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Cocky Chef(10)

By:J.D. Hawkins



"You weren't lying, huh? About needing help. I mean you weren't awful, but … "

I shrug. "Guess I'm never having kids."

Willow laughs.

"Never say never. Besides, I think she's going to be good for you. You need a kid around to keep you from taking everything so seriously."

I narrow my eyes at her, but for some reason it's hard to give that gorgeous face my tough-guy stare, especially when she's smiling playfully at me.

"You speak to all of your bosses like that?" I ask.

"To be honest, I never had a boss before."

"Figures."

Though everything about the moment signals she's about to leave, that we're about to part, I find myself wanting to spend more time with her, wanting to dig a little deeper beyond that captivating face, those doe eyes. Confident enough to handle me, headstrong enough to assert herself, yet down-to-earth enough to handle Chloe-there's something about her …

She turns to leave and something within me makes a snap decision.

"Listen, we should talk. Properly. Martin told me you were special, and Michelle does nothing but sing your praises-but I'd feel more comfortable knowing you a little better myself, especially since I wasn't the one who hired you."

"Sure. Now?"

"No. I have a full day that should have started about fifteen minutes ago. Tonight. My friend owns a place not far from here. We'll grab a bite, have a drink. You can tell me your story. Best way to get to know a cook is by eating with them."

"Sounds good to me," she smiles, and I wonder if she buys the idea that I'm being completely professional. "Though I'm not sure I have enough of a story to fill a whole evening."

"Then consider it the start of one."





4





Willow





I crash out as soon as I get home, sprawling out on the bed around midday and telling myself I'll just rest my eyes a bit, then waking up at six pm feeling detached from reality and seeing a missed call from my sister that I'm too wrung out to return right now. It's hard to recognize how busy and exhausted you are until you actually stop for a second.


      ///
       
         
       
        

Since I started working at Knife just over a week ago, I've been surviving on power naps and soup fumes. Even in a city of four million people it feels like we've served half of them. Add to that the emotional climax of thinking you got fired, the relief at finding out you haven't, and the thrill of being invited out for drinks with one of the most famous chefs in the world. The whole city seems like a timewarp, where things happen on fast forward, and where everything can change in a moment.

It's satisfying, in a way. More satisfying than lingering around the back of a kitchen watching your chefs chain smoke through another empty day. But the more I experience the craziness of L.A., the more I feel like I'm still just a girl from Idaho.

And then there's Cole. I knew I'd meet him eventually, I just didn't expect it to be on such charged terms, and to be honest, I didn't expect him to be so hot. Sure, I'd seen his TV shows, and though I might work like a machine there's enough human in me to feel a heat in my chest when his eyes get all focused-but there's something more to him in reality. Those eyes are even more impressive, and all the masculine energy that made him the private fantasy of millions of housewives is still there, but that focus is even more intense when it's directed at you. He listens intently, like he's trying to read between the lines, and he never breaks your gaze, as if he's holding you with them.

Or maybe there's something about me that he … no. I'm not even going there. He's my boss, and he probably can't help the effect he has on women. No reason to think this is anything other than a slightly social but very professional business meeting.

Asha comes home around seven, while I'm in the bathroom moisturizing my face.

"Willow?" she calls from the doorway.

"I'm in here."

I hear her drop her sports bag and come to the bathroom, where she looks at me anxiously and leans up against the doorframe. Her brown skin glistens with sweat, glowing with the exertion of teaching another kick-boxing class.

"So how are you feeling?" she asks, in a voice as tenderly cautious as a therapist's. "Was he there this morning? Did you argue with him again?"

"Yeah, he was there. He didn't fire me."

She lifts a brow. "No?"

"No. We talked it over and I told him I knew I'd made a mistake, and he said he'd give me another chance. It's all good now."

"That's awesome!" Asha says, beaming a pearl-white smile.

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