The man in the bed tossed and turned as his body tried to find solace in sleep. His skin glistened with sweat and he mumbled as he thrashed among messy covers. Hands moved in agitation like those of an Italian in conversation, flapping, expressive. The sheets slipped lower on his body as his legs scissored and the covers slid off onto the floor.
He muttered a loud expletive and then gave a sharp cry. The sound echoed through the dark bedroom. His eyes opened and he stilled. For a moment, there was only the sound of his heavy breathing as he struggled to compose himself. Finally, he swung his legs out of bed and stumbled unsteadily to the en-suite bathroom. There was the sound of pissing, a steady stream that went on until the flush of the toilet. Then he made his way back to the bed where he lay, gazing up with pained eyes at the ceiling.
Gideon punished the piece of nicotine gum he was chewing with iron jaws. He scowled from inside the kitchen doorway of the restaurant he owned as he watched Eddie Tripp artfully place the last piece of garnish onto the dish he was plating. With a final look at the plate, like a man eyeing out a lover, Eddie picked it up and set it down on the long, heated conveyer belt that ran from one end of the stylishly designed kitchen of the restaurant to the other. The younger man watched it almost reverently as the plate made its way sedately down the belt, out into the serving area, toward hovering waiters who waited ready to pluck it up and serve it to a hopefully satisfied customer. The belt was one of Gideon’s indulgences; he had seen the same practice being used in New York when he was on holiday there.
Eddie turned and whistled softly as he prepared the next plate, his hands darting like dragonflies as he skilfully picked up the ingredients to prepare yet another masterpiece. His wavy, dark red hair was held in place by a hair net, something Gideon insisted on when anyone was in the kitchen. The sous-chef had ears that were slightly larger than normal, which Gideon found endearing—why, he had no idea. Ears weren’t a big turn-on for him in the usual course of things. The wide smile on Eddie’s expressive, freckled face told everyone who saw him that he was enjoying himself. Gideon wanted to kiss the smile off Eddie’s face and fulfil his lustful longings to pound the man into the table. He had wanted to do that about two days after the man had joined the staff of Galileo’s. The red-headed man appealed to Gideon like no one had in a very long time. He didn’t like the feelings Eddie caused in him, something possessive and definitely needy. It had been a little while since he had gotten laid, and craving one of his employees sucked.
“Boss? What’s that look for? Is something wrong?” Carmen de Luiz, his secretary, office manager and good friend, placed a soft hand on his arm as she peered at him anxiously out of black-rimmed eyes, her black lips set in a worried curve. Gideon was used to her whole new goth look now and it no longer made him start. Carmen’s lips were speckled with what looked like icing sugar and he suspected she’d been sampling the new dessert dish he knew Eddie was working on—pirouettes of raspberry shells with crème fraiche or some such sweetly named concoction. He felt a flare of envy surge through him at the thought Eddie was creating such sweet treats. Another thing blotting that particular employee’s copybook.
He shook his head in frustration as he shoved the gum to one side of his mouth. “No, nothing wrong. And if you keep sneaking in to sample Eddie’s wares, you’re going to get bloody fat.” He disregarded Carmen’s moue of hurt and carried on. “But does he have to look so damn happy all the time? I swear that man is the fucking reincarnation of the bluebird of happiness.” He ran a hand over his own shortly cropped light brown hair in frustration then tugged at his neatly manicured beard.
Carmen shook her head. “Baby, then you must be the reincarnation of the raven of doom.” She sniggered as he scowled even deeper. “Giddy, honey, chill out. Eddie loves his job; you should be pleased you have such an asset in your kitchen.”
Gideon turned freezing eyes on her. “Firstly, don’t call me Giddy. You know I hate it. Secondly, I’m well aware of what an asset I have in my kitchen, thank you. I employed him, remember?” Oh, he knew about Eddie’s assets. Those green eyes, that piercing stare, those talented fingers that look like they would play havoc with his dick. He pushed that thought out of his mind. “But I don’t need to see his face wreathed in merriment every time I look at him. It’s bloody unnatural.” He scowled. “And I heard he broke another plate this morning? Does that boy think we’re made of bloody money?” He chewed frantically on his bland piece of tasteless gum. He wanted a damn cigarette but that wasn’t going to happen.
Carmen sighed. “It was just one plate. And he’s twenty-four, not a boy. I wish you’d stop calling him that. You’re only four years older than him, old timer.”
“Well, he looks like a kid. All long limbs and flailing arms and costing me a fortune when he knocks something off or drops it.” Gideon’s inner bitchiness at not being able to control his feelings for Eddie rushed to the surface.
“Jesus, have you not had any for a while? You’re being a real prima donna, even for you. Give the man a break, will you?” Carmen sounded a little pissed off as she marched over to Eddie’s side, probably to resume her tasting session, and Gideon knew he’d better back off. A truly riled Carmen was not someone he wanted right now. So he ignored her, glowered and left the kitchen behind to enter the main restaurant.
It seemed as if all was usual, running like a well-oiled machine, but it never hurt to make sure. As the owner he took great pride in making things happen. He’d rather be in the kitchen creating dishes but he knew that wasn’t on the cards. He looked around, his mood even darker. It was seven o’clock on a chilly September night and the place was packed.
Sarah Townsend, his very capable front of house manager and his right hand as far as the running of Galileo’s was concerned, smiled at him as she led a couple to their table. This restaurant in London’s Soho district was Gideon’s pride and joy. It was also his home, as he occupied the large, roomy two-bedroomed flat above the restaurant. He was proud of his almost penthouse-like abode, furnished with all the mod cons and able to be accessed from inside the restaurant. It also had a private entrance, just the way he liked it.
Galileo’s was currently abuzz with patrons. Some sat enjoying cocktails and pints at the highly polished dark oak bar along one side of the restaurant. Others were seated in the table area, an opulent arena of red and bronze décor, heavy wooden tables and the ambience of the Renaissance era. To the left was the huge brass telescope he’d found at an antique store and had cost him almost the price of what he thought a black market kidney would fetch. Indeed, when he’d been told the price he’d thought someone had reached inside and ripped it out. But he’d paid the money because he really wanted it. And what Gideon wanted, Gideon tended to get.
The ceiling was speckled with stars and constellations, a beautiful cosmic frieze that a local artist, Rafael Montero, had done for him. One Gideon had been fucking at the time but who no longer graced his bed due to the fact that said bed had been the scene of Rafael’s infidelity with a man Gideon didn’t know—some young college student called Richard. Gideon had promptly given Rafael his marching orders. They may have only been together three months but he would never tolerate cheating.
Gideon was lucky that Rafael hadn’t been back to try and claim his “masterpiece” out of spite; he could insist it was his creative inspiration and he wanted it back. He wouldn’t have put it past his rather fiery Latin ex-lover to have snuck in and whitewashed the mural over.
He watched the tableau before him now—impeccably dressed waiters bearing wine buckets, plates of beautifully prepared food being whisked from the specially created serving area to tables. Customers chatted and relaxed, looking for the most part as if they enjoyed themselves. He breathed a deep satisfied sigh and relaxed.
For a whole twenty seconds.
A loud noise from the kitchen made Gideon turn in consternation and his temper, already short by lack of sleep due to the nightmares that plagued him, flared as he stormed back in.
Christ, has the kid broken something else because by God, if he has, it’s coming out of his wages.
There was a shattered mess of porcelain on the floor, and a flustered Eddie knelt trying to clean it up with a dustpan and brush. Carmen stood dabbing at the front of her dress, trying to get what looked like tea out of it with a dish towel.
Gideon spat his gum into the nearby dustbin. “Tripp!” He bellowed. “What the fuck have you broken now? Tripp by name, Tripp by nature, is it?” He’d heard the good-natured ribbing in the kitchen from the other staff about poor Eddie’s klutziness.
Eddie’s face flushed scarlet, an unfortunate side effect of being a fair-skinned redhead. His freckles stood out deeper on his pink face and his sea green eyes held a look of dismay. The rest of the kitchen staff looked on in trepidation.
Gideon’s head-chef, a large Jamaican man named Jerome Sawyer, moved toward him with purpose and Gideon took an instinctive step back. While the two men were both work colleagues and friends, Jerome’s rather fierce glare didn’t bode well for Gideon. He was distracted from Jerome’s intentions by Eddie’s continued rambling.
“I was just cleaning up, Mr. Kent,” he stuttered. “There was a bit of a mishap with the beef stock bowl—”
Gideon scowled. “There seem to be a lot of those. You are a one-man demolition squad. I can’t afford to have you keep breaking stuff—”
“Now see here, Gideon, it wasn’t like that.” Jerome towered over Gideon now, his large, sausage-like fingers resting on Eddie’s shoulder. “I can’t have you thinking it was his fault—”
Jerome’s words were cut off as Carmen’s firm fingers pinched the flesh of Gideon’s right side and he yowled loudly in pain.
Jerome blinked at being rudely interrupted but looked fairly amused.
Eddie’s eyes were wide as he gazed from one person to another. Gideon turned to stare at Carmen angrily. Her face was set, her eyes unfriendly.
“What the hell?” he exclaimed. “What was that for?”
“May I see you outside, please? Thanks, Jerome, but I’ll take care of this one,” she hissed and flounced out of the kitchen, no doubt headed to the small office which they’d agreed was their neutral territory to discuss things out of earshot of staff.
Gideon stared after her then turned to a still red-faced Eddie. Jerome had a large grin plastered over his beaming face.
“Could you clean that up, please?” Gideon demanded, and passed a haughty glare at Jerome, who winked at him.
Bastard. He knows I’m going to get my balls handed to me somehow.
“Yes, Mr Kent,” Eddie sighed wearily and bent down to sweep bits of pottery into the bright red dustpan he held.
Gideon couldn’t help noticing the tight curve of his arse as he did so and the swell of what looked like a real bubble butt beneath the loose black-and-white-checked catering trousers he wore.
What the hell? Now I’m ogling his backside in public? Jesus, this is too much. I need to get laid…quickly.
He averted his gaze and left then walked into his small but comfortable office on the other side of the kitchen.
Carmen glared at him as she stood with hands on hips, looking fairly miffed. “I was the one who knocked that bowl off the counter, Gideon Kent. Not Eddie. So if you’re going to garnish anyone’s wages you’d better make sure they’re mine.”
He huffed. “Fine. He can count it as a warning for the next time he does break something. It’s always good to put the fear of God into the staff.” His tone sounded defensive even to him.
Carmen’s face softened. “Gideon, you can’t keep doing this.”
“Doing what?” But he knew.
“Honey, I know more than anyone how frustrated you are at not being able to cook, to be a chef like you were before. I get that. But if you keep harassing Eddie, one day he’s going to leave. And that would be a shame because he’s one of the best up and coming chefs there is. You know that or you wouldn’t have taken him on. But you’re being a damn bully to him.”
Gideon’s stomach tightened at Carmen’s words and he felt the old familiar sense of loss, grief and disappointment take over. The kitchen had once been his domain until the tools he needed to perform there had been cruelly taken from him. It was where he should be right now, creating signature dishes and making people’s taste buds soar. Instead he was stuck with being a manager and a host. While he enjoyed it, it wasn’t where his passion lay.
“Carmen, you’re stepping over that boss-employee line,” he warned. “Is it my fault I want things to run smoothly?”
Carmen came over and placed her hand, with slightly scary long black fingernails, on his wrist. “You’re pissed off because you can’t cook and you’re taking it out on Eddie because he has what you don’t. And baby, there’s not much you can do about that yet. You know I believe you’ll get those senses back someday. And it would come sooner if you’d talk to someone about that night, tell them the whole story. You never say anything about what you went through to anyone. Not even me.” She regarded him shrewdly. “Are you still having nightmares?”
Gideon stiffened. “It’s my business. Not anyone else’s.”
Carmen sighed, her eyes compassionate. “Everybody needs someone to talk to.”
He clamped his lips. He wasn’t getting sucked into Carmen’s ploy to get him to talk about that night, the night he’d rather forget.
She saw that and sighed sadly. “So for now, let Eddie do his job. And what I say to you I say as a friend, not as an employee, so the Gideon ‘line’ doesn’t count.”
Gideon’s throat was dry and tight. “I see. So I’m simply an arsehole then? Thanks for that.”
Carmen sighed. “You are so damn prickly.” She kissed his cheek softly. “But you’re still a good friend. I’m going to go check everything got cleaned up in the kitchen seeing as how it was my fault. You might want to apologise to Eddie later. Make things up for the future, just in case.” With a knowing look she was gone. Gideon didn’t even want to think about what her last words might have inferred.
He slumped down into the office chair and stared moodily at the chart for staff leave on the wall. The trouble was…she was right. Ever since the accident six months ago, when the fire in his old home had taken away his sense of smell and taste, left his housemate dead and Gideon injured, he’d been a miserable git whenever he went in the kitchen. The sense of loss at who he had been, an award-winning, much talked-about chef in the city, was sometimes too much to bear.
He rubbed his eyes tiredly and closed them, recalling that night with a sense of dread. The explosion next door due to a gas leak, the fire licking through his shattered lounge, which had shared a wall with the doomed kitchen. Luckily, he’d been thrown away from the blast, away from the flames, but had been pinned by a wooden beam, his skin blistering as the wood smouldered. Hugh had not been so fortunate and had borne the brunt of it. He had lain burning on the floor, as the smell and stench of his roasting flesh had invaded Gideon’s nostrils.
He’d woken up in hospital to find he’d sustained second-degree burns to his left side. The injuries had left the skin along his hip and stomach a little thickened and sensitive, although he’d definitely been the lucky one. Hugh and the neighbour were dead. A couple of days later, as he recovered, Gideon had realised his sense of smell and taste had disappeared completely.
The doctors told him his loss of smell was psychological, a condition called anosmia. They’d attributed it to him trying to shut his mind off from the odour of his friend’s burning flesh. They said it could come back at any time, that there was nothing physically wrong with him, no blows to the head, no damage to his brain.
He’d hated the clinical diagnosis of a condition that meant the loss of his soul.