Home > Burn for You (Slow Burn #1)(8)

Burn for You (Slow Burn #1)(8)
Author: J.T. Geissinger

Looking at myself in the mirror above the dresser, I ran a hand over my face. I wonder if she likes beards.

A rap on the doorframe pulled me abruptly out of my thoughts.

“Mornin’, sir,” said Rayford, standing in the doorway.

As usual, he was dressed impeccably in black suit and tie, his jaw freshly shaved, his bearing upright and elegant despite his age.

Not that I actually knew his age. That was a carefully guarded secret, something perhaps my own parents didn’t know. He’d worked for them for over forty years as their butler, among other things, before relocating with me to New Orleans. At the time he’d said he wanted to be closer to his family, as he grew up here, but we both knew the truth.

He was afraid what would happen if he left me alone.

“Rayford,” I said, nodding. “Good morning. Is he up?”

“Yes, sir, Charlie’s just gettin’ him cleaned up now. They should both be down for breakfast in a few minutes. Will you be dinin’ at home this mornin’?”

His benign expression revealed nothing, but I knew he was wondering how the hell I was going to manage without a chef. Thanks to an upbringing that included an army of cooks, housekeepers, and other household staff, I couldn’t boil an egg to save my life.

“I don’t know yet.” I paused. “Does Charlie—?”

“She does, sir,” he said, knowing I’d been about to ask if the nanny could cook. “I asked her yesterday if she’d be able to fill in for a day or two until we could find a new chef. I already rang the service, so we should have a few applicants to interview by tomorrow.” A hint of a smile crossed his face. “I doubt Charlie has Bianca Hardwick’s talent, but she can probably make a sandwich for you and somethin’ appropriate for Cody.”

He disappeared with a murmured good-bye, leaving me wondering just what he meant by bringing up Bianca Hardwick.

Oh fuck. Did I yell out her name in my sleep?

Picturing my orgasmic shout echoing all over the house, I went red in the face.

When my cell phone rang, I answered it more abruptly than usual. “What?” I snapped, cheeks burning.

“Good morning, Mr. Boudreaux!” chirped a young male voice.

It was Matthew Clark, the event coordinator from the Wounded Warrior Project. He’d been working with me for months on the upcoming benefit dinner and fortunately was one of those people who took nothing personally. I could’ve told him I thought there was a tree stump in a Louisiana swamp that had a higher IQ than he did, and he would’ve heartily laughed and agreed.

He said, “I’m just calling to go over some last-minute details for the event on the fifteenth. Most importantly, I’d like to speak with your chef so we can finalize the menu and have the menu cards printed up. Is now a good time?”

Shit. The menu. My chef.

“No,” I growled, “it isn’t. I’ll . . .” Think of something, genius! “I’ll fax the menu over to you no later than tomorrow night.”

“Oh, great!” said Matthew, with the enthusiasm of a man with zero interests outside of work. “Looking forward to it! The donors are always so keen to see what’s on the menu. You wouldn’t believe how seriously this group takes food. The better the food, the better the donations!” He gasped. “Oh—and the wine list! I completely forgot!”

Wine list? There’s supposed to be a fucking wine list? I was really beginning to regret that comment about the runny eggs.

“I’ll have it all over to you tomorrow!” I barked, and hung up the phone.

I strode from my bedroom, took the elevator to the first floor, and found Rayford in the kitchen, drinking a cup of coffee and reading the newspaper at the big white marble island.

I said, “Where do you think Gregory would’ve left his notes about the benefit dinner?”

Ever tranquil, Rayford calmly sipped his coffee and looked at me over the rims of his reading glasses. “He didn’t leave any notes, sir,” he said. “He packed up everything he had—recipe books, notebooks, them fancy Japanese knives—and cleared outta here like a scalded cat. Don’t expect he’ll be takin’ your calls, either,” Rayford added serenely, “seein’ as how he said you were colder than a penguin’s balls and he wouldn’t piss on you if you were on fire.”

Wonderful.

I had three hundred people arriving for a benefit dinner at my home in two weeks, and I had no menu, no wine list, and no one to put any of it together.

“Fuck,” I said, making Rayford snort with laughter.

Then I had a brilliant idea.

SIX

BIANCA

The rest of the day passed with all my senses dulled like I was underwater. Shock, I suppose. And denial. I just couldn’t believe things were as bad as they apparently were.

Stage three. It sounded more like a movie set than a diagnosis.

“You all right, boo?” asked Eeny with concern when she caught me staring into space over a big pot bubbling with jambalaya at the stove. It was my mother’s recipe, the comfort food I always turned to in times of stress. The waitstaff had just eaten, as usual before the restaurant opened for dinner, and first service would soon begin, but I had no idea how I was going to make it through tonight.

“I’m . . .”

What? What was I? There wasn’t a word. Finally I settled on, “Fine. Just tired is all. Couldn’t sleep last night.”

Chuckling, Eeny patted me on the shoulder. “That explains those bags under your eyes.”

From across the kitchen, Hoyt called, “Looks like you been et by a wolf and shit over a cliff, dawlin’.”

When I turned to glare at him, Eeny said, “Somebody had to say it!”

I threw my hands in the air. “Really? Somebody had to say I look like I was eaten by a wolf and shit over a cliff? That’s something someone really needed to tell me?”

My aggravated tone made Hoyt whistle. “Aw, now c’mon, Miss Bianca, I’m only teasin’.” He paused, squinting in my direction. “Y’all actually look like somebody died.”

My throat closed. I turned back to the pot and stared down into it, stirring furiously with the wooden spoon while blinking back tears.

“I’m just tired,” I repeated forcefully, feeling Eeny’s gaze on my face. “Now could everyone please get to work?”

For a moment her colorful bulk didn’t move from my peripheral vision. Then she walked off, the skirts of her yellow-and-orange-striped caftan swinging. “Make you a gris-gris,” she said as she went, “for protection against whatever’s ailin’ you.”

Eeny was always making someone one of her good luck voodoo amulets for whatever was ailing them. She had at least ten of her own hidden in small burlap bags in her pockets or strung around her neck at any time. You always knew when she was approaching by the tinkling.

But it wasn’t me who needed protection. It was Mama. Mama who had stage three lung cancer, no health insurance, and no savings, because like me she’d plowed all her money into the restaurant. We were both so broke we didn’t have two nickels to rub together. Though the restaurant was busy, we’d only been open six months, and I was up to my neck in debt and operating expenses. She wouldn’t qualify for Medicare until she turned sixty-five next year, and by then she might be—

No, I thought, inhaling sharply. Not going there.

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