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Prodigal Prince Charming
By Christine Flynn
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Madison O'Malley, this here's the nicest thing anybody's done for me all week." Grinning like a young boy, the burly construction worker tipped back his hard hat and swiped a fingerful of frosting from the cupcake in his hand. The flame flickered and danced on the small candle stuck in the fluffy chocolate. "I can't believe you remembered."
"She remembers everybody's birthday," the rangy welder on his right informed him. "The cupcake she baked me for my birthday even had sprinkles on it."
"Yeah? Did she put your name on it, like she did mine here?"
The shorter man nodded at the white icing loops that spelled out Tiny.
"She sure did. Didn't you, Madison?"
"I sure did, Jake." Madison's smile came easily, her brown eyes sparkling with the pleasure it gave her to make one of her customer's day just a little special. She baked birthday cupcakes for all the customers on her route, once she got to know them, and she always put their name and a candle on the little treat. "I just didn't know if you liked chocolate or carrot cake better. If you'll tell me, I'll remember for next year."
Tiny told her that what she'd given him was just fine, and walked off, still grinning.
The welder she knew only as Jake took a cellophane-wrappedmuffin from the display on the side of the gleaming silver catering truck and handed her a dollar.
"Morning, Madison." Another of the forty customers crowding toward her held out a five. "I'm taking two poppy seed and a banana."
"I have coffee and a ham-and-cheese roll here," a voice from behind him announced.
"Same here." Another worker, this one unfamiliar, took Jake's place. He handed her two five-dollar bills.
"That's for me and Sid back there."
Madison glanced at the front of the newcomer's white hard hat. Buzz was written in felt pen on the strip of masking tape centered above the brim.
Having been acknowledged by name, the new guy smiled and stepped back to be swallowed by the forward surge of others wanting to make the most of their morning break.
"Hey, Madison! Do you have those carrot-cake muffins today?"
"She only does those on Tuesday and Friday," someone replied for her. "Today is zucchini and poppy seed." Another dirty hand bearing dollar bills appeared through the sea of worn denim and work shirts. "I took one of each."
A machinist with a streak of grease on his cheek held out a ten. "Same. And orange juice."
Taking the men's money, she made change from the small black pack she wore around her waist. The carefully arranged rows of muffins and cheese rolls she had baked herself that morning were quickly disappearing, along with iced cartons of juice and milk and gallons of coffee from her catering truck's built-in urn.
She didn't mind the dirt on the men's hands and clothes. Most of the welders, electricians, steelworkers and laborers at this construction site - like the stevedores and dock workers she would feed next on her route - were salt-of-the-earth, hardworking men who knew the value of even harder work. They were much like the people in the neighborhood where she'd been born, still lived and would probably die. Some were even from her neighborhood, the Ridge, as those who'd grown up in Bay-ridge, Virginia, called it. So were some of the guys on the dock. She was one of them. She knew the value of hard work, too. Day in and day out. She couldn't imagine living her life any other way.
"Hey, Madison." The deep, self-conscious voice came from beside her. "What are you doing this Friday night?"
Her smiled moved to the strapping steelworker who'd asked the same question three weeks running. Eddie Zwicki was tall, cute, built and probably only a year or two younger than her own twenty-eight years. "Going to bed early. I have to get up to shop and clean my truck on Saturday so I'm ready for you guys again next week."
"Don't you ever go out?"
"Not with my customers," she replied, her tone kind as she repeated the rule she'd adopted to save face and feelings. She didn't date anyone, actually. As hard as she was working to build her business, she simply didn't have the time. "But, you know what?" she asked, because he really did seem like a nice guy and there seemed to be so few single ones like that around. "I think you and Tina Deluca would get along great. I told her about you. The kindergarten teacher? Do you want her number?"
"Can she cook?"
"Your favorite oatmeal cookies are her mother's recipe."
"Yeah, but can she bake them?"
The guy was quick. "She's learning."
Someone behind Eddie gave him a shove. But even as he turned to frown at the guy who'd just passed him, he became distracted from his consideration of Tina's lack of culinary talent. As the rumble of quiet conversations around them suddenly tapered to near silence, it seemed the other men were distracted by something, too.
Madison stood near the door of her silver truck with its side popped up to serve as an awning. Moments ago she had seen nothing but the men lined four to six deep waiting to make their selections. Now, those men were shifting, booted feet shuffling in the dirt as they parted like a denim-clad Red Sea.
"Morning, Mr. Callaway," said someone from the back of the group.
"Hey, Mr. Callaway."
"Hi, guys," came the deep and cordial reply. "How's it going this morning?"
The men's replies to the question were now accompanied by an undercurrent of murmurs. Workers who weren't talking simply remained silent and stared.
Madison immediately recognized Matt Callaway. He was the tall, commanding-looking gentleman in the suit and hard hat the others greeted with a certain deference. He owned the construction company building the enormous York Port Mall that was currently nothing more than acres of concrete slabs, rebar and steel girders.
He wasn't alone.
With a curious jolt, Madison realized she knew the man with him, too. Of him, anyway. Just as tall, even more imposing, the man earning the stares that ranged from curiosity to envy was Cord Kendrick.
Excerpted from Prodigal Prince Charming by Christine Flynn Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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