Someone's in the Kitchen by Janet Rochester by Janet Rochester - Read Online

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Summary

Amy Kimball is a woman on the verge of realizing a dream, and having a nervous breakdown. Her brand-new B&B opens tomorrow, and if one more thing goes wrong...

Irish-born and Paris-trained chef Declan O’Hara has a dream too, but first he needs a summer job. On a whim (which is how he does everything), he takes a position running the kitchen of a small B&B in Wisconsin.

Together, they have three months to get this business going. There’s no time to start anything else. No, really. There’s not.

Published: Janet Rochester on
ISBN: 9781497752085
List price: $2.99
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Someone's in the Kitchen - Janet Rochester

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1

The chickens did it.

Amy Kimball hunched on the porch steps, her head on her knees, and tried to calculate if she could afford the forty-five minutes needed for a proper nervous breakdown.

Kimball House Bed & Breakfast would welcome its inaugural guests in twenty-six hours, and here she sat with a clogged kitchen sink, a chef who was supposed to arrive yesterday, and a computer that crashed every time she tried to pull up the reservations list. On the eighth try, she was sure she saw a tiny mushroom cloud rising from the monitor.

She could handle all that. She could even handle her only housekeeper’s joyous news of one hour ago that she was pregnant. She could handle the constant flutter in her stomach, and the weatherman’s threat of thunderstorms to herald her guests’ arrival tomorrow. But when the truck from Andersen Farms showed up carrying not the two dozen chickens she had ordered but twelve dozen, she wondered if ten a.m. was too early for a martini.

The Wisconsin sun shone warm upon her neck, and the sweet smell of wisteria drifted past her nose, but she ignored them. She was trying to figure out what sort of idiot would blithely toss out at the family Christmas dinner, Hey, Uncle Will, have you and Auntie Lu ever considered turning your farmhouse into a bed and breakfast? What moron would think a college degree in Hotel & Restaurant Management, followed by four years of running Madison’s largest steakhouse, would prepare a person for managing one cozy, bucolic, six-room inn? When she found the imbecile responsible for this, they would pay.

Vaguely, over the squawking and fluttering of one gross of crated chickens, she heard a car pulling up on the gravel. Auntie Lu was back early. She must not have needed much in town. Amy scootched closer to the bushes beside the porch, hoping that Auntie Lu wouldn’t see her there and so leave her to her misery for just a bit longer. Her aunt’s brisk efficiency wasn’t what Amy needed right now. She needed tranquilizers.

She heard footsteps approaching and clasped her hands together behind her head, taking a deep breath and preparing to lie as soon as Auntie Lu asked if she was all right.

Excuse me, said a voice far too deep for a sixty-year-old woman. I’m looking for Amy Kimball.

She waggled her fingers in the air, wearily raising her head. Right here. Please don’t tell me you’re bringing more livestock.

A chuckle sounded somewhere up above. No, it looks as if you’re all set in that department.

Two denimed legs stood before her. She tilted her head back, shading her eyes and watching the jeans become a chambray shirt and a broad chest. Above the chest stood a wild shock of hair, but if the body had a face, she couldn’t tell. The sun left that part in shadow.

A hand appeared in front of her. I’ve only brought myself. I’m Declan O’Hara, he said, curling his tongue around a rolling R and an A as broad as the River Liffey.

Ah. The late chef. You’re Irish, she said, shaking his hand.

Hey now, our cooking has improved a lot in the last hundred years.

Amy felt her face heat up. I didn’t mean that. She floundered. I mean—I know where you’re from. I just didn’t expect such a strong accent.

It’s about as strong as yours. He sat down on the step beside her. American, isn’t it?

Amy giggled, taking a look at him. So far, the nicest thing she’d seen all day. His hair wasn’t exactly wild, it just swirled around his head in an undisciplined pile of jet-black waves. His mouth was too wide, his brow too heavy to make him handsome, but the spirit within radiated so strongly she could almost feel it pressing against her. He grinned, light dancing in the greenest eyes she’d ever seen. No wonder they called it The Emerald Isle. She smiled back.

Sorry I’m late, he continued. Some flap wasn’t flapping straight, and those spoilsport pilots wouldn’t fly. Kept muttering something about ‘risking life and limb.’

Mutterin’ soomthin’.  He had a beautiful voice. This was going to take some getting used to. I’d rather you missed a day than had to be fished out of the ocean.

I think I might have had more fun swimming than you’re having right now.

Is it obvious?

From the look on your face, I figure either your favorite granny is in hospital, you found a rat in the refrigerator, or, he pointed, it has something to do with the influx of poultry.

Just one of my many brilliant ideas. We have a maximum capacity of sixteen people so I figured two dozen chickens would provide enough fresh eggs for breakfast, but between my order and their delivery, something went wrong. Auntie Lu has a henhouse out by the barn so I cleaned it out and painted it, but it’s too small for this many birds.

You can’t send them back?

According to the driver, yes, I can. But first I have to contact the main office, schedule a pick-up, and I’ll probably be charged for the extra trip that wouldn’t be for at least a week. At this point, I’m ready to let them fend for themselves in the yard. How many chickens can one cat eat?

Declan stood. Let’s have a look.

At what?

The coop. He offered her a hand up. We can probably rig something for the poor critters. Who’s Auntie Lu?

Amy found herself tagging behind him to the barn. Wait a minute. Don’t you have luggage? Don’t you want to see your room? I don’t think chickensitting is part of your job description.

If it’s to do with food, I’m your man. The suitcases can wait; it doesn’t look like you get many thieves around here. Who’s Auntie Lu?

Declan O’Hara was clearly not a man to waste time, and she didn’t have time to waste convincing him otherwise. She went along. My father’s brother’s wife. My uncle’s name is William. This is their farm.

They gave it to you?

No. They were rattling around in this huge place after the kids moved out, and when their impetuous niece shot off her mouth, suggesting they move into the carriage house out back and let her turn the house into a B&B, they agreed. Much to her current dismay.

The impetuous niece would be you?

Yep. They entered the cool darkness of the barn, suddenly surrounded by the soothing aroma of hay and large animals.

Declan looked around, resting his hand lightly on the faded red paint of a stall. This is a big barn. Does your uncle keep something besides chickens?

The cows are out in the pasture. This is a working dairy farm. You are in Wisconsin, my friend. People attend football games with giant chunks of foam-rubber cheese wedged on their heads. An expression of alarm crossed Declan’s face, and Amy laughed. Don’t worry. We’re mostly harmless. She pointed down the hard dirt aisle to the back of the building. The milking room is through there. Uncle Will sells most of the milk to a local grocery, and Auntie Lu makes cheese with the rest.

Declan glanced at her, his eyes alight with admiration. Fresh eggs, fresh milk and cheese, cows for the little ones to gape at. It sounds like your impetuous notion is backed up with some serious knowledge.

Amy held up two sets of crossed fingers. Let’s hope so. I have a degree in Hotel Management, but you know how book learning is. Real life has a way of turning out differently.

"Doesn’t it, though? At my first real job, I discovered that the luxury of half a day in a gleaming classroom kitchen to prepare simple boeuf bourgignon, became roast goose for twelve when they’d only reserved eight, in an oven that suddenly decided to heat on one side."

Amy tried to remember where he studied. She had decided only two months ago that they needed a chef and called Harry, an old college friend, who knew everybody and everything. He hooked her up with an online search service, knew what to say to the INS, and produced the man now standing beside her. Declan had spent the last several years in France and was looking to fill the summer while waiting on a position he’d applied for back in Britain somewhere. She had grabbed him before someone else did, trusting Harry’s recommendation. If he turned out to be less than stellar, she only had to put up with him for three months. That would give her enough time to find someone to take the job permanently.

She now saw that there was no need to worry. He’d been there about ten minutes, and she could already tell that if he lacked anything in skill, he likely made up for it with sheer personality. He probably just charmed the food into submission if it tried to rebel.

The Hen Hotel is back here, she said, stepping in front of him and heading toward a side door. I’m sorry, I can’t remember where you apprenticed.

Because I didn’t tell you. Even with e-mail, we didn’t have much time to get acquainted. I trained in Provence.

But you’ve been in Paris most recently, right?

"Yes. I was at Le Cochon Heureux for the last three years."

Amy froze and he bumped into her. "The Happy Pig? The Happy Pig?"

It’s the only one I’m aware of.

She looked up at him, trying to process that information. What on earth are you doing here?

Getting ready to house homeless chickens.

I mean, why would you up and leave The Happy Pig for Nowheresville, USA?

I’ve never been to America. I wanted to see it before I got tied back down to the rolling green hills of my homeland.

Well, I wouldn’t exactly call this ‘America.’ One small corner, maybe. One very small, very quiet corner. I hope you won’t be disappointed.

I’m pretty sure I won’t be.

Something in his tone made her fingertips tingle, but she got moving, reaching out and pushing open the door to the side yard. Declan stopped beside her and examined the situation, the rolled-up sleeve of his shirt touching her bare arm. We have plenty of room here, he said.

We. What a pleasant thought. Declan stood about six feet too tall to be a leprechaun, but his assurance was already working magic on her nearly shattered nerves.

All we need is some more chicken wire, he continued. We’ll enlarge the yard and they can fight for space in the coop until we build something permanent. That’s if you want to keep them, of course.

Who’s out there? called a voice inside the barn. A moment later, Uncle Will appeared behind them. Oh, it’s you.

Hello, Amy said. Uncle Will, this is Declan O’Hara. Declan, my uncle, William Kimball.

Uncle Will eyed him, taking in a body more suited to alligator wrestling than whipping up soufflés. You’re the cook?

Chef, Uncle Will.

You don’t look much like a cook.

Declan winked at Amy. Who cares what I look like, as long as the food is good?

You aren’t going to be serving potatoes every night, are you?

Amy gasped, but before she could scold her uncle, Declan laughed and nodded. Aye, he said, his brogue deepening. Soaked in whiskey.

Uncle Will snickered and held out his hand. In that case, I’m real pleased to meet you. What are you folks up to?

Amy explained the confusion with Andersen Farms, and Uncle Will fired right up. No problem, he said, heading back inside. Got what we need in here. Oh, I saw the laundry truck pulling in as I was coming through the barn.

Amy frowned. That means I have beds to make.

Go ahead, Declan said. I can take care of this.

Are you sure?

Of course. It beats making beds.

She smiled at him, backing away and realizing she didn’t want to leave. Okay. I’ll take your bags into your room. Just come on in when you’re finished.

I’ll get my bags. You go make beds.

It’s no trouble. She scooted away before he could stop her, guessing that the only way to get what she wanted from him was to be quicker than he was.

She skipped through the quiet barn, re-emerging into the sunlight and seeing for the first time what a beautiful day it was. She even stopped at the stacked crates of irritated fowl and made little cooing noises at them. We’ll get you out of there in a jiffy, she promised. Hello, Frank!

Frank Whiteside was coming around from the back of the truck, carrying a basket full of folded linen. Morning, Amy. Are you ready for business yet?

No, but there is hope!

I saw those suitcases setting there by the bushes, and thought maybe someone had arrived early.

Oh. She hurried over to look at them. Declan came halfway around the world with nothing but two suitcases and a duffle bag? How glorious it must be to be a man. And where was his car? Had he come all the way from the airport in a taxi? That must have cost a fortune. She slung the strap of the duffle over her shoulder and lifted a suitcase in each hand. These are Declan’s. He’s the chef.

Frank huffed. Too hoity-toity to carry his own bags?

Hardly, Amy laughed. He’s out back, helping Uncle Will enlarge the chicken coop. We had a bit of a misunderstanding with the poultry supplier.

I saw those crates and thought maybe your uncle had decided to add ‘chicken farmer’ to his list of occupations, Frank said, following her up the steps. She set down one suitcase and held the screen door open for him.

Just set the basket inside the door. Margit! she called to the housekeeper. Frank’s here! Turning back to her companion, she continued, Don’t worry. It would take more than cows and chickens to keep him from your fishing dates.

That’s good, Frank snickered. I got a new spinner I want to try out this Sunday.

Margit came down the stairs, her blonde hair and pink cheeks shining in the light flooding through the parlor windows. Hello, Mr. Whiteside, she said.

It’s Frank, Margit. How many times I got to tell you that? You’re an old married lady now. You don’t have to keep calling me Mister.

Margit turned a deeper pink, looking exactly like one would expect a newly-expectant nineteen-year-old to look. Amy resisted the urge to tell Frank her news, knowing it would just embarrass the girl more. He’d find out soon enough. Can you carry those sheets upstairs, Margit, or should I?

Of course I can, Margit said, her skin tone changing to something more like the side of a fire truck as she hurried forward to pick up the basket.

Frank eyed them both with suspicion, but said only, I’ll get the other basket. It’s still out in the truck.

Amy hauled Declan’s luggage down the hallway to the back door, which opened onto a shorter hall and two doors leading to the private rooms that would now be occupied by herself and Declan. She set the suitcases down at the foot of his bed and dropped the bag onto the chair, then ran her hand one more time across the perfectly smooth bedspread. She hoped he liked the room, and was pretty sure he would. The décor, dark wood and forest green, made a lovely frame for the wall of windows overlooking the pastures and pond. The back porch was also private, screened and filled with white wicker furniture, and the perfect spot for a few minutes of afternoon rest in between preparing meals, answering phones, ordering supplies and making beds.

Making beds. She scurried back out, headed for the front of the house. There would be time