Candy Bear by Scarlett Grove
Fate Valley Mysteries
About the Author
Also by Scarlett Grove
Benjamin Darling watched the work crew from the window of Fate Valley Confections. They’d been making a racket out in the town square all day. It was disturbing his customers and driving away business. Any other time of year, it wouldn’t have mattered, but a week before Valentine’s Day was the worst time for a candy shop to lose business.
Benjamin knew the noise was all for a good cause. He was excited that the city was erecting a monument to its founder, Ambrose Morgan. Everyone knew the town’s founder had been a firm lover of Valentine’s Day. Even his middle name was, in fact, Valentine. But the noise outside was still driving Benjamin batty.
A crane drove into the town square carrying a stone that fell and shook the walls. Benjamin had had enough. He stormed outside and clenched his fists as he glared at the foreman of the construction crew.
“I can’t hear myself think in there,” he said, gritting his teeth.
“This construction will be complete by tomorrow. Everything needs to be in place for the ceremony on Valentine’s Day.”
“You’re disturbing my customers,” Benjamin shouted over the clanging and vibrating noise.
“You have to be patient, Mr. Darling,” the foreman said. “We’re doing everything we can to not disturb the downtown businesses. This monument is meant to bring more people to the town square, and I’m sure that business will be booming when we’re done.”
“I suppose you’re right,” Benjamin sighed, wiping powdered sugar on his white apron.
The people in the square had stopped to watch the ruckus of construction, and Benjamin didn’t want people to think he didn’t have town pride—that was the furthest thing from the truth. Being a Fate Valley native and the owner of a multi-generation family business, he was full of small town pride, but if anything upset or disturbed his customers, he took it to heart.
“I suppose we can turn on some music in the store,” he said to himself.
He usually kept his radio tuned at a volume of exactly ‘3’, and never turned it up, but today maybe it was time for a slight shift in routine.
“We’ll have this done as soon as we can,” the foreman said.
Benjamin nodded at the foreman and hurried back across the street and into Fate Valley Confections. He’d left his employee at the till with a line of customers. Customers milled around the shelves of taffy, chocolates, caramels and peanut brittle.
Having failed to stop the noise, he knelt behind the counter and turned up the music. He had the station tuned to a channel full of love songs. Nothing said love like a big box of chocolates, and he wanted his patrons to get in the mood. He stood up and smiled brightly at his line of customers, the music playing over the sound of clanging construction outside.
“That’s better,” he said, helping the next person.
Eventually the customers in the store thinned out, and he left his assistant, Tilly, to watch the store room while he went into the back where he made his confections. He’d been working in Fate Valley Confections since he was a lad and had loved every single day of it. Marvin, and Marvin’s father before him, had run Fate Valley Confections for over fifty years.
It had become a staple in the town that people had come to rely on for their sweet treats. This time of year was especially important for the confectionery. Valentine’s Day made up fifteen percent of their yearly business, and those numbers could not be ignored.
He checked the pot of chocolate on the stove with his long-tipped thermometer and the temperature was just right. After pouring the chocolate into a dozen bite-size molds, he left them to cool. Turning to his next project, he began to mix the caramel. Brown sugar, cream, butter, and a pinch of salt all went into his pan with just enough water to keep it from burning. Carefully, he swirled the pan as it cooked. When the color was the perfect shade of dark amber, he pulled the confection off the heat.
He poured spoonfuls of caramel into half a dozen chocolate molds. When they were each three quarters full of caramel, he added another layer of chocolate on top.
When the caramel-filled chocolates were done he mixed his family’s secret recipe ganache. He used a dispenser to pipe the ganache into each little square, filling it up almost to the top. After it had set, he filled the molds with chocolate the rest of the way and set them aside to harden. With a satisfied smile, he took off his plastic gloves and poured himself a cup of coffee.
“How are you doing back here?” Tilly asked, walking through the swinging door into the kitchen.
“I’m almost done for the day,” he said.
“You seemed awfully cranky this morning,” she observed.
“Well, the construction outside was driving away business.”
“We had a record-breaking day,” she said. “People are really excited about the installation of the statue of Ambrose Morgan. Everyone knows he loved Valentine’s Day. Maybe it’s something else?” she asked carefully.
Benjamin sighed, his shoulders slumping. She was right. He wasn’t upset about the noise, and he knew it wasn’t driving away business. What he was really upset about was that he’d be spending another Valentine’s Day alone.
He’d been in the kitchen right before he’d stormed out into the town square. He’d been checking Mate.com one more time, just to be sure, and found he still hadn’t been matched with his mate. Then when he’d heard the clanging and banging, it was just the last straw. But he knew that it was no excuse for making a scene in front of his store.
“You’re right,” he said. “I’m just feeling a little on edge because I still haven’t found my fated mate. For a guy who makes chocolates and candies for all the lovers in Fate Valley every year, it’s hard for me to spend another Valentine’s Day alone.”
“I’m sure you’ll find your fated mate soon,” she said. “I know that when I found my Charlie, it was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
“I know, Tilly. I’m really happy for you guys,” he said.
He was happy that Tilly had found her husband Charlie last year. He’d even been a groomsman at their wedding. Tilly was a great assistant. She’d gone to the Culinary Academy in Kansas City and was a talented candy maker herself. He relied on her for her support, especially at times like these.
“I know I have to be patient. It’s just so hard.”
“You know what they say about fate,” she said. “It works in mysterious ways.”
“I just hope that its mystery doesn’t involve me waiting for my mate for another seven years.”
“I’m sure she’ll appear soon enough,” Candice said.
The bell over the door rang in the front of the shop and she excused herself from the kitchen to go tend to the customer.
Ben sighed and sipped his coffee, his dark mood lifting slightly after his little chat with Tilly. She was right, fate worked in mysterious ways. There was no way to speed it up, or slow it
As a shifter, he was well acquainted with the workings of fate. It was part of every shifter’s spiritual belief system. They believed the fates were working for their highest favor, every moment of every day. Most shifters had a great deal of faith in the fates and the workings of the intricate web they wove for shifters and humans alike. But for shifters, that meant waiting for that one special someone they called a fated mate.
Mate.com was a website that had been created over twenty-five years ago, after the Great War. It had matched more shifter mates than he could count that knew of himself, but it still hadn’t matched him. He had a dozen less-than-perfect matches. He’d even gone out with a couple of them just to stave off the loneliness. But he could tell just from sight and smell alone that none of them were the woman for him.
His mate still wasn’t in the system. For him to find her through the dating site, she would have to create a profile and take the quiz. If she was a human, then the chances of her signing up for Mate.com were not that good.
He set down his cup of cocoa and grumbled to himself. He was doubting the hands of fate again, and that never did a shifter any good. He squeezed his eyes closed and told himself he had to keep the faith. If he spent another Valentine’s Day alone, it wasn’t the end of the world. He had plenty of family and friends around to keep him company. His parents, who had retired from the confectionery, still lived in Fate Valley. He was an active member of the Shifter Community Association and had a lot of friends.
In fact, he’d been invited to attend the wedding of one of his best friends in Fate Valley: Thorian Reed and his sweet, curvy mate Cici Anderson. Their wedding was the day before Valentine’s Day. He could bring a plus one to the wedding, but he still didn’t have anybody. He knew he would be attending the wedding alone.
He checked his chocolates and found that they were ready to be popped out of their molds. When he thought about attending the wedding alone, he realized that was what had made him feel so grumpy today. He’d filled out his RSVP that morning and said he would be having the steak for dinner at the wedding. He loved steak. But the thought of attending yet another fated mate wedding all alone had haunted him the entire morning.
As he popped his little chocolates out of the molds, he told himself he needed to go apologize to the foreman for snapping at him about the noise. Maybe he would give the man a box of chocolates as a peace offering.
Samantha Cooper stepped up to the counter of the Fate Valley Hotel, with her suitcase in one hand and her backpack slung over the other shoulder. She gave the attendant her name.
“Yes, I have you right here. You’re in a room overlooking the town square,” the woman said. “What brings you to Fate Valley? Did you come to see the installation of our town’s founder, Ambrose Morgan?” She handed Samantha the key.
“I did, in fact,” she said.
“Ambrose Morgan was a great man. He was the engineer and founder of the Lake of the Fates. Without him, the town of Fate Valley wouldn’t be here.”
“So I’ve heard,” Samantha said.
“Are you one of those people who’s into history?” the woman asked. “It’s just that you came all the way from New York City to our little backwater town for a statue installation.”
“I’m a historian,” she said. “I’m writing a piece on the founding of the town for the magazine I work for.”
“That’s so exciting. I didn’t know the people of New York City were interested in our little town history.”
“The Historic Times is an international magazine. This place has a great deal of interest. The Lake of the Fates is the largest reservoir in the world,” Samantha said. “The founding of such a landmark is an interesting story.”
“You’ll want to visit the Fate Valley History Museum then,” the woman said, handing her a brochure. “They could tell you all about Ambrose Morgan and the construction of the Lake of the Fates.”
“Thank you,” Samantha said, taking the pamphlet and reading over the cover briefly before tugging her suitcase through the lobby and up the stairs to her room.
She shoved her key in the door and walked into the little hotel room where she sat on the bed and collapsed onto her back. She’d been traveling all day and her feet hurt. After closing her eyes for several minutes, she picked up the brochure and read it over. She made a note to herself to make sure she visited the museum. They might be able to give her clues to do with her real reason for coming to Fate Valley.
Samantha really did work for The Historic Times Magazine and she really was writing a piece about the founding of Fate Valley and the construction of the Lake of the Fates. The Historic Times was something like National Geographic, but for American history. The magazine was distributed to schools and libraries all around the country and Europe. She was proud of her job and was happy to have come so far from her humble beginnings.
As perfect a subject as the Lake of the Fates’ founding in 1930 was for her job, that wasn’t the real reason she had come here. It was something a great deal more personal. Samantha was trying to discover her past. Her own identity. She read over the brochure again and decided to go there tomorrow morning after breakfast. The thought of breakfast made her stomach rumbled and she realized she hadn’t eaten since the terrible airline meal she had on the plane. She grabbed her purse and left her hotel room, making her way down to the lobby.
“Is there a good place to eat lunch nearby?” she asked the attendant.
“There’s Fate Valley Diner and Fate Valley Pizzeria in the square. If you want something a little fancier, I’d suggest the Fate Valley Resort.”
“Very good,” she said slinging her purse over her shoulder as she approached the front door.
“And don’t miss Fate Valley Confections. They make the best chocolates in the county. Maybe the whole state. Maybe the whole country,” the woman said.
“I’ll be sure not to miss that.”
Samantha left the hotel and looked around the quaint little town square. The whole town had been constructed in the 1930s, after the founding of the massive reservoir that had come to be called the Lake of the Fates.
After the valley had been funded to create the lake, the town had boomed with new jobs in the hydroelectric station. Soon resorts sprang up and people from all over the area came here to vacation. Even in 1940s, tourists came from all over the East Coast to visit the Lake of the Fates for boating and fishing. It was one of the most popular bass fishing locations in the entire eastern part of the country.
The sun shone bright overhead in the big blue sky, even as the crisp winter air bit her cheeks. Instead of climbing into her rental car, she walked the few blocks to the restaurant, noting the noisy construction in the middle of the square. The Fate Valley Diner stood directly across the square from Fate Valley Confections.
Even over the dust of the construction, she could smell the chocolate wafting out the door as a patron walked outside. She took a deep breath of the tantalizing aroma, and told herself she would have to stop by to grab herself a box of Valentine’s Day chocolates.
Samantha didn’t have a special someone. Having spent most of her college days just scraping by, she’d been happy to focus on her work after getting her position at The Historic Times. But every year, as Valentine’s Day approached, she couldn’t help but feel a little bit sad that she didn’t have a special someone. She ducked into Fate Valley Diner, and was seated at a booth by the window by a middle-aged waitress wearing a pink uniform and a name tag that said Debbie. Samantha ordered a Fate Valley burger with fries and a strawberry milkshake to go with it. Debbie returned a while later with her meal and set it in front of her.
“I hope the construction doesn’t bother you too much,” Debbie said, setting her straw next to her milkshake. “We’re all pretty excited about the statue of Ambrose Morgan, but the noise sure is getting under my skin today.”
“It shouldn’t be a problem,” Samantha said, tappin
“Well, you let me know if you need anything,” Debbie said, before walking off.
Samantha had grabbed a paper on the way into the diner and paged through the articles as she ate. As she flipped to the back, she came across an advertisement for a dating website called Mate.com. It said it matched the male shifters with human females.
Ever since the shifters had come out of hiding about fifty years ago, most humans knew that shifters produced more males than females. She’d even heard of this dating website before, but had never given it much thought. For a moment, she considered signing up. She did feel awfully lonely today. Being alone in a strange town was hard for her, especially on Valentine’s Day. But she flipped past the dating site and continued reading the want ads and classifieds.
She wanted to get a feel for the town. She had an article to write, and something more personal to attend to. The whole reason she had even suggested the article to her editor was still weighing heavily on her mind.
Having grown up in the foster system, after her mother died in childbirth, Samantha had always wondered who she was. But now, more than ever, her curiosity about her origins was at a peak. She intended to put all of her research skills to the test in finding out exactly why and how she was related to Ambrose Valentine Morgan.
Benjamin arrived at Thorian and Cici’s wedding with gift in hand and a smile on his face. He wanted to be there for his friend on his special day. Benjamin had just met Thorian a few weeks ago, but the man had become an important part of the Shifter Community Association. Benjamin knew how important it was for the shifters of Fate Valley to stick together.