Relax, Unwind,, Escape

Welcome to Queensbay…

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“Drea Stein’s Queensbay series is sweet like cookies…Sweet and Fun….Salt Spray, Sunshine and Sweetness…A Recipe for Romance… Can’t Wait for the next one!

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Chapter 1

Darby Reese looked at the box on the counter, a feeling of disbelief washing over her. This could not be happening, not on her first day in charge. She had planned everything successfully down to the last detail, and now it was all going to go fall apart because of one old man.

True, this wasn’t the first time Felix had made a mistake with a food order. But seriously, what was she going to do with a mix of shitake and oyster mushrooms when what she really needed was a simple box of white button caps? She’d lose money the first day if she made that kind of substitution.

She sighed and tucked a loose strand of reddish-brown hair more firmly behind her ear as she put the box of exotic mushrooms off to the side. The deli had been doing business with Felix for over thirty years, and Felix hadn’t been young back then, which meant that now he was way past his sell-by date.

Still, she knew her dad always waved off Felix’s mistakes, not wanting to make a fuss or hurt his friend’s feelings. Some things were more important than business, her dad always said, which could explain why The Dory, her family’s deli, hadn’t changed in more than thirty years either. Darby had tried to coax her father into making changes, suggesting he update the menu, perhaps add a fresh coat of paint to the seating area, even going so far as to offer to take on the project herself. But he had always waved her off, telling her that she shouldn’t worry about things like that. Focus on school, on getting a job.

And look where that had gotten her. She had played by all the rules, all right, and it had gotten her exactly where her dad wanted her to be. Unfortunately, it also made her miserable. Deep breath, she told herself. Today was the start of a new beginning and she wasn’t going to second guess herself out of it.

Going through the rest of the food delivery, she checked off the items against her printed list. She could have done it all in her head, but this was no time to be winging it. Her parents had left for their three-week trip to Italy yesterday afternoon and now, finally, fully, she was in charge—and she planned on running a tight ship.

She hummed as she put the rest of the ingredients away. The sun was barely up, but she was happy to be here, to be surrounded by the comforting feel of the kitchen she had known all her life. Every pot and pan was familiar, every bowl in its place. Her dad, if not interested in the artistic aspects of cuisine, at least kept a tidy kitchen.

He’d hemmed and hawed about her taking time off from her “real job” to help out at The Dory while he was away. Since this was exactly the opportunity she’d been waiting for, to have the place all to herself, she’d come up with a story to explain it: she was leaving one position and starting another much more lucrative one, but she had a whole month off, and there was nothing more she wanted to do than to spend it in Queensbay.

She sighed. At least the last part was true. She hoped her parents would forgive her a few white lies if all worked out. After all, wasn’t that what parents were supposed to do? Even if you knew you were going to disappoint the hell out of them?

Luckily, her dad had never searched the Internet to check out her story. The law firm of Werther and Associates simply didn’t exist, and there was no job waiting for her because she hadn’t ever applied for a new one after quitting her old one. But all that wouldn’t matter if these few weeks went as planned.

“You have got to be kidding me.” The voice was authoritative and, truth be told, downright accusatory.

She looked up as a man stormed into The Dory’s kitchen.

“Excuse me?” she said, blinking, not quite sure what anyone else was doing here at this ungodly hour of the morning. She glanced over his shoulder, saw that the back door was still swinging shut, and deduced that she must not have locked up after Felix had left.

“How could you keep fish out like that? Are you insane? And is that raw chicken? And . . . .” The man was tall, topping out at just over six feet with short, mussed, blondish hair, dark eyes, and impressively large biceps, which were not in any way disguised by the fitted black t-shirt he wore. She let her eyes do a quick assessment of the rest of his body and yes, she was pretty sure that his muscles continued in a nice long, lean line underneath the shirt as well.

She managed to draw her eyes back up, wiping her hands on the simple black apron she wore, wondering just what in the bloody hell someone with the kind of body that was seldom seen outside the pages of a magazine was doing in her kitchen first thing in the morning.

“There they are.” Apparently recovered from the sight of fish and raw chicken, both of which had been on their way to the large, industrial refrigerator, the man focused on the box of mushrooms. “There are my babies,” he practically cooed, as he picked up the box of fungi and cradled them in his arms. “How dare you take these?” He turned fully to look at her.

She was overwhelmed by him. Oh, god. Yes, there was no mistaking it. There he was. In the flesh. Sean Callahan, with his caramel-colored eyes and a deadly look on his face. What in the name of kitchen gods was he doing here? She had to fight to keep her heart from beating a rapid fire tattoo against her chest. She hadn’t seen him in months, and yet still she could feel her stomach heave and her palms start to sweat just by being in his presence.

“Take them?” She finally found her voice. She felt like a tornado had just swept through the room, to say nothing of how her body was feeling, like she had just stuck her hand in an electrical outlet. He hadn’t changed at all and, she was embarrassed to admit, he still had that effect on her, even after what had happened.

“My chanterelles, my criminis? You ordered the button tops.”

She took a step back. His tone was definitely accusatory, and she drew herself up. This was her kitchen, after all, and if there was one immutable law of the kitchen, it was the authority of the head chef. No matter what other chef might appear.

“Yes I did and I need them.” She hoped her voice didn’t betray any of the emotions that were currently flaming through her body. She had thought that she was over—so over—any feelings Sean Callahan could ignite in her. “And until you can produce button mushrooms, you can just put those down.” She used her best voice, the one that successfully cowed opposing attorneys.

“Ha, I threw them out. No one in their right mind would use them,” he said, with a flick of his hand, so easily consigning the poor, innocent mushrooms to the rubbish bin.

He had taken a step closer to her, and she fought the desire to back down. Something danced in his eyes, and she wondered if he recognized her. Determined to show that she was still in charge, she felt a lick of anger spit through her. This was the Sean Callahan she knew, the temper she expected. “You threw my ingredients out?”

It was she who took a step closer to him this time, noticing his fine, dark eyebrows and the way his nose would have been classically straight and handsome, if it hadn’t so obviously been broken.

One of those eyebrows rose up a fraction, and a hint of a smile ghosted across his full, heavy lips. “Listen, sugar, you can put the knife down. I didn’t mean all that about the mushrooms. They’re just some fungi, right?” His voice had definitely changed from accusatory to conciliatory.

She glanced down. She did indeed have a knife—a small one—in her hand. She let it drop on the countertop. Sean Callahan, with his doe-like eyes, devilish grin, and quick temper, had strong opinions about most things— that she knew all too well, but she didn’t think he was going to hurt her

“They might just be ordinary fungi to you, but I did need them for today’s soup,” she told him, searching his face for some sort of sign of recognition. But she saw none of that, only that saucy, cocky grin. She wondered if it could be possible, if really, he had no idea who she was. The thought should have calmed her racing heart, but it didn’t, and instead she felt the warm prick of heat racing up her neck and onto her face.

“Ahh, yes, and I need these for my stir fry,” he said. Without really thinking about it, the two of them had inched closer.

“Felix has been a bit off lately,” she said, her mind racing, her mouth and brain not quite connecting but feeling that she needed to offer an explanation—any kind of one.

“Felix?” Callahan echoed, his eyes narrowing. His attention never left her, and she again saw the light dancing in them.

“From Gourmet Deliveries,” she explained. “I assume we share the same food delivery service. Felix must have mixed up the mushroom order.” Half of her brain was working quite rationally, in the precise, ordered way that had made her a successful lawyer. The other half was noting that her body had not recovered from the instantaneous reaction it seemed to have any time Sean Callahan was around.

“Ah, yes, that must be it.” He hadn’t blinked, and she found herself almost mesmerized, stupefied by him, until she had to drop her own eyes to break the connection.

“We haven’t met, have we?” Sean asked, his voice thick with the question, smooth and dripping with charm.

She reared up, not sure whether to be offended that she had made no lasting impression on him, or to do a happy dance that he did not remember their last disaster of a meeting.

“I feel like perhaps we met somewhere? The South Beach Food Festival? No? Then at the party that the Food Network gave?”

She froze. He had moved closer to her, so that their hands, both of them leaning against the large butcher block counter, were close together. He shifted his weight, and in a move so smooth, his head was almost touching hers. He lifted his hand and oh-so-casually brushed the top of hers, sending an electric thrill straight through her—and sending her stomach into backflips worthy of an Olympic gymnast.

“None of those places?” He raised one eyebrow.

She felt her pulse thud into overdrive.

“Well, perhaps I can cook you dinner sometime? I’m kind of a chef, you know. Maybe you’ve seen me on TV?” He leaned in and was practically whispering in her ear. His warm breath stirred her hair, and she felt her legs almost give way.

Suddenly she sniffed. “Oh no,” she cried, springing into action. She brushed past him, barely managing to push him out of the way. Faint, gray smoke streamed from her oven, and the unmistakable smell of burning baked goods filled the air.

Grabbing a kitchen towel, she yanked the oven door open, and a snake of smoke wrapped around her. She pulled the tray out and dumped in on the counter so hard that all the cookies, browned as they were, did a little dance in the air before settling back down.

“I forgot to set the timer,” she said to herself, before she remembered that she wasn’t alone.

He was still there, arms crossed as he looked at her with one eyebrow quirked up and a self-satisfied smirk on his face. He was obviously waiting for the answer to his question, and she was almost certain he thought it would be a yes.

Had she just been about to fall for one of the oldest lines in the book? From a smug, arrogant jerk of a man who had no idea who she was? What, did he think that just because he was Sean Callahan, that anyone he batted those big brown eyes at would just drop their panties for him? Well, at least the impending disaster of burning cookies had brought her to her senses.

“I know exactly who you are,” she said, through gritted teeth, “and unless you can bring back my mushrooms, you can get the hell out of my kitchen.”

“Look, sugar, I’m very, very sorry about your cookies. But perhaps we can get together for coffee, maybe compare recipes some time.” His voice still had that gravelly quality, the one that sent little whispers of anticipation up and down her back. Okay, so he was a really attractive arrogant ass.

Steeling herself, telling herself to be strong, she said, “Get out. I open in thirty minutes for breakfast. So get out. And don’t call me sugar.”

She turned on her heel. The cookies were an experiment, and not essential to today’s menu. But in another forty minutes, the morning rush would be here for coffee and egg sandwiches and, hopefully, for her light-as-air scones, which she had made and had managed not to burn. She didn’t have time to argue over the comparative values of mushroom types.

There was the sound of something suspiciously like laughter, and then she heard the back kitchen door open and bang shut.

She glanced over at the place where she had been unpacking the delivery. Sean Callahan was gone, without even an iota of recognition on his part. And sure enough, the mushrooms were gone as well. Groaning, she realized that would just be one other thing she would have to handle today. Welcome to life in a restaurant.


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