Home > Small Town Charm

Small Town Charm
Author: Carolyn Brown


Chapter One


If the punishment for being a curvy woman was being sent to live in a big city, then Cricket Lawson would have had to make peace with her maker, because she would surely die if she ever had to move from Bloom, Texas. She’d always been slightly overweight, and she’d tried to lose weight more times than she could count on her fingers and toes. Then she’d come to the realization that diet was a four-letter word—and those were a sin to think or even say out loud.

The thermometer on her porch said it was past ninety degrees, so when she got home from working all day in her secondhand bookstore, Cricket changed into a pair of cutoff jeans and a chambray shirt, which she tied up under her breasts, leaving her midriff bare. For the past two days Bloom, Texas, had had rain, rain, and more rain, so she kicked off her shoes at the edge of the garden and waded out in the mud in her bare feet. No one else was within a mile of the huge vegetable garden where Cricket picked tomatoes and beans that hot evening.

“Romeo,” was blasting through her MP3 player, and Cricket sang right along with Dolly Parton. When Billy Ray Cyrus began to sing his part in the song, she did a few line-dance steps. Mud flew up and stuck on the backs of her legs, but she didn’t care. She lived so far out of town that no one could see her. If they could, it would sure enough give everyone in the town something to talk about.

She put her hands on her knees and did a little twerking. “That would really set their tongues a waggin’,” she giggled. “Someday, my Romeo will come along, and he’ll sweep me right off my feet, but the way I look right now, I hope it’s not today.”

It seemed like an omen when the next song on her player was “Something to Talk About.” Holding a cucumber as a microphone, she sang along with Bonnie Raitt and danced around a half-bushel basket almost full of green beans. She’d just finished doing a little two-step with an imaginary partner when she caught a movement out of the corner of her eye.

Her brother Rick and sister-in-law had just taken their two kids on a vacation to the beach the day before and wouldn’t be home for two weeks, so it couldn’t be either of them. She whipped around too fast, slipped in the mud, and fell flat on her butt. Dirty water splashed all the way up her bare midriff and across her arms. She didn’t even try to get up but just sat there and stared at the man standing at the edge of the garden.

“Hello, I’m Bryce Walton,” he said. “Were you practicing for a country music video?”

“No, I’m taking a mud bath,” she snapped at him. “What are you doing on my property?”

“Lettie gave me your phone number, but there was no answer when I called. She gave me the directions out here and told me you could sell me some fresh vegetables,” Bryce explained.

“How do you know Lettie?” Cricket’s tone softened a little.

“I bought the Bloom Pharmacy,” Bryce said. “Today was my first day to work, and I’m renting Lettie and Nadine’s garage apartment until I can find something to buy. Do I need to give you a résumé to buy okra and tomatoes?”

Cricket knew that the pharmacy had sold—everyone in Bloom knew that two hours after the papers were signed. But she hadn’t expected the new pharmacist to be so young—or so tall. She’d thought he’d be middle aged, bald, and wearing bifocals perched on the end of his nose. Lettie had told her that he’d moved into the apartment, but Cricket was so busy that she hadn’t even gone to the pharmacy to get her daily limeade that day. Now she wished she had.

Bryce had clear blue eyes, a full head of dark hair, and was probably about her age of thirty-one. He wasn’t muscled up like a weightlifter, and maybe looked a little soft in his belly, but all in all, he was a good-looking guy.

“I’m Cricket Lawson. I’d shake hands, but I don’t think you want a fistful of mud.” She got to her feet and made her way out of the garden. She picked up the water hose, sprayed the mud off her body, and then asked, “How much okra and how many tomatoes do you want?”

“Pleased to meet you,” Bryce said. “I’d like a basket of each if you have them. I hear that you own the Sweet Seconds Book Store right next to my pharmacy, and that you usually have fresh produce in that store.”

Cricket vowed that she would carry her phone in her pocket from then on, even if she had to put it in a Ziploc baggie. Lettie and Nadine were her good friends and gossip gals. No doubt, they had tried to call her several times that evening to tell her about Bryce coming out to her little farm. Bless their hearts, they were always trying to fix her up with someone, and she kept telling them that she was going to grow up and be like both of them—old maids who kept track of everything that went on in Bloom.

“I’ve got plenty,” she answered. “There’s a little more than a pound in each basket. Do you want big boy tomatoes or the small cherry tomatoes? And yes, I own the bookstore, and I sell produce as well as used books. Do you like to read?”

“Every chance I get.” Bryce’s smile lit up his whole face. “I’ll be over to visit your store as soon as I can. And I’d like the small tomatoes, please.”

“What I’ve got gathered is in the house. Wait right here, and I’ll bring them out to you.” She walked past him and glanced up at his wide shoulders. Yep, the man was at least six feet, four inches tall—maybe even a little more than that. Cricket was only three inches over five feet and she barely came to his shoulder. She predicted that there would be a lot of sick women in Bloom in the next few weeks—especially those who were single or divorced. She could just imagine them lined up waiting to get prescriptions filled, or to buy bottles of aspirin, or even to get a soft drink or limeade at the soda fountain. The barstools in front of the counter wouldn’t get cold with one woman sliding onto one the moment another left.

“I’ll be right here,” Bryce said.

If Lettie and Nadine liked him enough to give him her cell phone number, then Cricket thought she should invite him in, maybe even for a glass of sweet tea. But if she did that and he mentioned it in town, the gossip vine would burst into flames. She could hear the clucking from the old women’s tongues, sounding like mother hens gathering in their baby peeps before a storm, as they pitied her for trying to latch on to a man like Bryce. No, ma’am! Cricket didn’t need or want anyone to feel sorry for her.

Besides that, everything she’d worn to work that day was hung over the back of kitchen chairs, including her bra and underpants. She’d taken them off in a hurry and changed into what she called her work clothes—an old bra, a shirt she could tie up under her breasts, and a pair of cutoff jeans. She couldn’t bring a good-looking man like Bryce into her house to a sight like that, much less to sit down at the table with him for a glass of sweet tea with mud caked in her hair.

“Some days you win,” she muttered as she picked up a basket of okra and piled a few more pods on the top. “Most days you lose.” She added half a dozen more tomatoes to that basket.

The phone rang as she was walking out the back door, but she ignored it. If anyone found out that she hadn’t answered her phone, the news would probably make the Bloom Weekly News under the HEARD column on the front page. She could see the little article already:

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