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Authors: Barbara Samuel,Ruth Wind

Tags: #FICTION / Romance / Contemporary, #FICTION / Contemporary Women, #FICTION / Romance / General

Light of Day

BOOK: Light of Day
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Table of Contents

Cover Image
Beginning
Bonus Excerpts
About the Author
More Books by Barbara

Copyright © 2011 Barbara Samuel

Cover Design/eBook Conversion Sharon Schlicht
LittleBytesDesign.com

Image: Close Up on a Flower ©
Ladida

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

This is a republication in ebook format of an earlier work. Every effort has been made to reproduce the original as accurately as possible. If you find an error, please let us know at
[email protected]

Chapter 1

T
he car rumbled up next to Lila, a beautiful old Mercedes, black, with modest fins at its tail and a smoothly purring engine. It gleamed like polished glass in the silvery light of the overcast day. She’d loved the model since childhood, when the wife of a rich neighbor had driven one home from Dallas.

Only after she’d admired the car in all its detail did she notice the man behind the wheel—and he startled her. The lines of his face were as spare as those of his automobile. Harsh, slanting cheekbones cast shadows over the lean flesh of his cheeks. A broad, high forehead met straight slashes of brows even darker than the heavy black of his hair. His nose would have overpowered another face, but on this man, it was the only possible nose to balance the square, hard chin.

Lila grinned. If she’d been one to admire severe and arrogant men, he’d have been a prize. Instead, she thought he looked in need of a little whimsy to chase the scowl from that intelligent brow.

She flicked her wrist on the accelerator of her bike, revving the engine of her motorcycle into harmonious vibration with the car. He still didn’t notice her next to him, so with a toss of her head, she whistled, loud and long, in admiration of the car.

Black eyes, fathomless without the mark of a pupil, met hers. Lila felt her heart do an odd thump, and was suddenly thankful the helmet she wore hid most of her face. He lifted his chin in the slightest of acknowledgments, and Lila saw there was danger in his eyes—danger and power, and something else she couldn’t even name.

An impatient honk sounded behind her, and Lila glanced, startled, at the traffic light. Seeing it had turned green, she let go of the brake and pulled ahead easily.

It was impossible to resist one peek in her rearview mirror at the man in the finned Mercedes. Maybe, she thought as her heart thudded, there was something to be said for that darkly elegant type, after all.

A light rain had begun to fall from the Seattle sky as she pulled into the parking lot of The Shell and Fin, an elegant seafood restaurant she’d formerly managed with some success. A year ago, unable to placate the alcoholic owner, she’d quit to become a free-lance dessert maker, and now she sold tortes and other rich delights to them.

Rather than clip the helmet under the seat as she ordinarily would have, Lila dashed for the kitchen door to the restaurant. She hoped the storm would blow over. The Pacific Northwest boasted a great many advantages, but the weather was definitely not among them. One day she’d give in and buy a car.

In the kitchen, confusion reigned. Three women, dressed in the slacks and neat blouses that made up the uniform of the waitresses, huddled around a steam table, trading short bursts of murmured outrage. Off to one side, Lila saw another woman throwing clothes from a locker into a plastic bag. “Georgia,” she said in surprise. “What’s going on?”

“I’m fired,” Georgia spat out. “Along with half of the crew.”

“Who fired you?”

“Oh, that big shot that took over.”

Confused, Lila frowned. “What big shot?”

Georgia slammed the locker and pushed past Lila. “Ask somebody else to fill in the details, sister.”

Lila glared at the retreating back. “Good riddance,” she murmured to herself. Georgia had never been the best employee. Hired in an emergency, she’d managed to hang on to her job only through a kind of dogged ingenuity. But half the crew? Who else was fired? And who’d done the firing?

“What’s going on?” she asked the cluster of people around the steam table.

The head waitress, Charlene, a fiftyish woman with a rock-solid group of faithful customers, said, “A new owner took over Monday morning. He’s turned everything upside down.”

“Is he any good?”

“Damn good,” said Gerald, a portly man in chef’s whites. “I think he could turn the place around. They say that’s what he’s done everywhere he’s gone.”

Lila nodded, crossing her arms. “Great.”

Another waitress rolled her eyes. “But he’s fired almost everybody.” She ticked off the problems on her fingers. “We’ve got no bartender, one bus kid and one dishwasher to see us through the weekend. How are we going to get through on that?”

Smiling good-naturedly, Lila lifted her hands, palms open to signify her distance. “I’m just here to check on the desserts.”

The three women exchanged a strange glance. Lila narrowed her eyes. “What is it? Am I going to be relieved of my responsibilities, too?”

A deep voice, with the nasal but somehow sensual undertones of a native Frenchman, interrupted with the answer. “Actually, no, Miss Waters. If I may have a moment of your time, I’ll explain my hopes for you.”

With a ripple of intuition, Lila knew before she turned that the precise diction and lilting accent would belong to the severe man in the Mercedes. Embarrassed but determined not to show it, she swallowed a smile and turned.

The black eyes caught her hard where she stood, knocking the amusement from her chest like a bullet. He stood just inside the door to the dining room, possessed of the kind of long-bred elegance found only in the children of wealthy fathers or in men who’d striven to overcome their beginnings. As Lila measured him, she couldn’t decide which he might be.

An aura of ruthlessness about him suggested a self-made man, and yet his gaze was cool. It took in her leather flight jacket, her wild hair and long, swinging earrings—and dismissed them. He lifted an eyebrow in question. “Well?”

Again at a disadvantage over her open staring, she nodded. “Certainly.”

As he turned to lead the way to his office, Lila shot a quizzical glance at the other women. Charlene shrugged.

In the transformed office, he said, “Please, sit down.”

She settled in a functional, vinyl chair and folded her hands, waiting. He rounded a heavy walnut desk, smoothing an errant lock of hair from his forehead as he sat down. Behind him rain slapped with gray fury against the windows that looked toward Puget Sound.

He didn’t speak for a moment, and Lila found herself uncharacteristically nervous. He wasn’t a particularly large man, but in the small confines of the room, behind a closed door, she felt again that ripple of danger.

Which was ridiculous, she decided sensibly. Severe didn’t mean dangerous. She realized that he had a generous mouth between the hawkish nose and solid shelf of chin. He didn’t look cruel, as she had imagined at the traffic light.

“I’ll be frank, Miss Waters.” He tossed a pen he’d been holding onto a stack of papers. “There are considerable problems with this establishment, far more than my firm had anticipated.” He paused. “I’m told you once managed it all rather well.”

“I did,” Lila said briskly. “But if you’re about to offer me the position, I’m afraid my answer will have to be no.”

“You won’t even consider a temporary assignment?”

“No.”

He pursed his lips briefly. “I see.” A frown fleetingly drew his brows together, and he looked up. “Perhaps, then you will consent to meet with me to unravel some of the more, er—” he gestured with a hand “—immediate tangles.”

“Do you mind if I ask who you are first?”

A pale spark of light glimmered in his eye. “How rude of me,” he said. “I am Samuel Bashir. My firm specializes in turning around restaurants with promise and poor management. The Shell and Fin is our latest purchase.”

For one instant Lila thought it was an odd picture, an odd career for this man, although she couldn’t have said just why. “I’m glad you’ve chosen to rescue it,” she said. “It deserves it.”

“And yet you won’t help.”

His voice was silky, mellifluous. Lila found herself tilting her head toward the sound so that her ear might catch it more directly, the way a houseplant turned toward the light in a northern window. When she realized it, she straightened her posture, surprised at herself. She liked men in jeans and boots and chambray shirts. And yet…

“I’m not able to,” she said firmly. It still hurt to say that about anything, but in this case it was true.

Samuel nodded, his eyes intently taking in her face and clothing. “Gerald warned me that you might feel that way.” He made a clicking sound with his tongue.

“I’d be glad to help you with anything else you need.”

“Good, good.” Inclining his head, he lifted an eyebrow. “I’ll be working until ten tonight. Is a late meeting possible for you? I would be happy to pay you for your time.”

“That isn’t necessary,” Lila said with a smile. “I have a sentimental attachment to this place. Ten o’clock?”

“I will have Gerald prepare a dinner so that your time is not completely lost.”

“All right, then.” She stood, brushing hair away from her face.

He stood, as well, rounding the desk to open the door for her. He paused, his hand on the doorknob, a sudden glitter lighting his black eyes. “Thank you, by the way,” he said, inclining his head in a peculiarly European fashion.

The subdued grin made clear that his reference was to her teasing whistle at the traffic light, and she suppressed an embarrassed smile. “It really is a beautiful car.”

“Ah,” he said. “And I thought it was me you were admiring.”

At that, she almost found herself flustered. Then she lifted her eyebrows and shrugged. “I’ll see you later,” she said, and escaped into the comforting noise and bustle of the kitchen.

Samuel watched her go. Her dark curls spilled over the shoulders of her worn flight jacket, and a silvery scarf trailed down the back. Not what he’d expected from the reports, he thought as he closed the door. The Lila Waters in the personnel files left short, professional notes about employees and dashed off quick memos about particularly successful menu combinations in the scrawl of a busy woman. He’d expected someone tall and brisk and polished.

Instead, Lila Waters looked more like her name, like a gypsy camped on a lake or a Bedouin in the desert—all scarves and jewelry and flashes of color. He smiled to himself, thinking of the mirth in her dancing green eyes, which she’d tried to quell. What pleased him was that she’d not quite been able to erase it.

His smile faded as he looked toward Puget Sound. Not for you, Samuel, he thought. Not ever for you.

* * *

The rain had let up for most of the evening, but naturally, as soon as Lila headed back to the restaurant for her late meeting with the new owner, it started again. Not a downpour, just a steady wet drizzle, but it was enough. By the time she pulled into the parking lot of The Shell and Fin, she was miserably cold and irritated. Reaching into the saddlebags on the bike for a change of clothes, she gave herself a lecture.

“Stupid, Waters, that’s it. Haven’t you carried this on long enough? Just buy a car and keep the bike for summer days, like normal people. You’ve proved what a big, brave woman you are. Now show everybody you can use your brain for something besides keeping your ears apart.” Clutching the bundle of clothes to her chest to keep them dry, she hurried up the steps to the back door of The Shell and Fin for the second time that day.

In the changing room, peeling off layer after layer of dripping fabric, she made a resolution: a car, tomorrow. At twenty-two, she’d desperately needed to make a point to her overprotective family about her hunger—despite her back problems—to be a strong, independent woman. At twenty-nine the need to be comfortable had taken top priority.

BOOK: Light of Day
3.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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