“I didn’t know I was changing my name to Ned.” She laughed at his expression, then moaned when he surged inside her then drew almost all the way out. She squirmed on top of him, trying to press back down, but he held her in place.
“That’s Mrs. Ned.” He surged inside her with a swift stroke.
Her gasp left her unable to answer and he took advantage of the situation, thrusting into her again and again until her cries rang out through the cabin. He shouted his own release soon after, and it wasn’t until they lay entwined and panting that he took the subject up again.
“Are you ready to make our announcement?”
“Yes!” Her assurance brought a smile to his face. He couldn’t wait to tell everyone the news. He wanted to broadcast it to the world. Fila Sahar was marrying Ned Matheson. As soon as possible. In fact—
He pushed himself up on his elbows. “Let’s set the date.”
She trailed a hand down to caress him, seeming all too interested in going for another round. It was a good thing he’d broken his leg, Ned reflected happily. Otherwise his ranch chores might get in the way of their lovemaking. They’d have to make hay while the sun shone, so to speak, since his vacation was only temporary. As he stirred to life again below the belt he thought he could put up with that for now.
When Fila was ready to concentrate on other things some time later, he brought up setting the date again. “I think we should hold the wedding soon—before you open Fila’s for real. How about Valentine’s Day? That’s just under a month away and you’re still waiting on permits and inspections, anyway. By that time you’ll be just about ready to open. We’ll grab a quick honeymoon, come home and get back to work.”
She made a face. “I’d rather stay here in bed with you, but if I can’t, that sounds perfect.”
“I’ll let Mom and Dad know.”
“I’ll take care of telling everyone else.”
The dry run was both chaotic and successful—more fun than Fila could possibly have imagined, with more accidents and upsets than she could have predicted, too. While they wanted all their guests to end up in the restaurant to celebrate together, they also wanted a chance to experience what it would be like with customers coming in at staggered times. Mia had come up with the idea of having several groups of people arrive in ten minute increments. All their guests came to the counter to place their orders like normal customers and Mia rang them up at the till, although they charged no money.
They recruited Hannah and Morgan to act as servers to bring the meals out to the guests and clear away unused dishes when they were done. They’d arranged the dishes into groupings, so their customers could try small portions of several menu items at a time. Fila and Camila raced around the kitchen responding to orders and cooking as fast as they could. Camila kept up a constant stream of chatter and exclamations in Spanish as she worked, which at first threw Fila off her stride, then made her laugh until she nearly cried when realized Camila was talking to her ingredients. She soon grew used to the noise and eventually blocked it out by humming the pop tunes she’d begun to memorize. Between Camila’s talking and her snatches of songs, the kitchen was a lively place.
After everyone had been seated and served, Fila and Camila took a break and came to the front to eat with the rest of the guests. Camila slid into an empty spot next to Lisa. Fila was surprised when Holt slid out of the same booth and made his way over to where she leaned against the counter.
“The only thing I can’t figure out is why you still eat the food your captors fed you. Why don’t you hate it as much as you hate them?”
Fila glanced down at her plate. It contained a strange mixture of Afghan and Mexican dishes. She held up a flatbread. “This isn’t Taliban food—it’s Afghan food. It’s my mother’s food. I grew up eating it before I was ever captured. To me it means love and tenderness, not hate and violence.”
“Taliban, Afghan—it’s all the same.”
She waved the bread. “No, it’s not. Not one bit. Afghan culture is over two thousand years old. And it’s a conservative culture—it’s had to be—but it’s not a culture of monsters. Afghans are people like you, Holt. They’re born, they grow up, they live and love and they die just like we do. I didn’t study much history before I was taken, but I know this much. America’s story is that of the frontier—of always having room to grow. Afghanistan’s story is that of occupation. By the Russians, the British, the Mongols—even the ancient Greeks. On and on for century after century. Imagine all those wars being fought in Montana. Foreign armies living among us, taking over your ranch, stealing everything you own, killing your wife and children, over and over and over again.” She paused to catch her breath. “Death is right around the corner for them—all the time. Is it any wonder that a movement that turns men into warriors and codes everything else into rigid rules might seem like the answer?” She still wasn’t sure if Holt was following her. What analogy would make sense to him? She wracked her brain. “If a bunch of Californians overran Chance Creek and forced everyone to eat tofu, would you refuse to ever eat steak again?”
He made a face. “Of course not!”
“Then imagine the Taliban are the Californians, forcing everyone to eat tofu. And everyone does it because they don’t know what else to do. They still love steak, but they will be severely punished if they eat it—so will their families. That’s what it’s like for many Afghans living under Taliban control. It’s not their choice. They still love their country. They still love their heritage. That doesn’t mean they love the group of extremists who have taken over.”
“Even if those Taliban people went away, they still wouldn’t be anything like you and me.” Holt crossed his arms.
Fila suppressed a smile at his inclusion of her. That was a step in the right direction even if the greater message was lost on him. “They’re more like you than you think. Defensive. Angry. Always on the lookout for trouble.”
Holt straightened. “I have four sons. Of course I’m on the lookout for trouble.”
“They have sons, too.” She waited to see if he understood.
Holt shook his head. “We’re going to see different on this one. But I understand about the food. Everyone likes their mother’s cooking best.” He surveyed her plate. “You got any more of that bread?”