Authors: Lisa Scott
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Love and Leftovers
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
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Cover art by: Indie Designz
© 2014 Lisa Scott. All rights reserved.
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Tate Carson juggled four bags of groceries as he fumbled for the keys to the beach house. A smart man would set everything down and then figure out how to open the door, but he was impatient to get inside and start dinner. Hopefully, in this gorgeous setting, inspiration would strike and lead to a fabulous new recipe. It had been a while since he'd made anything that could be called fabulous, and if that didn't happen soon, his career was over.
He fished the keys out of his pocket then jabbed at the lock again and again, but no luck. There were four keys on the ring and none of them wanted to fit into the keyhole. With a sigh, he looked around for someone who might be able to help him, and he spotted a woman next door rinsing off under an outdoor shower in the backyard of her home. A very beautiful woman, in a very small black bikini, was arching her neck. The water cascaded over her, sliding down her curves and pooling at her feet. Her eyes were closed, and she smiled as she ran her fingers through her long hair.
The bags slipped from his grip. Melons, onions, apples, and berries bounced onto the porch and down the side stairs, rolling onto their connected driveways. All the produce he'd carefully selected at the farmers' market was now dirty and bruised.
He swore under his breath and jogged down the stairs to salvage what he could, squishing blueberries and peas as he went.
The woman under the shower turned off the water and chased after a melon rolling her way. Her dark hair was slick against her head and her pale green eyes twinkled as she scooped up the fruit. He forced himself to look away so he wouldn't be caught gawking.
Damn it. He didn't need a sexy distraction next door. He came here to get work done, not check out beach babes. But he was staying at a seaside home in Saco, Maine. Why hadn't it occurred to him he'd be seeing plenty of scantily clad women? Probably because he hadn't been looking in a long time. Not since his last breakup three years ago.
"I think this is yours." The woman held the cantaloupe in front of her with one hand.
He struggled to swallow. The melon was perfect and round and positioned right between her own perfect, round ...
He coughed. "Thank you. I can't believe how clumsy I am." He took the melon from her, avoiding further checking out her cleavage.
"I'll help you pick up the rest." She held out her hand. "I'm Lucy."
He took her hand in his. Her fingers were small and smooth. "I'm Tate. Nice to meet you."
He waited for the spark of recognition most people had when meeting him, but she just smiled and said, "You, too."
Then she grabbed a beach bag hanging on the railing of her back deck and shook out the sand. She plucked the fruits and vegetables littering the lawn, dropping them one by one into the bag.
"There's probably not much I can do with this stuff now," Tate said, grabbing a squished tomato. "It's all dinged up."
"I hope this wasn't dinner." Lucy set a smashed apple in the bag.
She winced. "You should join us tonight for dinner! Please?"
Tate's heart caught on the word "us." She was here with someone. Of course she was. Someone like Lucy wouldn't be alone.
But that was good news; the last thing he needed was a summer fling. He was here to work on a cookbook, and that was all. The fact that his agent, Rebecca, had ordered him to spend six weeks at her beach house and finish this book had showed him how desperate the situation really was. After two seasons of falling ratings on his show, a hit cookbook seemed like the only way to turn things around. Rebecca had promised this was a magical place. He certainly hoped so.
Lucy shrugged. "We're casual with dinner around here. It's no big deal, really."
"Dinner would be wonderful." His spoiled produce had ruined any flicker of interest he had in cooking. Hopefully, the mishap wasn't a sign. "I'd offer to bring wine, but it's my first night here. I haven't stocked the bar yet."
She waved off the idea. "It's just my daughter and me for the summer, and we like apple juice with dinner."
He couldn't help but notice the small beads of water still clinging to her arms.
"Just the two of you?"
She unhooked a towel hanging over the nearby railing and blotted her wet hair.
"Yes. My friend is letting us stay here for the summer. But Alexa will be spending a week with my ex-husband soon. She's inside napping right now."
So she was single. He cursed the happy feeling that was dancing inside him. "I look forward to meeting her."
Lucy wrapped the towel around her shoulders. "Why don't you come over at six?"
"Shall I bring a bruised fruit salad?"
"Sure." Her laughter sounded just like the tinkling wind chimes hanging from her deck.
This could be a long summer, he thought as he went back to the front door of his house and felt the key easily slide into the lock.
* * *
Lucy frowned at the closet in the airy master bedroom. Her clothes only took up a fraction of the walk-in closet. Her friend Cory had insisted she bring a few nice things to wear in case she went out, but who was she going to go out with? And who'd watch Alexa? So now she only had four casual sundresses to choose from. Nothing cute enough for the gorgeous guy with the gray eyes and the dark hair and the voice that made her shiver.
She settled on a strapless red sundress that she sometimes used as a beach cover-up. After brushing out her damp hair and leaving it to air-dry, she searched her suitcases for her makeup. She'd been here a week and hadn't unpacked her cosmetics yet. Once she found them, she dabbed on lipstick and mascara and put on a pair of dangly earrings - then quickly took them out. Too much, she thought. What you see is what you get. That was her motto these days, hot guy or not.
"Mama, I'm hungry." Alexa padded into the room, still in her bathing suit. Long days of playing at the beach had her sleeping an hour or two each afternoon, which was a good thing. For a five-year-old, Alexa had the drama thing down pat. Extra sleep kept her from going full-on diva.
Lucy tousled Alexa's dark curls. "I'll be making dinner soon and we're having company."
Lucy frowned. "No, not your daddy. We have a new neighbor next door for the summer. He's coming over for dinner."
"Can Daddy come over some day for dinner? He loves the beach." Alexa spun in place until she got dizzy and tumbled over.
Lucy got a dizzy, nauseous feeling too. It was the same feeling she got whenever Alexa pined for her father. "He's picking you up next week. Go get changed, then come downstairs. I need your help cooking."
"Yay!" Alexa scampered to her room.
Lucy frowned at the trail of sand Alexa left behind her and went downstairs to the kitchen. She took out the ground beef left over from hamburgers the day before, along with three grilled cobs of corn. Alexa barreled into the room, wearing the princess costume she'd insisted on bringing. Her mermaid ensemble had made an appearance the night before.
"That's the perfect outfit because it's magic meatloaf night. What do you want to add?"
Alexa ducked under Lucy's arm and surveyed the refrigerator. Alexa grabbed a bottle of salsa and set it on the table, then came back for leftover cooked bacon and jelly.
"Strawberry jelly in our meatloaf?" Lucy asked.
"All right. We'll see what Mr. Tate wants to add. He should be here any minute."
Lucy found a mixing bowl and baking dish and set them on the white quartz counter. She looked out the window at the stunning view of the sea. Wispy clouds painted the sky while gentle waves sloshed on the shore. It was going to be very hard to go back to their tiny apartment in Providence when the summer was over. Cory had offered Lucy a place to clear her head after her divorce, since Cory and her family were spending the summer in Greece. So far, her time here was only making her realize how much she dreaded going back to her old life. She was living in a fantasy land, that was for sure, but she had six weeks left, so she was going to enjoy it.
The bell rang and Alexa dashed to the front door and opened it before Lucy could catch up. "Hi!" Alexa shouted.
Tate grinned, holding a bowl of sliced fruit. "Hello, there."
"Alexa, this is Tate ... " Lucy looked at him. "Sorry, I don't know your last name."
"Carson. Tate Carson."
"It has a nice ring. Come on in."
Alexa put her hands on her hips. "Our last name is Boyd, that's boy with a d at the end, but we don't have any boys in our family. Not anymore," Alexa said, shaking her head.
Lucy sighed. "As you can see, Alexa is shy."
Lucy took the bowl from him, her fingers brushing his. Something caught in her throat, so she quickly headed for the kitchen. "You picked a good day to drop your dinner. It's magic meatloaf night."
Tate laughed. "I've never had that."
"We just add whatever we want to the meat," Alexa explained. "So far we have corn, salsa, bacon, and jelly." She counted the items off on her fingers. "What do you want to add? Pick anything from the 'frigerator. Anything." She adjusted the little crown on her head.
Tate looked at Lucy like he was waiting for the punch line.
"That's the gist of magic meatloaf. Go on, take a look. See what you'd like to add."
Tate surveyed what they'd picked so far. "You need some sort of binder, like breadcrumbs." He took a bag of tortilla chips from the counter. "How about these? We can pulverize them in the blender."
"All right. Let's get started." Lucy dumped the meat in the bowl along with the rest of the salsa.
"Mommy, you're forgetting the dance."
Lucy narrowed her eyes at her daughter. "We don't need to do that every time."
"Yes, we do."
"A dance?" Tate asked.
Lucy cringed, pinching the bridge of her nose. "We do this little bunny hop, hokey-pokey thing as we add in each ingredient. But we don't have to do that tonight. Seriously. We don't."
Tate laughed. "Oh, yes we do. I'm sure the meatloaf won't turn out right if we don't."
Lucy didn't have time to protest because Alexa started hopping around the room. "You put the salsa in, you put the salsa out ... " Alexa sang.
Tate jumped behind her. "You put the salsa in and you shake it all about."
"Stir it," Alexa corrected.
"Right, of course," Tate said, biting back a smile. "Stir it."
Lucy joined them. "You do the magic meatloaf and you stir it all around."
"That's what it's all about," all three of them sang as they hopped around the table.
First and last dinner this guy's going to have with me, Lucy thought. Cory will laugh her butt off when she hears this.
They added the rest of the ingredients and kept singing and dancing and laughing. How could she be so comfortable around this guy so soon? Maybe because he'd already embarrassed himself in front of her? Whatever the reason, she liked it.
When it came time to dump in the jelly, Tate grabbed the jar. "That'd make a nice glaze." He shaped the mixture into a loaf, slathered it with jelly, and put it in the oven.
"You know your way away around a kitchen," Lucy said.
Tate looked at her for a moment. "You have to when you're single."
She blinked a few times. That was good information to know, and interesting that he made a point of telling her. "I guess you do." They stared at each other, and she snapped away her gaze. What was she thinking? She'd decided she was going to wait quite a while before she started dating anyone. And she certainly couldn't have a fling during a summer vacation with her daughter, right? This time was for her and Alexa. It would be nice to have a friend next door, but that's all Tate would be - a friend.
"We should set the table," said Lucy.
"Let's eat outside. It's a beautiful night," Tate said.
"I need to clean up out there first." Lucy groaned to herself, remembering her craft projects on the table. Too late to hide them now. She opened the door to the deck, delighting in the warm, salty breeze. "God, I love it here."
Tate closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath. "It really is wonderful."
Lucy scooped the beach glass and shells off the table and set them in a basket on the floor.
"What's this?" Tate picked up the driftwood she'd been working on.
Lucy let her hair fall over her shoulder so he couldn't see her face. She was probably blushing. "I make these driftwood creations from stuff I find on the beach. It's something Alexa and I do."
"I decorate shells. All by myself. People give me money for our things," Alexa said. "And I'm out of glue, Mommy."
"We'll drive into town to get some tomorrow," Lucy said. "On the weekends, Alexa sets up a stand and sells lemonade along with our creations." Lucy laughed. "She's making more than I did when I waitressed in high school."
"I'm not surprised. These are unique." Tate inspected one of the decorated clamshells on the deck railing.
"That's fifty cents," Alexa said.
"I'll have to remember my wallet next time."
"We like using stuff other people pass by." Ironic that Lucy had a thing for leftovers, and now here she was, a leftover from a marriage that hadn't worked. The thing was, not everyone liked leftovers.
"Mom gets up early and we sneak along the beach looking for stuff before anyone else."
Tate grinned. "I'd like to see that."
"Thank you for sharing everything, Alexa," Lucy said through clenched teeth as she cleared off the rest of the table. How was this date getting more embarrassing by the minute?
This is not a date, she reminded herself.
But it sure felt like one.
* * *
Tate was surprised by how well the meatloaf turned out. It had a sweet, spicy Tex-Mex taste, with a lingering smoky bacon flavor. "This is wonderful, really," he said.
"I think you just worked up an appetite with all the pre-dinner dancing," Lucy said. Tate thought she looked so beautiful with the breeze catching bits of her wavy brown hair. The sky was neon blue and pink behind her as the sun set. He wished he could take a picture of her right at that moment.
Alexa was curled up in her chair, her eyelids drooping and then popping open as she fought off sleep.