Dedicated to every victim—woman or man—who has not been believed. May we all do better by you.
Lindy Harris walked into her aunt’s bedroom and set a tray on the nightstand. Then she handed over the mug of hot chocolate she’d been so careful not to spill on her way up the stairs. “Here you go, Aunt Celeste.”
Celeste Stevens took a few sips, then handed the mug back and settled deeper into her pillows. “If anyone had told me five years ago that you’d be here, coming to my rescue and waiting on me hand and foot, I wouldn’t have believed them. No offense, hon, but you were one flighty teenager.”
Lindy laughed. “No offense taken—you’re just speaking the truth. Living at River’s End Ranch was good for me—Kelsi and Bob taught me how to work, and several of the other employees were great examples of getting an education. I grew up a lot while I was there.”
“Remind me to send the Westons a thank-you note. I’m going to benefit from all their patience with you.” Celeste tried to shift her position a little, but winced. “I’m sorry to pull you away from school, hon. I know you have better things to be doing right now.”
Lindy waved that off. “Truth be told, I was getting ready to take a break. And you know I love the shop—this isn’t torture for me.”
“Thanks for your good attitude. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.”
“That’s what family’s for. Can you sit up a little for lunch?”
Lindy helped Celeste slide up, then arranged the pillows behind her back. “Tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich.”
“Really?” Celeste’s eyes lit up. “You’re spoiling me.”
“I didn’t do it just for you. I’ve been craving it too.” Lindy placed the tray across her aunt’s lap. “All set?”
“Looks like it.” Celeste picked up her spoon. “Did you call the—?”
“Yes, I did. I ordered all the flavor oils you need, plus a few new ones just for fun.”
Celeste nodded. “And what about—?”
“I got the containers ordered too. And I checked with your beeswax suppliers—that order will be here today.” Lindy smiled. “It’s all right, Aunt Celeste. All those summers I helped you—I was paying attention. I know it didn’t seem like it at the time, but I was.”
Celeste chuckled. “Thank goodness for that. I should just let go and trust you—is that what you’re saying?”
“Yes, but be sure to answer all the millions of questions I’m going to ask, all right?”
Celeste ate her lunch and Lindy put the tray away, then gave her aunt an afternoon dose of pain killers and anti-inflammatories and tucked her up for a nap. She made sure Celeste’s cell phone was right next to her, then went downstairs and through the connecting door into Scentiments, the shop her aunt had run for over fifteen years.
She flipped the sign to “open,” then moved over to turn on the cash register. Since her aunt had fallen off a stepstool in the storage room and hurt her back, the shop had been closed, and Lindy hoped she could run it well enough now to make up for some of the missed sales. She was just grateful that her aunt had a lot of savings and wasn’t depending on the shop for her income—if that were the case, she’d have a big problem on her hands.
The door opened and Sammi, Lindy’s best friend in Quinn Valley, walked in carrying a sack. “Hey there! I brought you and Celeste some pie from the Downtown Diner—I thought you wouldn’t mind.”
“Mind? Heck, no! Bring it in!”
Sammi placed the bag on the counter. “How’s Celeste today?”
“Heavily medicated, but doing well. She’s sleeping right now.”
“Hmm. I wanted to say hi, but I can wait—she needs to rest to get better. How are you settling in?”
“Almost like I never left. It’s almost creepy.” Not only had Lindy spent nearly every summer in Quinn Valley while she was growing up, but she’d lived with her aunt and gone to high school here for her senior year. She’d had to get away from her own school, and Celeste had been more than willing to take her in. “I feel seventeen again.”
“Well, I’m really excited that you’re back. It’s been kinda boring without you.”
“It has? I’m sure stuff’s been going on.”
“It has, but you’re my bestie. It’s different.”
Just then, a black sports car drove past, and Lindy turned to watch it through the large glass windows at the front of the shop.
“Hey, careful. Keep craning your head like that and it’ll pop off.”
“What?” Lindy blinked. “Oh, sorry. That’s just a nice car.”
Sammi laughed. “Uh, yeah. I’m sure it was the car you were checking out and not the driver.”
“I didn’t even notice the driver.” Lindy’s cheeks felt hot all of a sudden.
“Sure. So, it would totally surprise you if I said that was Dusty Quinn.”
“Dusty? Really? I didn’t realize.” Lindy busied herself tidying up the pens in the cup next to the register, even though they didn’t need it. “He’s still in town?”
Sammi shook her head. “Holy cow. You’ve still got a crush on him, don’t you?”
Lindy exhaled. “Okay, okay, I do. I thought I’d gotten over it, but I saw him yesterday at the grocery store, and he was talking to Callie while she rang him up, and she was flirting with him, and I got so jealous, I couldn’t see straight.”
“Sounds to me like you need a visit to the chiropractor.” Sammi gave her a knowing look.
“It’s bad enough that he’s going to start treating Aunt Celeste next week! I can’t possibly let him work on me too. I’d . . . I’d probably say stupid things like asking him to marry me and stuff.”
Sammi laughed. “Oh, I’d love to see that.”
“I’m sure you would.”
Dusty Quinn had been a few years ahead of Lindy and Sammi in school, and she’d eagerly watched for him to come walking down the street during her summers here. When she’d come to town for her senior year, he’d visit from time to time on breaks from college, and he just got better looking as he got older. And that dimple . . . she sighed without realizing she was sighing. Every male cousin in the Quinn family had amazing dimples. It just wasn’t fair.
“Thinking about dimples?” Sammi asked.
“Of course. How can I not think about them?” Lindy shook her head. “I realize I’m being completely ridiculous, but every girl’s got to have a dream, right?”
“Right. And if you just happen to be dreaming about Quinn Valley Ranch’s biggest ladies’ man and most notorious flirt, who am I to stop you? Except for to say, don’t get hurt, all right? He’s not the settling-down kind.”
“Now, see, logically, I understand that. But logic isn’t the boss of me right now.”
Sammi shook her head. “The heart wants what the heart wants . . . I know. I’ve heard it before. But someone’s gotta talk some sense into that heart, don’t you think?”
“Not today. Let me dream about dimples just a little while longer.”
“Okay, but try not to drool so much when you take Celeste in for her appointments, all right? Or maybe bring plenty of tissues with you to wipe it up.” Sammi reached across the counter and squeezed Lindy’s hand. “We’re going out, okay? Find a night when one of Celeste’s friends can hang out with her, and we’ll go over to the pub. And tell Celeste I’ll be back to see her.”
Lindy smiled as Sammi left the shop and continued on her way up the street. Yes, she should take her friend’s advice and stop daydreaming about Dusty Quinn, but she didn’t want to. He lit her up inside like Christmas and the Fourth of July all at once.
She should at least make an effort to concentrate on something else for Aunt Celeste’s sake. She glanced around, noticing that things were just a little cluttered and not quite as fresh as they usually were. That was an easy fix. She grabbed some spray cleaner and paper towels from the back and got busy taking everything off the shelves and wiping them down.
When the last bottle of lotion was back in place on the front shelves, the door opened, and Raina and Renae Quinn walked in.
“I’m so glad you’re here!” Raina said, giving Lindy a big hug. “I’m sure Celeste is grateful too.”
“She’s told me about a dozen times that I’m her favorite niece,” Lindy replied.
“Well deserved, I’m sure. I’m also excited the shop’s open again—I’m in desperate need of lavender-scented massage oil. My clients keep asking for it.”
“And I’m out of . . . well, I’m out of almost everything,” Renae added. “I almost had to resort to shopping online, and you know I’d rather give you my business.”
“We really appreciate that. I haven’t done inventory on the essential oils yet, so let me know if you can’t find something you need,” Lindy said. “Raina, I have four bottles of lavender massage oil left—how many do you need?”
“I’ll take all of them. That’s the one I use the most.”
Lindy placed the bottles on the counter, then turned back to help them find the other things they were looking for. Raina gave the best massages Lindy had ever had, and Renae was a reflexologist who specialized in foot zoning. They both went through quite a lot of essential oils as part of their different practices, and Celeste had always given them a discount because they were such consistent customers.
Renae’s hands were full of small glass bottles by the time she made it up to the counter. “I hope that’ll do it,” she said as she set them all down. “I did notice that you’re nearly out of grapefruit.”
Lindy made a note of that on the sheet next to the register. “Thanks for letting me know. Will that be everything?”
“It will. And tell Celeste to get well soon.”
Lindy rang them up and bagged their purchases. With the discount, Celeste wasn’t making as much on the sale as she would otherwise, but Lindy felt good knowing that she’d put some money into the cash register. The cash was flowing the right direction now.
As the sisters were leaving, more people came in, and Lindy gave a happy sigh. It seemed that word was getting around that the shop was back open. She wondered if she should advertise in some way—oh, she needed to update the shop’s Facebook page. After she rang up her current customers, she logged in to Celeste’s account and made an announcement, letting everyone know that they were up and running again.
Before she logged out, a private message popped up in the right-hand corner of the screen.
Hi, Celeste. I’m glad to see you’re feeling better. I wonder if you’ve given any more thought to my offer.
Lindy blinked. What sort of offer? Was this one of those Facebook scammers who pretended to be a divorced soldier from Afghanistan looking for love?
Another message popped up. I’ve been looking around, trying to stop thinking about it, but I keep coming back to you.
Whoa. That was a little . . . startling. Who was this guy? She clicked on his name. Huh—his page seemed legitimate. It looked like it had been active for the last eight years, and there were pictures of everything from vacations to how he’d renovated his garage to some cat memes. He had over a thousand friends, and they weren’t all women. He didn’t look like a scammer, but something didn’t feel right.
In the meantime, she couldn’t let . . . what was his name? . . . Doug Wall think she was ignoring him. She typed out a quick reply. This is Celeste’s niece Lindy. I’ve taken over the shop while she recuperates. Is there something I could help you with?
His response was almost immediate. No, it’s something she and I were discussing privately. Please give her my regards, and I’ll be in touch later.
The green button indicating he was still on Facebook disappeared, and Lindy stood there for a moment, bewildered. She was definitely asking Celeste about this.
The door to the shop opened again, and Trix, Celeste’s home health nurse, bustled in, a bag in each arm. Lindy stepped over to help her.
“Thanks. I got a little off balance back there and almost dropped everything.”
“Are you okay? Did you trip on something?”
Trix laughed. “No, I was flirting. That was almost as bad.”
Lindy raised an eyebrow. “Flirting? With who?”
“Must be a tourist. I’ve never seen him before. He asked me if I was Alicia Keys. Well, who could just walk by a comment like that? Of course, I had to say yes, and then we chatted, and we’re going to meet up at Quinn’s Pub later.” She held up her free hand. “And yes, I know that meeting a stranger at a pub isn’t the best idea, but I’m not leaving with him, and my brother’s still in town, so I’ll have him come down to the pub too and keep an eye on things. It’s just . . . I don’t meet a lot of men of my color here, you know? This is a nice change for me.”
Lindy nodded. She’d noticed there was less diversity here than other places, but she’d never been able to figure out why. It just seemed to be how the area was rather than something that had happened on purpose. “Well, I hope you have a great time. You work hard—you deserve some fun.”
“I agree! I do deserve some fun.” Trix grinned. “Now, how’s that aunt of yours?”
“She ate a good lunch, took her meds, and she’s been asleep ever since,” Lindy reported. “She doesn’t know that I set up a baby monitor in her room—I just told her to call me on her cell if she needs anything.”
Trix laughed. “You’re a sneaky one—I like that. Your aunt doesn’t like to feel like she’s a burden, does she?”
“That’s a massive understatement. She’d rather go out there and help everyone else in the whole world than to have one speck of help given to her.”
“Well, she’s just going to have to get used to it. She’s lucky she didn’t break her back, but she’s got a long road ahead of her. I’ll be giving her a bath and doing her hair today.”
“Thanks—I know she’s looking forward to it.” Lindy considered telling Trix about the strange Facebook message, but decided she’d take care of that later. She was sure it was nothing—it might have been Facebook’s version of a wrong number, for all she knew. She’d ask Celeste about it later, over pie. Pie was a great way to soften someone up.
Alan Murray pulled the UPS truck onto Main Street, then brought it to a stop in front of Scentiments. He’d been surprised to see the shop on his list for the day—it had been closed for a week, and from what he’d heard about Celeste’s injury, he hadn’t expected to be coming here any time soon.
He went in the back of the truck and located the package he was delivering, then carried it up to the door and pushed inside. The box was large and heavy, and it took a second of maneuvering to get it and his elbows through the doorframe.
“Hey, let me get that for you.” A pretty young woman with dark hair hurried forward and held the door. “I don’t know what’s up with this thing—needs new hinges, maybe?”
“Or a more coordinated deliveryman.” Alan carried the box inside and set it on the counter, then turned to look at the girl. “Celeste’s still down for the count?”
“Yeah, she’s resting. The doctor said it’ll be a little while.” She smiled. “You must come here often—I know my aunt goes through a lot of supplies.”
“You’re Celeste’s niece? I’m Alan. I’ve been delivering here for about six months or so.”
“It’s nice to meet you—I’m Lindy. I’ll be helping out until Celeste’s back on her feet.” She motioned to the box. “I’m glad you’re here—we’re almost out of lip balm.”
“Glad I could help.” Alan had other deliveries on his route, but he was finding it difficult to say goodbye and walk toward the door. “Are you enjoying Quinn Valley?”
“I am. Well, I actually lived here for a while during my senior year, so I know the area pretty well.”
“I guess I’m the newbie then.”
She laughed. “Then I should be asking if you like the area.”
“I do—a lot. I feel lucky to have gotten this route—no matter where I look, it’s beautiful. Lewiston, Quinn Valley, Riston, River’s End Ranch—I’m never bored.”
“You deliver to River’s End Ranch? I used to work there until Celeste called me, and I know I would have noticed you there.” She instantly blushed. “Um, I mean, I have a good memory for faces.”
He grinned. “You probably knew the old driver, Derrick. He dated Abby, the UPS Store clerk, for a while. I took over for him.”
“I never met him, but I heard he was a piece of work.” She clapped her hand over her mouth. “I don’t know what’s gotten into me. I should just stop talking now—we can communicate through sign language or interpretive dance.”
He laughed aloud. “No, I agree—Derrick had some issues. Some deep issues. But it worked out well for me because I got his route. And speaking of which, I’d better get back on it.”
“Thanks, Alan. I just placed some orders this morning, so I’m sure I’ll be seeing you soon.”
“I’ll look forward to it.”
Alan climbed into the cab of his truck and then sat there for a moment, blinking. Wow. Celeste had mentioned having a sweet single niece at River’s End Ranch, and she’d hinted that Alan should look her up sometime, but he’d brushed it off. Celeste wasn’t the first aunt who’d tried to set him up, and he’d learned from sad experience that one person’s definition of “a sweet girl” wasn’t necessarily his—he shuddered remembering the date that had gone so wrong, she’d taken off her stiletto heel and pounded on his car window with it as he was trying to drive away. If that was sweet, he wanted none of it.
However, if he’d known Celeste’s niece was funny and pretty and had amazing eyes and a great laugh, he might have taken a chance on her a lot sooner. He couldn’t picture her coming at him with a high heel, and that put her leagues ahead of his recent dates.
He had to get back to work, though. He’d already spent too much time there, and it was going to ding his overall record. He started the truck and pulled onto the street, glancing at the shop one more time before he left. He couldn’t wait until those packages were ready to be delivered—he needed to chat with Lindy a little more and see if she really was as great as she first seemed.