Okay everyone, I took some time off for the holidays but I'm back at work and enjoying every second of it. My newest trilogy begins with Come to Me. This is Rob's story, because well, everyone insisted I write one. And since I love to make my readers happy I was happy to do it. It's so close to being done, but I'm in such a good mood this beautiful (really gray and kind of gross) Monday morning, I'm giving you a sneak peek. Let me know what you think!
Rob Downing opened the front door of his mother’s house and took in a deep appreciative breath. He owned his own restaurant and was no stranger to good smells but no one made lasagna like his mom. He slipped his jacket off and hung it up before following the sounds and smells down the narrow hallway. He glanced around at the home he grew up in and automatically winced. He had offered to help his mom sell the house and buy a new one but she refused. So he’d renovated it and upgraded every time a birthday or Mother’s Day came up. But he still wished she’d let him spoil her a little and buy her a new home or condo. There was one thing about Anne Downing that he could always count on. Her stubbornness.
He paused in the doorway and grinned at his family. There was his mom, smiling and ruling the roost as usual. She had been a widow for over 15 years thanks to a car accident that had taken their father. She had mourned but had gone on with life knowing that she had three children who needed her. She’d become mother and father to her son and two daughters. She’d been strong and hard but Rob had always known that his mother loved him.
Rob glanced at his sister Taryn and grinned automatically. Between his two sisters, she was the most like him in looks and personality. They both had the dark brown hair like their mom and warm brown eyes. He could tell by the lines between hers that their mom’s bossy ways were starting to get on her nerves.
Bailey was different though. She took after their dad in looks in temperament. She had blue eyes and lighter brown hair that sometimes turned gold in the summers. She was as laid back as she was beautiful and Rob loved that about her.
“Looks like all the work is done,” Rob said, as he walked into the kitchen and leaned down to kiss his mom’s cheek.
Anne’s face lit up and she turned around and patted his face as she looked up at him. “You’ve been working hard all day at the restaurant. You just take a seat and rest while the girls and I finish up. Dinner will be ready in ten minutes,” she said and then went back to preparing the salad.
Rob heard Taryn’s loud snort and raised an eyebrow at his sister as he grabbed a chair and turned it around so he could watch them cook. He was tired, but not from the restaurant. He’d just come from rugby practice and his legs ached and his shoulder throbbed from a tackle. Tate Matafeo still held a grudge because he’d taken Jane on a date and kissed her. Of course, it probably hadn’t helped that he still teased Tate about what a good kisser she was every chance he got.
“Poor baby, you worked so hard? I’m the one who put in the orders today and talked to the accountant today and dealt with your annoying chef today. It must have been exhausting taking off at three to go hang out with your buddies,” Taryn said with a snap in her voice.
Rob smiled coolly as he rubbed his thigh where another bruise was blooming. “Problem Taryn?”
Taryn flipped her long dark brown hair over her shoulder and rolled her eyes. “Our mother still lives in the fifties when men didn’t do housework and were pampered and given the newspaper and a pat on the head. I just barely left the restaurant a half an hour ago where I worked three more hours than you! Why don’t you get over here and chop this onion while I sit down and rest?”
Bailey laughed and Anne made a huffing noise while he tried hard to look contrite. Rob stood up and walked over to Taryn and took the knife from her and began chopping the green onion for the salad.
“Sweetheart, I’ll gladly chop this onion for you while you take a seat. You’re right, you deserve it,” he said kindly.
Taryn looked at him suspiciously but took a seat with a tired sigh. Rob noted that his sister did look tired and decided to look into getting her an assistant.
“Now you leave your brother alone Taryn. If it weren’t for him, you wouldn’t have that nice job of yours. You’re managing one of the best restaurants in the Pacific Northwest. He didn’t just give you a job, he gave you a career. And one you enjoy,” Anne said with her chin in the air.
Taryn blew a wisp of hair out of her eyes and smiled at her brother. “I do enjoy my job and I love my brother but the facts are, I work twice as hard as him and he makes ten times what I do.”
Rob paused his chopping to shake his head at his sister. “Taryn, I’m the owner. You’re the manager. You want my life, buy your own restaurant and hire an amazing manager.” He grabbed the cucumber and began chopping that too. “You’re ambitious, you’re smart and you know what you’re doing. No one’s stopping you. If working for me is too hard, or annoying, I’ll understand if you want to break away and be queen of the world.”
Taryn rolled her eyes. “Don’t think I haven’t thought about it. You need tons of capital to start a restaurant as you very well know. And I’m not some hot shot ex-professional baseball player with tons of fans who like to come in just to get a glance of my magnificence. So I guess I’ll just bide my time.”
Rob laughed and shook his head. The restaurant business was hard. Getting a new one off the ground and successful took a miracle and he knew how lucky he was. He’d had the money to get it started, but keeping it going was another thing all together. He put his success down to a good menu, a good wait staff, great location and a certain amount of luck he wasn’t dumb enough to discount.
“You do that Taryn. Bide your time baby.”
Taryn got up and walked over to Rob, putting her arms around him from behind in a quick hug. “You know I’m teasing. I love you Rob. And I love my job. Most days. Your chef is killing me though. He’s driving me nuts, he’s driving everyone nuts. And he’s so mean! He was yelling at Wren today for no reason. Poor thing. I had to stomp in there and put him in his place. I swear, anyone who can yell at Wren needs to be shot. She’s an angel.”
Rob’s smile faded and he turned and looked at Taryn with a frown. “He was yelling at Wren? Why?” he demanded in a hard voice.
Taryn shrugged and picked up a cherry tomato. “I don’t know. Something is up though, I’ll tell you that. I told Jared to go cool off so he took a break, but when I tried to get it out of Wren, she just clammed up. Rob she looked close to tears. If she quits because of him I’m going to poison him,” Taryn swore and stomped into the dining room to set the table.
Rob stared off into space as he thought of Jared yelling at Wren and felt slightly murderous himself.
“Pish. Leave work at work. No worries here. You’re home now Rob. Just relax. So what if your chef is putting someone in their place. That’s what chef’s do. I see it on my shows all the time. Chefs are passionate creatures. If they’re not yelling at someone, they’re not happy. Leave the man alone. Taryn is too soft . . .”
Rob ignored his mother’s prattle and felt his good mood dim. He wouldn’t rest now until he found out why Jared had yelled at Wren. It was his restaurant and he insisted on knowing every little thing about it. From which waiter was dating which waitress to which customer liked to steal the salt and pepper shakers, to how his chef’s treated the people underneath him or her.
He’d only hired Jared five months ago when Brenda had quit becuase she’d had her baby. He’d only planned on Jared being temporary so Brenda could come back but she’d decided to be a full-time mom and he’d ended up with Jared on a permanent basis. Jared was okay. He wasn’t spectacular. He wasn’t even as good a chef as Brenda was. But he was consistent and that wasn’t such a bad thing.
Wren had only been with the Iron Skillet for a little over a month. His sous chef had quit on him with no warning and he’d been desperate. He’d called a friend of his who taught at the Art Institute of Seattle and asked for a referral. Newly graduated culinary students made great sous chefs. Jack had insisted that Wren was something special and so he’d arranged for everything. His best friend Michael Bender found a cheap condo for rent down by the water and he’d offered it to her over the phone. He’d been surprised when she’d jumped at the offer without seeing the restaurant or the condo.
Wren Tyler had been something of a surprise. She didn’t look like a chef should. Brenda had been a big boned woman who adored food and enjoyed eating as much as she did cooking. Wren looked like a poet with her long strawberry blond hair, big innocent blue eyes and soft mouth. He’d checked her application and couldn’t believe she was twenty-four. She barely looked nineteen. But she was sweet and quiet and everyone from his feisty sister to the lowest dishwasher seemed to love her.
Everyone except Jared Patterson.
“Dinner’s ready. Grab that salad Rob and bring it to the table,” Anne commanded snapping him out of his reverie as she disappeared into the dining room with a large pan of lasagna leaving him and Bailey in the kitchen.
Bailey walked over and patted his arm with a smile. “And that’s why you’re the successful owner of a restaurant Rob. Because even a little thing like a chef yelling at someone is enough to consume you.”
Rob smiled and relaxed a little. Who couldn’t relax around Bailey? “Ah, you’re sweet Sis. No, I just hate the idea of anyone picking on her. She’s such a shy little thing.”
Bailey grinned and raised an eyebrow. “Oh really? We’re talking about the beautiful girl with the strawberry blond hair? The one who made me a salmon Carpaccio last week that was so good I almost cried? She’s not shy really. I think she’s more of an introvert.”
Rob picked up the salad and shrugged. “She is a little timid. She can barely put two words together whenever I talk to her. I can’t stand the thought of her being bullied.”
Bailey’s eyes twinkled in amusement as she picked up the bread bowl. “Please don’t beat your chef up Rob. I’d hate to have to write about you in the paper.”
Rob laughed and followed her into the dining room. “Good point. I promise not to beat up my chef.”
After Anne said the prayer, everyone began to pass the food around, laughing and talking and reverting back to the teasing of their teenage years.
After about fifteen minutes, Anne raised her hand. “Now that you have some food in your bellies, I’d like to thank you for coming to this family council.”
Rob groaned and put his fork down. “Why didn’t you warn me?” he demanded, looking over and glaring at Taryn. “I told you to warn me when these things were coming up.”
Taryn held up her hands in defense. “Like I knew. This is not my fault. Oh my word, who’s in trouble now? It’s gotta be you Rob because I haven’t done anything. Bailey? Did you do something?”
Bailey laughed and crossed her arms over her chest. “You know it’s not me. It’s always you or Rob. I’m the angel of the family. Remember?”
Taryn stuck her tongue out at Bailey and then looked at Rob in disgust. “You owe us for this Rob. Honestly. How many family councils do we need to have before you remember to take your mother out to lunch and call her every day?”
Rob looked affronted and began to say something when Anne stood up, looking fierce. “Well, I had no idea you all hated our family councils so much. I’m hurt.”
Rob laughed a little and shook his head. “A family council is just a fancy way of saying someone is going to get their rear kicked.”
Anne put her nose in the air and sniffed. Her dark brown, ruthlessly styled hair didn’t move at all. “That is so rude Robert and I’m going to pretend you didn’t say that. But now that you’ve brought it up, there is something on my mind,” she said, sitting down daintily and looking sad and forlorn all of a sudden.
Rob’s eyes narrowed wondering if his mother was sick. “Mom, what is it?”
Anne licked her lips and sighed heavily. “I’m lonely Rob. I’m going to be honest here. Now that all three of my children are grown adults and living elsewhere, it’s hard. I miss Pat every day and for a while you children filled the void. But now . . . now there’s nothing. I have empty nest syndrome, I looked it up. This could lead to depression, isolation, anxiety and who knows what else.”
Rob’s mouth opened in shock as the vibrant energetic woman he knew his mother to be looked sad and small. He felt his heart twist painfully as guilt poured through him.
Bailey grinned at her mother as he and Taryn looked horrified. “What a crock Mom. What’s this really about? I saw you looking at those cruise brochures. Just come out and say you want to go on a cruise with us. You don’t need to put on this big soap opera,” she said with a laugh.
Rob blinked in surprise and glanced at Taryn. Taryn raised an eyebrow and they turned and stared at their mother. As sad and small and dejected as she looked, there was a militant spark in her eyes that Bailey must have caught. Rob nodded to his youngest sister in respect. Bailey smiled regally and nodded back.
Anne threw her hands in the air. “Oh for the love of . . . fine. Maybe I’m not depressed but I could be! I very well could be any day now and it’s all your fault. All three of you,” she said glaring at each one of her children with her eyes staying on Rob’s the longest.
Rob laid his napkin on his plate and pushed it away. “What in the world is this about? Just spit it out.”
Ann pushed her plate away from her and rested her arms on the table. “It’s time that the three of you get married. I mean it. Rob, you’re not getting any younger. You’re in your late twenties, well past time for you to settle down. Now I know you sort of tried with Kit and that was a disaster, but it’s time to get to work. I’m still young enough to enjoy my grandchildren. I don’t want to turn into one of those old women who hate when their grandkids come over because they make messes.”
Rob’s mouth fell open in shock. He’d rather get tackled by Tate Matafeo ten more times than have this conversation with his mother.
“And you Taryn. You’re twenty-six now. Have you thought about your fertility? Because I have. It’s all I can think about.”
Rob covered his grin as Taryn stared at her mother as if she couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry.
“Mom, you have to be stopped,” Taryn whispered turning bright red as she stared at the doorway longingly.
Anne shook her head, automatically rejecting the idea that anyone should stop her. “And you little Miss Bailey. You’re not off the hook. I don’t care that you’re twenty-four. It’s time to get to work. You hang out with your friends but when’s the last time you actually went on a date? A real date? Dinner? Movie? Concert? Goodnight kiss on the front porch?”
Rob grinned at Bailey’s frozen expression just grateful that he wasn’t the only one facing the firing squad tonight.
“Mom, I hate to break this to you but our social lives are really none of your business,” Bailey said thoughtfully as she straightened the silverware beside her plate.
Rob and Taryn looked at each other as their eyes widened. They slowly turned and looked at their mother and Rob was not surprised to see a hint of flames peek out of her ears.
“What did you just say to me?” Anne whispered staring at her youngest daughter.
Bailey tilted her head and looked calmly back at her mother. “I said our social lives are none of your business.”
Rob closed his eyes and let out a long breath, praying that they would all be able to survive this evil night.
Taryn reached over and gripped his hand and Rob opened his eyes to see a continuous stream of tears flow down his mother’s cheeks. Rob turned and stared at Bailey.
“Really Bailey? Did you have to make her cry?” he muttered, now feeling hideous.
Bailey sighed loudly and stood up, walking around the table to hug Anne. “Mom, I love you but this emotional blackmail has to stop. You can’t control our lives anymore and crying like this is just going to give you a head ache. Tell you what. Let’s all make Rob take us to the movies and buy us some popcorn. You can tell us all about Aunt Barbara’s new boyfriend. We’ll have fun. Let’s just forget all about grandchildren for a few years. Okay?” she said leaning back and staring kindly down into her mother’s eyes.
Anne sniffed and wiped her eyes. “You heartless, ungrateful daughter, don’t you patronize me. Do you love me or not?” she demanded, stepping back from Bailey.
Bailey tilted her head up and stared at the ceiling as if she was praying. “Okay, I’m passing this one on to you Taryn. Your turn,” she said and sat down looking irritated.
Anne put her hands on her hips and turned to Taryn. “Yes Taryn, it is your turn. It’s your turn to fall in love and get married and bring a few grandchildren into my lonely life. I’ve already planned it all out. You’re a successful smart, amazing and beautiful woman. Lucky for us, Rob knows just about every successful smart man in this area. Rob is going to be a good brother and find you a nice CEO to fall in love with.”
Taryn blinked in surprise looking uncomfortable and nervous. “Mom, I don’t . . .”
Ann hushed her and then looked at Rob. “My son. My only son.”
Rob massaged his temples feeling a headache brewing. Whenever Anne said, My son, my only son, it usually preceded something close to torture.
“Mom, before you even start on me, you know I tried. I’ve been dating like crazy these last few years. Do you think I don’t want to get married? I do mom. More than anything. I want a wife. I want children. I want it all. I gave my heart to Kit Kendall but she didn’t want it. Looking back on everything, I can’t say that I blame her either.”
Taryn and Bailey exchanged a look as Anne’s whole body stiffened in offended honor. “Well, I can blame her! I blame her every day picking that computer boy over a good looking man like you. That Kit Kendall doesn’t deserve you. I never buy from their bakery anymore and I never will,” she said in a huff, her foot tapping loudly against the wood floor.
Rob sighed loudly. “Mom, stop blaming the Kendalls because I messed everything up. Go get a cupcake tomorrow. Really, there’s no reason to torture yourself because she fell in love with another man who happens to treat her like a queen.”
Bailey nodded. “I stop by all the time Mom. You should try their crème brullee. Honestly, it’s so good it makes having a boyfriend seem superfluous.”
Taryn snorted, Rob looked up at the ceiling innocently while Anne glared at Bailey. “Stop using stupid words like superflew-us. Really Bailey just because you work at the newspaper doesn’t mean you have to talk like a twit. Honestly, I have no idea what has come over you. You’ve always been my quiet well behaved child and now you’re talking back to me. What has happened to you?”
Bailey looked surprised by the question. “Mom, I’m an adult now. I have free-will. I don’t actually have to do everything you tell me to do now, like get married and re-produce. Besides, don’t get distracted. You’re talking to Rob now,” she said more meekly.
Rob glared at her before smiling at his mother. “Let’s just call it Mom. This conversation has grown old for everyone here. We appreciate that you’re lonely and would like a few grandkids to spoil but love happens when it’s supposed to. Although I think it probably is wise for Taryn and Bailey to socialize more and focus on dating men they see as future husbands.”
Taryn’s and Bailey’s mouths fell open as they looked at each other before turning and glaring at Rob.
“Way to throw us under the bus Rob,” Taryn said under her breath.
Bailey’s blue eyes turned cold as she stared at her beloved older brother. “You’re dead,” she whispered and made a slicing motion across her neck.
Rob blinked at Bailey. “You’ve changed. It must be your dying eggs. I hear it can change personalities, make people weird and mean.”
Anne covered her mouth and hid a snort as her eyes twinkled at her children. “Well let’s vote on it then. Who thinks Rob needs to get married soon and have children as soon as humanly possible?”
Rob sighed as his mother, Taryn and Bailey put their hands in the air.
“Good, good. Now who thinks Taryn should fall in love and get married and have a family?” Anne asked in a quiet, soothing voice that reminded Rob of horror movies.
Rob, Anne and Bailey raised their hands. Taryn glared at her younger sister. “What!”
Bailey winced. “Well, I kind of think you are ready to fall in love Taryn. Sorry,” she mumbled.
Taryn rolled her eyes as Anne smiled and looked at her youngest. “And who here thinks Bailey should get married soon and gift me with delightful grandchildren?”
Rob and Taryn lifted both their hands as Anne lifted her hand regally. Bailey ignored them all and studied her manicure. “Well, you can vote all you want to but you can’t force love and there’s no way I’m falling in love with anyone until I’m good and ready. And on that note, I’ll see you all later. Much, much later,” she said and stood up and flounced out of the room.
Rob grinned and stared at his mother’s furious face. “I just love these little family councils Mom. We should have more. Really. Like one a week at least.”
Anne licked her lips and took a deep breath before turning to look at her two remaining children. “She’s a good girl. I’ll give her a few days to get used to the idea. Now you two. I’d love for you both to go on a date this week please. Rob, I expect you to come up with a nice date for Taryn. Maybe give her a few options. Send her pictures of course and maybe a little background. I want this to be fun for her. Make sure they’re late twenties to early thirties. Well off, successful and talented would be good too,” she added thoughtfully.
Taryn groaned softly. “What about kindness? Honor? Compatibility?”
Anne waved her words away like they were flies. “As if Rob would have friends who weren’t kind or honorable.”
Rob cleared his throat and decided not to answer that. “I already have a date set up for Friday, so I’m good to go,” he said standing up.
Anne shook her head and pointed at his chair with her finger. “Taryn, I know you’ve been working hard all day. I don’t know how Rob runs that restaurant without you. Why don’t you go home and soak in the tub. I need to have a few more words with Rob.”
Taryn jumped up so fast he could swear he felt the wind on his face. Within seconds she was gone leaving Rob to stare cautiously at his mother.
“A few more words? Mom I've had about all the words I can stand today.”
Anne shook her head and smiled gently at him. “We need to talk women Rob. You don’t know much about them.”
Rob leaned his head on his hands and groaned.
“You've been going after the wrong girl all along. Kit was pretty and talented maybe, but you should have never fallen in love with her. She was all wrong. You need a girl like Layla. Although Jane is really sweet. So if you ask me, your wife should be a mixture of those girls. Someone, interesting like Kit, but strong like Layla and a little sweet too.”
Rob nodded his head as if he were agreeing with her and stood up. “That is excellent advice Mom. I will go home and think about it and make sure the girls I date are up to your standards.”
Anne stood up and leaned over to kiss his cheek before walking him to the door. “You’re such a good son Rob. I knew you’d see I was right.”
Rob drove home and shivered at the thought of marrying someone like Layla Bender. There had been times when she would look at him and he knew that woman was seconds from killing him. No thank you. He did not need someone like Layla. Jane? Now Jane was darling. Too bad she’d been in love with Tate and he’d still been in love with Kit when they’d gone out on their one and only date.
Timing was everything. No, he’d be picking his own wife out regardless of his mother’s wishes. And he knew exactly the kind of woman he needed. Someone like him. Someone driven, successful, and someone who could meet him on his own level. He also knew he needed help for that. He had the money so a couple months ago he’d hired the services of a professional matchmaker from Seattle to help him make the right connections. The woman he was seeing Friday was coming down to have dinner with him. Her name was Candice Sherwin and she was a successful lawyer a couple years older than him. It didn’t hurt that she was gorgeous too.
Nah, he didn’t need his mom telling him what to do. He knew it was time. Forget love though. Just give him the wife and children and let him get on with his life. Play time was over.