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BLACKBERRY SUMMER
by RaeAnne Thayne

Genre: General Contemporary Romance, Contemporary Romance

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"We are each of us angels with one wing. And we can only fly embracing each other."
—Luciano de Crescenzo

***

Lousy, stupid horoscope.

Claire Bradford stood with one hand on the doorway and the other clutching her coffee go-cup as she stared at the chaotic mess inside her store.

According to the stars—at least according to the horoscope in the Hope Gazette she'd scanned while standing in line at her friend Maura's coffee shop for her morning buzz after dropping the kids off at school—she was supposed to prepare herself for something fun and exciting headed her way today. She had been thinking more along the lines of a few dozen new customers at her bead store or maybe a big commission on one of her more intricate custom pieces.

Discovering that String Fever had been burglarized during the night didn't exactly fit her personal definition of either fun or exciting.

Beads covered the beige berber in a glittery, jumbled disaster as apparently someone had yanked out an entire vast display of tiny clear drawers and dumped their contents all over the floor. Her cash register drawer was open and the small amount of cash she kept on hand to make change was missing. Her office door had been left ajar, too, something she never did, and even from here, she could see a big, dusty, empty spot on her desk where her computer should be.

She could handle the material loss and her computer was automatically backed up off-site several times a day. The mess, on the other hand, would be a nightmare to clean up. Claire gave a tiny whimper and closed her eyes, dreading the hours and days of work ahead of her, re-sorting all those scattered beads into their hundreds of proper compartments. String Fever was hanging by a thread anyway in the uncertain economy. How could she afford the time and energy involved in setting things to rights again?

Chester whined beside her, his basset hound features even more morose than usual. He was uncanny at picking up her emotions. She scratched behind his acres-long ears. "I know, buddy. Sucks, doesn't it?"

She dug in her coat pockets to find where she'd stowed her cell phone so that she could dial 9-1-1. She had only punched in one number before the phone vibrated in her hand and suddenly the nuclear meltdown alert ringtone she had programmed for her mother sounded its death knell through the empty store.

Yeah, not much fun or excitement there, either. Rotten horoscope.

Chester whined again. He hated that ringtone as much as she did. Claire swallowed her groan and despite thirty-six years of better instincts, she hit the talk button to accept the call. Ruth Tatum had trained her daughter well. "Mom, I can't talk right now. Sorry. The store has been robbed. I'll call you back as soon as I can, okay?"

"Robbed? You've got to be kidding!"

"Really, Mom? You think I'd joke about something like this?"

"How would I know?" Ruth went on the defensive, as she did so well. "You've always had a weird sense of humor."

Yeah. That was her. Making up stories about her store being robbed just to go for the cheap laugh. "I'm not joking. The store really has been robbed."

"That's terrible! What did they take?"

"I don't know yet. I just walked in the door and barely had a chance to even react before you called. I need to go so I can call the police, Mom."

"Well, call me as soon as you can and tell me what's going on. Do you need me to come down there?"