Home > Seduced(3)

Author: Lili Valente

“That’s very sweet,” she says, setting her drink back down on the bar, “but I don’t want to be your friend, Cameron.”

“No?” I ask, my pulse speeding as our eyes lock.

“No,” she whispers and then her lips are on mine.



Chapter Two






The bartender is just a few feet away, and I’m not a fan of public displays of anything, but I don’t hesitate to kiss her back.

I don’t have a choice.

Her lips are the best thing to happen to my mouth in longer than I can remember, and for a man who works at one of the best restaurants in the city, that’s saying something. Every night, I sample some of the most innovative, taste-bud-entrancing dishes in the world, but coffee-crusted filet mignon and miso salmon have nothing on Natalie’s lips.

She tastes like pineapple and rum, a faint hint of minty toothpaste, and sweetness—pure and honest. She tastes like hope and heart and her tongue teasing against mine is all the proof I need that good things come to those who wait.

I feel like I’ve been waiting to meet this woman, to kiss her, to learn her secrets, all my life. I just didn’t know it until right now.

No, that isn’t entirely true.

I knew it the moment we locked eyes across the stainless-steel prep table in the kitchen and she silently begged me to save her from the chocolate-covered cricket she’d just popped into her mouth. That’s the moment it happened, that I acquired a hardcore crush on this petite powerhouse with the upturned nose and the deft, slender hands that tremble a little as she rests her palms on my chest, making my heart slam against my ribs.

By the time she finally pulls away, I’m breathing fast and pretty certain I’m in love.

I’m nearly as certain that I’m insane—love doesn’t happen this fast; this is chemistry, lust, pure and simple—but that doesn’t stop me from saying, “I’d like to do that at least a hundred more times.”

She grins so wide I catch the shadow of a second dimple on her other cheek. “Yes, please. You’re delicious.”

“Better than crickets?”

She laughs. “So much better than crickets. And this is probably crazy but…” She presses her lips together before bobbing a shoulder and blurting out, “But I’m a little crazy so…”

“So?” I arch a brow, hanging on her every word the way I have since she first lifted her head from that bucket and whispered, “What’s the opposite of a meet-cute? Because this is that. This is so much that.”

“I feel like I’ve known you for a long time,” she says before adding in a softer voice, “Or I’ve been wanting to know you for a long time.” She bares her teeth and wrinkles her nose. “Crazy, right?”

I shake my head. “Nope. I feel the same way. Guess I’m a little crazy, too.”

She bites her lip as her fingers thread through mine beneath the bar. “I was going to ask you what you do for a living and what your goals are for the future and all that, but now I don’t want to know. Let’s just enjoy being crazy for a little while before you tell me you’re a professional skateboarder who lives in your mother’s basement.”

“I already told you I live with three roommates.”

She points a finger at my face. “Yes, but that could still be in your mother’s basement.”

“It’s not, but okay,” I say. “I’m down for keeping the mystery alive. We stick to hobbies and favorite bands, then?”

“And favorite recipes. Obviously,” she says. “I’m assuming you love to cook, or you wouldn’t have an interest in experimenting with crickets.”

“Cooking is my life,” I confess. “And I’m in a very serious broth dumpling phase at the moment.”

“Oh, wow.” Her voice gets huskier as she adds, “Tell me more. Pork and scallion broth dumplings are one of my many culinary weaknesses. Along with top-shelf ramen, ceviche, and anything involving avocado. I know it’s basic to love avocado these days, but I’ve been avocado toasting since I was four years old. Way before you could order it at every brunch place from sea to shining sea.”

“So, you basically invented avocado toast. That’s what you’re saying.”

“Basically,” she says, tightening her grip on my hand. “I make mine with a quail egg and red pepper flakes and my—” She breaks off with a smile before she adds, “My entire family is obsessed with it. My mother wept when she dropped me off at the airport. She said it was because she was going to miss me living a few blocks over, but I’m pretty sure it was all about the toast.”

“Is it hard?” I ask. “Being so far from your family?”

She sobers, taking a drink of her mai tai before she nods. “Yeah. It is. I miss having my parents close. But it’s nice, too. They worry about me a lot less now that I’m on the East Coast, I think.”

I frown. “Why were they worried?”

She waves her free hand. “Nothing serious. I lived in a sketchy neighborhood in San Francisco, is all. I’ve been saving up to make a big purchase, so my living situation was dangerously cheap. It stressed my parents out. They kept thinking I was going to get mugged or murdered or contract some exotic disease from one of the used needles on the stairs.”


“Totally,” she says. “But worth it to make a big dream come true. What about you? Are you close with your parents?”

“My mom and I are close. She’s still in New Jersey, about a two-hour drive if traffic isn’t bad. I never knew my dad. He bolted as soon as he found out Mom was pregnant and never came back.”

Her brow furrows. “I’m sorry. That sucks.”

I smile. “It’s okay. Really. From what I’ve heard, he was kind of a dick. And you can’t miss what you’ve never had, right?”

“Can’t you?” she asks. “I miss things I’ve never had all the time.”

“Like what?”

“Like…conversations like this one,” she says, a shy note in her voice that makes me want to kiss her again. “Most people don’t know how to talk to each other anymore. And you haven’t looked at your phone once since we sat down. That’s really hot.”

“Hot enough to let me take you out Sunday night?”

She bites her bottom lip, but the smile she’s holding back pops through, along with a little laugh that’s cute as hell. “Yeah. That sounds great. Sunday, it is.” She glances over my head with a sigh. “But if that clock’s right, I should probably say goodbye pretty soon. I turn into a pumpkin at eight.”

“Why’s that?” I ask.

She takes another drink, shooting me a narrow glance out of the corners of her eyes. “I’ll tell you Sunday. Until then, I’m going to maintain my air of mystery. But I will share my favorite recipe challenge, if you think you can handle it.”

“Handle it? Please, woman,” I scoff. “You may have invented avocado toast at age four, but I’ve been making dinner every night since I was five. My mom is an amazing person, but she can’t boil water without catching the kitchen curtains on fire.”

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