“Carson, this is absolutely delightful.” Ellie Winters placed her napkin in her lap as she looked around the quaint tea shop. “This is exactly what this town needed,” she said. “It’s gotten filled up with sock stores and fancy eating places that I don’t want to go to. Tea shops with linens is a nice nod to the way things used to be.”
Carson chuckled at Mrs. Winters as he crossed one leg over the other and took in the view himself. It was quaint and cute. He was sorry, though, to hear she didn’t like the fancy eating places that were popping up. Perhaps in their past outings, she’d missed the part where he’d let her know he was an investor in three of them.
What did it matter really? Ellie Winters was eighty-two years old and Carson certainly valued her opinion of the town where she’d raised her family.
Conversation halted when the woman who had seated them came back to the table with a tray holding a silver teapot that steamed, two dainty antique teacups, and a few other items he was sure she was going to explain to them.
She, Carson thought, was as cute as the quaint cafe Mrs. Winters was taken with. He watched as she set the antique cups and saucers in front of them and explained the pattern, of all things.
“These cups are RS Prussian. They date back to 1869,” she said as she added a silver spoon to each of their settings. Next, she set down a plate as dainty as the cups between them, with two strange contraptions. “These are your tea strainers.”
With an open hand, and not pointing with her finger, she gestured to the one closest to Mrs. Winters. “You chose peppermint tea.” Then she gestured to the other and looked at him as she spoke. “And you, Earl Grey.”
He gave her a slow nod as she set another bowl on the table. “Sugar cubes for your tea, and of course, cream,” she offered as she set the small pitcher on the table between them. “I’ll have your sandwiches right out.”
The woman turned and walked away, and Carson noted that Mrs. Winters smiled after her.
“She is delightful,” she said as she turned back to the table. “This is beautiful. Carson, I do enjoy our afternoons.”
“I do too. You let me know where you want to go next and I’ll get that set up as well. If I’m not mistaken, you have a birthday next month. Where would you like to celebrate?”
Her cheeks pinked, and that brought him joy. She might be edging into eighty-three, but she soaked up life—every minute of it.
“Let’s see how this goes. They have a dessert tray we didn’t order. Maybe we can have that next month.”
How could he not agree to that? His monthly outings with Ellie Winters brought him as much joy as they did her. And wouldn’t it be nice to take in the view again, he thought as the woman came back to the table with a tower of plates delicately stacked with sandwiches and little cakes.
She expertly arranged the table so that the tower would sit between them. Again with her open hand, she gestured. “We have an array of delightful sandwiches and cakes for you today. Here we have a cucumber sandwich, egg salad on rye, and my favorite; a goat cheese, walnut, and roasted pepper sandwich.”
Mrs. Winters’ eyes opened wide, and Carson was sure she swooned.
“Oh, now doesn’t that sound delightful, Carson?”
“Positively,” he said, looking up at the waitress who caught his eye then quickly diverted her attention back to the tray.
The woman swallowed hard, then licked her lips, which had his stomach tightening.
“For the desserts we have eclairs, a delightful lemon tart, and raspberry and dark chocolate tarts. Then, of course, we have scones on the bottom plate, and your clotted cream is on the table.”
Mrs. Winters placed her hand on her chest. “My, this is a lot.”
The woman smiled. “I’m happy to box up any leftovers you might have. They’ll make for a wonderful tea tomorrow afternoon as well.”
“That sounds perfect,” Mrs. Winters agreed.
“Let me know if I can get you anything else,” she said with a smile.
Carson eased back in his seat again. “What is your name?” he asked, and watched as her eyes went wide.
“This is your store, isn’t it?”
Her cheeks filled with color, not out of embarrassment, but certainly out of pride. “Yes. We opened a few months ago. It’s only myself and my cousin, Clare, at the moment. We make everything right here. We also arrange for high tea to go, if you’re ever in need,” she’d offered as she turned her attention to Mrs. Winters who had reached her hand out and touched Abigail’s arm.
“You’re going to do well here, my dear. I should know. I’ve lived around here for eighty-two years. Almost eighty-three.” She laughed that warm laugh that always brought a warmth to Carson’s soul. “I’ll tell everyone I know.”
“I appreciate that.” He noticed the shake in her voice, and her lips that trembled as they tried to smile. “Are you celebrating today?” Abigail asked.
Carson shook his head. “I take this beautiful woman out to lunch each month, and have for ten years now.”
Mrs. Winters reached her hand across the table and patted his, as she often did. “He takes good care of me.”
Carson noticed Abigail’s smile fade, but only briefly before she forced it back to her lips. “I’ll let you two enjoy your tea. Please let me know if I can bring you anything else.”
He watched as she walked away, and then was drawn back to his guest when she slapped his hand. “Don’t you go looking at her like that,” Mrs. Winters said as she pulled an egg sandwich from the tray and set it on her plate. “She’s a nice girl.”
Carson uncrossed his legs and moved in to take a cucumber sandwich for himself. “Now why do you say it as if I shouldn’t be interested in a nice girl?”
Mrs. Winters brushed her hand through the air. Her bracelets jingled, and her many rings caught the light. “You should be interested in them. And you should marry yourself one. I saw that last woman you dated,” she warned, holding up a finger. “Oh, Carson, she was nothing but trouble looking for a good time.”
Yes, she was, he thought to himself as he took his first bite of the delectable little sandwich. Susanna Morris was high maintenance, and he’d lost interest quite quickly. She, on the other hand, nearly had them married. The very thought made him sweat under his collar. Carson came from a well-off family, and he’d had his own financial success. He invested in businesses he thought would increase his portfolio nicely, and they had. Then there was the matter of his little dot-com business, which he’d started in college, and it had been bought out by a bigger dot-com. That had seeded what had become a fortune of his own.
Though he enjoyed lavish things, nice vacations, and spoiling a certain old woman, his mind hadn’t gone to marrying anyone. Perhaps he was afraid they would want him for the wrong reasons. That's why he'd gone into real estate developing. Not only did it fulfill his passion for building things, but it also kept him much too busy to go searching for a woman.
Movement at the counter caught his eye, and he watched as Abigail helped a customer who had walked in and then served another table.
There was something about her that had his mind wandering to places it shouldn’t be. Her dirty blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail. She’d had little, if any makeup on at all. The simple cotton dress she wore beneath her frilly apron wasn’t designer, and neither were the flat shoes she wore to work in. But when those crystal blue eyes had looked at him, he was sure there had been some kind of jolt that zapped his chest. He’d never been into her quaint little store, she wasn’t his type, but he couldn’t help but think that he’d seen the woman before.
“Drink your tea,” Mrs. Winters scolded. “It’s going to get cold while you watch her work.”
He chuckled. “I’m not watching her work.”
“Hmmm,” she made the noise at him as any grandmother would to a grandchild. “I think I would like to have lunch here for my birthday next month. Make sure to make reservations before we leave.”
“I will do that,” he said as he sipped his perfectly sugared tea. “Which cake is your favorite? I’ll get you a box to take home as well.”
“You’re too good to me, Carson.” She smiled brightly. “I like the lemon one.”