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Thick, firm and curved just right, the shiny red skin stretched taut over hot seed and juice. Devi Malik squeezed the turgid flesh. Perfect.
The kitchen door burst open. "He's back!"
"That's nice." Devi tossed the whole red chili pepper into the pan of sizzling shrimp and vegetables. She'd need to put in a larger order of the little buggers next week. When had spicy become the new black?
"You're not even listening to me."
Accustomed to her eldest sister's dramatics, she took her time to stir the pepper evenly into the entrée before looking up. Rana stood in front of the commercial range, one fist propped on a curvy hip and a Cheshire-cat smile on her beautiful face. The Saturday dinner crowd would be piling in soon, and Devi needed to get in her groove, but long experience told her she wouldn't get any peace until Rana vented whatever news she carried. "Sorry. What did you say?"
"He's back. Mr. Tuesday Special."
Devi's hand jerked and hot oil splashed the inside of her wrist. "Damn it!" She dropped the spatula, yanked on the cold water at the faucet next to the stove and thrust her hand under the stream.
"Oh my God, are you okay?"
The icy water brought the painful throb down to a bearable sting. "Yeah, it's fine."
"You should be more careful. If I'd known the news would startle you that much, I would have warned you."
Devi cast a sharp glance at Rana's face. For just a second, she thought she caught a glimpse of shrewd cunning in her sister's eyes, but it vanished into simple concern. She withdrew her hand from under the water and dried it with studied casualness on the towel tucked into the front of herapron. "I'm sorry, I don't know what you're talking about."
With a flourish, Rana placed her orders on the board and lowered her voice to a whisper. Devi didn't know why she bothered. They were alone but for the two other chefs hard at work at the opposite end of the kitchen. "Jace is here."
Jace Callahan. Middle initial R. She knew that because she had gotten tired of Rana's silly nickname for the man and looked up his credit card receipt one night. Talk about stupid and pathetic.
In the face of her silence, Rana huffed an impatient breath. "Tall, dark and delicious? I know, I'm surprised too. He's not usually here on Saturdays."
Devi opened her mouth to deliver a blithe reply but the steam in front of her caught her attention. "Oh crap." She turned off the burner and fanned at the smoke. "Look what you made me do. You know the Jacobs send their plates back if everything isn't perfect."
Rana barely spared a glance at the pan. "It still looks fine to me."
"Shrimp isn't like other meat. It's not something you can overcook and have it still taste the same." A distraction, please God. Her mind raced. There was no way she could discuss her secret crush with either of her sisters--they could read her like a book.
She speared a shrimp, stuck it into her mouth and grimaced. Too chewy. She took too much pride in her craft to serve customers of The Palace chewy shrimp. Devi grabbed the pan and scraped the rest of the dish into a plate. She didn't believe in waste, so it would be her dinner later. The Jacobs would have to wait a little longer. Devi turned to the small dark woman at the far end of the room and raised her voice. "Asha, can you take the incoming? Redo table six. My sister," she continued, lowering her tone so only Rana would hear, "won't let me do my job. Don't you have customers to wait on?"
"All my tables are covered. Leena's gone for the night, and I need to get some paperwork done for her. And guess what? You're covering one of the tables for me."
No, no, no. Of course Rana hadn't brought up Jace for kicks and giggles. Devi's stomach sank under the suspicion of where her sister was going with this. "The Jacobs?" she stalled, and tried to look mildly curious. "You're right, they are so difficult, let me handle them."
Rana shook her head. "Jace said he wanted to meet his chef. So you need to serve him tonight."
In their small, family-owned restaurant, it wasn't unusual for the regulars to meet the chef. Hell, sometimes she even ended up waiting tables while she mingled if they were short on staff. How could she hand her secret object of lust his dinner, stand close enough to touch him and act as if he were just any other customer? She needed time to think about this, needed time to work this out. "Ummm..."
"Awesome, table eight."
Time up. "Wait."
Rana turned with one hand on the door.
Damn it. "What's the order?"
Rana beamed. "Jace gave me the cutest little smile and asked if we could give him his usual even though it was Saturday. How could I say no?"
How, indeed. Though orders off menu always created a hassle for her, she couldn't blame her sister. If it had been her, she probably would have offered to feed him whatever he wanted by hand. Naked. Or by any other body part he preferred. Naked.
Rana sighed, as if reading her mind. "Aren't those black Irish types perfect? Brooding and charming, without even trying."
"I don't care how brooding he is. I'm just handing him his dinner."
Rana rolled her eyes. "Jeez, I'm kidding. Though it wouldn't kill you to flirt a bit. I swear, getting you a love life is a full-time job."
"I don't want to hear it." Lately Rana had been hinting, in her usual heavy-handed manner, that Devi needed to get out more. Ironic, really, since her overprotective big sisters had a well-known history of finding massive faults with the men she did finally bring home.
"Just be nice to him. I'm not telling you to strip naked. You save that for a date you're not cooking."
"Oh, and by the way, he's got a guest. Double the order."
A guest? What? He always ate alone. Jealousy fired through her veins. After all, it was a Saturday night. He probably had a date.
It could be his mother, his friend, anyone.
Or a date.
Rana had already left and it wasn't like she could ask, anyway, without launching the Spanish Inquisition. She wiped her hands on her apron and pulled out onions. The specials were hers and hers alone, one for every day of the week, some of her favorite meals. When one was ordered, she did all of the prep and the cooking. The customers didn't know how small the kitchen was--they got a kick out of ordering something prepared exclusively by the head chef, as her middle sister and the restaurant's manager, Leena, had written on the menu.
Devi minced the garlic and ginger in a bowl of ice water to put aside while the onion turned transparent in the oil. Naturally, she had noticed when table eight had ordered her special twist on a thick lamb curry, her personal favorite, four weeks in a row. Noticing turned to curiosity when Rana had gushed over his attractiveness, tipping habits and overall perfection. One peep outside the little window turned her curiosity into full-blown lust. How could she have not snuck outside the kitchen to get a better look?
She added fresh tomato paste, yogurt and her secret spices to the onion and left it to simmer while she cut up chunks of lamb and dropped it in a separate pan.
Tall and broad-shouldered, he carried his arrogant good looks well--short dark hair, eyes the color of melted chocolate framed by thick lashes and a face that could have been chiseled by a master sculptor. He wore expensive suits, which wasn't unusual in and of itself, thanks to all of the office buildings surrounding their restaurant in downtown Lewiston. Unlike the rest of the after-work crowd, though, he didn't look at all tired or rumpled from the day's work or the Florida summer heat. Oh, and his butt always looked awesome. Devi made sure she caught at least one glimpse of the spectacular view during each visit.
His solitary status also set him apart and gave her foolish heart another tug. Sure, people ate by themselves, but when he did it, he appeared incomplete. Not sad or lonely, but alone. All the same, he shrugged off any of the feminine attention he received, even Rana's teasing. Men made giant fools of themselves over Rana when she scowled at them--no one resisted her once she entered flirtatious mode. Jace seemed immune to her sister's charms though, focusing on his meal, and later, on the music and entertainment they provided.
Devi poured the curry and the ginger-garlic infusion over the now-golden lamb and tossed in diced potatoes. She left it to simmer while she plated two steaming bowls of white rice and pulled hot loaves of naan from the oven, automatically doubling their usual portion for two. After his first couple of visits, Devi had taken to sneaking a few extra pieces of the leavened bread into the cloth-covered basket. Jace always polished it off, using it until the end to soak up any remaining sauce on his plate. The chef within her appreciated his enjoyment of her food--he ate her favorite dish with a delicacy and tidiness at odds in such a big man.
As a woman, she loved the way his mouth looked closing over the bread.
She shivered, poured the curry into two earthenware bowls and added a garnish of cilantro to each. With a deep breath, she stood in front of the swinging doors, the large tray balanced on her hand.
No big deal. You're not an agoraphobic, you've served people before. Hand him his meal, wish him a good dinner. Nice and professional. And maybe even mildly flirtatious. She could use the practice, futile as it may be. She couldn't remember the last time she had batted her eyes at a man. No wait, she had never batted her eyes at a man. Maybe she should ask Rana for eyelash-batting lessons before she met Jace.
No. Open the door, idiot. His dinner's going to get cold and then you'll have to deal with an irate, gorgeous man. Before she could dream up any more procrastination, she shoved the door open with her hip and walked out. And then she stopped short, certain for a minute her vision had blurred by the steam in the kitchen. Two gorgeous Jaces sat at table eight, their faces presented in perfect profile. After a second look, she picked out subtle differences. Jace sat on the left, dressed in his requisite suit and indolently relaxed in his seat. The man on the right had the same dark, curling hair, but longer and shaggier, not shaped into a ruthless cut. Lines were etched around a slightly cruel mouth, and his gaze shifted constantly, his body tensed and coiled to spring at a moment's notice. His shoulders spanned an even wider width than Jace's, and the T-shirt and jeans he wore revealed a body as perfect as his brother's.
She had often thought it unfair she had been dropped into a family of gorgeous daughters, so she hoped this delicious pair of twins didn't have any siblings. No one could possibly compete with those two.
Jace smiled at something his doppelganger said and the identical man grinned back. Her breath caught at their masculine beauty.
Well, that proves it. God has to be a woman.
"Jace, are you listening?"
Marcus's identical twin gave him a guilty smile. The guy had been wired since he'd picked him up from the airport and dragged him out to eat at the small restaurant they were sitting in.
Marcus glanced around. All things considered, a nice place. They both liked spicy food, so Indian was a good choice. This one had a small, intimate air but seated a decent amount of people. The requisite gold and red silk furnishings were scattered about, of course, as were the elephant motifs, but the decorator had managed to do it in a way that suggested exotic rather than tacky. No incense, thank God. The stuff drove his allergies crazy. The small band of musicians on the corner stage strummed sitars and blew into flutes, creating a melodic counterpoint to the murmurs of the dinner crowd.
He caught sight of the pretty waitress across the room and wondered again if something had kindled in the month he'd been away on his business trip. Jace had been insistent they come here, and he and the woman had bantered with easy familiarity. She'd been cordial enough to Marcus, but with an underlying watchfulness, as if she was evaluating him on every level.
They both also liked spicy women, and in his experience, Indian was a good choice there too. Marcus studied her objectively. Golden skin, nice ass and shapely legs. She carried herself with the casual confidence of a model, her long blue black hair flowed in a silky straight fall and her tight black uniform showed off a killer body. She looked more complicated than easy. The women they usually screwed knew the score and agreed to it. A mind-blowing sexual experience, little conversation and silence later on. Easy, no love involved. Marcus rarely remembered their faces or names later.
He hadn't ridden a woman in months, and the tension and stress of the past few weeks of intense work had built the pressure in his system to the blowing point. He wanted nothing more than to pound his frustration into a willing woman.
Marcus tried to work up enthusiasm for their waitress, but barely managed a lukewarm stirring at the idea of her sandwiched between the two of them.
Oh well. Surely he'd be able to generate some excitement once they were naked. Marcus took a drink of his beer. "She's nice."
"Yeah. Rana. But she's not really your type."
His shoulders tensed. Now that he thought about it, Jace had withdrawn lately. Marcus had deliberately ignored it while work distracted him, but he couldn't put off facing it any longer. Was he unhappy with their casual lifestyle?
"Jace, what the hell is going on?"
The corner of Jace's lip twitched, a sure sign he had something up his sleeve. "Okay. I brought you out here to meet someone."
"No shit. Who?"
"Someone I think we're both going to enjoy."
Marcus relaxed. That was better. "You think?"
Jace shrugged. "I haven't exactly met her myself."
"Crap, Jace. You know we can't just chase after anyone. We need someone who knows what we're looking for here."
"Don't worry about it. I've spoken with her sister."
"Yeah?" Marcus settled back in his seat and let his gaze drift over the restaurant. The other servers out front were male or older, but one of the bartenders, a young, buxom Latina, looked like she had potential. Bold, flirtatious eyes. She'd do for a night. "The bar looks good."
"Later. Wait 'til you try the food."
"Speaking of which, where is the food? You wouldn't let me even grab a burger on the way. I haven't eaten since this morning."
"I didn't want your appetite dulled." Jace glanced around before pausing. "Here she is." A surge of heat lit his eyes, warning Marcus even before he turned to the right.
At first he could only catch glimpses of the short woman behind the large tray of food, but as she came closer, the tray shifted out of the way.
Soft. She shared the same flawless golden skin and big dark eyes as the waitress. However, unlike their server's knowing and self-confident gaze, this one had a wary and vulnerable look about her that automatically turned the heat up, bringing out his protective and dominant instincts.
Her cheeks were round, flushed, from the heat of the kitchen no doubt, her lips full and pink. A ponytail restrained her long black curls at the nape of her neck. A spotless apron covered the sensible black jeans and snug T-shirt. She might be too plump to actually be called curvy, but Marcus approved of the slight roundness of her belly, the plush columns of her thighs. Her ass promised to be a luscious handful, and her breasts, outlined in her T-shirt, were large and pillowy. He couldn't imagine why he would want a hard, tight body below his when he could be plowing into the cushion of this one.
She hefted the tray in one hand and placed plates in front of both of them. Her breasts were at his eye level and he fantasized about leaning over and burying his face between them. Even the scent of the appetizing fare couldn't tear his gaze away.
"Smells great," Jace said.
Marcus knew when seduction was in his brother's low voice. Sure enough, Jace stared at her with as much vibrating intensity as Marcus felt. Danger, danger. This was not good. This was not good at all. Their father hadn't taught them much before leaving them in the hands of monsters, but not messing with good girls had definitely been hammered into them. This one's fresh and clean appearance practically screamed "good girl".
"Thanks." She placed the bowl of bread in the middle of the table and then held the tray clasped under her arm with a polite smile pasted on her face. "I'm your chef. I hope you enjoy your dinner tonight."
He loved her voice, low and a little bit throaty. It didn't match her wholesome image. He imagined her, sweet and innocent in a tiny white negligee and, please God, lace stockings, talking dirty in his ear with that sexy voice.