Release date: September 14, 2023
Publisher: Tonya Kappes Books
Print pages: 428
Reader says this book is...: action-packed (1) entertaining story (5) unputdownable (2) escapist/easy read (2) realistic characters (2) satisfying ending (2) suspenseful (1) rich setting(s) (1) terrific writing (1)
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The spirit of Halloween wafted through the coffee shop, filling hearts with excitement. Neewollah Festival, our town’s annual, beloved celebration of all things autumn, was in full swing.
As the morning sun bathed the boardwalk in a gentle glow, I soaked in the magic of the season seeping through the café walls. The cozy atmosphere spilled out with the laughter of friends who were walking in the door of the Bean Hive Coffee Shop.
“Good morning,” I greeted them as I did every single customer who walked through my coffee-shop door. “Y’all enjoying the festival activities so far?” I asked and ushered them to a table near the front of the coffee shop so they could enjoy their morning coffee with the amazing views of Lake Honey Springs and the fall colors that had painted the trees wrapping around the lake.
“Of course, they are going to the festival.” Eleanor Blackthorn sidled up behind me. She reached around me and put a flyer on the table. “And I sure hope you come to Hollow Manor.”
Eleanor, our spirited historian, had her sights set on breathing new life into the old farm mansion on the outskirts of town. She had a knack for exaggeration, often spinning tales of mythical creatures and haunted happenings. The running joke was how you had to take whatever Eleanor said and cut it in half to get to the truth.
And after she’d inherited the old mansion and told everyone in town how she was going to get it in the historic registry, everyone, including me, had our doubts.
We were all surprised when she did put together a plan and worked over the last few months with Babette Cliff, an event planner who owned All About the Detail.
“We have something for everyone.” Eleanor had a flair for being over the top. Even more than my aunt Maxine Bloom.
And that was saying something.
Eleanor had a wild mane of silver-streaked hair that seemed to have a life of its own. She truly embodied the word “eccentric.” Her wardrobe was an explosion of colors, patterns, and textures, with flowing skirts, mismatched socks, and an array of whimsical accessories. Each piece she wore told a story, reflecting her free-spirited nature and love for all things unique.
No wonder she and Aunt Maxi had been lifelong friends. When I was a child and visited Aunt Maxi every summer, one of my favorite activities was going to visit Eleanor with Aunt Maxi. I would sit and listen to her tell big tales about the town’s history and folklore. However, she often added her own imaginative twists to the tales, weaving elaborate stories of mythical creatures and supernatural happenings. At least, that’s what Aunt Maxi would tell me when we’d get back in the car and I’d be daydreaming of all the stories Eleanor had told me.
“You have to get there early today and pick a pumpkin from the Pumpkin Patch.” She pointed to the flyer that listed all the activities for Hollow Mansion. “There’s a carving station that’s open until five p.m., then you can take your pumpkin over to the judging tables. The winner will be announced at nine p.m. after the big magic show.”
“Thank you,” I interrupted Eleanor politely. “Let me get them caffeinated so they can participate today.”
It was my way of not disrespecting Eleanor as one of my elders but still making sure my customers were taken care of.
“What can I get you started off with?” I asked and didn’t bother writing down what the four of them had ordered, mentally repeating their order in my head as they gave it to me. “While I get your orders made, you’re more than welcome to check out the menu.”
I pointed out the four large chalkboards that hung down from the ceiling over the L-shaped glass countertop.
The first chalkboard menu hung over the pie counter and listed the pies and cookies with their prices. The second menu hung over the tortes and quiches. The third menu before the L-shaped counter curved listed the breakfast casseroles and drinks. Over top the other counter, the chalkboard listed lunch options, including soups, and catering information.
“We have a variety of homemade pastries today, and you can read those over the first chalkboard. As you can see, they are all holiday themed for the festival,” I told them and smiled as I pointed out the tasty treats. “You check out the list, and I’ll be right back.”
Wicked Witch Cupcakes were very rich chocolate cupcakes topped with vibrant green buttercream frosting and a candy witch hat garnish that one of the twins, Shelley and Shanda Riddle, had thought up when we were brainstorming about what we could offer to go with the coffee. They were amazing young women who worked at the Bean Hive after school, weekends, and holidays.
Spooky Spiderweb Donuts were fluffy donuts drizzled with a delicate white glaze in a spiderweb pattern, adorned with a chocolate spider that was so darling.
Pumpkin Patch Pies were mini hand pies with a buttery crust, a hint of pumpkin spice, sprinkled with cinnamon and nutmeg and shaped like tiny pumpkins.
Haunted House Brownies were truly decadent chocolate brownies topped with black icing to resemble a spooky haunted house, complete with ghostly marshmallow shapes.
Shanda’s favorite was the Monster Mash Cookie that she’d come up with. It was a colorful sugar cookie decorated with edible monster faces, featuring googly eyes and mismatched icing. Out of the two, she was the most creative when it came to decorating.
Then, for our more traditional customers, we offered what we were calling the Graveyard Cheesecake Bars, a creamy cheesecake bar on a crumbly chocolate cookie crust, topped with cookie tombstones and gummy worms.
Then I turned our usual macarons into Candy Corn Macarons, delicate, almond-flavored, filled with a sweet, candy-corn-flavored buttercream, capturing the iconic Halloween candy’s colors.
Of course, Bunny had to put her two cents in because she loved my homemade cinnamon rolls. That was easy enough to make into Vampire Bites, where I drizzled a little bloodred glaze on top for a delightfully spooky twist.
I kept the scones the same because they were already perfection, if I had to say so myself. We just changed the name to Witch’s Brew Scones and then paired it with Witch’s Brew Coffee blend.
We had something for everyone, and coming up with all of it made this year’s festival even more fun.
As I left the table with their coffee order in my mind, Eleanor continued right where she left off.
“The last time the Hollow Mansion was open was over fifty years ago when the then-owners had a Halloween party with a magician. Only the curse of Hollow Mansion killed the magician, and it’s been haunted since.” I heard her and looked over my shoulder to see the reaction of the customers.
Eleanor’s eyes, bright and sparkling with curiosity, held a hint of mischief and a touch of mystery as she continued to tell them about the old wives’ tale that’d never been proven.
Her hands twisted in the air, and her eyes seemed to dance with an inner light, making me think she really did believe the old run-down mansion was haunted.
Her voice, as she spun her tales and shared her ambitious plans, was filled with enthusiasm and an infectious energy that had drawn the customers in.
“She’s bad for business,” Bunny scoffed when I walked behind the glass counter, where she was boxing up a few of the Spooky Spiderweb Donuts. “She sounds crazy.” Bunny’s brows knotted. Her gray hair, parted to the side and cut at chin length, framed her worried face.
“She’s harmless,” I said to keep the peace. “Look at them.” I tossed a chin toward the group as I started to make the murdery macchiato concoction, which was literally the basic macchiato with a festive name change for the holiday. “They are enthralled by her story.”
“They are enthralled by her crazy.” Bunny lifted her crooked pointer finger up to her ear and started to gesture the crazy sign, making me laugh. “It’s your coffee shop. I’m just here to help out.”
Bunny Bowowski had been what she called “helping out” since the first week I’d opened the Bean Hive. She and her best friend, Mae Belle Donovan, were my first ever customers that’d made it a morning ritual to hold their gossip session in one of the few café tables that dotted the inside of the cozy shop.
Many times I’d sit at one of the two long window tables with stools butted up to them on each side of the front door while they sipped and gossiped, just waiting for more customers to come in.
It was a time during the revitalization of the boardwalk and Honey Springs itself where the Southern Woman’s Club, along with the town council, had spent a lot of time and effort to grow the economy by putting money into tourism.
Luckily, Aunt Maxi owned the building, and the recent tenants had a restaurant that’d folded, making it easy for something like the coffee shop to move right on in.
I’d found myself at that same time building my new life as a recent divorcee, where I’d fled life as a lawyer to find comfort in the one place that had embraced me like a warm, fuzzy blanket.
Aunt Maxi’s and this little lake town.
Though I wasn’t from Honey Springs or technically grew up there, every summer as soon as my dad’s car would cross the county line, I felt like I was coming home. I was a kid, but I knew my feelings. Every year when summer was over, it felt like a part of my soul had been ripped out of my body.
So naturally, when my soul needed the healing for me to live again, I found myself in Honey Springs, opening up a coffee shop and reconnecting with the teenage boy I’d fallen in love with during the long summer-lake nights.
“See? Look at her.” Bunny smacked the back of her hand on my arm, flinging the crooked finger back to Eleanor, who had found another group coming in the door to hand her flyer to. “Crazy with a capital C. Did you hear me?”
“Yes. I heard you. But I was thinking back to when I was a kid, and I could sit and listen to Eleanor for hours.” I shrugged off Bunny’s concern. She made quite obvious by her harrumph she didn’t like my response.
“Like I said, I’m only here to help you out,” she said again and handed me a small serving tray for the drinks.
“Then you don’t want this?” I turned and plucked an envelope from the stack next to the register with her paycheck in it.
“I didn’t say that now.” Bunny snapped it out of my hand, folded it, and put it in the apron she’d tied around the waist of her housecoat, her usual dress attire even though we had uniform shirts with the Bean Hive’s logo on them.
With the drinks on the tray, I headed back to the customers where they’d decided to enjoy their coffee without anything to eat.
As I made my way around the bustling café, I engaged in lively conversations with our other patrons, eager to ensure their every need was met.
“Is there anything else I can get for you?” I asked, my voice filled with genuine warmth and hospitality. The laughter and animated chatter echoed against the walls as friends gathered to savor moments of connection in the midst of their busy lives.
I picked up some paper wrappers and empty cups along the way, tossing what I could in the trash and the recycle bins as I made my way over to the fireplace.
“You just tell him to move if he’s bothering you.” I pointed to Pepper, my furry schnauzer companion, who thought of the coffee shop as his second home.
The customers didn’t mind him all snuggled up next to them as they sat on the couch letting the fire warm them.
I quickly stacked the coffee magazines and holiday-themed books along with a few nonfiction books about Honey Springs on the coffee table that I’d purchased from Crooked Cat Bookstore at the far end of the boardwalk.
I picked up the magazine with the fall decoration photo on the front and quickly flipped through it. I loved to get decoration ideas for the Bean Hive and my little log cabin.
“See anything you like in there?” Loretta Bebe asked in a singsong Southern drawl as she snuck up behind me.
“I do like how they arranged and stacked the different colored, shapes, and sizes of pumpkins on this front porch,” I said and showed her the photo. “Thanks for the magazine drop-off.”
“It’s my pleasure. I like to flip through them and then spread the wealth.” Loretta wiggled her brows. “And I brought some new ones that’s already showcasing Thanksgiving. Can you believe it?”
The stacks of gold bangle bracelets rattled down on her wrist as she plunged her hand into her pocketbook and took out another stack of magazines.
“I wanted to make sure I dropped these off before we head down to Florida for a few weeks. We are going to see Elliot.” She was referring to her son.
“That’s so nice. How is he?” I asked and put the Halloween-themed magazine back on the coffee table before I took the stack I’d save to put out next month.
“You know, he’s Elliot, but it’s Birdie we are excited to see.” Loretta smiled. She looked around. “Oh! Eleanor is here.” There was excitement in her voice. She shoved her hot-pink painted nails into her short black hair, making it stand a little taller. “She’s early,” she said. “But if you want to get a few of those fancy pumpkins from that photo, you need to come to Hollow Manor. Eleanor has them.”
She winked before she excused herself.
“She’s a one-woman show,” I muttered and picked up the poker to stoke the fire and then put another log on.
“Can I get you anything?” I asked several customers as I walked over to the coffee bar to make sure it was stocked as the morning rush continued.
All of them said they were fine, but I believed in making sure they were catered to. After all, this was my passion, not to mention my livelihood.
The coffee bar had six industrial thermoses with different blends of my specialty coffees as well as one filled with a decaffeinated blend. The coffee bar had everything you needed to take a coffee with you. Even an honor system where you could pay and go.
With it all cleaned and ready for the next round of pay-as-you-go customers, I made my way over to the opposite side where I had a tea bar for our tea-drinking customers.
We offered hot tea and cold tea with a nice selection of gourmet teas and loose-leaf teas. I loved having the antique tea pots from Wild and Whimsy Antique shop, which was also on the boardwalk. The pots were not just a decoration, but customers could enjoy their own pots by making them to their liking.
As I walked past another group, Eleanor’s voice rang out, regaling them with her grand plans for the mansion’s transformation. She painted a vivid picture of a place where the spooky reputation would be embraced, inviting them to experience the thrill of a magician’s spellbinding tricks within its aged walls. The excitement in her voice was palpable, but beneath it all, a sense of unease gnawed at me.
Loretta stood next to her, offering approving head nods.
Glancing around the bustling coffee shop, I caught Bunny’s critical scowl. Her silent disapproval spoke volumes, a reminder of the tensions that lingered between Eleanor and some of the townsfolk. Though the smiles, chatter, and the aroma of steaming coffee filled the air, there was an unsettling feeling that something wasn’t quite right.
I, too, had had my own encounter with the mansion. Something Patrick and I had never talked about since the one afternoon when we were seventeen and decided to see if the tales Eleanor had spun back then were true.
A shiver ran down my spine. The same shiver that’d happened all those years ago after Patrick and I took off running away from the old mansion.
Though I told Eleanor I’d cater the coffee for the big finale tonight, I still couldn’t help but think about what secrets hid in the shadows of the mansion.
I couldn’t shake the feeling that our cozy autumn haven was about to be thrust into a chilling journey where nothing would be as it seemed.
After all, I’d never stepped foot on the mansion grounds since I’d run away.
Little did I know that returning to the Hollow Manor would awaken more than just memories.
END OF EXCERPT
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