Chapter One - Candace Calvert

Chapter One
Lucas Marchal fully expectedhis grandmother to show
no interest in her hospital dinner tray; her appetite had
dwindled to almost nothing. But in his wildest dreams he
wouldn’t have imagined that her dour, n
­ o-​­nonsense nurse’s
aide would lift the dish cover, scream, then stumble backward and fall to the floor.
He bolted toward her to help, vaguely aware of other San
Diego Hope rehab staff filing through the door.
His grandmother’s roommate, chubby and childlike
despite middle age, pitched forward in her bed to utter a lisping litany of concern. “Oh . . . my . . . goodnethh. Oh, my!”
“Here.” Lucas offered a hand to the downed nurse’s aide.
“Let me help you up, Mrs.—”
The Recipe
“No need,” she sputtered, waving him and one of the
other aides away. “I’m all right. Weak ankle. Lost my balance, that’s all. After I saw that . . . horrid thing.” Revulsion
flickered across her a­ ge-​­lined face. “On your grandmother’s
Lucas’s gaze darted to the remaining staff now gathering
around his grandmother’s tray table. They stared like curious ­looky-​­loos at a crime scene. Lucas was all too familiar
with that phenomenon, though as an evidence technician,
he operated on the other side of the yellow police tape. He
turned back to the nurse’s a­ ide—​­Wanda Clay, according to
her name ­badge—​­who’d managed to stand and retrieve the
dish cover she’d dropped in her panic. “What’s wrong with
my grandmother’s dinner plate?”
“It was on the rice,” Wanda explained, gingerly testing her
ankle. It was hard to tell if her grimace was from an injury
or from what she was struggling to explain. “Sitting there on
the food, bold as brass.” She crossed her arms, tried to still a
shudder. “Black, huge, with those awful legs. I haven’t seen
one of those vile bugs since I left Florida.”
A cockroach? On his grandmother’s food? It could snuff
what little was left of her a­ ppetite—​­and his hope that she’d
finally regain her strength.
“It’s probably scurried away by now.” The nurse’s aide
rubbed an elbow. “That’s what they do in the light. But I saw
it, plain as can be. And you can bet I’ll be reporting it ­to—”
“You mean this?” A young, bearded tech in blue scrubs
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pointed at the plate. Then made no attempt to hide his
smirk. “Is this what freaked you out, Wanda?”
“I wasn’t scared,” the woman denied, paling as she stared
at the tray. “Startled maybe. Because no one expects to s­ ee—”
“A black olive?” the tech crowed, pointing again. “Ooooh.
Someone else tittered. “Yep, that’s an ­olive—​­was an olive.
Sort of cut up in pieces and stuck on the rice. A decoration,
“Oh, goody.” The roommate clapped her hands, her
expression morphing from concern to delight. “Can I see? Is
it pretty? Can I have a party decoration too?”
“Hey, Wanda,” the tech teased, “what form do we use to
report an olive ­to—?”
“I think that’s enough,” Lucas advised, raising his hands.
“No harm, no foul. Okay?” He reminded himself that law
enforcement saw its own share of clowning. But . . . “We
have two ladies who need to eat.”
“Yes, sir.” The technician nodded, his expression sheepish. “Just kidding around. I’ll get your grandma some fresh
“Thank you.” Lucas glanced toward Wanda. “You’re not
“Only a bump.” She rubbed her elbow again, lips pinching tight. “Some decoration.”
Lucas watched for a moment as Wanda helped the chattering roommate with her tray; then he glanced toward the
The Recipe
window ­beyond—​­the hospital’s peaceful ocean ­view—​­before
returning to his grandmother’s bedside. He slid his chair
close, his heart heavy at the sight of her now. Asleep on her
pillow and far too thin, with her s­ troke-​­damaged right arm
lying useless across her chest. For the first time ever, Rosalynn
Marchal actually appeared her age of ­seventy-​­six. So different
from the strong, vibrant woman who’d essentially been his
mother. A woman whose unbridled laughter turned heads in
more than a few fancy restaurants, who shouldered a skeet
rifle like she intended to stop a charging rhino. A s­ till-​­lovely
senior equally at home in a gown and diamonds for a charity event or wearing faded jeans and a sun hat to dig in her
wildly beautiful garden high above the Pacific Ocean. She
was an acclaimed painter, a deeply devoted believer. And a
new widow. That inconsolable heartbreak had brought her
to this point . . . of no return?
Lucas watched her doze, torn between the mercy of letting her dream of far better times and the absolute fact that
if she didn’t eat, drink, move, breathe, she’d succeed in what
she’d recently told her pastor and her grandson: “I’m okay
with leaving this earthly world.” Lucas couldn’t let that happen even if his grandmother’s advance medical directive, her
legal living will, required he honor her wishes regarding life
support. She’d beaten the pneumonia that brought her to
the hospital this time, and the therapists said she still had
enough physical strength to regain some mobility, as long as
she mustered the will to take nourishment.
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“Here’s that water,” the technician said, setting a pitcher
beside the food tray. He cleared his throat. “I’m sorry about
that kidding around earlier. It wasn’t professional.”
“No harm done . . . Edward,” Lucas told him after glancing at his ID badge. “I appreciate the help all of you give my
“Pretty special lady, huh?”
“The most.”
“If you need to get going, I can help feed her tonight,”
Edward offered. “I know she’s on Wanda’s list, but I don’t
mind. I have the time.” He shrugged. “And after all that
joking around, I’m probably on her list too. Wanda Clay’s
­ever-​­growing—” The young man’s gaze came to rest on the
Bible on the bedside table, and he appeared to swallow his
intended word. “Her hit list.”
Lucas smiled. His grandmother’s powerful influence for
good. Even in sleep. “Thanks, but I can stay tonight. Things
look pretty decent out on the streets.”
“You’re a cop, right?”
“Evidence ­tech—​­CSI,” Lucas added, using the TV term
everyone recognized.
“Sometimes. Mostly it’s like being a Molly Maid. With
gloves, tweezers, and a camera. Not as exciting as on TV.”
“Still sounds cool to me.” The tech moved the dinner tray
closer. He pointed to the tepid mound of boiled rice. “I guess
I can see how someone might think that thing was a bug.”
The Recipe
Lucas inspected the offensive olive. “You think it’s supposed to be a garnish?”
“Yeah.” Edward snickered. “Some bored dietary assistant
getting her cutesy on.”
j j j
“It’s not like I’m s­ ous-​­chef at Avant or Puesto,” Aimee Curran
told her cousin, citing t­op-​­ten local restaurants. She tucked
a tendril of auburn hair behind an ear and sighed. “Or that I
even get much of a chance to be f­ ood-​­creative here. But . . .”
She raised her voice over the mix of staff and visitor chatter in the San Diego Hope hospital cafeteria so that Taylor
Cabot could hear. “At least working in a dietary department
will look good on my application to the culinary institute.”
“You’re serious about it. I can see it in your eyes,” Taylor
observed, mercifully offering no reference to Aimee’s failed
and costly past career paths. Nursing, right up to the moment
she panicked, then passed out and hit the floor during a surgery rotation, followed by early childhood education that . . .
just didn’t fit. “Aunt Miranda would love it, of course.” Taylor
slid an extra package of saltines into the pocket of her ER
scrub top. “She was such an awesome cook.”
“She was.” Aimee’s mother had been a school nurse, but
her kitchen was her beating heart. “Apron time” with her
only daughter had meant the world to her. And to Aimee.
“If I win the Vegan Valentine B
­ ake-​­Off, it means admission to the culinary institute with fully paid tuition,” Aimee
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explained. “I can’t qualify for more student loans. So this
is it.”
“I didn’t know you’d gone vegan.”
“I haven’t. Not even close, though Mom taught me to
respect organic and local foods. It’s just that there won’t be
so many entries in a vegan contest. It’s a calculated risk. And
I need to win, Taylor.” Aimee’s pulse quickened. “It’s my last
chance to honor my mother with a choice I’m making for
my ­life—​­my whole life. I’ve got to do that. I can’t bear it if
I don’t.”
“I think . . .” Taylor’s voice was gentle. “I think that your
mother would be proud of you, regardless.”
“But it just seems that everyone else has found their
calling, you know? You’ve got your career in the ER. My
­brother’s starting medical school up in Portland, and Dad’s
found Nancy.” Aimee smiled, so very happy for him. “Now
they’ve adopted those two little rascals from Haiti . . .” Her
eyes met Taylor’s. “The contest is being held on Valentine’s
“Your birthday. And also . . .”
“Ten years from the day Mom passed away.” Aimee
sighed. “I’m going to be ­twenty-​­six, Taylor. It’s high time I
got myself together and moved on.”
“I understand that.”
“I know you do.” Taylor’s husband, a Sacramento firefighter, had been killed in an accident almost three years
ago. Taking a job in San Diego was part of Taylor’s plan to
move on.
The Recipe
“So what are you going to wow those b­ ake-​­off judges
with?” Taylor asked after carefully tapping the meal’s ­calorie
count into her cell phone. The old familiar spark of fun
warmed her eyes. “Some sort of soybean cheesecake?”
“Not a tofu fan,” Aimee admitted, her nose wrinkling.
“I thought I’d go through Mom’s old recipe tin and adapt
­something—​­you know, ban the chickens and cows, but keep
the sugar.”
“And all the love. Aunt Miranda was all about ‘stirring in
the love.’ I think I asked my mom once if you could buy that
at Walmart in a ­five-​­pound sack like flour.”
Aimee smiled. “The first phase is tomorrow. I’ve got to
pass that. The b­ ake-​­off finals will be televised. Professional
kitchen, t­op-​­grade tools . . . ticking time clock.” She grimaced. “Nothing like pressure. But at least the hospital
dietary kitchen gives me a chance to handle more equipment than I have at my apartment and practice my chopping
and slicing techniques.” She shook her head. “Mostly when
nobody’s looking, since the biggest part of my job is tray
delivery. But I’ve been known to add a few artistic, signature
Aimee touches ­and—”
“Hey, Curran!”
Aimee turned and saw a familiar young man in scrubs
cruising toward them. Beard, husky build. That rehab tech,
“Hey there,” he said, plunking a hand on the edge of their
table. He grinned at Aimee, raised a brow. “Was it you?”
“Was what me?”
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“That cutesy olive on Mrs. Marchal’s rice.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” Aimee told him, afraid
she did. Why was he making a big deal out o­ f—?
“A black olive, cut up like some kind of decoration? I
think someone got pictures of it.”
“Really?” She hesitated. Was he flattering her? Or . . .
“Wanda thought it was a cockroach. She screamed like a
banshee and fell down on ­her—”
“What?” Aimee’s heart stalled. No. This had to be a bad
“Anyway,” he said, waving at a passing student nurse,
“Wanda’s probably gunning for your department. Grumbling
about ‘malicious mischief ’ and things like that. Thought
you should know.” Edward winked, smacked his hand on
the table. “But thank ’em for me, would ya? Highlight of
my day.”
Aimee closed her eyes as he sauntered away. Please . . .
“Aimee?” Taylor leaned over the table, touched her hand.
“You okay?”
“I . . .” She met her cousin’s gaze and groaned.
“Oh, dear.” Taylor winced. “A ‘signature Aimee touch’?”
“It was a daisy. I snipped all those little black petals really
carefully. I didn’t even know whose tray it was. But I thought
it was sort of cheery. And now, when I’m still on probation, I
might be accused of doing something malicious . . .” Another
thought made her breath catch. “Wanda’s pretty old. Do you
think she got hurt? Broke a hip ­or—?”
“I doubt it,” Taylor interrupted, her expression reassuring.
The Recipe
“Wanda is sturdier than she looks. But I do think you should
go over there and explain. Apologize to her. And to the
patient, too, if she was upset by it.”
“Oh, great. I just thought of something else.” Aimee
squeezed her eyes shut again. “I think Mrs. Marchal’s grandson works for the police department. Can this get any worse?”
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