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“Are they still staring?” I wasn’t sure why I asked that question, considering my back was burning like my favorite linen blouse had been set on fire. I was almost certain I saw some ash floating away on the currents of the mild shore breeze, but the stress I was under had my thoughts a bit muddled. There was nothing worse than being the center of attention in a village this small. I couldn’t imagine drawing more attention than had I been dancing in the streets without a lick of clothing. Unfortunately, my unannounced presence in the tiny town of Paramour Bay certainly had tongues wagging like the latest E. L. James novel. Maybe this was a bad idea, after all. I should have stayed in New York and let the lawyer figure out a way to get me out of this bind. “Wouldn’t you be staring if you were them?” Heidi wiggled her fingers at the townsfolk who were apparently still standing and gossiping on the opposite side of the street. She even flashed them a wide smile through the large display window once we were inside the small store, never one to hide from the limelight. “You’re the wicked witch’s granddaughter, according to the executor of her will.” “I really don’t think Larry Butterball meant to use the word witch.” Having only one memory of my grandmother, her estate lawyer might very well be correct in his assumption. Rosemary Marigold had been a woman who wouldn’t waste her time to kick a person where the sun didn’t shine. She just took down names and kept walking. Unfortunately, it was her daily walk that did her in. A heart attack right there at the intersection of River Bay and Brook Cove. I know what you’re thinking. I should be grieving over the death of my Nan. Wouldn’t any decent granddaughter be sad that her grandmother had passed on to the other side? The thing of it was, I hadn’t really known her at all. She’d cut me and my mother out of her life a long time ago. Which made the news of my inheritance all that much more confusing. I found it very hard to believe that Nan would own something as gentle and restful as a tea shop. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure she was a kind soul to those folks who knew her. And tea would have absolutely benefited her disposition from what I could remember of her, but something just didn’t sit right with me about this place. The tea shop was nothing like the cafés in the city where you placed an order, a barista made the perfect cup of sanity, and you were served over a counter like children at the local school cafeteria. There was actually something quite relaxing about being part of a society where people continued to do the same thing the same way, day after day. I couldn’t imagine Paramour Bay being like that, though. No, the people here were oddly different. And this quaint little shop was something out of a Hallmark movie, right down to the small gold tassels hanging from the outside awning. The plate glass window even looked to be a century old, with its wavy appearance and bubbled imperfections. The town could have easily passed as Mayberry from the television show, with the exception of the roads. Those were throwbacks from seventeenth century France. Every intersection between the normally paved streets in Paramour Bay were made of cobblestone, every road was named after some body of water, and the storefronts could have been pulled off the canvas of a Norman Rockwell painting. The quaint town even had an old pharmacy with ice cream and soda fountain drinks served at the counter by a fresh-faced boy in a white paper hat. I should know, seeing as I peered through the display window next store. I wonder if they still sold penny candy. Honestly, it was downright eerie. Time seemed to have passed this place by. Yeah, I should have stayed in the city. I did a quick sweep of the store. There were shelves upon shelves lined with porcelain teacups, glass jars of various tea leaves, and delicate keepsake trinkets that made me wonder how they’d all survived my grandmother’s infamous wrath. She hadn’t been the most maternal woman on the face of the planet. As I said, my mother and I hadn’t heard from her in over ten years. Bottom line? The entire place was mine, because I was the youngest heir. Nan had apparently wanted to skip everyone else who might have had a claim. And let’s face it, my grandmother and mother hated one another more than two old wet hens. I had no doubt that my Nan would have burned this place down to the ground before allowing my mother to step across the threshold. I’m sure there was a lot more grist for the mill, but my mother hadn’t been very forthcoming with the rest of the story. But what was I going to do with a tea shop in the middle of the Connecticut coastline? “Heidi, I don’t know if I can do this.” I chose to stay in the middle of the store, not wanting to be anywhere near the numerous shelves attached to the walls. I tended to be a bit accident prone from time to time. More like a bull in a china shop when I was nervous. It was something I’d come to accept about myself, and I’d rather not be the one who had to clean up all the broken glass. I’d only end up in the hospital getting stitches, giving the old biddies across the street something else to talk about other than the fact that Rosemary’s granddaughter had driven into town in a beat-up old Corolla that squealed every time I turned the wheel. In case you haven’t guessed it by now, I don’t live the most glamorous of lifestyles. All of this did raise the question of how I was supposed to get the thin layer of dust off hundreds of potential disasters masquerading as display items. I could hire someone to do it, but that would require money I didn’t have. Larry Butterball claimed this place actually made a tidy profit, but I found that hard to believe. We had an appointment this afternoon to go over the financials. I had a feeling that he’d be asking for a check at the end of it all. Which only went to prove that I had no idea what I was doing with my life. Financials? I’ve never had to balance my checkbook, because I’ve never had enough money left at the end of the month to put in the bank. Well, that was unless a few pennies counted. Wait. Did I not tell you my name? Well, let me introduce myself properly. I’m Raven Lattice Marigold, reluctant descendant of Rosemary Lattice Marigold. I’m technically the spitting image of her when she’d been younger, only much nicer to children and old folks. Sometimes. When I remember my manners. There was a time or two I would have made her proud, but those were the very moments that I had disappointed my mother with my short-fused temper. Oh, and my mother has absolutely no idea I’m here in Paramour Bay. She’s back in New York City, thinking that I went on a run of the mill road trip with Heidi. If she had found out that we were driving to Paramour Bay, I would have had two funerals to attend this week. I only have one decent black dress that was appropriate for such occasions, so that wouldn’t have worked out so good for either of us. “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s not as if you have a choice to make this place work.” And this is why Heidi would never have children. She didn’t understand the definition of comfort. “You lost your job, you’re late on your rent by two months, and you barely had enough money to drive that death contraption you call a car from New York City to Paramour Bay. Face it, Raven. This is it. The end of the road. Your new home. It’s your silver lining without the parachute.” I looked around the small shop I’d inherited not even a week ago, still questioning if I was doing the right thing. I was a city girl, through and through. I loved the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple, the nightlife, and the fact that there was a coffee stand on every single corner of my neighborhood. Did I mention that I love coffee? I might actually need the stuff to live. There was nothing better than that first sip of the day when that zap of caffeine traveled at lightning speed to every nook and cranny of my exhausted brain. Honestly, it was pure heaven with all circuits firing. So why did I think taking over my grandmother’s tea shop was a better idea than looking for a new job? I knew nothing about tea, leaves, or… “What does eves even mean?” I’d made a full circle in the middle of the store, still trying to convince myself that I’d made the right choice to leave my entire life back in the city. Behind Heidi was the large odd display window with the name Tea, Leaves, & Eves hand-painted in gold script letters to match the ornate tassels. It made me question if Rosemary had actually been my biological grandmother, considering both me and my mother survived on coffee. The only time we ever drank tea was when we were sick. Oh, and there’s something else I didn’t mention. My mother’s name is Regina. Yes, all the women’s names in my family begin with the letter R. And no, I never got an explanation from my mom as to why that was true. Come to think of it, Regina Marigold hadn’t been very forthcoming about anything to do with our family history on her side. She’d cut ties with them back when I was a teenager. The only reason I have memories of my Nan was because she’d come to New York City every couple of years to try and drag my mother back to her childhood hometown. Those volatile visits suddenly stopped around the time I turned eighteen. Neither one of us addressed that particular falling out, even after we received word of my Nan’s death. I began to realize how self-centered I was to ignore my lineage. The shame was quite stifling in retrospect, but I turned it into motivation that maybe this silver lining as Heidi had dubbed it was exactly what I needed—a sort of homecoming. “Maybe your grandmother couldn’t come up with anything else to rhyme with tea or leaves,” Heidi said about the name of the shop, shrugging off what was sure to bother me until I figured out that miniscule mystery. “Didn’t Mr. Butterbaum say that your grandmother left some boxes for you to look through? Do you think they’re here or at her house? They might be in the back room.” “Butterball,” I automatically corrected, as I’d been doing for the last three days. I glanced past the painted sign to see how many of the town’s residents were still gawking at the newcomer. Technically, my mother was born here. Didn’t that make me a local of sorts? “At least the crowd is finally dispersing.” “Oh, I’m sure they’ll be back the minute you flip over the open sign. Did you notice the way that lady with the purple hair put her hand over her heart at the first sight of you? It was as if your Nan had come back from the dead.” Heidi walked through the shop, and I had to bite my lip to scream at her not to touch anything. She wasn’t exactly known for her graceful movements, either. In New York, everyone bumped into everyone. It was expected. It was just the way the city worked, and no one blinked an eye at the rapid pace we called life. “You know, I can always switch to tea from coffee if you give me a ten percent discount. I’d be willing to try it out, at least.” Heidi lifted up what looked like an upside-down whisk, though I had no idea what it could be used for. Didn’t one just dip a tea bag in water and voila? A cup of tea didn’t require an advanced degree in chemistry, did it? It was rather fun to see Heidi raise her perfectly waxed, manicured eyebrow a half inch. “Better make that twenty percent. Oh, and free shipping.” Heidi shook her head as she set down the contraption. “No wonder Butterbaum said this place gets a fairly decent profit.” I didn’t bother to correct Heidi this time on Larry Butterball’s name. She wasn’t going to be here long enough for that to matter, anyway. A nervous flutter began to flurry in my stomach. I wasn’t ready to be stranded alone in a small town all by myself with only three hundred and fifty-four complete strangers. Did I mention that Paramour Bay was all the way up the coast in the middle of Connecticut? I suppose I should catch you up on my life. So, let’s freeze this scene while Heidi checks out the rest of the shop for interesting items that could help me out in the near future. You see, I was born to Regina Lattice Marigold twenty-nine years ago in New York City. She never told me who my father was, only that my grandmother hadn’t approved of her choice of men. Mom and Nan had fought for years about where I should be raised, but somehow, my mother came out the victor. I guess what they say about possession being nine tenths of the law was right. And let me clarify this right now, that was probably the only battle she’d ever truly won over Rosemary. The women in my family tended to be headstrong. I recall my grandmother once mentioning that we had distant cousins, though I never met any of them personally. Care to guess why? Bingo! Apparently, there was some huge rift between Rosemary and her sister regarding a man, of all things. The two went their separate ways with bad blood between them, and my Nan ended up here in Paramour Bay to raise her daughter without any family. I’m relatively sure the man my Nan and Aunt Rowena argued over was my grandfather, but no one had ever confirmed that, nor had I ever heard his name. We all have hair so black that there are times I would swear it shimmers purple, which is not exactly my favorite color. It does, however, suggest that my own heritage might lean toward the southern European side. Green eyes run in our family, as does high cheekbones and full lips that I thank my genetics for every day. Other than that? I must have gotten my hips from the other side of my family whom we shall not mention. Anyway, after I graduated high school, I made the foolish decision not to go to college right away. I worked as a receptionist for various businesses over the years, having gotten rather good at dealing with disgruntled clients and such. Unfortunately, those types of positions are being replaced by computer generated voices. Envision the afternoon I had to tell my mother that I’d lost my job to a computer. It hadn’t been very pleasant for either one of us. Oh, and don’t think I haven’t thought of taking night classes here and there to get my degree. It was actually what I was researching on my phone when a call came through from a number I hadn’t recognized. I don’t know what made me answer, but I swiped the screen to the right out of habit. And that was when Larry Butterball entered the picture. My grandmother, Rosemary Lattice Marigold, had dropped dead of a heart attack on her daily walk. She’d formally requested a small funeral service with only her daughter and granddaughter in attendance. You can imagine how awkward that day had been, with both of us sitting alongside a gravesite wearing black for a woman we basically hadn’t seen in over a decade. On top of that, it was with a man by the name of Larry Butterball. He’d been sweating like he’d just gotten out of the oven. And yes, he absolutely resembled a done-up turkey in his black double-breasted suit, only without the red button sticking out of his belly. It wasn’t until after the service that Mr. Butterball came up to me and discreetly handed me an official-looking envelope. I didn’t open it until I’d returned to my one room apartment that was overtop an all-night diner. I’d been surprised when the contents of the envelope contained information regarding a reading of my grandmother’s will. It had taken place the following day, but my attendance had been the only one required. I knew then that my mother had been cut out of the will. It seemed my Nan had gotten in one last jab from the grave. Hence, why I haven’t told my mom that I was coming to Paramour Bay. She would have been hurt, rightfully so, and she would have absolutely had me try and sell the place so that I didn’t have to set foot in the town in which she’d been born. Only problem? My grandmother had made a stipulation in her will that was ironclad—under no circumstances could I sell the tea shop until at least twelve months had passed from the date of her death. Another itsy-bitsy clause stated yet one more thing that I haven’t mentioned. I would have to reside in Paramour Bay for those twelve months or else the proceeds of the sale would go to…get this…a super strange wax museum on the edge of town. “What the heck is that?” The horror that laced Heidi’s tone had me spinning around to look at the back of the store. I saw nothing that could have garnered that type of response. “What?” I darted my eyes over to the small counter in the back corner, where Heidi’s attention had been drawn. There was nothing there but a cash register and a feathered pen sticking out of its holder. Was that what Heidi was pointing out? The feathered pen in place of the usual black credit card machine? “Um, nothing.” Heidi was frowning, which was never a good thing. She tilted her head to the side, studying the feathered pen. “I could have sworn…” Heidi’s voice trailed off as she started to weave through the various high-top tables that were positioned for guests to sample specific teas. You realize that this means I have to use my evenings from now until the end of time to research tea leaves, their different flavors, the numerous ways to properly make the so-called civilized beverage, and how to actually make it taste good, right? I suspect several cubes of sugar would have a great deal to do with that. I tried to quell my panic, because it wouldn’t do me any good. I was stuck here for twelve months, whether I liked it or not. But that didn’t mean I had to be here all alone. “Are you sure you can’t get a few more days off? After all, there was a funeral.” I wasn’t happy that Heidi had to return to New York City in the morning, but at least she’d been able to accompany me on the long drive here. She worked in accounting at the place where I used to answer phones, but she’d been smart and gotten her degree at night school. Fortunately for me, she’d been able to take a long weekend to escort me here to this tiny speck on the map. She had stood watch and made sure my mother didn’t accidentally see me packing all of my belongings into the back of my beat-up Corolla. She was everything a friend should be, but she would be over a hundred miles away should something go horribly wrong. I briefly wondered if there was a way to avoid the train Heidi would be catching at some ungodly hour before the sun rose, but I did need her to be back in the city before I called my mother to break the news of my recent relocation to the northern coastline. “I used up all my vacation time when I went to Maui with Patrick.” Heidi fanned herself as she forgot all about whatever bothered her a few moments ago. She’d been head over heels with Patrick ever since he’d removed his shirt to fix a pipe underneath her sink. “And it was totally worth it. Besides, you’ll be fine here. It’s only for twelve months, right? Then you can come back to the city, where we’ll return to our wicked little ways.” I had to laugh at Heidi’s description of our personal lives. Wicked was on the totally opposite end of the spectrum from which we existed. We were both closing in on our thirties, and our ever-changing views of the dating world, the work force, and basically our future had snuck up on us when we weren’t even looking. I wasn’t sure I was ready for my thirties, but I certainly couldn’t stop time from marching on. “Heidi, you’re right.” I held up my hand so that she didn’t get the wrong idea. It was time for me to stand on my own two feet. “I’m talking about me taking the bull by the horns here. It’s only a measly twelve months. I’ll do what I can to see that Nan’s shop supports me for at least that long, and then I can sell it for enough of a profit that will help me finally take those college courses without having to work two jobs to afford the tuition.” “That’s the spirit!” Heidi looked at her watch before tucking her blonde strands of hair behind her ear. “You said we’re meeting Butterbaum for lunch at Trixie’s Diner, right? We have another thirty minutes before we need to be there. Let’s take a look in the back of the shop and see if we can’t find out why your grandmother named the shop Tea, Leaves, and Eves. You’ve got to admit, it’s kinda cute sounding.” That’s the thing. My Nan hadn’t been cute. She had been a force to be reckoned with, which was why I found it so hard to believe that she loved tea over the rich, inviting taste of coffee. Rosemary Marigold had long black hair, of course, but even longer nails that had always been polished a dark red. She’d also worn matching lipstick. She’d been beautiful in her own way, always wearing whimsical clothing with sleeves that went past her wrists and skirts that were more colorful than a peacock’s feathers on display. But there had always been something peculiar in the way she observed people when she’d walk around the city. It was as if she knew something they didn’t. I still didn’t understand fully what caused Nan to never come back to New York. Had the strife between mother and daughter finally been too much to bear? How could a mother cut off a daughter as if she never existed? My family was very strange, indeed. Of course, I might find out the reason why they parted ways after my impending call with my mother. I couldn’t do it now, though. I would wait until Heidi was back in the city before delivering my news. That way, she could intervene on my behalf and supply some red wine to soften the blow that her only daughter was giving up twelve months of her life to live in a town she’d wanted nothing to do with for most of her adult life. “If you ever met my Nan, you’d understand that cutewasn’t her kind of thing. And those hanging antique ivory-colored beads in place of a door that leads to the back room? Nan had her own rather unique style, and let me tell you that it was quite expensive. It was rare that she owned plastic anything, unless she’d resorted to plastic surgery in her old age.” I carefully walked around one of the high-top tables that held two teacups that appeared to be real bone china, along with a matching teapot. The delicate pink roses on the tableware were stunningly beautiful, and honestly nothing even remotely similar to the taste of décor that my grandmother would have preferred. Something was really off here, but I couldn’t put my finger on it just yet. Maybe the Nan I remembered had changed and become one of the old biddies across the street with greying hair and matching sweaters. I should look for a recent picture among the piles of belongings. Didn’t everyone change a smidgen in their old age? Soften a bit? Maybe the regret of choosing to live all on her own had finally made her see that life hadn’t been meant to be so lonely. The odd whitish cast of beads I was referring to earlier prevented customers from seeing into the storage room. One’s gaze automatically focused on the ivory shapes cut into...fairies. I mean, they were actually fairies stacked on top of one another. It was if they were dancing a spectral spiraling pirouette that one couldn’t look past. I assumed it was hiding a storage room for stock items. What else would be in the back of a tea shop? I needed to alter my way of thinking and try to picture the next twelve months as an adventure of sorts. This could benefit me in long run, because surely Nan kept some kind of written records regarding our family history. This could be like a treasure hunt, providing me with the answers my mother would never bother to divulge. For the first time since leaving New York City, my heart fluttered with a flicker of excitement. Heidi was the first to slip her fingers in between the magical beads, causing each single hand-carved shape to emanate a never-ending string of melodic clicks as they ricocheted off one another. The soft tactile click made me smile in anticipation of what we would find. “Um, Raven?” The thing about being best friends with someone was knowing when he or she was being overly dramatic and when things were really, really wrong. In this case? A lump of fear formed in my throat. I expected the worst. You know, an overly large rat with big yellow teeth or maybe a spider’s web that had been given a week to create the most horrifying trap that would enable him to cocoon an entire human body. Did I mention that I have an overactive imagination? “What’s wrong? And don’t tell me a wasp’s nest is back there, because I don’t have my EpiPen with me. It’s somewhere in my luggage in the back of the Corolla.” “What about an inhaler?” “I don’t have asthma.” “You’re about to.” Heidi stepped aside so that I could look through the strings of diverting fairies. She was right. I was suddenly having a very hard time breathing. “Is that…” “Larry Butterbaum? Yes. Do you think the poor guy had a heart attack or something?” “Butterball, Heidi. His name was Larry Butterball, like the turkey.” One would think that at some point in my life that my luck would change for the better. I honestly thought it had, but the dead body in my newly acquired tea shop told me the tide hadn’t turned just yet. “Well,” Heidi said in what I took as an attempt to make me feel better. Let me just forewarn you that she utterly failed. “Welcome to Paramour Bay.”