If you’ve been following the Treasure Hunt from our Petit Fours & Hot Tamales blog, then you’ve reached the right place. Congratulations! If you’ve stumbled on this “treasure” by chance, here’s how to participate:
Locate the PF&HTs Treasure Hunt pumpkins on the sidebar. Each time a new short story will be posted, a link will be made available to the location in this area. Click on the link, search for the PF&HTs pumpkins at that site, then enjoy the read. Don’t forget to record your answer at the end of the story. Hoard the answers (keep them to yourselves) and on October 31st, we’ll post our final “clue” and an e-mail address to send your answers to. Once we reach the deadline, we will draw from the participating treasure hunters for the final prize.
But WAIT! You can get started by reading my piece of the Treasure Hunt below and answering the question at the end. I hope you enjoy Roni and Carlo’s story (below).
Roni Lombardo surveyed the atrocious mess of partially unpacked boxes, their contents spilling over the sides like drunken house ivy. Not one partial bag of cookies or chips anywhere. She knew. She’d created the mess while looking for them. Her stomach growled. While her former pantry held little to begin with, her dear brother obviously took pay for his moving services out in the form of her snacks.
She sighed and flopped down on her futon, too weary to consider going out for food. Caressing the satiny finish on her hickory futon, Roni treasured what she’d created with her own hands.
Through the open window above her head, the smell of onions and garlic drifted in on the cool salt-air breezes of early October, and Roni groaned. Why hadn’t she learned to cook instead of bugging her dad to teach her carpentry? Those skills didn’t help her right now.
Maybe not, but carpentry brought her to this old Sausalito neighborhood with it’s odd mixture of beautifully maintained old homes now sporting shop fronts, window boxes spilling profusions of color, and small apartments tucked upstairs. Perfect for the satellite workshop her dad trusted her to make a success.
The aroma of mushrooms and tomatoes joined the garlic and drove her back to the task of unpacking. Work would keep her mind off her stomach. Where’d she put those pictures and sconces to be hung?
She’d just started hammering in the second picture hanger when a solid knock sounded on her door. Caution and habit drove her to use the peephole. Through the distorted bubble, a guy in a chef’s apron stood waiting.
Damn. Was she so hungry she was hallucinating?
Another knock. A little louder this time.
She peered through the tiny viewer again. Same guy she’d seen before, same apron. He looked innocent enough.
Using the door chain, she cracked the door open. “Yes?”
One chocolate colored eye and half a wide grin appeared in the slit.
“Hey, I’m Carlo, your upstairs neighbor.”
“Hold on.” Roni closed the door to remove the chain, then swung the door wide. “Veronica Lombardi, but everyone calls me Roni.”
“Carlo Petrizzi,” the delectable male said with a nod. “Saw you moving in earlier and I thought maybe you could use a hot meal about now. I’ve got some—”
“Homemade marinara?” she interrupted, having noticed his tomato-splattered apron.
He glanced down at the stain. “Right. Guess the apron gave me away. My nonna says I’m not the neatest chef, but I make a pretty mean sauce.”
Roni arched one eyebrow and made a quick assessment. From the thick, dark hair cut close on the sides, but longer and unruly on top, all the way down to the bare feet peeking out underneath soft worn jeans, she saw nothing but possibilities—for friendship, and maybe more.
Years of cautious living won out. “I don’t have dinner with strange men.”
“Then you’re in luck,” he said, a smile lurking at his mouth. ”I’m not strange, and I’m a good chef. Ask anyone in the neighborhood.”
She laughed at his audacity. “You feed everyone in the neighborhood?”
“Just about. I’m the head chef at Rudolfo’s.” He flashed a grin. “How about you? Does the logo shirt mean you’re advertising the family business, or are you employed there as well?”
Roni glanced down at her attire, dismayed. What a lousy first impression. She looked like Lumberjack Jane wearing a full tool belt, an old work shirt sans sleeves, and her rattiest gym shorts.
“Oh my gosh, I need to change. I can’t go anywhere looking like this.”
Carlo smiled. “I think you look fine. But if it would make you feel better, why don’t you meet me upstairs when you’re ready? I’ll toss a salad. About fifteen minutes?”
“That sounds about right. See you then.”
With a nod and a wave, he was gone. Roni secured the door and ran for the bathroom, grabbing toiletries along the way, wanting a quick shower in addition to the change of clothes.
Once she was clean and dry, the lazy way Carlos had said “fine” echoed through her head, making her brush aside her usual jeans-casual attire for a dress relegated to the back of her closet. She zipped it up and turned to look.
Not bad for a carpenter, even if she was a bit too curvy from eating fast food. The deep red was a nice match with her dark hair and eyes. She’d show him what fine really looked like and hope he forgot about her profession.
* * *
Roni rapped on Carlo’s door. If the tantalizing smells were any indication, garlic bread was in her near future, too. Her stomach roared seconds before the door opened.
“Ah, good, you’re right on time. Come on in.” Carlo had ditched the apron, his crisp blue oxford stripe rolled back at the sleeves, revealing strong, tanned forearms sprinkled with dark hair. Apparently, he didn’t spend all his time in a kitchen. And if the appreciative once-over he’d tried to make look nonchalant was any indication, her dress had done its job.
Dinner went smoothly, with a mouth-watering sauce, homemade Italian dressing over baby greens, and some of the best garlic bread she’d ever eaten. They laughed over the trials and tribulations large families could foist on their singles while enjoying pumpkin cannoli, a seasonal dessert he’d brought home from the restaurant. She complimented him on the excellent fare and began to breathe easier. Maybe he’d forgotten about the “Lombardi Woodworks, Since 1892” logo.
Ignoring his protests, she insisted on helping him wash up. They worked together filling the dishwasher and wiping off countertops. When he reached for the last dish at the same time as she, their hands brushed together. His gaze turned warm and velvety for a fleeting moment—or had she imagined that?
He hung the dish towel on a hook and escorted her to the couch. “Um … you never said before. Do you work in the family business?”
She hesitated, surprised at the sudden question, wondering what this man’s reaction would be. It dismayed her to learn she cared what he thought.
“Yes.” She scarcely breathed. Some men were too intimidated by her ‘manly’ skills outweighing theirs. Would he be the same?
“Well, my guess would be you don’t answer the phones. That tool belt looked pretty broken in.”
“I’m a carpenter.” There, she’d said it. She lifted her chin slightly.
“And a good one, I’ll bet.” He continued on as if he hadn’t just glossed over her dreaded moment.
“Lombardi’s has an excellent reputation, and I heard they had a carpenter setting up shop here. When you get set up and open for business, I have a sideboard I’d like you to look at. Your firm does restorations, too, right?”
“Yes.” The small word strangled her. Here she’d been worried about his reaction, and he’d known of her vocation all along—had possibly invited her to dinner because of it.
“Excellent. Nonna gave it to me, and it’s been in her family for generations. It’s really showing its age, but has great workmanship in the lines and hand-carved details. I’d like an expert opinion as to the practicality of having it restored.”
“Of course.” She forced the cheerfulness, but inside, disappointment stomped its foot in a childish tantrum. “I could look at it tonight, if you have it here.” She’d much rather get it over with than have to come back and be reminded of how silly she’d acted over this man.
“No, no, no. Another time. You’re tired.”
“Really,” she insisted. “I don’t mind.”
He shook his head and grimaced. “I shouldn’t have brought it up. I was nervous about the lull in conversation. I should have waited.”
“It’s okay. I’ve been invited to dinner for worse reasons,” she joked, trying to cover hurt feelings.
“That wasn’t my intention at all.” He sighed and leaned toward her, a frown briefly creasing his forehead. “Okay, I watched you moving in from my window, and recognized the logo. But this was my way of getting past the awkward first date thing without the usual pressure. I enjoyed tonight and want to see you again, even if I have to barter meals for an appraisal. But, I understand if you don’t feel the same.”
So, he was willing to cook to keep her around. His honesty gave her courage.
“I’m handy in the fix-it area, but I don’t cook, so we could barter. Problem is, my expertise doesn’t come cheap. You may tire of seeing me across the table.”
“I’ll chance it if you will” He reached for her hand—a small step, but one that spoke of endless possibilities.
If you’d like to comment on Marinara Magic, I’d love to hear from you. And now for the Treasure Hunt portion:
Carlo is a chef who specializes in Italian cooking. What classic Italian dessert did he serve and what atypical flavor had it been infused with in honor of the Fall season?
Remember to write down your answers, keep them in a safe place and check back on the PF&HT blog for more “treasures” and the final contest at the end of this month. GOOD LUCK!