The Comfort of Favorite Things

When Dakota and Thea reunite in Hope Springs after a decade apart, their love might pass the test of time…

No matter how many years he’s spent trying, Dakota Keller can’t out run his past, so when a private investigator tells him his sister needs him, he travels to the small Texas Hill Country town of Hope Springs to start a new life with the support of his siblings. When he arrives to do a routine construction job at the town’s new espresso bar, he’s shocked to discover that the owner is Thea Clark—the girl he couldn’t resist in high school and whose memory kept him sane in prison.

Recovering from an abusive relationship, Thea decides that her past is off limits for discussion, even with Dakota. After all, it feels like a lifetime since she last saw him. But when his brother’s firm is tapped to renovate the women’s shelter Thea runs out of her home, old feelings quickly reignite. Could a casual affair from high school turn out to be the one connection neither of them can live without?

“This story was just that… a story that held within its embrace the evolving of its characters from fear to brave, daring in deep and heartwarming ways. It was a wonderful read. More please.” — Miriandra, Amazon reviewer

“Who says you can’t go home? The book in the Hope Springs series was my favorite although I hate to see it end. Thea and Dakota have a history and they’ve spent their lives searching for what they had without knowing they needed it” — Claire, Amazon reviewer

Standing in the center of the space she’d leased on Fourth Street for her espresso bar and bakery, Bread and Bean, Thea Clark imagined how her shop would look two months from now when it opened, how it would smell with coffee brewing, and bread and pastries baking.

How it would sound with customers oohing and aahing over flaky croissants, and delicate baklava, and sweet strudel. How the artisanal loaves would look in their baskets with their unique rustic shapes, their crusts beautifully browned around their airy, flavorful crumb.

Her shop. The words gave her such immense pleasure. Even with all the work to be done, she felt like she could float. At the moment, the shop resembled an abandoned storefront, but even that made her smile. This was her blank canvas, her bolt of fabric, her empty page to fill with words, and she was so very good at silk purses. Oh, how far she’d come.

A year ago she never would’ve dreamed she’d be weeks away from throwing wide the doors to a business of her own, one that would benefit many, and allow her to pay forward as well as pay back.

Then again, dreaming was one of the first things she’d dumped from her arsenal of survival tricks. It hadn’t made much sense for her to think of anything beyond the day-to-day when Todd was always ready to cut her off at the knees for wasting time, to pull the rug out from under her for being so bold, to send her crashing to the ground. Literally.

But all of that was behind her now, and would stay behind her forever. Her future was in bread. And in beans. Soup beans and coffee beans. The former sold in bulk. The latter ground and brewed into espresso shots downed straight, or used in cappuccinos and lattes.

One of the things she was most excited about was seeing customer reactions to the latte art, even if Thea herself was a complete failure at drawing anything but leaves. Other patterns required a wrist action she’d never mastered; according to Todd, her wrist action hadn’t been good for much of anything ever.

That was why she’d be putting Becca York to work in the espresso bar instead of in the kitchen where the rest of Bread and Bean’s magic happened. Becca had once drawn swimming fish in one cup, and a foam cat in a second as if ready to leap. As much as Thea hated the reason Becca had come to live with her, and work with her, she loved having her in the fold.

Flipping on the lights, she crossed from the kitchen door to the table she was using as a desk. There, she dropped her keys into her purse and dug out her phone.

Her contractor was due shortly to go over some changes to the build-out specs, and she wanted to look at the plans one last time. Bread and Bean was her baby. She would be the one dotting her i’s and crossing every last one of her t’s. The women she lived and worked with, Becca and the others, called her a control freak. She laughed at that; she owned the trait gladly.

She’d ordered the shutters for the bottom half of the front windows from Angelo Caffey. He was local and did amazing woodwork. The café curtains that would cover the upper portions were being sewn even now by the very capable Frannie Charles. The fabric Thea—with Ellie Brass’s input—had chosen, was a beautiful combination of browns, rusts, and greens. It was earthy and warm, with less a feel of autumn than that of a desert in bloom.

The latte mugs would be arriving soon. Those Thea had commissioned from a potter near Bandera. One of the women there threw the most gorgeous designs, and the art Thea had requested would match the curtains. The hook rugs to go beneath the shop’s small café tables, and in front of the groupings of cushy club chairs, would be longer in coming. They were being made to order and would go perfectly with the mugs.

Yesterday, the baskets for the bread had shipped from a market in Arizona. The owner sold only handmade items, and funneled the proceeds back to the women who couldn’t risk putting their name on their work. It was the same with the mugs, and the rugs, and the curtains. And while the shutters would bear Angelo Caffey’s logo, the label on the fabric above would say Dragon Fire Hill. No one would ever know they’d been sewn by Frannie Charles.

Now fingers crossed that pulling the trigger and opening the shop in Hope Springs instead of Austin—which was overrun with bakeries and coffee shops—or Round Rock—which Thea wasn’t yet brave enough to return to—would end up being one of the few right decisions she’d made. Staying with Todd for so long sure hadn’t been, though leaving had probably saved her life. She felt similarly about buying the house on Dragon Fire Hill.

There never had been a dragon, of course. There had been trash barrels or burning tires or illegal bonfires and campsites. The hill was out of the way, and the house on top, abandoned for a very long time, worth little until Thea had saved it, and the land used—and misused—accordingly by vagrants and drifters and criminal types.

But dragons had teeth. Dragons had scales. Dragons didn’t let anyone close. She liked the idea of living—metaphorically—where the mythical beasts were known to tread. Of being able to see anyone approach. Of having heavy doors with heavier locks and ballistic-resistant windows. It had taken a lot of money to outfit the house, but no one uninvited would ever get in, and Todd would never miss the cash.

The renovations made her feel safe, and better able to keep the women who counted on her safe, too. Because that was all that mattered. Seeing that not a one of them ever faced another fist or belt, or the base of a blender, or the wrong end of a shotgun, or a knife blade, or even the sting of hurtful words. That none of them ever had to visit an emergency room again for any preventable reason: to get stitches, to require pain meds, to be questioned and made to feel at fault for suspicious injuries.

Pushing aside the unsettling thoughts, Thea closed her eyes to center herself and listened. The traffic on the street outside was minimal, though she knew from talking to Callum Drake next door, and to Peggy Butters, whose Butters’ Bakery sat on the other side of Bliss, Callum’s confectionery, that weekends were madhouse crazy.

She liked that a lot. Being too busy with work to think of anything else. Everything was coming together beautifully. Her well-laid plans had unfolded exactly as she’d intended them to. She was where she was supposed to be. Finally.

The only thing left to do, she mused, as she unrolled the shop’s blueprint across the floor and dropped to sit, was hope none of her secrets decided to rear their ugly heads, and pray no one ever found out what had happened to Todd.