Lusciousby Amanda Usen
Eat, play, love
Plain old ice cream just isn't going to cut it. To beat these blues, chef Olivia Marconi needs the good stuff: rich, creamy tiramisu gelato. And no place better to get it than Italy. But a fresh start is nearly impossible with Sean Kindred dogging her every move. She's been burned by his too-hot-to-handle antics before./p>/strong>
Eat, play, love
Plain old ice cream just isn't going to cut it. To beat these blues, chef Olivia Marconi needs the good stuff: rich, creamy tiramisu gelato. And no place better to get it than Italy. But a fresh start is nearly impossible with Sean Kindred dogging her every move. She's been burned by his too-hot-to-handle antics before. Though there's no denying the man can still get her all fired up. Could a weeklong affair finally turn into something more lasting...or will it all go up in flames?
Praise from Scrumptious:
"Usen's debut rules the kitchen with lip-smacking prose and rowdy protagonists who put Iron Chef to shame." —Publishers Weekly
"A sexy, heartfelt, laugh-out-loud culinary romance." —Louisa Edwards, author of Hot Under Pressure
"Readers can practically taste, see, and feel every word." —RT Book Reviews
"The perfect dish for your reading day." —Romance Junkies
"The travelogue and delectable descriptions of food are satisfying, and sweetheart Sean will appeal to fans of genuinely nice guys. " - Publishers Weekly
"Usen expertly blends engaging characters with a swoon-worthy Italian setting right out of Under the Tuscan Sun (1996) and an abundance of delectably described Italian dishes to create an irresistible literary treat for fans of sizzling hot contemporary romances." - Booklist
"Luscious is a hot and spicy kind of read. It's seductive, with pinches of witty dialogue that leave you wanting just a taste more and not just in the kitchen." - Book Loons
"I can't wait to read what Amanda Usen comes up with next and I will definitely reread this one and savor every moment of Olivia and Sean's love story. TOP PICK" - Night Owl Reviews
"All in all, I enjoyed this story! I can't get enough of fun contemporary romps that have "a chance at being happy again" kind of feel. If you love stories full of heart, romance, and a little fun in Italy, Luscious awaits you." - Long and Short Reviews
"Grab yourself a glass of wine and kick back, but be prepared for Luscious to leave you hungry for both good food and more Usen books" - Booktrib
"What a great second installment in this series by Amanda Usen. Not only has she made this characters unbelievably realistic, but she has made them both so broken that you can't help but love them." - Guilty Pleasures Book Reviews
"Luscious definitely lives up to its name" - Book Lovers Inc
"It's entertaining and romantic. The food will make you hungry. And the scenery ain't bad either." - Drey's Library
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Read an Excerpt
"Order in!" The waiter dropped a ticket in the window.
Irritation spiked in a sudden, sharp wave up the back of Olivia's neck. It was hard to resist the urge to throw something, especially since she had a tomato in one hand and a knife in the other.
She set them both down on her cutting board and took a deep breath. Not worth it, so not worth it. Lately, her control felt as thin as the delicate skin of that heirloom tomato. It was only a matter of time before she popped, split wide open, and exposed the mess inside.
She hung the new order with the rest of them, glad the end was in sight. This was it-her last lunch service. Tomorrow, she would leave for Italy. For good, although no one else knew it. The thought made her feel both hopeless and weightless.
Marlene and Joe had everything under control here at Chameleon. They were fantastic chefs, her best friends. She was lucky she didn't have the staffing nightmares her colleagues suffered-no backstabbing, no laziness, no high food cost or pilfering. But she did have two love-struck cooks mooning all over the kitchen. Jealousy, quickly suppressed, tasted bitter in her mouth and guilt made her eyes sting.
Move, she told herself, furiously kicking slippery chunks of fallen zucchini under her station. Her kitchen staff was off-site working the Norton Women in Business lunch, so it was all up to her today. Standing still wasn't going to get her through lunch service.
Her eyes darted up and down the empty hot line before they settled on the growing line of lunch tickets. What to do first? The heat from the stove and the grill pressed against her, holding her in place as she stared blankly at the orders. Oven? Grill? Salads? Indecision kept her stock-still in the middle of the kitchen until the sweet smell of roasting garlic gave her a place to start.
She bent to pull the covered sauté pan of garlic cloves from the oven and walked it into the back kitchen, wrestling her doubts beneath the surface again. "Hot! Coming around!" she called, taking comfort from the familiar warnings even if no one was there to hear it.
As she returned to her station, she shook her head, disgusted. Four lousy tables and she was already sweating, feeling the weeds grow around her before the rush even began. One plate at a time, she told herself firmly. She could do this. It was just food. She'd been living and breathing this restaurant her entire life. Her instincts, long ignored, would be enough to get her through the afternoon. Of course, one plate at a time worked a heck of a lot better with six pans on the burners and a full staff behind her, a luxury she didn't have, but she could do this. Not as fast as Marlene. Not as effortlessly as Joe, but she could get the job done.
The tasks fell into place in her mind-fire the hot stuff, then make the salads. She picked up her tongs and turned to the stove, pulling pans down from the shelf and cranking the burners beneath them. Oil, vegetables-she checked the orders, added white beans to one pan and rosemary red sauce to another.
She moved down the line to the grill and laid marinated chicken breasts on its hot surface. Doubt flared up to catch her again. She had been a better cook before the Culinary Arts College, before she had met Keith. I can't believe I almost let him ruin Chameleon. God, I'm such an idiot...It hurt to think about it. She cranked the heat higher on the stove and cleared her mind.
After lunch service, she'd be free. She'd meet Sean at Johnny's bar to pick up her divorce papers, hop on the plane with Nonna Lucia tomorrow afternoon, and be in Verona by dinner time on Friday. No doubt her mother would put her to work in the Villa Farfalla kitchen. Or maybe her father could use her in the vineyard. Either way, she'd have a job, and it would be far away from Chameleon and her ex-husband.
Olivia tossed vegetables in pans with a practiced flip of her wrist. She gave each chicken breast a quarter turn, then reached into the lowboy refrigerator for shrimp skewers and threw them on the grill. The familiar smell of seared meat and smoking oil put her firmly in the zone. She didn't need to think to do this. In fact, it was better if she didn't. Methodically, she washed her hands, put on gloves, and made the Mediterranean salads. She would figure out how to tell her parents "Thanks for giving me the restaurant, but I suck at running it" during the flight. For now, she just had to focus on cooking lunch for twenty-plus people.
One plate at a time.
"Kitchen's closed," Olivia said when the server picked up the last four plates. Every second of lunch service had been torture as she waited for all hell to break loose, but there had been no disasters. She was safe now. Almost free. She wiped sweat from her forehead with the sleeve of her chef coat, wondering if she looked as relieved as she felt.
She began refilling pans for dinner service and wrapping items that wouldn't be needed until lunch tomorrow. Everything she couldn't reuse she plated and put into the window for the servers to devour. Ironic that she was doing the same thing with her life-saving what she might need for later and getting rid of what she no longer could use, a husband, a house, and a job.
She swiftly wiped down the line. Joe and Marlene would be back any minute and she didn't want to be here when they arrived. She wanted to bow out gracefully. No kicking and screaming. No hoping to be begged to stay. Absolutely no drama.
She dropped her apron into the bin and did a quick walk-through. The servers were out front doing their side work, so the back kitchen was empty. She grabbed her purse from the office and removed a manila envelope from its side pocket, then opened her filing cabinet and tucked the envelope inside. The drawer slid shut with a loud click and she wondered what Marlene's reaction would be when she found the power-of-attorney papers. Shock? Relief? Glee?
She took one last look around the office. The walls held decades of memories-old menus, ideas for specials, and dozens of photos, mostly of her and Marlene clowning around on the line. Olivia took one-her favorite, a candid shot from just after high school graduation-and tucked it in her purse. She'd remember the good times, before she had ruined everything by marrying Keith.
She carefully locked the office door behind her. Walking up the small hall to the hot line again, she slid a Sharpie marker out of her chef coat pocket and grabbed a piece of paper. The note she wrote was short.
Ciao, my friends. Good luck!
She placed the note on the counter with her restaurant keys. You are glad to be leaving, she reminded herself. Her gaze touched the clean, white expanse of cutting boards, the knives hanging on their magnetic strip over the sink, the stove that had been her second home since she was tall enough to peer into a sauté pan. She shut her eyes for a moment, breathing in the unique aromas of Chameleon: the cooking grease, the sharp sting of raw garlic that never washed away, the summery smell of farmers' market tomatoes, fresh basil, and ripe peaches. She wanted to imprint the last moment of belonging in the kitchen that held her childhood.
She opened her eyes and gasped, startled to see Jacques, her dishwasher, carrying a broom and dustpan, ready to sweep the line. Good old Jacques. The grizzled dishwasher had been working at Chameleon even longer than she had.
"Leaving, boss?" he asked, resting the broom in the crook of his arm.
She nodded. Impulsively, she reached up to kiss his rough cheek.
Jacques squeezed her shoulder. "It ain't quittin' when it's time to go."
Her breath caught in her throat. She nodded again, dismayed by the understanding gleam in his dark eyes. "Thank you, my friend. Take care," she said.
"You too, boss."
Not anymore, Olivia thought as she walked through the dish room and out the back, for once letting the screen door slam behind her. Jacques's comment made her wonder if he knew she wasn't planning on returning. Did that mean Joe and Marlene knew too? Did everyone? If so, why hadn't they said good-bye? She bit her lip, hard. That was just what she was trying to avoid. No big scene. Chameleon didn't need her anymore, and that was fine, even if it felt like she'd just left most of herself in the kitchen by the stove.
"Oh, shut up," she muttered to herself as she cut through the empty parking lot and crossed the street. She opened the door of the bar, blinking as it shut behind her. There were more people there than she would have expected at three thirty on a Wednesday, but since she was embracing the "it's five o'clock somewhere" rule, who was she to judge? She sat down on a stool, surprised Sean wasn't already waiting for her.
"What can I get you, Olivia?" Johnny asked, slinging a bar towel over his shoulder and crossing his arms.
"An Amstel, please."
"You got it." The tattooed bartender reached into the cooler. "You're out early today."
She nodded. "Actually, I'm out for good. I'm leaving for Italy tomorrow."
"Visiting Mom and Pop?"
"Something like that."
Johnny cocked a ringed eyebrow. "Everything okay?"
She took a swig of the beer he placed in front of her and smiled. "It's better now."
The door opened, making the bar brighter for a moment, and they both glanced over to see who was coming in. Too late, she steeled herself against the sight of Sean and her heart kicked up a notch. When his warm gray eyes met hers, a grin curved his lips and she smiled back.
"I hear rebound sex is excellent," Johnny suggested with a sly chuckle.
She turned back to the bar and took a long drink of her beer. "Unfortunately, I heard that too. He turned me down two months ago."
"No way." The flat-out disbelief in his voice was cold comfort.
Johnny was still shaking his head as her lawyer took the stool beside her. "What's up?" Sean asked.
"Nothing," she said, taking a deep breath and then wishing she hadn't as his clean scent filled her lungs. She stifled a growl. He smelled like soap and aftershave, and she smelled like grease, onions, and garlic. No wonder he wasn't interested anymore. His pleasant memories of her in high school had been smothered by the stench of caramelized onions, while hers had been fed by the addictive scent of his high-powered lawyer pheromones.
Sean ordered a beer and paid for her drink too.
She sneaked a peek at him as he leaned over to get something out of his briefcase. As always, he looked amazing. He had a fondness for sharp suits that never looked flashy, just the right touch of GQ hot in his black jacket and slacks with a subtle stripe, a crisp white shirt, and an elegant tie. She felt like the ultimate slob sitting next to him in her jeans, stained chef coat, and food-splattered shoes. She closed her eyes and took another breath, forcing her racing thoughts to slam into the brick wall of a memory. She'd tried the seduction bit shortly after she'd hired Sean to finalize her divorce. She'd been lonely, raw, and miserable, and he'd left her alone at her door, looking after him with a bottle of wine in her hand. Clearly, not interested.
Paper brushed her knuckles and she opened her eyes.
"You're all set," Sean said with a nod.
She looked down. Decree of Divorce was as far as she got before tears blurred her eyes. "Thank God," she sighed, keeping her eyes on the paper until her vision cleared. She didn't want him to see her tears. "I'm glad that's over."
And she was, mostly. It was one more failure to add to her growing list, but staying in the marriage while her husband gambled away their money and screwed every girl in Norton was a bigger mistake.
"Me too," Sean said, shifting closer to her. He raised his bottle. "Let's celebrate."
Automatically, she clinked her bottle with his and took a sip. "What did you have in mind?"
"Dinner." His gray eyes held steady on hers. "For starters."
She gaped at him. He couldn't possibly mean that the way it sounded, and if he did-no way. He should have said yes the first time. Too little, too late, too bad. "Sorry, I have a lot to get done before I leave tomorrow."
"That's a shame. I thought you might want to spend your last night in town...relaxing."
"Nope." She felt her jaw clench and forced herself to take another drink of her beer.
"You work too much." He gave her a lazy grin.
"That's ironic, coming from you. You're always working."
As if to punctuate her point, his cell phone rang.
He ignored it. "I'd take a break for you. Remember that time in high school when we skipped bio lab and went to Tim Hortons?"
Of course she remembered. Her mother had torn into her at breakfast that morning and she'd arrived at school a blithering, sobbing mess. Sean had taken one look at her and all but dragged her out of class. "I caught holy hell for that. Did you?"
He shook his head. "My mother never paid attention."
Whereas hers had dictated, then monitored nearly every step in her life.
"So how about it?" Sean asked. "Would you like to have dinner with me? We're adults now and can do whatever we want." By the glint in his eyes, she knew she hadn't mistaken his meaning. He really was hitting on her. Furious, she hopped off her bar stool and stuffed the divorce papers into her purse. Damn, he had a lot of nerve propositioning her on her way out of the country.
He tilted his head to the side and looked up at her with narrowed eyes. "How about when you get back, then? I'll wait."
He took her hand and another memory hit her: his fingers slowly curling around hers at the park where they used to watch his little brother's baseball games on the rare Saturday afternoons she wasn't working. They had never had the opportunity to spend much time together elsewhere, but those few times stood out in her memory as golden oases of freedom from school, the restaurant and her mother.
Her heart picked up speed again. She hadn't been crazy to wish there might have been more between them...if she hadn't gone away to school and married Keith.
Slowly, she shook her head. "I think it's too late."
"It's never too late," Sean said. But he let go of her hand.
She picked up her purse. "Thanks for your help," she forced herself to say before she headed for the door.
Sean was just about to leave the office when his phone began ringing. There was no avoiding it. This client hated voice mail. "Good afternoon, Mr. Russo," he said, carefully keeping the frustration from his voice.
"My wife is in Italy," Russo blasted in his ear. "I want you to go over there."
Of course he did. "Mr. Russo, I'll get in touch with your wife's lawyer and we'll work something out-"
"She doesn't have a lawyer. She's being ridiculous. A child. She keeps texting me pictures of all the fancy hotels where she's staying and the designer handbags she's buying, flaunting how she's spending our millions. ‘If I don't mind,'" he added in an acid tone.
Sean assumed he minded. "Are you certain divorce is-"
"Certain? I should have done it thirty years ago, before the woman ruined my life with her nonsense. Yes, I want a divorce. The sooner the better."
"Then we need to find a way to serve her with the papers, which is going to be complicated if she's in Italy."
"Go over there. I'll pay for it. She's driving me crazy. My credit card bill is through the roof and I'm starting to have heart palpitations. She's gone too far. I want this to be over."
Sean sighed. All of his clients wanted it to be over. "Mr. Russo-"
"I'm begging you. She's in Venice. Or Vicenza. Something that starts with a V. Take her the papers. I don't trust anyone else to get the job done right."
Russo was too busy to go, but assumed Sean could leave at a moment's notice? Actually, he probably could. He'd just wrapped up several cases and he hadn't taken a vacation in...well, ever.
"Think about it and get back to me. Soon." Russo hung up.
Sean dropped his phone in his pocket and finished his beer. Where was Olivia going? Verona? That started with a V.
Suddenly the idea of a vacation was a hell of a lot more appealing. He'd waited a long time for Olivia Marconi and going with her would give him a chance to explain why. No way was he going to let her declare it too late when they hadn't had a proper chance together. He dug his phone out of his pocket and called Russo back.
Sean tucked his toothbrush, razor, and deodorant into his travel kit. His bag was packed and waiting in his bedroom where his little brother Colin was lounging on his bed, probably counting the minutes until Sean would be gone and he'd have the house to himself. He'd been delighted when Sean came home yesterday and told him he was leaving for Italy.
He picked up his bag and carried it into the bedroom. "You aren't planning any wild parties, right?"
Colin snorted. "Dude, I'm almost twenty-two, not fourteen."
"You threw wild parties when you were fourteen?" That had been the year Sean had left Norton for law school.
"I plead the fifth."
Sean groaned. "Forget it. I'm not going."
Colin rolled off the bed, took the travel kit out of his hand, and tucked it into his attaché case. God, when had he gotten so tall, so wide? It seemed like only yesterday Sean had held his brother's small hand and half-led, half-dragged him into his preschool classroom for his first day of school.
Colin patted him on the shoulder, smirking. "Don't try to pretend you didn't sic Mom and Dave on me for the week. I bet she'll be over here trying to pretend she's a real mother. Cooking. Cleaning. Asking nosy questions." He shuddered dramatically and picked up Sean's bag, thrusting it at him. "You better get out of here or you're going to miss your flight. I promise I won't burn the house down while you're gone."
Reluctantly, Sean took the bag and threw the strap over his shoulder. He wanted to defend their mother, but he couldn't. He had done everything he could to keep their lives together, but what did a twelve-year-old boy know about parenting? Not enough, apparently. Sometimes Sean wondered if a sixth sense had inspired him to go to law school because his brother would need his legal expertise.
Thankfully, it had been months since Colin had come home with a new tattoo or piercing, and nearly three years since the phone had rung in the middle of the night, forcing Sean out of his warm bed and down to the police station to collect him. Their nightmare was almost over-Colin's final probation hearing was Wednesday. After that, Sean could stop waiting for the axe to fall.
Colin could make it until Wednesday without a big-brother babysitter...right? Sean knew it was ridiculous to be so worried. Colin was an adult now. But they were so close to being done with the whole disaster and one wrong move...
He dragged his hand through his hair and sighed. On the other hand, Mr. Russo was a major client who could shoot Sean to stardom with referrals. Or ruin his career.
And in other ways, the timing couldn't be better. He'd been waiting for his chance with Olivia Marconi since high school. She'd offered herself on a platter just before officially asking for her divorce and it took every ounce of willpower Sean possessed to refuse. He would not take advantage of a vulnerable woman. He wanted her to want him, not just some guy who wasn't her asshole of a husband. One way or another, he would convince her to give him another chance.
Two birds. One stone.
And Colin could survive without him.
Sean took a deep breath.
"Dude, you're gonna be late," Colin said.
"Oh, shut up. I'm going." He picked up his bag.
Colin followed him downstairs.
Sean checked his pockets for his wallet, passport, cell phone, and keys-all where they should be. He headed for the front door, still shadowed by his brother. Sean turned around and gave him a stern look. "I mean it. Don't do anything stupid. Six more days and you're off probation."
Colin rolled his eyes. "C'mon, bro. Would I do anything stupid?"
They both knew the answer to that, so Sean waited for his promise.
"No parties. No cops. No fun. Just work and no play, I swear. Have a good time, man." Colin's grin was little-boy sweet and made Sean nervous. Maybe he should stay for the hearing.
His brother opened the front door and made a shooing motion with his hand.
Sooner or later, Colin had to grow up, right? He wasn't a kid anymore. Maybe standing alone would finally make him realize actions have consequences. Sean forced himself to walk out the door.
He tossed his bag into the backseat of his car. Now that he was on his way, his apprehension about leaving eased. Colin would be fine, and he was right-Sean had asked their mother to keep an eye on him this week.
Had he really never taken a vacation? There had never been the time, money, or freedom to go anywhere when they were little, and since then life had been filled with school, work, and, for Colin, community service. Except for one uncomfortable "family" trip to Mexico when their mother had gotten married, they hadn't gone anywhere. The end of Colin's probation would lift a huge weight from his shoulders-he deserved this break.
He didn't think it was going to be difficult to find Mrs. Russo. With the pictures she kept sending her husband, it was clear she wanted to be found. As soon as he gave her the papers, he'd have plenty of time to spend with Olivia. Anticipation built inside him. For as long as he'd known Olivia, she'd never taken a vacation either. They could drink wine, soak up the sun, relax...he stopped that line of thought.
He couldn't think about relaxing until he was on the plane to Italy. For all intents and purposes he was hijacking Olivia's vacation and she hadn't exactly been receptive to suggestion yesterday at Johnny's. Sure, he'd built a career out of his ability to be persuasive, but he'd never used his skills to stage a seduction, at least not on this grand of a scale. He caught sight of himself in the rearview mirror and grinned. No turning back now.
Olivia pulled into her driveway. She had spent most of last night cleaning her house top to bottom, fueled by her irritation with Sean. This morning, she had canceled her newspaper, put a hold on her mail, left a set of house keys with the real estate agent, and tied up about a million other loose ends. As soon as she found someone to buy her car, her exodus from Norton would be complete, but she was going to hold off on that until the house sold, figuring she'd have to come back for the closing anyway.
Her cell phone rang. When she saw it was the restaurant, she let it go to voice mail. Chameleon didn't need her and she was cutting it close on time, with only two hours to get home, pick up Nonna, and get to the airport for their flight. She probably shouldn't have stopped for lunch, but hot wings were one thing she was going to miss.
She jumped out of the car and jogged up the path, surprised to find her front door locked. Why wasn't it wide open with Nonna waiting impatiently in the hallway?
She unlocked the door and opened it. "Nonna?" she called.
"Upstairs." Her grandmother's voice drifted lazily down the stairs.
"You ready to go?" Olivia asked as she darted down the hall to her bedroom to grab her suitcase, already packed and waiting. She didn't hear an answer. "Nonna?"
The doorbell rang.
She whirled to see Sean, smiling at her through the screen door. Her pulse jumped. Damn it. You're mad at him, remember?
She pushed the screen door open. "Hi, Sean. Nonna Lucia and I are just getting ready to leave for the airport. Is there a problem?" She hoped there was nothing wrong with the forms she had stashed in the filing cabinet at the restaurant.
He shook his head, making the afternoon sun glint in his close-clipped blond hair. "Nope, no problems. I'm taking you to the airport," he said cheerfully, pulling the heavy suitcase out of her hand. His fingers pressed against hers briefly and the warmth shot straight up her arm. He was wearing a suit again. Just not fair.
She shook her head. "I thought Big Daddy was taking us."
He set the suitcase on the porch and stepped into the house. "Something came up," he said easily. "Got any more luggage?" He brushed against her in the narrow hallway, and she caught a whiff of fresh laundry just begging to be rolled in.
For a minute, she couldn't move. Then she left him there and dashed up the stairs. "Nonna is going to be crushed," she called over her shoulder. "I don't think she got to say good-bye to him. I'll get her bags." Sean didn't need to haul Nonna's suitcase down the stairs, especially since he'd already been pressed into service as their last-minute chauffeur. She wished someone had told her they needed a different driver. She would have preferred one of Big Daddy's grandsons, or even a taxi, to Sean. She didn't need the added stress of ignoring the awkwardness between them. The fact that he didn't seem to feel it was even more annoying.
She found Nonna sitting on the bed in the guest room. A quick glance into the closet showed that her suitcase was in exactly the same place it had been this morning. Olivia lifted it. Empty. The fear that had been hovering at the edge of her mind since she reached her locked front door became reality.
"Cara, I am not going with you to Verona," her grandmother confirmed softly.
Olivia tossed the suitcase onto the bed. "Nonna, I'll pack for you. We can't miss our plane. Please, hurry!"
"I told you I didn't want to go, Olivia. You didn't listen. I love Benito, and I'm staying here. I'll use my ticket another time."
Olivia put her hands on her hips. "You can't marry Big Daddy, Nonna. He's a mobster!"
"Bah! He's not a mobster. He's just misunderstood."
Olivia counted to ten and silently cursed the timeless appeal of bad boys. Benito Capozzi, aka Big Daddy, was indeed a mobster, and her grandmother knew it. He ran the local casino as well as several other questionable businesses in town. He'd also sabotaged Chameleon at the beginning of the summer, which had a huge part in Olivia's incipient meltdown. Big Daddy's complete devotion to her grandmother was the only thing that had kept Olivia from hiding shrimp shells in his limo. Well, that and the fact that his chauffeur never fell asleep in the car.
Olivia tried again. "Mom is going to kill you."
"Ah, your mamma. She doesn't scare me." Nonna straightened her slim shoulders.
Olivia groaned. Easy for her to say.
Her grandmother's lips curved in a girlish smile. "And who said anything about getting married? That's for young people. I'll be perfectly happy living in sin." The lilt in her soft voice stopped Olivia from pulling open the dresser drawers and stuffing Nonna's clothes into her suitcase. Instead, she crossed to the bed and scrutinized her grandmother.
Nonna Lucia's eyes shone with happiness, and it wasn't her carefully applied makeup or her smart, pink suit that made her look radiant. Nonna glowed from within. She didn't look a day over sixty-five. Oh, sweet Jesus, she really was in love.
Olivia sank down onto the bed and tried to ignore the panic she felt tightening around her lungs. "Nonna, I need a vacation." And Sean was downstairs waiting. If they missed their flight, she wasn't sure she could hold it together until the next one. "I'm exhausted." And my marriage failed, and I'm a monster for resenting my best friends, and as it turns out, I'm not a great chef, so I can't do the thing I was planning to do for the rest of my life. "Please? I need some time to myself. I just can't-I need a break." A permanent break.
"Olivia?" Sean's deep voice echoed up the stairs.
"Be right down!" she called, forcing the tight words out of her throat. Now was not the time to start screaming or sobbing, although temptation welled up so hard it made her eyes water. She clamped her mouth shut and forced herself to focus on this problem, just this one.
"I'm taking your suitcase out to the car," Sean yelled up from the foyer.
"You don't have to do that. I'll get it," she yelled back. Olivia heard the screen door swing shut behind him.
Nonna Lucia patted her on the hand. "You go."
"Nonna, I can't leave you alone."
"Olivia, cara, I'm a grown woman. I came to check on you, remember? I'm not ready to go home just yet. Take your vacation. And, mio Dio, give your mother enough to worry about so that she doesn't come here looking for me. I need a break too." Nonna's chocolate brown eyes sparkled.
Olivia hadn't considered that her mother called every day. Sometimes twice. If neither of them appeared at Villa Farfalla, her mother was sure to come looking for them.
Nonna gave her a gentle push. "I'll move into your bedroom while you're gone if you don't mind. I don't like the stairs." Nonna looked thoughtful. "Benito and I will come next week for la Sagra dell'Uva. It's been a long time since our last gala. It's time. Go, cara. Your man is waiting."
"He's not my man," Olivia said automatically.
Her grandmother snorted. "You forget who you are talking to. I saw him walk by the restaurant twice a day, every day, for four years when you two were in school together. What happened?"
Olivia ignored the question and leaned to hug her, breathing in her lemony scent. "Ciao, Nonna."
Her grandmother laughed softly.
Olivia grabbed the keys to her house and car and handed them to Nonna, knowing she'd have to warn her. "I've put the house on the market. The real estate agent's name is Tricia Banner. I'll make sure she knows to call before bringing anyone over."
Her grandmother arched her delicate eyebrows. "Why are you selling your house, cara?"
Olivia looked away. "It's time for a change." She heard Sean open the front door, so she stood up. "Don't worry, the market isn't very good right now. I'll make sure you can stay as long as you want. Unless you plan to shack up with Big Daddy?"
Nonna laughed, but she didn't deny it. "Ti voglio bene, Olivia. Travel safely. I love you."
"I love you too." Olivia dipped to kiss her grandmother's soft cheek, then strode out of the bedroom carrying the scent of Nonna's lemons in her hair and the ever-present echo of a frustrated shriek in the back of her skull.
"Why are you carrying your briefcase?" Olivia asked. Rather than leave her at the departure curb, Sean had insisted on escorting her into the airport.
"I can't leave these files in the car," he explained, slinging his large leather bag over his shoulder. He rolled her suitcase behind him, forcing her to trail after him with her carry-on.
"You really didn't have to park, Sean. I'm quite capable of getting myself on an airplane."
In fact, she was glad to be traveling alone now. It had been ages since she felt this free from responsibility-no orders to call in, no delivery slips to sign, no schedules to write, no mistakes to explain to anyone. The pressure had been paralyzing. It had been getting harder and harder to choose a task, to make a decision. There had been too many people depending on her to do the right thing every second of the day, until all she wanted to do was crawl into the office and hide under the desk. Getting away from everything was just what she needed.
Sean tugged her driver's license and passport out of her hand, and she let him-more evidence of the passivity that had overtaken her formerly authoritative self. He handed her documents to the skycap. Woodenly, Olivia answered his questions. Yes, she'd packed her bags herself. Yes, they had been in her presence the entire time. She turned her back while she jammed her documents back into her purse so Sean wouldn't see the sudden tears in her eyes. A dull roar filled her ears and she walked a few feet and sat down on a bench.
When had the moment occurred? The actual moment when she surrendered, succumbed to personal inertia and professional paralysis? Had there been a moment? Or had it happened gradually?
Both, she thought, standing up and following Sean as he rolled her bag into the terminal, no longer resenting his company quite as much. It was nice of him to be here for her, especially when he had to be in court. At least, she assumed he had to be in court because he was wearing a dark suit that made his gray eyes look silver. His white shirt was starched and his fashionable tie was knotted perfectly, as per usual. He walked toward security with the air of a man who knew exactly where he was going.
He motioned her in front of him and handed her tickets to the uniformed guard. Sean slipped out of his shoes and put them in a plastic bin.
She stopped taking off her own shoes and turned to him. "What are you doing? You can't go to the gate unless you have a ticket."
His steady gray eyes gleamed. "I do have a ticket. I'm going with you."
Meet the Author
Amanda Usen knows two things for certain: chocolate cheesecake is good for breakfast and a hot chef can steal your heart. Her husband stole hers the first day of class at the Culinary Institute of America. They live in Western New York with their three children and an ancient beagle.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Verona, Italy. Romeo and Juliet, and a family inn and vineyard. Luscious descriptions of food prep: "...She chopped fennel and more garlic, glorying in the beauty of the simple ingredients. As she julienned the remaining carrots for the sheer pleasure of feeling her knife move, she felt an ease she hadn't enjoyed for months, maybe years. She felt drunk with the joy of creating something..." High school sweethearts who are coming together again, there's a sweet poignancy to Olivia and Sean's rekindled romance following her divorce. Olivia as a character starts out skittish (not unusual after a bad marriage/divorce) and passive, but she finds her backbone in the end. I'm not sure that Sean, a born White Knight, who is torn between rescuing his little brother and Olivia, makes as full a journey as Olivia does. Other characters, like Nonna Lucia, Gia, and Big Daddy add some delightful flavor. Foodies, fans of Italy, and contemporary romance will love this. A great read and a happy ending. Perfetto.
U can get a better love story, really who wouldn't want to be followed by the 1 person u loved in high school
I love that Olivia was able to get her happy ever after! It was great to follow her story after learning so much about her in Scrumptious. Sean is a hot tamale and a great guy. I love that Amanda Usen brought Olivia's friends back into the story also, from the previous, even if it was for a short time. Definitely a good read and one to have at once you have read Scrumptious!
HI i have done a video and then now here the written one. The book is great read you go form usa to Italy.Olivia is the owner of a restaurant that om and daddy got her started in her parent wanted her to go to school and she did as she was told well she getting tired of the place and eery thing going on around her. She is need in Italy so she goes and put the house up for sale and then she got the divorce form a good for nothing hubby.She left the restaurant to Marlene and JOE and says good buy her divorce lawyer bring the final paper and now she go to Italy. Mon and dad need help with the place but she when she ready to go who is going with her.Her lawyer he got to go to find a women in Italy who is spending her husband money. The story take you through Olivia's up and down and the secrets of the resort. You will in joy the book a lot and then see what happen i read and blog on the book on u tube at desitheblone check it out