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Suzie Schul has it all. A booming business, a wonderful town to live in, and, well, food. Yeah, she loves to cook and she’s the best darned cook in Legend, Tennessee. Everybody says so. She runs her own B&B, has published a cookbook, conducts cooking classes on Saturdays, and caters for special events and holidays.
What more could she want, really?
Nothing that she will admit, anyway. And let's not even think about that brief escape to Gatlinburg several months back when she had separated from her then-husband, Cliff. Or the fact that the man ran off with her little sister while they were, um, estranged. And let's definitely not bring to light that she'd never really revealed to anyone in the small town of Legend what exactly had happened between her and Cliff.
Or the fact that while she was off "finding herself" and "losing her husband" at the same time, she sort of, well, had a fling. But never mind about that, because "the fling" is long gone and likely doesn't even know where to find her. Besides, he was trouble.
And just when Suzie thinks all is well, Mr. Trouble rides up to her B&B doorstep on a bad-ass Harley and tosses her perfect little world into some kind of big, bad tumble.
“I’ll take it.”
“You understand the deal is as is.”
Brad Matthews nodded. “I understand.” He looked up at the decaying and dilapidated structure and wondered what it was like in its hey day. Although he hated to tear it down, that was exactly what he was going to do. “The land is worth the asking price.”
“What will you do with it?” Martin McClain, the realtor he’d been working with, studied him from the side.
“I have a plan.”
Martin harrumphed. “Others have had plans, too. I assume you have the financing for renovation?”
He assumed correct. Brad suddenly had financing for just about anything he wished.
“Yes.” His answers were intentionally vague. These small town types, you never knew what they would keep confidential or pronounce in the coffee shop for the whole town to chew on.
That was the last thing he wanted, or needed: the whole town of
all six-thousand-plus of them, chewing on his business. Tennessee
No way. Not until he was good and ready.
Lodge is pretty special to the folks around here.”
Brad figured it was. Figured he’d also have a fight on his hands when they learned what he wanted to do with old
. Lake Lodge
“Pretty special to me.” Brad left it at that and turned to Martin. “How soon can we close?”
Martin rubbed his chin with his forefingers. “Your loan is secure. The sellers are motivated. I’d say any time in the next few days. Let’s sign the paperwork and I’ll get it to their agent.”
He nodded and let a slow, languid grin spread across his face. “What else needs to be done?”
Martin studied him. “Well, for starters while you are here in town, I’d check with zoning, a local contractor or two, temporary utilities, et cetera.”
Good idea. It would keep him busy while he was waiting to take possession. Get the details out of the way so he could get to work.
He nodded. “Sounds like a plan.”
Martin thrust out his hand to shake Brad’s. “Good dealing with you, Mr. Matthews. Got a place to stay while you are in town?”
For the first time since his arrival in Legend, a hint of trepidation skipped down his spine. Slowly, Brad angled his gaze toward
and across the
expanse of water. It was the same view Legend
boasted of in old brochures, the one that forty years ago drew tourists to the
mountains and the lake in droves. Lake Lodge
And if he had anything to do with it, they would return in droves again.
His eyes rested far across the lake on a moderate-sized clapboard home that sat nestled in a young cove of trees bordering the lake’s edge.
“Yes. With any luck, I will have a place to stay.” He turned to Martin and shook his hand. “Thank you, Mr. McClain. I’ll give you a call in the morning.”
Martin headed toward his older model Jeep. The guy was going to enjoy the commission he’d make from the sale. Well, good for him. He imagined the guy could use the money. Might as well let his inheritance contribute to the local economy.
Turning, he eyed his newest toy—a brand spankin’ new, baby-blue Harley Davidson Dyna—and swung a leg over the warm leather seat. Felt good to be in the saddle. In control. Two dreams coming true. A hog of his own and becoming his own boss real, real soon.
He was a man with a plan; knew exactly what he wanted.
But there was one more piece of his plan to accomplish, and he would work on that one, next.
He kicked the bike into gear and the rumble broke the mountain calm. As he spun out, he wondered what the locals were going to think when other rumblings broke the silence of the small town.
Like dynamite blasting a hole in the side of their favorite mountain.
What in the world did I forget?
Cinnamon and nutmeg.
One by one Suzie Schul lifted the items out of her cotton grocery bags and placed them on her kitchen island. She’d forgotten something. What was it?
Darn it. Why hadn’t she made a list? She always made a list. Why didn’t she make a list today? Why not this time?
Seriously, she had to get over this bad habit lately of second-guessing herself. Mentally she ticked off the recipe items needed for her famous Legend Mountain Blueberry Muffins. Flour, check. Eggs, check. Spices, check and check. Sugar, check. Fresh blueberries, check.
She’d forgotten the stupid milk.
And she was bone-dry out. She frowned in disappointment. Tonight was the night she wanted to perfect the recipe for her new cookbook—At Your Leisure: Recipes of Legend’s Landing Bed and Breakfast. Thinking about the new title her editor had just approved, she smiled but then immediately frowned as she glanced toward the groceries on her kitchen counter.
It wasn’t that the grocery store was that far away, or that it would take her hours to go back and get it. It was, however, the simple fact that getting back into the car, driving the ten minutes to the local Piggly Wiggly, working her way to the very back corner, grabbing the milk, and making her way to the checkout aisle would be another damned exhausting trip down memory lane. One she didn’t want to take again today. She’d already been there an hour or so ago, much to her chagrin.
Their voices still nagged at her….
“Suzie, honey, so sorry to hear about...Cliff.” Cluck, cluck. Old Mrs. Wilson. Her dementia had set in about a year ago and she recalled everything that happened exactly one year ago, over and over again. Whenever she saw Suzie, all the genteel older woman ever thought about was how Cliff had left her.
Poor, poor Suzie.
Pat-pat on her hand. “You feeling better, dearie? You look a bit peak-ed.” Mr. Wilson moved his hand up her arm. Suzie knew better than to turn her back on the old man because he’d be pinching her backside before you could say, “Howdy do.”
Then there was Betty Jo. Grocery clerk. Scowling across the melons. “That sister of yours should have known better. She wasn’t raised that way.” She violently shook her head. “You need to get out and find a man, sweetie. It’s time. Want to go to
with me Saturday night?” Knoxville
Tsk tsk. Geraldine Wisemueller. Obviously on her way home from her daycare job as she had baby spit and some sort of green goo on her shoulder. Geraldine sidled up beside her. “Now, tomorrow evening you are to come over for dinner and we’ll have meatloaf and pie and lemonade. You’ll forget all about the terrible man who left you and that little...um, and your sister.”
Best meatloaf in town. At least she thinks so. Suzie begged to differ.
Sympathy run amok.
She didn’t need any more sympathy run amok, thank you very much. Or any more hand patting. Or clucking after her ex-husband. Or tsk-tsking her sister. Or meatloaf.
She didn’t need any of that.
Or a man.
Definitely didn’t need a man.
She needed milk.
Dammit. Just milk.
And she wasn’t going to get it today, that was for certain.
Besides, it had been over a year since her husband of fourteen years up and ran off with her baby sister, Chelly. She was over it. She was! When would they—meaning the entire town of Legend, Tennessee—give it up, too?
Talk of the town. Yep. Little Suzie Schul.
But she was tired of the whole sordid affair. Seemed like she and Cliff stirred up more gossip around these parts since, well… Since Pammy Gruber ran off to
in ‘43 with the preacher from
the . Church of Christ
Times like these she wished she didn’t live in a small town. Everybody knows your business. Everybody wants in on your business.
There were days she just wanted to run away.
But wait, she’d tried that once, right? And it hadn’t quite turned out so well.
She shook off the shiver that accompanied the thought.
Truth be known, she could never leave. Legendarians stayed put. It was sort of like a rule. Legend was her hometown. She was as homegrown and homespun as they came around these parts. Couldn’t imagine herself living anywhere else, especially in a big city. No, Legend was where she belonged and Legend was where she’d stay.
And she’d fight to keep this small town the way it was, had always been, no matter what its quirks or characters.
She picked up the dozen eggs and headed for the refrigerator, putting all that out of her mind. Hell’s bells. She’d have to endure the quirks and go out and get the darn milk. Shouldn’t take long. A guest was coming later this evening and she’d need the milk for morning breakfast. After all, she had her reputation to stand on, right? Well, Legend Landing’s Bed and Breakfast’s reputation at the very least. Hers might still be questionable.
Because the other half of the “talk of the town” was that she must have done something to make poor Cliff go and do what he did. Cliff had always been such a good guy (albeit a tad boring). What in the world was it, many speculated, that little Suzie Schul had gone and done? And just why had she moved to Gatlinburg, anyway, for those months?
Like she’d give them fuel for that discussion.
The groceries. Put away the groceries, Suzie.
On the way to the refrigerator, she glanced at the red blinking light on her answering machine and punched at the button.
A voice crackled. Bad connection. “Um...Suzette?”
She froze. Only one person in the world called her Suzette. No, it couldn’t be. She smashed the stop button. Panic raced through her. He couldn’t have found her.
Carefully, she pushed the button again then turned to put away the eggs. Like, if she didn’t pay too much attention to the message it wouldn’t have too much importance.
“Um...Suzette? It’s...Brad. I’m...” Crackle, crackle, crackle. “...in...for a... Here’s my number. I, uh...proposition...you.”
And without further ado, Suzie missed the shelf of her refrigerator entirely and dropped the full dozen eggs, splat on her kitchen floor.
Milk and eggs.
Pammy Gruber had nothing on Suzie Schul. Especially if Brad Matthews was coming to town.