Cooking On A First Date

Summertime simmers with the heat down here in Louisiana.  Things can burn out of control.  A person can get lost in the moment once the temperature starts to rise.  I thought this was a perfect time of year to share some of the ‘heat’ between Aubrie Sinclair and Logan Latimar from Beyond the Veil.  Book One of Shadow Company begins with Logan, and ex-SEAL and warlock inviting Aubrie, a reclusive empath to dinner.  He wants to cook for her at her place.  Convincing her he has master skills, she reluctantly agrees.  Things sizzle between them as the food cooks.

Each of them dances around the elements of magic between them like two warriors about to battle.  A simple man attracted to a simple woman – how misleading can two characters be?  Here’s an excerpt from the beginning where Logan arrives to cook for Aubrie after assuring her he’s got a talent in the kitchen and on the grill.

***

Beyond the Veil

Chapter 3

God’s blood, Logan would be arriving any minute!  Aubrie still didn’t know what to wear.  Pulling out another top, this time one with a tendency to ride high in the front but low in the back, she tugged the sheer number over her head.  Giving her image a good examination, Aubrie decided the tiny bit of midriff the top revealed worked.  “Okay, shoes or boots?” she asked Copper, who thumped his tail.  Aubrie yanked on skinny jeans before flopping down on the bedside to tug on boots with fringe.  “To the bathroom for mascara.  With a little blush, some lipstick and there.  I’m ready.”  The top was cobalt blue with buttons down the front.  She left a couple of buttons undone to show the lace of her form-fitting undershirt.  The silver chain around her neck replaced her usual amulet.  From the chain hung a turquoise stone for protection as well as strength.  Risky for sure. Still, she had enough candles and more crystals lying around the place to ward off any stray thoughts.  Her amulet sat on the kitchen counter.  She planned to use it if the vibe wasn’t right.  Without a good connection between them, he was history anyway.

There was a knock at the door.  Aubrie glanced at the clock.  “Right on time.”  Smoothing her jeans in place, she went to the door.  A quick check in the mirror and she opened the door.  The Curs wedged their way in on either side of her.

“Hi.  Man!”  Logan let out a low whistle.  “Jeez, lady.  I may have to have a medic before dessert.”

There he stood – mega male.  Have mercy! He smelled amazing.  His hands held plastic bag handles, flowers, finished off with wine.  “Let me help you.”   The wine needed saving.  Aubrie reached for the bottle.  A quick glance as she leaned in proved the point she’d been trying to forget.  He was so freaking cute.  The dark hair hung to his shoulders.  The cleft in his chin needed a serious nip.  His clear green eyes held such secrets, each one begging to be discovered.  “Flowers!  You shouldn’t have.  They’re lovely.”

“Not as lovely as you.”  He sat the rest down before taking her hands in his.  With an admiring appraisal, he grinned, “Honey, you clean up good.”

The laughter bubbled up unbidden.  “I could say the same for you.”  His eyes sparked warmth deep in her chest.  Too much too soon her mind shouted.  “Here, let me put these in a vase while you open the wine.  The corkscrew is in the top drawer left of the stove.”  Within a few minutes, she had the daisies in a tall vase sitting in the middle of the table.  “Now,” she said as he turned to hand her wine.  “Found the wine glasses I see.”

“Uh, yeah, I did.  I hope you like Cabernet.”

“Yes, I do.”

“The steaks are ready for the grill.  If you show me where to get started, I’ll light the fire.”

You already have, her mind said.  “Right this way.  The grill’s out back.”  Leading the way, Aubrie tried to downplay the nerves doing the Tango in her belly.  He was hot!  The awkward way Logan managed to carry everything at once made him definitely human.  He was trouble with a capital T.  Don’t worry, Aubrie, you’ll find a way to mess things up.  You always do.  The little voice in her head actually laughed.  “Here we are,” she said shoving everything else out of her head.

“Nice setup you have here.”  Logan glanced around as he sat the steaks down on a sideboard.

“Thanks,” Aubrie smiled.  “The view is my favorite.  I love the hills filled with pines.  The valley below is a real treat.  My favorite place to have coffee in the morning.”

“I can see why.”  He turned to her before smiling in appreciation.  “How about I fix us a nice salad while you kick back and relax?”

“All right.”  Jitters gave way to an ache lower in her belly.  “What a gentleman.  Are you consistently this considerate?”

Stupid question! Her mind screamed.  Way to go, Aubrie.

Again, willing away the negative thoughts, she craved a night without trouble.  “I mean, you’re full of great traits.  First, you can cure a burn with Aloe as a natural medicine.  Now I find you capable of social skills as well.  What next?”

The grin he sent her had her grateful she was seated.  Otherwise, she’d have melted to the floor.  He was confident as well as talented.  Points!

“I enjoy cooking on the grill.  How do you like your steak?”

“Medium rare.”  Aubrie took a sip of her wine.  “Smells wonderful.”  She eased up to follow her nose to the grill.  He had prepared vegetable kabobs and baked potatoes wrapped in aluminum foil.  “The aroma is delectable.  You must cook a lot.”

“When I get a chance, I enjoy cooking for people.  Sometimes, I invite my family over.  Grilling is a passion I love to indulge.  It’s been a while since I had a chance.”

Aubrie handed him his wine glass. “Here, stop a minute.  Have a sip.”

“All right.”  Logan wiped his hands on a dishtowel, which wasn’t hers.

Momentarily lost in the notion he had considered everything, she flinched when he touched her wrist.

“Sorry.  I didn’t mean to startle you.”

Aubrie stiffened.  “I just…”  Her hand automatically covered the injured one.

“Oh, man.  Did I touch your burn?  I’m sorry.  How’s your hand?”

“Ah, better.  The Aloe did the trick.”  She flipped her hair off her shoulder.  Her smirk met his sober eyes.

““You sure you aren’t harboring residual pain I can ease?”

“Man, you can lay it on thick.”

His lips thinned as a red hue lit his cheekbones.

Aubrie found the blush endearing.  Players didn’t blush she mused.

“Next time I take you out for coffee, we’ll try Starbuck’s in Monroe.”

“Don’t worry.  I can see why females ignore everybody else when you walk in.  It’s a natural reaction.”

Logan locked eyes with her.  “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It’s that most women don’t look past the physical package when it comes to men.  Gets them in trouble down the road.  Connie couldn’t help herself.”

He nodded.  “And you are the cautious kind, am I right?”

“A girl’s gotta be careful.  Lots of players out there.  Most so smooth, you don’t see ‘em coming.”

“A hard nut to crack – that’s you.”  His smile bordered on calculating.

“You want the truth.  Yes, I am.  I don’t take people with a grain of salt.  Too many pitfalls.”

“Sounds to me like you’ve been hurt before?”

The barb stung.  “Hasn’t everyone?  You have to learn from the scars.”  She gazed directly into his face.

“No worries.”  He lifted his glass.  “Here’s to good food with marvelous company.”

The smile she gave him came out stilted.  Got to relax!

“You don’t have to explain or apologize – ever.”  He had moved in close, giving her little room to escape.  The finger under her chin proved strong yet gentle.  “There’s no reason you should ever apologize.”

Captivated by the velvet smoothness of his voice, Aubrie relaxed a fraction.  Her head tilted back.  She slid into his magnificent green eyes.  Static filled the air.

“I want to kiss you, Aubrie.”

“I…yes.”  The one word slipped past her guard.  As his lips pressed into hers, Aubrie’s eyes closed.  Languishing in the sensation, she tasted him.  His mouth fit perfectly over hers.  A tiny flick of his tongue against her teeth brought her back.  She gazed at the gold flecks shining in his eyes.  Why hadn’t she noticed them before?  Abruptly, he released her mouth.  The connection was broken as he stepped back.  With a sad twinge, Aubrie realized that the kiss was over.

Logan examined her face in silence followed by a chuckle.

The sound was warm, deep notes on a soft burst of breath.

“Um, you taste good,” he said.

Her heart went racing.  The organ beat in Aubrie’s ears.  “What?”

He laughed again.

Mortified, she took a step in retreat.  “I have some cheese to go with the wine.  I’ll get it,” she said.  Wheeling away from those hypnotic eyes, Aubrie raced inside.

Logan’s soft hum floated on the evening breeze filled with garlic, onion and Tony’s Chachere’s.

What was she doing?  Perplexed, she stopped in the doorway to the kitchen.  The kiss had been enchanting.  Like some spell cast long ago.  Putting a hand to her chest, Aubrie became aware of her senses stirring.  This man was like no other.  She conjured an image of him in her mind’s eye.  One of Logan standing high atop a hillside in a long, flowing robe of midnight blue.  In his hand was a gleaming golden staff.  Atop the staff rested, a crystal ball filled with colors.  The light spectacle swirled in the glass.

“This is a spectacular view.”  He’d materialized in her doorway.

Aubrie dropped the cheese knife.

“Careful, let me.”  He was there in the blink of an eye, picking up the fallen blade before checking her hand for any injury.

Aubrie didn’t know why she sucked in air, except as he reached her, he grabbed her wrist.  “I’m fine.  Really.” When he didn’t let her go, she shot him a reassuring smile.

He took the cheese plate before opening the door for her.  “You’re lucky to be able to enjoy this view anytime you want.”

“I do love it here.  I feel at home.”

“Are you ever concerned about living out here alone?”

A flash of consciousness made Pilot appeared in her mind’s eye.  Then came the creepy sensation of being watched.  “I can’t imagine living anywhere else.  It’s peaceful.  The room allows me to have the horse.  The Curs can run as well.”

“Where are they, by the way?”  Glancing around, Logan turned from the rail.

“They are down by the garden.  I have trouble with the pesky gophers.  The Curs volunteer to help,”

“Seems like this is a perfect place for raising things.  Your garden is spectacular.  The tomatoes are huge,” he said.

She couldn’t stop the grin.  Her mind must have been in the gutter because she considered some other things she hoped were huge.

“What?”

He’d caught her looking.  Well, hell.  She meant to be careful.  “Nothing, I just…I was just thinking about the dogs.  They can get pretty wrapped up in the search.  That’s all.”  She wanted to be wrapped up in him.  That was for sure.  She needed more wine.  “Can I get you some more Cabernet?  Her pulse rocketed skyward when his hand touched hers.  What the hell?  Caught off guard, she jerked back.  He was willing.  His thoughts were right there.

“Are you okay?  I startled you.  I’m sorry.”  He eased closer.

The touch of his hand again warmed her senses.  She’d thrown up the shield, though.  No more pictures appeared.  What she’d seen was enough.  Christ on a stick!  He was the one in her dreams.  How the devil did that happen?  Reminding her overactive glands the lack of privacy was part of the reason she didn’t get close to anyone proved sobering.  “It’s okay.  I’m just hungry.  When will dinner be ready?”

Logan stopped.  Turning, he glanced under the lid.  “Soon.  Medium rare doesn’t require long over the flames.”  A slow, deliberate gleam came into his eyes.  “Would you enjoy a dance before we eat?”  He set his glass aside.  “Come on.  I won’t bite.”

If he touched her now, she’d freak out.  “Um, sounds good.  First, let me get more wine.”  Without waiting for an answer, she fled inside.

At the counter, Aubrie leaned on the cool porcelain of the sink.  “I gotta get a grip,” she murmured.  “The night will not end with me making some lame excuse about having to get up early for work.  I can do this!  Okay.  I’ll relax.  Block your thoughts, Aubrie.”  She opened her eyes.  The kitchen window faced the back porch.  In the distance, the tree line of pines stretched toward the darkening sky.  The moon would be up soon.  Good!  She needed the vibes the moon’s light provided.  With her wine glass full once more, she grabbed the amulet off the counter and slipped it over her head.

“Here we go,” she said as she handed him the bottle of wine.  Forcing a smile, she noted her hands still shook.  The realization Logan was her nightmare companion made her nauseous.

“Thanks, I hope you like baked potatoes off the grill?  I did rabbit food on skewers too.”  He stopped to sip his wine.  His eyes remained on her.

Small talk.  The guy was trying to ease the obvious tension Aubrie exhibited with small talk.  “You mean like carrots and onions?”  The words came out on a breath so shaky she swore.  “Sorry, I love rabbit food.  What girl doesn’t?”  Sit down, her mind screamed.  You’re acting like an idiot.  Aubrie dropped into the nearest seat.  Belatedly, she realized Logan settled right beside her.  “Are you glad to be home?”

“Home?” His brow furrowed.  “Oh, yeah, I’m still getting used to stateside.  The job at Gus’ helps.  It’s good to have a routine.  So much of the past four years were built on a fuckin’ routine.”  His expression went sheepish.  “Sorry, old habits die hard.”

“No, don’t apologize.  I’ve been known to share a cuss word a time or two.  Besides, you have every right to be frustrated.  You spent four years of your life over there.  It’s still a mess.”

Logan went quiet on her.

Positive she had said something wrong, Aubrie tried again.  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to share my opinion.  It isn’t my place to…”

“Yeah, well, it’s still a fuckin’ mess over there.  I can’t deny that.”  He stood up.  “Better check on the meat.”

Feeling brittle, Aubrie sat studying her hands fisted in her lap.  Stupid thing to say.  Way to go.  Her inner moderator was working overtime.  “I’ll set the table.”  Heading for the door, she sucked in air when Logan’s hand locked onto her arm.

“Wait a minute.  You didn’t think I blamed you for anything you said did you?”

“How did you know?”  Her mind was fuzzy.  How did he guess she was feeling guilty about what she had said?  “I shouldn’t have said anything about the war.  I hope…”  She didn’t get to finish the sentence as his mouth came down on hers with deliberate intent.  His beard scrubbed across her chin as he delved inside her mouth with his tongue.  The urge to scream came bubbling up from deep inside.  Yet, she couldn’t stop the lust surging past the scream.  Logan’s hands rested on her shoulders as his fingers dug into her flesh.  He drew her close.  She reached up, wrapping her arms around his neck.  He slanted his mouth over hers, giving her tiny nips as he lingered.  Aubrie’s eyes closed as the kisses trailed down her collarbone.  The flick of his tongue on her sensitive skin had her clinging to him like a lifeline.  The moan came unexpectedly.  She blinked as she realized he’d stopped.

“You are the most delicious woman I’ve ever met.”  A grin surfaced as he turned away to the grill.  “Looks like the foods ready.  Now we can take care of your ravenous appetite.  Will you get the door?”

“Sure.”  Shaking her head, Aubrie obeyed as she tried desperately to uncurl her toes.  Where in the hell had such a kiss come from?  Moreover, why had he stopped?  She grappled with the urge to open to his thoughts.  No, it wouldn’t be ethical or without pain.  Nonetheless, she wanted to see into Logan’s head.  With the wine glass still dangling in her fingers, Aubrie sighed.  Dinner, it was simply dinner.  Hell, who was she kidding?  Two minutes ago, she was sure with Logan as a dinner partner, things were bound to ignite.  Now…  She glanced over when the cork popped.  A fizz of champagne bubbled over the side of the bottle Logan held.  His features had relaxed.  He proved sexier than ever with the grin on his face.  A change of subject she decided.  “I didn’t know you meant bubbly as well when you said wine.”

“I got to thinking, why not?  If this is my chance to apologize for the other day at the diner, then I figure I need all the help I can get so I doubled down.”

Aubrie couldn’t stop the giggle from rushing out.  The laughter, which followed came as natural as breathing.  He made her feel good.  The truth warmed her insides.  “You are trying to get me drunk.”

“You agree.”  He pointed his index finger at her in that patented, comfortable-in-his-own-skin way of his.

God, she was in trouble.

“Okay, before you keel over in a fit of laughter, let’s eat.”  Logan held out a hand to escort her to the table.  Like a real gentleman, he pulled out her chair.  Making sure she was comfortable, he went back for the salad.

Points for him!  The candles screamed date.  Aubrie didn’t care.  Pausing a second, she mentally checked off whether she had shaved her legs.  The short-lived relief vanished as he sat down beside her.

Logan’s knee touched hers as he moved closer.

“Everything looks good, Logan.  I’ll admit I’m surprised.”

“My grandmother taught me.  I enjoy cooking.  Like I said, it relaxes me.  I made dessert.  Hope you save room.”

“Dessert?”  Waving him off, she groaned.  “Oh, no.  Not dessert, too.”

He shrugged.  “What meal isn’t complete without dessert?”

“Okay, I give.  What is it?”

“Apple cheesecake.”

Despite the attempt at playing it cool, Aubrie’s brow furrowed.  “You’re kidding, right?”

“Nope,” he cocked his head jauntily to one side.  “I don’t joke about food.”  Reaching out, he took her fingers in his with a gentleness, which beguiled his strength.  He placed a light kiss on her knuckles.  “Besides, a little bird told me, cheesecake is your favorite.”

“It is.  This is my first apple cheesecake, though.”

Logan laughed.  The pleasure showing in his eyes.  “I hope you like it.”

“I will.  I know it.”  Taking another sip of champagne, Aubrie watched him over her glass.  A thick fringe of lashes framed his steady green eyes.  The man’s hair was longer than she’d expected of a former SEAL.  Probably making up for the high-n-tight he’d worn while actively stationed in Afghanistan.  The urge to reach out and touch the silky strains proved hard to resist.  Maybe later.

Before long, the steak disappeared.  The veggies also vanished.  Logan deposited dishes in the sink before starting to rinse.

“You’re too perfect.  I’m beginning to wonder if you’re gay.”

Logan’s look of astonishment, followed by a wicked grin, made Aubrie laugh aloud again.

“I’m kidding.  You know that, right?”  Her insecurity wormed its way upward.  She battled to gain control.  “I appreciate the help.  What I’d like to do is try the cheesecake.  Do you mind?”

“Of course not.  Help yourself.”  Continuing to fill the dishwasher, Logan winked back at her when she welded the serving knife.

“How big a piece do you want?” she taunted.  Wondering if Logan would take the bait, she smiled suggestively.

“How about a great big piece we can share?”

The butterflies started fluttering again, despite her belly being full of a delicious meal.  “Um, sounds perfect.  Hey, you can bring the wine.  I’ll light the fire on the porch.”

“I’m on it.”  Logan wiped his hands before heading for the bottle.

Aubrie checked, making sure she had everything she needed.  A nice, cozy blanket, the fire starter, the cheesecake plus one fork, check.  A slight chill set the mood.  The fire in the pit would be perfect.  Flames licked at the wood.  With a bit of effort, she managed a decent little blaze.  Rubbing her hands together as she settled back in the cushions, Aubrie waited.

He appeared with the glasses,  In the moonlight, his features hardened.  The look of danger surrounded him.

Aubrie blinked.  Shaking off the instinct to back off, she tensed as her inner warning signal whined when Logan settled next to her.  So close.  What his next move would be, she managed to block.  Her insides were going liquid with the idea she might get lucky.  Getting ahead of his advance would prove a bad step.  Let him set the pace she reminded her fretful nerves.

“This is a spectacular view, Aubrie.”  Handing her the wine glass, he smiled before glancing back at the pines in the valley.  “Thanks for letting me enjoy this spot with you.”  His fingers reached over, sweeping strands of her hair behind her ear.

The breeze kicked up, rustling his hair.  Aubrie stared.  Here she sat with a man so enticing the pulse in her throat very nearly caused her not to breathe.  Gentle fingers caressed her neck, sending her blood scurrying through her veins.  “Yes, I love living here.  It’s hard sometimes to get things done with the multitude of pleasant distractions.”

Logan leaned in, studying her.  “I’ll bet.”

Aubrie’s glass slipped.  Wine spilled into his lap.  “Oh shit!  I’m sorry.  I’ll get…”  She faced him as she stood.  Her explanation was right there.  Why couldn’t she say the words?

“Stay.  You don’t need to get anything.  Look, no damage done.  No apology needed.”  His words were liquid seduction.  Logan reached out, taking her wrist in his hand.  Moving in close, he tugged her down into the cushions again.

A moment passed as Aubrie realized he was going to kiss her.  His warm breath caressed her face.

“Don’t close your eyes, Aubrie.  I want to see what you’re thinking.”

She tensed.  Did Logan know?  What did he mean by that?  “I may not be able to help myself,” She lied.  “Sorry.”

“Remember, there’s no reason to apologize.”

His lips hovered over hers.  His eyes bore into hers.  “You are beautiful.  I can’t believe I’m actually here.”  Tracing her mouth with his finger, he eased back a fraction studying her.

Slow yet deliberate, Aubrie lifted her head.  The contact was gentle at first.  She eased his mouth open with her tongue before kissing him with unabashed fervor.  If the move made her forward, then so be it.

“You smell wonderful,” he whispered in her ear.

“So do you.”  Reaching for her wine glass, she drank deep.  She hoped her answer didn’t sound as stupid to him as the words did to her.  Fighting off the sensation, she shored up her courage with a move she had been saving.  Reaching over, she wrapped her fingers around his nape.  “I want another sample.”

The grin grew wicked as he growled low in his throat.  “My pleasure, my lady.”

Old-fashioned romance mingled with the thrumming sensation of lust racing through every fiber of her body.  She leaned in giving Logan’s shirtfront a good tug with her fingers.  This time she concentrated on the smells of smoke, cologne, along with male musk mixed with soap.  The combination had her craving more.  His neck muscles bunched under her fingers.  His arms came around her as he leaned back on the couch.  “Come take what you need, Aubrie.”

Her name on his lips had the craving for him rocketing skyward.  Tempted by the urge to rip his shirt off his body, she managed to harness her hunger long enough to pull the cotton over his head.

“Wait…”

“Too late,” She teased.  Her naughty grin ebbed as the light of the moon’s glow landed on his chest.  An eight-inch scar mingled with the tat of an eagle wrapped in an American flag lay over his right peck.  The tattoo glimmered with his perspiration.  She traced a finger over the raised flesh, still pink from the recent injury.  Mesmerized, she followed the line of the national bird in all its glory.  “Why didn’t you tell me?”  Her question was simple.  Spoken in a small voice, her concern warred with the lust now on hold in her system.

“Because I didn’t want this to happen.  That’s why.”

The air quickly went cold between them.  Aubrie glanced out at the darkness.  She sensed a presence.  Clutching the amulet around her neck, she locked eyes with Logan.  His had gone distant and hard.  None of the playful, sexy guy, who’d wooed her expertly remained.

“You feel that?”  She searched the night air for the intrusion.

“Yeah.  I got the drift.”  Sarcasm bounced off him like water off the concrete.  “Look, it’s getting late.  I guess I’d better go.  Rising, Logan wasted no time, tugging his shirt back in place.  “Gotta open up at seven in the morning.”  Hesitating, he reached out and gave her a good night kiss on the cheek.  “I hope you enjoyed the meal.”

“I did.  I enjoyed the night very much.  Look, if you think I was put off by your scar, you’re wrong.  I was surprised.  That’s all.”  Shock mingled with disappointment hovered expectantly.

“Yeah, well.  It is what it is.  Maybe I can call you sometime?”

“Sure, I’d like that very much.”  Aubrie did her best to smile, despite the surge of tears burning her eyes.  The moron actually expected her to be turned off by his injury.  What a superficial bastard!  “I’ll walk you out.”

“That’s okay.  I can find my way.  Thanks for everything.  I’ll call you.”

“Okay.  Sure.”

He turned for the door before disappearing into the darkness.

Aubrie clamped her hand over her mouth.  “Go away you.  Go away like all the rest.”  The front door closing resounded in her head.  Sounded final she mused.

***

Talk about drowning a fire.  What got into Logan?  Aubrie assumes the worst based on a long history of men not understanding her talents.  Want more?  Check out Beyond the Veil at Smashwords.  Only 99 cents for a limited time.

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/690574

Buy Now

 

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