Speed dating? Speed eating is more like it.
Suzie Matthews is getting quite the reputation as the Matchmaking Chef, in and around the small town of Legend, Tennessee. When she sets up lunch date after lunch date for Lyssa Larkin, Legend’s homegrown homecoming queen of 1997, she knows she’s about bit off more than she can chew. Lyssa inspects and rejects her dates in two bites and then sends them on their way. Suzie wonders if she really wants to date or just eat two lunches, and worries that soon Lyssa’s hips won’t fit on her dainty chairs.
That is, until Suzie is contacted by a potential suitor who is falling for Lyssa hard and fast, and she just can’t help but work some of her matchmaking magic behind the speed dating scenes...
An excerpt, Chapter One:
“I give up. I think I’ll just marry the first man who pops his head into Sugar High, just so I can get a divorce and get it over with.”
Lyssa Larkin daubed at the sugar rim gracing her upper lip and dipped a cinnamon-powdered doughnut into her heavily-creamed coffee. Sydney Schul, owner of Sydney’s Sugar High Coffee Stop and Bakery, frowned and watched Lyssa dunk, dunk, dunk the thing and then lean gingerly over the coffee cup. Her long brunette pony tail slid over her shoulder while she stuffed the rest into her mouth.
Sydney handed Lyssa a napkin. “Your chin,” she said.
Lyssa nodded and swiped again.
“And why would you want to go and do something like that?” Sydney added.
Lyssa rolled her big brown eyes. “I’m an old maid, Sydney. And no one wants an old maid. Men expect that a thirty-six-year-old woman has had some experience with men. Most men assume that you’ve already been married and divorced by my age. Had kids even. Me? I’ve only had sex with two men and have never been married, no kids, and no stinking divorce! Men just don’t understand that. They wonder what is wrong with me.”
“There is nothing wrong with you, Lyssa. You’re beautiful, smart, and a catch.”
“Tell that to the guys who look at you cross-eyed when you say you’ve never been married.”
“That’s ridiculous. Women older than you marry for the first time all the time.”
“Maybe in the big cities. But Sydney, this is Legend. Population 6,232. Small, southern, Bible-belt and all that. It’s weird here.”
“So now you get it?”
“Let me get this straight.” Sydney braced herself against the counter, her palms flat on the Formica top. “You’re out to get married just so you can get a divorce? How very Bible-beltish of you.”
Lyssa shrugged and reached for another sugared treat.
Sydney put her palm over her hand. “That’s three. Don’t you think…?”
Lyssa’s baby brown’s narrowed and Sydney jerked her hand back. “Listen to what I am saying. I don’t have sex, Sydney. I don’t drink. I don’t smoke pot or do drugs. I don’t even drink diet soda laced with artificial sweetener, although some would say that I should. So let me have the damned doughnut, you hear me?”
Sydney nodded. She would give her that.
The bell over the bakery door tinkled and she glanced away from the sugar-coated disaster. Sighing, she moved around the counter and rushed to take a box from the woman struggling with the door.
“Give me that.”
Suzie Matthews blew out a breath. “Thank you!”
A breeze whipped in behind them and slapped the door flat open against the wall. “Oh!”
Sydney angled the box on the counter and raced before the wind caught it again and broke the old glass window pane insets.
“A bit brisk,” Suzie said, straightening her jacket about her.
Sydney firmly shut the door. “You can say that again. Thunderstorm coming, I think.” Turning, she glanced toward her cousin, Suzie, and then at Lyssa, who was dabbing off another round of powdered sugar on her Dusky Pink-lined lips and staring into her empty cup.
She glanced up. “Mind if I refill my coffee, Syd?”
“Have at it.”
Both Sydney and Suzie watched as Lyssa slid off the counter bar stool and waddled in her black stretch pants around the counter and toward the Bunn coffeemaker. Suzie sidled closer to Sydney and whispered. “Put on a tad bit of weight lately, huh?”
In a low voice, Sydney replied, “She’s depressed. Wants a divorce.”
Suzie slanted a gaze her way. “But she’s not married.”
“Yeah. Well, she needs to get married so she can get a divorce. It’s part of her grand plan.”
One corner of Suzie’s mouth drew up. “What the hell?”
Lyssa shouted out from across the room. “I took the last of it, Syd. Should I make a new pot?”
“Sure thing, hon. Go for it.”
They watched her twiddle with the carafe and the filter and the basket, punching buttons and watching the first drips hiss against the bottom of the glass pot.
“So, what do you think?” Sydney prodded.
“What do you mean?”
“Can you fix her up with someone? It’s not like it is forever, so this one should be easy.”
Suzie turned to fully face Sydney. “I’m not getting caught up in this. I’m exhausted after that last bout with Chris and Katie.”
“But that worked out fine. Chris said yesterday morning they set a date. November, right? And Mary and Nash are already building a big cabin up in the mountains. Not to mention how you got Chelly and Matt back together. You’re good, Suzie. You can do this for Lyssa.”
“I know. But she’s doing it for the wrong reason.”
“Maybe you can turn things around for her.”
Suzie shook her head. “I dunno. This will require…” She glanced again at Lyssa, who was waiting for the carafe to fill while inspecting her teeth in the wall mirror behind the counter. “Oh hell, face it Syd, Lyssa is just…different.”
“But she’s a good person. Truly. Just a little high maintenance, is all.”
“C’mon, Suze. You were never one to hold back on a challenge. Besides, I’ll help if you need me.”
“What I really need is to get started on preparations for that party tonight.”
“So say you’ll give it a thought, and then we’ll get busy.”
Crossing her arms over her chest, Suzie forced a thin breath through her lips. “All right. I can find her a man but she’s got to stop eating. Those stretch pants remind me of bulldog pups under a picnic blanket.”
Sydney snickered. “Remember, it doesn’t have to be the right man, Suzie, just a man who will marry her and then divorce her. That way she’ll be more respectable to the menfolk. At least, in her mind.”
Lyssa turned and headed their way again, having just filled her mug. She sniffed the coffee aroma, settled back on her stool, and glanced to the edge of the counter. “What’s in the box, Suzie?”
“Key lime tarts, blueberry scones, and my famous Cinna-Mocha Brownie Fudge Cupcakes.”
Lyssa’s smile widened and her eyebrows popped up. “Oh?” She stood and leaned toward the box.
Sydney laid a gentle hand on the lid. “They are for a party we’re catering this evening.”
She turned to Suzie. “By the way, did Chelly get to Knoxville to get that dipping chocolate? I can’t make my dipped fruit without it.”
Nodding, Suzie reached for the box, gathered it in her arms and started toward the back of the bakery. “Yes. She called and is on her way. I’d say she’ll be here about three. In the meantime…”
She stopped. “Lyssa? What are you doing tonight? We could use another hand at the Talbert reception later. It’s at the Lodge.”
Lyssa stared at her. “You mean. Work? Me?”
Suzie closed her eyes.
Sydney shook her head.
“Excuse her, Lyssa.” Sydney’s sarcasm was thick. “Suzie totally forgot that ex-Homecoming Queens with trust funds do not work. How dare she?”
“I do too work! I have a job and you know it! I am the best damned puppy nanny in Legend!”
“You’re the only puppy nanny in Legend,” Suzie snapped. “And of course we know you work. I just thought maybe you’d like to pick up some extra cash and we could talk about your, um, man search.”
“Man search?” Lyssa’s voice rose an octave. “Sydney, you told her?”
All at once, Lyssa plopped back on her stool and the tears spilled. “Damn you. Damn both of you. Will you never let me forget that queen thing? The old maid thing? The trust fund thing? Can I help it if my grandmother left me with a house and a little extra cash? And while we’re at it, can we also put a halt on the Lyssa-is-too-fat-and-will-never-find-a-man thing?”
“That last one is all in your head, Lyssa Larkin, and you know it.” Sydney crossed her arms over her chest and looked down at her.
Lyssa snorted a sob and powdered sugar flew.
“Oh hell.” Suzie put the box of pastries back down on the counter. “Lyssa Larkin, what the peach cobbler is wrong with you? You are making no sense. All I wondered is if you wanted to make a little cash. Your choice. I thought maybe you’d quit moping around and get out and have some social interaction. I’d forgotten about the Homecoming thing years ago, even if you did beat me out and you were only a sophomore. Still, all you ever had to do was bat those big brown eyes of yours and every teacher in the school and every boy on the football team came running to do your bidding. So, what’s the deal here, huh? Get out of this funk, forget the past, and if you know what’s good for you, quit eating those damned doughnuts!”
All that said really didn’t make a difference because Lyssa took one more long look between the cousins and burst into tears again. This time, full throttle.
“Shit.” Sydney’s hands fluttered into the air and she headed toward the back room. She heard Suzie talking some nonsense to Lyssa as she exited; something about drying her tears and meeting her at her house in the morning and figuring this all out.
Lyssa whined something about having to pick up a dog in the morning from a client.
At any rate, their voices faded as she heard the familiar tinkle of the bell over the door.
“Thank God,” Sydney muttered. “Just get her out of my bakery before she eats me out of house and business!”
Suzie had the patience of a saint. Sydney knew she, herself, had gotten the short end of the stick in that department when they passed out the Schul family patience gene.
But Suzie…if anyone could knock some sense into Lyssa, and find her a man to divorce at the same time, she could.