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Authors: Cynthia Hickey

Tags: #Fiction, #Christian, #Romance

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BOOK: Cooking Up Love
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Chapter 8

T
abby clutched her box of chocolates and yards of forest-green wool. The wool was for a new skirt, but the chocolate she intended as a gift for Miss O’Connor. The woman might be lonely, what with being a head waitress for so many years. Most likely her loneliness made her crotchety, and nothing cheered a person like chocolate.

After the walk to town and back, not to mention rejecting Adam, Tabby’s head and heart ached. First order of business for the afternoon would definitely be the planned nap and a conversation with God to take away the growing feelings she had for Adam.

Why did Adam insist on asking for more from her than friendship? Why couldn’t men be happy with the small things? Pa’s shenanigans were still too fresh in her mind, as was the memory of the wounded look in Mama’s eyes. Tabby shook her head. She would have to know a man for a long time before she would fully trust him, if then. He would need to have a thirst for adventure, which she was sure Adam had. But still, a mere thirty days of friendship did not give her peace in her heart.

Tabby stopped at the top of the stairs. Miss O’Connor stood facing into Abigail and Tabby’s bedroom. Loud sobs came from inside.

“Quickly, Miss Smythe, I don’t have all day.”

“Please, Miss O’Connor, it won’t happen again. This job is all I have.”

Tabby moved closer, taking care not to clack her heels. She had no desire for the head waitress’s wrath to turn her way because she made too much noise on the stairs.

“You should have thought of that before engaging in immoral acts.” Miss O’Connor sniffed. “My girls are to exhibit the utmost decorum at all times. We have new girls arriving today, and what kind of example do you set? No, it is imperative that you leave. You and the young man can continue your behavior elsewhere. Scandalous, the way the two of you carried on...in public!” She looked over her shoulder at Tabby.

“Stop eavesdropping and help this wanton woman pack.” With that, she spun on her heel and marched down the stairs.

“Here.” Tabby rushed to Abigail’s side. “I bought some chocolates. Sit and tell me what happened.”

They perched on Abigail’s bed, and Tabby unwrapped the box. Her roommate needed the candy more than Miss O’Connor did.

“You saw Josiah and me. Well, when I entered the kitchen, Josiah ran up behind me and kissed my neck.” She grabbed a piece of candy. “Right in front of the wagon boss. Only we didn’t know she was standing in the pantry. Evil witch, always spying.”

Voicing her own opinion of Abigail’s behavior wouldn’t help so Tabby bit into a cream-filled bonbon and reined in her tongue. A burst of vanilla mixed with the chocolate tantalized her taste buds. They were worth the expense after all, especially when Abigail’s tears stopped after her third piece.

“I didn’t like this job, anyway,” she said. “Too hard. Josiah and I are going to go west where we’ll work in a gambling hall and become richer than we ever dreamed.”

Tabby stopped chewing for a moment, then swallowed. The candy threatened to lodge in her throat, and she grabbed for a glass of water on the side table. How could she quash the silly girl’s dreams, dreams that would only lead her to ruin? Abigail was heading to the same den of iniquity the pastor back home thought the Harvey restaurants were.

Tabby moved to the small window nestled between the beds and raised the window. She spotted a familiar figure running to the train station. “Are you sure that’s what you want? Those places are dangerous, I’ve heard.”

“They can’t be that bad. Besides, Josiah will marry me, and we’ll be happy no matter where we are.” Standing, Abigail grabbed a dress from a hook, then shoved it into a satchel.

“The same Josiah who is getting on the train this very moment?” Tabby watched as, without a backward glance, the young man grabbed a handrail and hoisted himself up the ramp.

Tabby faced a stunned Abigail. “I don’t think the man plans on sticking around.” Her gut clenched for the pain on her friend’s face.

“He left me?” Abigail sank back to the bed and covered her face with her hands. “What am I going to do now?”

“Wait here.” Tabby dashed out of the room and ran downstairs. She should have saved the candy. She could have used it to sweeten the head waitress’s attitude.

She found Miss O’Connor in the kitchen. When Tabby entered, Adam turned his back to her, and the pale-faced head waitress stared with an unblinking gaze out the back door.

“Miss O’Connor.” Tabby twisted her hands in her skirt.

The woman heaved a sigh. “Yes, Miss McClelland.”

“I’m asking you to reconsider letting Abigail go. Please, have some mercy.”

“Impossible.” Miss O’Connor clamped her lips together.

“She has nowhere else to go. I saw Josiah boarding the train. Please, give her another chance.” Tabby took a deep breath. “I will be personally responsible for her.”

“Very well.” Miss O’Connor waved a hand and strode for the door. “I’m too disheartened to care that one of my girls would behave in such a manner. Tell her to be at her station in the morning as usual.”

Tabby clapped her hands together. “Thank you so much.” She hefted her skirts and raced back to her room, her headache all but forgotten.

* * *

Adam slammed down the lid to the stew he was helping prepare for the Sunday cook. He didn’t need to prepare meals on his day off, but usually the work relaxed him. Not today. Even after a peaceful, rejuvenating Sunday morning at church, his nerves were strung tight. Now, he was short a helper again. All because somebody couldn’t keep his hands off the girls. Adam shook his head, remembering Josiah’s warnings about Tabby. The man should have heeded his own advice.

An advertisement in tomorrow’s newspaper ought to round up help soon enough. Adam lowered the flame on the stove. His day had gone from pleasant to disappointing all within the space of an hour. Hopefully, Tabby would meet him on the stoop later that evening.

By the time the sun dropped behind the horizon, he couldn’t wait to step outside. He hoped conversation with a pretty girl would chase away his rotten mood. Throwing a dish towel on the counter, he shoved the back door open and stepped into the mild spring night.

A cloudless sky lit by thousands of diamondlike stars invited him to sit, lean back and gaze at the night sky. A slight breeze carried the sweet aroma of honeysuckle. The squeak of the door and a floral scent alerted him to Tabby’s presence. He smiled and kept staring at the sky. The rose water she wore brought back memories of Marilyn’s lavender scent. He thanked God the women were different. It wouldn’t do to start comparing them.

He didn’t know how long they sat there, not speaking, only that he enjoyed every moment of sharing the heaven’s wonders with her. Occasionally, she’d shift, bringing her arm into contact with his and sending tremors up his spine. After a while, she sighed, stood and went back inside.

Why weren’t they ever caught? Adam leaned forward, dangling his hands between his knees. They sat on the stoop most nights, in plain sight of anyone watching, yet no one said a word, other than Josiah. He glanced toward heaven. Was God protecting them from criticism? Was it part of His grand plan for him and Tabby to be in Kansas at the same time?

At the thought, Adam’s fear of losing Tabby lessened a little. He would still watch her with an almost obsessive eye―he couldn’t help it after his failure to keep his wife safe―but he would try to leave Tabby in God’s hands. He really would. Even if it meant a daily struggle to hand God the reins.

* * *

Tabby watched through the door as Adam stood on the top step. She wanted to talk to him, hear his deep laugh, feel the playful bump of his shoulder when she said something silly, but after the way she brushed him off that afternoon, she didn’t know how, and he seemed content to sit in silence.

When he turned to come back inside, she scampered out of sight and ran up the stairs. It had taken hours to calm Abigail after Josiah’s desertion. The girl almost didn’t accept the reinstatement of her job, saying there was nothing left for her here. Not until Tabby scared her with made-up tales of California bordellos did Abigail decide to stay. At least she thought they were made-up stories. Having never been in one, but hearing plenty of tales, she did the best with what she had.

Relaxed after her quiet time with Adam, Tabby went to the parlor to browse for a book to read. She never did finish
Jane Eyre
. She ran her finger along the spines of the books. A shadow fell across the doorway. She knew without turning that Adam watched her.

What prompted him to care so much for a woman he had so recently met? Sometimes, a haunted look crossed his handsome features. One day, she would ask him what pained him from his past. By the time she held the book she sought, Adam was gone.

She was a foolish girl, dwelling on things that couldn’t be, not if she wanted to fulfill her dreams. Book in hand, she moved back to her room, where Abigail sat in front of their shared mirror, running a brush through her blond tresses.

“Thank you for saving my job.” Abigail sniffed, never stopping the long strokes of the brush. “I didn’t deserve it.”

“I hope you learned a lesson.” Tabby set her book on the small table beside her bed. “Josiah’s cowardly dash away reconfirmed my lack of faith in men. Most men are scoundrels and not to be trusted. A girl needs to learn to rely on herself and God.”

Abigail turned. “I didn’t know you hated men.”

“I don’t hate men. I just don’t have time for them. In a man’s mind, women are nothing but property to be owned. Something to use and throw away.” Tabby reached behind to unfasten her dress. Her words sounded harsh, even to her ears. Choking back sobs of her own, she inhaled sharply. She wouldn’t cry. Her views had been formed years ago. She couldn’t change them now.

“I thought you had something with the chef.” Abigail’s brow furrowed.

“We’re only friends.”

A small smile crossed Abigail’s sad face. “Women and men can’t be friends. Especially when the man looks like our chef.” She waved her brush at Tabby. “You think no one knows about your visits on the back stoop, but they do. Watch yourself, my friend. You don’t want to be in my shoes.

“One of the new gals said it isn’t against the rules to keep company with men, only to keep company without a chaperone. That’s what the parlor is for. The ‘courting parlor’ they call it. Be careful. Miss O’Connor is tougher than some of the other wagon bosses, I’ve heard, and much more strict.”

Tabby wouldn’t need to worry about impropriety. Nothing in heaven or on earth could weaken her resolve.

Chapter 9

T
abby took her place beside the coffee carafes, happy for her new and easier job as a drink girl, and watched Miss O’Connor meet the new arrivals. The head waitress had informed her that morning that she would remain in Topeka, but would have a new roommate. Abigail was being sent to a restaurant in New Mexico.

As much as Tabby would have liked to move on in her quest for adventure, she vowed to be content where she was. For now. Now that she had finished her training and was moving up, she loved her job and the skills she learned each day. Skills that would serve her well if she finally settled down with a family of her own someday.

Never before had she had the chance to make people as happy as the Harvey customers were when they finished their meals. The smiles on their faces and the thank-yous from their lips gave Tabby great satisfaction in a job well done.

“I’ve heard great things about you, Miss McClelland.” The restaurant manager, Mr. Hastings, sidled up next to her. The scent of his hair pomade threatened to choke Tabby. “I was very glad to hear you weren’t moving on. Each day is much more enjoyable when surrounded by beauty such as yours.”

The man’s lecherous smile made her skin crawl. “Thank you, sir. I do my best to perform my duties proficiently.”

He nodded. “I also heard that Miss O’Connor set your points down to ten. Maybe I could put a good word in with Mr. Harvey when he visits next month. That ought to take your number down still further.” He trailed a finger down her arm, burning through the cotton of her blouse.

Tabby stiffened and took a step away. “And what would I have to give you in return, Mr. Hastings?” Hold your tongue, remain respectful. She had heard rumors of what some girls did to gain status, things she would never contemplate. Still, it would do her no good to rile the manager.

“I’m sure we could come up with something beneficial to us both.” He patted her folded hands and moved to where Miss O’Connor waited.

When donkeys wore lace-up boots! Tabby shuddered. The nerve of the man. Not only had the rumors of his advances toward the other waitresses reached her ears, but tales of many clandestine rendezvous with Miss O’Connor had also. Of course, Tabby wasn’t one to listen to rumors, but the manager’s forward actions with her led her to believe that at least some of the tales were true. Did the man have no shame?

Obviously Mr. Harvey had no idea what type of man he had hired as manager. Well, things always had a way of coming to the surface. She would leave Mr. Hastings to God and Mr. Harvey.

She refused to dwell on such unpleasantness. Instead, she focused on providing the exemplary service the Harvey restaurants were famous for. Whether some people chose to engage in certain activities need not concern her. Still, she would steer clear of Mr. Hastings.

Two new girls, escorted by Miss O’Connor, moved through the restaurant. Had Tabby looked that confused and nervous on her first day? She smiled a greeting as they sailed past her and prepared for the breakfast rush.

“I’m leaving on this train.” She hadn’t heard Abigail come up beside her. “I guess it’s for the best. I still have a job, and Miss O’Connor doesn’t have to look at me.”

Tabby wrapped her arms around her friend. “I will miss you. Please tell me you’ve learned from this experience.”

“I have, I promise. I’ve already said my goodbyes to Ingrid.” Abigail hefted her bag. “On to better things, right? We can keep in touch by letter.” Tears shimmered in her eyes. “I hope your new roommate realizes what a treasure you are.”

Tabby choked back tears. “God go with you, my friend. I wish I had more chocolates to send with you.”

“Me, too.” Abigail took a deep breath and marched out the door.

Tabby’s breath shuddered at the loss of her good friend. Life awarded so few of them, especially for the daughter of a drunken womanizer. Growing up, most of her classmates’ parents had forbidden their children to play with her. Her family wasn’t considered good enough with their ramshackle house and hand-me-down clothes. Not to mention her father’s reputation, which reflected badly on his wife and daughter, however unfairly. Abigail might not have always been morally correct in her actions, but Tabby had learned to look at a person’s heart. Abigail had a good one underneath her flirtatious manner.

Tabby got a glimpse of Adam as he exited the kitchen with a platter of meat, and she averted her gaze. With Abigail’s departure, it became even more imperative that she avoid Adam. It was better for both of them. Although she didn’t think she would mind being shuttled off to another restaurant, she didn’t want it to be under unpleasant circumstances such as being accused of fraternizing with a man.

As the now-familiar sounds of train passengers eating breakfast and the aromas from the kitchen swirled around her, Tabby filled a wheeled tray with coffee, tea, water and milk. Drinks at the ready, she moved around the room filling customer’s mugs and glasses.

Which one of the new girls would share a room with her? The tall, raven-haired girl or the one with hair the color of chestnuts? Tabby prayed the girl would be kind and friendly. With her uncertain feelings for Adam and the stress of trying to excel as a Harvey Girl, she didn’t welcome more tension in her life.

“Is it possible to have coffee and water?” A man wearing a business suit held up his mug.

“Why, yes sir.” Tabby filled his mug and smiled. “You may have coffee, tea, milk and water, if you prefer.”

He laughed. “You’re a cheeky thing. Are you on that list of items a man can have?”

“You can only dream so, sir.” Keeping the smile on her face, she moved on to the next customer, the man’s chuckles following her. She didn’t mind a little harmless teasing. After all, she could give back what she received. No, she didn’t care for the men who wanted to grab her or got angry at her negative responses. Those were the men who bothered her.

Mr. Hastings grinned as he stood outside the door to the kitchen. Tabby almost hoped someone would barge through the swinging doors and hit him upside the head. Anything to wipe away the leer on his face.

* * *

Adam wanted to punch his boss in the face. Only a blind man wouldn’t see the looks the man gave Tabby. Almost as if he could see her unclothed. Adam punched the bread dough, envisioning the lump as Mr. Hastings’s face.

Dough pounded, he placed a clean towel over it and moved on to cleaning the dishes from breakfast. He scraped soap into the washbasin. Please, God, let someone responsible answer the advertisement. He couldn’t continue cooking and doing the cleanup, too.

Miss O’Connor led two new girls into the kitchen. “This is our chef, Mr. Foster. Once you’ve tasted his culinary delights, I’m sure you’ll agree we have hired the best.”

A tall, dark-haired beauty batted her eyelashes and dipped her head in a coy manner. She didn’t fool Adam a bit. He’d seen husband hunters before. She would be as tenacious as a hound dog on a scent to achieve that goal. Well, she could go look somewhere else.

Dishes piled on the counter to dry, Adam sliced the ham and beef for lunch. If someone didn’t respond to his advertisement, he might have to ask for a couple of waitresses to help. If given the chance, he’d request Tabby. Of course, now that she was a drink girl, he didn’t worry as much about her working too hard. What would it be like to work side by side with her, engaging in conversation and honest teasing?

He stopped and glanced out the window. The late-morning sun cast the gazebo and trees into shadow and beckoned Adam to enjoy the warmth of a summer morning. He definitely needed a vacation. A couple of days to head home and check on the family would suffice.

Soon, fragrant heaps of meat for sandwiches and platters sat on gleaming silver trays. Adam arched his back, popping the kinks from his spine. If he hurried, he would have time for his own lunch before the customers arrived. He made two ham sandwiches and set one aside.

The swinging doors opened and Tabby wheeled in the drink cart. “Goodness, folks are thirsty.” She swiped the back of her hand across her forehead.

“I made you a sandwich.” Adam handed her the extra one.

She eyed the plate in his hand and sighed before accepting. “Thank you.” She perched on a stool next to the counter. “You really are a persistent man, Adam Foster.”

“Yes, I am.” He bit into his lunch. Should he let her know that he would warn Mr. Hastings away from her if she wished? Or wait and see whether she would ask for his help?

Her chocolate-colored eyes peered over the sandwich. A shuttered look crossed them before her lids dropped, and she paid an undue amount of attention to her food. He grinned and enjoyed the blush spreading across her cheeks, content to eat in silence if that guaranteed him her company.

“That was delicious. Thank you.” She hopped from the stool, brushed crumbs from her skirt, and skedaddled out the door as if she’d seen another mouse.

Adam laughed. She could pretend she didn’t feel anything for him, but it was nothing more than an act.

* * *

Tabby dashed down the path to the gazebo. Why must Adam stare at her so intently? She couldn’t think when his gaze burned her the way it did.

Short of breath, face flushed, she plopped onto the swing. Maybe she could spare five minutes to sit and rock, a little time to gather her thoughts. She stilled as Miss O’Connor and the new waitresses peered out the upstairs window.

What kind of example did Tabby set, lounging in the sun, while work waited? She got to her feet and shuffled back to the restaurant to refill the drink pitchers.

In the kitchen, Mr. Hastings spoke with Adam about the evening’s menu. Praying the man would leave her alone, Tabby moved past them and grabbed fresh pitchers of milk from the cooled section of the pantry. When he turned and fixed his gaze on her, she rushed to the coffee pots. Staying busy would make it harder for him to speak with her. She hoped.

“Miss McClelland.” Tabby turned at Miss O’Connor’s greeting.

“Your roommate is Miss Merrilee Ramsey. I’m sure you two will become fast friends. There’s enough time before lunch for you to show her where she’ll be sleeping.” Miss O’Connor lifted her chin.

“Yes, ma’am.” Tabby smiled. Merrilee was the darker-haired beauty.

Her new roommate turned a smile on Tabby that didn’t quite reach her almost-black eyes. “We’re sure to become close.” Her Southern drawl almost sounded like a foreign language. She leaned in and whispered, “But not as close as I’d like to get to that handsome chef.”

BOOK: Cooking Up Love
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