My name is Lottie Lemon, and I see dead people. Okay, so rarely do I see dead people. Mostly I see furry creatures of the dearly departed variety who have come back from the other side to warn me of their previous owner’s impending doom. But right now, I’m not seeing a single dearly departed entity. Instead, I’m looking up at the glitziest establishment known to man, the Lux Plaza Hotel, right in the heart of downtown Fallbrook. It’s behemoth and as glittery as can be, and right out front there’s a large sign nestled in a gilded frame that reads Welcome to the Fallbrook Premier Academy Class Reunion! It’s a freezing night in early March and I’ve ventured out of my cozy little town of Honey Hollow to attend this throwback in time with the men I love. Everett groans just looking at the sign. “Here we go.” And there’s not a note of enthusiasm in his voice as he says it. “Yup.” Noah expels a heavy breath. “It’s going to be a long night.” “Oh, come on, you two,” I say, linking arms with both of them and giving them a jostle. “It’s going to be great. We’ve already come this far.
I’m sure it’ll be over before we know it, and not half as bad as you think it’s going to be. Sort of like a root canal.” “That about sums it up, Lemon.” Everett has almost always called me by my surname for as long as I’ve known him and I don’t mind one bit. It’s sort of become a sweet pet name at this point in our relationship. And Everett and I do have a relationship—we’re married. Okay, so it began as more or less a business transaction while I was dating Noah. Everett needed an official plus one so he could procure the rest of his trust fund and I helped him meet that matrimonial stipulation. And since Noah and I were on and off again more times than either of us could count, I decided a while back that I should give it another shot with Everett to see if there was still anything there. Noah came up with the same conclusion at about the same time, and well, Everett and I have been together going on nine months ever since.
Speaking of nine months… The muscles around my bloated belly feel as if they’re tightening into concrete and I give a long blink before the discomfort loosens. It just so happens that I’m in my final month of what feels like a fifty yearlong pregnancy. My due date is next week and my own birthday is two weeks after that. But it looks as if I’ll be getting the best birthday gift of a lifetime a little bit early this year—an entire new life to care for—and I can hardly wait, emphasis on the hardly wait. My body has morphed into a Macy’s Day float, and I’m ready to give this baby an eviction notice because of it. “Are you okay, Lot?” Noah examines me a moment with a serious look in his eyes. Noah has been extra attentive to me during the last nine months. They both have. As they should be—they’re both in the running to be the father. You see, I was saying a rather spirited goodbye to Noah the day we decided to take a break to see where my relationship with Everett might lead, and then I said a rather spirited hello to Everett to inaugurate ourselves as an official couple.
And well, the situation quickly grew maternal. “I’m fine,” I say, patting my belly, silently begging my body not to pull another stunt like that until I’m safely tucked in the maternity ward at Honey Hollow General Hospital and amply pumped full of enough narcotics for me not to notice. Noah Corbin Fox is a dark-haired, green-eyed stud, with dimples and a body built for fighting off the bad guys. Up until a few weeks ago he was working as the lead homicide detective for the Ashford County Sheriff’s Department. And Judge Essex Everett Baxter has black hair, demanding blue eyes, and a face and body sculpted by the masters. He’s slow to smile and quick to elicit the attention of everyone with a functioning pair of ovaries, as is Noah. And sadly, they’ve both been suspended from their prestigious positions for reasons I’d rather not think about right now. “Okay, gentlemen,” I say to the two handsome steeds by my side. “We’re going in.” They’ve both donned dark suits with glossy dark ties as if they were headed to a funeral.
I found a plum-colored beaded gown that ties off in the back and actually accentuates my curves—not necessarily a good thing in my condition, but I do feel fancier than I’ve felt in months. “Is there anything else I should know before I get thrown into the deep end of the Fallbrook social scene?” “Yes, Lemon. You should know that the only reason we’re here tonight is because Wiley Fox orchestrated this entire event almost two decades ago before robbing my mother blind and taking off with as much of her fortune as he could get his greedy little hands on.” Noah nods into the admission. “And don’t forget he promptly faked his death.” He shakes his head. “Sorry again. I have a feeling I’ll be apologizing for that man for as long as I live. And I’m sorry to you, Lot. Not only has my father resurrected himself, but he’s set his destructive sights on your mother.
” “Don’t apologize for him.” My blood boils just thinking about Noah’s jackass of a father. It’s no secret that Noah and Everett went to a fancy private school. In fact, Everett attended Piedmont, an exclusive boarding school, for a while until his mother married Noah’s father and the two families attempted to meld together. The unholy union didn’t last long as Everett just mentioned. Wiley Fox, Noah’s wily father, took off with as much of Eliza Baxter’s fortune as he possibly could and then proceeded to fake his own death. He’s back now, alive and well and wreaking havoc in Honey Hollow—latched onto my poor mother, of all people. Anyway, Eliza plucked Everett and his sister, Meghan, from their fancy boarding school and enrolled them into Fallbrook Premier Academy so they could be with their new siblings, Noah and his brother Alex. And so basically it is all Wiley’s dumb fault we have to subject ourselves to this night of torture. Initially, both Noah and Everett rejected the invitation to attend tonight, but once my shop, the Cutie Pie Bakery and Cakery, was invited to cater the desserts, they heartily agreed to join me in the endeavor.
“There is one more thing you should probably know, Lot.” Noah chuckles to himself as we reach the entry to this glitzy palace. “See this gaudy spectacle parading around as a humble hotel? Your husband happens to own it.” “What?” I shriek as I give Everett’s arm a tug. “Is this true?” I have it on good authority that it could be. Almost all of Eliza Baxter’s wealth comes from the fact she’s a hotel heiress. “It used to be.” Everett winces. “Come to think of it, this might still be one of our holdings. My mother did a little fancy footwork with some of the properties a while back.
I’ll have to revisit the portfolio.” Noah huffs. “I’ll have to revisit the portfolio,” he mimics before chuckling. “See that, Lot? He’s keeping things from you. Did you sign a prenup?” “I don’t think so.” Last year I could have given a far more definitive answer, but the baby has been nibbling on my brain cells as of late, so there’s that. Noah leans my way. “Play your cards right and this place can be yours. And if I play my cards right, this place could be ours.” He waggles his brows, and I give him a playful swat.
We step into the glamorous hotel, with its glossy white marble flooring, dark mahogany covered walls, and enough chandeliers to ensure the blind can see. But distracting from all the opulence are the gorgeous women in ultra-short glittering gowns showing off legs for miles, bosoms for days, and enough cosmetics on their frozen faces to outfit the makeup counter at the mall. Let’s not forget their purse puppies. About every third woman here is holding a tiny cute pooch in the crook of her arm as if it was the latest fashion accessory. A few men in dapper suits roam the vicinity as well with a smattering of salt and pepper hair, and more than a few have bloated bellies and wrinkles. It’s easy to say that the women all look a heck of a lot more well-preserved than the men in this scenario. Both Noah and Everett are in their mid-thirties, with Everett being a year older. I’m in my late twenties, but with my creaky joints and body as limber as a tree trunk, I feel about a hundred as of late. Make that two hundred since technically there are two of us residing in my body. The women here all look impossibly thin.
It’s a phenomenon I’ve noticed ever since my body has morphed into a beach ball to accommodate this sweet little sugar cookie in my belly. I’ve pretty much gifted my child the equivalent of an Olympic-sized swimming pool to move around in, mostly in part to my obsession with fried pickles and just about anything else I can shove into my pie hole. I can’t help it. I’m half-starved at any given time. I once left the house without any food on me and was half-tempted to eat a pack of tissues. And from that day forward, I always travel with at least a half dozen fried pickles and a couple of crullers on me. I finally understand the need for mothers to haul around purses the size of small luggage. It’s to accommodate the desires of their insatiable appetites. We find a table to the right with a couple of women assisting everyone as they sign in, and no sooner do we take a step in that direction than all-out chaos ensues. Hysterical cries of Essex and Noah echo throughout the massive lobby, and soon both men have been plucked away from me and are being equally mobbed by a bevy of beauties doing their best to climb Mount Baxter and Mount Fox.
Sure, Everett is my husband, but that’s never stopped me from feeling protective and just a wee bit possessive over Noah as well. I’ve got a cauldron’s worth of hormones brewing in me, not to mention Noah’s prospective child, so I don’t mind one bit laying claim to him, too. I quickly sign the three of us in, impart a little impromptu Kung Fu to free Noah and Everett, and drag the three of us—four if we’re counting Sugar Cookie—into the grand ballroom that’s playing host to this evening’s festivities. Cheery music filters through the speakers, the chandeliers sparkle up above, the room is swimming with glittering women and handsome men, and somewhere layered beneath the clash of expensive perfumes and colognes, the scent of vanilla lights up my senses. I follow that dreamy scent all the way over to the refreshment table, where not one but three people who are helping me out for the evening are serving up sliver after sliver of my lemon Bundt cake with its rich thick layer of creamy lemon icing. “Come to Mama,” I say as I break loose from Noah and Everett and quickly snap up a slice for myself. “Mom!” Evie, the sixteen-year-old brunette stunner of a daughter that I share with Everett, comes around the table and gives me a firm embrace. “You look freaking amazing. Don’t be intimidated by all these plastic blowup dolls running around. You’re the real deal, even if you do look as if you swallowed a pumpkin and are about to eat the next person you see.
I bet you’ll have to fight off the men just like Dad and Uncle Noah are fighting off the women.” “What?” I glance back, and sure enough, they’re both being mobbed once again. There’s even a small white Maltese with long satin hair that gleams as it drapes its entire tiny frame. The poor thing is yipping and yapping as it attempts to penetrate the madness, but it’s wisely deciding to stand back and watch the melee from a safe distance. “Don’t act surprised, Lottie,” Lily Swanson, my trusty right-hand gal at the bakery, says as she replenishes the dessert plates as quickly as people snatch them away. “Women have been asking all night if the Golden Boy has arrived.” Lily is a pithy brunette who once bullied me way back when, but now that I sign her paychecks, she’s miraculously a lot kinder to me. Carlotta snorts. Carlotta Sawyer is my biological mother. We share the same caramel-colored wavy tresses, hazel eyes, and ability to see right through to the other side—as in the supernatural side.
Over more than two decades ago, she had the wherewithal to abandon me on the floor of the Honey Hollow Fire Department when I was just a few hours old. And believe me, I’ve been thankful ever since. The family that adopted me, the Lemons, was a better family than I could ever have hope for. Still are. “Hear that, Lot Lot?” Carlotta chuckles to herself as she whacks off another slice of lemon cake. “Every woman here is hungry for a bite of Foxy pie.” Foxy is a nickname Carlotta has for Noah as a play on his surname. “And don’t forget Essex.” Lily winks my way as she says it. It just so happens that Everett prefers to go by his middle name.
But as fate and Everett’s playboy past would have it, the only people he allows to call him by his proper moniker are women he’s danced in the sheets with—save for his mother and sister, and sometimes Noah’s mother, too. And even though I more than qualify for that Essexy party prize, I still call him by the name I’ve always called him. “That’s right.” Carlotta slaps her belly as if she’s just finished a filling meal, and seeing that she’s in close proximity to one of my favorite desserts, I can’t blame her. “Mr. Sexy has been in high demand, too.” Mr. Sexy is the nickname that the baristas of the world have gifted Everett, and face it, they’re not wrong. “I don’t suspect you’ll see too much of either of them for the rest of the night. A couple of women are hoping to join Club Essex before the night is through.
” Evie pretends to gag, or at least I’m hoping she’s pretending, but nevertheless I’m about to join her. “No one is joining Club Essex tonight or any other night.” The words come from me like a battle cry as I head over to the tangle of bodies that are swirling like a human hurricane. “Don’t worry, Mom.” Evie strides by my side. “I won’t let them defile Uncle Noah either. These women are creepers. And I don’t want anyone who grew up with Cressi-duh to get anywhere near my uncle.” Cressida Bentley is Evie’s biological mother. Everly, Evie, Baxter was hidden away from Everett right up until last year because Cressida was waiting to use her like a playing card in order to winnow her way into Everett’s heart.
I’ll admit, she sure waited a long time to play that card, but nonetheless Cressida has disqualified herself as mother material. She’s not interested in being Evie’s mother as much as she is in managing her. Thankfully, Everett and I have full custody of Evie now. I clear my throat as I enter their midst but not a fake eyelash bats my way. The women continue to ravage the men I came with as if I were nothing more than a conduit to making all their high school fantasies come true. Evie nudges me. “I’ve got this, Mom.” She steps into the middle of the chaos and cups her hands over her mouth. “Free Birkin bags while they last, right next to the refreshment table.” Almost every last one of them trots off in that direction.
“And while you’re at it, have a slice of Bundt cake!” A trio of women is left in their wake. A brunette with long wavy hair and a hip-hugging red dress. And along with her are a redhead in a tiny green dress that glitters as if it were comprised solely of emeralds with shoes to match and a petite blonde in a basic black dress that looks as if she could have plucked it right out of my closet. The brunette with long hair laughs as a blob of socialites dashes off in the hopes of procuring a pricey handbag. “Some things never change.” She runs her finger down Everett’s tie. “Like my feelings for you, Essex.” “Essex?” Evie growls as if she was about to shank the woman. “Easy.” Everett’s lips flicker just this side of a smile as he steps between Evie and me —wisely, considering he’ll need a human shield to fend off his fan base.
“Jasmine”—he nods to the brunette first—“Jen, Ariella, this my wife, Lemon, and my daughter, Evie.” The three of them gasp in unison. “Lottie Lemon.” I nod their way. Noah steps in on the other side of me and wraps an arm around my shoulders. “And Lottie is my girlfriend as well.” I watch as their jaws unhinge simultaneously, but neither Everett nor I deny it. Jasmine, the brunette stunner with the waist long hair and the dazzling green eyes, looks as if someone just asked her to swallow a live goldfish. “Lottie Lemon, I don’t think I care for you too much,” she teases. The three of them break out into a warm laugh, and oddly, it takes the edge off the rather odd introductions.
“Nice to meet you, Lottie.” The blonde with a cherry red smile holds a hand out my way and I’m quick to shake it. “I’m Jen. Don’t let any of these women intimidate you. Obviously, you’re a real go-getter or you wouldn’t be here with the two most handsome men on your arms.” “Speak for yourself.” The redhead raises a brow my way. Her hair dusts her shoulders and is layered in soft waves and there’s a down-to-earth quality about her. “I’m Ariella.” She gives my hand a quick shake.
“And I have to say, my husband is the most handsome of them all.” She winks over at Noah and Everett when she says it. Evie jolts. “Wait a minute!” Her eyes widen like a pair of golf balls as she looks to the brunette with the freakishly long hair. “You’re Jazzy Albright! You used to be on that show Money on the Med!” She lets out a howl. “I can’t believe this!” She turns and socks Everett on the arm. “How could you not tell me you went to school with someone famous?” She jumps as she turns back to the woman. “Oh my gosh, does this mean your BFF Stassi Maxwell is here? And that no-good cheat of a husband of yours, See You Later Slater Sutton?” The smile melts off her face as she tips her head back. “Yes, they’re both present and accounted for.” “No way!” Evie leaps in her heels.
It’s bad enough she’s a full head taller than me without shoes, but she’s a human skyscraper with heels on. “I’ve gotta go call my friends. I’ve got to tell everyone. Carlotta and Lily!” she shouts as she takes off like an enthused bullet. But Jasmine doesn’t look all that enthused. And I’m guessing her cheating husband has something to do with it. Jen cranes her neck into the crowd. “I think I see Stassi over there.” “Don’t look at her.” Jasmine is quick to smack Jen on the arm before she forces a smile in my direction.
“It’s common knowledge that Stassi Maxwell invited herself to my soon-to-be ex-husband. I didn’t let the fact she was coming today stop me from showing up myself. In fact, that’s all the energy I have for her this evening.” She looks to Noah and Everett. “I’d ask what’s keeping you busy these days, but well, let’s face it. Everyone has heard about your latest misfortune regarding the arrest. Who knew our two most studious graduates would find themselves on the wrong side of the law—and for body snatching no less?” It’s true. Everett and Noah helped me steal Florenza Canelli’s body from the morgue last January and we’ve been paying for it ever since.