“Let’s Do Lunch” by K. A. Jordan
Lindsey Bennett is caught between two men: One will tease her into telling her secrets. The other will use her. Both are capable of killing.
A business owner at the mercy of her employees, Lindsey Bennett owner of the restaurant “Let’s Do Lunch,” finds her employees have no mercy. When Lindsey drops everything to be her injured mother’s caregiver, relying on her sister to run the restaurant proves to be a mistake. Lindsey’s trusted cook quits, the new cook changes the menu, her sister hires a waitress who can’t run a register and money comes up missing. When a bug gets in a customer’s food, Lindsey could lose it all! Somebody should get fired. But once she’s back in charge, Lindsey finds that hiring is easier than firing.
More problems arise with the men in her life. Her new chef Brandon Pendleton – smart, sexy, fast living: he’s the life of every party. Sergeant Kevin “Tag” McTaggart – handsome, aloof, this wounded warrior’s blue eyes see into the depths of her soul. One will tease her until she gives up all her secrets. The other is out to use her and her restaurant.
Surrounded by criminals, deceived on all sides, and catapulted from crisis to crisis, can Lindsey stay focused? Her restaurant and her life are at stake.
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Elizabethtown, Kentucky – 2006
It was a misty May morning in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. Lindsey Bennett parked her truck in the lot beside the Civil War era bank that housed her restaurant. She juggled a coffee cup, new menus and her keys to get the door unlocked.
Once inside, the faint scent of cleaning products greeted her nose. She dumped everything on the nearest table. This was her favorite time, when the restaurant was so quiet she could hear the coolers hum, like sleepy bees.
She made coffee, looking around to see what she needed to do before she could start cooking. The answering machine light was blinking. She hit the button.
“Hi, Miz Lindsey.” The voice was that of a young woman, the cook-in-training. “This isn’t working out. I guess there is nothing else to say.” That was the message from Sunday. There was a beep then she was back – giving Lindsey the address to send her last check.
Lindsey grimaced, feeling equal parts annoyance and relief. The girl couldn’t cook pasta. Rose, her experienced cook, would be leaving soon. She needed a replacement.
Lindsey flipped open her cell phone to call the employment agency. She drummed her fingers on the table as she waited for the other side to pick up.
“Work Fair Employment, Roger speaking.”
“Hello, this is Lindsey Bennett of ‘Let’s do Lunch’ in E’town.”
“Miss Bennett.” His voice was deep with a southern accent. “How is that gal doing?”
“Fortunately for me, she quit,” Lindsey said.
“Well, I’m sorry to hear that.” Behind the country drawl was a note of contempt that always put her back up. “I’ve sent the most experienced people I’ve got.”
“You’re sending me stoners, bimbos and twits,” Lindsey said between her teeth. “I could put an ad in the newspaper to get people from fast food. I need someone who can cook.”
“Are you willing to pay for a chef to come from Louisville or Lexington?”
Lindsey was silent. He knew the limit of her salary range. He seemed to delight in playing dumb, making her look like a raving lunatic.
“Miss Bennett, experienced cooks don’t grow on trees.”
“Flipping burgers is not cooking.”
“Why won’t you give these young people a chance?”
“I need someone who can use a chef’s knife without cutting themselves.”
“Well, I’ve got one candidate that meets your criteria.” His emphasis on ‘criteria’ gave it the connotation of ‘unreasonable.’ “He has one year experience as a nursing home cook, four years in the Army.”
“Army cook,” she sighed. The horror stories about Army food were part of her childhood. Still anyone with five years experience should know how to follow a recipe.
“Would you like to set up an appointment?”
“Get him in here today, around four.”
“That’s short notice.”
“If he wants the job, he’ll be here.” Lindsey closed her cell phone with a snap. She wheeled a dolly to her truck. She stacked two coolers of just-picked produce on the dolly and wheeled it all inside.
Ah, well, her father had warned her that hiring would be the hardest part of owning a business. The best part was waiting for her. It was time to get chopping.
Lindsey surveyed the cramped kitchen with a critical eye to be sure everything was in place. The preparatory work was the key to good food. She peeled and chopped onions then ran carrots through the food processor, radishes and celery followed. She turned the radio to her favorite station, humming along as she worked. Just as she was taking the pot of potatoes off the stove, Lindsey heard a knock at the door. She looked over her shoulder. Rose had arrived. Lindsey wiped her hands as she hurried to the door.
“Morning,” Lindsey sang out. “How are you?”
“The Lord has blessed me with a new day.” Rose was Afro-American, heavy set and motherly, she wore her gray hair short and crisp. “Sometimes that’s as good as it gets.”
“Oh, I swear, if it’s not one of them children worrying me near to death, it is another one. This morning it was a ruckus between Kevin and his daddy. Kevin’s Algebra teacher emailed that Kevin got an ‘F’ on a test. I should have known something was amiss. He’s been too good.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“I don’t know what I’m going to do when school lets out.” Rose’s extended family kept her close to God. She attended church regularly, praying for her troubled family. “Even if I’m there, I can’t lock him in his room. Teen-aged boys aren’t house pets.” She smiled at Lindsey. “Well, that’s enough of my troubles.”
“I was about to get started on the lettuce.” Lindsey opened one of the coolers, lifted out plastic baskets of produce. She started rinsing; the lettuce was beautiful, spiky red, deep green romaine, sweet butter crunch still as fresh smelling, crisp and dewy as when they’d picked it, just hours ago.
“I’ll get busy.” Rose walked to the fridge, humming along to the radio. They tore spinach and lettuce into a bowl set in ice, peeled new potatoes and chopped them into potato salad. By ten o’clock they were ready, the meats sliced and salads chilling. Lindsey and Rose sat down in the dining room to have coffee.
“Here’s Mom and Heather.” Lindsey rose to let them in.
Lindsey’s younger sister, Heather, followed Eleanor, their mother. The resemblance was strong. Heather was a taller and more slender, version of their mother, all three with dark hair, high cheekbones. Eleanor and Heather had green eyes while Lindsey’s were hazel.
Heather held a harvest basket overflowing with white and lavender lilac blossoms. The heady scent wafted through the room.
“Good God what a morning,” Heather greeted them. “Travis missed the bus again. School’s almost over, why can’t he keep it together for a couple weeks?”
“I shall refrain from saying ‘boys will be boys’ since you weren’t much different at that age.” Eleanor smiled.
“I was never like that,” Heather denied. “Girls are easier to raise than boys.”
“Raising children is harder now than ever.” Rose shook her head. “Wait until he’s a teenager like my grandson Kevin. The high schools are filled with gangs and drugs.”
“If his father was alive, he would keep Travis in line.” Heather grumbled walking to the sink in the back.
Lindsey exchanged a ‘there-she-goes-again’ look with Rose as she went back to cooking. Heather held on to her late husband the way a miser held onto gold. Lindsey suspected that the Richard Morgan enshrined in her sister’s heart bore little resemblance to the man Heather married.
Eleanor got the vases for the flowers from the cast iron bank vault. It was the biggest storage area in the tiny restaurant. Heather emerged from the kitchen with a pitcher of water. Heather sat at the table with Eleanor to fill the vases with water and flowers.
The phone started to ring at around ten with carryout orders. Eleanor switched on the open sign. A couple of customers came in. The lunch rush was on. Sometime in the middle of the rush, Lindsey heard a bright, tinkling giggle. She turned to see her sister waiting on a bearded man.
“So what does a guy have to do to get a plate of fried chicken and French fries in this place?” His dark blond hair was pulled back, a reddish beard and mustache hid most of his face. He wore an Army T-shirt tucked into old jeans.
“Order from another restaurant and have it delivered. We don’t serve fried food.”
“You call this a menu?” he teased. “All I see is sissy food.”
“This is not a greasy spoon,” Heather chided. “Denny’s is by the interstate.”
“Health food in E’town? This is Kentucky, girl. Even steak is breaded and fried.”
“Honey, if you don’t like our pasta salad, I’ll take you to McDonalds and buy you a Big Mac.” Heather giggled.
“That’s a deal!” He winked at Heather. “I’ll take a club sandwich, too. Just don’t serve me a little bitty sandwich, or you’ll owe me that Big Mac.”
“What was that about?” Lindsey asked as Heather came back behind the counter.
“He’s giving me a hard time.” Heather rolled her eyes. Waitress-baiting was a national pass-time; a good waitress took advantage of it.
“So what did he order?” Lindsey took the ticket with a grin.
“A super-club sandwich and pasta salad, make it good, or I’ll owe him a Big Mac.”
“Can’t have that.” Lindsey stacked the sandwich high, then squirted a smiley face on the top of a slice of tomato with mayonnaise. They giggled together before Lindsey started the next order.
A few minutes later, Lindsey saw him at the register, paying Heather for his meal.
“Well, do I owe you a Big Mac?” Heather grinned at him.
“No ma’am, it was very good.” He looked over at Lindsey. “I take back everything I said about sissy food.” He held Lindsey’s gaze for a moment then tipped a finger towards one eyebrow in a mock salute. Lindsey smiled back and waved.
Lindsey made sandwiches and dished out various salads, sprinkled bacon bits or sunflower seeds, croutons or pretzel buttons. By the time the rush was over, shortly after two, Lindsey and Rose were dragging, the gallons of pasta salad were gone and they all were in dire need of a break.
Lindsey shooed Rose out of the kitchen then grabbed cups of coffee for both of them. Everyone was glad they didn’t stay open for dinner. After the short break, they were on cleanup detail. Heather counted the little notebook pages, ninety-five meals served total, 40 take out orders, a typical Monday. They pooled the tips between them so everyone had some pocket money.
“Well ladies, another great day,” Lindsey congratulated them. “We’ve got a heck of a team here.”
“Did you ever hear from the agency about the cook?” Eleanor asked with a frown.
“I’m interviewing a cook today,” Lindsey announced. Rose and Eleanor looked pleased.
“Tell me you found someone who knows how to cook,” Heather said.
“Your father needs help in the garden, too,” Eleanor said. “He was just talking about it this morning.”
“Dad has to find someone. I hope he has an easier time of it. Help is hard to find.”
“I hate to leave but I need to keep that grandson of mine on the straight and narrow. If I can just keep him out of trouble this summer, his daddy and I might make something of him yet.” Rose sighed. “Wish I could have kept my daughters out of trouble. I was working two jobs just to keep the roof over our heads in those days.” Rose was determined to save her grandson from the drug scene that had the boy’s mother and two aunts in and out of jails and rehabs. “I’ll see you all tomorrow, God willing.”
Eleanor locked the door behind Rose then went to the old register, to cash out for the day. The machine printed in a monotonous whir, whir, whir, while Eleanor counted the drawer to make out the deposit. Lindsey went back to the kitchen to finish the last of the dishes while Heather cleaned the dining area. With just six tables, it was important to keep everything tidy.
After they left, Lindsey did some detailed clean up as she waited for the interview. The building was quiet, so quiet that she could hear the coolers humming. Lindsey looked around with a satisfied sigh. She never got tired of being here, never lost the thrill of having her own little Queen-dom.
A dark-haired man in kaki-colored Dockers and a green polo shirt knocked at the door. Lindsey opened the door for him.
“Hi, good to meet you, I’m Brandon Pendleton.” He was handsome, with dark brown hair, faintly sun-streaked and curly. He looked to be twenty-something, with a narrow jaw, a straight nose and a mobile mouth. He gave her a high wattage smile.
“Lindsey Bennett.” She was conscious of her disheveled state, as she shook his hand. “Please have a seat.” The application and the pen were already on the table. “Could you fill out the application for me, please? Can I get you some ice tea?”
“Sure, sweet tea is fine.” He sat down, turned to watch her with one arm draped over the back of the bench.
Lindsey retreated behind the counter to get glasses. She took a deep breath as she poured two glasses of sweet tea. She was grateful that her mother wasn’t here to probe his prospects as a potential son-in-law.
What would her father do? The Colonel wouldn’t allow a pretty face to distract him.
That thought steadied her. This wasn’t a date. Pendleton was a prospective employee. She needed a cook, not a boy-toy. Still she couldn’t help glancing at her reflection in the cooler’s glass door.
“Get a grip,” she mouthed silently at her ghostly reflection.