Authors: Mia Carson
“No, this is not correct.” The deep, no-nonsense voice of Chef Henri sounded behind me as I attempted to chop onions. Apparently, I’d been chopping onions incorrectly, according to Henri, and hadn’t even known it. Henri took the knife handle from my grip and began to rapidly mince the red onion on my cutting board. He was faster and used a methodical, fan-like pattern across the onion while using his free hand to maneuver pieces of onion around to go over it again in a cross-cut. Within thirty seconds, he ended up with a much more finely chopped onion than I’d ever done.
The hint of a smile played on Henri’s lips, and his blue eyes crinkled in satisfaction as he surveyed his handiwork. He clearly knew what he was doing, and I was grateful he took the time to teach me. Henri’s teaching methods and eccentric personality were different than I’d expected, though.
I smiled ruefully and nodded. “Right, thanks for showing me. Should I try practicing on another onion?”
Henri shook his head, his short dark curls moving across his brow. “No. Now, we move on to mincing the garlic and sautéing.”
He was teaching me not only the basics of mincing and chopping, but how to create one of his signature dishes, a French version of the traditional Lebanese kafta kabob, which was usually made with ground beef, mid-eastern spices and hummus. However, Henri incorporated a traditional French sauce drizzled over the kafta meat and served it with lemon-zested potatoes and garlic-roasted red bell pepper. I’d eaten this exact dish at his trendy Santa Monica restaurant, and the combination was incredible as well as truly unique.
Over the next forty minutes, I learned both valuable cooking techniques and how to handle strong, constructive criticism. Right before eight, I had—with Henri’s help—successfully made this one-of-a-kind dish and had even earned a little smile and a “not bad.” I offered to share the dish for dinner with a Merlot, but Henri declined and left me with a gourmet Thursday night meal all to myself.
I waited just outside Lexi’s door after I’d knocked Friday at 6:30, dressed in a perfectly-tailored tux with a silver-gray waistcoat and a deep blue bow-tie. After some shuffling, her voice called out, “Almost ready—give me one minute.” I’d texted her a moment ago to tell her I was on my way to her office so we could drive to the Beverly Hills dinner together.
“Okay, no rush,” I called through the door as I tried uselessly to ignore the picture of Lexi, partially naked in her office, that popped in my mind. I’d managed to douse the fire running through my body by the time she opened the door, but when I saw her outfit, it instantly blazed up again and ran even hotter through my limbs.
She wore a body-hugging, rich green and cobalt dress with one strap and a hemline that ended well above the knee. The fabric was silky and showed off every nuance of her sizzling hot, hour-glass figure. Very little was left to the imagination. My gaze covered every inch of her body heatedly, from the pointy three-inch-heeled silver shoes, up her curvy toned calves and thighs, to her shapely hips, then up further to linger on the ample amount of cleavage showing at the top.
Her breasts were gorgeously plump and moved up and down with every breath. They looked tantalizingly soft and touchable, so much so that my fingers itched to pull down the strap and delve under her bra to…
I couldn’t let my mind go there.
At the sound of Lexi clearing her throat, my eyes shot up to her face, which was also breathtaking, enhanced by tasteful evening makeup. Her eyes glittered warningly at me, intensely green, as if she could read my dirty thoughts. I swallowed hard and tried to think of something completely non-sexual so the tell-tale bulge in my pants would go down, but that wasn’t going to happen any time soon, not with her in that outfit.
This was the first time I’d seen Lexi with her hair down, and it cascaded in loose waves, soft and black over her smooth white shoulders and delicate collar bones. My fingers ached with the urge to run through her silky hair. Lexi’s full lips shimmered pink and looked moist with lip gloss, and I employed all my strength to refrain from backing her against a wall and kissing those lips senseless.
“So,” her voice cut through my thoughts, “shall we go? You look good, by the way.” Lexi’s words hinted at playfulness, and I saw her mouth quirk up as she tried to hide a smile. She knew exactly how hot she looked and the effect it had on me, that was certain. Her gaze flickered quickly up and down my body as she spoke. I was pleased to see a strong blush tint her cheeks and neck.
“We shall, and thank you. You look exquisite, Lexi. I mean that in the most professional sense, of course.” I bit back a smirk myself as we walked toward the elevator. This evening was obviously going to test my willpower, and I wasn’t sure I had the strength to resist flirting with my own smoking hot personal assistant.
I noticed Braden’s eyes flickering ever so briefly to my legs and back to the road as I shifted in the leather interior of his black Ferrari on the way to the dinner. Though his look was quick, a shot of hot tingles slipped down my spine and pooled in my stomach as well as between my thighs, where his gaze had lingered.
The windows were cracked to let in the balmy evening breeze, which added to the exhilaration of not only sitting next to this gorgeous man and the idea of attending a glitzy, celebrity-filled Hollywood dinner, but also the fact that I would be meeting a big screenwriter, Rob Greenburg.
The party was a perfect, exciting end to what had been an amazing week. Braden had yet again been above-board and respectful, even today when he’d seen my outfit for tonight and clearly fought hard to keep any playboy remarks to himself. Also, each day at work, I’d become increasingly comfortable and proficient in both my role as the owner’s assistant and the inner workings of Huntington Productions, and I loved it. I’d become more sure that the film industry was the right career for me, and my new position couldn’t have been better suited. So when Braden had mentioned his intention to introduce me to the experienced screenwriter Rob Greenburg, I felt like my career was quickly moving in the right direction. I was over the moon.
As Braden curved expertly around the winding roads up into Beverly Hills, I was in high spirits and felt like letting loose. If that included some mild flirtation with Braden, I was totally fine with that. I peeked at him as he shifted gears to go up a particularly steep hill, which ended at a ritzy-looking hotel. A fresh wave of tingles washed through my stomach.
There was something hot about a man who drove stick-shift. Braden looked extra stunning in a fitted tux with a bow-tie that brought out the intensity of his clear blue eyes. I could feel the raw manliness emanating from him when he shifted gears. My eyes stayed for a moment too long on his face, taking in the five-o-clock shadow of dark stubble, his strong jaw, and that boyishly tousled dirty-blond hair. He must have felt my gaze because he glanced over and met my eyes for a moment before focusing ahead as he pulled into a parking spot at the fancy hotel. I was thankful for the darkness that hopefully hid my furious blush and swallowed hard as I tried to calm my nerves. Could he be any more overwhelmingly sexy?
“Here we are. You nervous?” he asked in his deep voice after he’d turned the car off.
I met his eyes again, for longer this time, as I thought about his question. One could really get lost in those icy blue eyes, and it wasn’t just their startling color but the level of passion and intelligence behind them that made his eyes almost unbearably penetrating.
“Well,” I answered after I’d pulled my gaze away, “I’d say I’m half nervous and half excited. I’ve never been to anything close to this fancy. How many celebrities are gonna be in there?”
Braden flashed his killer grin and replied, “Don’t worry about them, Lexi. Several big actors, models, pop singers, and a bunch of directors, screenwriters, and other film industry big-shots are attending. Stick close to me, and you’ll be fine. I can give you the low-down on everyone as we work the room during pre-dinner cocktails.”
He didn’t wait for my answer but got out of the car and jogged around to open my door, holding out a hand to help me out. I put my hand thankfully in his, glad for the help with the three-inch heels I wasn’t used to, and a jolt of electricity buzzed through my hand and up my arm.
“Thanks,” I murmured as I stood next to Braden while he closed and locked the door. He turned to look at me, and I added, “I’ll definitely stay close to you since I know virtually no one at this thing.”
Braden faced me as he stood only a few feet away, and his expression darkened and became more pirate-like as he stared at me in the darkness. I shivered involuntarily and sensed the hungriness in his look.
He offered me his elbow and said, “I’ll do my best to change that fact and make sure you and Rob Greenburg meet. Let’s go.” I draped my hand gently in the crook of his elbow, and we made our way to the grand entrance, which, though I could hardly believe it, had several photographers and video cameras along its red carpet.
I blinked at the flashes of light from the cameras as we walked down the carpet and through the double doors held open by a doorman. By the time we entered the huge dining room with long tables, glowing chandeliers, and filled with elegantly dressed groups of people, I felt dizzy and suddenly very shy.
As we walked over to a group that included the hottest male actor at the moment, Keith McCullough, my eyes darted around the room and I recognized several other big-shot actors and actresses, a few internationally acclaimed top models, and some famous directors. My nerves buzzed even higher. I was completely star-struck and felt small and out of place.
My grip on Braden’s elbow tightened as we stopped next to Keith and his group of friends. Keith’s dark eyes fell on me like a predator, giving me a not-too-subtle once over before turning to Braden. “Well, well, and who might this be?”
Braden’s jaw set as he smiled tightly at Keith. “This is my new personal assistant, Lexi—Lexi, this is Keith. Please ignore any bad pick-up lines he might try on you.” Braden tried to sound casual and humorous, but he looked at Keith with fierce blue eyes, like he was ready to start a fight if necessary.
Keith let out a laugh and shook my hand. “Lexi, nice to meet you—and don’t worry, I’ll only use my good pick-up lines on you.” Keith winked at me and patted Braden’s arm. In a low voice, meant only for Braden, he mumbled, “I’ll bet she gets really personal at the office, huh? Nice one, bro.”
My face flamed with humiliation, and I immediately removed my hand from the crook of Braden’s arm. Keith gave me a lecherous grin and walked to a bar against the other side of the room. Braden’s face had turned almost purple, and his jaw clenched and unclenched rapidly as his eyes glinted with anger at Keith’s back.
He looked at me, and his expression softened into one of apology and embarrassment. “Lexi, I’m so sorry—he’s an ass. If he tries anything, or says anything else, just tell me, and I’ll seriously take him outside and kick his butt.”
I shrugged and tried to seem unaffected. “It’s okay. I know some of these big-shot actors let all the fame and attention go to their head. Still, he was most definitely an ass.”
I wanted to remind Braden that he himself had said some horribly misogynistic comments the first time we’d met, but since he’d been so respectful at work, I decided to let it go. After several cocktails, I met some really interesting, non-asshole actors and directors, and felt much better—less nervous and less enraged by Keith’s comment.
Dinner was about to start, where apparently everyone would sit in their assigned places at one of the spots on the long tables covered with lacy white linen. As Braden led the way to our seats, which were next to each other, he leaned towards me and said, “I think you’ll be pleased by who’s sitting on your other side. I called to make a special seating chart request.” He nodded at the name-card that sat to the left of mine as he pulled out our chairs.
My heart jumped when I read the name.
A wave of excitement shot through my stomach at the thought of meeting such a huge screenwriter. “Are you serious?” I asked Braden delightedly. “Thank you, Braden!” And before I could stop myself, I leaned over and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek that surprised us both.
As I drew back, my lips tingled warmly from the touch of Braden’s pleasantly rough stubble. I blushed hard and sat down, my gaze focused on my name-card. I heard him clear his throat and sit down next to me, and I felt his eyes on me for a moment. Before either of us could say anything, a man in his mid-fifties with gray hair, thick-rimmed glasses, and kind brown eyes sat next to me and extended his hand.
“Well, Alexandra Montgomery,” he said after he read my name-card. “Looks like we’re going to be dinner partners. I’m Rob Greenberg, and I hear you want to be a screenwriter?”
“I can’t believe he’s going to look at my screenplays,” I gushed as Braden drove me home several hours later. “And he had so much good advice and tips—oh, and not to mention the fact that Rob Greenburg is hilarious, isn’t he?”
Braden’s mouth quirked up as he took the turn onto my street. “Sounds like you’re in love.” He laughed. “Do I detect an older-man crush?”
I rolled my eyes and laughed as Braden parked in front of my complex, got out, and held my door open. I grinned at him as he helped me out and walked me to the front of the three-story building. “Maybe I do. You jealous?” I teased, letting Braden help me up the stairs to the third level.