Title: Once Upon a Tablecloth
Author: Leslie Hacthel
Nick Jordan acquires failing restaurants, then makes them prosperous. But when Lily Mercer calls him for help, he didn't count on falling in love. Or that someone wants to kill her. And with so many obstacles and threats, can she survive? Can their love?
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His eyes swept the room. Daisy's. Neat tables with white cloths lined up like monotonous little soldiers. No flowers, no candles. Thank heavens no mustard and ketchup, though. The walls were wood paneled and dark but the restaurant was clean–always a plus. Cheap metal chairs with red vinyl seats, some of them torn, sat forlornly, obviously trying to hide their shame under the tablecloths and not succeeding. The wooden floor was uneven and worn raw. The bar set-up was pathetic. The scarred wood counter looked as if it had seen its share of brawls, broken glasses and drunks dancing across it. Too few bottles of liquor on the shelves and none of them great quality. It made him imagine a looting by alcoholic criminals with the good taste to take only the top shelf brands. And the capper was the large framed picture above the bar. Dogs playing poker. Nick just shook his head.
The big selling point here was the location. To the right, office buildings loomed like hungry bureaucrats with a thousand mouths to feed every lunchtime. To the left, the waterfront beckoned. And only a few blocks away, new condos were springing up like rabbits on Viagra. In between was little Daisy's, surrounded by quaint little shops perfect for window shopping. This restaurant had the potential of practically printing money. So why was it failing? Other than the décor and possibly the food? Oh, yeah, and that murder that happened on the front steps a month ago. All fixable with the tender loving care of Nick Jordan. Well, not the murder. Even he couldn't resurrect the dead. Actually that wasn't quite true. Look at the restaurants he had revived.
He absently smiled up at the woman who appeared next to him and was nervously hovering. Then, he did a double take. She was in her mid-to-late twenties, if he was any judge, and petite, with soft auburn hair pulled back into a neat ponytail. Her features were even and her skin smooth, but her hypnotic hazel eyes made her beautiful. She wore a lacy top that gave her an almost girlish appeal, but there was nothing immature about the way his body was reacting to her. "You must be Lily?" He was trying for professionalism, but this woman was affecting him. It was unnerving.
"Yes, Lily." She held out her hand and half-smiled. She seemed nervous and he couldn't help but notice her hand was quivering. "Thank you so much for coming. I'm sorry it's taking so long." He smiled back and reached to shake her hand, but just then a smell intruded. He wrinkled his nose to block out the horribly distasteful odor.
"What is that? Burned potatoes?" he asked.
The woman looked as if he had struck her. Tears pooled in her striking eyes and Nick immediately regretted the question. "L..l..lunch," she stammered. "And if it wasn't charred, it wouldn't have any flavor at all."
Nick stood and moved toward her. He towered over her, making him feel powerful. "Lily, you aren't responsible for that smell. Are you?"
"It's my place. It's a failure and it's all my fault. I really need your help. Did I thank you for coming?"
"Yes, you did. I can see you need some direction. Well, that's why I'm here," he said, trying to sound reassuring. Nick placed an arm around her shoulders. He was jolted by the contact. Her sharp intake of breath said she was aware of it, too. Seemingly off balance, she stepped away.
"We'll fix this," Nick said, trying to regain a demeanor of authority.
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