Through the haze of my martinis, I had spotted him across the wide dining room. Beneath the brass chandeliers, he had seemed different from all the other patrons there to celebrate the restaurant’s two-year anniversary. He had an arrogant walk, kicking out his legs as he strolled across the stone floor. He was lean, yet muscular, blessed with one of those bodies a woman would always notice. With dark blond hair and disquieting dark green eyes, he was kind of guy who knew he was good-looking and let everyone else know it too. I wasn’t usually attracted to that type, but this man…well, his confidence intrigued me.
“You’re Ella, Ella Winston,” he said in a voice like dark chocolate fondue; luscious, deep, and wickedly sexy.
“Yeah,” I mumbled, “I’m the sous chef.”
“I know. Marcus told me.” His smile sank to the depths of my groin. Wow.
He held out his hand to me, but I refused it. Don’t touch him. You know what happens when you touch them.
“So, how do you know Marcus?”
He laughed, and even above the din of the other people in the room, I could sense something different about his laugh. Unlike the insincere chortle of others, this man’s laugh got to me. Like his smile, I was having an unusual physical reaction, something that never happened with me and men. When most men laughed, I usually ran in the opposite direction.
“Marcus and I share the same friends.”
“What friends are those?” I asked, craving another martini.
“The wealthy kind, who like to support the arts.”
“The arts? I don’t get it.”
He chuckled again, lifting a green bottle of sparkling water in his hand. “I’m a painter. Marcus and I know a lot of people who like to pretend they are patrons and keep us gainfully employed.”
“Painter?” I shrugged, finding it hard to believe Marcus knew any painters. “What do you paint?”
“Portraits of women … usually with very little clothing.”
Oh yeah, I really needed another drink. “Is that lucrative?”
“For me it is.”
My eyes wandered around the dining room, desperate to find some kind of rescue. I needed to get away from this man before I said or did something really stupid.
“Do you like art?” he pressed.
“Some art. I think it would depend on the passion I see in a painting.”
“The passion in a painting?” That laugh again. My toes tingled. Not good. “You sound like a painter, Ms. Winston.”
The martini glass in my hand suddenly weighed a ton. “Isn’t painting an obsession for an artist, like cooking is an obsession for a chef? It seems to me having an obsession is a healthy thing. It reminds us that we have a soul.”
He nodded, seemingly approving of my drunken ramblings. “That’s very profound and also very true. I think you have a lot of talents yet to be discovered, Ella. May I call you Ella?”
“Ah, sure. Ella is fine.” My mouth went dry. “What makes you think I have any talents … outside of cooking?”
“Just something I can sense.”
I tensed. Oh God, does he know? The same thought always haunted me when I met new people. I fought so hard to keep my little secret under control. Time to make a run for it.
“Don’t tell Marcus I have other talents. He’ll probably fire me.” I was about to turn away when he stopped me.
“If he ever does, you come and cook for me.”
I dropped my eyes to my martini glass. “Perhaps when you’re a rich and famous painter, you could look me up. I’ll probably need a job if Sans Regret ever closes.”
He leaned in closer and I could just make out the small cleft in his pointy chin. “I promise, if you ever need a job, I’ll hire you.”
His mouth was so close to mine that I could have kissed his perfect thin lips, but, instead, I backed away. “I’ll hold you to that.”
“I hope you do, Ella.”