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Her jaw hinged open. "Dropping dead?" She stomped up to him, hands on hips. "I've never had a health violation in my restaurant. I tested and retested the ingredients today to…be…sure…"
He grinned at her.
The meany was teasing her?
"My apologies, Chef Anderson, for the inappropriate joke." He turned to Marsha. "Would you please keep an eye on the buffet line?"
She smiled and nodded. "I'd be happy to."
He wrapped his hand around her arm. "Chef and I are going to have a taste of her creations."
The touch of his hand sent sparks flying through her body.
They filled plates, hers with a sample of everything, his with mounds that would have made her pass out.
He guided her to a small room off the kitchen. A cozy table and four chairs sat next to a floor-to-ceiling window that overlooked the mountain.
She sat and stared outside.
"Reminds you of home?"
She nodded and looked at him. "It does." Her voice choked. "Christmas with the family."
He stared at her for a moment. "Wait here." He jumped up and left the room.
She quickly tasted everything on her plate. It was still fresh and would definitely not kill anyone.
Finn walked back into the room carrying a one-foot live pine tree in a pot of soil. The pot was wrapped in festive foil, and each limb of the tree had a tiny ornament and garland strung from it.
It was so sweet of him to do this for her. She pressed her lips together to stop the emotion from bursting out and embarrassing her.
He stared at her.
With a curve of her lips, she said, "It's perfect."
Finn looked down, then a moment later, touched something on the tree and tiny lights came on, and the star on top lit up. "Merry Christmas."
"Thank you." It came out a whisper. Was it the loneliness of being away from her family today? Or was it Finn's kindness that had her chest tight and her heart aching with unshed tears?
With a mouth full of food, he said, "This is excellent."
She pushed her plate aside and crossed her arms on the table, watching him dig into her cooking. "I printed recipes off the internet. I don't know how authentic they are."
"Much better than anything Killian ever made."
"Who is this Killian?"
He smiled at her. "My soon-to-be ex chef."
She tipped her head. "Please don't fire him because of today. I would feel so bad—"
"Uh uh." He waved a fork and swallowed his food. "I'm not firing him. I'm promoting him."
Her mouth opened but she didn't know how to respond.
"He'll be in charge of supervising the chefs."
"Oh. He's a better manager than he is a cook?"
"Exactly." He wiped his mouth with a cloth napkin and sat back. "And you, Roxanne Anderson from Minnesota. I'd like to give you a tryout in the kitchen of my Irish Pub."
A thrill of excitement raced through her. "Really? I'd love to. Thank you."
"Thank you for stepping in today. You saved the party." He nodded toward the kitchen. "Probably saved Marsha from a heart attack, too."
"She's a sweetheart." Roxanne hated for this to end, but she had a job to do, and Finn needed to get back to his guests. "May I call you at the casino?"
"You'll stay the night." He stood and picked up their plates, balanced them in one hand, and held his other hand out to her. "Even though you're native Minnesotan, it's too dangerous for you to try to make it down tonight."
She took his hand. The electric shock of the touch had her heart thumping and her belly jittering. She took back her hand and looked out the window at the accumulating snow. "Okay. I'll take you up on your offer." She gestured toward the dining room. "Are we making another meal tonight? For the guests?"
"No. They're all heading home this afternoon. They each have houses on the mountain, and every year, those of us stuck in Vegas over Christmas get together."
"What a nice tradition." She wished she had a group of friends who would celebrate with her. Some day. She sighed.
"Hey." He set down the plates and put his hands on her arms. "What's that face for? What's wrong?"
She tipped her head down and held in the sad whimper that rose in her throat. "Being in a new town…it's been difficult."
He touched his knuckle under her chin and lifted her head. "You won't be lonely long." His green eyes darkened and the sincerity in his gaze shook her. "You're an amazing woman. What you did here today was unexpected and incredibly unselfish." He ran his thumb along her jaw, then looked startled at his action and dropped his hands.
"Those people out there, my guests, are in the same situation you're in. They couldn't get home to family because of contract restrictions, or bad weather and airport closures. The meal you made them helped ease that feeling of homesickness."
"Wow." She smiled, her heart a bit wobbly at his praise. "A cooked goose did all that?"
He grinned. "A delicious cooked goose." He picked up their plates. "I'm guessing I couldn't talk you into leaving the dishes for tomorrow?"
She took the plates from him. "No. Definitely not."
"When you and Marsha are finished, come and sit in the living room with us."
Her mouth dropped open and she shook her head.
"Don't look so pale. Marsha joins us every year. One of those musician-types plays piano and we sing everything from Silent Night to Jingle Bell Rock. We have a couple drinks and head outside to make snowmen. That Christmas tree I brought in here? Its great grandfather is standing all decorated next to the fireplace. You'll love it."
She couldn't imagine what it would be like to hang out with Vegas's premier performers—not to mention a casino owner. "As long as Marsha's there too, okay. But you know I'm going to be too starstruck to say a word."
"You'll get used to them. They're just people, like you and me."
She gave him a dubious look. "You're the one I should be more nervous around. I'm just glad I didn't know this was Finn Brayden's home, I probably would have made a mess of every dish."
"Oh, yeah?" He grinned. "So, I'm someone who makes you startstruck, too, then?"
She bit her lip and felt another blush rise. "You're one of the young legends of Vegas. Your casino, the incredible restaurants you've opened." She looked at him, a wave of shyness stealing over her. "You're larger than life."
He took the plates from her and set them down again. "You're going to have to forgive me for doing this, but I can't fecking stop myself." He cupped each side of her face in his palms. "I want to kiss you, Roxanne. I've been wanting to do it since I saw you standing at the buffet table cussing like a sailor."
She giggled, then sobered. "Kiss me, then, Finn."
"Aw, mavourneen, my sweet. Merry Christmas."
His lips touched hers.
She thanked heaven for granting her wish for snow.
~Smart Women ~Sexy Men ~Seductive Romance