What the Heart Wants

What the Heart Wants

Deborah Grace Staley

$14.95 August 2010
ISBN: 978-0-935661979

Book 3 in the Angel Ridge series

Our PriceUS$14.95
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

  • Winner of the 2011 Virginia Romance Writers HOLT MEDALLION for best mainstream/single-title!

Candi Heart is layers of mystery in a very appealing package.

A lethal combination for Sheriff Grady Wallace.

With a nickname like "Candi Heart" and a plan to open a frilly lingerie and perfume shop called Heart's Desire, Lark Hensley knows she may raise some eyebrows by moving to quiet little Angel Ridge, Tennessee. She hopes no one remembers that the women in her family were once accused of being seductive witches by townsfolk, and that decades ago her moonshiner grandpa committed a deadly crime. Lark has questions she can't answer and secrets she doesn't want to share, especially with Angel Ridge Sheriff Grady Wallace, even if Grady is hard to resist.

Grady falls hard and quick for the new mystery woman in town, though he's determined to find out what she's hiding. Angel Ridge's one-woman Welcome Committee, Dixie Ferguson, has taken a liking to Candi Heart, and Dixie's instincts about newcomers are rarely wrong. But maybe not this time . . .

Grady never intended to follow the Wallace family tradition of lawmen, but when his father died young, rebellious Grady grew quickly into the role of staunch town defender. Candi Heart may not have meant to bring trouble to his town, but she has.

Someone does remember her family. That someone wants her to leave . . . or to die. An unknown driver tries to run her down. Her shop is broken into. Rumors begin to swirl.

Suddenly Grady is caught between his duty and his heart's desire for Candi Heart.


"The third Angel Ridge romance (see Home for Christmas and Only You) is a fun contemporary regional romance with an engaging suspense subplot." -- Harriet Klausner - THE WORLD OF ROMANCE

"This is a must-read in my book, and it's a story I know I will read again." -- Long and Short Reviews


Copyright © 2010 by Deborah Grace Staley


The misty morning fog hugged her body like a lover's embrace. As it swirled about her, she tipped her head back, long dark hair a shadow shifting down her back as she rotated her neck from side to side, a worshipful expression transforming her face.

She extended her arms with palms up to the sky as she communed one-on-one with the Creator. A thin, white linen gown, made nearly translucent by the cool mountain mist, clung to her body. The music of the hills sang through the tall pines—the cry of the hawk soaring majestically overhead, the sound of the gentle deer and her fawn making their way to the creek, squirrels scurrying to put up their nuts for winter, and rabbits stilled and watched, not wanting to intrude on her sacred meditations. The pungent scent of the earth rose to mingle and blend with her own.

She was one with these mountains that had sheltered and nurtured generations of the women who were her ancestors—her heritage. But even as she communed completely and easily on Laurel Mountain with the Creator and His wondrous nature, something troubled and intruded on her meditations. A curiosity... no, a need for a different kind of communion. One with people not of the mountain, but rather the outsiders of the Ridge.

She couldn't explain the call of Angel Ridge. Women before her, like her mother, had experienced the same longing, had tried to assimilate with the people below the mountain and had been cruelly rejected, returning to the mountain to live a singular existence.

The prospects of such a life quickly brought hot, soul-wrenching tears to the surface. She stilled as they fell from her eyes, scalding her face, fracturing her peace. She lowered her hands and focused on the town on the other side of the river—Angel Ridge. She was all alone now. The time had come to make the town on the far ridge her home. Surely her peace must be there, somewhere in this strange longing she had inside, because the mountain of her ancestors had held no contentment for her since her grandmother's death.

The spirit of the mountain and her grandmother would go with her, guiding her steps. She'd only need to close her eyes and look to the mountain to hear their voices. They would comfort her if times became hard. On her deathbed, Aunt Ruby had told her hearts on the Ridge had been prepared to accept her, but that there would also be those who would not welcome her. She'd have to use her gift of discernment to recognize those she should trust from the others.

She'd seek shelter in new friendships even though she'd never known a friend or had anyone her own age to talk to. How she craved for this new kind of communion. She prayed there would be those in the town who would welcome her as the mountain always had, but perhaps these bonds would take time to form. Patience and caution should be her first friends.

She would go now and find her place there. She must, or she sensed she would never again know peace.

"Lark! You there, girl?”

"I'm here, Uncle Billy!” She scrambled down the slope to the back door of the cabin. Stripping off her nightgown, she stepped into the dark cotton skirt she'd laid out the night before and hurriedly buttoned her shirt. "Coming!”

She jammed her arms into her sweater and lifted the old, hard suitcase, weathered brown with age, that she'd filled with her things. It had been her mother's—the one she'd packed all her things into the day she'd left Laurel Mountain to settle in Angel Ridge. Shivering as she gripped the handle, she looked around the cabin one last time. The uneasiness was still there. Why wouldn't it leave her be?

She closed the cabin door and rushed down the well-worn path to the river bank. Uncle Billy sat in his fishing boat. The deep lines of his face told his age to be only a few less than his sister, her precious grandmother. She smiled and handed him her suitcase.

Instead of taking it, he said, "You sure about this, girl?”

"Yes, sir.” She said the words, but the uneasiness settled in her core like a dark warning she ought to heed.

The old man took her suitcase and stowed it under a seat. "You've got the look of your mama, exceptin' for your Aunt Ruby's eyes.”

"She always said it was so I could see the world right and true, because my mama never did.” That was about all Aunt Ruby had ever told her about her mama.

"I reckon she was right.” He jammed his hat down on his head, then without looking at her, said, "You know, you don't have to live in Angel Ridge. You can live in Maryville just as well.”

"I thought of that, but if I'm in Angel Ridge, at least I'll know three people—you, Aunt Verdi and Miss Estelee. I know y'all will be there for me if I need you.”

He nodded, but his mouth was set. He turned and pulled the line to start the motor. The gas smell hung in the moist heavy morning mist, settling in her throat. She coughed as they slowly pulled away from the riverbank. She looked up at the mountain trying to get one last look at the cabin she'd called home most of her life, but the mountain mist clung to the trees and bushes, obscuring its rough lines.

She closed her eyes, the memory of it etched on her mind. She'd make a good life for herself in Angel Ridge. She had to. There was nothing for her on the mountain. Everyone had left years ago. But Aunt Ruby had refused to leave, so Lark had stayed on until her passing.

It had been her elders' time, just as now it was her time—time to follow her heart and her dreams to see what would come of them.

The crossing was slow because the lake that separated the mountain from the other side was wide. After a time, Uncle Billy pulled the boat alongside the little dock he'd built at the edge of his property. Standing, he tied it up just as the sun rose over the backside of the mountain. He lifted her suitcase onto the dock, hopped up alongside it, then offered her a hand.

She stepped out of the boat, smoothing her skirt and looking around. Not much had changed. His meager house sat on a little rise with a view of the river and the mountain.

"I'll give you a ride into town, then. My truck's just up there.”

"Thank you.”

"Where will you stay?”

"I'm not sure. Maybe Miss Estelee's. She's the only person in town I really know. And, Uncle Billy, I'll be callin' myself Candi now, so please don't call me Lark in front of anyone.”


"It reminds me of Aunt Ruby. It was her nickname for me. She always said I was sweet as candy.” She got in the truck and after her uncle had settled behind the wheel, said, "Uncle Billy, you think it'd be best if folks didn't know Aunt Ruby was my grandmamma?”

He raked a hand down his weathered face, considering. In the end, he nodded his agreement and started the truck. "Not everybody understands mountain ways.”

"Was that why my mama had trouble when she moved to Angel Ridge? Folks knew she was Aunt Ruby's daughter?”

"Your mama went about tryin' to belong here all wrong.”

"It must be hard trying to figure out how to get on in a world that's different from anythin' you ever knew.”

"Some people up there don't have no happiness in 'em, and they got a lot of say. So, don't be surprised if makin' a place for yourself in that town takes some doin'.”

"Do you think anyone will remember my mama?”

Uncle Billy looked at her long and hard. "It's been a lot of years... for your sake, I hope not.”

As they started on the road to her new life, the uneasiness in her middle twisted painfully, and she wrapped her thin sweater closer around her.

"Drop me at the end of Main Street, Uncle Billy.”

He didn't speak, but his silence did. Maybe he was remembering what happened to her mother. She might have asked him to tell her the story Aunt Ruby had not, but Candi kept silent as well. Whatever had happened to her mother in Angel Ridge all those years ago needed to stay locked in the past. Aunt Ruby always said that diggin' up bones just made holes to fall into. Best to let 'em lie.

Uncle Billy pulled over, and the old truck rattled to a stop. Rusty hinges spoke their protest as Candi opened the door and stepped out into the chill, gray morning.

Mist hovered on the lake below and obscured the mountain she'd called home her entire life. Fitting, that. She should look at what was in front of her and not what was behind. She closed the door and lifted her suitcase out of the truck bed. Uncle Billy drove away, leaving her alone on the brick sidewalks of Angel Ridge.

Candi closed her eyes, drew in a long, cleansing breath and then put one foot in front of the other. Signs in shop windows read, "Closed,” but some lights were on behind the wide windows of the storefronts. One man swept the sidewalk outside Wallace's Grocery. He looked up as if to call out a greeting as she came near, but words died half spoken on his lips. He gripped his broom, rubbed his eyes, blinked, and then looked at her again. As if not liking what he saw, he hurried into his shop and locked the door.

She stopped, puzzled by his strange reaction, but then kept moving. She felt the man's eyes on her as he watched her from his store's windows. Uneasiness crept up the back of her neck, but she kept moving.

Shops lined both sides of the street that U-ed at the end to come around to the other side. Fading grass took up the middle holding park benches, a large gazebo, and a great bronze angel perched atop a brick pedestal. Fitting for a town that legend told was named for an angel that saved its earliest settlers from an Indian attack.

Candi walked down the street passing the drug store and soda fountain, McKay's Bank & Trust, around the horseshoe where the library stood, the courthouse, the Baptist Church and the Presbyterian. On the other side of the street, there was a lawyer's office, an empty storefront, another building with offices, the post office, and a hardware store which stood separate from the line of storefronts. Each one was a different color: black, brown, blue, yellow, and the vacant one, which drew her attention, was pink.

She'd planned and dreamed of having a shop most of her life, one filled with all the color and activity that had been lacking in her life on the mountain. She'd even come off the mountain for a time to study at vocational school so she'd be ready when the time came. She had a storage shed full of promise, waiting for the dream to become reality.

A "For Rent” sign with a telephone number on it stood in the corner of a wide bay window. Candi pressed her face to the glass trying to make out what might be inside. The front room was empty, and it looked like the space was narrow and deep. She backed up a pace to look up. Windows above promised that maybe a living space could be arranged upstairs.

Well, pink certainly would be the right color for someone named ‘Candi.' The thought brought a smile to her face.

Candi turned to look around the early morning town devoid of activity. Diagonally across the street was a restaurant with a rustic sign that read, "Ferguson's Diner.” A red, flashing neon sign that declared it "Open” invited people to come inside. Maybe she could ask someone there about the pink building.

As she approached the red brick building with cheery yellow and white striped awnings, she could see through the long row of large windows that the diner was crowded. Candi hesitated. Not being used to them, crowds made her uncomfortable. She took a deep breath to shore up her courage and opened the door. A bell clanged alerting that a new customer had arrived. It seemed that all eyes focused on her, curious about the stranger who had just walked in.

"Good mornin',” a woman bustling behind the counter said. "Come in and take a seat. I'll be with you in a second.”

People focused back on their meals and conversations. Candi sat at the bar and removed her knit cap. She smoothed a hand over her hair.

The tall, smartly dressed red-haired woman soon returned and placed a thick white cup in front of her. She poured coffee and said, "What can I get you, hon?” She took a pencil and an order pad from her apron pocket. Candi frowned. That pocket was big red lips. Interesting.

"Um... Nothing, thank you. I was wondering if you could tell me who's renting the pink building in town.”

"The beauty shop?”

"Is that what it is?”

"Yeah. The lady who ran it moved about a year ago. You thinkin' to rent it?”

"I'm not sure.”

"Well, Bud DeFoe owns that and most of the other buildings on that side of Main. He runs the hardware store just across the street.” She put her pad and pencil away and added, "He's usually here this time of day, but he had to see to a truck unloadin' a shipment of lumber this morning.”

"Thank you.”

The woman leaned against the counter and said, "You're new in town.”

It wasn't a question. "Yes.”

"I'm Dixie Ferguson.”

Dixie Ferguson... she must own the diner. She had a warm smile that reached her eyes and seemed like a nice person, but Candi couldn't be sure on such short acquaintance. Better to keep her guard up until she knew her better.

"My name is Candi. I'm pleased to meet you.”

"Likewise.” Dixie grabbed a cloth and swiped at the counter. "What brings you to Angel Ridge?”

"I'm looking to settle here. Thought maybe I'd open a business.”

"You're a hair dresser then?”

"No. I just liked the building. It... stands out.”

Dixie smiled. "It does that. I'm partial to pink myself, as you can see.”

Now that she mentioned it, Candi noticed that Dixie was dressed in a pink turtleneck sweater with a fuchsia floral scarf that matched the lips on her pink apron.

"So, what kind of shop you thinkin' about opening?”

Candi shrugged. "I was thinking of opening a sundries shop.”


"This and that.”

Dixie frowned, but nodded and said, "I see. Well, if you need any advice on getting business licenses and navigating town ordinances, let me know. It'll be nice to have another woman running a business in town.”

"That's very kind. Thank you, ma'am.”

"Please, call me Dixie. ‘Ma'am' makes me sound like somebody's mother, and I'm not about to be a mother anytime soon.”

Candi smiled. "Dixie, then.”

"Order up!” someone called from the back.

"Duty calls. You sure I can't get you anything to eat? Never let it be said that someone left Ferguson's Diner hungry.”

"I should be gettin' on.” She had a lot to do before the sun set, the most important of which was finding somewhere to stay until she found a place of her own. "I'll try to come by for supper.”

"You do that. Fried chicken's the special tonight.” Dixie turned and impressively took up four plates of steaming food. "Welcome to Angel Ridge,” she said, and headed to a booth in the back to drop off the food to waiting customers.

Candi left a dollar on the counter for the coffee, then stood, picked up her suitcase, and headed for the door. A beauty shop... that might make people happy, especially since there didn't seem to be another one in town. But becoming a beautician would require going to school, and she needed income now. She had some money that her Aunt Ruby had left for her, but she wasn't sure how long it would last.

She had to be practical. Aunt Ruby had taught her to have good common sense if nothing else. Rely on what you know and what seems practical, that's what she'd say to her if she was standing next to her right now. She'd had a plan when she come off the mountain. No need to be changin' things now. Just because the building had once been a beauty shop didn't oblige her to keep it a beauty shop. She needed money now, and that meant sticking to what she knew. She was passable good at arranging flowers, and she would sell the salves and tonics that Aunt Ruby had taught her to make. Everyone liked flowers and they would also like the natural remedies. And then there were the clothes and such she'd been collecting since school to sell. That was it. Stick to the plan. It was a good plan.

She stepped back out on the sidewalk, the bright sunshine and a sense of rightness lightening the uneasy feeling in her stomach a bit. She took a breath and crossed the street to the hardware store. Might as well talk to this Mr. DeFoe. If the money in Aunt Ruby's strong box wasn't enough to rent out a shop, better to know now so she could make other plans.

Chapter 1

An hour later, Candi was unlocking the front door to the pink building that might become her shop. The rent sounded reasonable. In fact, she had more than enough money to get by for a few months. But, what did she really know about what reasonable rent was? Mr. DeFoe had said he was gonna be tied up with that lumber shipment a little bit longer, so he'd sent her ahead with the key and a promise of meeting her in half an hour to see if she was still interested.

Dixie had mentioned helping her with getting business licenses and something about town ordinances. And then there was the matter of her lying about her name. Could she sign a lease and get licenses all under a false name? What if they checked her out and figured out she was a fraud? What then?

Candi stepped inside the cool interior of the building and smoothed a hand over her hair after removing her knit cap. Clearly there was more to think through than just finding a place to have a business. She wished she had someone to talk to. Someone she was certain she could trust. Maybe she'd plain old put the cart before the horse. No matter. She was here. Might as well have a look around.

Mr. DeFoe had told her the shop included a room upstairs. At first she'd thought that if she decided to rent the place, maybe she could live there, but she'd been disappointed to learn that it would take a day or so to get the utilities turned on. He'd also said something about a town ordinance prohibiting residential spaces on Main Street.

Candi sighed. Oh, well. She wasn't really all that keen on living in town anyway. She was used to living off the land. A small house with room for a garden where she could raise the herbs and flowers she'd need for her natural remedies would be more the thing. She'd ask around about rentals, but first, she'd have to find a place to stay tonight.

One thing at a time. First, she would explore the shop. The front room was wide, with dark wood floors. A bay window next to the front door allowed plenty of light and would be good for a display. She'd have to see about getting a sign, but she'd need to decide on a name first. Candi's Sundry Shop? No, too long.

Candi followed a long hallway towards the back of the building. Part way back, she found a door to the right with another directly across from it. Large matching rooms opened up beyond the doorways. This was more space than she'd imagined when she'd thought of having her own shop. There was plenty of room for displaying different kinds of merchandise. She loved the high ceilings with decorative punched tin and antique ceiling fans hanging down. Those would be nice in the summer.

Still, what would she do with all this space? The front room would work for candies and flowers. The two rooms off the long hallway leading to the back were much larger than the front of the shop. She hadn't considered having to spread things out, but she could have two boutiques to sell different kinds of clothing. She could divide up the skincare and perfumes between them, too. She could call it Candi's Boutique. She liked the sound of it, but wondered if it made it sound like clothes were all she was selling.

She returned to the hallway and continued to the back of the shop. This is where the previous owner had operated her beauty shop. Here there were sinks and cabinets against the walls with mirrors and chairs with hair dryers attached to them. There were even raised chairs with tubs at their base. She wondered what those were for. They looked like foot baths. Very strange.

Whatever would she do with all this equipment? The practical thing to do would be to advertise for a hair dresser, but she wasn't sure she wanted to share the space with a stranger. Still, she'd give it some thought.

This was a huge room. It was near as big as the dining room at Ferguson's. A room opened off the far side of it that had shelving and a worktable in the middle. This would be a good space to store her herbs, dried flowers, oils, and other ingredients she would use to make her remedies. The heavy door would help keep the inside nice, dry and cool. She'd stored a good many dried herbs, flowers, and some jars of creams and essential oils in the spring house in anticipation of setting up her shop. After she let the shop, she'd have Uncle Billy take her back to the mountain so she could get them.

"Hello?” A deep, masculine voice called from the front.

The voice did not belong to Mr. DeFoe. Candi backed out of the storeroom, and cautiously replied, "Who's there?”

A tall man with wide shoulders wearing a uniform appeared in the back room almost as soon as Candi got the words out.

"I think that's my line.”

A frown creased the man's wide brow, and a badge on his jacket declared him a lawman. His hand rested on his gun as he eyed her suspiciously. That made him the second person in town today who'd looked at her that way. Aunt Ruby said to never trust a lawman because they were all crooked, always looking for something to harass you about. She felt her hackles rising.

"I'm perusing the shop, sir. Mr. DeFoe gave me the key.” She held it up for him to see. "I might be interested in renting it.”

He took off his dark brown cowboy-style hat and raked a hand through reddish-brown hair cut short, but not short enough to conceal its tendency to wave. A ruddy complexion and freckles that went along with his hair color sprinkled across his nose and cheeks making him look younger than the creases on his forehead indicated. A jagged scar on his chin marred what might have otherwise been wholesome features.

"My apologies, ma'am.” He approached and held out a hand, "I'm Sheriff Grady Wallace.”

Candi reluctantly gave him her hand, but retrieved it after only a brief shake.

"When I was making my rounds this morning, I noticed the front door standing open and came in to check it out. This building's been empty for nearly a year now, so naturally, seeing that door open led me to believe that someone had broken in.”


"Well, sure. Someone might have been looking for shelter for the night, or teenagers could have been up to some mischief.”

"Well, I'm not a teenager, and I didn't spend the night here, nor would I,” she said.

"Oh, I wasn't implying that you would.”

"What were you implying, then?”

"I'm sorry. I didn't get your name.”

"I didn't give it.”

He took a breath, twirled his hat on his hand, and smiled. "How about if we start over.”

She stared at him blankly. She had no idea what he meant.

"I'm Sheriff Grady Wallace,” he said and extended his hand again.

She looked at it, frowning. "We already shook.”

He smiled again, like he wanted to put her at ease, and twirled his hat again. "I apologize for bustin' in on you. I imagine I must have given you a fright.”

"You did that.”

"You have me at a disadvantage. You know my name, but I don't know yours.”

Great. She'd have to give him her name. He'd asked her point blank. She sighed and said, "Candi.”

"Just Candi?”


"Excuse me?”

"My name is Candi Heart, sir.” Candi Heart? Saying it out loud to a stranger, it sounded stupid and unnatural. What was wrong with her? She should have decided on Jones or Smith or Collins or anything, but Heart? At first, she'd thought it was catchy and memorable, but now she just thought it sounded like some kind of fancy lady. She was not that kind of lady.

He chuckled and rubbed his fingertips across the scar on his chin. "Your name is Candi Heart?”

"Yes, sir. I reckon you could say my mama had a sense of humor.” She waited and watched, hoping the explanation made the lie go down easier.

"Please, call me Grady.”

"Oh, I couldn't.”

"Why's that?”

"Because you're the law, and a body ought to show the proper respect.”

"Well, Ms. Heart, we don't much stand on ceremony around here. If you're plannin' to live in Angel Ridge, you'll find that out soon enough.”

Candi didn't know what to say to that, so she didn't say anything at all. He was quite a bit taller than her, and the fact that he was the sheriff, and that he still had a hand on his gun, made her uncomfortable. She remembered again Aunt Ruby's warning about lawmen. Best to not say too much.

"So, you're a hair dresser?”

He sure was nosey, askin' all his questions. "No, sir.”

"I'm sorry. I just assumed that you might be since you're thinking to rent Madge's old shop.”

Candi continued to watch the man carefully. He seemed completely at ease. Confident and in control. Wonder how he did that when she felt like she might bust right out of her skin? She wished he'd get on his way.

"Mr. DeFoe will be coming by soon, and I'd like to look around a bit more before he comes, if that's all right with you... sir,” she added.

"Of course. I'm sorry to hold you up.” He put his hat back on, and smiled widely this time. "I'll just be on my way. But first, I need you to do something for me.”

Candi frowned. What could she possibly do for him? Still, she'd be crazy to get cross-wise of the law her first day in town. "I'll do my best, sir.”

"Call me Grady.”

"I couldn't—”

He held up a hand, halting her words. "Now, I insist. You callin' me ‘sir' makes me feel old before my time.”

Dixie Ferguson had said near the same thing earlier, but that was different. She could call Dixie by her first name because she ran a diner where interacting with people on a personal level was appropriate. This, however, was the sheriff. She couldn't imagine ever calling him by his given name.

"I'm just bein' respectful, sir. It's nothin' to do with your age. It's to do with who you are—the sheriff.”

"I appreciate that, but if it's just the same to you, I'd like you or anyone else in town to call me Grady. I've lived here my whole life, and as I said, we don't stand on ceremony in Angel Ridge.” He looped a thumb in his gun belt and rocked back on his heels. "Would you be willing to give it a try?”

She took a breath and tried to at least act like she had relaxed into his easy manner, but found it terribly difficult. She chewed her lower lip, considering, and then said, "I'd be willin' to try, say in a week or so, but certainly not with my just havin' met you. I'm sorry, sir.”

Her words made a frown crease his brow again. "You mind me asking you where you're from?”

She'd had about enough of his questions. "Yes, sir. I do.”

"Why's that?”

"Meanin' no disrespect, but unless I've done something wrong and there's some official-like reason that you'd be askin', I don't see as it's any of your business.”

"I see.” He pulled the brim of his hat down lower on his forehead. "My apologies. I don't mean to offend. Most folks around here would call asking a newcomer in town where they're from just makin' conversation.”

"Is that why you asked? Because you were just ‘makin' conversation?'” She looked deep into his hazel-colored eyes to discern the truth of his words. He looked right back.

"I was just curious. Your accent isn't like what you hear in our foothills. It has the sound of the mountains in it.”

So, he was an observer of people and their ways. Candi supposed he'd need to be in his line of work. She'd have to work on being more neighborly. If she was going to run a shop, folks would expect her to be friendly, but she didn't see how that meant she had to tell everybody her business. Still, she'd do well to hold to Aunt Ruby's old sayin', You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

"You're right, Sheriff. I am from the mountains.” She'd let him take that as he would. She wasn't about to tell him she was from Laurel Mountain.


"Back here, Bud.”

The sheriff called out to Mr. DeFoe, but didn't break eye contact with her. Let him look as long as he wants, Candi thought. He's not gonna see anything but a stranger who's just arrived in Angel Ridge.

"What are you doin' here, Grady?”

At last he looked away to speak to Mr. DeFoe. Finally able to breathe again, Candi took a long, deep breath of the cool musty air filling the back room.

"Like I was tellin' Ms. Heart here, I was doin' my morning rounds and saw the front door to the building standin' wide open. Since the place has been vacant for so long, I figured I ought to check it out.”

Mr. DeFoe slapped the sheriff on the shoulder and offered him his hand. "Well, I'm much obliged, Grady. Appreciate you keepin' an eye on things around town.”

The sheriff took Mr. DeFoe's hand. "That's what you pay me for, Bud.”

"That it is.”

"I'll leave you to your business, then.” The sheriff swung his gaze back to Candi and touched the brim of his hat. "A pleasure meetin' you, Ms. Heart.”

Candi nodded, but didn't say anything. Words sometimes were unnecessary.

"Bud,” he nodded to Mr. DeFoe and left them alone.

"Well, what do you think about the place, little lady?”

Candi's gaze remained focused on the doorway that the sheriff had disappeared through.

"Ms. Heart? Candi?”

Candi blinked and looked back at Mr. DeFoe. "I beg your pardon, sir. You were sayin'?”

"The shop. What do you think?”

"It might do. It's more space than I need. I haven't looked upstairs yet, but I'm not sure that matters much since the downstairs is the retail space. I guess it'd do for storage.” She moved around, looking. "Needs cleanin' and the walls could do with a fresh coat of paint.”

"Oh sure, sure. We'll take care of all that if you decide you want the place.”

She thought he was eyein' her funny, and she didn't like it none too much. The look in his eye put her in a mind of that man across the street she'd seen first thing this morning.

"As you can see, it's been empty for some time. The McKay woman that owns the bank across the way has been after me night and day to get some businesses operatin' in some of these vacant buildings on this side of the street. Says so many empty storefronts and offices makes the town look rundown.” He took off his cap and rubbed his shiny head. "I guess when you're rich as Midas, recessions and bad economies don't bother you none too much.”

Candi folded her arms and tried to get a read on Mr. DeFoe. "I suppose not.”

"Tell you what. I'll make you a deal. You sign a twelve months' lease on the place by the end of this week, and I'll give you the first two months rent free and waive the security deposit. After all, the place ain't doin' nobody any good standin' empty.”

"That's a generous offer.” But still, Candi had to settle some things in her mind. Her instincts told her to rent it, but she didn't want to make any rash decisions. Better that she at least sleep on it. "I'll be in touch by the end of the week, then.”

Candi held out the key, and Mr. DeFoe reluctantly took it.

"All right then. You stay as long as you want and look around. I'll come back by later to lock the place up.”

"Thank you.” He was still giving her that peculiar look. So she said, "You're looking at me in a familiar manner, sir. I don't mind sayin', it makes me a mite uneasy.”

Mr. DeFoe blinked and leaned back on his heels. He wadded his cap in his hand. The older man looked to be somewhere in his sixties, bald on top with neatly trimmed gray hair on the sides. He was average height with a bit of a paunch. His clear blue eyes held a sadness that had Candi looking away.

"Forgive me. I don't mean no disrespect. It's just that you remind me of somebody I knew a long time ago.”

Candi nodded, but still didn't look in his eyes. She didn't want to know about the hurt and secrets that lived there. She had enough trouble of her own. Then, all of a sudden, it hit her. Oh Lord, what if he'd known her mother? That was trouble she didn't need just now.

"I'll just be going then,” he said.

She nodded and kept her back to him as he left, holding her breath. When she heard the front door open and close, she let it out long and slow. With everyone gone now, Candi shook off that unsettled feeling Mr. DeFoe had left her with and looked around the shop, imagining the possibilities. Possibilities she hadn't considered when she'd been dreamin' of this day back on the mountain. She felt elated at the prospect of running her own business, overwhelmed at the responsibility, but mostly, she experienced a feeling that had been her constant, cold companion these many years.


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