“Little late for that now,” she said. “Besides, you’re the perfect person for the book. You just don’t know it yet.”
Doubtful. I could talk to people about what went on in their kitchens, sure. No problem. I’m your gal. But I’d bluffed my way through the “bedroom” portion of the manuscript—the part that had convinced my publisher to shell out actual cash.
Discuss sex with strangers? I hadn’t been able to talk to my own mother about getting my first period. Rather than tell her, I’d taken quarters to school and stocked up on supplies from the vending machine in the girls’ restroom. It wasn’t that Mom was unapproachable; quite the contrary, I’d had nightmares about her cheerfully telling the cashier it was my inaugural tampon purchase. It sounds like an exaggeration, but I vividly remember her maternal pride on our one and only mother/daughter bra outing. Unfortunately, twelve department-store shoppers probably do, too.
And it had taken almost a month of friendship with Amanda before she’d finally got the “too much information” message when it came to sharing the details of her romantic escapades. I was not a hotbed of racy gossip.
“Want me to pour you a drink?” She glanced at the wide red-leather watch on her wrist. “We open in five minutes, so it’s not really breaking the rules.”
“Oh, no. I have to be careful imbibing around you. A few drinks and an encouraging nod later, I could wind up hosting some bad reality show called Chefs Gone Wild,” I teased. “I blame you for this book in the first place. Friends shouldn’t let friends outline under the influence.”
“You came up with everything,” she countered with an approving grin. “I don’t even know any recipes, so it’s not like I contributed anything but support.”
“Yes, but you’ve gradually corrupted me—all that bar talk. Sex on the Beach. Sloe Screw. Buttery Nipples.” Which, after my initial shock wore off, I discovered was a butterscotch-flavored shot. “And Screaming-Up-Against-the-Wallbangers.”
She laughed. “That belongs in the Bartender’s Guide to Mixed Metaphors. Come on, now. You are happy they’re releasing your book, aren’t you?”
Actually, for all my misgivings, I’d worked hard on the cookbook. If I hadn’t proved whatever point I’d set out to make, I’d still given a lot of thought to my culinary instructions and was thrilled to get it in front of people. It’s just that while I’d been penning chapter three, “Soup, Salad or Me?”, I hadn’t considered the reality of anyone actually picking up a copy and reading it. My remarks to the public on how to spice up their cooking and their love lives would be displayed in stores across the country.
I groaned. “Little old ladies are going to see it!”
“Hey, little old ladies deserve to get some, too.”
“The sex part was a marketing ploy,” I reminded my friend. “The book’s about great food.”
Amanda’s violet eyes sparkled. “I meant great food.”
“Sure you did.”
A knock sounded against the locked glass door at the front of the room, and Amanda came around the bar to answer it. But Todd emerged from the storeroom before she’d gone very far.
“I’d be happy to get that for you,” he said soulfully. With that tone, he could have as easily said, “I’d be happy to take a bullet for you,” or “I’d be happy to father your many children.”
As he disappeared toward his left, to the entrance that wasn’t visible from where we sat, I turned to Amanda. I hadn’t said anything about Todd since I’d met him, but couldn’t help myself now. This was getting ridiculous.
“You know he’s crazy about you?”
“It’s just one of those older-woman crushes,” she said dismissively.
“He’s what, two, three years younger?”
“Still.” She leaned against the bar stool next to mine. “He’s not…I mean, he’s awfully boyish. I’d feel all, ‘Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me.’”
I laughed. “With that outdated reference, you are old.”
But I knew what she meant. I wasn’t sure why I’d even broached the subject. Maybe her needling me about my slow love life had made me realize how un-characteristically long it’d been since she’d mentioned hers.
“You aren’t seeing anyone these days, are you?”
She started, her eyes wider than normal. “Why do you ask?”
“Seems like it’s been a while since you were telling me about the guy you’re involved with or want to be involved with or are dumping after your brief but torrid involvement.”
“And you’re complaining? I thought you didn’t want to talk about stuff like that.”
Her casual tone seemed forced, and I wondered in a surprising flash if I’d hurt her feelings during some previous conversation. “I don’t need to hear every guy’s exact talents and proportions, but I’m still interested in who’s who in the life of Amanda White.”
“Oh. Good to know.” Her smile was rueful. “I’ll keep that in mind for the next time there is a man.”
Speaking of men.
Todd had reappeared, jangling the keys to the main entrance door, and behind him—did I already say wow? The patron who’d come inside from the cold was tall with golden-blond hair, striking features, piercing eyes that I was pretty sure were green, a black leather jacket and dark jeans. Literally everything about him made me want to volunteer to warm him up. And I do not mean with my signature cayenne-spiked gourmet hot chocolate.
I can’t even explain what made him so…let’s just say he had a quality. Certainly he had a gorgeous face, complete with a strong chin and jaw that proclaimed masculinity and strength and decisive power. From what I could tell, he also had an amazing body beneath the charcoal knit sweater and perfectly sized jeans, neither tight nor baggy. But it wasn’t any of those things that turned my knees to custard. It was the overall impression he created, something about the way he carried himself. Trying to define it would be like trying to properly explain the taste of truffles to someone who’s never had them.
Standing next to me, Amanda let out an appreciative sigh, and I figured my days of not hearing about her love life were over. Jealousy scalded me, but I smiled in her direction as the source of our mutual—cross-eyed, drooly lust—admiration came toward us.
“He…” She shifted her weight from foot to foot, and I doubted her breathy tone was due simply to keeping her voice low.
“Has a certain quality, doesn’t he? Sensual. Confident. Powerful.”
“Jumpable.” She cut her gaze to me. “And, damn, do you need a man.”
This was why I was a chef and Amanda microwaved most of her meals; she wasn’t big on savoring.
“Ladies.” His deep voice was rich, as velvety as a perfectly prepared roux. His smile held none of the arrogance I’d sometimes glimpsed in Trevor when he realized women were checking him out.
“Hello, there.” Amanda had the presence of mind to flash an answering smile. My greeting so far consisted of openmouthed ogling. “Can I get you something to drink?”
“No, thank you.” He frowned at her. “Do you work here? I thought…Are you Miriam Scott?”
Amanda’s gaze whipped toward me, and I could feel her shock. Or maybe what I felt was my own shock. This man had sought me out? On purpose?
My heart accelerated when I spoke to him, in that nervously infatuated way I’d assumed people outgrew after