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She had just one wish for the holidays. Snow. Roxanne Anderson yawned as she showed her clear plastic purse to the security guard at the employee exit of King's Palace Casino.
"Night, Roxie." He winked. "Merry Christmas."
She checked her watch. Five minutes after midnight. She smiled at the burly guard whose wrinkled face, gray hair, and glasses reminded her of her grandfather back in Minnesota. "I guess it is officially Christmas Day. Have a wonderful Christmas, Burt." And like her grandfather, Burt was the only person she allowed to call her Roxie.
She pushed out through the heavy metal door. No snow in the Las Vegas forecast, but an icy blast of air cut through the T-shirt and jeans she'd changed into after her shift. The casino required she leave her skimpy waitress costume hanging in the locker room so it could be cleaned or repaired if necessary. She'd like to leave it behind permanently.
God, she hated waitressing.
Roxanne stepped up into the shuttle that waited to take employees to the far parking lot. The heat in the van blasted full-strength to ward off the cold high-desert winter.
She pulled the pins and ponytail holder from her upsweep and let her long, red hair fall across her shoulder and down over her breast. She itched her scalp, digging her fingernails in, loosening the hairspray she used to keep the mandatory hairdo in place.
Once the vehicle was half full, it took off. She glanced around but didn't know anyone. Not unusual, with the number of employees working at King's.
The shuttle stopped and everyone filed off.
"Merry Christmas," the shuttle driver repeated to each of them.
She returned the greeting and walked toward her truck. Her plans did not include a very merry Christmas at all. Driving up Mount Charleston to serve brunch at some rich Californian's chalet. But what else was she going to do? She didn't have the money to fly home to Minnesota. She was too new in town to have made any real friends. A week ago when the temp agency called her looking for someone who'd work Christmas Day, she'd jumped at the chance to get her bank account back above a zero balance.
She unlocked the truck but the driver's door handle stuck—again—and she jerked it a few times to get it open. Damn. She'd have to get this fixed, too.
Later that morning, after four hours of sleep, Roxanne dressed in black pants and a white shirt—the universal uniform for servers—pulled her hair back in a low pony, and poured herself a gigantic mug of coffee for the trip up the mountain.
After a half hour, the road sloped steeply upward. The clouds obscured the mountaintop and as she got closer, fog blotted out the sun.
Slowly the landscape of joshua trees, scrubby bushes, and tan dirt changed to pines and aspen and grass. Her breath caught. This looked so much like home. What was her family doing now? Probably opening gifts and sipping hot cocoa. Swallowing back a surge of homesickness, she turned on her headlights. The sky grew darker as she ascended.
A light sheen of moisture landed on her windshield and she turned on the wipers. Rain. Great. Not only a gloomy Christmas, but drizzly as well.
After a few miles, the wet turned to flaky. Snow? Really? It snowed in Las Vegas? She'd seen the white capped mountains in the distance, but it never connected that it was actually snow. That told her where her mind had been the last few weeks.
Once she'd given Charlie his ring back, sarcastically wished him good luck with his new girlfriend, and packed up everything she could carry in her truck, she'd focused on only one thing. Cooking in Las Vegas.
With chef jobs being so scarce because of the downturn in the economy, she'd taken a waitress job in a high-end restaurant, but the Egyptian goddess costume she was forced to wear didn't protect her butt from the pinchy fingers of oversexed, overserved men.
She mentally checked the list of restaurants she'd be heading to tomorrow to apply for any openings in the kitchen, then went over the list of the places she'd already applied. The nice thing about Vegas was the nearly unlimited number of restaurants in the valley.
The rear tires of her truck skidded toward the edge of the road.
"Crap." The snow came down heavier and accumulated on the blacktop. She shifted the truck into 4-wheel drive and listened to the axels engage. She smiled. "Yep. This is just like Christmas in Minnesota."
Fifteen minutes later, she pulled into the back entrance of the mansion. "Wow." She hadn't expected it to be this massive. The red log structure resembled an A-frame, but with three sprawling floors, it looked more like a ski lodge.
Roxanne rang the back doorbell and a large, older woman in a white apron opened the door. Her eyes were wild and her graying hair stuck up at odd angles. "Are you my wait staff?"
"Yes." She held out her hand to shake the woman's.
Instead the cook grabbed her wrist and tugged her inside. "God bless you for being early. The caterer couldn't make it up the mountain in the snow. He got halfway and turned around!" She shouted the words as if it was a federal offense.
Crap. Was the event cancelled? Would she still get paid? Roxanne looked around the huge stainless and marble kitchen. Cardboard boxes stood on every surface. "So, what's all this?"
The woman picked up a piece of paper. "The groceries were delivered yesterday. They were supposed to cook the dishes fresh today." She handed the sheet to Roxanne. "This is the menu, but for God's sake," her voice rose in pitch and alarm. "I don't know how to make those things."
She glanced down the list. It looked like Irish food. Strange choice for a Christmas brunch. She looked at the woman. "I'm assuming you're the cook here."
"Yes." Her hand shook as she held it out toward Roxanne. "I'm Marsha. I live on property and handle meals and cleaning."
They shook hands. "I'm Roxanne."
Marsha squeezed her hand between her two. "Thank God you're here. What are we going to do?"
"We?" How was she part of this? She'd been hired at minimum wage plus mileage plus gratuity to keep the buffet service filled and pick up dirty plates.
Marsha fanned her flushed face. "I've never done anything like this. The rare times Mr. Finn comes up here, it's usually for a day or two by himself. Not a party of twenty for the holidays!" The woman's eyes went a little wild. "Oh, God, what are we going to do?"
"Here." Roxanne pulled a stool closer. "First, you're going to sit down and take some deep breaths. Does Mr. Finn know that his caterer didn't show up?"
"No. I tried to call his cell, but they're skiing and it went right to voice mail. They'll be back in less than two hours, and I have nothing to feed them."
Roxanne checked the menu again. "This might be doable." She walked to the counter and went through each of the boxes, taking stock of the base ingredients.
Marsha pointed to the large double-door cooler. "Frigerated items are in there, on the right side." A tear escaped and ran down her cheek. "What are we going to do?"
The poor woman was so distraught, it touched Roxanne's heart. "Okay. We can do this. I'm a trained chef."
Marsha closed her eyes, laced her fingers together, and moved her mouth silently. After a moment, she looked up to the ceiling then at Roxanne. "You're the answer to my prayers."
She let out a laugh. She'd never been called that before, but she'd run with it. "Keep praying, Marsha. I've never made most of these items before, and a few of them I've never even heard of."
"Oh, no." The worry lines crept back into her forehead.
"I'll need a computer."
Marsha stood and opened a large cabinet. "Here's the kitchen computer." She turned it on. "Printer, too."
"Perfect." Roxanne pulled a chair over and sat at the little desk. "If you'd take everything out of the boxes and organize them on the counters, I'd—"
"Right away." Her voice was so cheerful, Roxanne couldn't help but smile.
The menu listed nine items. She'd print out the recipes and figure out which ones she'd have time to make. "Marsha?" She turned toward the woman. "Will you say one more prayer? This time, for the chef?"
Stop by tomorrow for Chapter Two!