Home > Panther's Promise(11)

Panther's Promise(11)
Author: Zoe Chant

This time, she could feel the blush flood across her cheeks. Her face felt so hot, she imagined the flurrying snowflakes vaporizing inches from her skin.

“I should hope not,” she said primly.

Grant laughed, a full-throated sound that made Irina’s knees weak. Then he stopped, and his gaze became strangely distant for a moment. “Lance has got the rest of the evening off, actually.”

“Oh, really.” Irina did her best to sound cool, but knew she was grinning like a loon. “You’re not just giving him the boot halfway through the evening?”

“Really.” Grant made a show of checking his watch. “This is completely routine. No personal assistance required after eight-oh-five on a Friday evening. It’s in his contract,” he said gravely, leading her inside.

The restaurant was—well, if she didn’t know it was a restaurant, she wouldn’t have guessed it was one. It looked more like a beautifully preserved early twentieth-century family home.

But not quite. Oh, she could tell what they were trying to do, making guests feel cozy and comfortable with a side of “how Nana’s house used to be.” Kitchen-y, but not kitsch. Except Irina had yet to meet anyone’s grandma who hung her pans and garlic plaits in the front hall, rather than tucked away in the actual kitchen.

Irina stifled a giggle as she imagined how her Gran would have reacted to someone hanging garlic beside the coat-hooks.

Her amusement faded as quickly as it had appeared. It was four years since her Gran had died, but Irina still felt lost at the thought that the woman who raised her was gone.

“Is everything all right?” Grant’s eyes almost seemed to glow in the low light inside the restaurant. Irina smiled back at him; she was surprised to find she’d stopped smiling to start with.

“I’m fine. This place is so cute!” she enthused. “And it smells amazing in here.”

“Wait until you taste the food,” Grant told her.

Irina decided she liked the place. The delicious smells of food definitely helped. But it wasn’t the sort of place she had imagined a man like Grant bringing her to. From what she could see, the restaurant was homey, intimate, and small.

Irina had secretly thought that Grant seemed too large even for his car, lounging in the seat like a cat fitting itself into a favored shoebox. But that was nothing compared to seeing him navigate the spindly chairs and tables here.

Irina held her breath, expecting something to go crashing down at any moment. But Grant was surprisingly graceful for a man built on such powerful lines. Every time she thought they were headed for a bull-in-a-china-shop situation, he slipped through without disturbing so much as a doily.

“Grant! Jeez, you don’t give much notice, do you?” A grinning man with light brown skin bounded out of a door at the back of the narrow dining room, bringing clouds of steam with him. Irina got a mouth-watering whiff of savory smells before the door swung shut behind him.

Grant put his hand on Irina’s lower back, and she was so hungry by then that she couldn’t honestly say whether that or the smell from the kitchens was more enticing.

“Irina, may I introduce Moss Taylor. Moss, this is Irina.”

Strike that rubbish about the kitchen smells being more enticing. As Moss approached, Grant’s arm slid further around her waist, his fingers spread wide as though he was trying to touch as much of her as possible. The gesture was strangely protective, and it sent a flood of heat through her. Grant had shed his suit jacket as they came in, and the silk shirt he was wearing under it was so fine she could almost see his biceps through it. And she could definitely feel them.

Irina pulled herself together enough to hold out one hand. “Pleased to meet you.”

Moss waved apologetically. “No shaking, sorry, love. I’ve got to get back to the kitchen.” He gave Grant an appraising look, then nodded towards a staircase at one side of the room. “Your table’s ready. Settle yourself in, Grant man.”

Irina blinked as Moss disappeared in another puff of delectable steam. This time, her stomach gave a plaintive gurgle. Grant laughed.

“Come on. I’ll show you up.”

Upstairs, a short corridor led to a candle-lit courtyard. Green vines climbed up the stone walls that lined the four sides of the courtyard, and Irina was amazed to see potted plants with small flowers growing in them.

And it was warm.

“Wait—are we outside? Where’s the snow?”

She looked up. Several stories up, the glint of glass gave away the courtyard’s secret. Not a courtyard: a conservatory. If she squinted, she could just make out small drifts of snow at the very edges of the glass roof.

“Moss put in some sort of complicated heating and ventilation system that keeps it from getting too humid and damp in here,” Grant explained as he led her to the only table in the conservatory, his warm hand on the small of her back. “And it keeps the snow from building up too much and coming in through the roof.”

“I’m not sure whether I feel more secure knowing that, or not knowing that was even a possibility,” Irina mused. “Oh—thanks!”

Grant had pulled a chair out for her and was waiting expectantly. She sat down, intensely aware of the tall, muscular man standing at her back.

His hands were still resting on the back of her chair. When she leaned back, her shoulders brushed against his fingers.

Irina licked her lips. If he kept his hands there—no, not held still—if he let his hands drift down, ghosting over her arms, around her stomach, while his mouth brushed against the back of her neck…

“Comfortable?”

“Um. Yes. Thank you.” Irina banished the daydream with a brisk shake of her head. Grant sat down opposite her, moving as gracefully as ever. Irina met his eyes, remembered her vision, and quickly looked away.

“Do we order, or…?” she asked, trying to deflect attention before her blush returned.

Grant shook his head. “Moss doesn’t believe in letting people choose what they eat. Allergies notwithstanding, of course.” He looked stricken. “You don’t have any food allergies, do you?”

“Nope, no allergies. If it’s food, I’ll eat it,” she said, laughing.

“Well, don’t feel bad about sending anything back to the kitchen, regardless. If Moss’s psychic food-matching skills are on the blink, he’d prefer to know, rather than have someone not enjoy one of his meals.”

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