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Second Chance Cafe by Brandy Bruce

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It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:

 

Brandy Bruce

 

and the book:

 

Second Chance Cafe
Heartsong Presents/Love Inspired (July 2014)
***Special thanks to the author for sending me a review copy.***

bookcover

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Visit the author’s website.

Brandy Bruce was scribbling stories in spiral notebooks by the age of 12. Her love for books never left her. She graduated from Liberty University, married the one person she could never get enough of, then started working as a book editor for a publishing house. Brandy and her husband, Jeff, live in Colorado with their two children. She can be reached through her blog at http://www.brandybruce.blogspot.com.BrandyBruce

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:
ISABELLA ROMANO HAS GIVEN UP ON LOVE

Between her demanding work as a nurse and her father’s poor health, Isabella has no time for distractions. So when a handsome firefighter practically falls at her feet, she keeps him at arm’s length. But Ethan Carter is determined to win her over.Orphaned at a young age, Ethan longs for a family of his own—and he’s sure Isabella is his match. But when he opens a café near his firehouse, Isabella is less than thrilled. She knows firsthand the strain of being a restaurant owner, and she wants no part of that life. Can Ethan convince the busy nurse they can overcome any obstacle and have their happily ever after together?

Product Details:

List Price: $4.99

Publisher: Heartsong Presents/ Love Inspired

Language: English

ISBN-13: 978-0-373-48719-6

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Chapter One
“Okay, people. We’ve got a firefighter with possible fractures and trauma to the spine. ETA is five minutes.”
Nurse Isabella Romano’s ears perked up and her pulse quickened. The mood in the emergency room shifted to one of controlled urgency. Isabella slipped on gloves and followed the attending physician, Dr. Nichols, to the Denver Health Medical Center’s ER entrance. Sirens rang out in the distance, and within minutes, the familiar sight of flashing lights sped toward them.
The back doors of the ambulance flew open and the paramedics jumped out. “Male, late twenties, fell from second-story landing to first floor and landed on his back. Multiple burns on his arms and a laceration on his right thigh. Hypotensive. Tachycardic. We administered one liter of saline through an 18 gauge IV in his left AC. Patient has maintained a pulse ox of 96 percent on 10L of oxygen via facemask.”
Isabella grabbed the left side of the stretcher, helping push the gurney to trauma room 1. At the sound of a low moan, she looked down at the firefighter strapped to the backboard. A neck collar kept him immobile and an oxygen mask covered his mouth.
“What’s his name?” Isabella called out to the EMT across from her.
“Ethan Carter. Company 51. Those guys will be filling up the waiting room as soon as they clear the scene.”
“Ethan, I’m Isabella. Can you hear me?”
His gaze met hers and Isabella could see his intense pain.
“Ethan, you’re going to be okay. We’re going to take good care of you.”
“Okay, everyone, on three,” Dr. Nichols ordered.
Everyone stopped what they were doing at Dr. Nichols’s instruction and lifted the backboard with Ethan on it, transferring him and the backboard to the hospital bed. He moaned. “We’re going to need 50 mcg of fentanyl,” Dr. Nichols called out. Maggie, one of Isabella’s colleagues, began cutting off Ethan’s burned clothing.
“Let’s get some X-rays, Isa,” Dr. Nichols stated. “I want a CT scan. His thigh obviously needs stitches.”
“I’m on it,” Maggie said as she inspected the burns on Ethan’s arms. Isabella moved to order the X-rays but Ethan reached out for her. She stepped back toward him, preparing to explain to him that she’d be back and he was going to be all right. But the look in his blue eyes stopped her. He tried to reach for his oxygen mask, but Isabella shook her head.
“No, don’t move,” she said; then pulled away his mask for a moment.
“Don’t leave me,” he said, his voice dry and raspy. Isabella was pretty sure that even covered in dust and blood, with a brace around his neck, he was the most attractive man she’d ever seen. Her heart tugged. In that moment, he just seemed so alone.
She replaced his oxygen. “I have to go for a minute, Ethan, but I’ll be coming right back. And we’ll get through this together. I know you’re scared and I know you’re hurting. But it’s going to be okay.”
He just stared at her, his eyes pleading for her to stay. Isabella couldn’t help it; she reached down and brushed his brown hair from his forehead.
“I promise I’ll be back,” she told him.Ethan Carter’s eyes fluttered open and then shut again quickly.
Who in the world turned on that blinding light?
He could hear a voice, someone saying his name. He turned his head to the side.
What happened?
He heard that voice again, saying his name. Then it came back to him, playing through his mind like a movie reel. The house fire. The roaring sound of the blaze. The sensation that he was falling. The impact of the ground floor. The rush into the ER.
“Ethan?”
He opened his eyes and blinked, trying to focus on the woman’s face in front of him.
“Hi there,” she said. “It’s nice to see you again.”
He blinked again. “Nurse . . .”
“Isabella. We met under rather tragic circumstances, I know.”
She was teasing. He could hear it in her voice. Now that he could focus on her clearly, he remembered seeing her in the ER.
“Isabella,” he repeated. Dressed in blue scrubs, she stood next to the bed, her brown hair tied back in a knot. She smiled down at him and Ethan felt better at the sight of her smile. She checked the monitors, her eyes darting toward the door of the hospital room.
“Did they get the family out of the house?” Ethan asked. Isabella nodded.
“Yes. One of the other firefighters—I think his name was Blake—told me to let you know that everyone made it out safely.”
“Except me, I guess,” Ethan said grimly. But Isabella’s smile didn’t fade.
“C’mon, tough guy. You’ve got this.”
Ethan studied her warm smile and playful tone. “You’re right,” he conceded. “God was watching over me in that burning house. He won’t abandon me now.”
She blinked in surprise at his statement. “I suppose He was,” she agreed.
“When can I go home?” Ethan asked.
“I’m not sure,” Isabella answered. “Dr. Nichols will be here any minute to talk to you,” she said.
“Can you stay?” Ethan asked immediately. Her face softened.
“Sure, if you want me to. Is there anyone you want me to call for you? The guys from the firehouse were here all night, off and on, in the waiting room. There are a few guys out there now. They can come in as soon as Dr. Nichols speaks to you.”
Ethan nodded. “Thanks. But there’s no one else for you to call.”
Isabella frowned. “Your family?”
Ethan just shook his head, turning his attention to the gauze covering his forearms. “There’s no one. Just the guys.” He hoped she’d drop the topic. He hated the pitiful looks he got whenever he explained to people that other than a few distant relatives out in California, he had no one. It was part of why he’d joined Company 51. A whole firehouse with the brothers he’d never had. He wondered if the chief was in the waiting room.
The door slid open and a doctor wearing black rimmed glasses and holding a clipboard walked in. He looked to be in his mid-forties.
“Good morning, Ethan. How are we feeling today?”
We? I have a feeling you’re doing a lot better than I am, doc.
“I’m hurting, but I’m guessing that medication is dulling the real pain.”
Dr. Nichols nodded. “You had a bad fall, Ethan. You know that. There were second degree burns on your arms, and a gash on your thigh that took about twenty stitches. You lost some blood, but we’ve given you IV fluids and you’re vitals have stabilized. You’re pretty banged up and bruised all over, but unfortunately, your back took the impact of the fall.”
Ethan’s chest constricted with fear.
“How bad is it?”
Isabella stepped closer to his bedside.
“It could have been worse. You have a lumbar—lower back—spinal fracture. The X-ray showed an L4 compression fracture. The positive aspect of this is that you still have good movement and feeling. Also, there doesn’t seem to be any neurological damage.”
“Do I need surgery?” Ethan asked.
“I don’t think so. The X-rays indicate a clean fracture. I’m going to recommend we move forward with outpatient treatment. But you’ve got a long, arduous healing journey ahead of you.”
“How long until I can be back on active duty?”
Dr. Nichol’s eyebrows furrowed. “The spine is a tricky thing, Ethan. And everyone heals at a different pace. You’re going to need rest, pain medication, lots of therapy, a back brace—”
“How long?” Ethan insisted.
“We’re talking months, Ethan. And that’s assuming that everything heals as it should. While in a few weeks you’ll be able to continue with most day-to-day activities, I don’t see you going back to active duty for probably six months. It could be less; it could be more. Perhaps they can transfer you to a desk job until you’re ready. After a few weeks of therapy we could reevaluate and consider light duty. But as of right now, your life is going to look different. You need to understand and accept that. Your priority needs to be healing properly.”
Months? Desk job? Light duty? Ethan tried to swallow the boulder in his throat.
“But, eventually, I’ll be back to normal. I’ll be able to be on active duty, right?” Ethan pressed. Dr. Nichols folded his arms across his clipboard.
“If all goes as it should, I think you’ll make a full recovery. But as I said, this is going to be a one-day-at-a-time healing process. We’ll start with rest. I want you on complete bed rest for the next few days. No strenuous activity. We’ll fit you for a back brace, which I want you to wear for six to eight weeks. We’ll do an X-ray after six weeks and see if the bone has healed. Then, once the bone has healed, you’ll need to begin physical therapy.”
Ethan took a deep breath. He felt a soft hand squeeze his arm and he looked up at Isabella.
“Hey, it’s going to be okay,” she said, her voice encouraging. “You’re here, you’re alive, you can walk—those are all good things.” He stared at her, trying to hold on to the sense of calm emanating from her.
She’s right, Father, he prayed. But what am I going to do for months if I’m not fighting fires? And what if ‘the healing process’ doesn’t go as it should and I can’t go back? Company 51 is all I have.
That last thought was too much. Ethan felt tears welling up in his eyes. He blinked fast to keep them at bay, mortified that he might cry in front of this nurse who not only was kind and smart and had a great sense of humor, but also looked stunning in blue scrubs.
I will never leave you.
The words were just a whisper in his heart, but they were enough. He clung to them. It had only been six months since one of his brothers at the firehouse, Caleb, had lead Ethan to Christ. Six months of a changed life. He still struggled to accept that God loved him like a father. That he could turn to God at any time. But it got easier. Accepting Christ as his Savior had filled Ethan with something he’d known was missing since childhood. Now he treasured that faith more than anything else.
Ethan closed his eyes.
I have You, Father. Whatever comes, I have you. Help me through this.Isabella watched as Ethan closed his eyes. His lips moved silently, and she knew without a doubt that he was praying. She looked over at Dr. Nichols who stood waiting without a word. Prayers were common things in the hospital. Sometimes people cried out loudly for help. Sometimes it was a desperate whisper. And sometimes, like now, it was a silent request. She’d seen people blame God. She’d seen them beg for His comfort. She’d even seen them try to barter for what they wanted.
Isabella wondered which one Ethan was doing now.
She also considered the fact that without all the dust and blood, Ethan Carter was even more attractive than she’d found him to be in the ER.
He had no family to call. That’s odd. The firefighters have filled up the waiting room, of course. But no one else. No relatives. No girlfriend. No one.
Isabella stared at the handsome firefighter’s brown hair and dark brown eyebrows. His sturdy jaw and those lips. She watched him pray. She wasn’t sure if it was appropriate to think so or not—but the fact that he was praying made him even more attractive.
I was wrong. He’s not completely alone. He has faith.
Ethan drew a breath and opened his eyes. He looked at Isabella before turning his attention to Dr. Nichols.
“Okay, what’s my next step, doc?”
.

Forever with You by Robin Jones Gunn

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You guys know I love Robin Gunn. I was reading the Christy Miller series in middle school and it was so influential in my life in so many ways. Well, Christy and Todd are back! (So exciting!) My sister Sara lent me this book and I read it in two days. I couldn’t stop! So good. If you already know Christy and Todd, I absolutely can’t see how you won’t love this book. I cried. Robin captures the difficulties of going through tough times early in your marriage. The feelings and emotions are so relatable. And the storyline is great. There are some heavy points to this story, but it still ends on a positive note. I closed the book, ready for book 2! (I think it releases in November or December.) You get glimpses of old, favorite characters like Doug and Tracy and Katie (Rick is in the book, but honestly, he was never one of my favorites so I’m not including him in the fave list). Forever with You was such a beautiful, heart-warming story. I loved it. Robin has not lost her touch with this series! :) These characters come from her heart and you can tell she pours so much into them. I will be waiting with anticipation for Book 2!!

Team Us: Marriage Together by Ashleigh Slater

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Hi Loveys! Here’s a treat for you! We’re talking with my new friend Ashleigh Slater! She’s the author of the new book Team Us: Marriage Together. In her writing, Ashleigh loves to unite the power of a good story with biblical truth and practical application to encourage couples. (For more information visit AshleighSlater.com.) She’s going to give us a marriage tip today and also give us a glimpse into what’s on her to-be-read list (along with what she cooks for company!).

1. How did the writing bug bite you? Have you always wanted to be a writer? What’s your story with that? It’s funny, while writing has always been a part of my story from as early as 3rd or 4th grade, I don’t remember ever sitting down and thinking, “I want to be a writer when I grow up.” Instead, I wanted to be a television producer. To the point that I studied it in grad school. Yet once I had kids, I decided not to pursue that career path. I really wanted to be home with my children on a daily basis. The thing was, once I put that aside, I still needed a creative outlet. Since I’d been writing music reviews and articles since I was teenager, I started to focus more on writing and editing. Almost 20 years after I had my first music review published as a teen, here I am with my first book.

2. Where did the “Team Us” inspiration come from? When it comes to my writing, I actively hold to “write what you know.” So when Moody Publishers approached me last spring about possibly writing a book on relationships, I sat back and thought, “Okay, what can I write about that I have experience in and am passionate about?” The first thing that came to mind as I reflected on Ted and our marriage was how grace has impacted our relationship. This idea of writing on grace turned into the book that is now “Team Us.”

3. As we all know, marriage can be a little like a rollercoaster–highs and lows and freefalls! What’s one practical way that you recommend staying on the same team even through the hard times? Remember that your spouse is not the enemy. It can be easy when you face difficulty to start pointing fingers and assigning blame. You know, to look for what your spouse could have or maybe even should have done differently. And, as a result, “casting” your spouse in the role of villain in the tragedy you’re facing. Instead of making it “you against me,” I think it’s important to make it “us against the problem.” Determine to face whatever comes your way together, united. And I believe this is something that doesn’t just apply to the “big” difficulties, but even the smaller challenges involved in parenting or finances.

4. What books are you currently reading? What’s on your to-be-read list? I tend to read two or three books at a time. Right now I’m finishing up Emily Wiergena’s memoir Atlas Girl and am in the middle of Tessa Afshar’s novel In the Field of Grace as well as Dannah Gresh’s parenting book Six Ways to Keep the ‘Little’ in Your Girl. My to-be-read list includes reading The Hunger Games Trilogy and The Divergent Trilogy again. I’ve also heard a lot of great things about The Nesting Place by Myquillyn Smith.

5. What’s your special go-to meal when having company over? What are you famous (or infamous!) for when it comes to cooking? We actually don’t have one go-to meal. Instead, we kind of cater a few of our favorites depending on who the company is. Things like chili or chicken saltimbocca. But, if we have a large group of friends over, it’s normally an easy crowd pleaser such as bratwursts or burgers on the grill. Ted and I both have a lot of German in our family history, so we love a good brat with mustard and sauerkraut.

Thank you, Ashleigh!! I am super excited to read Team Us and to get to know Ashleigh better! Check out her website and hop over to Amazon to take a look at what others are saying about her book.

 

The Scenes Jane Austen Never Wrote by The Austen Authors Collective

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So I’ve been reading this book that Sara gave me at my book launch dinnerPP200cover7small

party. And I’m loving it! It’s so fun to get glimpses into other characters and read extra scenes that feel as though they could slide right into Pride and Prejudice. It’s a gorgeous book, the kind I want to keep on my bookshelf for a very long time. Because these are just scenes written from the perspectives of many different characters (Charlotte Lucas, Mr. Darcy, Bingley’s sisters, Kitty–to name a few), you can skip around and read wherever you like. The chapters aren’t too long, some are quite short. So I’ll flip through and read whatever looks the most interesting to me at that moment. It’s a large book, but it’s not intimidating for that reason. I think any P&P lovers should take a look. If only to read a few fun scenes from Darcy’s perspective. It’s fun to watch him fall in love with Lizzy.

Many thanks to my precious sister Sara for giving me this beautiful book!

I’ve been thinking about my to-be-read for the fall. What do you recommend? I’m thinking I’d love to pull together a friend or two this fall and dive into reading The Nesting Place by Myquillyn Smith. It looks delightful. I’ll keep you posted!

 

 

Dearest Cousin Jane by Jill Pitkeathley

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9780061986178_p0_v1_s260x420So I just finished reading Dearest Cousin Jane by Jill Pitkeathley and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The story is told from the perspectives of several members of the Austen family, and in some cases through letters. In some ways, it didn’t feel like one cohesive story, since we’re hearing from several people whose lives are plenty interesting on their own, but that didn’t detract at all from the worth of the novel. The purpose was to give us a better look at Jane Austen’s cousin Eliza, who married Jane’s brother Henry. I’ve always found Eliza to be captivating so I was glad to get to read more of her story and get to know her a little better. For any and all Janeites, I’d say this novel is a good read. The most intriguing part of Eliza’s history is the question of her father. But that’s also the frustrating part because we never get a definite answer. There’s a lot of speculation that her godfather was her actual father.

I loved all the parts about Jane Austen specifically. Reading this book made me want to watch Becoming Jane in order to see Jane, Eliza, and Henry again. Eliza lived a fascinating life, full of adventure, glamor, style, romance, and more. She seemed to have a lot of depth to her, however, and her love for her family shines through in this novel.

 

 

 

 

Paige Turned by Erynn Mangum

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This week, the 

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance 

is introducing 

Paige Turned 

TH1NK (April 1, 2014) 

by 

Erynn MangumABOUT THE AUTHOR:

A few things about her:

So, if we were having this conversation in person, we would probably be hanging out at Starbucks or one of the cute coffeehouses in town. I’m nuts about all things coffee, I’m crazy about all things pink and girly, and I love, love, love the Food Network! I’m married to my best friend and the most amazing guy ever, Jon. He is amiable toward coffee, does not like anything pink or girly and tolerates the Food Network. So, we make a good match! In July 2010, we became parents to one of the funniest, cutest, sweetest little guys in the whole world (and nope, we aren’t biased at all!), our Nater-Tot, who is legally known as Nathan. Most days, I’m cleaning up messes, making goofy faces, trying to fit some writing in, and just LOVING the life that God has given me!

ABOUT THE BOOK

Despite her valiant efforts, Paige Alder seems stuck in chaos. Her new job as youth intern keeps her hopping from coffee shop to coffee shop all summer long, but at least she’s loving the one-on-one time she gets to spend with the girls. The unfortunate side-effect is that now, four weeks of laundry fills her apartment. Plus, she barely has time to help her sister and best friend with their weddings! And even worse? Something is definitely wrong between her and Tyler. She apologized for what he thought he saw happen with Luke. Can’t they move past it? Or could there be something he’s not telling her—something that could change everything?

If you’d like to read the first chapter of Paige Turned, go HERE.

Table for Two by Brandy Bruce

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It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, nonfiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:

 

Brandy Bruce

 

and the book:

 

Table for Two
Heartsong Presents (April 28, 2014)
***Special thanks to Brandy Bruce for sending me a review copy.***

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
BrandyBruce

Brandy Bruce has worked in book publishing for more than nine years–editing, writing, reading, and making good use of online dictionaries. She’s a graduate of Liberty University and works as a part-time book editor for a publishing house. She and her husband, Jeff, make their home in Colorado with their two children, Ashtyn and Lincoln. When Brandy isn’t editing manuscripts or writing novels, she loves spending time with her family, baking any kind of cheesecake, watching movies based on Jane Austen novels, or curling up with a favorite book. You can contact her through her blog at http://brandybruce.blogspot.com.

Visit the author’s website: http://brandybruce.blogspot.com

She’s doing a Q&A today on Goodreads! Check it out! https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/1797930-april-28-30-q-a-with-brandy-bruce#comment_form

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:
cover

Mandy Seymour always books a table for one. So the pretty food critic is stunned when she captures the eye of dashing chef Leo Romano. Leo’s good looks and fabulous cooking are swoon-worthy, but it’s his tender care of his ailing father and affection for his warm Italian family that really touch her heart. A broken engagement has made Leo cautious. And as he grapples with his dad’s illness he’s skeptical about starting a new relationship, even with a woman as compelling as Mandy. But as he spends more time with Mandy, Leo starts to realize maybe the last thing he should give up is love.

 

Product Details:
List Price: $4.99Publisher: Harlequin/Love Inspired

Language: English

ISBN-13: 978-0-373-48703-5

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Mandy Seymour held up one hand to hold off traffic as she dashed across the crowded
street, wincing as the “Walk” sign changed to “Stop” before she could reach the
other side.

Sorry,she muttered as the sound of horns honking followed her. She pushed
through the revolving door of the Hyatt Regency hotel and rushed past the front
desk. Taking a quick moment to look down at the brochure in her hand, Mandy
took the next left and sighed with relief when she saw that the double doors to
the conference room directly ahead of her were still open. She slid into the
last row of seats and turned her attention to the speaker at the front of the
room. Gabriel Romano. The Gabrielstar restaurants,
one in Denver, the other in Los Angeles.
Mandy’s mouth watered at the very thought of his infamous tiramisu.

She caught the end of Mr. Romano’s introduction as she shuffled through her purse,
looking for a pen and a notepad.

How can I not have a pen? I always have
pens—but of course, when I need one, there are none to be found.

Mandy  ignored the disapproving voice in the back of her mind that always sounded just
like her mother. Mandy, why are you so disorganized? Mandy, when are you going to be more responsible? Mandy, isn’t it
time you got yourself together?

“Here, take this.”

Mandy looked up in surprise at the voice whispering next to her. A man in a blue
tailored suit with a silver tie handed her a pen.

“Thanks,” Mandy whispered back, accepting the pen, her gaze lingering just a little too
long on the man. His dark wavy hair, jet-black eyes, and olive skin were a nice
combination.

Don’t even think about it, Mandy. He’s probably married.

Was that her voice or her mother’s in her head? Mandy shook away the question and settled in her seat, eager to be swept into Gabriel Romano’s rise-to-success story, beginning with learning to cook from his grandmother during summers spent in the Italian countryside.

“So, why are you here?” the guy leaned over and whispered again.

Mandy barely glanced at him. Okay, I know you’re cute, but I’m here to hear Gabriel Romano so stop talking!

Mandy shrugged. “The same reason everyone else is—Gabriel Romano,” she whispered, hoping her annoyance would register with the guy.

“So you’re another admirer,” he said.

It obviously didn’t register with him.

“I’m a food critic,” Mandy whispered in a rush. “I’m going to the new Romano’s on 15th Street tonight and doing a review, so I thought I’d come hear his story.”

A woman in front of them looked back, holding her finger to her lips. “Shh!”

Mandy’s face burned with embarrassment. The guy next to her seemed unaffected.

“What time will you be there?”

“What?” Mandy asked, forgetting to whisper. The woman in front turned around again, glaring this time.

The guy leaned closer. “What time will you be at Romano’s tonight?”

Mandy blinked, caught for a moment by those dark eyes of his. Why did he want to know? She looked back down at the notepad on her lap without answering.

“I’m Leo, by the way,” the guy whispered.

Mandy sneaked another look over at him. He had a nice smile. But that didn’t mean anything. There could be a lunatic lurking behind that nice smile.

“I’m Mandy Seymour.”

What happened to the lunatic theory? I’m now having a conversation with a complete stranger—missing out on the speech that I
came to hear!

Leo nodded. “Nice to meet you. What time will you be at Romano’s tonight, Mandy?”

Mandy licked her lips and gripped the borrowed pen in her hand.

“8:00.”

Leo winked at her. “Maybe I’ll see you there,” he whispered with a smile before leaving the conference room. Mandy watched him go, wondering where he went and wishing she had asked him why he was there.

 

Leo Romano typed the name Mandy Seymour into his phone and waited for the search engine to give him what he needed. Within seconds, the first page of hits came on the screen and Leo scrolled through, clicking on the third link.

 

Mandy Seymour, respected food critic for Denver Lifestyle magazine, recommends the Coffee
and Crepes
delicatessen off 23rd and Mountain View. Mandy was quoted as saying, “The service was impeccable and the breakfast quiche exceeded my expectations . . .”

Leo clicked off his phone and shoved his hands in his pockets. Even from the hallway, he heard his father’s voice booming through the conference room. He could quote verbatim his father’s speech, and while it was usually inspirational for the audience, Leo could only stand to hear it so many times.

He stepped closer to the open door, scanning the back row where Mandy Seymour sat, scribbling on her notepad. She’d rushed into the conference room, late, juggling a purse and shoulder bag; then she’d furiously rummaged through her purse until Leo had given her his pen. He’d been amused by her effort to ignore him and her frustration at his attempt at conversation. Wisps of brown hair had escaped the knot tied at the nape of her neck. Leo doubted that Mandy knew her scarf was haphazardly dragging on the floor when she’d rushed in. Everything
about the woman shouted scatterbrained.

Still, scatterbrained or not, when Mandy dropped her pen and then scrambled to find it under her chair, Leo smiled without warning from where he stood watching.

She’s charming. In a clumsy, disheveled sort of way. Leo watched her sit back up and blow a stray hair from her face while she continued taking notes. Not like Carol Ann. Those are two words that could never describe her.

Leo’s neck stiffened at even the thought of Carol Ann Hunt. It had been more than six months since she’d broken off their engagement and moved back to her parents’ home in Chicago.

Leo leaned against the wall near the doorway and closed his eyes, sending up a quick prayer for just a little more endurance.

Please help me get the new restaurant off the ground, Father. It’s so important to my dad. He can’t do this without me.
And I can’t do this without You.

The sound of laughter coming from the conference room broke the moment of reverie and Leo looked up, glancing at his watch and knowing that the speech would be over soon. His father’s voice echoed through the corridor and Leo couldn’t avoid hearing the highlights of his father’s life story. He listened as Gabriel Romano talked about discovering his passion—and talent—for cooking, marrying the love of his life and raising a family in Los Angeles, struggling financially to get his first restaurant off the ground. But through hard work, determination, and a stellar reputation for good food, that first Romano’s eventually thrived.

Gabriel told the audience that he hired his brother to be the manager and overseer of the restaurant while he concentrated on cooking, and a few years later he decided to move his family to Colorado. With the success of the Los Angeles Romano’s, the opening of a second restaurant proved to be much easier. The restaurant on Franklin Street in Denver turned into an overnight success.

As the speech came to a close, Leo noted that his father hadn’t mentioned that Leo would be the head chef, running the kitchen at the 15th Street location. He knew his father wanted to create more buzz by keeping the new chef’s identity a mystery until the restaurant opened. That suited Leo just fine; he had enough on his plate without enduring the press and questions about his new role as head chef, along with the inevitable comparisons that would be made to his father.

As the crowd filed through the double doors, Leo moved back. From a distance, Leo could see Mandy Seymour make her way back down toward the lobby. Knowing she would be at the grand opening tonight, Leo would make sure everything from the food to the service to the lighting would be perfect.

 

Mandy took her time walking down the street back toward Union Station. She planned to headd tried the week before. It was one of the things she loved most about herway place right outside of Denver  that served amazing meat loaf or that tiny diner off Mosely Street that had the best cherry pie and homemade ice cream.
Not that Romano’s could ever be described as a little hole-in-the-wall type place; with its marble flooring, an outdoor fountain, stone fireplaces, textured walls, and magnificent murals—it was more than impressive. Mandy had been to the restaurant on Franklin Street a number of times. The Italian restaurant stood as practically a landmark in the area. But this latest Romano’s promised new items on the menu, created by a new chef—someone with Gabriel Romano’s obvious stamp of approval.

Mandy tightened her pea coat around her and picked up her pace as the wind brushed across her face. She wished she’d thought to wear a more substantial coat. It had been a mild January for Denver, but as a lifelong Coloradan, Mandy knew how unpredictable the weather could be. The sounds of downtown Denver competed with the brisk wind as Mandy reached Union Station. She loved the energy of being in
the mile-high city. She thrived on the lights, the noise, the crowds; living in a place bustling with people helped with the loneliness of living on her own.

Within seconds of finding a seat on the train, Mandy’s cell phone rang. Just the sound of the Shirelle’s singing Mama Said told Mandy all she needed to know. Claire Seymour was nothing if not predictable. Mandy held the phone to her ear.

“Hi, Mom.”

“Mandy, are you still downtown?”

“No, Mom. I’m already on my way back home. Why?”

“I thought you said you’d call me on your way back to the Tech Center.”

“I’ve only been on the train for about two minutes. I was going to call you once I’d been on the train for three minutes.”

“There’s no need to be snippy, Mandy.”

Mandy watched the city fly by as the train moved. “Sorry.”

“Good. Now, I’m cooking pot roast tonight, and I want you to come over for dinner. Your brother and his wife are coming, too. Six o’clock.”

“Mom, I already told you that I have plans tonight. I have to visit that new restaurant and then start my review. So I can’t make it. But please tell Brian and Samantha that I said hello.”

“I’m making pot roast!”

“Next time, okay?”

“Sunday dinner. I won’t take no for an answer. I expect you in Evergreen by 4:00.”

“Fine. Sunday. 4:00. I’ll be there.”

“And I certainly hope you’re wearing your good coat! It’s freezing outside!”

“I know it is. See you Sunday.”

Mandy clicked her phone off and leaned her head back against the cold window, ignoring the familiar wave of defeat that came over her whenever she talked to her mother.

As the train rattled to a stop, Mandy jumped up, swung her bag over her shoulder and braced herself for the cold wind. She allowed herself a little time to think about the mysterious Leo.

He’s Italian, obviously. Aren’t Italian men famous for flirting? Or maybe that’s Greek men . . . Anyway, he probably didn’t
mean anything by it. And I’m sure he won’t be at Romano’s tonight. He’s too good-looking to be interested in me.

Without a doubt, that last thought had her mother’s tone.

Don’t think about Mom. I’ve proved her wrong, so far, haven’t I? Here I am, living in the city with a job I love . . .
I haven’t turned out to be the failure she feared I would be. Okay, so I’m not married to a dashing, successful man and I’m not the size-six,
fashion-conscious, top-executive she’d wanted me to be—there are worse things in life.

Mandy’s shoulder bag fell to the ground, its contents scattering. Mandy sighed.

Like being a walking disaster.

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