She was an ex-wife, ex-lawyer and soon-to-be ex-owner if her restaurant didn't turn around. To top things off, Margo Evans's ex was getting married again. What if her two children preferred their new stepmom?
But all was not lost. A new lunchtime regular, Robert Brooks, seemed likely to add some spice to her lifeor he would if a single mom hadn't recently left him standing at the altar, wrenching away the child he'd begun to love.
Could Margo coax the conservative banker to swallow his fear of women with kids? And show him to a table for four?
SINGLES WITH KIDS
Is it really possible to find true love when you're single with kids?
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Thursday's Soup of the Day: Squashed Pear
There was that man again. As Margo Evans accepted change from a customer, her attention lingered on the guy who'd just entered her bistro. He was in his mid-thirties, dressed in a business suit. Just as he had yesterday, he claimed a table in the back near the kitchen even though several seats by the windows were available. Immediately he pulled out a newspaper and notepad from his briefcase, and before he'd even ordered anything to eat, his BlackBerry started to ring.
It was two-thirty in the afternoon. A slow time between lunch and rush hour. They had only one other customer, a woman in her forties who was reading a novel as she sipped her coffee. Stillthe guy had his nerve.
Gritting her teeth, Margo pulled out the sign her daughter, Ellie, had made for her last night: No Cell Phones Please. Ellie must have used every marker in the sixteen-color pack. It was a terrific sign. Margo taped it so that it hung down from the counter facing the guy in the suit.
But he was hunched over his BlackBerry and didn't notice.
How annoying. She didn't mind if her patrons took the occasional call, but if he planned to stay several hours, as he had yesterday, she was going to have to make him aware of the rules.
She went around the counter and slipped next to Emma Greenfield. Em's kids were in high school now and she worked Monday to Friday, eight hours a day. "Do we have a zucchini chocolate cake in reserve?"
"I think so."
"Good. Nora's stopping by for coffee later, and that's one of her favorites." Nora Clark was a new friend Margo had made a few months ago. One of the perks of owning a bistro was that she was always making new friends. But Nora was special. Like Margo, she was a single mom, too, and they always had lots to talk about.
"We've got the cake," Em assured her. "But we're running low on the soup."
Margo peered into the cauldron and saw that Em was right. They were down to the dregs, and if yesterday was anything to judge by, the guy in the suit was going to order several bowls of the stuff.
"Those soups of yours are the most popular item on the menu," Em said, as she wiped down the espresso machine. The beautiful red La Marzocco had been costly"even more than Margo's beloved Garland stove in the back"and Em treated it with the same attention that a car lover would bestow on a vintage automobile.
"Yes, the soup always sells out, doesn't it?" In fact, business was generally brisk and the feedback on the food was excellent. So why wasn't she making any money?
Margo couldn't figure it out. Lots of people had warned her about the work and the risks involved in starting a new business"particularly a restaurant, where hours were long and competition tight. Among those who had been the most cautious were the loans manager at the bank, her ex-husband Tom and her former associates at the law firm. She'd known they were right, but she hadn't appreciated just how right they would turn out to be.
Margo pulled the stainless steel soup container from its slot and headed for the kitchen. As she passed the guy in the suit, their eyes connected briefly.
Had they met before? Several times yesterday she'd had the feeling that they had. For a moment it seemed as if he was going to say something to her, but then his BlackBerry beeped and he turned his attention back to that.
He looked like a typical businessman in his mid-thirties. The kind of customer she saw many times every day. He was conservative and cleancut and totally boring".
Except for his eyes. His smile was kind of cute, too.
With her hip Margo pushed open the door to the narrow kitchen. Centered on the back wall was the stainless steel Garland. She stirred the pot of thick, fragrant squash and pear soup that simmered on the back burner, then refilled the cauldron and lugged it back to the serving area out front.
One of her regular customers was just walking in. Margo stopped to chat with the older gentleman for a while and she smiled when he told her that his afternoon coffee was the highlight of his day.
"I always feel happy when I'm here," Oscar said in a whisper, as if it was something to feel ashamed of.
"So do I," Margo whispered back.
And she was. Her bistro was everything she'd ever dreamed it would be"except profitable. Margo had expected to lose money the first few 11 months, but with a year of operation behind her she was getting desperate to creep out of the red.
The guy in the suit appeared at the counter as soon as she had the soup in place. He caught her eye. "Smells wonderful. I'll have a bowlful of that, plus another of those scones."
As she took his money, the recognition thing bugged her again. "Have we"?"
But before she could complete her question, his phone rang. He was wearing small earphones, so he was able to talk to whomever was on the line and carry his food back to his table all at the same time.
"That guy is starting to get on my nerves," Em commented quietly.
"Maybe I should take Ellie's sign and flash it in his face."
Em laughed. "Yeah. You do that." "I'm serious." She started to lift the tape that was holding the sign to the counter, only to hear the sound of ringing yet again. It wasn't Suit Guy's BlackBerry this time"she was embarrassed to realize it was her own cell phone.
Em's hair was turning gray, but her eyebrows were still coal-black. She raised them now and Margo apologized.
"It might be an emergency. I'll just be a sec."
She withdrew to the kitchen where she pulled her phone from the pocket of her white apron. Only the kids' school and Tom had this number and they knew better than to use it casually.
Had one of the kids taken ill? Been injured on the playground? With a feeling of dread, Margo said hello.
Not hearing the school secretary on the other end was a plus. But the familiar voice of her exhusband didn't exactly fill her with joy. "Hi, Tom."
"Sorry to bother you at the bistro. But I needed to talk to you when the kids wouldn't be around."
Margo sank into a chair. This didn't sound like it was leading up to something good. "What's wrong?"
The final paperwork on the divorce had been signed last week. Everything had been running so smoothly lately that she hadn't expected to hear from Tom again in a long while.
"I've got some news. And I was wondering about the best way to tell Ellie and Peter."
This sounded big. Margo always wore her hair up at work, but she found a stray wisp and coiled it around her finger. "What is it?" Had he been transferred? Was he planning to move? Oh, God, give her strength if that was the case.
"I'm getting married."
"Wha"?" Margo's brain stalled. How could he be getting married? The ditzy paralegal he'd had his affair with had left their law firm in disgrace shortly after Margo's resignation. Ironically it was only Tom's career that had survived that scandal. "I didn't know you were still seeing Janna."
"I'm not. My fiancée's name is Catherine. She works part-time as a receptionist at Henry's firm."
Henry Kovatch was Tom's best friend. And supposedly one of hers, too. The three of them had been inseparable in law school. "Did Henry set you up?"
Hmm. Why hadn't Henry set her up with someone? Then again, the only people Henry knew were lawyers and people who worked with lawyers. And she definitely didn't want to get involved with another one of them.
"Catherine and I have been dating for about four months."
"That's all? And you want to get married?"
"I know it seems impulsive."
"Seems?" Tom was the least impulsive person she'd ever known. On the other hand, he liked having a woman around to take care of him, which was one of the reasons their marriage had failed. Margo had expected to be an equal partner sort of wife. Not a mother fill-in. "This Catherine must be something else."
"She's wonderful. As soon as I met her I knew she was the one."
Margo closed her eyes. Tom had once said that about her. Did he remember?
He'd told her she was the prettiest, most amazing woman in the world and that nothing would make him happier than spending the rest of his life with her.
Apparently he'd meant his life or ten years, whichever came first.
Damn, she never had been one to read the fine print. Good thing she'd left the law. Like her marriage to Tom it was one of those things she'd thought she'd wanted, only to be disillusioned with the reality.
"Well!" Spit it out, Margo. "Congratulations. Have the kids met her?"
"Sure. They get along great."
Funny. Neither Ellie nor Peter had ever mentioned Catherine to her. Then again, neither had they mentioned anything about the new silver Audi roadster that Margo had seen in the garage the last time she'd dropped them off at Tom's for the weekend.
"Catherine loves them, too. This is going to work out really well, Margo. I have no doubt about that."
God help them all if he was wrong. "So when is this wedding taking place?"
"That's the thing. See, we'd been planning a big church wedding, then last week we got the idea to do something simple and easy at city hall."
"Okay But when?"
"That's what I needed to talk to you about. I know this is your weekend to have the kids, but I was hoping."
"This weekend? You're getting married this weekend?"
"Would you calm down, Margo. Yes, I'm getting married this weekend. And I'd like the kids to be there."
In ten years of marriage, he'd never surprised her so much.
"If it's okay with you, I'll pick Ellie and Peter up after school on Friday."
"That's tomorrow." Did Ellie's pink dress shoes still fit her? Well, they'd have to. He'd left them no time to go shopping. "Do they know that you and Catherine are getting married?"
"Well, Catherine has practically been living with me the last few weeks, so I don't think they'll be too surprised."