Irresistible(Buchanans, Book 2)(12) by Susan Mallery
“I have a pot on and—” she glanced at her watch “—twenty minutes until I have to leave. You’re welcome to a cup.”
She expected him to refuse. Instead he surprised her by saying, “That would be great,” then following her downstairs.
She wanted to point out he had bare feet and wasn’t wearing a shirt. Then she told herself that if he didn’t care, she should just smile and enjoy the show.
Once in her kitchen, she put down the baseball bat, grabbed a second mug and held it out to him. He waited for her to pour her own coffee before taking the carafe for himself.
“I assume you take it black,” she murmured, aware of Zoe sleeping just down the hall.
“I used to be a Marine,” he said. “What else?”
She smiled, then leaned against the counter. “Have a lot of bad dreams?”
“They come and go.” He shrugged, then took a drink. “Some things can’t be forgotten.”
“Is that why you left?” she asked. “Too much bad stuff?”
She had the feeling she was prying. “We don’t have to talk about it.”
“It’s okay. I spent a lot of time looking for snipers and listening for bombs. Sometimes they come back to me.”
She had her own nightmares, but they weren’t nearly that violent.
“I hope I didn’t wake Zoe,” he said.
“You didn’t. I checked on her before I went up to your place. She could sleep through a tornado. I vacuumed a lot during her naps when she was a baby. I read somewhere it works for kids who sleep soundly. In her case, it worked.”
This was the strangest conversation she’d had all week, she thought. She would never in a million years have imagined a half-dressed, barefoot Walker in her kitchen at four forty-five in the morning, drinking coffee and talking about her daughter and being a Marine.
“She’s a good kid,” he said.
“I like to think so.” She hesitated. “Is it strange to be back in civilian life, having a child living nearby, that sort of thing?”
“There are kids everywhere. At least here, Zoe can grow up safe. I didn’t always see that.”
There was a lot of regret in his voice. She wondered what he had seen, then realized she probably didn’t want to know.
She noticed that even that early, his posture was perfect. She tried to subtly square her own shoulders and slump a little less.
“Great chicken,” he said.
It took her a second to realize he meant her uniform. She glanced down and laughed at the large hen on her apron. “I work at Eggs ’n’ Stuff. It’s a breakfast and lunch diner.”
“I know it.”
“Then you recognized the uniform. Frank, my boss, is a great guy, but we can’t talk him out of the chicken. Apparently it dates back to the 1950s. At least the shoes are comfy.” She held up one foot, showing her white orthopedic lace-ups. “I’m just waiting for these bad boys to come in style.”
“You’re on your feet all day.”
“Still, a little pretty wouldn’t hurt. But they, and the chicken, are a small price to pay. I get fabulous tips, really good benefits and once Zoe starts school, I’ll be home before her.”
“Who gets her ready in the morning?”
“I thought maybe your ex-husband came over to take care of things.”
For a full two seconds she thought he was fishing to find out about her marital status. Then she remembered the unfortunate babbling incident a few days before, where she’d flat out told him she wasn’t interested in dating or sex, only to realize the poor man hadn’t even asked.
“No ex,” she said easily.
“Then if I see a strange man lurking in the bushes, I’ll beat the crap out of him.”
She took a last drink of coffee and looked at the clock.
“You have to go,” Walker said, putting down his mug. “Sorry about bothering you. I’ll try to have my nightmares more quietly. Thanks for the coffee.” He picked up the baseball bat. “And for coming to my rescue.”
She sighed. “I hate starting my day feeling foolish.”
“Don’t. You did a good thing.”
He put the bat down and left.
Elissa rinsed out both mugs, slipped the bat back in the hall closet, did a last check on Zoe, opened the door between her place and Mrs. Ford’s, then walked to her car.
As it was August, the sun was already up and birds all over the neighborhood were announcing the fact. She drove down the quiet streets and thought about Walker. He was an interesting man. Not a serial killer. She was willing to let that worry go. But he did have his secrets. Of course, so did she.
DANI BUCHANAN LOVED everything about her job. As assistant to the executive chef, she was in charge of reviewing food orders, making sure the kitchen staff showed up when they should, acting as liaison between the front of the house—the dining room—and the back of the house—the kitchen. During the dinner rush, she expedited plates and made sure the right orders got to the right table at the right time.
With Penny approaching zero hour on her pregnancy, she was spending less and less time at the restaurant, which meant more responsibility for Dani. Instead of feeling the pressure, Dani felt energized. She loved the challenges, how no two days were the same. She enjoyed the foul-mouthed cooks who had made her prove she wouldn’t blush at the raunchy jokes. Here in the kitchen of The Waterfront, she was just staff. Not Penny’s sister-in-law, not one of “the” Buchanans. She was judged on the job she did, nothing more.
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