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Cocky Chef(8)

By:J.D. Hawkins

"Well, as soon as he found out where I was from he stuck me with ‘the Idaho Potato.' Said my talent was making everything taste as lifeless as mash," she says, smiling wistfully at the memory. "‘Curse ze farmer zat pulled you out of ze ground!'"

I smile along with her. "You got off lightly. He used to call me the Hollywood Assassin. Said I cooked like I was trying to poison somebody."

She laughs again, gently. Her face showing a few more phases of beauty. I let the moment settle, enjoying the sight of her a little more, that smile, those eyes …

"Well," she says, glancing at the clock above the desk. "I really should get on the lunch shift."

"No you shouldn't," I say, stepping out from behind the desk. "I had Mark come in to take your spot. Wasn't sure if you'd even show up today."

"That's fair." She frowns and nods, as if disappointed that she won't get the chance to work today.

I don't know whether it's because I've been too busy to take a woman in weeks, the cramped intimacy of the back office, or the delicious curves of her body, but I'm struggling to find a way to end this conversation that doesn't involve pulling her over the desk and tugging her jeans down to her ankles to bury my head between her thighs and find out what she tastes like.

I check the time, and realize I should have left the office about two minutes ago. 

"What do you think about kids?" I say, packing my pockets as I prepare to leave the office.

"Um … as customers? In the restaurant?"

"No," I say. "I mean, are you good with kids? Do you like them?"

"Sure. Actually, I used to volunteer teach a cooking glass for an elementary school in Idaho. And I have two nieces back home, and either they're mature or I'm not, ‘cause we always have a great time together. Why do you ask?"

I move toward the door and hold it open for her.

"Because I'm gonna need your help," I say as she moves through, and I steal one more look at her peachy ass. I talk as we move through the restaurant, toward the front. "I signed up for this Young Chef mentoring program-or rather, Martin signed me up for it. He thought it would be a good bulletpoint to the publicity around me, and the new restaurant. Said I had gone too far down the ‘hard-edged food perfectionist' route, and needed to show a more humane side."

Willow nods as we push through to the tables.

"I can see that," she says, without sarcasm.

"Yeah … well, I'm not exactly sure I have a more humane side. Last time I spoke to a kid, I was one." I push open the front doors and scan the street. "There they are."

The mousey woman with a warm smile who I assume to be Chloe's supervisor is standing next to the small girl. The kid has dark hair, tied back into a ponytail, and dusty, tan skin. I wasn't exactly sure what nine year olds look or sound like, but she's a little more upright and tough-looking than I imagined. Less a waddling toddler and closer to the kind of savvy kids you see in movies, not least because she stares at me with a judgmental gaze.

The supervisor waves and we start moving toward them. If I thought this was a silly idea when I heard it, then I think it's outright stupid now that I'm actually doing it. What the hell am I going to do with this kid? Teach her how to make a red wine reduction? Make her a cheesecake and sit her in front of a TV to watch cartoons? I suppose if worse comes to worst we can use an extra pair of hands peeling garlic cloves.

What I'm feeling right now is probably the closest I'll ever come to empathizing with guys who have no confidence going on dates; concerned about doing or saying the wrong thing. I don't even know how to greet her, whether I should shake her hand, tousle her hair, or lower myself to her eye level and make baby noises.

Luckily, Willow wasn't lying when she said she liked kids, and does exactly what I needed her to do-help me.

"Hi there, I'm Maggie," the supervisor says, shaking my hand.

"Cole Chambers. Great to meet you."

"Hello, I'm Willow," she says, shaking the supervisor's hand with a smile before directing a huge smile and happy eyes at the girl. "Hey you! What's your name?"

"Chloe," the girl says, and immediately I'm struck by the way Willow's infectious smile seems to compel the kid to do the same. Guess it works on kids, too.

"That's a gorgeous name," Willow says.

"I like yours, too," Chloe replies, shedding any shyness instantly under Willow's warmth. "It's also the name of the tree."

Willow laughs easily.

"What do you think?" she says, wryly. "Am I like the tree?"

Chloe sizes her up, her smile showing her gapped teeth now, enjoying the game.