Home > Seduced(7)

Author: Lili Valente

The trial brunch service goes smoothly, Cam is on point playing head chef for the day, and the team adjusts quickly to my off-the-cuff suggestions for rearranging their stations and workflow.

Over our late brunch feast—I can’t bear to have food go to waste and it’s good for my staff to taste what they’re cooking on a regular basis—we have an incredible conversation and land on several new recipes the staff seems jazzed to try. I get to know a few of the station chefs better and am blown away by their sweetness, professionalism, and eagerness to please.

Pierre the prick may have been a nightmare in negotiations to purchase Crave, but his asshole-ishness seems to have made the staff grateful for someone who listens to their thoughts and ideas, even if she also happens to be a total hard-ass.

All in all, it’s a dynamite first day. If it weren’t for the fact that my gaze keeps straying to Cam’s muscled forearms bulging deliciously beneath his rolled-up sleeves as he cuts vegetables, I would consider it a complete success.

But my gaze did stray.

And so did my thoughts…

They’re still straying when Cam heads out the employee entrance at ten minutes ’til five, dressed in jeans and a thick gray sweater that makes his shoulders look even more deliciously broad. And his ass in those jeans?

Damn. Just…damn.

His backside is so gorgeous, I almost don’t feel bad about getting caught staring when he glances over his shoulder, sees my gaze fixed on his bottom, and grins. “See you tomorrow, Chef Natalie.”

“Tomorrow,” I murmur, my cheeks heating as I wave and retreat to my office to change for happy hour.

But I already know I’m going to need more than a martini to keep my thoughts from straying back to Cameron Brennan.

Maybe I can arrange for a head injury and a subsequent case of kiss-memory-banishing amnesia.

“Good idea,” I mutter as I lock up the office and start back down the spiral stairs.

I pause halfway down, surveying the quiet dining room, filled with gold booths and gleaming redwood fixtures, surrounded by dynamite, lemur-printed wallpaper, and windows that overlook a charming, Union Square–adjacent street.

This beautiful space is my kingdom, and I refuse to let it down.

I will rise above temptation and be the leader it needs.

Even if it wrecks my romance-tempted heart.



Chapter Four






After work, I head home with a head full of plans and a bag full of groceries from the organic co-op around the corner from our West Village apartment.

The moment I’m through the door, my roommate, Jess, is on top of me, clinging to my sweater with her hot little hands.

“Please tell me that’s food you intend to share,” she says, her brown eyes wide behind her glasses. “I’m starving to death. Like, literally almost to death.” She presses two fingers to her neck before snatching my free hand and bringing it to the skin just below the curve of her jaw. “Feel that? How thready my pulse is? Do you think I have a heart murmur? Irregular heartbeat? Or maybe this is the early stages of diabetes or kidney disease or something? Also, my hands are very, very cold, even though I’ve been working by the space heater and wearing my fingerless gloves all day.”

I gently detangle my fingers from hers and rest a hand on her head. “When was the last time you ate?”

She blinks several times, her mouth opening and closing without any words coming out.

Behind her, my other roommate, Evie, calls out from deeper in the apartment, “She had an oat milk latte and a cider donut this morning, but only because I went and killed breakfast and brought it home for her before I left for class.” Evie pops her head out of the entrance to the kitchen, her blond curls in a wild halo around her face. “I’m guessing that’s all she’s had, though she wouldn’t answer me when I asked. I was about to start water for ramen so I could get something in her poor, neglected belly, but if you have real food, I’ll stop and get out of your way.”

Setting the groceries on our entry table, I shrug out of my coat, hanging it on one of the hooks on the wall before kicking off my boots into the pile of damp, winter shoes. “No, go ahead with the ramen. I’ll blanch some bok choy to put in it, and we can add a quick fried egg for protein. The real main course won’t be ready for at least an hour, and it may suck ass. I’m trying something new.”

“Your food never sucks ass,” Evie says, “but I’m on it.” She points the wooden spoon in her hand at Jess’s back. “I’ll take care of the blanching and the egg. Talk to her, please? Convince her that this chronic neglect of her basic human needs has to stop before she damages her health.”

“I’m not neglecting my—”

“Stop,” Evie and I both say at once, making Jess’s lips press into an irritable squiggle in the center of her paler-than-usual face.

She really has been working too hard. And not just for a little while. Ever since she landed the promotion to team leader at the gaming company last fall, she’s been working seventy hours a week or more—a lot of that time spent cleaning up messes from her less-than-stellar team.

“Come on,” I say, giving her shoulder a gentle squeeze. “Let’s get you settled at the table. I have some snow peas you can snack on until the ramen’s done.”

Jess turns in a slow circle, shuffling back inside. “I don’t want snow peas. I’m too hungry for healthy food.”

“Come on, they’re good for you. I have some tzatziki you can dip them in.”

“No,” she grumbles. “No peas.”

“Just eat my peas, Jessica.”

“No, I don’t want to eat your peas, Cameron,” she says, as she collapses into her chair, and I pass the bag of groceries to Evie through the opening above the island. “Stop being a vegetable bully. It’s your least attractive quality.”

Evie holds my gaze as I grab the bag of snow peas from the top, mouthing, “She’s out of control.”

“I’m not out of control,” Jess insists. “And I can read lips just as well as Cam can, Evie Olsen. Think about that the next time you try to talk about me behind my back to my face.”

Evie rolls her eyes. “Fine! But don’t come crying to me when you’re dead at thirty from a heart attack because you let the capitalist system devour your soul and youthful life force.”

“I’m not going to let it devour my life force,” Jess mumbles. “And I never cry. I’m sure that won’t change when I’m dead. I’m not going to be some whiny, sniveling, crybaby ghost.”

“Of course, you won’t,” I say, opening the bag of veggies and setting them in front of her. “And you don’t have to eat those. The ramen will be ready in ten minutes if you want to wait for that.”

She reaches out, snatching a snow pea and shoving it into her mouth, crunching as she says, “I just don’t know how to stop. How do I say ‘no, you can’t make me work like this,’ when I know there are a hundred other people waiting in the wings, ready to work just as hard as I am, if not harder? If I push back, they’ll fire me. That’s how the gaming industry works, and I’m already one of the only women managing a team. If I bail, it will be all dicks in charge.”

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