Playing with Piper (Menage MfM Romance Novel) (Playing for Love Book 3), страница 1
Playing With Piper (A Menage MfM Romance Novel)
A Playing For Love Novel
Free Story Offer
A Note from Tara
About Tara Crescent
Also by Tara Crescent
Text copyright © 2016 Tara Crescent
All Rights Reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
My editor Jim takes the comma-filled words that emerge from my keyboard and shapes it into a story worth reading. As always, my undying gratitude.
Cover Design by Eris Adderly, http://erisadderly.com/
Cooking Pot Icon made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com
Free Story Offer
Get a free story when you subscribe to my mailing list!
Never on a Sunday
Stephanie Rice has her sex life all figured out. She fucks six different men on six days of the week. Monday is the Chef. Tuesday, the Technician. Wednesday is the Playboy. Thursday, Mr. Buttman has his way with her. Friday, she has an appointment with the Doctor, and on Saturday, the Dominant works her over.
On Sunday, she normally does laundry. However, on this particular Sunday, her worlds collide. All six men find out about each other, and they are determined to give Stephanie an evening she will never forget.
If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.
Harry S. Truman
Bad news always comes in threes, my Aunt Vera used to say. Judging from the day I’m having, she was right.
The first blow comes from my restaurant’s landlord. “Ms. Jackson,” Michael O’Connor wheezes into the phone. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to increase your rent.”
My heart sinks to my toes. I’ve been dreading this moment ever since I took over Aladdin’s Lamp in early January and discovered the lease was going to expire in five months.
Mr. O’Connor is a nice older man who lives above the restaurant, and he seems to have had a soft spot for my Aunt Vera, from whom I inherited the place. But property developers have been sniffing around, and I know he’s been getting offers.
“How much?” I ask, my fingers crossed as I hope for the best.
“Three thousand dollars a month,” he responds. His voice softens with sympathy. “I’m sorry, Piper. I know that’s a steep increase…”
“But it’s still below market rate,” I finish. “I understand, Mr. O’Connor.”
He promises me the increase won’t take effect for another month and he hangs up.
Of course, I can’t afford three thousand extra dollars. I’m already struggling to stay afloat. But there’s nothing I can do, so I get dressed and trudge toward the restaurant. If I’m lucky, we’ll have a larger lunch crowd than normal.
* * *
I’m not lucky — the place is almost empty. I don my chef’s hat and apron and take over from Josef, the surly Lebanese man who loosely functions as my sous-chef. The reason I say loosely? Josef has a pretty serious alcohol problem, and doesn’t show up to work on any kind of regular basis.
Not for the first time, I wish I could fire him, but Aunt Vera’s will forbids me from doing so. I’m not allowed to fire any of the existing staff unless I can give them a year’s salary as a severance bonus. I’m stuck with Josef, who fails to show up to work every third day, and Kimmie, who chews gum in front of the customers. My only useful employee is the waitress I hired a month after I took over. Petra is a gem.
“I’ve made the lentil soup,” Josef says, wobbling a little as he speaks. Great, he’s drunk already. I make a mental note to taste the soup before I send it out, when my cell phone vibrates in my pocket.
I look at the display and grimace. It’s my mother. Cue the second disaster of the day.
“Darling,” she exclaims when I answer. “Are you sitting down?”
This is Lillian Jackson’s standard greeting when she has some piece of gossip to give me. “No mother,” I reply. “I’m working.”
She huffs dismissively. My mother thinks Aladdin's Lamp is a hobby of mine, and one day, I’ll get tired of playing chef, go back home to New Orleans, and marry some suitable young man from the right family. Trying to get her to take what I do seriously is a waste of time, and I don’t even try. “What’s the matter?” I ask, hoping she’ll get to the point quickly.
“Your cousin Angelina is getting married,” she responds. “Piper dear, this is going to be hard for you to hear, so I thought I should be the first person to tell you. She’s getting married to Anthony. You remember Anthony, don’t you? Your fiancé?” Her breath catches. “Piper, I’m so sorry, honey.”
“Ma, I’m fine.” So much drama. Anthony and I went on five dates before he proposed in front of the entire family on Christmas Eve, knowing I’d be pressured into saying yes. My break up with him was the topic of gossip for my mother’s friends for months.
Kimmie’s come in with a ticket, and she gives me an impatient look. I need to get working on it. I can’t afford to chase away the small handful of customers I have. “Anthony and I are old history,” I tell her. “I’m very excited for Angelina. Listen, I have to go, okay? Some diners just walked in.”
“Your father and I are very worried about you, Piper,” she pronounces, ignoring my feeble attempt at ending our conversation. “We’re coming up to see you.”
My heart sinks. Oh God, more family interference. “You are?”
“Yes dear.” Her tone is firm. “We’ve already bought our airline tickets. We’re coming this weekend.”
“Ma.” I exhale in annoyance. “I work in a restaurant. I can’t take the weekend off, you already know that.” I’ve said this to my mother a million times. She never listens.
I bite my tongue and count to ten. Just tell them you can’t entertain them, a voice inside me urges. Tell them your rent was increased by three thousand dollars. Tell them you’re on the verge of failure, and you can’t afford to take a weekend off. Tell them that Sebastian Ardalan, a two-star Michelin chef, didn’t think your restaurant would survive another six months in business, and you’re feeling bruised and damaged as a result.
But I’ve never been able to effectively stand up to my mother. My moments of rebellion are few and far between. Most of the time, I just do as I’m told. It seems easier that way.
Kimmie’s tapping her feet in annoyance. I need to get off the phone. “Fine,” I sigh. “I’ll see you in a few days. I have to go now.”
I hang up and fight the urge to bang my head repeatedly against the ancient walk-in freezer. The damn thing is temperamental and will probably just stop working.
It’s just after noon, and already, my day is a wreck.
Troubles always come in threes, Aunt Vera used to say.
I wonder what lies ahead.
The past is strapped to our backs. We do not have to see it; we can always feel it.
I meet Eduardo Mendez at a busy McDonald’s, where a constant stream of people enter and leave, and no one gives two men seated in a corner a second glance.
“Lamb.” The detective greets me, his voice a raspy growl, as always, rendered hoarse by the two packs of cigarettes he smokes each day.
I nod in reply, feeling the familiar excitement rush up and grip me. Mendez has a job for me. He never makes contact otherwise.
I take a sip of my steaming hot coffee and wait for him to speak. In the seventeen years I’ve known him, I’ve learned Mendez can’t be rushed. Whatever he wants, he’ll tell me when he’s ready.
“Hell’s Kitchen,” he says at last. “What do you know about it?”
I know enough to avoid it. The Manhattan neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen has rapidly gentrified in the last couple of decades, but before its revitalization, it was home to poor and working class Irish Americans. Given my past, it’s not the safest neighborhood for me to spend time in. The death sentence on me has never been lifted, and if someone wanted to curry favor with those in charge back in Dublin, they might think that killing me is the best way. “Not a lot.”
He coughs. “Word on the street is that the Westies are moving back in.”
“In Hell’s Kitchen?” I raise an eyebrow. “The neighborhood’s been clean for decades.”
“I’m telling you what I know,” he snaps. “The opium trade is flourishing, and these guys aren’t dealing on street corners anymore. They’re using local restaurants to distribute.” He fixes me with a piercing look. “You know what that’s like, don’t you, Lamb?”
Just like that, the memories come rushing back. My mother’s voice, raised in argument with my father. He wants to testify against the mob; my mom urges caution. What if they come for us? Even now, even after seventeen years, I hear the fear she’s trying to conceal. What about me? Aileen? Owen?
And my dad replies, his voice always clear in my mind. Someone needs to fight for what’s right.
They’d both been right and they’d both been wrong. Someone did need to fight for what was right, and the Gilligan’s crime syndicate had come for my parents and baby sister. The only reason I’d survived was because I’d snuck out for a very illegal cigarette.
I shake my head to clear it. The past always threatens to overwhelm me. Mendez knows exactly what he’s doing. My da died fighting the mob. I won’t let them win.
“What do you need me to do?”
He pushes a list toward me. “I need intel,” he says. “You’re in the restaurant business. These are our list of suspects right now. Get close to them, see what you can find out about their finances.”
I run my gaze down the names, and I recognize a few of them. Two in particular jump out, Emerson’s and Aladdin’s Lamp.
Max Emerson came to us, looking for half a million dollars, but we turned him down last week. However, Aladdin’s Lamp is still in play. My partner Wyatt and I have eaten there every day for the last two weeks, on the recommendation of our friend Sebastian Ardalan, but we haven’t yet decided if we’re interested in the place.
It’s time to kick it up a notch. If Mendez needs to find out what’s going on at Aladdin's Lamp, the easiest way is to invest in it.
“Let me see what I can do.” I drain my coffee and rise to my feet. “I’ll be in touch.”
All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
When I walk into my office Thursday morning, my assistant Celia looks up. “Wyatt,” she says, “I need to talk to you.”
I gesture for her to follow me. “What’s up?”
“Sandra from Reception called me this morning. She said there was a man in the lobby who insisted on seeing you.” She pauses. “He told her he was your father.”
I’m about to take a sip of my coffee, but hearing those words, I freeze. Twenty years ago, my father had ducked out to grab a drink at the local pub, and had never returned. He sent my mother a letter telling her he couldn’t cope anymore, and he disappeared from my life. I was thirteen. I haven’t seen him since that day.
“My father.” My voice is even. Nothing betrays the sense of shock that explodes through me.
“That’s what he said. I’ve never heard you mention your father, so I went downstairs to see what was going on, but he’d left by the time I got there.” She gives me a worried look. “I didn’t know what to do.”
I clench my hands into fists. A vein pulses at my forehead. Deep breaths, Wyatt. Calm down. I force myself to bury all the emotion that rises to the surface. The feeling of abandonment when he left, the secret, shameful envy that my father was able to escape, leaving me stuck with my mother.
Celia shifts in her seat and I realize I’ve been silent for too long. I smile at her. “My father is dead,” I lie easily. “I don’t know who this man is, but he’s an imposter. If he shows up again, have security deal with him, please.”
She frowns in puzzlement, but doesn’t contradict me. “Of course, Wyatt,” she says. “Oh, and Owen called to say he’ll meet you at the usual place for lunch.”
Right. Aladdin’s Lamp. “What time?”
Celia checks her notepad. “He’ll meet you there at one.”
“Perfect. Thanks, Celia.”
My heart still pounds in my chest. Not even the prospect of finding a new restaurant to rescue is enough to distract me from my shock. My father’s back.
I wonder what he wants.
* * *
My instincts warn me to stay away from Aladdin’s Lamp. The place is a dump. Signs of benign neglect are everywhere. The red curtains have been faded pink by the sun. There’s a large crack in the front window, with a strip of duct tape across it. At each table, a dusty vase with plastic flowers serve as decoration, along with a kitschy lamp. The tablecloth is stained, the menu is laminated and the waitress in her pink-frilled apron cannot stop chewing gum long enough to take our order.
I want nothing to do with it, but I will hand it to Sebastian Ardalan. He’s right about the chef; the food shows flashes of brilliance.
“This is really good.” Owen digs into his chili with gusto. “There’s potential here.”
“The place is called Aladdin’s Lamp,” I complain, not for the first time. “Why does it have chili on the menu, Owen? The tabbouleh is garlicky. The hummus doesn’t have enough tahini in it. And this lentil soup has way too much salt.”
“We’ve eaten here for two weeks,” he points out. “The Middle Eastern food is terrible, and everything else is great. You should k
“Why are you so gung-ho about this disaster?”
“Come on, Wyatt.” Owen gives me an amused look. “Since when did you get so boring? Think of this place as a challenge.”
“I’m thinking of this place as one health-inspection away from being shut down.”
Owen rolls his eyes. “Oh for fuck’s sake,” he says. “It isn’t even close to failing and you know it. You just have an exaggerated need for cleanliness.” He lifts his hand to catch the waitress’ attention. “If the chef has a moment,” he says, giving her a charming smile, “could you tell her we’d love to chat with her?”
She nods and departs. I look at him with exasperation when she’s out of earshot. “We haven’t investigated the place. Who knows what kind of deal we could be walking into?”
“Look around, Wyatt.” Owen’s eyes sweep the near-empty dining room. “This isn’t a large restaurant. Worst case scenario, we put in two hundred and fifty grand in this place and it fails. So what?”
I don’t like going investing in a restaurant before investigating it, but Owen seems committed. “You’re doing this then?” I ask, already resigned to doing the deal.
“You don’t have to,” he replies. “But yes, I’m definitely investing in this place.”
“Asshole.” There’s no rancor in my voice. “Fine, I’m in. But the chef had better toe the fucking line.”
Owen leans back in his seat. “Your bark is worse than your bite,” he says with a grin. Then his eyes widen and his smirk broadens. “There’s the chef. Why don’t you tell her what you told me?”
I look up to see a slender blonde woman thread her way toward us. She’s got pale skin and red lips, and her hair is the color of the sun’s rays at first light. Her hips sway slightly as she walks, and I find it suddenly difficult to breathe.