I don’t like to cook. There I’ve said it. Bring on the haters. I’ve never quite seen the point of spending hours of my valuable time preparing a meal that will disappear in minutes. I’ll have nothing to show for my effort except a sink full of dirty dishes.
When my children were young, it was just the four of us usually, even on holidays and so I made the effort to cook nutritious tasty meals and the traditional celebratory dinners for special occasions.
As they got older, and those gatherings became more of a social connection for us, social drinking became a part of it. The kids’ significant others were often included and of course the polite, socially acceptable thing to do is to offer a beverage. My son, God love him, seemed to bring home girls who enjoyed a glass or two of wine before dinner. And another during. Perhaps one or two after. But I digress.
I (we) occasionally got so caught up in socializing and sharing a bottle of wine that the dinner details were forgotten.
Then came lines like this (from me): Did anyone hear the timer? I thought I set the timer. When did the timer go off? I forgot the rolls. Um…I think the turkey’s done. Very done. Darn, I was going to make a salad. You guys didn’t really want mashed potatoes, did you?
Eventually…I realized I had a problem. I couldn’t cook with wine. Therefore, one or the other had to go. I somehow trained myself to begin dinner preparations before pouring the first glass of wine. Even though every time I opened the refrigerator the bottle was sitting there mocking me.
As soon as my daughter walked in the door, I could have my first glass, because she could take over and finish what I started. Often with my son’s help. She hardly drinks at all and these days, neither does he. Usually, two glasses is my limit and we all know it. If I drink more than that I just want to curl up and take a nap.
Still, it got to be a joke in our family. “Don’t let Mom drink while she’s cooking.” Not if you want to eat anyway.
I guess it’s still a joke, because my daughter has sent me a few things over the years to remind me. They are scattered around my kitchen and when I look at them I think of all the good times I’ve had with my family while cooking with wine.
Right about the time Lesley Robinson’s father’s stroke left her in charge of his Fortune 500 company, she adopted her housekeeper’s sick baby and divorced her philandering husband.
She’s survived the past six years by building an impenetrable wall around her emotions. But when a hunk of a sheriff’s deputy turns up at her office to apply for a grant from the company’s foundation, her distrust of men and relationships takes a direct hit.
Niko Morales clawed his way out of gang life to build a new one grounded in law enforcement and a passion to help disadvantaged youth. So, Lesley needs a companion for an upcoming social occasion? He’s no gigolo, but for his community center, and maybe for her, he’ll wear the monkey suit.
Without any apparent effort at all, Niko sneaks under Lesley’s cool façade, shaking up everything she believed about herself. But when their relationship is threatened by the sins of others, they’ll both have to step up—and out of their comfort zones. Or they’ll lose the one thing they want most: each other.
Niko sighed in frustration. He stared at his mirrored reflection in the bathroom in disgust. He’d overcome so much. Fought his way out of poverty and ignorance. He’d worked and read and done everything he could think of to improve himself, his own lot in life and that of others like him. Yet the smallest things, like tying a stupid bow tie, set him back, reminding him he hadn’t come as far as he liked to think.
He stood in the bathroom and untied the clumsy bow he’d made for perhaps the tenth time. Propped on the small vanity was a library book that offered step-by-step instructions on how to properly tie the perfect bow. He’d come close a couple of times, but his subsequent attempts to get it just right had unraveled. He was ready to give up. He’d have to tell Lesley to forget this whole idea. Somehow he’d have to come up with the money to pay her for the suit. He could only imagine how many off-duty traffic control and security jobs he’d have to work to do that.
He heard Lesley’s knock just as he tied the tie into a clumsy knot once again. “I still don’t see what’s wrong with a clip-on,” he grumbled. He doubted anyone would even notice. Or care. Except Lesley. He padded down the hall in his stockinged feet and opened the door.
Lesley in a soft-looking, emerald-green, floor-length gown with a plunging neckline stopped him in his tracks. She looked smooth and sleek, blond and beautiful. Her hair was down, coaxed into soft waves that made him think of one of those glam actresses from the forties and fifties. Betty Grable, maybe, or Rita Hayworth. Her jewelry was minimal. A teardrop-shaped stone hung from a delicate chain and glittered above the vee of her cleavage. Probably a diamond worth about six times what he made in a year.
“Hello there,” she said, barely hiding the chuckle beneath her greeting as her gaze zeroed in on his tie.
“Hi,” he said glumly as he stepped back to let her in.
He closed the door and they stood facing each other. “Problems?” she queried, but he could see an amused smile glimmering at the corners of her mouth. He was a fool to think he could move in her circle, that her plan to help him fund-raise would ever work. He’d be humiliated. A laughingstock. In fact he already was.
He yanked the tie off. “This isn’t going to work.” He held the tie out to her and she took it. “Let’s forget it.”
He started back to the bedroom, ready to strip himself out of the suit. At the moment he wanted to throw the entire thing back at her. Jacket, pants, shirt. The ridiculous onyx studs and matching cuff links. He didn’t feel elegant at all. He felt clumsy and out of his depth and he didn’t like it one bit.
“Such impatience. Remember, we have a deal,” Lesley reminded him. He could hear the
tap of her high heels as she followed him.
He whirled on her. “It’s black-tie only, isn’t it, this event?” He yanked the tie away from her and waved it in front of her. “It’s going to be a problem if I can’t figure out how to put the damn thing on.”
She bit her lip. He was 100 percent sure she was trying not to laugh.
“It doesn’t help to have you laughing at me.” Even he could hear the sulky tone in his voice.
“I’m not laughing at you,” she assured him, though her eyes were dancing. “I’m laughing with you.”
Niko frowned. There was no malice in her smile. Perhaps she found the situation amusing, but not at his expense. Plus, every time she smiled for real, something inside him responded to it.
“Give me this,” she said, reaching for the tie. He let it go.
She reached up, and he bowed his head so she could slip it around his neck. “This isn’t going to work,” she said.
“Told you so.”
Ignoring him, she glanced around. “You’ll have to sit down.”
He took a seat on a stool at the kitchen counter while Lesley concentrated on his tie. She leaned forward, which offered him an even better view of her cleavage. He sat absolutely still while she worked, mesmerized by the sway of the teardrop necklace and the thought of what lay beneath the drape of the fabric. He dug his fingers into his thighs to fight the itch to cup her breasts in his hands, to see if they were as soft and as real as they appeared to be.
The subtle scent of her perfume invaded his senses, fogging his brain and sending all kinds of lustful signals to the rest of his body. He used a trick he’d used often before. Mentally reciting bits of poetry he’d read, the times tables, the steps of cleaning his service revolver—anything unsexy he could think of so he wouldn’t throw caution to the wind and act on his natural impulses.
“There.” Lesley straightened and stepped back. Niko let go of a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. He reached up to feel what she’d done.
“Really?” He was hardly able to believe she’d accomplished in two minutes what he’d been struggling with for half an hour. “We’re good?”
“We’re good,” she echoed without a trace of amusement.
“You’ll have to teach me how to do that.” “I will.”