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Authors: Kimberly Kincaid

Fire Me Up

BOOK: Fire Me Up
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“YOU ARE STUCK WITH ME IN HERE, RED.”
For a second, she couldn't move, couldn't think, couldn't breathe. But then she dropped her eyes to Adrian's finger, still hot on her lips. She reached up to wrap her hand around his, moving it from her mouth as she stepped in close enough to erase any daylight between them.
“Did you just
shush
me so you could say your piece?”
Adrian paused, his body going rigid against hers even though his gaze didn't waver. “I guess I did.”
“Mmm.” Teagan pressed up on her toes, relishing the taste of his shock as she brushed her mouth over his. “I'll let you slide exactly once, but if you make a habit of it, you
will
be sorry.”
He drew back, but only enough to pin her with a wide-eyed stare. “You're going to let me help you?”
Something that had no name loosened in her chest, and she felt her body slowly unwind against the strength of his frame as she tucked herself into his left side. Suddenly, it didn't matter that the words bubbling up from inside her were ones that would normally scare her to death. Right now, for the first time since she'd walked into the Double Shot to find her father half passed out behind the bar, Teagan wasn't scared at all.
“Yeah, Superman,” she said, wrapping her arms around the broad expanse of Adrian's shoulders and holding on tight. “I'm going to let you help me.”
Read all of Kimberly Kincaid's Pine Mountain series
The Sugar Cookie Sweetheart Swap
(by Donna Kauffman, Kate Angell,
and Kimberly Kincaid)
 
Turn Up the Heat
 
Gimme Some Sugar
 
Stirring Up Trouble
Fire Me Up
KIMBERLY KINCAID
ZEBRA BOOKS
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
To my father, Tony,
for making it all too
easy to write a heroine
who's a daddy's girl.
I love you.
Acknowledgments
From the minute sous-chef Adrian Holt hit the page in
Turn Up the Heat
, I always knew he had a story in him. But this book never would've left my head if not for the support of the following people: My spectacular agent-and-editor team of Maureen Walters and Alicia Condon, who have both loved this series from the beginning, I am so grateful for your nurturing. To the incredible team at Kensington (Vida Engstrand, Alex Nicolajsen, Michelle Forde, I am looking at all three of you!) who is always so excited to see the next Pine Mountain book and get the word out far and wide, I couldn't do it without you.
To my besties, Robin Covington and Avery Flynn, our daily texts, inside jokes, and Friday Man Wars make this the best job ever (it's research!). Alyssa Alexander and Tracy Brogan, having your eyes on this book in its various stages was invaluable. I owe you Bailey's in your coffee, times infinity. Also, huge thanks to Susan Donovan, Jill Shalvis, and Bella Andre, for supporting Pine Mountain “out loud” with their amazing cover quotes.
Retired firefighter Chris Kulak and paramedic Jeff Romeo were both utterly instrumental in sharing their knowledge of procedures and treatments given by first responders at accident scenes. This book simply wouldn't have happened without their generosity or their high threshold for my off-the-wall questions about motorcycle wrecks, IV painkillers, and rehab timetables for broken bones. You guys are the true heroes. All the knowledge is yours. All the liberties taken are solely mine (like the one I took in borrowing your names for the firefighters in this book!).
A huge shout-out to my fantastically rabid street team, the Taste Testers. I love how impatient you all were for this book, but not as much as I love being able to give it to you now. Adrian is finally yours, ladies. You are the best cheerleaders I could ever hope to have.
Finally, to my daughters, who don't think it's at all weird when Mommy starts scrawling down plot devices and character arcs on the back of grocery store receipts, and to my unbelievably patient husband for taking bedtime duty (and playdate duty . . . and rainy Saturday duty . . . and takeout Chinese food duty . . .) as I wrote this book. My happily ever after is you.
Chapter One
Adrian Holt got three steps past the back door at La Dolce Vita before the dangerous combination of fear and anger cemented him to the kitchen tile. He fisted the keys to the building in his palm, hard enough to feel the metal bite into his calloused skin.
Someone was in the kitchen.
He was supposed to be the first one in and the last one out, just like he had been for the past twelve days while Carly was on her honeymoon. She'd made it clear, both as his boss and best friend, that the kitchen—
her
kitchen—was in his hands. The place should be a ghost town, especially at nine o'clock on a Friday morning.
Muffled noise sounded from down the hallway, filtering past the dishwashing station and the tidy, darkened office, sending his heartbeat into a staccato, adrenaline-soaked rhythm. The telltale
clink
of pots and pans grated on his ears from the center of the kitchen, and Adrian's muscles thrummed with instinct.
If some chucklehead from the resort was back here messing around, he was going to be seriously irate. Just because La Dolce Vita served as Pine Mountain Resort's only full-service restaurant and shared a wall with the main lodge, that didn't give anybody free rein to—
What was that smell?
Adrian followed his nose through the dishwashing station as quietly as he could, although admittedly, at six-foot-five, stealth had never been his strong suit. Damn it, he wasn't even in the position to get a parking ticket right now, much less jump in some wannabe chef's face for being here uninvited and unattended. But Carly had trusted him, and no way was he going to let some deviant creep his way into the place like he had a claim to the real estate. Dicey or not, Adrian owed it to Carly to at least keep the kitchen she'd worked her ass off for intact.
Actually, he owed her a hell of a lot more than that, but now wasn't the time to split hairs.
He rounded the corner by the pastry chef's prep space at the back of the kitchen, the keys put away but his fists still curled into place. The warm, mellow scent of caramelizing onions tempted his anger to slacken, but Adrian didn't bite. The intruder could be making European white truffles drowning in Cristal for all he cared. Whoever it was had picked the wrong fucking kitchen for playing house.
Adrian hit the back of the line with the edgy tension of twelve days' worth of double shifts in his stride and his pulse playing chicken with his blood pressure. The perpetrator had his back turned and body crouched, head halfway into the lowboy for God-knows-what, but that didn't change Adrian's snap first, ask questions later mind-set.
“Hey!” He threaded his arms into a thick knot of black leather and menacing intentions over his chest. His voice matched his tension with every razor-sharp syllable as he planted his boots on the tile. “I don't know who you are, but you're about three seconds from getting tossed out of here on your ass, and I started counting two seconds ago.”
A pair of slim shoulders hitched upward in surprise before the person unfolded to a slow stand, and recognition slammed into him, too late.
“All things considered, that might not be your wisest plan, Chef Holt.”
The familiar timbre of Carly's voice scattered Adrian's edgy irritation like bread crumbs in a shallow bowl, although it left a trail of unease in its wake. Okay, so her braid had been slung over her shoulder where he couldn't see it, and yeah, he wasn't expecting her for another two days, but had he seriously been strung tight enough not to put two and two together?
“You're not supposed to be back at work until Monday,” he accused, although the smile tugging at his lips canceled out the sting of the words.
“I missed you, too. Even if you did just technically threaten to throw me out of my own kitchen.” Carly's eyes glinted, brown and knowing, as she met his gaze over the stockpot in front of her. She gave the fragrant contents one last stir before eyeballing them with a stern look, as if willing them to behave while she broke rank to place an affectionate kiss on each of his cheeks.
“Sorry.” Adrian hid his sheepish expression over her shoulder as he returned her embrace, his heartbeat finally rediscovering neutral ground. “And you just spent twelve days in Italy on a honeymoon you postponed for three months due to your work schedule. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I hope you didn't miss me. In fact, I hope you didn't even
think
of me.”
He might've been her sous-chef for five years, and friends with her for nearly as many before that, but airtime in Carly's love life had always been a polite but firm no-thank-you in Adrian's book. Despite the fact that most chefs had no trouble blurring the boundaries, as far as he was concerned, mixing work with pleasure had
bad things
scribbled all over it. Being Carly's sous-chef—and staying as busy as humanly possible in the kitchen—trumped all that personal stuff by leaps and bounds.
After all, his
nonna
had always said idle hands were the devil's workshop. And testing the theory wasn't on Adrian's agenda.
Been there, done that. Complete with the battle scars and rap sheet to prove it.
“Okay, okay.” Carly laughed, yanking his attention back to the kitchen. Her knife skimmed over the tomato in front of her with an insistent
tat-tat-tat,
and damn, it was good to get back to business as usual. “But we flew back yesterday like we planned, and Jackson got called in on some work emergency. I figured it wouldn't hurt for me to come in a few days early to get back in the swing of things and work off the jet lag. I'm totally rusty.”
“Please,” Adrian cracked, easing into a grin. “You've got to stop moving to get rusty.” Carly might not have thought about
him
while she was gone, but no way had she ditched thoughts of food. She'd once tried to chop a butternut squash with one hand while getting stitches in the other, for Chrissake.
Never one to pass up an opportunity for some good ribbing, Adrian continued. “I'm sure the chef at the villa where you stayed was just thrilled to share his space with you. How long did it take before you caved and had to cook something? A day? Two?”
But Carly just shook her head, wiping her hands on her low-slung apron before returning her attention to the stockpot. “Actually, I didn't cook at all.”
“Uh-huh. And I'm Derek Jeter. Seriously, how many recipes did you come up with while you were gone?” Fifty bucks said the number was well into the double digits, and Adrian's mouth watered at the thought.
“I'm dead serious, Ade. I ate a lot and jotted down some suggested wine pairings, but I didn't do any hands-on cooking the whole ten days Jackson and I were in Italy.”
He opened his mouth to go for round two of giving her a hard time, but her serene, honest-to-God smile sent a pop to his gut like a back alley brawler.
She really hadn't given the kitchen—or anything in it—a second thought while she was gone.
“Oh.” He shifted his weight, fingers suddenly itching for something to chop, stir, or whisk together. “Well, I didn't think you'd be back until Monday, so we prepped for specials through the weekend. I can get the pantry set for the produce delivery if you want to get reacclimated with the food.”
Between managing the produce delivery that was due in about twenty minutes, whatever tweaks Carly wanted to put to things now that she was back, and the typical busy Friday dinner shift on tap for later, he'd be good and exhausted by the time today ticked into tomorrow.
Outstanding.
“Adrian.” The single word slashed his movements to a halt, and she turned to fasten him with a no-nonsense stare. “Normally, you come in here smiling and humming old Sinatra tunes. Today you barged in like a one-man commando unit. Why don't you take the weekend off and relax?”
“Work relaxes me.”
Her hand went to her hip like a harbinger of
not so fast
. “You've been here for the past twelve days with no sous-chef.”
“I'm the sous-chef,
gnocchella
.” Oh hell. Now Carly had that look on her face, the one that reminded him of a pit bull, only more tenacious. “Seriously. We're booked solid this weekend. Plus, I'm fine.”
She took a step away from the bubbling stockpot, as if she didn't want to contaminate the food with the sharpness of her frown. “I don't think so. There's more to life than just the kitchen, you know?”
Frustration curled in his chest like steam fingering out of a teapot, but he tamped it down. They'd gone through this Zenmaster, bigger-picture, this-is-your-life song and dance a couple of times now over the last few months, and his standard answer springboarded from his mouth.
“For you, that's true, and I'm glad. But I'm good with just the kitchen.”
For a second, he was certain she'd plow forward with the next line in their now-scripted argument, to the point where he preloaded his next response about how he really
was
happy. He should've known she'd come back from her honeymoon all brimming with uncut bliss, and if anyone deserved it, Carly did.
But guys like him? Not going the hearts and flowers route in a million years. Plus two. Stuff like that only spelled trouble in the long run, and no way was he splitting his attention between the kitchen and . . . well, anything. He belonged here.
Period.
After a lingering glance, Carly simply nodded, and Adrian's breath eased out at the unexpected gimme.
“Okay, you win. But I've got the produce delivery. At least go home and get a little sleep before the dinner shift. I don't want to see you back here before two.”
“Come on,” he said, only halfway joking, but she shook her head with zero wiggle room.
“I'm saying this with love,
gnoccone,
but you look like shit. Get some rest.” Carly's sugar-sweet smile belied the seriousness of her words, but she didn't back down.
Ah, hell. The pit bull thing only got worse if he argued with her, and if Adrian stuck around—or worse, put up a fight—she might rethink letting go of the topic at hand. Probably better for him to take the hit for a couple hours now and come back for the dinner shift, when they'd have so many plates flying around, the topic would be forgotten. Until next time, anyway.
“You're the boss. I'll see you at two.” He pulled his keys out of his pocket and forced a crooked smile as he made his way back out of the kitchen, his belly so full of unease, he'd swear he ate a bowl of it for breakfast.
Which was stupid, really. Carly was back, they had a full house on the books every night for the next month, and in a handful of hours, he was going to dive headfirst into a dinner service that would keep him too busy to breathe, let alone think.
Okay, maybe he
could
use a little shut-eye.
Adrian swung one leg into place over his Harley-Davidson Fatboy, finding familiar comfort on the bike as he skinned into his riding gloves and buckled his helmet with a snug pull. The bike rumbled to life with all the subtlety of a twenty-pound sledgehammer, and as he put it into gear and started to drive, the weariness of the last few weeks invaded him down to his marrow. He'd always thought sleep was pretty overrated—plenty of time for shit like rest when you were dead, and all—but yeah. He'd been cranked tight enough to not even recognize Carly in her own damn kitchen. Maybe he could stand to loosen his grip on his hours. Maybe Carly was right, and there was more to life than filling tickets and firing up the grill.
Or maybe he was just getting soft. After all, wasn't that “something else” how he'd screwed up his life in the first place?
Adrian's knuckles hardened over the polished chrome handlebars as he downshifted to turn off of Rural Route Four. A flash of movement, time-warp fast, blurred in his rearview mirror, filling his mouth with the bitter taste of foreboding, black and awful like the scrapings from a forgotten skillet. Ominous recognition shot into place, bringing the rush of motion in a swift, too-close-to-avoid-contact push, and cold sweat slid its clammy fingers beneath his helmet.
He was going to die, right here on the asphalt, and his last earthly vision was that of a minivan.
Christ, that thought alone was enough to kill him.
The vehicle behind him clipped his Harley's back tire in a tight, forceful arc as it swerved away too late, the impact knocking his teeth together with an unrepentant
clack
. The force sent him toward the road's yellow center line at a sick angle, every one of his muscles in lockdown.
The gut-twisting screech of metal on pavement slammed into Adrian's ears like a violin concerto gone horribly wrong, but it only lasted a bare second before the ground rose up to meet him in a rush of asphalt and imminent danger. His well-worn survival instinct crashed together with undiluted adrenaline, making him jerk the handlebars hard to the left in a Hail Mary attempt to avoid getting pinned to the pavement—or worse yet, crushed outright.
In a stroke of blind luck, the torque was just enough to propel the bike out in front of Adrian instead of on top of him. He exhaled a heartbeat's worth of relief that his reflexes hadn't seized in fear.
That relief met a quick death, however, when the same sixth sense that kept him from becoming road pizza sent his left arm out to brace his unavoidable contact with Rural Route Four.
White lightning ricocheted from Adrian's leather-gloved hand all the way to the center of his chest, stealing his oxygen as his arm crumpled beneath him and he fell from the bike. Time hung in an eerie, slow-motion balance, delivering a slideshow of images that didn't seem to belong together. Shiny, sharp-edged bits of safety glass exploding from his rearview mirror, the lilt of his
nonna
's voice as she hummed along with Sinatra on the radio, the velvety red of a perfect summer strawberry.
BOOK: Fire Me Up
5.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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