Authors: Melissa Hale
rning After © 2014 Melissa Hale
All Rights Reserved. This ebook is for your personal enjoyment and may not be resold
All characters, locations, and situations in this book are fictional and a product of the author’s imagination.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form.
"Men suck!" Erica fumed, letting the back door slam shut behind her. She saw Zoe's face appear in the window of the door to the shop before she pushed it open.
"So I take it the nightingale act didn't go over well." Zoe had a classic mild expression that betrayed nothing of her thoughts or emotions. Erica wished she could perfect that look. She tossed her purse into her office and it landed with a thud on the desk.
"I caught the no good, lying bastard in bed with that twelve year old
chippy from next door! In bed!"
"Twelve?" Zoe looked horrified and Erica winced slightly.
"She's not really twelve, more like twenty two," she grumbled. Zoe let out a sigh of relief. "But she acts twelve! All the bubbly giggling. It's disgusting!" Erica pulled her apron over her head and tied it with jerking motions. "I mean he was in bed with her, they were... you know..."
"Fucking?" Zoe supplied. "It's okay Erica you can say the word, you're an adult."
"Shut up Zoe," Erica said without heat. "I am so done with men."
"I am going to switch to women. How 'bout it? You interested?"
"Listen Honey I love you, I'm just not in love with you." Zoe patted Erica's shoulder gently. Erica felt herself smile for the first time since walking in on her now ex-boyfriend and the blond strumpet from across the hall. She took a deep breath and let it out in a whoosh.
"I love you Zoe. If you could just marry me and father my children I could live happily ever after," she whined.
"Unfortunately, we all have our short comings and mine is that I don't have a cock." Zoe sighed. Erica actually laughed out loud at that.
"That is a plus actually. It's the other gender that keeps breaking my heart."
"Your heart's not broken," Zoe scoffed.
"What are you talking about? I just caught my boyfriend in... in... in..."
delicto?" Zoe supplied and Erica glared.
"With another woman!
What else would I be but heartbroken?"
"You're not heartbroken. You're just pissed because he ruined your five year plan."
"How do you know?"
"Because if you really cared about the man you’d be in tears."
Erica glared at her friend. She hated it when Zoe was right. Which was most of the time. Thankfully she was saved from having to admit it by the chime on the front door indicating a customer. They both turned and headed back into the shop.
Together Erica and Zoe owned and operated 'The Morning After' a small coffee shop that had a great location in
Edgepark California. A bedroom community of Sacramento. The location brought the best of both worlds, those looking for a fast cup on their way to somewhere else and the corporate suits that needed the fuel to get through the day. Erica felt her professional life was a success. She and Zoe had scrimped and saved to open this place two years ago and it was doing great. Zoe was her best-friend, had been since grade school. She was a great business partner too. She had majored in business while Erica herself had majored in marketing. Yeah her professional life was exactly as she wanted it. It was her personal life that was in disarray. It was more than the most recent dud of a boyfriend. She wanted a family. She had been a late in life 'surprise' to her parents. They were both gone now and there had never been any grandparents or aunts, uncles, and cousins. Zoe was like a sister but it wasn't the same. She wanted a child of her own. Someone to wrap her life around. Unfortunately, finding a father for that child was proving difficult. She refused to be a single parent, not on purpose anyway. She felt she owed it to her child to give him or her both parents. Now thinking about it she had to admit Marco probably wouldn't make the best father. It was his family that had drawn her anyway. He had a huge Italian family. There were so many of them, all loud and in everyone's business. It was great, exactly the kind of family she always wanted. As she sat there thinking about it she wondered if any of Marco's many brothers or cousins were available. She sighed shaking her head. Zoe was right her heart wasn't engaged in this.
"That was an ominous sigh." Zoe commented as she handed a coffee concoction across the counter to one of their regulars. "One chocolate
joe, extra creamy; thanks Karen, have a great day!" she finished, before focusing her intense green gaze back on her. Erica squirmed slightly not wanting to reveal what she'd been thinking.
"I was just wondering if Marco was having fun scrubbing his carpet." Zoe's brows drew together in confusion. "I left a trail of pasta
fagioli across his precious white carpet." Zoe's mouth dropped open, then she grinned.
"Good for you! But I thought you were taking him chicken soup because he was sick?"
"He doesn't like chicken soup."
"How can anyone not like chicken soup?” Zoe cried, “That's un-American.
Italian bastard!" Erica laughed. A customer approached the counter preventing her from commenting.
"Welcome to Morning After, what can I get you?" The guy at the counter was wearing jeans and a T-shirt. He wasn't bad looking but his eyes were glued firmly to her chest. She was used to it. In fact, in a tongue-n-cheek move she’d had their aprons made a form fitting black with white
letters across the chest. Hers said ‘honey’ and Zoe's said ‘sugar’. Most people assumed it was her name. Not that she really cared.
"How 'bout a last night?"
The guy grinned at his own joke but Erica wasn't amused and after the day she’d had, she didn't feel like faking it. She had worked as a bartender before opening her shop. It was good training for dealing with guys like this. She didn't smile she didn't even blink just continued to stare at him until he awkwardly placed his order.
joe and make it sticky." She called out the code for a Carmel latte.
"Aggie is out early today." Zoe observed a short time later. Erica looked up and saw an elderly woman pushing a shopping cart up the sidewalk. Aggie was a homeless woman who had been walking the same route as long as they'd been in business. Erica poured a cup of coffee and put two sugars in it just like Aggie liked it. Then she grabbed a cellophane wrapped sandwich from the cooler case and walked out the front door.
"You know I can't take that child." Aggie rasped as she approached.
"Now Aggie; you know I have to throw them out at the end of the day. You are just helping me out, saving me the effort."
"Just this one time." Aggie relented.
"Okay, see you tomorrow." Erica called cheerily. She turned back to the shop just as one of the regulars was approaching. He waited and held the door for her. Erica smiled her thanks.
"Joe." she called the minute she stepped in. The man smiled and made his way toward his usual table by the wall. She watched him while Zoe got his coffee. Boring Joe. That was the name of his order since it was straight black coffee but it had become his name as well. He was always impeccably dressed in a dark colored suit. Never a hair out of place or a spot on his tie. If nothing else he was a creature of habit. His order was always the same. He always arrived promptly at four thirty and left promptly at five thirty when they closed. He would spend the hour on his laptop. He didn't say much but he was unfailingly polite when he did speak. She couldn't complain about his presence though, he was certainly nice to look at. He was handsome without being pretty. With short dark hair and eyes so blue you could tell they were blue from across the room. She was sure he didn't have any trouble finding a date. But his ring finger was bare. He was husband material, he was steady and dependable but he was boring. Having recently realized that she would have to figure love into her plan she knew she could never be happy with straight laced and boring. She was going to need a little excitement a little spontaneity. He screamed predictability.
"Here you go." She placed the cup on the small round table beside his laptop. "Can I get you anything to eat to go with it?"
"No thanks." He smiled and pushed the five dollar bill on the table toward her but she waved him off.
"It's on me today," she said as she walked away.
"Uh-oh, bad day?" Surprised by the statement she turned back. He must have read the surprise on her face because he elaborated. "I've noticed you are very philanthropic on bad days." philanthropic, she thought there's a ten dollar word. Unfortunately, he was right. Giving things away made her feel good and she did it when she was feeling down.
“If you knew what the markup was on black coffee you wouldn’t think I was a philanthropist,” she grinned. "Besides it isn’t anything a night out won’t cure.”
“I know a great place on the edge of town. They have live music.” Erica felt a spark of interest even as she was shaking her head and a blush was creeping up her cheeks.
“I wasn’t fishing. I don’t date customers.”
“That’s too bad. It’s hard to find good coffee.” She smiled but beat a hasty retreat before those bright blue eyes made her forget he was all wrong for her.
Ethan watched her go, cursing his lack of tact. He'd never felt so ill at ease. It was driving him crazy. He prided himself on the ability to stay cool and collected in every situation and yet one cute blond serving coffee flustered him. From the first moment he had seen her, she had tied him in knots. His company had been operating from the building across the street for well over a year but he hadn't set foot in the coffee shop until a month ago. He'd had to cover for one of his guys and pulled an all-nighter. By the late afternoon he was dragging. He just needed a pickme up to get through the last couple hours of his day.
He went into the little shop because it was close. He expected it to look like every other
yuppy coffee shop, not his speed at all. But it wasn't what he expected. The name of it was Morning After and as part of the décor there was a section of the wall dedicated to hangover remedies. Some of them were downright outrageous, but it added to the ambiance of the place. The two blondes behind the counter were a definite plus as well. Their aprons said ‘Honey’ and ‘Sugar’ lettered in such a way as to draw attention rather than dispel it. Not that he needed any help. They were both very attractive. Both blond though 'Sugar' was tall and willowy whereas 'Honey' was shorter and curvy. He was attracted to her immediately. He was also tongue tied immediately. She teased him about coming to a coffee shop to order straight coffee and for once, he couldn't give what he got except to say if the coffee was good it didn't need any embellishments. He found himself drawn back day after day, though he quickly realized she wasn't there on the weekend. He still couldn't bring himself to have a real conversation with her. Instead he did what he did best, he watched and gathered intel.
After a couple of days he learned that despite the aprons their names weren't Honey and Sugar.
Though they answered to them. He also learned that they were owners not just workers and seemed to genuinely enjoy each other's company. The only thing he hadn't figured out was how to break the ice. Now he seemed to have fumbled it. He watched her going through her closing process and mentally regrouped. This wasn't over. He would have her and maybe once he'd gotten her out of his system his life could get back to normal.