My heart beat something fierce as the bell on the door jangled. It was make-or-break time. I’d been preparing for this day for weeks. I thought I was ready, but if I slipped up, I’d be in major hot water. Or financial ruin, as the case may be.
My first customer at Pans ‘N Pancakes turned out to be Corrine Beedle, the new mayor of South Lick, Indiana, all five foot eleven and layered flaming hair of her. She sailed through the door like she owned the store. My country store and restaurant, that is. I’d seen her around town during the last month since she’d won the September election, but we hadn’t actually met, and paying attention to a local race had been below the bottom of my infinitely long to-do list.
Her unpleasant assistant, whom I had met many times, followed, looking slightly disgusted with the world as usual. Stella Rogers’s puffy upper eyelids and upturned nose gave her an unfortunate resemblance to the porcine genus.
“Welcome to Pans ‘N Pancakes.” Striding toward them, smoothing my blue-and-white striped apron, I hoped my smile wasn’t slipping from nervousness. I pulled out a chair at a table for two. “Thank you for coming to our grand opening.”
“Co-rrine Beedle.” The mayor, emphasizing the “Co” as much as the “reen,” gave me a direct look and a wide smile as she pumped my hand. “Mayor of South Lick.”
I extricated my hand while I still had feeling in it. “Robbie Jordan. Owner, proprietor, and head cook. Well, the only cook, normally.” I gestured to the eight-burner industrial stove and griddle behind the counter, where my aunt Adele was aproned up and tending a dozen sizzling sausages.
“Glad to have a woman business owner in town,” the mayor said, beaming.
“I’m happy to be here. And it’s very nice to meet you, Madam Mayor.”
“Oh, hogwash.” She slid into the seat, her bony knee slipping out of the slit in the skirt of her red suit as she crossed one leg over the other. Her black-and-white heels looked about four inches high and a red-shellacked big toenail peeked out of the cutout in each shoe. “Just call me Corrine, honey.”
I’d lived in the hill country of southern Indiana for more than three years now, and I still wasn’t used to nearly every female older than my twenty-seven years calling me “honey.”
“Got it, Corrine.” I glanced at her aide, whose position as mayor’s assistant seemed to be permanent. Corrine must have inherited Stella, because I’d had to work with her over the past six months when I was applying for my building permit and other permissions so I could fix up the 150-year-old store. I greeted her, too.
“Congratulations on finally getting open, Robbie. It’s very quaint.” Stella did not look like she meant any of it—except the dig about how long it had taken me to renovate the place.
Sure, it was quaint. I’d been aiming for an amalgam of what I hoped was everybody’s dream, because it sure was mine: a warm, welcoming country store, a cozy breakfast-and-lunch place, and a treasure trove of antique cookware. The last was my particular passion, the vintage cookware lining the walls and several rows of shelves. I’d even hired a guy to restore the potbellied stove, fantasizing that a core group of locals might make this their meeting place, drinking coffee, exchanging yarns, offering advice. I’d worked my fingers off, and my butt, too, to get the place ready for today. My mom hadn’t taught me fine cabinetry for nothing. I’d sawed and sanded, measured and nailed, painted and polished, until I could turn the sign on my dream to open.