Excerpt from It Had To Be You

Book #3 of the Miracle Falls Series

On the way out of his office, Wylie Adams sorted through the day’s mail and frowned at the business-size envelope from Spencer and Davis Attorneys at Law. He’d never heard of them. If and when he needed legal help, he contacted his brother, Quinn. He would’ve tossed the thing, only the use of his middle name on the envelope stopped him. His mom was the one person who’d ever called him Wylie Marshall Adams, usually when she was mad. She and his dad had been killed in a car accident some twenty years ago, when he was nine. He hadn’t taken a drink in over four years and still attended A.A. meetings regularly, so it wasn’t alcohol related. Then what?

With a sense of foreboding, he climbed into his Ford pickup, opened the letter inside, and read it. Frowned and sat back hard. The building where he’d leased office space for the past two years had gone into foreclosure and been sold by the bank. Hadn’t seen that coming when he’d paid this month’s rent. What worried him was the notice giving him until May 10, only six weeks and change, to clear out.

Not much time to find a new location, due mainly to the serious growth spurt in Miracle Falls. Office space was hard to find, and rent cost a bundle. Last time it’d taken him months to find the right place at the right price, and that was before the market heated up even more.

And just when his moving business was making good money.

Quinn’s expertise lay in wills and estates, but he was bound to know more than Wylie. He phoned his brother pronto. No one answered, and he realized it was lunchtime. Quinn was out and ditto with the office manager. His brother’s cell also went straight to voicemail.

He left messages on both phones. Then, muttering, he headed for Lolli's Place, his afternoon go-to for coffee and a sugary treat. As usual, the little café was crowded, so different from when it’d first opened three-and-a-half years earlier. Vintage posters, most of them of coffee ads, gave the place a fun vibe. Customers had a choice of tables on one side or a couch and comfy armchairs on the other. The aromas of fresh-brewed coffee and the display of mouth-watering baked goods in the glass case at the order counter added to the welcome warmth.

But what drew Wylie back time and again was the woman working alongside two college-aged baristas at the order bar. Lolli Oberon was short and fine-boned with close-cropped black hair and little fringy bangs that sometimes went askew. Big mocha-colored eyes and pale skin added to her delicate air.

As if. Lolli was as fiery and tough as any female he’d ever come across, and he’d known a lot of them. He admired her grit and determination. And yeah, he was attracted to her, but she had a lousy stepfather and a string of lousy boyfriends. Wylie was no prize either—due to his former drinking problem, he’d been married and divorced twice. Hadn’t had a real relationship since and didn’t want one. The thought of that kind of commitment gave him hives.

For sure, he never wanted to hurt Lolli. Long ago, he’d learned to tamp down his attraction to her. Now he couldn’t think of her except as a close friend (most of the time). Friendship with her was all he wanted. The idea of anything more was absurd.

Almost as if sensing his presence, she glanced up as he entered. Her smile drew him like an irresistible force and lifted the shadow that had fallen on him as soon as he’d read the letter. He grinned back and decided to stay awhile instead of getting his stuff to go. He snagged the only available table, courtesy of the couple who stood to leave as he walked in, slung his fleece-lined denim jacket on a chairback to claim it, then took his place in line to order.

“Hey there, stranger,” she teased when it was his turn. “The usual with a cookie or a brownie?”

“Cookie—chocolate chip. I miss one afternoon and I’m a stranger?”

She shrugged one shoulder and deftly set to work on his Americano with a splash of steamed cream. “You’re usually here every day to grab something and go. I thought maybe you were sick.”

“Nope, I did a massive move yesterday.” Big, heavy pieces, carried down multiple stairs, then loaded into the van and up several flights to the new place. His sore muscles were proof of that. “Even with both Bull, Cheeto and two of my on-call people busting their butts, the move took all day. By the time we finished, it was after eight and you were closed. Am I forgiven, Ma’am?”

“After that really long day? Of course.”

She finished making his drink, then fixed another just like it. “I only need the one,” he said.

“You don’t want company at that little table in the corner? Unless you’d rather sit by yourself.”

She’d never offered before. “Seriously?” he said. “You’re awful busy right now.”

“Emmie and Curtis can handle things for a while. I need a break. Anyway, I can take one anytime I want. I own the place.”

Couldn’t argue with that. “How’d you know which table?” Wylie asked as they sat down.

“I watched you take your jacket off.”

“Did you like what you saw?” He gave her a flirty look just to get a rise out of her.

She didn’t disappoint, pursing her lips all pissy. “Get off it, Wylie. I didn’t scope you out, I happened to look up and you were there, okay?” She must’ve noticed his teasing grin because she laughed. “For a minute there, you had me going.”

“So I saw. That’s always fun. You don’t usually sit down with a customer.”

“You’re not any old customer. You were my very first one and regular. You’re also a friend. We haven’t had a chance to catch up in ages. Tell me what’s new.”

He slid the letter from the hip pocket of his jeans and handed it to her. “This came in the mail today. Ever heard of the law firm Spencer and Davis?”

“No.” Tiny lines formed between her eyebrows while she read. “This is terrible. Did you know it was coming?”

“I had no idea the building was in foreclosure, but you can bet I’ll get in touch with the landlord and find out as soon as I leave here. I already phoned Quinn and left a message. Regardless of what I learn, I need to find a new office and fast. How am I supposed to do that during this crazy real estate boom?”

“Maybe your brother can figure out a way for you to stay. If not… I know more than I ever wanted to about searching for a good space and coming up empty.” Lolli wanted to open a second café and had been looking for a while. “Check online, drive around, ask friends? That’s what I do. Do you know Brock Mitchell? He runs Tilton Commercial Property Management? He’s also looking for me.”

“I’ve met him a few times. He’s married to Lauren’s sister. I’ll give him a call.”

“Your sister-in-law is Brock’s wife? Small world, and a nice connection to have. If I hear of any leads, I’ll let you know.”

“I’d appreciate that. You haven’t said anything about your search for a while now. I figure no news is bad news.”

“Sad but true, but I’m picky. I won’t lease any old place. It’d be nice to find a restaurant or coffee house that’s closing up shop, but in this booming market? Every place Brock suggests has been leased before I’ve had a chance to blink.” She sighed. “When I started looking months ago, I naively assumed I could set up my second café ahead of the tourist season, but here we are in the last week of March. With tourist season starting in mid-April, I can’t possibly pull that off.”

“Don’t give up, all right?”

“Have I ever?” Wearing the steely-eyed look that meant business, she lifted her chin a notch.

“Not that I’ve seen. So what if you open later than you wanted? You’ll get there.”

“And I’ll keep looking. Just now though, I have other things to worry about.”

“Such as?”

She blew out a glum breath. “I heard from Suze yesterday. She’s decided to come visit through the weekend.”

Lolli and her mom, aka Suze, didn’t get along.

“You’re lucky to have a mother.”

“More or less. Since I moved to Miracle Falls four years ago, she’s visited exactly twice. Once to see Aunt Charlotte around the time she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and once for the funeral. At least she’s leaving Clete at home. I—” A glance at the counter and Lolli cut herself off. “Oops—it suddenly got way busier upfront. I have to help.”

Wylie enjoyed the conversation and wasn’t ready for it to end. “Why don’t we have dinner together tonight at Chet’s and finish catching up?” Over the past half year or so, they’d started having dinner together every few weeks as friends do. The sports bar was one of their favorites.

“This is Emmie’s night to close, so I’m in. Six o’clock?”

“See you there.”

*

Before meeting Wylie at Chet’s, Lolli called her best friend, Ingrid, to tell her about Suze. She’d known her friend since she was six and had first started spending summers with Aunt Charlotte. Every summer after that, the two friends hung out together and grew closer. Ingrid didn’t answer or reply to a text. Probably pulling the late shift at the Little Black Dress shop she managed.

Lolli looked forward to dinner tonight. She arrived at the restaurant first. Even on a Wednesday night in the tourist off-season, the sports bar was reasonably crowded. No surprise—the food was decent and big screens displayed sports competitions on every wall, which made for an entertaining time any day of the week. Wylie liked a good football or basketball match as much as she did, but tonight she wanted to talk instead. With that in mind, she chose a booth in the back.

And there he was, striding toward her, big and buff, his slightly crooked grin impossible to resist. He knew it too. His longish brown hair suited him and made her itch to run her fingers through it, and from the glances of other women in the place she wasn’t the only one. There were times when she almost wondered what it’d be like if they were involved in a different way. Not that she wanted that in any shape or form. Besides being cocky, the man was fickle. So was she. They’d bonded over their disastrous relationship stories and their mutual determination to remain single and got along great. Friendship worked well for them.

“Hey, you,” he said as he shrugged out of his jacket. He tossed it on the bench opposite her, then scooted in next to it.

A server appeared with menus they didn’t need. They each had their favorites. Wylie liked burgers with the works and spicy fries. Lolli preferred chicken fingers and cheesy potato skins. After they ordered—no beer, wine, or cocktails, as Wylie was a recovering alcoholic—she asked, “Did you hear back from the landlord or your brother?”

“The landlord’s phone has been disconnected, but I contacted a few of the other tenants. We’re all scratching our heads. I also got hold of Quinn. He’s heard of the law firm that sent the letter but doesn’t know much about them. I forwarded him a copy of the letter. After my A.A. meeting in the morning, I’ll call the law firm for more information.” Wylie shrugged, then his somber expression vanished under the beginnings of a smile. “Guess where Quinn was when I couldn’t reach him earlier? With Lauren at the doctor’s. She had an ultrasound today to find out the sex of the baby. Look at the photo he sent.”

He called up the image on his phone and handed it to Lolli. She marveled at the grainy, black-and-white image. “I can see the head and one of the little hands. Awesome. Is it a boy or a girl?”

“A girl.”

“And they can tell from looking at that image.” Shaking her head, she smiled right along with him. “Congrats, Uncle Wylie.”

“Say that again, will ya?”

“Uncle Wylie.”

His chest puffed out. “I like that a lot. I’m so stoked about this.”

“I’ll bet Quinn and Lauren are too.”

“You know it. After almost two years of marriage, it’s about time.”

Lolli could hardly believe her ears. “That’s something I imagine your grandparents saying. But you? I didn’t know you were interested in babies.”

“Well, yeah, when it’s someone else instead of me.” The food arrived and they dug in. “Kinda makes me think about kids though.”

“In what way?”

“What it’d be like to have one of my own.”

Surprised, she widened her eyes. “You, the guy who gets bored as soon as whatever woman you’re seeing starts to fall for you?”

“Not now, in the far-off future. What about you, Lolli? Do you see yourself with kids?”

A subject they’d never ever discussed. “I might consider it if the sperm donor stayed far, far away.” She had big issues with men and had for as long as she could remember. Who wouldn’t, with a biological father she’d never met? She didn’t even know his name and Suze wasn’t sure either.

Her husband, Clete, was no prize at all. Neither was Vance, the bum Lolli had moved in with when she’d moved out of Suze and Clete’s at sixteen. A few months after she’d settled in at his apartment, he’d lost his job. While she’d worked her rear off finishing high school and taking on extra shifts at the coffee shop in Coeur d’Alene near where they lived and used her pay and tips to support them both, Vance had pretended to look for work. Mostly, he’d snuck around with other girls. She hadn’t suspected a thing until she’d caught him with another woman. In their bed.

The few other relationships she’d been dumb enough to get into had also gone bad. So, no thanks.

Which didn’t mean she disliked men, only that she wasn’t good at picking the ones who didn’t lie or cheat. Why get serious and set herself up for heartache?

“You’re an independent woman,” Wylie said.

“You bet I am, just like my aunt Charlotte was.”

While they ate, Lolli thought about her aunt. Their connection had been forged from the moment of her birth. Suze had gotten pregnant at seventeen. Her parents had kicked her out and the father had never come forward, so Suze had packed up and moved to Miracle Falls where her older sister Charlotte, then twenty-five, lived. One morning as Aunt Charlotte dressed for work, Suze’s water had broken. The labor and delivery were quick. Aunt Charlotte had called an ambulance, but before the medics arrived Lolli’s aunt had delivered her.

Lolli had few memories of the first three years of her life when she and Suze had lived at Aunt Charlotte’s. But when Suze had met Clete and followed him to Idaho, taking Lolli along, she could still remember feeling lost and devastated.

“You’re working that napkin pretty hard,” Wylie commented. “Thinking about Suze?”

There were times when he seemed to read Lolli’s mind. She wasn’t happy about that, didn’t want anyone, let alone a man, getting too close a look into her thoughts. On the other hand, she’d known him awhile now, and she trusted him to a certain extent.

She set the tattered remains of the napkin aside. “At some point tomorrow, she’s going to show up and stay through the weekend. She didn’t say what time. It’s about a six-hour drive from Coeur d’Alene to Miracle Falls.”

“She’s driving?”

“I think so. I wish I knew what she wanted.”

“I’d guess to see you.”

“No, she wants something. Maybe money, or she needs a few days away from Clete.” Not long after following the man to Coeur d’Alene, Suze had married him. He’d made Lolli’s childhood hell, and he and Suze had always fought like crazy. If it hadn’t been for Aunt Charlotte and those wonderful summers in Miracle Falls, Lolli didn’t know where’d she’d be now.

Her aunt had given her a respite from the drama and Clete’s constant criticism. She’d doted on Lolli the way Suze never had, teaching her to love herself and feel good about her accomplishments. Aunt Charlotte had shown her what being a success all on her own was like. She’d been married to her high school sweetheart, but a scant few years later he’d been diagnosed with a fast-moving cancer and had passed away. She’d never remarried and hadn’t needed a man to live a good life. Neither did Lolli. Not for the long-term anyway.

“I’ll find out what she wants soon enough,” she added. A throb started behind her eyes, a sure sign of an impending whale of a headache. She dug in her purse for aspirin tablets and popped two.

“What’s wrong?” Wylie asked.

“This last-minute decision to come visit is making my head hurt. It’ll go away.” Anxious to avoid making it worse, she changed to a more interesting subject. “How was your date last weekend with the woman with the toothy smile?”

“Helene? Meh. How was yours with the guy who looked like he was hiding something?”

“Oh, he was hiding something, all right. He’s still married.” Lolli snorted. “What else is new, right? Are you going out with Helene again?”

“Haven’t decided.”

“Does she like you?”

“Don’t know yet.”

“Then you’ll take her out again. We both know that if she’s not into you, you’ll be interested in her. As soon as she starts to care, you’ll get bored and move on to someone else.”

“What can I say? I’m a jerk. I don’t plan to be like that, just am.”

“Fine pair we are. About finding yourself a new office…”

“I checked online, and there isn’t much. No worries, I’ll figure it out. So will you with your mom.”

Doubtful. Lolli’s headache had subsided. Not wanting it to come back, she let the comment go. “Maybe you should look into something on the edge of town, where there might be more available spaces.”

“I’m not ruling out any location. Neither should you. Having another Lolli’s across town would be great.”

“Wouldn’t it.” Opening a second café was at the top of Lolli’s list, but… “With Suze coming…” She shook her head. She didn’t want her mother knowing anything about her plans. Life was easier that way. “I’ll wait.” She checked her watch. “It’s getting late and I still need to straighten up the house before she shows up.”

By the time they paid up and exited Chet’s, darkness had fallen and the chilly breeze carried zero hint of spring. They reached the parking lot and parted ways. The whole drive to the house, want to or not, Lolli puzzled over the reason for Suze’s visit. By the time she arrived home, her head was pounding again.

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