A Savory Seduction
Janet Lane Walters
New Concepts Publishing
When his mother entered the office of Five Cuisines, Greg Ramsey pushed his chair back and smiled in welcome. “Your timing is perfect. Just finished creating the menus for the week.”
Stella Ramsey crossed the room and kissed his cheek. “And how is my handsome son?”
“Pleased with our success.” The restaurant had opened six months before and was on the way to becoming a profitable venture. For the past month, there’d been few empty tables at either seating. Even on Wednesday and Thursday evenings, they’d been nicely booked. The weekend lunches were gaining the attention of the people who came to browse in the antique shops and other unusual stores.
He reached for the letter that had arrived in the morning mail. The offer could make or break his dream. He knew very little about the magazine other than a spread was eagerly sought by restaurants. As a silent partner, his mother had a voice in whether they should chance a bad review.
“What was so important you interrupted my lunch date.” She stared at him. “You’ve found a weekend hostess.”
He shook his head. “That job’s yours until you say you’ve had enough.”
“Then what?” She sat on the captain’s chair beside the desk. “Have you met the woman of your dreams?”
He laughed. “When do I have time?”
“Several of the sous chefs are young attractive women.”
“They’re taken, and I don’t poach anything but eggs.”
“Then what did you want to tell me?”
He handed her the sheet of paper. “This letter came today, and the offer is a very sweet opportunity.” As she read, Greg studied her. The few strands of silver in her jet black hair just added to her attractiveness. She’d been a widow for fifteen years, and he often wondered why she hadn’t remarried. Did she still mourn for his father? Why? He remembered the many nights that he’d awakened late at night to hear their angry voices.
“You will not let them near Five Cuisines,” she said. “I won’t have it.”
He frowned. “Why not? A feature in Good Eatin’ will place us among the top restaurants in the country.”
“I won’t let him use his magazines to destroy you the way he ruined your father’s dreams.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Peter Blakefield, editor in chief of this magazine, deliberately used his wife’s magazines to destroy Le Provencal.”
Greg rose and went to his mother’s side. He’d been sixteen when the tragedy had occurred. His father’s suicide had brought his mother grief and had brought drastic changes in Greg’s life. “Why would this Blakefield do that?”
She stared at his hand. “Your father told me the families had been at odds since they arrived in this country during colonial days. Your father and Peter had become rivals in high school. Then I met Peter at college. We fell in love and were engaged but we had a fight. I broke the engagement. Peter wanted no part of my parents’ restaurant. Victor learned about the rift and comforted me. He went to work for my parents and we were married. Peter was furious. He said he would destroy Victor. He waited for years, but he succeeded.”
“He wrote dreadful articles about the food, the service, and other things. The shame caused your father to take his own life. Victor wasn’t the most stable of men and when he was drinking became very depressed.”
“Do you have copies of these articles?”
“Your father wouldn’t let me read them. I watched him burn them. Promise you won’t let those people near Five Cuisines.”
Greg turned away. Her comments were disappointing, but, until he knew more about this feud, he’d hold off on sending a letter of regrets. “Are you sure this is the right decision?”
She looked away. “Yes.”
He nodded. “I’ll take care of this later.” He took the letter. “About this feud. Is there any real reason you and I should be involved in the mess?”
“Greg, drop the idea of being featured in Good Eatin’. Peter Blakefield doesn’t forgive or forget.” She rose and walked to the door.
There had to be more than she’d told him, but he had no idea how to discover just what had happened. Greg slipped the letter in a drawer. He didn’t want to slam the door on an opportunity. Maybe she would change her mind. He would hold off on answering for a time. He shook his head. An ancient feud. How medieval.
* * * *
Allie Blakefield stormed into her father’s office. “What is the meaning of this memo?” She slapped the offensive paper on his desk. “’Good Eatin’ will have no good words for Five Cuisines, a restaurant owned by the Ramseys.”
Peter Blakefield looked up. A few streaks of gray could barely be seen in his blond hair. “The memo is clear and you will honor it. There has been bad blood between the families for generations.”
Allie laughed. “What? Like the Hatfields and McCoys? I thought I was the editor of Good Eatin’ and made the decisions on which restaurants are reviewed.”
“In this case, I’ve over-ruled you.” He smiled. “How was California?”
Allie sighed with frustration. His change of subject rankled, but she knew he’d told her all she would hear from him. “Warm. Some good food and some bad, but the restaurants have been selected and the photo shoots arranged.” She curled in a chair across from his desk. “Why can’t I do Five Cuisines? I’ve heard so many raves about the food and the ambiance. Surely some feud from the old days is a poor reason.”
“Allie, forget it. I made a similar decision fifteen years ago.”
She frowned. Fifteen years ago, her mother had died. Allie had been twelve. Back then, her Dad had edited Good Eatin’. Afterwards, he’d become editor and chief of four magazines and sole parent to four young children. What else had happened then? Her curiosity simmered, but she knew he wouldn’t tell her more. “I still want to consider the place.”
“I said no and I meant what I said.” Her father leaned forward. “Are the galleys for the next issue proofed?”
“Then I’ll see you for dinner on Sunday.”
Allie paused at the door. “I’m not sure I can make it.” Though Sunday dinners were a family affair, usually one of the other of the four siblings was absent.
Allie hurried to her office. Vowing to learn more about her father’s reasons for meddling in her territory, she closed the door and dialed her aunt’s number. “Aunt
Laura, what can you tell me about the Ramsey/Blakefield feud?”
Her aunt laughed. “Thought that ended when Victor died. His wife took their son and moved to Europe. What made it surface now?”
Allie explained about the restaurant and how her father had reacted to the idea of a feature article. “He forbade me to go near the place.”
Laura chuckled. “So he waved a red flag and bull-like, you will charge.”
“Yes. Would you give me the facts?”
“As much as I can. The feud began over loyalties during the Revolutionary War and some betrayals, had its ups and downs but vanished after the Civil War until your dad and Victor attended the same high school. In college, they fell in love with the same woman. She and your dad were engaged, but Victor married her.”
Allie slumped in a chair. “What about Mom? Didn’t Dad love her? Did he marry her for the magazines?”
Her aunt sighed. “Peter married her on the rebound. They learned to value each other. When she died, he was devastated. I’m sure he loved her.”
“Nothing explains his attitude about an article. What happened in the past can’t be changed.”
Laura laughed. “I know. This might give a clearer picture. Several months after your mom died, Victor Ramsey lost his restaurant. He killed himself and his wife blamed your father.”
That made little sense to Allie. “Thanks for the info.” The situation was still from the dark ages. She couldn’t see why Good Eatin’ couldn’t do a spread on the most unusual restaurant in the area. She nodded. No matter what her father said, she intended to scout the place. She leaned back in the chair and made a decision. Except the thought of driving across the bridge and back five evenings in a row didn’t thrill her.
She booted her computer and looked among the employees to see who lived on the west side of the Hudson River. She found seven. After checking the master assignment schedule for the four magazines, she tapped an extension number. One of the names belonged to a friend. “Steve, Allie here. When do you leave for Alaska?”
“Tuesday evening. Why?”
“Do you have a guest room?”
“Could I sack out there for a week while you’re away. I promise not to pry.”
He laughed. “Prying is your sister’s way. You’re too direct. What’s up?”
“I want to check Five Cuisines.”
“Be my guest. You’ll love the restaurant.”
“And the location of your apartment is perfect.”
He chuckled. “While you’re in town, look around. There are some neat shops and several other good restaurants. I’ll drop a key off tomorrow and alert the doorman that you’ll be there. I’ve several new neighbors. One’s a real hunk. Just your type.”
“Interesting. Which apartment?”
“Directly below mine. If you score, I want a finder’s fee.”
She laughed. “You’re outrageous. See you tomorrow.”
* * * *
Allie tied her sneakers and walked to the sliding doors leading to the apartment’s balcony. She’d arrived in the Hudson River village late last evening and settled in. Before Steve left, he’d made reservations at Five Cuisines under the name she’d used when scouting. Five dinners. One in each room of the restaurant for the first seating as six.
She inhaled a deep breath and walked to the railing. A warm summer breeze caressed her skin. A few cloud puffs scudded across the blue sky. Several sailboats glided past. She watched until they reached the Tappan Zee Bridge.
A sound caught her attention and she looked down. Steve had been right, definitely her type. A man wearing black briefs flowed from one Yoga position to another. His tanned, sculptured body was glorious. She felt a stirring in her blood.
She inhaled. A man who looked so fabulous had surely been claimed years ago. She muffled a groan. She was four months past her last relationship with no one on the horizon. Her constant flitting about the country wasn’t conducive to long term relationships. Face it. None of the men she’d dated had made her want to remain earth-bound.
Though she’d planned to walk to town to find coffee, browse through the shops, and check what the local restaurants offered, she couldn’t move. Her gaze focused on her neighbor’s broad shoulders, tight rear, and muscular legs. His dark hair touched his shoulders. Was his face as striking as his body?
He finished the exercises and turned. A long sigh escaped Allie. Definitely easy on the eyes. Too bad she couldn’t see his hands to check for a ring. If he’d been hers, she would have banded him with a broad one.
If you lean over the railing another inch, you’ll fall. Though a novel way to meet a man, there was no guarantee he would catch her.
At that moment, he looked up. Their gazes met, and she felt the impact down to her toes. Yes, yes, rang in her thoughts. Her breath caught in her throat.
“Well, hello. Thought Steve was off on a trip.”
She grasped the cool metal railing. “He is. Steve’s a friend. He loaned me the apartment while I’m in town doing research.” Surely the man’s eyes were as dark as the midnight sky.
“Need help with your research?”
She released her grip on the railing. Better move on before she made a fool of herself by propositioning him. “I’ll let you know. Right now, I’m off to explore the town.”
“See you around.”
“I’m sure.” Allie backed into the sliding door. She rubbed her rear. Boy, she was rattled. She laughed and ducked inside. Chances were he was single, but did she want a short-term involvement with a stranger? The way her body pulsed and the trend of her thoughts shouted yes. Slow down.
She slid her small bag over her shoulder, tucked the apartment key inside, and left. On the ground floor, she glanced at his apartment number. Maybe she could learn his name from the mailboxes. As she reached the front door, she made a face. The boxes were in a locked room, and she didn’t have a key. Just my luck.
She waved to the doorman as she passed and strode up the hill to Main Street. As she strolled along, the aroma of coffee drew her to a storefront where several tables stood on the wide sidewalk. She read the name on the door. The Coffee Mug.
When she entered, the scent of freshly baked bread united with the coffee and drew her to the counter. Sweet rolls, a variety of breads, assorted cookies, cakes and pies lined the showcase shelves. She ordered a coffee to go and promised herself she would stop on the way back to the apartment for some rye bread.
As she continued her exploration, she marveled at the variety of small shops selling books, antiques, dollhouses, and jewelry. Restaurants were interspersed with the stores. At each eatery, she paused to read the menus. Some were tempting. Maybe Five Cuisines wasn’t the only game in town.
Then a display window made her grin. The Peekaboo Boutique. She dropped the coffee cup in a trash container and pressed her nose against the display window. Mentally, she flipped a two-headed coin and won. Lingerie was her downfall, and many of the items in the window were sexy and unique. The bras and bikini bottoms appeared to have been hand-painted with flowers and butterflies. She opened the door. A bell tinkled.
A middle-aged woman pushed through a beaded curtain behind the counter. “Hi, I’m Peggy Lou. What would you like to see?”
Allie laughed. “Everything. Let’s start with those lace-up thigh highs and the matching teddy.”
The woman arched a brow. “You’ve great taste and the perfect body to wear them.”
“And I have the right dress.”
Before long, a half dozen sets were added to the stockings and teddy. Allie chuckled. “I’d better stop before I max my card. Don’t worry. I’ll be back.”