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Authors: Cynthia Hickey

Tags: #Fiction, #Christian, #Romance

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BOOK: Cooking Up Love
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“Wonderful.” She dug in her faded carpetbag and pulled out a sandwich wrapped in oiled paper. After a moment, she held it up to him. “Would you like to share?”

In the second she’d had her bag open, Adam could see there wasn’t another one. He wouldn’t be a gentleman if he took even half of her only sandwich. “No, thank you. If you get the job with Harvey, you won’t need to take your lunch to your final destination. All his employees eat free.”

She shuddered. “I couldn’t. I’ve seen what railroad diners serve.”

“Yet you’ve applied for a job in one? You’ve seen nothing like a Harvey restaurant. I promise you’ll be surprised and pleased.” Adam shifted to find a more comfortable position for his long legs. “You’ll bunk in a Pullman car if the ride extends overnight. Only the finest for Harvey’s employees.”

“Then I hope I’m hired.” She bit into her sandwich. “Are you sure you don’t want anything? I have an apple.”

“Positive, but thank you.” Her sweet, trusting demeanor reminded him too much of Marilyn. Two years since his wife’s death, and he still hadn’t reconciled himself to the title of widower. He transferred his attention out the window. Maybe the Harvey rules concerning male employees not keeping company with the female ones were for the best. He wouldn’t be encouraged to pursue a relationship that might leave him with another broken heart.

The train rolled past fields of hay, and as evening fell, Adam wished he’d decided to go to Chicago earlier in the day so he could’ve stretched out in one of the Pullman cars he’d bragged about to Tabby. By the time he bought his ticket, they’d all been full. He’d be as stiff as a corpse come morning. He cut a glance at the sleeping woman. Prettiest gal he’d seen in a long time. One that could be dangerous if he were inclined to pursue a relationship. Which he wasn’t.

Chapter 2

A
burly man in a top hat and long duster bumped into Tabby. She steadied herself and stepped farther away from the tracks. The din of multiple conversations assaulted her ears until she wanted to put her hands over them. A woman in fancy dress, the bright yellow making her look like a canary, stood on her toes to plant a kiss on a bearded man’s cheek. With a shout, the man dashed into the train station depot, clearly energized by the woman’s advances.

Tabby could stay and watch the teeming crowd for hours, but instead clutched the bag containing everything she owned. Two dresses, an extra pair of shoes, a hairbrush, her Bible and a silver comb left to her by her mother. Not to mention the newly signed six-month contract to work for Fred Harvey. There was an option for a year, but she didn’t know where she’d be in that length of time. What if she didn’t like being one of Harvey’s girls? She shook her head. No, it’d be the perfect job for her. But she wanted to keep her options open.

She thought over the conversation with Mrs. Harvey. She’d said that the girls garnered multiple marriage proposals. On the other hand, they also received disparaging remarks. But times were changing, and so would people’s outlook on women in the workplace. Tabby felt confident she could help change the way people looked at working women.

Excitement bubbled up, threatening to erupt in a fit of giggles. She’d been deemed perfect to learn the “Harvey way,” whatever that meant. She’d pretended to know what Mrs. Harvey was talking about, and prayed it was the type of restaurant Mr. Foster had claimed and not a house of ill repute, or as filthy as her prior place of employment. The title Harvey Girl still made her nervous, as if she belonged to Fred Harvey instead of being employed by the man.

Please, God, don’t let the pastor be right. Don’t let my answer to an advertisement land me in a brothel.

Well, if it were a brothel, she wouldn’t dare enter, of course. She’d continue on her way, sending her contract back in ripped-up pieces. No one took advantage of Tabitha McClelland.

She craned her neck. Still no sign of the train. In moments, she’d be on her way to Topeka, Kansas, for training. In her purse, she carried two days’ worth of sandwiches and a few pieces of fruit. Of course, the interviewer told her she’d be eating at Harvey houses along the way.

The ground shook, and a whistle split the air. This was it. One step onboard and Tabby’s new life would begin. She’d been promised one of the best seats on the train and would travel first class all the way. She couldn’t wait for night to fall so she could stretch out in the Pullman car. No more sleeping while sitting, her head bobbing like a baby trying to stay awake at playtime.

The train shrieked to a stop. Spewing steam whipped at Tabby’s skirt. She stepped back to let passengers disembark.

From fancy dressed men and women to simple farming families, people trooped past her. Some headed into the depot, others into the arms of loved ones. Shouts of greeting filled the air along with the sobs of goodbyes. Sounds Tabby needed to get used to if she’d be working by the train tracks for the next six months. She lifted her dark brown skirt high enough to prevent stumbling and stepped onboard.

After handing her free pass to the conductor, she hurried toward her plush first-class seat. She settled down with a sigh and thought back over her interview.

The meeting with Mrs. Harvey hadn’t taken more than fifteen minutes. She’d taken one look at Tabby, studying her from the toes of her freshly polished shoes to her neat hair, asked a few pointed questions about her work experience, seemed thrilled that she despised the railroad diners, and then promptly asked her if she had plans to wed. When Tabby said definitely not, Mrs. Harvey slid a contract across her pine desk and asked her to sign on the dotted line.

It was the easiest thing she’d ever done. She would receive her uniform and half of her first paycheck upon arriving in Topeka, and the other half at the end of the thirty days of training. Seventeen dollars and fifty cents a month. What would she do with all her money?

As part of the contract, Harvey girls weren’t allowed to fraternize with employees of the male persuasion. What exactly constituted fraternizing? Would she be allowed to speak with the men or did she have to ignore them completely? She shrugged. The details would work themselves out. Tabby clapped her hands, not forgetting the promise of free room and board.

She glimpsed Adam Foster, the chef, on the platform, and patted stray strands of hair in place. Oh, what if he was going to Topeka? Did sharing a train violate a rule? Could she be friends with him? And was he as nice as he seemed, or did Mr. Foster harbor a secret like Pa?

In Tabby’s estimation, most men, like her Pa, were after one thing and one thing only. Something Tabby had no intention of giving. She’d loved her father, but his philandering ways had ruined her family. She wouldn’t take such chances with her own future.

She leaned forward as Adam stepped aboard.

A smile spread across his face as he slid onto the seat beside her. “Miss McClelland, it’s my pleasure.”

Her heart fluttered. “Are you headed to Topeka?”

“Yes. You?” At her nod, he continued. “I’ll be chef in one of the finest restaurants in the city, and you’ll be the prettiest waitress.”

Tabby’s cheeks heated. The man did take liberties. He must think her a naive girl to blush at such a simple compliment. Surely the man jested. Tabby’s slight frame and overly large eyes could be called anything but pretty. Or maybe she was reading too much into his words. Most likely he saw a young girl alone and offered his companionship as protection against scoundrels.

She dipped her head. “I am rather excited.”

“Maybe you’ll become head waitress someday.”

“You think so?” A rush of pleasure shot through her. “I’m thinking maybe I’ll do my six months then head farther west and see where the tracks take me.”

“You are a true pioneer, aren’t you?” Adam extended his legs under the seat in front of them. “Don’t you want a family some day?”

She tightened her lips.

He looked apologetic. “I’m sorry. That’s none of my business.”

Holding her skirt aside, Tabby scooted closer to the wall. They might share a train, but that didn’t mean she needed to sit on his lap. The scent of the man’s soap tickled her nose and threatened to make her forget her manners. “Harvey girls are not allowed to be married.” Come to think of it, she probably wasn’t supposed to talk to Adam. But maybe that didn’t start until Topeka. Either way, he certainly asked forward questions.

The train lurched ahead, and Tabby transferred her attention out the window. Truth was, his question plagued her. She’d never given much thought to having a family of her own. Life kept her too busy in the struggle for survival. Now that the future looked brighter, would she want to chuck it all away for a husband who would take everything she had? She didn’t think so. An independent career woman, that’s what Tabitha McClelland wanted to be.

“Your orders, please.” A waitress stood beside them, pen poised over a pad of paper.

“For what?” Tabitha clutched her purse. She’d been told all expenses were paid.

“Lunch.”

“I brought my own, thank you.”

Adam chuckled. “You’re about to get your first taste of what you’ll be serving.” He reached into a pouch in the seat in front of them. “Here’s the menu.” He glanced at the waitress. “Can you give us a few minutes and take our orders last?”

“Certainly, sir.” With a nod, she continued down the aisle and to the next customer.

Tabby grabbed the menu. “This is incredible. They take our orders before we get there?”

“And wire them ahead so they know how many people to serve.”

“You mean we’ll actually have time to eat?” Amazing.

“You are the funniest girl.” Adam smiled over his menu. “Today’s lunch is pork with apple sauce. If that isn’t to your liking, there are sandwiches served at the lunch counter.”

No one had ever called her funny before. She rather liked it. She’d been called stubborn and flighty, but the way Adam said funny made her feel as if it was a good quality and she was the only girl on the train. Adam Foster could be a dangerous man if he had this much influence on her emotions. She would need to be extra careful with him. She turned back to her menu.

Veal, chicken, even lobster on some days. She’d never had lobster. And the prices were so reasonable for paying customers. Seventy-five cents! “I’ll be glad to have the pork with apple sauce and cold custard. Oh, and we get a salad?”

“Yes, ma’am.” The waitress smiled. “Whatever you’d like.”

“I’ll have the same.” Adam folded his menu and returned it to the pouch. “Tonight, we’ll be having the roast sirloin. Anything they cook will be to your liking, I guarantee it.”

She sighed. “That sounds absolutely wonderful.”

“Get used to it. This is your life now, and you’ll get to order again for dinner.”

Goodness, she’d be as big as a cow within a month.

By the time the train rumbled into the station, Tabby’s stomach was growling and her nerves danced.

Adam helped her from the train and released her hand as soon as they reached the platform. When they entered the restaurant, Tabby put more space between them.

Adam’s brow wrinkled. “Do you want to sit at a table or the lunch counter?”

She eyed the stools at the counter. No, best not to sit that close to him. “A table, please.” She glanced at him, then quickly averted her gaze, not sure whether her skin tickled from anticipation or the way Adam’s hand felt as he’d helped steady her. Either way, she liked it, and the thought scared her. She tore her gaze away from him and focused on her surroundings.

Women wearing crisp black dresses and starched white aprons without a spot on them stood next to tables covered with fresh linen tablecloths. Porcelain coffee mugs were placed upside down on ironed cloths. The waitress welcomed her and Adam to their seats and within minutes waitresses quietly placed white salad plates filled with crisp greens and vegetables in front of them.

Tabby couldn’t take it all in. By the time she’d finished her salad, a waitress appeared with the main course. It was the most delicious meal Tabby had ever eaten. All served as she hardly said a word. As for her drink, she never mentioned it at all, yet a glass of clear water appeared almost by magic. What a far cry from her previous waitressing experience.

* * *

Adam enjoyed the look of rapture on Tabby’s face as she cut into her meat. Around the room, Harvey Girls toted heavy trays laden with food. How would a tiny girl like Tabby fare beneath the weight? Could she hold up to the never-ending pace as the waitresses met the passengers’ every need, or would she succumb to illness like his late wife, Marilyn?

Being in the kitchen wouldn’t afford him the opportunity to help if things were too difficult for her. He wanted her to succeed and didn’t want anything to tarnish her wide-eyed enthusiasm. She reminded him too much of his wife. Sending up a prayer on her behalf, he settled in to enjoy his own meal.

“The meal was wonderful, but I can’t eat another bite.” Tabby released a deep breath. “I can’t remember the last time I could say that.”

Adam’s heart lurched. Growing up on a farm, he’d rarely gone hungry and pitied those who knew the ache of not having enough to eat. He knew the pain of having few material possessions, and the backbreaking work of farm life, but once he’d saved enough for his own restaurant, the land would be sold and his family would follow him to California. Seemed like a new life out West awaited for just about anyone willing to chase his dream.

“This is a really nice place.” Tabby folded her napkin and laid it across her plate.

Adam glanced around the large room filled with comfortable tables and chairs under ambient lighting. A polished wood counter ran the length of one wall where pretty Harvey Girls scurried back and forth. “I’ve heard the location in Topeka is even better. The townsfolk eat there too, not just train passengers. Fred Harvey met a fierce need with his restaurants.”

Tabby told him about her last place of employment. Adam couldn’t believe people were subjected to such travesty. Not being much of a traveling man until lately, he hadn’t experienced such atrocities. His spirits lifted, knowing he’d play a part in making folks’ travels on the Santa Fe Railroad more pleasant.

Outside, a whistle blew signaling them to return to the train. Adam crooked his arm and smiled when Tabby placed her small hand on his elbow. He could see the diminutive firecracker as somebody’s wife very easily. Just not his. No woman could be that for him again. For now, he’d be content to be her friend.

He led her through the throng of people to their seats. After making sure she was comfortable, he slid in beside her and wished the trip to Kansas would be longer than a couple of days. He couldn’t name a single person he’d rather spend time with than Tabby. Her innocent excitement about the world around them helped him see things through new eyes and added to his own excitement. Even the constant soot drifting through the window no longer bothered him. He missed his family. Maybe Tabby could take the place of his younger sister, Daphne, and ease his loneliness.

“That was absolutely delightful.” Tabby’s eyes sparkled. “I almost wish it were dinnertime already. Oh, then bedtime. I haven’t had this much fun in ages.”

“I wish I could promise every day will be as wonderful, but unfortunately, work will steal some of that enthusiasm.”

“Don’t say that. I believe I’m going to the best job in the world.” She waved her arms. “Did you see how happy the Harvey Girls were? Always smiling. Not a cross word out of any of them.”

He hadn’t the heart to tell her that anything less would most likely result in instant dismissal, or at the minimum a stern reprimand.

* * *

Tabby donned her flannel nightclothes and climbed under the fresh-smelling sheets of her bunk. What a wonderful day. Adam’s company couldn’t be bested. She stared at the ceiling and dwelled on his bluebonnet eyes, hair the color of mahogany and his square jaw. Easily the most handsome man she’d met in her life. Made only better by the fact that he was such a gentleman. At least he appeared so on the outside. But as she knew only too well, appearances were often deceiving.

BOOK: Cooking Up Love
5.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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