In Benevolence, Washington, the Lamont family's luscious handmade chocolates are a beloved tradition—and the sweetest of comforts. And for the most reserved of the three Lamont sisters, they’re a much-needed way to challenge the past, rekindle hope—and make happiness for a lifetime.
Caring family and friends, tranquil streets—ex-prosecutor Willow Lamont wishes these could make her feel truly at home. She's back to help her grandfather manage Chocolate Haven, a long held dream come true. But she's struggling to make their unique fudge—and to cope with a secret trauma that haunts her. Yet when she finds an abandoned baby who breaks her heart wide open, she wonders how long she can hide her emotions—especially from warm, handsome, and way too nosey Deputy Sheriff Jax Gordon.
Always an outsider, Jax knows more than he should about loss. But he didn't expect his difficult search for baby “Miracle's” mother would reveal such a vulnerable side to the accomplished, beautiful woman he's always admired. Earning Willow's trust is the hardest thing he's ever had to do. Yet between her honesty and courage, he's longing to fill her life with rekindled joy—and a forever of irresistible love.
Praise for Shirlee McCoy’s Sweet Haven
“Fans of Debbie Macomber will appreciate McCoy’s sweet, funny, heartwarming romance with its friendly, small-town setting.” —Booklist (starred review)
“A delicious small‑town treat.” —Library Journal
About the Author
Shirlee McCoy spent her childhood making up stories and acting them out with her sister. It wasn’t long before she discovered Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, her mother’s gothic romances . . . and became an ardent fan of romantic suspense. She still enjoys losing herself in a good book. And she still loves making up stories. Shirlee and her husband live in Maryland and have five children. Readers can visit her website at www.shirleemccoy.com.
Read an Excerpt
Willow Lamont woke bathed in sweat and gasping for air. She lay still, listening to the silence of the apartment, inhaling the familiar scent of furniture polish and age. She was back in Benevolence, Washington. The place where the nightmare had begun.
Back and wishing that she wasn't.
Five mornings spent gulping coffee like it was oxygen and she was climbing Mount Everest. Five evenings reading recipe cards and wondering why she couldn't produce a good batch of chocolate to save her life.
Five nights of hell.
And it would all begin again in ...
She glanced at the bedside clock — four hours.
She shoved the covers aside and climbed out of bed, the wood floor cold beneath her feet. It reminded her of childhood visits with her grandparents and of the way that it had felt to be young and happy and naïve.
She'd grown up fast.
Her father's illness had been the beginning of the process. His death from brain cancer had been the end of it.
The thing that had happened in between?
That had made her who she was.
She might hate the nightmares and the fear, but she didn't hate what she'd become because of them.
She did hate being sleepless, though. Especially in the darkest part of the morning when the blackness outside the windows seemed to pulse with energy. She snapped the curtain into place, making sure not even a hint of night was visible through the heavy fabric.
"Five days down," she murmured. "Nine to go."
Two weeks. Fourteen days. Three-hundred-thirty-six hours. She'd calculated the time that she'd spend in Benevolence down to the minute. She'd explained it to her grandfather, to her sisters, to her mother. She'd told anyone who happened to be anyone who loved her family that she could only devote two weeks of her time to Chocolate Haven. Sure, it was the family legacy. Sure, she'd been the Lamont sister everyone had thought would eventually take over the store, but she'd grown up and moved away. She had a life and a career that she loved. Neither included chocolate or fudge or the little town she'd grown up in.
Everyone needed to understand that.
Everyone meaning Granddad.
When he'd called to ask for her help, she'd offered to give him money to hire someone to work part-time in the shop until one or both of her sisters returned to work. She'd pointed out that it was a practical solution to the problem. He'd pointed out that the chocolate and fudge recipes were top secret, need-to-know, and only for family. If he wanted some blasted stranger making them, he could afford to hire someone himself. He wanted family.
She was family.
Chocolate Haven was her legacy.
Plus, he missed her.
The last part had gotten to her.
She'd told herself that she was being manipulated. She'd reminded herself that she did not want to end up like her sisters Adeline and Brenna — living in Benevolence, working at the family store, settling into small-town life. She'd gone over all the reasons why she should not let Byron Lamont trick her into returning home.
And then she'd agreed to do it.
"Because you're an idiot," she muttered, walking out of the bedroom and into the hall. She'd left a light on over the stove. Its muted glow cut through the darkness, but even the light couldn't chase away the remnants of the nightmare. Probably because the nightmare had been her reality, and the dream was nothing more than memories of it.
She hurried through the hallway, ignoring the dark corners that the light didn't reach, the open doorway that led into the bathroom.
The living room was small and quaint. Just like the rest of the apartment. It smelled like chocolate and looked like a page out of a 1970s Sears catalog — plaid sofa and easy chair, small television with antenna ears. Just like Chocolate Haven, it never changed. The sofa had been there for as long as Willow could remember. The stove and cabinets and counters in the little galley kitchen were all the same. She could remember spending time there as a kid, eating cookies and drinking hot chocolate and listening to her grandmother talk about how fortunate they all were to have one another.
If she could have, Alice Lamont would have lived forever. Just to make sure that none of her granddaughters ever forgot what it meant to be family.
But, of course, no one lived forever.
The patriarch of the Lamont family was getting older, and he was slowing down. Willow had noticed that when she'd come for her sister Brenna's wedding. She hadn't said anything to either of her sisters, but she was certain they'd noticed as well. They hadn't put any pressure on Willow, but they'd hinted that she should spend more time at home. They hadn't seemed to realize that Willow's home wasn't Benevolence, the chocolate shop, the big house on the hill that they'd grown up in. Maybe because, to both of them, home was all those things.
Not a surprise when it came to Adeline. She'd always loved Benevolence. Brenna, though ...
She was an enigma.
One that Willow wasn't going to solve at two in the morning when her stomach hurt and her head was pounding. Migraines sucked, and she'd been fighting one for days.
She stalked into the kitchen, grabbed the old kettle, and turned on the faucet. Her hand shook and water sloshed over the rim, but she managed to get enough water in to make a cup of tea. She'd count that as a victory.
She needed to win at something.
She'd been losing at chocolate making for days.
She scowled, annoyed with herself and with the situation she was in. She could have said no. She should have said no.
The phone rang, and she nearly jumped out of her skin, the kettle clattering onto the stove, more water sloshing through the spout. She grabbed a paper towel with one hand and the phone with the other, the old yellow cord twisting and twirling as she pressed the receiver to her ear.
"Hello?" she barked, her voice too loud.
"I knew you'd be awake," the caller whispered, and for a moment Willow was back in time, another voice whispering in her ear — Say a word to anyone, and your sisters die.
Her hand tightened on the cord, her nails digging into her palm. "Who is this?" "How many people do you know who'd call you at two in the morning?" the caller whispered. This time, Willow recognized the voice, the hint of sarcasm, and the soft coo of a baby in the background.
"Addie? What in God's name are you doing up?" she said, imagining her sister tucked in some corner of the pretty little house she shared with her husband, newborn daughter, and the two teenagers she'd taken in.
"What most mothers of newborn babies do at two in the morning: feeding my daughter. There is no end to her appetite." She didn't sound frustrated by that. She sounded content. "I'm also wishing I had cake. Coconut. With those yummy toasted coconut shavings on top. Just like Grandmom used to make."
"Want me to bake you one?" Willow opened the fridge, eyeing the empty shelves. No eggs. No milk. No butter. She doubted she had flour or sugar in the pantry cupboard, and she knew for sure she didn't have coconut. But if Addie wanted cake, she could run to the next town over, go to the all-night grocery store, and grab the ingredients. It would give her something to do.
"Don't you dare!"
"First, that would take hours. Second, I'm trying to lose the baby weight. That's not going to happen if I stuff my face every time my daughter eats."
"You don't need to lose weight."
"That's not what Mom says."
"Since when do you care what Mom says?"
"Since winter is over and spring is coming and I can't fit into any of my clothes."
"You gave birth eight weeks ago. You're nursing your daughter, and your boobs are the size of Mack trucks. Of course, you can't fit into your clothes!" Addie laughed. "I knew you'd cheer me up."
"I didn't realize you needed it."
"Sinclair left on business yesterday morning. The kids have been bickering all day. The baby is colicky, and my boobs are as big as houses, so ... yeah. I needed it."
"Mack trucks. It would be difficult to walk around with houses attached to your chest," Willow corrected, and Addie laughed again.
"Picking up the phone. I shouldn't have called, but you were on my mind. We haven't really talked since you've been back."
They'd both been busy — Addie with her life. Willow with the shop.
"How are things going?" Addie continued, and Willow gave her the pat answer she'd given everyone who'd asked.
"Aside from the fact that Granddad is driving me crazy? Yeah."
"What's he doing? Trying to convince you to move back home?"
"Home is Seattle, and I plan to be back there in nine days."
"You know what I meant," she said easily. "He wants nothing more than to have all of us close."
"Seattle isn't that far away."
"Close. As in — living in town, working in the shop, being near enough that he can stick his nose into all of our lives."
"He already does that."
"You have a good point, but I still think he's going to try to talk you into staying. Brace yourself for it. And, be prepared for ..."
"Adeline Rose! What should I be prepared for?"
"Him going off on some trip while you're running the shop."
"He wouldn't dare." She hoped not, because she wasn't prepared to run the shop on her own. Not now. Not in a week. Not in a year.
"He went on a fishing trip while Brenna was helping at the shop. Left her alone to figure things out."
"I didn't hear about that."
"You were busy planning your ..."
"Wedding? You can say it, Addie. It's not a dirty word."
"I didn't want to bring up bad memories."
"Ken is a nice guy. We had a really nice relationship. I don't have any bad memories." She sounded stuck-up and snooty, and that embarrassed her. When had she become that person? The one who didn't like any messy emotions or messy conversations, who liked everything neat and tidy and perfect?
"I'm glad," Addie said, and the sincerity in her voice made Willow feel even worse.
"I'm not saying it was a perfect relationship. It's just ... well, Ken really is a nice guy. He made our breakup easy."
"You sound like you're apologizing," Addie said with a quiet laugh. "You don't have to. I had my heart broken once, but Sinclair has more than made up for that. I just want you to be happy, and I was worried that you might feel lonely after living with someone for so many years."
"Is that why you called me at two in the morning?"
"I called you because I've missed you, and I was sitting here nursing Alice, thinking about how we used to sneak into the kitchen together at night when Dad was sick. You'd always make me warm chocolate milk. Remember that?" "I can make you some now, if you want," she responded.
"I'd rather we have dinner together tonight. I'll cook. You bring dessert."
"I'll cook and bring dessert."
"How is that fair?"
"Why does it have to be fair? You have a newborn and your husband is out of town. I'll make lasagna, and I'll be there at seven."
"You're going to make lasagna and work at Chocolate Haven all day?"
"I'll manage. If I don't, I'll swing by the diner and have Laurie Beth plate up some of whatever the special is. Are Chase and Lark going to be home?"
"Lark will be. Chase has a new girlfriend. So, we'll see."
"A girlfriend? Isn't he a little young?" She grabbed a bottle of Tylenol from her purse, popped three in her mouth, and swallowed them with water. She'd taken so much of the stuff the past few days, she was probably going to OD on it. If she didn't die of caffeine poisoning first.
"He turned twenty last week."
"Time flies." She grabbed a tea bag, realized she hadn't turned on the burner, and did that. Her hands weren't shaking anymore and the nightmare and memories were where they should be — far off in the back of her mind. Thank God!
"I know! A couple of years ago, I was living in this house by myself, thinking I was going to become the resident cat lady. I blinked my eyes, and now I'm married and have a baby."
"Are you happy?" Willow asked, because she wanted her to be. She wanted both her sisters to have what she'd never quite been able to find — contentment and peace.
"Very." Addie yawned, and Willow could picture her, red hair sticking up in a hundred different directions, the baby curled up on her chest.
"You're exhausted. You need to finish feeding the baby and go back to sleep."
"You need to go to bed too. The shop opens in a few hours, and Granddad hates to get off his schedule."
"So he's been telling me. I'll see you tonight, Addie."
"See you, then. Love you, sis."
There was a soft click, and the line went dead.
Outside, the wind whistled through the alley and rattled the old shutters, the sounds familiar and oddly comforting. She walked to the living room window and looked out onto Main Street. It hadn't changed. Not a bit. Same streetlights. Same sidewalks. Same businesses. Mr. Murphy still had a bench outside of the five-and-dime. Eunice Simms still had a wreath of flowers hanging from the door of her florist shop.
And Willow? She still had an ache in her heart when she looked at it, a longing for what used to be.
Two blocks down, a car turned onto Main. She watched as it crept toward the shop. Most people in Benevolence were tucked safely into their beds. If they weren't, they sure as heck weren't trolling along Main at the speed of a slow-moving turtle.
She stepped away from the window as the car rolled past, but she kept an eye on it, following the headlights as they slid along the blacktop. She watched as it disappeared around the corner a block up, holding her breath for whatever would happen next.
Of course, nothing did.
Five minutes. Ten. She turned off the burner, poured water over the tea bag, watched as the mug filled with tan liquid. Told herself everything was fine, because this was small-town America, and nothing bad should ever happen here.
It did, though.
Even if her childhood hadn't proven that, her job did. As the King County prosecuting attorney, she'd helped put away hundreds of criminals. She knew that horrible things happened in the nicest places — upscale neighborhoods in the wealthiest areas of Seattle, rural hamlets at the edge of the county line, anywhere people lived, crime happened. But, Benevolence was about as safe as any place could be.
She grabbed the tea and turned away from the window, because waiting for something to happen in a town like this one was like waiting for Santa in the summer. He could show, but he probably wouldn't.
The exterior stairs rattled, the sound of metal bouncing against brick so unmistakable she set the mug down and turned toward the door. No way on God's green earth was anyone she knew climbing the stairs to the apartment. She pictured the car that had been crawling along the road. God! Had the person seen her light and come back to ...
What? Rob her?
It's not like anyone in town would think she'd brought a fortune with her from Seattle. She sure as heck wasn't driving a Lamborghini or Corvette. Nope. She'd ridden into town in the minivan she'd purchased the day she'd completed her foster parenting classes. Nothing fancy. Nothing that would give anyone the impression that she was carrying around trunks of riches.
She did have enemies, of course. What prosecuting attorney didn't? But she'd never experienced any overt threats.
The stairs rattled again, and someone knocked on the door. Just a quick, hard rap, but it was enough to prove what she'd already known. She had an unexpected and completely unwanted visitor.
She flicked off the living room light and grabbed the phone. She'd been a victim once. No way in hell did she plan to be one again.
She dialed 911, her finger shaking, her eyes glued to the door.
"Nine-one-one. What's the nature of your emergency?"
"I need the police," she responded as the stairs rattled again. "Someone is ..." On my apartment stairs didn't seem like a good way to get help. "Outside my apartment."
"Is he trying to get in?" the operator asked.
"He knocked." That sounded way less urgent than she wanted it to.
"What's your address?"
She gave it quickly, her eyes glued to the door.
"Hey, that's Chocolate Haven!" the caller exclaimed. "Is this Willow? I heard you were back in town. It's Jason Morgan. We went to high school together."
"Yes, it's Willow." And she might remember a Jason, but she was too busy being scared out of her mind to think about it.
"Man! It's been ages. How are you enjoying being back?"
"I was enjoying it a lot more a few minutes ago."
Excerpted from "Bittersweet"
Copyright © 2017 Shirlee McCoy.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Willow Lamont is a successful prosecutor in Seattle, but when her grandfather requests her return to Benevolence, to help at Chocolate Haven, the family chocolate shop. She arrive, but only plans to spend several weeks while her sisters deal with family issues and her grandfather continues to recuperate from his broken leg. Why does she not want to spend time at a place she used to love? What is her big secret? As well, just like her sisters, she can't seem to get the hang of making the famous family fudge. She used to be able to make it with now problem, what is happening? Shortly after arriving, someone knocks at her door late at night. Panic has her calling the police. Deputy Sheriff, Jax Gordon comes to her house and together they find an abandoned baby in the alley behind the dumpster. This brings the two of them together on a regular basis dealing with the situation and trying to find the baby's parents. We met Jax briefly in the last book and learned a bit about his bad boy image, but he has changed. This twist was a bit different, as Willow becomes a possible foster mother of "Baby Miracle" forcing her to decide whether or not she will remain in Benevolence. As much as this was a romance, there were a couple of mystery storylines in this story as well. Who was the baby's mother? Why was she abandoned? What is Willow's secret that still holds her hostage whenever she is in Chocolate Haven alone? Can she put the past behind her? l liked how this author let us know about Jax's terrible past and the incident that changed his life when he was just a kid. These confessions will bring Jax and Willow together, but is it enough to overcome the fear of commitment? It was hard to see how Willow's past tarnished her relationship with her mother and I enjoyed reading about their confessions and reconciliation. And of course, there is the fudge. Will Willow find peace and finally be able to make the famous Lamont Fudge. This was the best in this trilogy as far as I am concerned. I loved all the various plotlines, mysteries, relationships and discoveries. I definitely recommend this series to anyone who loves a good clean romance with some mystery and intrigue.
I've been wanting to read Willow's story for a long time. I knew there was something in her past that kept her away from Benevolence, Wash. (where she grew up) and I wanted to find out what that was. It had to be something devastating from the various discussions in previous books! Her grandfather needs her to come back to help manage the family Chocolate Haven store so she comes but it's very traumatic for her. I very much admired her for facing her fears and having the courage to come home. She's an ex-prosecutor and everyone thinks she is so strong but they don't know what she has lived through....she hasn't told anyone. Then, on her first night back, she finds an abandoned baby who burrows into her heart and she can't hide her emotions anymore - especially from Deputy Sheriff Jax Gordon. Jax knows a LOT about loss. His past is also one of great sorrow. He's determined to earn Willow's trust because he's always admired her and now they are both fighting for this baby. He searches for the mother of the baby while Willow nurtures the babe in the hospital. It's a wonderful book and has fantastic characters! Like the other daughters, Willow has a very strained relationship with her mother. When they finally have a heart-to-heart discussion near the end of the book, I found myself cheering! I so wanted them to have a close relationship and not argue anymore! I highly recommend this book. You will understand it even if you haven't read the previous books in the series!
Bittersweet by Shirlee McCoy is the 3rd book in her Home Sweet Home series. Willow Lamont is our heroine, having returned home temporarily to help her grandfather run Chocolate Haven. With her two sisters (previous story heroines) busy with a marriage or babies, Willow spends her free hours making chocolate and failing on making the family secret fudge recipe. Willow has nightmares, due to a rape when she was only 13, and has kept this a secret all these years; one reason she does not like to come home. One evening, while working late, she hears a noise outside and calls the cops. Jax Gordon, the deputy sheriff and our hero, arrives to find out what is wrong. Willow describes a car stopping and then pulling away. Together Jax and Willow will find an abandoned baby by the dumpster. When they are at the hospital for the baby, Jax recognizes that Willow is hiding some kind of trauma, and when it comes to that, Jax is an expert. He himself has his own nightmares of having his own family murdered years before. What follows is a slow build sweet romance between Jax and Willow, with the mystery of finding the person to dumped the baby. Despite their determination to not have any relationship, they both start falling for each other. It was really nice to see the Lamont family again, as well as the backdrop of making chocolate. Willow will foster the baby called Miracle, temporarily until she is well enough to be adopted. Bittersweet was a very nice romance, with a couple that each had their own mentally disabling issues. Willow will slowly learn to put the past behind her, and realize that she loves being home again. The only problem is she needs to help Jax move on from his past, as he fears being hurt again. Once again, Shirlee McCoy gives us another wonderful story, surrounded by a great family, in the small town of Benevolence, Washington. If you enjoy small town romances, I suggest you read the Home Sweet Home series
Fantastic story. Bittersweet is the third book in Shirlee McCoy's Home Sweet Home series but it is easily read as a standalone. Willow Lamont is the third sister to return to Benevolence, WA to help keep the family's chocolate shop running as her grandfather recuperates from a leg injury. After running as fast and as soon as she could she never thought she would be back working in the shop again. Yet here she is having to face her demons head on. The only thing getting her through it is a handsome sheriff Jax Gordon and a beautiful baby girl depending on her. You will want to read as Willow's past unfolds and she deals with her demons to have a bright future to go in to. I highly recommend it
Bittersweet by Shirley McCoy Home Sweet Home #3 Coming into the series on the third book was not an issue as the story makes sense without reading the previous books. In this book Willow has returned home to help her grandfather out in the family candy shop. In the past she left town taking a secret with her that has impacted her life in more ways than one. In the beginning of the story she meets Jax Gordon, sheriff of Benevolence, and they find an abandoned baby in a nearby dumpster. Both Jax and Willow have demons to deal with and reasons that falling in love and making a future with someone have been difficult. During the story a search is on for the baby’s parents, the baby is taken in as a ward of the state, Willow becomes the foster parent, community and family are there for one another, the perfection of the family fudge recipe is finally figured out as Willow and Jax finally realize their feelings for one another. This is a well written, emotional, small town romance that I recommend to those looking for more than a quick lighthearted read. Thank you to NetGalley and Kensington Books for the ARC – This is my honest review. 4 Stars