It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and her book: Menu for Romance
Barbour Publishing, Inc (July 1, 2009)
About the Author:
Kaye Dacus likes to say she writes â€œinspirational romance with a sense of humor.â€ She lives in Nashville and graduated from Seton Hill Universityâ€™s Master of Arts in Writing Popular Fiction program. She is an active member and former Vice President of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW). Her Stand-In Groom novel took second place in the 2006 ACFW Genesis writing competition.(ISBN#9781602604551, 320pp, $10.97)
Her thirty-fourth New Year and still no kiss at the stroke of midnight. . .or any other day or time. Meredith Guidry stood in the doorway leading into Vue de Cielâ€”the cavernous, sky-view event venue at the top of the tallest building in downtown Bonneterre, Louisianaâ€”and swallowed back her longing as she watched hundreds of couples kiss.
A short burst of static over the earpiece startled her out of her regrets.
â€œMere, weâ€™re going to set up the coffee stations and dessert tables.â€ The executive chefâ€™s rich, mellow voice filled her ear.
She clicked the button on the side of the wireless headset. â€œThanks, Major.â€ Turning her gaze back to the main room, she tapped the button again. â€œLetâ€™s slowly start bringing the houselights back up. I want us at full illumination around twelve thirty.â€ She strolled into the ballroom, the floor now covered with shiny metallic confetti, the hundreds of guests milling about wishing each other a happy New Year. Out on the dance floor, a large group of men stood swaying, arms about shoulders, singing â€œAuld Lang Syneâ€ at the tops of their lungs, accompanied by the jazz band.
â€œLetâ€™s make sure tables are bussed.â€ Pressing her finger to the earpiece to speak over the network made her feel like those secret service agents in the movies who were always talking into their shirt cuffs. â€œIâ€™m seeing several tables with empty plates and glasses.â€
She kept to the perimeter of the room, doing her best to blend in with the starlit sky beyond the glass walls, barely repressing the feeling of being the loner, the schoolgirl no one else paid any attention to. . .the woman no man ever gave a second glance.
â€œYou look like a kid staring through a candy-store window, wishing you could go inside.â€
Meredithâ€™s heart thumped at the sudden voice behind her. She turned. Major Oâ€™Hara grinned his lopsided grin, his chefâ€™s coat nearly fluorescent with its pristine whiteness.
â€œHowâ€™re you holding up?â€ He squeezed her shoulder in a brotherly way, his indigo eyes gentle.
She sighed. â€œYou know meâ€”I operate on pure adrenaline at these things no matter how little sleep Iâ€™ve gotten the night before. So long as I stay busy and donâ€™t slow down, the fatigue canâ€™t catch up with me.â€
â€œAnd stopping to grab a bite to eat would have meant slowing down?â€
Coldness embraced her shoulder when Major lifted his hand away. â€œI set aside a few take-home boxes for youâ€”and Anne. I told her Iâ€™d be sure to save a little of everything.â€
Anne. Meredithâ€™s cousin and best friend. Her inspiration and mentor. Owner of a stellarly successful wedding- and event-planning business, Happy Endings, Inc. And friends with Major Oâ€™Hara on a level Meredith could never attain.
â€œIf you see George, tell him Iâ€™ve been experimenting with that plum pudding recipe he gave me. Iâ€™ll need his expert opinion before I can officially add it to my repertoire.â€
â€œIâ€™ll tell himâ€”but you see him more often than I do.â€
â€œYeah, I guess so. Iâ€™m glad we convinced Anne to fall in love with him. Finally, having another manâ€™s opinion when weâ€™re all working an event together.â€ He winked.
Meredith quickly turned her eyes toward the milling crowd so he wouldnâ€™t see how he affected her. It would only embarrass himâ€”and mortify her.
He tweaked her chin. â€œCome on. Back to work for the bosses.â€
Over the next hour, Meredith poured herself into her work to try to keep exhaustion at bay. The last few guests meandered out just after one thirty. Meredith turned on all of the lights, their glare on the glass walls and ceiling nearly blinding her. She tasked her staff to stack chairs, pull linen from tables, and clear the room.
She directed the sorting of the rented decorations and materials into different dump sites around the room. Early Tuesday morning, she would meet all of the vendors here to have their stuff carted away so the building maintenance staff could get in for a final cleaning before resetting the room for lunch service.
â€œMiss Guidry, are these your shoes?â€ Halfway across the room, one of the black-and-white-clad workers held aloft a pair of strappy, spike-heeled sandals. Meredithâ€™s medium-height, pointy-toed brown pumps rubbed her feet in a couple of places after six hoursâ€”but nothing like the pain those sandals would have caused.
â€œLost-and-found,â€ she called over the music throbbing through the roomâ€™s built-in PA system. Not what she would choose to listen to, but it kept the staffâ€”mostly college studentsâ€”happy and working at a brisk clip. That made three pairs and two stray shoes, five purses, sixteen cellular phones, and one very gaudy ruby ringâ€”and those were only the items Meredith had seen herself. Her assistant would be fielding phone calls for days.
Vacuum cleaners roared to lifeâ€”a wonderful sound as it meant they were getting close to quitting time. A couple of guys loaded the last of the large round tables onto a cart and wheeled it down the hall to the freight elevator, followed by several more pushing tall stacks of dark blue upholstered chairs on hand trucks.
Vue de Ciel expanded in all directions around her. She hugged her arms around her middle. Sheâ€™d survived another New Yearâ€™s Eve Masked Ballâ€”and the eight hundred guests seemed to have enjoyed themselves immensely. Hopefully her parents would deem it a success.
The soprano of flatware, alto of china, tenor of voices, and bass rumble of the dish sterilizers created a jubilant symphony that thrilled Major Oâ€™Haraâ€™s heart.
Simply from the questions the food-and-wine columnist from the Reserve had asked, the review in the morning newspaper wouldnâ€™t be good. It would be glowing.
â€œChef, stations are clean, ready for inspection.â€ Steven LeBlanc, sous chef, wiped his hands on the towel draped over his shoulder. Though Stevenâ€™s white, Nichols State University T-shirt was sweat-soakedâ€”much like Majorâ€™s own University of Louisianaâ€“Bonneterre tributeâ€”the kidâ€™s blond hair still stood stiff and tall in mini-spikes all over his head.
Major hadnâ€™t yet been able to find anything that would keep his own hair from going curly and flopping down onto his forehead in the heat and humidity of a working kitchen. Yet asking Steven for hair-styling tipsâ€”Major grunted. Heâ€™d rather slice his hand open and stick it in a vat of lemon juice.
He followed Steven through the kitchen, inspecting each surface and utensil, releasing some of the staff to clock out, pointing out spots missed to others.
â€œCivilian in the kitchen,â€ rang out from one of the line cooks.
Meredith, stately and graceful, light hair set off to perfection by her brown velvet dressâ€”like strawberries served with chocolate ganacheâ€”swept into the kitchen, drawing the attention of every man present. If she knew she had that effect on his crew, she would laugh her head off and call them all nuts.
â€œIâ€™m ready to release my staff, unless you need any help in here.â€ Meredith came over and leaned against the stainless-steel counter beside him. She even smelled vaguely of strawberries and chocolate. . .or maybe that was just his imagination.
He cleared his throat. â€œI think weâ€™ve got it covered.â€
â€œDishwashing station cleared, Chef!â€
â€œSee?â€ He grinned at her.
She graced him with a full smile, then covered her mouth as a yawn overwhelmed her. â€œIâ€™ll let my guys go, then.â€ She pressed her hands to the base of her neck and rolled her head side to side. â€œIâ€™ve got to run down to my office to get my stuff.â€
â€œWhy donâ€™t I meet you at your office, since I have to come downstairs anyway?â€
â€œDonâ€™t be ridiculous. Iâ€™ll be fineâ€”â€
â€œMere. Stop. I will come to your office to walk you to your car. Youâ€™re lucky Iâ€™m not insisting on driving you home myself.â€
Her nutmeg eyes flickered as if she were about to argue; then her smile returned. â€œThank you, Major. Iâ€™d appreciate that.â€
Good girl. â€œThat wasnâ€™t too hard, was it?â€ He limited himself to once again laying his hand on her shoulder instead of pulling her into a hug. â€œGo on. Iâ€™ll make sure all the rest get clocked out and then shut everything down for the night.â€
Meredith nodded and departed. Major rounded up the last few stragglers and watched them run their cards through the computerized time clock. Returning their happy-New-Year wishes, he ducked into his office at the rear of the kitchen, grabbed his dry-cleaning bag along with his duffel, turned off his computer and light, and locked the door.
The brass nameplate winked in the bright kitchen light. Major Oâ€™hara, Executive Chef. He grimaced. What pride heâ€™d taken eight years ago when Mr. Guidry had offered him the positionâ€”saving Major years of working his way up the chain of command in restaurants.
He heaved the two bags over his shoulder. Meredithâ€™s parents had been better to him than he deserved, had given him the flexibility in his schedule to take care of family matters no other employer would have given. They had also given him their blessingâ€”their encouragementâ€”to strike out on his own, to open the restaurant heâ€™d dreamed of since working for Meredithâ€™s aunt in her catering company throughout high school and college. The restaurant heâ€™d already have, if it werenâ€™t for his mother.
Major shut down the houselights, guilt nipping at his heels. Ma couldnâ€™t help the way she was. The mirrored elevator doors whispered shut, and he turned to stare out the glass wall overlooking downtown Bonneterre from twenty-three floors above.
His descent slowed, then stopped. The doors slid open with a chime announcing his arrival on the fifth floor. Before he could turn completely around, Meredith stepped into the elevator.
â€œHow long were you standing in the hall waiting for one of these doors to open?â€
Meredith busied herself with pushing the button for the basement parking garage. â€œNot long.â€
â€œNot long,â€ he imitated the super-high pitch of her voice. â€œYouâ€™ve never been a good liar, Mere.â€
â€œFine.â€ She blew a loose wisp of hair out of her eyes. â€œI was out there a couple of minutes. I didnâ€™t want you to have to wait for me. Happy?â€
â€œNot in the least. But I appreciate your honesty.â€ Due to the tenseness around her mouth, he changed the subject. â€œYour mom invited me to drop by their New Yearâ€™s open house. You going?â€
Meredith shook her head. â€œNo.â€ The simple answer held a magnitude of surprise.
â€œShe said she had something she wanted to talk to me about.â€
The porcelain skin between Meredithâ€™s brows pinched. â€œHmm. Noâ€”I donâ€™t usually go over for the open house, just for our family dinner later. Instead, Iâ€™m fixing to go home, sleep for a few hours, and then head over to the new house. Iâ€™m planning to get the paint stripped from all the woodwork in the living room and dining room tomorrow.â€
â€œIn one day?â€ Major grunted. Meredithâ€™s new house was anything but: a one-hundred-year-old craftsman bungalow everyone had tried to talk her out of buying. â€œWouldnâ€™t you rather relax on your holiday?â€
â€œBut working on the house is relaxing to me. Plus, it gives me a good excuse to go off by myself all day and be assured no oneâ€™s going to disturb me.â€
The elevator doors opened to the dim, chilly underground parking garage. Major took hold of Meredithâ€™s arm and stopped her from exiting first. He stepped out, looked around, saw nothing out of the ordinary, then turned and nodded to her. â€œLooks safe.â€
â€œOf course itâ€™s safe. You lived in New York too long.â€ She walked out past him.
â€œMeredith, Bonneterre isnâ€™t the little town we grew up in anymore. Even before Hurricane Katrina, it was booming.â€ He stopped her again, planted his hands on her shoulders, and turned her to face him. â€œPlease donâ€™t ever take your safety for granted. Not even here in the garage with security guards on duty. If anything happened to you. . .â€
Meredith blushed bright red and dropped her gaze.
â€œLook, I donâ€™t mean to alarm you. But in this day and age, anything could happen.â€ He kept hold of her a moment longer, then let go and readjusted the straps of the bags on his shoulder.
Meredith released a shaky breath. â€œSo, what are you going to do on your day off?â€
â€œWatch football.â€ He winked at her over his shoulder as he approached her Volvo SUV. The tinted windows blocked him from seeing inside. Perhaps he had lived in New York too long. But Bonneterre had changed even in the eight years heâ€™d been back. Crime rates had risen along with the population. And he would have done this for any other lady of his acquaintance, wouldnâ€™t he?
He heard the lock click and opened the driverâ€™s-side door for herâ€”taking a quick peek inside just to make sure that the boogey man wasnâ€™t hiding in the backseat.
â€œOh, honestly!â€ Meredith playfully pushed him out of the way and, shaking her head, opened the back door and heaved her large, overstuffed briefcase onto the seat.
Major moved out of the way for her to get in. â€œDrive safely, okay?â€
â€œI always do.â€
â€œCall me when you get home. Nuh-uh. No arguments. If you donâ€™t want to call, just text message meâ€”all right?â€”once youâ€™re in your apartment with the door locked.â€
â€œHey, who died and made you my keeper?â€ Meredith laughed.
He didnâ€™t let his serious expression crack. â€œJust call me safety obsessed.â€
â€œOkay, Major Safety Obsessed.â€ She leaned into his one-armed hug, then settled into the driverâ€™s seat. â€œThank you for your concern. I will text you as soon as I arrive safely home, am safely in my house, with my door safely locked.â€
He closed the car door and waved before walking over to Kirby, his beaten-up old Jeep, a few spaces down. As he figured, Meredith waited to back out until he was in with the engine started. He followed her out of downtown and waved again as they parted ways on North Street.
A few fireworks flickered in the distance against the low-hanging clouds. He turned the radio on and tuned it to the Southern Gospel station. Always keyed-up after events, he sang the high-tenor part along with the Imperials. Though it had taken him a while to build the upper range of his voiceâ€”having always sung baritone and bass beforeâ€”when he, George Laurence, Forbes Guidry, and Clay Huntoon started their own quartet, Major had been the only one who could even begin to reach some of the high notes. Sometimes it was still a strain, but he practiced by singing along with the radio as loudly as he could. . .to keep his voice conditioned.
When he pulled into the condo-complex parking lot, his cell phone chimed the new text message alert. He shook his head. Of course she texted instead of calling. He pulled the phone out of the holster clipped to his belt and flipped it open to read the message:
SAFELY home. : – )
happy new year
While Kirbyâ€™s engine choked itself off, Major typed out a return message:
The phone flashed a confirmation that the message was sent, and he holstered it. Grabbing his black duffel from the back, he left the orange dry-cleaning bag to drop off at the cleaners Tuesday.
To blow off some steam and try to relax enough to fall asleep, he turned on the computer and played a few rounds of Spider Solitaire. About an hour later, his whole body aching, eyes watering from yawning every other minute, he grabbed a shower before turning in. At thirty-eight years old, he shouldnâ€™t feel this out of shapeâ€”of course, if he still made time to go to the gym every day and didnâ€™t enjoy eating his own cooking as much as he did, he probably wouldnâ€™t be this out of shape. He weighed as much now as he had playing middle linebacker in college. . .except twenty years ago, it had all been muscle.
But who trusted a skinny chef anyway?
Thunder grumbled, and rain pattered against the window. Major kicked at the comforter that had become entangled in his legs during the night and rolled over to check the time.
Eight thirty. What a perfect day to don ratty old sweats, sit in the recliner watching football on the plasma TV, and eat junk food.
If he had a plasma TV. Or any junk food in the condo.
Alas, though, heâ€™d promised Mrs. Guidry he would drop by. Best check the schedule of games, see which he cared least about, and make the visit then. He pulled on the ratty old sweats and an equally ratty ULB T-shirt, though. As he passed down the short hallway, he tapped the temperature lever on the thermostat up a couple of degrees to knock a little of the chill out of the air.
His stomach growled in concert with the thunder outside. The tile in the kitchen sent shockwaves of cold up his legs. Shifting from foot to foot, he yanked open the dryer door, dug through the clothes in it, and found two somewhat matching socks. Sometimes having the laundry hookups here did come in handy, even though they took up more than a third of the space in the small galley kitchen.
The fridge beckoned. Not much thereâ€”maybe he should hit the grocery store on the way back from the Guidrysâ€™ open house.
Half an hour later, with the Rose Bowl parade providing ambiance, he sank into his recliner and dug into the andouille sausage, shrimp, potato, mushroom, red pepper, onion, jack cheese, and bacon omelet spread with Creole mustard on top.
Maybe he should consider making a New Yearâ€™s resolution to cut back on calories this year. What was missing? Oh, yeah, the grits. Heâ€™d left the bowl sitting by the stove.
Halfway to the kitchen to retrieve the rest of his breakfast, the phone rang. He unplugged it from the charger as he passed by.
â€œMr. Oâ€™Hara, this is Nick Sevellier at Beausoleil Pointe Center.â€
Major stopped. So did his heart.
â€œIâ€™m sorry to bother you on a holiday, sir, but your mother has had an episode. Sheâ€™s asking for you.â€
Click the bookcover or title for more info or to purchase a copy. Look for other FIRST Wildcard member posts and opinions also. Don’t forget to click the author’s name or photo to visit her website. My review is coming soon.