Authors: Shannon Stacey
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary
“How are you two getting along?”
Now, that was a loaded question. On the surface they got along fine and worked together well. Under the surface? They were both a little ticked off they’d talked themselves out of having sex. But she couldn’t say that. She and Paulie were friends, but Paulie and Kevin were best friends.
“We work together well” was what she settled for. “We were supposed to start interviewing wait staff today, but I think we’re having a snow day instead.”
“Oh, I should tell you Kevin wore his T-shirt to dinner at his parents’ and now all the kids want one, too.”
Darcy groaned. “I can’t believe Jake had those made.”
He’d special-ordered three T-shirts, one for each of them. Emblazoned on the front were the words
Jasper’s Big-Ass Steak House.
She had to admit, she’d laughed pretty hard when he gave her hers.
They talked a few more minutes, mostly about what Darcy should be looking for in wait staff, but then Paulie had to go mediate a situation and promised to call later, when she had more time.
Sick of the beige walls, Darcy pulled on her parka, boots, hat and gloves, then wrapped a scarf around her face for the trek down the flight of stairs to the back door. It was that cold. Once she was in the kitchen, she reversed the process and piled it all up for the one-minute walk home later.
She heard Jake’s laugh before she went through the swinging doors and she stopped, peering through the small window. She could only see him over the pile of stuff sitting on the coffee counter, waiting to be put away, but everything about his demeanor said he was talking to a woman. Whoever she was, she either had a sled dog team or drove the plow truck.
Darcy pushed through the doors and went around the counter to the table Jake was sitting at with a fortyish-looking woman with very short blond hair and a bright smile.
“Oh, here she is. Karen, this is Darcy Vaughn. She’s more or less in charge of everything on this side of the swinging doors. Darcy, this is Karen Sikes. She’s here to interview.”
“Wow. I didn’t think anybody would make it in.”
Karen actually scoffed. “Let a little snow keep you from doing your business up here and it won’t be long before you don’t have any business to keep.”
“Good advice,” Jake said. “I know my four-wheel-drive’s been getting a workout.”
Darcy rolled her eyes. She didn’t even want to think about how long it was going to take to shovel her car out. Not that she was going anywhere. After pulling out a chair, she took Karen’s application from Jake to refresh her memory.
“Waited tables until I had my kids,” Karen said. “Waited on them until they went to school, then went back to waiting tables until the restaurant closed down. You can’t compensate for slow business by charging nine dollars for a cheeseburger. You have a menu yet?”
“It’s still tentative.” Jake pulled his copy out of one of the folders in front of him and handed it to her.
Karen’s laugh echoed through the dining room, and she tapped a finger on the page. “Not a man I know who’ll pass up a big-ass steak.”
Darcy had done everything but beg Jake not to put that on the menu. The cut and the ounces were enough. But he was determined to prove her wrong, and so far, everybody seemed to love it. “I’m a little concerned customers won’t want to say it out loud, which makes it hard to order.”
“Honey,” Karen said, “if you can’t say big-ass steak, order the grilled chicken and some cottage cheese, because it’s too much beef for you, anyway.”
Jake tried to cover his amusement with a fake cough, but failed miserably and she kicked his ankle under the table.
“Little high on the children’s menu.” Karen marked the spot with her finger. “You want a couple of two-ninety-nine things, like a hot dog or PBJ with fries, and a couple of four-ninety-nine things, like chicken tenders or fish, but you want most to be about three ninety-nine. Grilled cheese sandwiches, mac and cheese, cheeseburgers. Basically you need to cut everything by at least a buck.”
She must have caught the look that passed between Darcy and Jake, because she shrugged. “I was born and raised in this area and I’ve been taking food orders around here since I was fifteen. You can do what you want, of course.”
They talked about almost every item on the menu. Then she gave them a list of names to beware of in the stack of applications. So-and-so had a drug problem and would steal from them. Another so-and-so was a sweetheart, but clumsy as an ox with a special knack for spilling coffee. They couldn’t tell her if those people had applied or not, but Jake took careful note of them on his legal pad.
It was almost an hour before Karen left, and Darcy’s head was spinning from the conversation. She not only knew everybody, but knew what they did and didn’t want to eat.
“She’s definitely got the knowledge,” Jake said after Darcy grabbed them each a bottle of water from the kitchen. “Competent and definitely comfortable with the job.”
She wasn’t so sure. “Sometimes people like her don’t take managing well. And when somebody’s that firmly entrenched in the community, being
friendly can be a problem, to say nothing of the backlash if there was a problem.”
“She’s at the top of my short list.”
“Mine, too. I just think we need to give her a lot of thought before we jump at making her an offer. But at least we know weather won’t keep her from coming in.”
He looked at his watch and winced. “We have to finalize that menu tonight, so you hold on to the copy with her comments on it and we can talk about it over dinner. I have to go call Kevin before his head explodes. I blew him off yesterday, so next time my phone picks up reception, I’ll probably have a dozen messages from him.”
“When’s he coming up? Next Tuesday, right?”
“Yeah. He’s going to come up Tuesday and look around. Have an on-site meeting. Then Wednesday we’re going to hit the trails and he’ll drive home Wednesday night. You want to go out with us?”
“Snowmobiling?” She laughed. “Absolutely not.”
Shaking his head, he gathered his files and papers. “You don’t know what you’re missing.”
“I’ll live.” She watched him walk away, loving the way his legs looked in worn denim, and he caught her looking when he spun around.
He winked. “By the way, your turn to make dinner.”
* * *
he managed to get through every day with Darcy. She would talk and he would try to listen. And on some level he retained the information because he always remembered the conversations later, but every time he was near her, all he could think about was sex.
If they were in the apartment, he’d imagine taking her on the kitchen table. Or bending her over the arm of the couch. The shower. The colorful braid rug she’d bought to cheer the place up. Sometimes he even imagined taking her to bed.
Downstairs, the possibilities were endless, though at least some of them were probably code violations.
“Hey, it’s your turn. Unless you’re ready to forfeit.”
“Never.” He took his iPad from her and looked it over. They were playing Trivial Pursuit and she’d just blown an Arts & Literature question. Which was good because she had one more piece of the pie than he did and he didn’t intend to lose.
When he landed on the correct space to get the orange Sports & Leisure wedge he needed and knew the answer right away, Darcy made an annoyed sound and leaned back against the couch.
“I think you’re cheating.”
He laughed. “How would I be cheating?”
“I bet you hide under your covers and play this all night so you can memorize all the answers.”
That’s not at all what he played with under the covers, but he’d be keeping his nocturnal activities to himself. “You know, you’re not a very good sport.”
A few minutes later, when she’d added a pink wedge to her collection, he rolled his eyes. “It’s the Entertainment category. You’re just getting the easy ones first so your pie looks better than mine.”
“Now who’s a poor sport?”
Inevitably, it became a race for the last wedge each needed, and the game got really intense. And when he blew his Geography question, the words he muttered were pretty intense, too.
Darcy grabbed for the iPad. “My turn.”
He held it out of her reach. “Don’t be grabby.”
“It’s my turn.”
“It’s my iPad.”
She made a mock pouty face at him. “Oh, are you going to take your toys and go home now?”
When she made another grab for it, he held it up over his head because he was tall and she was short, and she
when he did that.
What he didn’t anticipate was Darcy losing her balance and ending up straddling his lap or her hands bracing themselves on his chest. Or the way, to keep her from falling backward and knocking herself out on the monster coffee table, his hand slid under her ass.
His body reacted immediately to the weight of her on his lap and he looked into her wide eyes. He wanted to say something flip, like “now who’s cheating?” but he was pretty sure nothing would come out but a hoarse whisper.
When her weight shifted, which he was afraid might cause things to explode, he thought she was moving back to her own side of the couch. Instead, she settled herself more comfortably on his lap, her knees on either side of his hips.
“This is a bad idea,” she said.
“Very bad,” he agreed.
“I don’t care anymore. Every single day I’m practically out of my mind, wanting you to touch me. I need you and screw the consequences.”
Jake dropped the iPad. Maybe on the arm of the couch or maybe on the floor. Didn’t care. All he cared about was sliding his hands up under Darcy’s shirt and feeling the heat of her soft skin.
All that mattered was touching her.
if it was a bad idea. She didn’t care if everything blew up in her face tomorrow. All she cared about was getting Jake naked. Now.
The shirt was easy and she practically purred running her hands over his bare chest. Then she leaned forward and ran her tongue up his breastbone to his Adam’s apple. He moaned, one hand clenching in her hair while the other pushed down on her hip, grinding her against him.
“I’ve missed you,” she said before yanking off her shirt.
“I’ve been right here.”
Us.” She undid the button on his jeans, loving the way his stomach muscles tensed when she brushed them with her knuckles.
Very slowly, she worked his zipper down and then she rose onto her knees to give him room to shove his jeans and boxer briefs down past his hips.
When she took him in hand, stroking him with the same slow deliberation he’d teased her with, he groaned and dropped his head back against the couch cushion.
“Don’t do that too long if you have plans that include you,” he warned.
“I’ve waited too long to let you have all the fun.”
She had to stand to step out of her clothes while Jake fished a condom out from under the couch cushion.
“Do you have those hidden around the apartment?”
He grinned and tore open the foil. “Yes, I do. Strategically placed for almost any opportunity.”
She laughed and straddled him again, this time relishing the heat of naked flesh. With her hands on his shoulders and their gazes locked, she lowered herself onto him. As she rocked her hips, slowly taking him all in, he fisted his hand in her hair and pulled her mouth to his.
His kiss was savage, devouring her as he cupped her breast, pinching her nipple between his thumb and forefinger. She squirmed, her hips circling, and he groaned.
“No more games,” he said in a low, rough voice. “From now on, I’ll touch you when I damn well feel like touching you.”
She threw back her head as he gripped her hips and forced her to ride him faster and harder. Her fingertips dug into his biceps as his hips jerked to meet her thrusts.
“Come for me, Darcy.”
The orgasm hit her hard, and when it was over, she collapsed against Jake. His chest heaved with every ragged breath and he tightened his arms around her.
“I needed that,” she whispered when she could talk again.
“Give me a couple of minutes. I’m not done with you yet.”
“I think the hideous fabric on this couch wore half the skin off my knees.”
His chuckle reverberated through her body. “How do you think my ass feels?”
“It was worth it.”
“Yes.” His hand stroked up and down her back, making her shiver. “But bed next.”
“My bed’s closer.”
It was another five minutes before they’d recovered enough to make it there and quite a bit longer before either of them slept.
* * *
until almost noon. Usually Jake would be annoyed at having half the day blown waiting for him, but since he and Darcy didn’t roll out of bed and into the shower until ten o’clock, it was probably for the best. And they didn’t get out of the shower until the water started running cold.
That wasn’t the way Jake wanted Kevin to find out he’d done the one thing he’d specifically told him not to do.
“Everything looks great,” Kevin said after Jake and Darcy had given him the grand tour. “I knew you two would be good together.”
Jack managed to keep a straight face, but through the corner of his eye he saw Darcy take a deep and sudden interest in her shoelaces. “Everything’s right on track.”
“How about the Valentine’s Day thing?”
“I’ve got a rough draft of the ad upstairs,” Jake said. “We can look it over later.”
“There’s an ad?” Darcy jabbed him with her elbow. “You haven’t even told me what the thing is yet.”
“You’ll find out.”
“She’ll be back at the bar by then,” Kevin said. “Once the doors open, the front end will be the wait staff’s responsibility and Darcy can come home where she belongs. God knows, we need her. Courtney, the temp girl we hired to cover for you, is driving Paulie nuts. She flirts to drive up the tips, but guys start vying for attention and it goes downhill from there.”