Love in Maine

Praise for
Love in Maine

“Newcomer Connie Falconeri writes with the confidence of a novelist who’s been around
forever, and she brings her charming characters to life with effortless imagination
and breezy good humor.”

—Kate Howard, publisher of
Crimson
magazine


Love in Maine
is a perfect summer read.”

—Diane Miller, author of
The Secret Life of Damian Spinelli

“Falconeri puts so much personality into her writing—it’s almost like she has two
personalities!”

—Ron Carlivati, professor of creative writing, Port Charles University

Dedication

For Molly,

In spite of our differences.

And for Sonny,

In spite of everything.

Epigraph

Asked, “Who is the rich man?”

Epictetus replied, “He who is content.”

—E
PICTETUS

Contents

Signed, from the Author . . .

Title Page

Praise

Dedication

Epigraph

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Acknowledgments

About the Author

Copyright

CHAPTER 1

How hard could it be? It’s just taking orders from hungry people and bringing them
food.

“Yes!” Maddie lied. “I’ve worked at a couple of different restaurants and bistros
here in Maine. I have tons of experience.” (She might have overdone it, she realized,
with the “tons.”)

The middle-aged cook was tired and skeptical. He’d obviously just finished a busy
breakfast shift and he was looking over his shoulder away from Maddie to make sure
his line cook was prepping for the lunch crowd. The small city of Blake, Maine, was
a working-class, riverfront town that had been building boats for the Navy since the
middle of the nineteenth century. A diner like this one tended to survive the ups
and downs in the economy by sticking to the basics.

“Bistros?” the cook scoffed, looking at the young woman more pointedly. One of the
men at the counter laughed behind his newspaper. “I don’t need any fancy-pants college
kid sticking her nose up at the customers around here.” He turned to leave.

“I’ll wash dishes, I’ll chop onions, I’ll marry the ketchups!” she cried after him.
Her friend Kara had told her about how the restaurant manager at the place where she
worked on Nantucket made her take the leftover ketchup from one bottle and marry it
into the other leftover ketchup bottles so they looked full the next day.

The burly cook turned slowly around. “You’ll do
what
to the ketchups?” He looked furious.

“I’ll marry them?” Maddie knew she should have sounded more convincing, but he looked
like she’d just insulted him.

“If you ever try that at this place, I’ll fire you so fast you won’t be able to work
in this town again.”

She looked quickly over his shoulder at the boarded-up storefronts across the street.
It wasn’t Madison Avenue. If someone was going to threaten her with never working
in a town again, crossing Blake, Maine, off the list wasn’t the end of the world.

“Well . . . I didn’t realize—” she tried again.

“This is a clean place. It might be a bit worn around the edges, I know the linoleum
could use an update, but I’ve never mixed old ketchup bottles together, and no one’s
ever gotten sick from eating at Phil’s.”

“I wasn’t suggesting—”

Phil stared down at her. She noticed the tattoos on his forearms, indicating he’d
probably spent some time in the Navy. She had to really concentrate in order not to
stare. It wasn’t the type of thing she saw every day at close range, ancient green
tattoos of mermaids and anchors and crazy sailor stuff.

He sighed and looked back at the kitchen, seemingly resenting the time Maddie was
taking up that could have been better spent prepping for lunch. He curled his lip
as if he might have a bit of fun at her expense. “All right, Miss Ketchup. I’ll let
you show me your stuff during lunch today. I keep the tips.”

“Well . . .” Maddie looked down at her khaki skirt and white-collared shirt. She was
interviewing. She had dressed to be interviewing, not waitressing.

“You can change in the back. That your bag?” His eyes skimmed over to her worn-out
L.L. Bean duffle with the cracked leather handles. It was the closest thing she could
find to casual in a closet full of T. Anthony luggage and Gucci loafers at her parents’
home in Boston.

“Yeah. I’m renting a room from a lady in town, but I haven’t been there yet. I came
into the diner right from the bus station when I saw your Help Wanted sign in the
window.”

“Who?”

“Who what?”

“Who is the lady you’ll be living with?”

“I think her name is Janet Gilbertson. Do you know her?”

Phil smiled for the first time since she’d been there, and it had been a while. When
Maddie first came into the diner, Phil had been swamped and asked her to take a seat
until he was done with the final breakfast orders. Thirty-seven minutes later, he’d
come out from behind the stainless-steel pass-through window and he hadn’t smiled
once that entire time.

“Yeah.” His smile was full now. “I know her.”

“Is she funny?” Maddie tried to get in on the joke. “Why are you smiling like that?”

“Oh. No reason. Just curious, anyone else boarding over there at Janet’s, or just
you?”

“Oh. I hadn’t thought to ask. The ad on Craigslist said, ‘Single room available in
safe respectable home,’ so I figure I’m the only boarder. Why?”

“No reason.” Phil turned back toward the kitchen and then called over his shoulder,
“Follow me.”

Maddie picked up the duffle and followed him to the kitchen.

Four hours later, she was nearly dead. What a ridiculous fool she was to think she
could just traipse into a diner and . . . do anything. Phil had finally relegated
her to the dishwasher after she nearly spilled a cup of coffee on a really nice old
lady. Maddie managed to get most of it on herself instead, so at least she avoided
a $10 million lawsuit from a burn victim, but even the dishwashing had turned out
to be really stressful. It just went on and on, and everyone was in such a rush. She
kept wanting to text her college roommate about how crazy it was to be washing dishes
at a diner in Maine and how funny that was, and then she would remember that her brother
Jimmy had taken her cell phone—along with all of her other electronics—as part of
their little bet.

“E-mail us from the public library,” Jimmy had ordered, “like everyone else in the
world who’s got a hundred bucks to their name, Sis.”

If—no,
when
—she won this wager, she would make sure her pompous older brother Jimmy never,
ever
called her ‘Sis’ again.

Maddie put the last rack of dishes away and looked up to see Phil with his meaty,
tattooed forearms crossed in front of the old white T-shirt covering his barrel chest.
She tried to repress a smile over how much he was like Brutus in those old Popeye
cartoons. All he needed was a pipe and a cockeyed cap on his head.

“What’s so funny, Miss Ketchup?”

He’d started calling her Miss Ketchup and hadn’t stopped. She kind of liked having
a nickname. And a boss. Who would pay her money.

“Oh, nothing,” she said. “Just what a lousy dishwasher I am.”

He liked her honesty. For a few seconds he smiled, then scowled.

“Maybe I’d be a better sous-chef or server?” Maddie offered quickly.

Phil burst out laughing. “This here is a diner,” he said, like the native Mainer he
was (
This hee-yuh is a die-nuh
). “We do not have sous-chefs. We do not have servers. We have cooks and dishwashers
and waitresses.” He took off his filthy white apron, pulling it up over his head,
wadding it into a ball, and tossing it handily into the laundry bin by the back door,
like a basketball shot.

“Nice three-pointer,” Maddie complimented.

“You a basketball fan?”

“I have brothers.” She shrugged.

He turned off the lights where they’d been standing in the kitchen. “I’m not sure
this is going to work.” He kept walking into the main part of the diner. The other
cook had left, and the last waitress had finished wiping down all the tables and the
countertop and had called good-bye as she let herself out the front door a few minutes
before.

“I will try really hard,” Maddie pleaded. “I swear. Please give me a chance. You don’t
have to pay me—”

He swung around fast. “What do you mean, I don’t have to pay you?”

“I mean . . .” Shit. What an idiot. Maddie’s dad had always encouraged her to go for
unpaid internships and that sort of thing, but how the hell was she going to pay her
rent if she didn’t make any money? Idiot!

Phil kept staring at her.

“I meant, you don’t have to pay me for today.”

He nearly choked on his short laugh. “Yeah, that’s pretty much a given.”

“But seriously, I am—not that it’s your problem—but I am really strapped right now
and I will work really hard for you.”

“You’re not pregnant, are you?”

Maddie looked down at her flat stomach. “What? No! Why would you say that?” She felt
like telling him he could get himself thrown in jail for that chauvinist crap, but
she left her politically correct ego at the door.

“Well, you said you were strapped . . . pretty girl like you . . .” He raised his
shoulders and raised his eyebrows in what Maddie supposed was a kind of patronizing
apology. He was probably about her father’s age and thought he was being kindly. “I
mean, you don’t
look
pregnant,” he added.

Oh, great, Maddie thought, now he’s embarrassed. “Look, Phil. I need a job. Plain
and simple. You need someone to fill in for your regular waitress while she’s away
taking care of her sick dad. I’ll work all summer, really hard. Come on. Just give
me a chance.”

He stared at her a few long moments. “All right, Ketchup. You’re hired. But no screwing
around. You need to be here at five o’clock tomorrow morning for an eight-hour shift.
You good with that?”

“Yes! Yes, I am so good with that!” Maddie was bouncing up and down on the balls of
her feet.

Phil kept staring at her. “You are going to be washing dishes and sweeping the floor
and cleaning up after a bunch of slobs. You got that part, right?”

“Yes!” She was so excited she couldn’t help it. She forced her body to still and her
face to fall. “Yes.” She tried to act more subdued.

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