Return to McCall, March 1st, 2023!

Return to McCall, March 1st, 2023!

Preorder now at:

Return to McCall

Chapter One


A spicy waft of cinnamon enveloped Sam Draper as she opened the door of Moxie Java, cradling the phone between her face and shoulder as she searched her jacket pocket for her wallet.

“I’m here now, babe, and it smells like they have those amazing cinnamon rolls. Want

me to drop one by the restaurant before I head back to the station?”

Sam pulled her wallet from her pocket as she said a quick good-bye to her wife, Sara, and dropped the phone back into her jacket. There was no line at Moxie Java for once, the only coffee shop in the tiny mountain town of McCall, Idaho. Sam congratulated herself on her timing as she spied their famous cinnamon rolls, dripping with cream cheese frosting, on a cooling tray behind the counter.

“Good morning, Heather.” Sam smiled at the teenager behind the counter, who stared back blankly, her face strangely pale and tense. “I’ll take two of those beauties behind you and a large black coffee.”

Heather bit her lip and stood stiffly in place, an unattended lock of bright teal hair falling across her face, her eyes locked over Sam’s shoulder. The walls seemed to echo Sam’s words, bouncing them across the cafée then watching as they drifted slowly to the floor, reverberating in the hollow silence. The tension in the air settled onto Sam’s shoulders as she instinctively shifted her focus. Her eyes flicked to Heather’s hand, stiff and motionless by her side except for the single finger pointing to the left. Sam shifted her face into neutral and turned slowly where she stood, her eyes soft and steady as they settled onto another thin teenage girl. She held a semiautomatic weapon, her hands shaking just enough to make the red laser sight dance between Sam’s eyes.

Sam studied the girl’s red-rimmed eyes and jet-black hair haphazardly tucked behind one ear. She wore glasses with a crack down the center of the left lens and had a tense grip on the gun. Too tense.

“Hey there.” Sam kept her voice soft and wished that she’d worn her service weapon off duty for the first time in her career. “Take it easy. My name is Sam.”

The girl shook her head slightly as if to shake off Sam’s words, then jerked her head toward the sound of a young boy coughing in one of the window seats. His mother pulled him closer and whispered in his ear, looking frantically out the window before wrapping him in her jacket.

Sam took a quick glance around at the situation. Moxie Java was at about half capacity, so about thirty people were in the building including herself and the staff. Everyone was staring, their eyes darting back and forth between her and the gun pointed in her direction, including a portly man in a beige Ada County Sheriff’s Deputy uniform handcuffed to the back of his chair. His shiny bald head was slick with sweat and rage, and he strained against the metal rungs as he stared.

Sam turned back to the shooter and softened her gaze.

“Look, why don’t you tell me why you’re doing this? There has to be a reason.” She paused, watching as the girl’s eyes filled with tears that were quickly blinked back. “What’s going on?”

“Stop talking!” Her words were sharp, staccato, and seemed to clatter and fall flat onto the floor in front of her. “I just need her—” The girl paused, then jerked her head toward Heather. “To go lock the damn door so no one else can get in.”

Heather waited until Sam nodded, then walked with shaky steps around the counter to lock the door. She hesitated before she went back toward the counter, her eyes still locked on Sam.

“Why the hell is everyone watching you?” A touch of panic elevated the girl’s voice, and her eyes spun wildly around the room. “I’m the one with the gun.”

Silence settled between them. Sam caught one of the employees starting to say something out of the corner of her eye, so she jumped in first.

“The rumor is that I look like a tall Tom Cruise.” Sam flashed her most charming smile, silently willing the McCall locals to take the hint and not reveal her status as law enforcement. “So that could be it.”

“No.” The girl studied her with the barest hint of a smile for a moment. “That’s definitely not it.”

One of the bussers behind the counter snorted, and she glared at him, the smile fading from her face. The boy in the window seat started wheezing again as his mother dropped to her knees at the end of the booth, pulling her toward him.

Sam kept his eyes on her. “What’s your name?”

“Why?” Her eyes snapped back to Sam. “So you can pretend to care?”

“Look, it sounds like that kid is having an asthma attack. And if he doesn’t get out of here and get treatment, things could get real serious, real quick.” Sam paused, locking her eyes with the shooter. “And I can tell you don’t want that to happen.”

“Right, so she can go straight to the cops?” Her glance flitted to the ground, then back to the boy. “That’s all I need. The police up in here.”

Another snort from the teenage busser, and this time both Sam and the shooter turned to look at him, identical eyebrows arched.

“Um…” The busser said, trying not to look at the gun she now had pointed at him. “Hate to burst your bubble here, but…” His voice trailed off as he nodded in Sam’s direction.

“What?” The shooter looked over to Sam, haphazardly swinging the gun back in her direction. This time it was close enough for Sam to see that the safety was off. “He’s a cop?”

Sam was about to answer when several local voices behind them did it for her. In unison.

She’s a cop.”

The gun in her hand sagged slightly as she registered the information, then snapped back up.

“Listen,” Sam said softly. “I’d love to return to this fascinating discussion on misgendering butch women, but I think something else is more important.”

They listened as the boy’s breath sank to a low, audible scrape.

“Just go.” The shooter’s voice was low and soft as she caught his mother’s pleading gaze. “Get him outside. But nobody else moves, and you…” She once again spun the gun toward Heather. “Lock the door behind her.”

The mom scooped him up in her arms and carried him to the door, followed by a nauseous-looking Heather, who quickly unlocked the door to let them out, then locked it behind them. She walked back toward the counter, lifting her eyes to the girl only once. “She said to tell you to thank you.”

For just an instant, the girl’s face softened before she pulled it back to stone.

“Look, unless you want me to start calling you Moxie, you need to tell me your name.” Sam lifted an eyebrow. “It’s not too late to get out of this, but we’re going to have to work together for that to happen.”

The girl kept the gun trained at Sam but lowered one stiff hand and shook it out. The busser chose that moment to pick up one of the cinnamon rolls and leisurely fold half of it into his mouth, icing dripping onto the front of his apron.

“All right. Moxie it is.” Sam took a slow breath. “You need to let the rest of these guys go. Whatever you want, they don’t have it. So let’s simplify things here.”

The last of Sam’s words were drowned out by sudden shouting from the deputy, who’d decided now was a good time to get up, wave his one free hand around, and act a damn fool.

“Goddammit! I’ve had it!” He jumped up and attempted to drag the chair toward the front of the restaurant, his face fury red and spitting with every word. “All I had to do was get one lousy delinquent from point A to point B, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let that little thieving Mexican bitch make me look like a—”

Moxie’s face was expressionless as she raised her gun and shot a single bullet into the ceiling, enough to make everyone but him duck under the nearest table. Drywall dust filtered the light as it sifted down from the cracked panel overhead, and everyone watched the next move in the deputy’s master plan, which was to stand in the middle of the floor and wet himself, apparently. It was all Sam could do not to roll her eyes as she turned back to the girl.

“Listen, Moxie.” Soft sounds of crying and true panic had started from every direction as Sam locked eyes with hers. “We’ve got to get everybody out of here. I’m not going to be able to help you get out of here and closer to what you want if that gun goes off again.”

“Why do you think I want something? Why does everybody always think that?” Moxie lowered her gun and swiped at a tear with the heel of her hand. “Cause I don’t. I just can’t go to one more stupid house. I can’t. And I’m sure as hell not going to where that guy just tried to take me.”

Sam looked out the expansive front windows of Moxie Java at the officers running up to the building in formation, guns in the low ready position. Her brother-in-law Murphy brought up the rear and signaled them to surround the building. Sam caught his eye through the glare of the window as he held his hand in the phone sign and nodded.

“Listen, if you put that gun down long enough to let me get these people to safety, it’ll be just you and me. We can figure out how to get past this.”

“Yeah, right.” Moxie glanced up, suddenly looking very young and completely exhausted. “How do I know you’re not trying to trick me?”

Sam shook her head, her voice soft. “I don’t trick people, Moxie. That’s just not my style.”

“Yep, that’s true.” The same busser finished the last of his cinnamon roll and swiped at the icing of the next one with his finger. “Draper’s good people. Everyone knows that.”

Sam turned back to Moxie and lifted an eyebrow in a silent question. Moxie slowly lowered her gun and stepped back as Sam stepped into action, informing the officers outside of the plan with a quick call and making the exit process as smooth as possible. Everyone but the deputy was out the door in under sixty seconds until the busboy stopped to swipe one of the chocolate muffins out of the display box.

“Oh, for the love of God, man.” Sam signaled him out the door, trying not to laugh despite herself. “Step on it!”

His hair flopped into his face, and he grinned as he passed her, tucking a sugar cookie into the chest pocket of his shirt.

Finding the keys and unlocking the fuming deputy’s handcuffs took forever, and Sam walked him to the door to put as much distance as possible between him and Moxie. He jerked from her grasp and out the door, shouting more of the same tone-deaf obscenities. It was all she could do to not slam the door behind him.

When she got back to the front of the shop, Moxie was sitting down, the gun still cocked, but it was now lying quietly in her lap. Sam got a takeaway cup of water from behind the counter and set it on the floor a few feet away. When the girl raised her head to speak, Sam noticed a smattering of caramel freckles across her nose.

“Why are you being so nice to me?”

“I’ve been in law enforcement a long time. Long enough to know this isn’t what you want to be doing.” Sam steeled herself against the smile she felt forming on her face. “So tell me, how did you get away from the Deputy of the Year over there?”

Moxie’s face melted into her first smile until she saw the officers with their guns pointed at the glass door.

Sam’s phone buzzed, and she checked it, then held it up. “It’s the officers outside. They just need an update. Is that okay?”

“Whatever.” Exhaustion softened the edges of her words as she dragged a hand through her hair. “Just tell them to back the hell up.”

Sam phoned one of the officers, answering yes to a pair of questions before she slipped the phone back into her pocket. Moxie traced the lines of the gun in her lap with her finger, then tipped her face to the ceiling. A tear slipped off her chin and onto the black barrel in a silent splash.

Sam looked around until she found what she knew would be there. A rumpled black trash bag stuffed to the top and slumped against the table leg where the deputy had been cuffed.

“So,” she said, waiting until Moxie met her eyes. “Foster kid, huh?”

“What?” Her eyes locked onto Sam’s in delayed shock. “How’d you know that?”

Sam nodded at the limp bag by the table. “Your fancy luggage kinda gave that away.”

She nodded, swiping at another tear with the heel of her hand. “Yeah. I feel like I live out of those.”

Sam nodded, noting the bruise on her cheekbone that had faded to a greenish-yellow outline. “So the deputy was taking you to your next placement?”

Moxie nodded, then reached for the water and drank it greedily with a shaking hand, as if she’d just remembered she was thirsty. Afterward, she crushed it in her hand, sinking it into the corner trash like a pro.

“You play?”

“I did. I was at my last place for my first two years of high school.” She shook her head, still staring at the trash where the cup had disappeared. “I made the varsity team, but who knows now. I don’t even know where they’re sending me.”

“So just a sudden shift, huh?”

Moxie nodded, her eyes fluttering closed for just a second before she tightened her grip on the gun in her lap.

Sam nodded toward her. “Something to do with that bruise on your cheek?”

Moxie’s fingers instinctively covered her face. “How could you possibly know that?”

“It doesn’t take a genius to figure out a shiner like that, and a new foster placement at the same time usually means trouble.” She softened her voice and met Moxie’s eyes. “You get in a fight?”

“Nah. Not really.” Moxie shook her head. “My foster mom caught her new man picking the lock on my bedroom door a couple of nights ago and decided she needed to remind me who he belonged to.”

“Yeah, she doesn’t want to lose that one.” Sam rolled her eyes to the ceiling. “He sounds like a straight-up prize.”

That made Moxie laugh, and the tears had cleared from her eyes by the time she looked up at Sam. “Hey, didn’t I hear you tell someone that you were bringing them a cinnamon roll?”

“Yep, my wife, Sara.” Sam smiled. “She owns the restaurant across the street.”

Moxie nodded, clicking the safety back into place. “Gus’ Place or something, right? I saw it as we came into town.”

“Exactly. Sara makes the most amazing food, but I’ve got to be honest, she’d trade me in a heartbeat for a Moxie Java cinnamon roll. And I’m not sure I blame her.”

The girl glanced at the trash bag across the dining room. “What are they going to do with me out there? When we leave?”

Sam got up slowly, retrieving the bag and setting it down between them as she helped Moxie to her feet. “You’re worried about your stuff, aren’t you?”

She nodded. “Yeah, it’s kinda everything I own.”

Sam looked out the window at the officers, who lowered their guns slowly in response to her signal.

“Listen, here’s what’s going to happen. I’m going to wrap up a cinnamon roll for Sara -frankly, I’m scared of what’ll happen if I don’t- and we’ll walk out there together. But no matter what, I won’t let anyone touch your stuff, ok?”

Moxie looked up, the tears returning to her eyes as she carefully handed Sam the gun. “Thanks for being so nice to me. You didn’t have to be, especially with me threatening to shoot the place up and everything.”

“So, how old are you? Really?” Sam laid a ten-dollar bill on the counter and dropped the only cinnamon roll the busboy hadn’t touched into a bag.

“Fifteen.” She hesitated, starting to say something twice before it fell out of her mouth in a rush. “And you’re a real cop? ‘Cause—no offense—but you don’t seem like one.”

“Well, you got me there, Moxie.” Sam sent a quick text to the officers outside to let them know the suspect had been disarmed and they were on the way out. “I’m not a cop. I’m McCall’s chief of police.”


Lily Larimar slammed the car door shut and leaned her head back against the headrest, kneading her forehead with tense fingertips as she remembered the book signing from the previous night.

She grabbed my ass in public? Seriously? Lily rolled her eyes and wished for the tenth time that the water bottle in her console was vodka. Who does that?

Lily pulled swiftly into the sun-soaked LA traffic and ignored her agent’s frantic texts pinging the phone she’d just tossed into the passenger seat on the way to the airport. She’d skipped out on the Meet & Greet after her book signing the previous night; everyone was expecting her to be there, smiling and charming the readers, but being grabbed by random strangers was where Lily drew the line. Her ninth novel, Embers Into Fire, had dropped a few weeks ago, and she’d been doing nothing all month but signings and personal appearances at all the lesbian hotspots in Southern California.

The last few days had been a blur of gin-soaked conversations with overeager singletons and pitches from “industry insiders” that all seemed to want to break off a piece of her mind and take it home with them. Promotion was part of her job, but it was the part she hated. And it had gotten significantly worse after her agent booked her a couple of guest spots on the new L Word series; suddenly she felt like she couldn’t go anywhere without someone recognizing her.

Lily blew a shiny lock of black hair out of her face and focused her attention back on the road. She was due in Toronto tonight for the TIFF Film Festival to meet a director interested in turning one of her books into a movie, and her flight left in just a few hours from LAX. The glare of midmorning sun slid like liquid gold across her windshield as her phone buzzed again with another call from her agent. She turned to click it off and realized the next second that she’d missed her exit. Lily slowed, watching cars whiz past her on both sides before forcing herself to accelerate back into the crush of commuters. She’d take the next exit and circle back, but she needed to switch her phone off if she had a hope of making it to the airport alive in this traffic.

Lily had just reached for her phone again when a sky-blue Maserati slid like sudden water into her lane and cut her off as she tried to pull back into traffic. That’s when she felt it starting. Again. Her seat belt was tightening across her chest with every breath, and a fine mist of chilled sweat broke out over her face and neck. She fumbled in her purse for the pills her doctor had given her after her last panic attack, then remembered she’d taken the last one in her purse that morning and packed the rest into her suitcase, which was impossible to reach now that she was in the middle of eight lanes of cutthroat traffic. She glanced behind her at the densely packed cars and counted the minutes until the airport exit would appear on her right.

Just breathe in and out.

Lily whispered the words through the warm salt of the tears on her lips. Everything about her life was overwhelming now, and as much as she tried to push that fact to the back of her mind, it seemed her body was hell-bent on reminding her. All the yoga, meditation, and green juice in LA weren’t going to fix the fact that she hated being looked at and talked to and just…crowded every minute of the day. She’d become the product her publishers were selling just as much as her words on paper, and the harder they pushed, the more the real Lily Larimar shrank until even she couldn’t even picture who she was before. It was like she’d just disappeared.

The sign for LAX loomed with a sudden shout over a semi-truck to her right, and she swerved just in time to squeal into the exit on what felt like two tires. Her heart was still pounding in her throat as she followed the signs to the parking garage and circled up several floors to the open-air top level. It was almost deserted, just a single dented Buick LeSabre in the far corner slot surrounded by the late afternoon heat that shimmered like a desert mirage just above the concrete surface.

Lily threw off her seat belt and jumped out, gulping in the air and open space around her. The hot metal of the car door slid down her back as she sank to the stained concrete beside the car. Tears stung her eyes, and Lily felt the air being squeezed from her chest as if the life she never wanted was getting heavier by the second. She didn’t have the breath to scream; the only option was to lean forward, cement and gravel cutting into her palms, and remind herself that no one was watching her. For the moment, anyway.

It was twenty minutes before Lily finally stood up and noticed her gold filigree bracelet was still on the ground. She’d bought it four years ago, the day her first novel was released, and hadn’t taken it off since. The gold felt heavy and too warm against her fingers as she picked it up. The sun was setting now, dripping past the concrete edge of the parking structure, and the last of the deep orange glow melted into the bracelet links until Lily closed her fist around it. She felt deliciously alone for the first time in forever and stared into the horizon as she walked to the edge of the parking deck.

There was no one there to watch as she leaned against the safety wall and uncurled her fist. No one else felt the liquid slip of the gold falling from her fingers or watched her close her eyes to listen for the metallic clink against the pavement below. The gold cage that had circled her wrist for the last few years had disappeared silently, as if it was never there.

The last of the molten sun slipped out of sight as Lily tilted her face up to the darkening violet sky and drew in the first cool, deep breath of her own air.


Sara Draper swiped a floury hand across her forehead as she opened the door to the oven, suddenly awash in a savory cloud of pot-pie-scented steam.

“Damn, girl. I’d have married you myself if Sam hadn’t beat me to it.” Mary winked at Sara as she popped the top on a cold beer bottle, staring with unrequited longing at the golden crust of the chicken pot pie Sara slid onto the prep counter in Gus’ Place. “I said it at your wedding, and I’ll say it again. I’m still not convinced she deserves you.”

“Well, at least I’m good for something.”

Sara shed her oven mitt and scooped up the flurry of blond waves that now reached to the middle of her back, twisting them into a hurried bun before she went for Mary’s beer and took a long swig. It had been five years since she’d landed in McCall from Savannah, Georgia, still reeking of smoke from the fire that had burned down her riverfront restaurant. Mary was her first friend in McCall, and they’d grown even closer over the years, which was why Mary sat back on her stool and put down her fork when she saw Sara reach for her beer.

“Oh, honey. I’m so sorry—” Mary stopped abruptly when Sara held up her hand. After five years of friendship, she knew when to change tack. “On second thought.” Mary reached into the prep fridge under the counter and popped the top on another beer. “Talking is overrated. I’m just going to dig into that pie and burn the tar out of my mouth as the good lord intended.”

Sara put the bottle down on the counter a little too hard. Mary watched as she pulled her face back into place and managed a weak smile.

“I was only four weeks this time.” Her voice cracked as she instinctively cradled her belly with the palm of her hand. “It wasn’t as bad.”

“Wasn’t that bad, my ass.” Mary held out her arms to her friend. “That shit hurts. I know it does.”

Sara smiled as she walked around the corner of the prep table and sank gratefully into the hug. She and Sam had been attempting in vitro fertilization since they’d gotten married three years prior, and every round had either failed or she’d suffered a miscarriage after just the first few weeks. She’d never really thought about having children until she met Sam, but once they’d decided to start a family, she couldn’t think of anything else.

“I’m getting past my prime anyway, age-wise.” Sara stood up and dried her eyes with the heel of her hand, selecting a knife out of her chef’s roll to cut the perfectly cooled pie. “I’ll be thirty-eight next month. I need just to give it up.”

“Well, I’m calling bullshit on that too.” Mary held out a wide, shallow bowl for Sara. “I had my youngest at forty-three, and you know it. So don’t you dare give up. Both of you have so much love to give.”

Mary winked at her and gave the steaming pie in front of her a loving look as she lifted the flaky crust and admired the creamy gravy and tender vegetables underneath.

Sara watched, finally cracking a smile. “What do you think? I’m thinking of doing five or six of these for the locals’ dinner this Sunday.”

Mary held up her hand for silence and closed her eyes as she savored the first bite, making Sara laugh hard enough to reach for her napkin and dab at her eyes. “Mary, I swear, a fresh pot pie is no less than a religious experience for you.” Sara smiled as she dished up her bowl and climbed onto the stool she’d dragged over to the prep counter.

Gus’ Place, her modern spin on a retro diner, had become the heart of the little town of McCall, Idaho in the five years it had been open, and Sara fell more in love with it every day. She still closed every Sunday afternoon for Family Dinner, which was really just a big potluck for the tiny mountain town’s colorful locals. Mary, who had become convinced cell phones would be the inevitable death of polite society, had started collecting them at the door at some point and holding them hostage, and it had only brought the town closer. Everyone from teenagers to seniors crowded into the diner right on time on Sunday afternoon, carrying foil-covered casseroles and side dishes. Sara always provided the main course, and the next few hours always flew by in a familiar flurry of laughter, hugs, and local gossip. There had been a couple of marriage proposals over the years, one near fight over the last slice of Sara’s French silk chocolate pie, and more than a few friendships started and deepened amid the warmth of Sunday afternoons at Gus’ Place.

Mary broke off a piece of the hand-rolled pie crust and peered over her glasses at Sara. “So, how has the retreat been going this summer? The second session starts tomorrow at Lake Haven, right?” She popped it into her mouth and picked her fork back up to spear a tender piece of chicken from Sara’s dish.

“Hey!” Sara’s last sip of beer almost flew out of her mouth with laughter as she slid her plate out of Mary’s grasp. “You’ve got your own!”

“Sara, I’ve told you this a thousand times.” Mary savored the chicken and picked up her beer with a satisfied sigh. “What’s yours is mine when it comes to your cooking.”

Sara dished her up a second helping, then laid a warm hand on her shoulder as she sat back down.

“There. That should hold you off for a bit.”

“Seriously, though, has it been easier than last summer? You guys hired a camp director for this season, right?”

“Yep, that’s Charlotte. Once we got the property renovated with the waterfront cabins and main lodge, we were at a loss with what actually to do with people when they got there last summer, so she’s been a big help. She could run a country if she had the chance.” Sara paused, pushing a pea around on her plate with her fork. “Everyone loves her.”

Mary took that in, glancing up at Sara before she decided not to ask the obvious question. Sara was thankful for that.

“Well, I think a retreat center for lesbian couples is genius. They get to be on that gorgeous property and just focus on each other for a while.”

“And this year, on top of waterfront activities and tons of classes, we also have a chef that does family-style meals, an on-site couples counselor, and a Latin dance instructor.” Sara brightened and bumped Mary’s shoulder with hers. “Too bad you refuse to date anyone. I think our new dance instructor might sway you over to our side.”

“Oh, I saw her, I think. She wandered into the drugstore the other day during Days of Our Lives—I forgot to lock the damn door.” Mary popped the last forkful of pie crust into her mouth and winked. “Tall, dark, and handsome, right? Let’s just say I turned off the TV and showed her where the Band-Aids were.”

“I knew it!” Sara laughed as she reached for her napkin and pushed her dish away. “I told Sam when we hired her that no one would be able to resist that charm, even Mary.”

Sara was still talking when they turned toward the loud pounding that sounded like it was about to shatter the front door. Sara jumped off her stool and ran out to the dining room, the color draining from her face when she saw her sister on the other side of the glass entrance.

Mary swept her aside and beat her to the door, then pulled Jennifer inside with one swift movement, sitting her down on a nearby chair before Jennifer could get a word out.

“What is it? Is it the baby?” Mary’s words tangled together in a rush of sudden panic as she laid a protective hand on Jennifer’s pregnant belly. “How far apart are your contractions?”

Jennifer looked around for Sara as she burst into laughter, pulling up a chair for Mary beside her, who by this time was completely out of breath.

“Mary, you’ve got to relax! You’ve been thinking I’m going into labor every time I so much as sneeze.”

“Actually, since the moment you and Murphy announced you were pregnant with him.” Sara wrapped her arms around her sister’s shoulders from the back and hugged her. “Well, I’m on Mary’s side with this one, though. You were banging on the door like the world was on fire and you’re due in under a month. So what’s up?”

Mary clasped her hand over her heart and took a deep breath. “I swear on everything holy, Jennifer. You’re going to give me a heart attack before that little guy finally makes an appearance.”

Jennifer squeezed Mary’s hand with obvious affection before she went on. “I mean, I know the diner closes at three, and you two usually have a late lunch in the back, but have you seriously not seen what’s going on?”

Mary and Sara got up and pressed their faces against the glass as they looked down the street toward Moxie Java.

Mary finally opened the door and stuck out her head. “What the hell is going on down there? They’ve got everything roped off, and every officer in town is outside Moxie Java.”

“Sam was supposed to be here ages ago with a cinnamon roll for me. I forgot all about it.” Sara pulled out her cell phone and dialed Sam’s number with shaky fingers. It rang only once before Sam picked up. Sara held her breath.

“Baby, I’m fine. We had a little situation at Moxie Java, but everything is handled.”

Sara turned toward the kitchen and spoke closer into the phone. “Are you sure? You sound out of breath. I don’t like this.”

A gentle knock behind her made her turn to see Sam, tall and handsome in her uniform, holding up a Moxie Java bag outside the door.

Sara ran to the door and fell into Sam’s arms, hugging her a little harder than usual, only letting go when she thought to ask what the hell was going on. Sam didn’t speak, just cradled her face in both her hands and kissed her slowly, brushing Sara’s lips with hers at the end as if she couldn’t bear to let her go.

Mary rolled her eyes and took another look out the window. “Yeah, this is cute and all, but will someone tell me what the hell is going on before I have to go down there myself?”

That was enough to make everyone laugh, but Sam’s phone rang while she attempted to answer her questions. She only had a moment to skim over the barest of details, clicking on her phone and raising it to her ear as she headed back toward Moxie Java with a promise to share more later. She blew a kiss to Sara and pointed at her watch before she turned and jogged back down the street where Murphy, Jennifer’s husband, was taking up the traffic blockade.

“What did she mean by that?” Jennifer said, eyeing the Moxie Java bag in Sara’s hand.

“It’s our shorthand. Sam wants me to know she won’t be home till late.” Sara smiled and handed over the bag to her sister. “Here, it’s all yours. I can’t even think about eating.”

Mary squinted her disapproval. “You know I’m only allowing this because you’re pregnant.” She closed her eyes as she continued. “Otherwise, that sweet, sweet pastry of God would have been all mine.”

Sara and Jennifer turned, already laughing. Both had anticipated exactly that sentiment from Mary.

“What?” Mary said with a sniff. “What are all the kids saying these days? I’m just keeping it real.”