All of Me
All of Me
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Tess has given up looking for Mr. Right, but that doesn’t mean she’s given up on love. When she reads a newspaper article about a young couple who’ve had everything stolen from their home, including four bridesmaids’ dresses, she knows she has to help.
But by helping the bride, Tess risks exposing a past she doesn’t want anyone to know about. She does everything she can to minimize the danger she’s in, but she does the one thing guaranteed to destroy everything—she falls in love with the wrong man.
Logan Allen has spent most of his career reporting on the news from around the world. When a letter arrives from Afghanistan, the trauma he’s been living with is about to explode back into his life. He betrayed a small Afghan village and Tess thinks he’s betrayed her.
From their first random act of kindness comes an experience Logan and Tess will never forget. And maybe, if they work together, they can create a future that’s better than anything they’ve left behind.
Chapter One Look Inside
Chapter One Look Inside
Tess stared at the cartons of buttermilk she’d left on the counter overnight. By mistake.
She wouldn’t panic. She’d strutted down the runways of top fashion houses wearing haute couture masterpieces and survived more than one design disaster. She would not cry over a little sour milk.
Except it wasn’t a little. It was her last four quarts. She’d promised the Groovy Grans Motorcycle Club she’d have blueberry buttermilk pancakes ready for them when they roared into town. She checked her watch. In less than an hour, fifteen unhappy grans would be standing in her café, wondering what had happened to their breakfast.
She needed buttermilk, and she needed it fast. Taking a deep breath, she grabbed her jacket. Safeway would be open. She could drive across town, buy the buttermilk and be back in fifteen minutes. She’d make the pancakes, then start on the muffins, cakes, and pies for her other customers.
Opening the front door, she raced across to her car, then remembered her wallet. It was sitting on the kitchen counter. With a sigh, she fumbled inside her pockets, searching for the keys to the café. They weren’t there.
This couldn’t be happening. It really couldn’t. Hurrying back to the café, she turned the handle on the front door, hoping for a miracle.
It was locked. Resting her head against the glass, she tried to think like a logical, mature, twenty-nine-year-old instead of the ditzy blond who needed to break into her own business.
“Is everything okay?”
She looked sideways and sighed. Logan Allen, award-winning reporter, and the one man guaranteed to make a good day turn bad, stood beside her.
“I’m fine.” She let go of the door handle. Logan had been running. Sweat trickled down his face and wet his T-shirt, sticking it to his wide chest and bulging biceps. Not that she was looking. Not much anyway.
She refused to find his dark hair and deep brown eyes attractive. For most of her life, she’d been surrounded by male models who were so gorgeous they took her breath away. But she’d learned the hard way that a handsome face could hide a heart of stone.
Logan’s gaze traveled over her flushed cheeks. “You don’t look fine. You look…frazzled.”
“That’s a big word for five-thirty in the morning,” she said sweetly. “You could use it in one of your stories.”
“Yeah. A homicide. Blond café owner found dead in the street after insulting a reporter.”
Tess sighed. “Your ability to pluck a story out of thin air constantly amazes me.”
Logan crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Now that we’re over our first insults of the day, do you want to tell me what’s going on?”
“I need buttermilk for pancakes, except I left my wallet in the café.”
“Let me guess. Your front door keys are sitting in the café, too?”
She glared at the smile on his face. “I’ll check my car. I usually keep a spare set in there.” Crossing the sidewalk, she opened the passenger door and searched through the glove compartment. When they weren’t there, she hunted under the seat, beside the seat, anywhere she could think of.
“Have you checked the trunk?”
She pulled herself out of the car. “Why would I leave them in there?”
“I don’t know. Maybe you dropped them when you were stashing a dead body inside. Or you could have left them there when you were unloading your groceries like the rest of us mere mortals.”
Tess kept her lips clamped tight. She didn’t have time to bicker with him. She opened the trunk and dropped her car keys into her pocket. “What is it with you and dead bodies? Has something happened that you’re not telling me about?”
“There’s lots I don’t tell you,” Logan muttered as he hunted through the mess in her trunk. “There’s an entire closet of clothes in here.”
“It’s my emergency gear. If I need a change of trousers, a jacket, or a sweater, there’s one of each in my car.”
He pulled out a slinky evening dress. “This is an emergency item?”
She snatched the scrap of pale pink silk out of his hand. “I forgot to take it inside.”
“Looks like someone else has things they don’t want to share.” He moved a pair of sneakers and grinned. “The keys to your café wouldn’t have a coffee cup on the tag, would they?”
“You’ve found them?”
He dangled the keys in front of his chest. “What are they worth?”
Her smile disappeared. “What do you mean?”
“I like your buttermilk pancakes—especially the ones with bacon and maple syrup.”
It must have been the early morning air, but she was disappointed the keys would be hers so easily. Knowing how Logan’s mind worked, she’d expected something more challenging, more daring. “You don’t have to tell me how much you like pancakes. You eat enough of them to sink a ship.”
He stepped forward until their noses were almost touching. “I’m flattered you’ve noticed. I’ll trade the keys for a high stack. Ten pancakes, crispy bacon, and a side bowl of syrup.”
Tess lifted the keys out of his fingers. “Fine. But unless I get to the store and back in fifteen minutes you won’t be eating anything.”
“I could buy what you need.”
“What do you mean?”
He held out his hand. “Give me your car keys. I’ll go to Safeway and bring your groceries back here. You can start the other things you need to bake.”
“I don’t…I mean…” She stared at him, confused by his offer.
Logan grinned. “Just say yes. If you’re feeling generous, you could tell me how wonderful I am and give me free coffee with my pancakes.”
Telling him he was wonderful was the last thing she wanted to do. And his sparkling brown eyes and lopsided grin wouldn’t change that. “You need a shave.”
Logan looked down at her mouth. “Say yes.”
She took a step backward and passed him her car keys. “Thank you.”
He frowned and dropped the keys to the café into her outstretched hand. “I won’t be long.”
“Wait. I’ll give you some money.”
“You can pay me back later. How much buttermilk do you need?”
“You’d better buy five cartons. Get the organic brand. It’s with the other milk on the left-hand side of the store.”
Logan nodded. “Organic buttermilk. Five cartons. Anything else?”
She held the front door keys so tightly they dug into her fingers. “Are you sure you want to do this? You’re hot and sweaty. You haven’t even cooled down.”
“Your concern’s touching, but I’ll be fine.”
And then he folded all six-foot-five inches of sweaty man into the front seat of her car. Tess didn’t hang around to watch him. She had things to do, food to bake, and a coffee machine to turn on.
* * *
Logan arrived back at Angel Wings Café not knowing what to expect. Tess could be so stubborn. She constantly drove him insane with the snippy comments that were never far from her tongue.
But there was something about her, something that made him want to keep coming back. What he didn’t understand was why he seemed to be the only person in Bozeman she didn’t like.
He knocked on the café’s front door and waited. Tess hurried across the room and hauled him inside.
“Thank goodness you’re back. The Groovy Grans will be here soon.” She took the grocery bags out of his hands and walked into the kitchen.
“Who are the Groovy Grans?” Logan followed her. The ovens were on and it looked as though a batch of muffins were already cooking. She was in the middle of making something else, too. A bowl of creamy butter sat beside a bag of flour and a carton of milk.
“Can you pass me one of the small bowls?” Tess pointed in the general direction of the pantry.
He looked inside and grabbed a bowl.
She took it out of his hands. “The Groovy Grans are from Billings. They’re all grandmas who drive motorcycles. They go on weekend tours. On the first and third Saturday of each month, they pass through Bozeman and stop for breakfast.”
“How many are you expecting?”
Breaking four eggs into the bowl, she started whisking them. “Fifteen. How good are you in the kitchen?”
“Depends on what you had in mind.” He tried not to laugh at the scowl she sent him.
“Do you know how to use a griddle?”
He looked at the stove and frowned at the heavy metal pan. “I’ve been running for forty minutes. I’m not smelling that sweet at the moment.”
“The pancakes won’t care what you smell like. Wash your hands and I’ll show you how to cook a pancake.” She wiped her hands on her apron and took something out of a cupboard. “Hold up your arms.”
“What do you…? You’ve got to be joking.”
She held a can of spray deodorant in front of him. “Up. I’m on a tight time frame.”
“Don’t be a wuss. The pancakes might not have a nose, but I do.”
He stuck his arms in the air and glared at her. “As long as you know I’m only doing this for humanitarian reasons. If you tell anyone I wore girls’ deodorant I won’t help in the kitchen again.”
She sprayed the outside of his T-shirt. “The chance of you ever being in here with me again is almost zero, so I guess we’re both safe. Now you smell pretty.”
Logan sniffed the air. “I’m going home for a shower after I’ve cooked the pancakes.”
“I hope so.” She pulled open a drawer and took out an apron. “Wear this.”
“Have you always been this bossy?”
“Only when I’m desperate,” she muttered. “Annie won’t be here for another half hour.”
Annie was Tess’ part-time baker. They’d worked together for as long as Logan had been in Bozeman.
Tess walked across to the long stainless steel counter in the middle of the room. “I’ve already put the dry ingredients in a bowl for the pancakes. I just need to add the buttermilk, eggs, and melted butter.” She added everything to the bowl and mixed it together. When she was finished, she placed a pat of butter on the griddle. “All you have to do is watch what I’m doing and you’ll be fine.”
Logan looked over her shoulder. Tess’ pancakes were the best he’d ever tasted. If he messed this up, the Groovy Grans might not come back. “The batter has bubbles in it.”
“It’s supposed to. They’ll make the pancakes light and fluffy. After they’re are on the griddle, add a small handful of blueberries to the top of each one, like this.” She sprinkled fresh blueberries on the pancakes and reached for a spatula. “They’ll take about two minutes to cook on the first side and less on the second.”
“How do I know when to turn them over?”
“The air bubbles should have risen to the surface and they’ll look a little dry around the edges.”
He watched her flip the first batch, then slide them into the oven to keep warm. She handed him the ladle and smiled. “Don’t look so worried. As long as they don’t burn they’ll taste great. I’ll watch you do the next batch.”
Logan felt as if he was having a job interview. He poured the batter into the pan, added the blueberries, then watched them carefully while they cooked. Who would have thought cooking pancakes could be so stressful.
After he slid his first batch into the oven, he relaxed.
Tess smiled. “Good job. Let me know when you’re getting low on batter. I’ll make some more for you.”
He nodded and added more pancake mixture to the pan. Tess went back to whatever she was making, working with a quick efficiency that impressed him.
He flipped the pancakes and watched them rise. “You started work late this morning.”
Tess glanced up from the bowl of ingredients she was mixing.
Heat hit his face and it had nothing to do with the stove. “I run. I notice things.”
Tess grunted and pulled a baking sheet out of a drawer. She started rolling balls of dough in her hands. “Why do you run so early?”
Logan opened the oven and slid the cooked pancakes inside. He didn’t feel comfortable talking about the real reason he ran. Ever since he’d come back from Afghanistan, he couldn’t sleep, couldn’t forget the images that were stamped on his brain. He’d written award-winning stories and nearly killed himself in the process.
Tess was still waiting for a reply, so he did what he normally did. Answered as close to the truth as he dared to go. “I wake up early. It keeps me fit.” He sprinkled blueberries on the next batch of batter and stared at the pan.
The front door banged open. “Sorry I’m late,” Annie yelled from the front of the café. “How’s your head this morning?”
A mini tornado of red sweater and jeans arrived in the kitchen. “Molly didn’t get—” Annie stopped in the middle of the room. “Logan? What are you doing here?”
“Tess had an emergency.”
“You’re making pancakes?”
He nodded. “Blueberry.”
Annie looked at each of them and smiled. “What do you want me to do?”
“Make the apple huckleberry pies,” Tess said. “I’m just about to start the pecan pie Mr. Donaldson ordered. The Groovy Grans will be here soon.”
Annie washed her hands and nodded. She lifted a container of sugar onto the counter and measured flour and baking powder into a bowl.
Logan watched Annie and Tess move around the kitchen, adding random ingredients to bowls. “Where are your recipe books?”
Annie grinned. “We don’t need them, not for the regular recipes anyway.”
He poured another batch of pancakes onto the griddle. “That’s the last of the batter. Could you make some more, Tess?”
“It’s right here.” She left a bowl of batter beside him. “I’ll just check the café.”
She walked out of the room and Logan watched Annie roll out the pie crusts.
Annie smiled. “You must have done something really nice for Tess.”
“Because she’s not growling at me?”
She looked at the kitchen door. “We didn’t get home until late last night. I’m surprised she made it in here on time.”
“Where did you go?”
“Ennis.” The beeper on the oven went off and Annie took out the muffins.
Logan smiled as he flipped the pancakes. “I wouldn’t have thought there’d be a lot of things happening in Ennis on a Friday night.”
Annie started peeling a bowl of apples. “We had a great time. Molly and Tess hadn’t tasted moonshine before. Willie’s Distillery makes the best legal moonshine ever. Just don’t mention their bourbon whiskey to Sally when you next see her.”
“She liked it too much?”
“Enough to buy a few bottles to bring home. Can you hand me two of the lemons beside you?”
Logan looked along the counter and gave Annie the lemons. He heard the distant roar of motorcycle engines and checked how many pancakes he’d made.
Annie dropped the half-peeled apple into her bowl and rushed over to a set of cupboards. “They’re early. They don’t usually arrive for another fifteen minutes.” Grabbing a tray, she quickly filled it with glasses.
The kitchen door opened and Tess hurried to the fridge. “The Groovy Grans are down the street. Keep those pancakes coming, Logan. I’ll be back soon.” She took two jugs of juice into the café and he looked around the kitchen.
If it was a calm oasis when he arrived, it wasn’t now. And, with the amount of noise coming from the street, it wasn’t about to get any better.
Fans of Netflix’s Virgin River series will love this small-town, feel-good romance!
Four friends. Twenty-two bridesmaids’ dresses. One random act of kindness that will change their lives forever. Helping a bride in distress creates more twists and turns in Tess' life than she ever thought possible. Add in an ex-war correspondent and three friends who want to help, and you have the recipe for a wonderful romance.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ “My favorite kind of books! I enjoyed each story, the characters, and the happy endings.”
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ "A sweet, cozy read for the weekend. Totally lifted my spirits!"
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ "I'm in love with this book! The characters are so relatable and down-to-earth."