“How is it?” he asked.
“Why do you bother eating out?”
“I don’t usually.”
She hadn’t before, either. She’d been content to whip up something incredible in their kitchen and he’d been happy to let her.
He returned his attention to her demands. He wouldn’t give her everything she wanted on general principle. Plus it was just plain bad business.
“You can have creative control over the menus and the back half of the store,” he said. “Specialty items stay with the house.”
Anything a chef created while in the employ of a restaurant was owned by that restaurant.
“I want to be able to take them with me when I go.” She forked a piece of lettuce. “It’s a deal-breaker, Cal.”
“You’ll come up with something new there.”
“The point is I don’t want to create something wonderful and leave it in your family’s less than capable hands.” She glanced at him. “Before you get all defensive, let me point out that five years ago, The Waterfront had a waiting list every single weekend.”
“You can have your name on the menu,” he said. “As executive chef.”
He saw her stiffen. She’d never had that title before. It would mean something now.
“And three percent of the profits,” he added.
“Five,” he said. “But you don’t get a say in the general manager.”
“I have to work with him or her.”
“And he or she has to work with you.”
She grinned. “But I have a reputation of being nothing but sunshine and light in the workplace. You know that.”
He’d heard she was a perfectionist and relentless in her quest for quality. She had also been called difficult, annoying and just plain brilliant.
“You can’t dictate the GM,” he said. “He’s already been hired. At least in the short term.”
She wrinkled her nose. “Who is it?”
“You’ll find out later. Besides, the first guy’s just coming in to do cleanup. Someone else will be hired in a few months. You can have a say on him or her.”
Her eyebrows rose. “Interesting. A gunslinger coming in to clean up the town. I think I like that.” She drew in a breath. “How about five percent of the profits, a three-year deal, I get some say in the next GM and I take my specialty items with me.” She held up her hand. “But only to my own place and you can keep them on The Waterfront menu as well.”
He wasn’t surprised she wanted to branch out on her own. Most good chefs did. Few had the capital or the management skills.
“Oh, and that salary you offered me before was fine,” she said.
“Of course it was,” he told her. “That assumed you didn’t get this other stuff. How many are you bringing with you?”
“Two. My sous-chef and my assistant.”
Chefs usually came with a small staff. As long as they worked well with the others in the kitchen, Cal didn’t care.
“You’ll never take the vacation,” he said. At least she never had before.
“I want it,” she said. “Just so we’re clear, I will be using it.”
He shrugged. “Not until we’re up and running.”
“I was thinking late summer. I’ll have everything together by then.”
Maybe. She hadn’t seen the mess yet.
“Is that it?” he asked.
She considered for a second, then shrugged. “Get me the offer in writing. I’ll look it over and then let you know if we have a deal.”
“You’d never get this much anywhere else. Don’t pretend you’ll back out.”
The smugness returned. “You never know, Cal. I want to hear what your competition puts on the table.”
“I know who’s interested. They’ll never cut you in for that much of the profit.”
“True enough, but their restaurants are successful. A smaller percentage of something is better than a big chunk of nothing.”
“This could make you a star,” he said. “People would notice.”
“People already notice.”
He wanted to tell her she wasn’t all that special. That he could name five chefs who would do as good a job. The problem was he couldn’t. In the past three years, Penny had made a name for herself. He needed that to dig The Waterfront out of its hole.
“I’ll have the agreement couriered over to your place tomorrow afternoon,” he said.
She practically purred her contentment. “Good.”
“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”
“Oh, yeah. I won’t even mind working for you because every time you piss me off, I’m going to remind you that you came looking for me. That you needed me.”
Revenge. He respected that. It annoyed him, but he respected it.
“Why are you doing this?” she asked as she picked up a pecan. “You got out of the family business years ago.”
Back when they’d been married, he thought. He’d escaped, only to be dragged in again.
“Someone had to save the sinking ship,” he said.
“Yes, but why you? You don’t care about the family empire.”
He threw twenty dollars on the table and slid out of the booth. “I’ll need your answer within twenty-four hours of you getting the contract.”
“You’ll have it the following morning.”
“Fair enough.” He dropped a business card next to the money. “In case you need to get in touch with me.”
He walked out of the restaurant and headed for his car. Penny was going to say yes. She would screw with him a little, but the deal was too good for her to pass up. If she pulled it off, if she made The Waterfront what it had once been, then in three years she would have more than enough capital to start her own place.
He would be gone long before that. He’d agreed to come in temporarily to get things up and running, but he had no desire to stay to the bitter end. His only concern was saving the sinking ship. Let someone else shine it up and take all the glory. He was only interested in getting out.
PENNY WALKED into the Downtown Sports Bar and Grill a little after two in the afternoon. The lunch crowd had pretty much cleared out, although a few diehards sat watching the array of sports offered on various televisions around the place.
She headed directly for the bar and leaned against the polished wood. “Hi, Mandy. Is he in?” she asked the very large-breasted blonde polishing glasses.
Mandy smiled. “Hi, Penny. Yeah. He’s in his office. Want me to bring you anything?”
Caffeine, Penny thought, then shook her head. “I’m good.”
She walked to the right of the bar, where a small alcove offered restroom choices, a pay phone and a door marked Employees. From there it was a short trip to Reid Buchanan’s cluttered office.
He sat behind a desk as big as a full-size mattress, his feet up on the corner, the telephone cradled between his ear and his shoulder. When he saw her, he rolled his eyes, pointed at the phone, then waved her in.
“I know,” he said as she wove her way around boxes he had yet to unpack. “It is an important event and I’d like to be there, but I have a prior engagement. Maybe next time. Uh-huh. Sure. You, too.”
He hung up the phone and groaned. “Some foreign government trade show crap,” he said.
“What did they want you to do?” she asked as she swept several folders off the only other chair in the office and sank onto the hard wood seat. She dumped the folders onto his already piled desk.
“Not a clue. Show up. Smile for pictures. Maybe give a speech.” He shrugged.
“How much were they willing to pay you?”
He dropped his feet to the floor and turned to face her. “Ten grand. It’s not like I need the money. I hate all that. It’s bogus. I used to play baseball and now I’m here. I’ve retired.”
Just last year, Penny thought. With the start of the regular season just weeks away, Reid had to be missing his former life.
She poked at one of the piles on the desk, then glanced at him. “I distinctly remember you saying you wanted a desk big enough to have sex on. It was a very specific requirement when we went shopping for one. But if you keep it this messy, no one will be interested in getting naked on its very impressive surface.”
He leaned back in his chair and grinned at her. “I don’t need the desk to get ’em naked.”
“So I’ve heard.”
Reid Buchanan was legendary. Not just for his incredible career as a major league pitcher, but for the way women adored him. Part of it was the Buchanan good looks and charm that all the brothers had. Part of it was that Reid just plain loved women. All women. Former girlfriends ranged from the traditional models and actresses to mother-earth tree huggers nearly a decade older than him. Smart, dumb, short, tall, skinny, curvy, he liked them all. And they liked him.
Penny had known Reid for years. She’d met him two days after meeting Cal. She liked to joke that it had been love at first sight with the latter and best friends at first sight with the former.
“You’ll never guess what I did today,” she said.
Reid raised his dark eyebrows. “Darlin’, the way you’ve been surprising me lately, I wouldn’t even try.”
“I had lunch with your brother.”
Reid leaned back in his chair. “I know you mean Cal because Walker is still stationed overseas. Okay, I’ll bite. Why?”
“He offered me a job. He wants me to be the executive chef at The Waterfront.”
Reid might be a part of the family but until he’d blown out his shoulder in the bottom of the third late last June, he’d never been involved in the business.
“That’s the fish place, right?” he asked.
She laughed. “Yeah. And Buchanan’s is the steak house and you’re running the sports bar and Dani takes care of Burger Heaven. Jeez, Reid, this is your heritage. You have a family empire going here.”
“No. What I have is a two-for-one appetizer special during happy hour. You gonna take the job?”
“I think so.” She leaned forward. “He’s paying me an outrageous salary and I get a percentage of the profits. It’s what I’ve been waiting for. In three years I’ll have enough money to open my own place.”