Mister Naughty by Cat Johnson

ONE

Harper

 

 

Rocking beats pumped out of the bakery’s speakers, telling me Johnny Wolf, aka the Wolfman and self-proclaimed child of the eighties, was currently in the booth at the local radio station.

To the strains of a Van Halen guitar solo, Bethany slid two plates onto the small café table where Red and I sat inside Honey Buns.

“Pumpkin spice cupcakes. Your favorite,” Bethany announced in a sing-song voice.

I hadn’t ordered yet, but after the couple of years we’d known each other, Bethany knew I couldn’t resist her pumpkin spice cupcakes with cream cheese frosting.

In fact, I lamented every year when she took them off the bakery’s menu after Thanksgiving. Although, since she replaced them for Christmas with red velvet cupcakes, also one of my favorites since they too featured mounds of sweet fluffy cream cheese frosting on top, I managed to survive until pumpkin spice’s return the next autumn.

“Mmm. Thank you.” I reached for the plate as Red cleared her throat.

Glancing up, I noticed she hadn’t touched her cupcake, or her coffee for that matter. For a coffee addict with a sweet tooth, that seemed odd.

“So we have something to tell you,” Red began.

Bethany, still hovering near the table, pulled out a chair and sat. I glanced between them and noticed their matching expressions. They appeared serious. I daresay concerned. Wary, even.

Frowning, I asked, “What’s going on?”

Bethany drew in a breath, stretching the Honey Buns—We’ll leave you sticky T-shirt she wore as her chest expanded. I noticed she'd changed the blue streaks that had been in her highlighted hair to a deep wine red.

She drew in a breath. “You’re not going to like it.”

Red’s compressed lips as she watched my reaction told me she agreed with Bethany’s assessment.

I didn’t know what they had to tell me, but I did know their beating around the bush and making me feel like I was the subject of some kind of strange coffee shop intervention was annoying as hell.

They were my closest friends, so it was with love that I threatened, “Either you two tell me right this minute or else—”

“Bethany heard the old biddies talking about you,” Red spewed out on a single breath.

With that sentence as the prelude, I wouldn’t be surprised by anything that came out of my friends’ mouths next. But chances were good whatever they said was going to piss me off.

The old biddies talked about everyone in Mudville. They acted as if it was their job.

They performed the task with a single-minded dedication that would be admirable, if it wasn’t gossip they were so keenly focused on.

I rolled my eyes at how nothing had changed. “And? What else is new?”

Bethany looked pained as she said, “They have a nickname for you.”

A nickname. For little old me? Well, that was new. “What is it?”

The two exchanged glances before Red finally said, “Ms. Naughty.”

A laugh burst out of me. “Ms. Naughty. Wow. That’s surprisingly creative of them.”

I supposed I couldn’t be too angry. I had my own nicknames for some of them too. And mine weren’t always so nice either. That didn’t mean that I liked them having one for me.

“And what have I done to earn this nickname? Is it because, devilish siren that I am, I’ve lured Stone into having carnal relations with me without the benefit of marriage? Carnal relations . . . Ooo. Actually, that’s a good title for a book. Hang on. I have to write that down.” I picked up my cell and typed the idea for the title into the notes app before turning my attention back to Red and Bethany.

“I pretty sure it’s because of your . . . books.” Bethany cringed, no doubt because she knew how I was going to react to that statement.

She was correct. I felt my blood pressure rise.

“Seriously? Still? Two years I’ve been in this town and they still can’t accept I write—gasp—romancenovels? Worse, since the week after I arrived they’ve been sneaking around reading those books yet they still pretend they’re shocked and appalled by the genre.” I shook my head at the hypocrisy of it all.

“Shocked and appalled. That could be a good title for a book,” Red suggested.

“No,” I shook my head, dismissing her idea without a second thought as my mind whirred with a jumble of thoughts, all being stirred by a good dose of anger.

I tried to calm my thoughts enough to formulate a plan for revenge. If only because the old biddies and their nickname for me had ruined my enjoyment of my first pumpkin spice cupcake of the season. That, above all else, was unforgivable.

Eyes narrowed, I said, “This needs a suitable rebuttal.”

“Like what?” Bethany asked.

“I’m not sure yet. But I’ve got to do something. They can’t get away with calling me names and not have me do anything about it.”

“To be fair, you call them names too,” Red pointed out.

In spite of the admitted truth of that, I turned to stare at her. “Whose side are you on?”

“Yours. Definitely yours,” she rushed to say.

I tipped my head. “Thank you. Besides, Binoculars Brimley more than earned her name.”

“She definitely did.” Red nodded.

“One hundred percent,” Bethany chimed in.

Moderately satisfied with their agreement, I reached for my cupcake again as I still searched for appropriate retribution to the biddies’ new assault on my character and my livelihood.

“So, what else is new with everyone?” Bethany asked, over-cheerfully.

I sent her a sideways glance in response to her thinly veiled effort to change the subject and make me forget I was angry. “Same old stuff for me. Just busy writing my next naughty book. What about you two?”

When Red didn’t offer up anything, Bethany leaned forward. “Well, I’m working on a menu for a Honey Buns booth at the Winter Wonderland the Rotary is setting up at the tree lot at Morgan’s farm market. My booth at Autumn Fest is always such a hit, we decided to try it for the Christmas season. They get tons of traffic from people stopping by to pick up a tree.”

“Excellent idea,” Red agreed. “I can picture people loving someplace to grab a hot cocoa and a gingerbread cookie while they search for their Christmas tree.”

“That’s what we figured.” Bethany nodded.

Since I wasn’t contributing all that much to the conversation at the moment, there was another pause before Red said, “I’ve been listing some items from the shop on the Mudville forum. You know, it’s that online community bulletin board. I actually sold a few things off there, so that’s been nice.”

In any given day I spent literally hours online, but I’d forgotten about the Mudville forum. “I signed up on there when I first moved here. I logged in a few times but there wasn’t much happening so I never went back.”

Red nodded. “It was pretty new back then and there wasn’t much action. But posts have markedly picked up.”

“I try to check it out at least a couple of times a week. There are posts about community events. People announce garage sales. And, like Red said, there are always things for sale. I’ve even seen threads pop up with people asking for advice.”

Advice. The word sparked a flash of brilliance. The perfect plan for payback hit me like a lightning bolt.

“Hmm . . .” I stared blindly out the window at Main Street as the pieces started to form a complete picture in my mind of how I could respond to my haters.

“Uh, oh,” Red mumbled.

I found both Red and Bethany watching me and asked, “What?”

“You’re planning something,” Red accused.

“And I have a feeling the old biddies aren’t going to like it,” Bethany added.

I smiled, the kind of exuberant Grinch-worthy smile that only the most deliciously evil plan elicited. “You’re both right.”

Picking up my cupcake, I took a huge flavor-filled bite.

Pumpkin spice—and revenge—had never tasted so sweet.