“Damn kiwis are so slippery. Just stay there. Stay!” I grunted as I tried to make a kiwi—artfully cut to look like a flower—stay on top of the mini cheesecake. The newest flavor at Cypher’s Books and Pick-Me-Ups. Don’t get started on the name. I know it’s long, but it’s cutesy and in this town: cute sells. My neighbor’s shop—are you ready for this?—Madama Chameleon And The All-Seeing Eye. So really intimating that your bookstore slash tiny coffee shop could perk you up with caffeine, provide the town a much-needed singles pick up zone or give tourists an illicit thrill on vacation with their boring spouses…? Well, I wasn’t above cashing in on that. Anyway, everyone in town called it BeeP Me Up anyway. I’m pretty sure Liz (she of Madama Chameleon) started that little in-joke. Crazy loon is obsessed with aliens and all other sorts of weird and unrealistic entities. I love her, but man is she ever wacko.

Then again, I talk to kiwis.

My name is Charlie Cypher. Well, really it’s Charlotte but no one’s called me that since my mother died. My dad nicknamed me Charlie. I say that he did it the moment I came out with female parts, destroying his dreams for a boy. He says he didn’t start calling me Charlie until I refused to play with dolls and was constantly demanding we play catch. My mom just rolled her eyes at us my whole life when we’d argue about it. I still like G.I. Joes more than Barbies.

BeeP Me Up is on the coast in Oregon in a tiny town called Jetty Bay and the cheesecake thing is new. So far they’ve been a really big hit with the customers. They’re a big hit with me too—I love making them. Even when I come up with crazy ideas like strawberry-kiwi mini cakes and attempt to decorate them with kiwis shaped like roses. Turns out those are a pain in the ass to make and an even bigger pain lifting them through the air to handle the short distance from the cutting board to the display platter I was prepping to move out front. It was almost 10am, opening time here at BeeP Me Up. This meant I could hear Liz stomping around upstairs in the apartment she owned above my shop and hers. She’d be down demanding coffee soon like the lifeless monster she was in the morning pre-caffeine

Sucking kiwi juice off my fingers, I went and turned the lock on the front door and rotated the open sign. I’d barely made it back behind the counter before the door bell chimed and a posse of kids came tumbling in. Some of my best customers even if they were punks. Shannyn, the oldest, was 14 and had just started wearing make-up. For a beginner she actually already seemed to grasp that less was more. Which considering the heart-stopping perfection of her face was smart. She didn’t need more than the barest brush of mascara and a hint of cherry red lip gloss to practically glow in the early morning summer sunshine. She’d be eminently detestable if, you know, she wasn’t only 14 and super sweet besides. Clowning along after her were her younger brother and cousin. Jake, the brother, was eight years old and couldn’t stop telling people how he was now a 4th grader even though he’d just finished 3rd and the new school year wasn’t starting for three more months. He was endlessly hoping to be confused for a more mature individual. Probably because he spent so much time with his 14 year old sister and their 10 year old cousin, Robbie. I tried to encourage him to remember being a kid was fun, sneaking him the funnier chapter books inside the insanely fat books he was always pretending to enjoy in the aisles of the shop. Who was he trying to impress anyway? Shannyn was most often to be found reading teen girl magazines and Robbie spent all his time on his stomach with the full-color coffee table picture books of classic cars. I had a sneaking suspicion the boy knew more about engines already than did his mechanic mother who ran the town’s one auto shop.

The three kids traveled everywhere together during the summers. I wondered how much longer it would be before Shannyn started drifting away from the younger ones to boys her own age. But for now it looked like the summer was going to continue apace like the two previous ones I’d spent in Jetty Bay.

“Hey Charlie! Got any new cheesecakes?” Shannyn was generally the spokes-person for the group. Being the oldest.

“New one in just this morning. Strawberry-kiwi.”

“Ooooo,” Shannyn came up to the counter quickly to peer in the glass case at the cakes, “That must have been hard shaping the kiwis.”

I rolled my eyes in response, expressing my aggravation.

“When you gonna make more with chocolate, Charlie?” Robbie sounded pretty aggrieved. He did have a predilection for the cacao bean.

“I like strawberries,” Jake said quietly, standing next to his sister with his hands behind his back since he knew I got upset with them for smudging the glass.

“Yeah, but kiwis? Fruit shouldn’t be green,” Robbie put both hands on the glass and leaned in pressing his nose against it to glare at the new arrival. I smacked the top of his head so he’d move off my clean glass. Too late, of course. Little boys are impressively dirty and manage to spread that grime more quickly than should be natural. I was convinced they had a dirt-monster super power.

“Your daddy grows kiwis,” Shannyn reminded him.

“Yeah, I bought these off him at the Farmer’s Market yesterday,” I scolded him, handing over a Windexed paper towel and pointing commandingly at the glass on his side.

“Just cause they’re my family’s kiwis don’t mean I have to like them.”

We all looked at him exasperatedly.

“Fine. Doesn’t. You guys are such grammar grouches.”

I couldn’t hide my smile at that one.

“So do we get to try it?” Shannyn asked hopefully, tilting her head so the blonde hair slid over one shoulder and caught the light streaming in from the glass behind me. I could never tell if she’d practiced these moves or not. Uncanny minx.

But it was Jake’s hopeful glance that did me in. “May we please, Charlie?”

So polite! He made my ovaries twinge. The one downside to small town living was a dearth of strapping young male specimens to date. Sometimes I missed my old life in Portland.

I pulled out the one mini-cheesecake that had gotten a crack in the oven on top and wasn’t good enough to sell and cut it into little slices for all of us, saving one for Liz. We shared a place at the counter and I gave them each forks.

“Oh my god.”

“So good.”

“I maybe like kiwis a little.”

“Wow! I think you’re really starting to grow as a person, Robbie.”

“Hmph. No need to make fun, Charlie. I still would rather be eating a chocolate one.”

“Next time, kid,” I said with a ruffle of his dark brown hair. It was already sticking out everywhere so I don’t know why he was so offended like I’d messed it up something awful.

Liz clumped in and walked right past the four of us without saying anything. She poured coffee in a mug and took a huge swallow, closing her eyes to fully appreciate the hot beverage sliding down her throat. The kids and I stood very quietly hoping not to attract any attention. Liz was really mean in the morning and no one wanted to risk it. She started rumors about herself involving the ability to spit fire and I wasn’t convinced it was just a rumor. Why hazard it?

When she opened her eyes again after that first sip they were already significantly less blood-shot. I don’t know how someone could survive being that addicted to a substance. I was just waiting for the day when I’d discover she actually had an IV hooked up overnight so her body didn’t shrivel up and crumble into dust in her own bed.

“If it isn’t the Jetty Bay posse of brats.”

Still apparently a little caffeine deprived.

“Are we testing a new flavor? Gimme gimme.” I held out the slice we’d saved for her but she couldn’t keep her death grip on the mug and hold the plate and fork at the same time. I could see her brain trying to solve this mystery for a good 15 seconds. Finally she just picked up the fork and glared me into submission of holding the plate for her. “Ok, I can guess this…”

“Madama Chameleon doesn’t make guesses!” Robbie protested.

“She knows,” Jake finished Liz’s catch phrase. Seriously, she had a whole following in this town. I don’t know how she managed to get these clever nicknames and phrases into the ready population so quickly. And they all repeated them! Even though no one in town believed she had ESP. Sometimes I suspect they couldn’t even agree she had a brain at all.

Exactement, my darlings. What I meant was that I shall tell you the ingredients of this cheesecake and you shall be impressed by my ability to read the recipe from Charlie’s very mind.”

I snorted but Jake and Robbie were concentrating on my head fiercely. I could even see Jake’s lips mouthing “Strawberries and kiwis, strawberries and kiwis” like he could beam the words into my brain in case I wasn’t thinking them strongly enough and Liz could pick them up.

“Definitely strawberries but there’s a hint of another fruit. More exotic. Fuzzy skin like a baby rat you want to rub on your face.” Even Robbie made a face at that one while Shannyn looked like she might actually throw my cake back up. “I’m seeing the color green,” she was really into it now. Her arms were spread wide and her head cast back. The fork still dangling in one hand and the coffee in the other. She brought the cup in for a quick sip and flung it back out.

“It must be—yes—green with black seeds; a bird from New Zealand? No, that’s not it, the fruit, yes, it’s kiwis!”

Jake and Robbie oohed and clapped appreciatively.

‘Thank you, thank you. I’ll be here all week!”

Being 8 and 10, their interest was quickly lost and Jake and Robbie went to check on their favorite books. Shannyn, paused for a moment to appraise Liz, and then asked what we were both thinking. “Bird from New Zealand?”

“Native bird to the island, dear—the kiwi bird. Flightless, quite noisy, also green. Delightful animal. Lives in mountain passes! No idea why. But my gift works in mysterious ways, of course.” She gave Shannyn an exaggerated wink and took another bite of cake. “Really excellent combination, Charlie. This one’s going to sell well.”

“Is that your professional opinion?” I asked, jokingly.

She didn’t take offense and grinned back. “Common sense. This town has gone gaga over your cakes these last couple months. I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t knock each other down in the next couple minutes getting in the door. They know you always do a new flavor on Friday. You’ll be sold out before the weekend tourists even get here, just like last week.”

“Ah, ah, ah, I planned ahead this time. I made a double batch. I hope that doesn’t turn out to be a waste.”

“You’re so pessimistic. Darling! This will be all the rage. Did you get the kiwis from Robert Senior? Because, mmph!, they are perfect. So fresh. I can practically taste that sweltering hothouse of his. Like dirt and green glass but still delicious. I remember when he decided to build a greenhouse and everyone in town laughed at him and his dreams. There was a whole town meeting devoted to how ridiculous he was going to look when everything turned out moldy and didn’t grow, but that man is a treasure, I swear. Marianne is one lucky woman. He’s got the greenest thumb in five counties. Kiwis in Oregon! It’s amazing.”

I’d managed to nod in answer to her original question without getting a word in during her monologue. Being friends with Liz didn’t require a lot of work on my part.

“Before the hordes descend though, I need your opinion on a certain idea I’ve been percolating,” the last word reminded her to get a second cup of coffee and to this one she actually added cream and sugar in ungodly amounts. “I’ve been thinking of maybe a little change to my shop.”

“Oh, yeah? Are you going to paint the exterior again?” She painted it to look like a rainbow circus tent the first year I’d moved in. It clashed garishly with my pastel blue, pink, and yellow inoffensive storefront.

“Well, yes that too. But I was thinking it was time to revamp my whole image. Chameleon! So 1999. It’s time to move with the times. I’m thinking,” she took a breath to draw out the suspense of the moment which might have worked better if I was in any suspense. But you have to really care about something to feel butterflies of nerves at a big reveal and Liz changing her name didn’t really rank up there. I guess I did feel a little dread. What could be worse than Chameleon? A name which already didn’t make any sense whatsoever as a gypsy fortuneteller handle.

“Are you paying attention?” She’d obviously noticed my lack of in-drawn bated breath suspense. “Mistress Harlequin! What do you think?”

I admit, I was a little shocked that she’d found something worse than Chameleon.

“It rhymes with Charlatan,” Shannyn piped up from the café table by the magazine rack.

“It really does.”

“You guys are such school-yard bullies! Minds in the rhyming insult gutter. No one’s going to call me that.”

“Harlequin the Charlatan,” Shannyn drolled, considering.

“It does kind of roll off the tongue,” I agreed again, “Also why go to Mistress? Madama seems more impressive. Mistress seems a little,” I lowered my voice, “S & M for this town.”

Shannyn nodded knowingly, “People might think you’re going to start wearing all black leather and carrying a little whip.”

Liz and my mouths dropped open. Fourteen!

“And then when you don’t, it’ll be even more appropriate to call you Harlequin the Charlatan. People would be disappointed.”

Liz’s mouth snapped back closed and she got a dirty gleam in her eye like light glinting off of something skuzzy. “I could wear black leather. And I have a feather on a stick.”

“That’s your duster. I don’t care if it is purple,” I was still shocked by the advanced state of sexual knowledge Shannyn had just displayed. But not so shocked I couldn’t remind her of the truth in a disparaging tone.

“Oh no, not that one, I meant the one I bought for Maximus. It’s black.”

“Uh, does a cat toy really scream, ‘masochistic mistress, obey me or fear my wrath’?”

“I wouldn’t be a wrathful mistress.”


“I’d be a Harlequin!”

“So you’re going to dress up in clown gear with a cat toy? Ok, I’m coming around to this idea. I’d pay money to see this costume.”

“You have no vision, Charlie,” she said with a sad shake of her head. “Other than baking vision, of course. I’ll grant you that one.” She took the last bite of her cheesecake. I’d long since put the plate down on the counter and she was leaning against it next to me, companionably.

She was interrupted in one of her favorite subjects—my lack of style—by the door jangling as five people came rushing in.

“I was first!” Sweets yelled.

“You never were! I was obviously first,” Ellis scoffed.

Sweets blushed, noticing Ellis who had been behind him for the first time. He opened and closed his mouth but apparently couldn’t get any words past the creeping red stain so he just gestured her ahead of him. Sweets had a real name, of course, and it was Bertrand McGee. But everyone called him Sweets because he owned the town’s candy shop. Also on First Street but a block away from Liz and I. Sweets was a giant of a man. Tall and heavy-set, he made the perfect Santa Claus every Christmas during the Reindeer Parade and tree-lighting ceremonies. As well as sitting on the Claus throne and taking the wishes of all the town’s children down with the help of his elves. Ellis was an elf every year. But blushing on his part aside, there was nothing going on there.

“Age before beauty, missy. And don’t think I’m calling you prettier or anything. In my day we wore shorter skirts cause our legs were better!” Ma Nancy, the oldest resident in town at 97, stumped her tennis ball clad walker down hard on Sweets’ foot and used one of her pointy elbows on Ellis’ sweater set clad torso.

“She did have fine legs,” Poppa Joe huffed as his live-in nurse pushed his wheelchair into the shop. Liz and I smiled and waved at the long-suffering woman. Poppa Joe, being the second oldest resident at 89, was an ornery old goat. Phoebe put up with a lot being his aide. Liz attempted to nominate her for sainthood in one of her religious magical goddess cults once but the Sky Maiden matriarch or whatever her title was got really mad that Liz was suggesting their pure goddess worship should bow to Christianity’s belief in saints and kicked Liz out of their Wicca circle. I think she was sick of driving all the way to Seaside once a month anyway because she sure didn’t act like she cared. And she still insisted we should saint-hood Phoebe somehow.

“You scoundrel! I knew you were ogling my legs all those years ago.”

“You were 18 and I was 10. Just coming into my manhood as back in those days we didn’t expect to live past 35. Never thought I’d be eying ladies’ legs 79 more years! But yours, Nan,” he grabbed one of her hands and kissed it extravagantly, “most glorious legs in all those years!”

“You sweet-talking old devil. You still aren’t getting that new cheesecake before me.” And she swept past him on her still-working glorious appendages and halted in front of me at the counter. The two of them bickered like an old married couple but Poppa Joe was a confirmed bachelor and Ma Nancy always said her true love had died during the World War II and she’d never found another man to compare.

“Good morning, Ma Nancy.”

“Tell me right now it’s a chocolate one, missy.”

“Um. Sorry.”

“That’s what I said!” Robbie popped his head out from behind a bookcase to share the old woman’s bitterness.

“You are a trial to me, Charlotte.” Ma Nancy refused to call me by a man’s name. She reminded me of my mom that way, except with a lot more wrinkles. “Well, don’t hold out on us. What do you have for us today if it’s isn’t chocolate?”

“Strawberry kiwi.” I said proudly.

Ellis was peeking at the display case from around Ma Nancy’s walker, “They look so pretty, Charlie. I like the kiwi flowers.”

“Right, that’s stylish, huh?” Shannyn poked at Liz for me.

“So super stylish,” Ellis agreed.

“Like you know style,” Liz couldn’t let it slide.

“Just because I’m not a free-spirited gypsy like you, doesn’t mean I don’t have style!”

Liz and Ellis? Sisters. Long-standing argument between them as they took very different paths. Liz was wearing a hot pink caftan with turquoise banded stripes today. Ellis was wearing a pale pink sweater set and a denim pencil skirt. Liz sold gazing crystals. Ellis taught 4th grade at the local elementary school. The list could go on. And on and on.

“Girls! Quit your bickering. I’ll take one, Charlotte, please.”

Ma Nancy had heard the argument more than the rest of us combined probably as she’d known the sisters since birth and taught both of them when they went through school in their day.

I already had the boxes ready so I started putting cheesecakes in them, ringing up one for each of the customers in the store. Liz was right and by noon I was already down to my last three cheesecake of the ones I hadn’t put aside for the post-5pm tourist crowd. The shop was open until eight and a lot of the visitors would come in before then to buy a book to read on the beach the next day or to get a cup of decaf before settling into their hotel for the night after dinner at one of the many restaurants on First Street. There wasn’t really a sparkling nightlife in Jetty Bay, not surprisingly. What we did have was a bookstore, a theater that put on plays with community actors and crew, and one bar. Which was only open until ten o clock on the weekends and nine o clock the rest of the time. It was a sleepy town, but people like that. I liked it except when my ovaries were twinging.

It was at noon that a strange man walked into the shop.

It was too early for the tourists to be descending already but I’d never seen him before in my life and I knew everyone who lived in this town.

“Hello,” I called out politely, exercising my limited customer service skills.


Taciturn. I could work with this.

“Can I help you find anything?”

“Oh no, thank you. Just browsing.”

Well, I could work with this if he met me halfway. I watched him curiously until he disappeared back in the mystery aisles. I could still see him in the security mirrors but he really was just browsing and rather than being an over-bearing shop-keeper breathing down his neck I was just going to have to restrain my curiosity until he came up to the counter. Unless he left without buying anything and I got nothing else out of him! The gossips of First Street would flay me alive; Liz at the head of them. The town lived on gossip.

The man came out of the aisle holding two books. I gave a sigh of relief.

“Which one of these would you recommend?”

“Hm, well, Sweets—who sold me both of them, said this one was really good. The twist was unexpected, but that this other one was poorly written and laughably obvious.”

“Good enough for me,” he said with a laugh. “I’ll take it.”

I rang the book up, smiling graciously. But I could feel the pitchforks stabbing me in the side. “Are you new in town? Here for the weekend, perhaps?”

“What? Oh, no. I’m moving here. I’ll be the principal at the elementary school starting in September. I’m here to look at houses but I hope to move by the end of the month.”

“Gloria’s retiring?” I was surprised. This was news.

“Apparently. Her daughter is having a baby and she decided she wanted to move closer to family in Idaho.”

“Oh, how lovely for her! I hadn’t heard that yet.”

He was handsome, if a little short, had a good job and was moving to my town. And from my directed glance—no ring!

“Well, welcome to Jetty Bay! You have to take a cheesecake as a welcoming gift. It’s my newest creation—strawberry kiwi.”

“Thank you. That’s very kind.”

“I hope you’ll like it here. It’s a great town. I just moved here myself three years ago and everyone was very nice.”

“That’s good to hear.” He gave me a flattering grin. I handed him the boxed up cake and smiled back.

He was going to take one bite of that cheesecake and fall deeply and irrevocably in love with me. I had a flashing vision of our life together. Two maybe three children, all with that gorgeous grin. Maybe my hair though. Before I could convince him we were destined for one another, Liz stormed in.

“Charlie, you will never guess what I just heard! Gloria’s retiring!”

I cursed her silently inside my head.

“For once, I heard the news before you. Liz, this is…oh!, I’m sorry I didn’t get your name?”

“Fred Dooley, pleasure.” He shook Liz’s hand and looked briefly surprised. She blinked at him, slowly and was totally silent—unusual for her—as he turned back around and shook my hand too, politely.

“Fred is going to be the new principal.” I finished, sounding kind of lame even to my ears. He was already staring at Liz again. I admit, she’s hard to ignore. She was still flaunting the hot pink caftan, after all. And even in that shapeless monstrosity you could tell her body was rocking curves.

“Huh.” Her reaction wasn’t what I was expecting.


“Uh. I just. I don’t know. A male principal. I think that’ll be a first for the town. We only even have one male teacher.”

“Are you being sexist?”

“Of course not! I’m a radical feminist. More power to you being a man!”

“That makes no sense,” I said. They ignored me.

“I enjoy being in education.”

“Sure. I’m sure it’s very fulfilling working with those snotty rug-rats.”

“Children are budding with personality and promise.”

Alliteration? Really? I supposed after some alcohol I would be less sad about this entire situation.

“And poop!”

Liz apparently noticed the alliteration too and was taking advantage.

“Why are we arguing?”

“Because you work with children and children have taken to cat-calling Harlequin the Charlatan at me today so I hate them.”

“Told you,” I muttered.

“No one asked you, Charlie.”


“I’m just going to go now. It was lovely meeting…both of you.”

Fred pretty much ran out of the store.

“I liked him.”

“What for?” Liz scoffed.

“He’s single, handsome and moving here!”

“You can do better. I got a terrible vibration off him when he touched my hand.” She looked at the limb as if it had given her some personal offense. “I think that man could be trouble. We should steer clear. I’m going to go call Ellis and warn her.” She ran back out, the caftan flapping at her heels. I could see her through the glass as she smacked directly into Fred who apparently had been so flustered leaving that he turned the wrong direction and was now back-tracking. Sadly, the collision smashed the cheesecake box he’d been carrying in front of him between their chests and the dessert smooshed out of the fragile enclosure and all over their tops. I groaned and dropped my head in my hand. There went that dream for good. I couldn’t hear the words but I could see Liz screeching and him getting agitated. They were both waving their hands around in the air, I’m pretty sure Liz even stamped her foot hard against the sidewalk. Their faces were way too close to one another for the argument to be all about dislike. She flung both hands straight up and looked like she was blowing her bangs off her forehead. Grabbing one of his arms, she tugged him out of sight and presumably into her shop to clean up a little.

At eight o clock, I closed and locked up the shop. I’d had a break in the middle of the day when my part-time assistant Freya had come in for four hours and I’d gone home to read a book, have lunch, and start the next day’s cheesecake baking process. I had a busy night ahead of me finishing them up. Saturday was a big day at the shop and since it was the first weekend after school had gotten out in the state, I was expecting the tourist traffic to go up. I wanted to be prepared.

My house was a three story Victorian gabled beauty just north of town. It sat on the bluff and had unparalleled views out to sea. The reason I could afford it on a bookseller’s salary is because of my parents. My parents died in the same car crash three years ago. I loved my parents and I miss them every day. Their deaths were senseless accidents and it was awful. But I know they never would have left me on purpose. I know they still love me wherever they are if there’s an after. Or if there isn’t, their memories love me still, all the pieces of them that are held individually by the people who knew them around the world. I’m not crying into my pillow every night anymore. I’m not wallowing. I moved on after their deaths. All the insurance money and the sale of my childhood home made it possible for me to move here to the coast and buy the property for the bookstore and the house with twenty acres on the bluff looking out over the ocean. I brought my parents here. Well, their ashes. And I spread them all over my land and in the ocean so my parents could be here with me everywhere I am and know that I’d never forget them. That might sound creepy. But really, it’s just love. Everyone says it different and this was how I showed my parent’s at the end. My father always used to say, when I’d catch the ball and he’d tackle me and hold me upside down by the ankles, swinging me in a wide arc while I shrieked with triumph, that he wished he could always keep me right here right then by his side forever. Love can be freezing a moment in time. It can be sharing every moment from here on out. It’s different for everyone.

The driveway of my house wound through scrubby sea grasses and spruce trees until you broke out into the clearing where the house sat and the ocean beyond. I’d fallen in love the moment I saw it, paying every cent demanded without even bargaining on the price. It was lavender, gray, and white, standing out against the fading pinkish light of the sunset. The porch light was on and there was a strange car in the driveway on the far left side. It wasn’t one I recognized specifically. It was just a white SUV with dirty tire wells, huddling in my driveway off to the side like it was trying to be inconspicuous. Suspicious and vaguely disconcerting. I lived pretty far out and there weren’t any neighbors close enough to hear me scream. I pulled into my parking space but clutched my cell phone in my right hand, prepared to dial for help at the first sign of trouble. But it was a sleepy town, I wasn’t really too panicked yet.

The passenger side door opened and a 10 year old boy practically fell out, still managing to land on his feet like a cat. He slammed the door behind him and hopped in place watching me back just as cautiously as I was regarding him. I climbed out of my own car a little more gracefully.

“Hello,” I started, unsure where to go from there.

“Hi!” Called a much deeper voice from the other side of the car. “I’m really sorry to just show up like this. I work with your cousin Tim in Portland—did he tell you we were coming?”

My cousin Tim was notoriously scatter-brained. Right then my phone rang, startling me as I was still giving it a death grip in my right hand and prompting a little scream. The caller ID said Tim.

“Hi, Tim.” I spoke into the receiver, “Something you want to tell me?”

“Charlie! I forgot to call you earlier!”

“Of course you did.”

“My friend Alex from work wanted to go camping with his son for a week on holiday and I suggested your place. You have all that land and it’s right on the beach.”

“It’s on a cliff.”

“Well, but you know. The ocean’s right there.”

“Sure, 200 feet down.”

“I didn’t think you would mind. He’s a great guy. And I met his son once, Ethan, I think?, great kid. Hell of an arm.”

“Great,” Tim was fun to mock.

“Do you mind?”

I looked at the father and son standing in front of me. Ethan was shifting from foot to foot and Alex was smiling sheepishly. The kid had his dad’s dark brown curly hair. His was a lot longer than Alex’s cropped cut, coming down past his ears and brushing the top of his t-shirt in the back. He had hazel eyes which looked like caramel taffy in this light while Alex’s hazel eyes were much more flecked with green. The kid was adorable. The man was incredibly, deliciously sexy. Did I mind?

“Nope. Not a problem, Tim. Thanks for the heads up.” I hung up on him. “Alex and Ethan?”

“I knew I should have pestered him to call you earlier.” Alex shook his head, “I’m really sorry.”

I laughed in response, hopefully casually. “That’s Tim. He’s been like this since we were kids. Once he forgot he was supposed to be baby-sitting his little sister Alicia and she ate a whole bowl of dog food while he was back playing video games. His mother never trusted him again with her. Frankly, I’m impressed he’s been able to hold down a job for this long.”

“He’s a great architect. Sure, his secretary is more like a minder, but he does excellent work.”

“Are you an architect too?”

“Yes. I’m sorry again, but do you think Ethan could use your bathroom?”

“Oh! Sorry, of course. Let’s go inside. And I’m Charlie Cypher. I suppose Tim told you?”

“Yeah.” He smiled at me, this time soooo not sheepish. It was a blossoming grin that included me in its field of influence, in warmth. I already had my key in the lock or I would have dropped it as my muscles went slack in pleasure.

This was going to be an interesting week.

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