Hill Country Reunion  

By: Myra Johnson

CHAPTER ONE

Saturday mornings at Diana’s Donuts typically brought brisk business, but today had gotten just plain ridiculous. Must be the hint of fall in the late-September air, because Diana Matthews couldn’t brew coffee fast enough, and the steady flow of customers had all but cleaned out the bakery case.

“Here you go, Alan, a half caf and a blueberry muffin. Sorry we ran out of crullers.” With a friendly but frazzled smile, Diana handed Juniper Bluff’s local insurance agent his change, then swiveled toward the kitchen. “Kimberly, how are those scones coming?”

“Five more minutes,” came her assistant’s shout.

A crusty farmer, one of Diana’s regulars, plopped his empty coffee mug on the counter. “Di, honey, how about a refill?”

“How many times do I have to tell you, LeRoy? It’s Diana.” Her smile tightened as she poured. She’d never cared much for the nickname—or being called anybody’s “honey”—at least not since the person who’d once used such endearments had vanished from her life.

“But, Di, your doughnuts are to die for. Get it?” LeRoy laughed at his own play on words.

She widened her grin to disguise an annoyed eye roll.

Her apron pocket vibrated with a call on her cell phone. The display showed her dad’s number. “Ethan,” she called to the freckled teenager who bused tables on Saturdays, “cover the register for me. I need to take this call.”

While Ethan scurried around to help the next customer, Diana slipped into her office. “Hey, Dad, how’s it going with Aunt Jennie?”

“All packed and ready to go. We should get to the care center around noon. Any chance you can meet us there?”

Diana’s heart warmed in anticipation. Mom and Dad had driven over to San Antonio yesterday to move Dad’s aunt into an assisted-living facility on the outskirts of Juniper Bluff. “I’ll try, but we’re crazy-busy today. On top of everything else, Nora, my part-time counter girl, called in sick.”

“Uh-oh. Well, get there when you can. Aunt Jennie’s been asking about you, and you know you’re her favorite great-niece.”

“Yeah, right,” Diana said with a chuckle. “Only because I bribe her with cream-filled chocolate doughnuts.” She peeked through the miniblinds to see how Ethan was faring. “Give Aunt Jennie my love, and tell her I’ll see her real soon.”

Clicking off, she hurried out in time to help Ethan fill an order for four lattes to go, along with the last two apple fritters.

“I’ll take over here,” she said. “Looks like some tables need clearing.” As Ethan grabbed a dish tub and cleaning cloth, Diana gave her attention to the next customer.

“Mornin’, Diana.” Doc Ingram, Juniper Bluff’s longtime veterinarian, slid some bills across the counter. “Need two regular coffees and—” he frowned toward the bakery case “—two of whatever you’ve got left.”

“Sorry, we’ve been swamped today. If you can hang on a sec, Kimberly’s about to bring out some fresh-baked cinnamon-raisin scones.” Diana reached behind her for two ceramic mugs bearing the pink Diana’s Donuts logo. “Who’s the other coffee for?” She looked past the doc for a glimpse of his companion.

A familiar face beneath close-cropped brown hair grinned hesitantly back at her. “Hello, Di.”

Both mugs crashed to the tile floor. Diana gasped and skittered backward as hot coffee splashed her bare ankles between her sneakers and jeans cuffs.

Kimberly had just stepped through from the kitchen with a tray of scones. “Diana, are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” Teeth clenched, eyes lowered, Diana snatched a wet cloth from the workstation and swiped at her legs. No way could she risk another glance at the man standing next to Doc Ingram. It couldn’t be. It simply could not be Tripp Willoughby.

Kimberly shoved the tray of scones into the display case, then grabbed a broom and dustpan. “You take care of the customers. I’ll get this cleaned up.”

Murmuring her thanks, Diana bent over the sink to rinse out the coffee-stained cloth, using those few moments to compose herself. After drying her hands, she squared her shoulders and turned. With studied slowness, she let her gaze drift upward to the face of the man she’d never expected to see again.

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