Title: An Inn Decent Proposal
Author: Sharon Buchbinder
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Recovering gambler Jim Rawlings works as a mid-level manager at one of the largest casino resorts in the country, La Bonne Chance Resort and Casino. Despite employee rules about gambling on site, temptation calls his name daily. After finding himself standing in front of poker table once too often, Jim decides he can’t stay in the casino, no matter how good the money is. He takes a drive around town and finds a down on its luck hotel for sale. It’s as if his prayers are answered. He must have it. Sous Chef Genie King is living her dream, working in one of the finest restaurants in the casino, if not the country. The only problem is the executive chef is a madman and she longs to have a place to call her own. When a frying pan nearly hits her head, Genie runs out of the kitchen and jumps into her car. She has no idea where she is going, but she can’t go back to that job. When she sees the aging mansion with the for-sale sign, she knows she must have it. Jim takes the biggest chance of his life—bidding at auction for a once-grand inn. Genie never expects another LBC employee to bid at the sale—much less the guy she had a major crush on in high school. Working together means Jim must share long-hidden secrets. Will Genie reject the man with a past? Or will she love the man he's become?
Genie nodded. “I swore off romance for a while. Became best-friends-forevah with every gay guy in New York City. Lots of great shopping stories.” She sipped her wine. “Fell like King Kong diving off the Empire State Building for my new executive chef at Asiatique. Man, was he hot.” She fanned herself.
A flash of jealousy surprised him. “And?”
“Hot, as in attractive and hot as in temper. As in throwing dishes, pots, anything at hand.” Genie shook her head. “He’s French—and as explosive as a volcano! I tried to leave the job the day after he threw an iron skillet, missed me, and dented the wall. I picked it up and threw it back at him.” She dusted her hands off. “He blackballed me. Made sure I couldn’t leave. He threatened every high end restaurant owner in New York State, telling them he’d sue them for stealing his sous chef. No one would touch me with a flame proof oven mitt. My only way out was to start my own business. He’s the reason I’m here.”
Jim reached over and grabbed her hand. Heat pulsed off her palm. “What’s his address? I’ll send him a thank-you note.”
She stood and gave him a Mona Lisa smile. “Save your thanks for when you’re done with dinner.”
That was definitely a come-on.
As dusk fell, they moved into the dining room. She had placed the roses in a vase and set them on the buffet to the side. The table was set for two with fine china and glassware. Everything sparkled in the candlelight. Just to have something to hold onto—other than her—he clenched a soup spoon. And a white dish appeared in front of him in the center of which were large chunks of—
“Rich lobster soup with curry.” She poured a thick pink liquid around the lumps of shellfish.
Exotic scents rose on the steam grabbing his olfactory lobe, taking his brain to a new plane of existence. “Oh. My. God.”
“Some have likened my food to a religious experience.”
The lobster swam in the smooth soup with a hint of curry while his taste buds danced and sang hallelujah, hallelujah. “Any chance I could get this for dessert?”
She took her apron off and sat down. “Not tonight. I have other plans.”
“Are you enjoying your soup?”
“What? Yes. Very much.” His mind was on other things.
“Mind if we talk a little business?”
Only if it’s monkey business. “Sure.” He put his spoon down.
“I think we’d better have a lawyer check out Beth’s paperwork.”
After she told him about the odd conversation with the realtor in the grocery store, he raised one eyebrow. “She said he was from New Jersey?”
“Wearing a look on her face that implied he came out of a sewer. Not that I disagree with that assessment.”
“I have some experience with that state.” Jim rubbed his eyebrow. “Yes, we should get legal counsel. And we need to draw up some partnership papers, too.”
“Good idea.” She smiled, stood, and brushed her hand along his as she collected his dish. “Ready for your next course?”
She had no idea how ready he was.
Genie disappeared into the kitchen, then stuck her head back into the dining room. “Would you pour the wine for our next course, please?”
He lifted the decanter. The nose on the wine was outstanding. What was it? French? Californian?
She returned with two plates and placed them on the table. “Grilled lamb chops, pomegranate-and-saffron basmati rice.”
Jim closed his eyes and inhaled the aromas of lamb, the rich red fruit, and scented rice. Heaven. He was in heaven. “What kind of wine is this?”
“Cabernet—Robert Mondavi Reserve.”
He sipped his wine. “A perfect pair. Er—pairing.”
She covered her mouth with her napkin, but the crinkles around her eyes gave her away.
He savored every bite, gnawing at the bones until it looked as if they’d been dipped in acid. Then he licked his fingers clean. He glanced up and caught her watching him, a smile hovering on her lush red lips. Embarrassed, he wiped his fingers on the napkin. “I couldn’t help myself. The best lamb chops I’ve ever had.”
“Think you can handle dessert?”
“Depends on what we’re having.”
“A simple one—hot fudge sundae.”
He slipped off his chair, onto his knees and clasped his hands together. “Please, please, please, may I have dessert?”
“Now do you admit that my cooking makes men weak at the knees?”
He crawled to her chair, reached up and pulled her face down to his then slanted his mouth over hers. “Yes,” he breathed. “You were right. You have made my knees weak.” He pressed his lips against hers and she responded. She tasted like pomegranates. He wanted more of her flavors. Now.
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Sharon Buchbinder has been writing fiction since middle school and has the rejection slips to prove it. An RN, she provided health care delivery, became a researcher, association executive, and obtained a PhD in Public Health. She is the author of the Hotel LaBelle Series, the Jinni Hunter Series, and the Obsession Series. When not attempting to make students and colleagues laugh or writing, she can be found fishing, walking her dogs, herding cats, or breaking bread and laughing with family and friends in Baltimore, MD and Punta Gorda, FL.
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