Hot buttered rum standal.., p.2
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       Hot Buttered Rum: Standalone Romance (Silk Stocking Inn Book 4), p.2

           Tess Oliver

  I tapped the door with my knuckles once more. It creaked open. Incredible aromas swirled around me as I stepped into the entry. Unlike the worn and tattered exterior of the house, the inside had been beautifully restored to its historical charm. Even the glossy, cherry wood entryway table looked as if it had stood there proudly for a century, welcoming every visitor that stepped through the door. A huge vase of pink roses sat on the top of the table, their fragrance muted some by the delicious food smells. They were the same pink roses that had been draped around the facade and porch balustrades in the doctored website picture.

  The entryway walls were adorned in vintage, cottage style wallpaper that was welcoming and charming, but it was the buttery fragrance of warm baked goods that made me want to search out a good book and curl up in an oversized chair for the night.

  “Hello, is anybody home?” My voice echoed off the walls of a narrow hallway.

  “This way,” a cheery voice called back. “Just follow your nose.”

  I headed down the hallway and entered a great room that was much larger than I would have anticipated in a century old house. It had been fashioned into a quaint bakery, complete with round tables and a gleaming glass counter filled to the brim with sugary delicacies. Plump cupcakes mounded by swirls of chocolate frosting sat in perfect lines on a tray.

  A low, cooing sound brought my attention to the large picture window at the front of the bakery. A bright green parrot was pacing sideways along the window ledge as it stared out at the ocean view. It didn’t seem to notice me.

  I turned back around to the counter at the patter of soft footsteps. The woman who’d stepped out from what I could only surmise was the kitchen was carrying a glass of milk. At first glance, I’d already formed the image of an older woman, slow moving and slightly hunched with fine age lines around her large green eyes and well-shaped mouth. But as she neared, her face was showered by the pendant lights hanging over the counter. I realized then I’d misjudged her age. She was young and incredibly pretty, not so much in a traditional sense like the girls on a makeup advertisement, but more like someone whose inner beauty could not be contained and so it showed on the outside too.

  Her sparkling eyes seemed to be assessing me. I was just about to introduce myself, but she beat me to it. She placed the milk on the counter and stuck out her hand. It felt cool from holding the glass. “You must be Ginger. I’m Coco.” She followed with a laugh that shook me out of my stunned state. “Our names make it sound as if we belong in a bakery.” She waved her hand around. “Oh look. Here we are.” She patted the corner of the cupcake tray. “Hot buttered rum. Try one. I only make them once a year.” She put her hands on her hips and tilted her head to look at me. “I was expecting red hair.”

  I reached up and tucked a strand of blonde hair behind my ear. “My mom and dad both have red hair, so they had settled firmly on the name Ginger long before I popped out and surprised them with this.”

  “I love that story.” Coco’s laugh caught the parrot’s attention.

  Its tiny talons tapped the window ledge as it turned around and bobbed its green head up and down. A squawk followed that was loud enough to peel paint off a wall. “Awk, pretty girl,” the bird muttered.

  I turned back around just as Coco was reaching into a cabinet behind the bakery counter. She pulled out a box of crackers and removed one from the sleeve. Her rainbow striped skirt swirled with her as she spun back around. “Help yourself to a cupcake. I’ve got to feed Polly.”

  “Polly is eating a cracker? Seriously?” I turned to watch her feed the parrot. It was still staring longingly out the window and not at the round cracker coming its direction. But instead of stopping at the window, Coco flitted right past the colorful parrot in her even more colorful skirt. She walked out the back door and returned a minute later without the cracker.

  I stared in confusion as she walked back toward the counter. “I thought you were giving Polly the cracker.” I couldn’t stop the laugh after saying the words.

  “I gave it to her.” She wiped her hands on her yellow apron. The wrinkles, I’d seen earlier, creased around her eyes and then instantly washed away. If nothing else, I wasn’t leaving this strange place without the name of her eye cream.

  I knew my mouth was hanging open, but I couldn’t seem to close it as I pointed over my shoulder at the parrot. “That’s not Polly?”

  “Nope, that’s Dexter. Polly is our resident squirrel. She lives in the big oak tree in the backyard. I’m watching Dexter for a friend. And, as you can see, he’s quite anxious for his owner to return.”

  The bird had turned its beady eyes back to the window. Its skinny bird legs nearly tangled together as it paced back and forth along the edge.

  “How sweet that he’s waiting like a loyal friend.”

  Coco pulled a plate out from beneath the counter and placed a cupcake in the center of it. “Tell me what you think.”

  All the trepidation and confusion I’d felt as my car rolled up to the inn was gone. I picked up the cupcake and peeled down the wrapper. I ran my tongue across the rich fudgy frosting. It was laced with just enough rum to tickle my nose.

  Coco pointed at me. “I thought you might be a frosting first kind of girl.” I was focused on the cupcake, but I was certain her finger had been somewhat gnarled and thickened at the knuckle. But on second glance, she had the smooth, soft hands of a young girl.

  I took a bite. The cake was light as air and full of all the buttery rum goodness I’d expected. “Oh my gosh, these are nothing short of magical.” I looked around. “Like this place. How on earth am I here, at the Silk Stocking Inn and nibbling on a cupcake that seems to have found taste buds I didn’t even know I had?”

  “You won a free weekend, remember?” She said it so plainly and confidently, I wasn’t even sure how to respond. In fact, a thousand questions circled in my brain, but I couldn’t land on just one to ask.

  I was about to utter something about a wrong turn when the parrot began a chorus of squawks intermingled with a few words I couldn’t quite discern at first. A short feather escaped its bright green plumage as it stretched its wings to keep balance during its enthusiastic dance. “Aye matey,” the bird screeched sharply.

  “Ah, that must be Turner.” Coco rounded the counter and headed toward the door. “I hope he’s brought my lobsters.”

  The door opened. A cool ocean breeze caused my hair to flutter in every direction. I still clutched the cupcake in one hand as I reached up and smoothed my hair back with the other.

  Dexter let out an ear-piercing whistle and lifted off the window sill. The bird flapped its wings, and after a clamor of shrieks and squawks, it managed to land rather gracefully on the shoulder of the man who had walked inside.

  With the bright green air show over, I looked at the man for the first time.

  A breath stuck in my throat. My fingers pushed into the cupcake I was holding. The remainder of the frosting dislodged and fell to the floor.

  Coco piped up instantly. “Don’t worry about that. I still have to mop the floors tonight. Come on over and meet Turner. He’s the local fisherman and part-time treasure hunter.”

  I wiped my hands off on a napkin and walked over to greet him. He was well over six feet tall, with wavy black hair, piercing blue eyes and a gunmetal gray plug in each ear. His bright white smile nearly mirrored the image I had in my head of the roguish pirate captain in my story.

  I held out my hand. “Nice to meet you, I’m Ginger. And I have absolutely no idea how I got here. Wrong turn, apparently, but the cupcakes were worth the detour. Sorry, I’m rambling.” Working in automotive engineering, I’d taught myself to be especially confident around men, but this man had tossed me off my game.

  I could see a dimple beneath the black beard stubble. “Those unexpected wrong turns, and yeah, I’ve got to agree about the
cupcakes.” He tilted his head slightly. “Ginger? Shouldn’t you have red hair?”

  I regained some of my composure. “Shouldn’t your parrot be named Polly?”

  As if it knew we were talking about it, the bird bobbed its head and muttered, “pretty girl”.

  Turner shot a sideways glance at his pet. “Damn right she is, Dexter.”

  My face warmed as Turner gazed at me with the same look I’d given the buttered rum cupcake minutes ago.

  “Did you bring me the lobsters?” Coco asked. “I’ve promised Ginger lobster pot pie, and without them, they’d just be pot pies.”

  Turner pointed over his shoulder with his thumb. “I left them on the porch. And since you’re making pot pie with my catch, does that mean—”

  “Yes, you’re invited too. Tomorrow evening.”

  “Oh, I can’t stay.” I’d finally snapped out of the semi-trance the incredibly handsome fisherman had left me in. “I just drove up here to—”

  “Nonsense. You must stay. You won a free vacation.” Coco placed her hand on my arm as I looked into her emerald eyes. It almost seemed as if she could read everything about me in my face. It was as if she knew the one thing in my life that had been missing was a passionate and true love that could rival the stories I had tucked deep on my hard drive.

  “You won’t regret it,” she said softly.

  “I—uh—well, I don’t have any plans.” My face warmed again as I realized how pitiful that sounded. “I mean my plans were cancelled at the last minute.” Of course, I felt no need to go into what those plans were because that would have sounded even worse.

  “Well, I’m glad you’re sticking around. Dexter and I are heading out to get below deck before those rain clouds pop.” Turner nodded politely and walked out.

  “Rain clouds?” I walked to the window and looked out. The clear navy blue sky had been muted by a thick ceiling of clouds, ominously dark clouds. “But that’s impossible. Earlier this evening there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.”

  “Storms roll in quickly on Barbary Cove. It’ll be gone by morning. Then you can take out one of the canoes. If you paddle out far enough, the water is clear as glass. You can see everything.”

  “Did you say Barbary Cove? Where is Northam’s Cove from here?”

  Coco raised her smooth dark brows. “I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of it.”

  “But that’s impossible.”

  Coco flashed her all too wise grin. “I’ve found sometimes it’s easier not to understand the impossible and just go with it. Come. I’ll show you up to your room.”

  “I just realized I can’t possibly stay.” I held out my arms and stared down at my jeans. “I didn’t bring anything with me for a weekend.”

  “No worries. I’ll make sure you have everything you need. Oh, but I must warn you, cell phones don’t get reception up here. I’ve found it works though. You’ll be surprised how much fun you can have when you’ve unplugged for a weekend.” My highly unusual hostess winked and motioned for me to follow.

  Coco led me up the stairs and down a hallway with two bedrooms. She pushed open the door to one of the rooms and stepped inside.

  The center of the room was filled with a beautiful antique bed that was overflowing with pillows and downy quilts. “Oh my, that is a bed that you could get lost in.” I walked to the window, where a cushioned window seat was filled with nearly as many pillows as the bed. The first patters of rain hit the glass. “Will Turner be all right out on his boat?”

  “Oh sure. He’s spent his whole life on the ocean. His grandfather was a fisherman. He knows he can come back to the inn if it gets too bad out there.”

  Coco headed to another door and opened it. “I suggest you have a nice long soak in a bubble bath to start your weekend.”

  I walked forward and gazed into a richly appointed bathroom with a tub that was deep enough to swallow me up. The bathroom was more sumptuous than the bedroom. “I might just wrap myself in bubbles and sleep in that tub.”

  Coco laughed. “Might get a bit cold. I’ll go downstairs and fix you something to eat.” She waved her hand around the cozy room. “Enjoy.”

  Chapter 4

  I lit three ivory colored candles, and instantly, a heady fragrant mix of jasmine and vanilla swirled through the steam rising up from the hot bath. I touched the water with my toe and then submerged my foot into the opalescent mounds of bubbles.

  My body hadn’t even settled completely into the hot, soapy cocoon when I’d made the firm decision to buy a soaking tub when I got back home.

  Heavy raindrops did a tap dance on the window pane just above the tub. I leaned back and bubbles wrapped around me like an airy cloak. The skeletal limbs of the oak tree growing below the window vibrated as a burst of wind sprayed the window with rain and leaves. As much as I would have enjoyed gazing up at a starlit sky from my luxurious bath, the stormy weather on the other side of the glass made the whole thing that much cozier.

  My eyelids felt heavy from the long work week. I pushed away all the numbers and calculations that were usually scratched in my mind when I closed my eyes. Oddly enough, once free of work clutter, my mind went straight to the fisherman, Turner. When he walked into the bakery, I’d felt a weird sensation as a little voice in my head whispered, ‘he’s your happy ending’.

  I’d quickly blamed it on the fact that I’d been talking about my lack of a happy ending earlier in the day. Not to mention, I was slightly intoxicated by the buttered rum cupcake and completely bewildered by the idea that I’d ended up at Silk Stocking Inn, a place that had seemingly popped up out of nowhere. The fact that Turner also looked the part of the perfect happy ending hero didn’t hurt either.

  A sharp tap against the window made me look up. The tap was followed by a sharp screeching sound. I reached for the towel, and as I looked back, I was startled by a fluttering movement outside the window. A beady eye was staring in at me.

  My heart raced with alarm as I stepped out of the tub and wrapped myself in the towel. It took all my courage to look at the window again.

  Relief washed through me as the parrot’s green head bobbed up and down as he stared inside. “Dexter, what on earth—?”

  I walked around the tub to the window and turned the lock. Dexter flapped his wings to stay perched on the sill as I slid the pane up. The second the window was open, the bird shot through in a flurry of wet green feathers. He landed on the vanity and immediately entertained himself in the mirror. He tilted his head back and forth, apparently quite enamored with his own reflection, rain-soaked and all.

  I yanked down the window and plucked the plush pink guest robe off the door hook. I blew out the candles and opened the drain on the tub. Dexter’s little feet clicked across the marble topped vanity until he got to the edge and turned around. His squawk echoed off the plaster walls. Then he flapped his wings and headed right for me. Before I had a chance to shrink away or cover my face with my arms, Dexter landed softly on my shoulder. His tiny talons grabbed hold of the lush fabric, and he tottered around to face the same direction as me.

  The bird made a sweet cooing sound as I reached up and rubbed its feathery chest with the side of my finger. “Guess you don’t need a towel when you’re wearing waterproof feathers.”

  Dexter’s green head bobbed up and down as if he was nodding.

  “I’ll get dressed. Then we better find Turner.”

  “Aye matey,” Dexter muttered.

  I laughed. “Right, matey.”

  My new friend and I walked into the bedroom. The aroma of grilled onions wafted my direction. Even Dexter seemed to smell the deliciousness coasting around us. Somehow, without me hearing one footstep or plate being laid, Coco had set the small table in front of the bedroom window with white linens, a silver domed plate of food, and a chilled bottle of wine.

  Dexter pushed off my shoulder and flew to the back of the chair. “Awk! pretty girl.”

  I put my hands on my hips. “Oh, so you’re one of those guys, huh? A little flattery, shiny black eyes and you think I’m just going to hand over my food.”

  I walked over and lifted the dome. The rich smell of onions and grilled cheese filled the room. I tore off a piece of the tomato wedge on the salad and held it out. Dexter danced across the back of the chair and plucked the tomato from my fingers just as someone knocked on the door.

  I glanced down at the robe and pulled it together tighter. With her amazing timing, I assumed it was Coco. She’d know what to do with Dexter.

  I swung open the door and just as he’d stunned me when he walked into the bakery, Turner struck me speechless again.

  Rainwater dripped off his long black hair. He was entirely too tall and too big for the Victorian sized hallway. But he looked just roguish enough to be from a different century, a century when dashing men were considered just a little more pleasing if they added a touch of scoundrel to their personality. While this man was, in essence, a complete stranger, something assured me he fit the bill perfectly. My theory was immediately proven when his blue eyes brazenly scrolled down to my cleavage. I looked down, only to find that the robe had parted open enough to show the swells of my breasts.

  I shifted my shoulders and drew the fabric closed, but only after allowing him to have a good long look. A look didn’t hurt, after all.

  My prim behavior pushed his mouth up in a slow grin. He pulled a wet piece of paper out from behind his back. It had a crude stick drawing of a parrot with a talking bubble that said ‘pretty girl’.

  “Have you seen this chatty bloke?” He lifted his hand up above his shoulder. “He’s about so high and wears a lot of green.” Turner leaned over to look past me. Dexter was still busy with the tomato. “He also has no shame when it comes to asking for treats. Oh, and he has an affinity for pretty girls.” He tapped his chest. “That he learned from me.” He finished that declaration with a beaming smile.

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