Tall, Dark & Hungry
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Bastien tapped his foot with irritation and pressed the elevator button again. He wasn't used to waiting so long for the contraption and was becoming a bit im¬patient. This elevator only serviced the penthouse. It could stop on any floor when requested, but only if you had a key. Other than that, it had to be released from the penthouse suite itself for a straight ride from the ground floor up. Bastien didn't understand the present delay.
Just when he was about to go back into his office and call upstairs to see what was going on, the eleva¬tor arrived with a ding. Releasing a sigh of relief, Bastien stepped on board, sniffing the air as he pressed the button to take him to the penthouse. There was the faintest scent of cooked food inside. The takeout must have arrived, he realized as the doors closed and the lift started upward. He hoped the delivery guy had just ridden up and was still there. He didn't want Terri paying for the meal.
The entry was empty when Bastien stepped out of the elevator. Following the sound of voices, he headed into the living room, fully expecting to find Terri and Chris indulging in pizza or Chinese food. Instead, he found all three of his guests moving about in a sea of tissue flowers and chrome trolleys.
"This one doesn't have an invoice." Vincent opened the lid of the silver chest he stood by, waited for the steam to clear, then glanced at the contents. "There's a napkin. It has S.C. on it."
"S.C.?" Terri asked, then began to sort through a stack of papers. "S.C., S.C., S.C.," she murmured, sounding stressed. "S--Here! Sylvia's Cuisine." She crossed the room to hand Vincent one of the sheafs of paper. Bastien's cousin took the page and pro¬ceeded to extract a piece of tape from a dispenser he held, then tape the paper to the top of the chrome warmer.
"This one has B.D. on the plate covers," Chris an¬nounced, peering into another of the trolleys.
"B.D?" Terri muttered, and began the sorting ex¬ercise again. "B.D. I saw a Bella Donna or Bella Dolci or something a minute ago. That's probably it."
"I sincerely hope it isn't belladonna," Bastien said with amusement, drawing their attention to his presence.
"Oh. You're back." Terri forced a smile to her mouth, but he knew it was purely for his sake. She didn't seem to be in much of a smiling mood.
"Hmmm." Bastien moved into the room, kicking flowers about with each step he took. "Either you overordered on the takeout, or the catering samples have arrived."
"The catering samples," she said with a sigh. Terri waved her hands at the chaos in the room and apolo¬gized, "I'm sorry about this mess. I should have been more prepared. More organized. But they came one right after the other; bang, bang, bang."
"Bang, bang, bang," Vincent agreed with a solemn nod.
"And it was so rushed. I'd barely sign for one when another was under my nose."
"Right under her nose." Chris nodded. "They were just shoving them at her left, right, and center."
"Yep." It was Terri's turn to nod. "Chris was man¬ning the panel to release the elevator, and Vincent was showing the deliverymen where to put their carts, and the men just kept handing me clipboards and pens, then ripping off invoices and giving them to me, and there were so many of them..." She waved the papers helplessly. "We don't know which invoices go with what."
Bastien bit his lip to keep back the smile that threat¬ened to stretch his lips. He didn't think she'd appreciate his amusement right now. She looked absolutely fraz¬zled. And adorable. But he didn't think she'd appreciate his telling her that, either, so kept it to himself as well.
"I don't know how we're going to eat all of this food, Bastien. There's too much." Terri peered around with distress, then glanced back to him, held up a pen, and wailed, "And I didn't mean to, but it was all so hectic that I stole a pen!"
"Two of them," Chris said, pointing at the one dangling from her shirt collar, where she had appar¬ently stuck it in the rush.
"Three," Vincent corrected, walking over to pluck another from where she had absently tucked it behind her ear.
Helpful as they were trying to be, their added com¬ments just made Terri seem that much more miser¬able. Moving forward, Bastien urged his cousin out of the way and tugged her into his arms to pat her reas¬suringly. "It's okay, baby. We'll sort this out. And we don't have to eat all the food, just taste each one. And we'll do that first--that way, the ones we don't like, we don't have to match up to their invoices."
"But you weren't here, and I signed for them all. I have to make sure the trolleys get back to their proper owners."
"We'll sort it out," Bastien repeated, then urged her around and between several carts to the couch. He paused to sweep several flowers aside, frowning as he did. "How did these flowers get everywhere?" he asked as he urged her to sit.
"One of the delivery guys knocked one of the boxes off the table," Vincent explained.
"And another picked up a box to move it out of the way, tripped, and sent them flying everywhere," Chris finished. "Fortunately, they were all rejects. Terri had the good sense to have us move the usable flowers after the first mishap."
Bastien nodded. "Maybe we should put the flowers away for now. We wouldn't want them ruined by food being spilled on them, or anything of that nature. Not after all the time we've put into making them."
"I'm on it." Vincent bent to pick up the open Kleenex boxes, and started putting them away in the bags they had come in. Chris immediately started collecting the puffy flowers from the floor, and toss¬ing them back into the boxes they'd tumbled out of. Sometimes he'd use his crutch to drag the little suck¬ers close enough to pick up.
Bastien turned back to Terri, and found her bent double on the couch, gathering flowers from the car¬pet. After a moment, she gave that up and shifted onto the floor, where it was easier to reach them. Her eyes swept the room full of trolleys, and as she straightened to toss a collection of rejects into a box, dismay crossed her features. "How are we ever going to choose from all these caterers' samples, Bastien?"
"Two at a time," he said simply. He joined her on his knees on the floor. The answer seemed logical enough to him. "We put two side by side, try a bite from each, decide which is better, and put the rejects in the hall."
She nodded at his suggestion, then said, "But what if one dish is better from one caterer, but something else is better from another?"
He hadn't thought of that. After considering the matter for a moment, he said, "The main dish is the most important one. We'll go through the samples trying all the main dishes, two at a time. The rejects go in the entry, the rest go somewhere else. That will eliminate half of them right away. Then we start comparing the other dishes."
"Where shall I put these to keep them out of the way for now, cousin?" Vincent held up the shopping bags with all the unused Kleenex and string.
"The office?" Bastien suggested. He immediately decided it was a good idea. "Yes. Just put it in the closet in the office for now, Vincent."
The actor nodded and headed off. "I'll drop them in there, then I'm going out for a bite. All this talk of food is making me hungry. I won't stay out long, though. I'll make sure I'm back as quick as I can, to see if you need any help with anything else."
"Thanks, cousin," Bastien called after him. For all the nuisance the actor could be when he felt like causing trouble, Vincent was still a good man. He had always been there for Bastien when he was needed, and Bastien reminded himself they had been as close as brothers at one time. He regretted the loss of that closeness.
"Well, that's the last of it," Chris said a short time later as the last flower landed in a box. "Are we mov¬ing the rejects out of the room, too?"
"I'll take them down to the office," Bastien de¬cided, then glanced at Terri. "Honey, why don't you go collect some plates and silverware?"
Her eyes went as round as saucers, and she stood staring at him. He felt uncertainty claim him. "What is it?"
"Nothing," she squeaked, and rushed off in the di¬rection, of the kitchen.
"What can I do to help?" Chris asked.
Bastien just about said, "In your condition? Noth¬ing." But he caught the words back. The editor was in rough shape but had still done his best to help out, both in making the flowers and cleaning up the mess just now. Considering the streak of bad luck he had suffered--what with his apartment being ruined, a toilet falling on top of him and breaking his leg, and his face being turned into a sideshow attraction thanks to the life-threatening bee sting--C.K. had behaved pretty well, even managing to be chipper. Bastien was starting to think he might have underes¬timated the guy, and he was actually starting to warm up to him.
"Just relax for a minute, Chris," he said. "We could use your help tasting the meals too, if you don't mind."
"No, I don't mind," the editor assured him, and af¬ter a hesitation made his way to a chair and sat.
Bastien had caught the look of surprise on the younger man's face at the almost friendly tone he'd used, and from that realized his irritation and lack of concern for C.K. had shown from the start. He felt bad for a moment, then shrugged it aside. It wasn't like he'd been outright mean. He'd just not given the man a chance, really. Now he was giving him one. He wasn't going to kick himself over the past. Besides, he had other things to worry about. Foremost in his mind was why Terri had gaped at him when he'd asked her to grab some cutlery and plates. That had him mystified.
In the kitchen, Terri was muttering to herself as she dragged plates out of the cupboard. "He called me honey." A grin was tugging at her lips. Homy. And she thought Bastien might have called her baby earlier, but she'd been so upset at the time, she couldn't be sure. Honey and baby. Baby and honey. Terms of endearment. Did he mean them? It was hard to say. Some people used those sorts of affec¬tionate terms on everyone from their dog to the cashier at the corner store.
She didn't think Bastien was one of those people.
"Honey." Terri savored the word as she collected cutlery, then placed the utensils on plates, and picked them up to rush back out to the living room. She hurried, because she didn't want to miss anything.
"It's Sylvia's Cuisine, then?" Terri glanced from Chris to Bastien, and each man nodded. Vincent had re¬turned earlier, but, unable to eat or really help out be¬cause of that, he had found himself bored just sitting about watching them. He'd retired halfway through the selection process.
"I'd say so," Bastien said.
"Me too," Chris agreed. "They had the best over¬all. Though, I still say that Bella-whatever's had the nicest casserole thingy."
"I didn't like that at all. And it's not even on the menu," Terri pointed out. "Heck, it isn't even on their invoice. I'm thinking they put it on the tray by accident."
"Yeah. They must have," Bastien agreed. "I didn't care for it myself. There was something in it that I just didn't take to."
"Well, I like it." Chris moved over to Bella's trolley and peered down at the food. "So, if neither of you do, can I have the rest?"
Terri dropped onto the couch with a laugh. "Be my guest."
Bastien grinned. "Yeah. Go on. Eat it. You earned it after helping with all this nonsense."
"Well, Vincent couldn't help. Besides, this was more fun than the flowers," C.K. pointed out, taking the whole dish of casserole off the trolley. He grabbed a spoon and scooped out a bite, murmuring with pleasure as he ate.
"Ugh. How can you eat that? It was awful. I can't even watch you." Terri made a face of disgust, and covered her eyes with the notepad she had been using to keep track of which trolley had the best-tasting dishes.
"I'll take it to my room so you don't have to," Chris said. "My leg is bothering me anyway. I'll go lie down and watch television while I eat. Good night."
"Good night," Bastien and Terri said in unison.
A moment passed, then Bastien lifted a corner of the notepad Terri still had over her face. "He's gone. It's safe to come out now."
Smiling, she lowered the notepad and sighed. "Well, at least that's done."
"Yeah." He settled back on the couch beside her, then turned his head to the side and said, "Do me a favor?"
"Hmm?" Terri glanced at him in question.
He grinned. "Don't ask what the next calamity will be. I've had enough of them for now, thanks. And it isn't even my wedding." He shook his head. "The wedding day itself better go off without a hitch after all this trouble." He laughed. "I don't know how Kate and Lucern have managed the last six months. I'm exhausted after only a week of problems."
"I know." Terri laughed, too. "It has been a bit stressful the last couple of days. When I booked vaca¬tion time off and flew out here, I really only expected to be holding Kate's hand and being supportive while helping with last minute details. I thought I might help out by running a few small errands or some¬thing. I did not expect to be handling the big stuff, like remaking all the Kleenex flowers for the cars and choosing new caterers."
Shaking her head, she sat up and leaned forward to peer into the Sylvia's Cuisine dessert drawer. They'd all had a bite from one of each of the three desserts that would be offered at the wedding, but that left the extra one of each untouched. Terri debated briefly, then chose the trifle. She grabbed a spoon and sank back onto the couch.
Bastien shook his head as he watched her scoop up the first spoonful. "I'm amazed that you can still eat. It seems like we've been doing nothing but that for hours."
"We have," she agreed with a laugh, taking another spoonful. "But it was just a bite of this and a bite of that, really."
Terri dug deep into the dish, trying to get some of the soaked sponge cake at the bottom. She managed the task, ate the mouthful with an "Mmmm" of plea¬sure, then noticed she'd got some whipped cream on the back of her knuckle while digging into the dish.
Without thinking, she turned her hand over and licked it off.
"Besides," she added, "this is a dessert. There's al¬ways room for dessert. You should have some, too."
Bastien was simply watching her. Terri was sud¬denly self-conscious, but tried to ignore him and dug out another bite of sponge cake. Again, she got whipped cream on her finger. When she turned her hand over and started to raise it to her mouth, he caught it halfway, and drew her hand to his own mouth. He licked her knuckle.
Terri stilled, blinking in surprise at the tingle of awareness suddenly running through her body. When Bastien released her hand, she cleared her throat and ducked her head, forcing her attention back to the trifle. After a slight hesitation, she scooped up another spoonful. She wasn't really aware of the fact that her hands had suddenly started shaking until a dollop of custard slipped off, splashed off her chin and onto her upper chest, just below her throat.
Muttering under her breath in embarrassment, Terri set the spoon in the dessert dish and moved to wipe off first her chin and then her chest. Bastien again caught her hand, and he held it away. His eyes met hers briefly; then he leaned in to run his tongue quick and light over her chin, removing the evidence of her clumsiness. While Terri was still startled over that, he ducked his head to her chest and did the same, taking his time and running his tongue in cir¬cles over the spot to be sure he got every last drop.
When he lifted his head, Terri just stared at him.
Her heart was thumping in her chest like a bass drum, and her body was in sudden havoc. She was wishing he'd kiss her.
As if in answer to her wish, he bent his head to do so. A small sigh slid from Terri's lips as he leaned in and covered her mouth with his. He tasted of whipped cream--but somehow whipped cream tasted even better on him.
She was trembling uncontrollably when the kiss ended, the dessert dish shaking in her hand. Seeing this, Bastien rescued it; then he retrieved the spoon and eased it in and out of the dish, coming up with a scoop of cherries, custard, and whipped cream. Terri expected him to eat it, but instead he stretched it out in offer to her. Unfortunately, he did so just as she raised a nervous hand to brush a stray strand of hair away from her face. Their hands collided in midair, upsetting the spoon and sending cherries, custard, and whipped cream splattering down her chest.
"Oh." They both stared at what they'd uninten¬tionally done. The spoonful of trifle had landed on the curve of her right breast, but was now slowly slid¬ing down to disappear beneath the neckline of her white blouse.
"I think you're right," Bastien said suddenly.
"I am?" Terri asked, her voice shaking. "About what?"
When he responded, his voice dropped in pitch, becoming rough and sexy. "About there always being room for dessert."
His gaze lifted to her face and remained there for a moment, giving her a chance to stop him from what he was about to do. But Terri just stared, her heart having gone mad and bouncing around inside her chest like a Ping-Pong ball. He couldn't mean... ? He wouldn't.
Bowing his head, he lowered it to her neckline and proceeded to lave away every last visible trace of the dessert. Then he undid the top button of her shirt, tugged her neckline farther apart, and continued cleaning her.
Terri couldn't stop the little moan that slipped from her lips as his tongue dipped between her breasts. She was definitely disappointed when the ex¬ercise ended. As he raised his head and straightened, her body was a great aching mass of confusion and desire. But--much to her consternation--Bastien acted as if nothing had happened. He didn't even look at her, but concentrated on the dessert in his hands. He scooped out another spoonful of cherries and custard, and slid it into his mouth.
She watched silently, her eyes flicking between her now gaping neckline and his face as he pushed the trifle around in his mouth. A considering expression filled his face. Then he swallowed, scooped up an¬other spoonful, and held it to her lips.
Terri hesitated, then opened her mouth for him to slide it in. He waited, watching as she self-consciously chewed and swallowed; then he dipped the spoon into the trifle to scoop up more of the lus¬cious dessert.
By rights, this should have been his spoonful if they were now going to share the sweet, so Terri was surprised when, instead of consuming the mouthful, Bastien started to move it toward her. She was even more surprised when he paused halfway and deliber¬ately tipped it over her chest.
Terri gasped and sat up straighter in surprise, merely sending the sticky mixture faster on its travels down the curve of her left breast. "You did that on purpose!"
Bastien grinned. "It tastes better on you," he said simply, then leaned forward to kiss her. Terri's sur-prise gave way to pleasure. His tongue thrust out to slip between her lips, and within moments she had even forgotten that there was trifle dribbling down her chest.
Bastien hadn't forgotten, however. After a mo¬ment, he broke the kiss and let his lips trail down her chin to her throat. He skated quickly down to her dessert-laden cleavage, and concentrated with great effort on cleaning up the mess he'd made.
Terri slid her hands into his hair as he worked, her breath catching on a small gasp as his tongue slid along the edge of her white lace bra. Somehow, more buttons had come undone on her blouse, leaving it gaping open so that he had a path obstructed only by that lacy scrap of material. But the bra didn't stop Bastien. Again his tongue dipped into the hollow be¬tween her two breasts, following the trail of food and removing every last trace.
Once satisfied he'd not been cheated out of a sin¬gle lick of trifle, he again straightened, picked up the dessert dish, and began to scrape up another spoonful. Terri lay slumped on the couch, staring at him in amazement. Surely he--? She killed the thought and tried quickly to hide her expression as he finished spooning up the dessert. He moved to press the spoon to her lips.
"What's the matter?" he asked in a perfectly nor¬mal tone of voice, seemingly unaffected by what he had been doing just moments before.
"Nothing." Aware that her voice had risen in pitch to an almost squeak, she opened her mouth to ac-cept--and to avoid his asking any more questions.
Terri chewed and swallowed the dessert, then waited, watching as Bastien carefully scooped up bits of cherry, custard, and sponge cake. He was most dedicated, performing the task with great care and at¬tention. But, instead of lifting it to his mouth, he again held it over her and paused to raise one eye¬brow at her as if asking permission. Terri simply bit her lip and stared back, unwilling to say no, but un¬able to say yes.
He smiled and tipped the spoon, dropping it on her naked flesh. Terri sucked in her breath, watched the colorful mixture slide along her skin. It had not landed on her neckline. This time he had dropped it just below the lace of her bra, and it was running down her stomach toward the waistband of her jeans.
"You're going to need a shower after this," he commented apologetically, setting the dish and spoon aside. "But I appreciate the sacrifice you're making for my culinary delight," he added as he turned back.
As he glanced at her face, his gaze was arrested. Her face was as open and expressive as her nature, and he could read the conflicted feelings there: excitement, anticipation, anxiety, fear. Bastien's heart went out to her. He wanted to comfort her, to tell her it would be all right. It would be perfect. But he was feeling a cou¬ple of anxieties himself as he contemplated what was to come. He wasn't just eating dessert off of Terri's skin; he hoped to make love to her. The trifle had just been his gambit.
Deciding the best way to reassure them both was easier in the showing than the telling, he kissed her again. Terri was, at first, still and unresponsive under the caress--fighting her fears, he supposed. But then she opened to him, her arms creeping around his shoulders. He slid his tongue inside her mouth, and he could taste cherries and cream and her. The com¬bination made him murmur in appreciation. The tri¬fle really had tasted better on her than off the cold, hard spoon. It tasted better still in her mouth.
After several reassuring minutes spent kissing and rebuilding their passion, Bastien eased his mouth from hers and made a quick foray across her cheek to her ear. From there, he trailed his lips down her throat to her chest. He paused briefly in the dark warm dip between her breasts, laving until she shifted beneath him, arching and sighing in pleasure. Then he moved off the couch and settled on his knees between hers, urging her legs further apart to allow him to lean in to more comfortably reach her stomach and the sweetness that waited there.
The custard and cream were soothing to his tongue, and Bastien rasped it off of her--first licking the dessert away, then running his tongue in wider and wider circles. He was aware of the way Terri's stomach muscles jumped, and how her breathing sped up, corning in little panting breaths. He smiled against her skin, eyes closing with enjoyment at the little murmurs and groans as she arched farther, un¬consciously urging him to follow the trail of food farther downward.
She was very responsive to his attention, and that natural responsiveness fanned his pleasure in what he was doing. He continued to follow the cherry path to her belly button. There, Bastien quickly dipped his tongue in and out of the small orifice -- once, then twice -- before continuing down to run it along the waistband of her jeans.
"Ohhh," Terri moaned, and Bastien opened his eyes to peer up the length of her twisting body. She was incredibly sexy to him, despite the fact that she still wore all of her clothes. Her top was open and gaping, but her breasts were still decently covered by her scrap of lace bra. Bastien decided it was time for that to change. She was ready. They both were.
Rising up, he moved back onto the couch and pulled her into his arms to kiss her again. He enjoyed the way she scraped her nails through his hair and clutched him closer as her mouth opened to both welcome and de¬vour his. Then he set to work on the task he'd set him¬self; he slid his hands inside her blouse and around to her back to find and work the snaps of her bra. He found it difficult to concentrate on the task, and was re¬lieved when first one, then the second snap, slid free.
Continuing to kiss Terri, he brought his hands around to her front, and slipped them up to push the white blouse she wore off her shoulders. Terri gave a murmur of protest when he forced her arms down to quickly slide the soft top off. For a moment, he feared the reaction might mean she was going to stop him, but when she shook the sleeves off her hands and quickly returned them to holding and touching him, he realized the protest had been at the interference with what she was doing, not at his undressing her.
Relieved, Bastien returned his attention to the lace bra. Rather than distract her again, he didn't try to slip the straps off her shoulders, but simply reached under her breasts to grab the bra's soft cups by their bottom hems. Bastien urged the lace material for¬ward until her breasts dropped into his hands like ripe fruit falling from a tree. He closed his eyes in pleasure at their warmth and softness, and at the way Terri moaned deep in her throat. Her fingers clenched in his hair, tugging almost painfully as she arched into the caress, but Bastien didn't mind. He was having this affect on her. He was making her tremble and shudder and moan and cry out. He wanted to cause more of that.
Ignoring her groan of disappointment, he let go of her breasts and grabbed the straps of her bra to tug it off. He had to break their kiss to do so, and once the scrap of material was off, he tossed it carelessly aside and stared at what he had revealed. Her breasts were round and full, with cinnamon nipples that were now erect and begging for attention. Rather than return to kissing her, Bastien answered their call. He bent his head to catch one hard nub in his mouth.
His mind was filling with all the things he wished to do to her, and this was just the beginning.