Home > Panther's Promise(12)

Panther's Promise(12)
Author: Zoe Chant

“I’ll keep that in mind,” said Irina, knowing there was no way in hell she was going to send any dish back to the kitchen in a place like this. Hell, she’d spent most of the last summer eating beans and rice… and the last few days before pay day eating just rice, no beans. Anything would be better than that.

From her experience with clearing tables at nicer restaurants, Irina was expecting a sommelier to approach them with the night’s wine list, but it was Moss who flung himself through the courtyard doors, wiping his hands on a cloth.

She must have looked confused because Moss winked at her and explained, “Got the girls to do prep while I go over the drinks with you. On the house if they mess it up.”

Irina felt a light brush on her fingers and looked down to see that Grant’s hand had stolen across the table to take hers. His eyes burned into hers then flicked back to Moss.

“You let them back into the kitchen? I thought they were dead to you after that drama last spring.”

Moss shrugged. “Washing dishes and chopping produce is a good way to come back from the dead in this business. So! Tonight’s wine list. I’ve got a few options for each of the dishes, depending on how you feel…”

He rattled off what sounded like a hundred options, from vineyards around the world. Irina hadn’t even head of some of the varieties, and soon her head was spinning. With Grant sending burning glances her way, and the gentle touch of his fingers against hers, she was finding it hard to concentrate on the chef’s detailed and enthusiastic descriptions of the various wines on offer.

She let Grant order and enjoyed listening to him spar with Moss in what was clearly a long-standing feud about wine choices. Irina told herself she would pay more attention when the actual meals came out—if nothing else, because Clare was sure to grill her about every aspect of the evening—but even before the appetizers arrived she knew that was unlikely to happen.

When the first course arrived, ferried in by a pair of slender young men in matching silver waistcoats, all Irina could see was the strong curve of Grant’s wrist as he deftly relieved them of the bottle of wine and poured her a glass. When the waiters vanished, all she noticed was how delicately he held his knife and fork. The way his Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed. How his every move seemed at once powerful and intensely controlled.

At one point, he reached out to refill her glass, and the cuff of his shirt pulled back just a little over his wrist…

She watched his lips move, and only after they stopped, realized he had been speaking to her.

“Sorry, I missed that,” she admitted, taking a quick sip of wine to cover the fact that she’d just been ogling her dinner partner instead of paying attention to what he was saying. The white wine burst onto her palate, complex and delicate all at once.

“It wasn’t important,” Grant demurred. There was an undeniably smug look on his face, like he knew exactly what she had been doing. “I was wondering if you enjoyed the scallops.”

He did know exactly what she had been doing. Damn it.

Irina looked down. One lonely, white-fleshed scallop lay on her plate. She couldn’t even remember eating the rest of them.

She couldn’t even remember them arriving. Hadn’t the waiters brought out breads to start with? She had a distinct—well, vague—memory of beautiful crusty, seedy rolls.

“I’m sure they were delicious,” she said honestly. She speared the final scallop with her fork and popped it in her mouth. It was delicious. She wished she had paid more attention to the others.

Irina sighed. “I’m sorry. I’m not a very good dinner companion.”

Grant raised one eyebrow with an apologetic smile. “Whereas I’ve been the perfect host, running my mouth about the wine list and not letting you get a word in edgeways.”

“No, that was good, actually. You did a great job of covering up my utter lack of wine knowledge.” Irina looked at her empty plate and sighed. “Please tell me that wasn’t the last course, though? I didn’t sleepwalk through the entire meal?”

She bit her lip and thought, Sleepwalk. That’s a nice euphemism for “stared at your forearms”. All those months in the mountains must have left me totally desperate if I’m ignoring the best meal I’ve ever had to drool over a guy’s arms.

But his arms were so, so worth drooling over.

Irina shook herself. Stop it! You’re doing it again! She raised her eyes to meet Grant’s and saw him bite back a grin.

“You only—uh—sleepwalked through the first two courses, don’t worry. The best is yet to come.”

“I promise to pay more attention to the next dish,” Irina joked.

“I don’t know about that,” Grant said, swirling the last of the wine in his glass. “I was rather enjoying the attention, myself.”

His green eyes, dark in the low lighting of the courtyard, burned into Irina’s with a warmth that filled her whole body. He ran one finger along the rim of his wineglass, and Irina’s mouth went dry. The tantalizing, slow circles he was making on the glass… what would they feel like on her body?

It was all too easy to remember the soft touch of his fingers on her hand earlier. And to imagine them trailing up her wrist, to the crook of her arm, her shoulders… under her dress…

Grant leaned forward and whispered conspiratorially. “And I’m still enjoying it.”

“Oh. Well. Um. That’s good, because it doesn’t look like I’m about to stop anytime soon,” Irina admitted and then bit her lip, horrified at what she had said. A delighted smile spread across Grant’s face, and he raised his glass.

“Here’s to that.”

“Cheers,” Irina replied, biting her lip, and clinked her glass against his.

“So,” Grant continued after they had both drunk, “Now that my voice has your attention…” He waited as Irina groaned and covered her face. “I think we should—and this isn’t a euphemism—get to know each other better.” He grinned his cat-like smile.

Irina peeked through her fingers. “And that’s not a euphemism,” she repeated. “All right. I suppose this dinner entitles you to know something about the strange woman you plucked from the jaws of certain doom. What do you want to know?”

“Oh—social security number, date of birth, paternal lineage through ten generations…” He laughed. “How about we start with your surname?”

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