Preview: Sweeter Than Fiction

Another Tuesday, another shipment to inventory. The thud of heavy boxes pierced through the bare store room, each impact resonating off the concrete floors and cinder block walls. The rumble of the delivery truck forced the men unloading its cargo to shout to one another to be heard, so Revelin didn’t realize he was needed until a hand landed on his shoulder. He turned from where he was double checking his original order. “I’m sorry, what?”

Mason shook his head with the barest traces of a grin; it wasn’t uncommon for him to repeat himself when talking to Revelin. “I said, ‘They’re a couple of boxes short. Driver says you’ll have to call the distributor.’”

Revelin’s expression quickly morphed to anger. “Oh, for the love of—Are you kidding me?”

“No,” he answered, wiping the sweat from his forehead with the back of his wrist.

To prevent himself from saying something rude, Revelin clenched his jaw and inhaled deeply through his nose. A brief mental tally told him that this would be the third consecutive order the distributer had botched in as many weeks. Unfortunately for him, as a small business owner, the distributer’s unbeatable prices had strong-armed him into working with them. Even if he wanted to take his patronage elsewhere, he couldn’t afford it.

“Alright,” he said with a note of resignation. His anger had been wrangled, and he offered Mason a smile, strained though it was. “I’ll handle it this afternoon. Would you mind putting the delivery slip on my desk? I’m gonna start opening the store.”

“Sure thing, boss!” Mason called after him as he left the store room. And if he closed the door with a little more force than necessary, no one would hear the rattle of the hinges over the engine of the truck.

Even from as far back as the storage room, the scent of freshly brewed coffee wafted from the small café tucked into the corner of the store. It was a warm, comforting smell, the kind that slowly unwound the tension building in Revelin’s shoulders. Highlights of freshly baked pastries were noted as well, their sweet fruit fillings reminding him that he’d skipped breakfast that morning. His stomach growled in response.

The café had been a necessary addition to the store two years prior. What with the multitude of chain bookstores that had been popping up all over town like weeds, it was the only way they could even stand to compete against them. He was just thankful that he’d been able to convince his grandfather—the true proprietor of Cross Trade Books—to allow it. There was a reason the chain stores tended to do better, and Revelin had a feeling it was simply the natural way books and coffee and a pastry or two tended to go together.

After shucking on a collared shirt, Revelin’s hands quickly fastened buttons and straightened his collar as he walked to the front of the store. With one last calming breath, he unlocked the latch of the door and flipped the sign; the word “OPEN” faced the slowly busying street.

“Let me guess,” called a voice from amidst the bubbling coffee pots and steaming pastries, “another botched delivery?”

“I’m beginning to think it’s impossible for them to get one correct,” Revelin replied with a wry smirk.

“Rev,” Zoey said seriously, “you make enough money. You know, you could always just—”

Revelin silenced her with a raised hand and a shake of his head. “We’re not having this discussion now. It’s Tuesday.” The only day of the week he was unpleasantly strapped to the familial obligation that bled into his business.

He generally didn’t mind his responsibilities as Rhett Cross’ grandson; most of the time, it filled him with a sense of pride. There was something to be said about being related to a man who had made such an impact on the community in which he lived, and Revelin was willing to shoulder whatever burdens necessary to make his grandfather as proud of him as he was of his grandfather. Unfortunately, however, this meant maintaining traditions and business practices that weren’t always for the best, despite Rhett’s long-standing relationships.

Tuesdays were the days of deliveries from a company that Revelin’s grandfather had been working with for years; the same company who had made mistakes with three consecutive orders that left Revelin and his staff scrambling over paperwork and inventory, stock and displeased customers. Tuesdays were also the days where Revelin was required to show face at the university; their family had had a hand in running and funding for generations. It meant lunch with the English Department Head—an old associate of his grandfather’s—along with pleasantries with a few other professors and deans. Thankfully, Elias would be there, and it made the ordeal a little more bearable. But not bearable enough to curb Revelin’s foul mood. He had been able to weasel out of such appointments during the summer, but now that the fall semester was starting, there would be no escape from the special brand of torture these luncheons were.

“Ohhh. That’s right. Those lunches start today, don’t they?” Zoey prodded, shamelessly smirking at him over the café counter. The way her blonde hair framed her face and the sharpness of her green eyes made her the embodiment of mischief. While Revelin had always appreciated her spit-fire attitude, he wasn’t fond of how she attempted to pry into his life.

“At my grandfather’s behest,” he grumbled, turning on the computer at the Customer Service Desk for the start of the new day. “I’m not pleased. Elias doesn’t keep the best company.”

“I heard the English Department Head is a bit of a dick,” she commented. Following Revelin’s lead, she turned on her register, then quickly began brewing a few more pots of coffee.

“Understatement,” he answered, running a hand through his hair.

“So why do you do this to yourself, again?” Zoey asked, arching a perfectly shape eyebrow.

Revelin sighed. “Some of us have responsibilities, Zoe.”

“Responsibilities to Elias or to Old Man Cross?”

When he snapped his gaze up to glare at her dangerously, she smiled with mock innocence. Her implications were hardly subtle, and he’d already threatened her job on more than one occasion in retaliation. “Are you ever going to quit?”

“Are you ever going to just fuck him already?”

Running his hands through his hair, he groaned, “It’s not like that, and you know it. Stop making such outrageous accusations. You have no idea the damage it could do.”

She scoffed and rolled her eyes. “Please. As if the pair of you don’t already act the part.”

That was the moment when Revelin’s patience snapped. Despite his normally calm demeanor, there was only so much a man could endure. Especially on a Tuesday.

He rounded on her without mercy, snarling viciously, “So help me, Zoey, if your stupid fantasies harm Elias’ reputation in any way, losing your job here will be the least of your concerns.”

Zoey stared at him, her green eyes wide. It wasn’t often Revelin lost his temper, and it wasn’t often that she could truly get a rise out of him. Of all the people in his life, however, Zoey pushed his buttons most accurately, and most often.

She hesitated for a few moments, and Revelin watched as she franticly searched for the words that might quell his anger. There were none, but she tried anyway. “Rev, you know I would never—”

“Forget it,” he snapped, turning back to his computer.

“Brace yourselves!” Mason called as he entered the shop from the store room. He was in the middle of slipping on a clean shirt as he made his way over to his register near the front of the store. “The freshmen are coming!”

“Better make sure that coffee’s hot,” Revelin commented icily to Zoey. “Rush starts any minute now.”