Fool's Gold Series
Ana Raquel Hopkins knew for certain that Greg Clary was the most annoying man on the planet. He was the kind of annoying that got under your skin and made you want to scream. It was like being in the mood for the perfect guacamole only to discover that someone had taken all your deliciously ripe avocados. Or worse, taken them and made their guacamole out of those avocados and now people were saying it was better than yours. That's how annoying Greg Clary was.
Ana Raquel stared at the sign hanging from the rustic building at the Condor Valley Winery. The hand-carved square of wood said only Café. So simple, so right. While she'd been off studying the art of cooking, Greg had been working his way up the kitchen ranks right here in Fool's Gold. Six months ago he'd opened Café in his uncle's winery and the restaurant was getting rave reviews. Everyone was talking about it. And Greg.
After graduating from culinary school, she, too, had worked in restaurants, but hers had been in San Francisco. After a couple of years, she'd discovered that while she loved making delicious food for people, she didn't love working in a restaurant. A visit to a street fair had introduced her to the magic that was street food. Delectable concoctions made in a mobile kitchen. She'd saved her money, bought an old Airstream and had it refurbished to be her traveling kitchen. Then she'd brought it home to Fool's Gold where she planned to take the culinary world by storm.
Only Greg was the one everyone was talking about.
Seventeen years ago, when Ana Raquel was in the second grade, she'd been chosen to be Cinderella in the school play. Greg had been picked to play Prince Charming and in the end, he'd gotten all the applause. In junior high, they'd both run for student council president. Greg had won, leaving her with the runner-up vice-president position. In high school, she'd been nominated for homecoming queen and he'd been nominated for homecoming king.
You can probably guess who won and who didn't.
All of which she could live with except for what happened the night of their senior prom.
The fancy dinner and dance had been held at The Gold Rush Ski Lodge and Resort, just like it was every year. There had been a band and good food. Most of the teens went in groups, rather than with dates—one of those town traditions, she supposed. For reasons she still couldn't explain, Ana Raquel had chosen that night to confront Greg about all his transgressions.
But instead of going up to him and yelling, she'd found herself mesmerized by his dark eyes and easy smile. And maybe a little by how good he looked in a tux. Still, she'd had righteous indignation on her side and she knew she really should be telling him off. Only what should have been yelling somehow turned into kissing. And kissing turned into, well, you know.
She could have lived with biggest mistake of her life, only partway through he'd figured out it was her first time which mean it wasn't his. Humiliated, she'd run all the way to culinary school in San Francisco.
Now she was back in Fool's Gold and all grown up. She was a nice person, she told herself. Friendly. She liked people and she adored making them happy with her food. If not for Greg, her life would be perfect.
But she had a solution for that problem and an appointment with the town's mayor to discuss her brilliant idea. One that would help her make a name for herself and get over Greg Clary once and for all.
Mayor Marsha Tilson was the longest serving mayor in California. She was a well-dressed, white haired woman who loved her town, idiosyncrasies and all. She welcomed Ana Raquel warmly and led her over to her desk.
"We're so happy to have you back in Fool's Gold," Mayor Marsha said with a smile. "You were missed."
"Thanks. I'm glad to be here," Ana Raquel told her. "I learned a lot in San Francisco, but it's not the same as being home."
Ana Raquel was one of three girls. Fayrene, her twin, had a temp agency and pet sitting service in town, while Dellina, their older sister, had a party planning and decorating business. The Hopkins women were self-starters.
The mayor picked up a flyer for Ana Raquel's street cart from her desk. "We're getting excellent feedback on what you've been serving. The locals appreciate another place to go for lunch, while the tourists love both the food and the convenience."
"I've been experimenting a lot with different foods," Ana Raquel told her. "Now that we're heading into fall, everyone is missing the food served at the festivals. I created an Elephant Ear Pull-Apart Bread. It suits the season, but gives us a taste of what we miss."
"I've heard your Carrot Cake Muffins are creating a stir. There was something close to a riot over them last week."
Ana Raquel laughed. "I ran out and there were still people in line. It got a little loud there in the park." She clasped her hands together and leaned forward. "I want to take what I've learned and use it in a larger context. I want to create a cookbook based on the town and what we like to eat here. I thought I could collect recipes from locals who want to share them. I'll also create some of my own. I was thinking the recipes should be delicious but not too complicated. People are busy and not everyone wants to spend all day in the kitchen. We could call it A Fool's Gold Cookbook."
She squeezed her fingers, hoping she could hide her sudden nerves. She wanted the mayor to be excited about the cookbook idea.
Mayor Marsha leaned back in her chair. "That's very interesting," she murmured. "I like the concept. Ironically, someone else thought up the cookbook idea, as well. I hope you don't mind that I've invited him to join us."
Even as she spoke, Mayor Marsha was standing and motioning for someone to enter the room. Ana Raquel knew who it was before she bothered to turn around. Because there was only one person who would invade her meeting and steal her idea.