By: Elizabeth Hunter

Chapter One

Emmie Elliot lasted three breaths in the old bookshop, her measured exhalations stirring dust motes that danced in the afternoon light streaming in from the large display windows that looked over Main Street. She backed out the front door and turned her back on Metlin Books, staring at the lazy midday traffic driving south on 7th Avenue. Then she bent over, braced her hands on her knees, and let her auburn hair fall, shielding her face from the afternoon sun.

Daisy walked out of the corner shop and came to stand beside her. “What’s going on? You’re even paler than usual.”

“I can’t do it.”

“Can’t do what?”

Emmie straightened. “I can’t sell the shop.”

Daisy’s eyes went wide. “I thought you and your gran—”

“Yeah.” Emmie took a deep breath, clearing the dust from her lungs. “I know.”

What are you doing, Emmie?

She had no idea.

She’d spent her whole life trying to get away from this town. The bookstore was her grandmother’s. Sure, she’d grown up in it, and sure, she worked in a bookstore in San Francisco, but that was just temporary. She was just doing that until something happened. Something bigger. More important. More… something.

Emmie was twenty-seven and still waiting for something big to happen. She had a job she tolerated, an apartment she loved. No husband, no boyfriend, a mother she barely spoke to. She didn’t even have a cat.

Her assets in the world consisted of a newish car, a very small inheritance from her grandma Betsy, a circle of carefully chosen friends, and a three-unit retail building on the corner of Main Street and 7th Avenue, right in the heart of Metlin, a sleepy town in the middle of Central California.

She and her grandmother had talked about it a year ago, when they knew the cancer wasn’t going into remission. Emmie was supposed to sell the building and use the proceeds as a nest egg for…

They’d never really talked about that part.

“What’s going on, Em? What are you thinking?” Daisy frowned and twisted a lock of dark wavy hair back in the bun on top of her head. It was afternoon, but she was still wearing her apron from baking that morning. With her tan skin, dark eyes, and retro apron, Daisy looked like an updated Latina June Cleaver if you didn’t notice the tattoos at her wrists.

Her friend Tayla had offered to accompany her from San Francisco, but Emmie had refused. Emmie was taking a full two weeks off work from Bay City Books, but Tayla worked at a big accounting firm and couldn’t afford to take the time off. She’d never been to Metlin and had no desire to visit. Tayla was a city girl to her bones.

It’s fine, Emmie had told her. It’s not like I have any reason to stay. My mom cleaned out my grandma’s apartment. I’ll visit Daisy and Spider, sign papers to put the place on the market, and leave.

Emmie straightened her blouse and played with the buttons on the sleeve of her cardigan. She wasn’t dressed for Metlin; she was dressed for an upscale bookshop in union   Square. If anyone from her childhood were to pass by, they would have a hard time putting Emmie’s sleek hair and tidy, professional appearance together with the rumpled girl who’d spent most of her life hiding behind a book.

She didn’t belong in Metlin anymore. She never had. She’d always wanted a bigger life. A more important life around people who liked music and art and travel, not farmers and mechanics and ranchers.

Daisy said, “I know you must have sentimental attachment to the building, but I’m not sure you realize—”

“How bad it was?” Emmie picked at a thread on one of her buttons, twisting it between her thumb and forefinger. “I know how bad it was. Grandma was completely up-front with me.”

Emmie had no illusions about the state of Metlin Books. The shop was barely hanging on. The only thing her grandma’d had going for her was that she owned the building, the apartment above it, and rented to two successful neighbors, a family hardware business and Café Maya, Daisy’s restaurant.

She walked over and sat on the cast-iron bench in front of the bookstore windows, kicking at the doggie water dish chained to the bench. The dish that had remained dry since her grandmother had passed six months before. “Bookstores are not a good bet.”