Okay, my Friends, here is my sneak peek. I've got most of the edits done and I'm working on the cover right now, but I can't make you guys wait any longer for a little taste of Kam's story. Plus I'm super excited :) I'd love to hear what you guys think. By the way, I'm thinking the title should be Accidentally in Love. Thoughts?
She had promised the Belinda Bakery girls to come for lunch again, and after the amazing food they’d so kindly given her yesterday, she was happy to oblige. That and she could use some friends outside of The Iron Skillet.
She took Baby with her and they made the two mile walk in no time at all. It was only eleven thirty, but she knew Friday night was going to stretch her, so an early lunch would be no big deal. She hooked Baby’s leash to the railing outside and walked in, stopping and smelling again as the delightful scents of the bakery surrounded her in welcome.
“Are you going to do that every time you come in?”
She opened her eyes and laughed, as she noted the cute blond she’d met yesterday was grinning at her.
“You bet I will. How can anyone not?” she demanded and walked over to see all of the delightful creations in the cases.
“I guess we’re so used to it we don’t appreciate it anymore.”
Grace frowned at her. “Just head over to the local dump for an hour and then come back here. Trust me, you’ll notice a difference.”
“No thanks. But I’m glad you came back today. Jane won’t be in until two today. She’ll be so ticked she missed you. But you’ll get to meet Kit. She’s going to cover for me while we have lunch and get to know each other.”
Grace smiled at the complete welcome and open friendship of this woman. It was rare and very appreciated. Most of her good friends had been slowly cultivated over years and years but here was this woman just feely offering her friendship as if friendship wasn’t the most precious thing a person could give someone. Amazing.
“I’d love that,” she said simply, not knowing how to express her gratitude yet.
A beautiful red-head with a toddler on her hip walked out with a pan of what looked like fruit tarts in her hand. The blond took the pan and expertly transferred them to an empty case while Kit kissed the little blond boy.
“You okay to take over?”
Kit nodded and then looked around, catching sight of her. “Of course, but first introduce me to the new Sous chef of The Iron Skillet. I’ve been dying of curiosity.”
Grace snorted, amused that anyone could possible die of curiosity over her.
“I’m Grace and your little boy is gorgeous by the way.”
Kit’s eyes warmed and she smiled brightly at her. “He is, isn’t he? I should be less prideful about my son, but I can’t help it. He’s the best little boy in the world.”
Grace laughed as the blond rolled her eyes. “Ignore her. She’s one of those obnoxious mommies who likes to brag about their kids constantly. If you give her an opening she’s going to start showing you Danny’s little crayon drawings.”
Kit glared at her sister and Grace’s eyes widened, wondering what would happen next. She’d never had a sister, but it looked kind of fun.
Kit glared at her sister and Grace’s eyes widened, wondering what would happen next. She’d never had a sister, but it looked kind of fun.
“And to think I was going to babysit for you tonight so you and Michael could go on a date. Forget it now.”
The blond sister laughed and took off her apron. “I take it all back. Danny is an artistic genius.”
Kit made a huffing sound and turned around, ignoring her sister now.
“So what will you have for lunch today?” she asked.
Grace shook her head, looking at the menu. “It all looks so good, but I’ll try the pesto and turkey panini, the tomato basil soup and for dessert … hmm, surprise me.”
“You got it. She walked around getting the food and Grace walked over and picked a table at the back of the bakery with a view of the street. Being the Pacific Northwest, the gray clouds were beginning to move in and she knew she’d be lucky to make it back home without getting wet at this rate. Sometimes she dreamed of moving somewhere sunny like California or Arizona, but this was her home. She could never leave.
“Here we are,”
Grace looked up and smiled at the array of delicious food in front of her. “And what do we have here?” she asked, staring at the cookie, feeling a little disappointed.
“Hey, no frowning allowed. If you don’t like it, you can pick something else you like, but honestly, a simple oatmeal cookie after lunch is still the best thing in the world. Don’t you know sometimes the showiest things are just all fluff and no substance? It’s true to life and cooking. Didn’t your grandma ever make you oatmeal cookies after school?” she asked.
Grace grinned, enjoying the conversation already. Life truths with food and friends. Could it get any better?
“I’ll trust you,” she assured her and took a bite of her panini. “Oh, man, that is good,” she said simply and shut her eyes in enjoyment.
“I have a feeling that you spend most of your life with your eyes closed, trying to pick out all the flavors of everything you eat or smell.”
Grace blinked open her eyes and laughed loudly. “You happen to be right. What’s your name, by the way? I have a super hard time remembering names and yesterday was so crazy and I met so many people that it all just leaked out last night.”
The pretty blond flipped her long hair over her shoulder. “Layla. Layla Bender. Co-owner of Belinda’s Bakery with my two sisters, Jane Matafeo and Kit Hunter.”
Grace nodded, intrigued. “Three sisters running a bakery together. That’s gotta be a dream come true.”
Layla paused and then smiled sweetly. “Yeah, it really is. My family was what you would call dysfunctional and so when our grandmother left us her bakery in her will, it brought what was left of our family together. Now we’re a family that is functioning and loving and we have a lot of fun together. All of our kids are growing up together and we have a network of friends and family now that works. What about you? Do you have family here in Fircrest? Or did you just come for an adventure?”
Grace paused and chewed her bite before answering. Layla was being open with her, so she should do the same. “Well, I don’t actually have a family. My mom is living somewhere with someone doing something, but not sure on the particulars. And that’s it. No dad to speak of either. He and my mom were never married and he was never part of the picture.” she said, putting her hand over her heart as the pain flashed bright and then receded again. “So it’s just me. I wouldn’t say I was on an adventure so much as on a journey. Sometimes my heart tells me things and I’ve made it a rule to listen. My heart said it was time to move on and that Fircrest was the place to be. I have no idea why, but I can’t wait to find out,” she said, smiling out the window as she watched an older couple walk hand in hand down the sidewalk.
Layla made a humming sound in her throat as she took a sip of water. “Fascinating. I can’t wait to find out either. So what do you think of The Iron Skillet so far?”
Grace shrugged as she stirred her soup and frowned a little. “It’s kind of a collage of different things right now. I could give you a fake answer but I’d rather not. It’s good and bad. I’m in a kitchen where someone keeps turning off my music so I can’t dance or sing. I have the restaurant manager glaring at me every chance she gets for no reason I can think of and my boss is stern, unhappy and not much fun. But other than that? It’s okay,” she said honestly and took another bite of her panini.
Layla frowned and put her sandwich down, as she leaned her chin on her hands.
“I’m not surprised by anything you just said, but knowing your heart brought you here, I hope you give it a good chance before you give up on Fircrest.”
Grace smiled and nodded. “I’m tougher than I look, but I don’t stick around in toxic environments either. We’ll see if I can bring a little light to The Iron Skillet. If not, then there are other healthier, happier places to find.”
Layla frowned and nodded. “True and smart. I agree, but I hope you do bring some of that light that you have. Out of all the places in Fircrest, The Iron Skillet’s kitchen needs light more than any other place I know. Kam’s had a lot of heartache and pain in the past few years. It would be so good for him to let some light in.”
Grace’s eyebrows rose as she looked back at Layla. “His eyes look so sad. I wondered if there was something wrong. Is it something you can tell me? If not, that’s okay. I don’t want to gossip, but if knowing what’s going on can help me understand him, then I’d like to know.”
Layla bit her lip and looked down at her hands for a moment before she looked up and nodded her head. “Okay then, I trust you with this information because I care about Kam. His wife, Bailey, died about three and half years ago in childbirth. It broke Kam’s heart and this town’s heart too. We’ve been hurting for Kam every since. He’s a single dad who’s basically living for his son, Nate. But if you only knew him before Bailey died, you would have met the kindest, happiest, most incredible man in the world. Now he’s just a shell of himself and that’s the biggest tragedy of all.”
Grace closed her eyes, feeling sad for her new boss and what he’d been through. “He needs a friend then? Is that what you’re saying?”
Layla blinked a few times and shook her head slowly. “Oh, he has plenty of friends. The whole town loves Kam. And he has a huge family that surrounds him with support. No, I wouldn’t say he needs a friend although I hope you and Kam can become friends. I would say, he needs someone to help him come back to life. I don’t know if that’s something you can do, but it would be interesting to see if you can.”
Grace looked away and frowned. “Bring a man back to life? That’s a lot to ask of someone. The best I can hope for is to bring music back to that kitchen.”
Layla nodded her head in excitement. “But that’s exactly what I’m talking about! Bring music back to The Iron Skillet. Dance in between orders. Bring some laughter and happiness back to that dark dungeon of a kitchen.”
Grace shrugged, still a little taken aback. “All I can do is be me, Layla. I mean, my heart goes out to the man, but to be healed of that kind of pain, you have to want to be healed, you know? You have to actively seek out healing and light and he gave me the impression that he’s very comfortable in the dark with the pain and that’s where he wants to stay. If that’s the case, then there’s nothing I can do.”
Layla sighed. “You’re very perceptive and you’re right. But it doesn’t take that much light to break up darkness. One little match in a dark cave can do wonders. He’s been cold and alone in the dark for too long. Maybe being around your light and goodness will make him remember what life used to be and what it could be again. It’s worth a try, isn’t it?”
Grace nodded her head, knowing that she’d been through some dark times too and she was so grateful she wasn’t there anymore. Remembering her nightmare from the previous night, she nodded her head. If she could help someone, of course she would. She just felt weird having the responsibility squarely on her shoulders.
“I’ll do whatever I can but in the end, it’s his choice to be happy or not. No one can take on the responsibility for bringing a man back to life, no offense. But… I guess I can try.”
Layla smiled brightly at her and motioned towards the cookie. “Of course you will. Now, try my cookie.”
Grace sighed and picked up the unappealing cookie as she glanced at the cases of beautiful desserts she could be eating. She closed her eyes automatically and smelled the cookie before taking a generous bite. The smell of nutmeg and cinnamon made her smile. She chewed and paused and then chewed again before swallowing. She opened her eyes and grinned.
“I get it. Appearances are deceiving. This is incredible,” she said, taking another bite. “The nutmeg is so warm and the chewy texture is incredible. I love it. But that doesn’t mean I won’t rest until I’ve tried everything you’ve made.”
Layla laughed and sat back, looking very pleased with herself. “Excellent. Now, let’s talk Taryn. You’re helping the whole town out by helping Kam, so I’ll help you with your mean Restaurant manager.”
Grace frowned and picked up a crumb. “I’m not sure that’s possible. Picture an angry tiger with an appetite for Sous chefs and you’ve got Taryn. She took one look at me and automatically hated me. And I hate to brag, but I’m actually a really likable person. So this has come as a complete shock.”
Layla laughed and crossed her legs. “Between you and me, she’s having some marriage problems. She doesn’t feel she can trust her husband anymore and she’s not happy about having to move cross country. She’s taking it out on everyone around her. Trust me, I’ve heard from all of the waiters and waitresses who have passed through here on their way out of town.”
Grace shook her head. “Sad, but how can you help me if I’m her new target?”
Layla pursed her mouth. “I can tell you her secret. Her one weakness is my flourless chocolate cake. You bring her one of my mini cakes in a cute box and I promise some of that fire will disappear.”
Grace frowned as she finished her cookie. “And if you’re wrong?”
Layla raised an eyebrow. “Are you putting my skills down?”
Grace grinned before laughing a little. “I wouldn’t dare. But that reminds me, I promised all my new friends that I’d bring them a treat today from you guys. Candice wants cannoli but I have no idea about James, Manuel or Kam. Maybe Rob too just to be safe.”
Layla popped up and walked over to the counter. “Kit, help me out. The kitchen staff at The Iron Skillet. Can you remember what they like?”
The pretty redhead walked over, the toddler nowhere in sight now as she looked at her curiously.
“Trying to bribe everyone?” Kit asked with a teasing look.
Grace laughed and shook her head. “Just trying to bring a little fun back to that kitchen. I get the feeling they’ve been making the same thing for so long that they don’t even care anymore. I was thinking that if I jump started everyone’s taste buds with some of these delightful pastries, they might be more excited about food.”
Kit nodded. “Gotcha. But they’re still going to love you for this. James and Manuel . . . it’s been a while since they’ve been in but I’m thinking our mini-pineapple upside down cakes for Manuel and for James maybe one of our smore’s cupcakes. Rob is a food snob, so I’d pick the roasted pear with the espresso mascarpone cream.”
Layla nodded her head. “Kit knows her stuff. Good job.”
Grace held up a finger. “What about Kam? He said he doesn’t eat sweets anymore, but maybe something you guys have here might bring his appetite back.”
Kit and Layla exchanged a sad smile before Layla spoke. “He used to love our Matafeo cupcakes. Jane created them for her hubby, Tate but all the Matafeo’s are in love with them. I honestly don’t know what could tempt him now. Kit?”
Kit walked back and forth, looking at all of the contents of their display case and shook her head in deep thought. Grace kept staring at the poppy seed cake with the passion fruit curd. That’s what she’d get if she was Kam. Heck, that’s what she’d get for herself.
“Add in a slice of that cake for me while you’re thinking about it,” she said, blushing as Layla glanced at her. “Hey, I know I just had a cookie, but you can’t blame me. This place could tempt a saint.”
Kit nodded. “It can tempt anyone except Kam Matafeo. But if I was a betting woman, I’d bet on our banana pudding parfait. It’s simple. It’s comfort food at it’s best and it’s non-confrontational, you know?”
Grace laughed. “Non-confrontational food. I know what you mean. I was looking at that roasted pear I’m getting for Rob and I was thinking, it would take a brave soul to think they’re cool enough to eat that.”
The sisters laughed and nodded. “That’s the thing with Rob. He doesn’t think he’s cool enough to eat the best. He knows it.”
Grace grinned as the women boxed up all of her orders. She took out her card to pay and then noticed a shelf of very innocent looking glazed donuts. “Give me one of those too,” she said thoughtfully.
Kit frowned. “A glazed donut? Who in the world is that for?”
Grace shrugged. “I don’t know yet, but I’m thinking someone needs one today. I’ll let you know who it ends up with.”
Layla sighed happily. “I actually really want to know now. Come in again soon, Grace. That light of yours is a lot of fun to be around.”
Grace rolled her eyes. “That’s what they all say. Have a good day, you gorgeous bakers. And come by The Iron Skillet one of these nights so I can cook for you.”
Layla put her apron back on and nodded. “Why do you think Kit’s babysitting for me tonight? Michael and I have reservations at seven. You’ll have to come out to the table and meet my husband.”
Grace smiled. “I’ll make sure whoever waits on you lets me know. I’ll make your dinner extra special,” she promised.
Kit pouted. “Okay, I’m feeling very left out here. I didn’t get to have lunch with you and now you’re making her special food. Next week, it’s my turn.”
Grace opened the door as she held her large bakery box in one hand. “Listen, Red, there’s plenty of me to go around. See you two later,” she called out and hurried outside, glancing at her phone.