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Heat Exchange
Author: Shannon Stacey


           Chapter One

    LYDIA KINCAID COULD pull a pint of Guinness so perfect her Irish ancestors would weep tears of appreciation, but fine dining? Forget about it.

    “The customer is disappointed in the sear on these scallops,” she told the sous-chef, setting the plate down.

    “In what way?”

    “Hell if I know. They look like all the other scallops.” Lydia had a hairpin sticking into her scalp, and it took every bit of her willpower not to poke at it. Her dark hair was too long, thick and wavy to be confined into a chic little bun, but it was part of the dress code. And going home with a headache every night was just part of the job. “Ten bucks says if I wait three minutes, then pop that same plate in the microwave for fifteen seconds and take it out to her, she’ll gush over how the sear is so perfect now.”

    “If I see you microwaving scallops, I’ll make sure the only food you ever get to touch in this city again is fast food.”

    Lydia rolled her eyes, having heard that threat many times before, and accepted a fresh plate of scallops from the line cook. The sous-chef just sniffed loudly and dumped the unacceptable batch in the garbage, plate and all. She was pretty sure the guy spent all his off time watching reality television chefs throw tantrums.

    Three hours later, Lydia was in her car and letting her hair down. She dropped the bobby pins and elastic bands into her cup holder to fish out before her next shift and then used both hands to shake her hair out and massage her scalp.

    She hated her job. Maybe some of it stemmed from the disparity between the cold formality of this restaurant and the warm and loud world she’d come from, but she also flat-out wasn’t very good at it. The foods perplexed her and, according to the kitchen manager, her tableside manner lacked polish. Two years hadn’t yet managed to put a shine on her. The tips were usually good, though, and living in Concord, New Hampshire, cost less than living in Boston, but it still wasn’t cheap.

    She’d just put her car in gear when she heard the siren in the distance. With her foot still on the brake, she watched as the fire engine came into view—red lights flashing through the dark night—and sped past.

    With a sigh, she shifted her foot to the gas pedal. She didn’t need to hold her breath anymore. Didn’t need to find the closest scanner. Nobody she loved was on that truck so, while she said a quick prayer for their safety, they were faceless strangers and life wasn’t temporarily suspended.

    And that was why she’d keep trying to please people who wouldn’t know a good scallop sear if it bit them on the ass and taking shit from the sous-chef. That job financed her new life here in New Hampshire, including a decent apartment she shared with a roommate, and it was a nice enough life that she wasn’t tempted to go home.

    Her life wasn’t perfect. It had certainly been lacking in sex and friendship lately, but she wasn’t going backward just because the road was longer or harder than she’d thought. She wanted something different and she was going to keep working toward it.

    Thanks to the miracle of an apartment building with an off-street parking lot, Lydia had a dedicated parking spot waiting for her. It was another reason she put up with customers who nitpicked their entrées just because they were paying so much for them.

    Her roommate worked at a sports bar and wouldn’t be home for another couple of hours, so Lydia took a quick shower and put on her sweats. She’d just curled up on the sofa with the remote and a couple of the cookies her blessed-with-a-great-metabolism roommate had freshly baked when her cell phone rang.

    She knew before looking at the caller ID it would be her sister. Not many people called her, and none late at night. “Hey, Ashley. What’s up?”

    “My marriage is over.”

    Lydia couldn’t wrap her mind around the words at first. Had something happened to Danny? But she hadn’t said that. She said it was over. “What do you mean it’s over?”

    “I told him I wasn’t sure I wanted to be married to him anymore and that I needed some space. He didn’t even say anything. He just packed up a couple of bags and left.”

    “Oh my God, Ashley.” Lydia sank onto the edge of her bed, stunned. “Where did this even come from?”

    “I’ve been unhappy for a while. I just didn’t tell anybody.” Her sister sighed, the sound hollow and discouraged over the phone. “Like a moron, I thought I could talk to him about it. Instead, he left.”

    “Why have you been unhappy? Dammit, Ashley, what is going on? Did he cheat? I swear to God if he stepped out—”

    “No. He didn’t cheat. And it’s too much for me talk about now.”

    “If you had been talking to me all along, it wouldn’t be too much now. You can’t call me and tell me your marriage is over and then tell me you don’t want to talk about it.”

    “I know, but it’s...it’s too much. I called to talk to you about the bar.”

    Uh-oh. Alarm bells went off in Lydia’s mind, but there was no way she could extricate herself from the conversation without being a shitty sister.

    “I need you to come back and help Dad,” Ashley said, and Lydia dropped her head back against the sofa cushion, stifling a groan. “I need some time off.”

    “I have a job, Ashley. And an apartment.”

    “You’ve told me a bunch of times that you hate your job.”

    She couldn’t deny that since a conversation rarely passed between them without mention of that fact.

    “And it’s waiting tables,” Ashley continued. “It’s not like I’m asking you to take a hiatus from some fancy career path.”

    That was bitchy, even for Ashley, but Lydia decided to give her a pass. She didn’t know what had gone wrong in their marriage, but she did know Ashley loved Danny Walsh with every fiber of her being, so she had to be a wreck.

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