Restoring Romance, страница 1
A Fall Into Romance Novella
This is a work of fiction. Similarities to real people, places, or events are entirely coincidental.
First edition. September 25, 2017.
Copyright © 2017 Tamie Dearen.
Written by Tamie Dearen.
Praise for Tamie Dearen
“I STAYED UP WAY TOO late trying to finish this book. Though I regretted it the next morning when I realized the book was finished and I couldn’t dive back into this delightful romantic comedy.”
~ A Drop of Ink Reviews
“THIS IS THE KIND OF book you will want to keep on your shelf, dog ear your favorite parts and read it over and over again.”
~ Indie Author Book Reviews
“THE WHOLE STORY MAKES me cringe with delight. Tamie Dearen sure knows how to tickle my funny bones and bring stars to my eyes!”
~ The Coffeeholic Bookworm
THANKS TO ALL MY FAITHFUL fans—you spurred me to keep writing late into the night. And thank you to my wonderful beta readers and my editor—you worked so hard and gave invaluable feedback to help this book be its best. And as always, thank you to my wonderful husband. Without your support, patience, care, and (most of all) romance, this story would never have made it onto the pages of this book.
“WHY DID I WEAR THESE stupid heels?” Ash stumbled, her spike-heeled boots sinking into the grass lawn covering the town square. Of course she’d chosen the shoes that provided the biggest boost to her five feet two frame, knowing a little height would give her more confidence, but she hadn’t counted on the soft turf. With her weight on the front of her boots, she continued on her way, ignoring the mud clinging to her heels. Maybe nobody will notice.
Everyone looked friendly enough, mingling around the booths with brightly colored signs advertising various activities.
A photo booth... I think I’ll pass. Face painting... Maybe I should get my whole face done. Then no one would be able to tell when my face turns beet red.
A mouthwatering smell drifted across the lawn, inducing a loud gurgle in her stomach, a reminder that she had missed lunch on the flight from New York City. In a rush to make a scheduled meeting with her contractor, she drove straight from the airport to her house, and still hadn’t eaten a bite.
What is that smell? A pumpkin pie booth—yum!
Three dollars bought Ash a small piece of pie, which she devoured in three bites, taking the edge off her hunger.
She continued on, determined to wander by every booth and learn as much as possible about her new place of residence. A few people nodded her direction and some flashed smiles, which she endeavored to return while prancing along on her toes in the most dignified manner she could muster.
Smile. Make eye contact.
Not that Ash minded meeting new people—at least not one-on-one. She just got nervous in large crowds or social settings. But she had well-honed coping mechanisms. In fact, most people assumed she was outgoing, rather than painfully introverted. No one but her roommate Maggie, in New York, knew she was faking it.
This was a critical time to make a good impression. After all, she wanted to give these small town folks a taste of New York chic. She’d known it from the moment she first stepped foot in the antiquated old house almost three months ago. It was like time had stopped inside the sturdy white frame house, just off the square in Romance, Oregon. And the surrounding downtown was hardly an improvement. What this town needed was a shot of big city, and who better to bring it, than Annalee Scott Hendrix—aka Ash—graduate of the New York City Culinary Institute and big shot chef at a fabulous New York restaurant? Okay, maybe she was only a sous chef at a small boutique restaurant, but that was close enough. When she was through, the people of Romance wouldn’t know what had hit them.
That’s why she’d packed up everything she owned—granted, that wasn’t much—and moved to this small town, ready to open a gourmet restaurant. That’s why she planned to remodel the old house to make living quarters upstairs and a trendy restaurant downstairs. And that’s why she needed to be three and a half inches taller when she met the residents of Romance for the first time at the Fall Festival, hence the precarious spike heels.
She swallowed a cry as the lawn grabbed at her shoe again, throwing her balance to the side. Stay on your toes.
She caught herself chewing on her lower lip. Great—now the lipstick color was missing on one side. Maybe she should chew on the other side to even it out.
If she’d only known about the festival, she might’ve had time to set up her own food booth. It would’ve been a great way to introduce the citizens of Romance to her upscale cuisine, and she would’ve felt more self-assured meeting people from behind a counter. She hated walking around in the crowd when she didn’t know a single soul.
That wasn’t quite true. She did know one person in Romance—Dori Costello— but who knew where she was today? A friend of a friend from New York City, Dori had flown out two weeks ago, more than delivering on her promise to get a good price on some used equipment for the new restaurant. Ash chuckled, thinking about the first time they’d met. Encountering the vibrant woman was like shaking hands with a whirlwind, her upbeat personality so enthusiastic Ash felt herself being sucked into Dori’s vibrancy. It was no wonder Dori managed to finagle such an awesome deal. Who could resist her? If only I could be like that.
A large tent caught Ash’s eye, and she wandered over, thrilled to find a huge assortment of animals, all available for adoption. It should be easy to strike up a conversation with a pet as the center of attention. Although she had no intention of taking an animal home, she would enjoy petting them, especially if there were a friendly feline around. Ash already felt lonesome for her cat left behind in New York City. The oversized tabby appropriately named Sumo actually belonged to her roommate Maggie, though he’d come to prefer Ash to his owner. Ash had cried almost as many tears over leaving Sumo as Maggie.
One of the volunteers accosted her before she took two steps into the tent area.
“How about a nice bunny?” The brown-haired girl sporting a brilliant smile, held a beautiful snow-white rabbit with eyes outlined so perfectly in black, it appeared to have on makeup. “Isn’t she beautiful? This breed is called Hotot.”
“Those eyes are gorgeous. I’ve never seen a rabbit like this.” Ash stroked the bunny’s soft fur, while the girl nodded her approval. Tall and thin, with wavy locks and golden brown eyes, the girl looked comfortable in cowboy boots and tight jeans, topped with a sweatshirt sporting the words, Finding Forever Animal Rescue. Ash resolved to acquire more appropriate footwear before the next festival, wondering if such gatherings were a frequent occurrence in Romance.
“This one is even litterbox-trained, so she can run freely in the house. Just hold her—you’re going to fall in love.”
The rabbit made no objection as Ash took her, snuggling in her arms. “She’s amazing, but I’m not ready to take a pet home. I just moved here.”
The girl’s smile widened. “I thought you might be new to Romance. I know almost everybody. Where are you living?”
Ash pointed across the square, where the corner of her new house was barely visible. “Over there on Main Street, in that white house, though it won’t be white for long. I’m planning to jazz it up a bit.”
“You bought the Scott house? That’s awesome! No one’s lived there since Mrs. Scott moved into assisted living over a year ago. She was so sweet. Did you get to meet her before she passed?”
Ash’s heart clenched in her chest, but she kept a tight reign on her emotions. Her g
She swallowed the lump in her throat. “No, we never met, but I’d like to hear about her. Did you know her well?”
“You can’t grow up in Romance, Oregon without knowing Caroline Scott—great, great, great, times about twenty—granddaughter of Georgina Scott. Mrs. Scott told the story, in costume, at every Founders Day fair, right up until she went into the nursing home.”
“Who tells the story now that she’s gone?”
“Last year, our mayor dressed up as the young Douglass Scott.” With a dramatic flare, she pounded her fist over her heart. “The man who followed after his true love Georgina on a wagon train all the way across the country, married her, and started the town’s first store. Their romance is where our town got its name.”
Ash let out a heavy sigh, stroking the bunny’s soft fur. “It’s a shame romance like that doesn’t exist any more.”
A frown creased between the girl’s hazel eyes. “I hope you don’t believe that. I think there’s someone special for every person. All you need to do is find your match.”
“Me?” Ash considered her track record. She hadn’t dated much since high school, but she’d had three serious relationships, two of which she ended the first time the guy got drunk and angry. She’d seen the results of drunk and angry, and where that could lead. Zach had been different—he seldom drank alcohol and never got inebriated. He was handsome, smart, and driven. He seemed like the perfect guy, and Ash strove to be worthy of him. But Zach turned out to be a jerk and a coward, ending their engagement via text—a message she received while at a meeting with her wedding planner.
“Can’t go through with the wedding. Sorry.”
Seven words. Seven earth-shattering, humiliating words.
Between sobs, she shared the news with Maggie, who lovingly offered to cut off his head. After a moment of consideration Ash turned her down, vowing never to date again, a commitment shared enthusiastically by her loyal roommate who’d had relationship troubles of her own. If not for missing Maggie, Ash would’ve been glad to leave New York and those bad memories behind.
“I don’t think that’ll ever happen to me,” Ash told the innocent girl who’d obviously never had her heart shredded into a million pieces. “Not until... What’s that saying? When pigs fly?”
“Ha! I think the closest thing we have to that is a flying squirrel, right over there.” With a nod of her head, she indicated a cage holding a fluffy ball of brown fur the size of a gerbil, which looked nothing like a squirrel to Ash.
“What about you? Do you have a true love?” Ash attempted to switch the focus away from her own forlorn love-life, or lack of one.
The girl’s smile widened as she held out her hand, wiggling a diamond-clad ring finger. “As a matter of fact, I just got married a few weeks ago, to the most wonderful man in the world.”
Ash winked. “There you go—you already got him. What am I supposed to do? Settle for second place?”
The girl stepped back, tapping a finger against her chin as she swept Ash with an appraising stare. “Blond hair. Blue eyes. New in town... I say, with your style and looks, the guys’ll be flocking all over you in no time. I give you...” She twisted her mouth, looking upward as if there were some magic message written on the tent canvas. “I give you three months, and you’ll be in love... probably less time than that. I guarantee it.”
Ash couldn’t help laughing out loud. She shifted the rabbit to extend her right arm toward the girl. “Fifty bucks says you’re wrong.”
She grinned, accepting the proffered hand in a firm grasp. “Fifty bucks! And if I win, I get to be in your wedding.”
“Sure thing.” Ash looked up to the sky, knowing there was no chance whatsoever of that happening. After all, she’d sworn off men and had no intention of changing her mind. Especially not while she was starting a business.
“Since I’m one of your bridesmaids now, I guess we should know each other’s names.” The girl’s hazel eyes danced and, for a moment, Ash fought a wave of jealousy at her easy, outgoing manner. “I’m Erin Walker.”
“Ash Hendrix. Nice to meet you.” With some reluctance, she handed the rabbit back, watching as Erin placed the beautiful creature in her crate. “She’s adorable, but I don’t need any more responsibilities right now.”
“What about a pet that pretty much takes care of itself?” Erin grabbed her arm before she could respond and dragged her across the tent. “Maybe a turtle? Or how about a cat?”
Her voice must have sounded wistful, because Erin abruptly changed directions, and Ash found herself staring at perhaps the ugliest animal she’d ever seen.
“We named her Lucky, because someone found her locked in an abandoned house, and we nursed her back to health. She almost died from dehydration, but she’s tough and determined. I know she’s not very pretty, but she’s really sweet.” Erin opened the crate and removed the cat, whose coat was so mottled Ash couldn’t put a name to the color.
“I really don’t need a pet.” Ash said the words to convince herself as much as Erin, attempting to ignore her sympathetic pangs at Lucky’s sad story.
The cat began purring the moment she landed in Ash’s arms, escalating to a motorboat rumble as Ash stroked the fur on her back. Rubbing her head against Ash’s arms, Lucky peered up and released a meow that pulled at her heartstrings and then burrowed against her chest. Ash knew she’d found a kindred spirit—someone who’d known rejection—someone who needed a chance to prove herself—someone who just wanted to love and be loved.
“You’re smitten, aren’t you? I can tell by your face!” Erin clapped her hands together, dancing from one booted foot to the other. “Like I said, you’re bound to fall in love in Romance.”
Ash knew when to wave the white flag. “Fine. I’ll take her, but this doesn’t mean I owe you fifty dollars.”
“Oh no! This doesn’t count for the bet. I intend to be a bridesmaid, remember?”
“I guess Lucky can stay upstairs with me while the construction guys are working downstairs.” She gave the cat a squeeze and the purring amped up another notch. “But it’s going to be chaotic trying to remodel the house and get everything organized and open the restaurant.”
“Ooo! A restaurant? What kind?”
“I’m not sure yet. Something trendy and unique. Maybe a tapas bar. Something with a New York City flair. That’s where I’m from.”
“That sounds awesome—we don’t have anything like that in Romance. I bet people will love it! You know, I never would’ve guessed you’re from New York.” Erin squinted at her. “With your accent, I thought you were from the South somewhere.”
“I grew up in Texas, but I’m a New Yorker now.” Ash slowed her words in a vain attempt to smooth out her Texas twang. “Big city girl all the way.”
“Why would a big city girl want to move to Romance, Oregon?” Erin cocked her head. “I mean, it’s a great place to live, but how did you even find out about it?”
Ash wasn’t ready to divulge the details of her horrible family life. How could she explain to a perfect stranger why she’d never even met her grandmother before she died?
“I’ve been wanting to start my own restaurant for a while now. When my attorney stumbled across this place, I came to visit Romance and fell in love with it. Two months later, here I am.”
“I don’t think I’d ever be brave enough to go off on my own.” Erin’s gaze grew unfocused, as if she were looking right through Ashley. “I know other people who grew up here and left to do bigger and better things, and I used to dream about leaving. But now...” Her smile lit up her face. “Now I realize I want to stay where my family is. I have everything I need right here in Romance.”
“Right. What could be more important than family?” Ash nodded with a forced smile,
“Wait here. I’ll go get the adoption form.” Erin disappeared, leaving Ash to her thoughts, with Lucky reverberating an accompaniment.
ADAM WALKER COULDN’T take his eyes off the girl his sister-in-law had cornered in the pet adoption tent. She had to be new. Even though the town had 30,000 residents, he felt confident he knew every person between the ages of twenty and thirty-five. Most had grown up in Romance, but a few young people were beginning to move into the area, especially since the new winery had opened outside of town, providing a boost to the economy.
But this girl was definitely not a long-term resident of Romance. For one thing, the way she was dressed, she definitely looked out of place. She lacked the customary outerwear of every other girl at the fair, and the heels on those boots were anything but practical. She looked like she’d be more at home on the cover of a magazine than a fair in downtown Romance. Besides, there’s no way he would’ve forgotten a face like hers. Even from a distance, her crystal blue eyes sparkled like gems. Tendrils of blond hair escaped from her braid, adorning curls framing her face. Tight pants accentuated shapely legs, topped with a bright red coat, cinched at the waist with a belt. Her tall-heeled boots didn’t hide the fact that she was tiny. At over six feet, he’d wager he was nine or ten inches taller. And something about her diminutive stature made him feel she needed a body guard, a job for which he was compelled to volunteer. Not that she needed protection in peaceful Romance, but that didn’t lessen the urge.
Erin had begged him to volunteer at the adoption tent, but he’d blown her off. Now he was kicking himself as he watched her conversing with the enticing blond waif holding a white rabbit in her arms. The way the girl pulled her plump lower lip into her mouth while her blond brows furrowed invited him to kiss those lips and see just how soft they were.