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Authors: Tricia Quinnies

Just desserts

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Just Desserts

 

Tricia Quinnies

 

 

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The author makes no claims to, but instead acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of the word marks mentioned in this work of fiction.

 

Copyright © 2014 by Tricia Quinnies

 

JUST DESSERTS by Tricia Quinnies

All rights reserved. Published in the United States of America by Swoon Romance. Swoon Romance and its related logo are registered trademarks of Georgia McBride Media Group, LLC.

No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

 

Published by Swoon Romance

Cover designed by Najla Qamber

Cover Copyright © 2014 by Swoon Romance

 

 

 

 

To Patsy and Al Penske 

 

 

 

Just Desserts

 

Tricia Quinnies 

Chapter One

 

Sadie scribbled his order down and put the scrumptious man out of her mind. The customer sitting in her booth was so sugary he could sweeten up her tartest lemon bars. She ripped the order off the pad and clipped it to the wheel hanging from the diner’s kitchen alcove.

Her dad, Paul Maxon, yanked the slip off the archaic stainless-steel contraption. It spun about, squeaking louder than the Foo Fighters’ tune playing on the jukebox. “Veggie burger and sweet potato fries, again? Doesn’t he know this is Wisconsin, land of meat and cheese?”

Sighing, she glanced at the hunky guy who hungered for a meatless meal. As usual, so engrossed in his tablet, he hadn’t heard her mulish father. “The guy’s eaten lunch here once a week since June. I heard Mr. Veggie Burger is a contractor. He’s renovating the Wrigley mansion across the lake. Appreciate repeat clientele, Mom used to say.”

“Yeah, I know. Your mother and her damn heart-healthy organic menu. Fat lot it did to help her out.” Shaking his head, he ambled around the stainless-topped island toward the back of the kitchen. He disappeared into a cloud of cold mist from the open freezer door.

Sadie scrubbed at a spot of ketchup crusted on the pink counter top. Waiting on tables, planning desserts, and surrounding herself with the comfort of Ms. Katie’s Diner had helped heal her heart, but not her dad. They had both hoped the gods of holistic health would shine on Kate Maxon—the believer in all things healthy, crunchy and granola-y, but her mom still died.

The silver boomerangs, etched into the linoleum, had faded and her wrist ached. In one week she would be back in Chicago to finish her thesis and her dad had the diner to keep him busy. Sadie stopped scrubbing and spied on the contractor as he stared down at his tablet. She noticed that his sandy hair showed streaks of white blond.

Veggie-man looked up and smiled.

Busted.

“Can I get anything for you?” she blurted.

He shook his head.

She hustled to check on the only other customers in the diner. The last of Monday’s lunch rush. Seated at the parlor table nestled in the bay window niche, the couple was so entranced with one another they had let their mango-lime parfaits melt into smoothies.

As she loaded their dishes on her tray, Sadie looked out the window at Lake Geneva. The water lay still beneath the oppressive August humidity. In the middle of the lake, an LG Coast Guard boat towed a Hobie wave runner to shore. Not enough wind on the lake to propel the bright yellow and orange sail had left the boaters stranded.

Down the street at the lakeside farmers market, tourists from Chicago, left over from the weekend, and local cheese-head farmers blurred together. They all seemed to move in slow motion under the white canopy tent on the pier.

Irritated by the waste of fresh mangoes, which were so fresh but a pain to peel, she let her loaded tray bang on the counter and went to refill Mr. Veggie Burger’s cup of coffee. As she poured java into his mug, her mind drifted.

Seven more days and she’d be with Bryan, again. He had planned to visit her in Lake Geneva last May, but decided to take off and go hike around Europe.

“Like Rick Steves,” Bryan had joked, when they last spoke before he took off for Amsterdam.

Sadie had laughed at the comparison since the two of them had watched the popular PBS travel show religiously. And Bryan, like Steves, wore khaki trousers.

Bryan had texted her that he was back in the States, but she still had no idea what day he was coming to help her move back into her Bucktown flat. She wanted to continue as if nothing had interrupted their newbie relationship. It had started to warm up right before Sadie had come home to be with her mother.

“Whoa. Stop. What are you doing?” A husky voice crashed into her prayerful plans.

She jerked her hand back and hot coffee splashed across Mr. Veggie’s table, just missing his iPad.

“I’m so sorry.” Sadie rushed back to the counter, grabbed a damp bar rag, and jogged back to his table. She wiped up the spilled coffee. “I didn’t ruin your tablet did I?”

“It’s fine. Don’t worry.”

His voice, a scratchy baritone, was smooth and reassuring. She stopped scrubbing and looked at him. For a moment, Sadie wondered how he might kiss. Were his kisses deep? Or nimble and airy? Kisses so light, like meringue which melted fast and left her wanting more. Embarrassed, she shook her head to break free from her fantasy and stepped away from his table. “I’ll see if my dad’s finished with your order.”

“Ah. I knew you were his daughter. How’s he doing today?”

“Excuse me? He’s fine. How did you know—?”

“It’s pretty apparent you two are from the same stock with your red hair and green eyes. Hard to miss the resemblance. And the Irish roots.”

“Are you calling us a couple of breakfast cereal leprechauns?”

“No, you’re way too tall for the magically delicious type. But from the way I hear you two butt heads, I’d say Celtic blood runs thick in your veins. How’s that for stereotyping?”

Laughing, he tilted his chin up.

Sadie spied silver flecks in his blue eyes.

“You know a lot about us.” She turned to fetch his order, more unnerved by his easy nature.

“Wait. I didn’t mean to piss you off. It’s the album covers. The U2 albums on the walls. Your dad stops to look atRattle and Humevery time I’m in the diner.”

“Oh right. U2— the RED dude. What’s his name?”

“Bono?”

“Yeah.” Sadie purposely blanked out her mom’s favorite Irish band.

After she had died, Sadie insisted that her father keep all the band memorabilia hanging on the walls to cover the ancient cracked plaster. Most days she avoided looking too hard at the stuff.

“Look, Mr. …”

He chuckled and offered her a handshake. “Quinn Laughton.”

“Sadie Maxon.” She grasped his hand and shook it formally then ogled the beautiful yin yang symbol tattooed on the back of his wrist. “Thanks for keeping an eye on my dad. I think. It’s been a rough year for him.”

“For you, too. From what I hear.”

Her breath hooked on the back of her throat. She spent so much energy running the diner and worrying, she’d perfected killing pain like Oxycodone. Quinn’s kind voice, his words, infringed on her mind-numbing survival tactics.

Once she moved back to Chicago and away from the diner—and far from the memories—the dull ache in her heart, from the loss of her mother, would disappear. Then her dad could have the diner to himself. She was certain that fixing and repairing it would keep him busy. There wouldn’t be enough time to think about his broken heart.

“Order up!” Her dad’s voice boomed in the almost empty diner.

Sadie hurried to get Quinn’s sandwich and returned to serve him.

“Why don’t you sit down for a break?”

She was so surprised it was like he’d asked her to strip and play Twister with him. She rarely took time to rest, but Quinn stopped her in her flip-flops.

Her last table, the lovey-dovey couple, waved goodbye. The cowbell on the front door clanged as they cleared out…to find a bedroom likely. With two hours before the dinner crowd trickled into the diner, she plopped down across from him in the booth. Sadie stretched her legs out along the red vinyl-covered bench and dropped her head back against the wall. From the corner of her eye, she watched him eat his burger.

“Delicious. As usual,” he murmured, still chewing on the first bite.

“House specialty and please don’t start to make yummy noises. At least wait until you have dessert. Georgia peaches covered with sprigs of fresh basil and whipped cream.”

“Sounds tempting.” He lifted one blond eyebrow. “How come every time I order my burger your dad cusses?”

“You don’t miss anything, do you? I would think you have more important matters over at the old Wrigley house than the inner works of our tiny diner.”

“Ms. Katie’s Diner is as historically important as that mansion once owned by a bubble gum baron. Retro diners like this one are rare and they’re in danger of becoming extinct. The counter is an original Brook Stevens’ design. Those silver boomerangs are a fifties collectors’ dream. I’m surprised that you, or your dad, haven’t had to sift through a boatload of offers to buy this place.”

He shook rock salt on his sweet potato fries.

Hungry, Sadie resisted pulling one of his fries off the plate to pop into her mouth. “There’ve been offers but my dad would never sell. It’s like a gastronomical shrine. My mother poured her heart and soul into every recipe.”

“What about you? Would you sell it?”

“What? No! Wait, now I get it. You’ve scoped us out all summer, haven’t you?” She sat up straight. “You’re like a vulture circling about just waiting to swoop in to pick off what’s left of my family.”

 

***

 

Quinn flinched at Sadie’s outburst. He had admired her one-woman operating system on a regular basis all summer. Her determination, in the midst of cracked ceiling plaster, to keep the diner and her father working, impressed him.

Ms. Katie’s lived up to its reputation. The food was four-star quality, and it occurred to him the diner would be a terrific investment. But that wasn’t why he had already offered to buy the place from Paul Maxon.

Sadie and Paul worked so hard to keep the diner from sinking. The sadness bothered him. The retro fifties place felt just as Sadie had said—a shrine. But in a restaurant full of stainless steel, linoleum, and plastic, it was a cold dead shrine in dire need of repairs.

Quinn never met Kate Maxon and didn’t know what happened to her. He was fairly certain that she wouldn’t want to see her husband or daughter as he’d seen them—heartbroken and fading away into desperate crumbling corners.

He crossed his arms and sat back to look at the stunner of a redhead fuming in front of him. He waited for her cute nostrils to stop flaring. He’d always been enamored of this lakeside town and lately, because of its trendy diner and Sadie, he had eaten more veggie burgers here than in Chicago.

“I thought—” He paused to choose his words. “I only suggested selling the diner because I hoped that it would be doing you and your dad a favor. That’s all.” He took another bite of his burger, confident that he’d defused the situation.

But the tips of her ears turned pink. And her incredible hair, rolled in a weird ball on the top of her head, tilted. Glaring at him, her green eyes looked like shards of emerald.

“Dousa favor? What is it that you’re doing at that old mansion? I heard you were the contractor, not the owner. Are you some kind of real estate developer who wants a new investment to toy with?” A long thread of hair escaped capture and fell across her face and lips. She blew it away. “We’re not for sale, Mr. Laughton. My dad and I are fine. Have been and will be. We don’t need your money.” She stumbled out from the booth and backed into her father.

“What’s the matter, Sadie? I wanted to join you and Laughton for a quick sit.”

Quinn stared at Paul. His ruddy sunken cheeks were speckled with two-day-old stubble. When had he last showered and shaved? Or slept?

A bit of moistness glistened around the corners of Sadie’s eyes. She swiped it off with the tip of her finger. “Go ahead, Dad. I need some fresh air. I’ll go pick up our greens from the farmers market. I can smell the ginger. You must have roasted the beets for the ravioli.”

“Sadie, get out of here for the night. Lindy’s starting at four and can work your shift. I want to talk to Laughton, lovey.”

“Wait. Isn’t he your veggie burger nemesis?”

Paul looked at his daughter and gave her a tired deliberate smile. “Laughton wants us to cater a party over at the Wrigley place. The crew’s celebrating. The renovation job’s done.” He nodded toward him. “Quinn’s offering up tours of the mansion if you’re interested.”

She untied the back of a pea green apron and pulled it over her head. After kissing her dad’s cheek, she turned toward him and glowered. “No thanks. I’m not interested in any of Quinn’s offers.”

Chapter Two

 

Quinn needed to boost the boys’ morale. The Wrigley mansion’s glitches had frustrated the devil out of him and the God-awful heat agitated his men. The brawny crew had deteriorated into a pack of sluggish hard-hatted whiners. He needed to give them a night off and fill them with Wisconsin beers and brats. Except as he talked to Paul, neither his workers nor food were on his mind.

Sadie consumed his thoughts.

As he tapped notes on his iPad to avoid eye contact with Paul, Quinn fidgeted in the booth like a horn-dog teen. He kept wondering how long it would take to unwind Sadie’s gleaming hair coiled on top her head and thread his fingers through it. Paul would doubtless punch him in the face if he knew the ways Quinn envisioned his beautiful daughter. He sipped his cold coffee to cool down. And think. Did he want Sadie or the diner?

“I appreciate the amount you’d give us for this place,” Paul announced.

Bumped out of his sex-charged stupor, Quinn spoke. “I’m pretty sure your daughter doesn’t feel the same way.”

“Sadie’s stubborn, but I can reassure her. You aren’t planning to tarnish any part of her mother’s legacy and you’ll maintain the look of Ms. Katie’s Diner in the expansion. She’ll come around.” Maxon massaged his scruff and looked about the diner. “She’s headstrong and can talk her way out of anything. Usually gets what she wants. Her mother knew how to butter her up. But I’m losing steam. And I’m bloody tired. I’ll convince Sadie we need to sell the diner to you.”

The harassed spirit and raw desperation in his voice rattled Quinn. Paul was a no bullshit guy and he hated seeing a grown man so fucking exhausted. So with or without his daughter’s approval, he wanted to buy the diner and give him a chance to move forward. “I won’t jeopardize the integrity of the design. Kate’s vegetarian specials are known here in Lake Geneva as well as Chicago. I’m not an idiot. I won’t mess with this kitchen’s luck. Let me work on Sadie. When does she move back to the city?”

“I think Bryan Morton is coming to get her this weekend.”

“Bryan Morton?” Quinn stood out of the booth to stretch his legs. He wanted nothing more than to peel off his dust covered T-shirt and jeans. He looked out across the lake at the pier and boathouse belonging to the house. One of his men swung off a tree branch and splashed into the placid water.

“Is this guy Bryan her boyfriend? Would he be of any help or influence her?” Quinn said mildly to tamp down his needling curiosity about Sadie’s love life.

“Nah. They just met last fall. After Kate got sick last spring, he shined around once. I overheard her talk on the phone with him occasionally this summer, but he didn’t come to Kate’s funeral to be with Sadie. I don’t like him. Suspect he might be a wanker. I want to get my daughter back to Chicago to finish her thesis without this diner or Morton to drag her down.”

Anticipation stampeded through Quinn’s brain. Imagining Sadie touching another man unsettled him. One of his workers jumped in the lake and Quinn decided he needed a splash in the water himself. He shook Maxon’s hand to take his leave. “Better get back. The boys aren’t working too hard and I don’t need ‘em taking off in one of the antique Chris-Crafts for a joy ride. Wednesday’s barbeque couldn’t have worked out better with this heat.”

“Sadie will deliver your food around six.”

“Perfect. I’ll speak to her about the diner. Don’t worry.”

Maxon thanked him, his ruddy face sagging with relief. He disappeared behind the counter and in his kitchen.

Quinn stepped into the oven outside and slipped on his Ray-Bans and Cubs cap. He rang Eddie—told him that he and the rest of the crew could take the afternoon off. Then he walked toward the farmers market to find Sadie.

 

***

 

Sadie dug around a wooden crate of Swiss chard and rhubarb in the back of Lindy’s Sweet Organics delivery van. The greens displayed on the table looked dry and wilted.Wilted Swiss means bitter, notneutral.She chuckled. “Thanks for covering for me, Lindy.”

“Not a prob. I can use the extra cash.” Lindy retrieved a spray bottle from a milk bottle crate. She spritzed ears of corn. “You need to take a break from the diner and your dad. What are doing tonight?”

Her best friend, Lindy, had arranged the sweet corn in cast iron skillets on the gingham-clothed table. Sadie admired the display even though it hadn’t sold the abundance of corn. “I’m not sure. I’m hoping Bryan makes it into town.”

Lindy didn’t respond. Her spray bottle squirts kicked into high gear.

Sadie tucked the ruby-red chard into her Trader Joe’s bag. “What? Why the silent treatment?”

“Simple. That guy’s a dick and you know it. I wouldn’t be a friend if I kept that info to myself.”

“What? Eddie’s any better?” Sadie shoved the greens so hard into the bottom of the bag the thick stems cracked.

Lindy squirted Sadie in the face. “You, me, and Eddie have known each other since kindergarten. Don’t get all high and mighty. Eddie’s the guy for me, he loves me, and he’s a great guy. You know what a good guy is like. Don’t you, Sadie? They stick around when you’re down in the dumps. Bryan couldn’t manage to pull himself away from his spring break frat boy party in Florida to go to your mother’s funeral.”

“It wasn’t a party. It was his mother and father’s silver anniversary and happened to be in Naples.”

“Right. And I have some swampland for you to buy. Interested?”

“Eddie isn’t God’s gift, Lindy. What’s he doing since he dropped out of Madison? Grub work?” Sadie immediately regretted dissing Eddie and realized her sting was just plain mean. Lindy and Eddie were her two oldest friends. The summer heat must have turned her brain to mush. “I’m sorry.”

Lindy smiled and patted her on the shoulder. “You’re forgiven. This time. I’ll cut you some slack considering you and your dad are my favorite customers, and your mom was my foodie idol.” She squirted water at a splotch of red beet juice spattered on her white T-shirt and tried to rub out the stain with a piece of paper toweling. “I miss her, too.”

Sadie grabbed a bunch of spinach off the table and stuffed it in her bag with the chard.

Lindy added, “Actually, Eddie’s been apprenticing with Quinn Laughton all summer to get his plaster business off the ground. He’s molding trims for house renovations. It’s a craft. And guess what? We’re planning to move in together this fall.”

“I’m excited for you two. A love nest with Eddie.” Sadie hugged her. “Are you sure his work with Quinn will pay off? He seems kinda cocky.”

“There’s worse in the world. Eddie looks up to him. Quinn loves vintage. He owns the renovation company that’s rehabbing the Wrigley mansion and he’s eco-friendly. His updates are all green. He’s an earth-loving entrepreneur. Not a slick, suck-up type like Bryan. Not to mention he’s hot. Didn’t you notice? Or are you blinded by the Bry?” Lindy sang, imitating the Bruce Springsteen tune.

Sadie remembered Quinn’s full lips and felt like she couldn’t breathe.

Lindy stepped to the other side of the table and started to spritz the cobs of corn again.

From around the corner of a man-size Sweet Organics sandwich sign, Quinn appeared. He leaned over a basket of pattypan squash on the table, picked one up, and played heads or tails with it. “I’m expecting to hear the Walton’s in this neck of the woods, not Rachel and Monica.”

Embarrassed, Sadie widened her eyes at Lindy. Her BFF replied with a smirk and turned toward Quinn.

“Hey, hunk. I’ll be yourfriend…with benefits.” Lindy flirted easily. She’d always been so damn pretty with strawberry blond waves and a button nose. She wasn’t the least bit self-conscious around anyone. Especially males.

On the other hand, Sadie worried about every word that left her mouth, which many times left her speechless or driveling on in clichés. Handsome men and even the not-so-good-looking guys had her tongue tied.

With Bryan she was moresubduedwhen they talked but definitely notblindedsince they texted more often than she cared to confess. Bryan didn’t seem to mind or notice her verbal constipation while he chatted on and on about himself.

“You’re a tease, Lindy.”

Quinn’s sexy voice jolted Sadie out of her thoughts.

“Eddie took me to The Geneva Supper Club last night to show me his plaster work. Your main squeeze stared at his feet when we walked past a Playboy Bunny uniform circa1960, on display in a glass case. That man of yours is whipped,” he joked.

Quinn turned and flashed her with a mischievous smile.

“Eddie loves to show off the town’s old Playboy club,” Lindy said. “The crown molding is his prize work.”

Sadie hadn’t realized how chummy Quinn had gotten with her best buds.

“I don’t think he remembers any of his dinner, the relish platter or the Brandy Manhattans. You’re tempting, but I don’t mess with taken women, especially Eddie’s.”

Sadie’s tongue turned to lead. The smatter of ginger freckles on Quinn’s cheeks warmed his icy blue eyes. He wore the standard issue construction uniform: faded Levi’s, reinforced steel-toed Red Wing boots, and a T-shirt. But the color of his tee—Dijon, not yellow mustard but Grey Poupon—threw her off. It enhanced the tan on his muscular arms, and it wasn’t standard issue Jockey or Hanes. This man probably stirred buckets of mortar and paint, but she could bet his closet secreted a stash of Calvin Klein’s from Barney’s men’s department.

How had she missed this at the diner?

He reminded her, in her sick foodie brain filled with desserts, of a hot apple pie slathered in caramel sauce. And absolutely not a la mode, too cold and made the crust mushy. Ice cream had better places to be. Quinn oozed warm, sweet and crunchy

Had she really spoken so freely and then spewed at him earlier in the diner? Maybe being in her mother’s diner gave her a burst of confidence. The diner. Gooey good hunk wanted her mom’s diner. She snatched a carton of pattypans away from him and dumped them in her plastic bag.

“Ah you don’t fool me, Laughton,” Lindy teased. “You’re no innocent. My Eddie tells me everything and I know your notch list is longer than Chicago’s One Mag Mile.”

“Shh. I’m gonna need to talk to Eddie about letting you in on the true depth of my sleaze, Lindy.”

“Don’t do that. He’s learned so much from you. And I’m reaping the rewards of his newfound tricks. Please, no…you can’t…don’t…stop…not…now.” She panted salaciously and laughed.

Sadie backed up closer to the van opening as she listened to Lindy’s fake orgasm. She wasn’t a prude, but her libido was suffering. Bryan had wanted to take things slow so not a whole lot had transpired in the bedroom. She couldn’t wait until he came back from Europe. She had some ideas that would knock off Bryan’s socks as well as all his other clothing.

Quinn laughed, and then looked at her. As they glimpsed at each other for a moment Sadie felt exposed. She shivered.

Quinn abruptly turned toward Lindy. “Eddie’s free for the rest of the afternoon. I let him and the boys off. Extra time for you two to look for your new home. I don’t want your true love boo-hoo-ing about not seeing you. If this humidity lifts, I need him to focus and finish that plaster archway tomorrow morning.”

“Great news, sexy. But I’m at the diner this evening, so he’ll have to come in for dinner and wait for dessert. But this one—” She chuckled and pointed toward Sadie. “She needs a night out. You willing to show her a good time? It’s Monday. The Bunny Club has two-for-one margaritas.”

“Oh, Lindy. I can’t, I’m not, I don’t. I’m not going anywhere with him,” Sadie sputtered.

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