Read Need You for Always (Heroes of St. Helena) Online

Authors: Marina Adair

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Women's Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Single Women, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Contemporary Fiction, #Series

Need You for Always (Heroes of St. Helena) (5 page)

BOOK: Need You for Always (Heroes of St. Helena)
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Harper pulled out a flaky pocket of heaven and took a huge bite, then closed her eyes. “God, this is so good. What is it?”

“My dinner,” Emerson accused in her scariest tone. Unconcerned, Harper took a bigger bite, moaned a little louder, then offered up the container as if
she
was willing to share.

Unsure of how karma would react to harming a person who wore a knitted kitty sweater, pink leggings, and smelled like unicorns and Play-Doh, Emerson snatched one of the empanadas and plopped on the couch. The first bite was heaven. Flaky crust, hearty filling, and a taste that reminded her of crisp fall days with her mom.

Eyes on the screen, Harper said, “I heard Mr. Dark and Mysterious is in town.”

Emerson choked on her bite. She wasn’t a big talker, didn’t need girl time or ice cream binges to chat it out. In fact, she was content to take everything she felt, did, or witnessed to the grave. Too bad Harper was a ninja master of ferreting out secrets. Those big blue eyes, swishing ponytail, and sunny smile were too powerful a force for even a cynic like Emerson to resist. If Harper got wind of a secret, she was on it like white on rice.

Which was why Emerson schooled her features and shrugged as though Mr. Dark and Mysterious hadn’t asked her for a replay of their night together. “Huh.”

“Don’t ‘huh’ me. The guy you had wall-banging sex with, followed by wild shower sex with, and then—”

“I get it.” And reliving it all over again wasn’t going to help her keep her distance, which was imperative.

“Yeah, you got it all right.” Harper snorted. “Which is why I find it odd that he’s back, a few minutes away,
and
he was at the VFW dance that
you
were working, and you said not a word about it.”

“Because there wasn’t anything worth mentioning.” Emerson snatched the last empanada and shoved it into her mouth. “I need to focus on my truck, not get distracted in the final mile by some guy—”

“Last time you called him a sex ninja.”

She’d called him worse in her mind. “I was drunk.”

“Which is how I know you were telling the truth,” Harper said with a knowing smile. “When you get tipsy you get all mushy, and girly, and chatty. You even let me do your nails and makeup.”

Which was why she didn’t drink often. First, she was, surprisingly, a lightweight. Second, she went from a fighter to lover in two shots of whiskey—just ask Dax. And most importantly, growing up with a sick mother meant weekly trips to the ER, where she’d go from sound asleep to ready to go in seconds, which had taught Emerson the risk wasn’t worth it. Being in control and ready for anything had been the key to surviving her childhood.

“Winter is right around the corner,” Emerson said. “If the rain gets here before my truck, then I am back to dressing like a clown and catering kids’ parties full-time until spring.” And that would feel like taking a huge step back. Something Emerson wasn’t willing to do.

The Pita Peddler, although a money maker, was a seasonal business. Her single umbrella didn’t offer much protection from the elements, and water-soaked falafel didn’t rate high in customer satisfaction.

“So you’re almost there?”

Emerson smiled. “Almost.” According to her plan, she was just six thousand dollars, or three private VFW parties, shy of her goal. Which meant that come January she would be trading up and accomplishing what she and her mom had dreamed of.

“Good, because look what came in.” Harper pulled a certified letter from the back pocket of her jeans and waved it in Emerson’s face.

“Oh my God!” Emerson grabbed the letter, a punch of excitement slamming against her chest. “Is that from—”

“Street Eats?” Harper’s grin was so big it shone. “Yup. The mail guy needed a signature, so I pretended to be your roommate.”

Emerson looked at the empty pastry box in the kitchen, the mango-colored backpack sprawled across the table, and the stack of Harper’s laundry on the chair waiting to be folded, and figured it wasn’t that far from the truth.

Emerson ran a finger across the side of the envelope, hesitating at the back flap. Inside could be a rejection, or an opportunity of a lifetime, and Emerson wasn’t sure which she wanted more.

Street Eats was the nation’s most competitive and prestigious food truck competition. Hundreds applied, only a few were lucky enough to be accepted, and this year it was coming to wine country. The cook-off would attract thousands of foodies and some of the best gourmet food trucks from around the country. The top chefs in her field would go head-to-head in her own backyard, showcasing their cutting-edge eats, and Emerson dreamed of being one of them.

A lot of things had changed since she’d applied last year. Violet had started school, her dad had found every reason in the world not to get a job—in fact, her family seemed more dependent on her now than ever. Plus, she was still shy a gourmet food truck. And short on cash to get one.

Harper scooted to the edge of the couch. “Open it before I combust from nerves!”

With a deep breath, Emerson pulled out the letter and—

“No freaking way.” She held up the gold script invitation certifying that Emerson Blake, culinary school dropout, had an exclusive golden ticket to live out one of her life’s greatest dreams. “I got in.”

“You got in!” Harper, being 100 percent chick, let out a huge squeal, then pulled Emerson in for one of her infamous hugs. It was warm, long, and full of all those female bonding sounds other women seemed to make when they hung in large groups. Emerson had never been big on large groups, or female bonding, but knowing it would go faster if she didn’t resist, she allowed the embrace—but didn’t return it. Counted to three. Gave a closing pat to her friend’s shoulder, then tried pulling back.

“Um, Harper?”

Harper finally released her and clasped her hands in front of her face. “This is huge, Em!”

“I know.” With a sigh, she dropped her head on the back of the couch, because it was also a year too early. Emerson had dreamed of competing in Street Eats since watching the first show with her mom and coming up with a plan for their Greek streatery fleet. Serving her food in that arena would be all the endorsement she’d need to get her truck into big events throughout San Francisco and Silicon Valley. One of last year’s competitors had gone from one truck on Main Street, USA, to six trucks in the six biggest cities in the country. He even had his own show on television.

“Then why didn’t you tell me you applied?” Harper asked, and Emerson slid her a sideways look. “No way! You didn’t tell me because you weren’t sure if you were going to do it, and that constipated look you have, yup, that one right there”—she pointed in accusation at Emerson’s face—“that says you have somehow convinced yourself the responsible choice is pass up the biggest opportunity of your life, which is insane since you have been talking about this for years, about how you would dominate and kick some serious culinary butt.
Butt
that cannot be kicked if you don’t show up.” She grabbed Emerson by the shoulders. “Why aren’t you going to show up?”

“Because it is a food truck competition, not a food cart competition.” The
duh
went unsaid but it was thick in her tone.

“You said you were almost there.”

“Yeah, almost there as in three months out.” Emerson took one last look at the letter, then folded it up. “Street Eats is one month away.”

“Whew,” Harper said, sitting back and making a big spectacle out of putting her hand to her heart. “And here I thought you were going to say it was because your dad is still unemployed and Pixie Girl got suspended for lobbing a lethal glitter bomb in class.”

“You know?”

“The entire mommy community knows. Brooklyn’s mom had it all over her mommy blog by lunch,” Harper explained as though it wasn’t a big deal. Although Harper wasn’t a mommy herself, she managed the Fashion Flower, the only kids’ craft and clothing boutique in town, which made her the great Mommy Oz of wine country. It also explained the Easter egg outfit and preschool teacher vibe she had going on. “But if a truck is all that’s stopping you from checking the yes box, then let’s get a truck.”

“Sounds great,” Emerson said, clapping her hands and mimicking her friend’s sunny tone. “You happen to find an extra six grand in the mail when you were snooping?”

“No. But . . .” Harper reached under the couch and pulled out Emerson’s laptop. “I happen to know of someone who can help.”

“Oh, please God, no,” Emerson moaned, but it was too late. The screen flickered to life and a spreadsheet complete with a running balance, remaining deficit, and an animated trench coat dancing next to the target amount filled the screen. It was the same fund-raising mascot and propaganda presentation Harper used to persuade her preschoolers to sell cookies for art classes or collect coats for charity. She had convinced her students, some of their parents included, that if they all reached into their pockets to help, the Coat Crusader could turn pocket change into social change.

Anytime someone needed cash for a cause, Harper and her
you can do it
coat friend came to the rescue. “He prefers Coat Crusader,” Harper clarified. “But he is a miracle worker, so I can see how you’d make that mistake.” Back to the spreadsheet. “I had you at ten grand shy, but you only need six.” Her fingers clicked away, then she looked up and smiled. “Two seconds at work and already the Coat Crusader found you four grand.”

“When did you do all of this?”

“The second I saw the letter this morning, I knew you’d get in,” Harper said so sincerely Emerson felt herself shift on the couch cushion. “Which is why when I spoke with Grandma Clovis, we decided you need to go see this potential client.” Harper pulled out a candy bar wrapper with an address scribbled on the inside.

“What’s this?”

“Your missing money,” Harper said. “Last week Giles’ grandnephew came home from the hospital.”

Giles was four thousand years old and a Rousseau, which meant he was related to half of the town. He’d dated the other half until he’d snagged himself Clovis Owens and gave up his ladies’-man lifestyle for the only lady he’d ever loved. “She said that his grandnephew is supermoody and a total handful, running his family ragged. So they were talking about hiring someone to cook a few meals each day.”

Emerson felt for the boy’s parents. Although Violet had been a miracle child, she’d been a turd until she turned two. Fussy, colicky, refusing to sleep or eat on any normal schedule. She also had a wail that could be heard from Mars. “Did Clovis say if they are looking for food delivery or more of a personal chef?”

Because,
holy hell
, this could work. Sure, the first option would be easier to manage, cooking up their meals for the day and delivering them each morning. She’d worked her way through culinary school doing just that. Made good money too. But the latter option had her heart thumping, because even though it would be more time-consuming, if their schedules matched, being a private chef could bring in some serious cash.

“I think they need someone to make fresh meals on-site. Nothing says home like a fresh-made meal.”

Emerson couldn’t agree more. And not just because she wanted the business. She’d seen the power that a home-cooked meal made with love could have on a family. Some of her happiest memories had been around her family table. Her mom had made mealtime the most important event of the day, a time of exchanging stories and love, and Emerson tried to pass that along to her customers. “Do you know how long they’d want a chef?”

“At least a few weeks. Maybe four.”

“Four weeks?” Emerson tried to play it cool. No sense in getting excited until the job was secure. “Do you know their budget? Because three meals a day, seven days a week, would cost about three thousand dollars.” Which would be huge for Emerson but a bargain in a town where the average personal chef charged upwards of three grand—
per week
.

“I don’t think that would be a problem,” Harper said, and Emerson wondered if maybe she’d gotten lucky after all.

Dax had spent the last fifteen years wading, waist deep, through the bowels of humanity in some of the most dangerous hellholes on the planet. He knew when to fight, when to regroup, and when to get out of Dodge.

Most importantly, he knew when shit was about to get real.

This was one of those times. Yet instead of lying low, getting in and out unscathed, he’d abandoned every hard-won instinct and fired the first shot. Maybe it was suburbia fever, or maybe they’d missed a chunk of shrapnel in his head, but damn if he wasn’t excited to see the ticking bomb on the other side of the door.

Granted, this bomb was more of a bombshell, equally as lethal but certainly more fun to look at. Her dark auburn hair was loose and curly, her dress surprisingly feminine, and she had on a pair of black leather boots that were sleek, above the knee, and ended a scant inch before her dress began. Little Miss Bite Me was dressed to impress. She looked sophisticated, sexy as hell, and as if she were about to kick him in the nuts.

Nothing new, he thought, keeping a close watch on those pointed boots since he was within kicking distance. Emerson had been four years behind him in school, a scrappy little thing with a lethal glare who never failed to give him a hard time when he deserved it. Which was saying something since Dax had been voted Best Wingman in a Bathroom Brawl.

BOOK: Need You for Always (Heroes of St. Helena)
4.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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