Cadence of Cranberries - Valerie Comer

Chapter One

“The usual?”

Winnie Santoro nodded, blinking back sudden moisture in her eyes. “Thank you.” When was the last time someone besides her kids had remembered her preferences for ten minutes, let alone an entire week? Since Al, that’s when. And her husband had been gone for over two years now.

The man in the coffee truck moved with quiet efficiency, prepping her latte and adding an artful flourish of whipped cream on top. He smiled at her as he slipped a sleeve on the paper cup and set it on the ledge.

“Do you remember everyone’s orders?” She handed him her payment.

His blue eyes twinkled. “Just the pretty ladies who come alone.”

She’d asked for that, but she couldn’t fault him for the flirt. He looked to be a bit older than her fifty years, with lightly silvered thinning hair. His cranberry red Henley sported a stylized version of Spokane’s signature redband trout, the emblem of Redband Roasters.

For once, there was no one behind her waiting for their cup of java at the Kendall Yards Night Market. With frost in the air this October evening, she’d have thought lots of people would need a warmup.

“What do you do with the truck when the markets close in fall?” Not that it was any of her business, but today had been a hard day, and she needed to stay distracted for more than thirty seconds.

“This will be my first winter since I bought the company, but I’ve got a three-pronged plan.” He smiled again, the skin around his eyes crinkling as he did.

His face was made for smiling. “Oh?” Suddenly, Winnie actually wanted to know.

“I’m booked for several area festivals through the Christmas season, I’ve got a place to park the truck near offices downtown weekdays, and I plan to approach more local restaurants about carrying my brand.”

“It’s terrific coffee. You shouldn’t have any trouble finding outlets.” She sipped the brew. Probably had a whipped cream mustache, too. She reached for the dispenser only to find the man was already handing her a napkin.

“I should hire you as a spokeswoman.”

Winnie chuckled as she dabbed her lip. “Have you approached the owners of Bridgeview Bakery and Bistro? They might be willing to talk.” She pointed across the river in the general direction.

“I haven’t. Frankly, I’ve been too busy learning the ropes of my new business and running the truck over the summer. They’re on my list, though.”

“Tell them Winnie sent you. Not that I have any influence there.”

“Winnie. That’s a lovely name.” He reached through the opening. “I’m Charlie.”

“Pleased to meet you. Officially.” She shifted the cup to her left hand and shook his hand. He might not wear the calluses like Al had obtained from decades of trimming trees, but Charlie’s grip was firm, nonetheless. The warmth of it filtered through her. Welcome, but strange.

He looked out over the evening market for a moment, and she turned to do the same, sipping the latte. Canvas canopies lined both sides of Summit Parkway, but the crowds that had thronged the area even half an hour ago had thinned out as darkness fell.

Winnie was going to miss these Wednesday evening excursions. She told the boys she needed to pick up farm-fresh vegetables, so she made sure to come home with something. A few squash — neither of the boys’ favorite — a jar of fiery salsa, maybe some pasture-raised chicken or gourmet cheese or a boule of artisan sourdough. Honestly, she came more for the outing than the shopping.

And for her weekly specialty latte... but if anyone thought to approach the truck, she was blocking their trajectory. No one seemed to be angling this direction, though, and she didn’t feel like moving.

“Mr. Winnie doesn’t prefer to come to the Night Market?”

Mr. Winnie? Right, she hadn’t offered her surname. Probably because there were so many Santoros in Spokane this man probably knew one — or maybe ten of them. Tonight, she wanted incognito. To be just herself. But his curious gaze was fixed on her wedding rings. She should take them off, but that seemed so final. So traitorous. “He is enjoying dancing in heaven at the feet of Jesus.”

“I’m sorry. None of my business.”

“It’s been over two years.” Winnie hesitated. “Today would have been our twenty-seventh wedding anniversary.” Which summed up why this had been an uncharacteristically melancholy day. Not that she needed to unload it all on a stranger.

“So... you were nearly to your twenty-fifth.”

“We had plans for our silver anniversary. A big party and then a Copyright 2016 - 2023