The car ride home was an exercise in torture. Andie knew from experience to keep her mouth shut no matter how Jose wheedled and whined. If she gave him so much a syllable he’d do his Jose whammy and she’d be spilling her guts. So she said, “I’m not telling the story twice.” And shut her mouth. They were halfway down the hall to her apartment when she saw the crowd clustered around their front door, “What the heck?”
“SSSHHHH!” Marla waved her silent, “Layla and Nate are in there.”
“We think he spent the night.”
“No!” Jose shoved her aside and put his ear to the door, “Holy Shit, she is pissed! Glass Glass ,” Fingers snapped in her face, “Get me a glass.”
“Does that really work?” Shellie asked.
Jose held his hand out.
“Uh….” Andie patted her pockets.
“Here.” Gypsy handed him a clear glass thing that wasn’t really a glass, but is was hollow and shaped sort of tube like, “Will this work?”
Jose grabbed it. Put it to the door and pressed his ear to it.
“What’s going on?” Gypsy stared at the door like she was trying to see through it, “Do you think he’s naked?”
“Ssh.” Jose waved them silent, “She’s saying something about Bob, batteries, and Costco.”
“Who?” Andie didn’t know of a Bob.
“Battery operated boyfriend.” Shellie said, rolling her eyes, “Honestly girl. Even I know that.”
“SSSHH! Jose went from waving to shoving, “He’s laughing…. Shit! They’re coming out.”
“Quick. Everybody. My place.” Marla led the stampede to her door like water buffalo fleeing the Lion King. They’d just made it to her door when their door was thrown open.
“OUT!” That was Layla and Jose was right. She was pissed.
“I’m going,” Nathan Drake appeared in the hallway. His tux a rumpled memory of the elegant suit he’d worn at the ball. Rumpled looked really good on him.
“Oh, he’s dressed.” Gypsy sighed in disappointment.
“Damn, he’s pretty.” Shelly just sighed.
“Sigh.” Marla fanned herself.
“Oh, his ass is perfection.” Jose whipped out his phone and snapped a photo.
“That girl doesn’t have a lick of sense.”
Andie jumped at the new addition to their group of master spies, “Mrs. Hennessey?”
“But don’t worry,” Nate’s rumbling baritone shut them all up, “I’ll be back.”
“You come anywhere near me or my shelter and I’ll turn you from a rooster to a hen.”
“Nah, you won’t,” Nate lifted his arm and grabbed the top of the door frame, leaned down, and in a husk of sound that carried down the hallway, “You liked it too much.”
Layla stopped speaking English.
“What is that?” Marla hissed.
“I think it’s Farsi.” Andie hissed back.
Mrs. Hennessey sh-sh’d them again.
“Do you think they really did the deed?” Shellie asked.
“If she didn’t, I’m having her committed.” Jose answered.
Mrs. Hennessy gave up on shushing and smacked them with her cane.
“I’ll be seeing you,” Nate let go of the door frame, taking a couple of steps before adding a low, deliberate, “Baby.”
Layla flipped back to English for an ear scorching few words then degraded back into Farsi or maybe it was pigmy. Languages had never been Andie’s forte.
Nate strolled by them, whistling and nodding a greeting to the six people standing in front of Marla’s door. His eyes resting on the tube in Gypsy’s hand, “Nice vase.”
Andie took a better look and her mouth dropped open at the same moment Shellie shouted, “Holy Dildos Batman. It’s a Penis.”
That earned her two whacks.
As a distraction, Nathan Drake had been a Godsend. Jose jumped on Layla as soon as Nate’s butt disappeared around the corner. Layla threatened to skewer him. Jose said she wouldn’t dare and she owed him for the hours he spent decorating for her ball. Layla said she’d write him a fucking check.
Andie took her chance and bolted.
She’d made it all the way to her apartment and halfway down the hall to her bedroom when she heard, “Andie Chase, you get back here.” Followed by the sound of rapid feet following her.
She double-timed it, making it to her room in time to slam and lock the door in Jose’s pouting face.
“Andie Chase,” Jose rattled the knob, “You open this door.”
“I have a headache.”
“Take an aspirin. If it wasn’t for moi, you would still be an untried virgin…”
Oh for the love of….
“You owe me dirty deets, Missy.”
“Bill me. You should be packing. We have to be at the train station at seven in the morning.”
Andie fell back against the door, “Jose, do me a favor and lose that expression.”
Damn, but this had been a shit of a day. First he had to watch Andie walk away. Then he’d been hit with shit. A shit storm of shit. The Fugue’s grand opening was the weekend after Thanksgiving and there were last minute details he couldn’t avoid and every one of them was a problem. He sat at the desk in the office that the hotel manager was supposed to occupy. Problem was, he didn’t have one. So here he was contemplating the scores of e-mails all detailing some shit that needed to be done, shit that hadn’t been done, or shit that would cost a fortune to get done, and fuck him, but he was done.
And then there was the sex club. The damn drug had shown up again two nights ago. Stan had seen the signs and gotten the girl out of there safely, but couldn’t figure out how she’d gotten it in her system. They’d reviewed every video, tested her drink, even investigated where she’d been before arriving to the club. Nothing. Not a damn thing.
He wanted nothing more than to dump it all, grab Andie and run-away from home.
“Dude, you need to get to the kitchen.” Stan Wyatt blew into his office looking like he’d been caught in a windstorm, “Now.”
“What the hell?” He dragged himself out of the chair and followed Stan out of the room. The kitchen was one flight down on the main floor but halfway down the stairs he’d heard the clanging of metal. A parade of men and women in white coats flew by them as they turned the corner.
He was pushing through the double doors when he heard Cain Lawrence, “Goddammit! No throwing shit!”
“Ah, fuck me.” Damien shoved through the metal doors, resigning himself to a night in hell.
“She should call.”
“No way, she’ll look desperate.”
Andie’s head flopped down on her teeny-tiny kitchen island right into a pile of apple peeling. Darn it. She pushed the peelings out of her way. She’d had to exit the safety of her bedroom to make two apple pies. One for Mrs. Hennessey who had requested the pie this afternnon and a spare for Jose and Layla so they wouldn’t grump about their lack of pie. Her room-mates were so spoiled they didn’t know they were spoiled.
She was peeling the apples when Layla stormed into the kitchen, Jose on her heels pestering for details. Andie’d gotten him off her back by threatening to withhold pie so Layla was getting the full court press. She’d even threatened to never take him shoe shopping again, but it wasn’t until Andie looked at the clock and muttered about possibly missing Damien’s call that Layla, who’d been dredging the discarded apple peeling in cinnamon sugar, before stuffing them in her mouth, saw her chance to divert the inquisition. She’d grabbed the distraction by the roots and wrestled it to the ground and thus set off the great “Should the deflowered virgin call the hot-shot CEO” debate.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Jose´ said with utmost confidence. “That man is in love. If he hasn’t called, something’s happened, something bad.”
“Unless he’s dead there’s no excuse.” Layla shot back. Her retort losing some of its punch as she had to munch it around her mouthful of peeling, “He took her hymen for Christ sake.”
And that was her line in the sand. She would not listen to her friends discussing her hymen or lack thereof, “Both of you, out of my kitchen.” And yes, it was technically their kitchen and it was only separated from the rest of the apartment by a counter-top, but she was making a point, “Layla give me my phone.”
“Andie, no don’t…”
“Layla, I have to check on the gown.”
Layla’s, “What gown?” Was followed by Jose’s “Oh, I forgot. You didn’t wear it home.”
No, Damien had presented her with some lovely pale blue velour sweats that could be purchased in the hotel gift shop for a measly two hundred and forty dollars. And Sheesh. She’d been sure to change into an old t-shirt and shorts before starting the pies.
Layla wasn’t going down easy, “I still say the breaker of the hymen should be the one….”
“Out of the kitchen. Out. Out. Out.”
“Okay, we’re going. We’re going.”
“Sex supposed to improve your mood, you know.”
Her friends traversed the great distance to the living room and made a big to-do of grabbing magazines and flicking on the television.
She ignored them and dialed. She had to get the dress back after all. She wasn’t desperate. She wasn’t.
“Uh no, this is Wyatt. FUCK!”
“Is this Damien’s phone?”
“Yeah…yeah sweetheart, uh now may not be the best time. We have a…what the fuck is that shit?”
What the heck? Andie stared at the phone.
Then there was clattering and banging and shouting. Lots of familiar shouting in unmistakably irate French.
“SHIT!” Damien ducked under a pan that Bernard Jervois, his, up until this moment, even- tempered to the point of jolly, Master Chef threw across the room along with a slew of French curses.
He’d walked through the double doors to see The Fugue’s state of the art, completely remodeled, gourmet kitchen transformed into a three ring circus from hell. Food was everywhere, the floor, the walls, the fucking ceiling and pans were flying around like silver gliders ready to take off the head of any and all comers. “What the hell is going on?”
“A shit storm. That’s what.” Caine Lawrence said. His chief of security was cowering behind a row of baking racks.
“What the hell is this shit?” He picked up a spiney hunk of something off the floor, “Puffer-fish?”
“Non! Eet ees fruit. Fruit that ees now on my menu.” The little chef grabbed long sheets, Drake guessed were menus, off the counter next to him and ripped them into tiny pieces.
“I’m not eating it.” Caine backed away, his nose wrinkling, “Shit smells like roadkill.”
“Oui! Oui! Eet stinks like zee road keel.” Another tray with more spiney shit flew across the room, “I weell not serve. I weell not!”
“Uh….” Hell, if the Chef didn’t want to serve puffer-fish fruit or whatever the stinkin shit was, it was all right with him.
He opened his mouth to say so, but had to duck instead. Bernard threw another pan, ranting about hees kitchen and hees menu.
“Hey.” He looked over his shoulder to see Wyatt behind him, “It’s Andie.”
“Andie?” Andie. Andie was a chef. He grabbed the phone like a lifeline, “Hey Kitten.”
“Um, is this a bad time?”
“Never, not for you, no. I am in a bit of a situation. My head chef is upset about something.”
That ‘Oh’ was full of understanding. Halle-fucking-lujah!
“Chefs can be temperamental.” Andie said right as a pile of sticky yellow green goop splattered the wall.
“The hell you say.”
“Oh, I say. Is he throwing things?”
“How’d you know?”
“Adonis, some stereotypes are stereotypes because they’re true. Tell him you understand.”
“Kitten, I don’t understand shit.”
“Doesn’t matter. Repeat after me, “Chef, you have every reason to be angry.”
What the hell? He’d give it a try. “Chef, you have every reason to be angry.”
That got him a “Oui oui” And more cursing and ripping of menus.
“This is your kitchen.”
“This is your kitchen.”
Chef waved the puffer-fruit.
“You’re the Head Chef, after all.”
“You’re the Head Chef, after all.
“Oh crap.” Shit, that probably wasn’t part of the script. Chef ran with it nonetheless. Grabbing menus and waving them around. “The crap. Oui! Yes, thees menu, it ees the crap.”
“Sorry, um hold on a sec.”
A sec. Things could go very wrong in a sec. Chef was warming up to that word crap. He was shouting it over and over and tossing various strange foods into the giant trash bin. At least it wasn’t flying across the room. Ah yes, well, he spoke too soon. Damien ducked to avoid another spiney fish-like object Chef heaved across the room with a final gusto infused “ZEEE CRAP!”
“Kitten, I’m in hell’s kitchen over here.”
“Sorry, it’s just we’re out of vodka…”
“I could use a shot or two myself.” He said, grabbing the counter behind him to catch himself when his shoe connected with slimy shit instead of floor.
“Oh, I’ve not doubt.” His Kitten agreed and he swore he detected stifled laughter.
“Here.” Stan handed him a clump of paper towels. He made an attempt at the shit on his shoe, but it was sticky. It left him with shit and paper stuck to his shoes.
He heard throat clearing and possibly a giggle, “But I need vodka for the pie crust.”
He paused in his useless attempt to get puffer-shit off his shoes, “Vodka pie crust?”
“Pie crust?” Bernard swung to him, a french poodle catching the scent, “Who ees making pie crust. I did not authorize pie… crust …vodka?”
“Damien’s girlfriend is a pastry chef.” Caine Lawrence hastened to explain, probably afraid of another explosion of food stuffs flying, but Bernard had dropped “Zee Crap” on the floor, wiping his hands on his apron and bouncing across the kitchen to grab the phone out of his hand
“What ees thees pie crust with zee vodka?”
And then for the first time in his thirty-one years of existence Damien Drake witnessed a miracle.
Chef smiled. “Ah, oui oui, Meez Chase yes I remember…..” Then Chef chuckled. Then damn if he didn’t blush cherry fucking goddamn red, “Ah oui, the soufflé. You ladies love your chocolate.”
“What the fuck?” Stan Wyatt tossed one of those spiney fruits in the sink, “What the hell did she do?”
“Don’t know. Don’t care. The man’s not throwing shit.” Cain Lawrence practically ran for the door, “I’ll get housekeeping in here.”
“Damien, what on earth is going on in here.” Chaylene Abbingdon entered the kitchen. Cool, blond elegance in an Armani suit and he knew.
Shit, did he know. Goddammit, he knew. “Shay did you make changes to the menu?”
She lifted her chin, “Of course. The Fugue has always been on the….”
“Stop.” He held up a hand. Dammit, he was sick of hearing what The Fugue had been. “Shay, you need to go home.”
“Shay, this kitchen is the Chef’s. The menu is the Chef’s. If you ever again attempt to dictate anything that happens in this kitchen, you will be out of a job.”
“You can’t fire me.”
“Read the fine print. I can fire you for gross incompetence.” And he had a gut feeling she’d been incompetent all over the place resulting in his shit storm of a day, “Be in my office at nine tomorrow morning. We will be discussing your future role here at the Fugue.
”Damien, I have a responsibility…”
“Now is when you say Yes, sir. Or – you can continue to tell me I can’t fire you and I will prove to you in the next minute that I can.”
Shay’s mouth clamped shut. Her jaw so tight she barely got it open enough to hiss out a “Yes, sir.”
Without another word the wife of the former owner of the hotel and the woman he’d thought he’d loved a lifetime ago, turned and left.
“She’s a problem.” Stan Wyatt stared after her.
At least Chef was happy. He chuckled and chortled into the phone, “Ah Zee Grandmuzzers recipes, zey are zee best. I must come see.” And his phone was handed back to him, “You will take me to see Mees Chase. We will make zee Gradmuzzer’s apple pie.”
“Apple Pie?” Stan Wyatt perked up.
He ignored him. On the other end of the phone he heard giggling. “Uh kitten, I think we’re coming over.” He may have heard an “All right.” Amongst the giggles. “Sorry I didn’t call. This has been one shitty day.”
He heard a “S’okay” And then the giggles turned to hooting snorts. He disconnected with a smile on his face.
“Ah zee mess.” Bernard stood in the middle of the disaster zone looking sheepish, “I will clean eet up tomorrow?”
“Don’t worry about it. We’ll get housekeeping in here.”
“Ah, I am sorry. We will not tell the lovely Mees Chase about my little tantrum, no?”
“The lovely Mees Chase?” What the hell? Was there a single man in the greater DC area who did not want his girl.
“Ah Oui, Mees Chase, she invited me to speak to zee students. I made chocolate soufflé. She say eet was… how you say… seen in a bowl.”
“Seen in a bowl?”
“I think he means sin.” Wyatt interjected, “Sin in a bowl.”
“Thanks for the translation.”
“Don’t mention it.” Stan grinned, then his eyes glazed over, “Andie’s making apple pie?”
“Forget about it.”
“Ah yes, she ees charming.” The Chef kissed his fingers, “You have excellent taste.”
He damn well knew that and he couldn’t clobber his Chef this close to the Grand opening. “I’m happy you approve.”
“What in the hell was all that about?” Layla asked. She and Jose had given up on pretending not to listen at the three second mark, crowding in on either side of in a blatant attempt to listen in. She’d gotten them to back off to the other side of the counter by threatening to sling them with melted butter. Andie gulped air and sipped the water Jose suddenly shoved under her nose with a, “Spill.”
“Damien had a shitty day.”
“Uh-huh.” Layla said between chomping peeling. Andie knew the translation for that particular ‘uh-huh was, so the fuck what, keep talking.
Andie kept talking. “He couldn’t call because the head chef was having a full blown tantrum.”
Layla dropped her peeling, “His head Chef is Bernard Jervois.”
“He’s the guy who spoke to your class.” Layla said.
“He’s short as you and round all over.” Layla had met Chef Jervois when she’d shown up the day he lectured to her class, saying she just happened to be in the area. She then had tried to leave with half the chocolate soufflé. Jose had ripped it out of her hands. He showed up on lab days anyway. Her friends were serious moochers.
Which Layla proved once again by sneaking an apple wedge from the bowl and dipping in in cinnamon-sugar,
“And apparently,” Andie moved the bowl to the counter behind her, “He has a hell of an arm. When Chefs have tantrums stuff starts flying.”
“Like what?” Layla “humphed” And went back to the peelings
“You’re shitting me.” Layla blinked once. “He’s so sweet and jolly.”
“Aren’t they all until you piss them off.” Jose said like he was an authority on chefs or possibly men in general.
“So your sweetie didn’t call, because he was ducking bread pans.”
“Uh, yes. I guess so.” Andie agreed.
“HA! Good enough.” He extended a hand to Layla palm up. “You owe me twenty bucks, sister.”
“Fine,” Layla slid off her barstool and got her purse off the hall tree. Opening it, she slapped a crisp twenty in Jose’s hand. Threw her purse on the sofa and plopped back on her stool and pouted over her peelings. “I still say he should have called. Hymen busting trumps shitty day.”
“Oui!” His kitten snickered and continued regaling Chef with her story, “Egg was everywhere. The ceiling, the floor, the walls, oh and the pumpkin mousse splattered everywhere, like a wild free form at exhibit.”
“Stop! Stop! Eet eez too much.” Chef held his ribs, laughing.
Chef was having a whale of a time with his girl. From the moment he walked in with an authentic European kiss- kiss on her cheeks, he’d been monopolizing 100% of Andie’s attention. They made pie crust together and had a half-hour conversation about vodka vs. water. Then they discussed the best apples to use, then finally shoved the pies in the oven. Damien thought he might actually get to kiss his girl hello, but then the chef had seen the ancient recipe book that had belonged to Andie’s great-grandmother that had led to another half hour conversation.
He didn’t begrudge her her fun and she was obviously having fun with Chef, but he’d been itching to touch her all day and now here she was in tiny shorts and a t-shirt, wearing an apron, her hair up in a sloppy bun, smelling like fresh apple and cinnamon and damn, his poor dick was going to break off.
A knock on the door did little to distract him.
It was Layla leaping from the couch and cutting off Andie’s trek to answer it that had him taking note, “Don’t answer it.” The woman shot daggers at the door, “They’ll want pie.”
Sweet shit! She was serious. After observing Layla Markham in her own environment Damien had come to the conclusion his brother had lost his mind. Andie had had to throw her room-mate out of the kitchen when she’d caught her sneaking apples slices from the bowl. Layla had taken her bad mood along with apple peelings, melted butter, the entire canister of sugar and cinnamon and flopped on the couch She then dipped, dredged, and devoured while demanding pie updates every ten minutes.
“Layla, don’t be ridiculous.” Andie threw the dish towel down, “Jose…”
“I’m with Layla.” Jose said from the couch where he’d been flipping through magazines and sneaking glances and Damien’s behind, “Normally, I don’t mind people showing up, but you only made two pies and one’s for Mrs. Hennessey.”
“Oh for the love of frosting.” Andie dodged Layla and went to the door, opening it. It was when he heard her surprised “Stan?” and “Maurice?” That his frustration simmered on up to pissed.
What the fuck? Damien left the kitchen to stand behind Andie and sure enough both men were at the door giving his girl their version of puppy dog eyes.
The little fuckers. “What are you two doing here?”
“We were in the neighborhood and uh…” Stan craned his neck and sniffed, “Um, we heard you were baking pie…”
Andie laughed. Bright, beautiful, and clear, “Oh, come in.”
Damien hated that laugh being for someone else. That it was directed at Stan and Maurice had his blood fairly boiling.
She turned around to lead them in the house and both men’s gazes went straight to her ass. Then both men’s eyes went wide as dinner plates.
Dirty little fuckers. His blood boiled over
“Uh, sweetheart,” A slow grin slid across Stan’s face, “Did you forget your pants?”
“No, silly.” Andie spun around lifting her apron and her overly-long T-Shirt, “Shorts.”
“Huh. Well, if this is the new chef uniform, I have to say I approve.”
Andie rolled her eyes, “It gets warm in here when I bake. It’s a gas stove.”
“Dammit, I’m not giving them my pie.” Layla stormed in between Andie and her admirers, keeping him from having to snap their necks.
“Layla stop,” Andie slapped her friend with a dish towel, “It’s a ten-inch pie. It serves eight. We have plenty.”
“Fine, but I get the extra slice.”
“Uh okay by me.” Stan rocked back on his heels, grinning like an ape on acid.
“Sure. Sure.” Maurice held up his hands
A beeping sounded in the kitchen.
“Ah zee pies.” The chef grabbed the oven mitt and handed it to Andie who bent to pull the oven door open and damn if the little perv didn’t check out her behind.
He cleared his throat and Chef Bernard took his eyes off her ass to kiss his fingers, “Magnifique.”
“Times two.” Maurice.
Damien searched the kitchen for heavy blunt objects.
“I know. They’re perfect.” Andie placed the first of the two pies on the cooling rack. Clueless as to what was happening.
“So do we get to eat now?” Layla stomped to the kitchen.
“No, they need to cool for twenty minutes or so.”
“WHAT?” The canister of sugar was slammed down on the counter.
“Cooling is part of the baking process.” Andie explained patiently, “It should really be thirty to forty-five…”
“Oh hell, no! I’m coming off of the worst day of the year.” Layla, yanked on her hair, “I need pie.”
Twenty minutes. He could do a lot in twenty minutes. He’d prefer forty-five, but Layla looked ready to run off with that pie.
“Non, eet ees true, you must wait.” Chef added his expertise to the argument. Brave man. “Perhaps Mees Chase you can tell me more about zee gramuzzer’s cookbook.”
“Oh well, of course.” Andie seemed surprised by the interest.
He wasn’t. with both their heads buried in the book they had to stand practically on top of each other. Chef was enjoying the heck out of it and…
Oh hell… “No.”
“No?” Andie looked up, startled.
“No.” He reiterated, “We need coffee to go with the pie.”
“We have coffee.” She said.
“It’s late. We need decaf.” He hated decaf, but if the he didn’t get Andie away from all those horny jackasses, he was going to pound all three men bloody. Stan and Maurice he didn’t care about, but Chef he couldn’t afford to lose. “Stan Maurice, take Chef, Layla and Jose and go find us decaffeinated coffee. A good one.”
“Decaf.” Maurice nodded mock serious, “Oh yeah, got to have decaf.”
“Sure.” Stan slid that smarmy grin over his face, “Decaf. Got it.” Both men sauntered to the door.
“Marla may have some.” Andie suggested.
“Not the kind I want.” The words came out barely intelligible, but fuck it. He was past caring.
“Uh…” His kitten stood there blinking at him.
Layla grumped and groused about being an adult and insisted waiting was stupid, “I mean shit, we can blow on it.”
Oh, he planned on it. He sent his one ally in the room a significant look.
Jose caught it and ran for the end zone. “Oh…Oh yes. Deeeecaf. That is a smashing idea. We’ll all go get decaf and ice cream from that gourmet grocery down the block.”
“What gourmet grocery?” Andie’s eyes lit up. Of course she’d be all over a gourmet grocery.
Either Jose had made it up and she’d catch him in a lie or she was going to insist on going with them and either way he’d be fucked or not fucked.
Jose didn’t miss a beat “That new one. It’s all over-priced Gucci wannabe, but they have decent coffee and gelato.”
Okay, so not dumb.
“What grocery? There’s no…Hey.” Jose cut Layla off by grabbing her hands and ripping her from her perch on the stool. “Come on Lay-Lay. I’ve got twenty bucks to burn. Chef, grab that other pie and we’ll drop it off with Mrs. Hennessey on the way.”
Not dumb at all.
“Oui Oui, we will burn zee bucks.” The Chef chortled, having caught on. He pulled on mitts and grabbed the pie.
“Simon will meet you at the curb.” He jerked out his phone and somehow saw through red and sent a text.
“Fabulous.” Jose inserted himself between Stan and Maurice, hooking their arms. “We’ll be gone at least a half hour.”
Genius. He should hire the guy.
Chef was the last one out the door, calling out an “Au’ Revoir!” with a corny wiggling of brows.
Couldn’t kill him. Could not.