But I had a feeling Brent and me would get along even if one of us outranked the other. He was as demanding of excellence as I was, as orderly and organized, but the air about him was less severe. He laughed more than I did, for one. And he could joke around without losing respect. His kitchen always ran smoothly, but he never showed the stress that I felt when I finished a perfect shift.
I envied him in many ways but not enough to resent him. I knew he was who he was and I was who I was. I recognized that those parts of him that I coveted didn’t live in me.
Tonight, though, filled with the thoughts of the unexpected tryst I’d had the other morning and Norma’s insinuation that I should unwind, I wondered if maybe there was a hidden vitality in me after all.
I pretended that there was, that I could access it just by willing it. I flashed a brighter than usual smile. “Hey yourself.”
“Now that’s what I’m talking about. You need to show those pearlies off more, Gwen-Gwen. They make your whole face.”
“Oh, Brent, try as you might, you aren’t going to get in my pants.” It was a joke that made us both laugh. Not only was Brent twenty years older than me, but also one-hundred-and-ten percent gay.
But along with being humorous, it was also surprising. I hardly ever made jokes let alone let myself laugh at them after.
Brent pushed up the chef hat that I suspected he wore for fashion rather than function. He eyed me. “You’re frisky today. Might I guess it has something to do with a man?”
I rolled my eyes, yet I felt my cheeks reddening again. Which was silly because Brent couldn’t know anything about JC. Unless…were the security cameras focused on that part of the kitchen?
I casually scanned the ceiling for the cameras as I answered. “If I’m anything it’s tired. I’m not sleeping well. My brother’s had some problems and my sister flew out to take care of him. And I don’t sleep well when I’m all alone.” Whew, the cameras weren’t pointed directly at the table—our table. Maybe if someone watched it they would make out the very edge of us, but no one ever watched the tapes unless there was an incident, and they only stored for a week at a time anyway.
“Ah, that’s a bummer. I’d hoped your fella had gotten a hold of you by now. Seems like you don’t have to be alone if you don’t want to be.” He winked at me.
Dammit. He did know about JC. But how? And what, exactly, did he know? “I don’t have a fella, Brent. What on earth are you talking about?”
“You didn’t see the message for you yet?”
“Where? Who from?” I hadn’t been anywhere but the kitchen and there was nothing waiting for me here. And the second question was one I didn’t have to ask.
“There’s one taped on your locker in the break room. There might be another in the office. The guy wouldn’t leave a name. Said you’d know who he was.”
God, “the guy” was cocky. But I did know who it was. Of course I knew who it was.
Brent moved to the stove to check on his soup as he talked to me. “He was here Tuesday. Came right in here like he owned the place and asked Matt when you’d be working again. Funny, Matt didn’t get on him about strolling through my kitchen, but he wouldn’t tell him when you worked either. Seems our boss cares more about protecting your goods than mine. Anyhoo.” He turned back to me. “The young man called again yesterday, and I happened to answer.”
“Did he leave a number?” I sounded eager, a stupid hormonal response. My whole body was tingling at the knowledge that JC had come looking for me. How could he do that? Turn my entire nervous system on without even being present?
“Yeah. It’s in the note. And, Gwen, I hope you don’t get offended by this, but damn, was that guy cute.”
“He’s a customer, Brent. Nothing else.” I wasn’t fooling either of us by the way I was already heading to the break room, a place I rarely went and at a speed that could only be called a run.
My locker was in the front of the room, a perk of having been a staff member for so long. I kept a box of tampons and a pair of sneakers in there for days that were too icy to head home in heels. Seemed like I couldn’t go a week without a waitress asking to borrow one. It never failed to amaze me how unprepared people could be. Periods came regularly. I mean, even I had feminine products on hand, and I didn’t get my period anymore.
The note was taped on the metal, not even folded over. Simply the words Call this guy followed by a phone number scrawled in Brent’s handwriting. I traced my fingers over the numbers, memorizing them unintentionally, or maybe intentionally, as I wondered why JC wanted to get a hold of me so badly. Was he worried that I’d gotten in trouble? Was he worried about the state I’d left him in? Did he want to see me again?
And if he did, did I want to see him again?
I’d thought about it. Hell, besides Ben and Norma, it was all I’d thought about the last two days. I’d ruled it out completely before we’d banged, and all the reasons I’d listed then still stood. But now that we’d been together, it felt like I needed to rethink. JC was obviously a playboy—if I hadn’t figured that out from the night I met him then I knew it now. Who else bagged a girl he barely knew simply because she came on to him?
But if I didn’t care about romance—which I didn’t—then did his playboy status really bother me? It had been good sex. It had been great sex. More importantly, it had made me feel better than I had in a long time. And he hadn’t gotten all mushy about it after. Which was a plus.
So what was stopping me from giving him another go?
Well, the fact that I had no idea how to ask for another go was one obstacle. And two, I wasn’t sure he did want to see me again.
And three, there was no way in hell I could call him. I wouldn’t even know what to say.
Behind me, the employee door swung open, bringing me back to my surroundings. I’d gotten in early, but I could still start on my pre-opening work.
I spun to head out but froze when I came face-to-face with the person who’d just entered.
It was JC. And he took my breath away.
He was wearing a suit again. It was tailored and expensive and suddenly I understood why so many women went ga-ga over a guy in a three-piece Armani. He looked rich and yet not pompous. Sort of like a rock star that had dressed up for the Grammys—a suit wasn’t what he belonged in, but oh, could he wear it.
Adding to his devastating sex appeal was what I knew about him now. That he fit my body like he fit that suit—tightly and with no give.