Bachelor Undone – Finders Keepers Book 1
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Markus Faydon counted the steps he took along the hallway and down the stairs. Gone were the days when he could crawl into the start of the workday at a leisurely snail’s pace. His workload hadn’t increased, but the need to keep busy had.
When he reached the front bar, his eyes glided over to the display of liquor bottles. His gaze bounced from one bottle to the other and then skated over to the far wall display of trophies and sepia colored photographs.
So far, so good.
If he kept his mind engaged, he wouldn’t think about—
Hannah Melville… dressed in her crisp chef’s outfit.
He managed a nod and, forgetting what he’d been about to do, sank into the chair by the fireplace.
When she headed back to the kitchen, Markus pushed out the breath he’d been holding and gave his face a vigorous rub.
This had to stop.
She had him tide up into knots. Every time he saw her, he lost… everything, right down to his train of thought, and he had to fight the urge to ease back, retreat…
It didn’t make any sense. He never let anyone or anything faze him. Growing up in a pub with two younger brothers and a baby sister constantly underfoot had honed his ability to switch off. He could be standing in the middle of the usual hubbub of too many people talking at once and still hear himself think. Nothing, no one ever got to him…
But the moment she came into view, he completely came undone. It happened every time. All decision making… all thinking… Gone.
Ever since Hannah Melville had walked into his life, she’d become his sole point of attraction, like a magnet—
“Take it down a notch, you fool. And keep it real,” he said under his breath.
Hannah worked for him.
He employed her.
If… when she spoke to him it was always work related, so he had no reason to get ideas.
Yes, it was definitely time to snip those wires he’d crossed and reason his way out of the hole he’d dug for himself. In the meantime, he could pull out his phone and ask someone out on a date. He could think of at least half a dozen women who’d be only too happy to—
He frowned. Either his vision was playing tricks on him or she was actually moving toward him, her lips stretched into an easy, inviting smile…
“It’s a new menu,” she said, “Tell me what you think. If there’s anything you don’t like, we can tweak it.”
Had she cut her hair?
It looked lighter, in both color and volume, the playful wisps of blonde—
“Um. Okay.” He took the piece of paper she held out.
She gave him a small smile. “I’ve got something on the stove, so… I should get back to the kitchen.”
“Yeah, okay.” Yeah, okay? How about asking if she’d enjoyed her day off?
“You know where to find me,” she chirped.
He nodded and pretended to look at the new menu but his entire awareness remained pinned on her as she returned to the kitchen.
Six months and every time he saw her, his body went into overdrive. His heart used his chest as a punching bag, his breath came in short gasps and sometimes he even forgot to breathe. If anyone got an insight into how he felt, they’d think he was an idiot pining for his first crush…
“Markus, were you growling again?”
He slanted his gaze toward his younger brother, Mitch.
Mitch shoved his feet out of the way and pushing past him, sunk into a chair next to him. “The paying guests will be coming down for breakfast soon. It’s party face time.”
“You’ve got a problem with my face?” Markus shifted in his chair but the impulse to bite Mitch’s head off only ballooned. He erupted to his feet and hitched his hands on his hips. It was definitely time to hit the range and reduce some clay targets to dust. “I need to shoot something.”
Mitch chortled. “Do you mind not looking at me when you say that.”
“I can’t think here,” Markus ground out, “I have to get out.”
“What the hell, you told me to meet you for a breakfast meeting. I could have stayed with Elizabeth—”
He put his hand up. “You really need to stop rubbing it in our faces. We get it. You’re happy.” Elizabeth Charles, another newcomer who’d decided to make Eden her home and Mitch had been the lucky one to catch her attention.
Mitch grinned from ear to ear. “She just signed a contract with a large chain store. They love her rhubarb jam—”
“Glad to hear it.” He turned to leave. “If anybody needs me… don’t call me.”
“Are you okay?” Mitch asked, “You’ve been lumbering around like the proverbial bear—”
“Sorry to interrupt.”
Markus whipped around. Hannah hadn’t cut her hair. She’d simply tied it back. He looked at the blue ribbon teasing her shoulder and had to shove his hands inside his pockets or risk making a fool of himself by reaching out and brushing the ribbon back.
“I gave you the wrong menu,” she said smiling.
“Hannah. How’s it going?” Mitch asked.
“Hi, Mitch. Good. I’ve just added Huevos Rancheros with my own special sauce to the menu if you want to try them.”
“Sounds good. Lead the way. And this time, sit down with us. It’ll be a while before the breakfast crowd settles into the dining room and I know you’ve got Dani working for you today. I’m sure she can handle things for a while.”
Ease back. Retreat.
“Are you coming?” Mitch asked.
Markus nodded. So much for taking the coward’s way out and making himself scarce. Now he had no choice. Worse, he’d have to sit back and watch Mitch chatting Hannah up. Despite being over the moon happy with his fiancée, Elizabeth Charles, his once a bad boy, always a bad boy brother would never shake off his easy charm…
* * *
You trained under Michelin star chefs and you end up working in a small town pub? What next? Cooking with lard?
Hannah had never understood the reference to lard, but her mother had a point. She’d sweated over hot stoves to be noticed. She could walk into any restaurant in the world and straight into a prestigious job collaborating with the best in the business. Yet here she was and in less than twelve months she would hit a milestone birthday and what would she have to show for it?
Two extra pounds…
Hannah straightened her shoulders and lifted her chin. She had every reason in the world to be happy. She’d been lucky to land in such a welcoming place. The alternative would have been to stay put and—
Live with the humiliation.
Her fingers curled around the envelope she’d tucked into her pocket. Her breath hitched. Before she could spin out of control, she pulled herself away from the edge of the precipice that always seemed to be only a few steps behind her, nipping at her heels. The feeling had been getting worse since that envelope had arrived…
She set herself back on track and focused on everything she loved about living in Eden. The town offered variety in small servings but it was enough to keep her entertained. As the head chef at The Gloriana, the one and only pub in Eden, she had been given free rein. The quaint pub catered to a broad range of people, from drivers using the town as a pit stop on their way to the city or further inland, to locals who lived in surrounding farms. Then there were the tourists making stops on their way up to the ski resort or out on day trips taking in the pretty scenery.
While living in the city she’d enjoyed regular outings to the theatre and the movies. Now the Eden Thespians, a local group of theatre loving women, filled that gap with the productions they put on and the friends she’d made organized regular Friday get together movie nights. On her days off, she only needed to stroll down to Joyce’s Café to find someone to sit down for a coffee and a chat. Mostly, she enjoyed getting into her little convertible and zipping around the countryside to explore her new playground.
She turned a fraction and swept her gaze toward Markus. To say he was as good looking as his two brothers, Mitch and Matthew, would be a vague understatement. Sure, he was tall, with a well-proportioned body, but there was something about him, an extra layer of… something… she didn’t know what exactly. She only knew there was more to him than met the eye. It made her want to delve, to know him better and maybe even discover something only she could see. And yet since arriving in this small town she’d been intent on keeping her distance.
“I’ll get things started in the kitchen. Any special requests?” she asked and automatically shifted her attention to the more receptive Mitch Faydon. She made a conscious effort to keep her smile neutral but when her gaze shifted back to Markus, the edge of her lip kicked up a notch, and she had the sudden urge to run her fingers through her hair and stand just a little bit closer to him…
“Surprise us,” Mitch said answering for the both of them.
She nodded and strode off waiting until the kitchen swing doors had closed behind her to undo the top button of her chef’s jacket and fan herself.
If she’d actually been on the lookout for a new love interest, she’d landed in the right place. The Gloriana attracted everyone in the district and there were plenty of men who were more than easy on the eye. A couple had already asked her out but she’d shied away. Would her response have been any different if Markus had been the one doing the asking?
She gave the fleeting thought a moment to disperse, but it refused to budge.
“Let’s give the Faydon brothers a tasting platter they’ll never forget,” she told Dani, her kitchen assistant for the day. Although only nineteen, Dani had been cooking from a young age and had her heart set on eventually opening up her own place…
“What’s a log lady?” Dani asked.
Dani shrugged. “Someone called me Eden’s own log lady. I don’t get it.”
“What were you doing?”
“I was taking a fruit loaf over to Mrs. Lawrence. She’s still recovering from her hip operation so she can’t get out and about and one of the Grange boys called me a log lady. It happened again this morning.”
“I wouldn’t pay any attention to what the Grange boys say.” She’d been in Eden long enough to know they were the town rebels without a cause. “Were you carrying another loaf?”
Hannah nodded. “Twin Peaks. It was a popular TV show before your time…” And hers… She really needed to stop thinking about turning thirty.
“I still don’t get it.”
“You’re always carrying a loaf of something around. There’s a character in Twin Peaks who carries a log everywhere she goes.”
“So is it good or bad?”
“Depends. We should keep an eye out for anyone missing.”
Hannah sorted through a selection of muffins before moving on to slicing mushrooms.
“Are you okay?” Dani asked. “You’ve got that tunnel vision look happening. You’re not even blinking.”
She didn’t have to dig deep to find the thought still hovering in her mind. Markus? Asking her out on a date?
“This has to be perfect.” She was about to sit down with the Faydon brothers, something she did regularly, but today it felt… different. Probably because it was just the two brothers and still too early for anyone else to have come into the pub. There’d be nothing to take her focus away from—
She shook her head.
Mitch had sat diagonally opposite Markus, so that left her with two choices. She could sit next to Markus or opposite him. Her eyes skated along the kitchen bench, making sure all the necessary ingredients had been laid out. “Keep an eye on the scrambled eggs. I want them creamy not runny.”
“I got this,” Dani assured her.
She could trust Dani. But could she trust herself? She needed to play it cool, calm and collected and give the Faydon brothers her undivided attention without favoring one brother over the other.
Mitch had an easy way about him. He always seemed to know what to say, how to carry a conversation or pick up the slack. While Markus… Well, she never knew with him. At first, she’d assumed he was the quiet, introspective type, but over time she’d come to realize he toned it down whenever she came anywhere near him. Any other time he was as chatty as the rest of them.
She swallowed and, wiping her hands against her pink and black checkered pants, she approached the table. For the life of her, she couldn’t look away from him. He had broad shoulders and despite his healthy appetite, Markus managed to look fit. She’d bet anything he did weights. The way his jeans hung low on his hips told her he didn’t have an ounce of fat on him. And those forearms…
“Please keep your eyes to yourself,” she mumbled under her breath. It would be a challenge since she knew she wouldn’t be able to avoid looking at the play of sinewy muscles on his arms. He was usually clean-shaven, but this morning he had a light stubble around his chin and his hair looked just-rolled-out-of-bed ruffled.
She shoved her hands inside her pockets and frowned as her fingers crashed against the envelope again. She’d meant to throw it away and again she’d forgotten. And that’s when it dawned on her.
Ever since getting up that morning she’d been fretting. Worrying over something that no longer mattered…
Later… she’d throw the envelope away later when she returned to the kitchen. She had no idea why she’d held on to it.
Seeing it and knowing what it meant had made her insides tighten and quiver with anxiety. The contents should not have come as a surprise. She should have been expecting it…
Just throw it away, she thought.
Before she reached the table, Eddie Faydon strode in to the dining room, a huge smile on her face. Hannah waited a heartbeat to see where the co-owner of The Gloriana sat. Markus’ younger sister had moved out of the pub a while back and had set up house with her fiancé, Theo Kendrick. They’d also opened up a restaurant in Eden, Posh and Bull. Hannah had already had dinner there twice, both times with Joyce Breeland, the owner of a local café. Both times, Hannah had felt a twinge of envy as she’d looked around and seen most other tables occupied by couples enjoying a romantic night out. Her fingers tightened around the envelope…
Eddie waved to her and sat next to Markus.
“Hey, Hannah. I hear we’ve got a new menu.”
“It’s a work in progress,” she said, “A friend gave me a heads up. The Country Feast is reviewing restaurants and pubs in the alpine region.” She drew out the chair opposite Markus, somehow managing to keep her eyes on Eddie. “It pays to be prepared. I’ve added a few dishes, but they’re really only variations of the standard fare.”
“Whatever you’ve come up with will dazzle the reviewer.”
It was the sort of compliment Mitch usually made, so she automatically turned to him, but then Markus’s voice registered in her mind.
She did a double take. “Um. Thanks… Markus.” Heat poured into her cheeks and she suddenly realized her eyebrow had shot up as if his remark had come as a surprise.
Way to go, Hannah. Spook him with your Mr. Spock look.
She scrunched up a paper napkin and wondered if she could call for time-out. Or a retake. What were the chances he hadn’t noticed?
His eyes were pinned on her still raised eyebrow.
She lowered it in increments and wished someone would say something to distract him, but both Mitch and Eddie had fallen silent.
Caught in a snare of her own making, she sat there looking into his whisky colored eyes and tried to come up with something to say, anything to pluck her out of that impossible moment.
It shouldn’t have affected her.
Yet… there was something about the way his eyes danced around her face. She could almost hear him thinking. Okay, she couldn’t really hear him thinking but she could imagine him engaging in a private conversation, asking himself if maybe he should have done a more thorough check on her background before hiring her…
“Um.” Hannah shot to her feet. “I think I smell toast burning.”
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