She moved to Sandwich, IL in search of a new life, but ended up in a giant pickle.
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Sandwich, with a Side of Romance
By Krista Phillips
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2012 Krista Phillips
All rights reserved.
God, is it against the rules to want to strangle one's boss?
Even though she was still very new to the whole Christian thing, six months yesterday to be exact, Maddie Buckner was fairly sure that thoughts of murder, even in jest, wouldn't be condoned by the Almighty.
Maddie bit the side of her cheek to keep from saying something not-quite-Christian as she swept the broom across the salon floor for the fifteen-billionth time. She hadn't driven an hour from Chicago with nothing but her clothes and a few hundred bucks to end up as a janitor.
But it seemed on her first day at the Sandwich Cut 'N' Style, that was all her new boss would let her do, considering it was already afternoon and she'd yet to cut a single strand of hair. She was supposed to be given walk-ins, but her boss refused her the few they'd even had, saying they were too "important" to risk on a newbie.
"You still missed some, Madison." Judy, her Nazi-of-a-boss, crossed thick arms over her ample chest and nodded toward two short brown specks in the corner. "And when you're done, the waiting area needs straightening up. I'm running to Art's, and I expect it done by the time I get back. Got it?"
The front of the salon was indeed a mess due to the five-year-old terror who'd just left. He'd thrown every magazine out of the rack and banged on each toy from the basket while his mother got a perm. Oh, the joys. And since Art's Supermarket was just down the block, she'd have to book it to get done before Her Majesty returned.
Maddie swept up the two errant hairs, then headed for the front. While she stuffed a Good Housekeeping magazine back into the rack, the bell over the door jingled and a fine specimen of a man walked in.
Hello, Mr. Gorgeous. Shaggy-blond hair, tan arms, a slight stubble on his chin. The old Maddie would have thrown herself at him to get a date. The new Maddie wanted to run away.
The guy leaned against the oak reception desk and ran a hand through his shoulder-length hair, then looked at his watch. "Cyndi gonna be much longer?"
Miss Agnes, their gray-haired receptionist/manicurist, nodded. "Sorry, Reuben. Cyndi's three o'clock is taking longer than she expected. It'll be another ten minutes or so. You okay to wait?"
The man eyed his watch again. "I need to get back before the dinner rush. Is there anyone else who can do it?"
"Only Judy, and she stepped out for a few minutes. If you really don't want to wait, we've got a new stylist who just started today."
Hunky-guy glanced at Maddie with a frown. "She looks a little young. Is she any good?"
Did the guy think she was deaf? Plus, Mr. GQ didn't look to be much over twenty-five himself.
Miss Agnes tisked. "Now Reuben, be nice. Maddie came highly recommended."
Only the prospect of her first client and a subsequent tip persuaded her to ignore the man's rudeness. Plastering on her best fake customer-service smile, Maddie straightened up from where she'd been putting blocks back in the bin. "My name's Maddie. I'd be happy to do your cut if you'd like."
Cyndi waved from the sink where she was removing perm rods from Mrs. Emerson's hair. "Maddie'll do a great job, Reuben."
Reuben crossed his arms, looked at Maddie for a moment, then nodded. "That's fine."
As she showed him back to her station, nerves did the hula in her stomach. Her first real, paying haircut. She'd been a natural at school and had cut her little brother's hair for years. But having her livelihood depend on it was an entirely new experience.
Jesus, please don't let me mess this up!
Grabbing a cape and towel from the rack, she forced another sugar-sweet smile and twirled the chair around. "Have a seat."
He nodded and sat down. She spun the chair toward the mirror and tucked the small towel around his neckline. "So what did you have in mind? Just a trim?"
"No, I want a perm." He rolled his eyes. "Of course a trim. Same style. No need for a shampoo."
Maddie bit the side of her cheek to keep from retorting with a rude comment of her own. "Not a problem, sir. I'm guessing to take off maybe a half inch?"
He shifted in his seat, his brow creased in a worried line. "Listen, if you have to guess, then maybe I need to just wait for Cyndi. I don't really care to be a practice mannequin today."
Maddie turned around and grabbed her comb so he wouldn't see the darts she hurled at him with her eyes. Her first customer had to be not only a male but also a demanding pig of one too. But still, she needed a good tip. "No sir, I was just making sure that was what you wanted."
When he didn't reply, she turned and saw him sitting, eyes closed, his fingers rubbing his temples. Maybe Reuben-the-jerk had a headache. She should not be gleeful at the thought. Lord, forgive me.
She walked behind him and ran her fingers through his hair as she assessed his current style. An ultramodern, long shaggy cut parted an inch to the right and layered to chin length with a chic "messy" look to it. The back curled out, giving evidence of a little natural wave. It was an attractive haircut, especially for his boyish, square face, but seemed a bit longer than it should be. He was cute now, but when she was done with him, he'd be positively swoon- worthy.
Minus, of course, his snakelike personality. Nothing she could do about that.
"What are you doing?" The man stared at her in the mirror.
Maddie withdrew her fingers from his hair and bent down, pretending to look at the back of his head. "Trying to make sure I get the cut right. Should be good to go now."
Note to Maddie: Don't fall in love with a client's hair and spend several minutes running your fingers through it. Awkward moment will surely follow.
Ignoring his brooding stare, she grabbed her scissors and began to work. The slivers of dusty blond hair floated to the ground as she snipped with a steady hand. She was doing it. Her first haircut at her first job. Her father's words echoed in her brain. "You'll never amount to anything, girl. Just like your mom."
She was proving him wrong, along with every other man who thought she was nothing but an object to be manipulated and manhandled. If only they could see her now. But, then, Maddie would be thrilled if she never laid eyes on any of them again. Especially her father.
As his hair began to take the proper shape, her confidence boosted. She was a success, and soon she'd have enough money to rent a little house and bring her brother home where he belonged.
While she trimmed the back, she glanced in the mirror. Was Reuben-the-jerk asleep? His head drooped, and his eyes were closed. At least he couldn't act like a spoiled brat while he slept.
She moved to the right and began to trim the front. The layers in his bangs started at the base of his ear and ended below his chin. Maddie combed the first swatch of hair and positioned her scissors to make the cut, but Reuben's head jerked farther down then up as she began her cut, causing her hands to slip.
Maddie gasped. Dread curled itself around her stomach and squeezed. In her trembling hand she'd caught four full inches of his hair. On the side of Reuben's forehead was a one-and-a-half-inch dusty-blond stub.
* * *
The image in the mirror was just an illusion. It had to be.
Reuben Callahan blinked twice.
No such luck. His hair was still in shambles, and a shell-shocked brunette stood next to him holding the evidence of her crime. He fought the urge to let a few words rip that rarely graced his lips. But with Miss Agnes over there gasping, word would no doubt get back to his mother since the two had been friends for years. And his mom wouldn't hesitate to take a bar of soap to his mouth, even if he was twenty-seven years old.
After what seemed like an eternity of eerie silence, the bell clanged against the front door, and Judy Meadows, the owner, walked in. "What in the world —"
Assessing the scene faster than a CSI agent, Judy dropped her bags and marched over. Snatching the scissors from Maddie's hand, she pulled her to the side. Reuben only caught pieces of the whispered conversation between boss and employee, but given the petite stylist's rushed escape to the back room, it hadn't been pleasant.
Judy grabbed a spray bottle and began wetting down his hair and combing it at a feverish speed. "Reuben, I am so sorry. Madison is new and came highly recommended. I had no idea this would happen. I'll fix it. I promise."
"How are you going to fix it? There's no disguising a missing chunk of hair." He was being rude; he knew it. He'd feel guilty later. But right now, on top of being up all night crunching numbers that just wouldn't add up and a pounding headache, he had a botched haircut too.
Okay, so it was just hair and no one had died. But his appearance contributed to the persona he tried to keep. He was the cool entrepreneur, the suave business guy on the verge of huge success. Now he looked like some dude with an overgrown mullet.
"We'll just find you a new style. One that'll look nice until it grows back out." Judy grabbed a hairstyle book out of the magazine rack and flipped through the pages. "Here, this is what I had in mind."
She shoved the book onto his lap. The page displayed a much shorter hairstyle featuring a rugged spiked look. With some hair gel, it wouldn't be too bad. "That'll do."
The portly woman took the book from him and laid it on the booth counter. "Good, good. I knew you'd like it. You just sit back and let ol' Judy take care of you. And, of course, it's on the house."
Judy made quick work of the haircut and took extra time to style it for him. The spiky look was different, but maybe a hair change was what he needed. Livy had been after him to cut it for ages.
As he set a few dollars tip on the counter, Reuben noticed a wallet-sized picture taped to the mirror. The new stylist, her brunette hair a little longer than her current short bob, had her arm around a boy who looked to be ten, maybe eleven years old.
Son, maybe? Doubtful, since by the looks of her ripped jeans and crazy hairdo, she couldn't be much out of high school. One never knew these days though.
Beside the photo was a slip of paper with a Bible verse, Jeremiah 29:11, typed on it.
Guilt tiptoed on his conscience making God-sized imprints. He'd been a bear to the poor woman. When he was in the zone, it was easy to forget that most people were more than just employees. They were mothers, sisters, or friends. Not to mention children of God.
As bad as his day had been, there was no excuse for how he'd acted.
Stifling another yawn, he waved to Miss Agnes, who frowned at him, and Judy, who had a too-bright smile plastered on her face.
He walked down the block to where his BMW was parked on Main Street and clicked the button to unlock the car. He opened the door and sat in the driver's seat, then flipped the sun visor down to look one more time at his new haircut, then turned his head from side to side. Yes, it would do.
He ran his fingers through the short hair, but stilled when the car rocked and a soft thud sounded on the hood. He flipped up the visor and stifled a yell. Someone lay plastered against the windshield of his car.CHAPTER 2
What are you doing on my car?"
Maddie crossed her arms over her chest and smiled at the angry man staring at her. His new haircut actually made him look hotter. Too bad. "I'm sitting, what does it look like I'm doing?"
Reuben's hands were clutched so tight, Maddie wouldn't be surprised if there were nail marks on his palms. "I can see that. What I want to know is why. This is a brand new Beamer."
Crossing her legs at the ankle, Maddie pretended to relax, when in reality, her stomach threatened to heave. This was for Kyle. She had to stay strong. "I don't want to scratch your precious expensive toy, but you cost me my job, buddy."
His cheek twitched, and he pulled at his dress-shirt collar. "I didn't know she fired you."
"Bull. You were there when she told me to pack up my things."
A look of indecision flashed over his face. Was that remorse? "I didn't hear what she said, but I'll admit, I guessed as much. Listen, I'm sorry you got fired. But I don't know how sitting on my car is going to help."
Maddie pulled her legs up to sit crisscross on the hood, her tennis shoes resting on the shiny black paint. A good move given the stricken look on Reuben's face. "I want you to go back in there and tell them the truth, that you fell asleep and the whole thing was your fault, and then demand they give me my job back."
His clenched jaw shifted to the side. "First, I did not fall asleep. I was just resting my eyes. Second, it won't help anyway. When Judy makes her mind up, she rarely changes it."
Maddie hated to admit it, but he was probably right. Judy had been a strict dictator since she'd started that morning. She'd even highlighted in yellow the section of her handwritten, stapled-together employee handbook that stated the zero-tolerance policy for haircut errors the first month. But still, she had to try. "You did too fall asleep. And I'm not getting up until you fix this."
The man was eerily quiet, staring at her with those determined, hazel eyes. Panic flooded Maddie's resolve. What if he called the cops or something? Could she get arrested for sitting on someone's car? A jail record would not help her case in getting custody of Kyle.
Her stomach twisted when he walked to the passenger-side of the car and opened the door.
She blinked. "Excuse me?"
"I said get in."
The man must think she'd been born a hundred years ago. "I don't even know you. I am not getting into a car with a strange man. You could be a rapist, an ax murderer, a—"
"I'm going to call the cops in about five seconds and report you for vandalism if you don't get yourself in this car. I have an idea that may help both of us."
Maddie weighed her choices. Getting in the car could be the equivalent of suicide. Staying on the hood of the car would get her arrested. And giving up ... that was just not an option.
She hopped off, stepped around him, and climbed in the car. He slammed the door and examined the hood slowly, his palm rubbing the spot where she'd sat, before plopping into the driver's seat.
"Buckle up." He spat out the terse command, making her wonder if he was a policeman in disguise. Just in case, she obeyed.
When he peeled out of the parking spot, she breathed a sigh of relief. He was definitely not a cop. A few minutes later he pulled into a restaurant parking lot. The sign read, "The Sandwich Emporium."
Not the most original name given its location in Sandwich, Illinois, but the front looked quaint and inviting, its gabled roof and stone façade giving a whisper of welcome.
Maddie ventured a look at Reuben. His hands still gripped the steering wheel, and he stared straight ahead. Should she interrupt him?
After a minute of silence, she couldn't take it anymore. "So, was your idea to buy me dinner as restitution?"
He sat back in the seat and glanced at her. "Would that work for you?"
"I didn't think so, and no, that wasn't my idea. I own the Emporium."
Maddie raised her eyebrows. "Really? You're awfully young to have your own restaurant."
His jaw clenched again, and Maddie could almost hear his teeth grinding. If he kept it up he'd need dentures by the time he was thirty.
"My dad left it to me when he died two years ago. And I'm not some young college kid. I'm twenty-seven and have been running this business for the last two years."
He was older than she'd guessed. "I'm sorry to hear about your dad."
"Thank you." His voice was softer, less harsh. "Now do you want a job or not?"
"Is that what you're doing? Offering me a job?"
He shrugged. "It's not glamorous, but I'd been thinking about adding another waitress anyway. If you want it, the job's yours."
* * *
Reuben closed the door to his office and headed straight to his desk. He jerked open the top drawer and rummaged around until he found the bottle of ibuprofen, then tossed two pills into his mouth and washed them down with the bottle of water he kept in the mini fridge beside his desk.
For the millionth time in the last two hours, he questioned his sanity. He hadn't planned to hire another waitress anytime soon, although another one would be nice during the busier summer months coming up. Maybe he should have told Judy that he'd been partially to blame for the haircut mishap. He didn't remember falling asleep. But it was entirely possible.
Excerpted from Sandwich, with a Side of Romance by Krista Phillips. Copyright © 2012 Krista Phillips. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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