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Bad Boy’s Revenge

By:Sosie Frost

Chapter One – Josie



Maybe I was crazy, but the vacant property still smelled an awful lot like burnt sugar.

I never liked the smell, especially since it was a sign something went super wrong in the kitchen. Those were the days I’d stay late, break out the chisels, and chip away chunks of blackened sugar. Life in a candy shop and bakery created one sticky disaster after another, but I had loved it, even when the chocolates seized or the soufflés deflated.

The fire didn’t leave me many candy-making opportunities. Those cookies crumbled a year ago, and I was still sweeping up the mess.

But I swore a smoky scent remained. It wasn’t caramel sweetness or the accidental drip of cake batter in the oven. This was acrid, tacky, and charred. It must have been in my head. Nothing remained of the ashes, fire, or ungodly amounts of sugar the flames consumed.

We had cleared the rubble a year ago, once the state fire marshal completed his report. Sweet Nibbles, my family’s historical bakery and candy shop, was gone. Completely. We had only memories now, though the night of the fire was still a hazy nightmare that trapped my thoughts in the smoke.

A weed poked through the hard-cracked dirt, right where my walk-in refrigerator used to sit. I plucked it, scaring the whiskers off a little mouse surveying my property too. At least he stayed outside permanently now—I lost enough bags of sugar to the greedy little furballs. I never had the heart to kill them, effectively enabling the first generation of diabetic mice in the small town of Saint Christie.

A discarded coffee cup from Anne’s Beans rolled over the grass, and I grabbed it before the mouse dove inside to get his fix. If the property was all I had anymore, I couldn’t let it look unsightly. My family was too proud for that.

At least…we were before.

“Heya, Josie!” Benjamin Ducacas’s voice bellowed over the street. “Good to see you in your old stomping grounds!”

I waved at Benjamin and subtly checked my phone. After five already? That meant Benjamin closed his hardware shop to become the unofficial town-crier. Soon enough, everyone within earshot would know I visited my property.

Benjamin shuffled closer to the lot as he walked—showcased—his prized standard poodle for the town to admire. Or avoid. Probably avoid. The puffed up prize-winner had a bite worse than his owner.

Benjamin was a bit too curious for his own good. “Breaking ground yet?”

I rattled the empty coffee cup. “Got some grounds at least.”

He wagged a finger at me, but I was lucky. He couldn’t delay his nightly walk with Jean-Baptise. Benjamin insisted on a brisk, full-hour of exercise to benefit the poodle’s waistline. The training regimen was strict to qualify the dog for the state championship show…though Jean-Baptise’s preferred path always seemed to lead Benjamin right to Tyler’s burger stand.

“You’ll be re-building again soon enough,” Benjamin said. “Mark my words, little lady. We won’t go another Christmas without your peppermint bark, will we Jean?”

The poodle, as always, feigned indifference to my peppermint bark…but maybe a peppermint howl would earn me a tail wag. I politely smiled. Once a week someone asked about my grand re-opening, but I had no real answer, nothing the townsfolk didn’t already know. We needed money to rebuild, and those were the sorts of secrets everyone had been gossiping for months.

Still, Saint Christie’s main street wasn’t the same without the shop—the quaint historical town grinned like a child missing a tooth. I wasn’t the same either. I missed the shop. I missed baking.

I missed him.

No stoves. No counters. No little ice cream corner with the paisley-striped wallpaper and red, old-fashioned booths. Nothing survived the fire. We had been lucky to make it out. Molten sugar was dangerous enough making homemade candies. I never wanted to be surrounded by it again. Or burning walls. Crushed glass. Collapsing stairs.

Odd how only one year had passed since my little slice of gum-drop heaven got flambéed. Felt longer. Lonelier.

Safer.

“Josie Davis!” A voice shouted over the lot. “You’re on my property!”

Bob Ragen screamed loud enough for Benjamin to hear at the corner of the block—that meant the entire town would hear every word that was exchanged.

I retreated three feet even though it was all my property according to the survey. It appeased the heavy-set grump locking up his sporting goods store.

“And keep out!” Bob pointed a fat finger at me. It wavered in the air. Must have been five o’clock somewhere long ago. “If I told you once, I told you a million times, check the goddamned survey—”

His words slurred, but the malice behind them came through perfectly clear.

“No problem, Bob. I’m leaving now.”

“Good. Stay out.” He grumbled under his breath, shoving his keys in his pocket. “Your family’s driving down the property values—you hear?”

I crossed my arms, my cinnamon fingers twisting in the sleeve of my shirt. “Property values are only low because the store burned down, right Bob?”

“Sure. Whatever.”

He sneered at me, staring only at the bobbing, ebony spiral curls cascading over my shoulders. The headband kept them at bay—for now.

Bob shuffled off the curb, tripping over what remained of his sobriety. “This town was better off fifty years ago…maybe you ought to remember that.”

I preferred to think fifty years ago my grandparents opened their very own business in the town—an instant success thanks in part to Nana’s secret fudge recipe.

She used maple-glazed walnuts.

Made all the difference.

My phone buzzed. The screen read Rayna Insurance, but I doubted the caller was giving me good news. One perk of having my best friend working in at the town’s insurance company—at least Delta could answer questions about settlements and police reports in a timelier manner than her boss.

“Josie-Posie!” Delta achieved a level of hyper I couldn’t fathom without coffee. I figured she was born without wings. Most of the town considered her a manic little pixy; the rest of us knew when to swat her away. “How’s life in the newspaper business?”

It wasn’t so great actually. I treaded a thin line between honesty and hedging, but after today, I fell headfirst into the thorny bushes.

“It’s…” I shrugged. “I don’t think Sean expected me to work there for a whole year—even part-time. He’s a saint for giving me the job, but…it doesn’t feel temporary anymore.”

Delta’s sunshine faded. “Need some wine?”

“I’d rather make some chocolate.” I kicked the patch of grass that was once my stainless steel counters. “Or one of my giant cinnamon rolls. Or…or that vanilla bean ice cream with the butter-rum topping…”

“You’re giving me cavities over here.”

“Dentists loved me.”

“Believe me, no one is more upset about losing your candy store than Dr. Thomas.”

Except me. Except Granddad. Except the rest of the town who ran out of charity only a week after the fire—once the borough peeked in the sewer and saw all re-hardened chocolate clogging the sanitary system. Then the only solace the town received was that justice had been served.

The fire was no accident, but the man they jailed for arson was completely and totally innocent.

A year had passed, and I was no closer to finding the truth. Unfortunately, the legal system didn’t overturn sentences on a hunch, even in Saint Christie. It wouldn’t be safe for any of us until the real criminal was behind bars.

Delta sighed. “Twenty minutes before I can head out. Want to meet me for a drink?”

“Not tonight.”

“Got a hot date?”

Hell no. My last flame was hot enough, and I still burned myself on the embers that remained.

“Not exactly. I have…I have a job. Kinda.”

“Oh! Someone order a cake?”

“Cookies.”

“Yum. What’s the event?”

I wasn’t proud of it, but money was money…even if it came from him.

“Nolan Rhys hired me to bake cookies for his campaign fundraiser.”

The connection crackled, and Delta must have slapped her hand against the console to take me off speakerphone. I held the phone away from my ear, anticipating her screech.

“You’re baking for him?”

“I refused him. Twice. But…then he offered double what the job was worth.”

“Why would you ever work for him? Tell that asshole to send one of his assistants or trained monkeys to the store for some Oreos.”

If only. I had almost been one of his assistants. It would have paid more than my part-time job piecing together ads and answering calls for the Saint Christie Reporter, but I swore a year ago I’d never entertain any offer from Nolan Rhys again.

But…that was before the insurance money dried up. Before Granddad got sick.

Beggars could be choosers only until they were responsible for someone else who required more help. A year ago, I would’ve baked ten dozen cookies into ash and delivered a sack of cinders just to spite Nolan. Unfortunately, a thousand bucks sounded good. We needed everything we could get, especially since Granddad wasn’t getting better, and the nurses at the assisted care facility warned he might never come off the oxygen.

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