Isabel Kingston, a writer for a food magazine, is talking to her dad on the phone when he’s killed by a mugger. On top of this trauma, the love of her life leaves town to make his fortune in the restaurant business, leaving her brokenhearted and bitter. The murder case goes cold, and she’s plagued by nightmares in which her dying dad is trying to name his killer. She wakes up in a cold sweat. Is it possible the deceased can communicate with the living in their dreams? On the seventh anniversary of his murder, she’s assigned to cover the story of a hometown restaurateur’s return and the grand opening of his new eatery. Yes, it’s her old flame, and he’s come back to make amends, a move that rips open old wounds, upends her life, and drives a wedge between her and her present lover. It’s as if the universe has turned against her, or perhaps it’s divine intervention.
The wind tousled Isabel's hair as she stood outside Mackenzie's Eatery. The old warehouse on Smith Road must’ve cost a fortune to renovate in the style of an Alpine villa. She’d spent almost an hour trying on outfits to find one that said, “I'm a professional,” but also, “Eat your heart out, buster.” She finally decided on a red tie-waist top with white capri pants and black sandals.
It's just an interview. Ask questions, snap pictures, and leave. Simple.
She squeezed the strap of her satchel and took a deep breath before walking through the chestnut French doorway, head held high and back straight and proud.
Chris, wearing a blue button down shirt with black slacks, stood by the hostess stand and smiled when he saw her walk up. “Good to see you, Bel.”
He stepped in for a hug, but she stopped him with the palm of her hand to his chest. “Let's keep this strictly business.”
“Okay. We can do the interview over here.” He motioned toward a corner booth by a window.
She took a seat and pulled her list of questions from her satchel, along with a new pen, as not to risk running out of ink. “You’ve accomplished a lot since the last time I saw you.”
Chris chuckled as he sat across from her. “You know me. I always have to stay busy.”
“I’m curious, though. Your plate is already full with your restaurants in Ohio, Delaware, and Manhattan, not to mention two cookbooks. Why add to your workload with a new restaurant here in Philly?”
“You’re right. I’ve accomplished my goal, but my aspirations came at a price.” He lowered his eyes somberly. “I rarely have time for my friends, and I only see my family a few times a year.” He looked up at her, straight in the eyes, as if to drive his next point directly into her brain. “I need that part of my life back, so that’s why I decided to open this restaurant close to home.”
She felt the muscles in her neck tense up.
“You’re back for good?”
“I just moved into a new place two weeks ago.”
“Seriously?” Her tone was harsh and she dropped her pen on the floor, along with her jaw, it seemed.
He bent down to retrieve it for her. “That's a better reaction than I thought I'd get.”
“I'm sorry.” She grabbed the pen from his hand, quickly and carefully as not to make skin-to-skin contact. “That was unprofessional.”
“Don't be. I deserved it.”
She scowled. “You're right.”
“At least my folks are happy I’m back.”
She always liked Chris's parents. Mark and Eileen were just as successful and charming as their son. Mark owned a car repair shop, and she was a manager at a PR firm. However, as with most breakups, when the relationship ended with the guy, it also ended with his parents.
Back to the restaurant.
“My readers want to know...what’s on the menu?”
He smiled wide at the opportunity to talk about food. “We have a little bit of everything. For Italian lovers, there’s fettuccine Alfredo, margarita flatbread pizza, and pesto gnocchi. For steak enthusiasts, we offer steak tacos in flour tortillas with a rice and bean medley, filet mignon, and steak tips, both served with two sides and drizzled with mushroom sauce.”
“That sounds delicious.”
“My own recipes. We also created a few chicken entrees and seafood dishes. I’ve included two items from my cookbooks, cheeseburger sliders with my signature sauce and sweet potato fries, and my cookie crumble chocolate cake. The other desserts are in the hands of my head chef. In fact, his strawberry cheesecake is out of this world.”
“Sounds like you’ve gone all-out. Will you be making frequent trips to check on your other restaurants?”
“I'll video chat with the managers regularly, and I'll visit the restaurants every other month, or so. My phone is always on for any issues that come up.”
“What about future plans? Another book perhaps?”
“It's possible, but I really want to start a family.”
“You have to get married first. Any contenders?”
Why did I just say that? Rewind. Rewind.
He gave her a sideways glance. “I haven’t met the right woman, but I haven't given up hope, either.”
She bit the inside of her lower lip, almost to the point of drawing blood. The right woman? Did he never move on from her? Or was she not the right woman for him, either?
She forced herself to look down at her list. “I have all I need for the article. How about a picture to go with it?” She folded the paper, slid it into her satchel, and removed her Nikon DSLR. “Let's go outside...under the marquee.”
“That’ll be great.” He led the way out.
“Stand there.” She pointed to a spot on the ground beneath the lighted sign: Mackenzie’s Eatery.
Looking into the viewfinder, she was taken aback by how sexy she still found his smile. His lips were thin and inviting. When he smiled, she couldn't help but smile back at him. It would only take one shot to get the perfect picture. She wanted to take a dozen more. After the shutter clicked, she felt the need to run before she fell into his arms. She stepped back and placed the Nikon in her bag. “That about wraps things up. I’ll be back Friday for the grand opening.” She fumbled for her car keys, hoping she’d die before Friday.
“It was really good to see you, Bel.”
“Don’t work too hard.” Her tone was as light and swift as her footsteps to her car.
Get a grip, girl. He broke your heart. Never forget.