Success had always come easy to the dashing corporate CEO, Maxwell Van Buren. But when the restaurant chain inspired by his great-grandfather's taco cart begins to falter in a tough economy, Max makes it his personal mission to covertly discover the secrets of a few thriving mom-and-pop restaurants in the desert Southwest and use those ideas to save the family business.
Stranded on a sweltering Arizona roadside, Max is rescued by the gorgeous, independent, and sometime tow-truck driver, Allie. For several years her life has been devoted to raising her young son, running a very successful, if tiny, restaurant, and dodging the occasional romantic overture. When she offers the seemingly down-on-his-luck traveler a temporary job and a place to stay, she may not want to resist opening her heart for much longer.
Max, the long-time city dweller, is taken in by the charms of a simpler lifestyle, and begins to long for the kind of happy, stable family life that he's never really had. But what will Allie think when she finds out who he really is and why he's in Primrose, Arizona in the first place? Can Max revive his family's legacy and win Allie's heart at the same time?
Also includes a bonus read of the first chapter of Madison Martin's new romance novel, Toying With Temptation.
Maxwell Van Buren had never been this hot in his entire life. Sweat poured from his body and highlighted his defined biceps and pecs while also soaking his old Guns N’ Roses t-shirt. His muscles tensed. It felt like he was on fire. In some scenes, his appearance might even be sexy at that moment. Wet. Hot. Breathing heavy. Unfortunately, there wasn't a damn thing erotic about his current situation.
“Piece of junk!” he exclaimed kicking the tire of his steaming rental car in frustration. This is what he got for renting a car from some place called Rent-A-Deal. The luxury convertible he had ordered for this trip had been mistakenly given to another customer, and all rental car places in Phoenix were booked due to ten simultaneous conventions except for...you guessed it...Rent-A-Deal which specialized in rental cars that had passed their prime many years earlier at other companies. If Max was going to continue with his trip, he had to have a car...any car. So, the 2001 Corolla seemed reliable enough at the time.
Now, he stood along a deserted highway in northern Arizona right smack in the height of summer. Max couldn't even begin to guess the temperature out here. He took off his sweaty t-shirt, wiped his brow with it, and tied it around his waist. He looked at his watch. When he called them, his auto club had said a tow truck should have been there ten minutes ago.
“Stupid idiot,” Max muttered under his breath. This whole plan had been his own cockamamie idea to get back in touch with “the people,” to find out where his company went wrong, and to see where they could inject new energy into their restaurants. But it looked as if things would be a bust from the word “go.”
His family, the Van Burens, owned a chain of Mexican restaurants called Tio Jose's, or TJ's for short. The initial business had been started by his Mexican great-grandfather, Jose Hernandez Gonzalez, who sold fresh tacos from a cart in Los Angeles before upgrading to a small stand. His daughter was Max's grandmother, Carmen Santana, a woman said to be so beautiful and voluptuous men would skip a breath at the sight of her. She married Carlson Van Buren, much to the moneyed Van Buren family's shock and dismay. When great-grandfather Jose died, Carl Van Buren suddenly noticed how successful the little taco stand had become and additional dollar signs flashed before his eyes. Carl, with Carmen's blessing, took the initial restaurant idea and turned it into what would become a 200 location national restaurant chain specializing in mid-priced Mexican food, using Jose's old recipes of course.
Years later, Max had inherited the CEO position, but under his watch and with the downsizing economy, TJ's had begun to lose ground and fast. At the last board meeting, Max had been told to turn things around quickly or expect to be replaced.
Maxwell Van Buren, thirty-two years old, six foot two, dazzling smile, well-defined body and charm that could talk a Catholic nun into giving up her habit had never grown accustomed to failures of any kind. Failure had simply not been a word in his vocabulary. He sure as hell would not start now. After studying piles of customer survey data with his younger brother, Stuart, Max noticed a trend. Customers felt that TJ's offered nothing special that could not be found anywhere else and for a cheaper price. The customer service rating also left a lot to be desired.
That's when Max had what he hoped would be the saving idea to turn things around. He gathered a team of assistants to research small-town Mexican restaurants that were thriving, even in this economy. He wanted to see first hand what these establishments were doing that his big chain company didn't do. No contracted out research company for him. Max wanted to get into the nitty-gritty himself.
A one-week trip with ten stops through Arizona, Nevada, and California was planned. Max instructed his staff to only contact him in an emergency and left everything else in Stuart's hands. He wanted to have a clear head during his expedition. He wanted to see what was needed to bring the heart back to TJ's and its customers back to the dining room.
“So much for careful planning. And I wanted to get into the nitty-gritty…,” Max said to himself, glancing down at his watch, feeling hot and tired.
He hadn't even made it to his first stop in Primrose, Arizona.
Finally, in the distance, he saw a tow truck approaching.
“About damn time,” he growled, his mouth feeling as dry and rough as the surrounding landscape.
The tow truck skidded to a stop behind his Corolla and to his utter surprise, a tall, alluring Latina, with long curly dark hair hopped down from the bed of the truck. She wore a green t-shirt which read “Find THE Flan at Tia Maria's” and a pair of worn jeans. She sauntered up towards him and called out, “Having some problems?”
First of all, Max couldn't believe they sent a woman to tow his truck. Wasn't that a blue collar man's job? And what the hell? Did she think he was just standing out in the heat baking for the fun of it? Of course he was having some problems.
“Good observation,” Max snarled, motioning to the steaming engine. “Someone was supposed to have been here fifteen minutes ago.”
She stared at him for a moment with her dark tawny eyes without blinking. Max had grown up used to having others snap to attention if he needed something. He was a CEO for Christ's sake! But this woman didn't look the least bit in a hurry or concerned about his tone.
She finally blinked, looked at him standing there shirtless and sweaty from head to toe, shrugged and replied, “Got here as fast as I could. Big Tim had to pick up his kid from school.”
Max didn't know who the hell Big Tim was, and frankly, he didn't care. He just wanted service so he could be on his way.
“Whatever,” Max said, shaking his head. “Can you really tow my car? You know how?”
The woman walked around the car checking it out. She eventually stopped, looked back at him and said, “Yeah, I know. Easy as freakin' pie. But will I help you.”
“Excuse me?” Max said bewildered. What was up with this “will” stuff?
“You need a major attitude adjustment, buddy, and knowing what I know about where you're stranded, you don't have a lot of options. So, unless you change that tone, I might just get back in my truck, drive off, and leave you to figure all this out…by yourself.”
Max took a deep breath. He couldn't believe it. This tow truck woman was being snappy with him. People did not talk to Maxwell Van Buren this way.
But then his mind flashed back to his recent board meeting and the threats of his possibly being replaced. Was life as he had always known it slipping away from him?
The woman, waiting for a response, continued to stare at him, and he realized she held all the cards. He needed to change tactics fast because the expression on her face hinted to the fact that she surely would have no problem leaving him right where he stood.
“Look, I'm sorry,” Max began. “It's just been a frustrating trip. I'm exhausted, dehydrated, and starving. Could you please tow me to the next town? I think it's Primrose.”
A smile crossed her face. “Well, now. See that wasn't so hard to say please, was it?”
She looked at him obviously waiting for an answer. Damn it, this woman would send him over the edge. Women had always eaten out of his hand before. Who did she think she was?
“Please,” Max repeated. “Please give me some assistance.”
“Since you asked so nicely, of course I will!” she said, grinning from ear to ear.
If Max hadn't been so damned mad that moment, he would have been more focused on how stunning this woman looked. How she ended up towing trucks in the desert he couldn't even begin to guess. She should be in New York modeling for one of the fashion houses.
Max stood by amazed as the woman hopped back in the truck, cranked it up, and the expertly backed it up to the front of his car. She then got back out and hooked the car to the tow truck.
“See? Nothing to it,” she said. “Get in the cab, and I'll drive you to Primrose. If you're lucky, Big Tim will be back and maybe he can fix your car and get you back on the road.”
Max noticed for the brief second her eyes gazing at his chest, and a first for him, he felt suddenly self-conscious standing there shirtless. He slipped his t-shirt back on and got in the truck.
“Thanks. I mean it,” Max said when the woman got in the truck as well.
“Sure thing,” she said, cranking the truck back up.
“What's your name? I have to say you are the most attractive tow truck driver I have ever seen,” he said as she started to put the car into drive.
She put her foot on the brake, looked at him again with those piercing eyes, and said wearily, “Are you hitting on me? Cause I got no time...”
“Look, I'm sorry,” Max said, throwing his hands up in the air. “I was just making conversation, wondering the name of my savior. Never mind.”
She chuckled a bit, and he knew his exasperation was amusing her way too much for his taste.
“Okay, then. The name is Alejandra. Allie for short.”
“Well, thanks again, Allie. I'm Max,” he said, leaning his head against the window and taking in the blast of cool air from the air conditioner. “Since I assume you're from here, maybe you can answer a question for me.”
“Maybe,” Allie answered noncommittally as they started down the highway.
“Do you know of a place in Primrose named Tia Maria's?”
“Why?” Allie asked defensively.
Jesus, what was wrong with this woman? Max couldn't seem to win for losing with her.
“Just someone at my last stop told me I should eat there because it's supposed to be amazing, and well, the name of the place is on your shirt.”
Allie relaxed a bit, smiled, and said, “They told you the place had a good reputation, huh?”
“The best, and like I said, I'm starving.”
“Well, it is pretty amazing if I do say so myself. I own the place.”
“Own the place?” Max said, his mouth gaping open.
“Yeah, I own the place."