Early Access: The Taste Of A Smile Part 6 ‘Hot Chocolate’ Excerpt

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Helllo!

Happy hump day!

Ready for your weekly excerpt? Let’s see how Lex and Mary are doing today …

Enjoy the read!

Sigrid

Lex peered through the store window. She was surprised to see all the lights were on. It was still 90 minutes before opening time. Mary had told her most employees wouldn’t have arrived yet.

She stepped back and waved at the sensor of the glass doors. They didn’t open. That wasn’t surprising. There had to be another entrance at the back for the staff. Lex just didn’t know where it was.

She shivered. It was ice cold again and she hadn’t dressed appropriately. Lex considered calling Hannah to ask her where she could find the staff entrance. Now was not the time, though.

Hannah had more important things to worry about. Lex’s throat tightened every time she thought of Hannah’s broken voice. She had heard her cousin this upset only once before and it had been a long time ago.

A flash of movement in the corner of her eye interrupted her thoughts. Had someone just gone upstairs? She raised her hand above her eyes and pressed it against the glass. She couldn’t see much from here.

“Fuck,” Lex muttered to herself. “Why didn’t I ask about the entrance yesterday?”

She was about to go looking for the back entry of the store when she spotted a man descending the stairs. Lex knocked on the glass. She hardly felt it. Her fingers were red and numb.

The store employee looked up. He smiled at her and tapped his wrist, shrugging apologetically. Lex knocked on the glass again, harder this time. He touched his watch again and shook his head.

Lex pointed at herself and then back at him. “I work here,” she mouthed. He frowned and took a hesitant step toward her. Lex regretted leaving her trainee badge at home. She could have shown it to him.

The man looked away and shouted something, but Lex couldn’t hear what it was. “I work here,” she yelled, pointing at her chest. A woman with a chihuahua hastened by on the sidewalk. Lex was making a fool of herself.

She was about to knock on the doors again when Mary suddenly came running down the stairs. As soon as she spotted Lex, she stopped dead in her tracks.

Lex could tell she wasn’t exactly happy to see her. Well, the feeling was fucking mutual. And still, her heart rate picked up once she took in Mary’s outfit. Black jeans looked fantastic on her. In another universe, Lex would find her attractive.

“Except she’s insufferable,” Lex thought.

The meeting with Mary yesterday had been long and beyond frustrating. Mary had seemed to take issue with every single question Lex had asked or every suggestion she had made.

The only thing they had agreed on was what time to meet today. Lex was starting to wonder if Mary had changed even that simple plan. Eight or nine people were coming down and crossing the store. It had to be the whole team.

Mary walked up and entered a code on a panel next to the doors. They opened with a loud whoosh.

“Good morning,” Lex said, hurrying inside.

“Couldn’t find the back of the store?” Mary asked, tapping the terminal to close the doors.

“No,” Lex replied, opening the zipper of her leather jacket.

Mary crossed her arms. “You’re early.”

“Not early enough, it seems,” Lex said, nodding at the back of the store.

“It was just a short, informal meeting,” Mary said chirpily, heading for the stairs. “You didn’t miss anything.”

Lex had no choice but to hurry after her. She counted the days left in the month as she climbed the stairs. Fuck, more than 25 days left. She wasn’t getting rid of this crazy lady any time soon.

The café upstairs was cozier than she had expected. Lex looked around with her hands in the pockets of her jacket. Coffee mugs stood scattered on several tables.

Mary gestured for her to sit down. “Coffee?”

Lex pulled back a chair. “Sure.”

“Anything special?” Mary asked, stepping behind the counter.

Lex looked up at the menu on the wall.

“Just Americano,” she said, studying the long list of coffee specials.

“Alright,” Mary said and placed a mug under one of the machines.

Lex wrinkled her nose at some of the coffee mixes on the menu.
“What product has the highest profit margin?” she wondered out loud.

Mary chuckled. “The hot chocolate.”

Lex didn’t understand what was funny. She located the hot chocolate in the bottom corner of the menu.

“Why isn’t it at the top of the menu then?” she asked sincerely.

Mary held up the mug with freshly prepared coffee. “Milk? Plant-based milk? Sugar? Sweetener?”

Lex lowered herself onto the chair. “Eh, real milk, please.”

Mary nodded and opened a fridge below the counter. “The staff will come back up here in about 15 minutes. They’re excited to meet you.”

“I thought we were making the announcement together?” Lex asked.

“No,” Mary replied, pouring some milk. “Why would we?”

Lex’s nostrils flared. She was sure that Mary knew Lex had wanted to be here for the announcement.

“I wanted to give everyone a moment to ask questions,” Mary continued, putting the milk away.

“You made sure I wouldn’t be there,” Lex said.

Mary placed the coffee in front of Lex and met her gaze.

“I asked everyone to come in early so they would feel comfortable discussing the changes ahead,” she said, straightening.

Lex clenched her jaw. She wondered what Mary had told the team.

“What did the team say?” Lex asked. She reached for the coffee and sniffed it.

Mary sat down and draped her arm over the back of the chair casually. “They’re excited,” she said. “They can’t wait to show you what makes this store special.”

Lex sipped her drink. She had to admit the coffee was delicious.

“We came up with a schedule for this week. You’ll tag along with someone new every day. Get a grasp of the different jobs, you know?”

“Excuse me?” Lex said, almost choking on her coffee.

“Karen will show you the personnel management side today,” Mary explained.

Anger bubbled up in Lex’s chest. Who the hell did this woman think she was? Footsteps coming up the stairs stopped her from protesting, though.

She shifted in her seat and saw a young man walking into the cafe. He gave her a shy wave. Lex turned back to face Mary.

“I suggest we go to your office,” she hissed.

 

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