HARPER'S WISH, which introduces us to Findlay Roads, a fictional town in the Chesapeake Bay area of Maryland:
Twenty years ago, Findlay Roads was a small community with a strong Irish presence from the immigrants who had settled in the town in the eighteenth century. With its quaint coastal charm as part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, it was eventually discovered by developers and tourists, and in the past five years, it’s been touted as the newest tourist destination for summer vacationers from nearby Baltimore and Washington D.C. With this new tourist boom, the locals have either learned to take advantage of the economic influx or have struggled as they’ve watched their town be recreated into an eclectic mix of old world charm and new century chic.
The first story, HARPER'S WISH, places disgraced restaurant critic, Harper Worth, at the mercy of Connor Callahan, the man whose career she nearly destroyed three years ago with one of her vitriolic reviews. This scene is where Connor first realizes just who Harper is...
“You’re Harper Worth.”
She flushed but still managed a smile. “Guilty as charged.”
He’d obviously stunned her because she sat there, blinking for several long seconds.
Harper Worth. In his restaurant, his second restaurant, after all this time. And not as a critic but looking for work. He wasn’t sure whether to feel outraged or vindicated.
“My name is Connor…Callahan,” he stated, the words clipped.
Her expression didn’t budge, not a glimmer of recognition there.
He’d never seen a proper photo of her. Restaurant critics often concealed their identities so they wouldn’t be recognized when visiting establishments. And with Harper’s vitriolic reputation, he assumed she’d made every effort to keep her image from being exposed when dining out.
Now he finally had a face to put with the name—a much prettier face than he had imagined. He had built her up in his mind’s eye as the harpy he’d dubbed her, thinking she’d be thin, gaunt, with unnaturally long teeth and beady eyes.
She was nothing of the sort. But she was still the woman who’d nearly ruined his career, he reminded himself.
“You don’t even know who I am,” he said.
Her eyebrows dipped in confusion. “Sorry, should I? Have we met?”
He couldn’t help it. He cursed.
“Connor Callahan?” he repeated his name. “Éire?”
Satisfaction flooded through him as he watched the color slowly drain from her face.
“Éire?” she whispered.
“Ah, you remember what the restaurant was called, even if you can’t remember the name of the man whose reputation you ruined.”
“I—” But she stopped there, seemingly at a loss for words.
“Let me see if this rings any bells.” He cleared his throat before he began the recitation of her review from memory.
“Though barely competent, Éire’s executive chef tries too hard with the menu, putting on airs with mediocre aptitude.”
Her face whitened further, her expression becoming pinched as he continued.
“The filet mignon, though a fine cut of meat, is decimated by the lack of skill in preparing it. It will never measure up to the succulent cuts to be had at nearby restaurants in the district, and if ingredients as pure as this can be prepared with such average talent, then imagine the rest of the dishes.”
“Oh. That Connor Callahan.” She attempted nonchalance, but by the pink rising in her cheeks, he knew he had her right where he wanted.
“Can I tell you my favorite line? The one my investors quoted when they pulled out on me?”
She shifted in her seat. He injected a full Irish brogue into his voice and spread his arms to accommodate the full theater of the words.
“Éire is owned by Institute of Culinary Distinction–trained Irishman, Connor Callahan, who clearly believes his own blarney when he claims his restaurant is a dining experience to delight the senses. Perhaps he could use a taste of humble pie since I remain unimpressed and dub his establishment not…worth…it.”
The silence that followed these words was thick. He watched the fine cords in her neck flex as she swallowed. Her cheeks were stained crimson with what he hoped was embarrassment and shame, the very same emotions he’d felt when he’d read her defamatory review.
Want to read more? Visit my website for links to more excerpts via OverDrive and to pre-order your copy of HARPER'S WISH.
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CERELLA SECHRIST lives in York, Pennsylvania with two precocious pugs, Darcy and Charlotte, named after Jane Austen literary characters. Inspired by her childhood love of stories, she was ten years old when she decided she wanted to become an author. These days, Cerella divides her time between working in the office of her family’s construction business and as a barista to support her reading habit and coffee addiction. She’s been known to post too many pug photos on both Instagram and Pinterest. You can see for yourself by finding her online at www.cerellasechrist.com. Harper’s Wish, her third Harlequin Heartwarming novel, releases in September.