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Author: Helen Hardt








Ava is in better spirits after a few hours of baking. She’s helping us in the front now, taking orders, making sandwiches. It’s nearly eleven, so I need to get home, clean up, and get ready to open the bar around noon.

I tap her on the shoulder.


“I have to go.”

“Yeah, I’m surprised you stayed this long.” She grabs my hand. “But thanks so much, Brendan. It was great having you here, and we needed the help today.”

“I’m happy to do it.”

“If you need help at the bar tonight, I’m your girl.”

“I might take you up on that. That way we can spend the evening together, even if we’re both working again.”

“I’d love it, to tell you the truth. You can teach me how to mix drinks.”

“Absolutely. Just show up whenever you feel like it.”

“I will.”

I give her a quick kiss on her lips and then I leave the bakery, but first I make sure to remove the apron and hairnet. Enough people saw me looking like that today. I’m not taking that look into public.

I walk a few buildings to my own place, and someone’s waiting for me at the back door.

He looks vaguely familiar, but I can’t place him. He’s average height, nondescript brown hair, dark-blue eyes. Nice enough looking.

“Can I help you?” I ask.

“Yeah. My name’s Pat. Pat Lamone.”

I’ve heard about Pat Lamone. Some of the Steels have mentioned him in passing. Apparently he has a history with the Pike sisters, and it’s not good.

“We’re not opened yet, Pat.”

“I’m not here to have a drink. I need to speak with you.”

“What about?”

“About my grandmother. Her name is Sabrina Smith. That’s the name she goes by, anyway.”

“I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I say.

“Her real name is Dyane Wingdam.”

“Again, doesn’t ring a bell.”

Another figure approaches us.

“You have got to be kidding me,” I mutter.

It’s Ryan Steel. Ava’s father.

Here, at the bar, with me.

“Ryan,” I say, “what can I do for you?”

“You can let me in.”

“I’m kind of in the middle of something here.”

Ryan glances over at Pat. “I know who you are,” he says.

“Yeah, I know who you are as well, Mr. Steel.”

“So you think you’re a Steel relative?” Ryan says.

“Yeah. That’s what I hear, anyway.”

“Okay,” I say. “Clearly this has nothing to do with me, so if you’ll both excuse me—”

“Actually, this does have something to do with you,” Ryan says. “Could we go inside, please?”

“For God’s sake.” I unlock the door and hold it open. “After you.”

Ryan Steel and Pat Lamone traipse into my bar via the back door.

What the hell could this be about? Pat Lamone, who thinks he is related to the Steels, and Ava’s father. Both here, at my bar, wanting to talk to me.

Pat about his grandmother, who I don’t know from Adam. And Ryan about… Well, I can only guess it has something more to do with those messages Ava and I received.

“All right. I’ve been helping Ava all morning at the bakery, and as you can see, I’m filthy. I need to take a shower so I can open this place by noon.” I glance at the clock on the wall of the bar. “That gives the two of you about three minutes. What the hell do you want?”



Chapter One






By two o’clock, it’s time to close the bakery. I leave Maya and Luke to clean up. I want to go upstairs, get a shower, and go over to the bar to help Brendan. As soon as I get back to my apartment, though, my gaze falls on the card still sitting on the table.

The tower.

Why haven’t I put it back into the deck?

But I know why.

I’ve been waiting. I’ve been waiting, hoping I could get some kind of positive thought from it.

But nothing has worked.

Not kneading bread this morning.

Hell, not even sex with Brendan last night.

I’m still getting nothing but negative feelings from the damned card.


My mother.

I haven’t drawn that card—the empress—but why is my mom at the forefront of my thoughts?

Because the card sometimes can mean illness, and I’m so very afraid she’ll get sick again.

Ill, and about to celebrate her twenty-fifth anniversary.

Plus, she hasn’t gotten back to me with her interpretation of the message. She said she had apps that could help decode it. I certainly don’t have access to the kind of software my private investigator mother has, but I can easily find apps that may help.

I head to the sink, wash the flour off my hands. Then I fire up my laptop and type Darth Morgen.

Nothing I haven’t already seen.

My mother was thinking it might have a code embedded in the letters, with each of the letters standing for a different letter. I could start with R. It appears twice so it would be the same letter.

But what if it’s not?

What if the code isn’t letter per letter but based on something else?

Like perhaps, the letter that precedes it?

God, where to start?

I rise, grab a pad of paper and a pen from a drawer in the kitchen, and come back. I write the letters on the piece of paper.

Darth Morgen.

Then I start playing with them.

What if these letters were rearranged? What if it’s one big word? Or several small words? An anagram?

I play with it for a little while, finding several three-letter words and writing them down, but then I laugh.

“What the hell are you doing?” I say out loud. “If you’re looking for anagrams, find an anagram maker online.”

I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before. I was so overwhelmed with my developing feelings for Brendan and with the cards that were telling me all kinds of horrible things. Plus, I was depending on my mother. My ex-cop private-investigator mother who said she could decipher it.

But she kept putting me off.

I do a quick search, and I come up with something called Dante’s Anagram Maker.

Good enough. I type in all the letters of Darth Morgen.

I close my eyes.

I’m not sure why, except something tells me that if I look, I’ll be faced with even more of a mystery.

So I sit for a moment, eyes closed, and I inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.

I’m still waiting for some kind of positive feeling about the tower card still sitting on the table.

If I can get something—anything—that isn’t a negative feeling…

Then I can open my eyes.

And I can begin to solve the mystery of Darth Morgen.

So I wait.

I continue breathing.

But it doesn’t work.

Nothing works.

I open my eyes, and I glance at the screen.

And the word I see fills me with hope.

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