What could Madeleine Delacorte possibly want to see me about that was so important? The voicemail she'd left had sounded more like a summons than an invitation for a friendly cup of coffee. As much as I'd come to think of Madeleine as a friend, we were not exactly on a level playing field. She and her sister Coral were like the local royalty in Cadbury by the Sea, California. And I was still struggling to make a go of the Yarn Retreat business I'd inherited from my late aunt. She didn't talk about her age, but I guessed she was in her late sixties. I tried to be vague about my age too as I turned toward forty and just said mid-thirties. One thing we had in common was a connection to Vista Del Mar. Her family owned the hotel and conference center, and I used it to host what I'd recently branded as "weekends devoted to yarn craft, camaraderie and more."
I hoped it didn't mean that Madeleine and Cora had rethought the sweetheart deal they had generously continued to offer me when I took over the business after my Aunt Joan died. Plainly put, that deal was the only way I could continue doing the retreats.
As it was, I still needed to supplement my income by being the dessert chef for a local restaurant and baking muffins for the coffee places in Cadbury by the Sea. I had grown to love putting on the retreats even though I'd started out on shaky ground, barely knowing the difference between knitting and crochet, let alone how to do either of them. I had gotten pretty good with hooks and needles, though I did always have help with the workshops. Just as I was beginning to see my way, I didn't want to get shut down.
Now I was just anxious to get the answer. I shut my kitchen door and headed across the street and through the stone pillars that marked the entrance to Vista Del Mar. I had to remind myself that it was August. You couldn't tell by the weather. It was always the same- cool and cloudy. The morning air smelled of the ocean mixed with the smoke from all the fireplaces. There was at least one in every building of the hotel and conference center left from the days when they were the only source of heat. The moody-looking Arts and Crafts-style buildings were spread over a hundred or so acres of slopes studded with Monterey pines and Monterey cypress trees here on the tip of the Monterey Peninsula. The oldest of the buildings were over one hundred years old and left from its origin as a young women's camp.
It felt a little like leaving the world behind. There was a timeless quality about the place and from where I was standing it could have been the early 1900s, the 1950s, now or anytime in between. The grounds were largely left to grow as they chose, or to die for that matter. When one of the lanky pines keeled over, it was left in place to decompose undisturbed. There were rumors that the same was true for any wildlife that met their maker in the scruffy brush around the trees.
I was already supposing what I would do if Madeleine pulled the plug on the yarn retreats. After all, when I'd first come to Cadbury and moved into my aunt's guesthouse, I'd thought it was temporary-just long enough for me to get my life together. I was at a low point and it had been that or move back in with my parents. At thirty-something, moving back home was too embarrassing.
I always assumed I'd go back to Chicago. But when my aunt died everything changed. She'd left her house and business to me to deal with. Though even then, I had a niggling feeling once I got everything settled, I would want to move on. I had a whole history of short-lived pursuits.
I hadn't expected to put down roots here. It had just sort of happened without my noticing. I moved out of the guesthouse and into the main house and made friends while I tried to continue her business. Then there was Dane Mangano. He was my neighbor and so much more. I had tried to steer clear of a relationship but his persistence had won out and pushed us beyond being just friends. I blushed just thinking of his visit the night before. I was still trying to keep our status from the small-town gossips, with little success. And in the back of my mind, I wondered if it was all about the chase and now that he'd won, he'd lose interest. Or maybe I hoped so.
But for now, I needed to deal with the appointment with Madeleine. I waved my hand, trying to fan away the leftovers of the blush as I neared the group of communal buildings that I considered the heart of Vista Del Mar. I wanted to appear cool and collected, not somebody thinking about a hot night with her boyfriend.
I was supposed to meet Madeleine at the cafe named for her and her sister inside the building called the Lodge. I always thought of it as being the heart of Vista Del Mar. It had been built as a social hall when the place was a camp. Now it was where guests came to check in and hang out.
I pulled open the door and went inside the cavernous space. There was no ceiling, just an open framework that held large chandeliers. At this time of the morning, it was quiet. The seating area around the massive fireplace was empty. No one was using the pool table or table tennis set up in the back. And all the board games were stacked on the shelf. The manager of the small gift shop had just opened the door adjacent to the game area and was putting out a rack of T-shirts to entice customers.
I waved at the clerk behind the massive wooden counter. Normally, I would have stopped to talk to Cloris, but I just wanted to get whatever awaited me over with.
The cafe was at the front near the wooden counter and a mirror image of the gift shop. The door was open and the smell of freshly brewed coffee wafted my way as I felt my anticipation grow.
Madeleine was sitting at a table by a window that looked out on the sand dunes at the edge of the property. The rest of the tables were empty. The barista had just set down a cup in front of Madeleine. By the froth on the top, I guessed it was a cappuccino, which surprised me. But then she was all about moving beyond her boundaries now. After all the years of being sheltered and having her choices restricted, she was open to trying out everything she had missed.
She'd started wearing her hair in a swingy bob cut and had it colored a honey blond. She'd gone from stodgy-looking outfits to wearing a lot of denim, so I was surprised to see her wearing a dark plaid suit and low-heeled shoes that had ties. The whole outfit looked very retro and made me even more uneasy.
Bob, the barista, smiled at me. "Your usual?" I nodded and he went back to the espresso machine to make me a mostly foam cappuccino.
"Good morning," I said to Madeleine as I pulled out a chair. "You wanted to see me," I added, getting right to it. I hoped the tension in my voice didn't show, not wanting to let on that my whole future might hinge on her answer.
She looked down at the large cup in front of her. "Do you think I should have asked for a sprinkle of cinnamon?"
I was stunned by the question. Would she really have summoned me to meet her to advise her on what to put on her cappuccino? I knew she was used to being coddled, but that seemed extreme even for her. "Go for it," I said. I got up and went to the counter and came back with a shaker of cinnamon and sprinkled some on the white foam. "Was that it?" I asked. "You wanted advice on your coffee drink?"
She laughed. "I'm not that helpless. There is something else I want to talk to you about. It's about the next retreat you put on."
A dun da dun dun went off in my head. Here we go, a speech about how they can't continue with the special deal, that it was a carryover from my aunt but not meant to be forever, blah, blah, blah. I girded for the bad news.