Read the Never Say Chai Excerpt: Chapters 1-3



CHAPTER ONE


Never panic-shop.

Also, never drink and shop. And especially never panic, drink, and shop.

I’d done all of the above.

The tearoom’s oven had broken last month while I was baking quiches. The estimate for its repair had been nearly as much as a new oven. In a fit of panic and piña coladas, I’d bought a new one.

The thought still made my insides curdle like over-whipped cream. Industrial ovens ain’t cheap.

I hated budget pandemonium, especially when I was its cause. There was a certain joy in watching numbers fall into place, especially on the profit side of the ledger. And I’d just messed with my carefully balanced tearoom universe.

So I was more than a little anxious as I studied the room. Miniature pumpkins lined its broad windows. Paper bats dangled from hanging lamps and sprouted from tiered tea trays.

Even the costumed Tarot readers had gotten into the Halloween groove. The scent of baking sugar and pumpkin hung in the air. Women chatted at their tables, teacups clinking.

It was October first, day one of the Halloween season, and San Borromeo (saint of heartburn) was becoming a Halloween town. This was a good thing for those of us dependent on tourism. Tourists don’t flock to the Pacific beach quite as often in October, despite the occasional day of spectacular weather. The Halloween festivities meant more customers.

Beanblossom’s Tea and Tarot needed those customers, especially after that new oven.

It was a really awesome oven, though.

A waitress hurried to the counter. “One pot of apple-blossom green.”

I poured a pot of tea and handed it across the counter to her. She bustled to a table.

My business partner, Hyperion, slouched into the tearoom. In his black turtleneck and slacks, he looked like a depressed Dracula – the modern, sexy kind.

I tensed. Though he ran the Tarot side of the tearoom and left the rest to me, I hadn’t actually told him how much I’d paid for the new oven yet. Or that I’d used my share of this month’s marketing budget, and I was still in the hole.

Hyperion set an enormous plastic tube-like thing on the white-quartz counter.

“What’s that?” I adjusted the monkey hanging from my belt. I’d dressed like a zookeeper, in a pith helmet and khakis. Little had I known the costume would be prophetic.

“A t-shirt cannon.”

I puzzled over why a Tarot reader would need a t-shirt cannon. “Okay,” I said slowly. “And the—”

My partner groaned. “I hate October.” Hyperion rested his elbows on the counter and scraped his hands through his thick, dark hair. His handsome face twisted with despair, and he buried his head in his hands.

“Just because we can’t serve Death tea for the season—”

“It’s not the tea that’s the problem.”

“Then what?” We’d been creating a new Tarot-themed tea every month. For October, I’d gone with the Justice card, because it corresponded to Libra, an October sign. So did Scorpio, associated with the Death card. But Death tea was a no-go. I didn’t want people to think we were poisoning them.

“October is cursed.” Hyperion motioned vaguely around the tearoom. “It’s even worse than Mercury retrograde. My readings are always off around Halloween. Nothing goes right.” He cocked his dark head. “Though the costumes are amazing.”

“What’s your beef with October? Did something happen?”

“Something always happens,” he said. “That’s the point of a Halloween curse.”

“I meant recently.”

“No.” His shoulders caved inward, and he dropped his chin, a picture of misery.

An elderly lady rose from her table. Leaning heavily on her walker, she made her way toward the door.

“Hold that thought.” I hurried to open the door for her.

“Thank you,” she said. “There’s my ride share.” She nodded toward a blue Hyundai.

“Let me get that.” I opened the passenger door and glanced at the driver.

“Mrs. Sterling?” the driver asked.

“She’ll be just a minute.” I helped Mrs. Sterling inside the car and folded her walker. The driver stepped out and put it in the trunk.

“Getting old is chaos,” the old lady said. “Everything you expect to work, doesn’t. Take my advice, it’s best to lower expectations.” She chuckled.

I smiled and waved and watched them drive away, then returned inside the tearoom.

Hyperion was still drooping over the counter and bringing down the tearoom’s cheerful Halloween tone.

“Okay,” I said. “What’s up?”