Genre: Romantic Comedy
FOR THE LOVE OF CANDY is the fourth and final book in the Candy Bar series. For everyone who has read and loved this romantic comedy series, I want to thank you for buying my book, loving my women, laughing late into the night, and sharing this joy with me. The happiness you have given me by reading your wonderful reviews were the greatest gift I could ever receive, and made me believe in myself as a writer. It is because you cared and asked me for Candy’s story that I gave this story life, and I hope that I will have fulfilled your every wish. The magic is here. Please read on and enjoy the final conclusion to Candy’s story.
The Candy Bar is in trouble. Crime and corruption has changed the landscape of the street. Candy can stay and fight it, or sell and run. She has called an emergency meeting with her dear friends, the sisters of her heart, to tell them her decision. Enter Harrison Wolfe—Boston lawyer, probably a Mayflower descendant by his arrogance and arresting good looks. He has come to the Candy Bar to tell her that his daughter is engaged to her son Billy. He’s only 21 and graduating from college, and is certainly not ready to take on the responsibilities of marriage. Harrison is also strongly opposed to this engagement and wants to put an end to it before it even begins. Thunder cracks open the sky, lightning strikes, and Harrison and Candy are caught up in the magic and madness. Now they have to fight their attraction—and keep their pants on–to stay focused on keeping their children apart. This hilarious, touching, upbeat story will engage your emotions and hopefully have you laughing one minute, and wiping tears the next.
Sunshine filtered through the stained-glass windows as I opened the door to the Candy Bar, but the cavernous interior remained dark and gloomy. It was always this way until the room filled with people, then the sound of laughter and bubbly good times turned this old Mission Inn into something magical.
I maneuvered through the clusters of tables and chairs, then dumped my keys and handbag on the mahogany bar, turning the lights on dim.
For the past ten years the Candy Bar has been my home, bringing pride, joy and a comfort of living that I never expected. Still, nothing remains static. The rivers of life keep flowing and a girl has to adapt to the sudden change of current, or drown.
One thing for sure—I’m great at adapting. I took the lemons life tossed at me and created a profitable lemonade stand. Kicked out of my house with a baby on the way, I’d had to scrape out a living. It hadn’t always been easy and it hadn’t been pretty, but I’d done what I needed to do. Successfully, on my terms.
And so I would again.
I’d tell my friends, sisters of the heart, that it was a business decision and we all needed to keep our emotions out of it. Right? As if that would happen.
I stepped behind the bar and wiped my damp palms with a dry cloth. Perspiration dotted my upper lip and my brow, but I knew it wasn’t the Miami humidity. A nervous stomach was the culprit.
I lifted my chin and glanced in the mirror. “Buck up, Candy Thompson,” I told myself. “This isn’t your first rodeo and it isn’t your last. The girls will understand.”
My eyes told me differently. I sucked in a breath. Okay, telling them I was going to sell would break their hearts. I knew that. It was also breaking mine. There was nothing to do about it; the decision was made and it was final.
I expected them to arrive any minute, but I couldn’t sit down to wait. Instead I grabbed the cloth and began to polish the already perfectly polished bar. Once that was done, I played with the liquor bottles in front of the brick wall, rearranging them attractively so they lined up in a row.
I was still puttering when the door opened. Momentarily blinded by sunlight, I blinked and made out a tall, svelte body topped with fiery red hair.
I gripped the edge of the slick wood. “Hey, Lydia,” I greeted her as though I didn’t have a care in the world. “You’re the first to arrive.” A lawyer, a mother, a wonderful friend—who still made time in her busy schedule to see me in the middle of the day.
I closed my eyes against the onslaught of memories and walked around the bar, into her hug. My smile was as big as it was false.
“Candy,” she cried, searching my face for clues. “What’s up? You’re scaring the heck out of us, calling this emergency meeting.”
“I’ll tell you as soon as the others get here.” I laughed weakly. “Middle-aged drama. Nothing life threatening.”
Lydia sniffed. “Middle-aged? Hardly. You’re younger than Fran and me, although outside of this room, I’d deny it.” She stepped back and crossed her arms to study me, knowing there was more to it. “The rest of us have drama, but you always handle things in stride.”
“Guess I’m due for a meltdown, then.” I hoped the others arrived soon so I could explain my decision just once.
As if on cue, Fran and Susie entered together and I breathed a sigh of relief. After warm hugs, I gestured them to their barstools. For years they’d each parked their butts in the same order along the bar. Lydia, Fran, Susie.
I looked at their beautiful faces and choked up, my airway clogged with emotion but no way would I cry. How could I tell my dear friends that it was time for me to move on? I knew they’d do anything, say anything to rope me down and keep me here.
I returned to my spot behind the bar, my source of comfort. I sucked in a couple of deep breaths and then straightened my shoulders, determined to say what had to be said. My stomach rolled with nerves.
“As you all know, the Candy Bar hasn’t been doing so well lately. Business has slowed to a trickle during the week, and is about half of what we used to bring in on the weekends.”
“It’s the end of the season. Things always get slow,” Lydia said, her tone defensive.
I shook my head, and fought back my emotions. The head had to overrule the heart.
“This neighborhood has changed in the last couple of years. It used to be quiet, set back from South Beach, but the action has crept here. I’ve seen drug deals go down on the streets and I’m pretty sure there’s some prostitution three blocks over by the gas station.” Before they could speak, I rushed on. “The cops are everywhere, but they don’t, or can’t, stop the progression of crime. It’s killing my bottom line. I need to sell before it’s too late to see even a small profit.” Although it wasn’t about the money. Not really.
Fran’s brow creased with concern. Her honey-toned pixie spikes bobbed as her chin rose. “There’s a new sports bar down the street, and that dance club, Dominique’s, which opened last year.” She rubbed her fingers together. “They are packing in the crowds, and don’t seem worried about the crime element.”
Probably paying off the right people, I thought.
Fran was like a determined terrier-once she sunk her teeth into something, she’d hang on to the bitter end. “So, if it’s just slow business, we’ll think of something to bring the crowd back here. Won’t we, girls?”
I rested my elbow on the bar. “My regulars are disappearing and it’s not likely they’ll be coming back. Not unless I sink a lot of money into the place.” My friends opened their lips to argue, so I raised my hand and continued, “And the club crowd, well, they are so young and flaky, that I’m just as happy not serving them. Jake and I had to crack down on fake ID. It hasn’t made us popular. We don’t condone drug use on the property, which has become a real problem.”
“Drugs are a problem everywhere,” Lydia said. “And it seems the criminals are getting younger every year.”
I expelled a breath. “I don’t want the Candy Bar taking a nose-dive. I worked too hard to make it a place to be proud of, not some cheap pick-up spot for hustlers.”
“It won’t. Not this magical place,” Susie said with some heat. Her delicate features belied a strong will. “This is the best bar in South Beach, isn’t it girls?” She didn’t wait for an answer. “You don’t have to worry about the riff-raff. You’ve created a sophisticated ambiance, and you’re the savviest person around. Plus you’ve got Jake, the best looking hunk of a bartender in the state of Florida, and magic, to boot. The other bars can stick their head down a toilet, because the Candy Bar is here to stay.”
I slowly shook my head.
“You can’t sell.” Fran twisted her hands in her lap, her face blotchy. “You can’t. This is as much our place as it is yours.” Her cheeks turned a solid crimson.
“Fran,” I said, my heart aching. “This was a hard decision to make, but I have to get out from under the bar before it buries me.” I also needed a change. It was time to be something more.
Fran cleared her throat and lifted her chin, a pint-sized country rock maven ready to do battle. “That sounded selfish of me, but I don’t care.” Her lovely voice rose with passion. “Hell, Candy. You can’t do this.” She glanced around the room, her gaze lingering on the empty stage, and then back at her friends. “This is the place where we found our true loves. Where dreams come true. Susie’s right. It’s a magical place, and you can’t let it go. Not for love or money,” she paused and added, “or someone like Jay.”
I backed up a step, struck. “Jay has nothing to do with it.” Other than being an impetus toward getting my life together. What had I been thinking, hoping to change a man who liked all women? I’d never accept being one of his groupies, so I had to end it, or continue down a path of heartache and self-loathing. It had been fun for awhile, but that short affair was over.
“Well, then,” Lydia said, searching my face. “If it’s really just a financial decision, we can work something out. I agree with Fran, and I don’t want you to sell.” She reached for her expensive leather purse and pulled out her checkbook. “I’m going to give you a little something until things get back in full swing again.”
I raised my chin and straightened my shoulders. Even at the lowest point in my life I hadn’t taken handouts. “Put that back. I’m selling. That’s my final decision.”
Susie slid from her barstool and walked behind the bar, grabbing a chilled bottle of Sonoma Cutrer. “Candy, you better open this. It might only be three-thirty, but we’re going to need it for this conversation.” She thumped it on the counter then took her seat on the other side of the bar. “Yes, you may be the sole proprietor, but we have a stake in this place too.”
I opened the bottle and filled four glasses, then we all just looked at each other, knowing that somehow we’d reached a crossroad. Four friends that had found each other, supported one another—even though we each embarked on separate journeys, they all led back to here.
Susie broke the silence, and lifted her glass. “If it hadn’t been for that art show I might not have reconnected with Brett. I’d still be sitting here meeting men from on-line dating services who looked nothing like their pictures.”
“I remember watching you, thinking what is that beautiful girl doing, wasting her time on loser after loser?” I clinked my glass with Susie’s.
“We were married at this bar,” she whispered with tears in her bright blue eyes.
It was difficult to stay strong in the gale of her memories, but I stiffened my spine.
“I met Jed here,” Lydia spoke quietly. “The storm, the magic—we conceived Braden that night.”
I nodded. “We hadn’t met yet, but I clearly remember the magnum of champagne you’d ordered, and that you were celebrating something. Your friend got a little wasted.”
“Client.” Lydia said with a shrug. “A very good, affluent client who used my services through three of her divorces.”
Like it had been yesterday, I could still remember how Lydia had looked professional and composed, taking care to feed her client and order a cab, as the lady waved the bottle around, and flirted with every guy around.
“After you called her a cab,” Lydia spoke quietly, “I left during the tropical storm and found my car with a dead battery. Jed jumpstarted me in more ways than one,” she added with a grin.
Fran took a quick sip of her wine, then pushed the glass aside. She jerked her chin toward the small dance floor. “I saw John when I was up on that stage singing. The way our eyes connected, well, it was like a shot of electricity had gone right through us. We were two lonely people who hadn’t been out on a date in years. But in that moment everything changed—and I became quite the vamp.” She laughed. “Took him to bed that very night, I did.”
“Candy Bar magic worked for all three of you. You found true love. We came together, and I couldn’t ask for better friends.” I gave a weary sigh. It would break my heart to sell this place, but I couldn’t afford to hang on to it for sentimental reasons. “It’s gotta go.”
“Jed and I could help out,” Lydia offered, without touching her purse again, thank heaven. She didn’t understand that there was more than just the money behind my decision. Probably because I hadn’t told them that I wanted more—something new to sink my teeth into. “An interest free loan,” Lydia said softly, “if you won’t accept the gift. I insist.”
“Oh, no you don’t,” Susie said, brushing her long blonde hair to the side with slender artist’s fingers. “My paintings have been selling well, and Brett and I have a little extra to spare. We want to invest. Right here.” She indicated the first four seats. “This is our corner of the bar. We own it. I’m going to buy these seats right now.”
Fran smacked the counter with typical determination. “Whoa. Wait a dang minute. My career started on that stage, and if anyone is going to put money down, it’s me. So back off, everybody. This is personal.”
I’d known they’d be upset, but to fight over giving me money? It was enough to bring me to tears. I glanced away and sucked them back. “I figured you’d be upset, but I never thought you’d try and rescue me. I should have though. It’s what we do.” I pinched the bridge of my nose. No crying, damn it. “I love you crazy girls to death, but I don’t want any one of you to float me a loan. This is a business decision, and one that I alone will make.” I met their confused, questioning gazes, imploring them to understand.
“You see…I want a clean break. To go someplace fresh. Live life for a change and stop working all the time.”
“You want to leave South Beach? Leave us?” Fran asked, her voice full of hurt.
My heart ached so badly I had to look away. My glance rested on the mural that Susie had painted, the stage where Fran had sang—so many happy memories, and ones I would always treasure. Still, as much as I loved the place, I couldn’t weaken now, or I’d be stuck here behind the bar—forever.
“You all have your own lives now, and nothing stays the same. It’s my turn to move on. I’m getting too old to be a barmaid.” I removed my straw hat and ran a loving finger across the brim. “Too old to be dressed like some sexy cowgirl.”
“You’re not old,” Susie said. “And if you take off your hat and start dressing all prim and proper,” she sniffed, “then I guess I’ll have to do the same. All of us will. No more party girls. No more Candy Ops. No more fun. Let the boring times begin.”
I grimaced at Susie’s dramatic prediction for our future.
“Put your hat back on,” Fran demanded. She grabbed it from the bar and shoved it back on my head, then continued yelling as though I were stone deaf. “What do you think you’re doing? You don’t quit. None of us do. We’re survivors, dammit, and we’ll figure a way out of this mess without selling our magical place.”
“You keep saying this is a business decision. So why won’t you take a loan?” Lydia narrowed her eyes. “You sure this isn’t about Jay Carpenter? Didn’t you go see him last week?”
I turned away from the girls, hiding the truth. “He’s not a part of my life anymore, and not a part of this decision, that’s for damn sure.” The only way Jay had influenced me was to show me what I didn’t have in my life, and what I still may want.
“Why?” Fran asked, zeroing in like a hawk on prey. “What happened in Tampa?” She reached out and touched my shoulder, turning me around.
I tugged at the brim of my hat. “Same old,” I said, like it didn’t bother me. “Found him in bed with another girl.” I grabbed my neglected glass of wine, and took a large swallow. “She was younger and prettier than the last.”
With great pretense, I gave a carefree shrug. “I finally realized that there’d always be another one, a continuous parade of women competing for Jay’s attention. Who was I to think I might change him? That man doesn’t want to be corralled, and I for one have lost interest in trying.”
I tossed my head, sending my straw hat flying toward the row of booze on the bar. “I’m ready to move on. He’s not invited.”
“Oh, Candy,” Susie said softly. “I’m so sorry. You really liked him. He seemed so into you.”
“Into me, and anybody else he could nail.” That had been the hardest part for me to accept. I’d understood Jay’s celebrity status gave him carte blanche to party like a rock star. What had hurt was realizing I wasn’t special enough to tame the man. For a while, it had been fun trying.
“Did you love him?” Susie asked, compassion in her tone.”No,” I answered honestly. “I don’t even like him so much anymore.”
“Ah,” Susie said. Lydia’s eyes welled and Fran’s cheeks turned red as if they all felt my misery. Unbidden, hot tears of disappointment coursed down my cheeks, my shoulders shook and I couldn’t catch a breath. Gasping, I sobbed gut-wrenching tears. Crying like I hadn’t cried since leaving home at sixteen—pregnant, rejected by my family who disowned me, sending me off to find my own place in the world.
The Candy Bar had become my place. Could I really leave it behind? My friends abandoned their barstools and came around the bar, locking me in a protective group hug. Lydia smelled like expensive perfume, Susie sandalwood and Fran like hair gel.
“We’ll always be friends,” I said, clearing my throat and pushing out of their circle. “This is so embarrassing.” I whispered. “Carrying on like this. I’m fine. Really.” Secretly, during my weak moments I’d always build myself up by thinking of myself as Candy the Conqueror. Well, that Candy had just lost total control and was blubbering like a baby.
Lydia looked like I’d smacked her in the face. “Embarrassing? We’re not only your friends, we’re your family.” She used an embossed cocktail napkin to dab at my tears. “And don’t you forget it.”
Fran stepped back, her lower lip jutted out. “I’m going to kill that Jay Carpenter. Worse, I’m going to call every person I know and have him permanently black listed.”
The idea perked me up a little and I forced a smile. “You can’t do that. His name is bigger than yours.”
She tilted her pug nose in the air. “Not for long. And once I do a proper smear campaign, no one will want to touch him. Not even his faithful groupies.”
“Need help?” Susie asked, her angelic face a mask of beautiful fury. “You twitter, and I’ll tackle facebook.”
“No one is going to do anything,” I told them, pushing them back toward their barstools. “Even if he is a two-timing whore. Darn, I can’t even call him that. He makes no bones that he screws anyone he pleases, so he doesn’t really cheat. He was honest about it from the start. That makes me stupid, not him.” My bottom lip trembled so I bit it viciously and tasted blood.
“Don’t you dare stand up for him,” Lydia said savagely. “I don’t care who he screws, as long as it isn’t you.”
“When I saw him like that—in bed with another woman, I was so filled with disgust—for him and for myself. He’d made it perfectly clear where I stood on his priority list, and I didn’t like it. I didn’t like who I was. On the drive home, I came to terms with the fact I’m almost forty. My son is a legal adult graduating from college.”
I took a deep breath, smoothing my fingers across the bar. “Billy is starting new, too. It’s time I thought about finding someone to spend the rest of my life with. Someone who doesn’t sleep around and who’ll cherish me. I deserve that, don’t I?”
“You do, Candy,” they said in unison, as if they’d been practicing all week. Who needed a sexy cowboy you could ride all night and leave you cross-legged in the morning, when you had women like these at your back?
“So selling the Candy Bar isn’t just about the money.” Lydia reached for the almost empty bottle of wine.
Passing it over, I shook my head. “The neighborhood is going downhill. Just like me.”
“Will you stop saying that?” Susie frowned. “You are beautiful.”
“I saw a gray hair this morning,” I answered.
“So? You just pull them out,” Lydia responded. “Doesn’t mean you’re not hot stuff.”
“Well, I think you’re one of the most beautiful women, I know,” Fran said. “And maybe tonight some cute guy will walk in, and you’ll find your magic just like we all did.” She beamed. “Why not? Your bar, your turn.”
The Candy Bar was an old mission inn, built on an ancient Indian burial ground. We didn’t have any factual proof of any mysterious forces at work, but we liked to think that the Indians were up to old tricks. During tropical storms when the skies opened up and lightning crackled in the air, the brick wall behind the bar would begin to sweat. Inside the bar, candles flickered, lights dimmed, and whoever was the lucky or unlucky recipient of this electrical current would get zapped by magic.
By now, most of the customers knew the routine. I’d shout out “make a wish,” and the lucky recipient would wish for something and it would be granted. Since it’s never happened to me, I’m not sure what I’d wish for. I’d like a husband, but it wasn’t the top priority in my life. I wanted to give back to the people who had once supported me.
I’d eventually ended up at a women’s shelter, and they had let me stay until the baby was born. Without their nurturing care, I’m not sure if either Billy or I would have survived. So I like to think that if the magic struck me, I’d be a bigger, better person and not ask for love, but a means to help other unwed mothers.
“It’s not going to happen. I think I’m immune.”
“Next time,” Lydia suggested, “throw yourself in front of it. Don’t let anyone else steal your wish. It’s your turn for love, girlfriend.”
“I need a lot of other things first, like a demolition crew to clean this neighborhood up. That’s the only thing that will keep this business alive long enough for me to sell to a solid buyer. If I only have one wish, I sure can’t make it a man.” I was independent and quite capable, and well used to doing things for myself. A man would keep me warm at night, but then so would a blanket. And if I wanted affection, I could always get a puppy.
“Make it a rich man,” Susie said with a devilish grin. “And a drop dead gorgeous one. Go for the whole enchilada!”
“Clear skies today, girls,” I said, reaching for another bottle of wine. One of the perks of owning the place was drinking the finest wine with the best friends any girl could have.
My heart twisted as I thought of somebody else behind the bar. My bar. Had I made my decision to sell too quickly? No…it was time.
The door swung open, allowing the late afternoon sun to illuminate the dim bar. I tossed my hair back, narrowing my eyes to bring the shape of broad shoulders wearing a suit into focus.
He paused at the door, surveying the room before finding the four of us in the near gloom. I flicked a switch, softly lighting the area around the bar tables—he could see us, and we could see him.
He moved forward with a confident stride. Tall—really tall. Perhaps 6 foot 6, with dark hair. His suit was tailored, the fabric expensive even from a distance. Something about him screamed trouble and I wiped my palms on the front of my jeans.
“I’m looking for the owner,” he said, with a deep rich timber to his voice.
Trouble, yes, but from where? He was too smooth to be one of the jackasses who’d been after me for protection money for the bar. Maybe he was interested in buying the place, though I’d just listed the property last night with a realtor.
I came around the bar, with a reserved smile. I was wearing a hot pink tee that read Candy Bar in silver sequins across my considerable bosom. And hot pink cowboy boots. My attire suited the Candy Bar. Suited me. But for some reason, it made me feel ever-so-tacky next to Wall Street Ken.
I held out my hand. “I’m Candy.”
For better or worse, that’s me.
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Patrice Wilton knew from the age of twelve that she wanted to write books that would take the reader to faraway places. As a voracious reader, she gobbled up books, and her imagination soared. She was born in Vancouver, Canada, and had a great need to see the world that she had read about.
Patrice became a flight attendant for seventeen years and traveled the world. At the age of forty she sat down to write her first book—in longhand! Her interests include tennis, golf, and writing stories for women of all ages.
She is the proud mother of two, has four lovely grand-daughters, and a wonderful man at her side. They live in West Palm Beach, Florida, where he teaches her golf, and she teaches him patience.
Her best selling books are the Candy Bar series, the Serendipity Falls series, and her returning war hero series. She joined a group of talented, NY Times and USA Today best selling authors and released a ten book box set–TEN BRIDES FOR TEN HEROES, followed by TEN CHRISTMAS BRIDES.