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Serial: Down the River – Chapter Two

I’m finally revisiting the characters from The River City Chronicles nine years after their original timeline. I’ll be running the series weekly here on my blog, and then will release it in book form at the end of the run. Hope you enjoy catching up with all your faves and all their new secrets!

A familiar face in a new place…

< Read Chapter One | Read Chapter Three >

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Down the River Header

Chapter Two
Pane e Tulipani

Carmelina stirred the muffin batter by hand, blending in fresh-cut apples, caramel, and just a touch of cinnamon and nutmeg. The spice blend filled the small kitchen with a heavenly aroma, reminding her of her nonna’s kitchen when she’d been a child.

It was glorious to finally have a space of her own for her business, inspired when Matteo had asked her to take over for Diego for a short stint as a restaurant cook nine years earlier. She’d never considered herself a full-blown chef, but it had rekindled her passion for cooking and helped her to start moving past the loss of her late husband, Arthur.

The new kitchen practically sparkled with anticipation, even at the ungodly hour of 5:30 in the morning, marred only by specks of four floating in the air. Daniele had helped her move her things the week before, from home and from the commercial training kitchen Diego had been letting her use just down the street at Ragazzi.

As if summoned by her thoughts of him, her business and romantic partner slipped into the kitchen from the adjacent flower shop. “How is the proud new co-owner of Pane e Tulipani doing?” Her still-handsome man embraced her gently from behind, slipping warm hands around her apron, careful not to disturb her mixing. “It smells heavenly in here.”

She twisted out of his grasp and pecked him on the cheek. “My co-owner needs to leave me be. I’ve got a ton of baking to do before seven.” One of the downsides of having a bakery that supplied not only their own small venture, but also half a dozen local restaurants.

“It’s only half-past-five,” he protested, pulling her back for a quick kiss on the lips. “But I know you need your space. Anything I can do?”

“You must have floral deliveries to attend to.” Mixing a bakery and a flower shop had seemed like a stroke of genius when they’d come up with it in the late spring of 2020, trapped at her house together in the heart of the pandemic. She’d already been taking shifts as the dessert chef at Ragazzi and baking at home in her spare time.

The name—bread and tulips, in English—had been inspired by a wonderful Italian film about a woman whose family left her behind by accident on a bus trip, and who started up a whole new life working at a floral shop. An apt metaphor.

“Already done, my love.” He stuck his finger in the batter and stole a taste. “Mmmm. Delicioso. Are we still on for dinner at Ragazzi? I have some news.”

“Hey, health codes.” She batted him away with her wooden spoon. “And I think so.” One of the perks of starting her day at 4 AM was that she was usually back out the door and headed back home by just after three in the afternoon. “What kind of news?”

“Let me have my fun.” He winked at her, then retreated, leaving her alone to her baking.

She was halfway convinced he’d just popped in to make sure she hadn’t fallen asleep in the kitchen. It had happened… once, and he’d never let her forget it.

She popped open an oven door to check the strawberry tarts—it was late in the season, but she’d found a good local supplier with a greenhouse and reasonable rates.

She hadn’t been prepared for all the math that went into running a successful small business, but thankfully Daniele was adept at it.

He’d opened his heart and his family flower shop to her. They’d spent two years planning the renovation together, adding a commercial kitchen and reconfiguring the main space to allow for seating amongst the buckets and vases and cold cases filled with flowers. It reminded her a little of the Dish Room at Mulvaney’s, where they’d had their first date—a working space where the hustle and bustle of the flower business was a part of the experience. The floral dining room had opened two months before to great success, and she was finally here full-time.

She opened the second of her four ovens—the coconut macadamia cinnamon rolls were almost done too. She sighed with pleasure.

I can do this. Sometimes it all seemed a bit overwhelming, but mostly she was just… happy. Life is good.

She scooped the muffin mix into an industrial-size muffin pan, into little cups wrapped with the Pane and Tulipani logo, and popped the pan into the oven. She set the timer for 12 minutes and spun off to the next thing.

It was like a magical dance, even if her knee throbbed a bit as she turned. Have to be careful about that.

Getting older annoyed her, but she wasn’t dead yet. Whistling, she waltzed into the next thing on her list.


It was 3:30 in the afternoon when she pulled into her driveway at home. The weather was about to turn—it had that funny, unsettled feeling about it, unexpected gusts kicking up the edge of her flour-covered shirt, but the sky was still clear and blue.

They’d repainted the duplex a warm tan a couple years earlier, as the world was starting to move past the pandemic. She’d needed a fresh start.

Daniele had promised to meet her at the restaurant at five—he had some “floral accounting” to do. Enough time for a shower and a little relaxation before running off again.

The house was warm. It was still early fall, and the days were hotter than they used to be in late September. All traces of her former life with Arthur had been replaced, one by one, over the past decade, as she and Daniele had built a life together. All but one.

Arthur’s smiling face greeted her from its place on the fireplace mantle. Daniele never said a word about it… one of the reasons she loved him.

She blew him a kiss and popped out of the front door to grab the mail, a few assorted bills, a money mailer, and, curiously, a handwritten envelope postmarked from Strangolagalli, Italy.

Her brow furrowed. Hadn’t that wonderful Italian mystery series she’d been reading been set there? The one with the woman with perfect memory and a bumbling style that always seemed to nab the bad guy? In any case, it was a small town just south of Rome, if she remembered right.

Curious about who would be writing her from Italy, she retreated to her living room and worked open the envelope with a long fingernail. A handwritten letter slipped out into her palm.

It was in Italian, but she’d gotten pretty good at reading the language these last few years with Daniele:

Ciao, Carmelina, my name is Angelo Farelli. I don’t know if your mother ever mentioned me, but I’m your uncle, and I would love to meet you. I have so many things to tell you that you need to know…

She set it down. Wait, I have an uncle in Italy? Her mother had most certainly never mentioned it. She was naturally distrustful of strangers, especially those who tried to play upon her good nature and sense of family.

She sank back in her armchair and squinted at the letter. What do you really want from me, Mister Farelli?

< Read Chapter One | Read Chapter Three >

Like what you read? if you haven’t tried it yet, check out book one, The River City Chronicles, here.

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