“We have contracts.”
“No, you have contracts.”
“You’re getting a cut now, Penny. You’re part of us.”
As there weren’t any profits from which to get a cut, it wasn’t a happy thought. “I want to bring in my own suppliers.”
“We honor these first.”
She recognized the stubborn set of his mouth. She could fight and scream and possibly threaten physical violence, but he wouldn’t back down. Her only option was logic.
“Fine. I’ll use them for now, but if they screw up even once, it’s over. I’ll go to someone else.”
“You better have a talk with them. I’ll put money on the fact that they haven’t been delivering their best here. That had better change.”
“I’ll get on it.” He pulled a PalmPilot out of his jacket pocket and wrote on the small screen. Cal was such a guy-always in love with his toys.
“Shouldn’t the new general manager be handling that?” she asked. “Don’t you have coffee you should be selling?”
“Funny you should mention that,” he said.
She leaned against the counter and looked at him. All the warning signs were there-the brightness in his eyes, the slight smile, his sense of being totally in charge of the situation. Not that he was. This was her dream they were talking about and she wasn’t going to let anyone mess with it.
“Let me guess,” she said dryly. “I’m not going to like who you’ve hired.”
“I don’t know.” He shrugged, then smiled. “It’s me.”
She’d been expecting either a name she didn’t recognize or someone she’d worked with in the past and hadn’t liked. But Cal? Her stomach heaved once as emotion flooded her.
No. Not Cal. So not a good idea.
“You won’t have time,” she said quickly. Oh, sure, he was good-she remembered that much. He’d walked away from the family steak house to start his own thing, but it hadn’t been because he was failing. On the contrary, profits had been up substantially. But here? Now?
“I’m taking a leave for four months,” he said. “I’ll still go in to The Daily Grind office, but just for a few hours a week. My focus is The Waterfront.”
“Why didn’t you tell me when I asked the first time?”
“I thought you’d turn down the job.”
Would she have? She wasn’t sure. Not that she would let him know she wasn’t sure.
She laughed. “Gee, Cal, I thought your brother was the one with the big ego. Now I see it runs in the family.”
He didn’t even look uncomfortable, which was just like him. Instead he stared at her.
“Given our past, it was a reasonable assumption. Working together under any circumstances could be challenging, but in a restaurant…” His voice trailed off.
She turned away. Her point exactly. “I don’t care who I work with as long as he or she is good at the job. So show up, give a hundred and fifty percent, and we’ll be fine.”
She breathed deeply, not wanting to give in to the anger inside of her. Deep, buried anger that made her want to lash out. It was the past, she told herself. It was long over. She had to remember that.
But her list of grievances-his wrongs-wouldn’t go away. She wanted to scream them all and demand explanations. Talk about unreasonable.
Still, she couldn’t help venting about at least one of them. An easy one that didn’t really matter anymore.
She turned back to him and put her hands on her hips. “What the hell was wrong with you?” she demanded. “I was your wife. It was a dumb entry-level job. Salads, Cal. Just salads. Why couldn’t you pick up the phone and put in a good word for me? Was it because you thought I couldn’t handle it?”
That’s what she’d always wondered, but hadn’t been able to ask. That he hadn’t believed in her. Because what else could it be? But she hadn’t been sure, and now she wanted to know.
He took a step toward her, then stopped and shook his head. “You make me crazy. It’s been what, four years since that job interview? Does it really matter?”
“Yes. It does.”
He shifted. “You won’t believe me.”
“It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in you. Never that. You were great. The best. It was about my family.”
She frowned. “What? That your grandmother would see your wife working? She already knew I had a job, Cal. It wouldn’t have been a surprise.”
“No. I didn’t want you involved with her. Exposed to her.”
Penny knew he and Gloria had never been close, but she had a hard time believing that was the reason.
“I grew up with two sisters, and the three of us had to share a bathroom,” she said. “I know how to play well with others.”
“I didn’t want to risk it. I didn’t want to risk you. It was never about you doing the job.”
She didn’t actually believe him, but as he’d mentioned, what was the point in fighting about it now? He’d come back, begging her to work for him and she’d agreed.
“Whatever,” she said with a shrug. “I’ll accept you as the temporary GM. Just don’t get in my way.”
“Not my style.”
“It is interesting,” she told him. “I distinctly remember you once telling me hell would freeze over before we would ever work together.”
“You’re taking that out of context. We were married at the time. A restaurant is too small for a married couple to coexist in.”
“You sure made a lot of pronouncements back then. How many of them were accurate?”
She expected him to be annoyed that she’d dared to question him. Instead he grinned. “I figure about sixty percent.”
“You’re being generous.”
“That’s because of the subject matter.”
The grin broadened. “Who else?”
“Men,” she grumbled, shrugging out of her coat and dropping it onto the counter. She was careful to keep her back to him so he wouldn’t see her smile.
She could see that Cal still had the ability to make her want to chop him up into matchstick-size pieces, but he’d never been boring.
“We’re not married now,” she said. “I’m sure we’ll do fine together, as long as you remember where your authority ends.” She turned to him and pointed at the entrance to the kitchen. “This is my world. Don’t even think about stepping into it and taking charge.”
“Fair enough. And Gloria has promised to stay out of the restaurant, except as a customer. It was part of the deal to get me back. She won’t be bothering you, either.”
“Good to know.” While she didn’t think his grandmother was the demon he did, she and the older woman had never been exactly close. Whenever Penny was around, Gloria had a way of sniffing the air as if the odor was unpleasant.
She pulled a notepad out of her pocket. “Okay, let’s talk specifics. I need about a week to get the kitchen up and running. I already have a lot of ideas about staffing, so there’s only cleaning and stocking both equipment and food. Before I can stock, we need to talk menus.”
“When will you have them finished? I get final approval.”
She raised her eyebrows. “Are you going to tell me what to cook?”
“In this matter, yes.”
She didn’t think so, but she would pick that battle when the menus were done. “I’ll let you know how it’s going in a couple of days. How much time do you need for the front of the store?”
He used a slender stylus to access information on his Palm Pilot. She moved closer to look over his shoulder.
Big mistake. Suddenly she was aware of him. Heat from his body seemed to warm her from the inside out. She breathed in the scent of him. Unfortunately, he still smelled the same. Just clean male skin and something that was uniquely his own.
Scent memories were powerful. She’d learned that in culinary school and often used the fact to her advantage when cooking. Now she was trapped in a swirl of memories that included lying naked next to him, listening to his breathing after he’d just left her trembling and exhausted from sexual satisfaction.
She took a big step away.
“I assume there’s a plan for the opening,” she said, happy that her voice sounded normal. Sexual thoughts were so inappropriate where Cal was concerned. Not only were they divorced, she was pregnant. She doubted he would find that a turn-on.
“I want a big splashy party on the first night. No dinner service, just a crowd and samples. You’ll be able to show off what’s to come. We’ll invite local press and the beautiful people.”
She smiled. “The beautiful people?”
He shook his head. “Business leaders, celebrities, whatever.”
“They’ll be so happy to hear how enthused you sound.”
“I want the restaurant up and running. The party is a necessary evil.”
“Don’t put that on the invitation,” she suggested. “I’ll work up a menu for that as soon as I finalize the menu for the restaurant. And just so you know, I’ll use your contracted people for regular deliveries, until they screw up, but for the party, I’m getting my own stuff in here. I have some fish people I use.”
“Actual fish people?” he asked. “Gills? Fins?”
She rolled her eyes. “You know what I mean. I’ll be using them for special orders.”
She studied the notes on her pad. What else was there to discuss? She looked at him. “Did you have…” She frowned, catching his puzzled stare. “What?”
He took a step back. “Nothing.”
“You have the weirdest look on your face. What are you thinking about?”
“I said nothing.”
“It has to be something.”
“No, it doesn’t.”
Cal swore silently. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d gotten caught staring at a woman’s chest. What did he care about Penny’s parts?
He didn’t. He hadn’t in years. It was just…she looked different. There was an air of confidence he didn’t remember. That could have come from her recent success. But there was also the issue of her breasts.
They were bigger. He was sure of it. He dropped his gaze to her chest, then looked away. Yup, bigger. Her sweater hugged her curves before falling to just below her waist. He’d been married to her, had seen her naked countless times. While he’d always liked her body, she’d complained about being too boyish. All angles and lines. Her breasts had been small. But now…
They were bigger. How could that happen? Oh, sure, he knew about implants, but Penny wasn’t the type, was she? And if she was willing to have surgery to increase her cleavage, wouldn’t she have gone for more than a cup size?
He shook his head and told himself to think of something else. He was the cofounder of a multimillion-dollar corporation and in charge of a good-sized restaurant. He was also over thirty. Surely he could get through the rest of the meeting without obsessing over his ex-wife’s breasts.
“Who are you bringing with you?” he asked to change the subject. “You said two people.”
“Edouard, my sous-chef, and Naomi.”
He swore. “No.”
She raised her eyebrows. “Excuse me, but you don’t get a vote. She helps me. Naomi handles things for me and she’s the best expediter in the business. We’ll need that when we get busy.”
He knew that a good expediter was worth any price when the restaurant was swamped. Someone had to get plates out to tables, making sure the various parties were all served the right food at the right time. The expediter was usually loyal to the back of the store, while helping out in the front. The expediter knew everything that was going on in both places and could keep the chef in the loop.
“How do you know we’re going to be that busy?” he asked. “It takes time to build up a clientele.”
She smiled. “Hey, it’s me. They’ll come.”
“Talk about my ego,” he grumbled.
She went down her list and brought up several more items. “I’ll be paying my cooks really well, so brace yourself.”
“I have a budget.”
“And a restaurant with a reputation for serving horrible food. You’re only here for four months, Cal. I know what that means. You want to dazzle, then get out. I’m fine with that, but dazzle don’t come cheap.”
“Keep it reasonable.”
“I’ll do what it takes.”
He liked that she pushed back. She’d come into her own.
“Let’s meet on Monday and see where we are,” he said. “Say noon?”
“I’ll be here, holding interviews. Come by when it’s convenient.” She put down her pad. “I’m going to stay and look over the kitchen.”
“You have the keys. Just lock up when you’re ready to go.”
“Sure.” She smiled and turned away, which put her in profile. His gaze dropped to her breasts. What the hell was up with that?
AFTER HIS MEETING with Penny, Cal returned to his office at the headquarters of The Daily Grind. He’d nearly cleared up everything for his four-month absence, but there were a few final details.
He made his way to his office and checked his messages. His assistant would contact him directly at The Waterfront if anything came up while he was gone and he would have biweekly meetings with his partners during that period.
The corporate headquarters were on the top floor of an old manufacturing building by the 5 freeway. He could see across much of downtown, toward Lake Union and the Space Needle. On a clear day, he could see farther, but this was Seattle and there weren’t that many clear days. Even now a light rain fell against his floor-to-ceiling windows and the skylights overhead.
He settled into work, only to have his assistant buzz him twenty minutes later.
“Your grandmother is here,” she murmured.
Cal wished briefly for an excuse not to see her. Unfortunately the downside of saving The Waterfront was closer contact with the old woman.
“Send her in.”
He rose and walked around the desk to greet her. Gloria Buchanan swept into the office with the grace and style of someone born in a much more elegant age.
She was slender and of medium height. She stood straight, despite her seventy-plus years, wearing a tailored suit and dangerously high heels. Her hair was white and always perfect, her face relatively unlined. Dani, his sister, swore Gloria had had cosmetic surgery. That, or she really was a witch and could summon supernatural forces to keep her looking good.
“Gloria,” he said as he pulled out a chair.
She nodded and took the seat. As he sat across from her, he thought about the fact that he had never called her Grandmother. Not even when he’d been young. She’d discouraged it from the start.
She shrugged out of her white fur-trimmed coat and set her pale-blue purse on the carpet next to her feet.
“I assume you’re ready to make the transition,” she said.
He nodded. “I’ll be at my office at The Waterfront starting tomorrow.”
She glanced around the spacious office and sniffed. “It’s not as if you’ll miss this place.”
“Of course I will. We started with nothing and built an empire worth millions.” Something a normal person would respect, he thought grimly.
“Oh, yes. Beverages and cookies. Quite the empire,” Gloria said.
Cal had learned there was no point in arguing with her. She saw the world as she wanted to, and from what he could tell, her view was cold and depressing.