Poison Apple Crisp – 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, 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. Instead, I’m seeing both Noah and Everett mingling with my friends and family in my bakery as I build up the courage to make a very big announcement. It’s the first Saturday in September, and the Cutie Pie Bakery and Cakery just finished up with a crowd of customers. It’s just a little after one in the afternoon, and I’m beyond exhausted. I’ve been working all morning making dozens upon dozens of individual apple crisps in cupcake parchment for the Honey Hollow High back-to-school fundraiser set for tonight. It was a special request from the head of the PTA, who’s coming by in just a bit to pick them up. Noah and Everett and I will all be in attendance tonight because it just so happens that my daughter Evie will be entering as a junior this year. She’ll also be having her sweet sixteen in just a few weeks, so this is going to be a big month for her. Everly, or Evie as she prefers to be called, is the daughter I share with Everett. She came into our lives last spring when we discovered her mother had been keeping her a secret from the world—more importantly from Everett himself. Evie looks just like her daddy, with thick, glossy hair that’s black as night and stunning blue eyes. In fact, Evie is stunning all the way around, and she’s a bit of a spitfire, too.

Since her birth mother is sort of a dud, I’ve taken Evie on as my own and she’s taken to calling me Mom—a title I’ll be far more intimately acquainted with in the very near future. Which brings me to my big news. There are only two more people I’m waiting on before I can announce it, and that would be my best friend, Keelie, and my sister, Lainey, both of which just became mothers themselves a little over two weeks ago. I take a moment to look around my sweet bakery, with its butter yellow walls, its pastel mismatched furniture, and the silk fall leaves and pumpkins decorating the vicinity. The bakery is attached to the Honey Pot Diner next door through a shared wall. The Honey Pot just so happens to have a tall resin oak tree in the middle of it, with its branches stretching over the ceiling, crawling all the way into my café. And each branch is wrapped in twinkle lights, giving the place a homey appeal. I glance at all of the familiar faces circulating around the room. My mother is here, along with Noah’s father, Wiley. They’ve been joined at the hip for far too long, and I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it.

Noah’s mother, Suze, is here as well, but strangely that’s not awkward at all. In fact, she’s having a lively conversation with Everett’s mother, Eliza, and his sister, Meghan. Just about everyone I know is in my bakery at the moment. My stepsiblings, one of my sisters, and my birth mother, Carlotta, are here as well. Carlotta looks like an older version of me—same caramel-colored hair and hazel eyes—but think more gray and crow’s feet. In just a few minutes, my new reality will be out in the open. It will become real in every single way. And this event that’s about to change my life forever will be changing their lives, too. Noah laughs at something Everett tells him, and I can’t help but sigh their way. Noah Corbin Fox was my steady boyfriend for a good long spate of time.

He’s handsome to a fault with his dark hair that turns a touch crimson in the sun. He has mesmerizing green eyes and deep dimples that are so adorable they should be illegal in all fifty states. He’s the lead homicide detective down at the Ashford County Sheriff’s Department, and he’s spent the better half of the two years I’ve known him trying to make up for the fact he had a wife he was keeping a secret from me. Well, it wasn’t as bad as I’m painting it to be, but it sure did mark the beginning of the end for us. And then there’s Everett—Judge Essex Everett Baxter. He’s criminally good-looking in just about every way. You know the type, black hair, demanding blue eyes, hardly ever smiles, a touch too serious, a touch too lethally handsome. He prefers to go by his middle name, Everett, and uses his formal moniker as sort of a door prize to the myriad of women he’s bedded. Yes, I’ve certainly garnered the right to call him Essex, but prior to our mattress mambo, I was already used to calling him Everett, so I’ve just stuck with it. I’ve seen women get darn right caustic trying to crane their necks to get a better look at either of those men, and I can’t say I blame them.

Both Noah and Everett have about five years on me, putting them at about their midthirties. And fun fact: I’ve been married to them both. Noah and I more or less walked into the institution backward. Not surprisingly, Everett was the one that helped us untangle that legal knot. And then last December, when I found out Everett was one bride short of being able to collect on his inheritance, I stepped up to the matrimonial plate. That’s where I am today—married to Everett. It started out as a technicality, nothing more than a business arrangement, but so far neither of us is hitting the brakes. The bell on the front door chimes and my insides knot up, because as soon as my sister and bestie arrive, it will be showtime. I’ll have to spill the beans, and my secret will be a secret no more. But it’s not either of them.

Instead, it’s a trio of women, a redhead, a brunette, and a blonde. And down by their feet prances a fuzzy cinnamon-colored Pomeranian who just so happens to look as if he or she is smiling ear to fuzzy ear. My co-worker, Lily Swanson, crops up next to me. “It’s okay, Lottie. I got this,” she says. “You can go hang out with your family and friends.” “Oh no, I’ve got this, Lily. You can take a break. I’ll be leaving early tonight and you’re closing, remember?” She wrinkles her nose my way. Lily has long dark hair, sculpted features, and pouty lips.

Lily and I went to high school together, and she was more or less the mean girl and I was her victim. But now that I sign her paychecks, Lily seems to like me a whole lot better. She leans my way. “Lottie, why do I get the feeling you’re avoiding all these people you’ve called to the bakery?” I twist my lips. “Because you’ve got good intuition.” I turn to the three women and flash a bright smile. “Welcome to the Cutie Pie Bakery and Cakery. I’m the head baker and owner, Lottie Lemon. How can I help you today?” The brunette gives a husky laugh. “You’re adorable.

And this place is adorable. Actually, this is my first time setting foot in here. I haven’t had a carb in three years.” She laughs, and her friends laugh along with her. But Lily and I aren’t laughing. We’re trying to figure out why someone would be so cruel to their bodies. Those apple fritters I fried up this morning aren’t going to eat themselves. The brunette has a shock of short dark hair, bangs that trim her glossy green eyes, and a tight grin that never leaves her face. “I’m Brenda Phillips, head of the Honey Hollow High PTA.” She nods my way.

“I believe we spoke on the phone.” “Yes! Brenda,” I say with a note of enthusiasm. “I have your order all boxed up and ready to go. And like I mentioned, I would have been more than happy to deliver them to you.” Brenda laughs. “No way. I like things just so. I’m overseeing every detail of tonight’s fundraiser, and it’s going to go off without a hitch.” She turns to the redhead on the right. “That’s a promise.

” She looks back my way. “Lottie, this is Cokie Hickman, the principal of Honey Hollow High. And this nitwit”—she gives a wink as she hitches her head to the blonde to her left—“is my right-hand gal.” “Nice to meet you both. My stepdaughter, Everly—Evie—Baxter, will be attending as a junior this year and we’re all so very excited.” Everett finally helped Evie change her surname from Bentley to Baxter, which is wonderful—with the exception that her middle name just so happened to be Baxter. She’s officially Everly Baxter Baxter. The principal’s mouth rounds out. “Everly Baxter?” I’m about to tell her that nobody dares call Evie by her formal moniker, just as Noah and Everett stride up to the counter. Noah leans in, unsure as he looks to the redhead.

“Cokie Tracey?” The redhead turns his way with surprise right before she gasps and screams. “Noah French Kiss Fox! And, oh my living, breathing stars, if it’s not Essex Everett Baxter himself!” Noah French Kiss Fox? Essex? More gasps and screams take place as she lunges over them both. Lily snorts as she leans my way. “Hear that, Lot? She called him Essex. I’m guessing she gets to call him that for the same coital reason I do.” I take a moment to scowl over at my partner in baked goods crime. It’s true, Lily has done the horizontal hustle with my shiny new husband, but that was before I came along. And I’m guessing Everett schooled Principal Cokie Hickman long before he ever met either of us. And Cokie, really? It seems none of the socialites that hail from Fallbrook are named something simple like Linda or Mary. Lily takes off to pull up the boxes of apple crisps, and the blonde gives me a wave.

Her hair is pale as wheat, cropped to her neckline, but a dark line of roots gives away the fact she’s taken to bleaching her locks. That and her dark eyebrows wiggling over her eyes like thick caterpillars. But she’s a pretty girl in general. “I’m Rachelle Dalton.” A short-lived smile blinks from her. And I can’t help but note how cute she looks in her tight white turtleneck with a black leather jacket over it. She looks polished and chic, and most importantly, dressed for this cool, crisp fall afternoon. “My stepdaughter will be a junior this year as well. And I’m looking forward to seeing a new face in the crowd at the PTA.” She hands over a check made out to the bakery for the exact amount due and I take it.

“Thank you,” I say. “But I haven’t decided if I’ll be a member yet.” Brenda snaps her head in my direction as a sharp look travels from her eyes to mine. You’d think I just said I still haven’t decided if I’ll be wearing clothes tonight. “I mean, I’ll try,” I shrug, “but my life is about to get a whole lot busier.” Brenda laughs as her eyelashes flutter through her bangs. “Welcome to September, honey. It’s nothing but a flurry of paperwork. Isn’t that right, Ginger?” She winks over at Rachelle, but, before she can reply, Noah and Everett step this way with the hussy among them—I mean principal. “Lemon”—Everett always calls me by my surname, and even though we’re married, I’ve kept my name intact—“I’d like for you to meet an old friend, Cokie Tracey.

It turns out, she’s the principal at Evie’s new school.” “Cokie Hickman.” She laughs as she says it. Her auburn hair touches down just over her shoulders in chunky vertical curls. Her upper lip hardly has the capability to cover her front teeth, and it looks as if a smile comes easily to her. But it’s those wily dark green eyes that assure you she means business—and some funny business with my men. “I was married for about five years, but I’m single and looking to mingle, if you know what I mean. So if you know of any good men, send them my way.” She jerks her head toward Noah and Everett. “Either of you up for the challenge?” Knew it.

Noah laughs. “Lottie and I are on and off.” He depresses those dimples my way as if he were pleading with me not to throw him under the relationship bus. He’s not wrong. Noah and I have been on and off for a while now, and yet in a strange way it feels as if Noah and I never really broke up at all. “And what about you, Essex?” She swivels her shoulders his way. And judging by that come hither look in her eye, I can tell she’s ready to head into full-on seduction mode. “Ready for C and E, round two?” C and E? As in Cokie and Essex? Gag me. Everett’s chest bounces with a dry laugh. “Actually”—he nods my way—“I’m a happily married man.

” The redhead’s jaw becomes unhinged. “You don’t say? Well, do me a favor and bring the missus by the event tonight. I just have to meet the woman who tamed the beast.” “You’ve already met her.” He nods my way. “Lemon here is the woman that completes me.” Cokie gags and sputters and glances from Noah to Everett and right back to me again, looking morbidly confused. I offer up a tiny shrug. “It’s a long and very complicated story.” Brenda smacks the blonde by her side.

“Hear that, Ginger? She’s got two men. And here we thought it was only possible the other way around.” She winks my way. “Don’t let either of them talk you into doing something you’ll regret.” Rachelle shifts and rolls her eyes. I’m betting it’s an inside joke. The three of them scoop up every last box of apple crisps and head out into the cool autumn air. And on their heels waltzes in my beautiful blonde bestie, Keelie Nell Fisher, along with a tiny blue bundle in her arms, her brand new baby boy, Bear. Papa Bear is right there with them, too. Bear is Keelie’s husband, but right now, he’s more or less an afterthought as everyone races to make their way over to see the sweet tiny tot she’s cradling.

Keelie and Bear’s baby boy looks every bit as surly and ruddy as his daddy, same pale blond hair as his mama, although Bear has blond hair, too. Otis Bear Fisher and I dated all through high school. He had a habit of chasing after other girls, and I had a habit of crying into my pillow at night. But he’s since changed his two-timing ways and married Keelie last summer. They were already expecting this little bundle by then, and he popped out just last month. Mom coos as she brushes the baby’s chubby hand with her finger. “Hello there, precious boy. I cannot wait for you to meet my sweet granddaughter, Josie. I just know you’re going to be soulmates right out the gate.” “You mean womb,” Keelie’s mother, Becca Turner, cajoles.

“Oh, they’re going to be best friends, just like you and me, Miranda,” she’s quick to tell my mother. Mom nods. “Just like Lottie and Keelie.” It’s true, Keelie and I have been best friends since preschool, which is probably the reason her twin, Naomi, hates my guts. But as fate would have it, I’m related to them both. The woman I knew as their grandmother was my grandmother, too. My birth mother, Carlotta, abandoned me on the floor of the Honey Hollow Fire Department right after my birth, and I was adopted by the sweet fireman who found me, Joseph Lemon, and his wife, the flirty blonde before me, Miranda. Carlotta muscles her way to the front. “All right, Lot Lot, let’s hear it. What’s the big announcement? I’ve got to get my hair done-did.

Evie invited me to the fundraising event tonight, and word on the scholastic street is there will be an entire herd of hunky male teachers looking to get educated in all the right subjects.” She hoists her chest out as if offering up subjects A and B. I make a face. I happen to know Evie won’t be there tonight. It’s adults only at this highfalutin fundraiser. I bet inviting Carlotta was Evie’s way of getting her out of the house—more like the neighborhood. “Oh!” Mom raises a hand. “Me too, Lottie. You’ll need to hurry. I’ll be there tonight as well, helping Wiley man the bar.

The PTA says they like to get the patrons good and juiced up so that they’ll be more apt to pull out their wallets.” “That’s right.” Wiley steps up next to her grinning from ear to ear, looking every bit like Noah in the process—as he should. Wiley is Noah’s father. “The drink of the night is called the Summer Blues Cure.” Mom grins like a loon. “It’s designed to give you that back-to-school buzz.” All words I pray she never says within earshot of Evie or anyone associated with Honey Hollow High. My sister, Meg, threads her way to the front. Her hair looks freshly dyed a shade of stark black and her pale eyes look more than upset with me.

“Come on, Lot. I’ve got Lainey on the phone. She says she’s not coming near this cesspool of germs. And I’ve got to be at the Honey Hollow High gymnasium in a couple of hours. The PTA hired me to bring the entertainment—a few of my girls are manning the tables.” “The what?” I give a quick blink. I happen to know that my sister works at a strip club, and if what she says is true, I’m rethinking my take on the event. Actually, Meg is a dance instructor down at Red Satin Gentlemen’s Club. She doesn’t actually do the dancing. And I much prefer her helping out at the Honey Pot Diner than being ogled by rogue drunks that are looking to cop a feel.

But before Meg can extrapolate, Suze Fox, Noah’s mother, growls. “Let’s have it,” she barks. Suze is generally ornery. She has short blond hair that swoops low in the front, and she reminds me of an older, angry member of a boy band. “All right,” I say, taking a deep breath as I make my way around the counter and hold out my hands as Noah takes up one and Everett takes up the other. I nod to my stepsiblings and to my birth father, looking as if he’s about to fall asleep standing up, Mayor Harry Nash. I glance across the sea of faces to find Evie staring at her phone. That’s okay. I’m pretty sure I’ll have her undivided attention in about ten seconds. I clear my throat.

“The reason I’ve called you all here today is to tell you that—” A lump the size of a bassinet swells in my throat. Noah gives my hand a gentle squeeze. “You can do this, Lottie. You have my full support. I’ll never leave you.” Everett grunts. “A good restraining order could fix that,” he mutters under his breath. Everett lands a sweet kiss to my cheek. “I’m right here, Lemon. It’s going to be fine.

” I push out a hard breath. “Okay. About two weeks ago, Noah, Everett, and I discovered something rather serious, and we’ve had a hard time sitting on it ever since. We weren’t sure what the best way to do this would be, then I had the thought that maybe we should just gather you all here and blurt it out at once.” “You’re making it official.” Carlotta slaps her hand down on the counter. “You’re Honey Hollow’s very first throuple.” She looks to the crowd. “I called it. Miranda, Becca, and Harry, you all owe me twenty bucks a pop.

” “What?” I hiss. “No! Carlotta, I can’t believe you were taking bets.” Evie gives a lazy glance my way. “I’ve got a pool going, too.” I roll my eyes. “It’s not that.” It’s probably not far from the truth, though. I clear my throat as I look at all of the faces I know and love. “I’m having a baby.” Dead silence takes over.

You could hear a cupcake drop. Then in a burst, the entire room erupts in cheers before it, too, begins to die down rather quickly. “Oh, Lottie!” Mom lunges for me with a firm embrace. “Congratulations!” She pulls back and looks to Noah and Everett as her glee begins to morph into confusion. “So? Who’s the father?” My mouth falls open as I look to both Noah and Everett for a little assistance in this department. “Yes!” Evie shouts with enthusiastic vigor. “I’m having a kid brother or sister, and my mom doesn’t have any idea who the daddy is. I’m going to be the talk of all Honey Hollow High.” “I’m so sorry.” My chest bucks as tears blur my vision.

I can’t help the tears. I cried peeling open the wax paper off the butter this morning. But then, butter is so great it probably warrants a few tears. Evie inches back. “Don’t apologize. I’m the one who’s going to rev up the rumor mill about my dicey family before the semester even begins. I’m finally going to be the cool kid for a change.” She takes off while tapping furtively into her phone. A flurry of congratulations come my way, and I can’t help but note there’s a hint of confusion in everyone’s eyes. Carlotta grunts.

“Don’t worry, Lot. If you don’t want the kid, I know a nice fire department where we can drop ’em off once you pump ’em out.” Keelie wraps her arms around me. “Are you going to breastfeed?” Her eyes look wide with fear. An odd sort of congratulations, but then again, she is sleep-deprived. I open my mouth to answer when Meg thrusts her phone my way. “Of course, she’s going to breastfeed!” my sister, Lainey, chirps. Meg chuckles. “I felt that one coming.” It’s no secret Lainey has been nothing short of Mother Earth these last couple of weeks now that she’s had her sweet pink bundle of joy.

Carlotta gives a wistful shake of the head. “I would have breastfed for seven years if I could have.” “Carlotta.” I look her way. “You didn’t keep me for seven minutes.” Keelie flinches. “That’s exactly how long I nursed Bear. Don’t judge me, Lainey. But my nipples cracked and bled!” “GAH!” No sooner do I cry out than Meg tosses the phone to Keelie. Suze staggers forward, white as a ghost.

“Noah Corbin Fox,” she gravels out her oldest son’s name. “Don’t you dare do this to me.” And so it begins. Suze isn’t exactly my biggest fan. Everett’s mother and sister pour out the congratulations, as do my stepsiblings, and before you know it, Lily offers everyone in the bakery a free sweet treat. It’s probably for the better. Everyone is looking a little stunned after my announcement. In fact, my stomach begins to churn, as it’s been doing on the regular ever since I found out the news myself. The cinnamon-colored Pomeranian lets out a few sharp barks. “Oh no!” I say.

“Everett? Could either you or Noah help out with that cute little critter? The ladies who came for the apple crisps must have forgotten him.” Everett gives a brief glance in the general direction I’m looking in. “What dog?” My muscles freeze solid when he says those words. “Noah?” I glance his way. “You see it, don’t you?” I ask as I point down at the tiny cutie pie dancing in a circle. Noah squints in that direction. “Nope.” The tiny pooch turns and winks my way before trotting right on out, by way of floating through the wall. “I guess we know what this means,” I sigh as I say it. “I’m not just expecting a baby.

I’m expecting a homicide.”

.

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