From the minute Dahl Hamilton had stepped into First Down’s kitchen, she’d worked nonstop. Tasked with fixing the failing restaurant, she’d barely seen the inside of her fabulous downtown loft, let alone her sweet, sweet bed. After having labored in the kitchen for more than two months, she was finally seeing all her hard work paying off.
The Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times, among other publications, had awarded First Down stellar reviews. Since the papers had hit the newsstands, customer attendance had shot up by more than fifty percent. If everything worked out, she could leave before autumn to work on more personal projects.
As Dahl topped off the dessert plate with her ‘D’ embellishment, the incessant ringing of someone’s cell caught her attention. That was a definite no-no in the kitchen. She requested the name of the offender.
“Marco!” the kitchen staff of twenty screamed in unison.
“You know the deal.” Before Dahl plated one perfect, mouth-watering slice of tiramisu cake, she pointed at the fine jar. The funds went toward their holiday festivities. At this rate, First Down’s Christmas party would be one for the history books.
“Smaller cuts,” she advised her assistant at the next station over. The restaurant had a full house, so the staff needed to move fast to keep up. During all the chaos, she found time to teach the newbies a trick or two. “Use your wrist. No one wants to bite a chunk of onion on their first date.”
Breaking her signature snicker-cookie in half, she placed it on top of the whipped cream ruffle.
“Hello, Dolly. I wanted to make changes to the menu.” The office manager, Beth, breezed into the kitchen. “Can we talk out back?”
She slapped the woman’s hand away before she could grab the leftover half of the cookie. “It’s just ‘Dahl’…and no.” She’d taken this consulting gig to help out her cousin. Nothing in the fine print read that she had to take orders from their idiot manager.
“We can’t go outside—or we can’t change the menu?” she asked in that snooty, superior tone.
Dahl handed the dessert off to the server and faced Beth. “To both… It’s no to both.”
“But Melanie told me to tell you—” Dahl held up her hand to kill the twit’s whining. She didn’t have the time. Instead, she went back to the orders. Soon the team would be able to catch their own mistakes. Busy checking the tickets against the meals, she missed the hush that fell over the kitchen. The usual clanging of pots and silly banter flipped into a strange vacuum of silence.
“Why are you here?” His deep, steely voice sent tingles up her spine. Dahl gazed at the six-foot-seven wall of well-dressed, muscled sexy.
Against her will, she smiled. “Hi,” she said.
Better looking than any action star, Bane’s good genes were wasted on football, in Dahl’s opinion. He should have gotten out years ago, but nope… Little boys grow up to be big men with dreams that become everyone else’s nightmares.
“Once again, why are you here?” Bane Carter asked. Her ex-husband smelled amazing.
“That’s a loaded question, Mr. Carter. I’m going to need an assist.”
“Maybe rephrase…” She wiped her hands on her apron and leaned against the counter. “Are you asking why am I in Chicago, why am I in the restaurant or why am I still breathing? The throbbing vein in the middle of your forehead is screaming that it’s the latter.”
Stepping closer, he filled in the space between them. “Pick one through three,” he growled.
Unable to hide her nerves, she laughed. The attack of childish giggles overwhelmed her. It often happened at the most inopportune times and she couldn’t help it. His handsome face went blank before he abruptly turned and walked away. As general manager for the Mavericks football team, Bane probably didn’t get challenged very often—or most likely ever.
He turned and left, as quickly as he’d come. Dahl sighed. After all these years, she’d thought she was over him. “Okay, everyone, back to work!”
“Was that Bane Win—?”
“Yep,” she cut off her sous chef in an effort to deter any more questions.
“Did anyone notice how fast Bad-management Beth dipped out when he came in?”
The team laughed—but Dahl didn’t join them.