Authors: Stacy Claflin
THE SEASIDE HUNTERS
by Stacy Claflin
Copyright ©2015 Stacy Claflin. All rights reserved.
Edited by Staci Troilo
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, businesses, events, or locales is purely coincidental or used fictitiously. The author has taken great liberties with locales including the creation of fictional towns.
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Amara Fowler turned on the taffy machine and then smiled at all the little kids in front of her. Most stared, wide-eyed and squealing or giggling. Others glanced around the room at other candy in the shop, eyes glazed over and mouths gaped open. The machine made a loud clanking noise, and the kids all jumped to attention.
"Does anyone have any questions?" she asked the third graders.
"Do you eat candy every day?" asked one little girl.
Amara smiled. "It's tempting, but no. I try to eat a balanced, healthy diet."
Several kids groaned.
One little boy stepped forward with his eyes wide. "If I worked in a candy store, I'd eat as much as I could—every day."
"She doesn't just work here, Parker," said Amara's niece, Ashley. "She and my daddy own it."
Parker shrugged. "I'd eat even more, then."
Amara lowered herself to their eye level, and she looked Parker in the eyes. "You know what? When I was a little girl, I
eat candy every day. Lots of it."
His eyes widened. "You did?"
"Yes. But you know what?"
"What?" Parker stared at her with such an intensity Amara thought he would hurt himself.
"I got fat."
Most of the kids giggled.
"No, you didn't," Parker said, giving her a suspicious look.
"Really, I was."
Amara's twin brother, Alex, came out from the back room, laughing. "And I have the pictures to prove it."
Ashley ran over to Alex and gave him a hug. "Daddy!"
He hugged her back and adjusted the taffy in the machine.
Mrs. Hill stood next to Amara. "Hasn't this been a fun field trip, kids?"
They all cheered.
"Now we need to get back to the school. Let's all say thank you to Mr. and Miss Fowler."
"Thank you, Mr. and Miss Fowler," the kids all said unison.
"It's been our pleasure," Amara said, smiling. "But before you go, we have some finished taffy for you."
A chorus of
filled the shop. She and Alex pulled out small, clear baggies with several pieces of taffy each, and handed them to the children.
One little girl took her bag and looked Amara in the eyes. "I can't believe you were ever fat. You're so pretty."
Amara blushed. "Thank you, but people can be pretty no matter what they weigh."
Alex stepped forward. "How could Miss Amara
be good looking? We're twins!"
Ashley and Amara both groaned. If they had a dollar for every time he used that line…
"But seriously," Alex said. "My sister has always been beautiful. It's just that not everyone else chose to see it then."
The rest of the kids got their bags and they all headed for the front door. Ashley ran back and gave both of them a hug goodbye before joining her class on the way back to school.
Amara leaned against the wall and sighed. "As cute as the kids are, those field trips always wear me out. Where were you?"
"Sorry," Alex said. "One of the suppliers called, and their order was messed up. It took me almost an hour to get that ordeal straightened out. We nearly ended up with a full case of chocolate hearts and bears."
"What?" Amara asked. "It's not Valentine's Day."
"I know." Alex shook his head. "We need pumpkins. They claimed to be sold out for the season and said they couldn't do anything for us."
Amara ran her hands through her hair. "Everyone wants the chocolate pumpkins for Halloween."
"Like I said, I got it worked out, but that's why I couldn't help you with the field trip."
"Thank you." Relief washed through her. "I don't know what we would have done otherwise."
Alex peered at his watch. "Wanna grab your lunch? It should be pretty quiet here for a couple hours. I owe you, anyway."
"Yeah, I need to eat and drop by the post office."
"More packages to mail?" Alex asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Good. I'm glad to hear your online candy business has picked up."
Amara shrugged. "Ever since that one big dessert blog picked me up for their feature, the orders have been rolling in steadily."
"No one deserves it more than you." Alex wrapped an arm around her. "Now, when are you going to get a boyfriend?"
"Oh, not this again. I'm leaving."
"Come on. My kids need cousins—and they're not getting any younger, you know."
Amara shook her head. "You're worse than Mom."
"You're so pretty. I don't see why you hide behind work all the time."
"See you, Alex."
"I'm going to set you up with an online dating profile."
"You'd better not." Amara glared at him. "If you do, I'll find a way to get back at you."
Alex laughed. "I don't doubt that. I just want to see you happy."
"Then add to that happiness by dating."
"Seriously?" she asked. "This is Kittle Falls. Everyone still sees me the way I used to be."
"Then they're idiots."
Amara's stomach rumbled. "See you in a couple hours. And don't forget the taffy machine's going."
"How could I forget?"
It made one of its typical loud clanks as if to prove his point.
"Just don't." Amara waved and then stepped outside in the frigid October air. It wasn't usually so cold, but everyone said it was going to be a harsh winter. She turned around, went back inside, and grabbed her jacket.
"Freezing, isn't it?" Alex asked.
"I can't remember the last time it was so chilly in October." She shivered and then put on her coat.
"Think it'll hurt tourist week?"
"Nah," Amara said. "People enjoy the town's Halloween festivities too much to stay away."
Alex opened the register. "I hope so."
"You've gotta think positive."
"Get your lunch, sis. I don't want to man the place alone when the teens get out of school."
"I wouldn't do that to you." Amara turned around and left the candy shop a second time. She turned to head for the main part of town where most of the restaurants were.
She stopped in her tracks.
A gorgeous, dark-haired man stepped out of a shop that had been empty retail space all summer. He wore a deep purple silk shirt that was obviously designer.
What was he doing in town? She hadn't seen him in at least a decade. Not even the couple times she'd heard of his brief returns. After graduation, Rafael had pretty much high-tailed it out of town, like at least half the kids in their class—and every other one before and after them.
He pulled a key out of his pants pocket and locked the store.
Could he be in town permanently? Was it possible he owned a store only a few doors down from the candy shop?
Amara stared, feeling like a fool, reminded of the girl she had been in school. Overweight, unappealing, the weight of her thick, nerdy glasses sitting on her nose as they had all those years before. It didn't matter that she'd lost the weight, that she now wore contacts. Seeing Rafael sent her right back to the painful days she'd rather forget.
She thought about saying hi, but couldn't bring her feet to move. Rafael had been the hottest boy in their class—just like all five of the Hunter brothers had been in their respective classes. There wasn't a girl in Kittle Falls who hadn't crushed on at least one of the five brothers at some point.
Rafael had been Amara's secret crush. And what made that even more difficult was that they had often been placed together in classes because alphabetically, their last names were so close. There hadn't been any kids in their class with a last name in between theirs. Amara had been too shy to talk to him, but had always admired his sense of humor and ability to find the good in any situation.
He leaned against the door he'd just locked, staring at his phone. Amara took the opportunity to study him. He was clean-shaven and even better looking than he'd been in school with his broader shoulders and rugged stubble.
Without warning, Rafael lowered his phone and looked her way. She'd been caught staring. Heat crept into her cheeks.
"Rafael!" she called, waving. If she pretended it was no big deal, maybe she could save face.
He arched an eyebrow, not appearing to recognize her.
Amara's heart sank. After all those times sitting next to her in class, and he didn't know who she was. She forced a smile and walked over. "I don't think I've seen you since graduation." Maybe that would help to ring a bell. She smiled wider. "How are you?"
Rafael continued looking at her. It was obvious he hadn't a clue who she was.
"I heard you have a crazy successful business in LA," Amara said. "That must be so exciting. I'm running my parents candy shop with Alex."
had to tell him who she was. Alex had run with the same crowd of kids that Rafael had. "Actually, Alex and I own it now. My parents opened a shop near Disney Land, which is super successful. We almost never see them anymore." Ugh. Why did her mouth have to run when she was nervous? He didn't need to know all that.
Rafael's face finally registered recognition. "Four-Eye—I mean, Amara Fowler?"
Amara grimaced. "Four-Eyed Fowler. You can say it. Everyone did."
"I apologize." He stared at her. "You look completely different. I can't believe—I mean, you look great."
It took her a moment to recover. Rafael Hunter had just said she looked great? Great? "Well, I got contacts, so the old nickname doesn't really fit anymore."
Rafael shook his head. "No, it certainly doesn't."
"So, what brings you back to Kittle Falls? Looking into retail space?"
He glanced behind him. "I've got that space, and I'm close to ready to open."
"Oh, like a satellite location?"
"More like starting over." Neither his face nor his tone indicated whether that was a good or bad thing.