Taste of Lacey(2)

By: Linden Hughes

“What are you still doing here?” she asked, smiling.

He gave a lopsided grin and ran his hand over his thick, close-cut blond hair. “I was out back helping Troy arrange your fancy catering apparatuses in the van.”

“Rye! When I invited you, I had no intention of putting you to work, and not on a dirty job like handling chafing dishes.” It was enough he’d come at all, considering he was constantly on the go with his demanding job.

“It’s no big deal. I even washed my hands afterward like Emily Ann taught me,” he said, referring to his mother. He held his palms up and wiggled his long fingers for inspection. “Plus I’m your ride home. Let’s go.”

“Whoa. What?” She frowned so hard her eyes squinted. “Troy’s supposed to be dropping me off.”

“He was, but that van is packed tighter than a can of sardines. I told him I’d take you.”

The smile making its way to her lips froze. Hands on her hips, she pinned him with her gaze. “Wait just one darned minute, McKay. Is the top up?”

His knowing grin put his even white teeth on display. “It is now.”

“Good,” she said, her mirth not far from the surface. “It’s nice to know you listened the few hundred times I told you no black woman really wants the wind blowing through her hair, especially if she just got it done. I don’t care if you have the biggest and best vehicle ever made. It’s still a convertible.”

“I think the many times you refused to ride with me over the years were lesson enough,” he said with a wry twist of his full lips.

She laughed. He was absolutely right. “You know what? I don’t care what Kyle says; you’re all right with me. How’d you manage to get separated from him and a night on the town anyway?”

Rye lifted one lean shoulder. “I wasn’t up for it after just getting in this afternoon and having to leave again tomorrow. I told him I’d stick around and make sure you were all right, so he let me off the hook.”

She leaned closer to him, noticing the lines bracketing his mouth and his tired-looking eyes. She felt guilty because instead of resting, he was stuck helping her. “I appreciate it.”

“Hey, the gumbo alone was worth the trip.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s all about the food.” When they’d both still lived at home with their parents, if she was experimenting in the kitchen, he seemed to appear out of nowhere to be a taste tester. She hoped he knew how valuable his input was.

Mr. Hubbard entered through the double doors with a big grin on his face. “Miss Bishop, everything was wonderful! The service was impeccable, and the food was divine.”

“Thank you. It was our pleasure.”

“The balance due on the contract,” he said, handing her an envelope. “The mayor was so pleased he included a nice bonus. You’ll hear from us again for sure.”

She clutched the envelope and didn’t move an inch until Mr. Hubbard was out of sight. As soon as the doors to the outside of the building closed, she took a quick peek at the check. It had lots of zeroes, and it was made out to her company. Actually, as the company’s operator and sole stockholder, it was hers, but she wouldn’t split hairs. Her hardworking staff deserved much of the credit, and nothing would have been accomplished without them. She’d been paid for a real job not at cost or a freebie to get her name out. Her smile was so wide she was sure her tonsils showed. She started jumping up and down, stilettos and all, shrieking like she’d just won the lottery. Every emotion she’d been holding back came out in full force.

“We got paid!”

She grabbed Rye’s neck and planted a loud kiss on his whiskered cheek, but lost her balance on the way down. Instinctively, she circled her arms around his neck and clamped her legs around his waist to keep from falling. Rye’s grip on the fleshiest part of her behind held her in place.

The first thing she noticed was how solid his body was. His shoulders were packed tighter than granite, and it didn’t stop there. From where her chest melded to his, down to the ominous area around his lean hips, he was chiseled muscle. Like she was touching a steel beam under the Atlanta sun, his heat permeated her very bones.