Karlee does her best to make her father's birthday dinner perfect. But her best intentions lead to chaos in the kitchen.
Note: This excerpt and any other excerpt on the blog are NOT from my actual novel which I am sending out to publishers. These are separate background stories to give you a feel for the characters and their lives while I go through the publishing journey.
His birthday was today.
Karlee did a double take on the calendar. How could she have missed this? Was life so chaotic she couldn’t keep the days straight?
“I can’t believe I forgot.” Karlee slammed her pen down on the calendar spread across the old oak desk in her office. The force caused a pile of envelopes and receipts to fall off the side. She surged forward trying to catch them before they fell to the floor only to knock over her water bottle—and spill the contents everywhere.
Scolding herself under her breath, Karlee pulled off her hoodie and used it as a towel to clean up the mess.
“You need some help, si?” Carlos, the ranch’s hired hand, appeared by her side, kneeling on the ground to pick up the runaway papers.
“Thank you, Carlos.” Karlee draped the wet hoodie on the back of her chair. “I really need to get this place organized.”
“The horses are done for the day. You have time now.”
“Actually, I don’t. My dad’s birthday is today.” Karlee collapsed in the chair. “I lost track of the days.”
Carlos rubbed his latte colored chin, deep in thought. “You have been busy. Too busy, I think.” He paused. “Your father will understand. You have much to handle.”
“But it’s his birthday. Everyone wants to feel special on their birthday.” She bit her bottom lip in frustration, an awful habit that often led to sore bleeding skin. “And I had every intention of making a huge birthday dinner for him.”
“Your father will only care about the time he gets to spend with you today.” Carlos offered a hand to help her off the chair. “But I will drive you into town. I have to pick up grain anyway. Just tell me where to go.”
Karlee smiled up at him, accepting his offered hand. They made their way out of the office into the barn. She loved having her office right in the heart of her work, but it was probably also the main reason why it was such a chaotic mess to begin with. She always let the horses and their training lure her away from the dull office work and management side of the ranch.
“Why don’t you drop me off at the grocery store. I need to pick up ingredients for dinner and a cake.” Karlee climbed into his F-150 and buckled in while she rambled on. “You can go to the feed store while I get what I need. Then drop me off right at the house when we get back. I bet we’ll be back before one if we hurry…”
Carlos shook his head and laughed. “Cálmate, Miss Karlee.”
Karlee rolled her eyes at his Spanish command to calm down. But she took his advice and inhaled a deep breath. “Okay, you’re right. I’m stressing out.”
With a satisfied smile, Carlos pulled the truck out onto the gravel drive. As they made their way down the mile-long lane toward Highway 34, Karlee stared at her phone, scrolling through the million and one dinner options on Pinterest.
Beef bourguignon? She couldn’t pronounce the stew let alone cook it. Chili? No, too simple. Plus, her dad’s chili was too good to try to outdo. She needed something easy to cook, but fancier than soup for a birthday celebration. Not to mention, she still had a cake to bake and decorate. And time was not on her side.
Then she found it. Pan-Fried Tilapia. Fish wasn’t something they had every day. And the recipe said it only took twenty minutes. That left the rest of the day to prepare the cake. What could go wrong?
Everything. Everything could possibly go wrong.
Deafening chirps from the fire alarm mingled in the air with the rising smoke from the stove top. The oil in the pan cackled and popped in what Karlee could only describe as laughter. Of course the appliances would mock her for trying to do something domesticated for once.
“Oh no!” Karlee dropped her knife, abandoned the salad she was cutting to shove the window open, and turned off the burner. She stared down at what was once expensive fish filets. Now, they resembled large chunks of charcoal. And the smell…oh, the smell of burnt fish ranked worse than a pile of horse manure.
The oil continued its cackling laugh.
Karlee turned the faucet to cold, plunging the pan and blackened tilapia under the flowing water. Both the cackling and the chirping alarm subsided. That ought to keep them quiet. "Shut up," she muttered for good measure.
“I didn’t say anything.” Her father, Seth Farr, towered in the doorway between the mud room and the kitchen. He sniffed the air and grimaced. “What died in here?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.” The steam and smoke rising from the pan only aided the stench filling the kitchen. Her stomach churned in protest. “I ruined your birthday dinner. Why I bothered trying to cook in the first place is beyond me.” Flipping off the water, she spun around to face her father. “So much for making this a birthday to remember.”
Her dad gave her an amused look. Even with his arms crossed and leaning against the wall, his head was mere inches from the ceiling. But the teasing wrinkles around his eyes and the slight smile on his face took the edge off his intimidating frame.
“So?” Seth crossed the kitchen to inspect the damage in the sink. “Since when have I ever wanted to make a big deal out of my birthday?”
Karlee bit her lip for the hundredth time in one day. Her lips ached as much as her heart. She didn’t dare tell her father she was trying to do what her mother always did for his birthday—a special dinner with a homemade cake. Except her mother had been talented in the homemaking department. She could whip up a fabulous birthday dinner and bake a rich chocolate cake complete with intricate frosting designs like it was nothing. She made birthdays feel special without alluding to the stressful, day-long project that it was. Karlee on the other hand…
But she didn’t have to voice any of her thoughts. The smoke detector picked up its high-pitched wails once again.
“The cake!” Karlee flew to the oven. When she opened the door, heavy billows of smoke smothered her face. She plopped the cake pan down on the stove with a frustrated clatter. The throbbing pain of a headache formed in her temples. What a catastrophe this turned out to be.
Seth reached a hand up to the ceiling to silence the alarm. “Let’s go into town and let this smoke air out for a bit.” He winked as he guided Karlee to the mud room to put on her boots. “I wanted pizza for my birthday dinner anyway.”
Karlee sighed. She felt like such a child. How could a grown woman be able to make such a fool of herself? She might as well have tried to cook everything in the Easy Bake Oven from her childhood years.
“Well, I think it’s safe to say I’m officially the worst cook on this side of the Rockies.” Karlee choked out a humorless laugh.
Her father chuckled as he ushered her out the door. “Maybe the worst in the world. But I think your birthday dinner ended up being quite the success.”
“How so?” The fumes from the burnt fish must have gone to her father’s head.
“Well,” Seth’s chuckle turned into full out belly laugh. “This is one birthday I will never forget.”