You’ve Got Mail meets How to Eat a Cupcake in this delightful novel about a talented chef and the food critic who brings down her restaurant—whose chance meeting turns into a delectable romance of mistaken identities.
In downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Lou works tirelessly to build her beloved yet struggling French restaurant, Luella’s, into a success. She cheerfully balances her demanding business and even more demanding fiancé...until the morning she discovers him in the buff—with an intern.
Witty yet gruff British transplant Al is keeping himself employed and entertained by writing scathing reviews of local restaurants in the Milwaukee newspaper under a pseudonym. When an anonymous tip sends him to Luella’s, little does he know he’s arrived on the worst day of the chef’s life. The review practically writes itself: underdone fish, scorched sauce, distracted service—he unleashes his worst.
The day that Al’s mean-spirited review of Luella’s runs, the two cross paths in a pub: Lou drowning her sorrows, and Al celebrating his latest publication. As they chat, Al playfully challenges Lou to show him the best of Milwaukee and she’s game—but only if they never discuss work, which Al readily agrees to. As they explore the city’s local delicacies and their mutual attraction, Lou’s restaurant faces closure, while Al’s column gains popularity. It’s only a matter of time before the two fall in love...but when the truth comes out, can Lou overlook the past to chase her future?
Set in the lovely, quirky heart of Wisconsin, The Coincidence of Coconut Cake is a charming love story of misunderstandings, mistaken identity, and the power of food to bring two people together.
And don’t forget to check out Amy E. Reichert’s fun new novel The Simplicity of Cider, available now!
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Amy E. Reichert, author of The Coincidence of Coconut Cake, Luck, Love & Lemon Pie, The Simplicity of Cider, and The Optimist's Guide to Letting Go, loves to write stories that end well with characters you’d invite to dinner. A wife, mom, amateur chef, Fix-It Mistress, and cider enthusiast, she earned her MA in English Literature and serves on her local library’s board of directors.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The Coincidence of Coconut Cake
· CHAPTER ONE ·
Lou hoisted up her gown and winced as she tottered across the parking lot. The sparkly four-inch heels had looked so pretty in the box, but they felt like a mortar and pestle grinding each bone in her foot. She missed her green Crocs.
Lou plucked at the tight elastic, squeezing her under the sleek black dress her fiancé, Devlin, had given her. He walked five steps ahead of her, so she scurried to catch up.
“Overstuffed truffle and foie gras sausage,” Lou said.
Devlin’s face crinkled in confusion. “What?”
“It’s a new dish, inspired by how I feel in these clothes. Maybe served over brown butter dumplings . . .” Lou tilted her head, visualizing the newly formed meal. Devlin frowned at her and sighed.
She wilted at the familiar reaction. “I’m sorry. It helps distract me.”
His features softened as he looked at her. “You’ll be fine. You look stunning.”
Lou gave a feeble smile, stepping into the soft, yellow light of the Milwaukee Country Club’s foyer, the cushy patterned carpet springing back with each step. Black-and-white pictures adorned the buttery walls, telling the club’s upper-crust history. Many showed eager young men in white standing behind wealthy gentlemen in funny pants. Hunger for something more burned in the young men’s eyes. Lou understood.
Lou turned toward Devlin, looping her arm through his.
“You didn’t need to ship me off to the salon all day, or spend so much on this dress.” She smoothed the fabric over her hips, the snug undergarments matching the tightness in her stomach. She wore a floor-length, black strapless column of jersey with matching elbow-length gloves—simple, elegant, and too expensive.
“It’s my gift to you. You never pamper yourself.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Get used to it. The future wife of a prominent attorney should enjoy a little spoiling.”
“How am I supposed to top all this for your birthday?”
“For starters, you’ll make your grandmother’s amazing coconut cake. I’ll tell you the rest later.” He winked.
Devlin smiled down at her, and Lou’s breath caught a little in her throat. He looked dashing in his tuxedo. Its classic lines fit his athletic frame, giving him an air of latent power and manliness; the faint smell of cloves lingered around him. His thick, dark hair offset his crystal-blue eyes—her very own Disney prince. He set her bejeweled arm on his and resumed their progress into the crowd. Lou clung to his Italian-wool-clad arm as if it were a life preserver as they wandered through the perfumed and primped throng of attorneys and spouses at the annual firm gala.
The private club swam with glittering women and powerful men. Waiters in white tuxedo jackets swerved through the crowd, delivering twenty-year-old scotch and white wine to thirsty guests. Additional waiters carried trays with appetizers, the obligatory bacon-wrapped water chestnuts and peeled shrimp with cocktail sauce. Lou sighed at the dull offerings, imagining what she could do with this party’s budget.
Devlin steered her toward a group of older men with elegant women by their sides.
“Bill, how are you?” Devlin said, extending his arm toward the largest man. “And you remember my beautiful fiancée, Elizabeth.” All eyes turned to her. Lou gritted her teeth at his introduction.
Bill turned to Devlin and Lou. “We were just talking about the new restaurant critic for the paper, A. W. Wodyski. Have you read his reviews?”
Devlin shook his head. “I’ve heard of him but haven’t had the time to read. The Churman case is taking more time than expected. Any good recommendations?”
“The opposite. He obliterates every restaurant he reviews. But he does it in the most entertaining way. Like Dennis Miller as a restaurant critic.”
“Really?” Lou faked indifference, biting back the real commentary she wanted to share about such arrogance.
“He hasn’t ever given a positive review. I’ve even heard a few of the restaurants he reviewed had to close.”
“I don’t buy that,” said Devlin. “No one review could close a restaurant that was good.”
“It could if they were struggling to begin with,” Lou said softly, frowning. She opened her mouth to continue, but Devlin nudged her with his elbow. She nodded and stayed silent as the conversation flowed back to clients and billable hours. Lou flicked open her rhinestone-studded clutch and pushed a button on her phone. No new messages. She closed the bag.
A waiter appeared with drinks for the group. Lou looked at his name tag, then into his face and said, “Thank you, Tyler.” He startled a little, then nodded in acknowledgment. Lou smiled. The rest of the small group continued talking about upcoming trials and the difficulties of finding good nannies. Lou watched the waiter flit into the crowd toward the bar, empty glasses appearing on his tray as he crossed the room, bobbing swift nods as he took new drink orders efficiently. He served without interrupting, moved quickly without rushing. Lou had turned to follow him when she felt a tap on her arm.
When Lou looked, Bill’s wife stood too close, radiating musky perfume. “So how did the two of you meet?”
Before Lou could answer, Devlin turned toward them. “Elizabeth used to work at Giuseppe’s years ago.”
“They had a made-to-order-pasta station where people could sit and watch the chef,” Lou added, smiling at the memory.
“I was there for a lunch meeting, but they canceled last minute, so I sat at the counter in front of this cute little cook.” Devlin put an arm around her shoulders. “I came back every day that week.” Devlin looked down at Lou and smiled.
“On Friday, he left a single red rose and his business card with the tip.”
“She called the next day and soon she’ll be my beautiful bride.”
“Beautiful and she can cook,” Bill said. “No wonder you closed the deal.”
“I always close.” Devlin wrapped her arm around his and said, “Excuse us; I see Susan and I need to ask her about a deposition she did for me.” He guided Lou away, merging into the crowd and toward the French doors.
“I’m going to hit the restroom before dinner starts. I’ll meet you at the table?” Lou turned and eased open the six-paneled bathroom door with her gloved hand, letting the silence melt some of her tension.
· · · · ·
In the tiny room doubling as a bathroom stall, Lou struggled, realigning her undergarments to their original positions, trying to get her emotions under control. Devlin didn’t understand what her restaurant meant to her. He seemed to think he was rescuing her from a life of hard labor, a life his mother endured as she worked two waitressing jobs to feed and clothe her academically gifted son. She touched her ring, a pristine rectangle like an ice cube that could melt into nothing. She tried to find comfort in Devlin’s symbol of love for her. She shimmied her hips to slither the dress into place, picked up her purse, and left the sanctuary. As she scrubbed her hands, a slender young blonde emerged from another stall and joined her at the sink.
Lou smiled at her in the mirror and said, “Don’t you hate having to use the ladies’ room in these outfits? I feel like the Incredible Hulk in Catwoman’s bodysuit.”
The fresh-faced girl looked startled and tilted her head to one side. She must’ve been a summer intern, eager, ambitious, and idealistic. She wore a simple black cocktail dress accented with a pearl necklace and matching earrings, the uniform of the young and preppy. There were a dozen like her at the party, all with chin-length hair, minimal makeup, clutching small bags containing lip gloss and too many business cards. Probably not a superhero fan.
“Are you Mr. Pontellier’s fiancée?” The young woman squinted her eyes, emphasizing her question.
“Yes, I’m Lou.” She extended her unclad hand toward the pretty girl.
“Oh, I thought your name was Elizabeth.”
“It is, but all my friends call me Lou. Devlin prefers Elizabeth.” Lou half smiled and shrugged her shoulders.
She shook Lou’s hand, but instead of releasing after the appropriate number of pumps, Megan pulled Lou’s hand closer, examining the skin. Lou looked at the shiny scars dotting her pale hands and forearms. It looked as if a makeup artist had been testing for the perfect shade of pinky-red.
“Occupational hazard.” Lou pulled her hand back.
“What do you do?” Megan’s face looked curious.
Lou rubbed the marks, feeling the smooth bumps.
“I’m a chef. My pastry chef says the more battle scars, the better the food.”
“You must be the best chef in the city. It must be nice to come to events like this and get waited on for a change.”
“You’d think.” Lou’s grin shook a little, the muscles tired from too much forced use. Her purse buzzed, and she almost sighed out loud with relief. “Excuse me.”
· · · · ·
Lou rushed out of the bathroom, pulling her phone from the purse. Devlin waited in the hallway holding a wineglass. She held up a finger while answering the phone and walked outside, Devlin following her.
“What’s up?” she said.
“Need to be rescued?” said the confident voice of Sue, Lou’s sous chef and best friend. Lou looked up at Devlin, cringing as she observed his tapping foot and raised eyebrow.
“Not yet. Something wrong?”
“No, just checking in. I know how much you love those events. I thought we could fake a catastrophe if you wanted to get out.”
“I’ll survive. At least the company is good.”
“The lawyers and their spouses are good company? How much have you had to drink?”
“Not them. Devlin.” Lou smiled at him as he pointed back to the building.
Lou sighed. “I gotta go. Text me later to let me know how the rush goes. Bye.”
She slid her phone back into her purse and turned to Devlin.
“Sorry about that. Thanks for the wine,” she said as she took the glass he offered.
“Can you not be a chef tonight?”
“I can try.”
“You should hire someone to cook for you. Then you’d have more free time.”
“I can’t afford that. Besides, cooking is the best part.”
“I’d think you would enjoy a night off.”
“I do. But my idea of pampering doesn’t involve high heels and elbow-length gloves. At least not with a gown.” Lou gave him a gentle hip bump and a smile.
“The night is young.” With a placating smile, Devlin held the door open for her and followed Lou back inside. “Soon you won’t need to work anyway, and I can spoil you all the time.”
Lou turned to look at Devlin, her eyes pleading with him to listen. “Business is improving. I love it. Why do you keep bringing this up?”
“Elizabeth, you work too hard and you’ll need more time once we get a house and have kids. You’ll still get to cook amazing food, but you won’t need to worry about staffing and rent and bills. It’s the ideal situation for you.” Devlin gave her a kiss, took her hand, and walked right over her plans. Lou struggled to breathe under the weight of his version of their future.
· · · · ·
After dinner, Lou escaped outside into the prematurely warm April night. She peeled off the gloves and stepped out of her shoes onto the cool grass of the practice green, moaning with relief as she texted Sue.
Lou looked up at the stars, waiting for the reply ping.
We hit a new record. 102 plates. Need another server.
Lou let out a whistle of appreciation.
From behind her, she heard voices beyond the edge of the green. Lou walked toward the sound to see a handful of white-coated waiters smoking cigarettes and rehydrating. One of them was Tyler, the waiter she had noticed earlier.
Keeping her eyes on the servers, Lou slid the phone into her bag, picked up her shoes, and walked toward the group, stepping gently as the soft grass switched to rough pavement.
“Ahem, excuse me. Tyler?” Lou said. Three startled faces looked up, eyes wide at the intrusion. “Sorry, I don’t mean to interrupt your break, but do you have a moment?”
“Lou?” Devlin’s voice cut through the darkness behind her.
“Crap,” Lou said, digging her card out of her clutch. “I own a restaurant—Luella’s. If you’re looking for a steady job with good tips, give me a call.” She pressed the stiff paper into Tyler’s hand and turned to see Devlin standing behind her, staring at the waitstaff. She heard them scatter. Devlin’s brow wrinkled as he spoke.
“I wondered where you disappeared to. Ready to go?”
Lou exhaled, realizing she had held in her breath, anxious about what Devlin might say. “Yes, please. My feet are killing me.”
Devlin looked at her heels dangling from her fingers. “I see that. Why don’t we walk around so you don’t have to put them back on.” He smiled at her, and she relaxed. He took her arm and led her to where his Jaguar waited for them. He guided her into the front seat, pulling a cream gift box from the back with the words “La Perla” adorning the top.
As Devlin slid into the driver’s seat, Lou raised one eyebrow at him and said, “Is this part two of your own birthday present?”
Devlin winked, then started the car.
“You know, it’s customary for other people to buy you gifts,” Lou said.
“Consider it the gift wrap to what I really want.”
Lou rolled her eyes and opened the box as Devlin drove out of the parking lot toward his condo. Inside, a tasteful nightgown of robin’s egg–blue silk and creamy lace sat nestled in crisp tissue paper. As she lifted it from the box, the delicate material caught on the rough edges of her callused hands, the dainty lace ready to snag. Her spine tensed with worry about destroying the diaphanous fabric. She slithered it back into the box, swallowed, and said, “Shall I try it on when we get back to your place?”
Devlin pointed his chin toward the box. “Look on the inside of the lid.”
Lou’s eyebrow rose in question, but she flipped the lid over to see a key taped inside.
“A key? To what?”
“I already have a key.”
Devlin exhaled in frustration.
“I know you already have a key,” Devlin said. “I’m trying to ask you to move in with me, and doing a piss-poor job of it. I don’t want to wait until we’re married, Elizabeth.”
Lou swallowed and set the lid back in place.
“Maybe we can save the nightie until I move in—leave it at your place until then?” Lou asked.
Devlin smiled, certain of his success. Lou licked her lips, trying to unglue them from her suddenly dry teeth.
· · · · ·
Lou squinted as she studied Harley, her pastry chef, between the shiny shelving separating his domain from the rest of the kitchen at Luella’s. He didn’t seem to notice her. She could see the amber bottle of vanilla on the shelf a few feet away in his station. She took a step closer, watching Harley’s back, squinting at the glare of fluorescent lights off stainless steel. The whirr and snick of Harley’s mixer kneading bread dough broke the silence. Another step. Another step. She reached her hand toward the vanilla. Whirr, snick. Whirr, snick. Just a few more inches. Almost there. Just an inch more.
Harley spun when Lou’s shirt started to ring. He saw Lou’s precarious position and shook his head, denying her. With a sigh, Lou fished the phone out of her bra and put a smile on her face.
“Happy birthday, handsome! You’re up early.” She turned her bac...
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