Flag Cake Felonies – Addison Moore

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, aka dead pets, 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 dead anything, but a very much alive and sexy to the bone honorable judge whose official bench happens to reside in downtown Ashford County. Not that Everett, the sexy judge in question, lives in Ashford. Nope. Everett just so happens to conveniently live right next door to me right here in Honey Hollow, Vermont. Everett is a tall stack of muscles with a shock of black hair and steely blue eyes that look as if he’s about to slice you in half with those lusty laser beams he sees the world through. He rarely smiles, is smarter than an entire library of books, and has the full attention of anyone with a functioning pair of ovaries. “Lottie, you’re staring,” whispers Keelie, my very best friend in the world. It’s the Fourth of July and I’ve spent all morning at my shop, the Cutie Pie Bakery and Cakery, whipping out one flag cake after another for today’s festivities down at Honey Lake. But at the moment I’m not at the bakery. I’m standing at the reception counter of my mother’s happily haunted B&B because I just so happen to be expecting out-of-town guests at any minute, and Keelie has graciously—or perhaps not so graciously—offered to greet them with me. The B&B is an oversized white mansion with innumerous bedrooms and bathrooms. Once my father died, this place became my mother’s baby.

It’s beautiful and cozy inside with its dark mahogany paneled walls and emerald carpet. I’m hoping my guests will think so, too. My new friend, Bizzy Baker, and her crew are heading down to Honey Hollow this afternoon all the way from Cider Cove, Maine. Keelie let me know, in not so many words, that she didn’t like how easily I took to Bizzy. I guess you could say she’s just a smidge jealous, but she doesn’t have to worry. Keelie’s best friend status is cemented for life. A wicked laugh erupts from our left and we look over to find Carlotta Sawyer as she heads this way, a shifty look in her eye. Carlotta is my biological mother who abandoned me on the floor of the Honey Hollow Fire Department well over two decades ago and has recently come into my life. This B&B isn’t hers. It belongs to Miranda Lemon, the woman who raised me and whom I still call Mom to this day.

Miranda, Mom, is as spicy as she is sweet and has an affinity for wanting the best for me. Carlotta, on the other hand, is ornery, and wily, and has an affinity for booze and men. We share the same caramel-colored hair and hazel eyes, but she has more gray strays in her mane these days than she does otherwise. She also has crow’s feet, marionette lines, and a cutting sense of humor—all of which serve as harbingers as to what the future might bring for me if I lean too heavily on impulsive day drinking. “Guess what, Keels?” Carlotta elbows her niece. Yes, Keelie and I are cousins as well. “Lot came home from the bakery last night with her sweater inside out.” “Lottie Lemon!” Keelie belts out a husky laugh and her belly shakes along with it. Keelie is tall, blonde, and her belly just so happens to be the size of a bona fide beach ball. Both she and my sister Lainey are about to pop out little ones next month, and I couldn’t be more elated and anxious to welcome two sweet little angels into this world just as soon as they want to get here.

“Have you been getting naughty in the bakery?” “What? No.” I steal a glimpse in the direction Everett went in. “And would you shush? He’s actually here at the B&B with his sister Meghan.” Not only will there be fireworks tonight at Honey Lake, but my mother and her wily publisher have arranged for a local authors signing to take place there this afternoon. “Apparently, Everett’s sister is a huge fan of Tallulah Velvet.” I wrinkle my nose because my black-haired, blue-eyed god is nowhere to be seen at the moment. Carlotta huffs, “You might be foolin’ Keelie Nell because she’s got a mini monster eating away at her brain cells, but you’re not fooling me. You and that hottie naughty judge were heating things up in the bakery kitchen, weren’t you?” “No, Carlotta, we were not.” My cheeks heat a thousand degrees just reliving the naughty scene. “I dragged him into the office instead.

” There. I said it. “And Keelie, feel free to step on Carlotta’s toes for that comment regarding your brain cells. Everyone knows you’re a sharp cookie. You’ve managed the Honey Pot Diner for going on eight years now.” Keelie sucks in a quick breath. “Don’t you try to throw smoke and mirrors in my direction, Lottie Lemon. Carlotta isn’t wrong about my brain cell depletion. Everyone knows losing brain cells is just a part of becoming a mother. You’re trying to skirt around the sexy issue at hand.

You and Everett are doing the dirty! You’re back together, aren’t you?” I bite down on my bottom lip as the lobby fills with bodies, and I quickly scan the crowd for signs of Bizzy and her friends, but I don’t see any. “Okay, fine”—my shoulders bounce with excitement—“we’re back together.” Both Carlotta and Keelie let out a whoop so loud and shrill you’d think I’d just won the lusty lottery. And in a way I did. Keelie’s joy quickly morphs to something much more somber. “Lottie”—she leans in—“did you really choose Everett over Noah?” “No, no. I mean, yes.” My hands fly to my ears. “I mean, I was trying to make a decision between the two of them and Noah said to be with Everett. He wanted to return the favor that Everett gave him.

Anyway, it’s confusing. Bottom line—I didn’t listen to Noah. I listened to my heart. Everett is the only man I should be with seeing that he’s my husband. I mean, sure, our marriage was simply a business transaction so he could keep his inheritance, but somehow it still makes sense.” A visual of the two of us entwined in one another’s arms flits through my mind. “It’s the right move. He’s the right move.” I grow weak in the knees. “And his night moves aren’t so bad either.

” Carlotta twists her lips. “So, are you simply making a pit stop with Mister Sexy while you make up your mind between the two of them?” “No,” I give a weak protest. “I mean, I don’t know. I don’t think so. All I know is, I’m really, really happy.” A spear of heat bisects my stomach and assures me of this. My mother, Miranda Lemon, the mother who raised me, runs up. “Girls!” she trills as she reaches for a tote bag on the floor next to her. “Can you believe the turnout? I just knew when I gave my rights away to Wiley Rose Publishing, Wiley Fox would do right by me.” “Gave your rights away?” Keelie makes a face.

“You mean your book rights.” “She means her rights,” I correct. After my father died, my mother’s track record with men was all losers and boozers, and unfortunately for her, Wiley falls into both of those inglorious categories. “Girls, please.” Mom waves me off. “He said he was going to turn me into a star. And now look at all of these women just fighting to get into the conservatory for the authors’ mingle. This is just a taste of what they’ll be getting at Honey Lake in just a few hours. The man is pure brilliance, I tell you.” Miranda Lemon is a creamy-haired blonde whose tresses touch her shoulders, there’s a touch of mischief to her in general—a side she’s wildly explored since my father died— and as of late, she’s tried her hand at spinning a naughty yarn.

Her romance novel, Reckless Fear, just hit shelves last week, and in honor of her book, Wiley Rose Publishing is hosting an author signing at the lake today. Wiley, as in Wiley Fox, my mother’s latest, not greatest, acquisition in the boyfriend department, is Noah Fox’s father. Noah and I dated, and well, things never seemed to work out for us. Technically, he’s still my boyfriend. I think. Oh heck, I don’t know what to think about Noah anymore, and it just breaks my heart. Anyway, his father is a rat who faked his own death and makes a regular sport of stealing off with the fortunes of unsuspecting widows. But now he’s back from the dead and ready and willing to bilk my mother, who has unwisely signed the rights of her book away to the devil himself. I’m about to say something snippy about the fact Wiley has suckered an entire glut of unsuspecting women into his latest scheme when a tall redhead with long, wavy hair, eyes the color of dark coffee, and lips painted a shocking shade of fuchsia steps up to the counter. “Ambrosia!” my mother practically shrieks out the woman’s name.

“Oh my God, it’s really you!” Mom wastes no time physically accosting the woman. “Ambrosia, this is my daughter Lottie, her other mother Carlotta, and her dear friend Keelie. Thank you so much for coming out today. I have your room all ready for you. And once we’re done with the signing down at the lake, we can get right to discussing co-authoring that book together.” “Co-what?” The woman looks slightly stunned by my mother’s rather aggressive announcement. A rail-thin blonde with an easy smile pops up in our midst and gives a little wave. “Jessie Lane here,” she snips. “I’m the coordinator for most of the author events in Vermont. Wiley enlisted me to help out.

” She lifts her brows. “Who do I see about moving the boxes full of books to the lake?” There’s a serious demeanor about her, but I suppose if she’s got an entire legion of authors to wrangle, she’d have to have several serious bones in her body. Mom raises a hand. “That would be my boyfriend, Wiley. He’s the genius that put this whole thing together. Who knew there were so many hungry romance fans in Vermont?” “Me!” A bright clap of light ignites as the ghost of Greer Giles appears among us. Greer is a girl in her twenties, or rather was in her twenties when she was murdered last year. She’s been camping out at the B&B with a ghostly boyfriend of her own and the little girl—ghoul—they adopted. “Oh, Lottie, I’ve read every single one of Ambrosia Whispers’ books. I can’t believe she’s staying right here at the inn where I’ll get to personally haunt her.

Oh, the scares I have planned for that woman. She won’t soon forget me. In fact, I bet I’ll end up in one of her books!” My mother, the redheaded Ambrosia, and thin blonde Jessie all head off for the conservatory as Greer floats alongside them. The crowd parts and up steps another handsome man with a dark head of hair with just a touch of copper in it, verdant green eyes that look as if they’re holding all the grief in the world locked in them, and an adorable set of dimples that dip in and out regardless of whether or not their owner is harboring a smile. “Lottie.” “Noah.” And just like that, the high I’ve been on for the past few days blows apart and I’m sent hurtling right back to Earth. Noah Corbin Fox and I dated off and on for almost two years now. We were going hot and heavy right up until that wife he forgot to mention showed up. It was all a big mess.

Noah never meant to hurt me. They were all but divorced. And that’s when his old stepbrother Everett stepped up to the heart-shaped plate and I dated him for a brief moment in time—and now once again. It’s been drama city ever since, and last we left it, Noah suggested I give this thing with Everett another whirl. And I can see it in his eyes that he deeply regrets it. But we both know it was inevitable. Everett himself was the one who told me to go back to Noah way back when and finish off what we started, and maybe have our happily ever after, but my feelings for Everett never waned. And either in a fit of machismo, keeping up with the testosterone-laden Joneses, or whatever you want to call it, Noah reversed the tables. But in the end, it was my heart that made the decision. After all, Everett is my husband.

I sigh just thinking about that matrimonial fact. “What are you doing here?” I make my way around the counter and pull him in for a warm embrace. It’s not that I’ve been avoiding Noah ever since I made the decision to fully give my relationship with Everett another go. It’s just that—well, okay, fine. I’ve been avoiding Noah. He takes a deep breath and his blazer pulls back enough for me to see the leather strap of his gun holster. Noah is the lead homicide detective down at the Ashford County Sheriff’s Department, and seeing that I’ve become embroiled in more than my fair share of homicides, we’ve worked closely together—both in and out of the bedroom. “My mother.” He shrugs as he warms my back with his hands. “She’s a big fan of some author who’s here.

Ambrosia something or other.” Carlotta sucks in a violent breath. “Ambrosia Whispers? You just missed her. Who knew good old Suze was a closet romance junkie? Well, there you have it. Even a battleax like that needs to take the edge off once in a while.” Carlotta’s not wrong about the battle-ax part. Suzanna Fox is a peach, or a pill— take your pick, but she’s most likely both. Noah tips his head back as his hold on me stiffens, and I turn and follow his gaze until I’m looking right into a pair of cobalt eyes that have the power to make me jump out of my skin at the sight of them—in the very best way. Suffice it to say, making women jump out of their skin has been their specialty since about the time he hit puberty. “Everett!” I squeak, evicting myself from Noah’s embrace as I do an odd little hop.

His lips twitch with satisfaction, and for reasons unknown, it’s taking far more control than I have not to give that dark scruff on his cheeks a quick scratch. “Lemon.” He wraps his arms around me and lands a smooth kiss to my lips right here in the open, and as much as a tiny part of me demands to protest, the rest of me breathes a sigh of relief. Everett has only ever called me by my surname, and I’ve secretly relished it each and every time. Everett takes a quick step away, and soon Evie, Everly—the daughter Everett had with a socialite who quickly became his most ardent stalker—steps up. “Hey, Mom!” She gives me a quick embrace. Evie is the spitting image of her daddy with long flowing raven black hair, daring blue eyes, and a devilish gleam that certainly means trouble. She’s drop-dead gorgeous, looks all of twenty-one, but is merely fifteen. She’s already giving her daddy and me reasons to sponsor an ulcer, what with her two boyfriends, not to mention her penchant for running from teen party to teen party no matter how much we forbid it. Evie is a bit of a wild child, and I blame the fact her biological mother, Cressida Bentley, kept her hidden from the world—more specifically from Everett—at some snooty boarding school up until a couple of months ago.

But now, Everett has full custody, I’ve stepped in as her mother, and Everett and I are working as a unified front to undo the damage Cressida caused. Evie touches her fingers to her lips once she spots the depressed detective behind me. “Oh, Uncle Noah, I’m so sorry you have to see this.” She gives her father the side-eye as if she means it. And if she does mean to disparage Everett for his public display of affection, it would be odd considering the fact Evie was heavily campaigning to get us back to together. “But don’t worry. I’m sure you’ll meet a nice young lady anxious to start a family with you asap. The entire conservatory is teeming with women hopped up on enough hormones to bring on a baby explosion that will make the boomers look like the DNA crumbs left over from humanity’s sandwich.” She links her arm to mine. Evie is just a smidge taller than me and it’s unnerving to look up at that girl I’m ready to reprimand.

“Mom and Dad are working to give me a little brother or sister. Personally, I’m rooting for one of each. Do twins run in our family?” She blinks those long lashes at me, and before either Everett or I can dispel any baby rumors, an all too familiar face appears in the crowd. “Bizzy Baker!” I cry out and lunge at my dear friend. A few months back, Everett, Noah, Carlotta, and I went to Cider Cove for a little R&R and got waylaid with a murder investigation while we were there. It turns out, not only is Bizzy an amateur sleuth just like me, but she’s also transmundane—just like me as well. It’s true. Both Bizzy and I harbor a supernatural quirk that can’t be denied. I happen to be further classified as supersensual, meaning I can see the dead. And Bizzy is further classified as telesensual, meaning she can read minds.

Believe me, it makes me edgy to know that every last errant thought I’m having is suspect to Bizzy’s busy mind, but I know that she can’t help prying into my thoughts no more than I can help seeing the ghosts of the dearly departed. But I don’t just see any willy-nilly ghost. Aside from the crew that haunts my mother’s B&B, I rarely see any, unless, of course, there’s murder afoot. It used to be that seeing one of those fantastic phantasms meant that the person they came back to visit was merely going to have a very bad day, but as of late, it almost certainly means a homicide is on its way. Typically, I see dearly beloved pets that have returned from the other side of the rainbow divide, but I see once-upon-a-humans now and again, too. Best of all, my grandma Nell and my adoptive father Joseph Lemon have paid me a few heartfelt visits. I’ve never been so happy to be supernaturally cursed or blessed—take your pick—than I have been when I’ve seen their beautiful ghostly faces. Bizzy pulls back with a laugh caught in her mouth. “Lottie Lemon! I can’t believe we’re back in the same state, yours this time.” Bizzy has long dark hair and icy blue eyes.

She looks as if she could be Evie’s mother far more than I could, but at the moment, Bizzy is engaged to a hunky homicide detective from Maine, Jasper Wilder, and they’ve yet to procreate. A sharp bark comes from our right and I look down to see a medium-sized dog, white with red freckles strewn all over him, and I can’t help but laugh. “Sherlock Bones!” His name bursts from me with marked enthusiasm. Alongside him, I spot Jasper Wilder with his dark hair and silver eyes. Next to him stand two women. The older one is wearing a red, white, and blue kaftan while holding a black and white tabby. That would be Georgie Conner, the quirky artist that lives at the Country Cottage Inn that Bizzy manages, and the sweet cat is Fish, Bizzy’s fur baby. The younger one is about my age or a little older, early thirties perhaps, with a blonde bob and a mischievous smile budding on her lips, and that would be Macy Baker, Bizzy’s older much more lust-driven sister who has already made it clear she’s coming to Honey Hollow in hopes to find herself a man. She’s specifically pinned Noah’s look-alike brother Alex as her primary target. She let me know so much when we left Cider Cove a few months back.

“Georgie! Macy! Fish!” I howl as the entire lot of us breaks into one big group hug. “Jasper.” I laugh as I see him buddying up to both Noah and Everett. “Welcome to my mother’s B&B!” Evie wastes no time in taking both Sherlock and Fish from them and heads for the courtyard, while Georgie gifts Carlotta a matching red, white, and blue kaftan and they get right to scheming. Georgie has a wild mane of scraggly gray hair, a bright red painted smile, and a dangerous twinkle in her lavender eyes. She leans toward my wily bio mother. “I hear my favorite romance author, Ambrosia Whispers, is staying right here at this haunted B&B with me! First ghosts, and now the very presence of the woman who pens stories with more spice than nice? Life cannot get better, Carlotta. You might just regret inviting me to your neck of Vermont. I may never leave.”

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