I couldn't place it. It lacked the nasal quality of someone from the North or the soft drawl of the South. Possibly he was from somewhere in the Midwest, where they called soda pop, but I doubted it. The lilting tones reminded me more of the Australian couple whose wedding I'd catered last fall, but there was a crisp briskness around his every syllable that was a shade off.

No, I can see just fine. See that you are a sexy beast.

Down, girl.

He didn't stare back. Can you tell me your name?

Was he hitting on me? Hell of a time for it. Why do you want to know?

He smirked at me—at least I thought it was a smirk. The man didn't make big grandiose gestures but moved with a smooth and graceful economy. Just checking to make sure your mental faculties are all in working order.

Are you a doctor? I asked.

I've had some medical training. Your name? he prompted.

Andrea Sofia Buckland.

Andrea— The way he said it rounded and smoothed the vowels like they tasted good in his mouth and made something inside me go all gushy. Like a marshmallow roasted over a campfire.

I go by Andy, I said, but he'd glanced away as a siren pierced the early evening.

His gaze swung back to me. Andy then. May I ask why you were tailgating me?

My molars ground together, and all thoughts of vivid blue eyes fled. I'd been condescended to enough in my lifetime. Listen here, pal, you were going like five miles an hour. Some of us have better things to do on a Saturday afternoon then just noodle along.

He quirked a jet black eyebrow at me. The tractor in front of me was responsible for the 'noodling.' I was attempting to pass it when you decided to play demolition derby.

A likely story. I didn't see any tractor. Your gargantuan gas guzzler was the only other vehicle on the road.

Perhaps because you rammed your car up my tailpipe? The way he said it sounded suggestive as all get-out, and I shivered despite my vow to ignore the effect of his bedroom eyes.

Nuh-uh. No way was he going to blame the whole thing on me. I wouldn't have if you hadn't pulled out right in front of me. Not another vehicle on the road for miles—

Except for the tractor, he delivered in a flat tone. God help me, even that was blood-boilingly sexy. He smelled of wood smoke, and his long-sleeved black T-shirt clung to his well-developed chest muscles, and just the faintest hint of stubble coated his perfect chin. I was a total sucker for the scruffy look. My heart rate kicked up a notch. Arguing with him at this close range was hazardous to my thirty-something hormones.

To hide my physical response I said, The tractor is a figment of your imagination.

He opened his mouth, probably ready to deliver another acerbic retort, but the emergency personnel swarmed over us at that moment like termites on a rotten stump. He shot out a bunch of terse updates to them while one of the paramedics examined him. All of his comments pertained to my wellbeing and made me feel like a big old bitch for hounding him about his driving.

An EMT wrapped one of those horrid collars around my neck. This really isn't necessary, I told the young woman who attended me. I feel fine.

That's what they all say. She flashed me a quick grin with her even, white teeth. Sometimes they keel right over dead, and others go on their merry way. Wouldn't you rather be safe than sorry?

I bit my lip and thought about showing up in the pasta shop wearing this thing. The town would never let me live it down. What are my odds?

She's exceedingly stubborn, the SUV driver spoke up. And a hazard on the roads. Then the bastard winked at me! If he'd ask me to bear his children at that moment I probably would've agreed.

The paramedics helped me from the car once the dog collar was in place. I groaned when I saw the damage to both vehicles. My insurance would cover the cost, but finding the parts to repair my vintage Mustang was no small feat.

No hospital, I insisted. Having just lost my job, I couldn't afford it, and if my girl parts could tingle in reaction to the other driver, obviously all my synapses were firing. Perching on the bumper of the ambulance, I tried to look casual as I offered the EMT a reassuring smile. I'll just rest here a minute.

A police cruiser arrived on scene and assessed the damage for insurance purposes. Daniel Tate climbed from the car. I'd known Danny since high school. His parents had attended church with Nana and Pops, and he had been tight with Kyle, my high school boyfriend. He always wore cologne that smelled like bologna. Andy, he said as he tipped his hat in my direction. You all right?

I tried to nod, but the brace made it impossible. Yeah. Though this isn't one of my all-star moments.

Danny surveyed the automotive carnage. I saw you on TV. Elsie Giddings DVRed your show, and we watched it at the Spring Fling committee meeting. Never saw so many people vomit at once like that. Did anybody die?

Heat scalded my face. No. Just a mild case of food poisoning, I muttered.

His focus shifted to the SUV driver. And who might you be?

Malcolm Jones. He extended his driver's license and insurance card to Danny.

Danny eyed his license with suspicion. New York license and registration. You don't sound like any Yankee I've ever heard. Just passing through?

Jones stood at parade rest. No, I'm new to the area.

Got any business here? Bologna Boy was like a dog with bone, working it relentlessly to get to the juicy marrow. Fodder for the Spring Fling committee gossips, no doubt.

Yes. Jones didn't volunteer anything more.

Before the full-scale interrogation commenced I blurted, It was my fault. I was distracted, worried about Pops.

All right. Well, we all know you've been under stress. Danny wandered off to protect and serve someone else just as the tow truck from Mike's Garage showed and rigged up my sweet little ride.

This is so not my month, I muttered.

Jones stood by my side. Thank you.

I didn't mean to say that. It's just that they are all so suspicious of strangers around here, and they don't make 'em much stranger than you. Oops, that didn't come out right.

Our eyes locked, and my stomach dropped somewhere down by my knees. The wind picked up, and the skies threatened one hell of a storm in the making.

Can I offer you a ride? he asked.

My gut told me Jones wouldn't haul me off into the woods to mutilate me. A police officer had seen us together after all. Considering his vehicle was still in working order and mine wasn't, I leapt at the offer. That'd be great. Do you know where the Bowtie Angel is?

Main Street, correct?

Yeah, it's my family's pasta shop. I'll set you up with the best homemade baked ziti you ever tasted.

His car smelled like new leather and male spice. On our way into town, we passed the damn tractor.

Jones only smiled.

* * *

The sky let loose as we turned onto Main, rain dumped by the bucketful into the street. Jones, God love him, slowed down even more until I pointed out the turn to our destination. The town was a throwback to an era long before McDonald's and Walmart had sprung up like demented Whac-A-Moles. No franchises were allowed within the city limits. The only drive-through was the Oakdale Elementary school on the corner of Broad Street and 8th.

Well, here we are, I announced unnecessarily as he pulled the SUV up in front of the Bowtie Angel. I peered through the windshield and the pouring rain, trying to see the two-story house-turned ice cream shop-turned pasta bar, from a stranger's point of view. The white vinyl siding and brick red roof were the original colors. A brand new Coca-Cola machine stood sentinel outside the front door, under a smaller second section of roofing that ran perpendicular to the larger covering, encouraging people to stop for a cold beverage or to huddle out of the rain. A red and white striped canopy covered the rarely used outdoor porch with a mess of little round wrought iron tables and chairs too small for the average American butt.

During the warmer months, Aunt Cecily would plant fresh herbs in the built-in rectangular boxes, staples for the unique sauces and breads trademarked by the pasta shop. Now they sat empty, as if they too mourned the loss of my grandmother. A five-foot long ceramic angel with spaghetti-like hair, sporting a bowtie and holding a welcome banner flew over the door. Her smile had always looked creepy to me, and the Carolina sun had bleached her yellow hair to almost white. But Nana had been so proud when she'd brought the damn thing home from ceramics class, and Pops didn't have the heart to take it down.

Guess you should come in so we can get you that ziti. Southern hospitality demanded no less, but in all honestly, the last thing I wanted was for Jones to witness whatever unique brand of crazy might be hatching beyond that red door.

Another time perhaps. I'm already late for my scheduled appointment. He pronounced the word the British way, shed-u-eld. Color me charmed.

Where are you from? I had to know what region on the globe cultivated such a delicious accent.

New Zealand, originally. Though I consider myself more a citizen of the world.

Huh. Well that was a dumbass thing to say. I cleared my throat.

Well, thanks for the ride.

Jones actually climbed out and circled around to help me down. Water dripped from his dark hair onto his collar, yet he still looked so unruffled. My skin tingled where our hands touched, and our gazes met for a sizzling instant. A herd of butterflies let loose in my stomach as he escorted me under the awning. See you around. My voice came out higher than normal, a little breathy.

I'll look forward to it. With a smile, he was gone. I sighed like a silly schoolgirl as his taillights disappeared into the gloom.

Turning, I gasped at my reflection in the plate glass window. Bedraggled would have been a step up from the mess staring back at me. Hair plastered to my scalp, ripped flannel shirt worn jacket style, hole in the knee of my jeans. "No career, no man, no reason to get out of bed in the morning," the outfit screamed. I was a walking testament to a woman who'd given up. Add to that the lines of strain that had formed around my eyes and mouth plus that not-so-fresh-from-a-car-accident feeling…ugh. Not a pretty picture.

Vanity could take a backseat though, the way it usually did. Pulling open the door, I entered the pasta shop. The sound of the jingling bell above the door greeted me first, followed by the yeasty scent of fresh bread and the savory aroma of garlic, basil, rosemary, and oregano.

The Bowtie Angel had been an ice cream shop sometime during the fifties, until my grandmother and her sister, my great aunt Cecily, had bought it and turned it into their own pasta shop. The display case that had once held gallons of tutti-frutti and heavenly hash now housed rigatoni, ziti, angel hair, macaroni, and linguini made fresh daily, as well as an assortment of sauces and other toppings, like pine nuts, basil leaves, cherry tomatoes, black olives, and fresh Parmesan and Romano ready to be grated at a moment's notice. The food could be carryout or dine in, and the shop was oftentimes a gathering place for the townspeople on every day but Sunday. Sunday was church day in that international hotbed of intrigue, Beaverton, N.C.

The pasta shop actually felt more like home than Pop's Victorian on Grove Street. I'd worked there every day after school and almost every Saturday. The black and white tile floor, the plush red booths by the window, the gleaming chrome on the barstools, scents of fresh herbs, buzz of happy conversation, Dean Martin crooning from the jukebox, all of it was as familiar as my reflection.

The booths were jam-packed with patrons who'd decided to stay and eat a hot meal instead of dragging their food out into the cool spring rain. Aunt Cecily didn't encourage people to linger, not the way Nana had done for years. My grandmother had used the restaurant as the hub of her social life, but in the South, old habits die hard and then resurrect themselves like a freaking pasta-eating zombie.

Andy! Mrs. Getz waved to me from the booth to the left of the door. She'd been my fourth grade teacher, a cheerful plump woman who loved to gossip and can her own jam. For years she'd been hounding Nana and Aunt Cecily to offer her jams in the pasta shop. But as Aunt Cecily put it, What is a lasagna going to do with jam? Nothing, because my lasagna, it is not stupid.

Aunt Cecily, queen of public relations.

I moved over to greet Mrs. Getz and her husband. Mrs. Getz, Mr. Getz. How are you?

Walter Getz looked up from his plate of baked ziti with a side of rosemary bread. Just fine honey, can't complain. How about you?

Irma Getz kicked him not so subtly under the table. So sorry about your show, Andy. Such a shame. I had almost raised enough money with the Rotary Club for a sign with your name on it. Like that one in North Myrtle Beach, that says 'Home of Vanna White.' But then you poisoned all those people, and we decided to put it toward the St. Patrick's Day parade instead.

The smile froze on my face. The way she'd said that rankled, like it had been part of some master plan. No wonder Pops wasn't doing well. His friends and neighbors thought his granddaughter was some kind of homicidal lunatic. Was that a step up or down from a poor child turned opportunistic gold digger?

Before I could come up with a decent response, Aunt Cecily pushed through the swinging door from the kitchen, spotted me, and left the steaming pan of Italian meatballs on top of the register. Come, I must look at you.

All movement in the diner stopped as though everyone feared they were the unlucky person she meant. Without Nana's sweet to balance out the sour, Aunt Cecily seemed more imposing than a four-foot-eleven-inch octogenarian ought.

I moved closer, presenting myself for her inspection. Her jet black hair fell long and straight down her slim back and was threaded liberally with white. She wore a band to keep it off her face, and I always thought it looked like a dish of black and white angel hair pasta. The perfect complement to Nana's rotini-shaped curls, which I'd inherited—though mine tended more toward Wild Man of Borneo, especially after spending a few hours in high humidity.

She surveyed me top to toe and then nodded crisply in what I hoped was approval. Enough of this standing about. You will come to the kitchen and make the pasta.

Several forks clattered. I squared my shoulders and resisted the urge to look around and verify that the entire room full of patrons had born witness to Andy's Folly. Honestly, it wouldn't surprise me if a whole troop of Boy Scouts lurked in the kitchen, EpiPens at the ready, because the little buggers would do anything for a merit badge.

Actually, I need to see Pops. Is he here?

Aunt Cecily squinted her eyes, somehow managing to look down at me as though I'd disappointed her. He is very sick, wrong in the head.

I heard that, you old battle-ax, Pops grumbled as he emerged from the tiny business office.

"Aricchi Du Porcu." Aunt Cecily glowered while comparing her brother-in-law to the hair on a pig's ear. Though I was probably the only person in the joint who understood the insult, her tone clued the rest of the patrons in on her displeasure.

Everyone knew that dining in the pasta shop often came with a bonus floor show.

Andy girl! Pops shuffled over to me, intentionally ignoring the tiny seething Italian woman glaring daggers at him. Pops wasn't big on public displays of affection, but he wrapped an arm around my shoulders, and I pressed my face against his shoulder, inhaling the scent of peppermint and wood smoke.

His color was high, and though his skin was paper thin and mottled with age spots, he looked much the same as he had over the past five years. A sigh of relief escaped. Aunt Cecily must have been mistaken. He didn't look depressed at all.

Pops escorted me back to the office and shut the door. Daniel Tate called. Said you vouched for some strange guy lurking about off Route 86.

Tattletale. He's right on both counts, although the 'strange guy' is a transplant who gave me a ride here, since my car is wrecked. I didn't elaborate because I didn't want him to know just how worried I'd been about him. Pops would have considered it shameful to have his granddaughter fuss over him to such an extent.

Upon closer inspection he looked tired, with tight lines creasing around his mouth. What's wrong, Pops? I can see it in your face.

With a grunt, he lowered himself into the leather office chair held together by duct tape. His shoulders slumped in as though he carried the weight of the world and was bowing under the constant strain.

It's this place. We need to sell the Bowtie Angel.

Bowtie Angel Fresh Pasta

Combine 2 cups of all-purpose flour and 1/4 teaspoon of salt on a pastry board. Make a well in center. Whisk 3 large eggs and 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil in small bowl until well blended. Gradually pour eggs into the well in flour mixture while mixing with fork or fingertips to form ball of dough.

Place the dough on the lightly floured surface and flatten slightly. Fold the dough in half toward you, and press the dough away from you with heels of your hands. Give the dough a quarter turn and continue folding, pushing, and turning. Continue kneading for 5 minutes or until smooth and elastic, adding more flour to prevent sticking if necessary. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let stand for 15 minutes.

Unwrap the dough and knead again on a lightly floured surface. Using a floured rolling pin, roll out dough to a 1/8-inch thick circle on a lightly floured surface. Gently pick up the dough circle with both hands. Hold it up to the light to check for places where the dough is too thick. Return to the board; even out any thick spots. Then let it rest until the dough is slightly dry but can be handled without breaking.

Lightly flour the dough circle; then roll it loosely onto the rolling pin. Slide the rolling pin out, press the dough roll gently with your hand, and cut it into strips of the desired width with sharp knife. Carefully unfold the strips.

The pasta can be dried and stored at this point. Hang the strips over a pasta rack or a clean broom handle covered with plastic wrap and propped between two chairs. Dry for three hours. Store in an airtight container at room temperature up to 4 days. To serve, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water 3 to 4 minutes, just until al dente. Drain well.

**Andy's note: You can flavor the pasta with tomato juice or pureed basil leaves added during the blending stage. No matter what Aunt Cecily says, it goes much quicker if you mix the dough in a Cuisinart and shape with a pasta machine, and it tastes just as delicious!

CHAPTER TWO

I sank into the folding metal chair behind the scarred and cluttered desk. Sell the Bowtie Angel? My brain couldn't wrap itself around the notion. What happened?

Pops scrubbed a hand over his face. He'd been the business manager of the pasta shop since its inception and had always managed to keep it in the black. Recession, inflation combined with drop off in sales. But that's just part of it. Your grandmother was the glue that held this place together, always talked sense into that crazy old bat of a sister. Without her, Cecily drives off customers by the busload. We throw out more food than we sell on an average day.

I fidgeted with a loose button on my shirt. What about lowering the prices, having specials, hiring someone else to deal with people? A loan maybe? There's got to be something we can do.

Pops shook his head. I've tried, but Cecily won't budge on anything. Says it's a family enterprise, and only family is allowed. Besides, we don't have the money to take on new staff. I took out a loan to pay for the new roof, but we're barely making enough to pay that back, never mind the cost of food and utilities.

Guilt flayed me. How naive to think that Pops and Aunt Cecily would always be here, bickering and running the pasta shop, acting as my safety net when the big bad world chewed me up and spit me out. I had no idea things were so dire. What does Aunt Cecily say?

Other than calling me names in Italian? She says I dishonor her sister's hard work by even suggesting we sell the business. Then she clangs around in the kitchen and undermines every attempt I've made to bring people in. We don't have any portable pasta bars scheduled because no one wants to invite Cecily into their home. Like she's a vampire. Then almost under his breath but still loud enough for me to hear, Except she's sucking life out of our business.

So that was why Aunt Cecily claimed Pops was losing his grip on reality. She didn't like the unpalatable truth he was shoving down her throat. Pops, try to see it from her point of view. Aunt Cecily has been making pasta here as her own boss since she was a teenager. She doesn't want someone else telling her what to do.

Pops snorted. Like anyone could. I swear, if God himself descended from Heaven above, your Aunt Cecily would drive him to drink. He sighed and shook his head. Believe me—I know how much the place means to her. I've retired from all my other accounting jobs but this one. The Bowtie Angel holds a lot of memories. You practically grew up here. But there is no other choice. We need a financial infusion. A big one.

Failure hung over me. If I'd had my act together, my cooking show would have been the saving grace of the Bowtie Angel. Instead, I'd doled out food poisoning to a live studio audience. No one would lend me money to cook for the public.

I'm sorry to burden you like this, Andy girl. You've already had a tough day. Why don't you go on upstairs and lie down in Cecily's apartment until I'm ready to head home.

My heart warmed at the protective gesture. That's okay. Maybe I'll work the register for a bit, do a little cleaning until closing time. If nothing else, my notoriety would spread through the town like wildfire, and patrons would drop in for a look. Plus, I could act as a much needed referee between Pops and Aunt Cecily. The thought held little joy but someone had to or the Bowtie Angel would be the scene of a double homicide when they drew pistols at dawn.

The rain had stopped and the crowd had dispersed when we emerged from the office. Pops went to fix the leaky faucet in the kitchen while I wiped down the tables. I'd just started to sweep the floor when the door opened.

I turned to greet whoever had made the little bell jingle, but the smile slid right off my face. Lizzy Tillman, the bane of my high school existence, stood there. Her blond hair was pulled back from her face in a smooth French twist, a look I couldn't pull off with a gallon of Aquanet. A sleek black sheath dress encased her greyhound-lean frame, and pearls hung from her neck and earlobes. Her heels clicked on the tile as she approached me, like spurs jangling on cowboy boots before the last gunfight. Dread coiled in my gut, and I was sorry I hadn't taken Pops up on the nap.

Andy. She didn't look surprised to see me. Word spread faster than diaper rash on a baby's butt in this town.

Hello, Lizzy. It'd been years since we'd seen one another, yet all my supposed maturity melted away at seeing her. Damn, but the urge to tell her to bugger off and not let the door whack her on her bony ass rose up inside me. It wasn't worth the momentary satisfaction, especially if Aunt Cecily caught wind of my unprofessional attitude in her pasta shop, so I clamped my mouth shut and waited.

How have you been?

Fine. You?

Great.

Awkward silence. So much for pleasantries. She looked just as uncomfortable as I felt. Two adults who had been completely rotten to each other in high school, trying to be mature, but unsure where to start.

I couldn't take the silence anymore. What can I do for you?

Her smile was tight, brittle, and it piqued my interest. Well, since you asked, I need a caterer for an event.

The Bowtie Angel's famous portable pasta bar was perfect for all sorts of special occasions. A baby shower, a twentieth wedding anniversary, even the random Briss. Hey, after witnessing the main event, who wants to eat meat?

Moving slowly, so I didn't do something idiotic like trip over my own feet, I sauntered behind the register and retrieved the catering form. When do you need this, and how many people are you expecting?

Lizzy tapped her chin thoughtfully. About two hundred and tomorrow night.

You can't be serious. Pasta for two hundred by tomorrow night? She was out of her mind.

She shrugged, almost apologetically. My caterer cancelled at the last minute.

We stared at each other for a minute. An event like that would bring in more money than the pasta shop would make in a month though. I blew out a breath. That's a big crowd.

One elegant blond eyebrow arched up. Are you saying you can't handle it?

Oh, those were fighting words. I didn't—

We will do it. Aunt Cecily emerged from the kitchen, her full black skirt swooshing around her legs. Her steely-eyed glare went from me to Lizzy and back again. We will do the full buffet catering for your event. Pick three kinds of pasta, ten toppings, and we will see it done. Wine and dessert are extra.

Lizzy, like everyone else, was cowed by my petite aunt. She leaned down and filled out the form without another word. Aunt Cecily's gnarled old fingers flew over the cash register and named a staggering sum. Out came Lizzy's Black Amex card, and it was a done deal.

The bell jingled again, signaling Lizzy's departure. Aunt Cecily, I began, but the phone rang.

Answer that, she called over her shoulder before the kitchen door swung shut in my face.

Clearing my throat, I picked up the phone. Bowtie Angel, pasta and catering.

Andy, is that you? The male voice was gruff, and he practically shouted over the din of noises in the background.

Yup, it's me. Why was I even surprised? If Lizzy knew I was back in town, her mom knew, and so did her mother's best friend, Tallulah, the biggest gossip in Lumberton County. Who is this?

Lenny, Lenny Garrison. How you doing, Little Bit?

I hated that nickname and not just because Kyle had given it to me. Sure, I was short but when said with a drawling accent it always sounded like the guys were calling me little shit. Closing my eyes, I leaned back against the wall. Hives were imminent. Just fine. What can I do for you?

Our wives are at a book club meeting, and we're mighty hungry. White Tudor number 154 on the corner of Dobson Street and Lake Road. Three fettuccini Alfredo, five bowtie, one with pesto, one with butter and cheese and the rest with meat sauce, and two baked spaghettis.

Aunt Cecily would be thrilled, or as thrilled as she ever was. Any special reason everyone wants pasta today?

He chuckled. There's a really big tip if you deliver it here yourself.

Figured. All the old gang wanted to get the scoop on my televised debacle. It would be a good-natured sort of ribbing, the kind you can only get from friends who have seen you at your worst several times over. Why the hell not get paid for the mocking they were sure to dish out? Maybe I could even learn to laugh about it? See you in twenty minutes.

I hung up and went in search of Pop's car keys. Never let it be said I didn't sacrifice for my family.

* * *

How did it go? Pops asked as I entered the pasta shop.

They were playing Mack the Knife when I got in.

Pops frowned. What's wrong with that? It's a good song.

Everyone thinks I tried to poison my audience, like I'm some lunatic.Pops shook his head. You're reading too much into it.

Maybe. At least I got a nice tip. I flashed him my wad of cash.

Behind me the office door opened with a creaking groan. I turned, and Aunt Cecily shot me a squinty-eyed glare. You must make the pasta now.

Cecily, Pops began, but didn't add anything when Cecily shifted her gaze to him.

I rose and headed toward the kitchen. Not because I intended to cook, but it was where I'd left my purse.

You must make the pasta.

I don't think that's a good idea. Propping my hands on the basin, I watched the water trickle down the drain. No one wants to eat my cooking.

I cannot do this whole order by myself. I am too old for such a task.

Then we're going to have to cancel on Lizzy. I was fine with that option.

"You gave your word. When a Rossetti woman gives her word, she keeps it, no matter what. Besides, you need to show that little porca puttana you do not care how she thinks of you." It was rare that Aunt Cecily cursed—unless it was at Pops— but when she did so, she did it with style. Like calling Lizzy the Italian equivalent of a pig whore. I couldn't help but smile a little. It was one of Nana's favorite curses.

I'm only half a Rossetti, I told her, unnecessarily. On Mom's and Nana's side.

The side that counts. The side that makes the pasta. Blood is blood. She handed me a paper towel. You will make the pasta now.

Aunt Cecily… Crap, was there any way to dissuade her?

She patted my shoulder. "You are a molta bene cook. A real Rossetti. For your family, you will make the pasta."

How could I say no?

We worked side by side to Dino's Ain't that a Kick in the Head? Just two Italian women too stubborn to go down without a fight. Pops stuck his head in to check on us, shook it back and forth, and retreated to the office. Covered in flour, we made the pasta well into the night. Cecily brought out every drying rack she owned, and noodles of varying thickness hung suspended like starchy streamers.

Pops took me home around ten, after all the pasta had dried and was stored securely in Tupperware for the next night.

Let me drive. It was a public service, really. No one wanted Pops driving after dark. If at all.

His eyebrows drew together like two zebra-striped caterpillars smooching. The man drives. I taught you that much.

A man's driving is the reason I don't have a car right now. Give me the keys, Pops.

Cecily glared at him out of her upstairs window. Pops waved, and she gave him the evil eye before drawing the shade down. He grunted and held the door open for me. I don't got all night, Andy girl. Either get in or walk.

Fine. But go slowly. One car accident a day is my limit.

He didn't listen, and I was tossed around like a cork on the ocean as his Town Car took turns like a school bus on meth. He did a left-hand turn on Hickory Ridge when the light didn't change fast enough to suit him. Jeez-a-lou, Pops—

Pops braked, and I braced my hands on the dashboard, heart thudding, eyes wide.

Slicker than cat spit, he chuckled.

Every part of my body ached, and I couldn't think. What did you have for dinner?

He muttered something too low for me to hear.

What was that? I asked.

I wasn't hungry, he grumbled.

Pop's lack of appetite worried me. The psychologist I talked to after Nana died cautioned me that disinterest in food or a change in sleeping habits could indicate depression, especially after the loss. Though I felt like death warmed over, I offered, I can fix you something if you like.

The difficult old curmudgeon stayed true to his colors. No, you go on up to bed. I can fend for myself.

He shuffled off into the living room, and after a brief pause the late night news blared from the television. Roofus, Pop's ancient beagle, snored from his dog bed in the hall. No more damage for me to do tonight. I climbed the stairs, weary, bleary, and stiff as all get-out.

Though exhaustion cloaked me, I didn't fall asleep right away. Moonlight filtered through the wood slats, casting lasagna-shaped shadows on the ceiling. Turning to my side, I forced myself to focus on something other than work. An image of Jones popped into my head, and I relived our run-in. I wondered what had brought him to Beaverton.

My dreams were filled with handsome men and fast cars.

Pesto Sauce

Combine 2 cups of basil with 1/2 cup pine nuts. Pulse a few times in a food processor. (Because if you don't have a food processor and you try this by hand, your arms will fall off before you're done. Seriously splurge on the food processor.) Add 3 cloves of minced garlic, and pulse a few more times.

Slowly add 1/2 cup garlic infused extra virgin olive oil in a constant stream while the food processor is on. Stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula. Add 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese and pulse again until blended. Add a pinch of sea salt. Serve over pasta, fish, chicken, toasted Italian bread, almost anything!

**Andy's note: You can substitute walnuts for pine nuts, but just make sure you chop them well before adding the basil! I find that rotini holds this sauce best.

CHAPTER THREE

Rain tapped against my window, and a groan born from the pit of my soul passed my lips. Aw hell. The soreness from the accident had multiplied like a couple of horny bunnies as the aches and pains spread throughout my body. It took me three tries to get up, and I prayed hot water waited for me in the bathroom.

No such luck. The one of the old Victorian's quirks was that the ancient water heater was temperamental about delivering hot water to the upper floors. It had never bothered Nana and Pops, whose bathroom was downstairs, and since they didn't have money to replace the stupid thing, I had learned to live with it. Shivering and aching after my shower, I desperately wanted to crawl back into bed and sleep for a week. But the last thing I needed right now was for Lizzy Tillman to spread the word that I didn't meet my obligations.

Again, I offered to cook for Pops, and again he refused. I downed a bowl of cereal, let Roofus into the backyard and dried his fur on return, and headed out to the Town Car.

My poor Mustang Sally. Making a mental note to call Mike's Garage and check on when I might expect to get my car back, I navigated into town.

The gunmetal gray sky matched my mood, and the wiper blades could hardly keep up with the downpour. No one else was in sight. They all had more sense than to be out cruising around in the rain. The lights in the pasta shop blazed, so Aunt Cecily had to be already puttering around. We had tons to do, and as I darted under the awning, I made a mental list of all I needed to accomplish.

Good, you are here. Aunt Cecily stirred a huge pot of marinara. Your uniform is upstairs.

My uniform? I hung my rain jacket on the back of the door. What uniform?

You must wear for the job.

Warily, I crept up the stairs to Aunt Cecily's spic-n-span studio apartment. There, laid out on the bed, was my uniform. Yards of black satin and lace, enough to make a nice dining room table for the Addams family reunion, sprawled across the twin bed.

She can't be serious, I breathed staring down at the black muumuu. It's a frickin' tent!

You try on. See if it needs hemming! Aunt Cecily called from the bottom of the stairs.

What it needed was some accelerant and a blowtorch. Aunt Cecily, I can't work in this! What if I tripped and stumbled into the lake? Cement underpants wouldn't drag my ass down faster. Crap, what was I going to do?

Does it fit? Aunt Cecily hollered up. The creak of her slight weight on the stairs sent the fleeting thought of saying no scurrying back into the dark recesses of my mind. No one with a lick of sense would defy her. She might use The Eye and hex them.

Grimacing, I tried it on. It smelled of moth balls. I held my breath and tugged it on over the top of my jeans and T-shirt. The dress hung like a curtain. In fact I think I'd seen curtains like this once, in a haunted house carnival ride. The only tight parts were the sleeves, but the rest was cut to preserve traditional Italian peasant-girl modesty. Or perhaps keep a family of four warm at night.

My reflection in the antique mirror told me that I looked like a bloated, unwrinkled version of Aunt Cecily. The grape to her raisin. My stiffness from the car accident caused me to move like someone suffering from rheumatism. I squinted my eyes and tried to look like someone who could put the evil eye on her enemies. The fellas would be lining up at the exits to get away from me. Or rolling on the ground, laughing hysterically.

Andy Buckland, what a catch.

Come down so I see what needs to be done.

This was the low point of my life. Behold my future as an unwed, bitter, and old Italian harpy. I had to bunch great fistfuls of fabric at my waist to maneuver down the stairs. The kitchen was empty. Aunt Cecily?

Out here!

Great, she had to go out into the front of the pasta shop, where everyone could see me through the windows. Just peachy. At least it was raining and too early for the lunch rush no one would be out, and I could skulk back up to change before anyone—

That thought died an early death as I pushed through the door and came face-to-face with Malcolm Jones.

To his credit, he didn't laugh, at least on the outside. His eyes danced with mirth as he surveyed the oceans of fabric that seemed to be growing by the minute.

Andrea, his lips twitched in greeting.

Of frigging course. My shoulders slumped.

Aunt Cecily elbowed me in the ribs. Language!

I dropped by to see how you are feeling.

Smothered, I said, and he laughed.

Aunt Cecily nodded in approval. This is good. I do not have to put the eye on you.

The eye? Jones's eyebrows arched up.

I shifted my weight, which took even more effort while draped in the death shroud. The evil eye. It's an Italian thing.

Jones nodded. I'm relieved.

I must see to my sauce. You will talk with this man, Niece. With that pronouncement, she left.

She's a bit scary, Jones said.

Why the hell do you think I'm wearing this get-up? At least until I can find a reasonable excuse to get out of it.

Is it flame retardant?

She'd kill me if I lit it on fire. Though the thought had crossed my mind.

No, I mean, it's unsafe to wear such a…robust garment when you're working around an open flame, correct?

Oh, thank God. This time I sagged from more than the weight of a bale of velvet. You're my hero.

Anything for a damsel in distress. The line was hokey, but delivered in his crisp accent it made my girl parts tingle.

We exchanged a look, loaded with undercurrents of sexual tension. I licked my lips, and his gaze fell to my mouth and then darted away. Maybe my future wasn't quite as bleak as it had seemed a few minutes ago.

This is an interesting place. Jones took in the décor. I don't believe I've ever been to a shop specializing in pasta quite like this before.

It's a family business. Used to be just Nana and Aunt Cecily. They opened it together with their inheritance. I asked Nana once why a pasta shop and not a restaurant, and she told me it was because she wanted to make pasta, but not necessarily serve it all the time. A restaurant would require more staffing, a wider menu. She and Aunt Cecily like things as they are, simple, traditional. Clamping my lips together, I cut off the incessant babble. Jones didn't care about the ins and outs of the pasta shop and my family lunacy.

Traditional can be refreshing, he countered.

Except when it comes to fashion. I spread out the skirt of my muumuu to illustrate.

Aunt Cecily pushed back through the kitchen door. Here, you take this. She handed Jones a takeout container of what looked like the white sausage and spinach lasagna I'd made last night for Lizzy's pasta bar buffet.

Jones accepted the container. Thank you very much, Ms. Buckland.

It is Rossetti. She corrected him without her usual add-on of you are a stranger so you know nothing.

I bit my lip. Aunt Cecily must have taken a shine to Jones. She never offered free food to anyone outside the family.

You will come back again, Aunt Cecily informed him.

It would be my pleasure. Good day, ladies. Jones ducked out into the pouring rain and disappeared into his SUV.

You will marry that one, Aunt Cecily pronounced.

I turned as Jones's taillights disappeared into the gloom. Why do you say that?

Aunt Cecily squinted at my midsection. I know. He will give you many fat babies. Come now. We make the pasta.

* * *

The rain stopped just as I carried the last load out to the van. Figured.

Aunt Cecily, we're ready to go!

My aunt came to the door. We stared at each other for a beat. I glanced at my watch. Um, are you coming?

No. She disappeared back inside. I watched the sign flick from open to closed. Okay, I guess it was my show. Though I tried to tell myself that she was demonstrating faith in me, it was more likely I'd been assigned all the undesirable grunt work, like slaving over a pot of boiling water to feed Lizzy and her rich friends.

Or maybe I was just bitter. The Tillmans lived five miles outside of town, up on a hill that cloaked itself in fog every morning. The road turned to hard-packed dirt, and I bumped along, cursing the shitty suspension on the van. I ascended slowly, wondering if I'd gotten lost. I double-checked the directions Lizzy had scrawled down on her order, then consulted my GPS app on my phone. Not that there was anyone I could ask or even anyplace to turn around. Thick forest and sheer drop offs scratched that possibility off the list. I could call Lizzy's house and ask for directions, but dying from exposure seemed like a better option than admitting I'd gotten lost in my hometown.

Finally the road evened out, and I peered through the windshield at large wrought-iron gates and the mammoth stone edifice beyond. I could even see a gargoyle perched on the roof. Wow, very off with their heads. No wonder Lizzy was such a pill. She had an entire estate worth of people to boss around.

I saw no way around the gate but a little button below a speaker. I climbed from the van and pushed the button.

Hi, I'm with Bowtie Angel pasta shop, here to cater for the…er…event. Shoot, I really should have asked so I knew what was going on up here.

An androgynous voice crackled over the intercom. Drive around to the south entrance. The kitchen is in the right wing.

There was another way in. Of frigging course there was. Where's the south entrance?

Circle around to the left.

Muttering, I backed out and drove around to the south entrance. The road had been freshly paved here and led serenely down the hill. Next time I saw Lizzy I was gonna tell her she had a big ugly pimple on the tip of her nose for payback.

I was third in line behind a refrigerated truck and a furniture truck. Table and chair rentals probably. On the other side of the hedge maze—I kid you not—a flurry of activity took place on the sloping front lawn. Tents were being set up, and strands of twinkle lights decorated the lower limbs of giant conifers. Fairyland in the making.

I parked the van behind the right wing and scrambled out. The ground squished beneath my sneakers, but it wasn't completely sodden. No doubt Lizzy had men with hairdryers on standby to remove any unwanted moisture from the guest's shoes.

Rapping three times on the back door, I squared my shoulders and donned my most professional demeanor. Okay, so I was the hired help, but it was good to show my face and let the townspeople know how much I'd grown and changed. Andy Buckland, the consummate professional. What a class act.

The back door opened, and the smile slid right off my face. Kyle?

My ex was just as surprised to see me. Andy? What are you doing here?

Dag-nabbit, I'd been doing a really good job not thinking about Kyle. Okay, maybe he'd crept in to the periphery of my thoughts once or twice, but still, he wasn't the center of my world anymore. If I could only get my mouth to spit those exact words out.

Kyle? Who's there? Lizzy appeared behind him. When she saw me on the steps with my mouth hanging open like a freshly caught bass she tucked her arm through Kyle's elbow. A flash of reflected light caught my attention, and I gaped at the rock on her finger. My gaze flew to Kyle's, and he looked away. Add it all up, the rock, the proprietary way she clung to him, his discomfort at seeing

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