New York actor Daniel Collins is perfect for the role of the brash Petruchio in the summer production of Kiss Me, Kate—and perfectly tempting. Chris Burns has been hired to help with costumes for the show, and it’s all she can do to keep her mind on her costume designs and not on Daniel’s devilish grin. Chris worked in theater in New York and has no intention of going back there—but will Daniel be willing to leave the lights of Broadway for a small New Hampshire town?
With a tired sigh Christine Burns propped her elbow on the windowsill and stared out at the sun-drenched river below. The surface of the blue water glittered, sunbeams winking an invitation to Chris to leave her cares behind and come play. Sailboats drifting gracefully upriver to the ocean beyond beckoned her to their decks.
A clatter and a mumbled curse behind her made Chris spin from the window and back to reality. Linda, one of the waitresses, muttered as she pulled a carton of milk from the refrigerator. Chris glanced at the order slip Linda had written up.
“Warm milk?” she asked, amused.
“Some tourists have brought their great-aunt with them, and she likes a glass of warm milk with all her meals.”
Chris nodded—she had a similar great-aunt—then continued reading the order. The two cups of fish chowder were simple, as was the prosciutto and cheese sandwich. But she groaned at the next order: a tabouli salad. There wasn’t enough left for a full serving. This surprisingly warm Memorial Day weekend apparently had convinced the tourists that it was time to begin eating lighter entrees for lunch. In the one week that Chris had been manager of The Cup of Kindness—as she’d newly named the restaurant in deference to her distant ancestor, Robert Burns—she had never seen the salad disappear so quickly.
“We’re out of tabouli salad. Tell the customer and see if she wants something else.”
“Okey-dokey,” Linda said easily, and swung her voluptuous body out of the kitchen.
Chris smiled. Her own slender, athletic body seemed far more comfortable to live in than Linda’s generous, curvy one. Right now, she thought as she spooned fish chowder out of the caldron, with a large white apron covering her, she looked like a fifteen-year-old boy at his summer job.
“Chris.” Linda’s stage whisper was so sharp and sudden that Chris almost poured the chowder onto her hand. “There’s a customer at the register.”
Chris quickly filled the second bowl and entered the dining area, wiping her hands on her apron. As she walked to the front of the room where the register was, she noted with relief that the restaurant was almost empty. In the short time she had been there, Chris had been delighted with her new career. Today, however, she thought as she began ringing up the check, would have tried the patience of the Galloping Gourmet.
After thanking the customer for his patronage and inviting him to come back soon, Chris turned back toward the kitchen. She paused for a moment, though, and surveyed the restaurant. On the far side of the room from where she stood, the kitchen took up one corner. Along that outer wall, large bay windows looked out over the Piscataqua River and Kittery, Maine, on the opposite shore. Tables by these windows were the most popular, and their cutlery and glasses sparkled and glinted in the sun. As Linda emerged from the kitchen with the steaming cups of chowder, Chris sighed, remembering she still had work to do. She began to walk quickly around the few tables between the register and the kitchen, but a hand on her arm brought her to a halt.
The sudden feel of warm skin against her own startled her, and she looked down with wide eyes. In her perusal of her domain she had missed a lone customer sitting on the side of the room away from the door. Cut off from the bright sun here, she could tell the customer was a man with pleasant features, but no more.
“Would it be too much trouble for someone to bring me a menu?” he asked softly, not bothering to remove his hand. “That is, if you’re done daydreaming … and this place really is The Cup of Kindness.”
She jerked her arm away. Fitting way to end the day, she thought.
“I’m very sorry, sir. I’ll bring you menu right away.” And she did, but when she’d handed him the sheet of paper and turned to go, his hand stopped her again.
“You might as well take my order. I’m in a hurry and I’ve waited here long enough.”
She bit back the suggestion that he could grab a hamburger at a fast-food place. No sense making the man more upset than he was. However, she wasn’t going to stand around waiting for him to make up his mind. She needed to get back to the kitchen. She was about to suggest she send Linda to him, when he spoke again.
“I’ll have a cup of fish chowder and the tabouli salad,” he said, laying down the menu.
It figured. “We’re out of the tabouli, sir. Perhaps you’d prefer a green salad instead?”
He looked as though he were seriously considering the fast-food place, then picked up the menu again with slow deliberation. Caught, Chris wondered if anything had been left on the stove. She had made the prosciutto and cheese sandwich, dished out the chowder, Linda hadn’t yet taken the order from the other— The milk!
“Yikes,” she shrieked, and dashed into the kitchen just in time to watch the milk in the small saucepan boil over the sides. Grabbing a pot holder, she lifted the pan from the fire and dropped it into the sink as quietly as she could. She hadn’t been quite quick enough, though, and the odor of burned milk rapidly filled the room. She opened the kitchen windows, hoping the few customers left wouldn’t notice what had happened. Leaning on the sill, not seeing the attractive scene outside this time, she heard footsteps behind her. She pivoted, fully intending to say something to Linda about not watching the milk. However, her intention died when she saw that it wasn’t Linda who stood there.
Instead, it was a man—a tall, well-built man dressed casually in jeans and a white cotton shirt. His hair was blond and thick, falling over his forehead and the back of his collar. His eyes were a deep brown—and twinkling in a most beguiling way. She realized suddenly that this was the customer she had just rudely run away from, and she groaned inwardly.
“Hey, is this any way to run a restaurant and treat your customers?” he asked in a majestically rich baritone.
Chris dug her fingers into the windowsill behind her. “I’m very sorry you’ve been inconvenienced, but one of the waitresses got—”
“I don’t care to eat excuses for lunch,” he said. “I prefer tabouli salad!”
“I was offering an explanation, not excuses,” Chris said tartly. “Hmm, look, if you’re so hungry, don’t you think you should return to your table? I’ll send Linda over to serve you.”
Rather than follow her suggestion, the handsome man leaned against the counter. Chris couldn’t help but admire how well his shoulders filled the cotton shirt, and how the worn jeans hugged his lean hips and long legs. She raised a brow in appreciation at the sight and managed to keep herself from smiling. No matter how good he looked, he didn’t belong in this kitchen. Before she could again ask him to leave, though, the stranger shifted his position and spoke.
“Seems to me this is a rather haphazard way to conduct a business,” he drawled. “If I were you, I’d give the manager some suggestions.”
The manager moved away from the window with a sudden burst of energy. “Let me tell you something, friend. This restaurant works just fine … usually. It’s when people in a rush like you come in at the tail end of a mealtime that we have problems. Now, please go.”
Oh, Lord, Chris thought. Why had she said that? She was always so good at using humor to lighten a situation like this. Why should she be so sharp with this man?
Because if you don’t throw him out of your restaurant, you’ll probably ask him to come home with you was the sassy reply from the voice in Chris’s head.