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In Love and War Book 1: Hotel Heart Gia has a lot on her plate. Her mother’s disease is taking over, the restaurant is a full-time responsibility and with billionaire boyfriend Steven taking over medical costs, Gia feels cornered and obliged to keep everyone happy. But her life is going the way she needed for it to go and she can’t complain. Until Jack, her first love returns from war. An unresolved past keeps reappearing with him back in her life and she’ll never forget what he was to her, but he’s a changed man after everything he’s seen and been through and there’s no way she can turn her back on everything she has going for her. Gia has to decide who and what is important to her but it’s hard to follow her head when her heart keeps interfering. At the end of the day, she’ll have to decide who can stay in her heart and who will have to leave. Table of Contents Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter10 Other Books by the Author About the Author Imprint About the Author Liz levoy is a best-selling author who has been writing romantic stories since her senior year in high school. Levoy is a truly passionate romance writer who loves to seduce her avid readers, using the experience of her travels around the world. Feelings of love, desire and chemistry dominate his books, and the characters that she creates come to life, fighting for love.
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In Love and War
Table of Contents
Other Books by the Author
About the Author
I’m always the first one to arrive at Oregano in the morning and the last to leave at night. That’s how my mom used to do it, and it’s how I’m doing it now that she’s not here.
It’s barely light outside and I flip on the lights as I go along. My mom and dad started the Italian restaurant when I was just a kid. Back then, they drove all the way from Little Italy in Manhattan to Brooklyn where the restaurant is.
Now, I live just around the corner.
I walk into the kitchen and take out the ingredients to make pasta. I make it fresh every day. Fresh pasta is just different than the store-bought stuff. It’s what got us on the map when there are a million Italian restaurants popping up everywhere. It’s what we’re famous for.
At seven, Emily arrives with Gus and Zeke in tow. Gus is bald with a mustache like a circus master. He’s been working for us from the start. He knows every dish on the menu off by heart and I’m pretty sure without him, we’ll close. Zeke is so young he looks like he should still be in school. I hired him off the streets a couple of months ago. He’s just finished his probation and it looks like he’ll stay.
I have two waitresses for each shift and another manager and that’s our team. It’s a small one but it works. I don’t have enough money to employ more people but we’re like a family. Because we open so early, I have two of the waitresses taking over the four o’clock shift and Lewis to replace Emily as well. I won’t overwork them.
There’s no one to give me a break since my mom had to retire, but I don’t mind.
“Morning, Gia,” Emily says to me and starts taking chairs off the tables. The dining area is fresh and bright with white walls, wooden floors and red and green curtains to make up the Italian flag. The chairs have dark leather seats and wood backs, the tables are the same color as the floors.
“How is Ben?” I ask Emily. She rolls her eyes.
“We broke up last night,” she says. She’s twenty-three, only three years younger than I am and she’s dated so many guys I can’t keep track.
“You’ll find the right guy,” I say, not bothering to ask why they broke up.
“What do you want me to do for our specials, today?” Emily asks. Zeke joins us. His dark hair has been spiked up into a mohawk that will annoy him under the hairnet all day and he’s got another piercing – in his eyebrow, this time.
I rattle off the soups of the day and the two dishes I want on special. They both take note.
“Oh, I spoke to Onwheels last night. They’re sending someone new to do deliveries in the area this week.”
I nod. “Did you tell Gus?”
When they don’t tell us that we’re getting new guys we have issues in the kitchen. Gus doesn’t like intruders and he chases them off without asking them what they’re here for. We all have our quirks, I guess.
The morning rush starts. We’re open early for the business men to pop in for our espresso and famous breakfast bagels. It’s not exactly Italian but we had to modernize for the sake of being popular. For the business men, we offer complimentary newspapers with their coffee and the promise of a discount when they have their frequent-coffee cards stamped.
When the businessmen leave, the mothers with their toddlers come in after the school run. We have coloring crayons and pages we print for them every day to keep the kids busy and we offer salads for the moms and finger foods for the little ones.
Lunch brings a mix of people and our pranzo menu is fresh.
Maddie walks into the door. Her blond hair is pulled into a ponytail and she wears a power dress suit – all reds and blacks. She sits down at her usual table and Emily takes her coffee and a menu immediately.
When I finish checking the orders and that they’re moving in and out of the kitchen smoothly, I walk to Maddie’s table and sit down.
“You’re busy today, as always,” Maddie says and smiles. Her blue eyes are the color of Fall skies.
“I prefer being busy,” I say. “Less time for myself but I know that I’m going to make it each month.”
Madison Allen and I have been friends since college. We studied Business together. She’s the manager of some company in Brooklyn. We meet up as often as we can – she visits my restaurants or I spend time with her on my off days when she needs to write up reports.
“How’s your mom doing?” she asks.
I nod. “As well as can be expected. I’m moving her to Pinevale.”
Maddie frowns. “I thought you didn’t have the cash for Pinevale.”
Pinevale Mental Facility is one of the best institutes in town. My mom needs the best care money can buy – she didn’t ask to get sick and I’m not going to punish her for it.
I shrug. “Steven is paying.”
Maddie raises her eyebrows. “Honey, is that a good idea?”
I nod. “Mom needs it.”
She shakes her head. “I know she’s sick, but I’m worried about you. That’s a lot of money every month. Why is he just giving it to you?”
I shrug. “He likes me.”
Maddie nods slowly and sips her coffee. I don’t show her that I’m unsure about the arrangement, too. When it comes to my momonly the best will do. Besides, Steven isn’t a bad guy. He has that kind of money lying around. He’s offered three times already. This time, when she started regressing quite fast, I accepted.
“You know we’re sort of dating already,” I say to Maddie.
“’Sort of’ being the key words here. I’m just worried that you’re going to end up owing him.”
I shake my head. “He said I don’t have to pay him back.”
“I didn’t necessarily mean money.”
I swallow. I know what she means. Steven is more serious about me than I am about him and this might be a way for him to lure me in. But my mom needs it and what’s wrong with dating a good guy for a change?
God knows I’ve had bad runs before. I’m not as quick to move on from them as Emily can and since Jack, I haven’t exactly recovered.
I thought Jack was the one. I was ready to spend my life with him. Sometimes, that just doesn’t work out.
“You just be careful, okay?” Maddie says. “But I’m happy for you that your mom is taken care of.”
When the lunch rush is over and Maddie is gone we have a short lull in customers and I take that time to have my own lunch. I leave the restaurant completely – I can’t relax with work within earshot – and walk to Irving Square Park. The park is green with trees and walkways and I can sit on a bench and pull myself together a little before I head back to the restaurant.
Maddie’s words churn in my mind. What if he wants more from me than I’m willing to give him? I know Steven is serious about me. I’m not really into a relationship right now. My life is full as it is and I’ve never needed a man.
And after Jack, I’m hesitant to get attached to someone. But Steven is a good guy and I deserve someone good, someone wholesome, that will give me everything I need.
Steven owns Jupiter Enterprises, a company that’s been handed down in his family from father to son for three generations. It’s got something to do with the stock market but I don’t really understand what. I didn’t pay much attention when he told me and I feel silly to ask again.
Steven is a rich man. He knows what he wants from life and goes out to get it. A goal driven man is a good start. The fact that he’s interested in me makes him more attractive.
I close my eyes. The sun bakes on my face. The sound of children playing and peaceful chatter hangs in the air. No, I decide, there’s nothing wrong with having a good man.
I thought Jack was a good man. He was, of course. There was a time when I was willing to give up almost everything for him. But he left. I wasn’t enough to make him stay, and that stung. Rejection is never your friend. I was twenty – young and stupid in love. If I ever run into him again, now, I’ll probably realize what a mistake it was. But you never forget your first love.
The chance of running into him is slim, too. He joined the army. God knows where he is now. If he’s still alive… I shake off the thought. I don’t care, anymore.
Since then, I’ve been single. It’s been four years of focusing on my mom’s slipping health and keeping the restaurant afloat in her absence. Since my dad died it’s been the two of us. My sister moved to Italy just after school and she doesn’t want anything to do with America. There are two types of people – those that embrace change and those that are set in their ways. I’m not always sure which definition applies to which sister. All I know is that we’ve been raised never to abandon family, and that’s what she did.
When my lunch break is over I walk back to Oregano. They’ll need me for the four o’clock crowd. It’s the frontrunner for the dinner rush and it’s always busier than only Emily and the two waitresses Carly and Roxanne can handle.
Finally, at eleven, the restaurant closes and I’m dead on my feet. My other manager, Lewis, leaves, the two cooks are gone and the waitresses are dividing up their tips in the dining area.
When they leave, too, I lock up and walk to my office. I go through the books once a month and it’s that time again. My office is full of my mom. Photos of our family hang on the wall and I water the plant in the corner she loves so much.
I sit behind the desk and start on the books, applying what I learned in business school.
The restaurant isn’t doing as well as it should. I’m bringing in less money than I used to, now that it’s just me dealing with it all. The deliveries cost more with the price increase two months ago and I’m not sure I can make it if I keep going on like this.
I lean back in my chair. I might have to cut the breakfast service I offer, change the employee schedules and open at eleven like any other restaurant to save money. I don’t want to do it – there are regulars here that feel as part of the family as my waitresses and cooks do – but I’m terrified of going under.
I’m not there, yet. I’ll see if it has to come to that, but I have to keep it in mind. I push my hands into my hair and sigh. How sad mom would be to see this. We’ve worked so hard to make it work when it was just the two us. Oregano has always been the pride and joy of my family.
I lock up at midnight and get in my car to go home. I’m beyond tired. What I need is a good night’s sleep for a change. A good night’s sleep, and a break.
When they discharge me from the hospital I’m glad to be out. I hate the food and I don’t like all the machines that are rigged up to me, telling me what I already know – that I’m alive.
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