"'Tis the Season" by Trish Perry from Love Finds You on Christmas Morning
‘Tis the Season (Trish Perry): When personal chef Nikki Tronnier moves back home to Cary, North Carolina, she plans to fulfill a lifelong dream and buy back the family home built by her great-grandfather for his bride. But before she is able to make an offer, someone else buys the house. Just as she prepares for a fight, she learns that the very person who stole her dream is the man who has also stolen her heart. Unaware, handsome new owner, Drew Cornell, seeks Nikki’s help in restoring the home to its historic beauty in time for Christmas.
Excerpt of chapter one:
“Have I ever told you why I stole you away from Armand, Nikki?”
Nicole Tronnier dusted a trace of flour off the tip of her nose and gave old Mr. Fennicle a smile. “Of course you have, Harvey. I amazed you with my culinary prowess and sparkling personality.”
She placed a basket of warm rosemary biscuits near his plate. The pumpkin-potato puree and veggie medley looked perfect next to his rack of lamb, if she did say so herself. The rich winter colors were almost as important to her as the fragrance and taste of the food she served. “If anyone deserves the very best personal chef in North Carolina, it's an absolutely spoiled multi-millionaire like you.”
She saw him fight against the twitch of a smile.
“I resent your insinuation about me, young lady.”
“I call 'em as I see 'em, Harvey.”
“I'm an absolutely spoiled billionaire, at the very least. And that's not why I lured you away. I've always been very fond of Armand and his fine restaurant. It's one of the reasons I opened a plant in Charlotte, so I could visit him and still make money. Pilfering his star chef gave me no pleasure, and I could have found an equally gifted chef elsewhere, I'm certain.”
“But?” She crossed her arms. She adored this old man and had taken so little time to settle into her fond banter with him once she joined the staff in his spacious Cary, North Carolina, mansion almost a year ago.
He closed his eyes and swallowed his bite of lamb, ecstasy in his expression. “Perfect.” He breathed a satisfied sigh. “But I saw you do something that put you over the top, in my book. I don't suppose you even know what that was.”
“I gave you an extra large slice of my mango-coconut terrine for dessert. Was that it?”
“Didn't hurt, but no. Do you remember that odd fellow who made off with a dish full of food the day I met you?”
She frowned. “Odd fellow. No. What do you mean he made off with--oh, you mean the homeless guy in the fake waiter suit.” She chuckled at the memory.
“I was outside in my limo when that happened,” Harvey said. “I hadn't yet entered the restaurant and was on the phone with one of my more boring advisors. I saw that fellow rush out of the restaurant, glancing back, forth, and behind. He was protecting that plate of food as if eagles would swoop down and carry it off.”
“Poor guy,” Nikki said. “I think he just wandered in off the street, fully intending to beg from our customers or from the restaurant, I don't know for sure. But he was in that old black suit, and a customer handed her dish to him to bring back to the kitchen for reheating or something. She thought he was a waiter. And he thought he hit the jackpot.”
Harvey laughed. “When you stormed out the front door after him and nearly tripped over him, sitting there--”
“You never told me you saw all that, Harvey!”
“I did indeed.”
“Yeah, I remember it now. It was just like you said. He was so hungry he didn't even run beyond the front stoop. Broke my heart.” She shrugged. “I had to redo the customer's order anyway. No sense in wasting food.”
“I saw you pat his head, Nikki. Not only did you let him eat, you weren't afraid to touch him.”
She sighed. “And that's why you hired me?”
He focused on cutting his lamb. “Says a lot about a person, the things they'll do when they think no one else is watching. If I'm going to have someone join my live-in staff, I want to make sure she's made of the right stuff, not just able to make the right stuff.”
“Yep.” She nodded. “I'm pretty special all right.”
Harvey's personal assistant Laura walked into the dining room. “Excuse me, Mr. Fennicle.”
“Laura, please.” He tilted his head. “Call me Harvey. I've told you about that.”
She simply smiled. Nikki knew Laura would never loosen up enough to accommodate Harvey's request. She had replaced his previous assistant who retired months ago, and she was still loath to so much as chat over a cup of coffee. After Nikki's years of active social life in college and then working in bustling kitchens full of chatty co-workers, the lack of sisterly camaraderie was sometimes lonely.
“Elliot Kincaid in New York is calling,” Laura said to Harvey. “What would you like me to--”
“Thanks, yes. Please tell him I'll call him in about half an hour. And could you bring me those papers he sent down yesterday? I'll look them over while I eat. Did you get dinner?”
“Yes, thank you.” She smiled formally at Nikki. “Very nice, Nikki. Thank you.”
Although the woman hadn't yet proved easy to cozy up to, Nikki still had hope. She watched Laura's prim steps carry her out of the room and then returned her attention to Harvey. “Okay, I'll leave you to it, then. Do you need anything else?”
“Only the fountain of youth, dear.”
She squeezed his shoulder and almost gave him a kiss on his feathery-haired head. “I'll check on you in a little while. I have something special for your dessert.”
She returned to the kitchen and started tidying up. Harvey's panna cotta was ready in the refrigerator. She only needed to drizzle the rose syrup over it before she served it to him. He loved trying new flavors, and this would be exactly that. Her old boss Armand Gaudet had introduced her to Italian rose syrup while she apprenticed under him in Charlotte.
Not for the first time Nikki felt the tiniest twinge of guilt about leaving Armand, even though he had been completely gracious when Harvey offered her this job. There had simply been too many “God things” involved for her to ignore the opportunity.
Although she had moved away from Cary years ago in order to attend college and then train under Armand, she was definitely a family girl. She loved the city but missed her hometown. The three-hour drive between Charlotte and Cary made visiting her parents, sister, and old friends prohibitive. So for the location alone, she gave Harvey's offer serious consideration as soon as he made it.
But there was another reason she couldn't refuse the offer to work as personal chef to the eccentric Harvey Fennicle. He had doubled her income with a stroke of his pen on her employment contract. Nikki wasn't money hungry, but as long as she could remember, she had saved for a specific goal she had in mind. Now she might actually reach that goal.
Her family's old home here in Cary--the home her great-grandfather William Tronnier and his brothers built for William and his new bride Lillian--had been on the market for a year or more. Neither her parents nor her grandparents had maintained ownership of the Tronnier home, seeking instead to buy more modern homes for themselves and their families.
But Nikki's fondest early childhood memories were wrapped up in that home. As a little girl she thought Granny Lillian and Grampa William would always be around. And she thought the family would spend every holiday, especially Christmas morning, celebrating in their home. She wanted to bring those memories back into her family's lives and futures.
The house was still beautiful but needed considerable refurbishing. Until Harvey Fennicle came into her life, Nikki had little hope of saving enough to purchase and remodel the home. Now she was close to having saved a sizable down payment. It wouldn't be long before she could make an offer to the current owner. The house had been vacant for quite awhile. Nikki had confidence in her chances.
She couldn't think of anything or anyone that would stand in her way now.
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