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Cutting the criollo bread, Ember hummed the song she'd heard drifting from the basement. Papa hadn't left his workshop all night; before she left, she'd found him there, bottle in hand, and covered him with a blanket. She also made sure to leave a couple of aspirin and a glass of water by his chair. Fearing what she'd find when she returned, she hoped Austin would humor her by staying for a while.
She hadn't been lying when she said it took her half the night to figure out a menu. Too many possibilities to choose from led to too many debates with herself. She wanted to impress him. And maybe she needed some validation, too.
She placed the slices of criollo on the grill and started prepping the watercress. Fragrances danced all around her, swirling in the air and bringing her comfort. As she moved around the kitchen gathering ingredients for the Hollandaise, she wondered what would have happened if Mama hadn't died. Would they have stayed in New Zealand and tried to rebuild, or would they have left anyway? The hunters certainly wouldn't have left them alone—it'd been hard enough for her to find any of Mama's feathers to bring with them. Leaving had been the right decision, but would returning be so bad? Now that the entire Whakamanu tribe had been decimated, save for them, surely their old village would be safe? The hunters wouldn't think to return for them.
Before dressing the plates, she took a quick taste of the Hollandaise. Perfect. Maybe she should've made herself something. Eh, later.
The guys straightened when she returned. “Order up.”
As she set Austin's plate in front of him, she glimpsed the notepad next to his arm. “I like to take notes,” he said.
That made sense. “Must be hard to remember everything you eat on a trip.”
“Some things. Not everything.”
Face heating, she took a seat. Thank the gods they wouldn't be able to see her blush with her dark skin.
“So tell me about this. We've got….” He lifted the poached egg. “Lamb, homemade Hollandaise, a watercress garnish.”
“And homemade criollo bread. Grilled. Makes it kind of like a giant crostini.”
Taking notes, he nodded. “This from one of your mom's recipes?”
“Nope. All me.” Nerves threatened to overtake her. If he didn't take a bite soon, she'd scream. When he finally cut into it and took the first bite, she almost imploded with relief, and as he wolfed down the dish, he made these sounds that she wanted to hear in a more private setting. “Good?”
“Foodgamsic.” He chuckled. “I mean, yeah. It‟s…yeah.”
She shook her head. Five minutes. Five minutes alone with him…. “Would you like to see the kitchen?”
“Lead the way.”
If Papa knew what she was doing, he'd be pissed, but right now, she didn't care. He never came to the restaurant, and he certainly never wanted to learn about this aspect of her life. Austin did. Though she barely knew him, she would gladly share all of herself with him. She'd already shared her soul.
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