★`*•.¸(`*•.¸★ IT'S RELEASE DAY ★¸.•*´)¸.•*´★
LOVE ON THE BOARDWALK
(Cinnamon Bay Romance series - Book 1)
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She’s hiding a broken engagement.
He’s concealing his true birth heritage.
They’ll have to trust their hearts even if they’re sure love is a lie.
Just for you...here's a preview of Chapters 1 & 2!
FOR AS LONG as Eva Halloway could remember, the menu at the Brewed with a View coffee shop had remained the same.
She’d learned by heart each specialty drink, hot drink, and pastry from her childhood days spent sitting on one of the stools along the antique counter and watching her grandmother tend to customers. Hands down, her favorite item on the menu had been the strawberry float. And even now, years later, just being in the coffee shop, the familiar smells and the atmosphere had her craving a strawberry float. Maybe if her grandmother had been on the other side of the counter, she would have indulged in the drink of her childhood.
Instead, Eva stood on the other side of her counter, filling the shoes of her late grandmother, Lilith. It hadn’t been a surprise that Lilith had left her only granddaughter the family business, but rather a surprise that her spry nana had passed away so suddenly.
Eva hadn’t asked or been looking for a new beginning, but at the same time, the change had been exactly what she needed. She’d moved back to her summertime playground of Cinnamon Bay, North Carolina and took over Brewed with a View.
And with new beginnings, she decided the menu could use some spicing up—or rather an entire revamp. After weeks of research, she’d narrowed down the specialty, hot, and cold drinks. She’d added a fruit and smoothie line as well as a “grab-n-go” snack line. All having funky new names. And today was the day she’d introduce the new menu to the town.
Balancing on the ladder, she finished writing the last drink on the oversized chalkboard—her grandmother hadn’t modernized with digital screens, and Eva quite liked the cozy feeling of the old chalkboard.
She leaned back to admire the white-and-blue chalk words she’d scripted and was confident the sweet maple cold brew would be the perfect replacement for the town’s legendary Café Amour.
The antique clock chimed six times, telling her it was time to open. She climbed down the ladder, rinsed the chalk from her fingertips and dried them on her apron as she crossed the room and flipped the open sign.
The foggy morning seemed appropriate for the tiny touch of dread inside her. She knew taking Café Amour off the menu might not fly with the town, but this was her coffee shop and if she wanted to remove a silly drink that gave people false hope and foolhardy expectations she didn’t believe in, then so be it. And if she had to stand up to every single person who lived in Cinnamon Bay, bring on the torches and pitchforks of the angry mob townsfolk.
The lock clacked as she slowly turned the deadbolt. Through the glass door, she could see three shadowed figures walking down the boardwalk, the fog rising around them set the scene of a horror movie.
Chills crept up her spine.
The whole town in mob form wasn’t nearly as scary as Hattie, Trixie, and Birdie, the resident matchmakers, and her late grandmother’s best friends.
Eva’s gaze flitted over her shoulder to the chalkboard. There was still time to add the Café Amour back on.
No. She refused.
Taking a deep breath of confidence, she walked back behind the counter. Kolby Reeves, her newest—but the coffee shop’s oldest—employee, made it to the ladder first and unhinged the sides to flatten it.
She admired his thick dreadlocks wrapped in a fancy bun atop his head. He spent more time on his hair than she did her entire morning regime. She glanced down, second-guessing her jeans and T-shirt and wondering if she should have decided on a dress for today, to give her a softer, sweeter side.
Not to impress Kolby; they batted for the same team.
No, her mind was still on easing the new menu to the ladies getting closer. She could see the outline of Trixie’s and Birdie’s hats. Hattie refused to wear a hat because of her name, which spoke volumes to her stubbornness.
“I see the matchmaking posse is on their way bright and early today.” Kolby hitched his eyebrows upward as he walked past her with the ladder tucked under one arm. “Almost as if they sensed what you’ve done.”
“Not you too.”
He continued walking as he spoke. “Sweetheart, you know it’s true. I warned you about taking Café Amour off the menu. But I won’t abandon you to three little old matchmakers.”
The bell above the door rang, and the tap of heels clicking on the hardwood floor warned them the matchmakers were in the coffee shop.
“Then where are you going?” Eva hissed at Kolby in a low whisper for only him to hear.
“I have to put the ladder away and…count the forks,” he said.
“Count the forks?” Lies, all of them.
He glanced over his shoulder. “Honey, one of us needs to survive to be able to serve the customers. I’ll be back after the wrath of what you’ve created has passed.” His fingers spun in the air for effect.
“Chicken.” But her hiss was only met with an amused chuckle as he disappeared into the back.
Deep breaths. Deep breaths.
It was her coffee shop, and she had this.
Plastering her best smile on her lips, she turned toward the powerful three. “Good morning, ladies.”
None of them responded. Their eyes zeroed in on the menu.
Eva grabbed three coffee mugs and a pot of freshly brewed java and made her way around the counter. “The usual, ladies? And the usual table?”
She filled the mugs over at the bistro table by the window where the trio sat every morning, ordering the same thing. Being Eva’s grandmother’s best friends, she didn’t make them wait in line to order their drinks. Even Kolby knew to spoil them by delivering their drinks to their table.
“I never thought the day would come,” Trixie said, her regular bubbly demeanor lacking.
“Lilith would roll over in her grave.” The bracelets on Birdie’s wrists clanged as she pointed at the menu.
Hattie, the unsaid leader, remained silent, and Eva sensed that was by far worse.
“Now, ladies…” Eva turned to face them and found Trixie already behind the counter, chalk in hand and trying to hoist herself up the ladder.
“Trixie! Get down from there!” Eva left the coffee pot on the table and rushed to the old woman’s side before she slipped and broke a hip. Cautiously, Eva drew Trixie’s foot down and steadied her on level ground.
Eva planted her hands on her hips and sent the old lady a glare. “What are you doing?”
Trixie pointed the chalk at her. “You’re missing a drink.”
Eva snatched the chalk away. “I’m not missing a drink. I purposely didn’t add the drink.”
Trixie gasped and covered her mouth. “Oh my word.” Her eyelids closed, and she tilted her head upward. “I’m hearing things. Good lord, I’m hearing things. This child claims she’s not putting Café Amour back on the menu.”
“You’re not hearing things.” Eva kept a firm tone. “I’ve revamped the menu, and that’s all the coffee shop is serving from now on.”
“All?” Hattie asked in her calm and composed manner.
Eva’s gaze locked on Hattie’s forceful stare. “Yes, all.”
The older woman was trying to crack her and break her down.
It wouldn’t work.
Eva stared back.
A thick tension grew around their silence for what felt like minutes before the bell sounded and customers entered the coffee shop.
“Let’s let Eva tend to her customers,” Hattie said. No mention of the drink, no attempt to put it back on the board. Eva would feel success, but she knew better with these old gals.
She watched the three ladies whisper about the missing drink not as quiet as she assumed they’d meant to be.
“That didn’t go as badly as I thought it would.” She jumped at Kolby’s voice beside her.
“Your timing is impeccable,” she told him before she smiled at the customer waiting by her counter. “What can I get for you today?”
“I was told you sell Café Amour.”
THE MORNING WAS a confusion of new drink names and explanations, but the laughter and interaction with the customers left everyone smiling. Even the trio of matchmakers couldn’t argue that the morning had been a fun, eventful few hours.
And there the ladies still sat, at their table, as if they had nothing else to do today. Which was quite the opposite. Eva knew all about their daily routines, not by choice; her grandma had been as much a gossiper as they were. She knew Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays they did yoga at Zen Bodies. And Tuesdays and Thursdays were left for Zumba.
She also knew about their Saturday danceathon at the retirement home and knitting on Sundays. Not to mention, their book club, which they’d named Coffee Talk on the Boardwalk. The trio kept busy, but today, they hadn’t budged. They’d moved from drinking coffee to water. She was making no money off their table, which was less worrisome than whatever plan they were constructing.
“They’ve got the look.” Kolby was folding a paper napkin into one of his funky, unique origami creations, with one eye peeking up at the trio.
“Stop it. You’re being paranoid.” Eva peeked up from the cup she was scribbling a name on to find they did indeed have the look.
“See, the look,” he whispered in her ear.
He was right. There was no denying it, and as soon as her lineup cleared, the trio was standing on the other side.
“Ladies, is there anything else I can get you?”
“Eva Halloway, you may have been raised in Boston, but you spent every summer here in Cinnamon Bay. You’re a Halloway. If anyone would believe the legend, it should be you. Your blood is part of the legend.”
She sighed, tired of the same old story. “It’s just a drink.”
“If it’s just a drink, why take it off the menu?” Birdie perched her eyebrows high enough they disappeared under her beige beret.
Eva wasn’t about to start a conversation on the false hope of Café Amour that had led her mother to make the worst decision of her life—marrying Eva’s father.
“I love you ladies like you’re my grandmothers, but this time, I don’t need your support. It’s staying off the menu. End of story.”
She turned and grabbed a washcloth to wipe the already sparkling clean counter.
“On one condition,” Hattie spoke for the first time, and Eva had prepared herself for this fight.
She tossed the washcloth in the sink and turned around, leaned her back against the counter and placed her flat palms on top of the cool surface. “Name it.”
“You make a Café Amour and drink it yourself.”
Eva scrunched her face together. “What?” She hadn’t expected the strange request.
“I think that’s fair.” Kolby came to her side, with his traitorous words.
“What? No,” Eva repeated.
“If you don’t believe in the drink, what harm can come from it?” Hattie dared her.
“If I make the drink, and drink it, you’ll drop putting it back on the menu?” Eva asked.
“If, after you drink it, you don’t find your true love, we’ll drop it.”
That wouldn’t be a problem. Eva was destined to be alone, didn’t want to find love after seeing how it destroyed her mother.
“Fine.” She wiped her hands on her apron. “I’m in. I’ll grab the ingredients.”
She knew the recipe by heart as she’d watched her grandmother prepare it for the tourists who came into the shop looking for the legendary Café Amour.
“And, Trixie, put the chalk down.” Eva pointed a warning finger at her before she gathered the ingredients.
“This is exciting.” Birdie climbed on the stool at the end of the counter, rubbing together her hands anticipatively. “I’ve dreamed of the day you finally down the drink.”
Eva rolled her eyes. “It’s only regular ingredients mixed together. There is nothing special about it.”
“You know that’s not true,” Hattie said. “Made by a Halloway, with Cinnamon Bay’s cinnamon, and the recipe turns into a love potion.”
“A potion for disaster,” Eva muttered.
“Oh, thee of little faith,” Birdie said.
Eva pointed her teaspoon at Trixie, who had pulled a chair to the counter. “I swear Trixie if you go anywhere near that board…”
“All in good time.”
Eva finished preparing a small pot of the drink, poured some in a mug, and looked at the glistening top. This drink was to blame for every hateful thing her father had ever done to her mother.
She held the mug up. It was only ingredients mixed together into a silly legend she didn’t believe.
Kolby beamed beside her, his hands wringing a tea towel.
“Bottoms up.” Eva cheered to the air, took a deep breath, and drank the drink she’d promised herself she never would have again. It didn’t taste like anything more than chocolate, orange zest, and spice.
When she moved it from her lips, Hattie touched the bottom of the glass and tipped it upward, forcing Eva to chug the drink.
“Let’s not waste a drop.”
When every drop was gone, Eva tilted the cup sideways, showing the ladies the evidence.
She didn’t feel different.
She didn’t feel in love.
And at the same time, did she feel disappointed?
The door chimed, and Eva looked up. Her heart slowed, and her body numbed as eyes as blue as the water along the boardwalk met hers in what felt like the longest seconds of her life. When she should pull away, she didn’t. When she should’ve smiled, her mouth remained parted like a gaping fool. And was that a pull inside her? A pull to a stranger?
She’d forgotten she wasn’t alone until Kolby gave a low whistle, and Trixie said, “Well, that boy is the spitting image of Macklin Parker. It’s like he’s come back from the dead!”
MAC WASN’T SURE what to expect when he rolled into town and immediately followed his nose to coffee. Rather, he followed the directions on his phone, but his brain and his nose were in complete agreement.
His footsteps echoed off the wooden boardwalk, and the sound of the ocean waves crashing made a nice contrast until they fell into synch. Crash, boom. Left, right.
It was certainly a beautiful place, and totally different from where he’d been living in Maine for the past several years. The good thing about graphic design? You could do it anywhere.
You could even pick up your entire life, sell your apartment, and move to North Carolina on a whim if so desired.
Which sounded crazy now that he thought about it. Sadly, it was exactly what circled around in the back of his mind. He settled for a rental and a month. Now he was here, at least for the time being. To find out about the grandfather who had given him up for adoption.
It seemed silly when he dissected it, so Mac left it alone and opted for coffee instead.
Pushing open the door to the coffee shop, he was greeted with a cheery tinkle of bells on glass.
His skin crawled when every eye in the place fell on him. He felt each gaze as if they were little needles pricking at his skin. Acupuncture made up of curiosity and intrigue.
He approached the front counter, fighting to keep his gaze on the menu and his feet from tripping, even when the three older ladies directly to his left were trying to bore through him with their eyes.
There were whispers, he was sure, and positive he’d heard his grandfather’s name repeated—which was impossible—Mac tried to focus on the menu written in cursive. He caught a glimpse of a dark-haired woman zipping into the back room without giving him a clear look at her face.
The slender, athletic man fiddling with an espresso machine came over to help the person at the front of the line.
“I’ll have, ah—” Mac began hesitantly.
“You know…” The first of the old ladies, wearing a tan beret over a head of copper-colored hair, sidled closer to him with a wink of her nonexistent eyelashes. Bracelets jingled when she reached out to clasp his wrist.
Mac started at the contact.
“You remind me of someone,” she said slowly.
Her skin was soft and rubbed against him like aged paper. He fought to smile instead of what he really wanted to do—break the contact and crawl back into his artist cave with no one the wiser for his visit.
He was a solitary creature by nature.
“Do I? I get that a lot. It’s the hair.” He used his free hand to gesture toward the ebony strands. “It’s a common cut.”
“No, no. Not just anyone. A staple here in Cinnamon Bay,” the lady continued.
“You really are the spitting image of the man. God rest his soul.” This from the center hen—for what did they look like but little roosting hens all fluffed on their perch? —who raked him from head to toe with an all-seeing stare.
“I’m sorry for your loss.” Mac hoped it was the right thing to say.
The one still holding his wrist waved the comment away. “He’s been gone about four months. His wife longer than that. Lost her in childbirth, he did. Only the sister is left. What’s your name, sweetheart?”
He’d thought this would be an easy in and out for a cup of coffee. He’d severely underestimated small towns.
He kept a grin pinned to his cheeks. “Macklin. Mac to my friends.”
It might have been his imagination, but all three women settled in their seats, their expressions identical cat-in-the-canary-cage sly.
“Macklin isn’t a very common name, now is it, Birdie?” The rosy-cheeked matron asked her companion.
“No, not to my knowledge,” the second replied. “Although Elizabeth’s brother’s name was Macklin.”
Mac started. They couldn’t possibly know his relation to his dead grandfather on first contact, right? It was ridiculous.
“Sorry, ladies. I’m just here for a drink,” he soothed.
“You know, Brewed with a View is known throughout the state for our specialty drink,” the farthest woman told him. “It’s called Café Amour, truly delicious. Historical, you might say.”
The closest adjusted her bracelets. “Mystical, even.”
“You ladies need to leave him alone. You’re going to scare away my customers.”
Mac swiveled around to see the same man with mocha-colored skin wagging a finger at the old ladies as if he was scolding them, but he also noticed the twinkle of humor in the other man’s eyes. The familiarity between the man and the ladies all but proved his suspicion that the trio were more than likely regulars here.
Their talk about his grandfather was unsettling, so Mac latched on to the lifesaver the man behind the counter offered up.
“I need caffeine.” A glance down at the nametag pinned on a black t-shirt told him the fellow’s name was Kolby. “Please.”
He received a wink for his politeness. “Anything for you, sweetheart.”
Another sweetheart? Maybe it was a southern thing.
The farthest hen interrupted when Kolby turned to the coffee bar. “He wants to try the Café Amour.”
Mac shook his head. “I don’t want anyone to go to any trouble—”
“It’s nothing!” the woman insisted, interrupting him.
Kolby fixed her with a hard look. “Trixie, it’s not on the menu anymore. Okay? I know you goaded Eva into making it earlier, but she isn’t going to be happy knowing you’re still trying to push it on customers. Drop it.”
Trixie held her wrinkled hands in front of her, the perfect picture of Mrs. Clause innocence. “This is the last one, I promise.”
Mac shifted from foot to foot and stared at his watch. He’d been on the road for a good five hours to start already, having divided his trip into multiple legs, and he was itching to get to his rental and shower. From there, he still had to settle in and do a couple work-related jobs before delving into his side project.
“I really don’t want anyone to go to any trouble for me. Truly. A straight up coffee is acceptable,” he said.
Trixie’s voice went hard. “Get Eva.”
Kolby tilted his head, pursed his lips and huffed. His arms were at his sides, and he executed a perfect pouty pirouette before pushing into the back room.
To get Eva, Mac assumed.
It took seconds before the beauty he’d only glimpsed earlier was back in the room. She tucked a lock of hair behind her ear before offering him a hesitant half smile, her teeth nibbling on her lower lip.
Holy knockout, Batman.
The woman was a stunner, with eyes the color of a stormy summer sky. The apron she wore couldn’t disguise her figure: curves in all the right places, long, tanned arms and artist’s fingers.
His throat went dry. Fingers clenched at his sides, and Mac felt like he’d been punched in the gut.
She laced her fingers in front of her and graced him with a soft grin. “I’m going to guess you’ve been roped into asking for Café Amour.”
Mac shrugged, anxiety twisting in his stomach. “I’m not sure what to get.”
“Don’t let the sweet old lady persona get to you. They can be tricky. What do you need, stranger?”
“Mac,” he said automatically.
Her smile brightened, reaching her eyes, and a nuclear bomb beneath his sternum detonated. For a second, he’d forgotten where he was. What he was doing…why was he here, again?
“Eva,” she replied. “It’s a pleasure. And I have a bit of the Café Amour leftover from when I was forced to make it this morning. I’d be happy to give you some, and whatever else you want. No charge on the first. Girl’s gotta make a living on the second.”
“Thanks.” He inclined his head, trying not to stare at her rear when she turned toward the back. He failed miserably.
“We’ve been relegated to the table,” Hattie said, casting her nose toward the window and grabbing his attention with her husky voice. “We aren’t allowed to get up for fear of making trouble.” She stressed the last two words.
Eva rolled her eyes when she came back, her hands wrapped around a cup of something steaming. “I’m sorry, Hattie. You can get up from the table. You just aren’t allowed to grab my chalk or break a hip. Looking at you, Trixie.” Her gaze fell on Mac. “Long story.”
“I’d love to hear it sometime.” He accepted the cup, inhaling deeply and recognizing the scents of orange, cinnamon. Perhaps a little allspice. Something else he couldn’t quite put his finger on.
“It’s a secret ingredient,” Eva said, reading his mind. “Sorry. Family thing. One that isn’t on the menu anymore for good reason.”
Mac hazarded a sip, burning his tongue in the process, and loving every minute of it. Heat settled into his stomach. He closed his eyes and enjoyed the feeling, the rest of the coffee shop fading away.
When he finally opened them again, Eva was staring at him with her mouth moving, and her head cocked to the side.
“What else did you want, Mac?”
Oh, God. There were too many things. Her, namely, and she’d shot straight up to the top of the priority list.
“Coffee?” It came out more of a question than an answer.
Reading his mind again, she moved over to a pot behind her and filled a to-go cup to the brim. He dug in his pocket for money, handing it over to her, their fingers touching when it exchanged hands. There was a spark of recognition. A quick zap of energy.
“Thanks. It…it was nice to meet you.”
“And you as well.”
They passed one final smile between them before Mac forced his body toward the door.
“What did you say your name was?” Hattie called after him.
Mac stopped, his hand on the door handle. “Mac.”
Okay, it was something to remember when he came into the café again, because he surely would be back. The staff was friendly—and arousing—but there were demanding little ladies ready to peck at him.
“Sorry. Jenssen,” he replied.
“You truly are the spitting image of old Macklin Parker,” Hattie began, sharing a look between her fellow ladies. “Too bad he just passed. Although I remember that Elizabeth, his sister, lives out on Cassia Street. She’d be in her seventies now.”
Trixie and Birdie nodded in agreement. “Yes, I think you’re right. Quaint little yellow house with that bright Bermuda lime-green trim. Pretty place if you ignore the paint.”
Mac’s ears perked up at the mention of the name. He might be curious, but he wasn’t going to let on to these three that he was. The conversation was getting a little too close to why he was in Cinnamon Bay, and it was making him a little too uncomfortable.
He needed to get out of there, and fast.
With a slight raise of his to-go cup, Mac peered back at Eva. “Thank you for the coffee. It’s some of the best I’ve ever had, and I’m sure I’ll be back.” Twisting a smidge, he glanced over at the old ladies. “Nice meeting you all but I have work I need to get done. You all have a nice day.”
He was out the door before anyone could respond. Seemed he might have an aunt in town. Mac just wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not.
IN ALL HIS twenty-eight years, Mac had never considered himself an adventurous person. He knew what he wanted to do, he went for it, and there was little to no deviation from his pattern. His adoption was something he’d known about from a young age, although his parents made sure he was loved. They also made sure to never keep his history from him, what little they knew.
It wasn’t until word came to him of his paternal grandfather’s death that he realized he wanted to know more. To stretch outside his comfort zone. To see if he could figure out why his grandfather allowed him to be adopted. Why he hadn’t wanted to raise Mac himself.
Behind the wheel of the car, he tried to balance his cell phone with directions to his rental and the truly delicious cup of coffee without dropping either on his lap.
The windows were down, and warm air streamed in smelling of salt and pine. It was a delicious combination. Cinnamon Bay was turning out to be a prettier place than he’d thought.
He turned a corner and caught the green flash of a street sign. Looking for Seventh, where he was staying, seeing Cassia instead.
The old woman’s closing statement repeated in his head. On a whim, he whipped the car around, bounding over the street corner, almost taking out a stop sign.
Watch where you’re going, dummy!
Mac kept his eyes on the lookout for a yellow house with Bermuda green trim, whatever that meant.
He went up and down the street twice before pulling in front of a quaint one-story cottage with turquoise trim instead of green. The canary yellow was a bit garish at first, he admitted, but all in all the place was tidy. Adorable. Some may even say quaint.
What was he doing?
Twisting the key in the ignition, he stared at the house and tried to decide what he would say.
Hi, nice to meet you. I happen to be your great-nephew.
Yeah, it sounded ridiculous.
Even so, he got out of the car fueled entirely by coffee and nerves. Both fluttered in his stomach like someone had unleashed the hounds.
Taking a deep breath, he knocked on the door and tried to come up with a good excuse if it turned out the house belonged to a family of four with a dog instead of a potential blood relation.
A lock clicked, and he fixed an open and trusting grin on his face.
Before a baseball bat