Trouble in Paradise

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Known for being one of the safest places on earth, Paradise is exactly what it sounds like—Lush greenery, friendly smiles, and never too many junebugs. And that’s the way Honey, the town’s quiet bookseller likes it. Enter odd newcomer, Sam Worth. At 6’2”, this motorcycle-driving, leather wearing stranger is sure to attract attention. Especially when danger seems to follow Sam wherever he goes. Wildly attracted to Sam, Honey can’t help but hope that Sam has nothing to do with a sudden string of crime, but it’s hard to believe Sam is innocent when he’s so clearly hiding something...

Romance / Mystery
JN Ras
5.0 1 review
Age Rating:

A Stranger Comes to Town

The trouble with small towns is that everyone always romanticizes them. They’re always perfect, quaint, and quiet. There will be friendly neighbors, picturesque views, and an overall feeling of shelter from the anxieties of the larger cities. A safe haven, if you will.

But, the truth is, small towns host the same type of people as the rest of the world. Sure, neighbors can be friendly, it they can also be nosy. After all, there’s not really much else to do.

“Honey!” Matila’s voice called from the other side of the door. The knocking ensued, growing louder by the second. While Matilda was an incredibly sweet woman—she was always the first person to bring over a fresh baked peach pie should the need arise—the 63 year old woman had taken her self-appointed position as the guardian of the younger generations just a tad too seriously.

"I'm coming!" I called, hopping into the last boot I had yet to put on. Bracing one hand on the door frame, I huffed out a breath that pulled my choppy bangs from the thin sheen of sweat from my forehead. It was hot, as usual.

A late spring thunderstorm had kept me up all night the previous night. The second I pulled myself from my bed this morning, I knew we were in for a scorcher today. The smell that wafted in through the windows had been a dead giveaway that the heat would compound on itself with just a little help from the ninety percent humidity currently brewing around the dozens of algae-ridden ponds littered about town.

"Honey!" Matilda called once more, and not for the first time, I wished to high heaven that I lived in some place even more remote than Paradise.

Sure, Paradise was great. The founders of Paradise stumbled upon this stretch of fertile land way back when and instantly fell in love with it. The Spanish moss, the croaking toads every evening, the thousands of lightning bugs, and the fact that Paradise was so far away from any city that really meant anything to anyone else... they simply found their little slice of heaven on earth. The origin story grew into legend and influenced everything about Paradise to this very day.

I've lived here my whole life and my neighbors feel more like family than strangers. Summers have always been hot and winters have always been mild--and nothing unexpected ever happened here.

My parent's parents moved to Paradise just after they got married, around 60 years ago. Back then, Paradise seemed like a booming town, bound to grow into itself and make its mark on the map. But with the decline in popularity of small towns and the demand of jobs in the city, Paradise never really grew into much of anything at all. In fact, most maps didn't even recognize Paradise.

We were hidden, Matilda used to tell me, like the Garden of Eden.

I flung the door open to face Matilda at last, huffing and puffing my breaths from my intense struggle with my wellies. I knew the muck would sooner take my nice shoes than let me escape unscathed. Oh, I'd learned my lesson on that fact as a little girl all right.

"Mornin' Tilda," I said, shooting her a tense smile and digging through my purse for my car keys. I had no reason to lock my front door. There had never been crime in Paradise, at least, not crime worth worrying about.

There was this one time that Sharon Thistle accidentally stole her neighbor's car, but that was just because they looked so similar and Sharon had been in such a hurry. It was a mistake anyone could have made, really. Sheriff Dawson really had quite the laugh about that case and afterwards he'd made it very clear that us townsfolk really should take our vehicle keys with us instead of just leaving them in the car to avoid further mistakes like Sharon's.

"My word, Honey," Tilda scolded, a light scowl flitting across her features, "Couldn't you hear me knocking?"

I stepped towards my car, throwing an apologetic look over my shoulder towards her as she followed me to the car. "Sorry Tilda. I was just dressing for the day, you know. I didn't think you'd really appreciate a view of me in my skivvies."

She blushed a bright red and spluttered, "W-well no, Honey. But you could at least have said something instead of keeping me waiting at the door."

"You're right, Tilda," I sighed, knowing I'd shouted I'd be right there at least half a dozen times. Maybe it was time for Matilda to invest in a hearing aide, but I'd never be the one to bring it up first. "Is there something you wanted to tell me?" I asked, leaning one elbow on the top of my car.

And just like that, she remembered what she spent all that time trying to get my attention for. A light entered her eyes and she had the decency to look scandalized as she leaned forward to ask to me in a motherly tone, "Have you seen the news?"

I shook my head, frowning, "No, why?"

"Heavens to Betsy," Tilda reprimanded, "You know I've been telling you to pay more attention to the world around us. You've got to start listening to what's happening! You never know when trouble will finally come to Paradise."

I chuckled in disbelief, "Tilda, the day Paradise gains any crime at all will be a cold day in Hell."

She gasped, her hand covering her heart at the vulgar language use, "Honey!"

"Oh, sorry, Tilda. You know what I mean. Nothing's ever happened here. No one even knows about this place!"

She waggled one wise finger at me, scowl falling back into place, "Never say never, young lady. You know, just the other day, I heard that Janet's son, Rob? He forgot to pay for his gas at the station! Just walked right off as if it were nothing! We're just one bad apple away from a full-blown crime state!"

"Tilda," I reprimanded, frowning at her. "Is that what you're so upset about? You know Rob is forgetful--ever since he fell off that cliff in the fourth grade."

She tucked one silver curl behind her ear and crossed her arms over her chest, wrinkling her loose cotton button up. "Fine, maybe Rob really did forget this time. But I'm not joking about watching the news!"

"I'm sure," I appeased, opening the car door to let some of the steam out and blow in some fresh air before I started it.

"There was an awful robbery in Charleston," Tilda continued, tipping her nose in the air. "The news said a group of thieves broke into one of those fancy jewelry stores and nearly turned the place upside down! Tied the overnight security guard up and waved a gun in his face!" She gasped at the thought of the terrible crime, her face taking on a pink tinge as she upset herself.

I placed a hand on her shoulder, starling her from her runaway thoughts. "Matilda, we aren't even in the same state as Charleston. That place is hundreds of miles away. You can bet your life we won't be affected by anything that happened there."

"But, Honey," she replied, her lower lip trembling in fear, "don't you see? Anything could happen, anywhere!"

Shaking her shoulder a few light times, I reassured her, "I'm just saying, I wouldn't worry about it if I were you. Now," I straightened, looking pointedly at my car, "I'm late for work, so if you need to talk about this later, I'll be home around the same time as usual and we can talk about it then."

I didn't want to tell her that she should probably stop watching the news so much if it upset her so, but the thought nagged at me from the back of my head. Lately, Tilda had been so upset by anything she saw as being negative, that I was starting to worry about her. Stressing that much couldn't be good for her, after all.

She wished me a good day at work as I folded myself into my car, not really too terribly worried about being late for work. Besides Mr. Peters, the owner, I was the only bookseller at the shop. I knew I'd be the first person to show up--employee or customer. Business was slow, but then again, everything was slow in Paradise. The only conceivable way I could imagine that Mr. Peters had been able to keep the shop open for so long was if he had either so much money he didn't care where it went, or if rent was really so cheap for businesses that it didn't matter if we only sold five books on a good business day.

The thunderstorm certainly did the town's greenery good, I thought as I made my way to work. Paradise really seemed to come alive and bloom overnight. The honeybees and butterflies would have a hayday once they discovered the lush vegetation.

Once I arrived at the bookshop, the day progressed as I'd expected. Hardly anyone entered, and those who did enter only did so to speak with me. First, Mrs. Wellington stopped in to ask me how I thought church went this Sunday. One glance at her face told me she was entirely smitten with our new pastor--a man in his mid 30's with kind brown eyes. She fanned herself furiously in an attempt to quiet her blush after I made sure to mention how handsome he was and how he just could hardly keep his eyes off of her. Granted, it may have been the immense hat she insisted she wear that seemed to grow larger by the week, but she wouldn't be dissuaded from wearing the thing. Ever since Mr. Wellington passed on, she seemed lonely and the newest pastor seemed like a good option for her to figuratively--or literally--hang her hat on.

Next, Ivan, Paradise's best farmer, stopped by to ask me if I thought he should buy the slot of land on the southern end of town to add to his farm. His horses were getting restless, he'd said, and since I knew Terry the best, with us being neighbors and all, would I ask Terry about the quality of the grasses there and if they seemed fit for Ivan's horses. I assured him I'd ask before the end of the week and watched with a small amount of amusement as Ivan's shoulders dropped in relief. For my trouble, he'd assured me, he'd send me a box of free vegetables with at least one radish as large as my head.

Then, around two o'clock in the afternoon, my childhood friend Eva came in to visit. She slapped a ten on the counter and told me to give her something good to read, something sexy enough to attract questions from her childhood crush, one Miles Bradshaw.

"It's now or never," she announced, a defiant gleam in her eyes as a mischievous smile broke across her face. Miles was, admittedly, one of the most handsome men in Paradise. The fresh air and hours spent in the sun certainly did him good. Tall, blonde, lanky, and with just enough muscle gained from helping Ivan on his farm, Miles had turned from a boy into a man and Eva had of course noticed.

She sighed dreamily and fit her chin into her hand as she watched me rifle through the stacks for the perfect book, "One of these days, I'm going to be Mrs. Bradshaw, you know."

I laughed and looked back at her, "I have no doubt. You always get what you set your mind to."

She grinned, a set of pearly white teeth gleamed in the light as her caramel hair curled around her face from where it had escaped her braid. "You'll be my maid of honor, right, Honey?"

I set down the book I had been considering for her and reached over to take her hand, "I'd love nothing more. How about a classic, hmm?"

She pulled the copy of Don Quixote towards her and mulled over the summary, pulling her bottom lip between her teeth. She nodded at last and watched me as I calculated the cost of the book with my employee discount added in. I arched an eyebrow at her as I read the total to her, "$9.75."

She tutted and tucked the book under her arm, "Nah, Honey. Keep it. Add it to your savings or something."

I flapped my hand at her advice and plunked one quarter in the tips jar. Eva pushed away from the counter, then paused as something appeared to come to mind to her.

"Tilda talk to you yet?" she asked, fingers resting on the edge of the counter.

I sighed and nodded, curious as to why she'd bring it up. "Why?" I asked, "Did she say something to you?"

She nodded, coming back to rest her hip against the wood. She set the book down and crossed her arms, worrying the skin on her elbow as she thought. "I didn't think anything about it either, when she talked to me, but then I saw this morning's paper."

I straightened, frowning, "And?"

Her forehead wrinkled as she thought back, worry lines formed around her mouth until she spoke, "It's real weird, Honey. The news pretty much skimmed over what happened."

I nodded, showing Eva I was listening.

"It's so weird!" she exclaimed, "It's like, one minute, everything was free and normal there, and the next, they said it was like the navy SEALs broke in. They did more than just rob the place," she added. "They scared the poor overnight security guard half to death! Told him they'd find him and kill him if he so much as moved a muscle to stop them, in the moment or in the future. They beat him to a pulp and then overturned every jewelry display and stole at least a million dollars in products."

"That sounds terrible," I agreed.

"It's not even the first time they've struck!" she cried. "This group of five people have been robbing stores left and right all along the coast and they're getting closer every time they do it!"

I smiled as gently as I could and took her hand again, "Look, Eva," I said, "I'm going to tell you what I told Tilda. Paradise isn't even on the map. They're not going to come here, I promise you. There's no need to worry. We're safe here. They'll find the people responsible soon--they can't get away with it forever." I squeezed her hand reassuringly until she smiled softly back at me.

"I guess you're right," she admitted, tucking her book back under her arm. "Look at me," she chuckled, "I'm turning into an old hen."

I shook my head at her and tutted, "No, no. Not at all. Now, you go catch yourself a man before Lucille decides to get up and steal him from you."

She frowned and stiffened. "Over my dead body," she growled and practically flew out of the shop.

Ten minutes later, I had busied myself with reorganizing the books in the fiction section when I heard the door chime once more. Figuring it was Eva once again, I chuckled and called, "Back again so soon? Did you forget something?"

My questions were met with an unwavering silence. I paused, my hands drawing away from the bookshelf as I listened intently. "Eva?" I asked, walking towards the front door.

"Eva, I--oh!" I stopped in my tracks as my gaze settled on someone I'd never seen before. And in paradise, that was quite the feat.

A man, about my age, 26 or so, stood at the counter, fingers drumming on the hard wood as he read a scrap of paper before him. He stood at roughly 6'2" if the height sign behind him was anything to go on, and wore all black. Black jeans, a black t-shirt, and a glorious black leather jacket. His head swiveled in my direction at the sound of my voice and his hand crumpled the paper and shoved it deep in his jacket pocket. Crystal blue eyes met mine and I felt my mouth drop open at the sight.

"I-oh, uh, sorry," I stammered, coming up to stand behind the counter. "Um, how can I help you?" I asked, feeling myself blush.

He swallowed and my eyes watched as his Adam's apple bobbed enticingly mere inches from my face. "I think I'm lost," he admitted, bending to look me in the eyes. A lock of jet black hair fell into his eyes and my hand itched to reach out and smooth it back into place so I'd once again have an uninterrupted view of this man. I felt myself blush at the thought and wished desperately that the bookshop had better A/C so I could actually cool down.

"What town is this?" he asked when I failed to reply to his earlier statement.

I shook myself from my daze and answered, "Paradise."

He grinned, "Well, I know that sweetheart, just by looking at you."

I needed some water. The heat had finally taken its toll on me and I definitely hadn't hydrated enough. This was a mirage, an illusion, to be sure.

"Excuse me?" I asked, albeit, breathlessly.

He chuckled and leaned closer to the point where I could smell the fine leather smell emanating from his jacket. "Could I have a map?" he asked, his breath fanning across my cheeks.

I frowned, confused for a moment, then shook my head. "I'm afraid that wouldn't help."

"And why not?" he watched me closely and I felt utterly pinned to the spot.

"Paradise isn't on any map," I explained, stepping back in order to regain some of my thinking capacity. "It's too small of a town. But, I could give you directions if you want?"

"Not on a map, you say?" he asked, seemingly interested.

"No," I answered, shaking my head.

He grinned suddenly, rocking back on his heels. "That's actually perfect," he said. "Tell me, does Paradise have a hotel around here?"

I arched an eyebrow at him, suddenly feeling suspicious. "Mrs. Wellington has a bed and breakfast, if that helps."

He nodded as if that would do just fine and waited for me to continue to give him directions.

"Paradise doesn't usually get visitors," I remarked, taking in his dirty clothes and obvious out-of-town vibe. "There's not a lot to do," I explained in the silence.

He leaned down so his arms could cross on the counter and looked me deeply in the eye, "Listen, sweetheart," he said, turning the charm on full blast, "I'm on vacation now. A place where the rest of the world can't find me sounds perfect."

A beat of strained silence passed between us and at last, I nodded. "Fine," I replied. "Follow Main Street south two blocks and turn right on Cherry Street. Mrs. Wellington's is the yellow house on the end."

He grinned once more and pushed back from the counter, "Thanks, Miss...?"

"Honey," I said, deciding to give him my name. "Honey Lawson," I repeated.

He laughed and shook his head. "Of course it is," he muttered to himself. "I'll be seeing you, Honey," he called on his way out the door.


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