Felines and Fatalities – Addison Moore, Bellamy Bloom

M CHAPTER 1 y name is Bizzy Baker and I can read minds. Not every mind, not every time, but it happens, and believe me when I say, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Like now for instance. I’d give anything for a killer to show up and hunt me down. I frown over at my sister and shake my head. Macy Baker is my older, sassier sister. She’s pretty, with a blonde bob, lake blue eyes, and a tongue sharper than any doubleedged sword. Her superpower is sarcasm and she’s not afraid to use and abuse it— apparently, not even in the recesses of her mind. “I know what you’re thinking,” I say. Macy doesn’t have a clue that I have the ability to pry into her mostly perverted mind. Macy and Georgie Conner, a wonderfully wacky older woman that I’ve adopted as my own family, sit with me at the reception counter of the Country Cottage Inn this afternoon. I’m the manager here, and the inn has been my baby for the better half of the last decade. It’s the middle of a bright and sunny May day, and in just a few short hours the inn is playing host to Cider Cove’s senior bake-off, where a dozen teams of senior citizens will do their best to outwit, outlast, and out bake one another in an effort to take home the coveted gold plated mixing bowl as a trophy. And not only are we playing host to the senior shenanigans, but the sandy shores of the cove in the back of the inn will be filled to the brim with tourists and townies this weekend for the big annual Lobster Festival. I’ll need to keep a steady stream of coffee in me if I plan to survive the next several days.

My other co-workers, Nessa and Grady, a couple of recent college grads, have taken over the reception duties for the regular guests of the inn, while Georgie, Macy, and I welcome the seniors and their entourages as they plod their way in. Georgie elbows me in the ribs. “Dibs on the round one with bulging eyes.” She does her best to utter the words through clenched teeth while nodding to her right. Macy and I glance in that direction and, true to Georgie’s description, the specimen she has in mind is as round as he is tall, and his eyes look as if they’re about to have a major medical issue ensue once they fall to his feet. Macy grunts, “At least he’s got the bald thing going for him.” Georgie lets out a whoop of approval. “You got that right, sister. There’s nothing like running your bare feet over a shiny bald head.” My mouth opens and not a single word comes out.

Truthfully, I’m not sure there’s a decent rebuttal. Macy moans, “Would you look at that?” She elbows me in the ribs from the other side as I look straight ahead. And sure enough, a tall man with dark hair and piercing green eyes steps up to the counter. I clear my throat. “Welcome to the Country Cottage Inn. Are you here to sign in as a guest?” Macy checks me with her arm like a linebacker about to steal the green-eyed ball before running to score a touchdown. “Please say you’re here for the senior bake-off,” she pants with an air of desperation that I’ve yet to see in my older, lusty-riddled sister. “I’ve volunteered my services to assist today—and, dear God up in heaven, I suddenly realize why. And here I thought fate dealt me yet another cruel hand.” I look over at my spellbound sibling.

“You do realize you’re saying all those things out loud.” The man gives a soft chuckle as a warm smile takes over his features. “Actually, I am here for the senior bake-off.” He’s about to say something else when another tall, dark-haired man with the bluest eyes in existence steps up next to him, and a wheezing sound expels from my unsuspecting sister as if she were punched in the gut. “Holy hotties,” Macy bleats. “Can I take you guys on a tour of the facility? We can end it at my place with pizza and all the beer I can get you to drink.” Before either of them can respond, a caramel-haired blonde bounds her way into our midst. She’s holding two sweet, fluffy Himalayan cats with silver-blue eyes and long creamy yellow fur that takes over their whole bodies, and my own feline, Fish, perks to life at the sight of them—as does Sherlock Bones, my fiancé’s adorable white and red freckled mixed breed. “Never mind.” The woman looks to the two men beside her.

“I’ve decided I should probably check in before I barge into their kitchen,” she says as the blue-eyed man takes one of the cats from her. She glances down at my nametag and smiles. “Oh, hey! You’re Bizzy! I’m Lottie Lemon—the baker from the Cutie Pie Bakery and Cakery? I was invited to judge the baking competition today.” “Oh my goodness, yes!” I straighten with enthusiasm. “I’m excited to finally meet you after all those email exchanges. I have your room ready, and those for your guests as well.” “Thank you so much. And how rude of me not to make any introductions.” She nods to the dark-haired man with the dimpled smile and verdant green eyes. “This is my boyfriend, Noah Fox.

He’s a homicide detective at the Ashford Sheriff’s Department back in Vermont.” Macy pulls her shoulders back. Okay. So one option is off the table. That leaves the Greek god with the blue bedroom eyes that looks as if he’s going to teach me a lesson I will very much enjoy. Lottie butts her arm up to the man on the other side of her—the blue-eyed Greek god per my sister. “And this is my husband, Everett Baxter. He’s a judge down in Ashford County.” Georgie lets out a whoop. “Now we’re having a good time!” What in the…? A husband and a boyfriend? An older version of Lottie wiggles her way to the front, along with a teenage girl with long black hair and deep blue eyes herself.

The older woman scoffs at Georgie. “I’ve been telling her for the last solid year she’s got a party happening like nobody’s business. But Little Miss Uptight doesn’t want to get her reputation tarnished with the good people of Honey Hollow.” Lottie gives the woman a look that says stop or die before she clears her throat. “I have a business to uphold. I’m not too concerned about my reputation.” That’s already been dragged through the mud ten times over. “Bizzy, this is Carlotta, my biological mother, and that’s Evie on the end, the daughter I share with Everett.” Evie walks like a zombie toward the counter, landing right in front of Grady Pennington, our very own Irish deity per just about every young woman in Maine who has attested to this fact. He has dark hair, a milky white smile, and muscles for days.

And according to those stars in Evie’s eyes and that white noise going off in her mind—a sure sign of far too much excitement—she’s already under his Irish spell. “Wait a minute.” Macy steps forward with that no-nonsense tone in her voice. “Let me get this straight.” She’s looking right at Lottie, and I’m guessing this conversation will take a dark turn sooner than later. “You mean to tell me, you’re married to this guy?” She points to Everett. “And you’re dating him?” She swings her accusing finger over to Noah. Lottie gives a quick nod while pulling the cat in her arms closer to her as if she might need protection from my stupefied sister, and she just might. A horrible groan expels from Macy as she continues to bore a hole through poor Lottie with that twisted gaze of hers. “Master”—Macy moans—“teach me thy ways.

” We all share a warm laugh, and soon enough Grady is off to help Evie and the rest of them with their bags. Noah leans in toward Lottie. “I’ll go make sure everything gets where it needs to be.” Everett looks over at him. “Put Lemon’s bags in my room.” Noah scoffs. “You wish.” He kisses Lottie on the cheek before taking off. Everett does the same to Lottie’s other cheek, and, I’ll admit, it stirs strange feelings to witness the event. “I better make sure Evie doesn’t put the moves on that poor kid.

” Lottie gives a quick nod. “And let the kid know she’s only fifteen.” Everett takes off and Macy cranes her neck after him while some strange noise emits from her, mimicking the sound of an injured seal. “Would you stop?” I don’t hesitate to swat her. “That’s Lottie’s husband.” “But she’s got a boyfriend.” She shoots Lottie a look. “Who is unfairly hot as well. And by the way, what kind of a spell are you casting? And where exactly in Vermont are you from?” “Honey Hollow,” Lottie says it with a laugh. “And don’t worry, your reaction is perfectly normal.

” “Hey?” Macy leans in hard. “Do all the men look like that down in Honey Hollow? I’m suddenly interested in vacationing there—or moving.” Carlotta snorts. “Sorry, sis. My little Lot Lot here has scooped up all the prime beef real estate for herself. She’s greedy that way.” Lottie shakes her head at my sister. “Don’t listen to Carlotta. Noah has a brother and they practically look like twins.” “I’ll take him!” Macy slaps her hand down over the counter so hard and fast, I’m shocked it’s still attached at the wrist.

A hearty laugh expels from Lottie. “Well, you’re all welcome to come to Honey Hollow anytime. My mother owns a B&B.” She gives a quick look around. “Her place is much smaller. But there would be plenty of room for you all. That is, if you don’t mind a ghost or two.” She gives a little wink. If only I were kidding. Good thing they’re friendly ghosts.

And speaking of which. She gives another sweep to the vicinity. Thankfully, I don’t see a single creature of the dearly departed variety. I’ll take that as a sign that today’s senior bake-off will conclude without a single homicide thrown into the mix. My mouth falls open at her odd thoughts. Fish jumps onto the counter and nuzzles her head against my shoulder. What is it, Bizzy? I recognize that look on your face, and it’s not good. Do you see a killer in our midst? My God, I hope not. Fish is a long-haired black and white tabby I found outside of my sister’s candle and soap shop, Lather and Light, almost a year ago. Along with reading human minds, I can read the minds of animals as well, and they usually have nicer things to say.

Macy peers past Lottie’s shoulder. “Oh, look!” she says it with feigned excitement. “Noah needs help with his bags. Duty calls. And if I’m lucky, I’ll be calling his brother soon, too.” She zips off, and I can feel the heat rising to my cheeks. “Sorry about that,” I say. “My sister is of the spicy variety. She can be a bit difficult to contain on occasion.” Lottie tips her head to the side.

“Believe me, I understand. I have a couple of spicy sisters myself.” Carlotta slaps her hand over Lottie’s shoulder. “Don’t forget me, Lot. I’m one spicy hot mama you couldn’t get rid of if you tried.” “You said it, not me.” Lottie offers her a tight smile. Georgie claps up a storm. “And you’re a good-lookin’ hot mama to boot. How are you in the kitchen?” Carlotta glances to the ceiling.

“Depends if I’ve got a man in there with me or not.” “Ha!” Georgie dances an odd little jig. “Tell me you’ll be a part of my team, Goldie. I need a winner like you to pull off the W. The key ingredient all bakers must bow down to this afternoon is maple syrup. And I’ve got enough to roll around in it once I’m through. I’m baking maple monkey bread for the big senior send-off.” “Bake-off,” I correct for the hundredth time today. Send-off sounds a bit ominous, and the last thing I need or want is a hint of anything ominous—especially considering the fact we’ve had our fair share of homicides around the inn for the last few months. Carlotta juts her head forward.

“Of course, I’ll be on your team. You wanna win, don’t cha?” Georgie hoots and hollers her way around the counter, and Carlotta hoots and hollers her way right back as they link arms and head for the ballroom. A laugh stifles in my throat. “Oh, good Lord, I’m sorry, Lottie.” “Don’t be.” She’s quick to shake her head. “I’m the one who should apologize in advance for any and everything Carlotta is about to do, break, and perhaps even steal.” She gives a little shrug. “She came back into my life recently. I was actually raised by the Lemon family, and my mother—the other one, Miranda Lemon—is the one that owns the B&B.

And I meant what I said. You’re all welcome, anytime you like. You really didn’t have to give us all free rooms for our stay.” I’m quick to wave her off. “You’re a judge. Cider Cove is footing the bill.” I give the fluffball in her arms a quick pat on the head. “My, aren’t you a looker.” “Oh”—Lottie positions the sweet cat my way—“this is Pancake. His brother Waffles is out there somewhere with Everett.

You mentioned the inn was pet-friendly and I couldn’t leave my babies for long, so I just had to bring them.” “No problem. I can have a couple of litter boxes and pet beds brought up to your room. And I’ll make sure housekeeping cleans the litter boxes out each morning.” “Wow, thank you. Now that’s hospitality. I may never leave.” Pancake purrs and meows up at her. Thank goodness. After Carlotta threatened to lock Waffles and me in the van for the duration of our stay, I thought we were done for.

A bed and a litter box sound like heaven. Fish yowls. Great news, big boy, she says in an odd, little flirtatious way, and I’m starting to wonder if she’s got a crush on the cutie pie. Bizzy can hear your thoughts, and she can understand you, too. Sherlock Bones lets out a hearty bark. That she can. And she has an all-access pass to the kitchen. Be extra nice to her. What’s this? The precious cat tips his head my way and I give a covert nod in his direction. Oh, do tell, my sweet Lottie.

I’d love to communicate with the girl. I have thoughts on the shenanigans she’s forever dabbling in, and I’d like an extra helping of my Fancy Beast cat food now and again. My brother tends to steal bites off my plate when I’m not looking. Lottie gives Pancake a kiss on the top of the head. “Pancake hissed at Carlotta all the way over. Apparently, she didn’t realize she was sitting on his tail, and, well, let’s just say it was an interesting drive. Thankfully, Everett rented a passenger van so we all seemingly had enough room. Suffice it to say, we’re more than grateful to be at the inn. The weather is so warm here in Maine. I’m glad I brought my bikini.

And I hope I didn’t scare you with my surplus of men. It’s actually not as weird as it sounds. But it’s a long story and I don’t want to bore you with it.” She glances in the direction of the Country Cottage Café to the left. “Oh hey, would you mind if I baked up a little something for those that are coming to view the bake-off? I can only go so many hours without getting my hands dirty—or doughy as it were—in the kitchen. I’m thinking maple white chocolate chunk cookies in keeping with the yummy maple theme.” “They sound delicious, and I don’t mind at all. In fact, I’ll take you to the kitchen myself.” Noah comes back down and Lottie hands Pancake to him, prompting Fish to follow them along. I’ll see you later, Bizzy! I’ve got two men to entertain! Something tells me Fish will be heavily occupied the entire time Lottie is with us—and frighteningly enough, I have a feeling the same goes for Macy.

Sherlock barks after her. Get back here! What about me? I give the poor pooch a quick scratch. I just love the way he adores Fish, even if they don’t always get along. Lottie offers me a pleasant smile as she heads my way, and just like that, the smile glides off her face as her gaze wanders to something behind me. Oh no. Is that? Couldn’t be. “Lottie, is something wrong?” I follow her gaze and don’t see a thing but a potted banana leaf plant that was recently put in to give the place a faux tropical feel. “No,” she squeaks a little too loud. “Nothing at all.” I’ll just pretend I didn’t see a woman walk right through that wall, or at least the ghost of a woman.

Bizzy would never believe me. Heck, I don’t want to believe it myself. I glance back at the wall behind me, and there’s not a soul around—at least not one that I can see. T CHAPTER 2 he Country Cottage Inn is a stately building with a stone façade covered with leafy ivy and blue shutters that dress all the windows, and the rear faces the steely blue Atlantic. The inn itself is set on a large acreage with over three dozen individual cottages that we rent and lease. There’s a pet daycare center off the side of the building called Critter Corner, and the Country Cottage Café located off the back overlooks the white sandy cove. My best friend, Emmie Crosby, is in charge of the kitchen in the café, because even though my surname is Baker, I’m more prone to char things than I am able to produce anything edible in that sacred space. But I’m nowhere near the kitchen at the moment. I’m standing in the heart of the ballroom that sits at the other end of the inn. The ballroom is a cavernous space with heavy paisley carpeting and heavy crystal chandeliers that skip in rows across the ceiling.

Today, the entire front of the ballroom has been transformed into a dozen micro kitchens, complete with tall electric ovens and large tables that have been set out for use as work surfaces. A series of service sinks have been set out along the back wall and the juryrigged plumbing has me more than a little nervous. Jordy Crosby heads my way. He’s my bestie’s brother and works here as the maintenance manager. Jordy is a dark-haired looker with icy blue eyes. He’s Maine’s favorite playboy. I should know, I found myself accidentally married to him once. It’s a long story that involves cheap liquor, an Elvis impersonator, and a drive-thru wedding chapel. The entire matrimonial blunder was untangled by my own brother, a family practice lawyer who was not amused that I had chosen to test his resilience in his newly chosen field. Jordy shakes his head.

“I’d advise that the next time Mayor Woods asks to use our facility for something that takes more electricity to run than the space station, you politely decline. I’ll keep an eye on the circuits so they don’t blow.” “Don’t scare me, Jordy.” “Believe it or not, I’m trying to comfort you.” He takes off and is quickly lost in the bustling crowd. Most of the seniors who are competing are already at their stations. There’s a huge pink glittery sign hung up at the front of the room that reads Welcome to Cider Cove’s Official Senior Bake-Off! Good luck, contestants—may the best baker sin! Yes. It says sin. An error I should have caught earlier but didn’t. Although I’m not entirely to blame.

I didn’t order the sign or put it up. The senior center who helps put on the event was responsible for the unholy blunder. Speaking of unholy blunders, both Georgie and Carlotta have become awfully fast friends. There are three team members maximum, per the rules. Up until this morning, Georgie thought Gwyneth Wilder would be one of her teammates—that’s my boyfriend Jasper’s mother—but she said she came down with a horrible headache. She said she’d stop in later to taste the goods. Gwyneth has been living here at the inn since last fall. What was supposed to be a few weeks turned into a rather permanent stay. And the third lady that makes up Georgie’s sinful team is my mother, Ree Baker, the forever preppy circa 1982 with her feathered strawberry blonde locks. I’m not sure how Georgie did it, but she’s coerced both Carlotta and my mother into wearing matching bright yellow kaftans, Georgie’s go-to choice accouterment.

“Bizzy!” a friendly voice chirps from behind and I see Lottie smiling ear-to-ear along with Emmie, and they’re both holding a tray of amazing looking sweet treats. “This is fantastic. I can’t believe you got all this equipment in here. And the bakers are all off to a great start.” Emmie nods. “What I can’t believe is how great those maple white chocolate chunk cookies you baked are.” Emmie and I share the same long, dark, wavy hair and same icy blue eyes. “Lottie, Emmie is my best friend. I’m glad she was able to show up and bake with you.” Lottie’s eyes grow in size.

“She’s a phenomenal baker. And she mentioned you’ve been friends since preschool. That’s the same for my best friend Keelie and me. From what I hear, you both have just about everything in common.” She gives Emmie a puzzled look. “Didn’t you mention you even had the same names?” Emmie laughs. “That’s right. We’re both named Elizabeth, but we’ve always gone by our nicknames. Otherwise, it would have been confusing because we were always together.” Emmie nods to Lottie’s platter.

“What are you waiting for, Biz? You need to stuff one of those magical treats into your mouth. And then take one of mine, too. We thought it’d be fun to go around offering everyone some sugary sustenance.” “Good idea.” I take a bite out of one of Lottie’s cookies and moan with every fiber of my being. “Dear God! Are these even legal? And wow, the white chocolate chips go so well with the maple syrup.” I pick up one of the square bar cookies from Emmie’s platter and indulge in a sugary bit with just the right amount of pecan and maple. Emmie nods. “Maple pecan shortbread. You’re welcome.

” “Oh, Emmie, these are to die for. Neither of you plays fair.” Lottie grimaces when I say the words to die for and her gaze drifts to the front of the room. There she is again. She shudders. It’s so rare I see people—well, people who have long since passed. I think a part of me prefers the usual spirits, those covered with fur that just so happen to be cute and cuddly. Lottie sighs. I’d better tell Noah and Everett that a homicide is imminent. She glances my way.

I’d like to tell Bizzy, but it’s not exactly the kind of thing you plan for, let alone say. Oh, wow, something is very, very wrong with Lottie. And yet, she looks so normal. A thousand thoughts sail through me at once. I’ll have to tell someone, something. I should have known something was off with the poor thing when she showed up with both a boyfriend and a husband. Lottie’s daughter, Evie, crops up holding a platter laden with both Lottie’s cookies and Emmie’s. “Guess what?” Her blue eyes sparkle with glee as she beams toward Lottie. Evie’s long, dark mane cascades past her shoulders in thick waves. Her face looks as if it should be gracing magazines the world over, and I’m sure it will soon enough.

“Grady Pennington and I are passing out cookies together. It’s practically a date. Don’t wait up for me!” She giggles as she drifts into the crowd. “What?” Lottie squawks. “It’s not a date,” she shouts after her. Emmie laughs. “Don’t worry, Lottie. I’ll trail after her. You just worry about judging the event.” Emmie takes off in pursuit of the perky teen, and just as I’m about to say something to Lottie about those odd thoughts she’s having—regarding a homicide of all things and…a ghost—a familiar couple strides past us.

“Oh, wait!” I call after them, causing them to turn our way, both with pleasant smiles on their faces. “Celine, Trevor! It’s so great to see you here. I’m sorry I couldn’t say hello sooner, but this is perfect timing. Lottie, this is Celine and Trevor Harrison. Celine and Trevor, this is baker Lottie Lemon who I’m betting might have used a Harrison baking mold a time or two.” Lottie’s mouth falls open. “Oh my goodness! Celine and Trevor Harrison? From the Harrison baking supplies empire? Yes! I own just about every mold you’ve made.” She’s quick to shake both their hands. “I’m a huge fan. What a pleasure to meet you.

” Celine laughs. “Thank you, Lottie. I’m afraid I have very little to do with the empire as you so generously put it. I’m in charge of seasonal products. Trevor and I just married last fall.” Celine is a tall, fit, blonde, with her hair cut short in a blunt bob and an easy smile with a slight overbite. Trevor is tall and handsome by conventional standards. A capful of dark hair covers his head and his nose is slightly crooked as if he’s been in a fistfight or two. He nods to Lottie. “I’m glad to hear you’re enthusiastic about the products.

Before you leave, if you give us the name of your bakery, we’ll have our newest line shipped straight to your shop.” “Wow, thank you!” Lottie’s entire face lights up as if it were Christmas morning. I lean in. “Celine is also a judge, Lottie. And the Harrisons’ company is a major sponsor.” “That’s wonderful.” Lottie still looks spellbound by their presence. Celine perks up as a woman with dark kinky curls and wide brown eyes is about to pass us by and she quickly pulls her into our small circle. “Bizzy, Lottie, you must meet our dear friend, Melina Cabot.” Melina’s lips swim as if the thought made her sick.

Oh, Celine. I’m no friend of Trevor’s, and you know it. The woman nods our way. “Pleasure to meet you both. I run the Hot Cross Buns Bakery in Rose Glen.” “Ooh!” I perk up. “My mother is addicted to your signature hot cross buns. She buys a couple dozen for just about every holiday and special occasion.” She gives a warm laugh. “Just for that, I’ll have a few dozen boxes sent to the inn.

You’re the owner, right?” “Oh no.” I shake my head at the thought. “It’s actually owned by a wealthy earl in England. I’m simply his right-hand gal.” Melina gives a few steady blinks. “I’ve read all about you. It’s safe to say you’ve achieved superhero status around these parts, solving all those grisly homicides. You’ve really made the sheriff’s department feel inept.” Lottie’s lips part as she looks my way. Bizzy has been solving homicides? Maybe we have more in common than I thought.

Maybe it’s Bizzy I should warn about the impending homicide afoot? My eyes widen in horror. Melina waves it off. “Anyway. I’ll be around through the weekend. I’m always up for a good Lobster Festival. How about the two of you?” She openly glares at Trevor. Celine nods. “Oh, yes. I’ve yet to miss a Lobster Festival and I’m not breaking with tradition. We’ll both be there.

” Her expression sours at the woman. Oh, get over yourself, Melina. When is enough going to be enough with you? Life doesn’t always deal us the cards we want. If I have to live with it, you do, too. Trevor leans in. “It’s nice seeing you again, Melina.” Her eyes narrow on his. The nerve. I hope you rot in hell. She stalks off and a strangled tension rises in the air in her wake.

A tall man with smooth skin and a soft smile steps up, and Trevor is quick to offer him a firm embrace. “Everyone”—Trevor holds his hand out to the man—“this is Julian Morgan, my good friend from college. He’s been an asset down at the company.” Trevor’s expression hardens a moment as he examines the man. Unfortunate that I’ll have to fire him. The sooner, the better. Word gets around about what he’s been doing, and I’ll have every employee joining the ranks. Nobody steals from me, Jules. Not even you. Steals? Julian nods as if he heard me. “Lovely meeting you all. I think I’ll go check out the competitors’ tables before things get underway.” He glances back at Trevor, a dead look in his pale blue eyes. “You can sit with me. I have a couple seats reserved right behind the judging panel.” I know what you’re thinking. You’re not getting rid of me. I don’t go down without a fight. Nobody is putting my name on blast without the full story. He takes off, and I don’t quite know what to make of his strange thoughts. Maybe he didn’t steal whatever Trevor is convinced he took? I suppose there are always two sides to every pancake. Trevor nods as he wraps an arm around Celine’s waist. “It was lovely meeting you both.” Two good-looking girls. I’ll have to make sure to get both of their numbers before we’re through. A choking sound emits from me as we watch them take off into the crowd. “How do you like that?” I say, unable to contain my budding fury. What a creep. Unless, of course, he wanted our numbers for business purposes. I shake it off. Of course, that’s what he wanted them for. Lottie nods my way. “I really liked them. And I have to say, I’m super impressed with everything about this bake-off, Bizzy.” Before I can even begin to figure out how to broach the subject of her odd ghostly thoughts, a tall, handsome man with eyes the color of quicksilver enters our midst. And lucky for me, this one happens to be mine. “Lottie, this is Detective Jasper Wilder, my fiancé.” A grin erupts from me because I just can’t get over the fact it’s real. “You’re engaged!” Lottie and Jasper shake hands. “It’s so nice to meet you. Congratulations on the upcoming nuptials. So when’s the big day?” Jasper lifts a brow my way. “Bizzy and I are thinking fall.” “And we’re going to nail down a day soon,” I say. Lottie coos, “Well, I guess you don’t have to worry about a venue. This place is amazing.” “It is,” I agree as Jasper wraps an arm around me. “We have a gazebo out by the bluff where we’ll have the ceremony—and, of course, Georgie has volunteered to do the honors.” Jasper chuckles. “I’m looking forward to it.” The lights flicker and everyone quickly takes their places, with both Lottie and Celine heading to the table earmarked for the judging panel. Mayor Mackenzie Woods stands at the front of the room and welcomes everyone to the venue. Her dark hair is swept back into a bun and she’s donned a light pink suit that glows against her deeply tanned skin. Mack and I were best friends as kids, right through high school. But I quickly grew weary of her the day she shoved me into a whiskey barrel and tried to drown me. And after that, I not only grew afraid of both large bodies of water and cloistered spaces, but I seemed to pick up the odd ability to pry into other people’s minds. I can’t read every mind. Some are simply closed off. And I usually only pick up on those nearby unless someone is unusually excited about something or agitated. And if I can’t see the person whose thoughts I’m reading, it can be difficult to tell if it’s a female or male because it tends to come in monotone unless they’re in front of me. It turns out, this gift, or curse as it were, qualifies me as something called transmundane, further classified as telesensual. I learned all about it a few months back from Jasper’s old friend, Leo, who also happens to share my strange gift. Mayor Woods concludes with a quick countdown, and soon the baking competition commences. Not a half hour drifts by before the judges are up and mingling with the competitors—and the competition does look stiff. These women, and a handful of men, are all zipping around, collecting ingredients from the shelves brought in and stocked with everything you’d need to bake just about anything. All my life I’ve wanted to bake with the expert ease of Emmie, but I’m more or less a hazard in the kitchen. Which is exactly why I have my hands tucked behind my back as I approach Georgie’s table.

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