David approached the table with the tray of dirty dishes balanced on one upraised hand and peered over Kate’s shoulder at the video on Orren’s phone. Her stomach tightened. It was bad enough to think anyone she knew might have seen the commercial on television, but watching it with David was mortifying. A sudden clatter behind her head startled her. She jerked backward and bumped David’s solid chest, sending another shock wave rattling through the stacked china on the tray.
Orren’s smile became oilier, if that were possible. “Katie and I had a great time filming this ad, didn’t we?” He reached to grab Kate around the waist, but she deftly evaded his hand.
She clenched her fists to keep from snatching the phone and smashing it to the floor. “How could you make me a part of one of your sleazy commercials without my permission?”
“Now, now, Katie girl. Don’t get all worked up. I just gave you a little free air time.”
“You made it look like I have some…connection with you or Waxman Motors.”
With a laugh, he tucked the phone into the pocket of his jacket. “What’s the harm in that? You know what they say: Any publicity is good publicity.”
Kate bit back the first word that popped into her brain. “I don’t need publicity, especially not that kind. Now, if that’s all, I need to get back to work or you gentlemen—” she glanced around the table with a tight smile “—won’t get any breakfast.”
She was half-way to the kitchen with David in her wake when Orren called out after her. “See you at the banquet tonight!”
Kate pushed through the swinging door with an angry shove. “That man makes me crazy.” She blew out a huge breath to release her frustration before returning to the griddle.
“If you want, I can arrange an unfortunate accident with the next tray, right in his lap.”
She smiled to herself. That was one of the things she’d always loved about David. He had her back. “Not necessary, but thanks.”
He set the dirty dishes on the counter and approached her from behind. When his strong fingers began to knead the tension from her shoulders, she craned her head and suppressed a tiny moan. The man’s hands were magic.
“Waxman’s an ass.” David’s words flowed over her like warm maple syrup. “He’s always been an ass. He relishes it.”
She let out a short laugh. “He does. I’m sorely tempted to give his eggs an accidental overdose of tabasco.”
“I won’t tell.”
Kate laughed again and reluctantly stepped away. “I always could trust you to keep my secrets.”
“You still can.” His voice, with all the memories it carried, sent a sensual shiver down her spine.
She turned and met his dark gaze. “I don’t have secrets anymore, David, but what about you? Why are you here? What are you doing back in Morrisburg?”
He swallowed and glanced over her shoulder to the window overlooking the back alley. “I’ll tell you the whole story when we have more time, and Orren Waxman isn’t breathing down our necks.”
“You’re right. Now’s not the time, but we’ll be able to take a break after the lunch crowd, before I have to start preparing the food for the Chamber of Commerce banquet tonight. I expect the full skinny then.”
Sylvia appeared with two more order tickets. “Got anything for me?”
Kate slapped a pat of butter onto the sizzling griddle and grabbed a couple of eggs. “Give me five minutes.”
They worked at a steady clip for the next several hours, until a little after two. Kate was scraping and cleaning the griddle when David pushed through the door with a heavily-laden tray.
“This is the last of them.”
She straightened and stretched her back. “Thank God. I’ll fix us a couple of plates while you take care of those.”
He unloaded the dishes into the sink. “This restaurant business is hard work.”
“Tell me about it.” She opened the door of the big, commercial refrigerator and examined the contents. “How do you feel about meatloaf?”
“Good, because that’s what’s left over from yesterday’s lunch.”
By the time she’d heated the leftovers and poured two big glasses of iced tea, David had finished the last of the dishes. They carried their plates to the deserted dining room and sat at a table near the back wall, out of sight of passersby on the sidewalk.
Kate speared a piece of meatloaf with her fork and waved it at David. “Okay, spill.” She popped it in her mouth while maintaining an expectant expression.
He dropped his gaze to his plate and pushed a bright orange carrot slice around in the puddle of gravy. When he looked up, a ghost of pain flashed through his warm brown eyes. “I quit.”
“You quit what?”
She didn’t know what she’d expected—maybe diabolical, behind-the-scene machinations at the network or a new boss who didn’t like the look of him—but not this. “Why?”
His lips quirked up in a half-smile, but sadness filled his eyes. “It was killing me…literally.”
She reached for his hand. “Tell me.”
He sighed and set his fork down. “It was exciting at first. I know this will sound strange, but it’s easy to get hooked on the adrenaline rush, the high that comes from constantly being alert for the next threat, the next unexpected attack. The excitement of being part of the action sucks you in.”
“I would have been terrified.”
“You never were a thrill junkie.”
“No. That’s why I couldn’t go to New York with you. I couldn’t be a part of that life, even on the fringe.”
He squeezed her hand. “I never wanted you to be frightened, Kate. You made the right decision.”
She lifted one shoulder in a little shrug. “I don’t know. It didn’t help much. I still watched you every night and worried.”
His expression was somber. “I’m sorry.”
She withdrew her hand. “If you liked the action so much, why did you quit? What happened?”
“A couple of months ago, my entourage came under fire in Afghanistan.”
“Is that why your reports stopped? I just assumed you’d returned to New York.” A sudden fear seized her. “You weren’t wounded, were you?”
David shook his head. “Not physically, no…but my cameraman died.” He reached for his tea and took a swallow, as if it might wash the waver from his voice. “We’d worked together four years.”
“That must have been hard.” She didn’t know what else to say.
He met her gaze. “It’s still hard, but Sami’s death made me re-examine my own life—what I want to do and how I want to do it. I’ve done a lot of thinking, and I have things I want to say, but spouting sound bites from a war zone isn’t the best way to say them.”
“What are you thinking?”
His eyes brightened with new energy, and he leaned forward, resting his forearms on the table. “I want to write a book about my observations and experiences. There’s so much that never made it into the broadcasts—small, telling details that reveal as much as major disclosures.”
She smiled. “That’s a wonderful idea! So, are you home for the holidays before heading back to the city?”
He shook his head. “I can’t seem to write in New York anymore. The pace, the crowds—all the things that used to energize me—now make me feel antsy and distracted. I can’t concentrate. I need space and quiet to think.”
She was almost afraid to think it, much less ask the question. Almost. “Are you planning to stay in Morrisburg?”
“For the foreseeable future. Would that be okay with you?”
“Your decision shouldn’t depend on what I think.”
“I don’t want to make things difficult or uncomfortable, but sitting here, looking at you, talking with you—it feels like the last ten years have melted away, like I never left.”
“I know I have no right to show up and demand a place in your life, but—”
She touched a finger to his lips. “Stop. You’ve always had a place in my life and always will.”
He caught her wrist with one hand. “What kind of place?”
“That depends. We can’t turn back the clock, and I wouldn’t want to. I guess we’ll have to play it by ear and see where things go.”
“That sounds good to me—better than good.” He drew her hand toward his mouth and planted a light kiss on her knuckles before releasing it.
Kate glanced at her watch. “Hold that thought. I’ve got exactly three hours and fifteen minutes to prepare and serve dinner for fifty at the Morrisburg Chamber of Commerce annual Christmas party.”
“Sounds like fun. Just tell me what to do.”
“You don’t have to help.”
He pushed back from the table and picked up his dishes. “Of course, I do. As Katie’s Place’s newest employee, I have to earn my pay.”“Oh, you’ll earn it. Believe me.”