Marni called Bella back right after Sam left, but she had very little enthusiasm for meeting the man Bella found to be so nice, polite, not bad looking and very mannerly. “You do understand that I will never get married again unless I’m drugged,” Marni said.
“I get that, but I think it would be nice if you had someone, you know?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “Why don’t you explain why you think it’s so important for me to meet someone new?”
“I just think it would be nice for you to have someone to talk to, someone to hang out with sometimes, so it’s not always you alone or you and a couple of women. I know you get lonely sometimes even though you try to hide it. So I’m not trying to marry you off; I’d love to hear you say you’re taking a man with you to this or that party you have to attend. Or that you’re going overnight to the Bay area to see a show. Or that you’re cooking for someone who might just stay over. You know, someone who fits into your life and you look forward to seeing. I understand why you don’t want a full-time live-in partner. I do. Tom is a nice man, right about your age and he’s very successful, but I can’t remember at what.”
“Has pregnancy damaged your memory?” Marni asked with a laugh.
“Absolutely! But the reason is I only met him briefly. His son is one of the lawyers in the prosecutor’s office and Tom was just stopping by. We didn’t talk long.”
“Then what makes you so sure I should date him?”
“I liked him, that’s all. So I asked Richard, his son, if he was single and dating. Then Richard thought it was a good idea and there you go. Two people set up by their kids.”
Marni just sighed; this sounded more troublesome than being a room mother to six-year-olds or chaperone on a junior high field trip. “Why don’t you get me a cat? The animal shelter is running a special.”
“You can’t talk to a cat,” Bella said.
“But you can,” she said. “I used to talk to Mr. Chips all the time, may he rest in peace.”
“I’ll just set up a coffee date for you. If you don’t like him, fine.”
But that made her feel that if she didn’t like him, she’d be letting Bella down. Bella and some lawyer named Richard.
Marni said nothing more about it. In just a few months the baby would arrive and most of this dating insanity would die a natural death. Bella planned three months of maternity leave, then would go back to work. Between work and a new baby, she’d be too busy to worry about her mother’s love life.
Marni didn’t mention that she already had something to look forward to. She was very excited about her white asparagus bed and curious about the man who was installing it. Sunday morning couldn’t come fast enough. She’d met Sam three or four times over the past several months that Sophia had been working with her but it was the first time they’d been alone and had a lengthy conversation.
Although Sam promised he wouldn’t be early, Marni got up at the crack of dawn, showered, primped, even put on makeup.
Then she puttered around, tidying up her bedroom, watched a little cable news, paged through some favorite cookbooks and looked outside at least twenty times. She took some time to look over her calendar; it was packed. There were things related to being a public face that kept her busy—she had to keep up her nails and hair to be sure she was at her best on and off camera. She had a shopper who monitored her wardrobe and visited her with new items of clothing every month. And her cleaning and landscape crews came regularly. The housekeepers led by Julia came every week, every Monday very early, making everything shine and doing all the laundry, including the sheets and towels. The gardeners came every Friday, also early.
There were regular meetings with the cable network and production staff. The network offices were in Sacramento, a two-hour drive for her and she could see from the schedule she had a meeting on Thursday. Her job involved a lot more than just cooking. Hers was a complicated and competitive business.
It wasn’t until eleven in the morning that she heard noise coming from the backyard. When she stepped onto the patio, Sam was there with a big bag of potting soil and several boards that looked as though they were made to match those of her herb planters. There was also a shovel, spade, rake and gloves.
“How did you get all that stuff out here without making a sound?”
“Maybe I didn’t make any noise,” he said cheerfully. “But I’m about to. You look very nice today, though the sailboat pajamas were a nice touch.”
“It’s going to be warm today but before it gets hot, how about a fresh cup of coffee?”
“If you’ll join me,” he said.
“Absolutely. Cream? Sugar?”
“A little milk.”
She gave a nod and headed to the kitchen to fetch two mugs. When she returned, he was using his spade to make a square in the dirt, the same size as the herb boxes. She put their coffee mugs on the patio table, luring him away from the garden.
“Where is your farm?”
“My garden is behind my house. It started out as some lettuce and tomatoes and it grew from there. Now it’s much too big. It’s my guilty pleasure. I work another farm, not on my land. It’s not the way I grew up; I remember rolling out of bed before dawn to start chores. My family grew corn and soy beans.”
“But you met your wife in Argentina,” she said. “Sophia said you were the clever American who fell in love with her mother. But why were you in Argentina?”
“Have you ever been to Argentina?”
“Briefly. I admit I haven’t seen a lot of the country. It’s a beautiful place. Was that what drove you there?”
“No, but it was one of the reasons I was happy to be there. It’s a long story.”
“I have lots of time. And Sophia is special to me.”
“Well, let’s see. A long time before I knew Sophia and her mother, when I was very young, I wanted to travel, but a farmer’s son doesn’t have those kinds of opportunities. So at my father’s insistence, I went to college. It wasn’t my idea. I majored in agriculture because I thought it would be easy. I thought I already knew everything about growing. When I got my degree, I looked for postgraduate programs that would include traveling to other countries to study agriculture. I visited farms and farming villages in Europe, Canada, South America and Central America. When I ended up in Buenos Aires, a city dependent on the crops they shipped to other countries, years had passed and I had switched my course of study to biotechnology and I fell in love with the mother of an adorable little girl.” When he laughed, his face became bright and handsome. He had exceptionally good teeth. “I married Selena and adopted Sophia. I did a lot of traveling and studying in South and Central America, large commercial farms and small family farms from Guatemala to Costa Rica. We eventually moved to California and that’s where we were living when Selena became ill. We lost her when Sophia was only fifteen. I took a job here five years ago. Now I mostly travel for pleasure and curiosity. Very seldom do I have to travel for business.”
“Excuse me, what job brought you here?”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said. “I never have been good at telling a story. I work for the university in the experimental research lab, agriculture. I wrote about my research and it got me a good job.”
“How did you research?” she asked. “Pictures? Notes? Interviews? How?”
“All of that but most importantly, I worked alongside farmers.”
He began to describe some of the many farms he observed. The big commercial farms were the most accessible; a foreman would take him in tow, give him an in-depth tour and make sure he saw everything. But what he enjoyed the most were the smaller family farms. He described them to her by name. The Aguirre farm; the Sepulveda farm, the Soto farm. He talked about the family members; in one family there were seven sons. Though their farm was considered average to small, they were esteemed in the community because of the many sons. The Soto farm had daughters and while they worked just as hard, it wasn’t until they married that the value of the family property went up. It was very old-world, very traditional.
These family plots were incredibly well tended. They rotated their crops so diligently, cared for their plants with a mother’s love, used old and organic methods to combat pests. He named the children of each family and talked about their special talents and, importantly, who would take the farm to the next generation.
He told her about the houses, very small by comparison to those in the United States. She wanted to know about the kitchens. Much of their cooking was for a large number of people and done mostly outside in large kettles and pans with long-handled spoons and spatulas. He described the herbs and peppers that hung from the ceiling in the pantry and kitchen. The cooks, usually the women, would pluck off some leaves or seeds to add flavor or spice. They were wonderful hosts and spoiled him with pepián, tamales, mole, all with piles of rice and beans and tortillas. They all raised their own chickens and the potatoes, tomatoes, carrots and corn came from their own farms.
“I will have to learn some of those recipes,” she said.
Then he described the beauty of the land surrounding each farm from the magnificent mountains to the plentiful rivers and the rich soil. After a bit he moved from the patio table to the place he would build the asparagus box; Marni moved, too, urging him to keep describing. Soon he was talking about skiing and how much he loved it and how much Sophia loved to ski, one of many reasons he chose to settle near Reno. The university, skiing and farming.
“Experimental farming,” she clarified for him.
“But tell me about you,” he said. “You and cooking.”
“Ah, it’s not nearly so interesting.”
“Try me. I’d love to know.”
“It was a complete accident. In fact, I was also widowed. I was very young, my baby Bella only nine months when my husband was killed in a car accident. I always meant to go to college but I never got around to it. I started out as a server who handed out free samples in grocery stores. Bella was always with me, flirting with the customers. I give her most of the credit for my success. I went from samples to product demos to food preps. Bella went from the backpack to nursery school, but sometimes she went with me even when she was older. And I moved up the local ladder slowly but steadily. I filled in on a couple of morning shows until, like a miracle, I landed a spot three mornings a week. Live! It was terrifying! But it worked and it was over twenty-five years ago now that I was syndicated. Marni in the Kitchen or Marni Cooks. Through some stroke of luck, it caught on.”
“It’s a good show,” he said.
“You’ve seen it?” she asked.
“Of course! Sophia works for your show! She loves the show! I think you might be the reason she’s majored in communication. She’d like a career in television.”
“I don’t think she’ll have much trouble making that happen,” Marni said.
He finished his garden box, planted the asparagus, covered it with cheesecloth and loaded up the tools into his truck. She wouldn’t let him go without first joining her for a sandwich.
“The best sandwich I’ve ever eaten, of course,” he said with an appreciative smile. “You certainly have a gift.”
They talked through a light lunch and finally it had to end. His tools already in the truck bed, they said goodbye.
He had been at her house for a total of three hours and all of that time they were talking. They fed each other questions while he built the garden and after he left she continued to hear his voice. She sat on the chaise on her patio, enjoying the sun and listening to his voice in her head. She could almost see him with her mind’s eye, working alongside the families who tended their farms, eating at their tables, loading up their vegetables in trucks to take them to market. He had said, “Sustainable food is what binds families and communities and countries.”
How had Sophia worked for her for six months and yet today was the first time she’d enjoyed an extended conversation with Sam? She kept silently repeating his words. He had such a kind spirit; such a strong heart.
He was inspirational.
She took his stories and his alluring voice to bed that night and wondered what he would think if
he knew she was lulled to sleep by the sound of his voice.
Excerpted from The Friendship Club by Robyn Carr. Copyright © 2024 by Robyn Carr. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
The highly-anticipated new novel from the #1 bestselling author of Virgin River. Four women come together at a tumultuous time in their lives, forging an unbreakable bond that will leave them all forever changed.
Celebrity cooking show host Marni McGuire has seen it all. She’s been married—twice—and widowed and divorced. Now in her midfifties, she’s single. Happily so. She just needs to convince her pregnant daughter, Bella, of this fact. And maybe convince herself, too. Especially after Marni’s efforts to humor her determined daughter result in a series of disastrous dates that somehow prompt Marni to wonder if maybe the right man for her is still out there after all.
Similarly single, Marni’s best friend and colleague is confident she’s content without a man, but both older women soon find themselves leading by example as the young intern on their show appears caught in a toxic relationship—and Bella reveals her own marriage maybe isn’t built to withstand the stresses of the baby on the way.
Suddenly, all four women find themselves at a crossroads, each navigating the challenges of dating, marriage, loneliness and love. Thankfully, they have each other to lean on. The realities of modern love are far from easy, but there’s no better group to have in your corner than friends who will lift you up, no matter what, and hold fast in the face of any storm.
Romance | Women's Fiction Contemporary [MIRA, On Sale: January 23, 2024, Hardcover / e-Book, ISBN: 9780778311881 / eISBN: 9780778311881]
#1 New York Times Bestseller
Robyn Carr is a RITA Award-winning, #1 New York Times bestselling author of almost fifty novels, including the critically acclaimed Virgin River series. Robyn and her husband live in Las Vegas, Nevada.
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