Part of the Dwyer’s Hollow tale—you can find the prequel and synopsis here.
Bryony swore when she reached the cafe. Ten a.m. and the lights were still off, the sign blatantly flipped to read “Closed.”
“I’ll kill him,” she muttered as she dug her keys out of her purse.
Plotting her speech to Connor if he decided to show up to work today lasted until the coffee began to drip and the fresh bagels and pastries finally sat in their crinkled paper beds. By then, her favorite insults and expletives utterly exhausted, she poured herself a cup of coffee and liberally doused it with whipped cream. Connor was Emmaline’s nephew—sent to stay in Dwyer’s for the end of summer as punishment for some sort of adolescent rebellion. At first, Bryony felt sorry for the kid—after all, she grew up here; she knew how it could be for a teenager. But, after months of Connor’s surly attitude and spotty work ethic, her sympathy quickly evaporated.
The café officially opened at 9 a.m. and served pastries, bagels, and other calorie-stuffed delights until 11 a.m. when Paul staggered in to prepare the greasy diner fare to the late-breakfast through late-lunch crowd. Emmaline, the owner, often popped her well-coiffed head in throughout the day to see how things went and to loudly berate Paul. They closed up by 4 p.m. and then it was lather, rinse, repeat. Bryony shoved her sandy hair back from her face and took another sip of coffee, feeling the cool whipped cream kiss the tip of her nose.
The voice made her jump, nearly splattering coffee down her shirt. She hurriedly wiped the whipped cream off the tip of her nose, feeling her face redden.
“Sorry, how can I help you?” Bryony asked, looking up at the man.
“What’s your fresh brewed coffee du jour?” he asked, quoting the menu on the back wall.
Bryony told him and he nodded, continuing to scan the limited menu, which gave Bryony ample time to observe the unfamiliar guest. He was tall and muscular and wore his clearly expensive clothing with ease. His thick, reddish-blonde hair fell across his forehead; it gave him a boyish look, though Bryony put his age around thirty.
“Sorry, we’re not exactly Starbucks,” she said, guessing that he was passing through on the way to Boston or maybe New York.
“Don’t worry about it,” he laughed and flashed impossibly white teeth. “I’m Louis Durant.”
Bryony shook his hand, amused. “New to town?”
“Just moved here,” he said. “I thought it was time to get out of the big city.”
“Well, you came to the right place,” Bryony laughed, tucking her hair behind her ear. It was difficult not to stare at Louis. She wasn’t sure she had seen eyes that blue in person.
“Sure did,” he smiled again.
His southern accent was smooth and slow, but she couldn’t place it.
“Where are you from—originally, that is?” she asked.
“Is it really like what everyone says?” she bit her lip, aware of how small-town the question sounded. Pull it together, Bryony.
“That depends on what people say. Sure, Bourbon Street can be like it is in the movies, but it’s not all parties and murders,” Louis said.
“I hear the food is great,” she said.
He laughed again, “I’m biased, but I don’t think you’ll find food with that much soul anywhere else in the states. Although,” he looked at the pastry selection, “I will try one of those blueberry muffins and a cup of the daily roast—black.”
“Sure,” she poured his coffee and wrapped the muffin up.
He lifted an eyebrow at the price, sliding his credit card across the counter, “You couldn’t get a shot glass of coffee at a Starbucks at these prices.”
Bryony smiled, “The owner doesn’t believe in ratcheting up price just for profits.”
“Small town life,” he shook his head. “Thanks. I’m sure I’ll be seeing you.”
He lifted his coffee in a toast as he pushed through the door, setting the little silver bell dancing.
“Well, I see this morning is getting better and better,” Emmaline said as she strolled through the back door, keys hanging from her well-manicured fingers. “Who was that?”
“Louis Durant—he’s new to town,” Bryony said, turning to wipe the spotless counter so Emmaline wouldn’t see the color in her cheeks.
“Oh he must be the one with the art,” Emmaline’s tone turned dismissive as she helped herself to a cherry-filled Danish.
“Mmhmm,” Emmaline talked through her mouthful of pastry. “That new art gallery that just opened up on Main Street.”
“An art gallery? Here?” as far as Bryony knew, the only art appreciated in the Hollow was the children’s macaroni or some touristy postcard photos of the Darkmoor Estate.
“Yeah, shame. He probably won’t stay long,” Emmaline finished the pastry, licking cherry preserves off her fingers. “Well, I just stopped by to see Connor. He wasn’t in the back.”
“He’s not in…yet. I had to open up this morning,” Bryony tried to keep her voice even.
Emmaline sighed, her plump chest straining at the buttons on her immaculate pastel top, “That sister of mine better pay for all the gray hairs her son is giving me.”
Bryony refrained from mentioning that Emmaline’s hair was a very determined shade of blonde not found in nature.
“Well, if you see him, tell him we’ll have words later,” Emmaline flounced out the front door and nearly collided with someone outside.
He seemed to brush off her apology and continued down the sidewalk, not even glancing inside the café. Bryony caught a glimpse of a tall, thin young man in a dark green-and-blue plaid button down, with black hair—another unfamiliar face. She stared after him; two strangers in the Hollow in one morning—and there wasn’t even a festival. They had a few historic events that weren’t well known but drew a decent crowd. It was no Salem, to be sure, but Dwyer’s Hollow had its own bloody past.