Home > Death in the Romance Aisle

Death in the Romance Aisle
Author: Lynn Cahoon



   To my husband, the Cowboy, who still makes me laugh after twenty-plus years.



      Chapter 1

   The Tuesday night Survivors’ Book Club was starting in less than thirty minutes, and Sam Aarons still hadn’t shown up with the treats for the meeting. Rarity Cole, bookstore owner, texted her friend for the third time after she saw Shirley Prescott coming into the shop. Besides Rarity, who’d started the club, Shirley had been the first member, and she considered herself second-in-command for the club, especially surrounding the treat portion of the night. Shirley looked like the group mom or grandmother. With her gray hair pulled into a bun at the back of her head, no one could stand up to her bulldozing her way into their heart. Rarity tucked her phone away and smiled, hoping Shirley was in a good mood. “Good evening, Shirley. How’s George?”

   “He’s fine. Grumpy as usual.” Shirley glanced back at the treat table that currently held only coffee and lemonade. “Was it my turn to bring treats for this evening? I can run home and get something really quick. Sometimes I’m so forgetful.”

   “Sam’s bringing cookies tonight. I talked to her earlier. I’m not sure why she’s late, but she’ll be here. I’ve got a few things to finish up before we start. I’ll meet you by the fireplace.” Rarity walked over and set up the We’re Open, so Yell if You Need Help sign. She didn’t think it was necessary, but she didn’t want people to think that just because the book club was in session, they couldn’t buy a book. And she still hadn’t seen the need, or the income, to hire someone to cover the register while the club was in session. She was more focused on setting up additional book clubs. At least now that her first employee, Darby, had put in her notice. Rarity grabbed Killer’s lead and took him out front to make sure he wouldn’t need to go while they were talking.

   Killer was a tan Yorkie she’d taken in as a foster for a few weeks until they’d found out that his former owner had been killed. Then he’d just stayed and became Rarity’s dog. Constant companion. Confidante. Okay, she treated the dog like he was her kid. But she wasn’t going to change that. She adored the little guy. A lot of people thought he was a Pom. Or at least a lot of people who came into the bookstore said that. He sniffed at several spots on the artificial-grass yard—okay, a few squares—that she’d set up in the front. He had a second place in the alley at the store for when she was working while it was closed.

   Rarity saw a glimpse of herself in the window of the closed door. The darkness outside with the streetlamp made it look more like a mirror than a window. Her curly dark hair cascaded over the side of her face, hiding the worry she felt that must have been apparent to everyone else in the room. She put the negative thoughts away and turned to the right and to something she could actually fix tonight.

   Sam’s crystal shop was next door to the bookstore. Rarity could see Sam on the phone through the window. She waved at her, hoping to catch her gaze, and she did. Sam nodded and pointed to the phone. Apparently, that meant she’d be over as soon as she locked up her business and finished the phone call. Rarity nodded and hoped that Sam hadn’t forgotten cookies, because if she had, Shirley would leave the meeting and run home to whip the group up something for a treat.

   Shirley was a big believer that when two or more shall meet, there should be food. Feeding people was her way of serving others and showing her love. With her husband in a memory care facility, Rarity knew Shirley needed to feel needed. Shirley still hadn’t told many people that George wasn’t living at home, but that was her secret to tell, not Rarity’s.

   Killer was ready to go back inside, and he whined at her feet. He’d done his business, now he needed a treat.

   She returned to the register and took a sip of the water she’d poured earlier. The ice had already started to melt. She must have been busy researching her next book order and had let drinking it slip. Drinking more water to stay hydrated in the desert air was one of Rarity’s personal goals. But it wasn’t working out. Maybe she should try another tactic. Just having water nearby didn’t mean she’d drink it. Rarity needed to trick herself into actually consuming the liquid. But that was a worry for another time. She got a dog treat out from under the desk and praised Killer for his good work.

   Then she headed over to start the meeting, hoping Sam wouldn’t be too late. She took her spot at the front of the group circle, where she could still watch the front door for customers.

   “Good evening, everyone. Why don’t we gather ’round, take our seats, and find out how everyone’s doing this week.” Rarity saw Shirley’s hand shoot up. “Oh, and Sam’s running a little late with the treats, but we’ll take a short break when she comes in to keep you all from starving to death.”

   A chuckle ran through the group, but the announcement had worked. They didn’t need to worry about the food; it was on its way.

   “First up, I wanted to let you know about Darby, in case you haven’t heard. She’s attending school abroad this year in Scotland, so we won’t be seeing her until the spring term ends. We’re having a bon voyage party over at her place on Thursday night before she leaves on Saturday. She’s asking that we don’t bring presents, but I’m sure she’d take cards and money. College students are always short on money. Especially when they’ll be studying in a Scotland castle.” Rarity swallowed a sigh. She wasn’t going to be sad about Darby’s great news. But she’d miss her first employee at the bookstore. She glanced over to her right and kept going.

   “Now, I’ve got some local good news in case any of you have kids or know any random kids.” The chuckle came back again, this time louder. “The Next Chapter is starting another book club—hopefully, four —for our younger Sedona residents. I’ve hired a couple of college students to run the events here at the bookstore on Saturday mornings. Each age group will meet once a month. That way, they’ll have time to read the books before the next meeting. Flyers are over on the register counter, so please take a few and get the word out. I’d like to introduce two new employees of The Next Chapter, Janey Ford and Caleb Thompson. Janey will be running the elementary school–age club and doing Mommy and Me book readings for the preschool group every Thursday afternoon. Caleb’s handling our middle school club and working with the local high school library to set up events.”

   Janey and Caleb stood as Rarity introduced them. Then Janey quickly sat down. Caleb grinned at the group. At six feet plus, he looked like an adult version of a popular kid wizard, with dark hair and smoldering eyes. “We flipped a coin to see who would talk, and I lost. I’m always losing the coin flip. I’m beginning to think Janey has a rigged coin. Anyway, she and I are excited to meet the residents of Sedona. If you’re looking for a recommendation for a gift book, we’d be glad to give you some tips there as well. I read high fantasy, and Janey, well, she’s in love with love.”

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