Talk about your frying pan, into the fire. I had jumped
Mick was standing at the stove, legs splayed in faded
jeans. He was effortlessly flipping the fattest pancakes
I had ever seen onto a platter. I watched his handiwork:
dusting the tops with powdered sugar, dribbling fresh
blueberries from his fingers. Bacon was crackling in
another pan, coffee was gurgling from the machine on the
counter, and the cook was whistling the White Stripesâ€™
â€śSeven Nation Armyâ€ť as he worked. He was in his element,
and I had fallen down the rabbit hole, watching him. Now
what, Dani? I had lingered too long to try to sneak back
up the stairs and find an alternate way. And to get out
the side door, Iâ€™d have to walk right past him.
Indecision paralyzed me.
â€śWomen who walk into my kitchen are in danger of being
put to work, you know.â€ť
His back was still to me, but I pictured him biting back
a smile from those full lips. I crept in closer, taking
in the full Victorian kitchen. Elegant crown molding and
antique white cabinetry smartly met with a white subway
tile backsplash and updated black granite countertops. I
admired the open shelves lining one wall, marveling at
what had to be a matched service for fifty people.
Everything was neat as a pin and white, with pops of rose
color here or there that hinted at its former era. It was
stark and romantic at the same time.
As was the shirtless, aproned guy in front of me,
sporting a wicked case of bed-head and hands full of
â€śWhen do you ever sleep?â€ť I stammered.
He grinned, dragging the plate tantalizingly under my
nose as he turned to set it on the huge kitchen island
next to me. â€śI catnap. Hi, Bacon.â€ť
â€śDo you always talk to your breakfast meats?â€ť I asked,
â€śNo, but I talk to the cats here.â€ť He ducked his head to
gesture at the furry friend who had escorted me down the
stairs, currently weaving between his denim-clad legs and
staring up at him expectantly.
â€śThereâ€™s more than one?â€ť
â€śOh, you wonâ€™t see Olive anytime soon. Sheâ€™s shy.â€ť He
pushed an oven mitt onto one hand and waved it. â€śHi to
â€śGood morning. Smells amazing in here,â€ť I murmured. In
addition to the steaming-hot pancakes and the bacon he
was hustling off the stove, I spied fresh fruit,
croissants oozing with rich chocolate, and a loaf of
bread, baked to cracked perfection and studded with
I swear the almond extract he used in the bakery must
have permeated his skin, as it was ever present and
mingled with notes of coffee and cinnamon as he brushed
â€śGrab that platter, will you?â€ť
He carried the plate of baked goods on one palm and the
bacon, still sizzling in the cast iron, in his mitted
hand. I followed him into the dining room to the large
table, which was elegantly set. â€śThatâ€™s all Quinnâ€™s
doing,â€ť he said, referring to the cut crystal water
glasses and multitude of cutlery. â€śNormally we all eat,
hunkered over the kitchen island, when there are no
â€śHow many guests are here today?â€ť
â€śCounting you and Nash?â€ť He set his bounty down and
stepped back to admire it. â€śTwo.â€ť
The room suddenly shrunk to doll-sized small, as I
realized Nash was upstairs, dead to the world, and all
this food and fussâ€”and all eyesâ€”were focused on me.
â€śI . . . I was just going out for a jog.â€ť
He plucked a fork from the table and pushed its side
through a wedge of pillowy pancake on the platter I was
â€śI have to warn you. Youâ€™re going to need to run a
marathon to work off these bad boys.â€ť He twirled the fork
â€śHey! Are you implying I need to lose weight?â€ť
â€śNope.â€ť He grinned. â€śIâ€™m saying my lemon ricotta soufflĂ©
pancakes are amazing.â€ť
Rich cheese and ripe citrus exploded across my taste buds
as the airy griddlecake melted on my tongue. Mother
mercy. My knees practically buckled. Lemon for energy, I
reminded myself, hoping I could muster enough to step
away from He Who Had the Power of the Pancake in his
grasp. â€śIâ€™ll have you know, I was going to run first.
â€śOh you were, were you?â€ť The second triangle of pancake
still lodged on the fork tines disappeared as he slid it
into his own mouth.
I swallowed hard. â€śYes. With Nash.â€ť
Mick laughed. â€śNash doesnâ€™t run unless the cops are
â€śI meant eat. With Nash.â€ť
â€śAh. I see.â€ť He took the only thing keeping space between
us from my hands and set it on the table. My eyes trailed
after the plate, avoiding his gaze. â€śMore for me then,â€ť
he said, sitting at the head of the table and reaching
for the bacon tongs.
I burst onto the porch, screen door slamming behind me.
Cool morning air hit my throat, its dew the perfect
quencher. The French were spot-on with their culinary
term amuse-bouche, as that bite with Mick had certainly
been a mouth amuser. A torturous, delicious way to keep
my mouth, and my imagination, amused.
Run. Cold shower. Repeat if necessary.
Curse that man and his inflated flapjacks. And his sexy
apron. Cooking shirtless and barefoot in the kitchen had
to violate some kind of innkeeperâ€™s health code, didnâ€™t
it? Let alone allowing cats in the kitchen?
Then again, there were no other guests at the B and B.
Did old friends and their fiancĂ©es even count?
The Half Acre was more like a â€śbig house with benefitsâ€ť
than a lodging establishment. What had Nash and I gotten