Jane Austen’s Emma made a habit of meddling in other people’s lives, but Melanie Abbott has turned it into a cottage industry.

As “modern American royalty” living in Abbott’s Bay, Massachusetts, a town founded by her ancestor, Melanie Abbott feels it’s her right—even her duty—to employ her uncanny knack for knowing exactly what everyone needs to improve their lives. She eagerly shares her wisdom and insight with her friends and neighbors . . . whether they ask for it or not. If only Conn Garvey, her dearest friend, agreed with her.

Connacht Garvey has been keeping an eye on Melanie since they were kids. A bit older, far more level-headed, and infinitely patient, Conn feels it's his duty to pull Melanie back from whatever cliff’s edge she’s about to wander off. Conn thinks Melanie is egotistical, self-centered, irritating, infuriating, relentless, ridiculous . . . and irresistible. Not that Conn’s confessed to that last one. Yet.

When Melanie impulsively starts up a new advice-giving business, it’s an instant hit. Conn doesn’t approve, as usual, which is too bad, because Melanie’s convinced he needs her VIP package. (Of advice!) His coffeehouse is showing signs of financial trouble, plus his toxic ex is suddenly sniffing around, acting like she’s having second thoughts about their breakup. Will their friendship be blown to bits because of Melanie’s meddling . . . or will it become something more?

“Melanie Abbott is in the house!”

“I’ll alert the media. And don’t say you’re ‘in the house’ ever again. It’s just wrong.” 

Ooh, somebody sounds cranky. I let the door to the coffee house swing shut behind me. The place immediately reverts to its standard half-gloom, an arty kind of light, and a relief from the bright May sunshine outside. I cross the wide, pegged planks of the two-hundred-year-old floor, familiar with every odd dip and rise, and push against the wooden counter. 

“It’s three o’clock,” I say lightly. 

As if my friend Conn, the owner, needs reminding that I show up at this time every day. He barely glances up from the papers spread in front of him, and I twist the upper half of my body to get a peek. All I can tell is they look financial before he sweeps everything up into a neat stack. 

“Get away. Nosy.” 

I’ve seen that expression before, many times. It’s a cross between a can’t-you-see-I’m-busy scowl and a half grin that assures me he’s not actually in a bad mood. Okay, if he wants to be all secretive, that’s fine. I’ll get it out of him later. For now, I strike a pose, a bright smile on my face. My arrival, after all, is the highlight of his day. 

Or not. 

He ignores me. 

At least he pretends to. Then, not missing a beat, he puts down his pen, stuffs the papers under the bar, and reaches for a small white cup to make my usual triple espresso. 

“Aw, you do love me.” 

He shoots me a glare from under the ledge of his eyebrows but says nothing, then focuses on skillfully and smoothly grinding the beans, packing the grounds, and finessing the temperamental machine that’s held pride of place behind the counter since Deep Brew C opened three years ago. 

“Haven’t you heard that bartenders are supposed to be chatty?” 

Deep Brew C is also a bar and restaurant with an environmentally conscious bent, so Conn wears several hats: manager, barista, bartender, host, herb garden pruner, rainwater collector, compost turner, and recycler. I don’t know a whole lot about organic, locally sourced, farm-to-table (and ocean-to-table) practices, but there must be something to it because the food is phenomenal, at least in my opinion. DBC has everything I need—coffee, food, and drink—which makes it my second-favorite place in the world. My own home comes in first, and that’s only because I can wear pajamas and ditch my bra there. If I didn’t care about proper dining attire, I’d live here instead. 

Still, Conn says nothing, just to be contrary. I know darn right well he can talk up a storm when he feels like it. I fill the gap, shouting over the gurgling sound of the espresso maker. “Hey, I had the weirdest dream last night.” I wait. The noise dies away, but he doesn’t ask for details. I end up watching the broad expanse of his back as he pares a bit of lemon rind. I clear my throat, subtly. Nothing. I clear my throat a little less subtly. 

“Coming down with a cold?” How the guy’s voice can be smooth and rumbly all at the same time is a mystery, but there it is. 

“Oh, good. You’re still able to talk. I thought maybe Harvey had taken the whole cat-got-your-tongue thing literally.” 

“Harvey’s too old to make that kind of an effort, and you know it.” He turns around with a genuine smile. Even a mention of his geriatric feline best bud gets him all mushy. The softie. 

“Do you want to hear about my dream or not?” 


“So okay,” I charge on. I knew he’d say no. I was going to tell him anyway. “I was late getting to this party, right?” 

“Accurate so far.” 

“Quit it. It was at my dad’s house, but it didn’t look like my dad’s house.” I pause as Conn’s head drops to his shoulder, his eyes closed, and he starts snoring. “Are you going to listen to this or not?” 

“I already said not. Nobody wants to hear somebody else’s dream. They’re always boring, and they never make any sense.” 

Mine is no exception, I realize. At least I’m not going to be able to explain it easily—how the party was crowded with everyone in town (a couple thousand, many of whom I actually know, at least by sight), but I couldn’t manage to engage anyone in conversation. How bereft I felt when people started leaving but I had to stay. How I got lost in the dozens of rooms I didn’t recognize. It wasn’t the events, but the weird feeling the dream gave me, the mood it put me in that lingered even after I woke and put in most of a full day’s work, that’s still compelling me to decipher it. I know Conn could offer some insight…if he were interested. 

“Would you change your mind if I said you were in it?” 

Conn raises one eyebrow as he slides the espresso toward me, a curlicue of bright yellow lemon rind standing out against the white of the cup. “Depends on what I was doing in this dream of yours.” 

I make a face at the innuendo. “You were there at the party. And so was George the mail carrier, and Chelsea who runs the daycare, and—” 

“Okay, Dorothy, I get the idea.” 

“Oh—and there was a creepy doll room. I mean wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling bug-eyed antique dolls.” 

“You do know the connection between dreams and the dreamer’s mental state, right?” 

I adjust my bag on my shoulder and pick up my drink. Conn holds out one large hand, palm up, and flicks his fingertips in an expectant gesture. 

“Put it on my tab.” 

“Your tab rivals the national debt.” 

“You know I’m good for it.” His hand is still out. “What?” 


“Use SPF 45 or higher.” 

I head for my usual seat, a wingback chair by the hearth. Then I hear it: a voice. Coming from my chair. My chair. A woman, on the phone. Well, I hope she’s on the phone because there’s nobody else in the place. Then we’d have more of an issue than the fact that she doesn’t know enough not to sit in my chair. 

Really, this is unheard of. I gawp at Conn, shocked. He just grins the bastard and shrugs. As if this were no big deal. But it so clearly is. 

Do something! I mouth to him. 

“Hey, it isn’t the Friends couch. It’s not automatically reserved for you.” 

“Yes it is,” I say, incredulous, then add belatedly, “unofficially.” Sure, when the summer people get here in a few weeks, all bets are off. The place will be packed with pie-eyed tourists who don’t know the rules, habits, traditions of our Massachusetts seaside town. But till then, that’s my seat. 

“Too bad. She’s a paying customer. You, on the other hand…” he says, glancing significantly at the espresso-on-credit I’m holding. 

“You could have steered her to another seat,” I hiss. 

Conn snorts and starts wiping down the bar. “Sit someplace else, blondie. It won’t kill you.” 

I can’t even fathom this. “What? Where?” 

“The other chair?” 

There is indeed a second wingback chair opposite mine. But it won’t do. It faces the large, sixteen-paned mullioned window looking out on the main road. “The sun gets in my eyes.” 

“Oh, for God’s sake. Here,” he says, gesturing to one of the bar stools. “Sit, and I will admire your beautiful face.” 

It’s my turn to snort. “Don’t get all sentimental on me, now.” Guess it’s up to me to right this ship. I come up on the woman quietly and peek around the wing of the chair, a painfully fake-feeling smile plastered on my face. “Excuse me.” 

She jumps a mile, turning to me with a shocked look, and I immediately feel terrible. Almost terrible enough to let her stay there, but not quite. 

“Yes?” she whispers. 

She’s about my age, maybe a little younger, but dressed older, in tan pants and a beige and pink striped tailored shirt. Everything about her, from her wardrobe choice to her freckles to her skin to her hair that extends out from her hair band in every direction, is some variation of light brown. She does have a phone tucked under her curls, held up to her left ear. Thank goodness. Not crazy. 

“Sorry to disturb you, but…I’m afraid you’re in my seat.” 

Her (tan) eyebrows converge above her thin nose. Her eyes are also light brown. I want to buy her turquoise contacts to break up the monotony. “What?” 

“My seat,” I repeat. “You’re in it.” 

After staring at me for a second, frozen, she bursts into a flurry of motion, putting her phone away and frantically gathering up her things scattered at her feet—(brown) purse, some sort of (tan) messenger bag, short (beige) trench coat. She stands and stares forlornly at her mug and small plate, unsure how to bus her dishes. 

Now I feel like a complete turd. 

“Oh, hey, no,” I backpedal. “No, don’t get upset. I’m sorry. You stay right where you are—” 

Her eyes brimming with tears, she stumbles out the door and rushes past the window, possessions clutched to her chest and head bowed. 

I’m not sure what just happened. 

“Way to run off my customers, Abbott.” 

Conn’s close behind me, his substantial arms crossed, a dishcloth dangling from one hand. 

“I didn’t mean to,” I protest. “She was not exactly normal.” 

“And you weren’t exactly the epitome of graciousness.” He glances at my espresso, still in my hand, now uselessly tepid. “New one?” 

Handing over the cup, I mutter, “I don’t feel like it.” 

Then I’m out of the shop as well, heading in the opposite direction from Miss Beige.

Jayne Denker divides her time between working hard to bring the funny in her romantic comedies and raising a young son who's way too clever for his own good. She lives in a small village in western New York that is in no way, shape, or form related to the small village that’s the setting for her Marsden novels, Down on Love, Picture This, and Lucky for You. When she's not hard at work on another romcom, the social media addict can usually be found frittering away startling amounts of time on Facebook (Jayne Denker Author) and Twitter (@JDenkerAuthor). Stop by her blog,, and say hi.


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