Egypt was proud of herself. For the last week, she’d focused solely on Flame. She had the restaurant’s HVAC equipment checked as part of her maintenance plan, ensured the restaurant’s cleanliness, checked the food preparation and ensured proper handling, and completed her special menu for the next couple of weeks. And today, on her day off, the restaurant passed its health inspection with flying colors! All in all, Egypt felt quite accomplished, but something was off.
And she knew why.
She hadn’t been to see Garrett since she dropped off lunch last week. She’d been uncharacteristically called out by her own sous-chef for being distracted. Egypt didn’t get to have an off day, but that didn’t mean she was made of stone. She’d gotten used to her daily visits to the hospital to see Garrett’s sleeping form, but she refused to allow herself to backslide. She might be hopelessly attracted to him, but no man was worth risking Flame’s reputation for spectacular cuisine and excellent service.
That hadn’t stopped her from calling the nurse daily to check in. Garrett was recovering in leaps and bounds, eating up a storm and was a hit with all the female nurses. Was Egypt surprised? The man was absolutely sinful with his milk chocolate skin, dazzling white teeth and biceps that went on for days.
This morning, however, she’d been shocked when the nurse informed her Garrett was being released. The nurse couldn’t give her an exact time, but she’d said it would be today. Once Garrett was gone, she would have no way of getting in touch with him. Tessa had told Egypt that Garrett called Flame a few nights ago, but she hadn’t returned his call.
Because she hadn’t mooned over a man since Antwan, and she wasn’t about to start now. She had too much at stake. Egypt chalked up her interest in Garrett to his good looks and curiosity surrounding his real identity. It didn’t matter anymore. It was best they go their separate ways. She was musing about what to do for the rest of the afternoon when Wynter rang.
“Diva, where have you been?” her friend asked.
“Hello to you, too,” Egypt responded curtly.
“I left you a voice mail to call me back days ago. I wanted to know what you thought about the wedding menu. What gives?”
“I have some suggestions on how to improve the menu, and I’ll email those over.” Egypt pulled out one of the table chairs and sat down. “As for what gives…I’ve been really busy with Flame and getting things in order for a health inspection.”
“You’re always prepared. I’m sure you passed with flying colors.”
“I haven’t been lately,” Egypt said, leaning back in the chair. “Quentin told me I’ve been distracted for the last month. When your sous-chef gives you the business and tells you to get back on track, there must be some truth to it.”
“Ah, now I get it.”
“This is about Garrett,” Wynter responded, “You think you’ve been spending too much time with him.”
“I did. Or at least I was.”
“Meaning what?” her friend prodded.
“That I haven’t seen him in a week.”
“Don’t do that, Wynter.” She was feeling guilty enough as it was. But she had to put aside the dizzying chemistry she’d felt with Garrett. She had to appear serene and undisturbed by her decision to give him the brush-off. “It might be easy for you to scoff, but I’m the sole proprietor of this establishment. It’s my butt on the line if we fail, along with all the people I employ. They depend on me.”
“I understand, Egypt, I do,” Wynter replied. “I know the rest of the Six Gems weren’t born with a silver spoon in their mouth like I was. I come from a rich family, and since Aunt Helaine left me her estate, I’m well-off. All I’m saying is you can have a life outside work. You like Garrett. What’s wrong with exploring that dynamic?”
“Look what it did to me when he was unconscious and I was being a Good Samaritan. What on earth would I do with him when he’s conscious?”
“Why don’t you find out?” a deep voice said from behind her. Slowly she turned around and looked up into Garrett’s face, his dark gaze reaching into her and holding her still. So still, the phone slipped from Egypt’s fingers onto the floor.
She drank Garrett in. He was in a leather bomber jacket, dark-wash jeans, a black V-neck shirt and what appeared to be work boots. She noticed he hadn’t shaved and sported a sexy five o’clock shadow, which accentuated his thick lips. Lord help her, Egypt wanted to groan out loud, but she could hear Wynter’s voice.
Startled out of her simmering stare, Egypt reached down and picked up the phone. “Hey, I’m here.”
“Are you okay?” Wynter asked. “I heard a thud.”
“That’s because I dropped the phone when Garrett walked in.” Heat shivered up her spine, and blood surged through her veins and made her knees feel weak.
“Garrett is there? At your restaurant? Oh my goodness!”
“In the flesh,” Egypt responded. She didn’t take her eyes off him, not even as he steadily approached her.
He reached for the phone. “Say goodbye.”
Damn, she loved it when a man took charge. “Listen, Wynter, I’ll have to call you back.”
“Please do. I want all the details.”
Egypt clicked to end the call, but rather than take a step back out of his dangerous orbit, she found herself moving closer to him. “You’re out of the hospital.” She stated the obvious.
He smiled, showing off those magnificent teeth she liked so much. “I had to get well quickly so I could come here and figure out why you haven’t been by the hospital to visit me. Kent, the foreman of my grandfather’s farm picked me up and is outside waiting. What happened, Egypt? I woke up and suddenly you’re no longer interested?” There was a hint of bitterness in his voice.
She swallowed and looked down, but Garrett used his index finger to tip her chin up. “Well?”
Her heart skipped a beat, but she responded, “I’ve been busy. There’s a lot to keep track of when you’re the owner, manager and head chef all rolled into one.”
His jaw tightened. “That’s not the reason.”
“You’re scared of this,” Garrett said, pointing back and forth between them, “but I’m not. I’ve had nothing but a week to think about what I would do to you when I got released.”
Now Egypt was afraid, but not for her safety. She was afraid of the intense attraction she felt for this man, who was a stranger to her, but whom she couldn’t seem to stop thinking of, dreaming of, even though she’d tried desperately.
She knew she was goading him when she asked, “And what might that be?” She was tired of pretending, tired of waiting for…the inevitable.
Tension was a tight coil inside Egypt’s belly as she waited for Garrett’s mouth to touch hers. She told herself his kiss would be like all the others, but when his mouth finally slanted across hers, it was a shock to her system. His lips claimed hers thoroughly, in a sensual exploration that intended to stir her awake, and he succeeded. A tingle shot through her, straight to her belly, and she kissed him back hungrily as she went up in a blaze of passion.
She didn’t remember circling her arms tight around his neck, only that she did. Meanwhile, Garrett was sliding his fingers through her hair, angling her head so he could taste her better, and Egypt let him. A delicious madness was taking over. She wanted this more than her next breath. Garrett tasted like nothing she’d ever tasted before, and she took everything she could get. She wanted to rip his shirt from his body so she could feel all of him.
His chest was a wall of steel crushing her breasts. She arched closer, aching for more contact. He gave it to her by gripping her waist and bringing her flush against him. Egypt felt Garrett’s arousal pressed against her lower belly, and a flood of heat rushed through her. One sinewy thigh slid between hers, and they began moving wildly together, creating friction and rippling sensation.
Egypt’s sex clenched with need, and she made a low moan, which made Garrett retreat and step away from her. Both of their breathing was labored as they stared at each other. She’d suspected from the very first glance that kissing him would be this good, but the reality was much hotter. He made her body melt.