Delicious(Buchanans, Book 1)(11) by Susan Mallery
Cal took the seat she’d vacated and picked up one of the remaining coffees. “Do you really need her?” he asked.
“Sorry, yes. She’s great at her job and she watches my back.” Naomi would also take some of the heat off Penny as her pregnancy progressed. “We’ve become something of a team.”
“You’re only here for four months,” Penny reminded him. “How bad could it be?”
“We’re talking about Naomi. It could be a disaster.”
“Not for our big, bad general manager.”
He looked at her. “I don’t think I detect enough reverence in your voice. This is my restaurant and while I’m here, I’m a god.”
“I must have missed that memo. Could you resend it to me?”
“I’ll bring you a copy myself.” He glanced around the dining room. “What do you think?”
She followed his gaze. “It’s fine.”
“Fine? Do you know how much this is costing?”
“Nope. And I don’t much care. The front of the store is your business.”
He shook his head. “You haven’t changed. What happens when you open your own place? You’ll have to deal with the front of the store then.”
“I’ll manage. Naomi has fabulous taste.”
“Are you sure she won’t want to turn it into some kind of sex shop?”
Penny considered the question. “Good point. Then I’ll talk to Reid. I’m sure one of his former girlfriends was an interior decorator.”
“Assuming he remembers which one.”
“Another good point. You’re on a roll this morning.”
He sipped his coffee. “You’re feisty. When did that happen?”
“A hundred and forty-seven days ago. There was a report on the news.”
“I missed that.”
“I guess it’s hiding with your memo about being a god.”
He grinned and she smiled in return. Even as she wanted to lean in and continue the banter, she knew it was far better to keep things completely businesslike between them. Her former relationship with Cal had started with fun conversation and had gotten more dangerous by the minute. Although she felt completely immune now, she didn’t want to take any chances. Not when it was surprisingly easy to be around him.
“You’ve been out of the business a while,” she said. “How does it feel to be back?”
“Good. Familiar. I didn’t think I’d missed it, but there’s something about running a restaurant. Everything’s changing, with no hour the same, let alone a day. Time is always the enemy. The next crisis is just around the corner.”
“Sounds like you’ve missed it.”
“Maybe I have.”
“I hope you remember enough to keep this half up and running.”
“Your faith in me is overwhelming.”
Cal watched Penny lean back as if separating herself from him. He could read her mind as clearly as if she’d spoken.
He hadn’t had faith in her.
The statement wasn’t true, but he knew she wouldn’t believe him. His attempts to protect her from Gloria had only widened the chasm in their rapidly unraveling marriage.
Ancient history, he told himself. Better to forget it.
She reached into a battered backpack and pulled out a folder. “Here are some sample menus. I’ve marked the items I want to serve at the big preopening party. The question marks are in place where I’m not sure what will be available that particular day. Inventory changes quickly and my fish people can’t promise the more exotic selections until the day of the party.”
He took the sheets of paper. “The infamous fish people.”
She smiled. “Sometimes they dress in costume.”
“I’d like to see that.”
The sound washed over him in a wave of unexpected heat. He felt it sink into him, warming him, arousing him.
Whoa. Not going there. He didn’t believe in do-overs, not in personal relationships, anyway. He and Penny were simply co-workers, nothing more.
But even as he told himself to back off, sexual energy poured through him, making him aware of the humor in her eyes and the way her skin seemed almost luminous.
He told himself that the former was at his expense and the latter was simply the result of damn good lighting in the restaurant. But even he didn’t believe it.
“Are you even listening?” she asked.
“Yeah. Fish specials depend on the whim of the fish people.”
“No. I was saying that I’ll be building my specials slowly. I won’t want to dump a bunch of new items on the menu at once. I also have a few things in mind for new signature dishes. Once we’re established, I’ll offer them as specials and if they take off, I’ll put them on the menu. I’ve also been working on a seasonal menu. Certain fish is available at certain times of the year. I can build around that. The same with produce.”
“Berries in the summer, squash in the fall,” he said.
She sighed. “I’d like to think I’m more imaginative than that, but yes. That’s the idea.”
He looked over the menu. There were the basics—steamed and grilled fish, soups, salads, sides.
He’d had her garlic smashed potatoes before and his mouth watered at the memory. She put in a secret ingredient that she’d never shared, even with him.
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