Virgin River Book #15
December 29, 2015
MIRA Paperback

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Harvest Moon


Rising sous-chef Kelly Matlock’s sudden collapse at work is a wake-up call. Disillusioned and burned out, she’s retreated to her sister Jillian’s house in Virgin River to rest and reevaluate.

Puttering in Jill’s garden and cooking with her heirloom vegetables is wonderful, but Virgin River is a far cry from San Francisco. Kelly’s starting to feel a little too unmotivated…until she meets Lief Holbrook. The handsome widower looks more like a lumberjack than a sophisticated screenwriter—a combination Kelly finds irresistible. But less appealing is Lief’s rebellious stepdaughter, Courtney. She’s the reason they moved from L.A., but Courtney’s finding plenty of trouble even in Virgin River.

Kelly’s never fallen for a guy with such serious baggage, but some things are worth fighting for. Besides, a bratty teenager can’t be any worse than a histrionic chef…right?

Originally published March 2011.


Chapter OneKelly Matlock was right in the middle of trying to get between two hot-headed, shouting, red-faced, armed line cooks who were fighting over stovetop territory when the restaurant manager tapped her shoulder.

“I need to see you,” Phillip said. “My office.”

Kelly, sous chef, threw him an incredulous look. She was literally holding apart a big Italian and a big Swede; the Italian had a spatula and the Swede was wielding a metal spoon. The request that she go to the manager’s office right now was so absurd, she almost laughed. “Really too busy here, Phillip,” she said. “Not only are we having a brawl in the kitchen, but it’s seven o’clock. Check with me at ten.”

“It’s urgent,” he said. “Otherwise, believe me, I wouldn’t ask.”

“Where’s Durant?” Kelly asked, speaking of the Chef de Cuisine, the head chef.

“Making his rounds in the front of the house, gloating. Let these two morons kill each other — we’re short on meat anyway.”

That suggestion did far more to separate the line cooks than Kelly had. “I’ll be right there,” she said to Phillip. He liked to be addressed as Philippe, although Kelly had learned he didn’t actually have a French cell in his body and his accent was totally contrived. She went to her locker, removed her apron and exchanged her soiled white jacket for a clean, crisp one, something she would do before leaving the kitchen no matter what her business. She washed her hands and left her senior line cook in charge.

It never crossed her mind that it might be a real emergency; Phillip was known for his melodramatic displays. His second favorite thing was making passes at the female staff and his third, screaming matches with Durant.

One day, when Kelly was Chef de Cuisine, there would be no Phillip; she would never tolerate a manager with such annoying, socially unacceptable behaviors.

She gave a couple of taps on Phillip’s office door and then pushed it open. Her heart almost stopped. Seated there, in a chair facing the restaurant manager’s desk, was Olivia Brazzi, wife of the famous Luciano Brazzi, uber chef. Although Kelly crossed her path regularly — at charity events and in this very restaurant — they didn’t know each other at all. Olivia was tight with Durant; her presence here was not unusual. Luca owned a controlling interest in this restaurant; naturally he frequented the kitchen and his wife frequented the dining room. But Olivia had always coldly ignored Kelly, treating her as if she were a mere cook, not worthy of her time.

Olivia smiled at her with such warmth and kindness, Kelly wondered for an insane moment if she’d come to turn Luca over to her.

Mrs. Brazzi was stunning in her elegant black crepe dress, shiny textured stockings, three-inch heels and strategically placed diamonds. Her ash blond hair was swept up in a sexy chignon; she did not look her fifty years, not by twenty. She looked like a girl. A sophisticated girl with ice blue eyes.

Kelly felt her stomach flip. What in the world could she want with me? she thought. Could she expect me to cater a special dinner party or event?

Olivia glanced at Phillip. “A moment, Philippe? May I have the room?”

Kelly felt light headed. On her list of most unexpected events, a private meeting with Olivia Brazzi was up there with alien abduction.

“Of course, Olivia,” he said gallantly. Then he paused to kiss the back of her hand before leaving and closing the door. It made Kelly want to gag.

“Ms. Matlock, please,” Olivia invited graciously. “Sit down a moment.” She gestured with a small, delicate hand to the chair beside her.

Kelly said a brief prayer. Whatever this is, please let it be over quickly!

“I’m sorry that our first meeting is so awkward, Ms. Matlock, but I’ve come to ask you to stop sleeping with my husband.”

Kelly’s eyes grew large in spite of her desire to remain poised. “Are you serious?” she asked, mortified.

“Oh my, yes,” Olivia said.

“Mrs. Brazzi, I’m not sleeping with Luca!”

“Perhaps there’s not that much sleeping… Now, let’s get it sorted out quickly and quietly. Shall we?” And she lifted a slim, shapely brow.

Whew, Olivia was quick and to the point. And that sounded suspiciously as if Olivia and Luca were not as separated as Luca claimed.

Of course, Kelly wasn’t sleeping with him! But best to say nothing at all, she decided, because her feelings for Luca would probably show all over her face. She swallowed nervously.

Kelly was pretty; she knew she was pretty. But Olivia was beautiful. And chic. And seasoned; experienced. Her sophisticated and contained self-confidence was a bit overpowering. Kelly had been up against the most diabolical chefs in the world, yet the soft spoken Mrs. Brazzi had her completely intimidated.

“Luca told me everything. How you met, how long you’ve been seeing each other, et cetera. It’s a familiar story. Of course you’re not the first,” Olivia said. “I imagine you know that by now. My husband seems to have a particular taste for blonds. Please, will you break it off?”

She knew she shouldn’t say anything at all. But this was a bit too crazy to leave alone. “With all due respect, Mrs. Brazzi, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Your affair with Luca has been going on for about three months now. Four? You met at a charity event; in fact I was present at the same event. You love to exchange food. It leads to all the other things — for Luca food equals passion. Your number was all over his cell phone so I confronted him. It’s not the first time we’ve gone around about something like that. The messages, the texts, the pictures, all that. Please, it’s out now. I just want it to end.”

Kelly stiffened. “Really, Mrs. Brazzi, I’ve known your husband much longer than three months. I’ve been sous chef here for three years! We’ve had professional contact, sometimes frequent — this is his restaurant even if Durant thinks he owns the place, but–”

Olivia smiled indulgently. “Please, do call me Olivia. After all, we have so much in common. And my dear, you really don’t want to pursue this. If it’s not already obvious to you, allow me to enlighten you — Luca has a short attention span. Has he told you about the other children? The ones he’s fathered outside our marriage?”

If her intention was to shock Kelly, it certainly worked. “Ah, Mrs. Brazzi, you have me at a complete disadvantage. This is sounding more and more like personal business between you and your husband that has nothing to do with me. I wouldn’t know anything about—”

“We’ve managed to keep those unfortunate liaisons inside the family and company, but if you’re really close he would have told you. Luca has many conquests on his record. For all I know, there could be a dozen children. But not on the books; I keep a close eye on the finances. I’m sorry if you’re hurt, but the sooner you move away from this mess with Luca, the better, I promise you. It won’t come to a tidy end. And there’s no money in it.”

Kelly shot to her feet. “Money? You can’t possibly think—” And then she could have kicked herself. How’s that for sounding like a confession? But the suggestion that she was a gold digger was somehow even more offensive than the accusation that she was fooling around with Luca!

“I’m truly sorry,” Olivia said. “I meant no offense; I’m sure you probably love him madly. You should know, just in case that occurs to you sometime in the future, Luca supports his children, but their mothers haven’t profited. They’re forced to live simply. And sadly, my children haven’t been welcoming to them. As you might imagine, it doesn’t please them that their father has such a wandering eye. They’re very loyal.”

“Mrs. Brazzi, I wouldn’t know about things like children outside your marriage because I don’t believe I’m a confidant. I speak to Luca about recipes and menus, about dining venues and career opportunities; he’s been a mentor and friend. But really—”

“Just save it, Ms. Matlock. I’m not a fool. I couldn’t possibly have stayed with Luca this long by being naive! You sometimes call or text him several times a day!”

“In response,” Kelly insisted. It was the truth — if there were several texts or calls in a day, it was because she was answering him. She never initiated many calls; she didn’t want to appear needy or desperate. “I wouldn’t want to bother him! He’s a very busy man!”

Olivia leaned closer. “I’ve seen the records, dear. I know you’re in love with my husband and we have to end this here. Now.”

Fair enough, Kelly thought. The relationship, such as it was, would hereby end. But she bristled at the way she was being misjudged, as if she went after him, perhaps for profit. Luca had told her that he and Olivia had lived separate lives under the same roof, that for over twenty years they’d had separate bedrooms, that they were together for their children and important social events that led to business success. And Kelly had never been his lover! Never!

All that being said, Kelly had long ago admitted to herself that her relationship with him wasn’t completely innocent. Luca romanced her with food and words, claimed to have fallen for her, professed to love her. And although she said she wasn’t getting involved with a married man, she lapped up his praise and adoration like a thirsty puppy.

Still, she couldn’t imagine what Olivia Brazzi had seen that would lead her to assume some hot affair! There was nothing. Sadly, nothing!

Kelly could play along with this until she spoke to Luca and found out what was going on. “Seriously, Mrs. Brazzi, I would never disrupt your family. Luca should have saved you the trouble of coming here. He had only to remind me that our friendship is professional and he wouldn’t get any argument from me. In fact, if he said it would be best to have no friendship at all, I would understand. I’m not holding him hostage.”

But what Mrs. Brazzi was telling her — preference for blonds, many conquests, children born outside his marriage? None of this reflected anything Luca had told her.

Of course, she chided herself. Big surprise.

Olivia actually laughed. “Who do you think sent me, darling? It’s not the first time I’ve had to clean up after him.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Kelly said before she could stop herself.

Olivia frowned. “I know the language in the kitchen is vulgar. Believe me, I’ve witnessed that for myself on many occasions, but it’s not charming. Yes, Luca sent me to talk to you. He thought that coming from me, you would understand.”

“That’s the thing I don’t understand. Why would he do this to me? I’m certainly no threat to you!” She shook her head. “He had only to tell me that you were uncomfortable with our friendship, and that would end all communication between us.”

“Nice try, darling,” Olivia said. “While he was in the lavatory last night, I looked at his phone. I found a couple of weeks worth of recent calls, a couple of very sultry voice mails from you, some texts he hadn’t deleted. We fought. We negotiated. He made me an offer — if I would ask you to kindly move on, he would stop taking your calls and instruct his staff to make polite excuses. I agreed. As I have before. Can we consider this over now?”

Kelly frowned. Then she laughed. Sultry voice messages? Not likely. “Mrs. Brazzi, you’ve got the wrong girl. I can’t imagine I’ve ever left him a sultry message!” And the Luca Kelly knew was more likely to explode in anger than whimper a confession and beg for help from his estranged wife to end a relationship over what might’ve been on his cell phone! Kelly was paranoid and nervous enough to never leave a suggestive text or voice mail! She couldn’t count the number of assistants Luca employed!

She had believed Luca, that he and his wife had an understanding and their legal separation and divorce was being negotiated. There was an occasional text: I’ll be in the restaurant office at five. I want to see you. Couldn’t he be sending that sort of text to any chef he wanted to speak to? Any colleague? To Durant? To Phillip?

Frankly, it surprised Kelly that Luca was still around, still romancing her with food and words and the occasional warm embrace. Most men with the good looks, money and power of Luca Brazzi would move on to a woman more willing to throw caution to the wind and succumb to that full-blown affair Olivia apparently thought they had.

It was irrelevant that Kelly longed for that; it was beside the point that Kelly adored him, that she believed herself to be in love with him. She’d managed to keep him at a safe distance because he was married. And famously so.

And…because she was woefully inexperienced with men, especially powerful, passionate men like Luca.

“I think you need to work this out with Luciano,” Kelly said, shaking her head. “I’m not sure what’s really going on here.”

“If that’s the case, dear, then you won’t be at all upset when you can’t reach him, when you don’t hear from him…”

“Mrs. Brazzi, if he’s such a philanderer and cheat, having children with mistresses and spoiling your good name, why in the world are you with him?”

“That’s a fair question. Because we married for life, we have a very large family together, we’re business partners, and breaking up an international company as large as ours would be dreadfully complicated. And you may rest assured, my name is on every document that matters. All that aside, despite his flaws, I do love the man. He’s a shiftless romantic, isn’t he? But he’s a genius, a gifted and complicated man and he couldn’t manage without someone like me. He has a habit of telling his women that there’s nothing between us, but of course it’s not true — we sleep together every night. We’re husband and wife, dear. Now, here’s what will happen,” she explained. “He has given his word he won’t contact you again. The romance dissolves here and now and you’re on your way to the next available man. Thank you for your time.”

She turned and before Kelly could even speak, Olivia’s hand was on the office door to leave.

Kelly lost her head and blurted out her feelings before she could stop herself. “I can’t imagine running off alleged girlfriends for a man I loved! Why do you do it?”

Olivia turned toward her. She smiled patiently. “Trust me, I have my reasons. Billions of reasons, really. Good evening, Ms. Matlock.”

~~~~~~Kelly went back to the kitchen, which was hot, steamy and alive with action, shouting and chaos typical of 7:30 in the evening. In something of a daze, she quickly replaced the perfectly white, starched coat with her slightly soiled one and wrapped her apron around her waist. Of course Luca could have lied to her; perhaps he was just trying to consummate some fling with her behind Olivia’s back, although it seemed crazy that he would try for months! The world famous Luca Brazzi, handsome, charismatic, powerful and too wealthy to imagine, could surely have a woman more easily captured. Any woman, in fact.

Or, Olivia could be lying, trying to hang on to Luca for a billion reasons.

She wasn’t going to find out soon, so she got back out there and started directing traffic, checking the orders, moving dishes along to the wait staff, observing the line cooks at work, stepping in whenever her assistance was in order.

Luca owned many restaurants, was a controlling partner in dozens if not hundreds worldwide, had a commercial food line and appeared regularly on a nationally syndicated television program, and yet it was not surprising Kelly knew him. He had a special fondness for French American cuisine and partnered up with Durant to open La Touche several years ago. Since Luca kept one of his large, family homes in the Bay Area, he liked to frequent his local investments. While his wife and her friends might dine, Luca favored the kitchen. The true beauty of Luca was that cooking was still the most important thing to him, all other business aside. And Kelly loved it when he was here — everyone gave him his respectful space and the entire kitchen came under control like at no other time. That was probably because Durant, smart enough to step lightly around his betters, behaved like a professional when Luca was around.

She had adored him immediately but never imagined he’d return the emotion. That had been fairly recent, but she’d known him and been in contact with him for a long time. He’d been promising her a Chef de Cuisine position since long before he made a romantic overture.

She tried to ignore Durant and Phillip chatting near the freezer but it was too telling. When had they ever chatted? They fought like junkyard dogs over control of the restaurant. If they were talking, they were talking about her.

That light-headed feeling was back and she ignored it. Kelly yelled that the salmon was up; the creme brulee was ready for the flame; the filet was out of time.

She had a little trouble catching her breath and her heart was racing. Then suddenly, a crushing pain in her chest. This is probably what happens when a man’s wife comes to tell you to end the affair you’re not quite having yet, she thought. Her next thought was, This is probably what I deserve! I always knew I should have said, “Great, let’s talk again when the divorce is final!” I don’t have to like Olivia Brazzi to know that she was there first!

But the worst pain came from imagining Luca selling her out like that — admitting they were close, perhaps too close, and sending his wife to shut it down.

She was panting; couldn’t catch her breath. She grabbed her chest. Then her neck. Whoa, that was a scary bit of heartburn; she never had heartburn. She broke out in a sweat.

Durant was in her face, which was easy for him — they were both five-five; he was bald, with a short man complex he compensated for by shouting and belittling people. He was smiling his cruel smile. And he said, “You slept with Luca Brazzi didn’t you, you stupid cow?”

Kelly’s eyes rolled back in her head and she went down. Lights out.

~~~~~~When Kelly woke there was a man in a navy blue T-shirt smiling into her eyes as she was being wheeled toward a vehicle with red and blue flashing lights. There was a mask over her mouth and nose. She realized she was on a gurney or stretcher; she felt the motion of it sliding into the back of an ambulance and he was instantly beside her. “Well, hello,” he said. “Feeling okay?”

She clawed away at an oxygen mask. “Where… Where…”

“You’re in the ambulance. You passed out, got a little cut on your head. Your EKG looks okay but has to be checked by a cardiologist; your blood pressure is way up there and you were out a little on the long side.” Then he asked her a series of questions — Who is the president? What year is it? Where do you work? He listened to her heart, checked her blood pressure. She lifted her hand and saw the IV. “Yeah, we started the IV in case we need to administer drugs. Do you have asthma?”

“No,” she answered.

“Are you exhausted or something?”

It was pure instinct that she struggled to sit up. “No, I’m fine, I’m just…”

He pushed gently against her shoulder. “We’ll be there soon, Miss Matlock. Trust me, you need a little visit with the doctor.” She watched as he tinkered with the IV, then pushed something in with a syringe. Then he laughed uncomfortably. “That kitchen,” he said with a snort. “I might never eat out again…”


“Seriously,” he said. “We have paramedics in the kitchen and people are yelling about spinach sides and drag a’ mush and they’re stepping over us! Don’t they take a little break when a chef might be having a heart attack?”

She put her hand to her chest and her eyes were panicked. “Am I having a heart attack?”

“Nah, I don’t think so; you’re stable now. But you had some noticeable symptoms. One of the cooks said you grabbed your chest and had trouble breathing. You have to see the ER doc before you go anywhere. Seriously, that kitchen is a nuthouse.”

She fell back onto the gurney, suddenly very tired. “Yeah. Tell me about it.”

“You under that kind of stress all the time?” the paramedic asked.

She nodded, but what she thought was, Except for Luca’s wife confronting me, it was a pretty average night.

He chuckled humorlessly. “Unbelievable. I had to clear out the kitchen…”


“I told them to turn off the stoves and get the hell out of the kitchen or I’d have the police do it,” he said. “Thing is, a lot of people have high stress jobs — surgeons, stock brokers, paramedics. But I’d never work in that kitchen.”

“Don’t like to cook?” she asked tiredly.

“I love to cook. I bet I’m the best one at the house.” Then he grinned. “Firehouse. And I’d say there’s some stress in my job — when our bells ring, we’re on the run; we pull people out of mangled cars and burning buildings. But I saw a difference the minute I was in that kitchen. We work as a team. We can count on each other.”

Kelly was fading; she could hardly hold her eyes open. “Did you give me something?”

“Valium,” he said. “The ER doc ordered it. It’ll calm you down a little. You’re anxious, which could account for the rapid pulse and high blood pressure.”

“Hm. We work as a team, too. We have to in a five-star kitchen…”

“Yeah, but on your team, the shouting doesn’t stop and they kick the injured to one side. That kind of team can go hard on your nerves.”

“Hm. Well this Valium certainly works on the nerves.”

He smiled. “Close your eyes. We’re almost there. Have a little nap.”

“Do you have my purse?” she asked. “Can I have my cell phone?”

“Someone handed me the purse. Let’s get you to ER and let the docs have a crack at you. Then we’ll fish out your cell phone. You’re too groggy to make good use of it right now anyway.”

~~~~~Apparently she wasn’t going to die. At least not yet. And she didn’t have her cell phone. It must have fallen out of her purse when she was taken to the ambulance.

After five hours in the ER, she was released to go home. She had follow-up appointments with a cardiologist for a stress test and internist to give her a physical and deal with her elevated blood pressure, which could be stress related. Blood work indicated she was also anemic; her EKG appeared normal at first glance, but a closer look by a specialist was prudent. Her head CT was negative — no concussion.

But the first thing she did in the morning was go to the restaurant in search of her cell phone. When she couldn’t find it she called Phillip at home, waking him. “Who got my purse for the paramedics?” she asked him.

“Me,” he said with a tired groan. “I’m the only person who can get in all the lockers. I figured you’d need ID and insurance card.”

“But my cell phone is gone. I don’t even have a land line in my flat, and all my numbers, address book, calendar and appointments are in that phone!”

“I’ll look around when I open up, but it didn’t turn up when we were shutting down.”

“I’m at the restaurant now,” she said. “I have a key! I know the alarm code!”

“Listen,” the manager said, sounding as if he came awake slowly. “You need to take a couple of days to figure out why you crashed. That seriously disrupts the back of the house and costs us money. What did they say at the hospital?”

“No big deal,” she reported. “I’ll be fine. But I will take a day or two; I have follow up doctor appointments to get some… vitamins… I need some vitamins. And I have to have my doctor read my head X-rays. And I obviously have to buy a phone.”

“Look under all the equipment, lockers, et cetera. Maybe it got kicked out of the way or something.”

She sighed. “I have, Phillip.”

“Sorry then,” he said and hung up.

She continued to talk into the dead phone. “Thank you, I’m feeling fine, Phillip! I’m sure I’ll be all right, but it’s so sweet of you to ask if there’s anything you can do to help!” And then she clicked off the phone and slammed it down onto the desk.

She wasn’t feeling so fine; she was still a bit groggy from the effects of the Valium, the only drug she’d been given. And it wasn’t a little stress; it was big stress. The ER doc had pointed out that not only was her blood pressure too high, but her molars were flattening out from grinding her teeth. That light headedness and heart palpitations was probably due to an anxiety attack — that should be verified if possible. The faint was likely from being stressed, anemic and exhausted.

She thought about blowing off the follow up appointments, but what if it was a ‘warning stroke’ or heart problem?

“Is it going to kill me?” Kelly had asked him.

He shrugged and said, “It will at least seriously affect your quality of life. You should really consider slowing things down if you can.”

There was the little matter that her heart was broken; talk about a fatal injury to quality of life.

Fortunately she could remember the most important numbers stored in the lost cell phone — her sister Jillian’s and Luca’s. To her supreme shame, she called Luca’s phone first. His voice mail came on. Her message was, “I lost my phone and have a new number. This new number should be recorded on your phone directory, but just in case it’s not, it’s the same area code, 555-7604. Please call me, I’ve had quite a shock. If I don’t hear from you, I’ll have to assume your wife was telling me the truth — that you asked her to speak to me, to inform me that we can no longer have a friendship of any kind — personal or professional.” Then she sent a text with the same message. Then she attempted to send him an email with the very same message, but her email was shut down and she had to create a new account. Losing the phone on which you carried all your information and email accounts was incredibly complicated.

None of her messages were answered.

After seeing both the internist and cardiologist, she placed a call to one of Luca’s personal assistants, Shannon. “Hi, Shannon, it’s Kelly Matlock, sous chef at La Touche. I seem to have misplaced my cell phone and have a new number and new email address. I’m trying to reach Luca; I have a business matter to discuss. Will you please pass on my new number, email, and ask him to call or something?”

“Absolutely, Ms Matlock! I’d be happy to. I should see him in an hour or so.”

But the new cell phone didn’t ring.

Kelly called Jillian in Virgin River, but all she said was that she’d lost her phone and had a new number. She’d tell all when the doctors had had their say and the crisis had passed, but she didn’t want to worry her sister. Besides, Jillian had just gone through her own difficult time and was barely reunited with her man. Instead, Kelly holed up in her flat waiting for that new cell phone to ring. She disgraced her pride by making a few more attempts on Luca’s cell, but to her credit she was always professional with the message she left. She never admitted she was losing her mind after he clearly meant to throw their relationship under the bus and sic his wife on her.

She spent one day keeping doctor’s appointments and a second day waiting for results of tests, which thankfully were nearly immediate and far from catastrophic. She was given a shot with an iron booster. Prescriptions were called into the drug store for blood pressure and a low dosage anti-anxiety medications along with the name of a good over-the-counter vitamin with extra iron. Kelly was going to be just fine; all doctors recommended a better diet (better than what a five-star chef could provide?), more rest, less pressure, reduced stress.

She laughed to herself. Yeah, right.

She had kept her flat darkened so she’d rest, but sleep eluded her. She realized she hated the flat. It was a small two-room efficiency that cost a fortune because it was in the city, but she had only leased this particular flat because it was so close to the restaurant and she rarely had to use her car. She could walk to work, get a lift or a short cab ride home.

Loved the city, hated the flat. But hell, she didn’t spend much time there anyway. It seemed her life had revolved around the restaurant for three years. Even her love life seemed to begin and end at La Touche.

Her assessment of her life continued as she showered and dressed for work. Her entire adult life had revolved around the study of food and cooking. Love to cook, hate the restaurant — at least this particular restaurant. Loved Luca, hated that she’d gotten herself even slightly involved with a married man no matter what he said to justify it. She had friends, good friends, but rarely saw them; hardly ever made time to play or relax with them. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d gone to a movie. Work, work, work — and much of it was just to keep her position safe, not out of sheer joy.

She went back to work after two whole days off. A couple of line cooks had beat her to the kitchen and were slicing and dicing; they didn’t ask her how she was feeling. She got about the business of checking her inventory and the contents of the freezer while slowly the kitchen began to fill up with employees. She reviewed the menu and recipes. She heard arguing and recognized the voices of Phillip and one of the cooks and resisted the urge to check it out; she wished Phillip would mind the front of the house and stay out of her territory, but he was always in everyone’s business. Before long it was Durant verbally abusing a couple of cooks, then telling Phillip he was a useless idiot who should stay out of his kitchen.

Before long the kitchen was fully staffed; the noise escalated, the temperature rose along with the tension. Everyone had their territory, either vegetables or pasta or meat or fish or pastry. Durant saw something he didn’t like and poured the contents of a saute pan into the sink, calling the cook a stupid, incompetent bitch. It was a young female line cook he loved to berate because he could make her cry. “Matlock!” he yelled. “You watching this or just playing with yourself?”

She ignored him and brought out the filets and the salmon from the cooler.

There was more yelling from Durant, criticizing everything he saw; Kelly felt her pulse pick up and her forehead bead with sweat. God, she hoped she didn’t pass out again. She was pretty sure she couldn’t afford another ambulance ride.

Her phone, which she was now keeping in her pants pocket, gave a short chime that announced a text had just come in. In spite of her good sense, she prayed it was Luca, texting her that the whole thing with his wife was untrue and that he loved her. She couldn’t imagine how that could be, but she hoped anyway. In this hot, packed, mean kitchen, she felt so alone. So alone she wanted to cry.

Funny, she hadn’t cried in the forty-eight hours since Luca’s wife had broken her down and ejected her from Luca’s life. Shouldn’t she have cried her heart out?

There was a picture in the text. A massive pile of pumpkins all tangled up in their vines came from Jillian. The message said, The leaves on the trees are changing as we watch! The pumpkins and melons are ripe and still growing! We sit on the back porch with lemonade and just soak it in — I’ve never seen such beauty. Wish you were here! Xoxoxo

“Matlock!” Durant shouted. “No phones in the kitchen! Put it away or I’ll shove it up your ass!”

She smiled and enlarged the photo of the pumpkins. I’ve never seen such beauty. Wish you were here!

“Matlock, you stupid cow, I said—”

And just like that, she’d had enough. She was done.

Kelly slipped the phone into her pocket and turned her back on Durant. She carefully slid her personal knives into the leather case, then she went to her locker. She never kept much there; she stuffed her large satchel with a couple of extra chef’s coats, a spare pair of kitchen pants, her second pair of clogs, print-outs of the schedule and the menu. Her purse fit inside the satchel, though barely.

I have nothing here, she thought. I have no one. Luca isn’t going to find me my own restaurant; Durant is never going to let me get any farther ahead; every day is going to be sheer abuse. Quality of life? Ha! All I have is high blood pressure, flat molars, anxiety attacks and no one.

She put the strap over her arm and headed through the kitchen toward the back door.

“Matlock, if you walk out of here, I’ll make sure you never work in this city again!”

She smiled over her shoulder. “Can you promise that?”

She walked out the door.

She heard applause and whoops of laughter coupled with Durant’s screaming and name calling. It was impossible to know if the line cooks were cheering because her position was opening up or because they admired her guts.

It didn’t matter. She went home to the flat she hated to pack.

© Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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Character Sketches

Kelly Matlock—Thirty-four year old sister to Jillian Matlock. A five-star sous chef in a restaurant in San Francisco, who comes to Virgin River to recuperate from an emotional collapse at work.

Lief Holbrook—Screenwriter in Los Angeles and recent widower, who relocates to Virgin River in search of a better environment to raise his troubled teen stepdaughter, Courtney.

Courtney Holbrook—Fourteen-year-old stepdaughter of Lief Holbrook with definite attitude issues.

Amber Hawkins—Girl who befriends Courtney at school in Virgin River.

Rory Hawkins—Wheelchair-bound nephew of Amber who suffers from muscular dystrophy.

Sinette & Hawk—Parents of Amber and Rory.

Luciano Brazzi—Famous chef and mentor to Kelly in San Francisco restaurant where she worked before coming to Virgin River.

Olivia Brazzi—Wife of Luciano.

Spike—Courtney’s new golden retriever puppy.