Set in the small cathedral city of Salisbury, Master Chef Lewis Mandineau no longer owns the Laurels, the restaurant that had been in his family for generations. Betrayed and robbed by an ex-lover, he’s had to sell to Carnegie Enterprises, an American corporation. That isn’t all Lewis has to contend with. Rachel, his beloved younger sister has been left severely hurt by the car crash that killed their parents, and taking care of her has to be his priority.Enter Devon Trelawney III, sent to assess the viability of the restaurant and its staff. Devon knows all about family tradition. But he also knows sentiment has no place in business matters, and the Laurels’ potential is swamped by the debts it has accrued. Devon is a hardheaded businessman, first and foremost, but Lewis and Rachel test his resolve in different ways. Soon Devon is forced to admit that what seems like an impossible love can sometimes become something very real.
Book 1 – Heat
Book 2 – Ice
MM Good Book Reviews – 4.5/5 – “….The storyline is really good even if it is a pretty simple one, the added twist does come from nowhere but there is a slight hint for some of what happens earlier in the book. I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed this story and would love to see another story involving Lewis and Devon, they have such potential that I hope R.J. Scott and Chris Quinton with explore them further.
I recommend this to those who love stories with a little suffering and angst, great characters who touch your hearts and bring the story alive, a wonderful storyline that does surprise and a very happy blissful ending….”
Multitaskingmommas – 4/5 – “….What did I like about this story? Despite Devon’s background edging on the billionaire-plot, this did not read like one at all. Even better, neither Devon nor Lewis have any egos that clashed or wills that dominated. Both men were relaxing characters to read and somehow, that made them even more romantic and surreal in a way. This ease in the characters’ personalities and behaviors was, for me, the real story behind this read.
What am I grumpy? Well, its the first of the series called the Salisbury Tales and the introduction of one character I really, really, want to read about: Jon. This means, there is more to this tale than we are left to believe. I guess we wait it out and find out what happens next in Salisbury.
…and I am not the most patient when having to wait 🙁 Is that asking too much?….”
Book Bike Reviews – 5/5 –
“….This book is like a savory stew, thrown in is a hot headed
businessman, a chef that deserves something better, and loveable
supporting characters that make this lovely book a hearty literary meal!
Great job Chris and Rj, I walked away from the table fully
Joyfully Jay – 4.75/5 – “….I knew this was going to be a good one just from reading the blurb, and I wasn’t disappointed. We have two men that you just know are going to be at odds from the get go, and I couldn’t wait to watch their walls crumble as they got to know one another. I was really pleased with this story, and I read it from beginning to end in one go over a couple of hours. I couldn’t put it down, because I just had to see how it all turned out….
….This is a really fantastic story about two men how have some serious hurdle to overcome, and manage to do it in a believable and wonderful way. I really enjoyed this book, and can absolutely recommend it to you….”
Prism Book Alliance – 4/5 – “….I really adore an enemies to lovers storyline. There is something very satisfying about watching two men with animosity toward each other fall in love. These two guys definitely start off in the “not friendly” category. The circumstances of their relationship sets the tone for all sorts of bad feelings. What saves the day though is that they are both likable characters, and seeing them lower their defenses and open their hearts is very rewarding….”
The sound of shattering crockery from the small scullery at the back of the kitchen startled Lewis Mandineau into dropping the bottle of food colouring. It bounced on the counter, leaving a swathe of scarlet cochineal splattered across the front of his white jacket, and rolled to rest against the mixing bowl.
“Bloody hell.” Lewis paid the bottle no attention. Instead, his heart in his mouth, he dashed around the central workstation and into the scullery to see Rachel standing in front of the sink. One arm was wrapped around her waist, and her free hand tugged at her long ponytail while she shook with fright. Around her feet lay shards of white tableware and food scraps. Again.
“Sorry, sorry, Lewis, sorry,” she whimpered.
“It’s okay, sweetheart,” Lewis said quietly before taking his sister in his arms and leading her gently away from the disaster.
“I’m sorry. I-I—” She gazed around, as if unsure where she was. “Lewis?”
“Everything’s fine,” he assured her affectionately. “Come on, you can sit in the office while I clear this up.”
Her beautiful sapphire blue eyes gazed up at him with the trust of a child. “Sorry?” she offered again.
“Nothing to be sorry about, sweetie. Just a little accident. Want to watch a DVD?” Nothing could distract Rachel from her problems like a Disney cartoon.
“Aristocats?” she asked hopefully.
“How did I know you’d say that?” he teased, and she laughed, no longer trembling. Thanks to the crash that had killed their parents, Rachel was an eight-year-old child trapped in a nineteen-year-old body. But she was slowly improving. Every bit of time she spent doing everyday things like being useful in the kitchen helped those damaged synapses in her brain find new pathways. A year ago she couldn’t fasten the buttons on her blouse, let alone wash dishes and peel potatoes. The specialists had told him she would never be able to return to the person she once was, but Lewis refused to give up hope. Okay, so it was three gradual steps forward and two back, but any progress was a success in his book.
It didn’t take him long to settle her in front of the TV and DVD player kept there for occasions like this, and he hurried back into the kitchen. The timing could not have been worse. He couldn’t have his normally spotless working space in any kind of mess, and stains of food colouring weren’t a good start. With luck on his side, he’d have the place back to normal before his visitor arrived in a couple of hours’ time. Resentment swamped his concern for Rachel, an anger directed at the drunk lorry driver who’d devastated their lives and at Peter McEndry, his ex-lover who’d wrecked everything Lewis had managed to save. Hell, if Peter had walked in the door at that moment, Lewis knew he would have taken the meat cleaver to him. Familiar pain caught in his chest. He’d lost more than family that year. He’d been so tied up in dealing with their parents’ deaths, Rachel’s injuries and her long-term care, and keeping the restaurant on an even keel, he’d left the day-to-day paperwork to Peter.
That had been a monumental mistake.
“You okay, Lew?”
Lewis steeled his expression into one of calm and turned to face his sous-chef. Charlie Davis wasn’t just the man who had his back in the kitchen, he was the friend who had been part of Lewis’s life since he was a teenager. Cockney born and bred, Charlie was the epitome of a Londoner, even though his family had moved to Salisbury fifteen years ago. Lewis privately thought the man liked the reaction he got to the fake edgy personality he sometimes used. To Lewis, though, he was all concern and understanding.
“I’m okay,” Lewis lied. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. This is a fresh start, he told himself. The important debts are paid. We don’t own our own home anymore, but I still have a job, and Rachel is getting better.
“You all set for Trelawney getting here?”
Lewis inhaled sharply as anxiety coiled in his stomach. He noticed the scent of smoke that hung around Charlie, and not from his cigarettes. This was the kind of smell that would linger all day. The kind that could only mean Charlie had been somewhere near his firefighter sister post call-out.
“Don’t tell me. Abby drove you over.”
Charlie sniffed himself and shook his head with a rueful expression on his face. “She came straight from a structure fire on the other side of town, picked me up on the way through.”
“Was everything okay?”
“No one hurt, but the restaurant across town, that popular Italian place, it’s a goner.”
“She said something about the roof collapsing. Anyway, stop changing the subject. When does Trelawney arrive?”
Lewis glanced at the kitchen clock. “Two hours.” Even those few words made his chest tighten. He and Rachel used to own everything here—the restaurant, the building itself inherited from their dad—but not anymore. Now every beautiful brick and beam of it belonged to a company on another continent.
“You don’t look okay,” Charlie offered. “You look like you had an argument with a vampire and lost.” He gestured towards Lewis’s chef’s whites and smirked.
“Rachel dropped some bowls and it made me jump, that’s all.”
The amusement disappeared from Charlie’s face, replaced by concern again. “Is she okay?”
Lewis nodded. He didn’t have to explain a thing to Charlie. “Watching Disney in the office. She’s fine. But the pink buttercream icing I was making for her fairy cakes isn’t going to happen now.”
“There was something I wanted to show you,” Charlie said. “It can wait, though, if you need to…” He waved at the scarlet on Lewis’s chest.
Lewis calculated how long it would take to replace his whites and clear up the smashed crockery. “It’s fine, what is it?”
Charlie placed a copy of the Salisbury Journal on the counter and flicked through the pages. “Stan spotted it. He was going to bring it to you himself, but the wine suppliers phoned him so he passed it to me.” He summed up each page as he flicked through. “Arson… benefit fraud… films… here it is.” He pointed at the article given main stage on the comments section. “Local Restaurant Bought by Foreign Investors,” screamed the headline.
Lewis sighed. The journalist who had interviewed him had promised to play up the fact Lewis was staying on as head chef and play down the fact that Laurels was no longer family owned. Seemed like sensationalism won over a gentleman’s agreement. He read on, ignoring the fact that the restaurant that had been the love of his father’s life, owned by the Mandineau family since the seventeen hundreds, had now been lost.
“Shit,” Lewis said with heat. He’d need to get Jim to keep an eye on bookings. Laurels’ maître d’ was a man of many talents; he could probably look at some marketing to reassure potential visitors that nothing was changing. Or was that the new owner’s job now? They were all used to working as a close-knit team here; was Trelawney going to be changing that?
“That’s not what Stan said. It was something disgusting in Polish,” Charlie said. “He’s hopping mad about it. Interesting, though, that the journo picked up the history of this place.”
“It’s probably the only plus.” Lewis was distracted, but that history was in his blood. The restaurant was called Laurels now, but that was only since the 1920s. The building had started out as the Black Bull Tavern in 1446. In 1672 the Mandineau family fled the Huguenot persecutions in France and settled in Salisbury. They bought the tavern, and retained the name until 1837 when Victoria became Queen. Then Rupert Mandineau renovated the tavern and renamed it the Victoria Hotel.
Only Lewis and Stanislav Pleski, Laurels’ sommelier, had real love for the history of this place. Not even Charlie was as immersed in the history as they were. Maybe it was a family thing—Stan was the third generation of Pleskis to work for the Mandineaus and had been a close friend of his father. Then and now he was more like an older brother or favourite uncle to Lewis.
Lewis kept reading. Words such as loss of history and foreign investment jumped out at him. Only at the bottom did the journalist admit the current head chef and former owner wasn’t going anywhere and nothing fundamental was changing. He even added he’d once eaten at the place and it was nice. Nice! “Damning me with faint praise,” Lewis muttered.
Laurels’ reputation for fine cuisine extended far beyond the city of Salisbury, and Lewis didn’t want to lose that. Too many people with jobs depended on him.
“I thought you should know before he arrived.” Charlie placed a hand on Lewis’s arm and squeezed. Lewis leaned into his friend briefly. “I’m going out for a cigarette, then I’ll help you clear up.”
After Charlie left, Lewis sighed and collected the handily placed dustpan and brush, then got down on his knees to begin the clean-up.
It never ceased to astonish him how much mess two plates, bowls and mugs could create when dropped from a height. They weren’t the crockery used by the restaurant, but cheap stuff he’d brought in for the breakfasts he and Rachel always shared here in Laurels. It didn’t matter when the cheap stuff ended up in pieces on the floor because her hands started to shake or a sudden noise frightened her. She loved eating in the luxurious panelled dining room, but would never do so during opening hours. She couldn’t cope with crowds of strangers, and safe routines were the only way to manage her life. So breakfast in style was the order of the day.
On his knees and engrossed in brushing the scattered shards into the dustpan, Lewis didn’t hear the swing door to the dining room open.
“What the hell?” demanded an irritated voice in an American accent. “Where did you hide the body?”
“Body?” Taken by surprise, Lewis looked up, and up. Standing over him was six foot plus of dark-haired dark-eyed scowling male. Lewis scrambled to his feet. This must be Devon Trelawney, from the Trelawney chain of restaurants and hotels and the new owner of Laurels.
“You’re early,” he blurted, set off-balance by the man before him. Devon Trelawney III, eldest son of the Vermont Trelawneys, was actually a lot younger than he’d expected. Somehow he’d imagined that Devon would be a middle-aged man, not a fashion model wannabe with high cheekbones and a brooding frown. Lewis thought the man might even be younger than himself, though that was hard to judge with the signs of jet-lagged exhaustion in the tension lines around his eyes and mouth.
“What happened here?” Devon asked, irritation in his voice.
Devon was staring at his chest, Lewis realised. When he glanced down, he saw why. His whites looked as if he’d cut someone’s throat.
“Oh. Cochineal. It doesn’t matter. I just dropped the bottle when—”
“Looks like you dropped more than a bottle.” Devon crossed his arms over his broad chest and deepened the scowl. “And damage to the restaurant’s property doesn’t matter?”
Intimidating and snarly was not a great look on this man, Lewis decided.
“This doesn’t.” He bit back the sarcastic comment burning his tongue. “They’re my own. I’m Lewis Mandineau, the head chef, and I’m guessing you’re Mr Trelawney?” He stood and held out his hand.
“Devon Trelawney, and I know who you are.” The clasp of hands was so brief it came close to being an insult. Anything else either of them might have said was lost as the swing door burst open and Charlie rushed back in.
“Hey, Lew, get your gay arse outside, there’s a really flash car parked in front—”
“And this is Charles Davis, Laurels’ sous-chef,” Lewis interrupted. The marked area on the street outside Laurels was clearly labelled Loading Only. With any luck, a parking ticket would be looming in the future of his new boss. If the man hadn’t treated his hand as if Lewis was contaminated, he might have advised him to move his car. “Charlie, meet Devon Trelawney.”
“Morning.” Charlie offered his hand and received the same brief shake as Lewis. “Um, shall I make some tea while you two talk important stuff? Or coffee?” he added quickly.
“Coffee, black and sweet,” Devon said crisply. “In the meantime, Mandineau, you can give me the guided tour.” Lewis blinked at the dismissive tone and the order that followed it. He might not own this place anymore, but he expected some respect. Anger coiled inside him, and he hated the feeling. He was the kind of guy who was normally glass half-full, but the last two years had been a challenge to that.
Without the usual urge to be polite and ignoring the desire to go and rid himself of the scarlet-stained whites, he nodded. “I take it you’ve read all the background history that comes with the place?”
“Some of it. So lead on.”
Lewis glanced back at his office. Rachel was in there, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to leave her. Charlie caught his gaze and nodded imperceptibly. His friend had got the message. Rachel would be fine; Lewis just had to jump to the American’s command. Gritting his teeth, Lewis walked out of the kitchen, very conscious of the man at his back. “The kitchen complex is an annex built in the fifties, before the building was Grade II listed,” he said. “In case you don’t know, that means every proposed alteration has to be run past our local planning authority before a thing is done. And whatever repairs or changes are authorised—and there’s no guarantee they will be—have to be done in as close a match to the original as humanly possible, regardless of expense.”
“I know what a listed building is,” Devon said. “Skip the background and give me the facts.”
Great start. Lewis could do succinct. He pressed on. “There are three rooms on the ground floor.” He walked into his favourite room. “This is what we call the Stuart Room.” Normally he would talk about the wall panels, fireplace and ceiling plasterwork all being Jacobean, but now he didn’t bother. “It holds twelve tables, and we have four waitstaff to serve them. The bar in the corner is stocked and run by Stanislav Pleski, our sommelier.” He gazed around the room, seeing anew the pristine white tablecloths and napkins waiting for the cutlery and glasses to be set ready for the lunchtime crowd. They glowed against the dark oak wall panels and the deep red carpet. He felt pride and contentment whenever he was in this space.
Under the critical eye of his father, he and Stan had spent countless hours renovating and refitting the lovely Victorian bar, polishing every inch of its lustrous mahogany surface and brass fittings. Between them they’d pulled off a minor miracle of restoration. Lewis freely admitted that all kudos went to Stan, history fanatic and expert handyman as well as wine expert extraordinaire, even though the poor man had signed off sick halfway through. All the hard, skilled work had been done, and Peter, then his new boyfriend, had helped him finish it in time for Ralph Mandineau’s sixtieth birthday party. One month later, it all went to hell.
“Did you never think you could get at least two more tables in here?” Devon commented, jolting him back to the reality of his situation. He considered what Devon had said, then attempted to answer his new boss in the most politically correct way he could.
“It’s not all about bums on seats,” he began in the most patient tone he could manage. “Yes, we could add in more. But then the staff would find it difficult to safely navigate while carrying plates, and the customers would be feeling cramped and uncomfortable. An uncomfortable customer doesn’t come back.” There, first criticism nipped in the bud. “This way.” Lewis led the way to the long entrance hall, a wide high-ceilinged passageway with a stone-flagged floor and whitened walls between black beams. Highly polished furniture was strategically placed, all of it antique. He spotted Devon trailing a finger over the shelf of the seventeenth-century carved oak court cupboard and waited for some comment about dust. There was nothing.
Lewis loved every inch of this old building and its history. Some small part of him stubbornly decided what the hell and he added in the details. “This bit dates from the eighteenth century. Originally coaches came through here to the stable yard out back,” he continued, relaxing into his story. “It was converted into a foyer just before the First World War, and deliveries now go through the side entrance to the back. Through here is the Tudor Room, called that because, well, it’s Tudor. Most of the linenfold wall panels are original. We hire it out for private functions. We have a small pool of part-time waitstaff we can call on when necessary.”
Devon stuck his head round the door and peered around, frowning. “Okay,” he said, “another twelve tables?”
Devon’s lack of enthusiasm irritated Lewis, so he made no mention of the room’s history. “Yes. Separate or lined up to make one long table for banquets or board meetings.” He carried on down the corridor, Devon trailing behind him. “Customers’ toilets are on your left and so is the Orangery. It’s Victorian, a sunroom,” he added. That was another successful feature of Laurels he and Stan had worked on. “Very popular in spring and summer. Weather permitting, we put a few tables on the patio outside and in the garden. It stretches up to the wall of the Cathedral Close.” He might as well have saved his breath for all the response Devon gave him.
“Okay,” Devon said again. “What about the second-floor rooms?”
“What, the attics?”
“No. The floor above this one.”
“Oh, you mean the first floor.” Okay, that was snide, but he couldn’t resist the temptation. “Four rooms off a central landing. The Long Gallery, the Jacobean, another small room and a bathroom. We only use them for storage; they need too much restoration. They’re mostly Jacobean with Victorian embellishments.”
Devon stopped in his walk and circled the area, looking pointedly up at the ceiling as if he could see the rooms beyond. If he was looking for something wrong, thinking that getting here early would catch Lewis with his pants down, he was sadly mistaken. Pride swelled inside Lewis at the thought that he couldn’t be faulted on anything. Apart from the cochineal.
“I notice the restaurant is only open from noon to eleven Tuesday through Sunday and closed Mondays.” There was censure in Devon’s tone and some irritability.
“That’s right. It gives the staff a break before the rush on Tuesdays because of market day. I also get a day off to plan ahead and visit my suppliers. I buy organic and locally where possible. I don’t buy anything sight unseen.” Devon nodded and Lewis felt like patting himself on the back. The Yank finally seemed to approve of something.
Devon made no more comments, and they returned to the kitchen to find Charlie pouring coffee into fine porcelain cups. The office door stood open. The TV and DVD player were silent, and Rachel was nowhere in sight. Charlie handed Lewis a slip of paper.
“Message for you, Chef,” he said.
Lewis read the scrawled lines. R is in your car watching the DVD on my laptop. She’s fine. He gave his friend a grateful smile.
“Thanks, Charlie.” He screwed the note into a ball and dropped it into his pocket. “All right, Mr Trelawney, shall we talk in my office?”
The pain between Devon’s eyes increased as they returned to the brightly lit kitchen. He had already been overtired before jet lag worked its evil on him, and the concentration needed to stay awake for the seventy-plus miles from Heathrow to this small city in Wiltshire had just about finished him. The rental agency had promised him the silver BMW would be a dream to drive and worth the extra money, but driving anything was torture. Besides, if he’d pulled over and found a place to stay, his damn headache wouldn’t have let him sleep even if he tried. Despite taking meds, Devon was close to a migraine, and he could feel the press of it in his skull.
“It’s through here,” Lewis said formally and indicated the door at the rear of the kitchen.
He’d seen photos of Lewis, but nothing had prepared Devon for the shock of seeing a gorgeous guy on his knees in front of him, let alone that he had what could easily have been blood splashed across his chef’s whites.
Cochineal. Okay, that spread of red had been the first thing he’d seen, but then he’d noticed the blue eyes, the short brown hair frosted with blond. He wasn’t sure if the scruff on the man’s face was designer stubble or he’d missed shaving for a few days, but it looked good on him. But Devon wasn’t here to drool over the staff. He had work to do, and he couldn’t afford to let one of his migraines push him to his knees. Not caring if he looked like a complete idiot, he pulled sunglasses from his pocket and slid them on to cover his eyes. He saw the questioning expression on the chef’s face but didn’t offer comment. Let him think what he wanted—it wasn’t as if Devon had the mental capacity to care at the moment.
His head was already a mess of history and facts about the place, and he sure as hell wasn’t going to remember Tudor this and Jacobean that. Something about folding doors or ceilings or something. None of it had sunk in. It was enough that he had been able to focus on table arrangement. Even that had the band of hurt tightening.
Blinking at the disturbance collecting in his vision, he attempted to focus on the office itself. The medium-sized room was a haven of normality, apart from the TV and DVD player in one corner and the easy chair in front of it. What the hell?
Before he could be offered one of the regular chairs in front of the desk, he strode around it and sat in the executive chair. It was a simple reinforcement of what Devon was in this equation, one he employed in every situation like this. He wasn’t here to be friends, he was here to see if his father’s acquisition could be streamlined enough to turn a decent profit. And if not, how disposal could be handled. That was all.
Briefly anger replaced the questioning in Lewis’s expression, but he made no comment, just dropped into the nearest chair and waited. Leaning there, all loose and laid-back, he was evidently trying to look like he didn’t care, but there was a telltale tightening of his lips that betrayed his irritation.
With Lewis sprawled in the chair like that, Devon could easily see what his mom had meant when she’d whistled at the photos in the folder on the restaurant. Nice, she’d said in the tone she used whenever she was attempting to be on Devon’s level. It was nice that she was fine with having a gay son, but he drew the line at drooling over pictures with her. Still, she was right. Not that the observation mattered. Lewis was openly gay but he was also one of Devon’s staff, and Devon didn’t dip his pen in the company’s ink.
“Coffee is presented well,” Devon observed. The small cup was on an oval saucer. A silver spoon with the Laurels logo sat on a linen napkin, and a small silver-wrapped chocolate, again with logo, nestled in the pristine white folds.
“It’s tradition to serve it on the oval plates. Started by my dad.”
Devon nodded. Lewis was still affecting not caring, but there were shadows behind his eyes. Devon knew the story: Lewis’s parents dying two years before and financial troubles meant that Trelawney Enterprises had snapped up the restaurant at a bargain price and now owned the place, including the chef in his scarlet-stained whites. He needed to change the subject.
The smell of the coffee was delicious, and Devon’s first sip told him it tasted just as good, if not better. Quality stuff. He drank more, let the caffeine soak into his system and do its thing. Fuck it, he needed some level of concentration.
“Very good. Is this what you serve to the diners?” he asked. “Do the staff normally drink it as well?”
“Of course they do.” Lewis looked and sounded surprised. “Why wouldn’t they?”
“Cost. You run an expensive ship here. Cuts will have to be made and profit margins increased.” Devon knew it was the small things like this that could sink an establishment. Too many staff treats, and suddenly there was a hole in the accounts.
The chef flushed angrily. “That’s ridiculous,” he said, then appeared to regret his outburst. He pressed his lips closed, sat up straighter and clenched his hands together in his lap.
“You and I will work together to make that happen,” Devon continued. God, he needed to get rid of this headache, and he needed to sleep. But he hadn’t even signed into his hotel yet. He knew he was coming across as an overbearing asshole, but right now he couldn’t bring himself to care. This was how he worked. He’d apologise tomorrow. Maybe. The bottom line was Lewis Mandineau wasn’t the boss here anymore. Devon was.
“I’ll want to talk to the staff tomorrow morning, so call a staff meeting at ten am. I’ll then be shadowing your operations for the next week before presenting my comments to the Trelawney board.”
Lewis sat forward in his chair with shock slashed into his expression.
“What the hell?” he snapped. “A week? You’re giving us a week? How the hell can you even begin to see what we are in just seven bloody days?”
Devon schooled his features into calm boredom, an expression he did very well.
“Trelawney Enterprises bought this place because my father respected yours. You were made perfectly aware that, while we appreciate you have an emotional stake in the retention of the restaurant business, the real estate is worth more than Laurels brand. I’m here to assess whether it is in our best interests to continue investment or whether it would make more sense to sell the buildings for development. Either way you win, as you leave debt-free and able to start over somewhere else.”
Lewis paled but said nothing to that last point. He stood. “I understood Trelawney would give us time to prove we were viable.” The words were soft, deceptively so because Devon could see the fierce temper banked in those sapphire eyes.
“Make sure the staff are assembled” was all he said in reply. He stood to face Lewis and handed him his business card. “I’m reachable on my cell number.”
With that he left the office. He had to. The pain in his temples was beginning to affect his vision, and he knew he had about thirty minutes to get himself in a dark room for the next twelve hours. He stalked past Charlie, who smiled uncertainly at him, and was out in fresh air in a few seconds. He climbed into his BMW, pulled the door shut and exhaled noisily. Then he attempted to relax his muscles on the short drive to the White Hart hotel.
Booking in was simple, his room not that far from reception, and the first thing he did was dry-swallow his meds. He closed the drapes and placed the Do Not Disturb sign on the outside door handle, stripped to his boxers and climbed into bed. He wouldn’t sleep for a while, not until the muscle relaxants kicked in, but the dark was a blessed relief. He moved a little to find a cool part of the pillow and let out a low groan at the band of agony fastened tight around his skull.
Damn planes, jet lag, working in low light, straining his eyes! When would he learn?
* * * * *
At some point sleep stole him away from the pain, and when he woke to a still darkened room, he felt marginally better. These damn things were happening way too often. Experimentally he moved in the bed and was able to reach for his cell on the nightstand. He had two missed calls and four texts. The texts he ignored. They were from Tom, and his younger brother was probably just sending him today’s joke, which inevitably came with extra photos and links to websites. He listened to the missed calls. One was his mom reminding him that his dad’s sixtieth birthday meal was only four weeks away and would Devon please write the day in his diary this year as it was important. The other was from his father asking for an update on Laurels.
He called his dad back immediately.
“How did it go?” Devon senior asked without preamble.
“Mandineau isn’t happy.” Devon yawned widely. He wasn’t sure what the time was, and he switched on the TV to find the room settings. Three am UK time. Late evening back in Vermont.
“I didn’t imagine he would be,” his dad said with a sigh. “He’s good at what he does, though, just like his father,” he added. “When Acquisitions agreed to the purchase, they did their due diligence. We were buying into the Mandineau name first and the real estate second, so please take it easy on your usual done-in-a-week approach.”
Devon held his tongue. The senior Trelawney was always saying that Devon should see the potential in people, and it never failed to grate on him. Was it just Devon who understood that whatever the potential, if the numbers didn’t fit into a positive profits profile, then no single person would make the Trelawney board happy? It was like, in the past few years, he was the only one taking the money-making seriously. With Tom in college, Adam, the middle brother, leaving the family business to open a gallery, and his dad constantly saying he was retiring, it sometimes felt to Devon like he was the only sane one in his entire family.
“I’m back there this morning. Tomorrow morning. Shit, seven hours, whatever.”
His dad chuckled. “Go back to sleep, else you’ll get one of your headaches.”
Too late for that, Devon thought, irritated.
“And do me a favour, son, listen to me and give this thing more than your week of doom approach. Look at the staff and the community. I have a good feeling about Laurels and Lewis Mandineau in particular.”
“I can’t promise that if their financials don’t…” Devon stopped. There was no point in arguing when he had residual pain in his temples and his dad was clearly working some weird agenda. “Okay,” he ended.
“Good, good,” Devon senior said with enthusiasm. “We’ll talk later. And do some tourist stuff, see Stonehenge and at least two other places, okay?”
The call ended, and Devon dropped his cell to the bed. There was no way he was going to be able to sleep for the next few hours, not without help. At least this time he managed to swallow the tablets with water. After he clambered into bed, he attempted to clear his head of everything so he could relax back to sleep. He refused to think about Trelawney Enterprises, the board, or Laurels.
Except. That chef. Lewis. He had the most amazingly clear blue eyes.