The breakfast crowd at the Pelican Café had begun to arrive, as people did every morning when it opened at six a.m. The café had opened its doors in the fifties and been going strong ever since. Of course, it had passed through a dozen different owners, had its ups and downs, and been near financial ruin more than once.
Having purchased the restaurant six months ago, Olivia Chandler was the most recent person to step into the driver’s seat. Unlike the previous owner, who had let the place sink into disrepair, Olivia had been making changes, most of which had been heralded with great enthusiasm by the local customers.
The bell above the door rang as a young mother and her little girl walked in and headed for one of the light blue vinyl booths. Melissa Young, Olivia remembered, was her name. Liv made a point of getting to know her customers— just not too well.
While Melissa grabbed a child’s high seat and settled one-year-old Suzy in it, the waitress, a slim little blonde named Katie McKenzie, grabbed the coffeepot off the burner behind the counter and headed for the booth. Katie smiled as she filled Melissa’s mug and handed her a menu.
“I’ll give you a minute to decide,” Katie said, hurrying off to another table to refill an earlier patron’s cup.
One of the changes Liv had made was to hire a new cook—one who wasn’t high on marijuana half the time. Wayne Littlefish was Alaska Native, reliable and great in the kitchen. An older man, Charlie Foot, worked the dinner shift.
Liv had also hired two part-time waitresses instead of one full-time worker, which gave each of the girls a more flexible schedule and made taking time off easier for all of them, including Olivia and long-time employee, Nell Olsen.
A buxom woman with thick, silver-streaked black hair, Nell had worked at the café for more than ten years. She was as much a fixture as the sky-blue interior, the ocean theme, and the anchors and fishing nets on the walls.
Nell had been invaluable in helping Liv take over the business since, aside from waiting tables for the past couple of years, being a fairly decent cook, and a very fast learner, Liv had almost no experience in running a restaurant.
Still, in the last six months she had managed to keep the old clientele happy and add new customers. The tourist season was just starting, so business was getting even better.
“Well, look who’s coming,” Nell said, staring out the window at a tall man in jeans and a sweatshirt crossing the outside patio. The brick patio was empty now while it was still cold, but with summer approaching, soon would be noisy with people. “If it isn’t Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome.”
Katie walked past Liv just then, a platter of bacon and eggs riding on the flat of her hand. “I just call him Mr. Freakin’ Hot.”
“Shame on you,” Liv teased. “You just turned twentyone. Rafe Brodie’s got to be at least a dozen years older.”
“Just means he’s a man not a boy. And I like a guy with a little experience.”
“From what I hear, he has plenty of that,” Liv said dryly as Katie sailed off to deliver the food.
Nell chuckled. “I’m fifty years old and that man can still make me swoon.”
Olivia busied herself wiping off the long Formica-topped counter as Rafe shoved through the door, ringing the bell above. Seating himself in his usual booth, he stretched his long legs out in front of him. Rafe was a regular in the café, which sat on North Harbor Drive right across from the boat dock.
“Katie’s busy,” Nell said with a matchmaking glint in her eyes. “Why don’t you wait on him?”
Olivia shook her head. “I’m busy, too. You go ahead.”
Knowing there was no persuading her, Nell sighed. “Probably better you don’t. Everyone in town knows Rafe’s a dedicated bachelor.”
As the owner of the café, Olivia caught most of the local gossip. According to Cassie Webster, the other part-time waitress, Rafe Brodie had dated a woman named Sally Henderson for nearly three years, until she dumped him four months ago because he refused to marry her.
Apparently, he’d made his intentions—or lack thereof— clear from the start, but Sally hadn’t believed him, poor girl.
Dedicated bachelor or not, Nell and Katie were right. With the thick, dark brown hair curling just over his collar, the faint shadow of beard that usually lined his hard jaw, and those hot, whiskey-brown eyes, he was one of the best-looking men Olivia had ever seen.