Her mango chutney is exquisite; her blueberry sauce is to die for. But right now, Chef de Cuisine Daisy Moon is a woman without a kitchen--and without a fiancé. Unceremoniously dumped from her place of business and her relationship, Daisy sells her belongings, plus a few of her ex's, and packs her bags. Maybe smashing all the china in her former restaurant was a bad move. Stripped of her Golden Spoon for "un-chef-like" conduct, she is now blacklisted all over Seattle. Her sole job offer is from the Wild Man Lodge…in Otter Bite, Alaska.
Too bad Daisy can't even get out of Dodge without incident. By the time she boards a ship for Alaska, she's got a trail of new troubles behind her, and suddenly Otter Bite is sounding pretty good. But the vessel turns into her own personal Titanic when a series of close encounters confirms her terrible taste in men--including one very good looking bad luck charm named Max Kendall. She vows to dedicate the rest of her days to chowders and brulée. Yet even Alaska isn't far enough away to shake the memories of the sexy shipmate who rocked her cabin--and her world. Thank goodness she's done with surprises--but they may not be done with her…
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By Maggie McConnell
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Margaret Shelton McConnell
All rights reserved.
"What'll ya take for this?"
Daisy Moon lifted her glazed eyes from a makeshift plywood table where she had been tidying pieces of her past. She focused on the midlife, mostly brunette whose brassy streaks fit her gravel voice. Backlit by the golden afternoon pushing into the garage, the woman appeared heaven-sent. After a closer look, Daisy knew better.
In her right hand, a cigarette was wedged between two fingers while her left hand strangled a porcelain figurine, its milky pastels and melted contours in unhappy contrast to the black polish on the woman's talons.
"I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't smoke," Daisy said politely. "There's a bucket outside —"
Too late. The cigarette was crushed between the sole of one strappy stiletto sandal and the pristine concrete of Daisy's double garage.
"So how much?"
A cloud dulled the sun and the saintly aura faded.
Stepping back to allow yet another stranger to judge the resale value of her life, Daisy answered the brunette. "Doesn't the tag say fifty dollars?" as if she couldn't remember how, in the wee hours of the morning while Lady Antebellum pleaded "Need You Now," she'd painstakingly tied the price tag around the necks of the porcelain lovers.
"Ye-ahh," the woman answered as if Daisy were dense. "But how much will you take?"
"Excuse me," a voice from behind interrupted. "What size is this?"
Daisy turned to a stout woman who held a Kelly-green midcalf skirt and matching short jacket. Daisy loved that suit — it perfectly complemented her Irish genes — but love wasn't a good enough reason to keep something that squeezed the breath from her. "Size six."
"Is there some place I could try it on?"
"Try it on ...?" Daisy imagined popped buttons and exploding seams.
"I'll handle this," Charity Wagstaff whispered, coming through the milling browsers. "You take care of Cruella."
Daisy shot her eyes toward the heavens.
"But remember," her best friend softly chided, "you're turning the page, moving on, taking risks. You're letting go —"
"I know, I know." Forcing a smile, Daisy attended to the brunette. "Make me an offer."
"Ten bucks? That's a Lladró!"
The brunette stared impatiently, as if she were tapping a foot.
"It's a limited edition and it cost $275 last year. They've probably broken the mold."
"Well, if it's so valuable, why're y' selling it?"
Because it was meant to crown the top layer of a fabulous, five-tier Amaretto wedding cake ... "Because I'm moving," Daisy said instead. "And I don't have the room."
The brunette yawned.
"It's like this —" Daisy tried to look pitiful. But it took memories of her long-departed mutt, Sophie, to produce the tears needed for effect. "My husband died and I have to downsize."
"Twenty bucks," countered the dry-eyed shopper.
"She'll take it," Charity said, sneaking up from behind.
Her auburn frizz quivering with indignation, Daisy spun toward the sunny blonde. "Have you lost your mind? It's worth more than twenty dollars. It's worth more than fifty dollars!"
"Let it go."
"It's so beautiful."
"It's only clay. Let it go."
"I don't have all day." The woman held out a rumpled bill. "Y' want the twenty or not?"
Reaching across the plywood, Charity snatched the money.
"I've changed my mind, it's not for sale!" Daisy screamed. Charity blocked her attempt to chase the woman, who fled down the drive like a hyena with carrion.
Daisy wilted, then quickly tensed. The browsing had stopped and all eyes were upon her. A Miss Marple–type linked elbows with her equally tweedy companion and the two scurried out of the garage, pausing briefly at the garden tools displayed along the drive before glancing back and continuing their escape.
Sympathetically, Charity said, "Why don't you take a break? You've been at this for hours."
Daisy took a shuddering breath, the embarrassment and humiliation of the last year dumping on her like a sudden downpour. She didn't even know these people who were picking over the remnants of her life. Why should she care what they thought? It was her garage — for another two weeks. If she wanted, she could be as contrary and unpredictable as the Seattle weather.
"Maybe a short break," Daisy conceded, before wending her way between bookshelves and lamps and a widescreen television marked with a SOLD sign. Who could've predicted that only weeks after Jason had replaced his reliable television with a sleeker state-of-the-art model, he'd do the same with his fiancée?
Certainly not Daisy, who, nonetheless, had taken the high road, thanks to the example set by her mother, a corporate wife who always kept her smile in the face of adversity. With more at stake than just her personal relationship, Daisy had been civil, allowing Jason to move out at his leisure; she had never intended to keep either the television or the telltale Callaway golf clubs until she received the certified letter from Dritz Klak & Smite.
She'd fantasized about bashing the $2,500 television with the $600 driver, but the ever-pragmatic Charity convinced her to sell them instead.
"You'll get the best price on eBay," Charity had told her.
But money was less the objective than expediency; Daisy didn't have time to photograph, upload, monitor, and mail. And fear of another "Craigslist Killer" kept her away from that website. So, the old-fashioned method it was; anything remaining at day's end would be donated to the SPCA thrift shop.
Of course, Jason didn't know his precious belongings were the main course at a garage sale.
Although short-lived, the thought cheered Daisy as she passed from the netherworld of her garage into the haven of her kitchen. But not before fluffing the potpourri of carnation petals strategically placed between a crystal mantel clock and a silver-plated chafing dish.CHAPTER 2
"That poor woman," Maeve Kendall said to her grown son.
"Widowed at such a tender age."
"Uh-huh," Max Kendall agreed, but his attention was on a page from a surprisingly blemish-free 1952 Superman comic book he'd lifted from a stack of twenty. The sign in front read: $2 EACH OR $30 FOR ALL
After flipping through a few more pages, he laid the comic back on the pile, then scrutinized a set of Callaway golf clubs. Removing the driver from its bootie, he gripped Bertha and spread his feet as if he were about to swing.
"She couldn't be much more than thirty ... five? Wouldn't you say, Max? Thirty-five?"
"I'd say she's crazy, whatever her age," proving that he was sort of listening. Raised with four effervescent sisters, Max tuned out most of the chatter that accompanied women. He had learned this skill from his father, who would occasionally smile and agree, then go back to his own thoughts while Maeve kept talking.
"I'm sure you would be emotional, too, if you were selling off your belongings." Maeve scanned the garage. "And she has some lovely items. She's obviously a girl of culture and breeding. Not to mention being tidy and organized. With a nice figure and a sweet face. Don't y' think, Max?"
"These clubs are custom-made graphite. With great balance. They don't look like they've been used. Way too short for me, but they might fit Dad."
"The grrrips are blue," Maeve pointed out, her brogue adding melody to her words.
"A lighter shaft might improve his game," Max joked.
"I bet her people are Irish. Don't you think she has a sweet face? A sweet Irish face?"
He stopped the imaginary swing that had him teeing off at St. Andrews. "What about the redhead?"
"Don't you think she has a sweet face?"
"How should I know? You can barely see it for all that hair." He exchanged the driver for the putter; his fingers curled around the grip. Waggle-waggle. If Max Kendall sinks this putt, he'll be the new grrrrand champion ...
"You should ask her to dinner."
Max lifted his eyes from his winning putt. "I'm getting these for Dad. He can rewrap the grips or sell them in the shop if he doesn't want them."
"Maybe you should go home and shave. I'll wait here."
"Okay." He returned the putter to the butter-soft leather golf bag, then shot his eyes to Maeve. "What?"
"I'll wait here while you go shave."
Max rubbed the stubble on his chin. "Why do I need to shave?"
"So you don't look like a bum when you ask her to dinner."
"Ask who to dinner?"
"The widow selling these golf clubs."
"You mean ... the crazy redhead?"
"Well, why not?"
Max stared at his mother as if she were crazy. "We're total strangers for one —"
"That's why y' have dinner. To get to know one another."
"— And she's crazy."
"All redheads have a fiery temperament." Maeve smiled, remembering her own eruptions.
"I prefer docile blondes." He fidgeted with the clubs. "Where the hell is the price tag?"
"Seriously, Max, it can't be very excitin' sitting around with Da and me each night."
"Visiting your parents isn't supposed to be exciting. Besides, I'm only here until Monday. What would be the point?"
"Not everything has to have a point. Sometimes the best things happen without having a point."
"You'll probably have a great time."
"I just want you to be happy and settled."
"I am happy and settled."
"A man without a wife is not happy and settled."
Max laughed and shook his head. "You have a short memory, Mom."
"That was a long time ago and it was the navy's fault."
Softening, Maeve cupped his face and went eye to eye. "Max, darling, y' can't be dragging around that cross for the rest of your life."
He gently pulled away. "I love you, Mom, but give it a rest."
Maeve shook a finger at his face. "Maxim Avery Kendall, you're more stubborn than your father and you're going to end up alone in a houseful of pigeons just like your Uncle Arvis."
He took a heavy breath, having heard it all before. Although, this was the first time he and the never-wed Arvis had shared the same pigeon fate.
"Oh, never mind. She'd probably turn y' down."
Max frowned. Rejection? From a woman whose flaming hair tugged at her head as if trying to escape? Not likely. And when you factored in her volatility — honestly now, how many offers did a woman like that get?
Max didn't know her, but he knew all about her. This detour in her life was not her idea. She would just about kill to have someone help her steer through it. Rejection? No way.
"Well, just look at you," Maeve said, misinterpreting his frown.
He looked down on his Señorita Largatija Mexican T-shirt with its red-lipped, smiling lizard, frayed hem, and solitary sangria stain, and then to his faded jeans with a small rip in the right knee. "You thought I looked okay when you dragged me out of the house at some ungodly hour to visit every garage sale in the city."
"I was not wantin' to be critical."
"But now ...?"
"You're lookin' a bit too much like Seamus McGrew."
Max turned from his mother, searching again for the price tag. "I don't know Seamus McGrew, Mom."
"Of course y' do. He managed the rendering plant outside Ballyteansa. He was courting your cousin, Kyla. A nice boy underneath those entrails stains. You'll remember if you think about it."
Stopping his search, Max looked at his mother, still formidable in her midsixties, although age had mellowed both her fiery temperament and her fiery hair, now paled to a new-penny copper that layered her head in waves. The same waves that Max had inherited, although his were a perfect match to the once dark brown of his father's.
"I was fourteen, Mom." He did the math — twenty-seven years ago. "And I don't remember Smelly McGrew."
"You two have been over here a while," Charity interrupted. "Is there something I can convince you to buy?"
"My son is interested in the golf clubs."
"Your son has a keen eye. Those clubs are a steal. They're Callaways. The best."
"Some consider TaylorMade the best," Max said.
"A man who knows his golf. Then I'm sure you can appreciate what a bargain these are. They've never been used."
Maeve laid a palm on Charity's forearm. "Tell me, dear, how did the poor man die?"
Charity cocked her head. "What man?"
"Your friend's husband." Lowering her voice, Maeve sounded apologetic. "I overheard her tell that unpleasant woman about her husband's passing."
"Oh, that man. Well, it was quite nasty. Jason — that's his name — he, uhhh, fell into a tree chipper."
Maeve gasped. "A tree chipper? Blessed Mary Mother of Jesus!"
Max cocked one dark brow.
"Shredded him from the waist down. He lingered for days, in the most intense agony you can imagine, until he finally succumbed."
"Oh my! That poor man. Has it been long?"
"Mmmm, about a year," Charity said, trying to remember exactly when her best friend's world turned upside down and inside out. "But please, don't mention it to Daisy."
"What a cheerful name," Maeve said.
"Most of the time it fits her to a T, but she's having a tough time cleaning out the closets."
Charity sighed and slowly shook her head. "When they laid Jason in the coffin, they had to stuff his pants with packing peanuts to fill him out."
Max mentally rolled his eyes. "So how much for the Callaways?"
"I'm sure the price is somewhere." Charity dug into the bag. "Daisy is quite meticulous."
Max could think of another term, less flattering, for the woman who kept her garage swept and dusted. And what was that scent? It reminded him of his mother's living room, all flowery and powdery. Garages were supposed to smell manly! Like gasoline and hot engines and car wax. Even the tables had been draped with burgundy-striped sheets, and every item he'd scanned — save for the golf clubs — had little descriptive stickers accompanying the price. Who, in their right mind, went to this much trouble to sell cast-offs?
Charity came up for air. "Let me get Daisy."
Maeve leaned into Max. "Whatever she's asking, give it to her."
"The poor woman is obviously havin' to sell off her belongings to make ends meet. Didn't y' see the Realtor's SOLD sign in the yard?"
"These are $4,000-dollar clubs! She'd be a fool to ask less than a thousand, and I'm not paying that. You're the one who taught me to haggle."
"Not with widows. It'll come back on y'."
"I guarantee you, Mom, she is not —"
"You were asking about the clubs?" Mother and son separated. "They're Callaways," Daisy said, exhausting her knowledge about Jason's passion.
"We're the Kendalls," Maeve interjected.
"Kendalls?" Daisy looked first at the petite, stylish woman and then at the rumpled, stubbled, stained hunk towering beside her.
"I'm Maeve and this is my son, Max."
"Ohhh. Kendalls. I thought you were talking about golf clubs. Duh." Daisy smiled. "I haven't slept much and I'm a bit ... I'm Daisy."
Nice lips, Max thought without meaning to. The gentle lift of her mouth lit her pale complexion like the soft glow of firelight.
"You're obviously not a golfer," Max said. Her green eyes sparked. Like kryptonite.
"No. That's Jason's hobby. He's always chasing that hole in one."
"You poor dear," Maeve said. "Your darlin' man is still in the present with y'. My aunt Rose talked to her dear departed Henry for twenty-five years before she joined him."
Daisy narrowed her eyes on Maeve as if that would help explain what the hell she was talking about.
"How much for the clubs?" Max asked.
Daisy's smile vanished and the glow died. "I don't care. Make me an offer."
"A thousand," Maeve blurted as if this were a bidding war.
Daisy jerked back. "A thousand ... dollars?"
"They're worth four," Maeve said.
Daisy stared. "I ... guess ..."
"I don't have a thousand dollars on me, Mother."
"How much do y' have, Son?"
"Maybe a few hundred, tops."
Maeve turned to Daisy. "Would you accept a check for the rest, dear?"
"Uh ... sure."
"I didn't bring my checkbook," Max said.
"Well, then," she began as if explaining to a child, "give Daisy what you have and you can bring the rest tonight when you pick her up for dinner."
"Dinner?" Daisy and Max said in unison.
Daisy looked at Max; he shrugged. "Mothers say the darnedest things."
"Oh, Max, you know very well we were just discussing that." Maeve turned to Daisy. "He's a bit shy."
A pained smile crossed Max's lips.
Having been embarrassed by her own mother, Daisy felt genuine sympathy for the man. However, dinner was out of the question.
"I know Max doesn't look like much now," Maeve began, lighting a motherly hand upon Daisy's forearm. "But he cleans up nicely. And he comes from a God-loving family, y' have my word on that. An absolute gentleman. And he's quite successful, but with a kind heart. When he was seven, he raised a nest of sparrows after the mother had been killed by the neighbor's cat."
Excerpted from Spooning Daisy by Maggie McConnell. Copyright © 2016 Margaret Shelton McConnell. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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