Prologue : Living in Pagosa Cliffs
Poppies are red, Anemones are blue.
Cupcakes are sweet, and love can be too.
But bitterness will poison you.
Roses are a symbol of love and friendship, depending on the color.
Anemones are for luck and protection from evil, but they are also a sign of love forsaken or a lover lost.
This story is the sequel to Red Velvet and Anemones.
Milli Velvet-Haywood was grateful the massive wildfire that had burned since late summer was finally out. An early-October snow storm had finally smothered it and life in Pagosa Cliffs was quickly getting back to normal. Mitchell Abernathy and Jackson Harper-Abernathy were living in the Anemone on the fourth floor. Great-aunt Elizabeth loved having them around and took every opportunity to make Jackson blush, much to Mitch and Milli’s amusement. The couple spent as much time with Emily as Milli did. Little Emily had the same kind of addictive energy that Marni had. Everyone wanted to be near her, and love her, and shower her with gifts, especially Mitch and Jackson.
Sighing, as she tried to make flowers on top of muffin-sized cupcakes with one hand, Milli resisted the urge to chastise them as they talked about taking Emily shopping again while the bakery was closed tomorrow. Milli could hardly believe that Emily would be one year old in only a month. So much had happened in such a short period of time that Milli would not have believed it if she had been told this is where her life would be in eleven short months, from top decorator at the Famous Vegas Cakery to proprietor of the Wild Anemone Bakery. Her sister, Marni, and Milli’s own son, Charlie, had died, and most recently, her mother had died while trying to murder Milli and her friends. She had been married and divorced, fallen in love and been pushed away. Now. Milli was back to raising her niece, running her bakery, and taking care of her ancient great-Aunt in a small Colorado town far away from the lights and chaos of Las Vegas. As she finished the last cupcake, she realized they were talking about shopping for Emily... STILL!
“Milli, do you want to come with us tomorrow?” Mitch asked as he held Emily.
“She hasn’t worn all the clothes you bought her last time,” Aunt Elizabeth reminded with a chuckle. Elizabeth had moved out of the bottom floor during the remodel and was living in one of the two one-bedroom cottages. She was greatly enjoying being retired. “But our fairy princess does need a Halloween costume. Pagosa Cliffs loves every holiday. Will you be baking for the Trunk O’ Treat, Milli?”
Milli looked at her confused, “Trunk of feet?”
Elizabeth chuckled in a very old person way, then explained to them about the tradition of handing out treats at a community Halloween party.
Lloyd looked again at the large red Chinese vase with a phoenix painted on it. It had been sitting in his living room for almost eight weeks. Since the day Molly and Garrett got married, since the day 1283 people had shown up for a wedding meant for 300. Even though Lloyd had no proof, he knew in his heart that Tonia had been the one to place the open invitation to the wedding in the Durango paper. The full-page ad was meant to punish Molly for inviting Tiana, but not her. Molly had even explained to Tonia that the reason she wasn’t invited was because both her brother Tim and her cousin Lloyd, Tonia’s two ex-husbands, would be there and she didn’t want any drama on her wedding day.
So, Tonia had sent the drama in the form of nearly a thousand extra guests, and to Lloyd’s amazement, Milli had answered and gotten her friends to answer with her. It still made him smirk to think about the glowing write-up about the wedding in the paper the next day, along with the brilliant reviews of the food and a detailed account of how the Pali Pōhaku Fish Tacos Truck, Wild Anemone Bakery, and Mountain Rose Cafe had managed to pull off feeding the extra guests without any problems.
Glancing at the urn again, Lloyd could only smile slightly. Milli really was a phoenix, always rising from whatever burned her down. His lips curled in at the thought of Milli kissing him. He still didn’t know what to think about it. Tim was flirting with her and when Lloyd had felt his jealousy blossom, the way it once had with Tonia. He had almost punched his cousin. Then Milli had kissed him gently, told him he was getting upset over nothing, and to go back to cooking the meat. Of course, when Lloyd had gone to ask her what the kiss meant after the guests had left, Tim was there talking to her, and his jealousy reared its ugly head... again. So, he didn’t ask why she kissed him, and she didn’t volunteer the why. Two days later, at the Labor Day community BBQ, they hadn’t spoken or on any day after. Then she had gone to Las Vegas and nearly been killed by her deranged mother.
Waiting for her to wake up while spending his off-duty hours on the fire lines of the Spire Rock Fire had been the hardest five days of his life. Keeping himself from calling every hour of every day for three weeks after her attack had been a battle he had never expected to fight. Now that she was back, he could check on her without anyone knowing he was doing it. He didn’t know when the tiny little baker, who frustrated him so, had become important to the point of obsession, but she had.
He kept telling himself she was too young, and he was too old, they were too different; she was too sweet, and he was too bitter; every excuse no matter how lame. But the longer he said those things to himself the less true they seemed, because every time his mind brought up all the times they had just talked, from the weekend in Blackbear to Molly’s wedding, and how it just felt right to have her in his arms. It had grown from a simple friendship between divorcees into something that could easily be more, and that scared Lloyd because he didn’t know how to be in love with anyone but Tonia. Standing, he ran his fingertips around the lip of the urn while sipping his whiskey and promised himself again that he would take it back to Milli tomorrow and ask her out to dinner.
“Dispatch to McConnell. Lloyd, are you in town or on route?” Ruby asked over the radio, the old dispatcher sounded annoyed.
“McConnell, here. I’m in town.”
“Can you go by the Wild Anemone? I am getting some very strange calls about our baker,” Ruby replied.
“Will do, McConnell out.”
Lloyd slowed as he drove past the Wild Anemone, then slammed on his brakes, before quickly parking. Milli was on the steeply angled roof, arm-cast and all.
“McConnell to Dispatch. I’m at the Anemone, and Milli is on the roof. I’ll take care of it.”
Lloyd hurried over to the side of the house. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?!” he shouted angrily. Lloyd had hated heights ever since he fell off the barn roof and broke three ribs. It wasn’t a fear really, but a healthy respect, one that Milli obviously didn’t have.
She looked at him, waved, and grinned down at him. “Hi, Lloyd. Can’t you tell? I’m putting decorations on the roof for Halloween.”
On the nearly invisible platform that Elizabeth displayed her life-sized nativity, Milli had arranged giant plastic pumpkins and strawbales. A large cutout of the moon was behind it all.
“Hey,” she called down to him. “Can you come inside and put the plug in for my pussy?”
Lloyd could only stare at her in disbelief, surely, she could not have said what his brain said she said. “Your what?” He demanded.
“In the bedroom of number 4 is the cord for my pussy, I need you to plug it in.”
He must have been looking at her like she was crazy because suddenly she blushed furiously, shaking her head, shouting at him, “Not that, you perv!” She held up something black and nylon with a cat face. “This pussy-cat. You know what, never mind, I’ll do it myself!”
“No! Just stay there.” Lloyd shouted back. Mumbling curse words under his breath, he stomped through the dining area of the bakery. “Did you know Milli is on the roof?”
Jackson barely glanced up from placing a tray of cupcakes decorated for Halloween in a display case. “Yes, I did, but I’m gonna warn you now, Deputy, do not get between Princess Trollina and her Halloween decorations. Trolls may be small, but they’re vicious.”
Lloyd glared at him as he unclipped the rope blocking off the stairs, repeating, “She is on the roof with a broken arm.”
“Thanks, Officer Obvious,” Jackson called after him in a taunting tone.
In room four, Lloyd found the cord fed in through the closed window behind the moon cut-out and plugged it in. The small hum of an air compressor filled the room, and outside he heard Milli whoop triumphantly. Making his way to the only open window on the far side of the room, he squeezed between where the bed was shoved to the side and the wall. His heart stopped as he looked out to see Milli standing with her heels practically hanging off the edge, nearly thirty feet above the ground.
“Get in here,” he snapped at her. She scampered across the roof toward him, grinning mischievously.
“Sorry, I know you don’t like heights. But thank you for plugging in my pussy-cat.” She teased, but her cheeks blushed prettily.
He groaned. “Just come in off the roof.” He held out his hand and helped her climb in, but just as she was stepping down she stumbled, pushing him backwards. They fell across the bed with her on top of him.
Milli burst into giggles, “Sorry, Lloyd.”
“Well, at least you had your graceful moment inside where there is something soft to fall on.” He complained.
“Aww Lloyd, there’s nothing wrong with being a big softie,” Milli teased, then she wiggled on top of him and smirked, asking in a coy voice, “Why Deputy Humpy, is that a pistol in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?”
His eyes narrowed. “It is 9mm, specifically a G43 9mm, but I am happy to see you.” The soft jade of her eyes lured him closer to kissing her, but his radio squawked.
“Dispatch to McConnell, have you gotten Ms. Haywood off the roof of the Anemone? We’ve gotten three more calls,” Ruby’s voice demanded. His old aunt sounded annoyed.
Turning his head toward his shoulder, Lloyd answered, “McConnell here, roger that. Ms. Haywood is done decorating.”
“No, I’m n...” Milli started to blurt out, but Lloyd put his hand over her mouth.
“Roger that. Dispatch out.”
Milli rolled away and stood up with a huff, “I’m not done yet, and I’m on my own private property. You can’t tell me what to do.”
“Milli, a dozen people called in worried about you. Call Carlos and Jorge Jr, they do the Christmas lights, they can put up your Halloween nonsense.” He towered over her, it would never cease to amaze him the way her eyes changed colors with her moods. He tried to reason with her. “Please Milli, someone is going to wreck their car wondering why a woman with a broken arm is on the roof.”
Her lips made a downward line, her voice was tight when she spoke. “Fine.”
“Promise?” he demanded sternly.
“I promise,” she sulked.
“I’m glad you’re getting better, but falling off the roof would hurt worse. Please be careful, Milli,” Lloyd said softly as he turned to leave.
“Lloyd?” She looked up at him and the soft green was back. “I’m glad you’re not a cop in the city. I mean, I’m glad you’re here where it’s safe.”
“You know, working here means your family won’t get the call we always worried about Jackson getting about his dad being killed in the line of duty.” Her eyes were so bright and so relieved because she believed he was safe from what she had just gone through.
He didn’t want to tell her that the deputy he had replaced had been killed trying to dispel a domestic dispute, and the one before him was shot by cattle rustler turned murder while Lloyd was in the service. “Thank you, Milli. Your concern is touching. I have to get back on duty. Bye.”
Milli sat down on a chair and listened to him leave. Mitch popped his head in the window. “Your concern is touching. Dammmmnnnn girrrllll. For a moment, I thought I was going to sitting out on the roof while you got a piece of tall, dark, and brooding. But! Nope!” Mitch tutted the ‘T’ and popped the ‘P’ to accent his dismay. “Lights are around the rafters. And the ghost projectors are ready.”
“Thanks, Mitch.” Milli said miserably.
Incredulous at Lloyd’s reaction, Mitch rambled on, “I mean you asked him to plug in your inflatable cat in a very inappropriate way, and he didn’t take the hint. Are you sure he’s not gay? I have a friend...”
“He’s not gay, and Lars isn’t his type. That’s not his issue. You’ve seen who he was married to. That’s the problem. Why would he ever want the princess of the trolls when he’s had the fairest in the land?” Milli blinked rapidly again at the tears of rejection that tried to come.
“Are you okay?” Mitch looked concerned.
“Yeah, my arm just hurts. Will you guys be okay with Elizabeth and Emily if I go take a nap? I think we’re done decorating.” Milli got up and walked out without waiting for an answer.
Mitch closed the window, looking out over the town, he decided he was beginning to like it here, if only he could find someone for Milli.
Downstairs, Mitch hugged Jackson with Emily between them. “Jacks, why can’t he see how great she is?”
Jackson shrugged, “Some men are just blind, like you were till she pointed out that I loved you.”
“Yeah, well, there were extraneous circumstances, I was drunk and stupid.” Mitch explained.
“But not anymore?” Jackson asked. Emily cooed and patted his chest, making Mitch chuckle.
“Not anymore, nor ever again, my love.” Mitch responded and kissed Jackson on jaw. “We’ll find someone for her.”
This was what they wanted for Milli, to love and be loved. She deserved to have a beautiful family. They wished they could find someone who loved Milli the way they loved each other. The door chimed, and they looked up to see the last person they ever expected to see in Pagosa Cliffs ... Heith Rowling.