Blackberry Beach (Hope Harbor #7) - Irene Hannon
The mystery woman was back.
Zach Garrett poured the steamed milk into the coffee mixture, creating his signature swirl pattern with the froth—all the while keeping tabs on the female customer who’d paused inside the door of The Perfect Blend, dripping umbrella in hand.
As she had on her first visit two days ago, the lady appeared to be debating whether to stay or bolt.
Wiping the nozzle on the espresso machine, he assessed her. Early to midthirties, near as he could tell—though the oversize, dark sunglasses hid most of her features. A curious wardrobe addition, given the unseasonably heavy rain that had been drenching Hope Harbor for the past seventy-two hours.
He handed the latte to the waiting customer and angled toward his Monday/Wednesday/Friday assistant barista. “Bren, you waited on her Monday, didn’t you?” He indicated the slender woman with the dark, shoulder-length blunt-cut hair who continued to hover near the threshold.
Bren spared her a quick once-over as she finished grinding another batch of the top-quality Arabica beans Zach sourced from a fair-trade roaster in Portland. “Yeah.”
“Do you remember what she ordered?”
“Small skinny vanilla latte.”
“Did you get a name?”
“Nope. I asked, but she said she’d wait for her order at the pickup counter.”
In other words, the woman wanted to remain anonymous.
While it was possible she was one of the many visitors who dropped in to their picturesque town for a few days during the summer months, his gut said otherwise.
And since his people instincts had served him well in his previous profession, there was no reason to discount them now.
So who was she—and what was she doing in Hope Harbor?
Only one way to find out.
“I’ll take care of her.”
“That works. I’ve already got customers.” Bren inclined her head toward the couple waiting for their pound of ground coffee.
Zach called up his friendliest smile and ambled down to the end of the serving counter. “Let me guess—a small skinny vanilla latte.”
The woman did a double take . . . took a step back . . . and gave the shop a quick, nervous scan. As if she was scoping out potential threats.
No worries on that score. There was nothing in The Perfect Blend to raise alarm bells. While several of the tables tucked against the walls and cozied up around the freestanding fireplace in the center were occupied, no one was paying any attention to the new arrival. The customers were all reading newspapers, absorbed in books, or chatting as they enjoyed their drinks and pastries in the Wi-Fi–free environment.
The door behind the woman opened again, nudging her aside.
Charley Lopez entered, his trademark Ducks cap secured beneath the hood of a dripping slicker.
“Sorry, ma’am.” He flashed her a smile as he touched the brim of the cap, pushed the hood back to reveal his gray ponytail . . . and gave her an intent look. “I didn’t mean to bump you.”
“No problem.” She dipped her chin and moved aside, putting distance between them. As if his perusal had spiked her nerves.
“Are you coming in or going out?” Charley maintained his hold on the half-open door.
“Coming in,” Zach answered for her. “I’m betting she’s in the mood for a skinny vanilla latte.”
“Excellent choice.” Charley closed the door.
“Bren will handle your order as soon as she finishes with her customers, Charley.” Zach kept his attention on the stranger.
“No hurry.” The taco-making artist who’d called Hope Harbor home for as long as anyone could remember moseyed toward the counter. “I doubt I’ll have much business at the stand, thanks to our odd weather. August is usually one of the driest months on the Oregon coast.”
“Any day is a perfect day for a Charley’s fish taco.”
“I may steal that line. It would be a great marketing slogan.”
“As if you need one. Your long lines are proof that word of mouth generates a ton of business.”
“That it does.” He winked, then directed his next comment to the woman. “I hope you’ll pay me a visit. My truck is on the wharf. Next to the gazebo.”
“I may stop by.”
“Please do. First order for newcomers is always on the house.” He continued toward Bren.
Zach frowned after him. Everyone in town knew about Charley’s welcome gift of a free lunch for new residents . . . but this woman hadn’t moved to Hope Harbor.
What did Charley know that he didn’t?
She edged toward the exit, and Zach shifted gears. He could pick the town sage’s brain later. In the meantime, why not try to ferret out a few facts himself?
Unless his skittish