Chloe watched the action as people descended on the restaurant for the photo shoot and interview for Epicure Magazine. Frighteningly chic and professional people had flown in from New York, everyone thin and dressed in black. Except Joe who’d driven from LA, wearing a very expensive grey t-shirt and two cell phones clipped to his designer jeans.
Scrims and umbrellas were set up and lights popped as the photographer’s assistant studied a device in his hand. They arranged Tyler in the dining groom, leaning against a table, arms crossed over his chest.
People fussed around him, the assistant held the device up near his face and lights popped again.
She wasn’t sure why she was even needed here, but she hung around in the background anyway. As she stood there, Ryan came and joined her to watch.
“Crazy, huh?” he asked, smiling. He smoothed back his short hair, straightened his tie. “So...you and Tyler.”
She glanced at him, and couldn’t help but smile, her cheeks warming.
“That’s why you two weren’t getting along, isn’t it?”
She nodded. “Yeah. It’s a long story. I’m sorry if it caused problems in the restaurant, I never intended that. In fact, that’s what I was trying to avoid, that’s why I was pushing Tyler away. That, and the fact that I didn’t want to get my heart broken.” She sighed.
“You two are great together,” Ryan said. “Why would you get your heart broken?”
He’d told her he loved her. He’d made her feel so special and loved and safe that she’d confessed her feelings for him, too, even though she knew she shouldn’t. She knew this wasn’t going to last forever. But not telling him didn’t change anything, including the fact that her heart was at risk.
“Oh come on,” she said lightly. “You know what Tyler’s like. He’ll never settle down. When this ends between us, it’s going to be so awkward.”
Ryan looked at her, his face somber. She knew he couldn’t disagree with her. They all knew Tyler and his many girlfriends. She smiled at him.
“It’s okay,” she reassured him, though her chest felt tight and achy. “I’ll try to make sure the rest of you don’t suffer, too.”
“Chloe, it’s not just us...we all care about you, too. If you get hurt...”
“Thank you,” she said, touching his arm. “But I’ll just have to deal with it when it happens.”
There was a break in the action as the photographer, stylist and assistant gathered around the computer attached to the digital camera and started intently discussing the photos. Tyler beckoned to Chloe and she strolled over to him. He spread his legs, still leaning against the table, and pulled her between his thighs, linking his hands behind her waist. He smiled down at her.
“This is nuts,” he said. She smiled back at him and nodded. He bent and kissed her mouth.
“Hey, you two!” called the photographer. “How about some photos of both of you.”
Chloe turned in Tyler’s arms, thinking the photographer was joking, but he was behind the camera preparing to shoot.
“No way!” Chloe and Joe both uttered the same protest at the same moment. She glanced at Joe, striding purposefully toward them. She tried to escape Tyler’s arms, but he tightened his hands around her.
“Sorry, Chloe, no offence, but we’re trying to market an image here. You know, the sexy chef...we don’t want photos of him and current girlfriend in the magazine.”
“Why not?” Tyler growled.
Joe was firm. “We want women to lust for you. If you’re single they all think they have a chance...”
“Jesus, I’m a chef, not a rock star.”
Joe shook his head. “At this point there’s not much difference, Ty, buddy.”
Chloe nodded uncertainly, glanced at Tyler, a scowl darkening his face.
“That’s okay,” she said breathlessly, this time escaping Tyler’s grasp. “I don’t want to be in any photos.”
She tugged her blouse down and made her escape back to the periphery where she could watch.
Well. The sexy chef. He was that, no question. It made her feel a little extraneous. Once again she wondered what on earth Tyler was doing with her, and an icy wave of fear washed over her.
She followed the entourage when they moved into the kitchen, where Tyler donned his chef’s white jacket and posed. She could tell he was losing patience with all the fussing and finicky details, and wanted to get it over with. When they were finally finished, she started toward him where he was discussing where to have lunch and do the interview with the magazine editor.
“We can do it here,” Tyler said. “We can use Chloe’s office, there’s lots of room there.”
“Oh, let me take you out for lunch,” the editor said, smiling at him. She, too was a chic stick-girl all dressed in black, her short dark hair styled in a spiky, sexy cut.
Tyler shrugged. “Okay.”
When the editor went to collect her things, Joe said to Tyler, “Now remember, Ty buddy, when she asks about your love life, there’s nobody special, you’re still looking for the right woman, you love all women, yadda yadda.”
Tyler frowned at him. “She’s not going to ask about that.” He took Chloe’s hand and drew her nearer. “Coming with us?” he asked.
She glanced at Joe and shook her head. “Uh...no. I have lots of other stuff to do.”
“Sure?” He tipped her chin up and smiled at her, then brushed her lips with his again.
She felt so insecure and out of place today, but Tyler was treating he like he always did, and she tried to find comfort in that. She watched him leave with the magazine editor, then Joe took off back to LA and the photography team all lugged equipment out of the restaurant.
“Martha Melville is coming tonight.”
Chloe’s head jerked up at Lola’s words. “She is not!”
Martha Melville was a prominent food writer and critic. Her review of the restaurant could have huge implications.
Lola grinned. “Yup. She made a reservation under her publisher’s name. I recognized it and called the number they left to double check.”
“Does Tyler know?”
“Oh, yeah. He had a minor freak out just before everyone showed up.”
“Oh lord.” Chloe sighed.
“I gotta get back to work,” Lola said. “Just thought you should know.”
* * *
Lola quickly alerted everyone when Martha Melville arrived. The reviewer was trying to be incognito, but failed. However, nobody could let on that they knew who she was. Tyler called all the front of the house staff in to talk to them about the special guest at table twelve.
“Okay,” he said. “You all have to be on top of service. Allison, Mitch is taking over your other tables so you can focus on twelve.”
Her eyes widened. “One table?” she asked. She immediately grasped the importance of this guest.
“Service has to be impeccable,” he warned. They all nodded seriously. “Okay, go on.”
He went back to work and only his hands touched the meals that were prepared for that table. Martha was with three other people, but he knew that she would taste every dish that was ordered.
Sure enough, four different dinners were ordered, including appetizers. He grinned. He loved the rush he got from the pressure of having to perform. His hands moved quickly, surely as he prepared their meals, tasting everything to ensure perfection.
“Uh, Tyler?” Allison stood next to him.
“Yes?” He didn’t look up.
“Table nine just stopped me and said they’ve been waiting for their appetizers for almost an hour.”
Tyler’s head shot up. “What?” He looked around. “Who’s got table nine?” he bellowed.
“Mitch does,” Allison said.
“Get him the hell in here.”
She scurried off to find him.
“What is it?” Mitch asked seconds later, looking a little harried.
“Table nine has been waiting for appetizers for almost an hour,” Tyler informed him in a hard voice. “What the hell is going on?”
Mitch blanched “Appetizers?” There was no ticket for table nine on the slide. “Oh shit,” he groaned. “I forgot to put their order in.”
“Jesus Christ,” Tyler growled. “Get their fucking order in now!”
He had never stopped working on the plates for table twelve. He scowled as he worked.
Mitch hurriedly entered the orders into the computer, luckily appearing to remember what they’d ordered. None of the servers at Insatiable ever wrote anything down. That was Tyler’s policy.
“What did they order?” Carlos asked, taking over. He quickly went to work.
“Give them free drinks,” Tyler ordered. “And comp the appetizers. Apologize to them. I can come out later if you think I need to, but not right now.”
Fury boiled up inside him that other customers had to suffer because of one damn food critic.
Later, when Martha and her crew were gone, he found Mitch.
“Sorry I snapped at you,” he apologized, rubbing the ache at the back of his neck. “I know that was too much for one person to handle all those tables.”
“Thanks,” Mitch said. “It’s okay. They were happy enough they didn’t get charged for the food and the free drinks helped too. I sucked up big time.”
Mitch, like all the other wait staff at Insatiable, was hired in large measure for his personality. The servers had to have good people skills, the ability to read the mood of a table, know when to hurry things up or slow things down. Tyler was sure Mitch had used all of his considerable charm to mollify the guests at table nine.
“Good work,” he said, clapping Mitch’s shoulder. “Thanks.”
Mitch looked relieved, probably afraid he was going to get reamed out for the mistake. And Tyler had to admit, there might have been a time when he would have done that, his volatile temper difficult to control. Tonight yeah, he’d been pissed off, but somehow things didn’t get to him like they used to. He grinned as he turned back to the kitchen.
Holy crap. He was really in love.
Insatiable Part 22