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Jolie Gardener, personal chef by day, aspiring romance writer by night, likes to talk and does it a lot. She has to because if she stops, all the pain, disillusionment, and abandonment of her AWOL mother, question-mark father, and foster-care childhood will rise up like a chocolate soufflé on steroids, sweeping away the fragile infrastructure of her life.
But she’s fine. Really. She is.
Or so she thinks.
Todd Best isn’t fine. He knows it. And doesn’t care.
After his wife died—the woman who believed in him when he was a struggling artist—he put painting aside, moved from their home, and lost himself in the minutiae of daily life.
Alone. Private. The way he likes it.
The last thing he needs is some chatty cook seeping into the perfectly bland canvas of his life.
Or so he thinks.
So when Jonathan, a guardian-angel-in-training, turns himself into a kitten to help these two lonely souls find a happily ever after together, it ought to be a piece of cake.
Or so he thinks…
“Mr. Best’s office is on the tenth floor, but there’s a retirement party on the eighth, so you might want to stop there first.”
“Gotcha. Thanks for the info.” Jolie tapped the UP button on the elevators. Retirement party? She doubted Todd was in party mode. Not “today.”
She’d take her chances in Mike’s office.
With a soft little ding, the doors opened to a nice, chi-chi elevator, all mirrors and muted lighting. And paintings. His paintings. Just like in the lobby.
A soft whir and before she knew it: Top Floor. Of course his office would be on top. Okay, his brother’s office. Yeah, she was getting tired of making that distinction. It was his office—his brother was just borrowing it. Or keeping it dust-free for him. Whatever.
She took a few steps into the empty elevator foyer. Where was everyone? At the retirement party? Hmm, maybe Todd had gone.
No, that just didn’t ring true. Not with his mood “today.”
A huge expanse of cherry wood double doors loomed at the far end of the hall. It must be his office. His brother’s—oh, whatever.
A matched set of his paintings graced the doorway. She read the plaques beneath them. Riverwalk South and Riverwalk North.
Ah, yes. There was the fountain. The speedboats. The docks. A perfect depiction of the view from the windows. Man, the man had talent.
She was about to knock when she heard voices. Aha! She was right. He was here. But obviously not finished so she decided to park her butt on the ottoman by the door and wait.
She pulled out the Regency romance Mr. Griff had given her and read the back blurb.
Hmmm, the heroine refused proposal after proposal, determined that no man would be in charge of her life.
Substitute “no one” for “no man” and Jolie was right there with her.
Yep, this story looked promising. Mr. Griff had picked a good one. She flipped to the inside cover and read the excerpt.
“Destiny is mine,” proclaimed Rebecca Featherington.
You go, girl. Time for Chapter One.
“You’re taking her to The Midnight Maiden?”
Jolie’s ears perked up at the question coming from the office. They had to be talking about her since she was the only one she knew who was going to The Midnight Maiden with Todd—and qualified as a “her.”
This was better than any book. She put Miss Featherington down on her leg and shamelessly listened in. Self-preservation was a hard-learned battle and those lessons never left a person.
Someone cleared his throat. Todd, maybe.
“Uh, well, yeah.” Another throat clearing.
Bingo. Todd. The men’s voices were similar, but Todd’s seemed just a bit lower in pitch. Maybe that was because he still had something caught in his throat. She scooched a little closer to the door.
“Really? The Midnight Maiden?” asked his brother.
What was with the disbelief? It was just an old boat someone turned into a restaurant. Sheesh. He was making it sound like the Taj Mahal or something.
’Course, the Taj Mahal was a monument to some guy’s wife. Like the biggest declaration of love in the world.
“Yeah,” Todd answered and whatever it was that was stuck in his throat was obviously gone. And yep, she was right, his voice was deeper. It resonated up her spine in a way his brother’s didn’t.
“I asked her where she wanted to go and she picked that place. So we’re going,” said Todd.
“Are you ready for that?”
“For God’s sake, Mike. It’s just a restaurant. I think I can handle it.”
“Well, after Trista—”
“Look, Mike, Trista is gone and I’m not. I realize that. I didn’t put any stipulations on Jolie’s restaurant choice, so I’ll have to live with it. I’ve had to live with a lot of things since my wife died. I’ll get over it.”
Why was she not liking where this conversation was headed? What did Trista and The Midnight Maiden have to do with each other?
“Well, if you’re sure—”
“Let it go, Mike, I’m thirty-four years old. I can handle a restaurant. I’m not an invalid.”
True. Those legs and other body parts had been in absolutely perfect working order this morning.
“Okay,” his brother continued, “but why are you taking the new chef out? You’ve never done that before. Is she cute?”
Oooh… Jolie wanted to hear the answer to that one.
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