Walk On The Wild Side, страница 1часть #3 серии Big Timber
Walk on the Wild Side
© Copyright Jami Alden 2014
Cover Design by Seductive Musings
Ebook Design by KLF Publishing
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,without permission in writing from the author.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products or the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Other Titles by Jami Alden
Fall to Pieces
Blame it on Your Heart
Table of Contents
“There you go sir, one Brady’s special burger with a side of fries.” Molly Tanner slid the plate in front of her five-year-old nephew, Anthony, unable to stifle a smile at his almost comically excited expression.
Just one time in my life, she thought, I’d like to be as excited about one thing as that kid is about cheeseburgers.
To be fair, Anthony’s excitement wasn’t limited to cheeseburgers. He was equally enthusiastic about other things, including Brady’s roast chicken with lemon, Grandma Adele’s chicken noodle soup, and in the non-food related world, Legos, rainbow loom, and Minecraft also ranked in his top ten.
“Oh my God, you won’t believe who just called,” Molly’s sister Ellie, who was also Anthony’s mom, burst into the kitchen, practically radiating with excitement.
“Who?” Molly said expectantly.
“Hold on a minute,” Ellie said and put her hand to her mouth, wincing as the odors of cooked meat and onions hit her.
Ellie, who was currently in her first trimester with Anthony’s little brother or sister, had been having trouble getting near anything food related for the past few weeks without turning green and barfing till her shoes came up.
Which made working in a restaurant tricky at best. So far Molly and her mother, Adele, had taken on the lion’s share of cooking while Ellie focused on kitchen clean up and handling prep work that didn’t involve anything slimy (raw meat), smelly (onion, garlic, or especially funky cheese). In the past few weeks Ellie had focused mainly on washing dishes and cutting celery and carrots for the crudités. they put out with lunch and dinner. The low carb craze had even made its way to tiny Big Timber.
They’d already cleaned up after lunch service and Ellie had been preparing the bar for the evening’s happy hour service.
Whatever news she had must have been big for her to venture into the kitchen. She swallowed hard, closing her eyes to ward off the nausea, and finally said, “Remember that guy from the Cooking Network who ate here this summer?”
“Well he told the producers of Simply Delicious about Adele’s, and they want to film a segment here sometime this fall!”
“Shut up!” Molly said, excitement bursting in her chest. Simply Delicious was the highest rated show on the network. Its popularity had helped its host, Reggie Caldwell, build the Simply Delicious brand into a multimillion dollar brand that included books and kitchenware. A segment on the show would be huge exposure.
“Aunt Molly, you said ‘shut up’,” Anthony gasped around a mouthful of burger. “That’s mean.”
“I didn’t say it to be mean,” Molly said and gave her nephew’s head an affectionate rub. “But you’re right, it’s not polite to say that. I’m just so excited, we’re going to be on TV!” She turned back to Ellie. “When are they coming?”
Ellie shook her head. “They haven’t finalized the schedule yet, but sometime in early November.”
Molly’s excitement was marred by a little pinch of dread. “Oh my God, do you think we can pull it off without Brady?”
Ever since Brady McManus, the hottest thing to come through Big Timber in decades and their erstwhile cook had put Molly, Ellie, and Adele through kitchen boot camp to cover for him while he took off to deal with an unnamed family emergency, Molly’s kitchen abilities had increased a thousand fold.
In the past, she’d looked on cooking as a chore, something she was forced to do when, before Brady came along, they were shorthanded in the kitchen. Now that Brady had taught her the fundamentals of making beautiful restaurant quality dishes, she was starting to see how satisfying it could be to watch people enjoy the food she’d prepared.
Still, it didn’t mean she was ready to showcase those skills on a national stage.
“He’ll be back by then,” Ellie said. “He has to be back by then.”
Molly breathed a sigh and hoped her sister was right. She may have learned to whip up a mean cheeseburger, but they’d have to up their game for Simply Delicious.
She watched as Anthony took his first bite, waiting for his reaction.
“Good?” Molly prodded.
“Awesome,” Anthony sighed around a mouthful.
“As good as Brady’s?” she pushed.
“Almost.” Anthony didn’t hesitate and shoved the burger back in his mouth.
“You need to know not to push it,” Ellie, smiled as she came over to stand next to her son. “It’s good, right?”
Anthony nodded enthusiastically as he turned and held the burger up to his mother’s face. “Want a bite?”
Molly grimaced in sympathy as she watched her sister’s face turn an all too familiar shade of whitish green.
“No thanks,” Ellie barely managed to choke out before she fled in the direction of the bathroom.
Anthony looked a little sheepish. “I keep forgetting Mom can’t eat much since the baby makes her sick.”
“Hopefully for not too much longer,” Molly said and grabbed a bottle of ketchup at Anthony’s request.
“You’re lucky you’re not having a baby,” Anthony said as he dragged a fry through the fresh puddle of red on his plate.
“Why is that?” Molly replied, ignoring the stabbing sensation hitting her somewhere in the region of her chest.
“You don’t have to be sick,” he said matter-of-factly.
Molly gave him a little smile, and didn’t bother to tell him that she gladly would have suffered through any amount of morning sickness if it meant that by this stage in her life she’d have one, if not two kids.
And, oh yeah, a husband.
Speaking of… she made sure Anthony didn’t need anything before she retreated to the office to check her phone. She felt a little of her happy excitement fade when she saw the blank screen. No missed calls. No voicemails. No texts.
Even though Josh, her fiancé, was supposed to get back from his insurance sales convention in Vegas on Sunday. Now it was Tuesday, and she’d had yet to hear a word, and he hadn’t responded to any of her attempts to get in touch.
He was probably just mad she wasn’t waiting at his house to greet him on Sunday night. He got pouty that way, sometimes, when he felt like Molly wasn’t paying enough attention to him. When he felt like she wasn’t making him a priority.
Molly couldn’t blame him. Between the increased demand for her services as a freelance bookkeeper for local businesses and the need for her to pick up the slack dur
But now all that was going to change, now that she would have more free time in her schedule.
During the high seasons of summer and ski season, when their tiny town of Big Timber, Montana, drew a steady stream of tourist traffic, their restaurant, Adele’s Cafe (named after their mother), served three meals a day, six days a week.
Now that it was mid-September and the tourist traffic was slowed, they closed the restaurant on Mondays and hosted a happy hour Sunday through Thursday, with dinner only on Fridays and Saturdays.
I’ll surprise him with dinner. The thought hit her like the world’s most obvious light bulb. Of course!
When was the last time she’d cooked for Josh? Or more to the point, when was the last time she’d cooked something more interesting than a couple of baked chicken breasts with a side of salad and bread? Since she’d helped take over for Brady, she hadn’t treated Josh to any of the fabulous meals she was now able to prepare almost without thinking.
Tonight, Molly was going to use her free night and newfound cooking chops to celebrate their good news.
And at the same time she’d prove that Josh, their relationship, and the wedding that they just couldn’t seem to get on the calendar were her top priorities.
As she made her way back to the kitchen she did a quick mental inventory of what they had in stock. There were lamb chops leftover from Sunday lunch. Still marinating in their rosemary, garlic, and lemon zest they would be delicious after a few minutes under the broiler.
Roasted potatoes and steamed broccoli - she wished Josh would be a little more adventurous but when it came to any vegetable other than potatoes; he had the palate of a toddler - would round out the meat. As for dessert, at any given time there were no less than six different varieties of Adele’s handmade pies on hand. Paired with their homemade, hand churned vanilla ice cream, what could possibly be better?When she returned to the kitchen she found that Damon Decker, Ellie’s fiancé, had arrived to give her and Anthony a ride home since Ellie’s car was currently being serviced in Damon’s father’s repair shop.
“I’m sorry you’re sick, honey.” Damon had one arm wrapped solicitously wrapped around Ellie’s back while his other hand was protectively cupped over the almost invisible bulge of her belly.
“It’s okay,” Ellie said and reached for the bottle of iced ginger lemon tea she carried everywhere. “It was the same with you,” she said, nodding at Anthony with a wan smile.
Anthony, who had inhaled his burger and fries and licked his plate if his ketchup-smeared face and the clean surface of the plate were anything to go by, raised his eyebrows. “Really? I made you barf all day long?”
“All day and all night,” Ellie said as she extracted herself from Damon’s embrace and went to the sink to wet a cloth.
She handed it to Damon with a “do you mind” expression, who took it and quickly scrubbed the ketchup of Anthony’s face and hands as though he’d had years of practice instead of only a couple of months. “Ready to go buddy?”
Anthony jumped down from his stool and put one hand trustingly in Damon’s and the other in Ellie’s.
“What, no hug for me?” Molly said.
Anthony pulled his hands free and with a shy little grin walked over to Molly and held up arms that still held on to the very last traces of baby chubbiness. After she gave him a squeeze that included grunts and snuffles against his neck that elicited the requisite giggle, he retreated to his parents.
Molly wasn’t sure what the tight, squeezing feeling in her chest was about as she looked on the three, the epitome of a happy family. Of course, it had taken a twelve year break up, Ellie’s marriage to another man—Anthony’s father—who turned out to be a white collar criminal on par with Bernie Madoff, to get them to this point.
But here they were, the picture of familial bliss. Anthony and Damon had taken to each other as naturally and completely as though Anthony was Damon’s own. And there was Ellie who, puking aside, was ecstatic that her upcoming wedding to Damon—just a few weeks away—would be shotgun.
There’s no reason you should feel anything but happy around them. Happy that they finally found their way back together. Happy that they’re getting married and growing their family, she scolded herself as she bid them goodnight and started gathering the ingredients for her dinner.
But she could be honest enough with herself to admit that maybe her happiness would be a little more pure had her twelve year relationship and five year engagement to Josh resulted in a wedding by now. If, when she thought of her relationship with Josh and their future, she could somehow stop feeling like she was chasing a dandelion seed dancing on the wind, always blowing out of her reach right when she thought she was about to catch it.
Stop it. Tonight you’ll have a long overdue evening —and night—together. And by the time the sun rises, you will have a goddamn date on the calendar!
Full of resolve, she pulled up to Josh’s house ten minutes later. It was only four-thirty, and since she knew Josh wouldn’t leave the office before five, she used her key to let herself in.
The sound of alternative rock pouring out of the built in speakers greeted her—he must have left them on when he left for work this morning.
She shook her head and dropped her purse on the table in the entryway. She was always after Josh to turn off the lights, to turn off the faucet when he was brushing his teeth.
“Why do you care?” he always argued. “It’s not like you have to pay for it.”
“Once we’re married, I will,” she always countered. And she would have before they were married if she had anything to say about it, but to date Josh had resisted her not so subtle suggestions that they move in together.
The last time she’d brought up the subject, when Ellie and Anthony had moved in with Damon, he’d looked at her like she was crazy. “You work all those funny hours, babe. How do you expect me to get a decent night’s sleep when you’re leaving at six some mornings and coming in after eleven some nights?”
Molly had backed off, biting her tongue against the urge to remind him that they’d have to work it out eventually, as she expected that if they got married sometime in the not too distant future, he’d still have her restaurant hours to contend with.
Though they didn’t live together, Molly knew Josh’s house as well as she knew her own and made her way to the small but nicely appointed kitchen which opened up into an adjoining family room.
There was an empty bottle of red wine on the kitchen counter, which struck her as odd. Not because a discarded bottle was an unfamiliar sight in Josh’s kitchen—his less than tidy tendencies were going to be another thing they worked on once Molly was in residence—but because his empties tended to be of the Budweiser variety or a local microbrew if he was feeling fancy.
She went to put the bags of food on the counter, but froze at the gasp of alarm that came from behind her. Molly turned in the direction of the hallway that led to the rancher’s two bedrooms and let out a gasp of her own.
The woman was tall with long, wavy brown hair that spilled over her shoulders, partially covering the Montana Wildcats insignia over her right breast. Long, tanned legs were exposed by shorts. Boxer shorts, in fact, that looked eerily familiar.
A buzzing sound started up in Molly’s head, so loud it took a moment for her to realize the woman’s lips were moving.
“What are you doing here?”
Molly shook her head, tried to form words with lips that had gone oddly numb. “I’m here to make dinner,” she said, wincing inwardly at the stupidity of the reply.
“Oh,” the woman’s delicate brow furrowed in confusion. “Josh didn’t say anything about sending someone in to make dinner.”
“It was supposed to be a surprise,” Molly said, the desperate, whisp
“Oh, what a sweetheart! Help yourself to anything you need.” She waved a graceful hand. “I don’t know where anything is in here, but I’m sure you can find your way around.”
Heart pounding, sweat erupted on Molly’s skin. Then she went ice cold as the woman started to retreat down the hallway. “No,” she managed to push past her frozen lips. “No,” she said again.
The woman turned and paused, a wary look on her face.
With good reason, Molly thought, as she felt like she was capable of erupting any second. “I’m not here to make dinner for you and Josh,” she said, struggling to keep the quiver out of her voice. “I’m here to make dinner for me and Josh.” Like, if she explained the situation clearly enough, this woman would disappear into thin air, and Molly could move forward pretending this never happened.
The woman turned fully to face her. “Why would you do that? Who are you anyway?”
“I’m his fiancée.”
The woman’s head snapped back as she cocked a dark, perfectly shaped eyebrow. “Josh!” she called, her gaze pinned on Molly.
She heard his muffled reply coming from the direction of the bedroom.
“Can you please come to the kitchen?”
The summons was followed by heavy footsteps against hardwood floors, and before she was ready—could she ever be ready? Molly was met by the sight of her fiancé, wearing only a pair of ratty cargo shorts, his thick, light brown hair sticking up on end like he’d been rubbing it against a pillow all afternoon.
“What is it, babe?” He said with a yawn, turning towards the woman, only to freeze as he caught sight of Molly, standing there, canvas bags of groceries clutched in a death grip.
Any farfetched hope she might have had that there was some explanation, that this wasn’t exactly what it looked like, disappeared with the first flash of shock, followed immediately by guilt, that appeared in Josh’s brown eyes.
“Babe, I can explain—“