Happily Ever After Collection - Melanie Moreland

Chapter 1


I set down my utensils, pushing away my plate. I patted my mouth with my napkin, laying it on the table.

“Julia, is that all you’re going to eat?” Melinda scolded. “You hardly touched your meal.”

I looked down at my plate and shrugged sheepishly. “It’s not really my kind of food. It’s rather…stuffy.”

I heard a muffled gasp, and turning my head, saw our waiter hovering behind us. “Is the meal not to your satisfaction, Madame?”

I shook my head and forced a smile to my face. “Oh no, it was…um…passable. I mean, tasty. I’m just…ah…full. Yes, that’s it. I’m full.”

His expression told me he knew I was lying through my teeth. “I shall arrange for it to be packaged up for you.”

“Oh no, I don’t want it. I won’t eat it.”

His hand froze, leaving the plate hanging in midair. “Are you sure I can’t offer you something else? I will bring you the menu to peruse.”

“No thank you.”

He turned to Melinda, who informed him the dinner had been spectacular and that, yes, we wanted two of the special amaretto crème brûlées and coffee. His smile was warm, then he left the table—looking happier than he had been dealing with me.

Melinda regarded me with amusement. “I can’t believe Mark got called out of town and I had to bring you here, of all places, on my anniversary.”

I frowned. “I still don’t understand why you just didn’t cancel?”

“Julia, Julia, Julia. Don’t you read the paper? Keep up with the local news?”

I sipped my water. “Rather busy here, Melinda. Between school, midterms, and two jobs, I barely have time to sleep, never mind read the paper. What does that have to do with this place anyway?”

She sighed. “This place, as you so charmingly call it, is booked solid for the next six months. Mark had to call in a personal favor to get us in here tonight. Creations is the hottest restaurant in town and so unique. The head chef and owner is brilliant. Mark went to school with him years ago, and they’re still friends. He arranged this for us.”


I looked around. I had to admit, as far as fancy restaurants went, it was lovely. The rooms were warm and inviting without being pretentious. And the menu had been different. There were only four set items to choose from, and the rest changed daily. Whatever was local and fresh was what was featured that day. Our meals weren’t even listed on the menu—they were created especially for us, Gerard, our waiter, had informed us.

“The entire meal has been prepared only for you.” He poured us some wine. “I assure you, you will enjoy it.”

The food was lost on me. All of it was. Admittedly, this was the kind of place I never went to. My idea of dinner out usually consisted of something that came in a box or a plastic container that I could eat while running from one of my jobs, to school, or the library. It was rare when I actually sat down for a meal.

I took in all the people enjoying their dinners and the warm ambiance. I looked across at Melinda, noticing how comfortable she was in this gracious setting, and once again, I glanced down at my simple yellow dress and sighed. I didn’t belong in a place like this—it was apparent now more than ever.

“Excuse me.”

I started at the sudden appearance of a tall, dark-haired man in an immaculate white chef’s coat standing beside our table. He didn’t look happy.

“Byron!” Melinda smiled and held out her hand. I watched as his long fingers encompassed her tiny ones, and he bent down and brushed a light kiss on her cheek.

“Melinda,” he murmured. “Lovely to see you again. Happy anniversary.” He glanced my way, confused. “Where is Mark?”

“This is my friend, Julia Nichols. Mark was called away this afternoon on an emergency, and she agreed to have dinner with me tonight in his place. I didn’t want to give up the chance to come here after all the trouble you went to for us.”

He held out his hand to me. “Julia.”

Wordlessly, I placed my hand in his, feeling the warmth of his fingers as they squeezed mine. He seemed to freeze for a moment before his grip tightened around my fingers again, and then he withdrew his hand.

He turned to Melinda. “Perhaps it was a good night for him not to dine here. I understand your meal was not satisfactory?”

She shook her head quickly. “No, Byron, it was divine.”