Are you jumping up and down for the release of The Decadent Date, the final installment in the Do-Over Date series? It’s available right now for pre-order on Amazon US, UK, AU, CA, Apple Books and Nook.
I hope you’re super excited because these ten books are all about second chances and sometimes true love needs a do-over. Don’t you agree? If not, you will agree and swoon after reading all ten of these sweet romance books.
Since you’ve waited so patiently for Tabitha’s story and The Decadent Date still a few weeks away from releasing, here’s a sneak peek just for you!
The Decadent Date
Copyright © 2023 by Susan Hatler
Some people know at a young age what they want to do for a living when they grow up, but at twenty-seven years old I still didn’t have a clue. The thing about finding your thing is that you don’t know if the thing is your thing until you try the thing out, right?
This logic was the reason I’d once given scuba instructing a go. And, okay, it was true that swimming (and being underwater in general) had never overly appealed to me. But people talked about scuba diving with such enthusiasm that it had made me excited that I might be missing out on something great. I mean, why wouldn’t I want to feel like I’m on vacation all the time by teaching scuba diving in tropical waters?
The underwater creatures.
And the crick in my neck from gaping around to make sure stealthy sea creatures weren’t about to attack me from behind.
Yeah, scuba diving had not been my thing.
Nobody could accuse me of not putting enough effort into trying to find my thing, but I was starting to feel more than a little skeptical that I’d ever find the right career. I’d already spent an entire year as a directionally-challenged tour guide in the Rockies, a summer abroad bumbling the French language in a way that would’ve made my high school French teacher cringe, and several weeks last Christmas as a personal shopper who seemed to have a knack for picking out items people ended up returning.
Although, why someone wouldn’t want to keep nine reindeer who danced to “La Bamba” was beyond me. But, whatever.
My big sister, Kari, told me I should just pick something, anything—those were her exact words—and stick with it longer without giving up so quickly. But it never took me much time to know when I didn’t like something and shouldn’t expediency be a good thing? I thought so, but my sister seemed to think it was a crime to be fast at sizing things up.
Of course, she had known at a young age that she wanted to be an artist, and had opened her own shop in our hometown of Blue Moon Bay in her early twenties, filling that store with her quirky and popular handmade trinkets. She’d recently opened a second shop here in Sacramento where she had met the love of her life. Now, Kari and Adrian were engaged. And I was happy for my sister, but at the same time her joy reminded me that I had fallen short, yet again. In fact, the last guy I went out with spent the entire date complaining about each and every person at his work—a large company, unfortunately—while I pondered my unfortunate dating choices.
The sad fact was that I hadn’t had a real connection with a guy since Spencer Black, my high school boyfriend, and my one and only love. He’d broken my heart and then left town before I could get any real closure. I wanted to blame trust issues for never getting as close to anyone since, but the truth was I’d tried. Some of my boyfriends had been better than others, but I’d never felt that same spark again. Better to focus on work.
I was now diligently and relentlessly searching for that elusive thing I would love to do for a living that could very well be interpretive dance instructor, which was the reason I’d dragged Kari and our friend Courtney Carmichael to an interpretive dance class this afternoon. Please, oh, please, let this be my answer to a fulfilling career. How many different jobs should one woman have to try out before she found one that fits? Sigh.
Maybe I’d love this class and then train to be an instructor. Sure, I’d never danced much except once at my prom (alone) and, well, more times than I wished to admit in my shower (also alone). But I’d recently read an article raging about how popular interpretive dance was becoming, so maybe this career possibility would finally, at long last, be my thing.
I was probably obsessing over my life’s choices right now because the instructor of the class, a tall, lithe woman with dreadlocks wrapped atop her head in a colorful bandana, had told us to start thinking about our “path in life” and my path felt more like a maze with dead-ends.
“Think about your path in life and how it has brought you here to this moment. Just move the way your body wants to move,” she’d said, in a soothing and serene tone that made me want to curl into a ball and take a nap. “Your body is a vessel for this journey we call life. Your movements will help you become in sync with the universe, even if your conscious mind does not know how. Feel the flow. Feel the path. And just move.”
“Feeling and moving,” I said, ready to stop thinking about my past. Determined to give this dance class my very best effort, I fought to really let go, shaking my hips, and . . . accidentally knocking into Courtney, who staggered sideways and plowed into Kari.
I cringed, giving a wide toothed smile. “Oops.”
Courtney recovered her stance, and gave me a look. “If I need physical therapy after this class, Tabitha, that’s on you.”
“Sorry,” I said, glad to see that Kari had righted herself quickly. “You okay?”
Kari tilted her head to the side. “Did I forget to turn off my flat iron?”
I shook my head. “You always think that and not once have you left it on.”
“I’m just not sure . . .” She threw her gaze to the ceiling while dancing a figure-eight move with her hips and holding her arms above her head, making her look relaxed and flowy.
Of course, she’d picked up interpretive dance quickly. I, on the other hand, probably looked like a drowning frog.
Maybe bringing Kari and Courtney to this dance class had been a mistake. I was, after all, supposed to be the free spirited one in our trio, with a hint of hippie, and a pinch of adventurer thrown in for good measure. How did Courtney look more relaxed than me right now? She was an attorney for goodness’ sake. Although, she’d given up her thriving career when her husband had left her saying she hadn’t paid enough attention to him. Ouch.
Now, Courtney was single and owned a coffee cart that was decked out in enough Hawaiian-themed trinkets to make you almost hear ocean waves crashing against the brick buildings in mid-town Sacramento. She’d been stressed out and working long hours as a lawyer, and now had a career that made her happy, which inspired me to believe that I’d find my perfect job, too. In fact, maybe this was it.
Thinking positively, I swung my arms, bounced from foot to foot, and twirled my skirt, hoping with every cell in my body that something would click.
“This is so freeing,” I lied, in a “fake it until you make it” effort not to give up or I’d get another lecture from my darling sis. “I love this type of dancing and how I can just let go.”
I scooped my hands toward the floor and then threw my fingers upward at the sky, as if I were showering the dance studio with rose petals or autumn leaves. Kari and Courtney turned to one another, raising their eyebrows.
“What?” I asked, feeling breathless, and trying to ignore the growing cramp in my side. This “feeling the flow” stuff was hard work. With a burst of energy, I skipped past some other dancers before returning, my movements wild and unpredictable. I saw Kari and Courtney exchange another look, and I lifted my eyebrows hopefully. “Do I look like I know what I’m doing?”
“Hey, whatever you’re feeling is fine.” Courtney shuffled a little to the left and then to the right—which seemed to be a half-hearted attempt if you asked me—before coming back to a still position. Kari marched forward with a few, sturdy, confident steps, and then back to her spot, but she looked like her mind was elsewhere—probably on her flat iron.
“I could be good at dance, right?” I asked, with a forced smile.
“Your call,” Courtney said, with a shrug. “I feel pretty steady on my path in life right now, so I’m thinking a treadmill might be more my style.”
“You prefer a treadmill to dance?” I asked.
She laughed. “We all have our own path.”
I turned to Kari, “Are you steady in your path?”
“This isn’t a competition, Tabitha,” she said, avoiding my gaze as she ducked her head.
Of course she felt steady in her path right now, since like two seconds after she’d opened the Kari’s Kaleidoscope shop here in Sacramento it started booming, not to mention her relationship with Adrian was a perfect love story come true.
How had my sister and Courtney found their paths and I hadn’t?
Was I doing something wrong?
The instructor danced to the front of the room. “All right, everyone, let’s imagine what it would feel like to be a sunflower right now.”
Closing my eyes, I thrust my chest upward, imagining I was a sunflower. I pretended to be waking up and turning toward the sun and that the ceiling was the sky. Staring at the wooden shiplap ceiling, I had to face reality. I was Tabitha Smith, not a sunflower. Why, oh, why couldn’t I be a sunflower like Kari and Courtney and the rest of the class?
There was no denying it: an interpretive dancer was not my thing.
Maybe the disappointment of this realization made me a little distracted or maybe my sunflower self just withered and died, because somehow I tripped over my own feet and ended up falling sideways toward the floor. Maybe Kari had finally forgotten about her flat iron and had gotten a little more aggressive in her dance moves and that was the reason she tripped over me and fell. And maybe Courtney really did need a treadmill, because she tripped over my ankle, and the three of us ended up on the floor together in a pile of tangled limbs.
And like a slow-motion movie, I watched my cell phone bounce across the floor and hit the wall, landing on the wooden floor with a smack. Probably hadn’t been the best idea to put that in my skirt pocket.
A second later, I pushed myself up on my elbow and winced, holding my surely-bruised elbow as I sat upright. The class gave us sympathetic looks as the instructor walked toward us and Kari hauled me to my feet.
I turned and found myself facing the instructor.
“Finding the right path can be painful, but you’ll get there,” she said, her tone calm and knowing as she looked me in the eye. “Good work, everyone. See you next time.”
Finding the right path can be painful? Apparently she meant physically because my arm was throbbing. I shook my head. Any lingering ideas about dancing my way to my thing were long gone at this point and even Kari’s look seemed to agree.
“Sorry, little sis, but you gave it a good try,” she said, before she and Courtney headed to get our gym bags on the other side of the room.
With a sigh, I crawled across the floor on all fours toward the wall and picked up my phone. As I turned my cell over, it beeped with a voicemail. I glanced at the number as I stood, thinking it looked familiar but I couldn’t quite place it. Something tingled on the back of my brain. A local and familiar area code. Huh.
As I checked my cell phone, we walked outside and Kari examined my elbow as Courtney came over with a bag of shaved ice from her coffee stand just outside.
“You okay, Tabitha?” she asked.
“I . . .” My voice trailed off as the voicemail transcription came across the cell screen. I read the message once, twice, and then I sank to the sidewalk. “No, I’m not all right. Not at all.”
When I arrived at the Law Offices of Frank Fields and the receptionist escorted me into the conference room, I was surprised to find an older gentleman wearing a suit leaning back in a chair reading a romance novel.
The receptionist cleared her throat. “Mr. Fields?”
“Huh? What?” the man said, seeming to have been lost in the novel.
“Tabitha Smith is here for the ten o’clock meeting,” she said, backing away.
“Oh, hi there,” he said, standing up to shake my hand as the receptionist left the room. “I’m Frank Fields.”
“Nice to meet you,” I said, even though it wasn’t a nice circumstance to be meeting him. Not at all.
“A pleasure to meet you as well,” he said, giving me a nod before pulling his hand away. “Like we talked about on the phone, Mr. and Mrs. Black named you in their will. But we’ll need to wait for their grandson, Spencer Black, to arrive before we begin.”
He’d told me this on the phone, but hearing Spencer’s name again sent all sorts of mixed feelings coursing through me: curiosity, excitement, bitterness. . .
“Should I take a seat?” I asked.
“Please . . .” He held his arm wide, gesturing to a leather chair. “Make yourself comfortable.”
“Thank you,” I said, surprised to see him return to his seat, lean back in his chair and put his feet up on the edge of the table.
He wore white sneakers with his trim, tidy black suit. That seemed kind of interesting. It was also interesting that his coffee cup was Twilight themed, stating “Team Jacob.”
But it was not interesting or surprising that Spencer Black had not arrived on time. Nor was it surprising that forty-five minutes later he was still MIA.
“Would you mind calling him again?” I asked, glancing at the clock as I paced back and forth across the rug, knowing it was no use. It didn’t matter if it was forty-five minutes, four hours, or a whole day, I doubted Spencer would show up.
“Let’s give him a few more minutes,” Mr. Fields said, keeping his eyes glued to the page of his book as he turned the page and continued reading as if enthralled.
I rolled my eyes. Waiting even one more minute for Spencer Black would be a waste of time. Spencer hadn’t been at his grandparents’ funeral either. I had been surprised by that, though. When he decided to leave town at seventeen, I figured I’d never see him again. But it hadn’t occurred to me that his grandparents, who I’d come to adore after spending long, wonderful summers at my own grandparents’ house across the street, might pass away.
Never once had I imagined having to lay flowers on their side-by-side graves. And I certainly had never considered that I would be standing in their attorney’s office, awaiting the reading of their will, while their attorney read Falling for my French Instructor.
I shook my head, thinking that Spencer should have been at his grandparents’ funeral. And he wasn’t. Just like he wasn’t here in this office. Just like he hadn’t given me a real explanation ten years ago as to why our love hadn’t been enough to keep him from leaving.
“Perhaps you haven’t noticed, Ms. Smith,” Mr. Fields said, without glancing up from the pages of his book, “but there are two perfectly nice chairs in front of you in which you are more than welcome to sit.”
Mid-pacing, I glanced at the two “perfectly nice chairs” and quickly dismissed them. I had too much energy running through my veins to sit, so I resumed my back-and-forth movement without comment.
Frank Fields raised an eyebrow over the rim of his reading glasses as he stared at me.
I gestured to an overflowing file on the edge of the table. “What are those?” I asked.
He opened the folder and scanned the first of many, crinkled pieces of torn notebook paper that I recognized immediately. My heart skipped a beat.
“Let me see those,” I said, my stomach tightening.
“I’m sorry,” he said, closing the file and returning to his book. “But you’ll have to wait for the reading of the will.”
“And we have to wait for Spencer Black for the reading?” I asked.
I got only a curt nod in response. And just like that I knew I was doomed to seemingly endless inner turmoil. See, it wasn’t like I was eager to read all of those letters. No, I knew each and every one of them by heart. No, I was eager to get my hands on them so I could burn them.
And that’s why I couldn’t sit in those “perfectly nice chairs” and that was why I had to bother Mr. Fields with my loud steps and why I kept glancing at the clock even though time didn’t seem to be moving. Not since I learned that the file contained Spencer’s old love letters to me. Love letters I had left on his grandparents’ front steps should he ever return (which he didn’t). Love letters that were, each and every one of them, stained with my tears.
“Alrighty then,” Mr. Fields said, closing the book and setting it on the table. “I think it’s best we get started.”
I crossed my arms. “Why now?”
Mr. Fields gave me a patient smile. “Finished the chapter. Please, take a seat.”
“I’ll stand,” I said, thinking Falling for my French Instructor must be a particularly engrossing book and I might have to check it out from the local library. “But thanks for the offer.”
He gave me a look as if he were slightly annoyed—yeah, join the club, dude—but he raised his shoulders in a gesture of ‘whatever you want’ before tidying some papers in front of him and clearing his throat.
“You’re going to read the will without Spencer Black present?” I asked, wishing I didn’t feel guilty about that fact. After all, he was the one who had chosen not to show up. But, still. These were his grandparents, the lovely people who had raised him. He must be hurting so much. . .
Not my problem, I reminded myself.
Unfortunately, the guilt did not abate.
“I’ll contact Mr. Black with an update when we are finished,” he said.
“You know where he is?” I asked, a little too quickly.
Mr. Fields assessed me studiously from over the top of his glasses. “Your relationship with Mr. Black is . . .?”
“Platonic,” I said, though that wasn’t really true. We weren’t close anymore, and the feelings I had for him were bordering on hostile.
“Complicated,” I amended, my cheeks heating under Mr. Fields’ steady gaze.
“Estranged,” I said, thinking that word felt too generous. I hadn’t spoken to him since that night and I didn’t want to speak with him ever again.
“I knew him, okay?” I said, lamely. “A long time ago. But that’s over now. Long over,” I said, wondering how much my babbling was revealing about my previously broken heart. Nice, Tabitha. Why didn’t I just give him my shrink’s number? “Look, can we just get on with it?”
Mr. Fields nodded like this was satisfactory. A part of me wished I could have been able to describe what Spencer and I’d had better. It hadn’t always been like this. But how was I to convey the enormity of those summers to him? How was I supposed to explain that I had thought Spencer was my forever love until he was forever gone? How could I express the thrill of riding on Spencer’s motorcycle? Or the excitement of hearing the pebbles he’d toss against my window? Or the certainty I’d felt, knowing he ran away from most people, but he would never run away from me? And how I’d been so terribly wrong?
Maybe Spencer’s love letters might have a suitable line or two that would explain the intensity and closeness of our past relationship. But that was why they had to burn. Not that Spencer and my former relationship was any of this man’s business. Shoot, he was probably getting paid by the hour from the estate for reading Falling for my French Instructor.
“All right, Ms. Smith,” Mr. Fields said, reaching into the file and pulling out an envelope. “This will be quite simple. I’ve been instructed to give you this note, which is from Mr. and Mrs. Black.”
“A note?” I asked, my eyes watering as I held out my hand and accepted the little cream-colored envelope with my name typed on the front.
“And . . .” Mr. Fields shuffled through his papers and procured one. “Ah, yes. And this.”
Biting my lip, I accepted this paper, too.
I looked down at the document, my eyes scanning every word. What the . . .?
“And the only stipulation is that you can’t sell the restaurant for at least three months,” he said, clicking open a pen and setting it in front of me. “Now, I need you to sign here and—”
“I’m sorry,” I said, tucking my chin to my chest. “Did I read this correctly? Did the Blacks leave me a restaurant in their will?”
“Yes, indeed.” Mr. Fields placed a finger to a line on the document and then lowered his glasses to read, “The Decadent Diner.”
“Can’t sell for three months, that’s correct. A slight inconvenience to receiving your inheritance, I’m sure. But the will was quite clear on that matter.”
A restaurant, I thought. A restaurant given to me. I’d been running to the ends of the earth and back trying to hunt down my ‘thing.’ Could it really be that after all this time it might have just fallen into my lap?
I saw a million opportunities flash before my eyes. I could cook. I could bake. I could serve. I could manage. I could stock the old timey sodas. I could write invoices. I could decorate. One of those just had to be my ‘thing.’
The Blacks knew me better than anyone besides my own family and in many ways they were family. Scrabble nights. Drive-in movies until Spencer got caught stealing me a box of Whoppers. Sunday roasts together where Spencer, with a black eye and a pack of frozen peas to his elbow, always managed to snap the wishbone in my favor.
Spencer had a way of invading my memories, but the point was that the Blacks wouldn’t have left me The Decadent Diner if they didn’t believe there was something in it for me. So, I was excited. I was finally on my way. I was—
“Eh-eh-eh,” Mr. Fields said, as I went to grab the file folder of love letters on my way out.
I raised an eyebrow. “But—”
“Those aren’t for you, Ms. Smith.”
I was slightly indignant although this was exactly what I had wanted: to not be anywhere near the cursed things.
I laughed a little, since he must be joking. “Who could they be for if not me? They were written to me by—they were written to me.”
Mr. Fields consulted his notes once more.
“These are intended for Mr. Spencer Black.”
If I could go back and change time, I would make myself not return those letters. Mr. and Mrs. Black had been kind in leaving me a restaurant, but giving Spencer back those letters? What in the world had they been thinking? Actually, I had a feeling I didn’t want to know the answer.
Since Tabitha’s story is the last in the series, some of you may be wondering if Courtney will be able to get her HEA. Well, you’ll just have to read The Decadent Date to find out (squealing with glee!).
Please comment below and let me know who your favorite characters are in the series, your favorite types of romance stories, and if you’ve met a character in one of my books that you’d love to get her own story.
Thanks for being here. Happy reading!!
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