Better Than Chocolate


When Scott Matthews escapes to Legend to visit his brother, Brad and his wife Suzie, he has only one request—he wants nothing to do with chocolate. Or to discuss getting fired as master chocolate taster from world-renowned Bianchi Chocolates. What Jillian Bass wants is to make it in Legend. This Manhattan transplant wants to make it big here real bad. Forget New York. She’s starting over with her small chocolate shop, Bittersweets, and setting out to impress the locals. She doesn’t want them to know that she’s inherited her grandmother’s famous chocolate business—Jeaneva Chocolates. And all is fine until she smacks straight into Scott, and he takes one small whiff of her Belgian truffle….

Chapter One

“There she goes.”
With those words, everything and everyone inside Sydney’s Sugar High Coffee Stop and Bakery halted. Every thing and every one. Even the coffee stopped dripping.
Sydney, herself, had uttered the words, just as she stuffed a few dollars into the cash register after Officer Matt Branson paid his bill. Coffee and a Danish. Three dollars and ninety-eight cents, as usual. Matt faced the door. Suzie, her cousin, froze while loading a tray of just-baked cinnamon rolls into the display case, the tray perched precariously in the crook of her elbow. Her husband, Brad, reached to steady the heavy tray and said, “Who?”
To which Sydney replied, “That new woman in town.”
Brad took the tray; Suzie stood. “Where? I want to see the hussy.”
Sydney grasped Suzie by the arm and pulled her across the bakery until they were at the huge window in the front. Leaning together over plants and assorted whimsical stuff in the wide windowsill, their heads both cocked to the right, they peered down the street.
“There. See her? Pink shirt, white pants. Looking too damned petite and perky.
Suzie groaned. “I see her. The heifer.”
“Looks rather cute to me,” a male voice said.
“I thought when women called other women a heifer it was a bad thing. She’s not looking so bad.”
Sydney shot a look over her shoulder. Matt and Brad were both leaning in, too, watching the woman hurry down the street. Both women turned and stood; the men straightened right up.
Suzie reached out and chugged her husband square in the chest for that last comment.
“It is a bad thing! No woman wants to be called a heifer!”
“But Suzie, she’s a teeny little thing. Nice looking. And you don’t know her. Why would you….”
Sydney flung her hands up in the air. “Oh, my God! I can’t believe you. Men! Don’t you get it?”
Matt and Brad looked at each other and shrugged.
“No, Syd,” Matt answered, “I guess we don’t get it. Tell us.”
This time Suzie and Sydney did the eye exchange, shaking their heads and tilting them in that way women do when they know that the men they are talking to clearly do not understand what is going on.
“Because she’s new,” Sydney finally said.
“And because she’s cute and young,” Suzie added.
“And because,” Sydney paused and looked down the street again, “because she’s competition, dammit.”
Again Matt and Brad shared a look. Brad said, “Don’t even try to comprehend, man. It will make sense eventually.”
And Matt added, “This is nuts, Sydney. You and Stone just got married. Suzie is married.
So why is this woman, because she’s new in town and cute, competition for the two of you? You already have husbands.”
This time both women did a little shriek, fluttered their hands around, and stomped off back to the counter. Sydney resumed counting money, and Suzie retrieved the cinnamon roll tray off the counter, where Brad had left it, and returned to filling the display case.
Neither of them responded. Sydney just shook her head.
Finally Sydney dropped her hands full of money into the tray, looked at the men, and said,
“I will tell you why. Look around, the two of you. Just look. Where are all my customers? Hmm? Where are they?”
Clearly the men were still a tad confused. They glanced about and back to Sydney. Suzie straightened and looked at them head on.
“There is no one here, Sydney.”
“Exactly,” Suzie said, wiping her hands on a towel.
Matt stepped forward. “Give me more.”
“No customers! What else do you need?”
Brad stepped even with Matt. “Okay, maybe we’re getting closer. This woman has something to do with your customers not coming around lately?”
“Competition!” Suzie said. “We already told you that.”
“But you’re both married.”
“Not that kind of competition, Brad Matthews. Customer competition! The woman sweeps into town and within a couple of weeks has opened up a new coffee shop. Where in the world have you been? Haven’t you seen all the signs and the ads in the paper?”
Sydney crossed her arms. “Matt, if it weren’t for you and your cop friends, my coffee business would be a bust right now.”
“Does she have a bakery too?”
“No, coffee. Every kind you can imagine. Lattés, mochas, hot and iced, frappés and ice cream drinks, fancy schmancy chocolate stuff that no one in Legend really wants anyway. I heard something about candy, too, but not sure about that.”
“Frappés?” Matt questioned.
“Sort of like a milkshake, Matt,” Sydney offered.
Looking at Brad, Matt asked, “How can that be a bad thing?”
Brad shot him a look, “Don’t go there,” then turned to his wife’s cousin and business partner and said, “If it’s true she doesn’t have a bakery, Syd, then why are you worried?”
“Because, Brad Matthews, I just am.”
Suzie leaned in. “I heard she was even going after a liquor license so she could serve after dinner coffee-liquored drinks in the evenings, like with Bailey’s and Kahlua and such.”
The men both feigned a simultaneous gasp of shock. Then Brad chuckled. “Suzie, listen to yourself. You sound like one of the old women down at the Daughters of the American Revolution meeting.”
“I do not!”
“You do.” He glanced at the clock. “Hey, I have to run. I’m already late to pick up Scott.”
“Scotty is coming?” Sydney watched Brad hurry for the door.
“Just for two weeks. Vacation.” Then Brad was gone.
The women just stood and looked at Matt, who obviously had no desire to stick around sparring with them any longer either. “I should get going myself,” he said. “I’ve got my morning rounds to do.”
Suzie nodded. “Go rattle some doorknobs, Matt.”
He tipped his head and grinned. “I’ll be back for some more coffee about ten o’clock, Syd.
I give you my word, I won’t be checking out the competition. You’ve got the best damned coffee in Legend.”
Suzie cleared her throat.
He glanced her way. “Um, except for Suzie’s cinnamon blend out at her B&B, of course.”
Smiling, Suzie crossed her arms over her chest and nodded. “Thataboy, Matt. Go do your cop-ly duty. By the way, how is Chelly doing?”
“Morning sickness. Bad.”
“Ewe.” Both women shooed him off, and he left.
After a couple of moments of silence, Sydney resumed counting her money, and Suzie finished putting all of the rolls in the display case.
Later while cleaning up the kitchen in the back, Suzie turned to her cousin and said, “Only one thing to do.” She straightened and dried off the last mixing bowl. “We must go visit the competition. See what it’s all about before we jump to conclusions.”
Sydney wasn’t sure a stroll down the street was in her best interest. “I’d have to close up shop. I might miss customers.”
Narrowing her gaze and tipping her head, Suzie took one step closer. “Five minutes, Syd. Turn the sign on the door saying you’ll be back in five. I don’t see much action going on here at the moment, do you?”
She didn’t have to glance around to answer that one. She took a big gulp and reached behind her for her apron strings. “All right. Let’s go.”

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