Six months later
Nick wielded the knife with speed and precision as Katie watched, wide-eyed. The razor-sharp blade made a soft whisking sound as he cut fresh herbs on the wooden chopping block. After mincing cilantro, lemon grass and basil, he used the edge of the knife to scrape the fragrant greens into a saucepan.
Katie smiled and shook her head. “I don’t know how you do that. I’d be at Saint Mary’s getting my fingers reattached.”
Nick’s father bustled around the restaurant kitchen and plated the entrees. He waved his hand over the herbed sauce, inhaling the aroma. “Smells fantastic, Nick.” He poured the sauce over veal cutlets and then carried the steaming dishes into the dining room.
Nonna entered the kitchen. “Nickie, Mrs. Lepkowski keeps asking me who gave her the check? You want I should tell her?”
“No, Nonna. Tell her it was an anonymous donor.”
She reached up and patted Nick’s cheek. “She cry when she opened the card. Enough money to send her two children to college and then some.”
“Money won’t bring back their father.” Nick sighed. “I hope it helps his kids.”
“Nick, this fund raiser you organized helps all three of the policemen and their families. Plus, you paid for all the food. You’ve done a lot,” Katie said.
Nonna fished a paint chip from her apron pocket and held it out to Katie. “I order the paint at the hardware store this morning.”
“Paint for what?” Nick asked.
Nonna squeezed Katie’s cheek. “You no tell him?”
“Tell me what?” Nick looked from Katie to Nonna.
Nonna sighed and threw her hands up. “Your bedroom. Paint it blue, Nickie.”
“Our spare bedroom?” He frowned at Katie. “I already painted it the green you wanted.”
Katie smiled. “Nonna thinks I’m pregnant and the baby’s a boy.”
Nick wiped his hands on his apron and then grasped Katie’s shoulders. “Are you?”
“Of course she is.” Nonna folded her arms across her chest, her head nodding.
Katie hesitated. “I don’t know. I hope so, but I haven’t had time to do a test.”
“Eh, tests!” Nonna rolled her eyes. “I see it in your eyes. A grandson. God help me, another boy.”
Nick pulled Katie close. “We’re gonna have a son? This is incredible.”
“Good, now he know.” Nonna embraced them both. “I start planning the Christening and the party for after.” She left them alone and headed into the dining room.
“I’ll pick up a test at the drug store, to be sure.” Katie touched his cheek. “I’m so proud of you. You’ve done everything you said you would. The memorial for Walt at the hospital, helping Tara’s mom and the police fund raiser. You deserve to be happy now.”
“I am.” He kissed her.
The front doorbell jingled, interrupting their embrace. Katie peeked through the porthole window in the door. “They’re here.” She hurried into the dining room to greet Ray and Alona. Nick followed a few steps behind, carrying a tray.
“Hi Ray, you look great. Not even a limp,” Katie said.
“I feel great,” Ray said as he hugged Katie. “Wow, this place is jammed.”
“Today’s the police fund raiser.” She smiled at Alona. “And next weekend it’ll be your reception dinner. Can you believe it’s almost here?”
Alona’s shiny, black curls bounced around her radiant face as she nodded her head. “I know. I’m so excited.”
“Ray, Alona.” Nick waved from the back corner of the dining room. “C’mon back to your private tasting table.” He added the tray to the spread of serving dishes on the table.
The three wound their way through the crowded tables. “Oh, my gosh, Nick, this looks and smells wonderful!” Alona’s eyes sparkled as she surveyed the colorful foods elegantly displayed on the table.
“I told you, Nick’s an incredible chef.” Ray pulled out a chair for Alona. The four sat at the table.
“Yes, but I thought cooking was only his hobby. I read your vampire series. I’m impressed—horror novels being on the Times best seller list.”
“I gave up writing horror stories. I work here as a chef and for the Daily Record as a stringer and researcher.”
“Huh, I didn’t know that,” Ray said. “And you run the catering here, too?”
“I like to stay busy.”
“Not to mention the beautiful work he’s done renovating our brownstone. Only one more room to paint. Re-paint.” Katie winked and brushed a lock of hair from Nick’s forehead. “Which reminds me, Alona, Ray, your wedding shower on Wednesday night,” Katie paused and elbowed Nick, “it isn’t an old-fashioned shower, boys are allowed to come, too.”
Nick grinned at Ray. “Or we can go out and have an old-fashioned bachelor party.”
“You’re not a bachelor, you’re taken.” Katie swatted his arm.
“If our wedding turns out half as beautiful as yours, I’ll be ecstatic,” Alona said. She pointed to the framed wedding photo of Nick and Katie hanging on the wall next to Sal’s graduation picture. She bit into a canape. “Mm, taste this Ray, it’s delicious!” She fed the rest of the filled pastry to Ray.
“We still need to decide on desserts, besides the wedding cake, of course,” Nick said.
Alona waved her hands excitedly as she chewed and then swallowed. “Can you do one of those cannoli-thingies, like you two had at your reception dinner?”
Nick and Katie looked at each other and then burst out laughing.
“You mean the infamous cannoli tree?” Katie said.
“We called it the great cannoli pyramid. It was as tall as Nonna.” Nick laughed, demonstrating the height with his hands.
Ray reached for another pastry. “It’s up to you, Alona, I can’t choose, I just want to eat it all.”
“Alona,” Katie said, “Loretta sent over some sample roses for your bouquets, I put them in the cooler in the back. C’mon, I’ll show you.” The two women walked into the kitchen.
Ray leaned across the table. “I can’t let you do all this, Nick.” He motioned to the food laid out before them. “Let me pay you something, man.”
“Absolutely not. It’s my wedding gift,” Nick said. “I owe you more than I can ever repay.”
“You don’t owe me a thing. Seeing you and Katie married and happy is all the payback I need. You two went through a pretty rough time. I’m glad it all worked out.”
“Me too. One month of fame damn near ruined my life forever.”
“Is that why you quit writing?”
“I still write. I collaborate on reports with Janis Ford, she’s an investigative reporter at the Daily.”
“That’s a big switch from vampire books, no?”
Nick shrugged. “I had a contract with the publisher to complete the trilogy, but I don’t have any other books planned right now. The royalties have been great, but Janis and I are working on a series of cold case murder articles. Mostly serial killers. The latest is this evil bastard named Artie Mosley. He was put to death for one murder, but from my research, I found he tortured and killed a dozen or more women. Maybe these exposés will give the murdered women’s families some closure.”
“You said you gave up writing horror. These articles sound pretty grisly.”
Nick nodded. “The things people do to each other in real life are more horrific than any fiction I could ever dream up.”