Poison Apple Crisp by Addison Moore

Chapter 1

My name is Lottie Lemon, and I see dead people. Okay, so rarely do I see dead people. Mostly I see furry creatures of the dearly departed variety, who have come back from the other side to warn me of their previous owner’s impending doom. But right now, I’m not seeing a dead anything. Instead, I’m seeing both Noah and Everett mingling with my friends and family in my bakery as I build up the courage to make a very big announcement.

It’s the first Saturday in September, and the Cutie Pie Bakery and Cakery just finished up with a crowd of customers. It’s just a little after one in the afternoon, and I’m beyond exhausted. I’ve been working all morning making dozens upon dozens of individual apple crisps in cupcake parchment for the Honey Hollow High back-to-school fundraiser set for tonight. It was a special request from the head of the PTA, who’s coming by in just a bit to pick them up.

Noah and Everett and I will all be in attendance tonight because it just so happens that my daughter Evie will be entering as a junior this year. She’ll also be having her sweet sixteen in just a few weeks, so this is going to be a big month for her.

Everly, or Evie as she prefers to be called, is the daughter I share with Everett. She came into our lives last spring when we discovered her mother had been keeping her a secret from the world—more importantly from Everett himself. Evie looks just like her daddy, with thick, glossy hair that’s black as night and stunning blue eyes. In fact, Evie is stunning all the way around, and she’s a bit of a spitfire, too. Since her birth mother is sort of a dud, I’ve taken Evie on as my own and she’s taken to calling me Mom—a title I’ll be far more intimately acquainted with in the very near future.

Which brings me to my big news. There are only two more people I’m waiting on before I can announce it, and that would be my best friend, Keelie, and my sister, Lainey, both of which just became mothers themselves a little over two weeks ago.

I take a moment to look around my sweet bakery, with its butter yellow walls, its pastel mismatched furniture, and the silk fall leaves and pumpkins decorating the vicinity.

The bakery is attached to the Honey Pot Diner next door through a shared wall. The Honey Pot just so happens to have a tall resin oak tree in the middle of it, with its branches stretching over the ceiling, crawling all the way into my café. And each branch is wrapped in twinkle lights, giving the place a homey appeal.

I glance at all of the familiar faces circulating around the room. My mother is here, along with Noah’s father, Wiley. They’ve been joined at the hip for far too long, and I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it.

Noah’s mother, Suze, is here as well, but strangely that’s not awkward at all. In fact, she’s having a lively conversation with Everett’s mother, Eliza, and his sister, Meghan. Just about everyone I know is in my bakery at the moment. My stepsiblings, one of my sisters, and my birth mother, Carlotta, are here as well. Carlotta looks like an older version of me—same caramel-colored hair and hazel eyes—but think more gray and crow’s feet.

In just a few minutes, my new reality will be out in the open. It will become real in every single way. And this event that’s about to change my life forever will be changing their lives, too.

Noah laughs at something Everett tells him, and I can’t help but sigh their way.

Noah Corbin Fox was my steady boyfriend for a good long spate of time. He’s handsome to a fault with his dark hair that turns a touch crimson in the sun. He has mesmerizing green eyes and deep dimples that are so adorable they should be illegal in all fifty states.

He’s the lead homicide detective down at the Ashford County Sheriff’s Department, and he’s spent the better half of the two years I’ve known him trying to make up for the fact he had a wife he was keeping a secret from me. Well, it wasn’t as bad as I’m painting it to be, but it sure did mark the beginning of the end for us.

And then there’s Everett—Judge Essex Everett Baxter. He’s criminally good-looking in just about every way. You know the type, black hair, demanding blue eyes, hardly ever smiles, a touch too serious, a touch too lethally handsome. He prefers to go by his middle name, Everett, and uses his formal moniker as sort of a door prize to the myriad of women he’s bedded. Yes, I’ve certainly garnered the right to call him Essex, but prior to our mattress mambo, I was already used to calling him Everett, so I’ve just stuck with it.

I’ve seen women get darn right caustic trying to crane their necks to get a better look at either of those men, and I can’t say I blame them.