All of My Heart - Excerpt

Suzie Hart has it all. A beautiful home, friends and family, and the sweetest job in the world. She’s
the best darned cook in Harbor Falls, North Carolina, or so she’s been told. She runs her own inn, has written a cookbook, conducts cooking classes on Saturdays, and caters for special events and holidays. In short, life is perfect. Right?

Wrong. You see, happy-go-lucky Suzie Hart has a secret. And all is well until that secret rides up to her doorstep on a bad-ass Harley and tosses her perfect little world into some kind of big, bad tumble.

Brad Matthews doesn’t have a secret, he has a plan—and that plan includes luring Suzie Hart back into his life. When she worked as his sous chef in Asheville, he had no intention of falling in love with the sassy chef, or any other woman, for that matter. There was no room in his life for love. But when Suzie disappeared and took Brad's heart with her, his good intentions shattered. Now that he’s found her again, he’s not about to let her alter the new path he’s set out on for his life—or hers.

Suzie Hart pulled onto the rambling lane that led to Sweet Hart Inn, followed the drive around the house, and parked beside of the yellow clapboard Victorian she called home. She switched off the ignition and stared straight ahead, her gaze landing on the tranquil scene of Harbor Lake behind her house. Smiling, she paused for a moment, a welcome break from the hectic day she’d just escaped from.
Of course, chaotic was normal. Wasn’t it? A day-long catering event at the American Legion Hall—a fundraiser for the local wounded warriors—kept her hopping all day long. There was corn on the grill to keep moving, smoked pulled pork BBQ that forever needed replenishing, and coleslaw bowls that emptied way too quickly. It was busy and satisfying and worth it all at the same time. Yes, her life was good. She wouldn’t change a thing if she could. She loved her lifestyle here in Harbor Falls, every single day. She was busy but busy-ness was truly a blessing.
She welcomed busy.
Busy made her temporarily forget about…things.
And that was good. Right? To forget?
She didn’t answer herself. Blinking away the scene until later—when she could unwind with a glass of wine on her deck overlooking the lake—Suzie pulled her keys from the ignition and got out of her Mazda SUV. Moving to the read of the car, she flipped up the hatch. Over the next few minutes she carried in empty pans and tubs, bags of plastic wear and paper plates, a couple of empty coolers, dirty tablecloths and more. She’d dropped off the leftovers after the fundraiser to the Harbor Falls Youth Center, knowing the kids there always appreciated an unexpected spread. Last, she snagged several bags of groceries and slammed the hatch. She’d stopped for a few things at the local Piggly Wiggly before leaving town. She only had one guest tonight at the inn, but whether it was one or ten, she still had breakfast to fix in the morning.
Up the steps and through the back entrance of her home, she set her purchases on the over-sized kitchen island and sighed.
“Whew. What a day.”
Pausing for only a few seconds, she inhaled-exhaled again, then started on the groceries. One by one, Suzie lifted the items out of her cotton grocery bags and placed them on the butcher-block top, suddenly feeling she’d forgotten something.
She glanced off and bit her lip. “What in the world did I forget?” Mentally, she clicked through the list in her head, and then as if to solidify the list, touched each item as she said its name out loud.
“Cinnamon, nutmeg.”
She glanced at the refrigerator. Darn it. Why hadnt she made a list? She always made a list. She knew better than to not make a list. She was a chef, for God’s sake. Chefs make lists! Why didnt she make a list today?
She had to get over this bad habit of second-guessing herself lately.
Damn. Milk.
She forgot the stupid milk.
And she was bone-dry out. Drat. She had planned to perfect her Harbor Falls Mountain Blueberry Muffins recipe tonight for her new cookbookAt Your Leisure: Recipes of Harbor Falls’ Sweet Hart Inn. Thinking about the new title her editor had just approved, she smiled, then immediately frowned as she glanced toward the incomplete stash of groceries on her kitchen counter.
The plus side to baking tonight meant there would have been muffins leftover for morning, and she wouldn’t have had to get up as early and bake on a Sunday morning.
Double drat.
Well, she could go back to the Piggly Wiggly if she had to. It wasnt that the grocery store was that far away, or that it would take her hours to go back. That wasn’t the point, at all. It was the simple fact that getting back into the car, driving the ten minutes to the local Piggly Wiggly, working her way to the very back corner, grabbing the milk, and making her way to the checkout aisle would be another damned exhausting trip down memory lane. One stroll she didnt want to take again today. Shed already been there an hour or so ago, much to her chagrin.
She could still hear them in her ear….
“Suzie, honey, so sorry to hear about, well, you know. Cliff.” Cluck, cluck. Old Mrs. Wilson. Her dementia had set in about a year ago and she recalled everything that happened exactly one year ago, over and over again. Whenever she saw Suzie, all the genteel older woman ever thought about was how Cliff had left her—one year ago.
Poor, poor Suzie.
Pat-pat on her hand. “You feeling better, dearie? You look a bit off.” Mr. Wilson moved his hand up her arm. Suzie knew better than to turn her back on the old man because hed be pinching her backside before you could say, “Howdy do.”
Then there was Betty Jo, grocery clerk, scowling across the melons. “That sister of yours should have known better. She wasnt raised that way.” She shook her head. “You need to get out and find a man, sweetie. Its time. Want to go to Asheville with me Saturday night?”
Tsk tsk. Geraldine Wisemueller—obviously on her way home from her daycare job as she had baby spit and some sort of green goo on her shoulder. Geraldine sidled up beside her. “Now, tomorrow evening you come over for dinner and well have meatloaf and pie and lemonade. Youll forget all about the terrible man who left you and that little...um, and your sister.”
Best meatloaf in town. At least she thinks so. Suzie begged to differ.
Sympathy run amok.
She didnt need any more sympathy run amok, thank you very much. Or any more hand-patting. Or clucking after her ex-fiancé. Or tsk-tsking her sister. Or meatloaf.
She didnt need any of that.
She didn’t need a man, either.
Definitely didnt need a man.
She needed milk.
Dammit. Just milk.
And she wasn’t going to get it today, that was for certain, unless she hauled her butt back out to her car, drove back into town, and braved the nastiest gossip mill in town.
Harbor Falls Piggly Wiggly, here I come.
Besides, it had been over a year since her fiancé of way too many year ran off with her baby sister. She was over it. She was! When would they—meaning the entire town of Harbor Falls, North Carolina—give it up, too?
Talk of the town. Yep. Little Suzie Hart.
But she was tired of the whole sordid affair. Seemed like she and Cliff stirred up more gossip around these parts since, well… Since Pammy Gruber ran off to Nashville in 43 with the preacher from the Church of Christ.
Times like these she wished she didnt live in a small town where everybody knew your business. Where everybody wanted in on your business in the worse way.
There were days she just wanted to run away.
But wait, shed tried that once, right? And it hadnt quite turned out so well. Had it?

WATCH for the first release in the Harbor Falls Romance Series, coming soon!