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Contemporary Romance Author

Madelaine Grant

A Sweet Touch


Driving around the crowded parking area for the umpteenth time, Dan Brookhouse tried to find a spot at the newly-opened Westwood Town Mall. He should’ve sent Grace, his secretary, to the Apple store with his malfunctioning phone. Exploring the mall during lunchtime at the height of tourist season was demented.

 A small, bright-green Kia backed out. Dan gunned the motor of his much-larger black Lexus and charged in, leaving only a sliver of space on each side, but he wasn’t complaining. Exiting the car he paused to breathe in the cool February air. Striding towards the nearest entrance he noted the upscale stores and glitzy restaurant signs. Would the Brookhouse restaurant chain he headed thrive in this setting? Thinking it over he decided his stand-alone restaurants were busy and profitable. No point in changing a winning model.

  Hurrying along the crowded corridors he checked for directions to his destination. Not seeing the Apple store listed or any signage indicating where it was located, Dan took a right turn and headed down a long stretch of hallway. A series of small stores selling everything from sportswear and perfume to books and toys lined both sides.

  He paused a moment in front of the window display of the Nature’s Garden Toy Shop to examine an array of wooden puzzles. Ethan’s seventh birthday was approaching and he loved puzzles. Maybe he’d stop on the way out and pick up a few. Would Melissa remember to send her son a birthday card? Probably not. He brushed that unpleasant thought away and continued down the corridor. Rounding the next corner he stopped short. Two long tables were set up with several rows of folding chairs in front of them.

 What caught his attention and kept him rooted to the spot was the sight of a well-formed derriere. His gaze lowered to a pair of slender legs covered in sheer black hose. Black suede boots with a low heel completed the sensuous look. The woman was bent over rummaging in a large container. Her short, pleated black skirt decorated with white polka dots was hitched high on her hips revealing more than she probably realized, he thought with a grin. If the top half was as provocative as the bottom, she’d be something else. He decided to wait until she emerged with whatever she was searching for.

 He watched as she lifted a large food processor and placed it on the table. This must be a demonstration of some sort. The woman bent again and put several glass jars and then a number of metal trays on the table. He couldn’t see her face but her dark blonde hair was pulled into a twist and anchored at the top of her head. Several wispy strands of hair were loose around the sides, obscuring a full view of her face. Still intrigued, he wandered over and paused at one end of the long table.

 “Is there a demonstration coming up?” he inquired.

 Abruptly the woman turned and stared. He must’ve startled her but she quickly regained her composure and her expression turned cool and professional. Her features weren’t anything he would’ve noted in passing but what caught his attention were her eyes. They were a shade of brown he could only describe as melting chocolate. Being a chocoholic, he was impressed. She wore a silky, long-sleeved white blouse that clung to her curves. A pleased smile spread over his face.

“You’re a little early but yes, I’m making a presentation in about twenty minutes,” she replied.

Her voice was crisp and concise but pleasing. “What are you presenting?” He was ready to be part of the audience even though he had a ton of work-related issues waiting.

Instead of answering, she turned, picked up a brochure and handed it to him. “It’s a raw food demonstration. I’ll be talking about the benefits of converting to a mostly raw food diet. There will be samples to try as well. I’m making a chocolate pudding with avocados and cacao powder plus a few other ingredients.”

“A chocolate pudding containing avocados? This I have to see.” There was nothing he loved better than a rich, dark chocolate whether in bar form or any type of dessert. His restaurants carried several chocolate dessert items. If her version was as tempting as the young woman herself, he just might ask her to demonstrate for his staff. He’d pay her well, of course.

Curious now, he glanced at the brochure. The first thing he noticed was that the paper it was printed on had a hand-made look, not shiny as he’d expected. A note at the bottom told the reader it was printed on recycled paper. The large, bold heading gave the woman’s business name – Kate’s Kitchen – and then showed a variety of photos featuring tasty dishes made with raw ingredients. The bottom half gave information about the presenter, listing Kate Bromley’s education and experience in the nutrition field. Opening the brochure he perused more photos featuring Kate at various demonstrations. Several showed her with groups of children involved in gardening tasks. She didn’t seem like someone he’d associate with teaching children. She looked too stylish and sophisticated for that kind of work. Then again, he knew very little about her except for the fact that she turned him on. Maybe it was his initial view of her or the big brown eyes. She was probably attached to some lucky guy, although he didn’t see a ring on her left hand.

Turning to the back page of the brochure he saw a photo of Kate garbed in running attire. She was an expert on fitness as well as nutrition. Kate participated in numerous triathlon competitions and believed that exercise was just as important as proper nutrition. That gave Dan food for thought. He’d been feeling like a couch potato lately. Maybe he needed to visit the gym more often.

A few people arrived and approached the table. Kate gave each a brochure and invited them to take a seat. Within minutes the area was filled with a good crowd. The event had probably been well publicized. He took a seat before they were all filled and waited for the demonstration to begin. Looking around he noted several people with pads and pencils. Were they going to take notes? He decided to just sit back and enjoy the show. Besides, watching Kate Bromley move about was a treat in itself. She had a graceful, easy demeanor and seemed confident in her own skin. There was nothing awkward or self-conscious in her gestures. She commanded attention from the moment she began speaking.  

“Welcome everyone and thank you for coming,” Kate began as she smiled at the group of about thirty people. “First I want to give you a brief summary of the benefits you’ll find in converting to a mostly raw food diet.”

For the next ten minutes Dan listened carefully as Kate talked about a raw food diet eliminating many allergies from foods like eggs, soy, wheat, sugar, and dairy. “In my own case,” she explained, “I found much more energy and better digestion once I changed to eating mostly raw foods. For those of us watching our weight, a raw food diet has great benefits. As an added plus, eating a raw food diet will eliminate chronic diseases like cardio and vascular illnesses.”

Dan wondered where Kate obtained her facts. He’d never imagined raw foods could help serious conditions like heart problems. Then again, she did have an impressive background in nutrition.

“Now I want to show you how to create wonderful desserts using only raw foods,” Kate continued. She held up an avocado. “I’m going to use several ripe avocados peeled and cut into chunks, a few ripe peeled bananas, cacao powder, maple syrup, and vanilla extract to make the best chocolate pudding you’ve ever tasted. All you need is a blender plus a plastic scraper to push everything down.” She proceeded to measure and prepare the ingredients and place them in the blender. After the mixture was smooth enough, she filled small paper cups with the pudding.

“Here’s the fun part,” Kate said. “You get to taste the chocolate pudding. Do I have a volunteer to pass these around?” She glanced about the group.

Dan and several other people raised their hands. “Okay, let’s have one person from each row come up and take a tray.” She pointed to Dan and two others. “There are small spoons for everyone.”

After making sure all the people in his row were served, Dan took the last paper cup of pudding and handed the tray back to Kate. He took his seat and tasted the chocolate concoction. Wow, she was right. This was one delicious pudding. And it had to be healthy with all those ingredients she’d put in the blender. He wondered what other tasty desserts she’d create.

“Well, how did you like the chocolate pudding?” Kate asked looking around the group.

“Pretty darn good.” One of the women in the first row replied. Others around her nodded their heads. “Beats the packaged variety anytime,” a man in the back row called out.

Kate looked pleased. “I’m glad you all enjoyed it. Now I’ll put together a raw fruit cobbler. For this one you’ll need a crumb topping which uses shredded coconut, walnuts, dates, and a pinch of salt. We’ll put everything in the food processor except the dates, which we add one at a time.” She proceeded to prepare the topping. “Then we’ll combine our raw fruit, either blueberries, cherries or strawberries work well, pitted dates, lemon juice, and cinnamon.”

When Kate had all the ingredients ready, she filled small paper cups with the fruit mixture and put the crumb topping on last. “You can use a baking dish at home and do the same thing. Just put the filling on the bottom and sprinkle the crumb topping on last. If you refrigerate it for a few hours, it’s even tastier.” She proceeded to hand out trays to the same volunteers who passed the samples to everyone.

Dan tasted the fruity dessert and nodded with satisfaction. This was a winner too. Now he was determined to have Kate do a demo for his staff.


Kate Bromley’s antennae picked up vibes from the tall, rugged-looking man in the first row who’d volunteered to pass around the samples. The intensity in his deep blue eyes pulled her in like a magnet grabbing a hairpin. She’d felt it from the first moment he’d spoken to her. Although not conventionally handsome, his features were strong and his dark brown hair was thick and well-groomed. Dressed casually in khaki pants and a denim shirt with his sleeves rolled up, he exuded an air of purpose and confidence.

Kate noted these things and the unexpected heat that spread in her body when she glanced his way, but she was not about to initiate anything that would encourage the man. She’d spent the last ten years building a life which did not include depending on any man for her happiness. Hadn’t she given up five long years married to Jared Wilson, nurturing his career while neglecting her own? She was not about to repeat that mistake.  

The presentation ended with Kate distributing printed copies of the recipes she’d demonstrated. “I’m in the process of putting together a book about raw food with a selection of recipes for preparing everything from soups to main dishes to desserts. If you’re interested in being on my mailing list, please put your name and email address here. Also I’ll pass out my schedule of upcoming classes in case you want to know more about creating these types of dishes.” She indicated several clipboards with sheets of paper attached. “I have a newsletter which I will send to you if you check the appropriate box.”

While the clipboards were circulating, Kate began cleaning up and placing items in the storage containers she’d brought along. She noticed the man in the front row sitting and watching her. His gaze made her uncomfortable in a tingly kind of way but she was determined to retain her composure. Most of the people signed the mailing list and left. A few lingered to ask questions. The man rose and walked toward her, waiting until they were alone.

She straightened from placing the last of her equipment away and looked directly at him. “Did you want to ask me anything?” She hoped her voice sounded strong and indifferent. Inside those tingles were spreading all over. He was one sexy-looking hunk.

His blue eyes had a devilish look and his mouth quirked as if something amused him. “Yes, I do. By the way, that was an excellent demo. Very professional.”

“Thank you.” She couldn’t help feeling pleased although still cautious. His forceful glance seemed to penetrate the sheer fabric of her blouse causing her breasts to swell and her nipples to pucker. She could only hope he wouldn’t notice.

“Okay, I’ll get to the point.” He came closer to the table. “I own a chain of restaurants specializing in steaks and ribs. Nothing remotely health-minded, you understand. But we’re trying to introduce alternative things like locally grown organic veggies and smoothies, too. Our dessert menu could use a lift and your raw food concoctions are really tasty. I’d like to hire you to demonstrate a few dessert ideas to my staff. This would be a paid presentation, of course.” He paused as if waiting for her to digest his proposition.

She sent him a tentative smile but frowned at the same time. No way would she consider working with him. Much too disturbing. “I’m pleased at your offer but it just wouldn’t work. I have a full-time position which requires me to be at several schools teaching nutrition and gardening classes. In addition, I have private cooking classes at my home. And I do demos on the weekends. The cookbook I’m putting together has been months in the planning and I need to finish it soon. I really can’t take on any more jobs, but thank you.” Would he take the hint and leave? She fervently hoped so. There was something in the determined set of his jaw that bothered her.

“This would be a one-time presentation and the fee I have in mind is substantial,” he said. “We could work around your schedule so that you wouldn’t feel pressured. Since we have several locations in the surrounding area we could choose whichever location is closest for you.”

The man was bending over backwards to obtain her services, Kate thought in dismay. But she was determined not to give in. “Why don’t you give me your business card and I’ll think about it,” she finally said. No point in standing there arguing with him. He had that stubborn set look and was probably used to getting his own way. Besides, she still had to lug all this equipment back to her van, drive home, and then clean everything. By the time she finished, it would be late in the afternoon. She’d have barely enough time to get a run in.

She saw him hesitate and then he took a card from his wallet. “I have a private number which I’ll give you.” He wrote on the back of the card and handed it to her.

Their fingers touched briefly and she felt a sharp jolt of electricity from the contact. His hands were large and well-formed, his nails blunt-cut and groomed. Catching his gaze she saw his blue eyes darken with awareness. Was he cognizant of the tension flowing between them?

 “I’ll look forward to hearing from you.” He sent her an intimate smile and then he was gone.

Kate slowly let out her breath as she watched him leave. What in the world was going on? She didn’t know whether she was relieved he’d left so quickly or disappointed. At least he had the good manners not to push his proposal again. She gazed at the business card and noted the name, Dan Brookhouse, and couldn’t help being impressed. The Brookhouse restaurant chain was a large, upscale enterprise. From what she remembered, the restaurants were located throughout Florida. With a bemused expression, she placed the card in her purse.


The phone rang as Kate unloaded the last of her storage containers from her dark-blue Honda van. Checking the caller ID she hesitated a long moment. Her sister Stacy was on the other end. Three years younger, Stacy had recently opened her own law office specializing in copyright law. Married to attorney Jack Spencer for the last four years, she had an adorable two-year old son, Jacob.

“Hi Stacy. Can I call you back later? I just finished lugging the last of my equipment in the door and I need to clean everything right away.” She tried to keep her irritation from showing. Talking to her sister was not one of her favorite pastimes.

“I’ll just take a minute,” her sister began.

Sighing, Kate pulled out a kitchen chair and sat down. “Okay. What’s up?”

“You know Mom’s sixtieth birthday is coming. I talked to Greg the other night and he offered his home for a party. But I hate to burden Patty with the whole thing. She’s pregnant and still feeling queasy. Besides, with two toddlers under five, she has her hands full.”

The slight pause confirmed the purpose of Stacy’s call - that Kate would volunteer her home for the family get-together. After all, she was the only one without responsibilities like a husband and children. She waited for her sister to make the pitch. “What are you suggesting?”

“Well, I thought your place for the party made the most sense. Of course we’ll chip in and have everything catered.”

“Stacy, I wouldn’t mind doing that if Mom’s birthday happened during the summer months. I’m booked solid with classes and presentations through the end of April. I have absolutely no free time until mid-May.” As she spoke something jiggled in her brain. She tried to put words to the jiggle but to no avail. “Let me brainstorm a few days and see what I come up with,” she finally said.

“We don’t have much time,” Stacy warned. “April 19 will come pretty quickly.”

“We’ve at least two to three weeks to make a decision. I promise to get back to you within the next few days.” That was the best she could do.

When she hung up the phone she began the cleanup. While she washed and rinsed all her equipment, she thought about her mother’s birthday party. Sixty was an important milestone and should be celebrated. As far as her older brother, Greg, hosting the party, she agreed with Stacy. Patty was up to her ears in toddlers, especially with another baby on the way. Pondering the situation, an image of the man who wanted her to do a presentation for his restaurant chain came to mind. Most restaurants had private rooms for meetings and celebrations. Why not see if she could make a trade? A demonstration to his staff in exchange for the use of one of the Brookhouse restaurant’s private dining areas.

The more Kate thought about the matter, the more convinced she became that this would be the perfect solution. The fact that she was drawn to Dan Brookhouse in ways she found upsetting would have to be put on the back burner. She wouldn’t be working with him alone anyway. His staff would be there to buffer the situation. All she had to do was play it cool. She’d give the man a call and see if something could be worked out.


After a vigorous run at a nearby nature preserve, Kate fixed a simple supper for herself – corn and potato chowder and a plate of her favorite homemade crackers with a guacamole spread. The soup ingredients were mainly raw corn, lightly steamed potato chunks, and almond milk heated together. She spent the next hour planning her classes at the three elementary schools where she taught nutrition and gardening. The only interruption was a call from Reid McAllister. He taught science at one of her schools.

“Hi Reid. How’re things going?” she asked, settling back for a pleasant talk.

“Not bad. I thought we’d plan a few running dates for this week,” he began.

Since they were both triathlon competitors, they spent time

training together whether running, bicycling, or swimming.

 “What days do you have in mind?” Kate asked mentally reviewing her week.

 “Let’s try running Tuesday and Thursday right after school finishes and cycling Monday and Wednesday. You good with that?”

“That’ll work for me.” She wondered about setting up a meeting with Dan Brookhouse. Then again, she could always change things with Reid. A few years younger, he was a laid-back guy. She was comfortable with him since he didn’t try to push her into any romantic involvements. Not that she hadn’t glimpsed a desire for something more in his expression occasionally. They had similar interests in fitness training and often competed in the same races.

The very last thing Kate did that evening was soak in a lavender-scented bath for a full half hour. Feeling decidedly decadent, she relaxed against her chic bath pillow and emptied her mind of everything. With half-closed eyes she surveyed the peach and brown bathroom with its luxurious whirlpool tub and glassed-in shower stall. She was pleased she’d enlarged the space to include a small alcove for a vanity table and mirror.  

Although the home she’d purchased three years ago was a small one, she’d modernized the space by creating an open concept living, dining and kitchen area. Keeping the colors light and airy, she’d purchased white wicker furniture with comfortable floral print cushions in tones of peach, turquoise, and brown. Several abstract paintings on the walls plus an unusual glass-topped coffee table created by one of her friends gave the place an arty look. With all the hard work done, she could relax and enjoy her home.

Of course the front and back areas always needed work. This past year she’d had a greenhouse installed. This new feature allowed her to offer classes in growing veggies in all kinds of weather. As she contemplated her life now she couldn’t help feeling pleased. Comparing it to those intense and difficult years with Jared, she felt positively blessed.

Jared. Just thinking about him caused her stomach to clench. It hadn’t always been that way though. She’d been ten years old when Jared entered her life. He was her brother, Greg’s, best friend. Five years older than Kate, she’d been obsessed with him from the beginning, following him around like a lovesick puppy. Of course he’d simply tolerated her until she’d turned fifteen and started blossoming. By the next year they were a couple. When she graduated high school, Jared had finished college and was entering medical school. He proposed marriage and she was overjoyed. Her parents were less than enthusiastic.

“What about college?” Her mother asked. “I thought you wanted to continue your education.”

“You’re not even eighteen,” her father reminded her. “Much too young for marriage.”

But she was adamant. “I love him and I know this is best for me. I can’t be happy without Jared in my life.”

Her parents finally conceded defeat. Elated, Kate and Jared moved into a small apartment near his school. She worked two jobs to pay the rent and expenses. Jared had a heavy schedule of classes and couldn’t contribute monetarily to their upkeep. But she hadn’t minded, at least for the first few years.

Sighing, Kate came back to the present moment. It was painful rehashing the past. She’d made so many mistakes, taken so many wrong turns. At least now she could look at her life and feel a measure of contentment. That was enough for her.