Excerpt from The Last Train to Key West by Chanel Cleeton, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Last Train to Key West

by Chanel Cleeton

The Last Train to Key West by Chanel Cleeton X
The Last Train to Key West by Chanel Cleeton
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    Jun 2020, 320 pages

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I don't have to look to know which table he's taken. For the past several months, he's become a regular fixture in the restaurant even as he keeps to himself and his corner. The only thing I know about him is his first name-John-and even that was offered reluctantly months ago.

"Your favorite customer is back," Ruby says with a wink from her perch in the kitchen as she wipes her hands on the apron tied around her waist. As far as bosses go, Ruby and her husband are about as good as you can get. They pay a fair wage considering the times, and they have a tendency to keep an eye out for the staff from the kitchen they run. If a customer gets too friendly or too rowdy, Ruby and Max are always ready to swoop in. Ruby's not exactly what you'd call sociable, and she's content to keep to the cooking and leave the greeting and serving to me and the other waitress, Sandy, but over the years she's become more than just my employer-a friend of sorts, I suppose.

"Must be payday judging by how many of them have trickled down here this weekend. He seems hungry today," she adds.

"He always looks hungry," I retort, ignoring the amusement in Ruby's voice and the gleam in her eye.

"It's funny how he always eats here, isn't it?" Ruby drawls. "Real curious."

"It must be for the key lime pie," I reply, keeping my tone bland. "Everyone knows you make some of the best key lime pie in Key West."

The Key Lime pie isn't just a popular choice because Ruby's is the best in town. People still have to eat as best they can, and pie's one of the cheapest things on the menu.

Ruby smiles. "I'm sure that's what brings him here—the Key Lime pie."

John is always polite, definitely quiet, but no one who gets within a few feet of him can miss the fact that he's clearly seen some ugly things in his time and carries them in a manner that suggests for him the war is far from over. He shouldn't make me nervous—he always tips better than most and he's never given me any trouble—but there's something about him that reminds me so much of Tom that it nearly steals my breath when I'm around him.

When I set his food on the table before him, it's as though another man sits in his stead, with the same immense size, the power to use that physical advantage to inflict harm, and I instinctively wait for his meaty hand to seize my wrist, for him to overturn the plate of food because it wasn't hot enough when I brought it to him, to throw his meal at me because he's tired of eating the same thing every day and don't I know how hard he works, what it's like out there on the water, don't I appreciate all the food he puts on my plate when so many have so little, when people are hungry, how can I be so ungrateful, so—

And suddenly, I'm not back in the little cottage where all manner of sins are hidden by man and mangroves, but at Ruby's, my breaths coming quickly now.

"You all right?" Ruby asks.

I nod.

Excerpted from The Last Train to Key West by Chanel Cleeton. Copyright © 2020 by Chanel Cleeton. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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