Chapter 2

1696 Words
Chapter Two Jamey stood busying herself at the buffet table. Of all the nerve. Brodie Sinclaire wouldn’t leave well enough alone. He’d been a thorn in her side from the moment she’d arrived. Following her around, pushing and poking at her. Always with a twinkle in his eye. He might be devilishly handsome with his dark hair and sky blue eyes, but he was not for her. She was finished with the male species. Too bad her stomach flip-flopped every time she caught him staring. And earlier, at the wedding, when he’d pulled her close. Heat rushed to her p***y at the memory. He might drive her nuts, but her body didn’t seem to have a problem with that. She just needed to avoid him a bit longer. Tomorrow she’d head back to Chicago, and the current nightmare that was her life. Brodie would be nothing more than a distant, irritating memory. Jamey recounted the biscuits. They needed replenishing for the third time. She grudgingly had to admit that Dottie was right about them. People couldn’t get enough. It killed her that she couldn’t taste them. Stack them up against her own. Pain knifed through her stomach, nearly doubling her. Out of habit, she’d stupidly tested the brioche batter for the bison slider buns. And now, hours later, she was in agony. There would be no biscuit tasting in her future. Not ever again. Bitterness rose up in the back of her throat. Of all the injustices. She bent over the table, trying to slow her breathing as another stab of pain shot through her. She just had to make it through the next hour or two. See Maddie and Blake off to wherever they were going to spend the night. Then she could crawl into bed and curl up in a ball. But for now, she’d have to grin and bear it. She wouldn’t let anything blemish Maddie and Blake’s wedding. Dottie stood at the far end of the table serving wedding cake. Her eyes narrowed suspiciously at Jamey. “Don’t worry, Dots,” Jamey called out. “I haven’t laced the biscuits with arsenic.” Dottie gave her a quick frown, but continued serving wedding cake. Jamey bit down on her lip to keep from crying out as another shot of pain wrenched through her insides. Jarrod, one of her older brothers, approached, eyes full of concern. “You don’t look so good.” “I’m fine,” she bit out. “Go back to the celebration.” She couldn’t meet his eyes, so she focused on brushing crumbs off the tablecloth. “You got glutened, didn’t you?” She nodded once, willing away the tears that suddenly pricked at her eyelids. Jarrod was the only family member who knew about her celiac diagnosis. He’d flown out to be with her when she’d collapsed and ended up in the hospital. Her own boyfriend, now ex, and soon-to-be ex-business partner, couldn’t be bothered. He’d come up with every excuse in the book to not visit her, namely that he needed to do double duty at the restaurant. Jamey grit her teeth at the memory. She’d clearly been charmed by his… Frenchiness. All charm and no substance. He might be a stellar cook with an outstanding reputation for building a brand, but after a year of working with him intimately, in and out of the kitchen, she’d discovered his nasty side. His lazy side. He treated the bussers with disdain. Left her to do the heavy lifting in the kitchen while he schmoozed the important guests. Worst of all, he belittled her. It wasn’t the partnership she’d imagined. Far from it. During any other crisis, Jamey would have called Maddie immediately. After all, they’d been best friends for over a decade. But Maddie had rushed home to Prairie after her father, Warren Hansen, had suffered a massive heart attack, and was embroiled in her own crisis. She loved Maddie like a sister and refused to add to her stress. It hadn’t made sense to tell Maddie when she returned to Chicago, brokenhearted, or during the flurry of wedding preparations over the last few weeks. So Jamey had soldiered on and tried to make the best of a shitty situation on her own. “Why don’t you come back to the pub?” Jarrod asked, his eyes serious. They’d had this conversation three times in the last five weeks. She was over it. “I’ve already told you no. There’s no creativity in pub food. And I can’t be around gluten there any more than I can be around gluten in my own restaurant. You should see the rash around my midsection.” Not to mention feel the knives slicing through her gut. “But there’s an escape clause in your contract. Why not use it?” “About that…” “Jamey,” her brother’s voice grew sharp. “For God’s sake, Jamey. You used the contract I sent you?” “Jean Luc had a fit when I showed it to him. Said if I didn’t trust him, that we couldn’t be partners.” Jarrod groaned. “And you fell for that s**t?” “I didn’t want to upset him any more than I already had.” “I don’t give two f***s about that asshat. That contract was for your protection. To keep your investment safe. What were you thinking?” Shame heated her. God, she’d been so naïve. Star struck that Jean Luc had chosen to partner with her. He’d pursued her with the ferocity of a pit bull. No one pursued her. She was always the loudmouth. Bossypants. Most of the time she liked it that way. But in the beginning, Jean Luc had made her feel feminine. Desirable. Until he started pressuring her to change. Get a boob job, fix her hair. At first, she’d made excuses for his behavior. But after she disclosed her illness, he’d become cold, impatient. Dismissive. And the pieces fell into place. He’d been using her this whole time. Using her talent in the kitchen for his gain. It had never been a partnership. And as soon as she was back in Chicago, she’d begin the difficult task of extracting herself from the partnership that wasn’t. “Obviously, I wasn’t thinking,” she snapped. “A mistake I won’t make again.” “It’s for your own good, sis.” “Are you ever going to stop bossing me?” Jarrod draped his arm across her shoulders and grinned. “Nope. Never.” And that, in a nutshell, was why she’d gone to Paris to study at Le Cordon Bleu, and why she’d moved to Chicago to make her own way. She adored her family. Loved all her brothers to pieces. But they couldn’t leave well enough alone. As the only girl, she was saddled with five well-meaning protectors. She’d never move back to Boston. Not if she wanted any kind of life for herself. She leaned her head against Jarrod’s shoulder. “Do me a favor?” “Save you a dance?” “You know I don’t dance.” “I think there’s a certain cowboy that would love you to save him a dance.” She twisted to study her brother. “Not dancing with anyone. Sexy cowboy or not.” “We see the way Brodie follows you around. Need us to take care of him?” “I can handle him just fine, thank you.” She gently cuffed Jarrod. “Now grab that pile of dirty plates and make yourself useful.” “Whatever you say, bossypants.” Jarrod gave her shoulders a squeeze and moved to collect the plates. She followed, collecting another stack full, holding them out from her body so she wouldn’t get food on her dress. Of course her brothers had noticed the way Brodie looked at her. They weren’t blind. Neither was she, for that matter. A body moved in front of her, and the plates were lifted from her hands. “Let Me.” Brodie. Did he have to look so delicious holding a stack of dirty plates? She rolled her eyes. “Do I look like some helpless little lady?” He smiled slow and sexy. “No way to mistake you for one, darlin’.” She pursed her lips, shaking her head. “Don’t call me that.” She attempted to take back the plates, but he tightened his grip. Fine. Let him help. She stepped around him and made her way to the back door. “You prefer something more intimate? Like babe?” He kept pace with her and reached the back door in time to open it for her. What was it with cowboy chivalry? She snorted as she bustled to the sink. “Go fack yerself, Brodie Sinclaire. Did you notice there’s a party outside?” “What? What I do to set off your Irish?” He followed her around the island and leaned on the counter. She narrowed her eyes at him as she began rinsing dishes. “Wait. Are you mad about earlier? I was just teasing.” He looked genuinely contrite. She didn’t know why he’d set her off like that. Under normal circumstances she could dish out as good as she got. But these weren’t normal circumstances, and Brodie kept her off-kilter. Tied her in knots. “Forgive me? Kiss and make up?” He waggled his eyebrows. No shame. The man had no shame. “I’m impervious to your charms. And I don’t dance.” “I can teach you.” “I didn’t say I don’t know how.” “Now don’t get your panties in a bunch… you’re wearing them aren’t you?” He winked at her. She rolled her eyes fighting the urge to giggle. “Do you really want to lose your balls?” “Quit sweet-talkin’ me darlin’.” She’d learned growing up that when she felt vulnerable, her best defense was a strong offense. Jean Luc had only reinforced that conviction. Hanky panky with the brother of the groom at any other wedding might be a pleasant diversion. But Brodie got under her skin. Made her hot and agitated. That made him off-limits, no matter how many butterflies he launched in her stomach. “I have five brothers and know how to wield a knife. Are you a betting man?” Damn. Had her voice just gone breathy? “I’ve been known to make a few bets in my life.” She arched an eyebrow at him. “Cocky bastard aren’t you?” “Wouldn’t you like to know?” The back door opened. “Sis, he bothering you?” Without turning around, she answered. “I already told you. It’s nothing I can’t handle, Jarrod. In fact,” she slid Brodie a sideways glance. Time to have a little fun with him. “Brodie here has just offered to take care of the dishes.” She c****d an eyebrow at him and winked, handing him the scrubber. “Thanks, sweetheart.” She whispered so only he could hear, then sashayed away to join her brother at the door.
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