Raspberry Tart Terror – 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 wish I were seeing anything other than what I’m seeing now. “Everett!” I shout as I thread my way through a thick crowd of reporters, right here in the Ashford County Sheriff’s Department. “Noah!” I riot out his name, but I can’t see either one of them. A body blocks my path and I look up to see Detective Ivy Fairbanks glowering at me with those judgmental eyes. Her red hair is knotted up so tight, she’s just given herself an inadvertent facelift. Ivy is Noah’s partner here at the homicide division. Noah, whom I’ve led right to the slaughter with my harebrained schemes more than once. It’s my fault they’ve arrested him. It’s my fault they’ve arrested Everett, too. “You’ve done this, haven’t you?” Ivy spits the words out with fury. “I get it, you’re angry,” I say, trying to step around her, but she blocks my path at every turn. “But you’re not half as angry as I am with myself.

Out of my way, Ivy. Nothing is going to stop me from getting to them.” Her hand lands just shy of my chest, and I cease all movement. “You had them move that body, didn’t you?” she grits the words out through her teeth. All of the events that happened last month run through my mind like a nightmare that swirls like a hurricane. And it is still very much storming in my world. It’s true. We moved Florenza Canelli’s body, right after we stole it from the morgue. It was upon Florenza’s request—or more or less her ghostly threats—but who in their right mind is going to believe us? It was the first time the victim came back as the ghost set to help me winnow out their killer. It’s usually the ghost of a loved one who helps me solve the case—a furry family member at that.

But Flo was as relentless in death as she was in life. She promised that if we didn’t move her body—long enough for her to buy enough time to communicate some good sense into her friends and family in an effort to keep them from making her look like a coffin clown—her words, not mine—she said she’d destroy my bakery, ruin Everett’s career, and stand by silently while a major turf war broke out between warring mob families. Anyway, we agreed—I agreed on account she promised to help stop the mob massacre on the horizon if we spared her a bad hair day in the pine box, and we complied. Everett left the final decision to me, and I left it to Noah. But I’m not blaming Noah. I’m the one who put the wheels in motion. Me, the only one the Ashford Sheriff’s Department didn’t arrest for the debacle. I should confess. The baby in my tummy gives a sharp kick as if it were protesting the thought, and I buck as my hands land over my bourgeoning belly. My poor sugar cookie has no idea what a mess I’ve already made of its little life.

“Good grief.” Ivy pulls me to the side by the elbow. “How far along are you with this mystery child of yours?” “Eight months,” I pant. “I have to see them, Ivy.” By mystery child she’s alluding to the fact I’m still not sure if either Everett or Noah is the baby’s father. “And who knows what will happen to the baby if I don’t see them right now? Out of my way. I need to see Noah and Everett, and not even that weapon glued to your hip can stop me.” Her gaze drifts down my swollen body and her eyes squeeze shut a moment. “Come with me.” Ivy navigates us through the screaming crowd of reporters as a sea of bodies press against us the closer we get to the nucleus of this disaster.

The shouting, the questions lighting up the air, the flash of a dozen cameras, it’s a dizzying effect that I can’t seem to escape. I’m not sure if I deserve to. Ivy yanks me through a white door, and I hear the solid click behind us as it seals us into the processing area. The air is cooler, the lights are brighter with far less bodies to contend with, and thankfully, two of those bodies happen to be the right ones. “Noah, Everett.” Their names come out in a whisper as I watch the carnage with disbelief. Everett looks right at me just before a bright light ignites as they take his picture. He’s standing in front of a striped wall that marks off his height, and he looks every bit the criminal they’re making him out to be. His cobalt blue eyes siren my way with serious intent, and it feels as if the entire room fades away for a moment. I can feel his love for me, but the only thing I deserve right now is his condemnation.

Judge Essex Everett Baxter is as handsome as they come with a cutting brand of glory that should very well be illegal. He’s tall, has the body of a linebacker, and looks lean and mean in that dark suit he’s wearing. He commands the attention of every ovary-bearing female in the vicinity without even trying and hardly ever smiles. They bark at him to turn to the side and he complies, allowing them to take a shot of his profile, and my heart breaks just witnessing the spectacle. To the left I see Noah, the very first man I have ever truly loved, as they take his hand and lay it over a scanner to capture his fingerprints. Noah Corbin Fox and I have a storied history. We were on and off again so often it feels as if we’re in some sort of holding pattern at the moment. He too is tall, with a body built for speed in all the right places, dark hair that turns red at the tips, dimples for days, and commanding green eyes. “I’ve done this,” I whisper, and Noah’s head snaps in my direction. “Lottie,” he says as he finishes up in haste, and before I know it, I’m in his strong arms.

“It’s going to be okay.” He dots a simple kiss to my temple. “I promise you. It’s all going to work out.” It’s just like Noah to try to make me feel better, to offer up assurances even though I’ve brought the mess upon myself. A flurry of deputies sweeps in, and soon Everett is hustled in our direction. The sound of dozens of voices shouting at once erupts and my eardrums sting from the chaos. “Don’t you dare open your mouth, Noah,” Everett grits through his teeth. “Lemon, go home.” He pins his stern eyes to mine.

“Now,” he grunts it out as a command. “No,” I riot right back as this entire sea of noise and melee we’re enmeshed in moves to the left. “I’m not leaving,” I shout. “Lemon,” Everett shouts back as he’s escorted away at a quickened clip. Lemon is Everett’s pet name for me—my surname. Even though Everett and I are technically married, I haven’t taken his name as my own. Our marriage was more of a business arrangement when we dove into matrimonial waters over a year ago. I did it so he could meet the requirements of his trust fund. And well, not long after that, Noah and I agreed that I should see if there was anything left between Everett and me. Come to find out, there was, and we’ve been together for the last few months as an official couple.

Everett did the same for Noah and me a while back, so Noah thought he’d return the relationship favor. But now that Everett and I are still going strong, Noah has been in deep regret over his decision. Although now that I’ve blown our lives into oblivion, I’m sure neither of them will want anything to do with me ever again. I certainly don’t. Everett and Noah are led behind another set of closed doors, and Ivy snatches me from the crowd and leads me in that direction. “Keep quiet in there,” Ivy hisses. “Don’t muck up the waters any more than you already have.” “Out of my way!” a sharp female voice shouts from behind, and I turn to see Fiona Dagmeyer, a polished brunette with dainty features, large dark eyes, and a crimson snarl heading our way. She’s donned a navy power suit and has a leather briefcase in hand. Fiona is fierce as a bulldog, ready to take down anyone who stands in her way, and she just so happens to be the defense attorney Everett had me call right after he and Noah were arrested this afternoon at my mother’s B&B.

Ivy hustles us to the door. “You’ll have less than five minutes with them. They’re getting their room ready.” Her lips twitch because by room she means cell. Good grief, this is getting all too real now. The door opens, and I’m thrust into what looks to be an expansive office as the door shuts with a violent slam behind us. The hush of the room feels like a relief to my ears, and I charge forward in an effort to grab onto Noah or Everett with a firm embrace, but one of the beefy deputies standing guard pulls me back. “Take a seat,” he says it low like a growl, and I take a seat on the end of an elongated table that has Everett and Noah next to one another, with Fiona taking the helm at the other end. There are only a handful of deputies in here, and I’m glad about it, too. The fewer people to witness our misery, the better.

“I’m so sorry,” my voice warbles as I get the words out. “Lemon,” Everett says it sweetly, and yet with a touch of remorse, as he closes his eyes. “Lottie, don’t worry.” Noah blows out a breath as if he were very much worried himself. “You don’t get to speak.” Fiona holds a finger my way, but her attention is on the two men before her. “Essex, we have less than a minute before they haul you off. There are men in this room. You know the rules. We don’t get down to business until we’re alone.

I’m here as your acting attorney.” She blinks to Noah. “Are you interested in my representation?” “Yes,” Everett answers for him with an aggressive bite to his voice. “But he won’t need you for long.” Everett snaps his gaze my way and there’s a tension between us like never before. Everett is doing his best to press an entire conversation into my mind. The muscles in his jaw redefine themselves as he stares me down hard. He is imploring me not to speak, not to ruin the terrifying momentum he has going, and to be truthful, I’m afraid to. I’ve already ruined so much more. The door opens up again and in walks Jack Turner—Sheriff Jack Turner.

I grew up with his daughter, Keelie, and she happens to be my best friend. Jack has been like a second father to me. “Lottie.” He nods my way, acknowledging my presence, but his eyes stray to Everett then Noah. “Detective Fox, what the hell is going on?” Noah has been the lead homicide investigator here at the department for over two years. He has a spotless record, and now I’ve caused a blemish as large and destructive as a wildfire. “He has nothing to do with this.” Everett pulls his chin up, and the dark scruff on his cheeks only makes his eyes illuminate like the blue flames they are. “I did it.” Both Noah and Fiona groan in unison.

The door opens as a couple more deputies stream on in and one of them whispers something to Jack. “We’ve got a cell ready for you.” Jack sighs, looking at the two of them. “For the both of you. We’ll get to the bottom of this one way or the other.” “Essex,” Fiona snips as she rises to her feet. “I’ll speak with you in private, and until then, you will not utter a single word.” But Everett isn’t paying attention to Fiona. His eyes are locked over Noah’s as he glowers his way as if he were about to commit a homicide. “Let him go,” Everett growls out the words.

“I acted alone.” “It’s not true,” Noah says as his jaw clenches. “Shut the hell up.” Everett lunges at him just as a swarm of deputies pluck both him and Noah from their seats. I bolt up and one of the deputies moves in front of me. “Ma’am, I’m going to have to ask you to step outside,” he says, but I can’t be bothered to acknowledge him. “Everett, what are you doing?” I hiss. “Don’t.” I shake my head as tears blur my vision. “You’re not going down for this, Everett—” Noah starts and Everett smashes into him like a freight train.

“I did this.” Everett looks directly at Sheriff Turner when he says it. “I alone am to blame for everything that’s transpired.” All chaos breaks loose as the deputies hustle them to the door. Noah slips by before I can catch him, but I rush over and latch my arms onto Everett’s neck, forcing us to do a little dance as I swing to the side of him, my huge belly brushing up against his hip. “Why are you doing this?” The words come out of me pressured in one quick string. “You don’t want to know what they’d do to him in prison,” he says it just under his breath as the deputies pull us apart. “Everett!” I shout with everything in me. “Noah.” My voice carries, but soon the room drains as the crowd follows them down a corridor.

Fiona backtracks and sweeps her eyes up and down my body. “Get out of here, Lottie.” She sighs hard. “I’ll take care of this. Thanks to Essex and his foolishness, I bet Detective Fox will be home in time for dinner. As for Essex, you may never see him again.” She takes off, and I’m all alone. The baby gives a swift kick to my ribs to remind me I’m not alone at all. And I have a feeling he or she will never let me forget how I’ve ruined its father’s life forever simply by its presence. I’ve taken both Noah and Everett down, so far and fast, I’m the one who should be behind bars.

That would have been the only thing that could have kept them safe from me. And now Noah and Everett will pay for ever setting eyes on me. I bet they’re sorry we ever met. And if they’re not, they will be soon enough. I’ve tarnished their reputations, taken down their careers, and ground their hearts under my heel, and ironically, I only meant to love them. The baby gives another hearty wallop, and I place my hand over my belly. All I want to do is love this baby, too, and a part of me is afraid of what my toxic brand of love might put this innocent child through—what I’ve already put it through by proxy. Some might say this has something to do with that curse that landed my way back in October, but I’m fairly certain I did this all on my own. There was no nefarious supernatural interference. I’m the curse in this equation.

I caused this all to happen. I’m the disaster here. Me.

.

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