Home > Burn for You (Slow Burn #1)

Burn for You (Slow Burn #1)
Author: J.T. Geissinger

ONE

BIANCA

The first time I laid eyes on the man known throughout the state of Louisiana as “the Beast,” I thought he couldn’t possibly be as bad as his reputation.

As it turned out, I was wrong.

He was worse.

Dressed all in black, standing a head taller than everyone else, his shoulders so broad they cast an ominous shadow over the polished wood floor, Jackson Boudreaux surveyed the bustling dining room of my restaurant with the expression of a king who’d stumbled upon a village of peasants infected with the plague.

His lip was curled. His eyes were narrowed. His nose was stuck so far up in the air, I wondered if he’d come in from the rain to avoid drowning.

“Hoo Lawd ! We got ourselves a loup-garou! Get the garlic!”

Standing beside me at the stove in the kitchen, my sous chef, Ambrosine, made the sign of the cross over her ample chest as she peered through the glass wall at the man in black. Eeny, as she was affectionately called by everyone who knew her, was a retired voodoo priestess with a collection of superstitions almost as elaborate as her African tribal-print caftans.

“Garlic is for vampires, not werewolves, Eeny,” I said, gazing past the tables of diners to the hostess stand at the front of the restaurant, where the man with the presence of thunderclouds stood glowering at the hostess, Pepper. The poor girl was visibly shrinking under the weight of his stare.

A flash of irritation made me frown.

It was the first, and mildest, of many such flashes I’d have tonight.

“That ain’t no werewolf, or no vampire,” grumbled a voice to my right.

I glanced at my pastry chef. Hoyt was a seventysomething Cajun with an accent thicker than bayou sludge, a grizzled white beard, and arthritic hands that still managed to make the best beignets in New Orleans. He jerked his chin toward the newcomer, then turned his attention back to the giant ball of dough on the floured wood board on the counter in front of him.

“I recognize his face from the papers,” said Hoyt. “That there is the boodoo tête de cabri, Mr. Boudreaux Bourbon Jr. himself.”

“Well butter my butt and call me a biscuit,” I said, panicking.

My panic wasn’t because Hoyt had called the mysterious new arrival a goat-headed bully. Hoyt had a way of describing people that was as colorful as the Mardi Gras parade. It was because that particular goat-headed bully was heir to the world’s number one best-selling bourbon empire.

A bourbon I had created my entire spring menu around.

It was a menu that had been extremely well received by my guests and the cause for a surge in reservations. It was getting fantastic reviews from local food critics and had even just this month received a glowing mention in Gourmet magazine.

It was a menu, in all honesty, packed so full of love and soul and hope and sweat that it was like it was my own baby. I’d spent months preparing it, testing it, and fine-tuning it until it was perfect.

But having Jackson Boudreaux himself come in to dine was an event I was completely unprepared for.

I knew he lived in New Orleans—I read the papers, too, after all—but had heard so much talk of him being unsociable and hermitlike, I thought it unlikely he’d ever show up at my door, even if his family bourbon had inspired the menu.

Now here he was.

All six-foot-scowling-three of him.

Scaring the wits out of my hostess and sending an eerie hush through my dining room.

“How did I miss his name on the reservations list?” I cried. “If I’d known he was coming, I’d have made sure to give him the best table!”

Eeny said, “Pepper just seated a family of eight at the best table. It’s an anniversary party, boo. They’ll probably be there for hours.”

I groaned. I was tempted to go out and find a table for him myself, but we were swamped in the kitchen. I’d just have to trust Pepper to do her best to fit him in somewhere as fast as she could.

“Y’all get back to work!” I instructed the rest of the kitchen staff, who had stopped what they were doing to stare at Jackson Boudreaux like everyone else in the place.

When no one moved, I clapped my hands. The staff jumped back into action, knowing that a clap meant business. I never raised my voice with them, even when I was angry, which was rare. I had a naturally sunny disposition.

It was about to be put to the test.

“Henri, I need more pepper jelly!” I called to one of my line cooks as I turned my attention back to the ramekins of duck étouffée I was plating. Every dish that left the kitchen did so only after a final inspection from me. As Henri rushed over with a container of the homemade spicy jelly, I pushed all thoughts of Jackson Boudreaux aside to concentrate on my task.

When finished, I quickly handed the plates off to a waiting server. Two more dishes needing final inspection instantly took their place from a server on my other side. The restaurant was filled to capacity, and at only six o’clock I knew I was in for a long night. I couldn’t have been happier.

After all, this was my dream come true. I’d grown up in the kitchen of my mama’s restaurant and had been saving and scrimping for years to open my own. Cooking was in my blood as much as jazz music and the Saints.

My happiness took its first hit when the hostess burst through the swinging metal kitchen doors in tears.

I looked up at her in surprise. “Pepper! What on earth—”

“That egg-suckin’ son of a motherless goat can kiss my ass!” cried Pepper, swiping angrily at her watering eyes so her mascara smudged all over her cheeks.

Pepper swore like a sailor, wore too much makeup, had hair dyed an unholy shade of streetwalker red and skirts as short as her heels were tall, but she was a genuinely sweet girl who had a way with people. The regulars loved her.

Besides, this was the French Quarter. If I required a hostess who looked like a sexless nun, I’d be seating the tables myself.

I took Pepper by the arm and steered her through the kitchen to the back, near the walk-in freezer. The last thing I wanted was my guests getting a side of Pepper’s notoriously salty mouth with their gumbo.

I handed Pepper a tissue. “What’s going on?”

Pepper dabbed at her eyes and dramatically sniffled. “That man who just came in—”

My stomach dropped. “Mr. Boudreaux?”

Pepper nodded, then launched into an outraged rant.

“He said he wanted a table, and I told him unfortunately we were fully committed, and he said what the hell did that mean, and I tried to nicely explain that we didn’t have any available tables, and then he said all snottylike, ‘Don’t you know who I am!’ and demanded I find him a table, and I said I just told you there aren’t any tables available, sir, and there’s a waiting list a mile long, but he cut me off and said—really mean, too, he’s like a crossbred dog!—that his name was all over our menu and if I didn’t get him a table, he’d make sure our name was all over the papers, and not in a good way, either, because he knew all the press! So it was like he threatened me, and when I got upset, he growled at me to stop sniveling! Sniveling! Doesn’t that just dill my pickle!”

Pepper ended her rant with a stamp of her stiletto heel.

I pinched the bridge of my nose between two fingers and sighed. So Mr. Boudreaux didn’t have a reservation after all. And trusting Pepper to do her best hadn’t exactly worked out as I’d hoped.

“All right, Pepper, first thing—calm down. Take a deep breath.”

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