Today's Reading

"Wow." He stopped and stared at the carnage. "They made a real mess. Was anything taken?"

She shrugged, focusing on the issue at hand once more. "Inventory-wise, I won't know until I get things cleaned up and do a count. But I doubt it. The float for the cash is gone, but that's only a few hundred dollars. Mostly they just made a mess."

Laurel bent over and righted a half-barrel of colorful begonias, purple lobelia, and million bells. Her gaze blurred as she noticed the crushed, fragile blossoms and pile of dirt left on the floor.

"Laurel?"

She clenched her teeth. If he saw her with tears in her eyes...today was upsetting enough without adding humiliation to the mix.

"Laurel," he said, softer now. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine." She bit out the words and pushed past him, going to the counter area. She could stand behind it and the counter would provide a barrier between them. "You don't need to worry about me, or take that soothing-the-victim tone. What do you need for facts?"

She sensed his withdrawal as he straightened his shoulders, and she felt momentarily sheepish for taking such a sharp tone. But she was angry, dammit. Hell, she was angry most of the time, and starting to get tired of hiding it with a smile. This was truly the last thing she needed.

"Do you have a slip or anything with the amount of the float?" Now he was all business. It was a relief.

She took a piece of paper from beneath the cash drawer in the register. "This is our rundown for what goes in the float each night. It's put in a zip bag in the safe. Like a pencil case."

He came around the counter, invading her space, and knelt down in front of the cupboard. "This is the safe?"

"I know. It's not heavy-duty..."

"It looks like they just beat it open with a hammer."

Great. Now she was feeling stupid, too. "It's Darling. I didn't expect something like this to happen here."

He stood up and gave her a look that telegraphed "Are you serious?" before stepping back beyond the counter again. "Something like this happens everywhere, Laurel. What, you didn't think crime happened in
Darling?"

Well, no. Or at least, not until today. The fact that she'd already come to this disappointing conclusion, and then he'd repeated it, just made her angrier.

Coming home was supposed to be peaceful. Happy. The town was small, friendly, neighborly. Even after years away, many of her customers remembered her from her school years and recalled stories from those days. Darling even had a special "Kissing Bridge" in the park. There were several stories around how the bridge got the name, so no one really knew for sure. But the stone bridge and the quaint little legend to go with it brought tourists to the area and made Darling's claim to fame a very romantic one. In a nutshell, those who stood on the bridge and sealed their love with a kiss would be together forever.

She should know all about it. Her picture—and Aiden's—hung in the town offices to advertise the attraction. Just because they'd only been five years old at the time didn't make it less of an embarrassment.

"I'm not naïve," she replied sharply. "Is there anything else you need or can I get back to cleaning up?"

"Can you think of anyone who might want to give you trouble? Someone with a grudge or ax to grind?"

Other than you? she thought darkly. This was the first time they'd actually spoken since she'd poured vanilla milkshake over his head in the school cafeteria in their senior year. "No," she replied. "I can't imagine who'd want to do this."

"I don't suppose you have any video cameras installed."

She shook her head, feeling inept and slightly stupid. Maybe she was a little naïve after all. She hadn't lived in Darling since she was nineteen—nine years. Things had changed in her absence. New people, new businesses.
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