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Authors: Cynthia Hickey

Tags: #Fiction, #Christian, #Romance

Cooking Up Love (7 page)

BOOK: Cooking Up Love
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Chapter 10

“W
here are you going? It’s Sunday morning.” Merrilee sat up in bed, her face framed by the ruffle around the neckline of her nightgown.

“Church.” Tabby poked the last pin in her hair. “I’ve stayed away too long.” And been too lax on her Bible reading.

“The Bible is nothing but a book of fairy tales for weak-minded people.” Merrilee burrowed back under her blankets. “Besides, going to church seriously interferes with a girl’s beauty sleep. My day will be better spent on sidling up to that handsome chef. He’s been too busy all week to give me more than a passing glance.”

Tabby rolled her eyes. Her roommate spent so much time on pursuits of beauty and even more talking about “the handsome chef” that Tabby wanted to throw a hairbrush at her. Tabby slipped her reticule over her arm. “I’ll see you later. Enjoy your rest.”

Handsome chef, indeed. Tabby spotted Adam strolling down the street toward church. She grinned, suffering only a moment of conviction at being happy to know that Merrilee would have to wait until later to spend time with the object of her affection. She tried to be friendly with her roommate, but the girl’s high-handed manner grated on Tabby’s nerves.

Increasing her pace, Tabby hurried to the church steps and dashed inside just as the bells tolled. She chose a seat toward the back and kept herself from glancing around to locate Adam, not wanting the distraction of having him within easy sight. Today was the Lord’s day, and she wanted to concentrate on the worship and the teaching, not wondering where her friendship with Adam might be heading.

Later, she looked forward to a simple afternoon on the gazebo swing, book in hand and a glass of tea close by.

“Rock of Ages” soon rang through the church. Tabby sang along with the congregation and let God’s love fill her. A rich baritone behind her caused her to glance over her shoulder. Adam winked. Obviously the man had a talent for singing. She lowered her off-key voice and listened.

After they finished singing the morning hymns, Tabby’s spirit rested. She settled back on the pew, eager to hear what the pastor had to say. An older gentleman, silver-haired and sharp-eyed, approached the simple wood podium.

“I am your temporary pastor, Nathaniel Harper, and I am blessed to be assigned to this wonderful congregation, if only for a short time.” His gaze scanned the crowd. “Although I must confess to being dismayed at discovering a Harvey restaurant in the lovely city of Topeka. A restaurant that actually trains our young women to be Harvey Girls.”

Oh, no. Tabby slouched. A pastor with the same mindset as the one in St. Louis.

“Now, fellow parishioners, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure not all the women employed at these restaurants are wanton women looking for an easy means of finding a husband. No sirree! Some are simply misguided young ladies, lured into a life of servitude to strange men. Women are not to work outside the home, other than to teach our young or to minister at church. Why, the very thought of them serving a man other than their husband is a travesty.”

The pastor couldn’t be serious. Tabby clutched her purse. Women worked in many fields, even as doctors. Had the man been living under a rock?

Could she skulk out without anyone noticing? She glanced over her shoulder. Adam caught her eye and winked. She forced a smile and returned her attention to the pastor. It wouldn’t do to be caught sharing looks with a man, obviously. Not under the hawkeyed watch of Pastor Harper, and especially not with both of them working at the Harvey restaurant.

Oh, she so wanted, no needed, to be filled and refreshed by God’s Word. Instead, she had to listen to a man try to convince the citizens of Topeka that the Harvey Girls were wayward women.

She straightened. The anointed words of the hymns would carry her through the week, despite the pastor’s opinion of her job. The man was wrong about the Harvey Girls, something he would realize once he came into the restaurant for a meal. Tabby vowed to be so kind and sweet the man would have to change his outlook.

“So as we conclude today’s message on temptation...”

Tabby jerked her attention back to the front of the church. Had he actually given a sermon and she’d missed it?

“Go with God’s grace that you may resist the devil.”

The devil in the black-and-white uniform of a Harvey Girl, no doubt. Tabby jumped to her feet and rushed out the door before the tears stinging her eyes escaped.

“Tabby.” Adam trotted to her side. “I’d be pleased if you would accompany me to lunch.”

“Aren’t you afraid of being around such an evil temptress?” She whirled, clutching her Bible to her chest.

He took a step back. “Don’t let the words of small-minded people affect you.”

“It’s too late. I’m already burned.” How would the pastor treat her once he discovered she was one of the infamous Harvey girls? Would he put a scarlet H on her chest and run her out of town?

“I’m sure most of the townspeople don’t share his views.”

She shrugged. “Maybe.” The restaurant did do a booming business every day. Surely folks wouldn’t be quick to order a meal from a disreputable place.

“About my lunch invitation?”

“I’m sorry, but it seems my appetite has fled.” She resumed her march toward the restaurant. “Besides, if we were seen together, it would only convince Pastor Harper that his misguided notion is correct. Good afternoon, Adam.”

By the time she reached her room, her temper had come to a full boil. She thanked God the room was empty. Most likely Merrilee lay in wait somewhere, ready to set her snare for Adam. She’d be more than happy to accept a lunch invitation with him with no regard to the consequences.

Tabby tossed her purse on the bureau, then plopped across the bed. Tears ran down her cheeks, soaking her pillow. She palmed them away. How she’d looked forward to finally going to church. Thank goodness Pastor Harper was temporary, but how long would he be in Topeka? And would he affect her job?

“He’s back.” Merrilee danced into the room. “He’s in the parlor reading the newspaper.” She clasped her hands to her bosom. “I have the sudden urge to read.”

Why bother coming in to tell me?
The woman seemed determined to be a thorn in her side. What did she care? She had no claim on him other than friendship. “Have fun.”

“You’ll never catch a man if you keep such a sour attitude.” Merrilee stepped in front of the mirror and pinched her cheeks, bringing a touch of red to her porcelain skin.

“Who said I was looking for one?” Tabby heaved a sigh and sat up.

“Why ever not?” The other girl turned, her brow furrowed. “That’s the whole reason I left Savannah.”

Tabby sighed. The girl obviously wanted to share her life story. Why couldn’t she leave her to wallow in self-pity? “How so?”

“During the war, my family lost their fortune, and Mama said being a Harvey Girl would bring a parade of worthy husbands past me.”

“I don’t think chefs make a lot of money.” Would the woman ever leave her in peace? She didn’t care about Merrilee’s prospects for finding a husband. More important things occupied her mind.

“He’s not a husband prospect, silly girl. He’s just someone to play with until a rich man comes along.”

Tabby hid her clenched fists in the folds of her skirt.

* * *

Adam peered over the top of his paper as one of the new waitresses, Merrilee he thought her name was, sashayed in and headed straight for the small bookshelf that housed approximately twenty novels. He raised the paper. She didn’t strike him as the reading type. He winced, needing to repent of his unfair labeling. He knew better than to judge a person by her looks. Perhaps a woman thirsty for knowledge hid behind the simpering smile and Southern cooing.

“Ahem.” A few seconds passed. “Ahem.”

Ignoring the not-so-subtle attempts at getting his attention wasn’t working. Adam lowered the newspaper. “May I help you?”

Merrilee laid her index finger across her lips. “I’m looking for a book to read, but must say I haven’t the faintest idea which one.”

“What do you like to read?” Adam folded the paper and stood.

“Romance.” She fluttered her lashes.

Adam’s mouth dried. “I’m afraid I can’t help you there.” Very few of the girls frequented the parlor, preferring instead to spend their few precious moments off work in their rooms. He’d thought he could enjoy a couple of hours of solitude. No wonder Tabby fled to the gazebo at every opportunity. He’d almost followed, but sensed she wanted to be alone. Now, he was stuck with a woman who eyed him like a hungry cat after a mouse.

“Surely a learned man such as yourself can help a girl with some romance?” Merrilee swished her skirts and moved closer. “My name is Merrilee.”

“Mine’s Adam. Sorry, I don’t read novels.” Tucking his newspaper under his arm, he squeezed past her and dashed out the door. That was a close call. The last thing he wanted was to be trapped by a man-hungry woman whose daddy probably had a big shotgun.

He paused on the path leading to the gazebo. Tabby bent over a book, her blond hair shining in the afternoon sun. He wanted to join her, but feared rejection. Nightly visits on the back stoop were rare now. Tabby almost acted as if she were afraid of something. Of him. He was lucky if she showed up three nights out of the week.

He headed for the woods at the edge of town. It was a serene place with a small brook babbling over rocks. He thought of Tabby. There had to be a way to spend more time with her. At first, he had hoped they could get involved at church, but after today’s sermon, that wasn’t an option. At least not until a new pastor arrived.

A boulder sat beside the creek, its height perfect as a backrest. Adam lowered himself to the soft ground and shook his paper open. The great outdoors, something to read, birds singing, all provided the perfect Sunday afternoon. All he lacked was a pretty girl to share the day with.

Leaves rustled along the path and Adam straightened. Seconds later, the hem of a blue cotton skirt came into view as if his thoughts had brought forth the very woman he wished to see. He smiled and raised his paper. Let Tabby say the first word.

She perched on the boulder. “Do you think the pastor is correct in his assumptions?”

Not the question Adam expected. He lowered the paper. “Not in the least.” He faced her. “Sure, there are gals like Abigail who push the system, but most of the girls are upstanding, moral women. Like you, they are only women looking for a job.”

“Am I moral?” She lifted her face to the sun. “Sometimes I feel my bitterness over my father rules every decision I make. That must grieve God terribly.”

“What happened with your father?” When she didn’t answer right away, Adam thought maybe she wouldn’t.

She gave a sigh heavy enough to sink a ship. “Mama wasn’t enough for him. Every night he came home smelling of liquor and cheap scent. I watched as Mama withered away. I realized true love rarely existed anymore, if it ever had.” She slid from the boulder. “When I was a child, I believed in fairy tales, but no more.”

Adam let his paper fall. He got to his feet and took her hands. His thumbs caressed the rose-petal softness. His large hands engulfed her small ones, filling him with an overwhelming need to protect her. Not that he didn’t already feel that way, but having her close, hearing her vulnerability, made him want to grab her close and take her to a place where the world could no longer hurt her.

* * *

Tears stung Tabby’s eyes. A lump grew in her throat. How long since someone had held her hands with tenderness? Not since Mama died. Pa hadn’t shown her much physical affection at all that she could remember.

“I wish I could take away your pain.” Adam’s whisper floated over her like a soothing balm. “I can’t, but our Father in heaven can replace even the worst of earthly ones.”

He held her hands tight.

She stiffened and tried to pull away. “I know that, but I don’t need platitudes right now.”

“And I don’t mean to give them. I’m only trying to comfort you.” He pulled her closer. “Let me.”

A rock took up residence in her stomach. She couldn’t allow herself to care for him as more than a friend. That could lead to heartache when he found a woman who was equal to him, which Tabby was sure she wasn’t.

She shook her head. “I need to get back before we’re discovered.”

“Not yet. Please.” He lowered his head and placed his lips on hers.

His kiss was tender, his lips soft but firm. Shivers raced up and down her spine. Her breathing stopped. Her heart raced. She leaned into his kiss, drawing on the affection he wanted to offer, then pulled away. “We can’t do this, Adam. I’m not ready to put my heart at risk. I’m not sure if I ever will be. I’m sorry.”

Gathering her skirt in her hands, she scrambled from the rock and sprinted for the safety of her room.

Why couldn’t she accept what Adam wanted to offer? Adam wasn’t her father. Instead, he was a godly man who desired her company. But only because he didn’t know the truth about Tabby’s upbringing. How would he feel about her when he found out about her shameful past? Would he still respect her and look at her as if she were a normal person? Would he consider her worthy of him?

Her tears had escalated to a full crying fit by the time she reached her room and threw herself facedown on the bed. Why did Adam have to kiss her? Now he’d jeopardized their friendship. Even casual conversations would feel stilted. It couldn’t change how she felt about men and marriage, nor about her longing for the adventure she’d craved since childhood.

Giving into childish emotion, she kicked and pounded the mattress. Instead of the peaceful Sunday she’d envisioned, it couldn’t be more horrible.

Except for the kiss. She didn’t know how to feel about Adam’s lips on hers. She rolled onto her back and smoothed a finger across her lips.

Merrilee marched into the room and approached the bed. She crossed her arms. “I’m telling Miss O’Connor that you were kissing the chef in the woods.”

Chapter 11

T
abby woke the next morning achy and with eyes as dry as the desert. After trying to convince Merrilee not to run to the head waitress, she had tossed and turned all night. Not until she promised to stay away from Adam did the other woman finally go to bed.

Now, a day of dragging feet loomed ahead of her. She groaned and rolled from bed and stared at Merrilee’s empty bed. If Tabby didn’t want to be overshadowed by the new girl’s desire to shine, she would need to move faster and work harder.

The cool boards under her feet as she shuffled to the mirror signified that summer was drawing to a close. Tabby ran her fingers over the monogram of a flower on her mother’s hairbrush. What would she have thought of her daughter becoming a Harvey Girl? She would be pleased, no doubt, that Tabby got away from the difficulties of her childhood.

The poverty and hand-me-down clothes. Rented rooms in buildings with more rats than people. Tabby’s job allowed her independence, a good salary and the chance to improve herself. There wasn’t a lot more a girl could do for herself, other than find an upstanding, godly man to share her life with.

She pulled her brush through her hair with long, rough strokes. First the church service yesterday, then Adam’s kiss and finally Merrilee’s threats. The last month had brought her nothing but chaos. Her hand stilled and she laughed. Well, she said she wanted adventure. It seemed that she’d found it. She’d also found a godly man, if only she could let go of her fears and feelings of unworthiness and welcome his affections. Why couldn’t she?

Because Tabby had no idea what love was. She couldn’t use her parents as an example, and she’d never spent a lot of time in other kids’ homes observing how their parents interacted. She’d heard about love at church, and she’d read about it in her Bible, but that was head knowledge. She didn’t know how it worked in real life, how loving people acted toward each other.

Maybe what she felt for Adam wasn’t love, anyway. Perhaps he occupied so many of her thoughts because he was a part of the excitement of being in a new place with a promising career. That must be it. Adam was a symbol of security, something Tabby’s life had always lacked.

As long as she kept in mind that the reason her heart leaped at the sight of him was that he represented security rather than anything romantic, she could do her job effectively and look forward to more adventures.

Her steps lighter despite her lack of sleep, Tabby dressed and headed downstairs to begin her work day.

A frowning Miss O’Connor met her at the restaurant entrance. “I’m sorry to say I need to temporarily revoke your drink girl privileges.”

Merrilee must have told her about Adam! Tabby decided to feign innocence. “Did I do something wrong?”

“No.” Miss O’Connor waved a hand. “On the contrary. It seems Ingrid decided to run off with a man last night and now we are short a trainer. There is no one more qualified than you to fill that position.”

Another waitress lost? Did these young women not realize that by running off while under contract they were behaving exactly as Pastor Harper said they would? Tabby expelled the breath she’d been holding. “Yes, ma’am. Wherever you need me.”

Miss O’Connor turned and stared out the window. “Do you know why the girls seem so unhappy under my rule?” She glanced over her shoulder. “You may be honest.”

“You have a tendency to be rather harsh.” Tabby clapped a hand over her mouth. Why couldn’t she think before speaking?

“Don’t fret.” Miss O’Connor breathed deeply through her nose. “I admit maybe I’m too hard on the girls. Perhaps I should be more nurturing, more open to them coming to me with their problems. More like a mother figure than the wagon boss they call me.” She quirked her right eyebrow. “All I’m asking is that they be discreet, as you are in your dealings with Mr. Foster.” The corner of her mouth lifted. “Yes, I’m aware of your back stoop conversations, and since no one has complained about a lack of decorum on your part, I’ve chosen not to say anything. You have proven to be an upstanding example of a Harvey employee.”

“Thank you.” Tabby really couldn’t figure out the head waitress. Either she was blunt to the point of rudeness or friendly. “Most of the girls seem quite happy in their jobs. Maybe the choices of a few have nothing to do with your leadership.”

“Perhaps. My job is a lonely one, as you will no doubt figure out for yourself someday. But it also has its rewards.” She blinked wet eyes, her lashes fluttering like the wings of a mockingbird, before she marched into the restaurant.

Tabby planted her fists on her hips. Now, that was a cry for friendship or her name wasn’t Tabitha McClelland. She’d purchase another box of chocolates at the first opportunity. Maybe she and Miss O’Connor could share them as she and Abigail had.

The conversation made Tabby all the more determined not to settle in one place. Sure, she might be lonely moving down the line, but think of the people she would meet, the folks she could cheer with a friendly smile and good food. Not staying put lessened people’s ability to hurt her, shatter her emotions, or keep her from her dream.

Tiredness forgotten, Tabby tightened the bow on her starched apron and pushed through the restaurant doors. Her heart fell at the sight of the girl waiting for her. Merrilee had to be the worst person she could have thrust upon her to train. The other girl didn’t look any happier.

Merrilee’s dark eyes narrowed, and she turned away. Tabby waited for her to renege on her promise not to say anything about Adam. When she didn’t, Tabby’s heart lifted from the pit of her stomach. She could do this, even if Merrilee’s response felt like a frigid winter wind.

“Good morning.” Adam bent close to her ear, sending goose bumps down her arms, before he moved past, his arms full of fresh bread.

“Good morning.” Tabby grinned. Now that Miss O’Connor knew about the innocent time she spent with Adam, she no longer had anything to fear from the irate woman who stood next to her. No, all Tabby had to fear was her own growing attraction to a man who clearly wanted to settle down and have a family.

Merrilee bumped her shoulder, knocking her back a step, then batted her eyelashes at Adam. “Aren’t you going to say good morning to me?” She pouted.

“Good morning to you.” Adam gave her a nod and set the bread in a basket on the counter. “Best get busy, ladies. Train will be here soon.”

“A scowl causes wrinkles. Please try a smile instead, Miss Ramsey. It’s more attractive.” Miss O’Connor sailed past them.

Tabby stifled a giggle. “We serve the tables over here.” She led Merrilee to the tables overlooking the train platform. “When you take the drink order, you place the cups in the proper position so the drink girl knows exactly what the customer requested without having to ask.” She pointed to a pad of paper in Merrilee’s pocket.

“Feel free to write down the orders at first, but train yourself to remember what the customer wants. And always treat the customer as if they are the best thing you’ve seen all day.”

“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?” Merrilee crossed her arms. “Having to train me? Well, I’ll be requesting a new trainer at the first opportunity. And don’t think you can give those simpering smiles to Adam without me telling the wagon boss. The sour old cow, telling me to smile.”

Tabby raised her eyebrows. “Such venom from a Southern lady. You may tell Miss O’Connor anything you desire. She already knows about me keeping company with Adam, and has no problem with the fact.” With that, Tabby pasted on a smile and straightened as the morning train pulled into the station.

The other girl’s gasp gave her great satisfaction. She knew she shouldn’t behave so, but Merrilee did rile her to distraction. She’d try to behave better. Tomorrow. Today, she wouldn’t let some Jezebel toy with Adam’s affections. Not if she could help it.

She whispered a prayer of repentance. Adam was a grown man capable of watching out for himself. After all, Merrilee definitely stated she wasn’t looking for marriage unless a man had a lot of money. Tabby clenched her fists in the pockets of her apron. What if Adam were drawn in by her feminine wiles? Why should Tabby care? After all, they were nothing more than friends.

Then why did the thought of him with someone else feel like a dagger to her heart?

* * *

The new girl’s attempts to engage Adam in conversation didn’t escape him. Not that she wasn’t lovely, but she didn’t interest him. Not like Tabby. He much preferred feistiness to simpering eyelash batting, and the woman’s obvious attempts at flirtation were annoying rather than charming.

He dumped flour into a bowl, then added shortening. Busy chatter from the five new kitchen helpers, two boys and three young girls, brightened his heart. After half a year, the Topeka restaurant was booming, and he’d heard of more Harvey restaurants opening all the time.

Too many. His hands stilled. The more restaurants that opened, the more chance there was of Tabby moving on.

Mr. Hastings stepped into the kitchen. “Get a move on, folks. Train is here.” He stepped to Adam’s side. “I’ve also put a pistol under the lunch counter. Make sure the ladies know it’s there.”

“Why?” Adam stiffened.

“To discourage unwanted suitors, of course.” Mr. Hastings smirked. “A tale came down the line of one of the customers assaulting one of the girls because his soup was cold.” He patted Adam’s shoulder. “It’s just a precaution. Miss O’Connor will inform the rest of the staff. I presume you can shoot?”

“I’m a very good shot.” Adam went back to his biscuit preparations. A gun. He shook his head. Not a good idea in his opinion. What if one of the girls got hold of the thing having no idea how to handle a weapon? Sure, most girls probably knew how to handle a pistol, but there were bound to be a few who didn’t.

Tabby darted into the room and grabbed a basket of wrapped silverware. “Restaurant’s full. It’s going to be a busy day.” She whirled to leave.

“Wait,” he called before she could dash away.

She paused and raised her eyebrows in question.

“There’s a gun behind the lunch counter,” he whispered.

“I know. It’s under the napkins.”

“Do you know how to handle one?”

“Of course.” She grinned and hurried out of the room.

Adam shook his head. Every day she amazed him. He vowed to find out more about his reluctant friend.

No mention had been made about his stolen kiss. The way she’d raced away led him to believe the act hadn’t pleased her, yet she didn’t shun him. Although he had hope, he figured it best not to try again for a good long while. Only thing was, he didn’t know how long he had before she left Topeka.

Biscuits mixed and cut, he slid them into the oven, then wiped his hands on a clean dish towel. “All right, folks. The day gets busier from here. Dishes need to be kept clean and the food trays filled, especially behind the lunch counter. Folks don’t have a lot of time to eat and don’t need to be waiting for us.”

The helpers scattered to their respective jobs as if he’d fired the beginning shot of a horse race.

“Telegram, Foster.” Mr. Hastings barged into the kitchen, shoved the slip of paper into Adam’s hands, then raced back to the dining room.

Adam scanned the notice. His heart stopped, and he sagged against the counter, reading the message again.

“Mother ill. Stop. Come home. Stop. Daphne.”

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