It was a dark and stormy night, and Chase had three goals. Get out of the fucking rain. Stop a terrorist. And save the world.
Goal one accomplished, he thought as he dropped soundlessly from the window into the restaurant kitchen below. Goals two and three seemed a lot less likely tonight, but at least he would have checked it out. And escaped the rain. A drop of ice water ran down his nape, and he shuddered. Jesus, it was cold out there. What the hell was wrong with this city? It was July! Somebody should have warned him all those films about Paris were bullshitting him.
City of Love. City of Light. City of snobs. City where it rained and was forty degrees in freaking July!
An LED glow dimly lit the empty industrial kitchen of the famous Au-dessus restaurant, and he shifted away from the draft from the window, scanning the space. Where to start—
The barest whisper of sound saved his life. He jerked aside just as something heavy whizzed past his head and slammed into his shoulder instead.
He spun—and caught up short not at the very large, very sharp knife aimed in his direction, but at the person wielding it.
A slim blonde clad in sleek leather, her eyes cool as a cucumber over that lethal blade.
Oh, man. In all his career, this had never happened to him before. He’d been starting to think those James Bond movies he’d loved so much as a teenager had totally lured him down the wrong career path in life.
That was Violette Lenoir, right? The chef of this place? The security cameras hadn’t even begun to do her justice. If they had, he’d have been fighting his entire team for the right to break into restaurants in the cold rain.
“Hi,” he tried.
Damn, that was lame. Twenty-six films, and he bet James Bond had never said “Hi” in a single one of them.
“Get the hell out of my kitchen.” She reached for an open knife roll with her left hand, still aiming the butcher knife at him.
Well, he could do that. Get the hell out of her kitchen. But then, a, he wouldn’t meet any of his first goals, and, b, it might be hard to ask her out from a position of cowardly retreat. “If I could just—” He reached toward his inner jacket pocket.
A much smaller knife appeared in her left hand, balanced for throwing. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
Damn. That smaller knife chilled the blood. He was pretty sure he could knock the butcher knife out of her hand if she came at him and not have to do anything too brutal to contain her, but if she started throwing knives left-handed, God knew how this situation would degenerate.
He wouldn’t even know what direction to dodge, the aim would be so messed up.
Damn it. People watched too much television. That was the problem. Tried to go all Scarlett Johannson on him when she should be hiding behind a counter and hoping he didn’t notice her.
“I just want to show you my badge,” he said.
“Really.” Her voice was deadpan, and he realized they were speaking English only when her accent on the R just frissoned over his skin.
Hell. Blonde, high cheekbones, leather, French accent, holding a knife at his throat. Maybe he was having that dream again.
“Vraiment,” he tried, and that damn expression flinched across her face. That screwed-tight, oh God spare me look everyone in this damn city got whenever he tried to speak their language.
After untold hours of torture by LREC classes, too.
“I’m a security consultant,” he said. “For the hotel.”
Her knife didn’t waver. “Right. That’s why you didn’t have the code to enter through the door.”
“I’m testing security,” he said. “To see how easy it would be to break into this place.”
She smiled and hefted her knife. “Well, as you found out—it’s hard.”
“Nope.” He shook his head firmly. “You need better security on the windows. Which I would like to make a note of, if you would just—let—” He inched his hand toward his pocket.
The knife she held whizzed right past his ear and buried itself in the wall two inches from his head.
“Jesus H. Christ!” he yelled, jerking far too late to the right. “What the hell? You almost killed me!”
A second knife appeared in her hand. “Don’t be a baby. That was three centimeters away from you. If I’d wanted to kill you, you’d be dead.”
There was a God after all, and He loved him. Chase could not believe a hot blonde in leather had finally said that to him in real life.
“But who wants to go to jail?” she said. “Your president might be coming for dinner next week. If I’m not here, God knows what they’d serve him.”
Interestingly, Chase had a similar worry about what they might serve the President.
The guys in intel rated the information as only twenty percent reliable, which, in his experience, meant it was probably a figment of someone’s imagination. And there never had been a successful mass ricin attack yet. But hell…if there was…
If there was, and it was in this kitchen, he was probably looking at the first casualty right now. The chef.
“I just want to show you my badge!”
“I just wanted to make sure you were clear on what could happen, if whatever you’re reaching for in your pocket isn’t a badge.”
“It’s a badge!” he said indignantly. And as he reached for it, “Are you left-handed?”
She gave him the barest of smiles, shifting her right hand just enough to let the light flicker off that giant blade. “No.”
Oh, wow. “Will you marry me?”
“There are a lot of knives in this roll.” She shifted the one in her left hand until her fingers just lightly gripped the tip. “Don’t make me start emptying it.”
“I’ve got a good job.” He pulled out his badge. “Secure income. I’m nice to kittens and small children.”
“I’m not a kitten or a child. And it looks to me as if your job involves breaking into other people’s property in foreign countries and having knives thrown at your head. Your notion of security might be a little off.”
“You haven’t gotten a look at me in the light. That will make up for a lot.” He set the badge on the counter, careful not to make sudden moves. “I’m going to slide this to you. Don’t startle and kill me.”
She sniffed. “I’m twenty-eight years old, a woman, and I already run a two-star kitchen. Trust me, I have nerves of steel.”
“Well. You never know.” He flicked his fingers, and the badge spun the three yards to her. “You could be one of those chefs who lives on her emotions. Throws pots at people’s heads. Sometimes knives.”
A very, very small smile. Hey, she was starting to like him.
She used the tip of the butcher knife to flip open his badge. “Chase Smith. Is that your real name?”
Ha, ha, ha. No. “You can call me Chase.” It wasn’t a name on any legal records, but it was, in fact, the nickname he went by, for survival purposes. His parents had had the worst taste in names in Texas history.
“How much did you spend on this fake badge, two euros?”
Probably more like two thousand, the way they inflated prices in the military. At least the one benefit to spending most of his career downrange was that it didn’t come out of his taxes. He tended to put in more…sweat equity, for his country.
“It’s a real badge!” he lied.
She fixed him with eyes so level he was pretty sure they made a little red laser point glow in the middle of his forehead. She was maybe just a tad trigger happy to make a good sniper, but she had the gaze down pat.
“I’m tall,” he said. “I can reach things on high shelves. Very convenient in a husband.”
She definitely had to press a smile out there. “I organize my kitchen. I can reach whatever I want.”
He sighed heavily. “I suppose you don’t need me to open jars for you either.”
Hey, she had a dimple. Damn. He was definitely going to marry her.
“Why H?” she said.
“Jesus H. Christ,” she repeated, with an accented precision that was so erotic he nearly whimpered. “Why H?”
He, uh…damn. He had no idea. “I’ll tell you after the birth of our first child.”
She had two dimples. One on each side. And she paired them with a very haughty look up and down his body that made him just want to beg. “It will be interesting to see you pregnant.”
He grinned. “So that’s a yes?”
She caught his badge up with the tip of her knife and tossed it back to him. “You’re promising to bear all the kids?”
Well… “We might have to negotiate the details. Can we have the wedding in Texas? I have a really big family.”
She shook her head with a little purse of her lips that was probably illegal in his own country. All the best things were. “It won’t work.” She gestured at her chest with the smaller knife. “Fifty cousins. My mother made me promise to get married here.”
Damn. That was going to be a tough one. His grandmother would kill him if he got married in France and she couldn’t come. “My grandmother’s eighty-six. Ailing. She can’t really fly anymore.”
“Eighty-four,” she said regretfully. “Claustrophobic and convinced America is full of people who shoot each other whenever someone cuts in front of them in traffic. Refuses to step on a plane.”
Well, hell, this was looking bad. “I’ll figure something out.”
She shook her head mournfully, her lips pressed down but those two dimples peeking out. “It will never work.”
“French people are such damn pessimists,” he said, aggravated. He slipped his badge back into his pocket.
“We’re not two years old going on thirteen like some countries I could mention,” she said crushingly. “It’s called realism.”
He shook his head, deeply disappointed by such a defeatist attitude. “It’s the weather, isn’t it? It’s got you down. Forty degrees in July and raining, hell, that would destroy anyone’s spirits. Let me help cheer you up.”
She eyed him as if she was considering it, and his spirits perked right up. “It is kind of fun throwing knives at you and seeing the expression on your face.”
“I’ve got a really hot body, too,” he offered. “I mean, there are other sources of entertainment here.” He gestured to himself.
She raised an eyebrow and ran a long, trailing look up his body that made a man glad to be alive. In more ways than one, where she and her knife-throwing ability were concerned.
“I mean hot in terms of body temperature,” he said innocently. “I could warm you up.” He tried to channel puppies as he looked at her with limpid eyes.
A grin flashed across that haughty, high cheekboned face of hers and was quickly bitten back.
Yes. He managed not to pump his fist in victory. He’d gotten her. A full grin.
“I’m afraid it won’t do,” she said mournfully. “I like a man who can focus.”
“Oh, I can focus,” he promised her, his voice dropping deep. Oh, yeah, I promise I can focus on you all night lo—
“You broke in here to ask me to marry you? And here I was thinking you’d gotten easily distracted.”
Now that was a low blow. Showing up with that leather clinging to her sleek body and waving knives at him and then blaming him for getting distracted. “A man has to have his priorities straight.”
“What was your other priority?” she asked dryly. “The one that brought you into my kitchen.”
Oh, well…he coughed awkwardly. “Saving the world.”
She stared at him with both eyebrows raised.
“One small restaurant at a time,” he said gamely.
“Oh, for God’s sake.”
“But don’t worry,” he assured her hastily. “If you’re about to say yes, the world can wait.”
© Laura Florand, 2016
Shared with permission of the author and publisher.
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