Chapter 1 – Hate Tea Love You
“So she never went to her great-aunt’s funeral? Have you heard from her?” Lark furrows her brow, just as baffled by all this as I am. Though Lark’s had her eye on this tea shop ever since Betty passed away, leaving me half in her will.
“She emailed. Can you believe it? It was formal too, like a business letter with a company logo on. Almost like we never knew each other, when she could have just called me.” I pour fresh tea into Lark’s flowered tea cup, noticing a little chip on the side. A smile tugs at my lips.
Betty had said the chips added character. If that’s true, this tea shop is overflowing with character, from the flaked paint on the shabby chic dresser to the mismatched chairs, the frayed tablecloths and the vintage crockery. It all adds to the English charm that was Betty. She lived for this little slice of Tranquili-tea.
Lark picks up another chocolate from the side of her saucer. “Grayson, these little chocolates are delicious.”
“From Cocoa Corner. Tizzy brought over her new iced chocolate snowflakes. They’ve gone down really well with the customers.”
“Oh, I need these. Levi will love them. So what did you tell her? Is she going to be a silent partner or what?”
“I told her if she wanted to sell her share, to deal with me face to face.” The door opens, causing the bell to ding. The April sun shines through the window, giving the customer a bright halo, but even though I can’t see her features, I’d know that curvy silhouette anywhere.
My breath freezes in my lungs despite the warm breeze. Words clog at the back of my throat. Our eyes lock as her beautiful face comes into view. After all these years, she hasn’t changed. Though as my eyes float down to her blue blouse, her tits look bigger and her curves in that figure hugging skirt would give any pitcher a run for their money.
Lark clears her throat. “Are you all right? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
With trembling hands, I set the pot down on the tray with a clatter against the plate, then take the few steps towards the door. “Cam?”
Her eyes widen. She stands the suitcase up in front of her and grips the handle. “Gray?”
I want to throw my arms around her and give her a true Candy Cane welcome, but she’s placed the red, enormous suitcase between us, acting as a barrier. “How have you been?”
She swishes her blonde hair, letting the neat waves fall behind her shoulder. “Fine. You?”
Her English accent pricks up my ears like an old familiar song on the radio. I clear my throat. “I’m good, thanks.”
She scans the room, glossing over the five customers we have, letting out a shallow sigh as her hand rubs over her heart.
“Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?” I fiddle with the chairs, tucking them neatly under the tables as she weaves through the space, wheeling her giant suitcase behind her.
Her finger glides along an old cabinet stacked with a mix of old plates and crockery as if she’s inspecting it for dust. “I thought you knew I was coming. You basically said if I wanted to sell my share of the shop, you wanted to deal with me in person. Frankly, I can’t believe you made me fly four thousand miles when this could have all been dealt with over a Zoom call.” She taps her manicured nails on the top of her case, searching the room once again.
She gives me an eyeroll. “A FaceTime on the computer. Like a meeting, but through a laptop.”
“I know what a fucking Zoom call is, Cam. Did you attend Betty’s funeral through a laptop, too? That might be how you Londoners conduct your business, but here at Candy Cane Key, we do things differently.”
Her shoulders drop and for a moment, the woman is replaced by the girl I remember, pouting as I pulled on her pigtails. “I couldn’t get time off work. I really tried to get here for the funeral, but we had a deadline.”
“So did your great-aunt.” I huff, crossing my arms over my chest.
“She would have understood. She was always proud of my work, which is why I still can’t fathom why she left me her tea shop.”
“Half her shop,” I correct her.
“Gray, can you fix the urn? The spout is sticking again,” Trudy says, waddling to a customer with a tray resting on her pregnant belly.
Cam struggles with her suitcase, shuffling it between the tables. “I’ll leave you to it while I take my things up. I assume Betty’s flat is still in order upstairs.”
“Upstairs?” I blink fast. “You’re moving in upstairs?”
“Where else would I stay?”
“There’s an inn next door. You’ll have to stay there. I’m living upstairs.”
“Since when?” She digs a fist into her cocked hip.
“Since Betty went into a care home and asked me to run the place.” I check to see if Lark is still sitting at the table, hoping she can offer a room at the inn. My eyes plead with her. Knowing Lark, she’s heard our conversation.
Her lip curls as she sips on her tea. “Sorry, but the inn is full. You won’t find any spare rooms this time of the year with spring break.”
“Great. Well, there’s no room here.” I wave my hand in the air, then pinch the bridge of my nose. I wanted her here, but I hadn’t expected her to just show up unannounced. I’m not prepared for this.
She digs her other fist into her side. “Oh my goodness, it’s like Bethlehem. Are you going to put me up in a stable?”
“Why, you’re not pregnant, are you?”
She gives me a death stare. “Do I look pregnant to you?” She glances down at her tight navy skirt hugging her belly. “Don’t answer that,” she warns. “It’s just a little holiday weight.”
I nod, holding back my smile. I always loved her curves. And she hasn’t lost her humour.
Lark continues to sip her tea with a smile hiding behind her china cup.
I scratch the back of my neck. “I guess you’ll have to stay here. There’s a couch.”
“Thank you.” She lets out a sigh and continues lugging her case through the back.
Damn, she’s even more feisty than I remember. Her ass sways in front of me, and I have the urge to squeeze it or swat it. Does she expect me to drop everything, give up my bed and wait on her? This ain’t no damn holiday resort.
Who does she think she is? Walking in here like she owns the place.
Technically, she does.
Yeah, but not for long. She wants me to buy her out. She wants to sell. Her great-aunt would turn in her grave if she knew. Even if I wanted to, I can’t buy her out. And up to now, it’s the only card I held to get her ass back here after ten years.