Beneath These Chains (Page 53)

I reached down and touched the side of my hip where my tattoo was healing and starting to itch. “Another one? Well … there is something I was thinking of…”

Lord slid his hands over my ass and pulled me tight against him again. “Uh oh, you’ve got the bug now. Next thing you know, you’ll have thug life tatted on your knuckles—in pink.”

I reached up and shoved at his shoulder. “Only if you get true love on yours in purple.”

He shook his head at me, and tucked another section of my hair behind my ear. “You feeling good about this plan?”

I pushed up onto my tiptoes and pressed my lips to his jaw. “I’m feeling good about this plan and a lot of other things right now.”

“Good. I’ll make a few calls before we head home.”

Home. Things were moving faster than the speed of sound between Lord and me, but I was already just as comfortable in his space as I was in my own. And the thought didn’t terrify me.

“That sounds perfect. I’ve got a few other things I want to do before closing.”

“We’ll swing by the market on the way, because I’m cooking for you tonight.”

Men should never underestimate how sexy they look in front of a stove. Or a cutting board. Or a sink filled with bubbling dishwater.

For the record, I’d offered to help, but Lord had shooed me back around the other side of the counter and refilled my glass of sparkling water. I’d been shocked that he’d had “fancy water,” as he’d called it, and the gesture was noted and appreciated.

“I really can help,” I protested. It was a weak protest though, because I was utterly content sipping Perrier and staring at his ass as he reached up to grab a bottle of spices out of the cupboard.

Lord was sautéing the trinity in a pot, and it already smelled delicious. You’d think jambalaya would get old living in NOLA, but trust me, it never did. Lord claimed that he had a special tweak that made his jambalaya the best I’d ever taste.

“This kitchen only needs one cook right now, and I’ve got it covered.” He glanced over his shoulder at me. “You just relax, sweet thing.”

“Why do you call me that?”

He paused before turning back to the stove and stirring the pot. “Why wouldn’t I?”

“I just wondered if there was a specific reason. I mean, you’ve been calling me that since the first day I showed up looking for a job.”

“That day is still burned into my brain. Especially you in that green dress. You haven’t worn it again since. Probably a good thing because I would’ve bent you over the couch and fucked you until you couldn’t balance on those sexy heels of yours.”

“The dress is in the hamper at my apartment. I need to make a trip to the dry cleaner before we can make that fantasy a reality.”

“You’ve always gotta tempt me, don’t you?”

“Keeps you on your toes.”

“I’ll keep you on your toes,” he replied as he grabbed the bowl of sausage he’d already browned before transferring it to the pot and adding the stock and whatever spice was in the unmarked bottle. He stirred and covered the pot before turning to face me again and grabbing his beer off the counter. He’d tried to tell me he hadn’t wanted a beer, but I’d insisted. Just because I didn’t drink didn’t mean he had to abstain.

“I’m sure you will. But first, you’ve got to tell me what the secret ingredient is in this magnificent jambalaya of yours.”

Lord shook his head. “That secret only goes to family.”

Family. Something I’d avoided thinking about for a long time, and now it was in the forefront of my mind. Not just because of my mother, but because of the guy cooking me dinner. He’d lost his, and then found his way back to the only part of it he had left. His outlook was so different from mine, and there was a lot I could learn from him. Hell, I had learned a lot from Lord.

I just wished I had something to offer him as well. Instead of insight, all I had was my trust fund and myself. And Lord wasn’t the kind of guy who placed much value on money. But he did value me for some crazy reason.

“Why did you let me stay? At the pawnshop? You could’ve told me no.”

“I did tell you no.”

“True. But you could’ve kept telling me no.”

Lord paused, bottle almost to his lips again. “Why would I have wanted to? You impressed the hell out of me. You knew things that even in two years I hadn’t found the time to learn. You’re smart, you work hard, and now the place wouldn’t be the same without you. You’re prettier to look at than Mathieu, too.”

I sipped my water and let his compliments—and the warmth they incited—roll through me.

The idea of being valued for more than what I had in the bank was a novel one.

“Thank you,” I said.

His brow furrowed. “For what?”

“For giving me a chance.”

“I think we’re even. Although, I probably got the better end of the bargain—I got an ace employee and a hell of a girlfriend.”

I was lifting my glass when he said the words. His blue eyes were intense and focused, as if daring me to dispute the label. The old Elle would’ve freaked at the thought of being pinned down. But I didn’t. I raised my glass toward Lord.

“To us,” I said.

The relief that swept over his features, and the contentment that settled in its place, told me I’d said exactly the right thing, even if it had only been two words.