Bridey Berrigan desperately needs a break. Her day job as a chef has taken its toll, and she's all but given up on the male species. Then Bridey sees the ad for a cat sitter, and its good-bye shoebox apartment, hello Park Avenue palace! With only the pedigreed kitties, Silk and Satin, to keep her company, Bridey can finally get to work writing her dream cookbook. And she can't afford any distractions-least of all her intriguing new neighbor...
Businessman Mack Brewster likes his women glamorous, aloof, and very sophisticated. With her easy smile and fresh-faced beauty, Bridey isn't exactly his type. Also, Mack is a dog person. Still, the mouth-watering aromas wafting from Bridey's kitchen are impossible to ignore. And as the impish felines somehow keep bringing the two of them together, Mack's appetite is piqued-in more ways than one. But would Bridey even consider giving a guy like him a chance? Mack's not sure, but he can't wait to find out...
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Read an Excerpt
A Purrfect Romance
By J.M. BRONSTON
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 J.M. Bronston
All rights reserved.
The traffic light changed, dozens of impatient cabs charged into motion—and Bridey Berrigan sprinted to the median strip, just a jump ahead of disaster. She should have been more careful, but on this particular morning she was too excited to watch the traffic. All her attention was on her new home, across the street at the corner of Sixty-Sixth and Park.
There it stood, tall and gleaming in the morning sunlight, a peaceful oasis in the midst of the city's rush. She checked the address spelled out in elegant lettering on the green canopy that stretched across the sidewalk from the glass-and-wrought-iron door all the way to the curb.
"Six Twelve Park Avenue," she whispered into the city's racket.
She looked once again at the slip of paper on which Mr. Kinski had written the address.
"Apartment Twelve A."
She counted the floors up to twelve, the penthouse level, and saw trees and shrubbery waving in the breeze, poking their newly green tops over the terrace railing, and Bridey, who couldn't help being nervous on this very important day, was reassured by the greenery in the sky. It seemed to be a happy omen, as was the morning sunlight that flashed brightly off the twelfth-floor windows.
The breeze caught at her hair and she raised a hand to smooth the thick, crinkly mass of curls that fell almost to her shoulders, holding it back from her forehead so that it formed a veritable halo of copper and gold around her remarkably fine-featured face. Her gesture unleashed flashes of sun-filled brilliance that danced happily around her head, adding to the shimmering, eager excitement in her golden-green eyes.
Mr. Kinski's words were still singing in her head.
"There's very little that will be required of you," he had said during their interview in his office, as he described the peculiar nature of the job. "Until the probate of the will is completed, nothing can be removed, so everything is being maintained exactly as it was before Mrs. Willey's death. There are eighteen rooms, a full cleaning staff and excellent building security. And the kitchen—well, I think you'll find it will exactly suit your special purposes. As you will see, it had originally been designed to accommodate the most elaborate social functions. So, all in all, this should be a very comfortable arrangement for you."
A comfortable arrangement indeed! Perfect was more like it.
"And then, of course," he had added, "there are the two cats."
Ah, yes. The two cats.
Silk and Satin. A pair of highly pedigreed Russian Blues from a single litter.
The ad had practically jumped at her off the screen.
House sitter needed for indeterminate period. Must love cats.
She needed a place to stay. She loved cats. She answered the ad. Simple as that!
And now, as she waited for the light to change, she said to herself, "This is either the nuttiest thing I've ever got into or some good angel is watching over me. This could be the most fabulous piece of good luck, a heaven-sent chance to change my whole life."
Nutty or fabulous?
Sometimes Bridey couldn't tell the difference. Her style had always been a happy combination of sharp turns and quick energy, which often turned her adventures into scrapes and her scrapes into adventures. Her Grandma Berrigan, who had raised her, liked to say, "That child is all nuts and cherries."
At school, the sisters had put it a little differently.
"Bridey Berrigan!" they'd chuckle to each other in make-believe despair. "That one is definitely a fruitcake!"
The light changed again and she hurried across the street to number 612 where Max, the doorman, stood discreetly on guard, as he had every morning for more than twenty years. Max was impeccably sharp in his blue uniform and brass buttons, and as he opened the door for Bridey, the glass surfaces made his image dance in multiple reflections.
She gave him her name. He smiled politely.
"Yes, Miss Berrigan," he said. "Mr. Kinski has already arrived. He's waiting for you upstairs, in apartment Twelve A." He gestured toward the elevator and then watched her as she walked across the lobby. He gave high marks to the trim, lithe figure in the bright yellow outfit and summery heels.
For her part, Bridey was more aware of the beautiful dark wood paneling of the walls, the brass fixtures all polished to a high gloss, the unfamiliar click of her heels on the marble floor. She tried to feel comfortable in the elegant setting.
"Quite a change from old Mrs. Willey," Max said to Sergei, the hall porter, who had just come on duty. They both turned to study her discreetly while she waited for the elevator. "Them's sure a couple of lucky kitties," Max added.
Sergei, who was still learning English, said only an enthusiastic, "For sure!"
A moment later, similar thoughts were in the head of Tom, the elevator operator. Poor Tom; he was the father of seven noisy children and his sanity depended on the daily, uneventful quiet of his job, and he still hadn't gotten over the shock of Mrs. Willey's startling demise. Out of the corner of his eye, he checked out the new resident as they rode up to the twelfth floor, and he definitely approved. He was reassured to see that this one appeared to be in full—and very attractive—good health.
"That's Twelve A, miss," he said as he opened the door, pointing to the door to the left.
There were only two apartments on the floor and the other door, marked 12B, was directly opposite, to her right. Between the two doors, a pier table against the wall held a vase with cut flowers, and a mirrored panel above the table reflected Tom's face behind her, smiling as the door closed.
To the right of the table, a brass umbrella stand held one very black, very conservative, very tightly rolled umbrella. Its handle was the old-fashioned kind, made of real bamboo stained a dark brown.
She glanced at the door to 12B, wondering about her neighbor.
Just one umbrella, she thought. And definitely not a female one. Judging by the severity, the extreme correctness of the umbrella's style, its owner must be really conservative. She imagined a gentleman of the old school, correct and unapproachable, aloof in his trim, perfectly tailored overcoat, maybe dove-gray gloves, striped pants and an understated, dark tie. In her fantasy, she dressed him in the clothes of a bygone time. He'd be about eighty, impeccable in his manners and very private, just the sort of man she'd expect to be living in this very old-money, very well-behaved building. But he'd remain aloof, of course; she'd learned by now that the inhabitants of this densely populated city valued their privacy.
Well, that's all right, she thought. I'm here to work. I can't waste any time socializing.
She gave the tangle of copper curls one last, nervous pat, smiled at her reflection in the mirror for encouragement, and rang the bell.
Gerald was hoping to placate the partners, let them know he'd found the right person for the job.
"She loved the cats," he told them reassuringly, "and they took to her instantly."
He sat forward in the big leather chair, the very picture of optimism, eager to impart only good news. He refused to be put off by Art Kohler's customary pacing and air of certain disaster, or by Doug Braye's impatient tapping of his pencil on the desk blotter.
"She grew up in a big family, with lots of pets," he went on, trying to make up lost points with his partners, "in a small town somewhere upstate. You should have seen how those two cats just snuggled right up to her. First thing she walks in and just stands there looking around with her mouth open—well, you know how that place is, like a museum, with all those carpets and crystal and first editions. And that enormous living room with the sun pouring in through those big windows—and then Silk and Satin are there, nuzzling up around her ankles like she's their mommy or something. Jeez, I never saw anything like it. She was down on the floor with them in a minute—right there in the foyer—and they were all sniffing noses like they were saying how-do-you-do. They really did make a pretty picture, those two cats with their sleek gray coats and her with this head of red hair. Well, not red, really—"
Gerald seemed to get distracted momentarily, sidetracked down some mental lane. If I were thirty years younger, he was thinking, remembering the pale dusting of freckles across her short, delicate nose, making her seem very young and innocent—
"Gerry?" Doug brought him back. "You were saying, Gerry?"
"Oh, yeah. I was just remembering how nice she looked, real nice, you know? Playing with the cats, like a kid. Pretty girl she is, with all that red hair and big green eyes. Silk and Satin will be in good hands with her."
"Young and playful, huh?" Art Kohler was still looking for trouble. "Do you think she's reliable? There's a lot of valuable stuff in that place. Will she be careful, do you think? We have to be damned sure nothing happens to those two cats. Anything happens to those cats, we're in big trouble. You're sure she understands?"
"Oh, sure. I made it real clear—absolutely clear—the safety and prosperity of those two cats is her solemn responsibility."
"And you checked her out thoroughly?"
"Of course. And I'm satisfied she's okay. She's twenty-four and unattached. Her parents died in a car crash when she was just a kid, and she was brought up by her paternal grandmother and a mob of uncles and aunts and cousins. She has no family here in the city. She's been living with a girlfriend for the last few months."
"Where'd she go to school?"
"She graduated from the Culinary Institute at Hyde Park. Where, I might add, she took special honors as a pastry chef. I called the dean there and he gave her a first-rate recommendation, said she's totally steady, dedicated to her career. She's been working at the Cheval Vert for the last couple of years, but now, with this chance to live rent-free, she's quit her job and plans to work full-time on a special project—some kind of cookbook, I think. She's got enough saved to live on, buy her supplies, do her research, that sort of thing. She's really dedicated a hundred percent to this project and she needs a place where she can test her recipes. That big kitchen in the Willey apartment is absolutely a godsend for her. She was ecstatic when she saw it."
Ecstatic was hardly the word for it. She'd been impressed, of course, as Mr. Kinski led her through the vast apartment, through its many bedrooms, through the separate suites for Neville and Henrietta, through the library, the guest rooms, the servants' quarters, the laundry room, and the sewing room. But he had saved the best for last, and when he opened the swing doors into the huge, virtually professional kitchen, Bridey's mouth opened in a sudden, involuntary o and her eyes went wide.
This is spooky, she thought, looking round at the spotless chrome and white tile. The simple ad had said nothing about a kitchen, but the brief notice had jumped out at her as if it had her name on it. She'd taken a chance and now, like magic, a fabulous door to her future was opening, as though divine providence had taken an unexpected shine to her.
"Mr. Willey had been in the diplomatic service," the lawyer explained, "and he and his wife entertained on a very lavish scale. You've seen the dining room."
She was recovering from her first astonishment and, while Mr. Kinski kept talking, she proceeded to walk around the enormous workstation in the middle of the kitchen, trailing her hand lovingly along the impeccable countertop, touching appreciative fingers to the hanging pots and pans, the racks of exotic utensils suspended above the work surface, the drawers below containing every imaginable cooking aid.
"It's perfect," she whispered, more to herself than to him. "Just perfect."
"The dining room alone seats twenty," he added, "and the Willeys often had a hundred or more for cocktail parties and fund-raising affairs. Mrs. Willey was enthusiastic about good cooking, like yourself, and because her husband had been posted all over the world, she had developed considerable culinary experience. She was always collecting new recipes. If she had a guest from a foreign country, she'd take him—or his wife—into the kitchen to teach her chef the secrets of some new dish or exotic cooking technique. They might all wind up spending the evening in the kitchen with the cooks instead of in the living room trading small talk. Maybe that was the secret of her social success; guests had an interesting evening at the Willey parties and invitations were highly valued.
"Unfortunately," he added sadly, "that all changed when she became a widow. Her husband's death was very hard on her. She actually went through a severe personality change. She'd always been very high-strung and dramatic, and people put up with her sharp tongue because she was lively and amusing and gathered interesting people around her. But after Mr. Willey died, she turned reclusive and somewhat eccentric. Bad tempered, even. Eventually she drove away all her friends. There were no more parties, no more dinners, no more social life. This extraordinary kitchen," his hand gestured around the room, "this virtually professional setup, was reduced to providing only the simple meals she took by herself. She had no family, and she wound up, at the end, all alone in the world. So sad."
Mr. Kinski paused, remembering the white-haired, stiff-necked old woman, remembering how she'd glower at him during her visits to his office, remembering how immovable she was once she'd made up her mind about anything.
"However," he continued at last, "she kept everything in first-class condition, and I think you'll have everything you need here to do your work."
"Oh, yes," Bridey replied. "Everything. It couldn't be better."
She said a silent prayer for the long life and continued good health and safety of the two beautiful cats.
"So, if everything is in order," Mr. Kinski said, "you can take over immediately."
He walked to a deep alcove at one end of the kitchen where, on a long table topped in butcher block, a bottle of red wine and two glasses waited.
"I've taken the liberty," he said, "of preparing for this moment. I opened it before you arrived so it would have a chance to breathe."
He poured out two glasses, handed one to her and lifted his in a toast.
"To the success of your book," he said.
She sniffed, swirled and sipped, approving the excellent Bordeaux. Then she lifted the glass again, in a toast of her own.
"To Silk and Satin," she said. "Long may they live."CHAPTER 2
"Tell me all about it!"
The excited voice on the telephone pierced the remnants of Bridey's dreams. She opened one eye just enough to see the clock next to her bed.
"Marge," she groaned, "it's not even seven o'clock."
"Yes, it is. Well, practically. And I couldn't wait another minute." Marge's voice was at its usual hypomanic pitch: enthusiastic, endearing, and always irresistible, like a small bell going ding! ding! ding! "Come on, Bridey, tell me all about it. Is it magnificent?"
Bridey lifted her head and looked around sleepily. Yes, the Queen Anne highboy was still there, between the tall windows that opened out to the terrace. And the thick, pale beige carpeting that contrasted so delicately with the soft rose of the walls. There was the mirrored dressing table, with its silver and crystal accessories, and opposite her bed was the enormous dressing room in which her small wardrobe now hung in modest simplicity. It hadn't all disappeared during the night. It was not all a figment of her dreams. She was really here, on Park Avenue, in the most stunning apartment she'd ever seen, like something out of Architectural Digest. She snuggled luxuriously into the lush bedding that surrounded her.
"Yes, Marge," she said dreamily. "It really is magnificent. When I get settled, you've got to come up and see it."
"I can't wait! And will you really be able to work on your book there?"
"Absolutely. The kitchen is unbelievable. It's huge and totally professional. I'll be starting this morning. First thing."
"Cool! That's so cool! I want to buy you breakfast, to celebrate. I won't keep you long. Just a quick cup of coffee."
"I promise I won't stand in the way of culinary progress, but I just have to hear all about it. Forty minutes. No more. I promise."
Excerpted from A Purrfect Romance by J.M. BRONSTON. Copyright © 2014 J.M. Bronston. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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