Candy Crush by Tami Lund
Gabriella Hadley thinks buying the candy store located on Main Street in a small midwestern town is the perfect way to start her life over. What she gets is not quite as perfect as she hoped. The candy store is in ruins, there’s a dead body in the apartment located over the store – which is where she intended to live – and the local director of the Downtown Development Authority makes it clear that he wants her to be the next notch in his bedpost.
Brandon Sarantos was pretty content with his life before Gabriella Hadley came along, despite his mother and aunts and other women in his family constantly harassing him to settle down and produce a couple of fat, healthy Greek babies. Now, he can’t seem to get the beautiful, skittish woman out of his head – nor can he convince her to climb into his bed. But she’s fixing up the candy store that has been a blight on his Main Street for two years, so he’s willing to give her the benefit of the doubt – and a place to stay, since her apartment is currently uninhabitable – by living people, anyway. Bonus, hopefully, is that she’ll get lost on her way to the guest room and climb into his bed instead.
As Brandon not very subtly works to win her over, Gabriella fights the impulse to fall for his abundant charms. She is still worried that what she left behind in Dallas will catch up to her, and besides, she’s sworn off men, especially bad boys with eyes that are full of the kind of danger that lasts only until morning – if she’s lucky. Sleeping with Brandon will give her one night of pleasure, but then come morning, she’ll have to find a new place to stay, and ever since she found a dead body in the apartment over the candy store, the police haven’t allowed her to go up there again. Not that she’s particularly in a hurry to spend the night in a place where a dead man once lay.
They say the candy store is jinxed, but Gabriella knows better. Jinxes don’t leave decomposing dead bodies in apartments. Jinxes don’t threaten you with a gun. Jinxes don’t spray paint graffiti all over the candy store’s storage room. As it becomes more and more clear that someone doesn’t want Gabriella to open the candy store, Brandon discovers that whether or not the candy store ever opens is beside the point. He just really doesn’t want Gabriella to leave. What he really wants is…
Well, that hardly matters when Gabriella’s very scary ex-boyfriend shows up, determined to whisk her back to Dallas so that she can become his wife…Does it?
In broken, paint peeling letters, the sign above the door proclaimed: and S ore.
It was supposed to say: Candy Store.
As she pressed her fingers to her temple, Gabriella Hadley thought, and I am sore, so I
guess it fits.
The buildings were all attached, tall narrow soldiers running the length of the block, and
every one had a quaint, freshly painted sign affixed over the door and attractive displays in the
windows. Every one, that is, except the address the real estate company had given to Gabriella.
This particular storefront stood out from the rest. The color of the remaining letters on
the sign above the door was supposed to be green, which she knew from the pictures she’d seen
on the Internet. From her current vantage point, sitting in the driver’s seat of her car, parked at
the curb in front of the building, she couldn’t be certain of their current color. Muddy?
Dilapidated? Was that even a color? It should be. Maybe she should go into business creating
crayon colors, instead of trying to re-open a worn out old candy store.
The door and two large plate glass windows were haphazardly covered with brown
butcher paper. Two planters flanking the door were coated with cracked peeling paint that also
may have once been green but now simply looked dirty. Each had a handful of weeds growing
from the dried out soil and a lot of brown stuff that had probably also been weeds that had given
up the fight.
With a sigh of resignation, Gabriella resisted the urge to pull away from the curb and just
keep driving. At the moment, she was left with precious little choice, so she cut the engine,
flipped her long blond braid over her shoulder and leaned toward the passenger seat, absently
scratching the ear of the yellow-blond cocker spaniel perched there, while she peered out the
window at the row of businesses that ran along the sidewalk.
The candy store was nestled between a hobby shop and a small specialty shop with a
carved wooden sign that proclaimed, Everything Is Made In Michigan. At least her new business
appeared to be in a good location, right on Main Street. Main Street, according to what Gabriella
read on the Internet, was the main thoroughfare through a historic downtown district that was
located on the fringes of the suburbs of Detroit, and saw more than its fair share of tourists
throughout the year. If the store had looked anything like what the real estate company
promised, Gabriella might have felt a tremor of excitement, instead of a tremor of dread.
“What are we doing?” Gabriella asked the dog.
The dog wagged her tail in response. The fuzzy cocker spaniel had two emotions: happy
and sleeping. It was one of the dog’s endearing traits, and heaven knew Gabriella needed some
happiness in her life at the moment.
A desperate bid to find happiness was the reason she sat in a car, parked in front of a
ramshackle, closed candy store, in a tiny town five states away from home. Eight days ago, she
had packed what little possessions she had into a tiny U-Haul trailer, hooked it to the back of her
car, and left Dallas, driving northeast until she hit Little Rock. For the last six days, she had been
holed up in a hotel room in Little Rock, hunched over her laptop, researching the Internet for a
While scanning the Internet, she stumbled upon the candy store for sale and thought, I
can do that.
The ad proclaimed the candy store was a gem situated in the middle of a prestigious,
historical village that was an oasis outside of the city of Detroit. A village with Midwestern
values, the ad said, which Gabriella assumed was a good thing.
A place you could be proud to raise your family.
While Gabriella had no intention of raising a family – generally speaking, that required a
man in one’s life, and Gabriella had recently sworn off the opposite sex – the idea of living in
such a place appealed to her. A village that touted family values should be a safe place in which
to relocate, Gabriella thought at the time.
While she shrank away at the prospect of winter – she had lived in Dallas her entire life–
she figured it would actually be a nice change from eighty-five degrees in the middle of
September. She would give herself six months, and if she really hated it, she would start looking
for real estate in Florida. One thing was certain. She was never going back to Dallas.
Not ever again.
“I wonder if I should have just stuck it out?” she said out loud, and, as if she knew what
Gabriella was talking about, the dog flattened her ears against her head for a brief moment before
she resumed wagging her tail.
Gabriella sighed. “I suppose you’re right. Even winter is better than what I left behind.”
She glanced at the storefront again and continued talking to the dog. “This looks nothing
like the pictures on the website. This looks like it hasn’t been inhabited in years.”
She glanced at the clock on the dashboard. It was after seven p.m. She’d been on the
road since seven a.m. and lunch had been a long time ago.
It was Tuesday evening in mid-September. The street was nearly deserted and most of
the shops were closed. Gabriella recalled from the website that when the candy store had been
open, the hours had been ten-to-six on Sunday through Thursday and ten-to-eight on Fridays and
Saturdays, except for Fridays during football season, when the entire town shut down at six to go
watch the local high school football game. Gabriella, being from Texas, could understand that
“Come on,” Gabriella said to the dog. “Let’s go take a quick peek and then we’ll go find
dinner.” She climbed out of the car and walked around to the passenger side and opened the
door. The cocker spaniel leapt out and immediately rushed off to sniff at the nearest tree.
“We have a leash law in this town, you know.”
Gabriella jumped at the sound of a male voice and turned to watch as a dark haired man
with wide shoulders and a narrow waist stepped onto the sidewalk and began ambling towards
her. His hair was slightly shaggy and he wore dark blue slacks and a white pinstriped shirt with
the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. He wore a tie that matched the pinstripes in the shirt. The tie
had been loosened around his neck and the top button of his shirt was undone. He should have
looked rumpled. Instead, he looked as if he were heading to a shoot for GQ Magazine.
Gabriella sucked in a harsh breath. Miguel.
But as the man drew closer, she realized she was wrong. This wasn’t Miguel. Miguel
had chocolate brown eyes. This guy had bright, crystal blue eyes. Miguel had deeply tanned
skin, indicative of a great deal of time spent in the sun. This guy had olive skin. He looked
Italian or maybe Greek. The look in this guy’s eye wasn’t at all calculated and devious, the way
Miguel looked almost all the time.
He isn’t Miguel, Gabriella chanted to herself as she held her ground instead of running,
like her instincts were begging her to do. He isn’t Miguel.
The man crouched and scratched the dog’s ear before standing again and offering his
hand to shake. “I’m Brandon Sarantos. Head of the DDA.”
Fear lanced through Gabriella’s system and must have shown on her face, because he
quickly added, “Downtown Development Authority.”
She blew out a breath. She really had been afraid for a few heartbeats. Gabriella worked
to pull her emotions under control as she reluctantly shook his hand. “She isn’t going to hurt
anything,” she said defensively.
Her hand was dainty and smooth, and he noticed she had perfectly manicured pale pink
nails. She wore three silver stackable rings on the ring finger of her right hand and her left hand
was devoid of jewelry. No wedding ring.
“Are you the new owner of the candy store?” he asked.
“How did you know that?” she asked suspiciously.
“By definition of my title, it’s my job to know these sorts of things. You aren’t planning
to sell drugs are you?”
Gabriella gasped and looked genuinely shocked and he decided the answer was no.
Considering her reaction to the acronym DDA, he felt inclined to ask.
“Just checking,” he said amiably. “So what’s your name?”
Brandon stuck his hands in his pockets and took his time appraising the new candy store
owner, now that he was up close. From across the street, by the pale blue glow from the new
state of the art yet antique in stature lamppost hanging above her head, he determined she had
long blond hair that was braided down her back, an average sized chest, small waist and long
Up close, he could see that the hair was professionally colored in a salon. All those
shades of blond couldn’t possibly be natural. The chest was still average, the waist was tiny and
the legs were indeed long. She wore a fitted white scoop neck shirt under a thin jacket, slim
brown pants and tennis shoes. He bet she looked hot in four-inch heels. He wondered how long
she’d last in this town, and he decided he wanted to sleep with her before she left.
“I’m Gabriella Hadley,” she said. Her soft voice was as delicate as her hands and had a
distinctly southern drawl.
“Nice to meet you, Gabby,” Brandon said, and she corrected him, “Gabriella.”
“How long do you plan to stay in town?” Brandon asked, rocking on his heels and still
watching her. He could tell his scrutiny made her uncomfortable. He hoped it was because she
was attracted to him.
“Well, since I just bought the candy store, I’d say it’s a bit of a permanent arrangement,”
Gabriella pointed out. “Is there something I can help you with, Mr. Sarantos?” she said
impatiently. He watched as a guilty look flittered across her features. Did she feel guilty for
acting impatient? He was pretty sure he had never in his life met a woman who felt guilty about
something so trivial.
“It’s Brandon. I was still in the office and I saw you pull up, so I figured I’d welcome
you to town.” And I never miss an opportunity to meet a hot blond. “Where are you from?”
“Thank you for the welcome. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to take a peek inside and
then go find something to eat. I haven’t eaten since noon.”
He noticed she ignored his question, but he let it slide as he tried to come up with ways to
keep her talking. He didn’t usually like it when women talked too much, but he decided that
Gabriella could talk to him all day long, with that thick southern drawl. It was sexy as hell.
“That place hasn’t been opened up in years. Why don’t I hang around to make sure no
raccoons come flying out at you, and then I’ll show you the nearest pizza parlor?”
She looked appalled, although Brandon wasn’t entirely sure if that was due to the
prospect of a raccoon flying out at her or having to endure his company for that much longer.
She demurely said thank you, and turned and bent at the waist to retrieve her purse from the floor
of the car. Brandon watched and thoroughly enjoyed the way her cotton pants strained against
the roundness of her backside.
She stood up and turned around, realized what he was doing and huffed out a sigh. She
stalked past him, her nose in the air. The cocker spaniel trotted along beside her and Brandon
followed behind, not feeling the least bit guilty for ogling.
Gabriella turned the key in the lock, opened the door and then quickly stepped to the side,
presumably just in case a raccoon really did come flying out at her. The dog trotted inside and
Brandon stepped in front of the door and stuck his head inside, his eyes sweeping from side to
side, taking it all in. He glanced back at Gabriella, who had made no move to follow suit.
“Did you know what kind of condition it was in when you bought it?” he asked.
“No,” she admitted. “I bought it over the internet. The pictures were definitely old. All
the letters were still on the sign and there were displays in the windows.”
“Brace yourself,” he said as she finally stepped in front of the door and peeked over his
Gabriella ignored the heat radiating off his body and the smell of soap and some sort of
citrus shampoo. She was close enough that if he turned his head and leaned in, it would be the
perfect setup for a first kiss. Gabriella had no interest in kissing any man, especially not a man
as outrageously sexy as Brandon Sarantos.
She shivered a little because the temperature had dropped with the setting sun, and it
couldn’t have been more than fifty degrees, yet Brandon looked completely at ease in his
shirtsleeves. He’d be like having my own personal furnace in bed.
Gabriella mentally chastised herself for thinking such fanciful thoughts and focused on
the interior of the business she’d bought less than a week ago. She stepped into a large room,
approximately forty feet wide by sixty feet deep. There was a door at the back of the room.
According to the online description (which she was not sure she believed, since everything else
in that ad appeared to be a lie) the door led to a small storage room and a restroom. Beyond the
storage room, there was supposed to be a door leading outside, where a staircase led up to the
apartment that was situated above the candy store.
The main room was trashed. Paper littered the floor, display cases lay on their sides,
posters drooped off the walls and she could see bits of old candy lying in piles here and there.
The cash register sat on a small counter to the left of the front door, and it was tipped on its side.
A thick layer of dust covered everything.
“Oh my,” Gabriella said as she put a hand over her heart. Her dog snuffled an old piece
of candy on the floor. “Butter,” Gabriella said sharply, and the dog trotted to her side.
“Your dog’s name is Butter?” Brandon asked in disbelief.
“Yes,” Gabriella said with a little lift of her chin. “My second cousin named her.” Her
tone dared him to tease her.
“Your second cousin is demented.”
“My second cousin was four at the time. I was rather impressed with her ability to make
the connection between the color of Butter’s fur and, well, butter.”
Brandon did not look as if he found that very impressive.
“Come on,” he said abruptly. “Let’s go get you something to eat. This can wait.” He put
his hand on her shoulder and turned her toward the street. Butter trotted back to the tree she’d
been sniffing earlier and squatted next to it. Brandon pulled the door closed, turned the key in
the lock, and handed it to Gabriella.
“Thank you,” she said, feeling a little shell-shocked. Actually, she was feeling a lot shellshocked.
Much to her own surprise, she let him guide her down the street. After the relationship
she’d had with Miguel, Gabriella had made a pact with herself to never trust another man again –
at least not one who was not related to her.
Yet, here she was, two thousand miles away from home, alone, and within ten minutes of
her arrival, she met what had to be the town’s sexiest man and was walking down a nearly
deserted street, alone, and was about to have dinner with him. To make matters worse, she was
fully aware of her pact, fully aware of his sexuality and his blatant, not the least bit subtle interest
in her – at least in her body – and instead of turning and running – possibly screaming – to her
car, she continued to walk with him. She attributed her lack of sound judgment and reasoning to
the shock of seeing first hand what she’d purchased, without doing the proper investigating first.
And the fact that she was starving.
They walked two blocks to a pizza parlor that appeared to be the only sign of life on the
entire street. A brightly lit sign in the plate glass window proclaimed, “Main Street Pizza – the
best in town.” Inside, it was filled with black vinyl booths and small square tables covered with
red and white checked plastic table clothes. Gabriella did a quick count and found that ten of
approximately forty tables were occupied. Not overly busy, but busy enough that Gabriella felt
she could relax a little. Nothing bad could happen while she was dining in a public place with a
“It really is the best in town,” Brandon said as he held the door, inviting her to step
inside. Butter trotted in and, tail wagging, rushed up to the first person she spotted.
“What about Butter?” Gabriella asked.
“Don’t worry about it. I know the owners.” Gabriella pulled a leash out of her purse and
bent over to clip it to Butter’s collar, and then followed Brandon to a booth wedged between the
wall and a small jukebox. She noticed that most of the people in the room waved and called out
a greeting as he passed.
She began to question her decision to choose to move to a small town. She had thought
she could get lost in a small town, but really, small towns were notorious for everyone knowing
everyone else’s business. This is a mistake, she thought as she sat down and looped Butter’s
leash around the table leg. Butter dropped to the floor next to her chair and put her head on her
A perky dark haired, blue-eyed waitress bounced up to their table and said, “Hey
Brandon,” and gave him a full wattage smile. Gabriella felt an annoying pang of jealousy, which
was silly since she just met the man less than an hour ago, and she fully intended to ditch him
just as soon as she had a full belly.
“Hey Brittney. I’ll take a Corona in a bottle. What would you like, Gabby?”
Gabriella glared at him and said, “A glass of wine. House red, please.”
“Okay, I’ll be back in a jiff.” Brittney dropped two menus on the table and bounced
“Don’t call me Gabby,” Gabriella hissed to Brandon as he opened his menu and began
idly perusing it.
“Okay. How about Sweet Pea?”
“Sweet Pea. It’s a southern kind of nickname, since you’re obviously a southern bell.
That accent is sexy as hell.”
He glanced up from his menu and gave her a heated look. She blinked and sat back in
her chair. A shadow loomed over their table and Gabriella and Brandon both looked up.
“Somebody said there was a dog in my restaurant, so I had to come out to take a look. I
should have known it was you, Brandon.” The woman was nearly six foot tall, with thick black
hair that was cut into a short, curly bob. She was big boned but she carried it well. She wore a
red t-shirt with Main Street Pizza embroidered over the left breast pocket and a pair of black
jeans. A white apron was tied around her waist, and it was smeared with lots of red splotches.
Gabriella guessed she was probably in her sixties.
Brandon grinned and stood up and hugged the woman. He turned and nodded toward
Gabriella. “Aunt Korina, this is Gabriella. She just bought the candy store. That’s her dog,
Butter. She’s harmless.”
“Which one, the dog or Gabriella?” Aunt Korina asked him, and then she turned and
thrust her hand at Gabriella. “Nice to meet you, Gabriella. I like the dog’s name. Her fur is the
color of butter. How long are you planning to stay in town?” Gabriella shook the hand Korina
offered and tried to keep up with the questions she shot out like rapid-fire bullets.
“Well, since I bought the candy store, I was sort of thinking it was a permanent
arrangement,” Gabriella said in confusion.
“Huh,” Aunt Korina said. “Between that candy store and Brandon, nothing is
permanent.” Brittney returned with their drinks and Korina stepped to the side. “I gotta get back
to work. Stop in anytime, Gabriella. Twenty percent discount to all Main Street merchants. Just
let whoever’s at the register know.”
“Thank you,” Gabriella said with a smile. Brittney stood next to the table, pencil poised
over the small notepad in her hand.
“Do you trust me to order for you?” Brandon asked, and Gabriella nodded. Since the
owner, and probably cook, based on her apron, was his aunt, Gabriella figured Brandon really
did know what was best on the menu. He turned to Brittney. “Large BBQ chicken pizza, thick
crust please, and bread sticks.” When Brittney walked away, he said, “The bread sticks are
“Brittney seems to like you,” Gabriella commented before she could stop herself.
“She’s my cousin. Well, she’s my cousin’s kid, so I guess she’s like a second cousin
twice removed or some crap like that. In my family, she’s a cousin.”
“So your aunt owns the pizza parlor?”
“Yep. For forty years. We’ve all worked here at one point in our lives. Some never
leave.” He nodded at the bus boy, a man in his early forties, with greasy black hair and sallow
skin. “Poor Aunt Korina can’t say no to her relatives.”
“Why do you and Korina seem to think I’m only here for a short time?” Gabriella asked
He leaned back, draped his arm across the back of the booth and took a swig of his beer.
He watched her for a moment before responding.
“Rumor has it that candy store is jinxed. The same family owned it for something like
fifty years. And then the last son who was running it died, and supposedly the family fortune
disappeared with his death. Of course, it’s just a rumor that there ever was any sort of fortune,
since there was never any proof the money existed.”
He paused to take another pull from his beer. Gabriella sipped at wine and patiently
waited for him to finish his story.
“He died seven years ago. Since then, there have been five different owners, and none
has lasted more than six months. It’s been empty for nearly two years. My job is to make sure
that the downtown storefronts are rented and look good at all times, so that candy store is kind of
the bane of my existence, since my office is directly across the street and I have to look at it
every time I sit at my desk. It’ll be nice to have it open again, at least for six months or so.”
“I’m not leaving in six months,” Gabriella insisted, even though she’d given herself that
very same deadline only an hour earlier. “Why does everyone leave anyway?” She didn’t
believe in jinxes and superstitions. The cold hard facts of reality were bad enough.
Brandon shrugged one shoulder. “Varies. Vandalism, robbery. Sometimes enough small
accidents happen to freak them out and they pack up and leave. The latest one just disappeared.
He was a nice older man. He stuck it out the longest, and then he just up and walked away. The
police suspected foul play but they were never able to prove anything. He’s never resurfaced.
His family didn’t do anything with it for the longest time. Finally, just a few weeks ago, they
managed to get him declared legally dead so they could sell the candy store. And now here you
are.” He spread his arms wide in front of her and winked.
“Sounds like a lot of bad luck. Or maybe just some bad kids running around town.
Hopefully, they’ve graduated and moved on.”
Brandon nodded. “That’s what the cops thought, too. But all of the local deviants always
had airtight alibis. Looking out of town didn’t seem to make sense, since it was always
specifically the candy store. They didn’t think out of town vandals would come to our small
town and purposely vandalize a candy store.”
“So what’s the theory?” Gabriella asked in spite of herself.
“That the candy store is jinxed.”
Gabriella pursed her lips. “Do you believe that?”
“I think I like the fact that it will no longer be a blight on my main street. Do you have
an ETA for opening day?”
Brittney returned with a pizza stand and the pizza. She put them both in the middle of the
table and handed Brandon a pie server. Korina was right behind her. She stepped up and placed
plates, napkins, Forks and a basket of bread sticks on the table.
“So when are you planning to re-open the candy store?” Korina asked, echoing Brandon’s
question. Brandon served up slices of pizza while Gabriella answered.
“Well, honestly, I didn’t expect it to be in such a state. I was planning on a little dusting
and rearranging maybe, but that place looked like it’s going to need some serious work.” She
looked at Brandon and he nodded his agreement.
“So I have no idea. It would be nice to be open by mid-October, so I could take
advantage of Halloween. Maybe I could have a Halloween-themed grand opening,” she said as
she stared off into space, picturing it in her head.
Brandon and Korina exchanged a look.
“Brandon, you should rustle up your brothers and your cousins to help. It will shorten
her time frame significantly if she doesn’t have to do it all herself.”
Brandon looked like he wanted to argue, but Korina quelled him with a look. “Call them.
Tomorrow. Have them over to that store on Saturday morning. Can you wait that long,
Gabriella?” She turned to look at Gabriella, who had been observing their exchange with some
interest. It was amusing the way Korina bossed Brandon around like he was a kid, and
fascinating the way Korina stepped up and offered her family to help, after having met Gabriella
twenty minutes prior.
“That’s fine,” she said faintly, feeling as if she really had no choice. Although she
reasoned she would be a fool to turn down the offer of help.
The few days lead time would give her time to take inventory, decide where everything
should go, order any necessary supplies. In her head, she mentally pictured everything she could
ask her help to do. She wondered if they would paint for her too.
And then she wondered if she had fallen down the rabbit hole. She’d been in town for all
of an hour and already she had the Sarantos family scheduled to help clean up her candy store on
“It’s settled then. Enjoy your pizza.” Korina walked away. Brandon called out for
another Corona and then turned to glare at Gabriella.
“What?” she asked, blinking owlishly.
“You could have said no,” he pointed out.
“I’m not sure I could have,” Gabriella commented as she watched the formidable Aunt
Korina walk away. “Besides, why don’t you want me to accept her offer of help?”
Brandon thought about his rather large family – all the women who wanted to marry him
off and all the men who would be instantly attracted to Gabriella.
“Let’s just say once you’ve accepted help from the Sarantos family, there’s no going
Gabriella was too busy enjoying her pizza to comment on his cryptic explanation. And
Brandon was too busy watching her enjoy that pizza to be able to do much of anything at all.
When she took a bite and moaned with pleasure, he inhaled the piece he was chewing and started
She jumped up and started beating on his back while he grabbed his beer and took a long
drink. He pushed her hand away and gasped, “I’m fine, stop.”
She sat back down and took another bite. Her moan of pleasure was much quieter this
“That’s a noise someone makes when they’re having sex, not eating pizza.”
Gabriella’s eyes widened and she stared at Brandon, but she did not speak until she’d
swallowed the food in her mouth.
“This pizza is almost as good as sex,” she said, and then she looked utterly shocked, as if
she was surprised at her own words.
Brandon lifted one eyebrow. “You haven’t had very good sex then. I mean, this pizza
rocks, but it’s not that good.”
“I also haven’t eaten in seven hours,” she pointed out. “So practically anything would
taste good. And this pizza is nearly as good as sex.”
Brandon decided he was definitely going to have sex with her. And then he’d ask her
again if the pizza was as good as sex.
They each had one more drink and with Butter’s help they finished off the pizza and
As they left the restaurant, Brandon asked her where she planned to spend the night. In
his head, she turned to him and whispered suggestively, “I was hoping you’d offer your bed.”
In reality, she said, “The real estate company said there is an apartment above the candy
store. I planned to stay there.”
Brandon gave the candy store a dubious look. “Maybe I should go with you, check for
raccoons again,” he suggested.
“After seeing the state of the store, are you sure you want to be alone when you check out
Gabriella sighed and gestured at the alley that ran behind the row of stores on the candy
store’s block. “Lead the way,” she said, sounding resigned.
Behind each business there was a small area of asphalt with a small dumpster parked to
the side of the back door. Each business also had a large spotlight, shining over each back door.
Gabriella wondered if the apartment over the candy store had heavy drapes, otherwise she’d
never get to sleep with all the lights glaring into the windows.
They walked in and out of shadows, as they passed each spotlight in turn. Gabriella had
taken off Butter’s leash and she wandered around the alley, sniffing dumpsters and watering
clumps of weeds.
Gabriella could see the stairs leading up to the apartment above the candy store. The
staircase was outside the building and was exposed until the top, where a small tin roof covered
the balcony that jutted out from the back of the building. When they reached the stairs, Brandon
held out his hand, palm up. Without a word, Gabriella handed him the keys and followed him up
the rickety stairs. Butter climbed the steps behind her.
“One of my cousins is a carpenter. I’ll mention these stairs to him. He’ll probably be
here Saturday,” Brandon said when he reached the top.
He unlocked the door and stepped inside, flipping the nearest light switch as he did so.
Gabriella was relieved when a bright light popped on. And then she gasped.
The apartment had either been ransacked or there had been a struggle of some sort. The
eat-in kitchen and living area was all one room, and while the kitchen appeared relatively
unscathed, the living area was virtually destroyed. A couch sat in the middle of the room, its
cushions and arms in shreds. A chair was upended next to it, with springs sticking out the
bottom. An old box television with a smashed screen lay on the floor. Pictures hung
haphazardly from the walls. Most had broken frames and broken glass. The coffee table was in
two pieces, splintered wood sticking out every which way.
“Whoever was here last was really pissed off,” Brandon said as he stepped around the
debris and walked down a short hall to look in the bathroom and bedroom. “The bathroom looks
okay but the bedroom is ransacked as well. The bed looks like someone took a knife to it. And I
think there might be something living back there. I think you should stay somewhere else
tonight. Maybe for the rest of the week, until my family can get in here and get this cleaned up.
I don’t suppose you have an alternate place to stay?”
Gabriella shook her head dismally. This was not at all what she expected to find when
she’d decided to start her life over. She expected a little dust, maybe some dated furniture, but at
least she expected it to be inhabitable. She suddenly felt overly depressed and exhausted. “I
guess I’d better go find a hotel.”
“There aren’t any hotels in this town.”
“There has to be a hotel,” Gabriella said, a tinge of desperation in her voice.
Brandon shook his head. “Just a couple of bed and breakfasts at two-hundred dollars a
Gabriella blinked up at him, desperation shining in her eyes. She couldn’t afford to stay
in a two-hundred-dollar-a-night bed and breakfast. She had already dumped almost all of her
savings into this candy store, and at the moment, she did not have a source of income.
“I’m sure I’ll manage,” she choked out as she shifted her gaze to the hall leading to the
Brandon snorted. “No you won’t. Come on, you can stay with me. It’s only four blocks
away. I usually walk to work, so I’ll ride home with you.”
“Absolutely not,” she said with such vehemence that Brandon laughed. She gave him a
cross look and he sobered to just a lip twitch.
“I’m not harmless,” he admitted. “But I’m not a rapist or serial killer or whatever the hell
you’re afraid of right now.”
“I’m not afraid,” Gabriella insisted. More like petrified, but I’m not sure if it’s of him or
my reactions to him.
“You’re a lousy liar too. Come on, let’s go back to the pizza parlor first. Aunt Korina
will vouch for me.”
“And I’m supposed to take her word?”
“Sure. She makes the best pizza in town.”
Gabriella didn’t exactly agree with his convoluted reasoning, yet somehow, some way,
she found herself standing next to her car on the grassy curb, staring up at an imposing Victorian
home, complete with intricate scrollwork on the tallest point. A light shone over the front door,
illuminating a wide front porch that wrapped around the side of the house. A pentagon-shaped
tower jutted out into the porch corner. She could tell there were two large trees in the front yard.
Everything else was dark.
“It’s huge,” she said before she could stop herself.
Brandon chuckled. “See, you can relax, Sweet Pea. We don’t even have to sleep in the
same wing, if you don’t want to.”
Gabriella glanced back at her car and the miniature U-Haul trailer hooked to the bumper.
“What about the trailer? I’m supposed to return it by the end of day tomorrow.”
Brandon thought about it for a moment. “I’ll think of something by tomorrow,” he
finally said. And for some inexplicable reason, Gabriella believed him. “Come on.” He started
walking towards the house.
“It’s beautiful,” Gabriella breathed, still rooted to the spot, staring once again at the
Brandon stopped walking and turned to give her a bemused look. “It’s good looking too,
but you’ll have to wait until daylight to get the full effect. It was my great-grandma Sarantos’.
By the time she passed, everyone else who was old enough had a home, so I got it by default.
Luckily, I’m pretty handy, because it wasn’t in very good shape when I inherited it.”
“I’m not sure this is such a good idea,” she started again, but Brandon shook his head and
cut her off.
“Stop stressing, Sweet Pea. I like my position with the DDA and my family probably
already likes you more than they like me. You’re safe here.”
The look he gave her was contradictory to what he said. The look said, You’re anything
but safe with me. Want to see my bedroom?
Gabriella wondered what the hell she was doing. She was going home with a man she’d
met only hours ago, in a small town that she knew nothing about, with no family or friends to
help her if she ended up in trouble. What if he really was a mass murderer? Or a rapist?
Or worse: what if he came on to her and she was too overwhelmed, too tired to resist?
She shivered delicately. Brandon leaned over and whispered in her ear, “I only bite if you ask
Tami Lund spent her younger years living in Mid-Michigan, before moving to northwest Louisiana as a teen, where she stayed, blissfully winter-free for eleven years.
She graduated from Centenary College of Louisiana with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Studies, which is not unlike a Liberal Arts degree – well-rounded but with no real focus.
When she was twenty-five, she met her own knight in shining armor, transplanting him from Michigan to live with her in Louisiana… which lasted just long enough for him to discover a bone-deep hatred of all things summer. Less than two years later, they packed up shop and relocated back to Michigan, causing Tami to discover a long-suppressed and much surprising love of winter. They have been in Michigan ever since, vacationing in various beautiful places that eventually helped to create the backdrop for The Resort series.
Tami has been writing, well, forever, so it seems. In reality, she has
notebooks of “novels” she wrote while in junior high school and high school, but then she took a fairly long break from writing when she discovered partying, while attending college. That pastime carried her through until she was married, which naturally led to birthing a couple of babies, and it wasn’t until she was laid off from her “real” job in 2009 that she finally put pen to, er, fingers to keyboard again and let those bottled up creative juices flow.
Tami continues to write with every spare moment she has. She has self-published six ebooks, all of which can be purchased through her website, www.tamilund.com. The final book in The Resort series is scheduled to be released in May, 2014.
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