Authors: Tracey Alvarez
Denise slapped his hand away. “Nothing. Shaye’s in the last double room, and we’re booked out with a group doing the Rakiura track for a team-building exercise.” She said the last words with a twist of her red lips and an eye roll, which indicated air quotes should be used.
West turned to him. “Could’ve phoned to tell us you were coming, dickweed.”
“Hadn’t decided up until a few days ago, shit-for-brains. I had stuff to work out.”
“Guess you will be bunking in my downstairs guestroom.” West shoulder checked him. “I’ll find you some ear-plugs so you can sleep. Piper and I get a little…enthusiastic.”
. Sounded like fun.
“TMI, young man.” Denise tutted and stood up. “Leave those bags here for now. You’ll have things to discuss with your father.”
They dropped off the suitcase and sports bag in the storage area behind reception. Del turned, and West laid a hand on his arm.
“Does your return mean you’re taking over for Dad?”
Every muscle in Del’s body went rigid. “Maybe. Probably. Guess it all depends on…Bill.” He couldn’t bring himself to say “Dad.”
West grunted, a world of worry in the low sound. “He’s not doing great. I don’t know how much longer he’ll even be able to cope with a slow night like tonight without exhausting himself.”
“He won’t like stepping down.”
West sent him a crooked grin and a shrug. “Hell, no. How long can you be away from
Considering Wayne Tanner would flash-fry his nuts if he walked onto
premises, a long time. “Until you can get a decent replacement.”
“Shaye’s solid and a fast learner.”
“You haven’t told her about the possibility of me working here?”
“Nah. She’s not keen about anyone new being in her kitchen, but she knows she can’t do it alone for much longer. She’ll be glad to have someone with your experience running the show.”
Considering their little interaction on the ferry, Del didn’t think Shaye would be thrilled to see him again under any circumstances.
West cast Del a level glance. “Claire and I never really believed you’d come, little bro. Not even for the wedding.”
Fair enough. Del couldn’t believe he’d come either. Except, thanks to good old Larry, whose cousin knew someone who knew someone at CBS about to shoot a reality TV series, Del had a chance to start over. The chance centered solely on him being a head chef in a restaurant needing a makeover from Ethan Ward, celebrity chef and entrepreneur. Due South fitted the bill perfectly.
But if the audition video he intended to shoot and submit within the next two weeks failed to make it through the first round of
Ward On Fire
, Del was gone. Wedding or not.
“Let’s go talk to the old man.”
Shaye planned to stay in her room, break into her emergency supply of Russian fudge, and finish her book club novel. If she’d still been living with her friend Kezia, she would’ve cooked up a storm. But since Kez and her brother moved in together, and Ben decided to rent his house out over the upcoming tourist season, Shaye opted to live in Due South until the tiny flat she planned to rent off one of the locals had been refurbished.
But man, she missed having her own kitchen space when she needed to burn off some tension. And the muscles along her shoulders were as hard as a line of jawbreakers.
Tense or otherwise, she’d done her duty as future sister-in-law by flying into Due South to tell West his brother was on the ferry. Neglecting to mention, of course, that she’d rather dig out her eyeballs with a melon baller than ever see Del Westlake again.
But once the burst of brain-clearing sugar finished exploding through her system, she realized she needed to tell the most important person of all.
Time for a cunning plan—whip down to the kitchen, talk to Bill, and run back upstairs before the fireworks started. That’d work.
She hustled along the first floor hallway and glanced over the thick wooden banister. Their receptionist’s head was bent over her phone as she tapped away on the screen. With her ears straining for West or Del’s voice, Shaye crept down the stairs, darting past the front desk while Denise was engrossed with her word-battles. So far, so good.
Humming the guitar riff from the James Bond theme song, she pushed through the swinging doors into the familiar steamy smells of garlic, seared beef, and caramelized onions. The rapid chop of knives on boards and the clatter of pans soothed her tense muscles. Due South’s kitchen was home.
First cook, Vince, who’d worked with Bill since God was a boy—or so the grizzled veteran claimed—winked at her from behind the pass.
At the multi-burner simmering the afternoon’s sauces, Bill turned, a testing spoon halfway to his lips. “What’re you doing here?”
“Maybe I couldn’t keep away from your wonderful self.”
“Where’s Robbie?” Her gaze zipped around the kitchen for their other line cook and expeditor when the dinner rush slammed them into the weeds.
“Told her to go play bridge with her cronies; no use her working tonight. We’re only quarter booked again. The Rakiura crowd are off eating tofu or something, according to Denise.” Bill slipped the spoon into his mouth, grimaced, then pointed it in her direction. “Thought you’d gone shopping in the city?”
, perfect example of the community grapevine in action. No one did anything, went anywhere, or talked to anyone without everyone getting in on the gossip. Luckily, they didn’t know what she’d been shopping for. Give it time though—someone on the ferry would’ve noticed her
“I did, and now I’m back. There’s nothing else to do on a boring Monday night but hang out with you. Not as if I have a social life.” She edged farther into the kitchen and snatched up a julienned carrot from a prepared bowl of salad ingredients.
“’Cause you’re too damn picky. Vince and I don’t need you hovering here. Go and giggle over bloody flower arrangements or something with your sister.”
“They’re sorted.” Shaye cast Bill a glance from beneath her lashes as she nibbled on the carrot.
Judging by Bill’s normal testiness, he hadn’t a clue who’d accompanied her on the ferry. But the shock of his youngest son arriving unexpectedly early? He needed her at his back, whether he admitted it or not.
Bill returned to his sauce. “Whatever. Just keep out of my way.”
She scanned the neat rows of bowls lined up along their workspace, habitually checking all ingredients were
mise en place
. Sometimes, she’d make pretty garnishes to trick a fussy child customer into eating their broccoli or baby carrots. Other times, no amounts of creativity could disguise a plate of vegetables. As the messenger, she’d likely bear the brunt of Bill’s shocked temper. Swallowing Del’s arrival would be a lot worse than choking down a serving of veggies. But she’d known Bill her whole life and had worked for him in one capacity or another for almost ten years. He’d taken a skinny ugly duckling under his wing and trained her to be a swan.
Staying silent wasn’t an option.
She had a fifteen minute head start on Del, since he’d still been crashed out on the ferry bench when she’d disembarked, but any second now, two Westlake men would blast through those doors…
Shaye walked to Bill’s side and laid a hand on his forearm. “Chef. There’s something I need to tell you.”
Bill ran a tight but casual kitchen as Due South’s head chef. With an army background of cooking for men who’d eat anything not nailed down, Bill considered himself a
salt of the earth
cook. Which was one reason why his staff addressed him by his first name and saved the affectionately teasing but respectful title of Chef for her. When Shaye called him Chef, Bill knew she meant business.
He stilled, giving her his best crabby-old-man glare. A glare without any animosity backing it up. “Service is starting soon, so this better not be about wearing a damn suit for the wedding.”
“It’s not the suit.” Which he would wear if his ex-wife and Shaye’s mother had anything to say on the matter. And they had plenty to say. “It’s Del.”
“What about him?”
A tone in Bill’s voice prickled over her scalp. In all the years she’d worked for him, they’d never discussed West’s little brother. None of Bill’s funny stories featured Del and he never mentioned his son’s accomplishments, as if his youngest boy had chosen some obscure field of neurobiological research instead of a career which mirrored Bill’s own. Yet with all those years of radio silence, why the lack of surprise at the sudden mention of Del’s name?
“He was on the ferry this afternoon,” she said. “He’s back on the island.”
The rapid chop-chop-chop of Vince’s knife stilled. First cook had radar ears, and the weight of his stare prickled her spine. The ropy forearm muscles under her fingertips tightened into knots. Bill shook off her hand and continued to stir the
“You’re dreaming, girlie. Del’s a sous in some upmarket Hollywood place.”
“I just spoke to him, Bill. He’s here, he’s—”
The swinging doors blew open, and West strode in. Del followed him, tension etched in the clench of his jaw and his braced-for-trouble shoulders.
Dammit. Out of time.
Bill swung around at the soft whoosh of the doors. His weathered face remained bland, as if West had shown up for another nag-fest about him working too hard. Nothing indicated he’d clapped eyes on a son he hadn’t seen in over a decade. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Nothing, unless you noticed Bill’s knuckles turning white around the wooden spoon and the reddish-brown
drip-drip-dripping onto the kitchen floor.
“Uh, Dad? Del’s here.” West hesitated at the pass, sending her a wary but apologetic glance.
Del and Bill faced each other across the gleaming expanse of the stainless steel counters. Del with arms crossed like dueling pistols, Bill with lips thinning to a bloodless line. Both Westlakes showed as much emotion as the quietly humming refrigerator. A silent,
my balls are bigger than your balls
Bill tossed the dripping spoon into the sink. “My eyes are in working order, son.”
Del’s lip curled in response. “That’s all you got to say?”
“You want me to go kill one of Lou Gibson’s pet sheep for a homecoming feast in your honor?”
Del tilted his head, looking down his nose at his father. “Mutton’s the best you can offer? Figures.”
Guess neither man was ready to mend those burned bridges. Shaye’s stomach flip-flopped, and she clamped her lips shut before her peace-keeping tendencies flooded to the surface. She should sneak out, but movement would attract the three Westlakes’ attention like a gazelle twerking in front of a lion pride.
“So, you came, after all,” said Bill.
Wait—what? Her gaze leaped from Vince to Bill to West, skipped past Del, and returned to Bill.
Del was coming today?”
“Course not. I didn’t think he’d show up for the wedding, let alone listen to Claire’s crazy idea—” Bill’s lips clamped shut and his eyes widened a fraction in an,
oh crap I’ve said too much
What sort of crazy idea had his ex-wife come up with?
Shaye had missed a pretty damn big piece of the jigsaw puzzle so far as Del’s appearance was concerned. She frowned, and West, who’d developed the same expression as her newly discovered niece Jade when caught stealing a still-warm cookie, provided another puzzle piece.
West knew why Del had come home.
Her warm cheeks grew hotter. Yes, Bill called her girlie sometimes, and maybe she had the occasional ditzy moment in her personal life. But as far as work went?
She was focused, solid, unshakeable.
With a keen nose that could pick individual ingredients out of a dish at ten paces, what she smelled now was a rat. A whole bunch of things combining into something her potty-mouthed sister would describe as a
sewer rat sucked up in shit-tornado.
“Could you please explain this crazy idea?” She directed her terse question to Bill and West, since she had no intention of engaging Del in conversation.
“Well, now.” Bill scratched the front of his chef’s jacket then smoothed his fingers over the line of snaps. “Claire rang Del in LA a week or so ago—I didn’t hear this ‘til afterward, mind.” Bill twitched his bushy eyebrows at West in an obvious
you tell her the rest
West held up his palms. “It’s not a crazy idea. Now that Dad can’t do as many hours, it’s too much pressure on you. I told you that earlier in the year. You know we put an ad out for a chef—”
“And Bill pulled it. Because we don’t
“In hindsight, I may’ve been a bit premature pulling the ad,” said Bill.