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Authors: Cynthia Hickey

Tags: #Fiction, #Christian, #Romance

Cooking Up Love

BOOK: Cooking Up Love
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TABITHA IS IN SEARCH OF ADVENTURE

Tabitha McClelland knows accepting a job as a Harvey House waitress can be risky. Traveling alone to the rough-and-tumble West just isn’t done by young ladies of good breeding. But far more dangerous is her powerful attraction to Adam Foster. Family means everything to the widowed chef, but the self-sufficient Tabitha cherishes her freedom above all else.

Adam is captivated by the fiercely independent Tabitha. Fraternizing with the female employees is strictly forbidden, but the Harvey Girl awakens feelings too compelling to ignore. Can Adam convince Tabby to share his dream of a future in California—together?

Tabby pulled free of Adam’s grasp.
“I am perfectly fine.”

Head held high, Tabby marched from the kitchen and up the stairs, ignoring the pain in her shins. She would not show weakness after acting so foolishly brave.

She knew without looking that Adam trailed after her. “This isn’t necessary.” She stopped and placed her hand on the door frame.

“It is.” He strolled toward her. “I care for you. It hurts me when you are injured.”

She turned her head, unwilling to see the pain in his eyes. “We can’t do this, Adam.”

“Why? What?” With his index finger he turned her face toward his.

“This.” She waved an arm. “We want different things from life. You can’t keep jumping to my aid.”

“I can. I will.” A muscle ticked in his jaw.

“You are jeopardizing our friendship.” Couldn’t he see that? By requesting something more, he threatened what they had.

“I’m no longer content to just be friends.”

CYNTHIA HICKEY

Multipublished author Cynthia Hickey is represented by the MacGregor Literary Agency. Her first novel, a cozy mystery, was released in 2007, and she hasn’t stopped publishing since. Writing is like breathing for her. Cynthia lives in Arizona with her husband, one of their seven children, two dogs, two cats and a fish named Floyd. She has five grandchildren, who keep her busy and tell everyone they know that “Nana is a writer.” Visit her website at
www.cynthiahickey.com
.

Cynthia Hickey

Cooking Up Love

As always, to my loving husband, Tom, and to God. Both who never give up
on
me. Also to my agent, Chip MacGregor, who believes in me, and to my critique partners, Susan Page Davis and Darlene Franklin, who helped make this book the best it could be. And last but not least, thank you to my editor, Kathy Davis, who gave me this chance.

Chapter 1

1876 St. Louis, Missouri

T
abitha McClelland twisted her apron, the fabric so soiled she believed it could stand up on its own. She straightened her shoulders as the first train of the day screeched to a halt, and wished for something nicer to wear. The least her new employer could do was to give her something clean on her first day. Obviously, a previous employee left in a hurry and no one thought to do laundry.

Taking a deep breath, she stepped forward to open the door. Her heart leaped into her throat. Black smoke belched from the engine and drifted inside the dining room, mixing with the odor of burned bacon and sour grease. Within minutes a crowd of passengers surged inside.

On the first morning at her new job, she’d expected more than the dirty eatery with a scuffed wooden floor and the soiled aprons she and the other woman wore over their equally stained gray uniforms. She needed to look past the filth and muddle through because she sorely needed the work. Aprons could be washed.

“Step aside, Tabby,” Alice, her coworker, barked. Sweat stained the bodice of her blouse. Dark hair streaked with silver escaped from her bun. “Seat the customers, then join me in the kitchen.”

Tabby dashed among the passengers, handing out tattered menus printed on newsprint before she rushed to join Alice. “Now what?” Tabby glanced at the plates of runny eggs and greasy beans that lined the counter. Her stomach churned.

“We wait until it’s almost time for the customers to board. Then we serve them.”

“What about taking their orders?”

The waitress laughed. “Those are just for show. The only difference is what the person wants to drink. Relax.”

“But the food’s waiting and growing cold.” Not to mention getting more unappetizing by the minute. As the words left her lips, Tabby wanted them back. She knew better than to question her superiors but her mouth ran like a racehorse most of the time, crashing over the line at the end without warning.

“Hush, girl. You don’t want Mr. Beeker to hear you asking questions.” Alice frowned and lowered her voice. “If you value your job, you’ll be quiet and do as you’re told.”

Tabby eyed the pudgy, balding man reading a newspaper in the corner. Her flesh crawled at remembrance of the leer on his face when he’d granted her the waitress job. She shuddered. Other than picking up her pay, she hoped her interview with Mr. Beeker would be all the contact she had with the man. Since the age of sixteen, Tabby had made do on her own. She didn’t need a man to take care of her. Especially one old enough to be her grandpa.

Voices rose from the dining room. Tabby glanced at the clock. The train would leave in ten minutes. Mr. Beeker strolled past, the newspaper folded under his arm.

“Go collect their money,” Alice said.

Tabby scrambled to do her bidding. Why were they taking the money before serving the food? Was that right? What kind of business had she gotten herself into here?

“Miss?” A gentleman in a suit raised his hand as she finished the task. “Will we be eating soon? The train will be leaving shortly.”

“Yeah! And why do we have to pay before we get our food?” A bearded man scowled.

Tabby swallowed past the lump in her throat and tried to smile, failing miserably. “I’ll check on that right now, sir.” She pocketed the fistful of half-dollars and rushed back to Alice. “The customers are asking about their food.”

Alice glanced at the clock. “We can serve now. Make it snappy. We’ve got to get a plate in front of each customer before the whistle blows.”

Tabby bit the inside of her lip. She might not be experienced in such matters, but it seemed as if they were doing things backward. She’d no sooner set the last plate in front of an elderly woman when the train’s whistle blew. Pandemonium broke out as the people shoved back chairs, grabbed children’s hands and bustled outside. All without eating a bite. One man scurried back, grabbed a piece of toast from his plate, and nodded before following the others.

“Help me clear the tables, then set the plates back on the counter for the next crowd,” Alice said as she began collecting plates. “And replace that piece of toast.”

Tabby planted her fists on her hips. “Are we reusing the food?” Unbelievable. “This is unethical! We take the people’s money and serve the food too late for them to eat. People do this every day?”

“Hush. Mr. Beeker will hear you. The walls aren’t that thick in here.” Alice pushed past her. “It’s the way things are done.”

“It’s wrong.” Tabby glanced out the window. A girl in pigtails looked over her shoulder before stepping on board. “Those people left here hungry.”

“And unless they packed a lunch, they’ll most likely be hungry at the next stop, too. Railroad diners have to make a living too, you know. There aren’t many job opportunities out there for women, so hush.” Alice slammed the plates down. Her lined face reddened. “We get enough bad attention being waitresses without frequenting less respectable places. A girl has to make do where she can. If you don’t like it, you can move on. There’ll be somebody to take your place soon enough.”

Tabby pulled the money from her pocket, counted out a day’s pay, and then handed the rest to Alice. “I quit.”

“Wait a minute!” Mr. Beeker reentered the room. “There’ll be another train in an hour.”

“I apologize for inconveniencing you.” Tabby untied her apron and let it drop to the floor. Jutting her chin, she marched to the changing room and donned her navy skirt and white shirtwaist, ignoring Mr. Beeker’s heated words.

Unemployed again, but she had a few coins in her pocket. She’d manage somehow. With a skip in her step, she hurried outside. Spring sunshine and a gentle breeze caressed her face, reminding her the day was too lovely to be spent inside a dark dining room anyway.

Buggies lined the road and passengers awaiting the arrival of the next train crowded the sidewalk. Tabby wanted to warn them to box food to take along. If she ever got the opportunity to ride a train west, she’d never be caught off guard like those poor souls who left the station as hungry as when they arrived. A girl was wise to keep her wits about her. She stepped off the sidewalk and dodged people and horses until she reached Main Street.

A wooden bench beckoned from beneath a towering oak tree. Tabby accepted its invitation and sat, trying desperately to ignore her rumbling stomach. From unemployed to employed and back to unemployed in a matter of a couple hours. Sighing, she slumped forward and rested her elbows on her knees. With no time for the luxury of looking for new employment, and no more than a few coins in her pocket, she would have to take the first thing to come along. Her gaze traveled the street, searching for a potential place to apply.

A little help here, God. She snorted. Like He’d been much help in the past. Still, it never hurt to ask.

She could go back to being somebody’s maid or nanny, but only as a last resort. It was not that she didn’t like children, she did, but Tabby wanted adventure. She wanted to meet new people! Maybe she could get a teaching certificate. Move on to a new place after a year.

A newspaper lodged under the bush beside the bench caught her attention. Tabby bent and retrieved it, flipping idly through the pages. Maybe there would be an advertisement for a job. Her breath caught as her gaze landed on bold black letters.

WANTED: Young women, eighteen to thirty years of age, of good moral character, attractive and intelligent as waitresses in Harvey Eating Houses on the Santa Fe Railroad in the West. Wages $17.50 per month with room and board. Liberal tips customary. Experience not necessary. Write Fred Harvey, Union Depot, Kansas City, Missouri.

There was! And it paid more than the job she’d quit. A salary and tips. Bouncing on the bench, she bit back a shriek. The ad was an answer to her prayer. Here was something she could do and have a chance to see the West. She folded the paper and leaped to her feet. She had a few sheets of writing paper and at least one envelope at the boarding house. She’d write and apply today.

* * *

After days of eating one meal a day to spread out what little money she had, and checking the mail obsessively, Tabby’s patience had paid off. She squirmed in the church pew. Finally, life was taking an exciting turn. Tomorrow, she would catch a train to Chicago for her interview.

“Ladies of St. Louis.”

Tabby jerked, her attention riveted back on the reverend. She might not attend church every Sunday, but doing so before starting a new life couldn’t hurt.

The pastor peered over his specs at the congregation, a severe lift to his eyebrows. “I’m sure many of you have seen the papers and the scandalous advertisement by a Mr. Fred Harvey. Shameless.”

Surely, the people of the church didn’t condemn her choice of a new job?

“This man has come up with a crazy scheme to lure innocent young women into the debauchery of the Wild West. Reputations will be ruined. Bordellos will be overrun with our daughters as they’re left to fend for themselves and paraded in front of leering men like cattle at auction.”

Around Tabby, women cried into handkerchiefs and men tightened their lips in disapproval. The pastor had to be wrong. Wasn’t he? Waitressing was an honorable profession, correct? She didn’t want to be stranded in a strange land and branded as a loose woman, but a girl needed to earn a paycheck.

Maybe it was the fact that young girls were leaving home and striking out on their own that had folks in a dither. But young women like Tabby didn’t have a family to care for them.

She grasped her pocketbook and slipped out of the pew. Her spirit sagged around her knees as she left the church and stepped into the cloud of humidity blanketing the town. How could people think waitressing was a bad profession for women? Or was it more the location of the restaurants along the railroad that had folks in a tizzy?

She passed a diner. The aroma of roasting meat drifted through the open door. Her mouth watered and her stomach rumbled. What she wouldn’t give for a big plate of roast beef, gravy and mashed potatoes. Weeks, maybe months, had passed since she’d felt really full after a meal. Her thoughts returned to the pastor’s words.

She had no choice but to go to the interview. She’d already received her ticket. Chicago was a bustling city. If the interview seemed strange or made her uncomfortable, she’d find another job. There was nothing for her here. Time to bid St. Louis adieu.

* * *

Adam Foster noticed the pretty woman before she sat down across the aisle from him. Blond hair tucked neatly into a bun, chocolate-brown eyes that flitted back and forth in search of a place to sit. He was glad there was one girl too sensible to succumb to the ridiculous fashion of wearing a bustle and excessive ruffles. Her simple navy suit complemented her tiny frame and didn’t impose on anyone else’s space.

She plopped onto the seat with a sigh and gazed out the window, a winsome expression on her face. Had she left family or a beau behind? Adam shrugged and transferred his attention back to his newspaper. It wasn’t any of his business, even if he did enjoy wondering where other folks were headed.

He needed to focus on getting to Chicago to find out the location of his new job as head chef in one of Fred Harvey’s restaurants. When Mr. Harvey had strolled into the place Adam previously worked and tasted his food, the man wasted no time offering him a job. Adam would own his own place in no time with the hefty salary Harvey was paying. The future looked brighter than it had in a long time.

A man with slicked back hair and a leer on his face approached the lovely girl. “May I sit here?” He lowered himself into the seat.

She looked up and frowned. Her face paled. “This seat is taken.”

“Doesn’t look as if anyone is sitting here to me.” He leaned closer to her.

“You take liberties, sir.” She pressed into the seat. “There are plenty of empty seats on the train.”

Apparently, the young lady didn’t welcome the man’s attention. Adam stood and moved past him. “Sorry, sir. This is my seat. Hello, darling.” He smiled at his new companion and hoped she’d pick up his cue and play along.

“Oh.” Her eyes widened, then narrowed. “What took you so long?”

“Making sure our bags are secure.” He clapped the man on the shoulder and winked. “They are. Couldn’t wait to get back.”

The stranger tipped his hat and stood. “My apologies.” He strode down the aisle and plopped next to another young woman.

Adam turned to the red-faced young lady. “Sorry, but you looked like you needed rescuing.”

She lifted her chin and glared. “I didn’t unless it was to breathe, but thank you all the same. His cologne would’ve choked a horse. You may return to your seat now.”

Adam laughed, eliciting a reluctant smile from her. For a moment he thought he’d receive a slap for his troubles. He sat beside her. “I’m Adam Foster, and I would enjoy the company, if you don’t mind. I’d like to think if my younger sister were traveling alone, a kind man would come to her aid if needed.”

“Tabitha McClelland. Friends call me Tabby.” Her eyes twinkled. “Since you seem to have no intention of changing seats, I guess that gives you the right to call me Tabby.”

“Guess so. Where’re you headed?”

“Chicago. I have a job interview with a Mr. Fred Harvey.”

“So, you’ll be one of Harvey’s girls.”

She stiffened. “Is that bad? Do I want to be one of his girls? I’m not sure I like that title.”

He chuckled. “You’ll be fine. I work for Mr. Harvey. I’m a chef, and I can guarantee there isn’t anything immoral about working for him. Besides, you’ll interview with his wife.”

She sighed. “That’s a relief, especially since I’ll be a waitress in one of his restaurants.” She scooted to face him. “Is he a good man?”

“From what I’ve heard, he expects a lot from his employees but is a fair man.” Adam patted her gloved hand. “Don’t worry.” Not having actually spent a lot of time in Harvey’s company, other than the rare demonstrations of the man’s temper, which he didn’t feel he needed to tell Tabby about, Adam hadn’t heard anything alarming. “You’ll be surrounded by plenty of other women and properly chaperoned.”

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