“Chef?” Sharply, Bree looked up to the server who’d called her from his position on the opposite side of the plating station, her expression impatient as always during dinner service. Tonight was the busiest night they’d ever experienced, she’d worked hard to bring the ailing restaurant to this point, and she didn’t welcome interruptions. The server, Joe, averted his gaze from her stern look a moment before engaging it again. “A customer wants to meet you.” As much as customer relations were a part of her job, everyone on staff knew how much Bree detested leaving the kitchen and, even at the request of a customer, rarely did so. She stared at Joe, waiting for more information, and he shrugged stiffly. “It’s Aaron Hudson.” The area around her went eerily quiet for a few seconds as the staff heard Joe’s words. As they quickly resumed work, she raised a brow. “Seriously?” “Yes, he’s specifically asked to meet you to compliment you on the meal. He and his companion are on table three.” Aaron Hudson was one of Toronto’s leading executives, the CEO of Hudson’s Cosmetics, and several subsidiary companies. While that alone may not have made him a household name, his antics as the city’s most eligible bachelor most certainly did. A public trail of broken-hearts lay in his wake and the media could never get enough of him. Being rich, powerful, handsome, and available solidified his presence on magazine covers, in newspapers, on television, and the internet. Although Bree wasted little time on gossip and the happenings of the social elite, no one who lived in the city could escape knowledge of Aaron Hudson and so she nodded her acquiesce. While she possessed no desire to interact with him, she couldn’t ignore a customer of that magnitude. A single photo of him exiting the restaurant could double its business. Joe hurriedly left the kitchen to announce her arrival and she took a moment to straighten her kerchief and hat. As she made eye contact with her sous-chef, Jeff, he immediately moved to take over her position. Exiting the kitchen, she strode through the dining room, ignoring stares from wait staff who were surprised to see her in the dining room. As she approached the table and took in the sight of Aaron Hudson, she was astounded to discover he was more handsome than any photo of him she’d ever seen of him. The woman seated across from him was equally gorgeous, a tall model-type who seemed bored with the situation. Joe eyed Bree’s approach and motioned to her. When Aaron Hudson turned his head in her direction, a curious but intense look upon his face, she almost tripped over her own feet. Keeping a tight hold on her features, she forced them to stay impassive, all the while hoping she wasn’t actually drooling. Standing as she drew nearer, he smiled and extended his hand to her. Her eyes roved over him briefly, taking in volumes in that short glance, seeing everything the media proclaimed him to be, tall, athletically built, and devastatingly handsome. His caramel-coloured skin was flawless and almost shone with healthy vitality, and his eyes sported a burst of gold around the pupils that bled into the hazel irises around them. Tightly kinked and short-cropped sorrel curls topped his handsome face, framing it along with a neat beard that hugged his strong jaw. Full beards were unusual for executives but then again he was in a class beyond compare. His full lips drew back to reveal startling white and almost impossibly straight teeth. The tailored suit he wore accentuated his massive pectorals and biceps, the tailored shirt skimmed over his flat stomach and she could see a small patch of hair on his chest thanks to the three open buttons at his throat. Against the dress code of the restaurant, he wore no tie but then no one would deny him entry anywhere in the city. Barely resisting an urge to gasp aloud when her hand touched his, she marvelled at how warm his hand was. His long fingers curled around hers as he shook her hand firmly but not with too much force as many men she met did. Smiling nervously, she dipped her head awkwardly. “I’m Bree Myers, Chef here at Le Gloutonnerie.” Still holding her hand, he maintained his easy smile. “I’m Aaron Hudson. Please, call me Aaron. This is Jessie Jensen. Do you have the time to join us for a few minutes?” Releasing her hand to motion to the table, she saw Joe standing on guard ready to scramble to retrieve a chair for her. Looking over Aaron’s dining companion once more, she noted the irritated expression upon the woman’s face. Jessie rolled her eyes and turned her attention to the cellphone in her hands. Wearing a dress that could be on a catwalk during Fashion Week in Milan, Jessie appeared perfectly put together from her stylish hair to the tips of her pedicured toes. Bree, in her frumpy chef jacket, hat, and kerchief, wearing no makeup and with her food-scented hair stuck to her sweaty brow, couldn’t feel more out of place, even if she was standing in the restaurant she ran. “No, I apologize but I can’t take the time,” she replied. Aaron’s lips curled up strangely, seemingly not used to hearing the word ‘no,’ but then he shrugged easily. “Well then allow me to compliment you on your menu. I dine out often, and I believe this restaurant may become my new favourite. Your menu is refreshing in its simplicity and your execution of the dishes is extraordinary. My meal this evening has been an extremely fulfilling experience.” She smiled broadly at his assessment. Frequenting all the upscale restaurants in the city, his endorsement could mean all the city’s socialites could soon be dining here, hoping to rub elbows with him. “Thank you so much, Mr. Hudson. That means a lot to me. I’ve worked hard on this menu.” “Aaron,” he corrected, “and it shows. I thought it was brilliant to recreate traditional dishes for contemporary diners. Some of your choices are, well, unusual. Dishes best described as comfort foods, drab and generally unappealing.” His eyes roamed over her and she had the distinct impression he was describing her, but then he smiled warmly again. “Yet in your hands these dishes were elevated to a level befitting a restaurant of this scale. You’re incredibly talented, Bree.” While she wished she could see his words written in the dining out section of the paper, reveling in them spoken aloud was also spectacular. Having them delivered in Aaron’s deep, soothing and oh-so-sexy voice was a bonus, and she could do nothing more than smile broadly once more. He scrunched up his brow and she thought it was the sexiest gesture she’d ever seen. “You’re newly appointed here, aren’t you?” he asked. “Yes, I took over as executive chef a little more than six months ago.” “I thought so. I’m sure I ate here several months ago and the change in menus is quite extraordinary,” he said as he looked around at the mostly-full dining room and then back at her. “It seems a few others have discovered your talent. I believe I should book my next reservation now or else I may never taste your work again.” She had to grin at that comment, unsure why he seemed intent on plumping her ego, but then figured it was just habit for him. After all, his reputation as a playboy was well known. “We both know you’d have no problem getting into any restaurant in town on any night of the year,” she countered. Smiling thinly, he raised a brow at her words. He didn’t appear to like her correction but she couldn’t care less, finding him vain, although she supposed she’d expected that. She just wanted to get away from him and back to the kitchen where she was in control. As much as she enjoyed hearing him compliment her work, she was extremely uncomfortable in his presence, and stiffened when he leaned a little closer to her. “I thank you for your time, Chef. I’ll allow you to return to your kitchen now.” Biting back her scathing reply to his dismissal, she felt her cheeks redden, incensed he’d said he’d ‘allow’ her to return to the kitchen, as if she was an employee of his. She ran this restaurant, not him, and she resented his words tremendously. He’d chosen to address her formally after all that as well and there was no doubt in her mind he was exerting his power, something she was certain he did wherever we went. He was quite the arrogant bastard. Keeping her eyes steady, she dipped her head decorously. “Thank you for your patronage, Mr. Hudson.” Without waiting for a reply, she turned and quickly made her way back to the kitchen, needing distance from him and his ego. She’d had her fill of overbearing men and, a Hudson or not, hoped he wouldn’t follow through on his intention to book another reservation.
A week had passed and Bree worked the dinner service with mixed emotions. Jeff had informed her of Aaron’s appearance on one of the city’s morning talk shows Monday morning during which, when asked if he’d had an enjoyable weekend, he’d mentioned his delicious meal at Le Gloutonnerie the previous Saturday. Calls poured into the restaurant, which was now booked solid, every day of the week they were open, for the next six months. The restaurant’s owner, Tess Gordon, was overjoyed with the situation and had thanked Bree profusely over the course of the week. In close to ten years of business, Le Gloutonnerie had never seen such success. Bree had graciously accepted the thanks but felt the attention was only due to Aaron’s endorsement. Jeff told her repeatedly that was only part of the reason, that there had been endless enquiries into the menu and that people were genuinely curious about her ambitious offerings, but she didn’t share Jeff’s confidence in the matter. Saturday night found her too busy to worry about it. Her staff, still not used to the kitchen being so hectic, struggled with the workload and she herself had fought with suppliers all week. It was surprisingly difficult to get shipments last minute and she and Jeff had to pick up quite a few orders themselves. Exhausted and irritated, she found it extremely difficult to enjoy the restaurant’s sudden success. “Um … Chef?” Looking up to see Joe standing before her, his expression a mix of awe and trepidation, her stomach twisted, certain she knew what he’d sat next. “He’s back,” Joe announced, “Aaron Hudson. He just came in and wants to speak with you again.” Unwilling to deal with Aaron’s vanity, she shook her head resolutely. “I’m too busy. Send my apologies to Mr. Hudson and offer him a complimentary appetizer.” Joe blanched. “He said you were going to say exactly that but that I was to insist on you making the time for him. He said you owe it to him.” Her lips parted as she squinted in anger. “Arrogant asshole!” she hissed. Jeff was beside her in an instant. “Go, I’ll take over.” He shrugged when she turned angry eyes on him. “You have to, it’s Aaron Hudson. It won’t look good if you don’t make an appearance after he publicly endorsed you. I know you don’t like him but, well, like it or not, you do owe him.” “I didn’t ask him for his endorsement. I owe him nothing.” “Bree, honey, only you couldn’t get weak in the knees around Aaron Hudson.” He looked her over critically. “You look like a train-wreck but I’m sure he’s intelligent enough to understand the kitchen is hot and busy.” Staring at Jeff, she seethed, even as she knew he was right and she did have to see Aaron again. However, she greatly resented her sous-chef telling her what to do. “Go,” he urged, “please try not to blow this. God, if Aaron Hudson was interested in me I’d be falling over myself to get out there to see him.” “He’s not interested in me. He just wants me to inflate his ego.” Jeff turned to Joe. “Inform Mr. Hudson that Chef will be out to see him promptly.” Joe nodded and left and Bree glared angrily at Jeff. “I didn’t say I was going to see him,” she snapped. “Seriously, Bree, this is so not the time to be petulant.” She regarded Jeff furiously now, pissed he issued her an order, even when she knew she had to go out to see Aaron, but his words had incited her anger and she debated calling him out on it. Although she normally reprimanded her staff in private, she was precariously close to chastising him in front of the rest of the kitchen staff at this moment. She’d struggled too hard to gain this position and his apparent challenge didn’t sit well with her at all. Jeff caught her look and sighed. “You can tear me a new one later. Sorry to be bossy but you have to do it.” Deciding Jeff was in for a world of trouble later, she was in no mood to take the time now, certain she’d be more brutal with him than she wanted to be. Jeff was her friend in addition to being her sous-chef and she treasured him in both capacities. She’d remind him later that she was the only one in charge in the kitchen but for now, she had Aaron to deal with and her already sour mood intensified. Stomping out of the kitchen, she quickly made her way through the crowded dining room, knowing he would be at the exact same table. Drawing closer, her narrowed eyes focused on him, intent on informing him that she didn’t have the time to indulge his whims. She caught his eye and he rose to his feet as did his companion, a man this time. Now at the table, she opened her mouth to unload on him when Joe shifted his position and revealed the identity of Aaron’s dining companion. It was Gregor Lewiston, the preeminent food critic in the city, and she snapped her mouth closed instantly as she looked to Aaron in wonder. “Good evening, Chef,” he said brightly. “Please allow me to introduce you to Gregor Lewiston, food critic for the Toronto Global.” She numbly extended her hand to Gregor who smiled tightly as he shook it. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Chef. When Aaron told me of your menu, I simply had to come try it for myself.” Nothing about Gregor’s tone sounded genuine. Despite his words, he looked like he would rather be anywhere else but in this restaurant, and, confused, she glanced at Aaron before turning back to Gregor. “So you’re not here in a professional capacity?” “Oh, I am. Aaron asked me to review this restaurant. Quite frankly, it’s never been on my radar but I trust his instincts.” Feeling her face flush, she watched as Aaron motioned to the Maître d’ and instantly Joe rushed forth with a chair for Bree. Realizing the Maître d’ and her wait staff were again awaiting Aaron’s orders, she angrily regarded him, and he smiled once more. “I realize you’re extremely busy, but surely Gregor’s appearance warrants some of your precious time. Please, join us.” Seething at how easily Aaron had gained control of her staff and the situation, and truly having no choice now, she sat as Joe held out the chair for her and Aaron and Gregor waited for her to take her seat. All three seated, Aaron turned to her. “I asked you to come out to meet Gregor, but also to suggest our menu tonight.” Feeling more than a little put on the spot by Aaron, she turned her head to lock eyes with Gregor and forced a smile onto her face. “The shepherd’s pie is new to the menu this week. It’s an updated and lighter version of the classic dish, made with lamb, of course, but also with braised lettuce and spring peas and topped with creamed cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes.” Gregor smiled, a little dismissively Bree thought, and looked to Aaron. “You were right about the comfort food angle.” He then regarded her warily. “What on earth would possess you to add something like shepherd’s pie to the menu at a fine-dining establishment?” Her cheeks burned. She was Chef at Le Gloutonnerie and not used to having her menu choices questioned. Tess was overjoyed with the idea of the updated classics but Gregor made Bree feel like an insecure child and she resented his tone. Set to defend herself, she cleared her throat and was mildly surprised when Aaron answered Gregor. “Chef’s menu is very impressive, Gregor. I had the osso buco last week and it was sensational, certainly the best I’ve ever tasted and I’ve eaten that God-knows-how-many-times. Chef may offer classic dishes, perhaps outdated ones in your eyes, but the fresh spin she puts on them is delightful and certainly worth trying.” She stared at Aaron a moment before looking back to Gregor, amazed she’d just heard Aaron chastise Gregor Lewiston in front of her. Lewiston’s reviews of restaurants either elevated their standing or caused them to close their doors. Everyone in the restaurant business respected his word and wanted nothing more than a glowing review from him. Gregor blinked once and then turned his attention back to Bree. “Your veal?” “Is sourced locally from an organic and cruelty-free farm,” she readily replied. Gregor nodded approvingly and then raised a judgmental eyebrow. “I fear the shepherd’s pie is a little too pedestrian for my tastes, but please, Chef, perhaps a tasting menu of your other dishes?” Nodding, she smiled stiffly. “Of course.” Turning to Aaron, she found him staring at her, an odd look upon his face. He smiled warmly, glanced at Gregor, and then locked eyes with her again. “And I’ll have your shepherd’s pie. I haven’t eaten that since I was a child and I can’t wait to see how you’ve improved a perennial favourite of so many people.” She couldn’t help but feel that Aaron and Gregor were involved in some kind of verbal battle that caught her in the crossfire. Nodding politely to Aaron, she stood and both men rose to their feet. First shaking Gregor’s and then Aaron’s hand, once more amazed at the warmth of Aaron’s skin, she bowed her head slightly. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Lewiston, and it was equally pleasurable to see you once more, Mr. Hudson. I have to return to the kitchen now but I sincerely hope you two enjoy your meals.” Without waiting for a response, she quickly moved away from Aaron and toward the kitchen, where she felt safe. She wasn’t sure what he was up to but he’d managed to get Gregor Lewiston to come to Le Gloutonnerie, and now she only hoped that her menu would impress Gregor. Her head spinning, insecurities she’d though long gone rearing within her, she returned to the kitchen to find Jeff bouncing in anticipation. “Is it true? Gregor Lewiston is out there? With Aaron Hudson?” Nodding, she loudly announced Aaron’s order and then arched a brow at Jeff. “You and I are going to work on a tasting menu for Lewiston.” Jeff dipped his head in acknowledgement, looking pleased with the challenge. After washing her hands, she returned to Jeff’s station and, as they started to work, he bumped her slightly. “So, what’s he like?” he asked. “Who? Lewiston?” “Yeah.” “He’s a prick. We need to wow him with this, Jeff, seriously. He hates the menu, I can tell. It’s not pretentious enough for him.” “Maybe I should go out and persuade him to write a good review,” he relied with a sly smile. “Do you think I’d fit under the table?” He winked and smiled devilishly, causing her to laugh aloud. “Can you imagine Aaron’s reaction?” Jeff’s brow raised dramatically. “Look who’s on a first name basis with Mr. Sex Personified.” “He asked me to call him Aaron.” “Hmm … has he asked you to do anything else for him yet?” She bumped Jeff now. “Stop it. C’mon let’s get this done.”
When Aaron and Gregor had finished their meals, Bree approached the table apprehensively. She wasn’t concerned with the food she’d sent out to them, she knew it was good, but she did worry about Gregor’s opinion of her food given his behaviour earlier. Aaron immediately rose to his feet when he spotted her approach and a warm smile spread on his lips, but Gregor seemed a little more reluctant to stand. As Joe moved forward with a chair, she shook her head at him and he retreated with it. Aaron noticed the exchange, smirked, then turned to the Maître D’ and motioned to the table. As Joe rushed forth with the chair again, she turned incredulous eyes upon Aaron. “Please sit, Chef,” he said pleasantly, “we have much to discuss.” Again, she found herself incapable of saying no to Aaron, and his smooth ability to dictate her actions to her was truly beginning to irritate her. Her face flushed once more, she took a seat at the table, and then Aaron and Gregor sat as well. Too pissed to look at Aaron, she turned her focus on Gregor to see him smile mirthlessly. “I still don’t understand your motivation to offer such banal and old-fashioned selections, however your execution is to be admired. Each dish was spectacularly flavoured, and your plating was quite inventive, given the challenge of updating what are some truly ugly items. Although I was surprised to find shepherd’s pie being presented to me after informing you that I had no desire to try it, I will admit it was satisfactory.” “I’d completely forgotten you’d asked for that to be omitted. I do apologize for my error,” she replied, feigning surprise. She heard Aaron snigger and Gregor’s expression told her that he didn’t believe her lie either. Childishly, she’d purposely sent it out of the kitchen earlier, despite Gregor’s request, and then had smiled smugly when his plate came back in with half of it consumed. Gregor sniffed slightly as his mouth pulled down at the corners. “Yes, well, these things happen I suppose.” Although she thought he looked like someone had held a turd under his nose, she smiled pleasantly at him. Starting at the feel of someone touching her, she looked down to see Aaron’s large hand firmly upon her forearm. Even through her chef jacket, should could feel his warmth. When she met his eyes, he smiled genially. “I thoroughly enjoyed the shepherd’s pie. I would like to tell you it was better than the one my mom used to make but I don’t think my mother ever set foot in the kitchen.” She couldn’t help but laugh at that. Aaron did as well, his eyes gleaming mischievously. “However,” he added, “it was leaps and bounds better than the ones the cooks used to prepare.” Bree smiled broadly. Everyone knew the story of Aaron’s charmed upbringing, how his father, heir to the family fortune and business at the time, had fallen in love with a stunning African model. Interracial marriages weren’t commonplace forty years ago, the story made headlines everywhere and, despite some truly nasty opinions voiced about their union at the time, the couple, still together, was now regarded as the ideal celebrity marriage. The Hudsons had three children, Aaron, Rebecca, and Jason. Aaron and Rebecca followed in their father’s footsteps, both business school graduates and executives in the family business, while Jason or Jase, as he preferred to be called, was a successful model. The three had always been in the media spotlight, their family so well known that the citizens of Toronto had coined a common phrase: It must be nice to be a Hudson. “Thank you,” she responded. Gregor cleared his throat to get their attention, and she realized she and Aaron had been staring at one another. They both turned to Gregor now, who smiled thinly. “Yes, well, you can expect a good review from me. I should like to see a more progressive menu from you come spring, however.” Aaron raised a well-groomed eyebrow. “One might argue that her menu is progressive, a definite backlash to the fanciful and, let’s face it Gregor, pretentious dishes diners have been subjected to for years now.” Gregor folded his arms over his chest and leaned back in his chair. “One might also expect a dining experience when they visit an establishment like this. High prices should come with quality ingredients and great presentation, which Chef has provided, but also with innovative menus. People like to see new and inventive dishes.” “Yet many are tired of all the so-called progress of this time and yearn for a return to the simpler, less complicated ways of the past.” Unsure of exactly what was going on between Aaron and Gregor, their verbal battle was beginning to grate on her nerves and she didn’t have the time to witness their posturing. Dinner service was still ongoing and she should be in the kitchen supervising her staff. She put a hand on the table before Gregor to draw his attention from Aaron and then smiled as warmly as she could. Disliking Gregor, she was eager to get away from him, however business was business, and she wasn’t above insincere flattery to further her career. “I’m so sorry to interrupt but I must return to the kitchen. It was truly a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Lewiston and, please tell me, when might I expect to read your review?” She was pleased with how pleasant her voice sounded, considering how she really felt about Gregor. He didn’t seem to detect any insincerity on her part as he shrugged. “In a few weeks I would imagine. As I said before, I hadn’t planned to review this restaurant and as such the review will have to be fit in after some others that had been planned.” Bree smiled again as she stood up and extended her hand to Gregor. He stood too, as did Aaron, and took Bree’s hand. “Once more, it was a pleasure and I look forward to seeing your review.” He dipped his head to her and Bree then turned to Aaron. There was an unmistakable flicker of some emotion in his eyes but she didn’t know him well enough to be able to decipher it. Aaron smiled broadly as he took her hand in his, exposing his beautiful teeth. “It’s always a pleasure to not only dine here but also to share your company. Thank you once more, Bree.” She stiffened slightly at his use of her name in front of Gregor, especially without her title. ‘Chef Bree’ wouldn’t have bothered her, and ‘Chef’ was even better, but the familiarity he’d just displayed didn’t sit well with her. After nodding brusquely, she managed a weak smile for him as she pulled her hand away, and then turned her back on him to return to the kitchen.
“That’s her,” Aaron informed his chauffeur, Robert. They’d been waiting for Bree to exit the restaurant, having seen the rest of the staff already depart. Aaron knew Bree would be the last person to leave, that she had responsibilities to attend to as an executive chef, and he understood responsibilities better than most, considering the empire he ran. He detested waiting for anything, but was eager to see her again, unsure of why she’d piqued his interest so dramatically. His first thought was that it occurred because she hadn’t responded to him the way most women did, that she seemed unaffected by his charms. That could be, as he was used to women practically throwing themselves at him, but he still thought it was more, something deeper, and couldn’t deny the thrumming of his heart when he’d seen her emerge from the backdoor of the restaurant. Robert moved the limo to park it beside the decrepit car that obviously belonged to Bree considering it was the only one left in the lot. He then exited the car and opened the door for Aaron. As Aaron pulled his large frame out of the car, he caught Bree’s surprised and quite annoyed expression. “Hello again, Bree,” he said airily. “It’s late, Mr. Hudson,” she huffed. “What can I do for you?” He smiled at her barely restrained hostility. It truly was late but he wanted to spend more time with her and wasn’t accustomed being denied what he wanted. After taking in her flustered and angry appearance, he ignored it for a moment to concentrate on her sparkling cerulean eyes and her strawberry-blonde spiky hair. It was a cute and functional cut and he reasoned it must look better normally than it did now, after a long night of work, plastered against her forehead in thick strands, with only a few crown pieces spiked. She looked mussed and tired, her cheeks flushed, exactly how she might after raucous sex, and that thought brought a deeper smile to his lips. Wearing jeans now, he wished she would turn away from him, for just a moment, so he could see if her ass looked as shapely as he pictured it, having to let his imagination fill in due to his limited view earlier when she wore her loose chef uniform. His eyes roamed over her face again, over the spray of sweet freckles across her nose and cheeks. She was a true beauty, not an airbrushed, put-together one, and he felt the stirrings of arousal just looking at her. “I would like your company, Bree. I realize it’s late but I also know the restaurant isn’t open tomorrow. So, seeing as I don’t have to be in the office and you’re free tomorrow, I thought you might enjoy a late drink or a coffee, a quick meal even if you haven’t eaten and I would wager you haven’t on a busy Saturday night. My treat, of course.”
Bree sighed deeply, trying to keep her anger in check. She could hardly believe that he was before her at the late hour, could only guess he’d waited for her to exit the restaurant, and had no idea why he’d bothered. While she might have to put him with him at work, this was her time and her patience was wearing thin. “Let me guess, you think I owe you that much.” Aaron smiled again, his full lips turning up so sexily she felt her anger begin to seep away and she clung to it, as he deserved her wrath. He was out of line with this late-night appearance and she wouldn’t condone his behaviour and certainly wouldn’t indulge him. While ecstatic over Lewiston reviewing the restaurant, Aaron orchestrating it had overshadowed the joy of the impending review. She’d work damn hard to achieve her prestigious position in a male-dominated industry and his commanding her staff to follow his ever order had pissed her off royally. Now, intent on going home and relaxing, he was cutting into her private time and she was precariously close to losing her temper. “I wouldn’t have said it but yeah, now that you have, I suppose you do,” he responded with a shrug. “No you wouldn’t say that to me, only to my wait staff,” she returned, sneering. He chuckled. “Bree, it isn’t every day I go out of my way to even compliment a chef, let alone arrange for the city’s best food critic to review their restaurant. Your business has more than doubled since my televised mention of dining here. So, yes, I do believe that I am owed some of your time.” Crossing her arms angrily, she shook her head. “Since you seem to know so much about my business I’m surprised you don’t know that Sunday is the day the kitchen gets a deep clean. I’m expected here tomorrow morning to do just that. As far as your help, I do appreciate the increase in business and the review from Lewiston but I didn’t ask you to do that for me. I have no idea what kind of repayment you might be looking for but … well …” Words failed her. She was going to say she wasn’t the type of woman to repay him with sexual favours but stopped herself. Whatever Aaron had in mind, it wasn’t sex. There was no way he could be interested in her, plain old Bree, not when he’d had a string of models and actors upon his arm. No, whatever he wanted was something else and while she couldn’t fathom what that was, she was too tired to focus on it right now. Exhausted and sore, she wanted nothing more than to go home, shower, and sleep. As her voice trailed off, she merely stood where she was and glared at him, her anger escalating once more at the bemused expression on his face. “If you’re insinuating that I expect some kind of sexual favour in return, I assure you I don’t need to arrange for food critics to visit restaurants in order to get laid.” She was speechless at his words and his amused tone. Of course he didn’t need to coax women into sleeping with him, he was Aaron Hudson. Her cheeks heating, she looked away a moment, and, when she chanced looking back at him, he was still staring at her with the same bemused expression. “Then what do you want?” she demanded. Taking a few steps closer to her, he was now less than a foot away and she resisted an urge to step back from him. Without the safety net of the restaurant around her, she felt exposed and he was too close, the wondrous scent of his cologne tantalizingly filling her nostrils. Tilting his head slightly, he smiled once more, the gesture warm and inviting, causing her unease to mount. “As I said, I would like your company, a conversation over a quick meal or a drink, whatever you have time for. I find you intriguing and I would like to have an actual conversation with you.” Pausing before responding to him, she mulled over his words. A conversation made a lot more sense than sex. She could almost accept that he found her interesting enough to converse with but she still found herself doubting that. “I appreciate the offer, but I can’t. I really do need rest before tomorrow, it’s been a long day.” She could hardly believe she was blowing off Aaron Hudson but knew it was the right thing to do. There seemed little point to wasting any more of his or her time. He looked past her to her dilapidated car and smirked. “Does that car actually run?” When she merely glared at him, he chuckled softly. “All right, I can accept that you’re too tired to spend time with me but the thought of you driving while that tired is worrisome to me. Please allow me to drive you home, the driver will follow and we can have a chat while on the way.” “You can drive?” He laughed heartily. “Of course I can. Having a driver is a luxury that allows me to conduct business while I’m being transported, but if it makes you feels safer, you can go home in the limo with Jeeves while I drive your car.” She looked to the driver that still stood in front of the limo and then back to Aaron. “His name isn’t really Jeeves is it?” Laughing boisterously now, he shook his head. “Of course not, it’s Robert. You just looked like you expected him to be a Jeeves.” Doubly confused now, she was torn between thinking Aaron was mocking her and thinking perhaps he was merely in a good mood. Regardless, she still didn’t see the point in spending any time with him. “There’s no need for you to drive my car. Besides it’s a stick.” “Now you’re just being insulting,” he replied quietly, with a frown. As she felt her cheeks flame once more, she sighed. “That wasn’t my intention and … wow, you know what? It seems you and I got off to a rocky start from the beginning and I apologize.” “Perhaps it’s a sign that we should spend time together to rectify that.” “Or a sign we shouldn’t bother,” she countered. He appeared stunned by her remark and she could swear she heard chuckling coming from Robert’s direction before she dipped her head to Aaron as politely as she could. “Thank you for your offer, Mr. Hudson but I’m leaving now. Good night.” “Good night, Bree,” he responded. After quickly sliding into the driver’s seat, she started up her car and winced as the clutch squealed when she pressed it to reverse the car. The pilot bearing was worn and she needed a new clutch but she was too damn busy to take her car in for repairs. Wincing again, she put the car in gear, knowing Aaron could hear the noises it made and, after his disparaging remarks about its appearance, that was the last thing she wanted him to hear. Glancing in her rear view mirror, she saw him climb into the back seat of the limo and she breathed a sigh of relief, hoping she wouldn’t see him again.
Robert slid into the driver’s seat and Aaron made eye contact with him in the rear view mirror. “Home?” Robert inquired. “No, please follow the squealing car. I’d like to ensure it makes it to her place. It’s quite late.” As Robert began to follow Bree, he chuckled. “She’s not your usual type, Aaron, but I can see the appeal. She’s a spitfire.” He nodded absently and then, a thought occurring to him, looked to Robert again. “Does your brother-in-law still work at the used car lot?” “Yeah, he does.” “Great, call him tomorrow, get him to arrange for a car for her and send me the bill.” “All that for a drink?” Robert inquired as he raised an eyebrow. “You must like her.” “Consider it a public service. That car doesn’t belong on the road a moment longer.” Robert smiled then focused his full attention on the road as Aaron made a phone call. Listening to his call ringing, his thoughts drifted to Bree in the car before the limo. He didn’t know if Robert’s assessment of her being a spitfire was accurate or if Bree was simply uninterested in him but supposed when the plan he was attempting to put into motion came to fruition he would have his answer.
Copyright 2015 Cynthia Knoble
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