A little about the book:
At 28, Regan Stinson, the daughter of an Italian restaurateur, is struggling to balance her dream with the lie that has become her life. On air at Radio WSNO 102.4 she shares stories about her love for animals and her dog, Gizmo. This would be great if she liked furry creatures or actually had a dog. Then there’s the dead end-day-job drama and her roller-coaster relationship with the narcissistic, yet grounding, local food critic. It takes a heartbreaking fall back to her culinary roots, a devastating fire and a chance meeting with sexy food television network personality, Nick Bellingham, for Regan to realize the front she’s built to reach her goal is keeping happiness at bay. Nick and Regan could bring about the hospitality industry’s next big thing, but only if they can turn the table on their combined misfortunes.
I’m not going to say everything was perfect. It wasn’t. Still, for the first time I felt like I’d made a good choice. Taking over my dad’s restaurant had never been in my plans, but I had done it and managed to hold on to my part-time radio gig. It was all going well until about half an hour ago.
At 3:00 a.m. the city of Orlando was cocooned in darkness, but the small strip plaza stood illuminated. Fire trucks and emergency vehicles lined the parking lot. The smoldering buildings were highlighted like a focal point on a dark stage. Strobes cut through the night, a visual metronome of red and blue.
My chest was tight. I’m not sure if it was from stress or from the layer of smoke trapped above our heads in the humid summer air.
Not sure what to do or who to talk to, I stood at the lot’s edge and watched. Firefighters moved back and forth between the crippled building and their trucks. I overhead them discussing terms I didn’t understand as they traded out equipment.
A man in a uniform, but not protective gear, approached.
“Are you the owner of one of these?” he asked in a soft yet authoritative tone. His name tag read Chief J. Klein.
I nodded, suddenly aware of the tears running down my face. “The restaurant,” I said, pointing to the end unit. “I’m a partner.” My words felt far away, as if someone else was speaking them.
It’s amazing how fast life can change. Just a few hours ago I was excited and optimistic about the Sicily Plate’s future, about my future. Nick and I had been in the kitchen working on a new menu — it’s launch was sure to boost business. Consultants with Nick’s experience charge top dollar to breathe new enthusiasm into establishments, but he was helping me out for free. Then the unexpected kiss happened. I locked the restaurant up in a daze and must have left a burner on. It’s the only explanation that made sense. How else could this have occurred?
My dad was gone and now – thanks to me — so was his life’s work. My throat constricted. Not only had I destroyed his greatest accomplishment, but the livelihoods of those who worked at the strip mall’s two other businesses as well. Just a few hours ago there were butterflies in my stomach. Now there was a sharp pain.
“Are you okay,” the official asked. He put his hand on my shoulder.
“Do you know how this happened?” I asked, even though I was sure I knew the answer. I bent down hoping to dull my throbbing gut.
“The fire marshal is on his way. He’ll investigate,” Chief Klein said. “We’re not ruling out arson at this point,” he added. “Is there anyone with you?”
I shook my head. I was alone. My best friend wasn’t speaking to me. My boyfriend and I were broken up – I think. I wanted to call Nick, but it didn’t feel right. There was the off-chance that my stepmom, Azaria, might be sleeping sound for the first time since my father’s death, so I didn’t want to wake her. More bad news could wait until the morning.
My heart raced. Flashes of red and blue danced in the puddles scattered across parking lot, which was full of water that didn’t make it to the blaze. My vision narrowed. Pixilated. Like a digital photo made too large.
“Ma’am?” Chief Klien said. “Let’s sit you down where it’s dry.”
His hand gripped firmly under my arm. I felt funny.
“Can you stand?” he asked.
I could barely hear him. The world and all its noise had grayed. Faded away. Black.