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Crazy Little Thing Called Love

By´╝ÜMolly Cannon

Chapter One

You can’t take time off now. It’s out of the question.” Diego Barrett, head chef at Finale’s, made his decree and turned back to the stove as if everything was settled.

Etta swiped at a lone tear and sniffed. It was hard to believe she’d ever thought she was in love with this guy. “Diego, I’m not asking for your permission. My grandmother died, and I’m going to Texas to take care of the arrangements.”

He never looked her way as he banged around the restaurant kitchen, lifting lids, stirring a pot here, tasting a sauce there. “What about your sister? She lives in Texas. Why can’t she handle things?” He stomped over to the table that held menu plans and supply lists. “And how the hell am I supposed to get anyone to cover for you on such short notice? The Mann party is coming in tomorrow night, and they could make or break our reputation. Remember, Etta? The Mann party? The big opportunity we’ve been working our asses off for?”

“If you could stop ranting long enough to listen I’ll tell you. Mimi will cover for me tomorrow, and everything will be fine. But I’ll be gone at least a week. Adjust the schedule accordingly.”

“For God’s sake, why can’t you wait a day or two? Why do you have to leave right now? I need you here.”

“The question you should be asking is, ‘Are you okay, Etta? Is there anything I can do to help?’ ”

Sounding like a spoiled child, he tried guilt. “You know what kind of pressure I’m under. Thank you for adding to it.”

She took off her apron and started gathering her things. “And thank you for your support, Diego.”

“How’s this for support?” He sat down at the table, his tone overwrought. “If you leave me now, don’t bother to come back.”

Without a second thought, she picked up a vat of cold soup, a lovely vichyssoise, and dumped it in his lap. “Oops. There goes the soup of the day.”

His howl of outrage and the pungent smell of leeks followed her out the door.

Donny Joe Ledbetter hated funerals.

He huddled in his thin black suit coat as an uncommonly bitter wind whipped through Everson Memorial Gardens and battered the mourners who’d gathered graveside to pay their respects to the dearly departed Hazel Green. Miz Hazel, as she was known by one and all, had lived a colorful life and had died too soon at the frisky age of sixty-eight.

Amen and bless her soul.

She would be missed by the good folks in Everson, including Donny Joe. She’d been his next door neighbor, a grandmother figure of sorts, a never-ending source of unsolicited advice—some good, some bad. And of late, his business partner.

He didn’t treat her passing lightly, so when he was asked to be a pallbearer he agreed without hesitation. He had a real affection for the old girl. Too bad he couldn’t say he felt the same about her granddaughter.

He let his gaze travel over Etta Green. She had steamed back into Everson a few days ago to take care of the funeral arrangements for her grandmother, but grief could only go so far in excusing her surly attitude. Not that he’d had any direct encounters with her, but it hadn’t taken long for word to spread via the town grapevine that she’d bulldozed everyone in her path. Out of the respect people had for Miz Hazel, she’d gotten away with it. Now she perched on one of the spindly chairs set up for the family in front of the casket, her small fireplug of a body vibrating with defiance and anger.

What a piece of work.

He took in her face, grief clearly etched in every feature while the howling wind tossed her short dark brown hair around her head in all directions. Dressed all in black, her fists were clenched tightly in her lap as if it were all she could do not to shake them at the heavens for taking her beloved Grammy away too soon. Her pointy high-heeled black pumps tapped out a nervous rhythm on the dry winter grass, suggesting she might kick the shins of the first person who dared express any hint of sympathy. Donny Joe planned to keep his distance.

By contrast her older sister Belle had arrived in Everson just in time for the service. Ah, Belle. They’d had a mainly one-sided flirtation one summer a long time ago, and he hadn’t seen her since. She’d grown into an attractive, and from all appearances, even-tempered woman. Sitting demurely, ankles crossed, she wore a simple gray dress set off by a wide-brimmed black hat. A veil covered her face, giving her the air of an Italian film actress. She sobbed quietly behind the filmy material while her daughter Daphne stared straight ahead, not squirming or wiggling around like most young kids he knew. In fact she showed no emotion of any kind.

Donny wished he could be as stoic. Miz Hazel’s death had hit him harder than he’d expected. Despite her untimely demise she’d lived a good life, and the gathered crowd was a testament to how many people she’d touched. Shivering in the cold of the cemetery, surrounded by the grave markers of Everson’s deceased made him wonder about his own life. Who would shed a tear if he was to meet his maker tomorrow? Would anybody really give a damn if he lived or died? It gave a man pause.