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CHAPTER 1

 

Anna Lisa Gibson swore at the never-ending Los Angeles traffic on a gloomy January afternoon as she drove toward her favorite British market in Santa Monica. She needed a jar of lemon curd, an English delicacy, which she ate every morning with wheat toast and a mocha. Surprises didn’t sit well with Anna Lisa. She had to have a plan. She was sure that if her plan didn’t go her way, especially her morning, the rest of her day was doomed.

    When she finally reached her destination, she parked her convertible Saab in a two-hour parking zone. As she walked into the store, bells above the door chimed as they always did when a customer entered. Little Brit, a small market with a dusty cement floor, was patronized by Brits and Americans who enjoyed British products. The cash register sat on a table at the front of the store. Next to the register was a small shelf filled with various hard candies, chocolates, biscuits, and a stand holding imported magazines, newspapers, and tabloids. The store, divided into four narrow aisles, was packed with teas, jams, unusual spreads, scones, beer, and specialty sauces. Unlike a supermarket, it had a homey and warm feeling to it—a charming hole in the wall. Walking down the second aisle, Anna Lisa noticed only one lemon curd left on the top shelf. She tried to grab it, but it was out of her reach. She asked a tall, young clerk with pale yellow lashes for help. He was helping another customer and politely told her with his English accent that he would help her in a minute. Anna Lisa waited impatiently as she kept her eyes on that last jar. She watched a male customer walk in, pick up a few items, and head toward the desired curd. As he reached up, he heard a woman’s voice—hers—addressing him.

   “Excuse me, but that’s my lemon curd.”

   Neil Scott Whittaker turned around and assessed the lady who had interrupted him. She was around his age—he was 35. From the serious expression on her face, her conservative gray skirt suit, soft pink blouse, and a black, thin leather briefcase, he assumed that she was an ambitious uptight career woman. Her hair, which was pulled back in a ponytail, reached the nape of her neck and complimented her oval face and big almond eyes. She was 5’ 5”, not skinny but rather curvy. He glanced at her full lips and then at her voluptuous, firm breasts. She looks real and amazingly beautiful without fake body parts, he thought as he admired her for some time before replying with a British accent, “Sorry but I must have heard you wrong. I thought you said this lemon curd was yours.”

   She looked at him more carefully now that he was closer. He was meticulously dressed in a double-breasted, black Armani suit, a white cotton shirt, and a burgundy silk tie. His wavy dark brown hair was short, and his height towered hers by at least six inches, but she didn’t find him extraordinary. She preferred Mediterranean-looking men with football-player physiques as opposed to this lean man whose skin was white with a few fine lines around his round eyes and whose nose was long and narrow. His expressive, midnight-blue eyes do make him appear handsome, she thought, but then, she preferred black eyes like her boyfriend’s. “No, you heard right,” she responded. “That’s my lemon curd.”

   He glanced at the label on the jar as though reading it for the first time. “I’m sorry, I don’t see your name on it unless your name is Samuel as in Samuel’s Old Fashioned Lemon Curd.”

   His sarcastic remark did not escape her. “I had my eye on that jar before you came in,” she said. “But I couldn’t reach it. I’ve been waiting for the cashier to get it, and if you were a gentleman, you would let me have my lemon curd.”

   “I am a gentleman, but I am not giving you this jar. Don’t you have a saying in America—first-come-first-served?”

   “You are the rudest Englishman I’ve ever met. That lemon curd is mine and you know it.”

   He didn’t answer. After all, he was English, and she was American, and if anyone were entitled to this lemon curd, it would be him. What did an American know about lemon curd anyway? He ignored her, walked toward the cashier, who had been listening to their ridiculous conversation for some time, paid him, and left.

   Anna Lisa stood there in disbelief.

   The kind cashier shrugged, looked at Anna Lisa, and said, “No worries, we will have more in the day after tomorrow.”

   “But I don’t want it for the day after tomorrow. I need it today,” she vented.

   “Sorry, Miss.”

   She wanted to complain more but realized it was useless. Her favorite lemon curd was gone, and that Englishman had it.

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