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Previously published as “Consumed”
For the first time in almost fourteen years as a chef, August Jaeger forgot the name of the dish he was serving. Christ, it was his design, his creation, yet the honey brown eyes staring up at him seized the words right off the tip of his tongue. “F-for your p-pleasure, Madame,” he stuttered instead.
With practiced elegance, he deposited the tray on the intimate table set for two and designed for close conversation. On any other night he despised the forced duty of making rounds among the patrons, but tonight he’d stopped next to heaven in heels.
He studied her face, amazed at his immediate reaction to her. In a crowd, she might not have stood out, especially if she’d worn a t-shirt and jeans. But tonight, she’d come attired in a black wrap dress that clung to every curve of her ample body.
August loved curves on a woman.
And he’d noticed hers.
“August Jaeger at your service, Madame.” He tilted his chin toward the tray. “A complimentary amouse-bouche?”
Even in the dim candlelight, he saw the deep flush on rounded cheeks. “Thank you, Aug…mist…Chef. I would have never expected this at all. You. At my table! I mean, you’re like a rock star and really good looking and wow, I cannot believe I just said that out loud and somebody shut me up now, please.” Manicured fingers reached for nearby stemware. “I need a drink,” she mumbled.
August found himself enthralled and a rush of boldness traveled through him. The place setting that should have been opposite her had been removed, so she must have been dining alone. “Would it be impolite to ask if I may join you?”
While biting the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing, he raised two fingers into the air, not bothering to check if anyone noticed his summons. Every server on duty and every person at the hostess station followed his movement when he came into the dining room. He wasn’t the only one who despised his presence there.
“If you wouldn’t mind the company.” She’d better not mind. He wanted to drink her in with his eyes until full. “Madame,” he added after a pause.
“My name is Saffron Burton. So, Saffron, please.”
He gave her an indulgent incline of his head. “Saffron…so unusual. So pretty.” The way the word rolled off his tongue made his mouth water. “You must call me August.”
Please. He wanted to hear her say his name. Not just as part of everyday conversation, but in a throaty, breathy, on the verge of an orgasmic scream kind of way.
Why the hell he felt like this for a woman he’d only first seen minutes ago, he couldn’t say, but he had no plans on pursuing the question.
“Chef?” Vicky, one of his best servers—and one of the more tolerable ones—sidled up to the table, pen and pad in hand. He actually liked her.
“Please bring the bottle of whatever Miss Burton is drinking to the table. Also, ask Edmond to prepare two servings of the artichoke and arugula salad. He’ll also want to prepare the zuppa di fungi selvaggia.” He did a quick assessment of Saffron’s eyes, noticing the keen interest. “Followed by the duck and fig risotto.”
He didn’t break stride in his speech, not caring in the least whether or not she took notes. She’d get it right, he had no doubts. His sous chef, second in command of the kitchen, would work as hard to make certain August’s needs were met. “Lastly, the Meyer lemon, three ways, for dessert. And make sure Allen matches each course with an appropriate vintage. Thank you, Vicky.” The sommelier hadn’t had a chance to taste most of what August had just ordered, but he’d get his job right or lose it.
“Chef.” He couldn’t mistake the warning note in her voice. “If I may have a word with you, please. Madame, if you would please excuse the chef?”
Close to grinding his teeth in frustration, August waited for Saffron’s wide-eyed nod before sliding out of the booth. He and Vicky hadn’t taken more than four steps before he directed her into a corner. “Make it fast.” His gaze remained on the seated woman. If she left for any reason, it wouldn’t happen without him interrupting her for at least a phone number.
“Do you know who that is?”
For a split second he allowed his gaze to drop to the server, but he couldn’t help looking toward the woman who waited for him. The step he took toward Vicky wasn’t meant to be threatening, but it certainly went well into invading her personal space. “The woman? No. Do you?”
Vicky folded her arms over her chest, putting a little distance between them. “Well, we’re not for sure, for sure, but a couple of the girls think she might be from Brun’s place.”
He whipped his head toward her. “Motherfucker,” he gritted out between clenched teeth.
Vicky snorted. “More like spy. Like I said, we don’t know for certain, but it kind of fits. You know he’s supposed to be sending someone over here to check out what you’re serving for Restaurant Week.”
There were a few dishes he’d created specifically for Denver’s most popular food event, happening only a few weeks away. It had become well known that his restaurant often served the dishes as a surprise one unannounced night each week leading up to the event.
Tonight happened to be one of those nights.
Just because he didn’t formally announce the news, however, didn’t mean someone from the staff might not have let it slip. There were supply orders to be placed, instructions to be given to the line staff and myriad other reasons why the news might get out. It was a recipe, not U.S. nuclear missile launch codes.
If his biggest rival, Francis Brun, wanted to know what August was serving in order to create something similar or in direct competition to the dish, it wouldn’t be beneath him to send someone to scope out the key ingredients. Everyone in this town took their food very, very seriously.
“So what do you want to do?” Vicky asked.
He took a minute to think it over. “Place the order I requested.”
Her eyes went wide. “Wow. Really? Even as packed as we are?”
“Tell Edmond he has seven minutes for the salads to be sitting on that table.” Now that he knew who he was dealing with, this wouldn’t be difficult at all to manage. He’d bag one restaurant spy without breaking stride. “Thank you, Vicky.”
“It’s your ass,” she muttered as she walked away.
Returning to the table, he changed his mind, figuring Vicky had to be wrong. Shit. He hoped she was wrong. Look at those pretty brown eyes watching his approach. They didn’t belong to someone who’d sneak secrets back to Brun.
Saffron smiled as he sat. “I’ll admit the last thing I expected was to be dining with you.”
“It’s not an experience I provide often,” August replied. Ever was more like it. “But in this case, I felt an exception was warranted.” He pushed forward the tray, which held four Japanese spoons of delicacies. “I only ask that you indulge me a bit.”
“Indulge you?” Her gaze snapped up from the appetizer tray to meet his.
“If you would, please. Allow me the honor of feeding you.”
That blush. So damned sexy.
August leaned forward and picked up one of the spoons. The shaved slices of scallop intermingled with his own blend of roasted peppers and then topped with savory and papaya had been stacked with painstaking care. “A sip of your wine and then open.”
His mouth went dry. One minute it watered, but now, watching her swallow Chardonnay, it might as well have been stuffed with cotton balls. August licked his lips, then offered Saffron the spoon. “Now open,” he said gently.
He couldn’t stop himself from drooling when her plump lips opened. Couldn’t shake the hardening of his cock when a pink tongue extended. Blood pounded in his ears as she closed her mouth around the ceramic. And fuck, when she made that little delightful sound in the back of her throat, he almost ground his teeth into powder.
Eyes closed, Saffron chewed slowly. Her eyebrows drew together in concentration and August found himself imagining the explosion of tastes greeting her. “Oh my, that’s good,” she said after a pause.
“Sip the wine again.” Husky. A quick sip and she made that noise again. The one that made every muscle in his body tighten with anticipation.
“August, I’m about to embarrass myself with pleasure here. That is a true masterpiece. And it’s just the amouse-bouche? I cannot wait to see what’s next on the menu.”
“Good.” A smile curved his lips before he realized what in hell he was doing.
She was the enemy. A spy. Sent here to make his world-class cuisine as commonplace as one of the fast food places down the road. Perhaps. Time would only tell. In the meanwhile, he’d remain cautious.
If he wanted to remain a few steps ahead of Francis, his biggest rival, instead of showing off with some of the dishes he’d been working on during his day off, he needed to send her packing. Oh, but damn, why did she have to pick up a second spoon and take another delicate bite?
He had to see her expression brighten with unadulterated joy again. Had to. He found himself leaning forward just to catch the softest purr of approval. Breath held, he waited until he heard it before exhaling again.
Occupational hazard, he reassured himself while also straightening. The need to know every diner left satisfied. Nothing else. Anything else was a bad idea. A bad, bad idea.
“Tell me, August, are the upcoming dishes as exceptional as this? These scallops reflect a lot of personality.” She looked at him beneath partially hooded lids. “I really liked that.”
There was probably something very wrong with knowing he’d be in her bed before the end of the night, but damn if he was going to figure out what. Lowering his voice, he said, “This amouse-bouche is nothing but a tease to go with the wine you’ve selected. If you’ll continue to indulge me, I’m sure I could make this night an experience you’ll never forget.”
“Well, you’ve certainly amused my mouth,” she said with a smile. A coy play on the translated words.
She sat back, arms folded across her chest. A long pause passed and he hoped what happened during the break—the dilation of her pupils, the flush of her cheeks, the parting of her lips—meant what he thought it did. Pure arousal.
“Alright, you’ve convinced me and I’m totally game. Show me what you’ve got, Chef. Show me something that’ll make my toes curl.”
Oh, but the things he could do with that mouth if given a chance. And the many, many ways he could make her toes curl…
Spy, August reminded himself. She was probably doing her best to weasel her way next to him, just for the purpose of pulling a few culinary secrets out of him.
Better people had tried and failed.
“Sit right there while I go check on how things are proceeding. But I will be back.” August waited for her nod before exiting the nook to head for the line. A quick double-check that the kitchen wouldn’t miss him if he left.
Brooding over whether his business mind or his cock’s eagerness ruled him, he steadied his resolve on what to do with her.
He’d show her something to take back to his rival. However, by the time Saffron left, there’d be no doubt in her mind that August was the best chef in Denver. No one—not even someone who resorted to thievery—would take that title from him.
If, along the way, he happened to prove to her he was the best lover she’d ever had, so much the better.