Chloe Livingston weaved in and out of traffic in her red, 1964 Mustang convertible and curled her fingers around her long flowing strands to stop it from hitting her face. Not a soul was in sight as she turned onto Taylor Street. She slammed the car to a halt and dug through her oversized handbag. Where is that hair tie? With a swift flip, the contents of the purse hit the seat beside her. After a rigorous shake, not a single hair clip, bow, or an elastic band fell among her belongings. A pencil had wedged itself inside her sunglasses. That will work. Tangles and all, she twisted the windblown mess into an improvised bun and stuck the small pencil through her hair to hold it in place.
She flinched and glared into the rearview mirror when the car behind her blew their horn. “Alright already.” Upon a quick thrust of the accelerator, she spun the wheel, turned right and tossed an expression of regret to the impatient driver. “Please accept apologies.”
Midway through the next block, the car sputtered, backfired and smoke clouded the air. What? Her heart thumped against her ribs. She whipped the car off the road, took her wallet and stuffed it into her purse. Harsh smells of smoldering fumes and leaking radiator fluid began to assault her nostrils as she scrambled from the car.
Pulse thrashing, Chloe staggered and righted herself on the sidewalk. Her pink and white polka-dotted gloved hands covered her mouth. Lines of discomfort bracketed her face as the car ignited. A quiver trembled her lower lip.
The bakery supplies. Chloe let her shoulder bag fall to the concrete, hurried and snatched one of the three boxes from the backseat.
“Get back,” a man shouted as he rushed by with a fire extinguisher.
Uneasiness clutched her stomach as he flung open the car door and popped the hood. The courageous soul dodged the inferno, grabbed the hood prop and secured it. With a sweeping motion, the engine was soaked with foam and the fire was vanquished.
Chloe’s eyes met his as he approached. “Thank you.”
The tall man wiped smears of foam from his black suit. “My pleasure, Miss. Are you okay?”
Her voice cracked. “— Yes. I’m alright.” His stunning features took her breath. He’s beautiful.
He slid a glance as he rubbed the arm of his suit coat. “My sleeve’s pretty wet.” He pulled off his jacket and hung it over his arm.
She watched as he pressed the fire extinguisher against his other arm. His muscular bicep tightened against the sleeve of his dress shirt. That’s impressive.
“Did you get burned?” Chloe asked.
He flipped his hands over and inspected them. “Nope. No burns.”
“Thank God.” Chloe’s feet, glued to the payment, watched him whisk to the glass door of the four-story office building behind them.
“Hope the rest of your day gets better,” he said in a fleeting voice.
She glanced at the words, Knox County Judicial Center, engraved in stone above the door and hightailed it inside. “Excuse me,” she said as she tugged on his jacket.
He twirled around in the middle of the atrium. “Yes?” His lips curved.
Chloe’s head tilted. “How did you know? I mean . . . my car.”
“I saw you from my office window”
Her mouth dropped as she gazed at his hazel eyes.
“Were you going to say something?” His brow raised.
Chloe drew in a deep breath. “I’m sure my car would’ve burned up if you hadn’t acted so fast. You saved it.”
“No problem.” He straightened. “I’m Mitchell Terrison.”
Her heart palpitated. Think of something. “So . . . you work for Knox County Administration?”
“I’m Knox County’s new District Attorney.”
“I’m Chloe Livingston. I own Camden Bakery down the street.”
“Your bakery has the best brownies in town.”
Chloe warmed. “I’ve been told. Listen . . . Mitchell. Can I call you Mitchell?”
Chloe glanced at her torso all the way to her feet. Not dressed to impress, with a white shirt, tucked into her old faded jeans. The best feature of the outfit, a leather embroidered belt her mother purchased in Belgium. Why of all days had she chosen her most worn out shoes? Ugh. She scrunched her hair. “So, um, I need to be going.”
“Oh, Right.” Mitchell pressed his hands together.
“Maybe I could repay you with, uh —brownies. You know, for coming to my rescue.”
“Please. It’s the least I can do.” Chloe observed a message pad at a receptionist’s desk beside them. “May I?”
Chloe jotted numbers and placed the paper in his hand. “Here’s my number.”
He stuffed it in his shirt pocket. “Nice gloves.”
“Thank you.” Her head tilted as a smile crossed her lips.
“Can I call you a tow truck?”
A quick turn, she spotted her car. “No. It’s okay. I think it’s far enough off the road. I’ll get in touch with someone when I get to the bakery.
Mitchell walked to the elevator. “I’ll see you later, then?”
The elevator doors slid to a close. The flawless man disappeared. Chloe yanked her shirt, wrapped her shawl tight and brushed a few lose strands of hair away from her face. At the glassed entrance, she spotted smoke still trickling from her car. Good grief!
Autumn breezes swirled around Chloe the moment she opened the door. The short walk to Camden Bakery, four blocks away, would give her enough time, or maybe it wouldn’t, to clear her mind of the new DA in town.
The bake shop’s bell chimed as Chloe entered. She threw her purse on the counter and called out to her bakery assistant. “Ben?”
Ben sauntered from the back in his usual ostentatious manner. “Hey, Chloe. What’s up?”
“Ben, it’s hot in here. What’s the thermostat on?” Chloe yanked her wrap and threw it on the old wooden stool beside the cash register. “My car caught on fire.”
Ben crossed the room and ran his finger across the switch on the heat regulator. “I’m sorry, Chloe, I turned it up when I got here. I honestly forgot about it.” You said your car caught on what?”
“Fire. My car caught on fire.”
“And, how did that happen?”
“I don’t know. Spontaneous combustion?”
Ben laughed hysterically and leaned holding his stomach. “You’re killing me, Chloe.”
“Stop laughing.” Her hands bunched at her sides.
“I can’t help it, Chloe.”
“I love that Mustang.”
“It was bound to happen. You’ve had nothing but trouble with that ole’ thing.”
“I know, but you don’t have to rub it in.” She bit her lip to stifle a grin. “And . . . I left all our supplies in the back seat. Geez! One of the boxes is on the sidewalk.”
“Is the top down on the convertible?”
“Of course, it is.”
“So . . . free rein to take what they want?” Ben asked.
Chloe reached for a muffin from the display case. “Pretty much. I also need to find a tow service.”
“Call Mr. Fredericks.” Ben went behind the counter and retrieved the phone book, flipping through its pages. “I’ll call him for you, then I’ll get the stuff.”
Chloe rushed to Ben and hugged him. “You baby me; you know it?”
Rich aromas of fresh baked breads, pastries, cakes, scones and muffins filled the bakery early the next morning. At seven o’clock sharp Chloe unlocked the door and prayed the day would bring heaps and heaps of hungry patrons into the shop. A quick stop at the coffee pot, she poured herself a cup and decided a blueberry scone for breakfast would be tasty. Two minutes later the bell chimed above the door and two couples entered. “Good morning. Welcome.”
Chloe pushed up her sleeves and filled their orders. By seven-thirty her regulars filled the bake shop, some waiting to order and others engrossed in conversation, sipping their coffee and eating a Danish. Her weekend workers, Steve and Allie, college students, appeared at eight and relieved Chloe to work in the back.
Thirty minutes passed. Chloe peeked out and smiled. All fifteen glass topped tables, adorned with four sea-foam green metal chairs, with light cream cushions were full of patrons and seven, maybe more, were standing in line. Thank you, Lord, Jesus. The white and dark grey checked floor sparkled against the sun rays seeping through the front window. Several folks stood in front of the back-mahogany bar, decked with twelve grey and cream stools. Light sheers, pulled back each morning gave the place a touch of elegance. The glass displays were painted a soft seafoam green. As swells of laughter and sounds from the expresso machine filled the bakery, a humbleness rose within her.
As morning passed into afternoon and even though her every muscle ached, she rose from a one of the chairs at three o’clock and locked the door to Camden Bake Shop. Chloe said her goodbyes to Steve and Allie, who were staying behind to clean and mop. After a quick walk to the car park, Chloe hit the unlock on her key fob.
Nestled in her cobalt blue Volkswagen Beetle, she drove through Camden heading home. She slowed the car and turned into the cobblestone driveway of her Victorian home facing Penobscot Bay. The afternoon sun permeated the front side of the house. Not only did it show the structure’s beauty, but the green paint peeling away from the siding. Taking it all in, her neck fell against the headrest. Cha-ching! Cash registers at every paint store in America sounded the instant a huge chunk of paint fell to the ground. “Good grief.” The Neighborhood CDA (City Needs Assessment) folks would soon be knocking at her door to impose a fine for not complying with their ordinances. Maybe they won’t notice. “Dream on, Chloe.”
She collected her things and scooted up the path to the back door. The sound of the door opening alerted Chester, her blond Labrador of her arrival. Loud clickety-clack sounded throughout the house until he appeared. “Chester. Hey, boy.” She leaned to rub his soft furry ears, then let him out to roam the back yard.
A pot of coffee was first on the agenda, then upstairs to gather dirty clothes from the hamper. Chloe meandered three flights to the basement, separated the whites from the colors and started the first load. Cobwebs shined in the sunlight that surrounded the sliding glass door beside the washer and dryer. With a quick swat of an old broom, the ghastly sight disappeared. With the laundry, underway, she raced up the stairs and robust scents of coffee filled the main floor. After a cup was poured, she sipped the brew and searched for the TV remote. Her favorite college football was on the sport’s channel.
Indiana was slaughtering Penn State. “Not a close one like last year.” She let it play in background and moseyed out to the back deck. Relax. Chloe got comfy on one of the four Adirondack chairs and tossed a blanket over her legs. “My coffee!” She threw back the throw and fetched her desired, most soothing, beverage.
The score flashed at the bottom of the screen, Penn State, 7 to Indiana, 52. “That’s awful. Well, at least they scored one touchdown.” Off the tube went. She emptied the lukewarm coffee and teemed a fresh cup, doctoring it to perfection. Chloe spotted a spiral notepad open on the table on her way to the deck and tucked it under her arm. Unwind, enjoy the invigorating weather conditions. Take the pleasure of penning the ingredients for the new cake she’d thought about for days.
A gust of wind swirled fallen leaves at her feet. I love fall. Chester followed and laid by her chair. She rested, closed her eyes, letting the ingredients saturate her mind. Customers will love this cake.
With every ingredient remembered, Chloe, with rigorous determination, scripted the recipe as fast as her fingers would write. She paused, tipped the pen to her chin and looked out among the mixture of light to dark green, bright orange and deep burgundy leaves across the backyard. One ingredient is missing. What was it? Sorghum. That’s it. Chloe jotted it down then, reread the items several times.
Knowing her pantry was bare, a trip to the grocery store was a must. “Dog food.” She remembered Chester needed food and scribbled it at the bottom. A cold wet nose nudged her free hand. “Hey, Chester.” He sat up, begging with his eyes, for attention. “You are so sweet.”
Chloe spared a moment, pat Chester and went to find him a treat. An empty treat box sat on the shelf. “Oh, Chester, you don’t have any snacks.” Two loaves of bread sat beside the copper colored toaster on the butcher block cart. “It’s bread or nothing.” The dog wagged his tail with vigor. “Sit.” He obeyed. “Shake.” Chloe bent and shook Chester’s paw. “Good boy.” She set three slices on the floor. “I promise I’ll get you some food.”
The clock in her VW flashed a few minutes past six. If she hurried, the cake could be in the oven by seven-thirty. Three cars were parked in the parking lot of the Market Basket to Chloe’s pleasure. She’d be in and out in a jiffy. Up and down the aisles she searched the shelves.
Chloe detected the man, Mitchell Terrison, hem and hawing over some apples in the produce section. Oh, should I say something. No. She darted across the lane and flew to the other end. Her temples flexed as her heart punched against her chest. At the edge of the row, she peered to see if he was gone. Oh no, here he comes. Chloe bent her head. Maybe he won’t see me. As she was turning the cart around, it rammed his.
“Watch where you’re going.” Mitchell scrutinized. “It’s you! Uh . . . Chloe Livingston, right?”
Chloe squirmed. “Sorry about that.” She released her tight grip on the handle, rushed and picked up his apples that’d hit the floor. “Here you go,” she said as she handed them to him.
“Thanks a lot,” he smirked.
Chloe untangled their carts as Mitchell put the apples on top of an egg carton.
“I saw that a wrecker came and got your car yesterday.”
“Yeah. It’s at Mr. Frederick’s shop.”
“Is it salvageable?” He asked.
“The guy told me he’ll have to replace some gasket thing and, I think, a few pistons or something like that. Oh, yeah, the hoses and belts have to be replaced too.” Chloe focused on his handsome features.
Mitchell ran his hand through his curls. “Sounds expensive.”
“Mr. Frederick is supposed to let me know how much it’s going to cost by Thursday.” Chloe heaved her cart backward to let a little boy and woman by. “Okay, well, I’d better go.”
“Wait.” Mitchell put his hand on her cart. “Why don’t you let me cook your dinner tonight.”
“You can cook?” Out of humor, a smile etched her face. There’s a sparkle in his eye.
“Yes. I got a couple of steaks and some veggies to make a salad. You like Italian dressing?”
“Are you for real?” Chloe’s rubbed her palms on the side of her pant legs.
“Yeah, I live just a few minutes away.”
What were the chances Mitchell would live in the same area? “Um, I don’t know.” She never liked to make a quick decision.
“We could eat. Then you could show me around the city.” Mitchell lifted his eyebrows and stared straight into Chloe’s eyes.
He’s searching for an answer. “I was going to make a cake tonight.” She stared at the cracks in the tile floor.
“You can make it at my place. I’ll help you. I love to cook.”
“Do you have cake pans?”
“Yes. Three or four I think.”
What to do? If this guy likes to bake and has the pans to prove it, why not. “Oh . . . I guess.”
“So, that’s a yes.”
“I guess so.” Chloe scratched the sleeve of her sweater. “Listen, Mitchell. I need to get a few things on my list. I’ll meet you at the checkout counter.”
Rich aromas of coffee filled aisle four. Chloe paused, closed her eyes and sniffed the pleasing scent, then snatched the remaining ingredients off the shelves for the cake. One last item to scratch through, dog food. Her shoes clopped on the hardwood floors as she sped down the pet row. Into the basket, she threw delights and dry food. With quick feet, she sprinted to the register and paid the clerk. She spied Mitchell by the door and mouthed, “I’m ready.”
“Why don’t we go in my car? He ran ahead to open the passenger door.
Chloe stopped just shy of his new shiny BMW. “Maybe I shouldn’t go.”
“We’ll have a good time.” Mitchell stepped back and waited.
“I parked right beside you,” Chloe said as she pushed the cart between the vehicles. “Let me put my dog’s food in here.” She looked through the bags and separated Chester’s stuff from the rest and threw them into the backseat.
Unnerved reservation crawled up her spine as she got inside. No words were shared between them as Mitchell drove to his condominium complex.
The car came to a stop in Mitchell’s garage. He opened his door. “I’ll get the bags.”
“Wait!” Chloe screeched. “I’m married.”
I didn’t see a wedding ring. Mitchell jumped from the car. The dim lit garage hid her face through the windshield of the dark car. He ran to the other side. With a swift pull of the handle, the beautiful woman came into view. As he took in her beauty, his mind boggled with whys. Didn’t she take an interest? Was it an imagination or did something spark between them? It was a feeling he hadn’t shared with anyone in a very long time.
“You said you were married?”
“I’ll explain.” Chloe said. The scrutiny she gave made his stomach shudder.
“Maybe I . . .” Mitchell stood by the car and shoved his hands inside his pockets.
“My husband was in a horrible car accident two years ago, outside Mt. Claire on Mountain Highway. His car landed upside down at the edge of Megunticook River. The police couldn’t find him afterwards. To this day, they assumed the river carried him away.”
“Wow.” Mitchell brushed his hair backwards. The weight of his thick curls fell against his forehead. “I’m sorry.”
“I’ve held out hope he’d be found alive.”
“Did the Sheriff’s Department do an investigation?” He reached for her hand. “Why don’t we go upstairs and talk over dinner.”
Mitchell wasn’t convinced she would go by the petrified sound in her response. He slowed his footing and waited for her to catch up.
“Come in. Please overlook the mess.” He tossed his pullover on the couch then picked up two glasses from the coffee table and put them in the kitchen sink.
“You have a nice place.” Chloe said. “I like the wall color.”
“Thanks. I loved this condo because it was new and move in ready.”
Mitchell slung the grocery bags onto the smooth cement counter. He glanced Chloe specking out his fireplace across the room.
“Was this washed stone like this when you moved in?”
“Oh, nothing.” Chloe moved to the black marble topped bar that separated the two rooms and sat on one of the padded bar stools neatly under the slab.
“That sounded a bit sad. What is it?”
“Your fireplace brings back memories. Maybe I’ll tell you someday.”
“Okay. Are you as hungry as I am?” He unwrapped the steaks, doctored them with soy sauce, pepper and sprinkled a tad of salt. After he washed the russet potatoes, he tossed a salad.
In and out of the sliding glass door to the deck, Mitchell opened the grill and flipped the steaks. “How do you like your steak cooked?” Mitchell yelled through the glassed door.
“Medium.” Chloe rose from a brownish gold leather chair and followed him outside. “Can I help you finish up?”
“I’ve got everything ready except the bread.” He ran to the kitchen and retrieved a clean plate. “It needs to be popped in the oven.”
“I can do that.” Chloe replied.
“I’ll be right back.”
Mitchell tipped back the lid to the grill and smoke stung his eyes. He blinked away the pain. The girl is so pretty. Make conversation, they like that. He entered with steaming steaks. “Their ready.” The room filled with a rich tang of grilled beef. “I’m starved.”
“They smell wonderful.” Chloe waited by one of the stools. “I dipped our salads.”
“Thank you. Grab two plates from that cabinet, will you?” Mitchell asked as he pointed to the cabinet beside the sink.
They sat in the breakfast nook overlooking the bay. Mitchell reached for his fork as Chloe bowed her head.
“Uh, may I bless our dinner?” She asked.
Mitchell rested his elbows on the table. “That would be nice, Chloe, Thank you.” He stared, not taking his eyes off her, appraising with more than a mild interest.
“Father, we praise You for this glorious day. Thank You for the food we are about to partake. I appreciate You bringing my new friend, Mitchell, into my life. Amen.” Chloe raised her head.
“That was sweet,” Mitchell said as he scarfed a huge bite of salad.
Chloe, wide eyed, grinned. “You like to eat, don’t you?”
“I can’t deny it. Tell me about your husband’s accident.”
“His car was demolished and he was never found. The end.”
“There has to be more to it.” Mitchell reacted in between bites.
“My heart breaks when I think about it. I have so many unanswered questions.” Her eyes started to mist over. She’s hurt. “How come?” Mitchell’s constrained his brow tight.
“I don’t think the Sheriff’s Department handled things properly.”
“Why do you think that?”
“It was a lot of speculation on their part.” Chloe twisted in her chair. “I apologize for my attitude.”
“I’ll see what I can find out.”
Her face dramatically changed. “Would you?”
Could he find out anything different? “Chloe, I can’t make any promises.”
“I understand. But, Mitchell, what if he’s still alive?”
“After two years?”