A Secret to Shatter by Katie O’Connor


Chapter One

Honey Dalton turned to her co-worker and close friend, Lacy Merrill. “Dang, my feet hurt. It hasn’t been this busy in here since Christmas last year. It must be the start of summer tourist season, although it seems early. It’s barely June.” She looked around Tammy’s. The small restaurant had finally emptied out after three hours of flat-out customers. Aside from two elderly ladies sitting near the door, the cook and dishwasher in the kitchen, they had the place to themselves. “Remind me again why I do this job? I don’t actually need to work here. I do have a good paying career that nobody but you knows about.”

“Because you love people,” Lacy said, her blue eyes flashing with laughter. “This side-gig gives you human contact. For all that you love your computer work, you hate that it’s so solitary.” Lacy picked up the table sanitizer and started wiping down tables, her dark brown braid swinging across her back with every vigorous stroke. Honey took a small hand broom and brushed crumbs from a deep blue and red upholstered seat where three toddlers had been eating crackers.

“True. I couldn’t stand to be holed up on my computer all day, every day, without talking to live people. But I do love my tech work.” She dropped into the booth she’d just swept and massaged her aching calves, making her bell anklets jingle. “But days like today…”

“You wouldn’t give this up for anything. In fact, if the pay were better, you’d give up the technical work.” Lacy chuckled. “Besides, you’d miss me if you weren’t here.”

“Too right.” Honey rose to her feet changed her broom and dustpan for a bottle of sanitizer and a cleaning cloth. “I do love Coyote Creekers. They’re a strange and interesting bunch.”

“Speaking of strange, what do you think of the new guy?” Lacy asked. “The one with the muscles? He’s been in five times this week.”

“The one with the dark hair? How could I possibly miss him? He’s military for sure.”

“And as hot as sin. I can barely talk to him without drooling or tripping over my tongue.” Lacy chuckled at her own weakness. Handsome sexy men were Lacy’s passion, and her kryptonite.

“Girl, you need a man,” Honey said. “There are still Flint boys available even with Justice and Riley off the market. There’s Kendrick, Carl and Jason. They all need a good woman, someone like you.”

“Fat chance. Ken’s still pining over his ex and Jason will never see beyond his butcher shop and Nicole. He’s had a thing for her since high school. He’s still hung up, even though she married that jerk and left town.”

“But there’s also Carl. He’s so hot with all those muscles and his sexy grin. He’d be perfect for you.” Honey’s bracelets clicked together as she wiped down table legs.

“Again, I might as well be chopped liver as far as he’s concerned,” Lacy grumbled. She laughed and wiped a smudge off her black jeans. “How do you keep those crazy chiffon and broomstick skirts clean? I’m always a disaster of food stains by the end of my shift.” Abruptly, she returned to the topic of men. “Besides, Carl doesn’t do much for me. I mean he’s hot, but he doesn’t rev my engine, if you know what I mean.”

“Funny.” Honey chuckled. “The mechanic doesn’t rev your engine.”

“I think I’m immune to the Flint charm because I grew up here. You, on the other hand, have only been here a couple years. You don’t remember them as kids and don’t know their past mistakes.”

“True,” Honey agreed. “But I’m not programmed to be attracted to dark hair, green eyes, and sexy builds. I’m more into brains.” They moved in unison to the next table. “I say you should go for it. Ask the new guy out on a date.”

“I’d never have the guts.” Lacy sighed. “Oh, speak of the devil. Here comes Mr. Dark and Handsome now. I’m not one for beards, but his is short and neat. Da-am, he is fine.”

Honey glanced over her shoulder toward the door. Robert Flint, the family patriarch, was holding the door open for the man they’d been discussing. Almost as if their gossip had conjured him up. “You think he’s hot, why don’t you wait on them?” Honey turned toward her friend who was now halfway to the kitchen. She snorted in amusement at Lacy’s cowardice. “I guess this one’s on me.” How could one woman be so bold and gregarious one minute and a total chicken the next? People were fascinating, and the two men walking through the door were no exception.

“Good afternoon, gentlemen. I’ll be right with you. I’ll just wash my hands and grab a couple coffees.” Both men had been in often enough Honey knew their usual beverages. Robert was practically a fixture in Tammy’s.

“Thanks, Honey.” Robert smiled broadly and led his companion to a table in the back, away from the windows and door.

Robert usually sat front and center where he could talk to everyone who came in. Today, like his past few visits with the new guy, he hid in the back. She shrugged it off. None of her business. The analytical side of her brain catalogued the odd behavior as she washed her hands. It had taken years to learn to ignore idiosyncrasies which didn’t directly affect her. She still noticed oddities, but no longer fixated on them. Coffees in hand, she headed to their table.

“Isn’t it rather sexist to call her Honey?” the man with Robert asked as she approached from his blind side.

Robert roared with laughter. “Not at all.”

The man scowled.

Honey slid the mugs onto the table. “Not at all,” she repeated Robert’s words. “My name is Honey. Honey Dalton.” She thrust out her hand. “Pleased to meet you.”

“Um. Ira. Ira Castillo. Nice to meet you.” He accepted her offered hand and shook it warmly. His eyes widened and nostrils flared.

She stared into his bright green eyes for a moment, enjoying the soft strength and warmth of his grip. Heat raced up her arm and into her core. She jerked her hand away. The man packed a punch, and a girl could drown in those sexy green eyes. Whoa! That green was Flint green. His eyes looked just like Robert’s. This man, a newcomer to town, had the trademark Flint eye color. A coincidence? A relative maybe? She knew all the Flint men personally and this sexy guy wasn’t one of them. Interesting. She switched off her over-active imagination. Probably a cousin or something.

“Nice to meet you, Ira. What can I get you gentlemen? Just coffee, or maybe some peanut butter pie. Or lemon meringue?” Both men had a penchant for pie.

“I’ll have apple pie,” Robert declared.

“No, you won’t.” Honey smiled to soften her refusal. “I have orders from your wife to keep you on the straight and narrow. I can give you a fresh fruit cup with a bit of whipped topping.” She bit back a smile at his grimace.

“Fine. I’ll have fruit, but if it’s not real whipped cream forget it.”

“How about a tiny scoop of ice cream?”

Robert sighed and nodded, forcing her to bite back a chuckle. One thing she knew for sure was that Robert Flint was as stubborn as the day was long, and totally afraid of his wife. Still, they were the happiest couple she knew.

“And you?” She turned back to Ira, trying not to get lost in his good looks. The longer she looked, the more intrigued she became. A guy like that could make a girl want to start dating. And his touch? Wow! She hadn’t been expecting the hot jolt which ran through her body at a simple brush of their hands.

“Can I get a bacon, mushroom cheeseburger and onion rings?”

“At three in the afternoon?” Robert asked.

“I missed lunch. My run went long.”

“Coming right up. I’ll bring your fruit with his meal if that’s okay.” The men nodded. “I’ll be back in a bit to refill those coffees.”

As she walked away, Robert grumbled. “You kids and running to stay in shape. You need a physical job.”

“I had a job. But I’ve been given a medical discharge from the army, I need to find another way to make money.”

“What the hell was that?” Lacy hissed when Honey joined her behind the counter. “You actually jerked when he touched you?” The words were as much a statement as a question. “I thought you weren’t interested in him?”

“I wasn’t. I mean, I’m not. He was riding Robert about calling me Honey. Said it was sexist. I introduced myself and we shook hands. That’s it.” She turned away to hide the color in her cheeks. Ira Castillo packed a punch. Right to the libido.

“Bull cookies. Honey Dalton, you are a liar. You might not have been interested before, but when he touched you, I could almost see your hormones soaring off the chart.”

“Girl, you’ve got to stop reading romance novels. They’re rotting your brain,” she teased.

“Um. No. Heck no. I love them. Nothing beats a steamy romance with a happily ever after. Everybody needs love. Just because I haven’t found my one true love yet doesn’t mean I can’t read about them. You should try them. I just read a great one. I’ll bring it in tomorrow.”

“When are you going to stop trying to get me to read romance?” Honey turned back to her friend. The argument was an old one and a standing joke between them.

“When you finally read one. All I ask is for you to read one. Just one. Then I’ll leave you alone. Just like I’ll back off the new guy and let you have him.” She winked.

“I don’t want him. Ira’s all yours,” Honey said.

“Is that his name? Ira?” Lacy feigned a swoon. “Such an old school name but it fits him. Strong and handsome. And delicious. What are his hands like? He looks like he knows how to use them?” she turned the statement into a question.

“What kind of question is that?” Honey hissed as she punched the men’s order into the computer and sent it to the kitchen.

“You know, are they strong? Calloused? Gentle? If a man has soft, girlie hands, he probably won’t know how to use them.”

Honey laughed aloud. “That’s absurd.” Lacy had a gift for exaggeration.

“Yeah, what about Conrad? His hands were soft and weak. What kind of lover was he?” Lacy smirked.

“Don’t even bring him up. I can’t believe I dated him for months.” She preferred not to think about her disastrous relationship with her ex. He’d only been in town a few months. They’d been on a dozen dates before he even tried to kiss her. He made love like a wet fish and his kisses were slobbery and gross. She shuddered. His lovemaking ranked right up there with virginal teenage groping in the back seat of a car. No thank you.

“Soft hands, poor lover. You know it’s true.” Lacy started a fresh pot of coffee.

“Fine, in his case, yes. He really was a wet blanket. One example doesn’t make a universal truth, you know.”

“And this guy, what’s his name, Ira? How are his hands?”

There was no way Lacy would shut up until she got an answer. “Fine. Strong, gentle, calloused, and warm.” She almost sighed thinking about it. Her attraction was weird. Unusual for her. She tended to date people like herself. Tech nerds. Programmers. She’d even dated a few game developers before coming to Coyote Creek. Hard-assed military men weren’t her thing at all. She’d take brains over brawn for sure.

Recently, her dating life had wavered from slim to none and back. There weren’t many single male computer nerds here, or computer nerds at all. She had dated several men, but none except her ex, had gone beyond two dates. She was looking for someone to engage her mind as well as her heart. So far, the selection had come up null. An old friend of hers had once said, “Seduce my body, have me for a day. Seduce my mind and have me forever.” The oversimplified words resonated with Honey.

But this new guy, Ira, he’d caught her eye the first time he walked in last fall. She was surprised she’d never noticed how strong Lacy’s attraction to him was, and Lacy had been equally oblivious to Honey’s attraction. Probably because they were both so caught up in his presence. She knew her friend thought he was cute, but didn’t realize it went any deeper.

The grapevine told her he’d looked at a house that was for sale on the outskirts of town. A big, brand new, five-bedroom house. What did a single guy need a huge house for? She was perfectly content in her little brownstone apartment. Why did he want to move out of his bachelor suite above the hardware store? Hmm. That made two weird points. His choice of home, and those Flint green eyes. She chided the analytical part of her brain for not letting the random items go.

Lacy slipped up behind Honey and whispered in her ear. “You should totally date him. Get yourself out of your dating slump.”

“How about you mind your own dating life and let mine rest?” Honey asked.

“Girl, if your love life rests any longer it’ll die from lack of use or old age,” Lacy commented with the kind of sarcasm only acceptable between close friends.

Honey laughed as her friend clearly intended her to. “I’ll tell you what,” she said. “If he asks me out, I won’t say no. But,” she waggled her finger in warning, “if he asks you out, you have to go.”