Under the Covers is being released tomorrow so I wanted to give you a sneak peek. Below are the first few pages of the book.
crazy. How Elle had ever thought she could possibly pull it off, she had no
She had no more than a
high-school diploma – not so much as a semester of college – and no experience
with business, unless you counted the years of bussing tables while at school.
A few online business
courses did not an entrepreneur make.
Her lack of experience
was really showing now. It was opening day of her bookshop café, Eat, Drink,
Read, and she’d lost count of all the things that had gone wrong. The only
thing she’d got right was having a ‘quiet’ opening rather than making a fuss of
it – fewer people around to watch her fail.
But still there were
enough . . . and that was part of the problem. Only one of the two
waitresses she’d hired had turned up. The other had called in sick, but from
the giggling in the background, Elle was sure it was a lie. The other problem
was that people were more interested in the bookstore part of her café than
she’d anticipated. There hadn’t been a bricks-and-mortar bookshop in this part
of Houston for years and it was now packed with people browsing. Elle didn’t
have the time to go over to check if anyone needed any help, or to make sure
half her stock wasn’t walking out of the door without being paid for.
She placed two coffees
in front of a couple who had been waiting quite a while. “I’m sorry for the
“Man could have died
of thirst,” the gray-haired gentleman complained.
Elle kept the smile on
her face. “Can I offer you a complimentary cookie, to make sure you don’t die
The man raised his
eyebrows. “Those chocolate-chip ones look good.”
“I’ll bring one
Elle left the table
and went straight to her cookie jar. She knew today was all about making sure
her customers were happy and had a good experience, so they would spread the
word and come back. If she had to give away a truckload of cookies, it would be
After delivering the
cookie to the now appeased man, she took orders at three other tables and then went
behind the counter to prepare them.
“This is crazy,” Nora,
her waitress, commented. Nora was a single mother like Elle and had jumped at
the chance to work at the café. She had family to take care of her little girl,
who was Toby’s age – and, thank heavens – they’d agreed to look after Toby today
“We’d be managing if
Drew had shown up.”
“I’d fire her if I
were you,” Nora said. “She’s obviously had a big night out and is hungover.”
Drew was in college
and only a few years younger than Elle. She had admittedly seemed a little
flighty in the interview, but she had a huge smile and a friendly attitude that
would please the customers.
If she ever turned up.
non-committedly and handed Nora the coffee list while she prepared the food
“Helloooo, check out
the hotties who just walked in,” Nora said.
Elle wasn’t interested
in good-looking men, but she glanced up just the same and groaned inwardly. One
of the hotties was Chris Barker, the lawyer who’d been so kind to her and
helped her set up her business plan and review her lease. She didn’t want him
to see her failing on her first day.
She raised a hand in
greeting while he and three friends took their seats. Imogen was with him. She
had helped Elle find something decent to wear when Elle had run into them at a
thrift shop a couple of months earlier. Then Imogen had paid to get Elle’s hair
styled at a very classy salon. Elle had been horrified when she realized the price
but the stylist, Joseph, had told her Imogen could afford it. Elle had called
Imogen to thank her again and they’d kept in touch afterward, though Elle had
never been able to afford to go out with her. With them were a blond woman and
the other guy who’d piqued Nora’s interest. He turned when Chris waved back and
Elle’s heart did a little dance.
Nora was right. He was
Broad shouldered, he
wore his dark hair short and neat – business-like – and he was tall, a good
couple of inches taller than Chris. But it was his face that captured Elle’s
attention. His expression was open; he was smiling and sexy as hell.
Quickly she looked
down before he caught her staring at him. She didn’t want or need a man in her
life now and she didn’t have the time to ogle.
“You know them?” Nora
“The shorter guy is
Chris, the lawyer who helped me with my business documents.”
“If I had known
lawyers were that sexy, I’d have found a reason to visit one long ago.”
Elle smiled but her
mind was on getting the food prepared so she could take Chris’s order before he
realized how chaotic this place was.
She checked the
details and then hurried on to the floor to deliver the cookies and muffins.
“Your coffee will be
right out,” she said to the people at the table and then took her order pad out
of her apron and turned to Chris’s table.
“Hi, Chris. Hi,
Imogen. Thanks for coming.”
He smiled at her.
“Looks like your first day is a success.”
Elle nodded. “It’s busy,
all right. Can I take your order?”
“This place is lovely,
Elle,” Imogen commented. She reminded Elle of a pixie, small with dark hair and
an always smiling face.
“Elle, you know
Imogen, and these are my friends, George and Piper.” Chris gestured at the pair.
Elle smiled at them,
avoiding looking at George. “Pleased to meet you.”
“I can’t wait to
browse the books,” Piper said. “But I’ll leave it until we’ve eaten. Can you
give us a few more minutes to decide? Everything looks great.”
“Sure.” Though she was
pleased they liked the menu, she was sure the few minutes would stretch to ten
or twenty at the rate she was going. She turned and went to make the rest of
away and George admired the way her black skirt shaped her butt as she walked.
“When you said you wanted to support one of your clients, you didn’t tell me
she was a honey,” he commented to Chris.
“I didn’t notice,”
Chris said, squeezing Imogen’s hand.
George rolled his
eyes. He was pleased his friend had found someone he loved, and Imogen was a
great woman, but it didn’t mean they had to stop admiring other people from
“Are there only two
staff?” Piper asked. “It’s a lot of work for two people.”
“Maybe someone will
start soon for the lunch shift,” Chris said.
George scanned the
room. There was a bookshop area set up at the back, with a couple of
comfortable high-backed chairs and coffee tables where people could sit and
browse. The bookshelves ran along one wall and provided a colorful contrast to
the cream walls. There were a dozen or more tables of different sizes, all a
rich dark wood polished to perfection, and in one corner was a play area for
children. Imogen was right: the place was lovely – cozy and welcoming. He’d
have to tell his mom and sisters about it.
“Are the others
coming?” he asked Chris.
“Yeah. Adrian and
Libby are picking Kate up from her cousin’s place at eleven and will be here
George knew both Kate
and Libby would love the café. He might even browse through the books before he
left. He hadn’t had time to read anything lately but that didn’t mean he
couldn’t buy something. He scanned the shelves for the thrillers and noticed a
guy take a book from the shelf, look over at the line waiting to pay at the
register and then tuck it under his jacket.
He walked toward the
door and George frowned. “I’ll be right back.” He stood and went to intercept
the would-be thief. He reached the exit as the man put his hand on the door
handle. George stopped him with a hand on his arm.
“You going to pay for
The man, college age,
with scruffy greasy brown hair, scowled at him. “What book?”
“The book you put
under your jacket.” George nodded at the man’s arm, which was pressed tightly
against his body.
“Don’t know what
you’re talking about.”
Irritation stirred in George.
Here was a woman starting her own business and making something better of her
life and this schmuck was stealing from her. “I could call the cops if you
like, and get them involved.”
The guy swore, defiance
on his face. “Have you seen the line? I don’t have time for that.”
Five people were still
waiting to pay at the register and Elle and her waitress were serving drinks
and making coffees.
“You’ll make time,”
George said, “or you’ll leave without it.”
The guy dropped the
book and wrenched open the café door. “I’m out of here.”
George let him go and
then picked up the book. It was a thriller and the blurb on the back sounded
interesting. He’d buy it himself.
George walked back to his
“What was that about?”
“He tried to steal the
book,” he said, putting it on the table and taking his seat. “Said he didn’t
have time to wait.”
“Jerk,” Imogen said.
George glanced around
the room and noted how many tables were waiting for food or needed to be
“Your friend needs a
bit of help,” he said to Chris.
Chris nodded. “I don’t
know her well enough to offer. I don’t want her to take offence.”
“Let me,” Piper said.
“I spent about a hundred years waitressing. I’ll go have a chat with her.”
Piper went over to Elle,
but George couldn’t hear what she said.
answered the ringing phone as Piper got up from the table and walked over. She hoped
Piper wasn’t going to complain about the long wait for service. This day
couldn’t get any worse.
“Elle, it’s Wayne.”
It took her a minute
to place the name – he was the guitarist she’d hired to play some music that afternoon,
to add a little ambience and celebration to the day.
“Hi, what’s up?”
“I can’t make it
today. I’ve just had a call from my mother and my dad’s in hospital. It’s
Her stomach fell like
Elle swallowed. “It’s
fine. Of course you have to go. I hope your father is all right.” She hung up, swallowed
past the lump in her throat. Nothing was going right today.
She turned and saw
Piper standing there. She braced herself. “I’m sorry about the wait. I’ll be
over in a second.”
“No, it’s fine. I
wanted to check if you needed a hand. You seem a little short staffed.”
Elle couldn’t ask a
stranger to help out. She had no idea who she was. “One of my waitresses called
“Then let me help. I
waited tables all through college. I can clear tables and take orders easily
enough and you’ve got people waiting to pay.”
Elle glanced towards
the cash register at the line of people. Her eyes welled up. She couldn’t
possibly keep up with her customers. Perhaps this was the only way. She had
nothing to lose. “That would be great. The guitarist I hired just called to say
he can’t make it and I never dreamed I’d have this much interest.” She handed
Piper a spare apron and an order pad.
“What was the
guitarist going to do?”
“I thought it would be
nice to have some music after lunch on Saturday and Sunday. Nothing too loud,
but something for ambience, to draw the afternoon crowd.”
“Great idea.” Piper
smiled. “I might know someone who can help out. I’ll give him a call if you
“I can’t pay much,” Elle
said, worried now.
“I don’t think he’ll
charge. Leave it to me.” Piper swept into the café and started taking orders.
Elle didn’t have time
to worry further. She went over to the cash register and started taking payments,
apologizing for the delay and handing out the discount cards she’d made for her
regulars’ award program.
By the time she had
finished, the tables had been cleared and there was a long line of coffee and
food orders to deal with. It had tipped over to lunchtime so there was also a
list of simple meals to make. She hurried into the tiny kitchen, noted the pile
of dirty dishes that needed washing and put a load in her industrial dishwasher.
under-estimated how many staff she needed. She required at a minimum another
person to deal with the dirty dishes and one for some of the food orders – at
least on the weekends. She doubted she’d be this busy during the week.
Really, if she’d been
sensible, she would have opened on a Monday, allowed herself the time to get
used to everything while the majority of people were at work and then she’d
have had all the bugs sorted out by the weekend rush.
Too late to go back
A tap at the door had
her whirling around. Chris stood there. Elle forced a smile.
“Piper told me about
your no-shows. You could do with a busboy. Can I help?”
Elle was pragmatic
enough to know she couldn’t let pride stand in her way. The most important
thing was her business and its success. Her shoulders slumped and she said,
“All right. Show me
how this thing works.”
Elle gave him quick
directions on the dishwasher and showed him where the dish towels were. Then
she hurried out to assess how the rest of her café was faring. She stopped short:
Imogen was making coffees.
Imogen smiled at her.
“I’m useless at serving, but I make a mean coffee. Nora’s doing the food.”
Elle didn’t protest.
“Thank you.” She glanced out at the café. The tables were all cleared and full
of people, Piper was taking orders with a smile, and over in the books area,
George was chatting to people, recommending novels. The table where they’d all
been sitting was now filled with other patrons.
Elle wasn’t sure how
or what she was going to pay them, but right now it didn’t matter.
“Orders up,” Nora
said, nodding to the plates of food on the counter.
Elle blinked and
picked them up.
She would thank her
lucky stars later.
Right now she had a
café to run.
later, the café suddenly fell silent. Alarmed, Elle looked up from the cash
register. Everyone was staring at the person who’d just walked through the
Elle’s mouth dropped
Kent Downer – rock star. And he was carrying a guitar case.
You can pre-order a copy now, if you haven't already and it will be delivered tomorrow when it's released!
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