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The Tea Shop by Bernadette Marie (4)

Chapter 4

A new shipment of assorted candles had arrived when the friendly UPS man arrived. Pumpkin spice filled the air as October rolled in with its briskness.

The leaves on the aspen trees on the hill had begun their transformation, and Abigail couldn’t wait for her free weekend to see the leaves changing. If she didn’t hurry, all of the colors would be gone, and she’d be mesmerized by the snow instead.

She sniffed at the candle in her hand when a woman walked through the door letting in the breeze that was accompanying the October cool down.

Abigail set the candle down. “Welcome to The Tea Shop. Are you dining with us today, or browsing?”

The woman adjusted her purse on her shoulder. “I came a few minutes early. I’m meeting my son here for high tea, but I wanted to look at the gifts you had. I’ve looked in the window a few times, but haven’t made it in myself yet.”

“Wonderful. Will there be two of you for tea? I’ll set you a table while you look around.”

The woman smiled a familiar smile, yet Abigail knew she’d never met the woman. “That would be delightful. He should be along shortly.”

Abigail went to the kitchen and began to gather the china and tea set she’d be using for the woman and her son.

“We didn’t have another tea on the books,” Clare called from the cooler where she was taking inventory. “What are you setting up?”

“A walk-in. I’m glad too. It’s been a bit too quiet around here. I know in December I’ll be wishing for the break, but I’d rather have the business than a quiet afternoon.”

Abigail took the silver, plates, and napkins to the table near the window. She preferred to sit customers there so other possible customers would see them having a good time. Their lunch rush had been quiet too, but that was expected on a Tuesday.

When she was finished, she made her way back to the counter and noticed the woman had an arm full of the new candles, and one of the handmade aprons draped over her arm.

“Can I take a few of those for you?” Abigail moved to her. “It looks as if you found a few things.”

“I hadn’t thought of Christmas shopping here. But I think that’s exactly what I’m doing,” she laughed as she unloaded her finds into Abigail’s hands. “Did you make the apron?”

A warmth filled her cheeks as she smiled. “My mother makes them and sends them to me to sell.”

“They are adorable. I haven't seen hand stitched items like these in years. Is she sending more? I’d like two more, just like that one.”

A flutter lit in Abigail’s chest. “If you’re interested, I can put in a special order to her. It would take about two weeks for them to arrive.”

“I would love that. I’ll pay for them today if that’s okay. That’ll make it much easier for me.”

“Certainly. I’ll get this wrapped up for you, and you can check out whenever you’re ready.”

“Okay, I want to look at your pastries first. My mother would adore a sweet this afternoon. She’s in an assisted living facility. I sneak her in something special every once in a while,” she said with a wide grin, and Abigail’s thoughts went right to her grandmother. They had done that for her as well.

When the woman had finished her shopping, she walked back to the counter where Abigail had wrapped and bagged her new treasures. She had printed out a receipt and showed the woman each item.

“You are very precise and organized, aren’t you?” The woman smiled as she handed Abigail her credit card.

“I want to help make your experience as pleasant as possible,” Abigail said as she scanned the card and the door opened again.

When she looked up, the eye contact she made with Carson Stone nearly had her knees giving out. She hadn’t expected to see him until his reservation in another two weeks. Oh, she certainly hoped he hadn’t come to cancel them because her premonition came true.

It was then that the woman turned to him and wrapped her arms around him. “I came to do a little shopping before you arrived,” she said as she brushed her hand down the lapel of his suit coat.

Abigail looked down at the credit card in her hand. Patricia Stone. This was his mother.

She gripped the counter and tried to suck in a breath, but not before Carson moved around to her and put his arm around her waist.

“Why don’t you sit down. You went white as a sheet,” he said moving her toward the stool where she felt her knees finally buckle.

“What’s going on?” Clare hurried out of the kitchen and moving past Carson. “Are you okay? Abi, you’re pale.”

Abigail cleared her throat. “I’m fine. Everyone stop fussing over me,” she said as she pushed away the fog that had clouded her brain and stood, realizing Carson’s arm was still around her, though she saw nothing in that fog that told her of their pending future together.

“I assume you set that pretty table for my mother and I,” he said softly in her ear. “You’re going to sit with us for a moment until you’re feeling just right.”

The argument pierced her tongue, but somehow it refused to surface as he helped her across the store to the little table she’d set only a few minutes earlier.

Carson sat her in one of the chairs, his mother sat in the other, and he pulled another from a table for himself.

The look of worry in Patricia Stone’s eyes had her wondering if she’d said anything at that moment when her world began to spin. Had she blurted out the words that she was going to marry her son? Wouldn’t he have laughed or argued?

When her mind cleared, she let out a long breath. Carson held up one of the glasses of ice water to her.

“Sip this.”

“I’m fine really,” she argued again.

“Sip.”

To appease him, she sipped the water, noticing that Clare stood in the doorway to the kitchen watching the entire ordeal. What kind of help was she anyway?

“I’m fine now.”

Carson reached a hand to her cheek, and still, nothing moved through her as it had when Mrs. Winters touched her, or when she realized that it had been his mother who wore the familiar smile—his smile.

“I think you just might be okay.” He sat back in his seat, blocking her in with his knee. “I know you work in a restaurant, but did you eat today?”

“Of course—I—well, I think I…” she stopped when she realized that in fact, she hadn’t eaten at all. She’d woken late, run out of her apartment and to the store, and they’d had a pastry rush earlier that morning. Clare usually made sure they had something to eat for lunch, but they'd worked to make sure there were pastries for the after-work crowd too. Then the UPS man had delivered the candles on what was to be a quiet afternoon. “I guess I didn’t eat after all.”

Carson lifted his eyes to Clare and gave a nod. “She’s making you a little something. You can sit here with us.”

The panic returned. “No. You’re here to have tea with your mother. I promise you I’m fine. No need to fuss over me,” she explained as she wiped her hands on her apron. But she hadn’t stood quickly enough. Clare approached the table with a sandwich on a petite plate. If it weren’t rude, she would have scowled. Instead, she graciously accepted the plate.

“I’ll get your teas started,” Clare offered. “Which ones might I offer you?”

“I’d love the spiced tea I saw on display,” Patricia said sweetly. “Carson will have Earl Grey.”

Clare disappeared into the kitchen, and Abigail went on to eat her sandwich. The sooner she finished, the quicker she could get back to work. She found herself begging any spirit that could hear her to bring in more customers. But they must have been ignoring her. No one even walked in front of the store.

“So, Abigail, when did you open this cute little shop?” Patricia asked.

“We’ve only been open less than a year. This has been a perfect location though.”

“It’s so quaint.” She lifted her eyes to Carson. “You brought Mrs. Winters here?”

He nodded, easing back in his chair and crossing his leg over the other. “I did. I’m bringing her back for her birthday, which happens to be Abigail’s birthday too.”

Abigail chewed slower, afraid that she just might choke on the sandwich.

“You don’t say,” Patricia pressed her hands together as if she might applaud. “You and Ellie Winters share a birthday. What a special day. She’s taken with my Carson.”

Abigail took the napkin from the table and wiped her mouth. “I thought maybe she was your grandmother.”

Carson shook his head and that same smile that graced his mother’s lips formed on his. “She’s the grandmother of a dear friend. He passed years ago, and his grandmother and I remained close.”

Abigail could almost hear Clare swooning in the kitchen. Okay, so he wasn’t the dark and sinister man they’d decided he was, but she supposed he still intended to tear down the church on Ford.

Why had her premonition come when Mrs. Winters had touched her, but not when Carson had? And when she realized the woman was his mother, why had her knees gone weak and her brain turned to mush.

Was it a fluke?

The only way to know for sure was to touch him again.

Forcing a smile to her lips, she stood, and so did he. “I’m feeling fine now. Let me get the rest of your tea service. Will you be having sandwiches and scones? Or would you like the dessert platter?”

Carson exchanged a glance with his mother. “I’d like that one you brought for me and Mrs. Winters. With the few desserts. And I’ll tell you now, I’ll need some of that lemon cake to go for my father.”

Patricia did applaud now. “Oh, he will love that, Carson.”

When his eyes shifted back to Abigail, the thought of rising on her toes and kissing the handsome man in front of her crossed her mind. That would certainly tell her if he were the man she would marry. Of course, that might make him stalk out of the store because she was crazy. Instead, she eased a hand on his arm as if to pass.

Nothing.

No spark. No vision. Not even a hitch in her breath.

It had to be a fluke. If this were the man she was destined to marry, she’d have felt something. As it was, he was an investor in her town, who had his sights on tearing down one of the most beautiful buildings around. Well, she still planned on putting a stop to that.

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