Except, this morning the parking lot was more than half-full. He pulled to a halt. What the heck? Dozens of cars filled the upper half of the lot, though there was still room in the lower.

What was going on? He’d never seen this much traffic here, even at breakfast time.

Slowly, he turned the rig into the lot, stopping at the outer edge along the creek side, underneath the trees. The silence of the air when he shut off the engine still amazed him. He climbed out and made his way across the newly paved parking lot. Nice. Smooth. There wasn’t even the hint of a pothole in sight.

And landscaping? Bushes and trees in the median? Daisy was moving up in the world. The now-elderly woman who’d run the joint since the 1970s must have come into some money.

Approaching the front door, however, Morgan paused. This couldn’t be Daisy’s domain any longer. A menu was posted in a fancy metal box on the wall. Different, but if the scents coming out of the kitchen were any indication, good. His stomach rumbled again in response.

Inside he froze. The layout of the place was the same, but run-down had given way to kitsch, and utilitarian to almost pretty. The clunky vinyl booths and Formica tables were gone. In their place sat tables and chairs that looked better suited for a dollhouse than a diner.

He wasn’t especially tall, but his years of bodybuilding workouts had made that type of furniture totally off-limits. He knew better than to sit on any of those chairs. He’d probably end up on his ass with splinters beneath his butt.

Morgan frowned. He was here and he was hungry. The perky little hostess was new, too. Since when did diners have hostesses?

“Just one?” she asked.

“Uh, yeah.” Where exactly would she put him? He resisted the urge to retreat instead of following her. The lace curtains and tablecloths didn’t help with the feeling he had of stepping into a woman’s boudoir.

“I’ll just sit at the counter.” It was still there, still the same, but cleaner. Much cleaner. With a shrug, she dismissed him as easily as he did her.

“What can I get ya?” Another young woman with bright, albeit tired eyes and a name tag that read Wendy stood on the other side of the counter, a carafe of coffee in one hand.

“A whole lot of that.”

She poured a big mugful, then slid it toward him. “I hear ya.” She stifled a yawn. “Here’s our brand-spanking new menu.” She pulled a laminated folder from between the napkin holder and saltshaker. “Take a look at it, and I’ll be right back.” She hustled away, the coffeepot landing smoothly on the burner as he opened the menu.

Omelets? He’d made the mistake once of ordering an omelet from Daisy. He should have known to change the order when she’d said, “A what?” Her omelet had consisted of scrambled eggs with bits of meat mixed in.

Now there was a full page of them. Egg whites? Mushrooms? Holy cow. This was different. His mouth watered.

* * *

BREAKFAST WAS TARA’S favorite meal of the day. The warm, rich, sweet scents of baking, hot grease and coffee were a unique perfume. Nothing better in the world. That was part of why she’d decided to offer the breakfast menu all day long. That, and competing with the big boys—she had to play their games.

The kitchen was full of aromatic food, pots, pans and noise. Tara tried to shut it all out and focus. Robbie was her lead chef for mornings. But while he was the best at what he did, he was also the most easily distracted. And the past few days had been full of distractions.

She’d decided to do a soft opening the week before the official grand opening. This was their first day and the place was over half-full. First impressions were vital and so far so good.

She had to trust Robbie and Wendy and everyone else she’d hired. She had to. It was now or never.

Already a couple dozen people had come in this morning, and she was busy whipping up another batch of biscuits. Mom’s recipe was a favorite, and Tara had to remind herself that she couldn’t eat the profits. But oh, she loved Mom’s biscuits.

“Oh, my.” Wendy rushed through the door, her arms full of dirty dishes. She wound her way through the controlled mess and deposited everything in the sink.

“Oh, my, what?” Gabe, the busboy/dishwasher said as he lifted the sprayer and proceeded to blast off what food residue he could from the plates.

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