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Cocky Chef(7)

By:J.D. Hawkins



She turns back to face me, big, brown eyes looking up from that angelic face, and I stand up to walk in front of my desk. I need to move, partly because I've been sitting down for too long, and partly because the sight of her in street clothes has got my blood pumping a little too hard, a shot of adrenaline unexpectedly slamming through me.

"I'm surprised you came back," I say, leaning back onto the desk and folding my arms.

Her cheeks color a little but her gaze stays fastened on mine. "I came to say I'm sorry. I shouldn't have used the lemon thyme. I get it. And you're absolutely right. That's not acceptable for Knife, and I hold my hands up to that. I shouldn't have changed the recipe. It was a momentary lapse of judgment, and I thought I could get away with it. But I'm not here to make excuses. I just wanted to explain and to say I'm sorry."

I nod at her. There's something down-to-earth and genuine about the way she talks, the way she looks me in the eye. Perhaps I've spent too long in the upper echelons of Los Angeles' nightlife, but her straightforward manner disarms a little of my anger.

"You don't get to make mistakes when you work for me," I say firmly.

"Which is why I wanted to apologize."

"Apologies don't change the past. I don't make them, and I don't accept them." Willow simply nods before turning back to the door, that gentle hand already on the handle. "Did I say you could leave?"

She turns back to me, the regret in her eyes replaced by a hard pride. It's the kind of look people usually build up for decades before they feel they can direct it at me.

"Am I supposed to just stand here so you can shoot negative platitudes at me before I get fired?" she says. "Because I can watch one of your shows if I want to see you cut somebody down."

If those tight jeans made me second guess whether I should fire her, the way she stares me down like I'm not the best chef in the country, and she's not just some new hire, is piquing my interest enough that I want to keep her around at least a little longer. She'd make a hell of a poker player.

"Give me one good reason I shouldn't fire you," I challenge.

"I'm not going to beg you for my job."

"Most chefs would, in your position."

"Well, I'm not most chefs."

"Clearly," I say, allowing myself a little smile as we stare each other down.

Willow breaks her gaze, hanging her head a little, but I don't miss the way her eyes flicker over my body, lingering for a half second on the biceps of my folded arms.

"Neither are you," she says, though her tone (and my rampaging imagination) makes it more innuendo than retort. Our eyes lock.

The electricity crackling between us is almost audible. A charge less like that of manager-employee relations, and more like the sexual ambiguity of two people swapping looks across a bar. There's no doubt in my mind there's something between us-and the fact that I wanna find out what it is makes it almost impossible for me to fire this girl out of my life.

"It's your first week and Michelle tells me you've been handling it like a champ apart from this … faux pas. We've had chefs who couldn't even make it through a second shift."

Willow shrugs, and I can see she's relaxing a little now, her hand no longer on the door handle.

"Well, I won't pretend it was easy. But I'm not afraid of working hard."


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"Obviously not," I say, picking up her resume from the desk and waving it. "You don't make it through Guillhaume's course without having some steel in you."

"Oh yeah," she grins. "I think I actually learned more about my emotions than about cooking under him."

I glare at her intensely once again, freezing her with a look.

"Regardless. That was the first and last time you walk out on a shift. If I give you another chance, are you gonna fuck me over?"

There isn't even a flinch, not even a quivering lip as Willow looks right back at me and shakes her head, "No. I won't. You're the boss."

"That I am. And you'll do well to keep that in mind." I nod and smile a little, making it clear that the issue's settled for now.

Willow seems to relax, and I find myself calming in her presence.

"So what did Guillhaume call you?" I ask, in a more easy tone.

Willow lets out a quiet laugh; she knows what I'm talking about. Everyone who studies under the Frenchman gets a specific nickname, an insult designed to demean and break one's spirit through repetition, but which most chefs carry like a badge of honor-that is, if they're able to survive the boot camp that is his training course.

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