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Different Tastes: The Alexander Series, #7

Different Tastes: The Alexander Series, #7

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Different Tastes: The Alexander Series, #7

ratings:
4.5/5 (3 ratings)
Length:
254 pages
4 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Jul 11, 2016
ISBN:
9781533755834
Format:
Book

Description

Standalone Novel 

"Different Tastes has it all. Food, fun and love with a side of drama!" 

Tamera Alexander is a restaurant health inspector – not a job she loves, but it pays the bills. Writing is her passion – more like writing about food. A part-time writer for Charlotte Magazine, she roams the city, seeking restaurants to review, always on the grind, never taking a moment to relax. She likes it that way. Staying busy doesn't give her time to think about the life she could've had if she'd married the right man. Her work is her life now. She's brainwashed herself into believing she likes it that way. 

Then she makes a mistake… 

Her life of all work and no play is interrupted when she writes a bad review for Central Grub House, a restaurant owned by Serenity Michaels, sister of Preston Michaels 'the' Preston Michaels, founder and chief editor of the second largest magazine in the city – Charlotte Recreational. 

Preston feels he has to come to his sister's defense when he reads Tamera's article in Charlotte Magazine and he wastes no time doing so. Approaching Tamera with a bold face-to-face ultimatum, he threatens to expose her career-ending secret unless she removes or amends the review she wrote about his sister's restaurant. He wasn't prepared for an instant attraction to Tamera – the enemy… 

Tamera didn't expect to lose her mind over Preston, a handsome man she hardly knew. She made that mistake once. She couldn't afford to make it again. She needed to get away from Charlotte for a few days, and fast! She makes her great escape by taking on a weekend assignment at a beautiful beach on the North Carolina coast. She didn't expect her drop-dead, gorgeous nemesis to be hot on her trail.

Publisher:
Released:
Jul 11, 2016
ISBN:
9781533755834
Format:
Book

About the author

TINA MARTIN is the Amazon #1 Bestselling author of over 70 romantic suspense novels, novellas and short stories. She currently resides in Charlotte, North Carolina. For more information, visit www.tinamartin.net


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Different Tastes - Tina Martin

Prologue

Tamera’s eyes squinted as she tried to understand why the man – the stranger sitting alone at a table across the way – was staring at her. In the short while she’d held his vision, he barely blinked and had somewhat of a presumptuous smirk on his face.

Why is he staring at me? Do I know him from somewhere? Hmm...

Annoyed, she tapped her rose-pink nails on the wooden tabletop thinking about him for a moment, running the image of his face through her memory bank to determine if she knew him or had seen him somewhere before. She didn’t know him, she determined, nor had she had any recollection of ever laying eyes on him. She was certain of it. She couldn’t forget a face so mind-blowingly handsome if she wanted to. In fact, now that she had his handsomeness recorded and committed to memory, she would easily remember his face again just as easily as she could recall her cell phone number.  

Stop. Looking. At. Me. Dang it!

She wasn’t here to make a connection. Wasn’t prepared to shoo away strays. She was here for work. No distractions. Even if it was from a man so fine, he made her blush at first glance.

She picked up a black ballpoint pen from the table, making another attempt at work but couldn’t stop herself from looking up again and locking eyes with the mystery man across the restaurant. He smiled small. Peculiarly so. Didn’t show any teeth, indicative of a sneaky person – a person with something to hide. Or maybe he was trying to disguise jacked-up teeth.

See, now you’re thinking about the man’s teeth when you’re supposed to be working.

She wondered if it would be rude to move to another table, one in which he had no view of her and she’d have no view of him. She was tempted but stayed put. Why should she inconvenience herself because of someone else’s rudeness?

Just focus on work, Tamera. He’s cute, but those are the ones that are usually no good. Plus, he probably has bad teeth.

She grinned to herself. There. Now that that was settled, she clicked the mechanical pen and scribbled a note:

Review notes for Central Grub House

-American cuisine

-East side restaurant near Uptown Charlotte

-a lot of construction in the area

-limited parking for the restaurant

She made it a point to take short notes while she dined, so later when she wrote the full review on the place, the thoughts she wanted to express would readily come to mind. This evening, she dined alone at Central Grub House, a family-style, kid-friendly restaurant located on Central Avenue, two miles east of Uptown situated near a bunch of newly constructed apartment towers and her guilty pleasure, Dairy Queen. She’d wanted to review the grub house when she was there two months ago performing food safety inspections. Then, the food smelled good. The restaurant was squeaky clean, like almost eat-off-the-floor clean. Even the bathrooms were neat – not like most she’d seen with wet toilet paper strewn about the floor, overran waste baskets and a pool of liquid soap and water on the countertops.

And the kitchen at Central Grub House – it was the model all restaurant kitchens should follow. The food was stored in its proper place and set to correct temperatures. There was absolutely no risk of cross contamination. No sink full of dirty dishes. No insects. No rodents. Everything was how it should be.

Too bad the food sucked.

Well, maybe not all the food, but the braised chicken on the fancy, square-shaped ceramic plate in front of her was awful – so bad, she couldn’t finish chewing the first bite. Tamera took a white napkin, discreetly spitting out the chicken she’d attempted to eat, quickly following up with a drink of water. Still, the taste remained on her tongue. She tried to swish water around in her mouth to get rid of the aftertaste, but it didn’t work. The awfulness of the badly cooked chicken was too potent to wash away, or maybe she needed something stronger to wash out her mouth like Listerine or...Vodka. Amused, she shook her head. Had she ever eaten anything so bland and utterly unpalatable?

She looked around, curious to see if anyone was watching her, and sure enough, Mr. Admirer was gazing her way again. Maybe he thought he knew her. Had her mixed up with someone else. Had so many women, he couldn’t remember this one from that one. Most likely. And he had on a suit, looked professional and groomed. Perhaps he was meeting someone, waiting for her but passing the time people-watching. Women-watching. Tamera Alexander-watching.

Whatever...

After trying the sorry salad and not-so-good chicken, everything inside of her told her not to try the mashed potatoes – it wouldn’t be any better. But the review had to include the full meal, not bits and pieces of it. Hoping for the best – and that the taste of the mashed potatoes would overpower the lingering nastiness the chicken left on her tongue – she went for it, taking a whole heaping spoonful of the stuff against her will.

She gagged. Forced it down. Chugged more water.

What...the...?

Yuck!

If a restaurant was going to cut corners by cooking boxed mashed potatoes instead of making it from scratch, the least they could do was add butter, milk, salt and pepper to it – attempt to give it some sort of flavor. Dang!

Gulping down more water, she swished it around in her mouth again, set the cup on the table and jotted down a note:

Chicken horrible. Tastes like seasoned chalk. Mashed potatoes not homemade, pre-packaged, and unseasoned. Salad looks tossed thrown together. Lettuce too finely shredded. Only had one slice of cucumber and one grape tomato. No cheese. No croutons. No eggs. The complimentary bread was good but wasn’t served warm. Came with butter packets that were frozen solid. Bread wasn’t warm enough to melt the butter. Probably won’t ever eat here again. I will never eat here again.

What a shame. A huge disappointment. Trying a new restaurant with high hopes that quickly turned into an epic letdown was like seeing a fine, unattached man from afar who looked decent and presentable; yet you already knew he was no good just by his devilish looks and sure-of-himself grins he flashed at you. She looked up at Mr. Admirer and grinned to herself.

Yep. He was just like the food in this joint. No good.

Chapter 1

A Week Later

Tamera sat at the kitchen table staring at the blank, white screen on her laptop. She shivered, irritated and too lazy to get up and turn the AC to a more comfortable setting. She had a review to write. She glanced at her notes, then back at the screen.

Notes.

Screen.

Her body shivered. She rested her forehead down on the table. How was she going to start off this review?

Her cell phone interrupted her prelude to a meltdown. She sat up, glanced at the display seeing Tyson’s name. She smiled. If anyone could help with this quandary, it would be him. Hey, Tyson.

What’s up, sis?

Working as usual. You know me. Always working. What’s going on with you?

I’m cooking dinner.

Dang. You stay cooking, huh? she asked, jokingly. Tyson, one of the top chefs in the country, owned a chain of restaurants and spent most of his time cooking for homeless and low-income families at Padma’s Food House, a coastal restaurant owned by their aunt, Padma Alexander. Padma opened the restaurant with the goal of providing meals to needy families, especially during the summer months, but then her vision imploded into a much greater purpose – feeding anyone a great meal no matter if they had the funds to pay for the meal or not. The restaurant only accepted donations. Tyson was proud to take on cooking and helping to prepare desserts for the now two locations of Padma’s Food House and that’s what he spent most of his days doing. Working. Giving back to the community.

He laughed. "I do stay cooking, but cooking for my family and those in need is much more rewarding than cooking for work. Plus, I’m here keeping an eye on the kids. Gabrielle had to run out to the bakery."

Oh. I’m surprised you’re calling me, then.

Why?

Because it sounds like you’ve got your hands good and full with the kids.

Well, my princess is sleeping and T.J. is playing with his toys at the moment, so it’s not that bad. Daddy Alexander got this.

She grinned. Daddy Alexander. So, what’s going on? You must’ve called me for a reason.

When have I ever needed a specific reason to call you, Tamera? I’m just checking in on my little sister. I have to do that from time to time, especially when you go missing, or quiet, for days at a time.

I’m not missing. You know I have no life outside of work.

Yes, and that’s very unfortunate and another subject.

Yeah, well...

So, besides work, is everything all right on your end? he asked.  Be honest.

Yes, but at the moment, I’m agonizing over a work issue.

Why?

I was just about to write a review and I don’t know how to write it.

Must be bad, huh?

"It is. I hate writing bad reviews, but like you said, I need to be honest, right?"

You do, but you can soften the blow by writing something good, too. All reviews don’t have to be bad. Surely there’s something you liked about the restaurant.

Ugh. Um...hmm. She mused over her experience at Central Grub House, placing the call on speakerphone before massaging her temples.

Okay, tell me what you didn’t like about the place, Tyson said.

The food. It seriously sucked, Tyson. Sucked big time.

Tyson grinned. I take it you didn’t like the food?

Ya think? Tamera laughed.

What kind of food was it?

The restaurant serves American cuisine. I saw braised chicken on the menu and immediately thought I’d give it a try since I missed yours so much.

Ooh...that was your first mistake. Not everybody can make braised chicken. There’s an art to it.

She smiled appreciatively. Her brother was as passionate about food as she was writing about food. You’re right about that because the chicken was...it was awful. You should’ve tasted it. It was hor-ri-ble. It definitely wasn’t yours.

Tyson laughed. You can’t compare everybody’s food to mine, Tamera.

Well aren’t we just tooting our own horn, she teased.

Hey. When you’re good, you’re good.

Yeah, well, I don’t have to compare the chicken I had with yours. It was still horrible. Yuck! I feel like that nasty taste is seeping back into my taste buds. Tamera took a sip of wine to get the memory of the taste out of her mouth and her mind.

Jeez. That bad, huh?

You have no idea.

What’s the name of the restaurant?

Central Grub House.

Oh. That place is owned by Preston Michaels’ sister.

Who?

Preston Michaels. You should know him. He owns Charlotte Recreational – second largest magazine in Charlotte. Isn’t that your competition?

It is, but I don’t know him. Charlotte’s a big city.

Yeah, but you’re in the same industry as him.

And you’re in the same industry as Barefoot Contessa. Do you know her?

He grinned. No, but at least I know who she is.

And how do you know this Preston Michaels fella? she inquired.

"He did a story about me a few years ago. Millionaires Who Give Back to the Community. That was the name of the article."

I don’t recall you ever mentioning anything related to that before.

That’s because I didn’t. I don’t like to gloat.

Yet, you let him write the article...

Yes, in hopes that it would inspire other wealthy people to give back instead of being greedy and keeping all of their assets to themselves. America has a culture of the rich getting richer and not spreading their wealth. More good would come into this world if folks weren’t so greedy.

Hey, if you’re in a giving spirit, I’m always open for donations.

Oh, please. You wouldn’t take a dollar from me, lil’ girl.

She smiled. He was right. Tamera’s pride wouldn’t allow her to take anything she didn’t earn. Before she found the good-paying health inspector job, she bounced around in between jobs and wasn’t financially stable. Then, when she got all distractions out of the way – like ending an abusive marriage for one – she was able to focus on taking care of herself and her needs. Anyway, I better get to work, she said. Kiss the babies for me, will ya?

Sure thing. Hopefully, we’ll be able to visit you soon.

Yes. It’s about time you guys come to Charlotte for a change.

All right, sis. I’ll see what I can do.

Okay. Bye.

Tamera hung up the phone and sighed. Now, she wasn’t thinking about work. She was thinking about Tyson and Gabrielle – their beautiful family. Tyson could’ve given up on finding love, especially after his ex had cheated on him, but he found Gabrielle and now they were happily married with two children – a little baby girl named Amryn and a boy named after Tyson.

She thought about Gabrielle and how brave she was, too. She was once in an abusive relationship – married to Tamera’s first cousin, Dilvan Alexander – but somehow she was able to put all of that in the past and fall in love with Tyson.

If only it was as easy for her to find true love...

Not to say it was easy for Gabrielle and Tyson, but maybe they had the strength to start over. She didn’t. She’d tried love and failed.

She thought she had found a man who would treat her like a queen, and he did, at first. After marriage, though, he changed. Became possessive. He told her what to wear, what to eat. He nitpicked about every detail of her face. Her body. Would tell her if he thought she had on too much makeup or not enough, or how she should hit the gym if she gained a pound. Told her how she should wear her hair. Where she was allowed to go without him. When she grew tired of it and began resisting his tyrannical ways, the physical abuse began.

That was four years ago.

Now that she was older, she knew what to look for in a man just like she knew the type of man to avoid. The showy, charming type who appeared one way in public, but behind closed doors, they were anything but. That didn’t mean all hope was lost. She was sure she’d find a decent man to share a cup of coffee with one day. For now, work took priority.

Chapter 2

Preston Michaels returned to the office after having lunch with his core team – something he liked to do to build rapport with his staff. The time gave him a better perspective on everyone in a laid-back environment without the seriousness of being in the office. It was time-consuming, usually took two to three hours or so, but since it helped with building working relationships, he stayed committed to it.

Walking down the hallway towards his office, he realized someone was in there or had been in there. He’d closed the door when he left, so who’d be in his office? It wasn’t Daphne, his assistant. She’d had lunch with them, too, and was still downstairs in the lobby.

He flashed a confused frown. Normally when someone wanted to see him, they’d make an appointment, reserve some of the already limited time on his calendar, or better yet, sit in the lobby and wait until he was back – not make a pop-up visit by actually waiting in his office. He didn’t do spontaneous meetings. Whoever it was would just have to wait and get in line, like everyone else.

He pushed the door open, ready to say just that when he saw his sister sitting in his chair.

Figures.

His expression softened. This wasn’t the first time Serenity had shown up unannounced, and he was sure it wouldn’t be the last. Since he was her older, single brother, she felt she had number one priority in his life. Therefore, she could interrupt him at any given time – even in the middle of a workday, knowing he would be there for her. Make time for her.

A small smile settled in the corner of his mouth. He would always be there for her no matter how busy he was because she was his sister, his only sibling, and he loved her dearly, even though she wore his nerves paper-thin.

Hey, Serenity. What are you doing in my office? he asked, but from the look on her face, he knew something was wrong.

"Have you seen this

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