Read Flamingo Diner Online

Authors: Sherryl Woods

Tags: #Romance: Modern, #Contemporary, #General, #Romance, #Romance - Contemporary, #Fiction, #Fiction - Romance, #Adult, #Romantic suspense fiction, #Romance - Adult, #Suicide, #Florida, #Diners (Restaurants) - Florida, #Diners (Restaurants)

Flamingo Diner

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Dear Friends,

Welcome to the fictional world of Winter Cove, Florida, and especially to Flamingo Diner, which was inspired by my own favorite Florida breakfast place.

Years ago, after moving to Key Biscayne, an island community that is worlds away from downtown Miami yet right across a causeway, I discovered the Donut Gallery. Okay, okay, I know I have no need to be eating doughnuts, but the truth is there are very few doughnuts on the menu anymore. What this tiny restaurant has—aside from the usual scrambled eggs, bagels and sausage—is the pulse of a community. Over the years there I’ve met everyone from a confidante of President Nixon’s to a career lifeguard, from a federal prosecutor to caddies for some of the men on the seniors’ golf tour, from the captain of a charter fishing operation to snowbirds from all over the world. Birthdays and babies are celebrated there, deaths mourned.

Over the years, that got me thinking about what would happen if a tragedy struck the family who owned such a place. Would these very diverse people pull together to support them? And in Flamingo Diner they do, just as I know they would at my own favorite spot.

For those of you who’ve read previous books of mine, you’ll quickly see that this one is a bit more serious, because the tragedy that strikes is suicide. My life has been affected twice when very dear friends took their own lives. I’ve gone through all the stages of grief, wondering what I should have seen, what I could have done. I’ve been angry with them…for myself and for the families left behind to deal with the heartache. And I’ve learned, in the end, to remember them when they were joyful and full of life and to be grateful for those times.

I wish all of you happiness and, for those times when you despair, a good friend to listen and a strong family to lean on…and a place just like Flamingo Diner, where people care about their neighbors.

All the best,

Also by SHERRYL WOODS

ABOUT THAT MAN

ASK ANYONE

ANGEL MINE

AFTER TEX

DESTINY UNLEASHED

Sherryl Woods

Flamingo Diner

To all of my friends at Key Biscayne’s Donut Gallery,
who are every bit as diverse, warm and wonderful
as the characters in Flamingo Diner.
Thanks for inspiring me
and entertaining me on a daily basis.

1

T
he July humidity was as high as it possibly could be without rain pouring from the sky. Despite recent power company improvements, another manhole had exploded just down the block in Washington’s Georgetown area, shooting flames into the air and shutting off power to several blocks of boutiques and restaurants. Without air-conditioning, Fashionable Memories felt like a steam room in one of those fancy spas their customers were always running off to.

Emma wiped her brow and cursed the fact that today of all days five crates of antiques had arrived from an estate sale in Boston. Normally she regarded the arrival of new treasures with the excitement of a kid on Christmas morning, but today the unpacking seemed a whole lot more like hot, sweaty drudgery. And naturally her boss was nowhere to be found. Marcel D’Avignon, who was about as French as country ham and grits, preferred spending money to the hard work of earning it. He left that to Emma.

In fact, in the five years she’d been at Fashionable Memories, Emma had taken over most of the day-today operations of the high-end antiques business, while Marcel concentrated on acquisitions. For a woman who’d grown up in a small Florida town more prone to wicker and plastic, she had an innate ability
to spot priceless pieces of old furniture, silver and porcelain and then sell them at a ridiculously high profit to the interior designers and bored Washington society housewives who made up the bulk of their clientele.

Today, with the temperature in the shop approaching ninety, she could probably have gotten a better price for ice. Her friends here still marveled that a woman who’d grown up in Florida could have any complaints about the Washington summers. They didn’t seem to understand that back in Winter Cove, power outages from outdated infrastructure weren’t kicking off the air-conditioning every couple of weeks.

Just thinking about home made her long to hear the sound of her mother’s voice. Rosa Killian had been born in Miami, but her parents had come from Cuba. Rosa had spoken Spanish before she’d learned English, and traces of the accent lingered, along with strong beliefs about family and principles of strict child rearing. Emma had learned at an early age that her father, Don, was a much softer touch than her mother when it came to doling out punishment, especially to the daughter he adored.

Emma sighed thinking about how heartbroken he’d been when she’d announced her intention to leave Winter Cove to attend college in Washington, then stayed on to work for Fashionable Memories. Hurting her father was her only regret about the decision she’d made. Otherwise, it had been the exact right choice for her. She’d come into her own here, away from the watchful eyes of family and neighbors, all of whom thought they should have a say in her life.

She loved Washington and the nearby rolling Vir
ginia countryside. Being at the center of things in a city that hummed with excitement and power filled her with an energy she had never felt in the small Florida town where she’d been born. Winter Cove had its charms, but she’d felt as if she were growing up in a glass bubble with everyone watching everything she was doing, every misstep she made. Here she could make a monumental mistake and there were thousands of people who’d never have a clue about it.

Not that she made
that
many mistakes. She lived a fairly sedate and uneventful life. No messy relationships. No wild nights. Not even a speeding ticket.

Sweet heaven, she was barely twenty-six and she was boring, she thought with a sudden attack of dismay. Wasn’t that precisely the fate she’d left home to escape? And wasn’t that exactly what Marcel had been saying to her the week before when she’d turned down yet another blind date? She’d argued the point rather emphatically at the time, but she could see now that her boss had pegged her life exactly right. Fulfilling work that she loved was one thing. Having a
life
was something else entirely, and it was time she did something about grabbing one. Otherwise all that independence she’d moved to Washington to claim would be totally wasted.

Spurred on by the thought, she reached for the phone to call her best friend before she could change her mind.

Kim Drake had a social life that a Hollywood starlet would envy. Emma, however, had never felt the slightest twinge of envy, because she knew that the one thing Kim craved—a family—was still as elusive as ever. She called Emma after nearly every date for
a postmortem to analyze whether the latest man in her life could possibly be
the one.
So far none had even passed Kim’s three-dates-and-he’s-out test. Their Sunday morning get-togethers at a trendy Georgetown coffee shop had become strategy sessions for meeting better candidates. Thus far Emma had doled out plenty of advice on the topic to Kim, but followed none of it herself. Today Emma intended to change that pattern.

“Do we know anyone who has a swimming pool?” Kim asked plaintively as soon as she heard Emma’s voice.

“I’m sure any number of men in your life live in singles complexes with pools,” Emma told her.

“Given the disgustingly boring crop of men in my life at the moment, it’s not worth it,” Kim said. “I’d prefer to swelter. So, what’s up? I thought you were going to be hip deep in dusty antiques today.”

“I am, and it’s given me too much time to think.”

“Uh-oh. What’s on your mind?”

“I’ve decided I need a social life.”

“Well, hallelujah! Isn’t that exactly what I’ve been saying for months now? Even Marcel, who’s oblivious to most things that don’t involve him, thinks you’re a hermit,” Kim said. “Do you want to go out tonight? I have a date with a Congressional aide. I’m sure he has friends he could call. We could double.”

“Which date is this for you and the aide?” Emma asked suspiciously.

“Second, why?”

“That’s okay, then.”

“What are you talking about?” Kim demanded. She sounded genuinely perplexed.

“If it were your first, then you wouldn’t know yet
whether his friends are likely to be awful,” Emma explained patiently. “If it were your third, you’d probably be breaking up at the end of the evening and that could put a real damper on things for those of us relegated to being witnesses.”

“I am not that predictable,” Kim protested.

“I could run through the list,” Emma teased the woman she’d known since their first year of college when they’d shared a dorm room. “We could start with Dirk, freshman year in college. I believe you made a list of his attributes and flaws after the second date and canceled the third. The pattern has been repeated more times than I can count.”

“God, I hate having a friend who knows my entire life inside out,” Kim grumbled. “Do you want a date tonight or not?”

Emma hesitated. “A Congressional aide, huh?”

“He’s mine, but I imagine that’s where his pool of available friends comes from.”

Emma hated politics. Living in the nation’s capital had given her a jaundiced view of the men—and women, for that matter—who wielded power as if it were their God-given right. They might come to Washington full of high ideals, but it seldom took long for them to learn the art of backroom deal making. As fascinating as it was to watch it all unfold, she had no desire to get too close to that particular fire.

“Never mind,” she said finally. Another dateless night wouldn’t be so bad. She had a great book sitting on her nightstand. “Call me when you’re going out with an investment banker.”

“You’re too picky,” Kim said, a charge she made frequently.

“And you’re not picky enough,” Emma retorted, as she always did.

“But at least I play the game. You can’t find gold if you’re not willing to sift through all the other stuff. Trust me, the right man is not going to fall from the sky.”

“Try telling that to my mother,” Emma said, laughing.

The story of the night her father literally fell into her mother’s arms on a dance floor was family legend. Don Killian and Rosa had been inseparable from that moment on. That was probably what had fueled Emma’s romantic expectations. She wanted that same kind of bolt-from-the-blue feeling to strike her one day. It wasn’t likely to happen with a guy who had one eye on the restaurant door to see if anyone important was coming in, and the other checking out his next day’s schedule on his handheld computer screen.

“Kim, do you really like this guy you’re going out with tonight?”

Her friend hesitated, then sighed. “He’s handsome. He’s smart. And he’s very nice. What’s not to like?”

“Handsome is superficial,” Emma said, dismissing it.
All
of the men Kim dated were handsome. They were all intelligent, too. Some weren’t so nice. She was relieved to hear that this one was. “Nice is fine. Nice can be terrific, in fact, but I worry that you’ll decide that’s the best you can do. You deserve spectacular. You deserve fireworks.”

“I know,” Kim said, her good cheer back as quickly as it had faded. “Which is why I keep looking. Stop worrying, Emma. I won’t settle for anything less. If I were willing to settle, I’d have married Hor
ace Dunwoodie the Fourth. He was handsome, nice and disgustingly rich.”

“But boring,” Emma reminded her.

“My point exactly.”

“Okay, then. Now I’ve got to get back to these boxes,” Emma said. “Have fun tonight.”

“If I didn’t think I would, I wouldn’t be going on a second date with the guy. I have less patience than I used to. Some men don’t even make the cut after the first date.”

“By the way, why haven’t you told me his name?” Emma asked. “Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure the last time you told me the name of one of your dates was back in college. In fact, it was old Horace, who followed Dirk. There have been dozens and dozens of nameless men parading through your life since then.”

Kim laughed. “Why make you remember somebody who’s not likely to last, anyway? This way, if I ever do call a man by his name, you’ll know we’re at least to the fourth-date stage. If I introduce you, you’ll know that picking a wedding date is imminent. If you recall, I had five dates with Horace.” She uttered an exaggerated sigh. “I had high hopes for him for a time. It must have been the size of his bank account that blinded me to his obvious flaws.”

“At least you have a sense of humor about it,” Emma said. “If I had to endure as many bores as you do, I’d be totally depressed.”

“There’s no point in crying, not when all it does is leave your eyes red and puffy. By the way, did you really call because you’re worried about your social life or is something else on your mind?”

“Just a little homesick,” Emma admitted. “I
couldn’t wait to get away from Winter Cove and Flamingo Diner and my family, but there are still times when I miss it all like crazy.”

“Then you should have called home, instead of calling me,” Kim chided. “Do it now and tell your folks hi for me. Are they doing okay?”

“They sounded good when I spoke to them over the weekend. I need to get down to Florida, though. I really do miss them.”

“Then go,” Kim said, suddenly serious. “Take it from someone who’s lost a parent, you don’t get a second chance. I’ll come with you. It’s been a long time since you’ve taken me down there for a visit. There’s not a restaurant here in town that can make
arroz con pollo
as good as your mom’s.”

“We’ll do it,” Emma promised. “The weather starts to break down there in October.”

“October’s good. We’ll talk about the specifics when I see you Sunday morning. Bye, sweetie.”

Emma hung up feeling better than she had before she’d called, even if she was facing another dateless night alone with a good book. There were worse fates. She could list at least a hundred of them while she was checking in the rest of the new inventory.

But before she could get back to work, the phone rang. Wiping the sweat from her brow, she picked it up and tried to inject a gracious note into her voice. “Good morning, Fashionable Memories.”

“Sis, is that you?”

“Andy?” Her sixteen-year-old brother was a quiet, well-mannered kid who was not in the habit of making long-distance calls to chat with his big sister. “Is everything okay?”

“I guess.”

“You don’t sound very sure. What’s happened?”

“Can you come home, Emma? Please.”

If hearing her brother’s voice had been a surprise, hearing him plead for her to come home sent a shudder of alarm through her. “Andy, what is it? Is Mom sick? Dad?”

“No.”

“Then what? You don’t call out of the blue and ask me to fly down to Florida unless there’s a reason. Talk to me.”

He sighed. “I guess it was a mistake to call. I’ll see you.”

“Wait!” Emma shouted, suddenly afraid he was about to hang up on her before she could get to the real explanation for his call. “Andy?”

“I’m here,” he said.

“Come on, talk to me. You obviously didn’t call just to chat. Something’s going on. Spill it. If Mom and Dad are okay, is something up with Jeff?”

Her other brother was in college in a town not far from Winter Cove, but was home for the summer. It was a point of friction with her father that this year Jeff had refused to work at Flamingo Diner, the family business, choosing instead to work at a clothing shop at the mall. He’d had a dozen valid excuses for the decision, but the unspoken reason was his inability to get along with their father. He thought Don Killian was too controlling, the family business too confining. The truth was, Jeff hated Flamingo Diner even more passionately than Emma had.

“Jeff’s okay, I guess. He’s not around much.”

“Are you disappointed about that? I know you like having your big brother around during the summer.”

“He’s not as much fun as he used to be,” Andy
said. “Besides, he and Dad fight all the time, so it’s better when he’s gone.”

Emma was running out of ideas to explain her brother’s unexpected call. “Tell me about you,” she said finally. “Are you having a good summer?”

“I guess,” he said without enthusiasm.

“Got a girlfriend?”

“Not really.”

She searched her memory for the name of the pretty girl Andy had had his eye on. “What about Lauren Patterson? I know you like her. Have you asked her out?”

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