On the second anniversary of her husband’s suicide, Colby Cabot-Baxter is ready to let go of her grief and the mistakes made during her turbulent marriage. Her fresh start comes in the form of A CertainTea, the restaurant she’s set to open along Lake Sandy, Oregon, with help from her family. But when her executive chef quits just weeks before the grand opening, Colby is pressured to hire old family friend Alec Morgan. His award-winning reputation could generate buzz, but their friendship has withered since her husband’s reckless dare cost Alec’s brother his life.
Distracted by guilty secrets concerning the tragedy that changed his and Colby’s lives, Alec self-destructed and lost his famed restaurant. With his career in tatters, he’s determined to use this opportunity to redeem his reputation and to help the woman he’s loved from afar find happiness again.
But secrets have a way of coming out. When Alec’s do, they might destroy the new life he and Colby have rebuilt together.
“The hostess said you wanted to see me?” Alec stood in the door to her office looking formidable in his freshly pressed chef’s coat. Shoulders back, spine arched, tautly strung like a crossbow. Faint circles beneath his eyes revealed the eighteen-hour workdays he’d been clocking all week in a feverish quest to make the soft opening perfect. “Doors open in less than an hour, so I don’t have much time.”
Colby had battled the butterflies of excited anticipation all afternoon. The renewed flutter in her stomach, however, had nothing to do with the soft opening and everything to do with the man in front of her. The bewildering man who’d reawakened feelings she’d rather lie dormant.
Earlier this week she’d said there was no such thing as a perfect man, and she still believed it. But Alec had worked tirelessly to help make her dream a reality, and that actually made him pretty close to perfect.
“Our hostess is named Becca, and I only need a minute of your time.” She opened her desk drawer and withdrew the gift-wrapped package she hoped he’d appreciate.
Alec’s chin jerked back. “What’s that?”
Colby circled her desk and handed him the token gift. “Something to mark the occasion.”
Her mouth watered when she caught a slight whiff of shallots and thyme. Edible Alec. If only he weren’t so volatile and she so brittle. If he weren’t her employee. Or the old friend whose family still blamed her for their son’s death. In no universe did this risky attraction make sense. Yet it had blossomed steadily despite every attempt to weed it out.
“Thank you.” Alec’s fingertips turned white where they gripped the box. After staring at the gift as if it were an alien, he cleared his throat and teased, “This box looks too big to be a phone charger. Should I open it now?”
“Sure.” She smiled, forcing aside her wistful musings.
Alec unwrapped the package with the same careful attention he gave the most intricate dish. His eyes widened when he saw the silver-framed photograph Gentry had taken of them at Hunter’s the other week.
“I thought it might make your apartment feel more homey.” As soon as the words left her mouth, she felt shy and presumptuous—as if she somehow represented home.
Alec’s straight brows pinched together while he fingered the image. “I didn’t get you anything.”
“I didn’t expect it, Alec. This idea just came to me when Gentry sent me all the photos.” Colby shrugged.
“I love it.” The corners of his eyes crinkled above his gentle grin. Then he surprised her by reaching for her. Colby’s heart turned over, unsure of whether or not she wanted him to kiss her. It then sank when he pressed his lips to her forehead instead of her mouth. He lingered there a moment—a tender point of contact she savored—before backing up. “I’m sorry I’m not as thoughtful as you.”
Sensing the need for a joke, she teased him, saying, “I set a high bar, so don’t beat yourself up.”
He chuckled. “Is it okay if I leave this in here until the end of the night?”
“Of course. Speaking of the night, how do you feel?”
“Eager.” He lifted his chin, but the harsh lines of his face only proved him to be tense.
“Me, too, but you seem anxious.”
“Determined.” Any momentary softness he’d revealed had fled as he turned his thoughts back to business. “You need to pay attention to what people are eating, what they’re pushing aside. Listen to what they say to each other, not what they say to you.”
“I know your family and friends will be a distraction, but stay attuned to the rhythm of the room. Make sure the waitstaff is attentive to every detail. Otherwise, we’ll be going into the grand opening with weak information.”
“It’s important, Colby.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “This requires perfection from everyone, including you. It may only be a dress rehearsal, but it’s still our first impression. Everyone who comes tonight will leave here and talk to their friends.”
“I understand, but everyone coming tonight wants us to succeed. They’ll be forgiving of little errors.” Colby wished his emphasis on awards wouldn’t eclipse his perspective.
“That doesn’t mean we can slack off.” The force of his voice caused her to step back. He must’ve noticed her reaction, because he attempted a joke. “This is where you could say something encouraging like ‘Everything you make is perfect, Alec, so I don’t expect any complaints.’”
“And inflate your oversize ego?” She poked his shoulder.
He captured her hand and squeezed gently before letting go. “I’d better get back to the kitchen.”
About the Author
Jamie Beck is a former attorney with a passion for inventing stories about love and redemption. In addition to writing novels, she also pens articles on behalf of a local nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering youth and strengthening families. Fortunately, when she isn’t tapping away at the keyboard, she is a grateful wife and mother to a very patient, supportive family.