What I Did On My Summer Vacation(Harlequin Blaze)(2)By: Thea Devine & Debbi Rawlins & Samantha Hunter
It was jam-packed that night and I was a half hour late. I blew into the restaurant like a tornado, but that wasn’t what stopped me midmotion as I barged in the door. Nor was it the restive crowd. Or the luscious smells. Or the harried waiters. Or the fact it was immediately apparent that the restaurant’s much-lauded fast-food, fast-service promise had gone by the board.
No, it was something more intangible: the odd sense I had that Jed Costigan was immediately, wholly aware of me the moment I came in the door.
Odd because I’m not that kind of girl. And over and above that, I knew immediately that Paula sensed it, too.
Except, what did she know? Her guy had looked up when someone walked in the door? A perfectly natural response.
Paula sent me a glittering look as I approached the table. “And here’s Lo,” she said to Jed, who, with the best of manners, stood up and shook my hand.
“Good grip,” he murmured.
“Oh, they all say that,” I said, slipping my coat off onto the back of my chair. Now I was facing him and looking for something intelligent to say. “Wow, it’s busy tonight.”
A real conversation starter.
“I’d like to think it’s in response to our review,” Jed said serenely.
“It was a good review,” I said as I was reviewing him: he was tall, well built, brown hair with reddish flecks in it, intent dark-blue eyes, a serious expression and an even more serious Armani suit. His impeccable manners hiding the soul, I thought, of a slick predator.
“Frankly,” I went on, nearly stumbling over my own words, “all these people who live at warp speed think gourmet means tossing a handful of spicy Thai chicken in a container of by-the-pound salad greens. They could make this stuff at home a lot faster, better and cheaper.”
Jed said, “Really?”
He was just being polite. Nevertheless, for some reason I pushed it. “Really.”
“We’ve ordered already,” Paula intervened. “You’re having what I’m having.”
“That’s fine.” I looked around the dining room because I didn’t want to look at Paula or Jed because I knew Jed was covertly studying me.
“Okay,” Jed said abruptly. “Here’s the deal. You replicate what we eat tonight—the faster, better, cheaper part—and you write it up for me, and we’ll see if we can make you into a food columnist.”
THE SILENCE that followed his offer was deep as an ocean.
Man, that was a desperate shot, Jed thought ruefully. He couldn’t tell at all how Lo would respond to an on-the-spot offer that he didn’t know he was going to make. He just knew he wanted a reason to see Lo again and there was no better excuse than business. He’d been thinking about some kind of food column, anyway, so it wasn’t quite an on-the-fly idea.
And, hell, why run the show if you can’t do whatever you want.
He wanted Lo.
Instantly, ferociously, the minute she came in the door with her wind-tossed hair, her sparkling eyes, that long coat flaring out to reveal her form-fitting turtleneck, her legs that went on forever, encased in knee-high riding boots, and the endearing rosiness on the tip of her nose.
He’d thought, from everything Paula had told him, her roommate would be someone as slick and pulled together as Paula. A corporate vice president at least.
He hadn’t expected someone like Lo.
One thing he knew immediately: it was going to complicate everything.
It didn’t matter.
Lo blew in the door and everything changed.
He knew it and he didn’t intend to fight it. Not with Lo acting as if he’d given her a Christmas present. It just meant things were going to get messy.
So be it.
Lo liked a challenge, he saw, and she was just intrigued enough that she wouldn’t turn it down. But she sure had to think about it—a lot. So he just folded his arms and waited patiently.
I WAS SO DUMBSTRUCK it took me a moment to respond. Finally, I slanted a long, disbelieving look at him. “You’re kidding, right?”
“Dead serious,” Jed said.
“That if I can replicate this dinner in my own faster, better, cheaper way, you’d take it as an audition to write a column.”
“In the WestEnder?”
“Yes,” Jed said.
I was speechless again.
Paula wasn’t. “Start taking notes,” she said. “Our waitress is coming now.”
I could barely choke down dinner, I was so disconcerted, both by the offer and by him. I tried to take mental notes of what we’d eaten, but my brain was too scrambled to retain anything.
In the end I thought it was politic to invite Jed to witness the faster, better, cheaper cooking way.
Nerve-racking in and of itself, to say the least. Our kitchen was tiny, and he filled that space just with his unflappable male aura. He made me nervous because I knew he was watching me in his very intent way.
“So I’m envisioning that I’m leaving my office.” I started my pitch. “I don’t have a lot of time to shop. There’s a convenience store where I grab a box of pasta, some chicken breasts, a precut package of stir-fry vegetables, and I’m gone. I have soy sauce and canola oil on hand. Rice, a can of chicken stock. And that’s it.”