Into the Fire

By K.T. Chambers

Bianca is a single mother with an asshole of an ex and a three month old daughter. She doesn’t have the time, energy, or inclination to nurture a new relationship when she’s not even fully divorced from her first mistake. But her friend, Anne, just won’t listen. And Adrian is just too good to be true.

Chapter 1

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Anne rolled her eyes, dropping her face in her hands. “Emily, Bianca? You brought Emily? I’m trying to set you up with this guy!”

Bianca looked up from re-swaddling her three month old daughter – Emily- her expression bland. “If the guy you’re setting me up with has a problem with my baby, we’d best get it out in the open first off.”

Anne tossed her hands up in frustration. “Fine, well, why don’t you drop your pants so you can show him your tattoo and that funny looking mole while we’re at it?? Best get these things aired out before we can get attached, right?”

Bianca rolled her eyes. “Anne, please. Cut the melodrama. This might come as a surprise to you, but I didn’t originally plan to bring Emily. My babysitter bailed.”

You mean your deadbeat bitch of a sister?”

The very same.” Bianca muttered, tucking Emily back into her carrier, which she had set on the chair between her and Anne. She was asleep for now, but she’d need to eat pretty soon. Bianca had been hoping the ‘blind date’ wouldn’t take this long. She usually got at least a few dirty looks for breast feeding in public, so it was something she tended to avoid if she could. And this place, a really nice-seeming restaurant, was probably the last place on earth she wanted to be whipping out her boob.

I don’t know why you let that psycho watch your baby in the first place.” Anne growled. “She’s an irresponsible little trollop.”

Bianca rolled her eyes again, fighting an exasperated sigh. “It’s not a matter of ‘Let’, Anne. She owes me money, and I’m getting her to work it off by being my daycare center. Unless you feel like stepping up?”

I help when I can!” Anne said defensively, sitting up straighter.

I know, I know.” Bianca shrugged. “Brandy only promised to watch Em on weekdays, I can’t hold it against her that she couldn’t today, when I gave her so little warning.” Anne opened her mouth to respond, probably with something snippy, but Bianca cut her off. “Speaking of which, where the hell is this guy? I’d like to get this over with and go home, please and thank you.”

Nice attitude.” Anne said drily. She glanced down at her phone. “He’s probably still in the kitchen.”

Bianca raised an eyebrow. “Kitchen? I thought you said he managed this place?”

Anne tutted, still staring down at her phone. “No, he owns it, but he’s also the head chef.”

Wait, owns?” Bianca sputtered, staring at her friend. “You didn’t say diddly about him owning this place. Anne, this place is, like, swanky.”

Anne waved her off. “Oh, relax, he’s not crazy loaded or anything.” She glanced over, her eyes earnest. “He’s an incredible cook, though. You know he’s hosting Thanksgiving here in a couple of weeks? I thought you could come with me, especially if you hit it off.”

Bianca groaned, dropping her head into her hands. “Anne, I’m a soon-to-be divorced, single mother of a three month old baby. You don’t set up swanky restaurant owners with divorcee mommies! It’s just not cool! It’s humiliating.” She lifted her head to glare. “And as for Thanksgiving, I already have plans.”

What, chugging cans of cranberry sauce while you wallow in self pity?” Anne asked sarcastically.

You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

Anne huffed a sigh. “Omigod, Bianca, ok, look. Adrian is a really nice guy, and he just got out of a crappy relationship, too. His fiancé dumped him because he said he wanted a family-“

Oh, so you’re saying we’d be each others’ rebound relationship?” Bianca asked, leaning forward. Beside her, Emily started fussing, whimpering brokenly.

Jesus Christ, Bianca, would you stop being a crazed pessimistic bitch for two seconds?” Anne said, her voiced pitched. Bianca leaned over to try and comfort Emily while she talked. “First of all, I was his rebound relationship, kind of.”

Bianca glanced up at her. “Ew, Anne.” She said blandly. She thrust her chin toward the large tote on the ground by Anne’s chair. “And can you hand me that? She’s hungry.”

Anne reached down and dug in the tote, grabbing the blanket she needed rather than the whole bag. “Look, you can’t limit your dating prospects to people I haven’t slept with, you’d have to leave the state. Besides, we were both too drunk to remember much, so it doesn’t count.”

Bianca snorted as she arranged the blanket over her shoulder. “It counts, and you’re insane. It’s a good thing I’m here for the food more than anything else. I’m going to need the burp cloth, too.”

This time Anne grabbed the bag and put it on the free chair on the other side of the table. “You came for the food, but you’ll stay for Adrian. He’s the yummiest thing in that kitchen, Bianca, and that’s saying something.”

Bianca paused in arranging the blanket around herself and Emily, and looked at Anne with an exasperated expression. “You’re not getting it, Anne. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with him, I’m sure he’s fantastic. The problem is me. What on earth do I have to offer a guy like that?” She turned back to Emily, who was squirming, trying to find her nipple so she could eat. “I’m worn out, and strung out, and stretched out. I have an ex-husband, and a baby girl, and no money. Not to mention the stretch marks and,” she lowered her voice to a harsh whisper. “The ripped vagina.”

Anna rolled her eyes.Please, woman, you had, like, four stretch marks. And if you’ve been using that cream I got you, which I know you have because I’ve seen you naked recently, you can hardly even see them. And as for your vagina, the doctor stitched that up and it healed perfectly fine. You’re probably tighter than you used to be, particularly since you haven’t gotten any since you dropped the baby.”

Bianca shaded her face with her free hand. “Anne, for the love of god, could you please keep your voice down when you’re talking about my lady parts? There are other people here!”

Anne waved her off again, eyes back on her phone. “Chill out, no one’s listening. And you need to give yourself more credit, sweetie, you’ve got an ass any woman would kill for, and Adrian is gonna love Emily.”

Chapter 2

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Adrian groaned when Josh stepped into the kitchen. He could tell by the look on his face that he wasn’t going to like what he had to say.

Josh winced in response, looking apologetic. “I’m so sorry, man, but this asshole is bitching about some woman and her baby, and he wants to talk to a manager or something.”

Adrian glanced over at his sous chef, Carl. “Remind me again why I wanted to start my own restaurant?” He muttered.

Carl smirked. “Because you didn’t want people limiting what you could cook.” He said simply. They went through this almost every day.

Right.” Adrian sighed, and nodded to the nearest chef, Angelique. “You got this?” he asked, motioning to the food he was preparing.

Angie nodded. “Covered, boss, go do what you do.”

Boss?” Carl called, as Adrian reached the door. “Try not to kill the guy.”

Adrian smirked. “Not making any promises.” He called back, and followed Josh onto the floor.

Josh led him to the customer, but Adrian could probably have picked him out without his help. He was old, but dressed very neatly. His nose was wrinkled in distaste, and he was staring pointedly at the wall, looking utterly priggish. The only thing that radiated from him stronger than the self-righteousness was the bullshit.

Yes, sir, is there something I can help you with?” Adrian said, figuring it couldn’t hurt to start out courteously.

The man looked up at him, his expression haughty. “Yes, thank you. There is a woman sitting over there, breast feeding a child, at a table and in plain view! I find it both inappropriate and vulgar. Your little waiter here says he doesn’t have the ‘authority’ to ask her to leave, but I assume you do, so, if you please.” The man flapped his hand and turned back to his food.

Adrian glanced over at the woman the man seemed so offended by. Besides her long, black, curly hair, and the blanket covering most of her torso, he couldn’t make out much. He couldn’t even see the baby. The way the man was talking about it, he expected her to be spread eagle on the table, completely naked with a toddler sucking on her tit. He turned back around. “That woman?” He asked, pointing.

The man glanced back up at him, frowning, apparently surprised his wishes weren’t already being carried out. “Yes, that woman, obviously.”

She just looks cold, to me.” Adrian said, shrugging. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Josh start to relax. He hadn’t immediately punched the man, so he would probably be able to handle this in a semi-professional manner. Those classes must finally be paying off.

The man turned more to face him, getting agitated. “There is a baby underneath that blanket, sucking on that woman’s bare breast!”

Adrian raised his eyebrows. “Maybe there is, but I can’t see anything. It doesn’t bother me and it doesn’t seem to be bothering anyone else.”

It bothers me.” the man sputtered.

Adrian leaned closer. “Well, to be perfectly honest, sir, if something like that is bothering you, I would suggest therapy. The only problem I see here is you, on account of you being such a prick.”

Josh’s hand flew to his mouth to hide his grin at the same time the customer gasped in shock. “This is outrageous!” he cried.

Anne glanced over when she caught Bianca fidgeting. “What’s wrong babe?”

Bianca looked over, across the restaurant. “I think I might be about to get us kicked out of here.” She whispered, her cheeks getting red. “That guy looks pissy, and he’s talking to the waiter and pointed over here.”

Anne rolled her eyes. “Don’t be stupid, I’ve slept with the owner, no way we’re getting kicked out.”

Bianca rolled her eyes right back. “It bothers me the way you gauge how welcome you are in a place.” Anne ignored her.

You might be in for a show, though.” Anne said, smirking. “Adrian’s got this super protective complex, and he got sent to court over it. They put him in an anger management class because he beat the shit out of this one customer. The guy was trying to hit on one of the waitresses, and then called her a whore when she shot him down. He grabbed her wrist so hard it bruised. Adrian completely lost his shit, it was fantastic.”

Bianca’s eyebrows shot up. “Wow. Nice.” She glanced back over at the old guy. The waiter was gone, and he was staring at a spot in the wall, perpendicular to where she was sitting. Subtle.

She looked back down at Emily, who was sucking frantically on her nipple. The best part of breastfeeding was the money she was saving on formula, the only problem was that it was impossible to feed her baby as much as she could with a bottle, so she had to feed her more often.

Bianca sighed, and looked back up just in time to see the waiter emerge from the doors that seemed to lead to the kitchen. Following right behind him was a tall guy dressed as a chef. Bianca’s stomach turned over, and she managed to think both “Maybe the old guy just has a problem with his food” and “Good god that guy is sexy” at the same time.

He had sandy blond hair, brown eyes, and very capable looking hands. He was wearing the same kind of smock you usually see on chefs in movies or on TV, with the sleeves rolled up. His pants were black, and he had an apron that reached past his knees, with multiple stains on it.

He followed the waiter to the old man’s table and started talking to him. She saw the old man motion towards her just in time to look away, before the smoking hot chef could turn and see her staring. Guess the problem wasn’t with his food.

She didn’t let herself look back over at them, but she could hear whatever they were discussing getting louder. She kept her head down when one of the men’s voices got loud enough for her to make out “It bothers me!” (She assumed it was the customer.) But when she heard, loudly and clearly, “This is outrageous!” She gave up and looked over.

The old man had stood from his seat and was staring angrily up at the chef, his fists clenched. The chef was at least six inches taller and probably outweighed him by a good hundred pounds, so it’s not like the old guy was really all that intimidating. “I am a paying customer!” The old man shouted angrily. By now pretty much everyone in the restaurant was looking over at them, so Bianca didn’t feel quite so out of place.

So is she!” The chef shouted back, just as angrily, jabbing a finger in her direction. “She has as much a right to eat here as you do, and so does her baby. You’re the one with the problem, you should be the one to leave!”

The old man sputtered for a second. “What that woman is doing is vulgar and disgusting! She has no right to be doing that in a public place!” Now several people were looking from the fight to her, and back.

The chef seemed to grow larger, his anger far more impressive. “Why not? She isn’t doing anything wrong! That woman isn’t breaking any laws, she isn’t doing anything immoral or even indiscreet. She is feeding her baby.”

The old man squeezed his eyes shut, standing very straight with his arms pressed against his sides. He looked very much like a petulant child. “I will not be treated this way!” He shouted very shrilly.

The chef’s eyes flashed, and his voiced boomed when he responded, “Then leave!

He turned and nodded to the waiter who was still standing nearby. “Josh, clear this table, we have customers waiting to be seated.” He turned back to the old man, who looked shocked. His eyes were cold. “Sir, your meal is comped, now leave my restaurant before I call the authorities and have you removed.”

The old man was still frozen in shock when, a few seconds later, the entire restaurant stood and cheered.

Bianca turned to Anne, her eyes wide. “I like that guy.” She said.

Anne smirked. “Good. That’s Adrian.”

Bianca’s jaw dropped and she turned back to look at the hot chef slash owner slash blind date. She almost choked when she saw that he was headed toward her.

I’m sorry about that, ma’am.” He said when he reached her. She could feel her cheeks heating up as she blushed furiously. “I didn’t mean to embarrass you or cause a scene.”

It was only after she realized that he actually had no idea who she was, that she realized that a small part of her mind was suspicious that he’d only been so gallant to get on her good side. None of that was an act, and as attractive as that made him, Bianca just felt that much more out of place.

Please order whatever you want, it’s on the house.” Adrian continued, oblivious to Bianca sinking deeper and deeper into self pity.

It better be, buddy.” Anne piped up, her eyebrow raised.

Adrian turned to her and noticeably jumped. “Anne? I didn’t even recognize you, did you change your hair again?”

Anne shrugged. “Only every week.” She nodded toward Bianca. “This is that girl I was telling you about, Bianca. She’s got her daughter Emily under the blanket.”

Adrian started to blush. “Oh, my god, I’m so sorry! Have you been here long?” He looked from the kitchen then to his stained apron and to their table and back again, looking extremely flustered.

Anne shrugged. “Not too long. We were going to wait until you got here to order. I was about to get the waiter to order you like an entree, but then you came out to tear that geriatric asshole a new one.”

Adrian put a hand to the back of his neck, looking sheepish. “Yeah, well, I don’t think I behaved much better than he did.”

Oh, you did.” Bianca responded without thinking. He grinned at her and her blush got worse. She looked down and saw Anne grabbing her bag out of the chair so Adrian would have a place to sit. She reached out. “Oh, no, I’ll need that, I’ll take it.”

Adrian grabbed it before she could, and set it on the ground by her seat. “That’s your diaper bag?” He asked as he sat down next to her. He looked confused.

Bianca shrugged, still looking down. “It’s the biggest bag I owned, it holds everything. I’ve been on a pretty tight budget the last few months.” She shifted in her seat when Emily started to squirm.

Well, if it works.” She heard Adrian say while she started to extract her baby from the cocoon of blankets wrapped around them both. “Do you need any help?” He asked, and she glanced up. He was leaning forward, looking a little worried.

Bianca smiled. “No, I’m fine. I’m used to juggling her.” She got Emily free and arranged her on her shoulder to burp, buttoning up her shirt underneath the blanket with her free hand.

Oh, she’s adorable.” Adrian said, drawing Bianca’s attention again. His eyes were on Emily and he was grinning. But she could see the same waiter from earlier, the one he had called Josh, was standing behind him. Adrian jumped when he cleared his throat.

Boss, I’m really sorry, but Carl is asking for you.” He said. He eyed Bianca, looking confused. She turned her attention back to her baby and ignored him.

Adrian sighed. “Right, we’re still in the lunch rush.” He looked at them both apologetically. “I’m so sorry but I have to go. You guys order whatever you want, I’ll be back out as soon as I can.”

Once Adrian was back in the kitchen, Anne turned to her and squealed. “Didn’t I tell you? How great is he? I knew you’d love him.”

Bianca looked over at Emily, who had fallen asleep against her shoulder. “Yeah, he’s really great.” She murmured, not nearly as excited.

Chapter 3

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Adrian stared at the stuffed diaper bag in his hands, feeling more awkward than ever.

It was Tuesday, his day off. Tuesday tended to be the slowest day at the restaurant. So he’d gone to visit his older sister and her two boys. And sometime after Jack throwing a tantrum, and either during or after Austin bringing him each of his toys to look at, he’d ended up telling Ellen all about Bianca. He suspected his openness had something to do with the steady stream of blue Kool-Aid she kept feeding him.

Everything from her dark, intense eyes, her adorable baby girl, and even the fact that she was using a beach tote for a diaper bag. He just blurted it all out like a total sap.

Which is what led to him standing in the hallway of a pre-furnished, pay-by-the-week apartment building holding his sister’s old diaper bag stuffed to overflowing with burp clothes and bottles.

He’d originally meant to give it to Anne to give to Bianca. “Oh, but I can’t!” She told him when he called. “I’m booked solid for the rest of the day! But she’s staying pretty close to where you are, so why don’t you just drop it off? I’ll give you the address.”

He should have known better. Anne was the one trying to set him up with this woman, she wouldn’t make it easy for him.

With every step he took down the hall, he felt more awkward. This is ridiculous he thought, having just met this woman last weekend I shouldn’t be visiting her at her apartment unannounced. That was stalker behavior, and definitely not cool when you’re trying to make a good impression. Particularly since she seemed so wary of him to begin with.

Two more steps and he had almost convinced himself to turn the hell around, and just keep the stupid diaper bag in his car until Anne pressured the poor girl into another date with him. He groaned internally, maybe if she did he’d dress like a normal person and spend more than 5 minutes with her. Saturday was such a disaster.

But just as he was about to turn on his heel and bolt, he heard a baby crying. He had no idea if it was even Emily who was crying, but without even thinking about it he kept walking. He still thought this was ridiculous stalker behavior, but if Bianca was having trouble with her baby, he wanted to help. His sisters would chalk it up to his idiotic, omnipresent chivalry

By the time he reached the door he was sure that it was Emily crying. He was also sure that Whoever it was taking care of her, it was most definitely not Bianca. Mostly just because he heard the woman scream at the baby to shut up, and she didn’t sound a thing like Bianca. Her voice was too shrill, and also, Bianca would never yell at her child to shut up. Really. Come on.

Adrian knocked sharply on the door, feeling much more resolved. Only a few seconds passed before it flew open. “Oh, thank god.” The woman said as she jerked open the door. “She will just not shut up-” She froze when she caught sight of Adrian. Her eyes narrowed. “You’re not Bianca.”

Clearly.” Adrian said, his voice dry. He frowned when he noticed her giving him a once over. He cleared his throat, lifting his arm to show her the diaper bag. “I’m a friend of Bianca’s,” He said, and watched the woman’s face twist into a grimace. “I just came to drop this off. Is Emily alright?”

The woman threw her hands up in exasperation. “Hell if I know! I just fed the stupid thing!” she spun on her heel and stomped back into the apartment, leaving the door open behind her. Adrian hesitated, then shrugged and followed her inside, shutting the door behind him. “I got her to burp, I changed her nasty diaper, and she won’t stop crying. I can’t hear myself think.” she whined shrilly.

There are a lot of reasons she might be crying.” he said, setting the bag on the small table in what he assumed had to be the dining area. “Do you mind if I…?” He gestured toward the door where he could hear Emily.

The woman had already flopped down on the couch nearby. In front of her on the coffee table he could see nail polish and used cotton balls strewn around, and the tv was on and blaring. She shrugged at him, waving him toward the door. “Whatever, dude.” she muttered.

Whoever this woman was, Adrian was liking her less by the second. He grabbed a burp cloth from the diaper bag and headed from the bedroom. She threw him a dark look when he opened the door and the noise got louder, so he shut it behind him.

Emily was thrashing around in a small cradle by the bed, her face red from crying. Adrian draped the burp cloth over his shoulder, and picked her up carefully. Her cries faltered as he laid her against his shoulder. “It’s alright.” He whispered, rubbing her back.

He started to bounce softly, inching his way around the small room. He’d gotten pretty good with babies when his first nephew was born; that was before his restaurant, and he had been Ellen’s go-to babysitter. So after about a minute of bouncing and cooing, he had calmed Emily down to only whimpering and hiccuping.

What’s the matter, sweet girl?” he murmured softly, swaying from side to side.

Emily answered him with a tremendous burp, and another little whimper.

Adrian chucked. “I bet you feel better now, huh?” Emily hiccuped against his shoulder.

She fell asleep after a few minutes, and Adrian laid her gently back down in her crib.

When he stepped back out into the living room, the tv was blaring and the woman had started back on her nails. He grabbed the remote off of the side table and forced himself to turn down the volume rather than smack her upside the head with it.

Emily’s asleep now.” He said once he could be heard over the tv. “She just needed to burp.”

The woman snorted. “Well, I burped her.” She said petulantly, still focused on her nails.

Adrian rolled his eyes. “Well, she needed to burp more.” The woman didn’t even glance up, and Adrian sighed. “Could you just tell Bianca I came by, and those baby things were from my sister?”

Sure, no problem, dude.” She muttered.

My name’s Adrian.”

Yeah, yeah, Andy, no problem.”

Adrian sighed and gave up, walking out of the apartment without another word.

Chapter 4

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What do you mean, you can’t babysit today?” Bianca cried into her phone. She looked over at Emily, who was dozing in a bouncy chair by the couch. Today was Friday, her divorce hearing was in two and a half hours, and she had to be there. Brandy could not have picked a worse time to bail on her.

Why are you so upset, you don’t even have to work today!”

Bianca rolled her eyes. “I don’t have to work today because I took today off because I need to be in court, Brandy! I need you here!”

Well, why not just take the kid with you?” Brandy whined.

Bianca scoffed. “Are you insane? I can’t take a three month old into a court room! There’ll be shouting that’ll scare here and make her cry, and I’ll be there for hours! I can’t breast feed a baby in a courtroom, Brandy!”

We-well, you just need to find another babysitter, then.” Brandy huffed. Bianca wanted to scream.

Brandy! You agreed to babysit, ok? I paid for those ridiculous breast implants, from my own savings because Curt wouldn’t cover it when I was married to the asshole, and you agreed to pay me back with babysitting!”

It’s just one day, god!” Brandy shrieked, Bianca held the phone away from her ear.

Brandy, if you don’t come today, the deal is off!!” Bianca tried to keep her voice down, to keep Emily from waking, but she was desperate.

She could hear Brandy’s shrill little scream of exasperation. “You know what, fine!” She cried. “Because you know what? Curt paid me twice what I owe you just so I wouldn’t babysit today! So I don’t need you anymore!”

Bianca gasped in shock. “What??” She cried, and Emily jerked awake and started crying. “Is that why you Can’t come today? Because my asshole ex-husband paid you off?”

No one in their right mind would turn down that much money, Bianca!”

So it’s ok to make a deal with the devil if he pays in cash, is what you’re saying??” Bianca tucked the phone between her ear and her shoulder so she could pick Emily up and try and sooth her.

Ok, come on, Bianca, He’s not the devil.”

Bianca held Emily against her free shoulder and started to bounce softly. “Oh, um, Yeah, actually, yeah he is.” She said quietly. “The man decides to tell me that he’s cheating on me and that he wants a divorce while I was in critical condition trying to give birth to his daughter. So yes, yes, I’m going to have to insist he’s the fucking devil. He is.”

Oh, my god, Bianca, like you’re the only one who’s ever had an asshole for an ex?” Brandy grumbled. “Get the fuck over it, seriously.”

Bianca swayed with Emily, trying to comfort herself as well as her daughter. Her flare of anger had faded and now she was fighting tears.

Brandy, he’s bribing you into ditching me because he knows if I don’t show up today he can get a better settlement. Please, you’re my sister. Just, please be here for me today?”

Brandy paused for a second, and then she sighed. “I’m sorry, Bianca. Just, find someone else to babysit.”

Chapter 5

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Anne nearly dropped the phone after she answered it, she had never heard Bianca sound so close to hysterics.

It took a few minutes of questioning to figure out what had her so riled up, but when she did Anne rolled her eyes.

Well, of course the bitch bailed on you, she’s useless I told you this to begin with. No, calm down, honey, I’m gonna take care of this. Get ready for court, I promise this will be taken care of by the time you have to leave. No, I’m not going to threaten Brandy’s life, I promise. Just get ready to go.”

Chapter 6

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Adrian was used to people shouting his name during the lunch rush, but for some reason whenever he heard Anne doing it, he couldn’t help but jump. Luckily he hadn’t been holding anything. This time.

He turned to glare at Anne, who had just stepped through the swinging door to the kitchen and was standing in the walkway, balanced precariously on what had to be six-inch-heels, staring at him with her hands on her hips.

What, Anne? I’m kind of busy.”

I’ve been calling you, why haven’t you answered?” She asked, brandishing her phone.

Adrian raised an eyebrow and gestured to his surroundings. “Anne, it’s two o’clock on a Friday. The only time you could call when I’d be less likely to answer is five hours from now. I may have mentioned once or twice, I actually run this restaurant?”

Anne rolled her eyes. “Yeah, yeah, I know. Friday is like a big day for you or something, right? But listen, so, what exactly is your stance on ditching on a Friday for a family emergency?”

Adrian froze, his eyes wide. “What do you mean, is something wrong with Ellen?”

No, no,” Anne held up her hands and Adrian relaxed slightly. “It’s not Ellen, it’s Bianca.”

Adrian heaved a sigh. “Really, Anne? Don’t freak me out like that.” He turned back to the counter. “And I know how you’re trying to get me together with Bianca and all, but I wouldn’t call her being without a date tonight an ‘emergency’” He glanced back at her over his shoulder. “And you shouldn’t be back here, especially in those shoes. Do you have any idea the kind of paperwork I’d have to deal with if you slipped and killed yourself?”

That’s charming.” Anne drawled, rolling her eyes. “And it pains me that you think I would try to lure you away from work with a false emergency. For your information, Bianca is frantic right now. Her soon-to-be ex-husband bribed her sister into ditching babysitting duty, and she has to be at court in a little over an hour.”

Adrian paused. “Wait, you don’t mean that bimbo I met when I dropped off that diaper bag?”

Yeah, that’s Brandy.” Anne said, grimacing. “She called fifteen minutes before she was supposed to be there, and now Bianca’s having to find a babysitter at the last minute.”

And you can’t cover for her because…?” Adrian asked with a sigh.

Anne opened her mouth to defend herself, probably with something absurd, but Carl cut her off. “Boss, we’ll be fine. It’s slow this afternoon, and we’ve got that new guy anyway. I’ll pick up any slack.”

Adrian turned to stare at Carl, his eyebrow raised. Carl just smirked back, nodding encouragingly. So did Angie. Adrian glanced around, to see his entire kitchen staff was doing the exact same thing.

He dropped his knife on the cutting board and threw his hands up.“You have to be joking.” He groaned. “You cannotall be trying to get me laid.”

Angie laughed. “Please, boss, you know me better than that, at least.”

Adrian rolled his eyes. “I know you’re all being fucking creepy. You all staring at me like this feels like something out of a horror flick.” He turned to glare at Anne. “Did you slip them some kind of freaky drug?”

Carl leaned forward to get his attention. “We can just all tell that you like this girl” He said reasonably. Then he shrugged. “And it’s nice to see you out of that post-breakup funk.” He added.

Josh, who was standing near the door, chuckled. “Not sure if you realize how depressing you are when you’re depressed.” he said drily.

Adrian paused, wanting to argue more. But they were all, every single one of them, staring at him and nodding for him to go. And most of them had knives. Which only made it creepier.

He sighed, his shoulders slumping, and his entire staff erupted into cheers. He rolled his eyes and started to untie his apron as he walked over to Anne. “We need to stop at my place so I can change and pick up some stuff.”

Anne grinned. “I am completely ok with that.”

Chapter 7

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Adrian had to give Anne some credit, Bianca really did look frantic.

Anne, what the hell?” Bianca was dressed professionally in a matching gray skirt and jacket, and a cream blouse. Her long black hair was pinned up in a bun, and she was wearing very light makeup, though it was difficult to see with how distraught she looked. She held her hand up to Adrian. “No offense, you’re a great guy, but I just met you, and Emily doesn’t even know you-” she was talking so fast her words started to run together, though she kept her voice low to keep from upsetting Emily, whose crib was now in the living room.

Anne stomped her foot. “Don’t be ridiculous, Bianca, you know him well enough, and I can vouch for him one hundred percent! He’s got nephews that adore him, I’ve seen this first hand.” Anne didn’t even try to keep her voice down, and Emily started to fuss almost immediately. Adrian dropped his groceries by the table and inched over to check on her.

I don’t care if he has nephews, this is Emily. I don’t want to leave her with just anyone,” Bianca’s voice, still quiet, was getting higher in pitch with every word. “It’s bad enough I have to leave her here in the first place, worse that I have to leave her with Brandy’s stupid ass every day, but she doesn’t even know Adrian!”

Why do you keep saying that? He was here on Tuesday, does that just not count or something?” Anne said, her hands on her hips.

Bianca backed up, looking confused. “What do you mean he was here on Tuesday?”

Anne raised an eyebrow. “He brought that diaper bag, didn’t Brandy tell you?”

Bianca shook her head, and turned to look for Adrian. Her confusion melted into shock when she found him, swaying from side to side, with Emily draped over his shoulder as she drifted back to sleep.

Adrian looked up when the room went silent, and saw both women staring at him. Bianca looked surprised and a little confused, but Anne looked ecstatic.

You brought me a diaper bag?” Bianca choked

Adrian looked away, embarrassed. “My sister sent it.” He said, clearing his throat. “She had, like, five.”

Bianca stared at him for a few more seconds, then spun and grabbed her purse. “There are three bottles in the fridge, you need to hold one under the hot water in the sink for about five minutes, and then check it on the inside of your arm to make sure it’s the right temperature.” Adrian grinned at her sudden approval. She was talking rapidly, moving around and collecting folders and papers as she gave him instructions. “There’s formula in the cabinet above the stove, but don’t use it unless you absolutely have to. She just ate she should be fine for the next two hours or so.”

She snatched a pad of paper off of the counter in the kitchen and handed it to him. Adrian glanced over it and almost smiled. It was detailed instructions on how to take care of her baby, and a list of emergency contacts. He wanted to roll his eyes or be offended, but he realized she had probably written this for her sister, and that would be extremely appropriate.

She usually needs a full bottle every three or four hours, I should be back before you need the third. I’ll call you as soon as I’m on my way home,” she pointed toward a phone mounted on the wall by the kitchen. “Phone’s right there. She’ll probably sleep between bottles, she’s been up all day. If you’re having trouble getting her to sleep, don’t worry too much. She doesn’t really go down for the night until I tuck her in. But if you want to try, she likes Winnie the pooh, or poetry.” She gestured toward the coffee table, and he saw several books stacked underneath it. She probably had to keep them on the floor to protect them from her sister’s nail polish.

I should be home around eight or nine.” She muttered. She was looking around and flipping through everything she was holding, making one last check that she had everything she needed. Finally she sighed, nodding to herself. She glanced over at Anne, then back at Adrian. She hesitated, before stepping closer and pressing her face into his free shoulder. “Thank you, for doing this.” She whispered to him, her voice heavy with relief.

A second later she pulled away, and headed for the door. “Call me if you need anything or if anything happens.” She called over her shoulder. “I’m keeping my phone on.”

As soon as the front door closed behind Bianca, Anne spun to grin maniacally at Adrian. “This is so perfect!” She squealed. “Just take good care of Emily and she’ll love you forever, I just know it!” She clapped. “It’s like a fairy tale!”

Adrian shot her a dirty look. “Keep your voice down, please?” He muttered. “She’s asleep.”

Anne’s eyes widened. “Right, right, sorry.” she stage whispered. “I need to go anyway, I have an appointment in twenty minutes.” She grabbed her purse from the table and started inching backward toward the door. “But listen,” she added. “If you need something, call me before you call Bianca, I want veto rights on whatever you say to her.”

Adrian stared after her as she left the apartment, torn between laughter and horror. He glanced down at Emily, asleep against his shoulder. “You know what, sweetie, I don’t know who’s crazier; your mom or her best friend.”

Emily yawned, then sneezed. Adrian grinned. “You’re right, Anne’s definitely crazier.” he muttered, and he moved to set her back down in her crib.

Chapter 8

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Bianca paused outside of her apartment and sighed. Between her sister bailing on her, and having to deal with divorce attorneys for five hours straight, she was ready to drop from exhaustion. It was worth it, of course, between alimony and child support she’d finally be able to move out of this awful apartment; and even better, Curt had given her full custody of Emily. She had been pretty sure he would, but she was glad anyway.

After all the stress over the last few weeks, and especially today, it was a relief that it was all over. Now all she wanted was to grab something edible from to fridge to kill the hunger pangs well enough for her to sleep.

But Adrian was in there.

Adrian, the hot, successful chef. The guy who swooped in (with a lot of direction and prodding by Anne, of course) to save the day when she needed it most. The one who was currently sitting in a rent-by-the-week apartment taking care of her three month old, and who probably thought she was a prostitute or a crack addict because she lived in a rent-by-the-week apartment and there’s hardly any food in her kitchen-

GOD! There was hardly any food in her kitchen! Except for a box of granola bars and BABY FORMULA.

She jerked the door open, slightly panicked. She’d been gone for five hours, and it had never even occurred to her…

She froze in the doorway for a second, and glanced back up at the door to make sure she hadn’t just barged in to the wrong apartment. Because it didn’t look like her apartment, and it certainly didn’t smell like her apartment.

Her eyes caught on her crib, still sitting in the living room, and she knew she was in the right place. Even if it didn’t seem like the right place. The lights were a lot dimmer-how did that happen? Did this apartment’s lights come with dimmers? How could she have never noticed that? And it smelled delicious, it smelled like dinner. Like a real dinner, and nothing close to what someone could make using granola bars and baby formula. It smelled like steak and garlic and decadence. If decadence had a smell. Which it did. Because her apartment smelled like it.

Adrian poked his head around the corner that led to the kitchen, looking slightly confused. He put his finger to his lips. “Emily’s asleep.” He said quietly, before pulling his head back into the kitchen.

Bianca blinked rapidly. Emily had gone to sleep? Without her here?

She turned and closed the door behind her, now that she was sure she was in the right place…even if this place seemed to exist on a completely different plane of reality.

Bianca set her purse and briefcase down gently by the door. The dim light was a lot more relaxing than she ever would have guessed, and between that and the glorious smells saturating the room from the kitchen, she was starting to feel pleasantly light headed.

Adrian emerged from the kitchen again a second later, this time carrying two plates. It was only after he’d set them on the small table near the door that she realized he must have cleaned it off; that table had been covered in papers and baby toys. She looked around again, and saw everything stacked neatly on her coffee table.

Emily had her second bottle a little over an hour ago.” Adrian said quietly, moving around the table to pull her chair out for her. “She’s been napping ever since. She probably won’t be hungry again for an hour and a half, maybe two.” He kept his voice low so he wouldn’t wake her. He nodded toward the table, smiling and shrugging. “I figured you might like a nice dinner after a day like today.”

Bianca glanced down at the table and nearly swooned. The dinner consisted of steak, covered in mushrooms and some kind of sauce, mashed potatoes, and what looked like asparagus mixed with peppers and herbs. It might just be because she was so hungry, but Bianca was pretty certain that if sex could look like food, it would look exactly like what was on her table at that moment.

She glanced back and forth between Adrian, the crib that held her sleeping baby, and the incredible meal sitting on her table. After a second her gaze landed squarely on Adrian. “This may just be the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.” She said quietly.

Adrian’s face broke out into a grin. He moved around her and put his hand gently against her back. “Sit down.” He murmured, and Bianca shivered. “Eat. You’ll love it, I promise.” 

Chapter 9

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After three months of stress and anxiety, spending every day dealing with either a squalling infant, her ex-husband, or her horrible boss (but that was repeating herself), constantly worrying about making ends meet, or managing to control herself under the onslaught of her ex-husband’s sudden vendetta against her…she had never really realized how much stress she was actually under. She had been brought to the point where it was a literal miracle that she hadn’t snapped, and she had never even noticed.

She had thought that the court battle finally being over, and knowing she would actually get the support she needed from her bastard ex, had been a relief. But that was nothing compared to right now. She could feel herself unwinding with every bite, every word of the conversation whispered between them. The release was so overwhelming it felt like a drug.

Chapter 10

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Bianca wasn’t sure how the most incredible dinner of her life had melted into the most incredible sex, but honestly, a meal like that was a natural segue.

He was being slow, gentle, with his hands and with his kisses. His mouth dragged gently at her lips and jaw line, leaving her breathless, while his far too talented hands slipped underneath her shirt. His hands glided across her back and started to knead her skin, and she felt herself come unraveled. She was so focused on his mouth pressing against her neck and his hands massaging her back, she never even noticed him remove her shirt and bra.

Bianca, however, was not being gentle. She had twined herself around him before they had even reached the bedroom, and whenever she felt his lips against hers she would kiss him as though she wanted to devour him. Because she did. He tasted like wine and steak, and he felt like dessert. She tore at his clothes desperately, stubbornly ignoring the part of her mind telling her she was acting like a rabid wolverine. She didn’t care. The need to have him pressed against her, to have him inside her, it was acute to the point of pain.

She had finally gotten his shirt off and was relishing the feel of his bare chest pressed against hers, when his hands found their way under her skirt.

One hand tugged at her panties while the other reached around them and stroked her gently. She gasped and dug her nails into his shoulders, bucking against him. His fingers met absolutely no resistance, she was utterly drenched.

“A-ah-” she cried out, when his fingers delved inside of her. His mouth found hers instantly, stifling the sound. His fingers thrust deeper inside of her and his thumb circled her clit, and she thrashed wildly, wanting to scream but lacking the breath. Adrian’s kiss wasn’t gentle anymore, but deep and passionate and distracting and perfect. Her panties were at her ankles now, restricting her movement, so she kicked them off almost violently and wrapped her legs around his waist.

His fingers were still thrusting inside of her, and as she shifted against him they brushed against something that burned and she stiffened. Her nails dug into his back again and she felt him grunt against her mouth. She didn’t want to hurt him, but she couldn’t think. Nothing else mattered but his fingers and his mouth and his skin, and he tasted so good and she was so close-

And then he pulled away.

Bianca tore her mouth from his, gasping. “Please don’t stop,” she whispered hoarsly. “Please, Adrian, please-“

He pressed his lips against hers again, and she whimpered in desperation. When he pulled away, he brought his lips to her ear. “You need to keep quiet, or you’ll wake Emily.” he whispered, and she shivered at the rough tone to his voice. “Can you keep quiet?”

Bianca nodded frantically. “Yes.” she whispered, arching against him, trying to pull him closer. “Yesyesyes.”

“Good.” Adrian whispered, and pressed his lips to hers again, before moving down to her neck. He kept moving, leaving a trail of kisses from her collarbone to her breasts to her navel. Bianca twisted her hands into the sheets, clenching her teeth to keep from crying out.

But when he reached her center and thrust his tongue deep inside of her, she gasped sharply. She felt him pause, and she bit her lip, pressing her face into the pillow. A moment later he began again, and it was all she could do to keep her teeth clenched.

His mouth latched on to her, his tongue curled inside of her, thrust, pressed, licked…then he pulled away and circled her opening gently, once, twice- pressed sharply against her nub and then thrust back inside of her. She felt his groan vibrate through her center and she lost all control. She pressed both hands over her mouth to stifle the scream as her climax took her.

Adrian didn’t give her time to recover. Moments later, while she was still trying to establish which way was up, he was inside of her and breathing harshly against her neck. He felt so good inside of her, filling her and stimulating areas she’d forgotten about in the past three months, without even thinking about it she lifted her legs and wrapped them securely around his waist.

Adrian thrust, and she gasped, biting down on his shoulder to keep from screaming. He didn’t have a rhythm, his movements were wholly primal, but it didn’t matter. He thrust again; once, twice, and then her orgasm ripped through her. She moaned loudly in spite of herself, unable to contain it any longer. He thrust once more before he followed after her, groaning brokenly into her shoulder.

Adrian collapsed on top of her, pressing her comfortably into the mattress for a few seconds before he shifted to her side. She barely registered him dragging the sheet up to cover them before she drifted off into a dreamy haze.

Chapter 11

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Bianca stretched slowly, groaning quietly at waking up. She hadn’t even noticed herself falling asleep, but she couldn’t have been out for more than an hour or so. She knew she didn’t want to be awake right now, but surprisingly, she felt too good to really care. For months now the instant she woke up all she would want to do is go back to sleep. She’d wake up feeling exhausted and stiff and depressed. But now she felt relaxed and content. She was still tired, but not in a painful sort of way.

She knew that if she lay back down she’d fall back to sleep in a matter of minutes, but something was off. She realized the problem – the bed next to her was empty – about the same time she heard movement and soft voices coming from the living room. She felt a little too mellow and sleepy to bother with her clothes, so she dragged the sheet with her as she stood up, wrapping it around herself and tucking it securely, like a toga.

Adrian had Emily against his shoulder when she stepped into the living room. He was swaying and making soothing noises, his back to her. There was an empty bottle on the coffee table, and Bianca made a mental note to pump some more before the weekend was over. Then she shook her head, and almost laughed. She didn’t need to do that anymore. Curt was paying alimony and child support, and he had to pay up three months worth of arrearage before Monday. Which meant she didn’t have to go to work, which meant her tramp sister wouldn’t be babysitting anymore. Which suited her just fine.

Adrian caught sight of her as he started to turn around, and frowned. “Did I wake you?”

Bianca shook her head, smiling. “No, not exactly.” She stepped closer. “I can take her, if you want.”

Adrian shook his head. “No, it’s fine. She’s almost asleep anyway.”

She watched him move toward the crib and set her daughter down gently. Emily fidgeted for a second, then yawned and settled down, soundly asleep.

Adrian stepped closer to her, wrapping his arms around her waist and leaning down to kiss her. It was the same slow, smoldering, knee-buckling kiss that had made her melt earlier that night, and it was rapidly reminding her how capable he was with his mouth. And hands. And pretty much everything else.

She pulled away and eyed him speculatively. “Are you for real?” She asked quietly.

Adrian frowned, confused. “What do you mean?”

Bianca rolled her eyes. “Uuh, super hot self-employed chef who’s great with my daughter, who can cook things that make me orgasm almost as readily as what you do in the bedroom? I dunno, what do I mean?”

Adrian chuckled. “I’m feeling pretty self-satisfied right now. Are you trying to inflate my ego? Trust me, it doesn’t need the help.” Bianca looked away, and his chuckling died down. “Hey, what’s wrong?”

Bianca pulled away, shrugging. “I don’t know…I guess I just don’t trust this because I don’t know why you’d be interested in me.” It was the same thing she’d been thinking since she’d first met him, but she was still too languid and drowsy to feel very anxious.

Adrian put his hands on her shoulders and turned her back toward him. “You’re kidding, right?” he asked, dipping his head so he could meet her eyes. “You’re gorgeous, and smart, and funny, and also gorgeous. You’re an extremely capable and strong willed woman, and on top of all that you’re gorgeous.” He caught her fighting a smile, and pulled her back into his arms. “Also, I kind of sort of adore your daughter.”

Bainca laughed outright at that. “Yeah, well, I think she kinda likes you, too.”

“Awesome.” Adrian said, chuckling. He squeezed her gently. “What about you?”

Bianca laughed, hiding her face in his chest. “Yeah…I guess I kind of like you too.”

Adrian pulled away and leaned down to catch her lips in a kiss. “Well,” he murmured when he pulled away. “That’s a start, I guess.”

Bianca smirked. “Well, do you always cook like that?”

“Yes.” he said without hesitation, his eyebrows raised.

“Well then, I fucking love you.”

Adrian laughed.

Chapter 12

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Thanksgiving dinner at Adrian’s restaurant was utterly ridiculous. Technically the doors were open, but none of the chefs were in the kitchen. If anyone wanted food, they had to settle for the spread that took up the entire center of the dining room. There were at least four turkeys, that Bianca could see, not to mention hams, mashed potatoes, yams, at least three gourmet-looking sides that she couldn’t even identify, and two -count ‘em, TWO- types of cranberry sauce. A bowl contained the delicious looking made-from-scratch cranberry sauce, and on a couple of plates nearby sat the kind shaped like a can, so everyone would be happy.

Adrian’s oldest sister, Stacy, and her two boys were sitting in a booth nearby playing with Emily, so she’d have a chance to make herself a plate. Stacy seemed to adore her and Emily both, emitting barely-stifled squeals at the slightest provocation. Apparently, Bianca was a major trade-up from Adrian’s last girlfriend. She found that kind of hard to believe, but she wasn’t about to complain about Stacy’s immediate and exuberant approval. She liked her too, even with the squealing.

So?” Anne prompted, appearing suddenly at her side as she reached for the stuffing.

Bianca raised an eyebrow, turning to move toward the nearest turkey. “So, what?”

Anne didn’t falter for a second, keeping pace with her and nudging her in the shoulder. “So….how was it?”

How was what?” Bianca asked, still moving away.

Anne grabbed her arm. “Oh, don’t give me that. How was it?” Her grin was lecherous.

Bianca blushed, and Anne started to bounce up and down, looking excited. Bianca rolled her eyes and shook her head, giving up. “Oh. My. Fucking. God.” She whispered to Anne, with feeling.

Anne grinned, squeezing Bianca’s shoulders. “Nice.” She said, her voice high pitched.

Bianca shook her head. “No, no, not nice.” She said, grabbing Anne’s hand and squeezing. “Oh. My. Fucking. God.

Who’s your best friend?” Anne asked, looking smug.

Bianca rolled her eyes, turning to move down the table again. “You are.” she called over her shoulder.

Yeah I am.” 

Chapter 13

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Adrian had no idea what the hell Curt was doing in his restaurant, but it reminded him to leave a note with his hostesses to blacklist the asshole.

Curt spotted him and raised a hand, and Adrian groaned. Thanksgiving day, and the man didn’t have anything better to do than try and talk to his ex-wife’s new boyfriend? What the hell?

“Adrian, right?” Curt asked when he was within earshot, grinning. “I heard you were dating Bianca now. She doesn’t waste any time does she?” He laughed heartily, sounding just exactly as inauthentic as every politician that Adrian had ever hated.

“Yes, well, You’ve been separated since Emily was born, haven’t you? Three months seems pretty reasonable to me.” Despite his best efforts, Adrian’s tone was still considerably dry.

Curt’s eyes widened. “Oh, don’t worry, I’m not jealous or anything. I’m actually really happy for her, I hope it works out for you two.”

Adrian raised an eyebrow, but didn’t say anything. The way Curt looked and the way he talked had Adrian convinced the man would never say or do anything that didn’t benefit him in some way. He wondered idly what on earth Bianca had ever seen in him.

“So, do you get along with her daughter?” Curt asked, after a moment of tense silence.

“You mean Emily?” Adrian asked. He had a nasty feeling that the reason Curt didn’t refer to her by name is because he didn’t know her name. He didn’t like how he called her Bianca’s daughter, either, as though he were denying any affiliation with her. “She’s a sweetheart, I can’t imagine that anyone who wasn’t a heartless bastard wouldn’t get along with her.”

Curt’s smile faltered for a second. “Oh, well, I’m glad to hear it.” He said, reapplying his charming grin. “I’m sure she’ll love you.”

Another tense moment passed in silence. Adrian turned away and took a sip of his drink, hoping that if he ignored him long enough, Curt would just leave.

“So, do you think you and Bianca will get married?”

Adrian almost choked. He turned to stare at Curt, who was still beaming at him with his politician’s smile.

“Again, like I said,” Curt said, holding up a hand. “I’m really happy for her, and totally supportive of your relationship. Hell, if you did get married, I’d even be willing to pay for it.” He leaned closer, smirking. “I’m actually a really generous guy, whatever she might have told you.”

Adrian could only stare. He was actually speechless this time, because he knew exactly why Curt was being so ‘Generous’.

“And you know, when you two do get married, you might think about adopting, uh, her little girl. She’ll feel more like a family if you do.” Adrian didn’t miss Curt faltering before he mentioned Emily. Probably because he still couldn’t remember her name.

“Her name is Emily.” Adrian said, his voice harsh. “It probably doesn’t hurt that if I marry Bianca and adopt your daughter, you won’t have to pay alimony or child support.”

Curt chuckled, apparently completely missing the accusation in Adrian’s voice. “Well, she is fleecing me for quite a bit-“

“She’s not ‘fleecing’ you for shit.” Adrian growled, setting his drink down on a nearby table. “She was your wife, and Emily is your daughter. They’re your responsibility. She’s not conning you out of your money, it’s what you owe her, and your daughter.”

Curt’s winning smile melted into a sneer, and for the first time his expression actually looked authentic. “Look, I never wanted a damn baby. And just because I was married to the woman doesn’t make me her fucking caretaker. She’s an adult, she should be able to get by on her own. Women do it all the time. She had a job, didn’t she? So what am I paying for, the goddamn liposuction she needs to finally squeeze back into–?”

Chapter 14

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Bianca jumped when she heard a crash from across the room.

“What on earth?” Stacy was staring in the same direction.

Bianca set her plate down at the table. She had just gotten back with her food when the commotion started. “Hold on, I’ll go see.” she said, her eyebrows drawn together in worry and confusion.

She moved around the heaping buffet table quickly, trying to see what was going on on the other side. She reached the end before she caught sight of Adrian, who was flagging down Josh, one of the waiters that Bianca had met recently.

“Hey, help me get this asshole outside, before the cheap cologne he’s been marinating in ruins everyone’s appetite.” She heard him grumble.

“Adrian, man, what the hell? Are you even going to those anger management classes?” She could hear Carl, Adrian’s sous-chef, laughing at him.

She moved closer and finally caught sight of who they were talking about. Curt lay motionless on the ground near Adrian, his nose distinctly crooked and gushing blood.

“I’m not angry. I’m completely calm. He just really, really needed to be punched in the face, and I happen to be a pretty generous guy.” Adrian spat the word ‘generous’ as though it were a profanity.

Carl started to chuckle before he noticed Bianca. When he did, he winced. “Heads up.” He said to Adrian, nodding towards her.

Adrian looked over at her and winced, too. “Crap…” he muttered.

“Dude, did you just break that asshole’s nose?” Anne cried, appearing yet again at Bianca’s shoulder.

“What? Nooo,” Adrian muttered. “Uh, my, uh… fist did…” He looked a little sheepish. “Besides it was his own fault. If he didn’t want to get punched in the face, he shouldn’t have held still.”

“Omigod, that is just so awesome!” Anne turned to elbow Bianca in the ribs. “Isn’t this just so–Bianca? Are you…crying?”

She was. She looked back and forth between Anne and Adrian, her hand on her chest. “It’s just that there’s…so much for me to be thankful for today…”

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