Adeline dreamed of chocolate.
Gobs of it. Dripping off the counter, spilling onto the floor, bubbling over pots and pans. Tiny running through the mess, the tangerine dress clutched in his mouth.
She woke with his scruffy muzzle in her face, his dark eyes staring into hers.
“Go away.” She moaned, flipping onto her stomach and pulling the pillow over her head. Before Tiny, she’d always set her alarm for seven. After Tiny, the alarm clock had been destroyed, chewed up while Adeline was in the shower one morning. She’d have bought a new one, but Tiny had taken its place, waking her at the edge of dawn every morning, his hot puppy breath fanning her face.
He whined, shoving his ninety-pound body closer and pawing at the pillow.
“You’re a menace. You realize that, right?” she muttered, shoving the covers aside and getting out of bed.
She yanked on yoga pants and a sweatshirt, grabbed Tiny’s leash, and wrestled the puppy into it. Her cell phone rang as she layered the sweatshirt with a lightweight coat. She glanced at the caller ID. Granddad.
She answered as she walked outside. “Good morning, Granddad!”
“It would be a better one if we were both still asleep,” he responded, his gruffness making her smile.
“You’re always up at the crack of dawn,” she pointed out, Tiny scrabbling at the sidewalk, trying his best to get her to move faster.
Wasn’t going to happen while she was on the phone. She couldn’t run and talk at the same time.
“Only when I have something to do besides lying in bed staring at the ceiling and hoping someone will come visit me.”
“Better watch it, you’re starting to sound like a bitter old man.”
He chuckled. “Leave it to you to not give me a lick of sympathy. Your sisters? They were very quick to reassure me that I am loved and appreciated and that they’ll be here in just a few short days to spend some time with me.”
“That’s because they feel guilty.” She had it straight from Willow and Brenna’s mouths. They both felt bad for not being more present during Byron’s surgeries and recuperation, but neither felt guilty enough to come home sooner than May’s wedding
“They should feel guilty. I’m an old man, on limited time. It isn’t such a hard thing to understand that I want to spend as much time as possible with my family before I go.”
“Granddad, really, you’re wasting all this on me. Save it for Willow. She’s the one with the softest heart.”
He laughed. Just like she’d known he would. “How’s the shop-keeping coming, kid? That’s what I really called about.”
“About as well as can be expected.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I’m no chocolatier. You know that.”
“You could be. If you’d put a little of your heart into it.”
“I’m putting blood, sweat, and tears into it. Isn’t that enough?”
“Not when it comes to chocolate. That requires a little something extra.”
“Speaking of extra,” she interrupted, anxious to change the direction of the conversation. Byron was
like a dog with a bone. When he got his mind on something, he didn’t let it go. Lately, his mind was on her taking over the shop permanently once he retired.
“I’ve been using the recipes you keep locked up in the office. Are all the ingredients for Lamont fudge on the recipe card?”
“Why wouldn’t they be?”
“I just . . .” What could she say? That the fudge tasted okay at best and horrible at worst? “Wanted to be sure before I make it for May’s wedding.”
“Haven’t you been making it for daily sales? People love that stuff, Addie. They come from all over the world to get it.” An exaggeration. People didn’t come from all over the world. They did order it from all over the world. She’d gotten orders from places as far away as Japan and Australia. Filling those orders would be impossible if she didn’t figure out how to make the stuff.
God! Why had she ever suggested that Grandad expand to Internet sales? That had been five years ago, and in the time since he’d done it, Chocolate Haven’s profit margin had tripled. She knew. She did Grandad’s taxes every year. She also knew that without those sales, Chocolate Haven would be just another family owned chocolate shop struggling to survive. Her throat tightened on the thought, and she took a deep calming breath.
She would not drive the business into the ground. She wouldn’t.
“No worries, Grandad,” she said, trying to keep panic out of her voice. “I’m making the fudge.” It wasn’t edible. At least not compared to what Chocolate Haven usually sold, but she was making batch after batch of it.
“Well, that’s a relief. I can’t hand the shop over to someone who isn’t capable of running it.”
“You’re not handing the shop over to anyone,” she said, his words sending ice through her veins. She didn’t want to take over the business. Not today, tomorrow. Ever. “You’ll be back to work in a few weeks—”
“Addie, I love you like a flower loves the sun, but you’re delusional if you think I’ll be back in a few weeks. Once I get out of this joint, I’ve got therapy to do. Lots of it. Sometime after that, I’ll be able to work in the shop part-time. Only God knows if full-time work will ever happen for me again. The hip is bad. The leg is worse, and I’m just about ancient.”
“You’re not ancient,” she protested.
“You say that because you love me, and you don’t want to see the truth.”
She also didn’t want to have this conversation.
“Granddad, you’re the youngest seventy-five-year-old I know. You’ll be back full-time, feeling better than ever.”
“Maybe. In the meantime, you’re running that place for me, and I appreciate it.”
Running it into the ground.
The words echoed through her head as Tiny tugged her along the sidewalk. She didn’t have the energy or he heart to try to pull him back. She felt hollow and a little sad and more overwhelmed than she’d been the very first day she’d walked into Chocolate Haven knowing she was going to have to make all the chocolate, fill all the orders, keep the Lamont family legacy alive.
“You still there, doll?” Granddad asked.
“Just trying to walk the dog and talk at the same time,” she responded, her words thick with tears she wasn’t going to shed.
“How is that Tiny dog of yours?”
“Great,” she lied. “He’s learning all kinds of neat tricks.” Like how to drive the neighbors crazy, how to dig holes big enough to swallow cars. How to eat alarm clocks and wake her at the crack of dawn every morning.
“That’s not what your mother told me.”
“Mom doesn’t like Tiny.”
“She doesn’t like dogs. Me? I’m glad you got one. They’re good bodyguards, and a single girl like you might find herself in need of that.”
“Granddad, the only thing a person needs to protect herself against in this town is gossip.”
“Humph!” he replied. “There’s danger there, Addie. Danger that I keep warning everyone about, but no one is listening.”
“I’m listening.” And had listened, a dozen times since the accident.
“You may be listening, but you’re not believing,” he growled. “Of course, that’s better than what your mother is doing. By a long shot, it’s better.”
Uh-oh. This wasn’t going to be good. Granddad and Janelle got along great. Until they didn’t. “What’s Mom doing?”
“Telling everyone that I’ve lost my marbles.”
“She isn’t telling people that, and you know it,” she protested. She wasn’t certain, though. Janelle had strong opinions about things. Currently, she was convinced that Byron had hit his head when he fell and that hitting his head had caused him some memory loss and confusion.
“She is. She told the doctor she thought I have dementia.”
“Where did you hear that?”
“From the doctor. Guy was asking me a few too many questions about presidents and birthdays and moon landings, and I wanted to know why. Your mother”—he nearly spit the word—“told him that she thought I might be having problems with my memory.”
“She’s just worried about you, Granddad.”
“Because there was someone in my apartment and I had the nerve to say it?” he demanded. He was getting riled up, heading back to the story that he’d been telling since he’d fallen down his apartment stairs—
someone standing in the hallway of his apartment when he’d returned home, his quick dash outside to call for help, the tumble down the stairs.
“You know that James McDermott saw you fall,” she said, her grip on Tiny’s leash a little tighter than it had been. Not because of the dog. Because of Granddad. They’d been down this path before. Several times, actually.It had yet to end well.