“There he is again.”
Sydney Hart jerked her head up, bonking her forehead on the top of the display case where she had just placed a fresh tray of scones. “What? Ouch! Where?” She rubbed her head and looked to where her cousin, Suzie Hart Matthews, pointed.
“Over there,” Suzie said. “On the bench across the street in front of the library. Your stalker.”
Sydney squinted, wiped her hands on her apron, and took a couple of steps toward the big picture window of her bakery. “Oh, Suzie, are you sure?”
“Dead positive. I remember his jacket.”
“Well, shoot.” Dammit.
Puzzled, Sydney blew a strand of hair out of her face and eyed the guy. “I thought maybe he was gone. I really didn’t believe he was stalking me anyway. I mean, Shelley gets riled up about stuff like that, but you are always so levelheaded, Suzie, which has me a bit worried. And you know me, I don’t pay a bit of attention to anything other than what’s happening straightaway in front of me. So, what do we do now?”
Suzie picked up her cell. “Time to call in the local forces.”
Grasping her wrist, she said, “I don’t think that is necessary.”
A brow arched above Suzie’s right eye. “Syd, listen to me. Let me give Matt a call. He can advise.”
“Suzie, Matt is about as effective as Barney Fife. I mean, I love him, seeing that he’s Shelley’s husband and your brother-in-law and my cousin-by-marriage and all, but nothing big ever happens here in Harbor Falls, and I’m suspecting nothing big is going to happen with this guy, either. Let Matt be. We don’t need to involve any of Harbor Falls’ finest.”
She tried like hell not to look out the window again. “Besides, I don’t have a stalker. I think he just likes pastries.”
Glancing across the street, Suzie said, “Need I remind you that the guy followed you all around Ralph’s Grocery on Saturday?”
Well, that was true. He had a cart with only a few items in it, but he had watched her like a hawk. She also noticed he had a little notebook with him, and he frequently jotted down things while he stood a fair distance behind her. It wasn’t the first time she had noticed him lingering about, either, but that didn’t mean he was a stalker. “He was shopping. Just like me. You know how I have to go through the entire store one aisle at a time. Likely he shops like that too. Many people shop that way. I don’t think he is anything to be concerned about.”
The notebook thing bothered her a little, however.
“What about the Thursday before at the pancake breakfast you catered for the American
Legion? He was there, too.”
“He was eating!”
“Well, maybe so! But who is he? Where did he come from? Where does he live? And why is he always staring at you!”
Sighing, Sydney moved closer to the door and gawked at the man across the street. It was early spring and he wore a light blue fleece jacket, jeans, a pair of Nikes, and a black ball cap pulled low over his forehead. Nothing weird about that. In fact, he looked rather normal.
“I don’t think stalkers sit out in the open, in the middle of the day, watching their prey from a few feet away.”
“I don’t think they wear Nikes, either.”
“Unless they need a fast getaway.”
Sydney turned. “Oh, Suzie, stop it! The guy is not a stalker! I mean, why would he stalk me? I am nobody. I’m not famous like you. You’re the big television star and cookbook author. I’m a lowly baker and coffee shop owner in a very nondescript little southern town where nothing, and I repeat nothing, ever happens.”
She looked her cousin square in the eyes. Suzie’s suddenly shot open wider.
“He’s standing up. Oh my God. Here he comes.”
Sydney jerked her gaze back to the street. Her gut tightened, but she refused to acknowledge it. Well, sort of. “So what?”
The man looked right, left, and then stepped off the curb.
“Shit.” Suzie pulled her cell phone out of her pocket.
“Stop that,” Sydney told her. “You are not calling Matt.”
“He’s coming. Look! He’s staring straight at the storefront door.”
“Great! I’ll sell him some coffee and Danish. Now move it and put that phone away.” She hustled back toward the counter, unsure why her tummy was twittering like a house afire.
Stalker my ass. The guy is probably just new in town and trying to get a lay of the land.
“He’s on the sidewalk!”
Staring at her, Sydney said, “Quit! Go in the back if you are going to have a conniption right here in the bakery. I don’t need that.” Sydney rounded the display case and pretended to straighten things on the counter. His shadow crossed the door.
“Oh, God. Oh, God!”
“Suzie, shut up!”
This was all rather unnerving. Suzie never acted like this or got spooked by things. What in the world...?
The bell on the door jiggled.
Glancing up about the time the door closed and the man stepped fully into the bakery, Sydney plastered her best Southern Belle smile on her face and said, “Good morning, sir! Welcome to Sydney’s Sugar High Bakery. What can I get for you this morning?”
Behind the display case, she waved Suzie off, who was pressed to her back like a tomcat after a female in heat.
The man didn’t say a word but took a leisurely pace moving forward, then let his gaze fall to the baked goods in the display case. “A cup of black coffee to start,” he said finally, shifting back and forth while looking over the goodies in the case.
“One cup of black coffee coming up! Today’s house blend okay with you?”
“Perfect,” he countered.
Sydney turned to stare at Suzie who was blocking her way. Keeping eye contact, she gripped both her arms and maneuvered her to the left so she could get to the Bunn coffeemaker. “Suzie, do I smell something burning in the back?”
A look of horror crossed her cousin’s face. “Muffins!”
“Go check please?”
She was off and Sydney sighed. “Thank, God.”
Turning, she placed a mug of coffee on the counter. The man still stood at the case, scrutinizing her scones.
“Those…orange?” He pointed.
“Yes. Just baked and frosted. A local favorite. Shall I get you one?”
“What’s the icing?” The ball cap lifted a bit and she caught his gaze. Barely. Brown eyes? She did catch that.
“It’s a buttercream, sort of. With a hint of Curaçao and a little something else for tartness.”
“A little something else,” he mumbled.
“Shall I get one for you?”
He nodded. “Yes.”
“For here or to go?”
He glanced up and about the place, and then finally responded. “Here.”
Crap. She halfway hoped it was to go, honestly. Suzie was so unpredictable.
Peering through the case, he watched her every move as, with gloved hands, she reached inside, covered one of the nicest scone specimens on the tray, and moved it to a small dessert plate. She always used real dishware in her bakery when people were staying to eat. It was homier that way, and she really wanted people to feel at home here.
So they would come back, of course.
Did she want this guy to come back? Quit letting Suzie get to you. He’s harmless.
She handed him the plate. “Three dollars and fifty cents.”
His head jerked up. “That’s all?”
“Yes, sir. One dollar for the coffee, two-fifty for the scone. Tax included.”
He mumbled something unintelligible, pulled some bills out of his wallet, and dug two quarters out of his jeans pocket. He scooped up his pastry and coffee and sauntered off toward a table in the corner.
“Great,” Suzie whispered from behind. “Now your stalker has set up shop in your bakery. I’m calling Matt.”
Sydney faced her. “Oh hell, just go on and do it. Geez!” If there was anything Sydney knew better than the back of her hand, it was her cousins, Suzie and Shelley, and how they were. Once Suzie had something in her head, there was no getting her to back off. “Have at it, cuz.”
Suzie scurried off to the kitchen. Sydney wiped down the counter and ordered herself not to look at the man in the corner. But she did peek once.
Or maybe twice.
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