FROM SCRATCH – On sale July 20, 2015
About the book –
A down-home, feel-good debut Southern romance, FROM SCRATCH explores one woman’s journey back home to Dallas, Texas, where her family is cooking up a plan that doesn’t quite suit her tastes…
Thirty-year-old Lillie Turner grew up with maple syrup stuck to her skin and bacon grease splattered on her clothes, courtesy of working in the family diner. Thank goodness she escaped all that when she moved to Chicago five years ago. Now a successful strategy consultant and newly engaged to a man who complements her like biscuits and gravy, she has everything she wants.
When an urgent phone call about her father’s health pulls Lillie back to Dallas, she soon learns it was a ruse to bring her home so she can run the diner she’d rather avoid and compete in the Upper Crust, an annual baking competition, with no option to withdraw. Lillie is furious and ready to run back to Chicago, but her father’s haggard appearance makes her wonder if he’s hiding something. Things go from bad to worse when Nick, her handsome ex and the only man she ever truly loved, reappears, looking as scrumptious as ever.
Lillie’s trip home forces her to question the path she’s chosen, find her place in the family she abandoned, and wonder if the life she left behind is what she really wants after all.
“Now, come on. We’ve got a job to do.” She throws the duffel over her shoulder and motions for me to follow.
We race across the lawn, up the porch steps, and to the front door, so quiet it’s as if the soles of our sneakers are made of air. Annabelle taps my arm and points to a window. Shaking my head, I run my hand along the sill of the door. My fingers bump against something metal. Bingo! A key tumbles onto the welcome mat with a soft clank. Annabelle arches an eyebrow. I shrug, pick up the spare, and unlock the door. It swings open with a whisper.
Inside, the house smells like laundry detergent and citrus wood polish. Moonlight streams into a small living room, illuminating it in a silvery glow. I peer around. None of the furniture looks familiar. The decor has a rustic vibe to it, though I notice feminine touches are littered here and there—a vase perched on the fireplace mantel, patterned throw pillows adorning an overstuffed couch, a stained-glass floor lamp wedged between a pair of cigar chairs. Margaret may not permanently inhabit this space, but her presence lingers.
As we tiptoe through the house, my eyes roam. A jumble of mismatched frames line the walls and bookshelves, scenes and figures dancing in the shadows, the details a blur. A flash of blond hair catches my eye. I gasp, staggering to a halt. Annabelle collides into me, and my hip bangs against the wall. A wooden frame wobbles on its nail. We pause, listening for any sign that Nick is awake. Other than my heart hammering in my ears, I hear nothing.
Annabelle glares at me. Sorry, I mouth. She sighs, shaking her head, then continues moving deeper into the house. I trail after her, but my mind has yet to catch up. It’s still focused on the memory captured in a photograph, the image fuzzy from condensation on the camera lens. In it, two kids splash in a puddle, mud and dirty water staining the girl’s cotton dress and the boy’s khaki church pants. I remember that summer. It rained the entire month of August, but that didn’t prevent Nick and me from playing in it, drenching ourselves to the bone. I wonder why Nick kept that picture when it seems all other traces of our former life together have been erased.
Annabelle stops when we reach a hallway, pressing a finger to her lips. Faint rain forest sounds drift out from under a closed door. A grin spreads across my face. Such a creature of habit, I think, as Annabelle cocks her head and guides us to the kitchen. While she dumps the contents of the duffel onto the island—two plastic funnels, a bag of flour, and packages of balloons—I snoop around.
Magnets, a Peanuts calendar, postcards, and more photos clutter the fridge door—snapshots of Nick and the Randy Hollis Band toasting with pints of beer at the Shiner brewery, of Charlotte and Dr. Preston at Nick’s White Coat ceremony, of Margaret and Nick at a concert. There are pictures of Wes and Annabelle from college and one of them cheering with foam fingers at a Texas Rangers baseball game. There’s even a shot of Nick and my father fishing. Since when does Nick fish?
I open the fridge and stare down at a carton of eggs, some rib-eye steaks, rows of bottled water, and a whole shelf overflowing with fruits and vegetables. No leftovers or take-out containers in sight, not like I expected any different from a doctor.
“Lillie, quit gawking and help me!” Annabelle hisses.
“I’m not gawking,” I whisper, coming to stand beside her. “I’m investigating.”
“Whatever. Now take this,” she says, handing me a package of balloons.
We waste no time getting to work, establishing a rhythm as Annabelle siphons flour into the balloons while I inflate and tie them off. The bright colors appear silver in the moonlight. Soon the floor and countertops are awash in balloons and Annabelle is handing me the last one. As I blow it up, it escapes from my grasp, bouncing off the cabinets and sputtering into the sink. I look at Annabelle, then at myself. Flour is splattered all over us. A fit of giggles overtakes me.
“Shhh!” Annabelle slaps my shoulder.
I clamp a hand over my mouth, trying to stifle the laugh, but that only makes it worse. Annabelle rolls her eyes, but then she cracks up, snorting into her palm.
“Okay, okay,” she says, careful to keep her voice low. “Let’s finish this.”
With arms full of balloons, we exit the kitchen and tiptoe down the hallway to Nick’s bedroom. Holding my breath, I turn the knob and open the door slowly, praying the hinges don’t squeak. Silence. I exhale. We slip into the room and scatter the balloons around. The tranquil noises of waterfalls, birdcalls, and cicadas surround us. Nick lies on his back, legs tangled in sheets, an arm draped across his stomach. I try not to stare at his bare chest. I succeed a little.
It takes us several trips to and from the kitchen, but before long, the room is bursting with balloons. They crowd every available surface and are piled to the ceiling in the walk-in closet and adjoining bathroom. We position the remaining balloons on the bed, then start backing out of the room. Just when I’m sure we’re in the clear, my heel connects with a stack of old vinyl records next to the doorframe. I lose my balance, and Annabelle grabs my shirt collar. I have to bite down hard on my tongue to keep from yelping. Nick stirs and mumbles. Everything inside me freezes, waiting for him to snap to attention, catch us red-handed. Miraculously, Nick rolls over and buries his head under a pillow, his knee brushing against a balloon. A beat later, his breathing is steady again, as is his snoring. I relax, and feel Annabelle do the same.
We dart out of the house, not even bothering to return the spare key to its hiding spot, and jump in my truck. When we are a safe enough distance away, I pull into a gas station and shut off the engine.
“So, that was a success,” I say.
Annabelle eyes me skeptically.
“Okay, there were some minor hiccups,” I admit.
Annabelle shakes her head, suppressing a smile.
“What?” I say.
“Next time your ass is staying in the truck.”
About the author –
Rachel is a mojito lover, cheese enthusiast, wanderluster, book junkie, romance writer, and an enginerd. She is a Colorado native displaced in Texas and an engineer and university professor. When she’s not creating optimization models or traveling the world, eating her way through city after city, she is usually tucked in the corner of a coffee shop, dreaming up stories and typing away on the computer. She lives in suburbia Dallas with her husband and two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Oliver Pancake and Rigby Peanut. FROM SCRATCH is her first novel.