Carmel-by-the-Sea, California 1985
Once through the shop door, her mouth watered as she ran her finger down the long glassed-in freezer compartment, looking for her favorite flavor amongst the open tubs.
Her pulse sped up when she spotted the brand new container in the freezer. The fruity mixture glistened and the sweet smell of ice cream filled the shop, too tempting to ignore. The freezer’s compressor fan blew warm air on her legs, intensifying her hunger for the icy treat. It all dared her to buy a scoop.
Then she remembered her wallet was in her purse. Undoubtedly, the wallet was cozied up to her house keys, the two laughing at her.
Her heart sank and her eyes stung with frustration. She looked toward the front door. The counter suddenly seemed a lot longer. And since she’d entered just a moment ago, several people had come in and were now waiting for their turn.
Her heart pounded with embarrassment. Everyone’s gazes wavered between her face and her malodorous bunny slippers. She couldn’t just walk out now. How could anyone wearing bunny slippers in the middle of such a warm day keep her dignity intact as she left an ice cream store without a scoop in her hand? Not that she had much dignity left once she discovered she’d left the house in such attire.
That’s when she saw the police officer again. Her stomach tightened when she met his gaze. He stood on the sidewalk staring at her through the shop window. This close, she knew he spent his free time on the beach. His tall frame was lean and tanned, and even from this distance, she saw his dark blond hair curling out around his cap had been kissed by the sun. He stood casually with his thumbs hooked on his gun belt, but there was no mistaking his gaze was focused on her.
Nervously, she turned away from the officer and glanced back at the young man behind the counter, her thoughts back on the problem at hand. Praying silently, she thrust her hand into her pocket. There had to be some change. Just fifty cents was all she needed.
When her fingers grazed the edge of a wad of paper she breathed a sigh of relief as she extracted a single dollar bill that was crumpled at the bottom corner of her pocket.
“Thank God,” she whispered and kissed George Washington’s image square on the face.
“Are you ready to order, Dr. Daniels?” the clerk asked impatiently.
Maisie cursed the intimacy of a small town. She didn’t know the young man wearing the silly paper hat behind the counter but apparently he knew her. She had no doubt he’d rush home tonight and tell his family and friends about the town’s crazy new therapist in her bunny slippers. Her career would be ruined by morning.
She’d worry about that tomorrow. Right now, Maisie squared her shoulders and said, “Yes, I am.” She placed her dollar on the counter, adding, “Two scoops of Tutti-Frutti, please. I need it.” She murmured the last under her breath.
She watched the young man wrap a crispy cone in a napkin then bury the scooper into the ice cream, extracting a large and perfect sphere. Then a second, which he placed on top of the first. Maisie felt her eyes widen, wondering how she was ever going to eat so much ice cream, but she was more than ready to give it a try. She could almost taste it.
Her moment of panic gone now that she had her double-dip in hand, Maisie stepped through the shop door and onto the sidewalk, prepared to take her first bite of the creamy delight. All other thoughts were pushed aside once she felt the weight of the stacked cone in her hand—the failed alarm clock, locking herself out of the house, her bunny slippers, her closed office, even the police officer who seemed to be there every time she looked up. Her mouth watered, taste buds worked overtime, stomach grumbled at the delay.
Finally, her lids fluttered closed as she brought the cone to her lips. The sweet fruity smell mixed with cream assaulted her senses. The chill tickled at her lips the instant before they made contact with the ice cream. She moaned aloud but didn’t care who heard her. She was about to lose herself in the best flavored ice cream ever created. Her lips parted . . .
“You could get arrested for that.”
The deep, sexy and obviously male voice practically whispered into her ear, but it startled her just the same.
Maisie’s eyes snapped open. Her body jolted from the start and the ice cream went flying through the air.