Delicious(Buchanans, Book 1)(22) by Susan Mallery
“Right. Your shift starts at five.”
Tina sighed heavily. “I know, but there was traffic.”
Something that happened every night, he thought. “You know the rules. No unexcused tardiness, Tina. You call and give us notice or you show up on time.”
She stared at him. “Are you kidding? You’re mad ’ cuz I’m fifteen minutes late?”
“I’m not mad. You’re not in trouble. You’re fired.”
Her mouth opened, then closed. “For fifteen minutes?”
“You were told the rules when you were hired. You had to sign a copy of them along with your application. Call if you’re going to be late or lose your job.” He bent down and picked up her paycheck. “I’ll walk you out.”
She jerked the check from his hand and sailed out. He heard grumbling, which he ignored, then returned to his seat. Penny walked in.
“Someone’s unhappy. One of the waiters just left in a huff.”
“Tina. She was fired.”
He nodded at the clock.
Penny took the chair opposite his and sighed. “I do that, too. Fire ’em for being late. You have to or no one believes you mean it. Call and let me know what’s going on, just don’t leave me hanging. I sure can’t afford to be wondering if I’m going to be shorthanded for the night.”
“So we agree.”
“About that.” She smiled. “Don’t get your hopes up. I’m here to complain.”
Why wasn’t he surprised? Penny had earned her reputation as a perfectionist. Three days ago she’d come in saying that the flowers on the table smelled too much—their scent interfered with the aromas from the food. She demanded excellence and wouldn’t accept anything less.
“What’s wrong now?” he asked.
“The wine list sucks.”
“Agreed, but I’m working on it.”
She leaned forward. In her white chef’s coat and headscarf, she looked both professional and completely feminine. An intriguing combination.
“I have a plan,” she said, her voice low.
“I’m not going to like it.”
“You don’t know that yet.” She glanced over her shoulder, as if checking to make sure no one was eavesdropping, then smiled. “Raid the wine cellar at Buchanan’s. I sent someone over to check it out and it’s fabulous.”
“I’m not cannibalizing from one of the family’s restaurants.”
“Why not? We don’t care about them. The Waterfront is what matters. Just take half of all the good stuff. The wine list here is too young. We don’t have any really expensive wines. You know how diners love to impress each other with the pricey stuff. We’re going to lose their business, along with the serious wine lovers. Come on, Cal. You have pull. You could do it.”
“I could, but I won’t. And before you start calling me names, read this.”
He took a piece of paper off his desk and handed it to her. Then he leaned back and prepared to enjoy the groveling.
She scanned the sheet, then looked at him. “What happened?”
“Two restaurants went out of business. I heard about them first and bought up their wine lists. Both were excellent. And you wanted to say what about that?”
She grinned. “You’re the best.”
She sighed and reclined in her chair, the back of one hand to her forehead. “You’re smart and funny and I’m just so lucky to work for you. Oh, I can barely breathe from the excitement of just sitting close to you.”
She straightened. “Seriously, this is very cool. I’m impressed.”
Her compliment pleased him. She wasn’t a woman who impressed easily and she had no reason to be especially nice to him.
Things were so different now, he thought. While he’d liked being married to Penny, she hadn’t been very strong back then. He’d worried about her getting hurt. Ironically, he’d been the one to hurt her the most. Now she was tough, and he admired her ability to take charge.
If she’d been like this back then, would they have made it? Or would his secrets still have screwed up things?
Probably the latter, he thought. Penny could forgive a lot, but he doubted she would have understood why he’d been unable to risk loving another child.
Penny pulled a sheet of paper out of her pocket. “I can meet with you tomorrow morning about the group bookings. I’m open to the idea, but I want to start slow. We have to be up and running in the kitchen, with all the kinks worked out before we start feeding fifty at the same time.”
“I thought we’d start with a very forgiving crowd. The Daily Grind has an awards luncheon every year in July. We can have that here. I’ve had calls about a few other things. Two more over the summer and three in September.”
“Get me the details on everything and I’ll let you know what we can do. The summer ones are fine, and I’ll cook for the Daily Grind event as long as I can stand in the back and watch.”
“Why would you want to?”
“Professional curiosity. It’s your other life.”
Why would that interest her? “Sure.”
“But we can’t schedule anything in September.”
He frowned. “Why not?”
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