IRIS IN BLOOM
(Take a Chance series #2)
Iris Chance usually had a smile and a cheerful word for every patron of Sunflower Coffee and Tea Company, the café and bakery she owned in Hidden Falls, Oregon. But not this morning.
Dragging up a smile was tougher than dredging hair out of her clogged sink, making small talk even tougher. When she futzed her latte art so her heart looked like a cancer growth, she pushed the mug to her customer anyway.
“What’s wrong with you?” Dosana, her helper, asked when they had a lull.
“I found a gray hair this morning, that’s what.”
“One gray hair? You’re acting like the Zombie Apocalypse is upon us for one gray hair?”
She picked up a cloth and wiped down the espresso machine. “And it’s my birthday coming up. Thirty-three. It seems so old.”
“Thirty-three is not old.” Dosana was all of twenty-two so Iris was not inclined to believe she knew what she was talking about.
“Jesus was thirty three when he died.”
“But not of old age.”
“I know. But look at everything he accomplished.” She used her fingernail to scrape a stubborn spot. “I feel like I’m treading water, you know? I think of all the dreams I had when I was your age. And what have I done with my life?”
“Iris, look around you. You own this place. You’ve built a business. Everyone in town comes in here for coffee and your famous desserts and so do most of the tourists who roll through town. You could totally franchise if you wanted to. Plus, you’re a published author.”
“A couple of short stories. Big deal.” Her mouth twisted. “Okay, I’m being a total bitch. I think my mom had about six kids by the time she was my age. Most of my friends are married now. I thought I would be, too.”
“Oh, ho. Is that what this is about? A biological ticking clock thing that you old people get?”
She shoved her employee with her elbow. “I don’t know. Maybe.”
“Hottie incoming, that should cheer you up.”
She glanced up and saw that Scott Beatty was peering through the glass door before coming in. Checking to see that she was behind the counter and not too busy. She was not particularly cheered. “He only wants to cry on my shoulder about his breakup with Serena and tell me how much he misses her.”
“Maybe. But I don’t want to hear any more about their sex life.”
“Their sex life? Why? Was it—“
“Kinky. Very kinky.”
There wasn’t time for more as the door opened, the sunflower chimes tinkling merrily, and Scott walked in. “Hi Iris, hey Dosana.”
He strolled toward them in worn jeans with a rip in the knee, a plaid flannel shirt with a gray T showing beneath and sturdy boots on his feet. “Hi Scott, what can I get you?”
He looked at her in surprise as he did every morning. As though he might have wandered in looking for motor oil or a new tractor blade. “Uh, coffee I guess.”
“Dark roast, medium roast, latte, mochachino, espresso?” She really needed to get a grip. Poor guy looked ready to turn tail and run.
He blinked. “Could I get a small medium roast?”
After she’d poured his coffee and he’d paid and thrown a dime in the tip jar, he said, “Can I talk to you for a second? If you’re not too busy?”
And because she wasn’t that busy and she felt sorry for him in all his pain she said, “I can take a few minutes,” and sat with him at one of the tables by the window while he poured out his heart to her about another woman. “The thing that really hurts is she lied.”
“Yes, she did.” Since she’d heard the entire story of the cheating and the lying and the breakup more than once, this was not news.
He frowned down at the coffee as though it were to blame. “I never thought she’d cheat on me.”
“Not after what we had together. I mean, it was so hot, hotter than anything I’d ever done before.”
Oh, not going down that path again. She stood. “I’ve got to get back to work. But you enjoy that coffee and maybe you should think about getting out there and dating again.”
“I guess.” He sounded totally dejected.
“Why aren’t you going after him?” Dosana asked when she got back behind the counter, bringing some dirty mugs with her. “He’s totally hot and he’s recently single. Snap him up before some other girl does.”
“Because he treats me like a cross between his mother and his therapist, that’s why.” Plus the kinky sex thing.
“It’s because that’s how you act. You know that right? Half the people who come in here want to tell you their problems and get you to fix them.”
Iris blew out a breath. “I’m the oldest girl in a family of eleven. I can’t help it. My whole life I’ve been the stand-in mom.”
“Well, stop it. Start acting like a hot woman who deserves to be wooed and not like their mother.”
“I know. Next hot guy who walks in here you are going to flirt.”
“The only hot guys in town are already taken.” She thought of her gorgeous brother. “Or gay.”
“So flirt anyway. Believe me, you need the practice.”
Flirting. As if. She hated everything about it: the fake gestures, the smile like every stupid thing a man said was fascinating, the pretending to be someone she wasn’t. Any man who wanted to get to know Iris was going to have to take her as she was. Or not at all.
She began to tidy the muffins in the case. They’d done a brisk morning business and now it was almost eleven. She had to decide whether to bake more muffins and run the risk of having too many left over or of not baking more muffins and risk losing a lot of muffin sales.
While she debated, the jingle of the hippy bells her mother had given her as a store-warming gift jangled. She rose and glanced to the doorway.
A man entered with that slightly unsure look of someone entering a place for the first time. He darted a glance around, and then seeing the big chalk board and the case of bakery goods, stepped forward.
He had a slightly rumpled look to him. A nice face, kind of Greg Kinnear looking with brown curly hair that needed a trim, candid blue eyes and a killer smile, which he flashed her when he caught her looking his way.
“Hi,” he said.
“Hi.” She gave him a moment with the board. “What can I get you?”
“An Americano, two lattes, one latte with soy milk, a jasmine tea and a regular dark roast.”
Dosana came out of the back at the sound of voices. “I’ll get the tea going,” she said. As she walked behind Iris she murmured, “Flirt.”
“Are those muffins as good as they look?” He had a good voice, she thought. Easy to listen to.
“They’d better be. I made them myself.” Oh, blech. What was she doing? That’s why she never flirted. She was no good at it. She sounded like a smarmy tout on the shopping channel.
“Great, I’ll take half a dozen.”
While she got started on the lattes, Dosana brought over the tea and rang up his order.
Then her assistant grabbed a cloth and went out front to wipe tables leaving Iris alone with her customer.
“Passing through?” she asked. Probably with a wife waiting out in the van with the four kids.
“No. I’m starting a new job. At the high school. I’ll be the new English teacher.”
“Oh.” Because the last one nearly died and she thought it might be best not to bring that up.
“The drinks and muffins are bribes for my new colleagues.”
“I hope it works.”
“Me, too. If your coffee is as good as everyone tells me it is, you’ll be seeing a lot of me.”
“We’ll look forward to it.” She pulled out a cardboard tray and began lidding and fitting the drinks into it. As she bagged muffins, she noticed Dosana and Scott head outside. Dosana had quit smoking. She really hoped she hadn’t started up again.
“Geoff McLeod,” the new English teacher said. He held out a hand.
“Iris Chance. Nice to meet you.” His hand was warm, his grasp firm.
“Well, wish me luck.”
“I do. What grade are you teaching?”
“Eleven and twelve and creative writing. I’ve got my elevens this afternoon.”
She nodded, thought of her younger siblings who’d most recently attended Jefferson High. “They’ll hate you for King Lear.”
“Thanks for the pep talk.”
She grinned. “Anytime.”
As he balanced his laden tray and the muffins and headed toward the door she ran forward. “Let me get that door for you.”
She could hear Scott and Dosana talking. They must be right outside.
“What’s wrong with Iris?” She heard Scott ask Dosana.
Before she could open the door that would ring the bell announcing their presence, Dosana answered loud and clear.
“She’s feeling old with her birthday coming and all. You ask me, she needs to get laid.”
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Nancy Warren is the USA Today bestselling author of more than fifty novels. She’s known for writing funny, sexy and suspenseful tales. She calls Vancouver, Canada home though she tends to wander. She’s an avid hiker, animal lover, wine drinker and chocolate fiend. Favorite moments in her career include being featured on the front page of the New York Times when she launched Harlequin’s NASCAR series with Speed Dating. She was also the answer to a crossword puzzle clue in Canada’s National Post newspaper. She’s been a double finalist in the Rita awards and has won the Reviewer’s Choice Award from Romantic Times magazine. She spills secrets in her newsletter and you can sign up athttp://www.nancywarren.net or come visit her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/