Addison Greyborne breathed in the intoxicating scents of tangy sea air and New England autumn leaves infused with the comforting aroma of fresh-baked bread. Of course, standing on the sidewalk admiring her newly installed red awning with its overhead sign, “Beyond the Page—Books & Curios,” contributed to her giddy state of mind, and she pinched herself to make sure it was all real.
Her eyes rested on the bay windows on either side of the glazed entrance. The one to her left displayed knickknacks, gemstones, and candles, and the one on the right was her beloved used bookshop. Both windows were decked out in the fall harvest displays that she’d created herself. She inched backward on the sidewalk, marveling at how eye-catching they would be to passersby. Images of all the other seasonal showcases she’d be able to create flashed through her mind, but then her shoe heel slipped over the curbing.
She teetered backward. Feet spread-eagle, arms pinwheeling in the air, she glanced over her shoulder. A car was coming directly toward her. To her horror, it sped up instead of slowing down. She scrambled and regained her footing. The rush of air across her back rocked her as the black sedan swooshed by. “Slow down!” Addison shouted, but the Honda sped to the next corner, squealed around the sharp left turn, and disappeared down the back side of Town Square Road.
“I guess there are idiots everywhere,” she mumbled, taking a deep breath. Addison straightened her navy boyfriend jacket, brushed dust from her dark gray, skinny ankle jeans and rummaged through her purse for the key. Her hand trembled as she tried to fit it into the lock. She gritted her teeth, counted to ten, calmed herself, and tried again. The door swung open. Bells rang overhead, and she let out a comforted sigh. The door chime was a sound she knew she’d never tire of hearing. Excitement bubbled through her as she stepped across the threshold into Beyond the Page.
I’m proud of you, pumpkin,
she envisioned her father saying, imagining him standing next to her smiling. A chill quivered across her shoulders. “Thanks, Dad.” She smiled, disarmed the alarm, and flipped on the lights.
She scanned the large room, pleased with the past months of hard work. It was done. Perfect. Her best-loved books were prominently displayed along the wall shelves, while standing bookshelves, varying in height and with books arranged by genre, stood in orderly rows in the center of the room. She’d even managed to tuck soft leather armchairs into every nook and cranny, arranging them on small, richly woven area carpets to create cozy reading spaces.
Addison eyed the large glass curio cabinet by the window filled with her beloved collectibles. It fit perfectly at the end of the restored, ornately carved Victorian bar she used as a cash and coffee counter. She wrapped her arms around her chest, hugged tight, grabbed the “Now Open”
sandwich board, and dashed outside to erect it on the sidewalk beside the front door. She stood back, and grinned.
“Is this your new shop, then?” called a plump, white-haired woman from the bakery entrance next door.
“Yes. Yes, it is,” Addison said, sweeping long strands of hair from her eyes. “Hi. I’m Addison. My friends call me Addie.” She walked toward the woman, her hand outstretched.
“Hum.” The woman nodded, but didn’t reach for her hand. “Thought I heard someone yelling out here a few minutes ago.” She cocked her eyebrow.
“Oh. Sorry, yes, that was me. A car almo—”
The woman sneered and walked back into the bakery, smoothing wrinkles from her stained apron.
“Um, I didn’t catch your name,” Addie called cheerfully, but the woman had disappeared inside.
“Don’t worry about her,” said an amiable voice behind her.
Addie spun around and came face-to-face with a rather attractive, petite, fiery-haired young woman sporting a poncho as brightly-colored as her hair.
“Martha’s just getting crotchety in her old age. She can be pleasant enough, sometimes.” The woman laughed.
“Good to know. I was afraid I’d offended her.”
“Naw, she’s just being Martha. I’m Serena, by the way.”
“Hi, I’m Addison,” she said, extending her hand. “Call me Addie.”
“Will do.” Serena shook her hand and gestured with her head. “I’m just on the other side of you.”
Addie turned. “SerenaTEA—how perfect for a tea shop name.”
“Kind of clever, isn’t it?” Serena chuckled. “I like yours, too.”
“I had a hard time thinking of one—you know, something that said I sold more than books—so Beyond the Page it was.”
“I like it . . . especially the graphic of the steaming coffee cup on the glass door.”
“Thanks. I designed it myself.”
Serena cast her eyes downward. “So you sell books, curios, coffee, and . . . what?” She shuffled her feet; her toe kicked at a pebble. “Food, too?”
“No, just coffee, and I don’t sell it. It’s free and just for customers who want to sit and read or browse. Come in, I’ll show you around.”
“I’d love to.” Serena’s face lit up. “I’ve been curious this past month, but there wasn’t a sign up, and the windows were covered with newspaper.” She laughed. “No one could figure out what was going on in there during all hours of the day and night.”
“You should have knocked. I’d have loved the company.”
“I did, a few times, but there wasn’t any answer.”
“Sorry, I must not have heard you.” Addie smiled and held the door open. “I was pretty focused.”
“Wow, this is fantastic.” Serena looked around. “It’s so comfortable and homey. The carved wood beams and pillar post finishes are amazing. Are they original?”
“Yes, I had a restoration specialist come up from Boston to—”
“And look.” Serena pointed. “You have a huge section on murder and mystery. That’s my favorite reading. I love
Agatha Christie.” Her visual review of the shop took in the gleaming, wide-planked wooden flooring, which Addie recently had restored and came to rest on the Victorian counter.
Addie, who had been following Serena’s inspection of the room, blurted out, “that piece isn’t original to the store. I found it and had it restored. It made such a perfect cash and coffee bar, I couldn’t resist.”
Serena smiled and then her eyes focused on the coffee maker on the far end of it.
“And see, that’s only one of those one-cup pod dispensers. You know, just to make readers and customers feel at home. We could work out something between us. I don’t want to take away any of your business.”
“Naw, I’m not worried.” A smile crept across Serena’s lips as she continued to scan the storefront. “There’s a big difference between tea and coffee drinkers. I was just a bit afraid when I saw your sign that it was an actual coffeehouse, too. I do sell some pastries.”
“No, don’t worry. Books and collectibles are all I can manage.”
“Good. With the new restaurant down the street, I already have enough competition.” Her smile broadened. “So we should get along just fine. Welcome to the neighborhood.”
“Thanks. I don’t know anyone in town, so . . . hopefully we’ll become friends, too?”
“Well, we’ve gotten off to a good start.” Serena’s dark brown eyes flashed with amusement. “We have an enemy in common with Martha.” She chuckled, tossing back her long, crimped red mane. “I’ve been on this street for almost five years, and she’ll still hardly speak to me. She actually called me a ‘wannabe hippie’ one day. Can you believe that?”
“Oh dear, that bad, hey—?”
“Shh.” Serena’s gaze shot to the back of the shop. “Do you hear that?”
Addie’s skin prickled at the scraping sounds, then a voice yelling and a loud thud. “What the—?” She dashed toward the back room, Serena at her heels. After a quick glance around the empty storage area, Addie flung the metal door open, burst into the alley and skidded to a stop. Serena thudded into her, sending Addie staggering forward into a strewn bag of garbage.
“Oh God, sorry,” Serena said as she offered a helping hand.
“Not your fault.” Addie hauled herself to her feet. “I really should have brake lights installed.” She grimaced, wiping trash off her jacket and slacks. “And it looks like I’ll need to know the name of a dry cleaner in town, too.”
“I’ll pay for it, but it really was an accident.” Serena’s face crumbled as she helped remove bits of bread and other unidentifiable matter off Addie’s clothing.
“No, you won’t. It’s just been one of those mornings, and it started long before this.”
“Hum,” huffed Martha, who stood in the back door of her bakery. “If you girls are finished gabbing about clothes, and you’re interested,” she said, crossing her plump arms, “an intruder had a crowbar wedged in your door when I came out with the trash. I chased him off when I threw that bag at his head.”
Addie eyed the scratches by the latch. Her eyes trailed up to the garbage drizzling down the door. “Yes, good thing you came out here in time to throw the bag and stop him. Thank you.”
Martha took a deep breath. “He ran that way, down the alley toward Birch Road.” Her ample chest puffed in and out as she turned back toward her shop. “Oh, you should probably call the police.” She called over her shoulder, “I’ve never seen him around here before. Too many strangers comin’ and goin’ these days.” Martha looked back at the two women and shook her white head. “And I expect you gals will clean that up.” The bakery door slammed shut behind her.
Wide-eyed, Addie nodded and looked at Serena, then back at her door and the mess on the ground. “Does this kind of thing happen often around here?”
“No, this is a quiet town . . . usually. I’m guessing maybe it was Old Bill? He hangs out back here looking for scraps from Martha’s, but he’s harmless and he’s never been known to try to break in anywhere. Martha would’ve recognized him, though.”
Addie scanned the lane and shook her head. “I’ll go get some garbage bags and a broom, but you don’t have to help. It’s my shop.”
“Nonsense, we’re in this together. It’s the least I can do.”
“See if you’ve got any rubber gloves while you’re at it.” Serena cringed and gingerly picked through the garbage.
“Sure thing.” Addie popped into her shop. “Oh no!” she shrieked. “Come look at this.”
“What, what, what?” Serena sprinted to her side, stopped short, and gasped.
The sight of the disheveled bookcases brought a lump to the back of Addie’s throat as she eyed their contents, which had been pitched across the floor. She glanced at the venetian glass display in the showcase by the window and breathed a sigh of relief that it was still intact. Now, hopefully, she’d find that her beloved books weren’t damaged either.