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Two and a half hours later, Roxanne put the finishing touches on the last of nine dishes. She'd been very relieved to find out the names on the menu were in traditional Gaelic, and the English meanings were very close to what Americans served at holidays. The goose roasted happily in one of the ovens. Spiced beef slices rested in a chafing dish in the warming oven next to stuffing, sliced soda bread, and three kinds of potatoes. Her mince pies were cooling and she stirred the whiskey sauce for the baked pudding. Luckily, the Christmas Cake came ready to serve, and Marsha was in the china closet looking for the perfect serving platter for it.
A man walked into the kitchen as if he owned the place. This must be Mr. Finn. Young, at least five years younger than her twenty-eight. How had he made his fortune? He glanced around. "Killian?"
Killian was the name of the absentee caterer. Roxanne wiped her hand on her apron and walked toward him. "Yes, but please, call me Roxanne." A twinge of guilt tightened her chest at the lie. Marsha had begged her not to let on that the caterer hadn't shown up until after the meal was finished. She'd sworn to keep the secret until the end.
He tentatively reached out and shook her hand, as if he was too good to shake hands with a lowly kitchen worker.
"Everyone's back, they're upstairs changing right now. I'll bring them into the serving room in fifteen?"
A tinge of nervousness rattled her before she reminded herself she'd done this same type of meal a hundred times. "Yes, that'll be fine."
He furrowed his brows. "Everything is ready, isn't it?"
Roxanne forced her best smile. "Of course it is." She gestured around the kitchen. "See for yourself." She half expected the man to actually look in each oven and pan.
He nodded. "Fifteen minutes." Turning on his heel, he raced out.
Roxanne made a face and mouthed those same two words to the man's retreating back as the oven timer rang. "Marsha!" She dashed to the oven and pulled out the goose.
The woman came into the kitchen carrying a gold and crystal pedestal plate. "Look at this. Just perfect for—"
"Beautiful. Sorry, but we just got our fifteen-minute warning."
Marsha squeaked and hustled to the counter and placed the sliced cake on the platter. "You met Mr. Finn? Isn't he just the most handsome thing?"
"Yes." If you liked the snippy kind of man.
"When you bring the cake out, will you light the flames under the chafing dishes?"
"Will do, Chef."
The compliment hit Roxanne like a joyful burst of adrenaline. She smiled at Marsha, who was grinning at her with a sweet look on her face.
Taking a deep breath, Roxanne said, "Let's do this."
Fourteen minutes later, everything was set. Roxanne adjusted the flames under the chafers, checked to be sure the right serving utensil sat next to the dishes, and slid back the hinged covers.
Voices came from another room and she quickly pulled off her apron and stuck it under one of the skirted tables. Seven people walked in and she smiled. Her face fell when she recognized most of them. This wasn't a family gathering. It was a celebrity party.
A Vegas magician who had his own casino showroom stood next to a female comedian who performed worldwide. A country superstar who'd just opened at a casino held hands with his wife, also a singing star. A politician and his wife walked in next, followed by two beautiful women.
Her mouth formed the words "holy shit" and she caught the amused glance of the next person to walk in the door.
He was a tall, gorgeous man with auburn hair that curled past his collar, sparkling green eyes, and a body that filled out his polo shirt and khaki pants very well.
He spoke to the magician as he guided the two women to the beginning of the buffet line.
Roxanne handed plates to the ladies, listening to their excited comments about the food. The country star and his wife were next, and she couldn't help the smile that crossed her face. They chatted with her as they started filling their plates.
Wait until she told her family who she spent Christmas with.
More guests filtered in, including a talk show host, a major financier, and a whole band. As the guests finished going through the line, they headed into the adjoining dining room and sat at a huge table decorated with a green tablecloth, gold napkins, and arrangements of flowers in cranberry-filled vases.
The last two men in the serving room were Mr. Finn, who hadn't changed clothes since he'd been in the kitchen, and the tall, dreamy man. They seemed to be arguing quietly. Mr. Finn pointed at her and walked into the kitchen.
She gulped. Had she been found out?
The hunk strolled toward her, a concerned look on his face. "Killian?"
She nodded. "Please, call me Roxanne." She handed him a plate.
"Roxanne." He set the plate down. "Could I talk to you for a moment?" His light Irish accent was too sexy.
She felt heat rise up her cheeks. "Of course."
The magician came back into the serving room. "This is absolutely fabulous. My God, Finn, Killian has outdone himself. My compliments to the chef.
Roxanne smiled and nodded, but when she realized what he'd called the man next to her, her face sobered. Looking up at the stud next to her, she asked, "You're Finn?"
He nodded. "I'm Finn Brayden, owner of the Emerald Isle Casino."
Oh holy crap. "And Killian is…?"
"Not you." He turned and pushed open the kitchen door. "If you have a minute." He gestured for her to go in ahead of him.
Marsha's voice melded with the voice of the smaller man as they argued.
Finn cleared his throat and there was silence. "What the feck is going on here, Marsha?" His accent thickened.
The cook started talking about the caterer at the same time the snippy man said, "I knew nothing about this, and I—"
"Dún do bhéal," Finn said and pointed at the man. "You. Out."
He stomped from the room.
"Marsha." Finn crossed his arms over his chest and stood glaring. "Who the hell is this?" He jerked his head toward Roxanne. "And where is Killian?"
"Mr. Finn." She wrung her hands in front of her belly. "This is Roxanne…uh…"
He barely spared her a glance.
Marsha's face looked pale. "Killian called and said he couldn't make it up the mountain and was turning around and heading back to the city. Then ten minutes later, this angel was sent from heaven in answer to my prayers."
He turned full on Roxanne then, his narrowed gaze boring into her.
She pressed the palms of her hands together in a saintly gesture and fluttered her eyelashes.
A barely perceptible tick curled the corner of his lips for just a second.
When Finn didn't speak, Roxanne stuffed her hands in her apron pockets and told her story. "I was hired as your wait staff. Marsha and I together figured out how to—"
Marsha stepped forward. "Oh, Mr. Finn, truly, Roxanne did it all herself. I was just the helper."
Finn nodded to Roxanne. "Continue."
"I have a culinary certificate, ran a restaurant in Minnesota, and am currently employed at the Faroh's Steak House in the King's Palace Casino."
He lifted a brow.
She knew she had to tell him everything. "I'm a waitress."
He rolled his eyes toward the ceiling and took a deep breath.
"But I'm applying for cook positions. I've only been here two weeks, and with the downturn in the economy, it's tough—"
"Okay." He held out a hand. "Everyone has eaten your food. I guess there's nothing we can do now but wait and see if they start dropping dead."
Stop by tomorrow to read Chapter Three!