Ready To Burn (Due South Book 3) (8 page)

BOOK: Ready To Burn (Due South Book 3)
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“Okay.”

“Spot you later.” West headed to the back door, and Donny barked once in greeting from his basket outside.

She ran the tap and scrubbed down the board, trying to deflect the dull ache forming a stranglehold around her heart.

Shaye-Shaye, the big softie who wanted everyone to get along with their families—even Due South’s ego-swollen new head chef—though more for West and Bill’s benefit.

Shaye-Shaye, who suspected the Westlake men coming to any sort of truce would be an epic battle worthy of the stubborn settlers from which they were descended.

 

***

 

Del left for the eight o’clock meeting alone, since West had headed out early to the local pool to swim laps at the crack of dawn. The walk would help clear Del’s mind, because with little sleep over the last forty-eight hours, a posse of tiny men tunneled through his frontal lobe with miniature jackhammers.

He waved goodbye to his future sister-in-law, narrowly avoiding having to ingest her version of scrambled eggs.

West hadn’t been kidding about Piper’s skills in the kitchen. After choking down two pizza slices the night before—doughy center and a singed crust—Del escaped downstairs with the convenient excuse of jetlag and the need for eight hours solid. He’d nursed a single beer over dinner and refused the offer of a second, keeping his gaze averted from the bottles in the pantry. Done and dusted with that poisonous shit. He kept the solo beer at the end of the night as a vice because it proved that one was enough. One beer needn’t lead to two, or half a dozen, or a shot of amber amnesia that lurked in those glass bottles.

Del walked down the hill until the narrow road connected with the main thoroughfare. Two fat grey-feathered birds waddled along a fence. One screeched in greeting, ruffling the shorter more colorful plumage around its neck. Kaka, his brain supplied after a moment. The raucous hooligans of the parrot family. Not something you encountered on the I10 into LA.

Goddamn, he’d forgotten how cold it got on this island—even on a spring morning. Del shoved his fists into the pockets of his coat. His boots kicking up tiny chunks of gravel, he dodged a few potholes filled with murky water. It’d started to spit by the time he’d returned from his run last night. The rain splattering the windows of his downstairs room kept him awake for another hour. While the exercise had done the job of exhausting him physically, mentally he’d been wired.

He forced a pleasant
it’s great to be back
expression on his face as he raised a hand to the few locals who called him by name—but kept his chin down and power-walked until he stomped up Due South’s front steps.

Bill waited for him in the restaurant, seated stiffly at a table for four, looking like a man out of place in his own environment. Why bother with fancy tablecloths and flax flowers in vases when they served swill night after night? And yeah, he’d commandeered a copy of the menu to study.

“You’re ten minutes early,” the old man grumbled to Del as he crossed the dining room.

Swallowing snark, Del merely grunted. He removed his coat and draped it over a chair. Someone had lit the open fire on the other side of the restaurant, and the wood popped and hissed. He sat opposite his father, pretending to examine the turquoise-themed water colors on the wall. Hoping West would hurry the hell up and arrive.

“Had breakfast?”

“No.” Silence ticked. Del’s knee bounced a few times until he laid a steadying fist on his thigh. He could do the painful small talk thing until West arrived. Surely.

He cleared his throat. “Piper wanted to make me eggs this morning.”

“No wonder you’re early.” Bill snorted out a laugh, which transformed into an embarrassed cough, just as West pulled out the chair beside Del.

“You two criticizing my woman’s eggs?” West slouched down with a grin, his hair still wet from the pool. “Watch it or I’ll tell her you were hinting for a Sunday brunch invitation.”

“You’ll laugh out the other side of your face once you’ve had to put up with her cooking for a few years, my boy.”

A wolfish grin from West, who tipped back his chair on two legs. “I do half the cooking, and besides, I don’t keep Pipe around for her kitchen skills.”

Shaye walked out of the short hallway connecting the dining room to the kitchen, carrying a platter. Today, she dressed for work—black pants, black kitchen Crocs, and a white chef’s jacket. Prim and proper, she wore her long brown hair tightly braided. If her plait was pulled any tighter across her scalp, her pretty hazel eyes would start to drag up at the corners. No doubt the whole super-chef outfit was a subtle reminder of her professionalism and a less-than-subtle reminder of his lack of it. He’d rolled out of bed, dragging on the first tee shirt and jeans he found in his suitcase. Clothes he wouldn’t have worn to work in LA if he’d wanted to keep his job.

“That’s my sister you’re talking about.” Shaye placed the platter on their table.

Immediately, the delicious aroma of spices and sugar rising from the still-warm cinnamon rolls made his taste buds sit up and beg.

“Yes, and I love her. But, Shaye, you”—West snatched up a scroll and waved it under his nose—“you, I adore.”

Shaye cocked her hip, the hand on her waist emphasizing her curvy shape under the boxy jacket. “Yet you never bring me flowers.”

“Because your big sister’s the possessive sort, and I fear her wrath.” West bit into the scroll, and a blissful expression flittered across his face.

Shaye turned to Bill. “You can have
one
.”

His father’s face crinkled. “I’d rather have bacon and eggs.”

“No bacon,” she said. “Too much sodium, remember?”

“Claire’s still making me eat this God-awful cereal with antibiotic yoghurt stuff.” He said the words as if he’d just delivered a dressed-up description of dog turd.

Shaye placed a scroll on a plate and passed it to Bill. “It’s probiotic yogurt, you poor lamb.”

The whip of her hazel gaze flicked over to Del. “Help yourself.”

His mouth continued to water, but Del didn’t move. Food other than fuel hadn’t tempted him for a while—but hell if he’d give her the satisfaction by eating something she’d made.

“You’re the baker?”

“I woke up early.” She shrugged. “And West and Bill love my rolls.”

“Oh, yeah,” West said around a mouthful.

“Don’t eat them all—I’m going to save one for tomorrow.” Bill broke off a chunk of scroll and popped it into his mouth.

“I don’t have a sweet tooth, so I’ll pass,” Del said. “I’ll grab a protein shake later.”

“A protein shake?” Offense grated through Shaye’s words.

West nudged him with his elbow. “You need more than a shake.”

“I’m good.” Del shot a glance at Shaye.

Her outraged expression faded, replaced by narrowed eyes aimed at him.

“You’ve lost a bit of weight.” All teasing stripped from his tone, West scanned Del with frank appraisal. “I didn’t notice with that bulky sweatshirt you wore yesterday, but I can see it now.”

Okay, he’d been forced to move up a notch on his belt, but he ate. When he needed to.

“It’s only a few pounds. I’ve been working hard and for long hours. I could still take you.”

“Our nineteen-year-old bean-pole of a dish-hand could knock you on your ass,” growled his brother. “Hell, even Shaye could.”

“Happy to prove him right.” Shaye looked at Del with what he labeled as reluctant pity.

Her softening gaze made his skin crawl.

“Drop it, West.” Del kept his hands loose on the table, even though tension crawled over his shoulders and he nearly jerked his arms defensively across his chest.

“Eat something and he will,” Bill said.

Refuse to eat now and he’d appear as a candidate for an eating disorder.

Screw it.

Del picked up a scroll and bit down. Buttery, cinnamon, orgasmic warmth exploded onto his taste buds.
Sweet merciful fuck
. Did his eyes just roll up into his head? Pride—the only thing keeping him from stuffing the rest in his mouth.

He took another nonchalant bite while Shaye sat at the table.

“So, you’re here to work.” Bill licked his thumb and glared at Del from under bushy eyebrows.

“If the terms are right.”

Sugar and cinnamon coated his fingertips, too. Hell would freeze over before he licked them.

“Terms, huh? What sort of terms?”

“—
Dad
. Just hear him out, willya?”

West. Doing the big brother thing of running interference, because everyone knew he was Bill’s favorite son. First born, first priority.

“So, these terms…” Bill said.

On the flights here, Del had thought a lot about how he could work at Due South and not lose his mind. B and C-grade restaurants weren’t beneath him—he’d worked in them before, and due to screwing up his life, he’d be doing it again for the foreseeable future. But running a kitchen with Bill criticizing his every move? Not. Gonna. Happen.

“Two terms, non-negotiable.”

Bill folded his arms across a chest much skinnier than the one in Del’s memory. He’d bet a hundred bucks the old man had bitten his tongue in order to prevent himself from telling Del to piss off.

“One…” He met Bill’s cool stare without blinking. “When I’m on shift, you stay out of the kitchen. I won’t work with you breathing down my neck.”

Bill harrumphed but didn’t comment.

“Two. If there’s any disagreement amongst the staff with how I run my shifts, I’ll discuss those issues with West and the staff in question.”

His glance slid once again to Shaye. She stared at him, lip curling slightly as if she’d sniffed Bill’s probiotic yogurt and found it had gone sour.

“I’m not working for you as your son. In fact, consider me a contractor, not an employee.”

“A contractor?” Bill said. “Well, bugger me. I still don’t know why you’re here.”

Even though Del was a total screw up in other areas, he wouldn’t be dissed on his cooking. “Because I’m damn good at what I do.”

“And because we need him,” West said quickly. “I don’t give a shit about why he’s here if it means you’ll stop working yourself half to death.”

Silence dripped around the table as they all stared at each other. Trying to ignore the fact that Bill Westlake already looked half worked to death.

Del shifted on his chair so he faced Shaye. “I know you’re pissed about me being here, but it doesn’t have to be a competition. Instead of working
under
me, how about you work
with
me?”

Shaye scratched the bridge of her nose with her middle finger, rolling her pretty eyes.

Del squished a grin. Yep, under that sugary-sweet exterior, a little wolverine bared her cutely sharp teeth. He kinda had to admit he’d enjoy baiting it out of her.

Bill caught sight of Shaye’s gesture and gave a gravelly chuckle. “I’ll stay out of the kitchen while you two battle it out. I haven’t the energy to avoid the fireworks.” His lips tugged down. “I’ve worked my bum off in that kitchen making Due South what it is. I’ll agree to your damn terms, but just don’t screw it up, ya hear?”

“I’ll try not to let you down.” Would Bill even understand the irony coating his voice? Doubtful.

West said, “I’ll go grab the paperwork.”

Shaye stood, her face a study in composure. “Are we done? I’ve got prep to do.”

West and Bill’s gaze sliced to him, sizing him up. Head chefs in big restaurants didn’t bother with the menial tasks like food prep or making the daily stocks and sauces for service. But this wasn’t a big restaurant. This was Due South, where even as a boy, when he’d first been old enough to take an interest in cooking, he’d been expected to chip in and help.

“I’ll come back with you in a minute. We’ll go through the details, and I’ll give you a hand.”

“Super,” she said.

Against his will, Del’s gaze zeroed in on the twitch of her perky ass as she stalked away from the table and disappeared into the kitchen.
Ring that bell, Pavlov
.

Working with the little wolverine would be a whole barrel of laughs.

 

***

 

Calm before the storm.

The words spun through Del’s head as he and Shaye worked the last tickets of the dinner service.

Both shifts had gone too smoothly, with Shaye being the epitome of a polite and accommodating employee. Putting up with his presence, basically.

After a quick tour of the kitchen that morning—he could see little had changed—and a discussion of the weekly specials and staff scheduling, they’d worked like a well-oiled machine. And once everyone had left for their afternoon break, Del had no problems positioning a tiny camera unit on a little-used kitchen shelf. He kept the remote in his pocket, ready to hit record when dinner service started. With twenty hours recording time on the camera card, he’d use the footage taken over the next few days to compile an audition tape.

BOOK: Ready To Burn (Due South Book 3)
6.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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