alexis morgan



Alexis Morgan
© 2023.


It was hard to hide her impatience, but Abby did her best to slow down so her three companions could keep up. They were all on the far side of eighty, so it took them longer to walk the short distance from where she'd parked the car. She'd more or less inherited the trio as her unofficial life coaches after the death of her great aunt, who had grown up with the three women right there in Snowberry Creek, Washington.

Glenda must have picked up on Abby's mood because she called out, "Why don't you go on ahead and stake out a table for the four of us? We'll be along in a minute, and you know how crowded the coffee shop can be."

Great idea. "I'll order the usual drinks and pick out some goodies for all of us."

Then Abby picked up speed before they could launch into a long-winded discussion about which flavor of muffin was the best. Bridey, the owner of the coffee shop, baked everything on site, and there wasn't a single pastry on the menu that wasn't delicious. Besides, the ladies knew that if Bridey had made some of Abby's favorite dessert—gooey butter cake‐that's what she'd order for everybody.

She'd also pick up a few extra pieces to go. Tripp, her tenant and boyfriend, was supposed to get back home that afternoon from visiting his parents back in the Midwest. She couldn't wait to see him. He'd only been gone a week, but it felt like a lot longer than that. She wasn't the only one who missed him. Zeke, her mastiff-mix roommate, had gotten progressively more droopy as the days went by. Whenever she took him out for a walk, he'd insist on stopping by the one-bedroom house that Tripp rented from her to see if his buddy was back. His disappointment was sad to watch.

After glancing back one more time to make sure the ladies were still trucking their way on down the sidewalk, she slipped inside the coffee shop. Bridey herself was at the counter. She grinned as soon as she spotted Abby and the three women walking by the front window on their way to her door. "Same as usual drink-wise?"

"Yep, three tall decafs and a tall latte with two extra shots."

Bridey's eyes flared wide in surprise. "Are you sure about that?"

Common sense warred with Abby's love of caffeine and won. "No, I'm not. I'll take a regular latte, no extras."

"Smart thinking. You'd be bouncing all over the place with that much caffeine hitting your system all at once."

While Bridey got started on the drinks, Abby checked out the baked goods. Sadly, there was no gooey butter cake anywhere in sight. They'd have to settle for the muffins. "We'll have one each of the blueberry, the cinnamon streusel, the ginger cranberry, and the peach."

Bridey set the first drinks on the counter. "If you'll take the drinks to the table, I'll bring the muffins after I warm them up."

Glenda, Louise, and Jean were just sitting down when Bridey delivered the muffins. She'd cut them in quarters so Abby and the ladies could have some of each flavor. Bridey stood by the table with her hands on her low back as she stretched a little. She was hugely pregnant and due within days.

Louise frowned at her. "Should you still be working?"

Bridey wrinkled her nose. "Not according to my husband. He'll be here in a few minutes to take over for me."

Nodding toward Abby, Bridey added, "She's been covering a lot of shifts for me, but I insisted she take today off since I knew Tripp was due back home."

She leaned in close to Abby. "And I baked you a gooey butter cake to take home with you. Thought you'd like to have a special dessert waiting for Tripp's welcome back dinner."

"He'll love that!" Then Abby grinned. "Well, if there's any left when he gets home."

Jean looked horrified. "Abby McCree, you can't eat the whole thing! That would be selfish. You know how much that man loves his desserts."

Abby patted Jean on the arm. "I was just kidding, Jean. I promise I'll save him a little piece, maybe even two."

Still not happy, Jean frowned at her. "If you'd told me he was coming home today, I would've baked him one of my tuna casseroles. You know how much he loves them."

Technically, that wasn't true. While Tripp ate every bite of Jean's creations, he didn't always enjoy the experience. There was one version that both he and Abby liked, but a couple of the others had been a little more hit and miss. For some reason, neither of them liked crumbled barbecued potato chips on their tuna casserole. Who knew?

The door of the shop opened again, and Bridey's husband strolled in. As soon as he spotted his wife, he pointed at her and then at the doorway that led to the kitchen area. Then he crossed his arms over his chest and waited for her to comply with his unspoken order. Sighing, Bridey stepped back from the table. "Holler if you need anything else. I'll be in back with my feet up."

She circled around the counter with her husband hot on her heels. Abby couldn't help but be a little jealous of the couple's obvious happiness. Seth might nag at his wife, but Bridey would never doubt that she mattered to the man. There'd been a time when Abby had thought she and her now ex-husband had that kind of relationship, but it hadn't worked out.

The good news was that she was lucky enough to have Tripp in her life now. Not only did he love her, he'd laid his life on the line to save her on more than one occasion. A former special forces soldier, he took things like duty, honor, and loyalty seriously. She knew she could trust her heart to his care.

"Well, ladies, shall we get down to business?"

The four of them were there as the executive board for their quilting guild. Abby had taken over as their leader shortly she inherited her aunt's home there in Snowberry Creek. The ladies had more or less hoodwinked her into it, telling Abby it was her duty to step into Sybil's shoes and serve out her term as their president. It had been their sneaky way of encouraging her to make personal connections in town. She hadn't been happy about their trickery at the time, but it was the best thing that had ever happened to her. Now she couldn't imagine living anywhere else.

They made their way down the bullet points on the agenda she'd prepared. It had taken time, but she'd convinced them that staying on topic was the best way to keep their organization running efficiently.

About the time they finished up, a familiar figure walked into the shop. It was no surprise to see Gage Logan, the police chief, stopping by to get his afternoon coffee. As usual, he stopped just inside the door to look around before heading to the counter to place his order. But as soon as he noticed Abby and her friends, he headed in their direction.

After greeting the other ladies, Gage focused all of his attention on her. "I'm surprised you're here."

"Why is that? We've been holding our meeting here for the past couple of months."

There was something unsettling about his answering smile. It was suspiciously gleeful. "I would've thought you'd want to be home to greet your out of town guests."

"And what guests would those be?"

His answering smirk had her wanting to take cover. "Well, I was out on patrol when I passed Tripp pulling into your driveway. Turns out he had a couple of people with him."

A sick feeling settled in her stomach. "Any idea who they might be?"

By that point, Gage was grinning big time. "I can't say for sure, but I suspect they were his parents."

Surely Tripp wouldn't have brought his mom and dad back for a visit right after he'd just spent a week with them. There was no way he'd do something like that, especially without giving her any warning.

No sooner did that thought cross her mind than her phone pinged, signaling a text message from the man in question. Did she really want to see what he had to say? No, she did not. But looking around at the three ladies and one police chief watching her, she knew she had no choice.

Sorry, Abby, but my folks decided to surprise me with a visit. I swear, I didn't know they'd bought tickets on the same flight I was on. Run! Hide! Because that's what I'd do if I could.

She shook her head. There was no way she'd abandon Tripp in his hour of need. Besides, his folks would need some place to stay, and Tripp didn't have a guest room. So either she'd have to invite them to stay with her, or else they'd have to get a room at one of the motels out by the interstate. That didn't seem the best choice if she wanted to have a positive relationship with the people who might just be her in-laws in the near future. Come to think of it—there was one other possibility. What if he turned his house over to his parents for the duration of their visit while he stayed at Abby's?

Not sure how his parents would feel about that, she'd have to run it past him when she got home. For now, she texted him back. I'm on my way home armed with gooey butter cake. Start the coffee, and I'll be there as soon as I take the ladies home.

Bless you, woman!

Then drawing a deep breath and crossing her fingers that this wasn't a disaster waiting to happen, she headed for the back room to pack up the cake.