In Benevolence, Washington, the Lamont family’s irresistible handmade chocolates are a cherished tradition–and always a reason to celebrate. And now they’re giving the three Lamont sisters, one by one, delicious chances to start again, make a change, and have their sweetest dreams come true…
Neighbors who care, a peaceful routine–accountant Adeline Lamont is glad some things about her beloved hometown never change. But when her grandfather is injured, she has to run the family store, Chocolate Haven, and make its legendary fudge. Trouble is, she can’t get the recipe right to save her life–or Chocolate Haven. And she doesn’t need her ornery new tenant, Sinclair Jefferson, stirring up the pot with his help–and daring Addie to taste her wild side…
Once Sinclair gets his hapless brother back on track, he’s leaving Benevolence for good this time. He’s made his life far away from his irresponsible family and their scandals. Trouble is, he can’t quite stay away from Addie’s optimism, enticing plus-size curves, and kindness to those who need it most. But they don’t seem to have a thing in common–except that Addie’s passion for chocolate, and for Benevolence, is just as contagious as Sinclair’s passion for her. Maybe small-town life has its charms after all…
The dress wouldn’t zip.
Seeing as how the wedding was ten days away, that was going to be a problem. Adeline Lamont expelled all the air from her lungs and tried again. The zipper inched up her side, every slow, excruciating millimeter reminding her that she had bigger problems than a butt-ugly, too-small, tangerine-colored bridesmaid’s dress. The fudge, for one. The chocolate shop, for another. Neither of which was being dealt with while she was trying to shimmy into the most hideous dress she had ever seen.
“Addie!” May Reynolds called from the other side of the bathroom door. “How’s it going in there?”
“Peachy,” Adeline called back, the zipper finally finding its way home.
The last thing she wanted to do was spend twenty minutes explaining her inability to fit into the dress to May. Too much to do. Too little time.
And now . . .
She glanced in the mirror above the sink. Orange. Lots of it. Skin too. Shoulders. Arms. Chest. All of it pasty and white from too many days in Chocolate Haven’s kitchen. She needed to get outside, get a little fresh air and a little sun. She’d add that to her list. The one she’d been adding items to all day.
“Addie!” May knocked frantically. Probably with both her wrinkled fists. “Please tell me it fits! I don’t have time to alter it. I barely had time to make it!”
“I wish you hadn’t,” Addie muttered, tugging at the huge ruffle that drooped over her chest and fluttered to a stop somewhere in the region of her stomach.
“What’s that, dear?” May yelled, her voice edged with panic. The poor woman would have heart failure if Addie didn’t open the blasted door.
Then again . . .
Addie eyed the white flesh burgeoning out of the bodice of the dress.
. . . she might have heart failure when she got a look at Addie squeezed into the dress.
A lose-lose situation any way Addie cut it, so she opened the door and stepped into the narrow hall that led from the front of the shop to the kitchen.
It smelled like chocolate. Vanilla. Maybe a hint of the blood, sweat, and tears she’d been pouring into the place since Granddad had broken his hip and femur.
She gagged, but managed to keep down the sixteen pounds of fudge she’d consumed while taste-testing batch after batch of Lamont family fudge.
God! If she ever ate another piece of fudge again, it would be way, way too soon!
“Dear God in heaven!” May breathed. She stood just a few feet away, hands clasped together, her blue-white hair a little wild. “You have breasts!”
Addie would have laughed if the dress hadn’t squeezed all the air from her lungs.
“Most women do,” she managed to say, her head swimming from lack of oxygen or, maybe, too much sugar and too little real food. When was the last time she’d eaten a meal? Two days ago? Three?
“Not Alice,” May huffed. “Your grandmother was reed slim. She wore clothes beautifully. Didn’t matter what, she looked good in it.”
“I am not my grandmother,” Addie pointed out. And even she wouldn’t look good in this dress, she nearly added.
“You’re standing in for her at my wedding, dear,” May responded, tugging at the bodice of the dress, trying desperately to get it to cover a little more of Addie’s flesh.
Wasn’t going to happen, but Adeline let her try. Just like she’d let her insist that Adeline be maid of honor at her wedding since Alice had passed away five years before the big day. Sure, Adeline would be the only under-thirty member of the wedding party, but she loved May. She’d loved Alice. For them, she’d stand at the front of Benevolence Baptist Church wearing a skintight tangerine dress. She just hoped to God that Randal Custard didn’t decide to do a human interest story on the event. Sure, it was cool that May had found true love at seventy-six years old. Sure, it was wonderful that she was finally getting married after so many decades of longing for marital bliss.
What would not be cool or wonderful would be a picture of Addie plastered across the front page of Benevolence Times, her fudge-stuffed body encased in tangerine satin! Since she’d turned down Randal’s dinner invitations seven times in the past month, it might just happen.
“May,” she finally said, the thought of Randal and his camera and that picture souring her mood more than the last mediocre-tasting batch of family fudge had. “The dress isn’t going to cover any more than it’s already covering.”
“But I measured you,” May responded, giving the bodice one last tug. “And I never measure wrong.”
“I may have gained a pound or two since I took over the shop for Granddad.” Or ten, but who was counting?
“I’ll lose it before the wedding.”
“Promise?” May asked, her lined face caked with powder, her drawn-on eyebrows giving her a perpetual look of surprise. She’d always been a little high-strung, a little nervous. The exact opposite of Adeline’s grandmother, who’d been calm in the face of crisis, reasonable in the face of difficulty.
“Of course,” Adeline assured her.
What else could she do?
“All right. I guess we’ll just make it work,” May said, probably channeling someone she’d seen on some sewing or fashion show. She’d been a home economics teacher at Benevolence High for nearly thirty years, had owned a fabric shop right next to Chocolate Haven up until a month ago. For as long as Adeline could remember, May had been obsessed with fashion.
Too bad that obsession had never translated into a good sense of style.
Unique was more the word for it.
Or atrocious, horrible, dated.
Adeline could think of a dozen other words, but it was late, she was tired, and the kitchen needed a thorough scrubbing before she left for the day.
“Of course we’ll make it work.” She cupped May’s elbow and urged her toward the front of the shop.
“The wedding is going to be beautiful. Every last detail of it.”
“How could it not be?” May raised her chin a half inch. “I’ve planned every last detail. Every flower, every bow, every song.”
Every word that Jim and I shall speak during our vows. Every strain of music that shall play during the reception, Adeline added, mentally repeating the spiel she’d heard dozens and dozens of times.
Scrooge, her better-self whispered. She was a scrooge. She could admit that.
But . . . doggone it! She was an accountant. Not a chocolatier. Not a shopkeeper. Not a master creator of the coveted Lamont fudge. After nearly three weeks of trying and failing to be those things, she was getting grumpy.
The too-tight tangerine dress wasn’t helping things. Poor May wasn’t either. She meant well. Addie knew she did, but May had a habit of making mountains out of mole hills and creating drama everywhere she went.
“I know you have,” Addie soothed as she bypassed the glass display cases that had been in the shop since the doors opened in 1911. She’d already stocked them for the following day—chocolate bonbons in beautiful foil wrappers, milk chocolate truffles with cocoa powder dusted over them, chocolate mint bars, chocolate mallow cups. Chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate.
It’s what the Lamonts did.
Only it didn’t seem to be what Adeline could do.
Sure, the chocolate was there, but the fudge was missing, and that was the thing that had put Chocolate Haven on the map.
May must have noticed the full display cases. She paused next to them, leaning in to study the goods, her left eye twitching. She was going to ask about the wedding favors, because that was how May was.
Please don’t ask, Adeline willed, but May’s mouth opened and out it came.
“How are the wedding favors coming along?”
“Great,” Adeline lied. Truth? She’d made twenty of the five hundred chocolate hearts May had ordered.
She’d had to toss every last one of them, because what should have been a beautiful high-sheen chocolate exterior had been rough, dull, and bumpy.
“Oh! Wonderful!” May’s surprised eyebrows lifted a notch. “I’d love to see them. How about—”
“I’ve got so much work to do, May, and I know you’re busy with wedding preparations,” Adeline said, cutting her off. “How about we wait until I have a few more to show you? I’ve only done the milk chocolate, and you wanted dark chocolate and white chocolate. I’ll put together a little sampler for you one day this week.”
“Well, I . . .” May glanced toward the kitchen. “Are you sure they’re turning out okay?”
“Absolutely certain,” Adeline said with so much emphasis, her chest nearly popped from the dress. “Good, because I can’t have anything go wrong.” May reached out, yanked at the tangerine ruffle. The dress didn’t move. “Not one thing.”