Ready To Burn (Due South Book 3) (6 page)

BOOK: Ready To Burn (Due South Book 3)
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They drove the short distance to Russell’s grocery store, and West disappeared inside, returning a few moments later with three brown paper bags, small spots of oil already soaking through in places.

Del took the offered bag and bit into the steaming pastry. “Fuck!” he spluttered, fanning his open mouth and burned top pallet.

Laughter erupted from the front seat.

West passed him a water bottle. “Blow on it first, idiot. The Russells keep their pies thermo-nuclear, remember?”

No, he did not fucking remember. The last time he’d eaten the Kiwi tradition of a hot, savory meat pie, he’d been a different person. He’d been a kid whose greatest worry was if he’d ever be good enough to play for Southland’s Under 16’s rugby team. Or whether the pretty, blonde Bree Findlow smiled at him, or if he and West would end up sleeping at the Harland’s yet again, since their parents were fighting.

He wasn’t a naive kid anymore. He was a professional chef who shouldn’t be soiling his taste buds with ground beef, gravy and golden pastry. Like everything on Stewart Island, it looked good on the surface, but underneath lurked things which burned.

Del unscrewed the bottle cap and gulped water. “How can you put this kind of shit in your body?”

“That shit you’re eating cost me four bucks. If you don’t want it, Ford’ll eat it.”

“Hell, yeah.” Ford finished blowing on his pie and took an enormous bite.

They ate in silence for a few minutes.

West grinned at Del over the seat. “Maybe you should save room for dinner.”

Ford gave a low snicker. “I’d pay to be a bug on the wall after your bro insults Piper’s cooking.”

“I’m not going to insult her damn cooking.” Del ate the last chunk of pie, refusing to lick the buttery crumbs of pastry off his fingers, because that would make it look as if he’d actually enjoyed it.

“You haven’t tried it yet,” Ford muttered and started the van.

They drove along the waterfront and wound up a steep hill, turning into the driveway of a two story house overlooking Horseshoe Bay. West crumpled his paper bag and stuffed it into the coffee holder. Del and West hopped out of the car and unloaded the bags.

Sliding the van door shut, West banged on the panel. “Poker tomorrow night.”

“Better save my cash for the stripper we’re hiring for your stag do,” Ford yelled out his window. “Shit. Uh—hi, Piper! Just kidding.”

With a quick wave, Ford revved the engine and took off.

Del turned to the woman leaning against the open door frame. Taller than her sister, Piper still had the Harland family brown hair, hazel eyes and athletic build. Shaye’s eyes were more green than hazel, and although still a tall woman, she had softer curves.

Dressed in khaki shorts and an
It’s not that time of the month, I just hate you
tee, Piper picked her way in bare feet over the driveway.

“You’re not going to hug me, are you, Stubby?” Her old nickname popped into his head and slipped off his tongue.

That gave her pause. She slapped a hand on her hip and studied him. “Nope.”

Piper moved closer—way closer—grabbed either side of his face with both hands, and planted a solid, smacking kiss on his lips. She pulled back and smiled a Cheshire-cat grin, hazel eyes sparking. “A hello-my-hawt-brother-in-law kiss, instead.”

“Don’t you know never to tell a woman not to do something?” West dragged Piper close for a kiss a lot friendlier than a hello one.

Before Del could suggest they take it upstairs, Piper stepped out of West’s arms and jabbed a finger at his stomach. “Have you been eating a pie?”

West held up his hands. “Blame your new brother-in-law. He insisted on having a Russell’s pie on the way home. I tried to tell him—”

“Yeah, right. What am I, stupid?” She slapped West on the ass, and they grinned goofily at each other.

Del shifted his sports bag from hand to hand, cleared his throat and glanced at the house. “Nice place you got here.”

“Not fancy, like your bachelor pad in LA, I bet,” Piper said. “But we’ve got a killer view.”

His old Venice apartment looked out over an alley dumpster, that often doubled as a sex-club for stray cats.

“Can’t argue,” he said mildly.

Not gonna mention he’d give up this postcard sunset and endless green in an instant for his old life in LA before everything turned to garbage.

He tagged along into the house, West lugging his suitcase and Piper his sports bag, since they both seemed determined to play happy hosts.

West directed Del through a door inside the ground floor’s hallway. A contrast wall painted a deep purple dominated the big bedroom/living area, with contrasting feminine touches of a frilly comforter and some of those little pillows women seemed to love cluttering up the beds. On the opposite side of the room, an open door revealed a white tile floor and the corner of a shower cubicle—thank God he wouldn’t have to go upstairs to the main house when he wanted the bathroom.

Piper placed his sports bag on a two-seater couch angled toward sliding glass doors and the view beyond. “Hope it’s not too girly. We had it repainted after Ben moved back to his place. He broke his ankle earlier in the year and stayed with West awhile—and oh, I’m babbling.” She touched her fingers to her lips.

“It’s kind of you to offer me your spare room on such short notice.” Look at him, being all affable and polite.

She tilted her head, small wrinkles appearing on her brow. “You’re family. Of course you’re staying with us—long as you want.”

“Or for as long as he can stomach your cooking.” West hauled his suitcase over to a large chest of drawers.

“He’s such a funny guy.” Piper rolled her eyes at Del. “I’m going to go check on dinner—homemade pizza. I was gonna throw on a frozen pizza, but I didn’t want you to go all Gordon Ramsey on me.”

“Oven on one-eighty, babe?” said West.

Piper strode out the door, saying, “Leave Del to try out the shower. Dinner’s in twenty.”

Del pretended to continue his examination of the bathroom as Piper’s footsteps faded along the hallway. Hoped West would get the hint and follow.

His brother huffed out a sigh. Nope. West never was great at picking up signals.

“You okay? With being back here, Dad, Shaye, and all of it?”

Like Del could admit the truth to anyone. He hadn’t been okay in a long time. “I don’t require hand-holding and a group hug, if that’s what you’re asking.”

Anything less than sarcasm and West would suspect.

West folded his arms and leaned against the door frame. “Always were a proud little bugger—too damn stubborn to ask for help when you needed it.”

“I don’t need help.”

“Maybe not. But there’s stuff you’re not telling me about why you took a leave of absence to come work here.”

Del leveled a stare at his brother. He’d need to work more on his poker face because West wasn’t buying it. Maybe a partial truth would convince him rather than an outright lie.

“I didn’t take a leave of absence. Me, the owner, and the head chef had different ideas on where
Cosset
should be heading, so I walked.”

“You quit? You told me you fought like a bloody lunatic to get a job there.” West’s surprise changed to a frown and a speculative eye narrowing. “When I told you I was getting hitched, you mentioned a woman you were seeing—Jacy? Julia? The owner’s daughter. Is she the reason?”

“Jessica—and no, she’s not the reason.” Okay, forget partial truth. This time he needed to employ a bald-faced lie. “Things didn’t work out, but we parted friends.”

Although maintaining a friendship with his brain-injured ex-girlfriend now residing in an expensive, long-term care facility bordered on impossible.

“You got another job lined up?” West walked to the sliding doors and tugged the drapes closed. “Back in LA?”

“I’ve got a couple offers to think about.” His nose would shoot out five inches any second.

“I’m assuming you’re going to stay after the evening’s drama?”

“Drama doesn’t worry me, and Shaye had good reason to be offended. She’ll come around; it’s not as if I’ll be permanently stepping on her toes.”

“She’ll come around?” West gave him a grim smile. “Have you forgotten what the Harland women are like?” He shook his head and stared out the window. “Man, I still can’t believe you’re here.”

“I still can’t believe you eat frozen pizza.” Del kept his tone light. “Now piss off, so I can have a shower.”

West laughed. “You’ll believe it after you taste Piper’s home-made version.” He swaggered out of the room, pulling the door shut behind him.

Del stared after his brother a moment longer, his accumulated travel grime making him feel less dirty than the half-truths he’d told. He wasn’t being completely honest about his motivations in helping out with the family business, but he’d still work his ass off training up Ms. Harland and getting Due South on track.

For the short term.

 

***

 

Holly, Shaye’s bestie since forever, flung open the door to her second floor apartment. “What did he do, and how much are we gonna hurt him?”

Shaye, still in her shopping clothes, which looked worse for wear with sweat stains soaked through the fine cotton fabric of her shirt, stood on Holly’s doorstep. She’d taken off like a competitive speed walker after leaving Due South, heading non-stop to Holly’s place.

“You’ve heard about him already?”

“Him who? Spill.” Holly fisted a hand on her bare waist. Above her tight skinny jeans, the wink of her belly button ring sparkled in the last rays of sunlight. “Because I know it’s a guy. You’ve got that
I’m gonna set fire to someone’s balls
look on your face.”

“I have?” Shaye blinked.

Oh, right. She’d little ability to mask her emotions, like, say, Piper, who often cleaned up on the poker nights they gate-crashed with the guys.

“Damn. I guess I have. Well, Del Westlake is who I’m talking about. The jerk.”


Del
Westlake?” Holly parroted but stepped back. “You’d better come in. I’m assuming you want chocolate.”

“Yes to the power of hell, yeah.” Shaye toed off her shoes and followed her friend inside, wrinkling her nose at the chemicals drifting out of the tiny spare bedroom Holly used to cut hair. “Am I interrupting?”

Holly crossed the floor of her family room/kitchen-dining area and perched on the arm of an over-stuffed orange and yellow floral couch. She patted the hideous sunflower-patterned cushion in a sit-down gesture. “Nah, Mrs. Taylor just left after her rinse and set. It’s definitely wine and chocolate o’clock.”

“Hold the wine, break open the emergency chocolate.” Shaye curled up on the couch, tucking her feet under her and smoothing her skirt.

Holly’s gaze zipped to Shaye’s bare legs. “What happened to your knees? Is that why you’re pissed at Westlake junior? And what on earth is he doing back in Oban a month before West’s wedding?”

Shaye held up a palm. “Whoa, Hol. One question at a time.”

“Fine.” Holly got up and went into her tiny kitchen. She flung open the door of her fridge. “White, milk, or dark—what’s your poison?”

“Definitely a night for all three.”

“That bad?” Holly dragged out a plastic container with a cross taped to the lid. “But not bad enough for a glass of Hol’s remedy for big dumb males?” She fished out a wine bottle and waved it encouragingly. “Take the edge off?”

Shaye arched an eyebrow and said nothing. Holly flashed an unrepentant grin and put the wine back into the fridge, grabbing two Dr. Pepper’s, instead. “I’ve been saving these. This Del Westlake story better be worth it.”

“Oh. It’s worth it, Hol. The arrogant, insufferable jerk.”

“Ouch.” Holly pried off the container lid. “While I’m fixing our emergency rations, start at the beginning.”

Reaching up to adjust her ponytail, which had somehow gone feral on the march to her friend’s, Shaye gave a quick recount of the evening.

Holly carried over a plate loaded with broken chunks of chocolate and the two cans of soda.

“Let me get this straight,” Holly said after Shaye lunged for the soda and cracked open the tab. “Del, whom no one in Oban except his bro has seen for thirteen years, has rocked back into town.”

“Yep.”

“And he’s going to be head chef at Due South for the next few weeks.”

“Over my dead body.” Shaye gulped, and the soda fizzed up her nose making her cough.

Which reminded her of the humiliating ferry debacle.

God. Maybe Hol would mistake the heat glowing in her cheeks as being righteously indignant. Which Shaye totally was.

How could Bill and West think Del could do a better job as head chef? She jammed a chunk of dark chocolate into her mouth and sucked greedily. It’d go straight to her butt, but what the hell. Being thwarted by that man warranted something other than her usual cup of diet hot chocolate.

“Sweets, weren’t you complaining the other day how overworked and understaffed you guys are with Bill sick?”

BOOK: Ready To Burn (Due South Book 3)
7.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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