Snow lighted on the metal fence surrounding Trisha’s patio like a gentle kiss. She leaned her forehead against the sliding glass door of her small apartment, letting the cold seep into her skin. Another two hours and Jim would burst through the door with a group of his friends. Friends who all had dates. Who would Jim have on his arm?
She’d better stop crying over not having a Valentine’s date long enough to think of a show-stopping snack before they arrived. If not, her catering dreams may as well be tossed into the trash can atop the hopeless pâté she’d just thrown away. Why had she ever talked Jim into convincing his friend, Mallory, to host her Valentine’s party here? The fact Mallory’s house would be unavailable due to a remodel had seemed convenient at the time.
The doorknob jostled. Trisha started at the intrusion. No one was due to arrive yet.
“It’s only me.” Jim, with a grocery sack in each hand, left a trail of melted snow on the carpet as he neared the kitchen. His nose wrinkled as he passed the trash. “A trial recipe?”
Arms folded across her, Trisha marched to the edge of the kitchen. “A failed recipe. I’m never going to convince Mallory to hire me for her upcoming wedding with that.”
Jim’s arm froze in place, a jar of salsa in his hand. “The real reason you volunteered to host Mallory’s Valentine’s Day Party emerges.”
Heat rose up her neck as she reached over to help unload another sack. “What is all this?”
His dark brows wiggled up and down. “Secret Family Recipe. You’ll love it.”
“Looks like the makings of chicken wings and nachos.”
“Correction. The best chicken wings and nachos you have ever eaten. Sometimes simple is best.”
Trisha raised her brows. No sense arguing. Her menu items had failed. She’d given up on the dream of impressing the city’s up-and-coming new political star. Her plate of fancy carved vegetables wasn’t going to get her the catering job for Mallory’s wedding without another winning dish to go with it.
“Did you have other ideas in that catering head of yours? I don’t want to be stepping on toes.” Jim glanced at the trash can, then back at her.
“Your recipes better be good if I’m going to pair them with my veggie tray.”
His eyes widened as he obviously worked to keep his expression neutral. “Bet you didn’t know my family used to own a restaurant when I was a teenager, did you? I’ve often thought of trying my hand at catering if I had the right partner.”
Trisha leaned closer as she watched him prepping the sauce for the wings. The freshly ground spices combined with his aftershave tickled her nostrils with an alluring tease. She studied the slope of his nose as he focused on basting the chicken wings. Why had she never noticed how comforting his presence was?
“Think this will help you win that catering job?” He tossed her a lopsided grin as he placed the pan in the oven.
“Why not snag the contract for yourself?”
“I can’t cook the desserts you can.” He pointed at the red velvet cake tucked away in the back corner of the kitchen counter. “My appetizers pair perfectly with your talents.”
“Oh, no, you don’t. That cake is for my mother’s birthday tomorrow night.” Trisha focused her best glare on him.
Jim moved in a slow pace as he crossed the distance between them. “If we team up together, I have no doubt the contract will be ours.”
“Team up?” The appeal of spending more time with Jim grew by the minute. “How will I get another cake done in time for Mom’s birthday?”
“I’ll help you. If you’ll let me.”
If she’d let him? With her mind in a muddle of spices, aftershave, and the man possessing the perfect complement to her cooking skills, the room began to spin.
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying we make a great team, Trisha. Always have.” He took a step closer, and his hand landed on her shoulder, then slid down her arm to clasp her fingers.
Jim rescuing her from a failed recipe like a knight in shining armor pierced her defenses in a delightful way. With a tilt of her head, his kind eyes begged for an answer … or maybe more. He leaned near.
“If you want to partner with me on this catering adventure, you will have to help me get another cake made. After the party. Tonight.”
“Check.” His hand raised in a mock salute. “There is no place I’d rather be.”
“You mean it?”
A hint of an expression she didn’t have a name for flitted over his features. “With you has always been the place I want to be.”
Jim pulled back from her, shoving his hands in his pockets. With a spark of what might be, Trisha reached for his arm. He lifted his eyes to meet hers.
On tiptoe, Trisha wrapped her arms around his neck. “It’s where I want to be, too. Partners?”
Jim’s lips lighted on hers in a gentle touch before he pulled back to rest his forehead against hers. “Partners.”
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