CHAPTER TWO:  AUDREY

The limo ride back to Portland was more eventful than Audrey would have liked. They pulled over several times so that the overly drunk bride-to-be, Shelby, could toss her cookies (or her dessert wines) all over the embankment. The reality was painfully close to what the guy — Tyson? Was that a real name? — had predicted back at Redemption Road Winery.

“Audrey?” Shelby had slurred as they’d finally pulled back onto the road to make their arduous way home. “Why’re you so quiet, girly?” She was a mess. She laid her head down in Audrey’s lap, smearing the remains of her vomit over the dark denim of Audrey’s jeans. Audrey pushed the hair away from her forehead. “You’re a good friend,” Shelby whispered as she passed out in Audrey’s lap.

She was. They’d been friends since grade school, though Audrey didn’t know any of the other girls sprawled around the leather seats of the limo. They had names like Brandi and CeeCee, and were all friends that Shelby had made at her sorority at OSU. Another thing that Tyson had been right about.

“How do you know Shelby again?” CeeCee asked Audrey, leaning forward and showing a lot more of her cleavage than Audrey had wanted to see that day.

“We grew up on the same street. We were in school together until I moved away in tenth grade.”

“Oh, that sucks. You had to start a new school as a Junior?” She actually looked sympathetic.

“My dad moved us to Fresno to be near his parents because his dad was really sick.” Audrey wondered why she was explaining herself to this girl. Everyone else in the car was napping by now. She wondered why CeeCee didn’t have the grace to just pass out, too.

“Bummer.”

“Yeah.”

“So where did you go to college?”

Audrey hated that question. It implied that she had, in fact, gone to college.

“No…I didn’t…”

“Oh!” CeeCee looked immediately embarrassed.

“No, it’s not like that,” Audrey told her.

“Like what?”

“I mean, it’s nothing to feel bad about. I just didn’t go right after high school. I’m actually in culinary school now.”

“Like, to be a chef?”

“Something like that, yeah.”

CeeCee looked relieved, as if she had just realized that she hadn’t wasted five whole minutes talking to an uneducated and uncultured urchin from Shelby’s dark past. “Cool,” she said.

“Yeah,” Audrey nodded. “To me it is.”

CeeCee finally slid back in her seat and closed her eyes, her camisole slipping off one shoulder and allowing one pink lace-clad breast to plop out from the ambitiously plunging neckline.

Audrey helped Shelby up the stairs to her parents’ house after driving her home from CeeCee’s, where the limo had delivered them. Shelby had finished college engaged, so getting her own place didn’t make sense since she’d soon be moving in with Paul, her soon-to-be husband, anyway.

“Audrey, honey!” Shelby’s mom met them at the top of the steps. Shelby’s legs were not quite functioning, and she was still half passed out.

“She might’ve overdone it a bit,” Audrey told Mrs. Summers.

“Nah, I was over-served,” Shelby slurred.

“Right,” Audrey agreed, smiling over her head at her mom.

Mrs. Summers took Shelby from her as they reached the top, putting an arm around her waist to steady her. “Audrey, will you stay for dinner?”

“I’d love to, but I have class tomorrow morning and I really need to get home.”

“Okay,” she smiled. “Please come see us soon!”

“I will, Mrs. Summers,” Audrey told her.

She walked back down the stairs to her beat up Jetta. Seeing Mrs. Summers always made her feel twelve years old. She’d spent her summers practically living at that house before her family had moved.

Audrey drove away down the treelined street, glancing in the rear view mirror at the house where she had actually lived. The blue paint was faded and peeling, and the house looked sad. Audrey pulled her eyes from her former home. She’d never wanted to leave Portland, and it was hard to come back to it, living a completely different life from the one that she’d been given.

The guy at Redemption Road had been eerily on-target, and Audrey shook her head as she drove out through the curvy suburbia of Healy Heights and back toward her apartment in the Northwest District.

There had been something more to that guy, she thought. Despite the fact that he was a complete ass, she’d watched him put on his performance in the tasting room, and just had a feeling that he wasn’t the genuine article. She’d known quite a few actual card-carrying assholes in her time working in the service industry, and she just didn’t feel it from Tyson in the few minutes she’d known him. He’d actually seemed apologetic as he’d handed Shelby’s purse back to her, and there was no denying that he was gorgeous. She’d been working to put the guy out of her mind, but he possessed a very serious heat about him that had made an immediate impression on her. He had close-cropped — almost military short — dark blond hair and the kind of facial hair that she usually hated, the kind that grew in a short stubble all over his jaw, but on him it looked completely right. His face was masculine without being too angular and the dark blue eyes that she’d found staring at her several times while they’d been in his presence had given little away. He hadn’t been jovial — that much was certain — and she found herself wondering what those eyes might look like if the serious Tyson ever cracked a smile.

Audrey rose early the next morning to begin a new course at school — one that she was not very excited about. As part of her culinary training, she had to take a basic baking and pastry class. She already knew that she was terrible at baking, but at least her fingers wouldn’t smell permanently of garlic and onions like they had for the last six weeks. As she pulled her hair back and packed a bag, her mind wandered back to Redemption Road Winery, even though she’d all but banned herself from thinking about the steely blue eyes of the angry young man she’d met there. He certainly wasn’t thinking about her. Why couldn’t she stop thinking about him? It didn’t matter anyway. She didn’t have many occasions to go wine tasting out in McMinnville. She doubted she’d ever see him again, and she definitely didn’t have time for distractions.

After school she went straight to the restaurant. The restaurant, the not-too-cleverly-named Fork, was a small farm-to-table place with family-style seating and room for only thirty diners. It had been founded by several former Cordon Bleu graduates and was essentially passed on every couple years to a group of promising new students. Being invited to join the crew at Fork had been the highlight of Audrey’s life. As a chef, it was an incredible place to begin a career.

She shared responsibilities there with four other students from school. They took turns working each aspect of the restaurant — front of house, head chef, sous chef. They did the purchasing as a group and each of them filled in the ingredients they’d need on their night as head chef from the local farmers’ markets and small grocers.

Fork was open only five nights a week. The more experienced chefs handled Friday and Saturday nights. As one of the newest members of the crew, Audrey’s night was Tuesday. On Mondays they planned, though much of what was exciting about the arrangement was the ability to make decisions based on available ingredients instead of a rigid menu plan.

Lisa, the most experienced of the group, was already sitting at the bar that faced the open kitchen when Audrey arrived.

“Audrey!” Lisa cheered when she walked in.

“Hey Lis,” Audrey said, putting her bag on a chair and pulling a notebook out to join her at the bar.

“How’s pastry?” she asked, an evil twinkle in her green eyes.

“How’d you know I started pastry?” Audrey didn’t remember telling her, and Lisa had graduated two years ago.

“The flour smeared across your cheek is a tip off.” She winked and took a sip from the beer on the counter.

“Aha,” Audrey laughed, wiping at her face. “Yeah… baking isn’t my strongest suit.”

“I know,” Lisa said. “But it could be. Give it a chance.”

“Doubt it. So much measuring and math…” Audrey stood and walked around to the beverage cooler, pulling out a beer for herself.

“Andrew’s not gonna make it today,” Lisa moaned. Andrew was the second most experienced of the crew, and he’d become flighty and distracted in recent weeks. “There’s definitely something going on, but he’s still not telling what it is.”

“Great,” Audrey said. “He still on for Friday, though?”

“As far as I know. He’ll just need to check in Thursday to see what we’ve got and what he needs to buy. I have no clue what’s keeping him away. This place was his dream when he started.”

“This place is every chef’s dream.”

Audrey looked around the industrial space. The high ceilings were unfinished, and silver ducting ran over their heads along with pipes that created an urban underground feeling. The walls were a deep dark red, hung with huge murals on canvas done by local artists in vibrant hues. The long tables formed an “L” shape, and were each created from a single huge slab of wood, the edges still uneven and covered in bark — though they’d long since been shellacked to a smooth finish. Audrey loved this place. So did every critic who’d ever reviewed the food. It was almost impossible to get in to a dinner here, and the setup kept them with an almost calculated income each night, allowing them to plan efficiently for the materials they’d need and still pay themselves well.

“Definitely my dream,” Lisa said. “Maybe we’ll put you on desserts tonight, now that you’ve had official pastry training,” she smiled.

“It’s been one day. You might wanna hold off on that unless you’re fond of bad reviews.”

“Point taken.” Lisa returned to the papers in front of her. “Chuck said he’d handle the messages and get our reservation lists started for this week. There are two wine reps coming in. Can you handle them?”

“Sure,” Audrey told her. “Are we looking for anything specific?”

“It’ll depend on menus of course,” she said. “But I picked up some proteins this morning, and we’ll need a bold red — something that’ll stand up to gamey meat. I found lamb and I think we’re doing a venison appetizer tomorrow.”

“Sounds good.”

Just then the door opened in back and Ella and Chuck appeared from the kitchen.

“Hey guys,” Lisa said.

“What up?” Chuck called, throwing his bag to the floor and pulling a beer from the cooler.

Chuck and Ella had been a couple for years, though Audrey had met them just a year ago. Chuck was basically a full grown skater boy, and he still dressed like a twelve-year old, but the boho-chic Ella didn’t seem to mind. She was reserved and understated where he was noisy and generally obnoxious, in Audrey’s opinion. Both were fantastic chefs. Ella was in Audrey’s classes. Chuck was close to finishing school.

Just as Chuck had pulled a chair up to the small desk in front where they handled reservations, a knock came at the front door.

“Wine guy,” Ella said, peering out. She unlocked the door and a young man in a suit strode through carrying a large soft sided cooler. “Hi,” she said.

“Hello,” he boomed.

Audrey wasn’t a huge fan of overconfident salespeople. Wine reps were usually less in your face than other types of sales people, but this guy didn’t seem to have gotten the memo. He looked to be about twenty-three, with long blond hair hanging in his eyes.

“Have I got some wine for you guys!” He sang. “Jeremy Hanson with Larkspur Spirits and Wines.”

“Hi,” Audrey said, standing to greet him. “I’m Audrey. I can help you today.”

“No, Audrey. I’m going to help you today,” he smiled.

She sat down, eyeing him skeptically and pushing several wine glasses in front of her spot at the long table.

“I’ve eaten here,” he told her. “And I know where the holes are in your list.”

“That’s convenient,” she told him. He didn’t seem to know that the list changed weekly.

“The chicken paillard you serve would be well-matched with one particular Chardonnay that we’ve just gotten in stock.” He began pulling a bottle from his bag.

“Um, Jeremy?” Audrey interrupted him. “I don’t want to offend you, but you might want to take a second before you launch into your sales spiel to understand your environment.”

He suddenly took on a puppy dog look, and she felt guilty for deflating his enthusiasm.

“It’s great to be excited about your wines,” she assured him. “And we love wine too. But you have to understand that each restaurant is different and we’re not all looking for the same thing. For one thing, we don’t always have a chicken paillard on the menu.”

“But I had it here last week.”

“Right. But it won’t be on the menu this week. We change fare each week depending on what’s available locally. That’s kind of the entire point of our restaurant.”

“I should have known that.”

“Right.”

“Sorry,” he said, looking like he might actually cry.

“Hey,” Audrey said, and he looked up at her. “Let’s start again, okay? Why don’t you ask me what we’re looking for this week?”

“Sure,” he said, all the gusto gone. “What are you looking for this week? What’s on the menu?”

“I’m glad you asked,” she smiled at him.

She ended up choosing two of his wines, but had still not found the big red that Lisa thought they’d need. Jeremy was just packing up when another knock came at the door. Audrey walked around to open it and her heart leapt into her mouth as she stared through the window.

Tyson stood outside.

 

 

 

CHAPTER THREE:  TYSON

The windows of the restaurant were tinted to the point where Tyson couldn’t see more than a dark shape approach as he stood outside the door waiting. He thought that the people who’d started the place could’ve probably stretched a bit to come up with something more original than “Fork,” but that’s what they’d gone with. He shook his head, chuckling at the lack of irony in the name as the door swung open. On the other side of the door, in the tall industrial space of one of the hottest restaurants in Portland, was Audrey, the girl Tyson hadn’t been able to banish from his mind since the day before.

Even though their interaction hadn’t exactly been rewarding, Tyson found himself fantasizing about the girl with the thick dark hair and coppery eyes almost constantly. He wasn’t fantasizing anything particularly sexual, though his mind would have gone there willingly if he’d let it. He just wanted to talk to her, be near her for some reason.

“Tyson.” She said his name simply, quietly, as if she’d fully expected that he would show up here.

Suddenly, he felt uncertain of himself. The heavy bag of wines was pulling down on his shoulder, making him feel lopsided and awkward. Anxiety began to claw its way up his throat, and he felt his vision beginning to darken. He pushed the sensation away.

“Audrey, right?” He willed his body to stop shaking and focused on her amber eyes, feeling himself calm.

“Right.”

“I had no idea you worked here.”

“Of course not. There’s no way you could have known.”

“So we’ve established that I’m not stalking you.” He smiled.

She tilted her head, and the thick hair fell away from her graceful neck on one side. Tyson fought back an urge to run his hand along her delicate jawline. Something about her was a contradiction. She appeared fragile and delicate, but there was such strength in her eyes and attitude.

“Was there some question that you might?” The half smile again. Tyson felt butterflies jump into action in his gut. Why does this girl have such an effect on me?

“Of course not,” Tyson laughed easily then. He nodded down toward the cooler bag. “You didn’t really get a chance to taste through the wines. Think we could try a…”

Just then a loud squealing sound erupted from the street, followed by the sickening crunch of metal. A volvo SUV had just rear-ended a much smaller Kia, and the entire rear end of the Kia was crumpled and smashed.

As the noise began, Tyson felt his entire body start to vibrate. His heart exploded in his chest and adrenaline flooded his body. Before he knew it, he had pushed Audrey inside the restaurant, one hand on her chest, sending her flying inside where she landed hard against the long table. He slammed the door shut behind himself and ended up in a crouch behind it, hands frantically searching for his weapon. He peered out the tinted window at the street, his hands still uselessly seeking anything he could use to protect himself.

Inside the restaurant, Florence and the Machine played loudly, and a long haired skater was jabbering away on the phone at the podium. Tyson glanced around to find another woman, a redhead with a serious expression, sitting at the bar and staring at him with her pen raised in mid-air, while Audrey had slipped down into a chair at the table and was eyeing him with a mixture of fear and irritation.

His breathing slowly returned to normal and he stood up, wishing he could just disappear. He smoothed his clothing and eventually shoved his hands into his pockets where he hoped they would stay still.

“Um…” he looked up at Audrey.

She was rubbing her shoulder.

Horror crept through him as he started to remember exactly what had just happened. He’d shoved her. Hard.

“Oh, God,” he said, crossing the floor to where she sat, looking dazed. “Are you hurt?”

She looked up at him, a question on her face. “What the hell was that for?” Her voice was light, soft.

“I’m so sorry. Are you okay?” Tyson reached a hand out as if to touch her shoulder, then thought better of it. “Audrey, I…I’m really sorry.”

She stood up and carefully stretched her arms overhead. “I’m okay.”

The woman at the bar was watching the exchange with great interest. Finally she put her pen down and said, “Well, that’s something that doesn’t happen every day.”

“Dude…” the guy on the phone added.

Tyson didn’t care what they thought. He just wanted to make sure Audrey was unhurt, and find a way — somehow — to explain to her what had just happened.

“I’m fine,” she told him, gingerly moving her arms around and rotating her neck. “I’ve just never really experienced our dining table in quite that way before.”

He tried to smile, but his nerves were still firing out of control. He could barely hear her through the rushing that still filled his ears.

“Care to explain what just happened?” Audrey was looking into his eyes directly, and it wasn’t helping him calm down. “Hey,” she said, when he didn’t answer. “Are you okay?”

He tried to smile, but could feel himself crashing as the adrenaline cleared his bloodstream. He was starting to feel sick and hoped he wouldn’t complete the performance by throwing up on Audrey’s feet. He really needed to sit down.

“Yeah,” he couldn’t hold her eyes. He braced himself on the back of one of the chairs at the table, then thought better of it and just pulled it out to sit. “I’m sorry. I’ll go. Just give me one second.”

Audrey raised an eyebrow but didn’t question him further. Instead she opened the door and picked up the wine cooler he’d dropped outside, setting it on the floor next to him. Then she went back out.

“She’s a concerned citizen,” the woman at the bar said. “I’m sure she’s helping the drivers outside.”

Tyson was finding it hard to focus, his head was spinning slightly and he just wanted to figure out how to get back to his car, not that he could drive it at the moment.

“I hope you didn’t break her, man,” the guy at the podium said. “She’s pretty tiny. You really tossed her. What the hell was that?” He stood and took the chair next to Tyson at the table.

Great, Tyson thought. Now I’m gonna be questioned by Tony Hawk. Perfect.

“Look,” he said. “I’m really sorry. If you can just give me a second I’ll be out of your way.”

Audrey came back in. “I think everyone is fine. The guy was texting,” she explained.

Tyson looked up at her with the light from the door shining behind her. It created a halo around her and she looked completely angelic. It fit perfectly, he thought. The door swung shut and the image cleared.

“You’re white as a sheet,” she told him. “Do you want a glass of water or something?”

“Dude body checks you, and you’re asking him if he wants some water?” Skater guy was getting worked up.

Tyson pushed the chair away from the table, standing on legs that threatened to give out. “Nah, I’m fine. Look,” he said, pushing the chair back in. “I’m really sorry for the trouble. I’ll just get out of your hair.” He found that he couldn’t look her in the eye, though it was all he wanted.

At that moment she laid a hand on his arm, and he would’ve sworn that the world stopped turning. His awareness shrunk to a laser focus, and the only thing he could see or feel was her. Her calming, perfect presence.

“I don’t feel right just letting you walk out of here,” she said. “Something is clearly wrong. Let me at least walk you to your car.”

He wanted to be stronger, to laugh and tell her how silly she was being. But there was something so soothing about her, he felt like he would do almost anything to keep her hand on his arm. “Okay,” he said softly.

The guy at the table chuckled as she pulled the door open again and handed him his bag. He shouldered it and then held the door for her. Together, they stepped out onto the sidewalk.

Tyson felt the tension mounting inside him again, and forced his eyes to Audrey’s face. He relaxed slightly.

“I’m right down here,” he said, pointing to where his car was parked at the end of the street.

 

 

AUDREY

 

Audrey walked alongside Tyson, her mind a whirl of questions. What the hell had happened back there? One minute they’d been standing in the doorway, being almost civil, and the next…well he was reacting to the sudden crash of cars on the street as if they were both in mortal danger. Her back was killing her from where she’d landed on the hard table. She was sure she’d have a significant bruise tomorrow.

Tyson paused next to a silver truck and began fumbling in his pockets. “This is me.”

It took him a minute to locate his keys, and Audrey watched him open the car with shaking hands and push the wine cooler into the passenger side. He closed the door and turned to face her, never quite making eye contact.

“Tyson,” she said softly, willing the steely grey-blue eyes to meet her own.

He raised his eyes slowly, and the depths of pain that Audrey saw there made her wish for several things simultaneously. She wished she could do something to erase the hurt and fear that were buried in this man. She wished she knew what to say to him. At the same time, a part of her wished that she’d never gotten into the limo the day before in the first place; that she’d never met Tyson Dawes.

“I’m not sure you should be driving right now,” she said. “It’s not like you’re just headed around the corner. McMinnville is a drive.”

“I’ll be fine,” he assured her, his voice holding little conviction.

The sun was lightening the stubble that covered his jaw, and Audrey had a fleeting desire to run her thumbs along the line of his chin, to feel the coarse hair and soft skin of his jaw. “Let’s just get a cup of coffee,” she suggested, surprised at herself. She didn’t really date — she didn’t have the free time. And she was never forward with men. But she really didn’t think Tyson should be driving. And she wanted to understand what had made him react the way he had. “There’s a place right up here,” she said, pointing just a few storefronts down.

The sun was shining, and the day was relatively warm. There were tables on the sidewalk in front of the little coffee house, and Audrey watched Tyson turn to evaluate the idea.

“Okay,” he said. His voice was low and gravelly, and it sent a chill through Audrey, though she was doing everything in her power to force her reactions to him into submission.

They found a table, and there was an awkward moment where both of them tried to take the same seat, the one facing outward. Audrey hated sitting with her back to a space — she liked to people watch — but Tyson seemed determined to put his own back against the wall, and she wasn’t going to argue with him.

“Do you want to tell me what happened back there?” Audrey asked as she stirred her tea. She was watching the handsome man across from her, but she couldn’t fathom what might be going on behind the serious expression, the frigid eyes.

“I’d rather not,” he said simply.

Audrey looked at the way Tyson sat. One large hand was wrapped around his coffee cup. He leaned forward slightly, and she could practically smell the tension rolling off him in waves. He appeared ready to spring. It made her nervous.

“Hey,” she said, leaning forward to peer up directly into the cold grey depths of his eyes. “It’s okay.” She didn’t know what she was saying, only that she sensed that he needed some kind of reassurance. “You didn’t hurt anyone, and I’m not angry. I just want to understand.”

“You won’t understand,” he said softly. He glanced around them, as if he was surveying the scene for threats. He was far from relaxed, and Audrey was beginning to feel as tense as he looked.

“Tyson, can you just sit back for a minute and relax? There’s no way I’m letting you get in that truck all wound up like this.”

“Look, you don’t even know me. You don’t need to be worried about me.” He started to rise.

“Sit down.” Her voice was louder than intended. “Please?”

He settled back into the chair and gave her a frank look. “Why do you care?”

Why did she care? She didn’t know. She just had the sense that there was something wrong here, that maybe she could help. “I don’t know,” she said honestly. “But I do care. And since you just threw me across a room, maybe you owe me an explanation.”

His eyes searched her face, and his shoulders dropped slowly, as if he was forcing himself to relax. “What do you do?” he asked.

Audrey was thrown by the question and sudden change of direction. “What? Oh, at the restaurant?”

“Yeah, what do you do there?”

The eyes were still on her face, evaluative. It was her turn to feel nervous. “I’m a chef. Well, a student, really. But that restaurant, it’s been partially student-run since it opened. It’s kind of a co-op,” she explained. Was she babbling? She forced her mouth to remain closed.

“You go to the Cordon Bleu?”

“I do.”

“That’s impressive.”

“Is it?” she leaned forward. He’d just given her a compliment, of sorts. It irritated her the way her entire body seemed to respond to his approval.

“Yeah, it is.” He was still serious, his tight expression revealing nothing.

“That’s my story. What’s yours, Tyson? Why did I just get bodily thrown into a table like you were pushing me out of the way of an incoming air strike?” Her words slowed as she said them and her brain began working, even before the idea was fully formed. The military-short hair, the steely expression…had Tyson been in the military?

“And now you know mine,” he said softly.

“Not really,” she encouraged. “Won’t you tell me anything?”

“I was startled, okay? I react badly in situations that I can’t control.” He stared into his coffee. “I’m working on it.”

“How’s that going?” she asked.

He looked up at her, catching her eye through his dark lashes. He appeared to be trying to decide if she was making fun of him. “Not very well.” He stared at her for a minute.

Audrey sat quietly and sipped her tea. She waited for him to speak again.

“At this time last year, I was in the Marine Corps. In Afghanistan,” he said. “You hear a noise like that over there, and it means someone’s about to die.” His voice became soft and the eyes left her face. He looked into the distance and she could tell that he was seeing something in the past. “Coming back home, adjusting to the way things are here…the way they are supposed to be…hasn’t been very easy. Loud, sudden noises are the worst.”

“You were protecting me.”

“It was an instinct. I’m really sorry.”

His eyes were on her again, blazing and intense now. Without thinking about what she was doing, she reached across the table and wrapped her hands around his on his coffee cup. The combined warmth of his skin and the cup sent a surge of warmth through her body that seemed to send targeted energy directly into her core. As soon as she’d touched him, Audrey found herself wanting much, much more. She had the ridiculous urge to leap across the table into his lap.

God, I barely know this guy! And he’s frankly a little messed up. Audrey removed her hands and told herself that her smartest move would be to get up and walk away. She had problems of her own to deal with. But she was having difficulty convincing herself to heed the sage voice in her head when every other part of her body wanted something completely different.

“I should go.” Tyson stood up. “Thanks for this.” He offered her a small smile that didn’t reach the depths of the turbulent eyes.

Audrey thought she saw something else in the stormy gaze. Desire? Did he feel it too?

He turned and began walking toward the truck. Evidently that had been his way of saying goodbye.

Audrey followed him back to the car. He seemed intent on just getting away from her suddenly. “Tyson!”

He’d walked around to the driver side, and she found herself standing in the street behind him.

He turned, and then reached out and grabbed her arm, pulling her closer to the car. “Don’t stand in the middle of the street,” he growled. He wouldn’t look at her.

“Are you okay to drive?”

“I’m fine,” the low growl again.

She couldn’t stop herself from stepping closer. She wanted him to look at her again. Just once more.

“Tyson,” she said softly.

He looked up then, finally, and his eyes were on hers.

She felt herself practically tumble into them, and wondered why she was so drawn to those dark roiling depths.

He reached out and laid a hand along the side of her face, his thumb along her jaw. He stared intently at her for a moment, and the air between them seemed to vibrate and electrify. “Thanks,” he said quietly and then dropped the hand, stepping up into the cab of the truck. “Don’t stand in the street,” he said again as he closed the door.

She walked around the front of the truck, feeling like she was sleepwalking, and offered him a little wave through the window.

The truck roared to life and pulled away, and Audrey stood on the sidewalk watching it go.

What had just happened? She shook her head to clear it. She had work to do. Hell, she always had work to do. She definitely didn’t have time for the complications that a beautiful and fucked up war vet would bring to her life. She pushed Tyson Dawes and his strong jaw and stormy eyes to the very back of her mind.

She walked back to the restaurant and went inside, ignoring the questioning look from Chuck, who was still marking down reservations and making notes. The phones blew up over the weekend, and they didn’t answer them at all after Saturday afternoon, so there were always lots of reservations waiting for the week ahead. They were almost to the point where they didn’t have to actually speak to people on the phone — most of the spots got filled through online and advance phone reservations. Chuck usually called people in person to confirm though, so the task of handling the calls could often take several hours.

“Where’s Rambo?” Lisa asked, the smile on her face not quite reaching her eyes.

As Audrey took the seat next to her at the bar, Lisa lowered her voice. “Seriously, Aud. What the hell was that?”

“It wasn’t a big deal,” Audrey said, feeling defensive of Tyson for no reason she could identify. “He knows he overreacted. He didn’t mean to hurt me at all. He was actually trying to protect me.”

“Could’ve fooled me. What’s his deal, anyway?”

“I barely know him, Lis. He’s just a winery rep.”

“Whatever you say.” Lisa made some more notes on the menu in front of her on the bar as she walked Audrey through their shopping plans for the afternoon. “Hey, you didn’t manage to find a good red for us while you were flying across restaurants, did you?”

“No, sorry.” Audrey thought about it for a minute, remembering the bottle she’d brought home from Redemption Road. It had been a Pinot Noir, the vintner’s reserve. She’d opened it the night after the limo tour and had a glass. She’d been impressed without wanting to be. It had been smoky and ripe, surprisingly complex. “I’ll get it before tomorrow though.”

She wandered into the back where her purse hung on a hook and pulled out her phone, offering a smile to Ella who was in the back beginning prep for the week, her sharp knife beating a staccato rhythm against the cutting board. Audrey took a deep breath after she’d done a quick search through her browser and dialed. The beat of her heart matched the knife’s as she called.