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Book Jacket

Trade Paperback
350 pages
Dec 2005
Barbour Publishing

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Chapter 1

If JJ Taylor had her way, coffee would be outlawed, banned from society as an illegal drug. At the very least, there should be a prohibition on consuming the foul drink in her bookstore.

The aroma of fresh-brewed grounds permeated the air and masked her favorite bookstore scents—printer’s ink, paper, bookbinding glue, all buried by a smell of coffee beans. JJ whisked her feather duster across the stocked shelves of the Travel section and shot a furtive glance toward the café. With a sinking heart, she observed her coworkers sampling disgusting variations of the drinkable mud from paper cups. The heartiest caffeine-induced laughter came from those who had, in private conversations, shared in her consternation over the café’s opening.

Well, she was no hypocrite.

JJ turned her back on the Camden Corners Café pregrand-opening festivities, pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose, and returned to the task of dusting. If only she could have a word with the infamous Mr. Branson Smythe, the owner’s son and architect of the coffee café brainchild. But in the three years she had worked at Camden Corners Books, she had yet to see him. He could’ve been one of the suits trailing head honcho B. D. Smythe when they’d come to oversee construction of the café. But on those occasions, she had been too resentful—and intimidated—to approach the ominous owner of the nationwide megabookstore chain.

The upper management powers that be of Camden Corners hadn’t bothered to consult a peon assistant manager like herself prior to knocking down walls and renovating their flagship bookstore to accommodate an in-house coffee café.

If she ever did have a face-to-face with the illustrious Branson Smythe, she would rattle off a long list of reasons (her personal distaste for the bitter drink notwithstanding) why she opposed a coffee café on the premises of Camden Corners Books. The unsavory characters that frequented coffeehouses topped her list. They weren’t the kind of folks she wanted as patrons of their establishment—antisocial sorts, like her own parents—who would sit for hours and read books they never intended to buy, damaging the merchandise with their coffee stains and pastry crumbs.

With a swish of the feather duster, JJ sent a sawdust cloud floating into the bookstore’s stratosphere only to rain down on the shelves all over again. She chided herself for her less-than-Christian thoughts.

She would have to learn to cope with this change.

Or quit.

And she wasn’t about to do that.

Her stomach clinched when she even entertained the thought of abandoning her goal of climbing the Camden Corners Books corporate totem pole. Next year, she would graduate with her M.B.A., thanks to the company’s scholarship program. She had finished her coursework and needed only to finish her master’s thesis; then she would be done. Armed with her degree, plus her stellar employment record with the bookstore, she stood a good chance of landing her dream job in marketing at Camden Corners Books corporate headquarters—if, in light of these latest unpleasant developments, she could hang on in her present position until then.

She must somehow overcome her aversion to coffee, temporarily at least, even though the stinking brew dredged up buried memories from her better-left-forgotten past.

“Miss Taylor, line two.” The page cut into the Muzak rendition of an old John Denver tune. The instrumental track picked up again at the “West Virginia, Mountain Mama” part. She suddenly felt the threat of tears. When she was a kid, her grandma used to sing the chorus of the golden oldie tune whenever they crossed the river from Ohio to West Virginia on their way to family reunions at her uncle Frank’s.

Both Grandma and Frank had been gone for years now. And her mother, in a nursing home, was virtually gone, too, thanks to her drug-junkie lifestyle that had brought on a stroke and left her incapacitated at age fifty-five.

On her way to the phone, JJ stooped to pick up a napkin from the carpeted floor. Day One of the café’s opening, and the bookstore already looked a shambles. She pulled in a deep breath, fought off the myriad of emotions percolating in her chest, and punched the flashing phone button.

“Hi, JJ, it’s Kara,” her manager blurted before JJ had a chance to say hello.

“Kara, where are you?” And why aren’t you here? JJ shot a look of disapproval at a woman carrying a coffee cup between her teeth while leafing through an expensive hardcover book.

“Sorry, I was called in to attend a last-minute meeting at corporate HQ. But listen, the musician for the grand opening will be arriving in the next couple of hours to set up for tonight’s performance.”

JJ felt a sweat break out on her brow. She’d dealt with enough musicians to last her two lifetimes. “Right.”

“Be on the lookout for a tall, good-looking guy.” Kara giggled.

“And give him a rousing welcome. Make him feel comfortable and show him where to go to set up for his performance.”

A rousing welcome? Apparently Kara couldn’t distinguish between a musician and a VIP. “I’m sure he’ll be happy for the work.” Even without a rousing welcome, she was tempted to add.

“Gotta go, girl, but catch you later,” Kara said.

“Wait, what’s his name?” JJ heard the click of the disconnect, huffed out a breath, and set down the phone. She’d give him a rousing welcome all right. She would point him in the right direction and wait for Kara to come in and do all the rousing.