“I need you,” Chloe said.
Tyler looked around her office and lifted a brow. “Here?”
She smacked his shoulder, smiling. “For work, goof. There’s some stuff I need to talk to you about.”
He shrugged. “How about now?”
They sat at Chloe’s desk. She pulled some papers toward her. “Okay, where to start,” she muttered. “Well. Your TV appearances have sparked a whole lot of interest with a few people. First of all, Oprah’s people have been calling Joe and they’ve got dates we’ll need to look at. They’re going to come here and film you here, and then you have to go to Chicago to be on the show.”
She took a breath. “We’ll have to call back Joe to discuss this more, but Food TV is apparently interested in having you do a weekly show. They have some ideas for the concept they want to run past you. Also, they want you to do a ‘Chef Wars’ show.”
“Whoa. That’s that show where the two chefs compete to prepare a meal with the ingredients they give you?” His eyes lit up with interest and speculation.
“Yes. It’s pretty intense. You each get to bring two team members, your sous-chef and one other. But Joe says the publicity is incredible, especially if you win.”
“I dunno.” His forehead furrowed.
She stared at him. “Really? You don’t want to do it?”
He shrugged, mind obviously working. “Not sure. What else?”
“Joe thinks you should enter the Bocuse d’or this year. He says it’s your time. The deadline is the end of December so you have time to consider it, plan what you’d do.”
Tyler sucked in a breath. “Wow. Okay, these are all huge.”
“Yeah.” She tipped her head to the side and squinted at him. “You don’t seem as excited as I thought you’d be.”
“I’m not as excited as I thought I’d be.” A faint smile touched his lips. “What do you think, Chloe?”
“Me? What do I think? It’s up to you, Tyler.”
He shook his head. “No. I want to know what you think.”
Her stomach did a little flip and her heart skipped a beat again. “I...I...” she stammered. “I want you to be happy, Tyler. You don’t need to do any of this stuff if you don’t want. But the publicity would be incredible. These are just more steps on the way up...right?”
“Way up to where, though?” He set his fingertips together and leaned back in his chair. “I’m not sure where I’m going anymore.”
She gazed back at him, not sure what to make of that, not sure what to say. He smiled at her.
“You know I’ve been feeling the pressure lately, Chloe.” She nodded slowly. “I need to think about these things.”
“Okay. Sure.” She gathered papers together. “How about tomorrow we talk to Joe? He knows more about all this, and then you can decide.” She paused. “The last thing is the magazine article for Epicure.” She handed him the faxed copy of the planned layout. He took the pages from her and quickly looked at them. “You can review it and if there’s anything you want them to change, we can fax it back to them by the end of the week.”
He nodded. “Okay.” He glanced at his watch. “Back to work.” He jumped up, bent down and kissed her quickly, touched her cheek with his fingertips, then bounded down stairs.
She sat back in her chair. She knew he’d been feeling the pressure of everything lately, but he was such a rising star...just look at the attention his recent television appearances had garnered.
She shook her head. They really needed to talk to Joe. She stayed late getting caught up, and around eight o’clock wandered down to the restaurant. People waited for tables in the full-to-capacity bar, humming with talk and laughter. Chloe smiled.
She made her way through the crowd to the far end of the bar where she could catch Emilio’s eye. As she leaned on the counter, smiling and waiting for Emilio to finish serving a couple, she spotted Tyler at the other end of the bar. She straightened, took a step, then saw he was talking to...Mandy.
Mandy shook her long golden curls down her back and smiled up at Tyler, her hand on his arm. He stood beside the bar stool on which she was seated, smiling down at her and listening to her. He laughed at something she said.
Something hot burned inside Chloe and her stomach cramped deeply, painfully.
Mandy was the only woman who had ever broken up with Tyler. He’d been so devastated, he’d sat at home getting drunk rather than come to work. Of course, Chloe reminded herself, she’d proven his heart hadn’t really been broken. But still...she watched them together and her eyes stung. She blinked rapidly.
Emilio saw her and concern tightened the corners of his eyes. She raised a hand to her mouth, motioned as if she was drinking and he nodded and pulled a wine glass down. He poured red wine into the glass, walked down the bar to where she stood and set it in front of her, his eyes worried even though he smiled.
“You’re still here,” he said. “Working late tonight, aren’t you.”
“Mmm. I had a lot to catch up on after the last few days.” She dragged her gaze away from Tyler and Mandy to smile at him. “Thanks.”
“No problem.” He went back to work, casting anxious glances both at her and Tyler.
She could just go up to Tyler and talk to them. She was his girlfriend. But the feeling of inferiority compared to glamorous Mandy and all the beautiful people in the restaurant flooded back. She sipped her wine, her throat so tight she almost choked on it.
She wasn’t sure what to do. Had Tyler really changed? Was this the moment of truth? How she handled things at this point could make the difference between a long and torturous ride down the roller coaster, as opposed to just stopping it and getting off right now.
* * *
Tyler looked up just as Chloe turned her back and left the bar, a glass of wine in her hand. Her small figure pushed politely through the crowd around the bar, long smooth hair gleaming in the dim light.
“Don’t you think so, too?” Mandy asked him. “Tyler?”
He forced his attention back to her, worried about Chloe and what she’d seen, what she was feeling.
“Sorry, Mandy, I have to go.” He flashed a quick smile and lifted her hand from his arm. “Nice to see you again. Stop in any time you’re in town.”
He barely noticed the frown on her face as he left her side and made his way out of the bar but goddammit, people kept stopping him to greet him, to tell them they’d seen him on Leno, talk about their dinners. He politely exchanged greetings and comments through gritted teeth and a phony smile, finally escaping the dining room. He took the stairs to Chloe’s office two at a time.
She sat there, her computer off, sipping a glass of wine.
“Why’d you leave?” he demanded. “I just saw you as you were leaving the bar.”
“You were busy,” she said coolly.
He shook his head. “No, I wasn’t. I was just saying hi to Mandy. She’s in town for a few days and stopped in for a drink.”
Chloe nodded, her face calm and expressionless. She was so good at that. But he’d seen her allowing herself to feel, to show her emotions, and wow, what emotions those were. This was that calm, cool and collected Chloe who kept it all inside her.
“Are you jealous?” How could she be when she knew he loved her?
Her eyes flickered but otherwise her expression didn’t change. “Should I be?”
“Of course not,” he said roughly. “I was talking to a friend.”
“She’s not just a friend.” She sipped her wine. “That was the only girl who’s ever broken up with you. You were pretty destroyed by that.”
He laughed. It was actually funny. “Yeah, but you got her out of my mind damn quick,” he reminded her. Then he saw the sober look on her face even though he was laughing. “Chloe, don’t you trust me?”
She looked away from him.
“Chloe!” He went over to her and took the wine glass out of her hand, set it on the desk. “You know I love you.”
She gazed back at him, her blue eyes cool. His hands tightened on hers in disbelief.
She finally spoke. “Tyler, I know you think you love me right now, but we both know that won’t last. Relationships are not your thing.” She shrugged. “It’s okay. I know that. I knew that going into this. I’ve always known it wouldn’t last forever.” She smiled faintly.
What the fuck was she talking about? Anger knifed through him, sharp, stabbing. He wanted no one but her. In fact, he wanted nothing but her. Awards, celebrity, money...it meant nothing without her. He’d told her he loved her. He did not tell that to every woman he dated. In fact, he had never said those words to any other woman in his life, besides his mother. How could she not believe him, trust him?
She gazed back at him, a flicker of something in her crystal blue eyes, then she looked away from him and removed her hands from his grasp.
“I’m going home now,” she said, voice even. “You need to get back to work, or whatever. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
She stood and pushed past him, and his eyes almost crossed with fury. How could she do this after what they’d shared? He watched her leave, rage and despair rising up in him, choking him. Christ, she was right - the restaurant was crazy busy tonight and he couldn’t leave. He slammed a hand down on her desk.
Carlos was in major weeds when Tyler got back to the kitchen, sweating and yelling out orders. “Pick up one salmon!” he yelled, hands moving quickly as he did five things at once. Relief passed over his face when he saw Tyler, but then he did a double take.
“Oh-oh,” he said. “Don’t tell me - Chloe saw Mandy.”
Tyler nodded and stepped in, ripping tickets off the slide to see what was needed. He scowled.
“She’s mad,” Carlos guessed.
Tyler shook his head violently. “Hell, no,” he bit out. “The ice princess doesn’t get mad. She’s very calm. She thinks I’m just going to drop her and run back to Mandy.” He shook his head and made a noise of disgust. “Jesus. She doesn’t trust me at all.”
“Table ten...pick up!” Carlos yelled. He ladled sauce onto some veal and added vegetables, perfectly cooked, bending low as he arranged them meticulously. “You’re saying you’re not going to do that?”
Tyler stared at him, a ferocious scowl on his face. “You too?” he snarled. “What the hell?”
“You do have a reputation. We’ve all been wondering how long this thing with Chloe would last and what would happen after. She’s too sweet to mess around with.”
Tyler’s rage intensified like the flame that shot up under the veal chop on the grill. “Fire two pork tenderloin and two specials!” he yelled. “Shit, Carlos, I’m not playing around with Chloe. I love her.”
“I guess you have to convince her, then.”
Yeah. Tyler kept working on automatic, moving rapidly and fluidly in the kitchen, hands flying. He was pissed off but he wasn’t giving up. Chloe was too important for that.
The rest of the night blurred into fast movements in the kitchen, blasts of heat as he cooked, frantic yelling to the others. He had no clue if Mandy was still there or not, didn’t care. He didn’t emerge from the kitchen for the remainder of the evening, even stepped in to wash dishes when they sent Diego to the store for a bottle of Tanqueray when the bar ran out.
He wanted nothing more than to leave, go to Chloe’s house and show her how much he cared, but he was so furious he knew he should wait.
Later when things were quieter and they were done cleaning up, he went back to his office and threw himself down in the chair behind his desk. His eyes fell on the magazine article layout he hadn’t had a chance to look at yet. Glumly he picked it up and started reading.
It felt as if he were reading about someone else entirely, someone familiar to him but not him. The article was flattering; there wasn’t much he could fault about it. Then he got to the part where it said, ‘Tyler Gregg is a confirmed bachelor, a playboy chef with a reputation for dating a succession of beautiful women: models, actresses, socialites. When asked about his love life, Tyler smiles and says, “I love women. I love women almost as much a food. Maybe more than food.” He gives a sexy shrug. “I have no plans to settle down. I just like to enjoy variety...”’
Jesus, had he really said that? He did recall talking about variety, but he hadn’t meant it specifically about women. He’d been talking about food, about his career. He seemed to recall dodging the question about his love life, despite Joe’s specific instruction to him, and he’d dodged it because of Chloe. It had felt wrong to claim to be happily single and looking, when he and Chloe had just started something...but yet at that point, he couldn’t have claimed to be in a committed relationship.
He picked up a red marker and started scribbling on the article.
Insatiable Part 23