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
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
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.
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.
“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.