Authors: Tracey Alvarez
“So, Claire rang Del to ask if he’d consider taking over for Bill—temporarily,” West added.
If West had just slugged her in the stomach, it couldn’t have hurt less. All the years she’d put in at Due South, before and after her chef training in Invercargill. The hours of menial work and late nights. Even waitressing in what little spare time she had to help out. A few times, Bill mentioned that when he’d had a gutsful and wanted to hop on a cruise ship bound for the islands, Due South would be Shaye’s to run. All of that, and they were shoving her aside for a man who wouldn’t know loyalty if it jumped up and bit him on the butt?
West blathered on. Phrases including
Del’s experience will benefit us all
just until after the wedding
Del will train you up
blistered her brain, churned and steamed inside her belly. So Shaye had never dared voice out loud that Bill making her Due South’s head chef one day was her life-long dream, but still. She could do it now—she totally could!
She tuned out West’s explanations of why he’d sold her out and addressed Bill.
“Why didn’t you ask me to take over for you? I don’t understand—we’ve talked about this.” Pressing her lips tightly together, she glanced at West’s slack-jawed amazement.
“You want to be head chef?” said West in an
tone of voice. “You never told me you wanted…”
Shaye expected fire-bolts to shoot out of her eye sockets and fry her future brother-in-law.
West scratched his jaw helplessly. “And mum and I thought you’d be happy to have someone with his…ah.”
Bill held up a placating palm. “One day, you will take full responsibility for Due South. But Shaye, I’m sorry. I just don’t think you’re ready to go it alone. West’s right—maybe it’s a good thing Del’s here for a bit. He’s worked in restaurants a lot bigger than our little place; he can teach you stuff I can’t.”
Like hell. Like
would she let some know-it-all walk all over her and her plans for Due South. Every muscle in Shaye’s neck ratcheted tighter than piano wire as she swiveled to glare at Del. He still stood arms folded, but his gaze—soft and sympathetic—scanned her face.
Well, bugger him too. Mr. Fancy Hollywood chef could take his “pardon me while I screw you sideways” fake sympathy and shove it.
“Why are you even here?” She stalked over to him. “Why would you want to work in a tiny hotel in the middle of nowhere?”
“I have my reasons, and I haven’t agreed yet.” His guarded reply poured gasoline on her temper.
“Oh. So you’ve not decided whether you’ll lower your standards to work here?
A muscle in Del’s jaw ticked.
Touched a sore spot, had she? Hah! This was her job, her career, her pride on the line. People considered her a pushover because she strove to be nice, strove to keep harmony between those she loved.
But those people were wrong.
Her blood boiled so hot she could’ve served it as chili sauce. “Couldn’t you hack the LA pace anymore?” she asked. “Or maybe they fired your ass?”
Del’s eyes narrowed to slits, and he stepped so close she could’ve stomped on one of his black and white Converse sneakers. “Are you always this unprofessional when your employers make decisions regarding the future of
Her heart slammed into her throat, choking off her air supply. Her fingernails dug sharp crescents into her palms. At nine years old, she’d slapped Ben for deliberately breaking the head off her favorite Barbie, but since then she’d never hit another person in anger. Right this second, though, Del’s face resembled a big-ass neon target. His choice of words stung her pride even worse—she bloody well
she was acting unprofessionally—but she just couldn’t get control of the hurt rampaging through her system.
“Shaye, c’mon now. Pull your head in.” Bill’s voice sliced through the red haze, the resignation in his tone draining a fraction of her temper away.
Bill was a proud man—letting anyone take over his kitchen was tantamount to admitting he was beat. A bitter pill for both of them to swallow.
She gave Del her back and appealed to her mentor one last time. “You don’t need him; the two of us are doing fine. He doesn’t know Due South the way we do.”
. Working together, the pair of you are gonna keep this place alive until I’m well enough to kick both your miserable butts into shape.” Bill chuckled, but the sound rattled in his throat like gravel crushed in a blender.
Her inner temperature gauge dropped out of the red-zone. “I won’t work under him.”
Vince’s muffled snicker dropped into the sudden silence, and she froze.
. That came out wrong. Had the men noticed? Of-freaking-course they had.
“I’m sure working under me won’t be a problem,” Del said. “Unless you make it one.”
“Oh, go to hell, Hollywood.”
The man had the audacity to flash a grin at her, showing off the cute crooked tooth and all.
Lani, one of their servers, pushed through the kitchen doors. “Table three wants his steak cremated and a—” Glancing up from the order pad, she skipped her gaze around the room, her brown eyes widening as they settled on Del.
At nineteen, Lani probably wouldn’t remember Del from when she was a kid, but the resemblance between all three of the Westlake men was unmistakable. Del switched on his mega-watt smile and aimed it at the young Maori woman. Incredibly, their often sullen but hard-working server returned the expression.
He’d won another ally. Super.
“Enough chit-chat.” Bill flicked his fingers at Lani. “We’ve got customers waiting. We’ll sort this shit, and you”—He paused to glower at Del—“out tomorrow. Staff meeting at eight.”
“Shaye, let’s go to my place and talk this through,” said West.
A group roasting by the two brothers and her big sister, all of them insisting Shaye’s objections were unreasonable?
. Thanks, but no thanks. She tossed her ponytail over her shoulder, hoping it’d flick Del in the eye.
“Let’s not. Let’s see if your brother can even handle a few days on Stewart Island without going stir crazy.”
And with the shreds of her dignity intact—she plain refused to let that man provoke her temper again—Shaye swept out of Due South.
Well, that went about as smoothly as his first conversation with the feisty brunette. Which was to say, he’d come off like a complete douche—muscling in on Shaye’s territory and stomping all over her dainty feet. Letting her needle him into losing his cool.
He yanked his gaze from the back door and met his father’s speculative stare, the old man’s caterpillar eyebrows almost touching his hairline.
“Eight sharp, not a minute late.” Bill clipped an order to the rack. “Now get out and go see your mother, since this whole damn thing was her crazy idea.”
Crazy idea being the understatement of the century.
With another quick glance around the kitchen, which would almost fit into one of
restrooms, Del shrugged. He could point out that at twenty-seven he was too old to be ordered about, least of all by a man who was his father in name only. But frankly, he wanted to get the hell out of this kitchen.
West clapped Del on the shoulder, and he jumped.
“Let’s go. A quick fuss-over by Claire and we’ll head to my place.”
“Aren’t you going after Shaye?” Del asked.
“It’d do more harm than good at this point.” West shook his head. “She needs to work off that head of steam—she’ll be on her way to trash-talk about us to one of her friends. I’ll speak to her in the morning.”
“Great start to our working relationship. What a total fuck up.”
“You’ll feel better after a beer and a good sleep after your long flight.”
Del sighed. His brother had no idea. “I’m whipped, but yeah, I’d better say hi to Mom.” He jerked his chin toward the back door. “She in the cottage?”
“Last I saw.” West grinned. “Nothing much has changed here, Delly. You’ll fit right into the groove again.”
“Don’t call me Delly, butthead.” He managed a returning smile.
Although he’d rather catch the next ferry to the mainland and pretend this whole trip was a hallucinatory episode brought on by determined sobriety, he wouldn’t. He was stuck at Due South, in the shitty position of ousting Shaye as head chef. He could fool West, he could fool Bill and his mother—he could even fool Shaye by pretending he had options. But he couldn’t fool himself.
Claire was mixing cookie dough when he and West walked into their old house, but Del didn’t have the heart to tell her he no longer had a sweet tooth.
West had been right. His mom fussed a little, scolded him for not letting them know his arrival plans, and made up a container of cookies for him. Painless in comparison with his brief interaction with Bill.
He hadn’t always gotten on so well with his mom. He’d been a right shit to her for the first year in LA, convinced if he made her miserable enough, she’d return him to his father and brother. Didn’t happen.
Claire had moved in with Lionel soon after Del had turned fifteen, and he’d decided to hate his new stepfather and thirteen-year-old stepsister. Fortunately, Lionel, a former Air Force officer, believed in crack-of-dawn, five-mile runs and brutal—but not physical—disciplinary actions. He also took Del and Carly on camping weekends in nearby state parks and showed up at every high school baseball game and parent-teacher conference. Hard to keep a hate campaign going when pitted against genuine tough love, especially as his stepsister turned out to be his greatest ally.
Then last year, Lionel died after a nightmarish battle with malignant Glioblastoma, a nasty type of brain tumor. The big,
don’t take crap from anyone, let alone a punk kid
, fly-boy had been decimated, turning into a transparent ghost of the man Del loved. Yeah, he’d loved him. Took him until his stepfather lay on his deathbed before Del called Lionel “Dad”, but Del had meant it when he’d said it.
“Don’t be too hard on Bill.” His mom passed over the container of cookies. “Just give yourselves some time to adjust to each other.”
“Sure. Don’t worry.”
Like he intended to take a swing, verbal or actual, at the old man. Bill Westlake warranted only a small part of Del’s energy, no more than the energy it’d taken to have him shipped off so many years ago.
Del stepped outside and crossed the gravel parking lot separating the hotel buildings from his parents’ cottage. West had already left five minutes ago to organize a ride to his place. A white van with Due South sign-writing on the panel parked with its engine running, a dread-locked dude in coveralls hoisting Del’s luggage inside.
He didn’t believe the man would bail with his suitcase—because where could you escape to on Stewart Island, which was eighty percent frickin’ wilderness? He just didn’t want the little camera and laptop in his sports bag damaged.
The man spun around, aiming dark sunglasses, and a slight scowl in Del’s direction.
Del squinted, and as he strode closer his eyes popped wide. “Ford?”
Scowl transforming into a lazy-cat smile, Ford Komeke shoved his shades up into his dreads. “Heard you were here.”
“From your mom?”
Ford snorted. “Mom? Listen to you. Yep, my
came over to the shop and said you’d rolled into town.”
“Still working for your dad? Thought you’d be outta here like Harley years ago.”
“Nah. This is my turf; I’m not going anywhere. And somebody’s gotta stay and maintain people’s shit with Dad, otherwise it all falls apart.”
“Mr. Fix-it man and his pet grease monkey.”
Ford shot him a wide, teeth-bared grin. “Wanna walk up to West’s lugging your own suitcase?”
From behind him a hand ruffled Del’s hair and knocked his head forward. “Stirring up the locals already, brother?”
West sauntered over and opened the van’s passenger door. “I’m calling shotgun. Del—you ride in back. Piper’s making you up a bed downstairs.” He climbed in and glanced over his shoulder. “And she’s cooking dinner. We’ll stop for a pie at Russell’s on the way. Hope you can wolf it down then act like you’re starving.”
Del hopped onto the first row of seats, and Ford slammed the sliding door. Del jumped, pent up nervous energy sparking up and down his spine. After the day he’d had, he needed to let loose in a kitchen. He needed the concentrated focus of being in the weeds during a busy dinner service. Backlogged orders and utter chaos kept his mind on a singular track with no room for anything else. Working a crazy shift, sex, or a long run were his go-to methods of burning off the fidgets. As sex wasn’t on tonight’s menu, he’d go for a run later—he sure didn’t want to listen to West banging his fiancée upstairs.