Seattle, Washington State, July, 2012
“Have you noticed nobody holds hands anymore?” Chef Ivy Turin picked up a tomato from the pile of neatly displayed produce at Pike Street Market. “It was my favorite part of dating in high school. There was no PDA allowed in the halls, but my boyfriend would sneak up next to me and slip his fingers through mine. That simple little gesture made me feel special.”
Beth, her sous chef, eyed her with sarcastic amusement. “You are special.”
Ivy selected several more tomatoes and put them in the cloth grocery bag. Handing the items to the cashier, she fished money from her pocket. “And you’re as jaded as the necklaces in the next stall.”
“I’m jaded? You’re the one who hasn’t had a date since you dumped Kevin,” Beth said, examining an odd-looking fiddlehead fern. “Although I suppose I can’t blame you for being cautious after what he did to you. Stealing from the restaurant to cover his gambling debt was beyond wrong, but there are good guys out there.”
“I’m well aware of that,” Ivy said, accepting the change from the cashier. Although nine months had passed since the breakup, Kevin’s betrayal still stung. It wasn’t as much about the money he embezzled, but the deceit it was predicated upon.
“I realize it’s cliché but you need to forget about him and move on. Maybe you could start with your perfect high school boyfriend,” Beth said, moving to the next stall. “He might be available.”
“Are you searching for the perfect man?” the jade vendor behind the counter asked. He had an Australian accent and pale blue eyes disconcerting in their intensity.
Beth pointed at Ivy. “Her, not me. She’s—well, she used to be—a hopeless romantic.”
The vendor gave Ivy a speculative look before lifting up a simple silver chain with a green jade amulet hanging from it. “If you truly want to find this elusive perfect man, and restore your faith in true love, this necklace will be your good luck talisman.”
He tried to hand it to Ivy, but she refused. “It’s beautiful, but—”
Leaning forward, he clasped her wrist and pressed the necklace into her palm. “It’s a gift.”
Ivy expected the jade to be cool to the touch, but it heated her skin, sending an unexpected jolt of energy throughout her body. Pulling away, she dismissed the unusual sensation as a consequence of the double espresso she’d recently finished. All of this talk of magic was giving her the creeps.
“I couldn’t. It’s too much.” She tried to pass it back, but he merely grinned.
“The first step to finding true love is acceptance,” he said, winking at Beth. “Take the necklace. Wear it with hope in your heart, and when you find the perfect man, everything will become clear.”
Amused by his ridiculous statement, Ivy reluctantly released the clasp and slipped the trinket around her neck. “I’ll take the necklace if you and a friend come to my restaurant, Vicenzo’s, for dinner some time. My treat.”
“That sounds like a fair trade,” he said, nodding with approval at her offer before turning to help a new customer.
* * *
“Well, that was weird,” Ivy said as she and Beth made their way through the gathering tourists to Vicenzo’s located in a coveted position at the heart of the market. As she pushed through the crowd, she fingered the pennant lying surprisingly light on her chest. She felt odd about accepting jewelry from a stranger, but his piercing stare had made her feel obligated to take his generous gift. “I can’t believe he gave me this. Somehow dinner for two doesn’t seem like enough.”
“It is more than generous. After the article in Seasoned Chef comes out, he’ll be lucky to get a table. Vicenzo’s will be rocking even more than it already is,” Beth predicted.
Ivy opened the restaurant’s glass door and followed Beth inside. The lunch seating had started and a line of customers jostled for position at the hostess desk. The familiar aromas of oregano, garlic, fragrant cheeses, and fresh baked bread caught her attention and she inhaled a deep breath. She shifted the bag on her hip, worrying her lip. Quarters were already tight in the restaurant. Although it encompassed three levels with expansive views of the Puget Sound on one side and the stream of diverse market goers on the other, the space was small with no option to expand. It was flattering to realize her cooking was to be featured in such a well-recognized magazine, but she wasn’t sure if the attention was a help or a hindrance. She liked being busy, Vicenzo’s was a big part of her life, but she longed for someone to share her success with. Despite Kevin’s betrayal, she wanted to believe in happily-ever-after. Rubbing the necklace, she wished it was possible to meet the perfect man.
The outer door opened and another couple walked in. The crowd shifted. While Beth quickly moved through the double doors into the kitchen, Ivy was forced to wait for one of the servers to pass with a tray full of drinks. She turned sideways to give the server more space, and the strap on the cloth bag she held slipped. A tomato tumbled out, bounced off a bar stool, and flew into the air. Lunging forward, she made to grab it at the exact instant a masculine hand did the same. In her momentum, she stumbled the slightest bit, and her outstretched palm connected with the tomato with more force than she intended. The pressure of their combined hands shattered the delicate skin with a sickening splat, before showering them both with ruby red juice.
Ivy raised a mortified gaze to his and nearly fell into pools of vivid green eyes framed with chocolate brown lashes that matched his closely cropped hair. The sounds around her seemed to disappear and she wondered if she was having some sort of seizure. She had never met somebody who could literally block out time and space. He was model gorgeous, the most handsome man she’d ever seen in her entire life. Dumbfounded, she stared at him.
He stared back.
Her gaze locked with his, she slowly became aware of his hand still linked with hers, warm, alive, and sticky. Embarrassment came flooding back to her. The quiet encompassing her mere seconds before dropped away and voices seemed to amplify as if time had sped up to its normal rate. “Oh my God, I’m so sorry. Are you okay?” she asked, dragging him behind the bar and over to the sink before releasing his hand.