THE BAD boys club

Chapter Four

CHEF

Rebecca’s heart pounded way too fast as she opened the passenger door and hopped out of the delivery van. Her best line cook Raoul was driving, taking time off to help her. She owed him big for this, especially since—strictly speaking—he didn't work for her anymore. In the back of the van was his strapping son Dominic. They’d double-parked in the financial district, a busy area of Boston that mixed Colonial buildings and skyscrapers. Because Raoul couldn’t leave the wheel, Dominic was helping her offload her two shrink-wrapped six-foot-tall supply carts. Neatly packed onto the steel shelves was everything she needed for today’s menu. She knew this because she’d checked the contents as obsessively as her brother Charlie used to check his backpack for school.

She couldn’t afford to forget anything today. Every detail had to go perfectly.

She wiped sweaty palms on her clean black trousers, then grabbed the back end of the first cart to guide it down the van ramp with Dominic. He grinned at her, a nice kid who adored his talented father and seemed likely to follow in his footsteps. Once the second cart joined the first on the hot sidewalk, he flipped the ramp up and slammed the doors.

“Knock him dead, Chef,” Raoul called out the driver’s window. Though they were friends, he always called her that. Coming from him, the title was a cross between “boss” and “hon.”

Grimacing at the butterflies in her stomach, she acknowledged his well wishes with a wave before he drove off. God, she hated being this nervous.

“You’ll be fine,” Dominic assured her like he was sixty and not sixteen. “You’ve done this sort of thing, what, two-and-a-half zillion times?”

“Pipsqueak,” Rebecca retorted as they shoved the carts toward the entrance of TBBC’s corporate headquarters. She might have done this a zillion times, but never with so much riding on the result. “If their kitchen sucks, I’m not letting you forget it for a year.”

The building’s doorman trotted over to open the non-revolving door. His charcoal gray uniform was sharp, his buttons bright enough to blind. Trey Hayworth and TBBC didn’t do anything half-assed. She’d need her A-game to get this job with him.

Inside, the round air-conditioned lobby was just as intimidating—soaring steel and glass and Carrara marble stretching to a hundred-foot atrium. Her mind boggled at the thought that two Jersey boys who’d barely cracked the age of thirty were responsible for Beantown’s latest architectural marvel. The spread she’d read in Boston Magazine claimed the pair had been integral to the design process, and that Hayworth in particular had caught an engineering miscalculation that would have resulted in large stretches of windows popping out in high winds. If she’d been applying for an architectural position, she’d probably have quailed before she set foot inside.

You’re a genius at what you do, she tried to remind herself. No one cooks for Bostonians like you.

Unless they did, and she’d been deluded all this time.

The stupid thought sank her stomach. God, please, let her not screw this up. She couldn’t beg that bastard Titcomb to take her back on staff, not if it meant working under the dumbass dickhead he’d hired to be her supposed boss. Titcomb liked the guy because he’d won some reality TV show. However he’d managed that, it wasn’t by cooking well. The only thing sadder than his overworked, over-seasoned dishes was watching him try to impress Wilde’s crew with his “credentials.” She knew the veteran cooks were hoping she’d get this job and could bring them over. Titcomb would be lucky if the new guy didn’t drive him out of business within the year.

Not that she’d be there to see it.

Molars grinding, she pushed her cart beside Dominic’s across the shiny lake of imported stone. The wheels bumped slightly at the lobby’s center where the company’s elegant gold logo was inlaid.

“Ms. Eilert?” said a security guard in a suit. He’d stepped out from behind his desk before they could reach it. He was trim and polite, his wireless earpiece adding to his professional air. “We’re holding the freight elevator for you if you’d like to follow me.”

“See,” Dominic murmured aside to her. “No way is this place’s kitchen going to suck.”

Rebecca smiled, amused by his confidence—despite her ability to be neurotic under almost any conditions. Calm at least for the moment, they and their carts made it to the twentieth floor before her palms broke into a sweat again.

She forgot they were damp the moment she caught a glimpse of where she’d be working.

“Whoa,” Dominic said, coming to a halt behind her.

TBBC’s corporate kitchen was a culinary palace. Impeccably equipped, every pot, every burner, every inch of burnished steel worktop was spotless. Rebecca’s entire brigade from Wilde’s could have cooked here with room to spare—assuming she still had a brigade, of course.

“The walk-in is that way,” the suited guard informed her, gesturing toward its door. “Feel free to use anything in it. Mr. Hayworth has cleared his schedule for 1:30. If you suspect your food won’t be ready, please use the phone on the wall to warn his assistant.”

“I don’t think that will be a problem,” Rebecca said, slightly breathless from the lovely toys around her.

The guard smiled at her. “Good luck,” he said, exiting politely.

“Am I staying?” Dominic asked, hardly containing his eagerness.

The terms of Rebecca’s tryout allowed her an assistant. She’d been planning to do everything herself. When you had her experience, creating a tasting menu for just one person wasn’t overly difficult. On the other hand, Dominic had sufficient training from his father to carry off simple sauces and fine chopping. Seeing his pleading look, she remembered how eager she’d been to learn when she was his age. If he stayed, she’d have to keep her nerves wrapped up for his sake—which might not be a bad thing.

“You’ll do what I say?” she asked, pointing her sternest chef’s finger. “No getting ‘creative’ with my instructions?”

Practically bouncing, Dominic crossed his heart.

“All right,” she said, swallowing back a surge of adrenaline. “God help me, you’re my sous-chef.”

~

A tasting menu’s purpose was best described as amuse-gueule: amusement for the mouth. Small portions kept taste buds in a state of attention, while creative presentation seduced the eyes. Flavors could be subtle, but they had to communicate. I am basil. I am lamb. Do I not blend magically with my companions? Ideally, courses took diners on a journey: from surprise to delight, from pungent to delicate. Childhood memories could be invoked or exotic global trips. If food was emotion, a tasting menu was a tale packed with adventure. Creating one proved a chef possessed imagination as well as skill.

The journey Rebecca had devised mixed comfort and surprise. Naturally, preparation didn’t occur without hiccups. Adjustments invariably had to be made en route. In the end, however, when the minute hand on the wall clock clicked to 1:29, she felt as confident as she was capable of.

She smoothed the front of her chef’s whites, polished a faint smudge from the first plate’s cover, and turned to face the door. Dominic had set up the little table at which her sole guest would eat. Rebecca believed in working clean. Although later dishes were still in process, very little chaos remained.

At precisely 1:30 and ten seconds, Trey Hayworth entered the kitchen.

He and his business partner Zane Alexander were among Boston’s most glamorous bachelors. In addition to making their mark in commerce, they supported numerous charities. Rebecca had seen shots of Hayworth in his tuxedo climbing out of limos too many times to count. She knew the young CFO was hot stuff.

She hadn’t known meeting him in person would stop her heart.

He was tall and tan and shaped from shoulder to hip like a pro athlete. His black hair was long enough to tie back and as smooth and shiny as if he’d just brushed it. The cuffs to his beautifully fitted Oxford shirt were rolled up to his elbows. An expensive watch gleamed on one wrist, but his soft suede shoes were as scuffed as if he’d worn them for years. The combination created a sense of effortless stylishness, suggesting weekends in the Hamptons or maybe Ralph Lauren ads. He literally looked polished.

Maybe he buffs himself with money, she joked, trying to recover her humor. From what she'd heard, the bad boys had enough of it.

Her cynicism shredded the moment his gaze met hers.

Clear and bright, his surprisingly hot green eyes were the color of bottles deposited on a sunny shore. Glints of amber increased their intensity, as did their lush frame of dark lashes. His thick eyebrows were crazy-sexy—brooding, manly—unavoidably sinking their hooks in her where she was most girly. The end result was that his gaze seemed to penetrate her soul . . . evidently as preparation for wetting her panties.

Hello,” he said with a smile that hinted at unfairly deep dimples.

Squirming already, Rebecca experienced the oddest shiver of deja vu.

“I’m Rebecca Eilert,” she said, aware that her voice wasn’t quite steady. Annoyed with herself, she offered him a hand that damn well was. “Thank you for giving me this opportunity to show you what I can do.”

The panty-wetter took her hand in both of his, holding rather than shaking it. Again, Rebecca quivered with arousal—an inconvenience she could have done without. Hayworth’s palm was unexpectedly callused, possibly from rowing. Her college-age little brothers were on a crew and had similar rough spots. For a second, Hayworth seemed to be waiting for a response from her. Whatever it was, Rebecca didn’t know how to supply it.

“Would you like to begin?” she asked politely.

His mouth was well-shaped but not full. At her question, it slanted to one side—as if he were enjoying a private and slightly rueful joke.

“I’d be honored,” he concurred.

Dominic took his cue with a smoothness that would have done his father proud, pulling out the single chair for Hayworth. Hayworth took it, then let the young man spread his napkin and pour his water. That done, he looked expectantly at her.

Rattled but not—she promised herself—shaken, she set the first plate in front of him.

Hayworth’s ah of pleasure as she removed the lid was exactly what she’d hoped for.

Two fluffy golden potato blinis sat on a clean white plate, one picture-perfect little pancake tipped rakishly atop the other. This base was surmounted by a glistening scoop of tomato confit, which she’d seasoned lightly with roe of cod. Rebecca explained the dish’s contents, stepped back, and allowed him to dig in.

Hayworth did so, then swallowed his mouthful. “Oh my God,” he moaned gratifyingly, spooning into the dish again. “That is amazing.”

His appreciation was just beginning. He adored her creamy Maine lobster bisque, and pronounced her lamb chops with cassoulet wicked. Her palate-cleansing cucumber fraiche was praised, and her squab with foie gras and figs. By the time she was ready to serve dessert, her newly anointed sous-chef was grinning from ear to ear. Dominic knew he’d helped her prepare a hit.

Rebecca gave thanks his heels remained on the floor.

For the final ‘taste’ she’d made upside-down apple tart with dollops of homemade cinnamon ice cream. This was a signature dish for her. Served in a small ramekin, the dessert mingled sweet and spicy, playing off the textures of creamy and toothsome. The tart and tender apples complemented the crispy puff pastry as if God had invented them for this pairing. Buckwheat pancakes with apple syrup it was not. All the same, the tastes and scents brought back that first culinary success for her. Unbeknownst to her guests, each time she served it, she shared her heart with them.

Hayworth scraped the ramekin with his spoon, then sat back in his chair and sighed. Though the amounts she’d served were too modest to have stuffed a big man like him, he wove both hands together over his flat stomach. His eyes were shining, his smile as satisfied as any guest she’d seen.

“That was killer,” he declared.

His tone was husky, putting her in mind of how he'd sound in bed.

“So Rebecca gets the job?” Dominic broke in, the sixteen-year-old no longer able to restrain himself. “You’ll hire her to be in charge of your restaurant?”

Dominic was too excited to notice the repressive look she shot him. Thankfully, Hayworth was amused. “I believe your chef and I need to discuss that privately.”

“Shoo,” Rebecca added, giving the boy a gentle shove toward the door.

“She’s awesome,” Dominic called over his shoulder. “She only yells for really bad screw ups. All the line cooks love her.”

He was still trying to cheerlead as the door swung shut behind him.

“High praise,” Hayworth murmured, rubbing his lower lip.

“I can do this,” Rebecca said, because he seemed undecided. “I’ve done everything in restaurants, from scrubbing toilets to expediting to stocking up on wines. I know the profit margin on every plate and what it doesn’t pay to be stingy on. I’ve hired and fired and trained servers to make sure every guest walks out the door as happy as possible. I’m more than a chef, Mr. Hayworth. I’m the entire package. You’d be lucky to have me.”

“That I have no doubt of,” he said with a wry mouth twist.

He could have been suggesting a double meaning. Before she could color up, he sobered. “You’re my top candidate, Rebecca, but I have to consider this. You’ve never run a place this big before.”

Rebecca clenched her jaw. Was he going to call Titcomb? Would Wilde’s new owner trash her for the huffy way she left? Calling his handpicked chef a pompous A-hole might not have been her most brilliant career move.

“I can do it,” she repeated a smidgen more softly. “I’ve studied what TBBC is about. You want a showstopper and a place folks can be comfortable eating in. You want the food critics slavering for a chance to slam you . . . then to go home beaming like Santa Claus spoiled them. That’s what I do, Mr. Hayworth. You won’t find anyone better suited to creating a restaurant you and your partner will be proud of.”

Hayworth rose, which she interpreted to mean the time for arguing was over. She was five foot nothing, and he towered over her. He also smelled good, like soap and sweat and some faint cologne too expensive for her to know its name. She steeled herself against its appeal. As if he felt sorry for her, he dropped one warm hand to her shoulder.

Despite the kindness of the gesture, the amount of testosterone he exuded was distracting. He rocked his sexy beard shadow like nobody’s business.

“You’re my best candidate,” he said, giving her incredibly tensed-up muscle a light squeeze. “I promise I’m taking your application seriously.”

She needed this job, not only for her pride and to rescue her crew from Wilde’s, but to continue paying Charlie and Pete’s tuition. The twins covered books and board with work-study, but Harvard was expensive. She’d been as proud as a peacock when they got in—as if their braininess proved she’d been a good stand-in caretaker. She wasn’t sure she could bear for them to transfer somewhere cheaper.

She truly couldn’t bear it if somewhere cheaper was far away. Her little brothers were her family twice over. With them living on campus, she hated going home to an empty house enough already.

She couldn’t say that of course. Trey Hayworth was a big mogul. He wouldn’t care why she needed him to hire her.

“Thank you,” she said, inclining her head stiffly. “I’ll wait to hear from you.”

~

Trey left Rebecca in the kitchen to gather her equipment. As he rode the executive elevator to the top floor, he was aware he’d treated her shabbily. That she could handle his latest project he’d established in five minutes. The woman radiated motivation, not to mention competence. The reasons he hadn’t dropped to his knees to beg her to take the job had nothing to do with her.

He thought he’d prepared himself for today. Naturally, he knew who she was. He’d recognized her name the instant her resume crossed his desk. Some might argue he should have forgotten it after all these years. Who had she been except a waitress with a good rack and a pretty smile? There had to be thousands like her in any big city. That didn't seem to matter. The night they’d met, the night she’d imprinted herself on his memories, was a life changing one for him.

That was the night Zane admitted he wanted them to stay together.

Trey had never regretted accepting Zane’s offer—business or otherwise. Zane might not have said the words, but Trey knew that he loved him. Pursuing a girl like Rebecca would have road-blocked all the good things that came after. She wasn’t a woman he could sleep with and then let go. Trey didn’t know if it was genetics or hormones or some weird subconscious awareness. He just knew her eyes had warned him; the way his chest had tightened at her nearness. She was his thunderbolt, possibly the only woman he could fall for as hard as Zane.

With a heavy sigh, he pushed into his big office.

Zane’s office was next to his. Most days, if he heard Trey come in, he’d say hello with a friendly rap on their shared wall. Today he couldn’t. He was in Hawaii, visiting a resort they were considering bundling into TBBC’s collection. His partner being so far away didn’t lighten Trey’s mood at all.

Zane tried not to be possessive. He liked their arrangement . At least once a month he indulged his alternate erotic interest with a female. His revolving door for dates amused Trey, but it served a purpose. Rotating women as he did, Zane avoided encouraging any particular one to believe she'd stick around. Though Trey stepped out less frequently, his methods were similar. Hardly anyone got a repeat, and nobody slept over. Other men were off limits entirely. Trey understood his partner needed to come first with him. Sharing Trey with another love of a lifetime would be a deal breaker.

He dropped into his desk chair, swiveling toward the long expanse of windows to stare at the city. August’s sunshine shimmered in sparks and sheets off the old and new buildings. He could see the waterfront from this direction, the wharves and the bright harbor. Boston was never all one thing or another: neither all modern nor historic, neither completely land nor sea . . . kind of like him, when it came down to it.

He remembered the day, two weeks after his and Zane’s fateful dinner, when he’d given in to temptation and returned alone to Wilde’s. He’d purposefully gone during lunch, when Rebecca had said she worked in the kitchen and not out front. He’d emerged with her last name and a pounding hard-on that wouldn’t go down for hours. Simply coming as close to her as that had sent a storm through his libido.

The reaction was enough to shock him to sanity. He hadn’t tried to contact her. He’d pushed the thought of her behind him, telling himself his crazy ideas about her had to be in his head. Love at first sight was silly. What he felt for Rebecca Eilert wasn’t any more than a crush.

Eventually he’d stopped dreaming about her sad gray eyes. Eventually he no longer wondered if anyone but him had noticed how profoundly alone she was.

Being more romantic than Zane didn’t make him an idiot.

Or maybe it did, because when he saw her application for the executive chef’s position, he hadn’t torn it up. The letter she’d sent along had been literate, humorously thorough, and inadvertently neurotic. The things she didn’t realize she was saying charmed him as no female had for years. He had his assistant schedule her to cook before he could stop himself.

He’d changed his clothes twice this morning, taking extra care to close-trim the stubble most women seemed to love. As they rode in to work together, Zane had accused him of having a hot lunch date. He’d been teasing, but Trey had blushed like a teenager. He hadn’t told Zane he was interviewing chefs, though they both had a stake in the future Bad Boys Lounge. Truthfully, he couldn’t tell him. Rebecca was the only applicant he’d seen.

Trey was acting like a cheating husband. He needed to cut it out. He’d almost convinced himself he would when he stepped into that kitchen.

His heart had jumped in his chest like it had at Wilde’s. It’s her, sang his imagination. She’s in the same room with me. His skin had tingled at her presence, his every cell humming with aliveness.

Her littleness was a mule kick to his breadbox.

She had the same short blonde haircut, like she’d settled on a style and couldn't be bothered to change it for anyone. Her eyes were still huge, still haunted by shadows and stubbornness. She was wirier than he remembered, as if she didn’t—or maybe couldn’t—leave a restaurant’s heavy lifting to underlings. The tension in her handshake astonished him. She was like a racehorse who never, ever allowed herself to relax. He shouldn’t have found that sexy. He shouldn’t have wanted to strip her naked and massage her all over.

“I’m insane,” he said aloud to the high ceiling.

He’d been disappointed when she didn’t remember him, though he’d been a solitary restaurant patron in Lord knew how many. That should have convinced him he was deluded. If they’d been soul mates or whatever nursery tale he was spinning, surely she’d recognize him too.

He let his head thunk forward onto his blotter. Maybe if her food hadn’t been so fracking amazing, maybe if he hadn’t watched her glow like a sun at his praise, he’d have been able to stop flirting with disaster. Unfortunately, Trey had eaten a lot of world-class meals, from Paris to Sonoma. Rebecca’s was right up there with the best of them.

She deserved this job. Hell, she’d be great at it. Worst of all, to go by what his research had uncovered about her leaving Wilde’s, Rebecca needed it.

It wasn’t fair to turn her down just because he found her treacherously attractive.

“Crap,” he said, caught in the quandary.

Unused to being indecisive, he sat up to absently rub the ache in his crotch. Too late he realized where his hand had gone. She’d done it to him again. He was as hard as a teenager, his horny cock a pole in his underwear.

Had it been like that when he ate her food, when he’d squeezed the knotted muscle at her shoulder?

He groaned at the memory of how it felt to touch her. He’d been so focused on her he couldn’t have sworn what his body was doing.

What if she’d seen her effect on him?

Heat seemed to explode in his groin. Sometimes his kinks really were ridiculous. So what if she’d noticed his hard-on? Rebecca was a grown woman—and attractive. Men had to throw wood for her now and again.

Other men throwing wood for her wasn’t the most helpful topic to calm him. Giving in to what he couldn't fight, he unzipped his trousers and shoved a hand inside. God, handling himself felt good, especially when—apparently—he’d needed to for a while. He didn’t bother with the jar of Albolene in his bottom drawer. He kept the infamous jackoff aid there for Zane. Trey enjoyed the chafing of his bare palm, the sexual burn that edged on discomfort. Gritting his teeth, he pumped his erection quickly, concentrating the strokes toward the top where his nerve endings were thickest. He was too impatient to tease himself, besides which he had a conference call in ten minutes. He needed this release now.

She was here, he thought, his mind running a bit away with itself. I had her hand in mine. I could have bent down and tongue-kissed her.

He saw himself slamming her naked against the stainless steel walk-in door. She was so petite he’d have no trouble trapping her with his weight. Off her feet would be good, her thighs hugging his waist, her lush pink mouth pressed tight to and sucking his. She’d gasp when he slid his throbbing penis inside of her. Compared to her, he’d feel really big. Maybe he’d have to saw in and out to get in; maybe tease her clit so her wetness would ease his way. He wished he knew what her pussy looked like, wished he knew how she kissed. Pressure built in his scrotum, balls jerking toward the base of his erection. He yanked his flesh harder from his body, abusing it, willing the tension that rose in him to crest.

She’d called him Mr. Hayworth. Maybe he could tie her to a worktop and force her to call him Trey.

The thought of her strong little wrists and ankles bound up in leather strips sent his excitement rocketing. Maybe he’d truss her all over, from thighs to waist to dark crisscrosses between her breasts. He pictured suckling her nipples, imagined rolling them on his tongue. His breath came from him in hard quick pants as he ground his ass cheeks into the office chair. The extra friction on his tailbone made all his sensations better; made him picture her in even more detail. Knowing he was nearly there, he tugged his cock faster. Though it wasn’t smart, the fantasy was so good he couldn’t let go of it. I remember, she’d cry. I couldn’t forget you!

Then Zane would come up behind Trey and bugger him breathless.

He snapped so suddenly into climax he didn’t have a chance to grab a tissue. He spurted across his blotter, a long white arc that felt like nirvana shooting out. His cock blazed with pleasure at the contractions, then virtually melted with contentment. He wasn’t certain he’d ever felt as good before.

The good feelings couldn’t last, of course, not when he had so little chance of living out this scenario.

Hell, he thought. He was in big trouble.

~

The Bad Boys Club is a work in progress.
Stay tuned for when it will be out.

© 2012 by Emma Holly. It is illegal to reproduce or distribute this work in any manner or medium without written permission of the author.

 

Hidden Talents cover

Successful businessmen Zane and Trey have been a club of two since they were eighteen. They've done everything together: play football, fall in love, even get smacked around by their dads. The only thing they haven’t tried is seducing the same woman.

Executive chef Rebecca learned early not to count on anyone. She raised her younger brothers by herself—with no adult being the wiser. Her knack for professional cooking kept the boys housed and fed. Now she’s damned if it won't pay their way through Harvard as well. Add in running Trey’s new restaurant, and her plate is too full for romance.

That's an attitude the bad boys intend to change. Zane and Trey have set their sights on the sexy chef, a female too tantalizing to be all work and no play. When their hearts enter the equation, and when they realize they're both pursuing her, the committed twosome faces their hardest test of all . . .

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