Delicious(Buchanans, Book 1)(15) by Susan Mallery
Someone dropped a tray of honey-grilled shrimp on the counter. Naomi immediately went to work dressing the plates, first squirting on a dollop of sauce, then adding a sprig of herb and a dusting of green onion. There were demi-cups of lobster bisque, delicately balanced waffle fries with tiny bits of batter-fried fish on top, seared salmon on corn cakes and an assortment of desserts.
Penny couldn’t hear much over the hiss of the steamer, the roar of the grill and the chatter of the staff, but a glance at the clock told her the cocktail party had been underway at least thirty minutes.
“I have to go,” she muttered, unbuttoning her coat as she headed to her office.
“Yes,” Edouard called after her. “If you do not go now, we won’t get any of the credit for the food. Go. Mingle. Come back and tell us we are brilliant.”
“Sure thing,” Penny said, then slipped into her office. She closed the door behind her and shrugged out of her coat.
Underneath she wore a low-cut silk sweater and a black jacket that matched her slacks. She’d traded in clogs for high-heeled boots. Her long hair hung loose, which made her a complete disaster for the kitchen, but her job tonight wasn’t about cooking—it was about making nice with Cal’s definition of Seattle’s beautiful people.
She checked her makeup, then stepped back as her door opened. Naomi stuck her head in.
“There are two waiters I’m considering,” her friend said. “I need your help in picking. I’ll point them out to you and you can let me know what you think.”
Naomi smiled. “You look nervous. Don’t be. It’s going great.”
“You’ve been in the kitchen. You can’t know that any more than I do.”
“I have a feeling.” She paused. “Wasn’t that a song from the movie Flashdance?” She hummed for second. “Or is it ‘What a Feeling’? I’m dating myself, aren’t I? Would it help if I said I was twelve when I saw the movie?”
“I honestly can’t remember.”
Naomi had turned forty last December and had celebrated with a long weekend in Mexico and a string of hunky cabana boys. Penny had always admired her friend’s ability to make her own fun.
“Nice sweater,” Naomi said, nodding at the emerald green fabric.
“I figure I’ll show off cle**age while I’ve got it.”
“Good plan. You hardly have any tummy at all, but the jacket hides the little that is there. Come on. You can’t stall here forever.”
Penny nodded and let Naomi lead her out into the main restaurant. As they walked out of the kitchen, a young blond waiter walked by. Naomi grabbed his arm.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
He grinned at her. “Ted.”
“Good.” She turned to Penny. “That’s candidate number one.”
Penny was still laughing when she turned to face the crowd.
Her humor faded as she took in the sheer number of people milling in the main dining room. They’d sent out over five hundred invitations and from the looks of things, everyone had decided to show up.
Soft music was barely audible over the general din of conversation. People stood in groups, chatting and laughing, while waiters in white coats circulated with trays of food.
The bar was doing a brisk business, hardly a surprise when the liquor was free. Penny had a brief urge for something to steady her nerves, then braced herself and tried to pick a direction in which to wander.
Just then the crowd shifted and parted, allowing her to see into the center of the room. Cal stood there, tall and studly in a dark suit. Her body reacted, getting all hot and weak and needy.
She used her kitchen experience to call herself several bad names and when that didn’t decrease her very inappropriate desire, she reminded herself that she and Cal had already tried the relationship thing and it hadn’t worked. He’d let her go without a whimper, leaving her to wonder if he’d ever loved her at all.
“So it’s just you and me, kid,” she whispered as she lightly touched her stomach. Then she squared her shoulders and plunged into the crowd.
“Nice to see you. Thanks for coming.”
Penny smiled, greeted and generally made nice with the prospective clientele. She made her way toward Cal, who came and collected her before she reached him.
“It’s going great,” he said. “Big crowd showed.”
“Sure they did,” she murmured into his ear. “The food is free. Let’s see how many of them are willing to pay on another night.”
He chuckled, then introduced her to several government officials.
“We used to come here all the time,” a petite, pretty lawyer said. “Lately, though…” Her voice trailed off.
Penny waved away the comment. “You can say it was really bad. I wasn’t the one cooking.”
The woman laughed. “I guess not. I’ve sampled most of the food. It’s terrific.”
“Thank you. Obviously we want to offer traditional favorites while helping people branch out.”
Cal put his hand on the small of her back, which caused her nerve endings to make a few Flashdance moves of their own.
“Have you tried Penny’s fish and chips? They’re incredible. I made the mistake of saying they weren’t important enough for our menu. She won me over with one bite.”
Penny glanced at him. “I didn’t think you’d admit that.”
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