“Be Mine: Part Two”
An In The Kitchen Valentine’s Day Story
By Eileen Griffin and Nikka Michaels
Bistro 30 – Seattle: One Year Ago – Valentine’s Day Evening
“I’ll pay you time and a half if you tell me what Ethan’s secret is.”
Jamie’s hope dwindled as he watched Amy’s face turn bright red.
“Chef Lassiter, as much as I love working for you, I’m even more terrified of Chef Martin. So, please don’t take this the wrong way, but,” Amy pulled her thumb and forefinger across her lips.
Amy shook her head as she filled Jamie’s wine glass with the 2005 Châteauneuf-du-Pape she’d brought to the table. Dammit, Ethan was playing hardball by bringing out one of Jamie’s favorite wines.
“Just one little hint?”
Amy looked over her shoulder toward the kitchen, then shook her head even more vigorously.
Son of a bitch.
Amy had been close to cracking. Jamie could feel it. However, Ethan had chosen that exact moment to be standing in the doorway between the dining room and the kitchen, a wide smirk plastered on his face.
“Sorry, Chef Lassiter.”
Jamie chuckled and lifted his wine glass in a mock salute to his fiancé. “It’s not your fault my fiancé enjoys tormenting those he loves.”
Amy snorted, then covered her mouth, her embarrassment deepening her blush. “I really am sorry, Chef. He’s been super secretive about it all day.”
She stepped away from the table, trying to regain her composure before heading back to the kitchen. “I’ll be right out with your first course.”
Jamie watched as Ethan held the door open for her, threw one last smirk over his shoulder at Jamie, and disappeared into the back. Jamie swirled the wine in his glass and chuckled. For weeks, Ethan had refused to talk to Jamie about Valentine’s Day. Traditionally, it was a huge night for restaurants. Everyone and their dog went out to eat. Jamie had just assumed they’d both be working to cover the extra traffic, forcing them to figure out a way to keep things together at Bistro 30 and still allow them to celebrate their first real official Valentine’s Day together.
They hadn’t even admitted their attraction to each other the first time Valentine’s Day came around. The second year, it was a little hard to celebrate anything when Jamie was across the ocean in Paris. For Jamie, this year marked the first time he’d be able to spend the day with Ethan. Hell, it was the first time he’d actually celebrate it at all, and he’d wanted to go all out. But the more he’d pushed, the more resolute Ethan became in keeping his mouth shut.
So, when tonight finally arrived, Ethan had dragged Jamie’s ass to work with him, not to work, but to keep him firmly sequestered at the bar. Jamie had been waiting, somewhat impatiently, until about ten minutes ago, when Ethan had given some super secret ninja chef hand signal to the staff, and Jamie was led over to a table for two, complete with tapered candles and a vase of purple peonies. It was perfect, except for one thing: Jamie was all alone at a table for two while Ethan was behind the swinging door in their kitchen.
He shouldn’t have been disappointed. It really was a romantic gesture from a man who wasn’t inherently romantic by nature. Oh, Ethan had his moments, like flying across the country to tell Jamie he loved him. But on the whole, Ethan’s “romantic moments” mostly consisted of throwing Jamie over his shoulder and dragging him off to their bed to ravage his body the moment they got home from work. Jamie tried to focus on the fact that at least they were spending the day together. For two chefs who lived and breathed their jobs, it was more than most people in their industry got. But still, he couldn’t help but wish Ethan was seated across from him.
Jamie’s thoughts about how he was going to repay Ethan were interrupted when Amy brought out a dish of Ethan’s signature firecracker calamari and chipotle aioli. Ethan had worked and reworked the recipe until it was utter perfection. The subtle undertones of cayenne and cilantro worked perfectly with the spicy aioli. Jamie looked toward the kitchen and caught Ethan’s smug grin as he watched and waited for Jamie to take the first bite. Jamie closed his eyes as he popped one of the rings in his mouth, unable to contain the low groan of pleasure that came rumbling out of his chest. It was ironic he and Ethan spent so much time cooking for other people that they barely had time to cook for each other. The fact Ethan had set all this up so he could cook for him made him feel all warm and tingly inside.
When he finally opened his eyes, Jamie smiled and mouthed ‘It’s perfect’ in Ethan’s direction. Ethan answered with a wink before disappearing back into the kitchen. For the next hour, dish after dish arrived at Jamie’s table. A beautifully arranged curried cashew, pear, and mango salad. Pork kebabs with grilled plums and couscous. Small sides of garlic mashed potatoes and sautéed broccoli rabe. Each and every dish was more delicious than the one before. Ethan never once came to the table while Jamie was eating, but Jamie knew he was watching, each time making sure to catch his fiancé’s eye before retreating back into the kitchen.
It was a weird feeling, being on this side of the table. Nice, but weird. And as Jamie watched Amy clear the last of the dishes off the table, he made a silent vow to make sure he never forgot this feeling. He’d taken Ethan for granted years ago, and as a result, had lost him. They’d eventually made their way back to each other, but not a day went by that Jamie didn’t thank the Fates above for helping him find the other half of his soul.
Too stuffed to move, Jamie leaned back in his chair and groaned as he watched Ethan open the kitchen door, a white dessert platter in his hands. He made another mental note to beat the ever living crap out of his fiancé the next time they went to the gym, after, that is, he properly thanked him during their workout in bed.
Ethan had given up the freedom of a normal schedule the moment he entered culinary school. From the first semester to tonight, his life had revolved around his work schedule. The recent explosion of trendy cooking shows on cable tended to romanticize the life of a chef.
Sorry, not just no. But, hell no.
Ethan knew better than anyone how unglamorous the life of a head chef could be. Long hours in a hot, humid kitchen that probably made Hell feel like a crisp spring day. Frequent cuts, burns, bruises, along with the occasional singed eyebrows. Missed birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, celebrations, oh, and forget about those last minute get-togethers with friends, because that shit just wasn’t going to happen. Ulcers from fucked up shipments, broken equipment, and finding yourself in the weeds after just pulling yourself out of them an hour before. Not to mention, the divorce rate amongst head chefs was through the roofs, not because of infidelity, but because most chefs didn’t have time to have sex of any kind in the first place, let alone get some extra action on the side.
Glamour was the last word Ethan would use to describe the life of a head chef, and yet, he couldn’t imagine being anything else. He often worked seven days a week, not because he had to, but because he wanted to. Sure he was a control freak about food – okay, he was a control freak about life in general – but he worked his ass off in the kitchen because he loved creating dishes that left people speechless. Or drooling. Or moaning. Really, any of the above. Add in the bonus of getting to share it all with the love of his life, and well, it didn’t get any better than that.
They’d sacrificed a lot to get Bistro 30 on the map. Jamie had all but given up his life in front of the cameras and Ethan barely saw his favorite little sister anymore. Claire was his only sister, but he still missed the hell out of her and her smart ass mouth. But even through all the sacrifices they’d made, for Ethan, it had all been worth it. The stress over financing, staffing problems, the occasional shitty review, all of it had been worth it because he had Jamie by his side.
And even though the restaurant was packed with a reservation list a mile long, as Ethan made his way across the restaurant, he only had eyes for the man sitting at the two-top in the back corner. They kept eye contact the entire time, Jamie’s smile widening the closer Ethan got to his table.
“Dinner was fantastic. My compliments to the chef.”
“I’ll let him know. He’ll be pleased you enjoyed it.”
Jamie chuckled and leaned his elbows on the table.
“I know it’s a busy holiday and all, but I was hoping to thank him in person. He’s been so damn elusive all night. Think you can put in a good word for me?”
The teasing smirk on Jamie’s face made it that much harder for Ethan to fight the smile threatening to split his face in half. “I’m pretty sure I can get you a meeting with him. He won’t be free until later, though. Is that okay with you?”
Ethan’s heart clenched when Jamie reached across the table to rest his hand on Ethan’s forearm. Gone was the playful smirk and teasing tone of voice. Instead, Ethan looked into a pair of crystal blue eyes. Jamie Lassiter was the handsomest man Ethan had ever seen with a smile that never failed to convince Ethan that even the shittiest of days were going to get better.
“I waited eight and a half years for the chance to say ‘hello’ again to someone. Waiting a few more hours to thank the chef for making this the single best Valentine’s Day I’ve ever had will be a piece of cake.”
No, Ethan had never regretted going the culinary route. Not during school, or working for Cal, or while opening Bistro 30. But, for the first time in almost eleven years, Ethan wished he was home and in bed with the man he loved more than life itself, showing him exactly how much he was loved.
Ethan took a deep breath in to center himself and placed the dessert plate on the table, rotating the plate in front of Jamie until it was just right. He watched the surprise on Jamie’s face turn into that soft quirk of his lips that Jamie reserved only for Ethan.
“Oh, E. Brownies. You remembered.”
“I tweaked the recipe a little.”
Ethan’s face grew warmer as he watched Jamie take a bite of the brownie. Nothing was more erotic to Ethan than Jamie savoring food. Just the sight of Jamie closing his eyes as he chewed had him ready to throw Jamie on the table and feast on him. It was the orgasmic groan of pleasure, however, almost did him in.
Ethan snagged one of the brownies off the plate and took a bite, his own groan loud enough to be heard by the neighboring diners.
“Nutella. God damn, they’re better than I thought they’d be. We’re fiddling with this once things settle down and adding it to the dessert menu.”
Jamie nodded, then glanced back down at the plate, his finger gently tracing the edge of the dish. Ethan knew it was cheesy to have the words ‘Be Mine’ in cursive handwriting around the edge of the platter, but he’d never had the opportunity to be cheesy like this before. Not for anyone who mattered. This year was the first time Ethan had actually looked forward to Valentine’s Day. Both he and Jamie had known there wasn’t a chance in Hell they’d be able to spend the day together, but Ethan had refused to let this be just another non-event in his life. He and Jamie had missed out on so much while they were apart, he’d sworn he wasn’t going to take anything else for granted. So, if the day screamed for cheesy words written in chocolate sauce around a plate of brownies, then by God, that’s what Ethan was going to do.
The only thing that would have made it all perfect, was if they were at alone in their new condo. PDAs that involved him not being a smartass for once, were what Ethan sucked at. On the rare days they were home together, Ethan had no trouble with the emo stuff. In public, well, that was a different thing altogether. He was trying. Honestly, Ethan was trying to get better about it. Maybe he was getting better because the thought of ever losing Jamie again made Ethan break out in cold sweats. Or maybe it was because Jamie was rubbing off on him. His breath caught at the image and he closed his eyes to get himself back together. Fucking hell, he really didn’t need the image of Jamie rubbing anything of his while he was standing in their overly crowded restaurant. God, what his fiancé did to him. Regardless of why Ethan was trying, when Jamie made the move to Seattle so they could give their relationship a second chance, Ethan swore he wouldn’t let a day go by without letting Jamie know just how much he loved him.
Ethan looked behind him at the kitchen, not surprised in the least to see his crew filling the doorway as they watched Ethan give Jamie the dessert. Honestly, Ethan wouldn’t have been able to do any of it without their crew. ‘Rique had come in early to help Ethan prep everything they’d need for Jamie’s off-menu dinner, while Tyler had taken Ethan’s chickenscratch attempt at the chocolate sauce writing, wiped it clean, and made it look professional. The rest of the staff had willingly and eagerly picked up the slack to ensure everything went off without a hitch. Ethan nodded his head in their direction, once again thankful for his extended family.
Each one nodded both to Ethan and Jamie before heading back into the kitchen, giving them a few moments before Ethan would have to make his way back to the inferno to finish the night.
“I can’t believe you pulled this off. I thought I was pretty observant, but I can honestly say, you got me on this one. Tonight has been … perfect.”
Ethan turned his attention back to Jamie, picking up Jamie’s hand and bringing it to Ethan’s lips.
“Happy Valentine’s, J.”
When Jamie stood and pulled Ethan closer to him, Ethan couldn’t have cared less that they were in the middle of their restaurant. He had everything he needed right here in his arms. If someone had a problem with that, they could take a flying fuck and get the hell out.
Ethan closed his eyes and savored the feel of Jamie’s forehead pressed against his. It had taken him a lifetime of meaningless Valentine’s days to get it right, but he’d finally done it.
“You do realize you’re going to let me come back and help in the kitchen now that I’ve been properly wined and dined, Chef Martin?”
Ethan kept his eyes closed and pulled Jamie closer.
“Thank fucking God. We’ve been skirting the weeds all fucking night. I don’t know what I was thinking when I ordered you to take the night off.”
A shiver went down Ethan’s spine when he felt Jamie’s lips press behind his ear. “You were thinking you’d woo the hell out of me by making this the best Valentine’s Day I’ve ever had. Thank you. For everything.”
Reluctantly, Ethan pulled back. As much as he wanted to stay in Jamie’s arms, he was looking at being in the motherfucking weeds instead of just skirting them if he didn’t get his ass back in the kitchen. Valentine’s Day would have to be postponed, just a little bit longer. After that, though, when the last ordered had been sent out and the kitchen was officially closed, he’d take Jamie home and make up for all the holidays they’d missed out on over the years.
With that thought in mind, Ethan grabbed the plate of brownies off the table and winked at Jamie.
Jamie quirked his eyebrow up as he followed Ethan back to the kitchen.
Ethan tossed Jamie one of his trademark smirks over his shoulder and chuckled deviously.
“Mmmhmmm. We’ve got an unopened jar of Nutella that is just screaming to be slathered on these bad boys.”
A shiver skated down Ethan’s spine as Jamie rested his hand on the small of Ethan’s back.
“Is that the only thing you plan on slathering the Nutella on?”
“Fuck me running. Have I told you how much I fucking love Valentine’s Day?”
This time it was Jamie’s turn to smirk, sending another flash of warmth through Ethan’s body.
“Nope. But I can’t wait for you to show me once we get home.”
Fuck. Me. Running.
Yep. Valentine’s Day was Ethan’s new favorite holiday.
© Eileen Griffin and Nikka Michaels, 2015
Read Part 1 of Be Mine Here.