Ladies and gentlemen, please help me welcome Tony Santoro to Inspy Romance! I’ve known Tony for a long time, since about 2011 in Real World Time™, which is about twelve years ago in Story World Time ™. He was a gangly, mouthy teenager back then, but he’s turned into a fine man.Valerie: Hi, Tony. I can’t wait to hear what you’ve been up to!
Tony: You would remember that phase of my life. Man, I hated running the dishwasher at The Sizzling Skillet back in Galena Landing, Idaho. The only good thing about that crummy job was the head chef, Claire Kenzie. She was still Claire Halford back then. Anyway, she was great to work with, but the big boss? What a jerk. I might have deserved getting fired, but it was also a huge relief.
Valerie: Right, I remember. And then Claire took a summer job cooking for a treeplanting crew, and you worked for her directly. Is that when you decided you wanted to be a chef?
Tony: She had a big part in it, for sure. She was totally committed to cooking from fresh, local ingredients. For the treeplanters, it was solid, hearty fare, but also really delicious. My mom’s brother owned a restaurant — still does, actually — in Twin Falls, so he also encouraged me to go to culinary school after high school.Valerie: Culinary school — that was in Seattle?
Tony: Yes. I roomed with Levi Esteban. Your readers might remember Levi. We both worked at the Fireweed in Seattle after culinary school, but then he went to cook at Grizzly Gulch Resort in Helena, Montana. He signed on for a temporary gig, but he met a girl and stayed.
Valerie: That happens a lot to folks who live in my Story Worlds. I remember Levi and Heather well. Did you stay in Seattle until moving to the Santoro family nest here in Bridgeview?
Tony: I spent the interim working for my Uncle Leo at Italiana in Twin Falls. He taught me a lot about the business side of running a restaurant. He also passed on dozens of family recipes. Not the Santoro ones, the Ricci ones (grin).
Valerie: Did you live with your uncle and aunt there?Tony: No, I roomed with a couple of other guys in Arcadia Valley, which is a great little town near Twin Falls. I think you had a hand in my buddy Zane Russell’s life, too.
Valerie: I, uh, might have introduced him to Kenia Akers and given them a nudge or two. It’s kind of my job to be a matchmaking fairy.
Tony: About that. I’d like to talk to you about something.
Valerie: Oh, what’s that?
Tony: I’m going to want a matchmaking fairy in about five years. Can you pencil me in?
Valerie: What’s wrong with right now? You’re in your late twenties now with your own restaurant. Congrats on opening Antonio’s, by the way. I hear it’s a happening place and that Spokane’s food critics are quite impressed.Tony: What’s wrong with right now?!?!? You’re kidding, right? I live in my grandmother’s basement and spend every spare minute on my new business. It’s only been open four months. I’m struggling with my food supply chain, since I’m focusing on in-season ingredients like Claire taught me way back when. And staffing is a never-ending nightmare. I had to let someone go this week, and I have a new kitchen assistant who can’t even butterfly a chicken breast. I have no time for a relationship these days, and that’s not fair to the woman I’d be dating.
To say nothing of kids. I love kids — I adore my niece and nephew, and enjoy being around my cousins’ kids here in Bridgeview. I lived with a single dad over the winter, helping him with childcare while he sorted things out with the children’s mother. I wasn’t as busy then, just helping my uncles with building renovations, planning menus, et cetera. But kids need both parents invested in them, and my schedule these days just isn’t compatible. So, yeah, while a wife and family are definitely my dream, five years from now sounds about right.
Valerie: Oh. Well. There’s a little problem. Remember that bit about being a matchmaking fairy?
Tony (raises eyebrows): Uh huh?
Valerie: I may have (cough) started sprinkling some of that glitter dust around.
Tony: Did you not notice I have zero time and am living with Nonna? She’s almost eighty and had a bad fall a couple of weeks ago. Broke a few bones, including her pelvis. No, you need to vacuum that fairy dust back up and save it for later.
Valerie: But… your grandmother needs a live-in nurse for a while. I was thinking…
Tony: Don’t even start. Seriously. It’s not that I’m not interested in romance, but it’s a bad time right now.
Valerie: So you say…
Nursing the neighborhood matriarch through her convalescence from a nasty fall gives Makenna Johnson the break she needs from the head nurse on her ward. The family is plenty involved. Maybe too much so, since it includes a disapproving grandson who lives in Marietta’s basement.
If chef Tony Santoro weren’t so busy launching his new restaurant, he’d take on Nonna’s care himself, but it isn’t possible. If only the nurse was more obsessed with decent meals and less obsessed with polishing baseboards, he’d rest a lot easier.
How can two driven professionals who clash over Marietta’s care — and everything else — ease up enough to see each other’s hearts?
Lavished with Lavender releases June 23. While it is the ninth tale in my Urban Farm Fresh Romance series, it can be read as a standalone.
Click to pre-order on Amazon today, or stick a reminder on your calendar app to borrow via Kindle Unlimited on June 23! It’s currently $2.99 US, a savings of 25% over the post-release price.
Now it’s your turn: Do you like your life all planned out? When’s the last time (or a time you can share) when something major derailed your five-year-plan, sending you in a different direction that turned out to be better?
Interested in reading Lavished with Lavender? I’m offering one reader a copy (e-book only, worldwide). If you’d like to put your name in the hat, please comment by Thursday evening, June 11. I’ll contact the winner before the announcement in the Sunday Edition.
“Void where prohibited; the odds of winning depend on the number of entrants. Entering the giveaway is considered a confirmation of eligibility on behalf of the enterer in accord with these rules and any pertaining local/federal/international laws.”