About the book
A table for two
Waitress Tiffany Hayes knows what she wants and she wants Sebastian. Top’s grumpy sommelier calls to her in a way no man has before. She simply needs to show him that they belong together. Finding an opportunity to spend some quality time with him turns out to be the easy part. Convincing Sebastian to look beyond his damaged heart and soul is far more difficult.
A thirst he can’t deny
After losing everything he held dear, Sebastian Lowe has finally rebuilt his life and the walls around his heart. Tiffany is a sweet temptation he struggles to resist. She’s bright and complex, but he’s sure she can’t handle his dark desires. When they’re thrown together on an assignment, he can’t help himself.
A perfect pairing
As passion builds, the new lovers are both forced to face their pasts. To have a future, they must find a way to heal the wounds they thought would haunt them forever.
Sebastian Lowe watched as his boss, Sean Taggart, settled into the chair behind his desk. Unlike other offices where Sebastian was forced to stuff his big body into some miniscule but suitably expensive chair designed more for fashion than comfort, Taggart offered up a large, masculine seat across from his perch. Too often Sebastian felt like a massive bear attempting to fit on some delicate work of art and fearing he was about to break it. He would end up on the floor and it would take a couple of the line chefs to drag him back up to his artificial feet.
He hated being vulnerable.
“Thanks for coming in on your off day,” Taggart said.
Yes, despite the comfortable seating, he was definitely still vulnerable. He should have taken Chef up on his offer to go with him to New York to meet with the producers of the new show Taggart was hosting. Instead, he’d put it off claiming he had to stay behind to oversee the installation of the new refrigerator in the wine cellar. He’d been unhappy with the reliability of the old one. He should have taken that plane ticket and pretended like he was comfortable with the prospect of being on television. He should have known that a place like Top would grow and likely need a sommelier who would look good on camera.
A sommelier who didn’t spend half his life merely trying to stay on his feet.
“Not a problem.” He’d been packing and readying himself for the temporary move to Fort Worth. The exercise had been a bit depressing since it forced him to acknowledge he hadn’t spent much time turning his apartment into a home. It was furnished and bland, with no spark of his own personality and very few comforts. He’d made the decision that when he returned, he would find a better place. He’d been planning on becoming a settled adult and trying to find a condo or a small house to invest in. He’d been ready to give up the vagabond existence he’d found himself in since that terrible day when he’d realized Alicia wanted nothing more from him.
It looked like he might be moving on from Dallas in a permanent fashion, but one thing was for certain. He wouldn’t be returning to Georgia. There was nothing left now. No restaurant. No family. Not even redemption.
“I called you in because I need to talk about something that will affect your work situation,” Chef said.
Fuck. He hadn’t realized until this moment how much he wanted to settle down. He’d worked in some amazing places, but he loved this small restaurant in Dallas. In the restaurant world, Dallas wasn’t much of a blip on the map. It wasn’t even a Michelin-rated town, but Top had something he’d never found before. It had a magic most places didn’t. Family. God, it felt a little like he’d had a family again.
Even if he was the weird uncle who wore a three-piece suit everywhere and rarely went to parties.
“Of course,” he began, pleased his voice was so even. He wasn’t going to beg. He didn’t beg for anything. Well, not since the day he’d begged and pleaded with God to take his life instead of Gary’s. He knew it wasn’t really God’s fault. It had been the damn SAM that had taken down the helo they’d been riding in. Fate had taken Gary’s life and left Sebastian with no legs. Modern technology had sort of given them back.
Chef leaned toward him. “You know how much I appreciate what you’re doing to help with the opening of the new restaurant. I can imagine that being forced to move to Fort Worth for eight weeks is a pain in the ass.”
“I don’t mind.” Not if it meant he got to keep his job. Not if it meant he wasn’t getting kicked aside for some snotty-ass som who’d never done anything in his damn life but study for his master’s level and get his hair done so he could squawk about the finest Cab on cable TV. “I’ve looked at the apartment. It’s more than suitable.”
The Fort Worth apartment Taggart was offering to let him stay at was nicer than his place, but then he was only now getting to the point that he had some extra cash to spend on things like an apartment with more than one room. It was time to make a home. It was time to give up on everything he’d left behind.
How many years had he pursued Alicia Layle? She’d been his perfect female for so very long. Ever since the day he’d met her. He’d been eight years old, but his fascination with her had lasted. Feminine and soft, with gentle manners and a warm persona. She was gracious and kind. Everyone in their small town adored her.
And she’d been the one to turn them all against him. Her sweet light had been an illusion.
Perhaps that’s why his dreams of Alicia had been replaced in the last few months with a mouthy, boozy, slightly insane brat of a blonde with gorgeous tits and a perfectly round ass. Tiffany Hayes worked as a server and was always slightly, fascinatingly unkempt. Oh, she would try for perfection, but there would always be one thing off about her. He’d made it a habit to study her each and every time they worked together so he could find it. Sometimes it was nothing more than a spot on her shirt she’d forgotten to iron. And then there were the times she would show up and still have flecks of paint on her hands and he would wonder what she’d spent her day painting.
“Grace made me buy the apartment because she didn’t want me driving home late at night,” Chef was saying. “I tried to explain to her that we should find a place in the suburbs between Dallas and Fort Worth to cut down on the commute between restaurants, but she put her foot down. We moved last year when we found out she was pregnant again and she swears we’ll be buried in that house.”
“How is she doing?” He’d heard the pregnancy and birth had been hard on Grace Taggart.
Chef took a deep breath and nodded, as though relieved at the answer he was going to give. “She’s good. Much better than I had hoped for, but I still don’t want to leave her or the kids for any real amount of time. It’s why I’m going to ask you to sacrifice for the good of the team.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Chef, and I’m going to tell you why.” What was he doing? His mouth was working without the aid of his inner self. That inner self was crying out for him to have a little fucking dignity, but the words kept coming out. “No one knows your menus like I do. No one knows Eric’s cooking like I do. I understand the network is likely going to want to bring in a sommelier with more flair, but they aren’t going to be as good a fit as I am.”
Chef sat back, his eyes widening as though he was as surprised as Sebastian. “Really? And why is that?”
He should stand up and accept his layoff with grace. He should shake the chef’s hand and hope for a good referral. He did stand, meaning to do just that. He was careful because the last thing he wanted was to end up on the floor. He went to put his hand out and he really meant to do all those dignified things he’d settled on.
“You know why, Chef? Because I am Top. I am everything you want in this place. I’m Southern. Born and raised on the kinds of food you serve. They’re not a theory to me. They’re not something quaint and rustic to serve on an off night. This food is my soul as much as the wine I pair with it. I speak your language in a way no other som is going to. I’ll be honest. I don’t like the idea of going on the television show. I’m a private person. I do, however, understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. You don’t need a more experienced som. You need one with the right experience.”
“There are only four master sommeliers in the state,” Chef pointed out. “My list of applicants would be very limited.”
“And I’m the only one of them who speaks your language. I know I’m the youngest in that group, but I’m also the best. How many of them served? Not a one. You hire vets. I speak that language, too. I might not shout it the way some do, but I understand what men like Eric and Macon and Linc did for this country and how they need to be treated now.” He set his hands on the desk, unwilling to even risk the possibility that he could lose his balance. This was too important. He didn’t realize how much he wanted to stay. A vision of Tiffany floated across his brain. He couldn’t forget that night when he’d taken her home and she’d pressed her body to his, her mouth roaming across his. And she’d been drunk so he’d tucked her into bed despite her protests. “You know those sommeliers likely won’t want to work the bar when Linc has an episode. They take their skills seriously.”
“I take your skills seriously,” Chef said, a mysterious smile on his face.
“Then you should think twice about replacing me.” He was well aware that his boss was probably shocked at how he was behaving. He was the always-in-control-and-never-flustered employee. He attempted to never show a moment’s weakness, but he was fighting for his life. Well, not his life, but definitely his job and his passion. “I don’t want to move anywhere. I don’t need to work for a distributor or at some restaurant conglomerate. I believe in the idea behind Top. I believe in employing and training veterans. This isn’t a job. This is a calling.”
Chef sat back, his hands going behind his head. “This is a side of you I’ve never seen.”
It was a side very few people saw. He’d learned at a young age to maintain control in all things. He took a step back and straightened out his suit. It wouldn’t do to continue on. He’d said what he had to say. “I don’t like to make a scene, but I believe in what I’m saying.”
“Why, exactly, do you think I’m firing you?” It sounded like an academic question and not the be-all, end-all of Sebastian’s life.
He thought about lying, but decided not to. He did owe Taggart, even if this was the end. “I know you had a meeting with Dan Jenkins. I know the network filmed it. I probably shouldn’t have said anything, but I think it’s a mistake.”
Taggart had recently agreed to allow the Food Network to do a limited-run show about Top and its unique hiring practices. The chef had also agreed to do several personal appearances across the network.
Dan Jenkins was a few years older and miles more attractive. He also had all his limbs. He didn’t have a problem with looking good on television. He would be slick on camera.
Chef sat back up. “I did meet with him. I’ve been asked to cook for a charity dinner benefitting the children’s hospital and Dan is representing the distributor for the wine pairings. I’m not planning on changing soms. I have one who fits in quite nicely and it’s good to know he has no plans to leave any time soon.”
He felt his skin flush. “You’re not firing me.”
“Not even close, buddy. It wasn’t a thought in my brain. You’re perfect for Top and I hope you stay around for a very long time.”
He wasn’t being fired. Thank god. “I thought you might want someone with more on-screen experience.”
There was a knock on the door and Chef sighed. “Come on in.” He shot Sebastian a pointed stare. “I have my master som and don’t think for a second that I don’t understand how cheap I got you in the beginning. You took a chance on this place. I value that. I’m not of any mind to hire someone like Dan. Oh, I know he’s considered the brightest star by the Court of Master Sommeliers, but here and with my partner, there’s another meaning entirely to the word Master.”
“Did you talk to him?” A massive slab of muscle strode in looking like he was ready to murder someone. Ian Taggart, Chef’s older brother and not so silent partner in Top. He was wearing a dark blue swath of fabric across his chest that very likely contained his infant son. As far as Sebastian had heard, Charlotte Taggart had given birth to their son a few weeks before and that apparently meant the big guy became a marsupial with a child in his pouch at most functions. “Because I got real problems. I don’t need to worry about the damn training program. It’s not like I’m getting any right now. Have you ever tried to top a woman who recently had a baby you put up in her? Charlie’s not having any of it. And Seth and I here are still outnumbered because someone neutered Bud and now the dog doesn’t have a dick either. Or balls. Yeah. I think he’s got a dick, but no balls. Isn’t that right, Sean? It’s the same thing. You kept your dick, but they cut off your balls. Dude, I don’t know how you survived. It made the dog cranky so he ate one of my shoes. That made me cranky. God, I’m tired.”
Chef’s eyes had rolled to the back of his head. “I didn’t have my damn balls cut off. I had a vasectomy, you moron.”
“Same difference.” Big Tag sank to the chair Sebastian had occupied. “Bud’s left us for the female majority. He just follows the girls around. I think it’s because the twins are so good at dropping food everywhere. But it’s left me and the little man here on our own testosterone-wise.” He put a hand on the bundle on his chest before looking over at Sebastian. “So you in or out?”
“Why would I be out?” He didn’t understand the complex relationship the Taggart brothers seemed to have. There were four of them including younger twins Case and Theo, and they were ruthlessly sarcastic with each other. It seemed to be how they communicated. It was a completely different language than the one he spoke.
Chef held up a hand. “We haven’t gotten there yet.”
A tiny fist made its way outside the bundle. Big Tag reached out, letting the fingers curl around his forefinger. “What? Why haven’t you gotten there? It’s a simple question. Dude, will you take over the baby Doms for me? There’s a new crop coming in and they need to be sown. Otherwise they’ll all be like ‘brah, let’s go spank some bottoms and drink craft beer’ and then I’ll have to murder them. Seriously. I’ve been told not to murder them. Millennial Doms. Has it really come to this?”
And he was lost. “Millennial Doms?”
Chef put out a hand as though trying to slow things down. “It’s a favor he’s doing for Adam.”
“I lost a bet,” Big Tag said.
Chef shook his head. “Or you’re being a genuinely nice guy helping out a man who worked for you for years.”
“Lost a bet,” Big Tag insisted.
Chef sighed. “Adam and Jake have worked for McKay-Taggart for years, but they’ve got a new company they want to start that will specialize in missing persons. They have a new software program that aids in facial recognition, but there’s a little issue of another company competing for a similar patent. We all know Adam’s process is better, but this company has a shit ton of money and could hold him up for years in court. The company is a tech firm based here in Dallas and owned by a man named Milo Jaye.”
“Ah, the social media magnate.” Jaye was young but seemingly very serious. He wasn’t a Steve Jobs type who enjoyed media attention. “So you’ve worked some kind of deal with him? What could Adam give him that he can’t buy for…” The answer hit him. “Ah, he wants a Sanctum membership.”
Sanctum was the club Ian Taggart ran. A very exclusive BDSM club that had been started by the original members of the security firm McKay-Taggart. It had morphed into a play place for the rich and powerful. And the poor and playful who worked for or aided the Taggart brothers. He’d discovered that it was about half and half on the ridiculously powerful versus people Ian flat out liked.
Taggart had also been known to use the club to his own ends, making friends who could help out the company from time to time. Having the Dallas chief of police as a member guaranteed that McKay-Taggart’s infrequent brushes with the law got handled quietly. In exchange, the company aided in any investigation the police asked of them. DPD often consulted with Eve McKay on profiles of potential criminals.
Big Tag patted the bundle on his chest. “Root around all you like, buddy. Nothing coming out of there.” He looked back at Sebastian. “Yes, Milo Jaye wants a membership and he’s bringing some women with him. I think he’s trying to set up a harem or something. Dude’s a freak, but hey, no one cares when you’re a billionaire.”
“He’ll drop the lawsuit if he gets the required training to gain Master rights at Sanctum,” Chef explained. “I personally think this was his play all along and we could have avoided this entirely if Ian had simply let the man in a training class.”
“You know how I feel about douchebag names.” Big Tag shook his head.
A groan came from Chef’s mouth. “He has a list.”
“Arlo, Milo, Kylo,” Big Tag began. “Basically all the o’s. Except dildo. If someone is named Dildo, I’ll totally let them in. Ephram, Jeremiah. Basically anyone who sounds like they do civil war reenactments on weekends. Then you’ve got the moneybags. Chet, Thad, Brock. Oh, and anyone named Chazz. If you sound like you belong on a reality dating show, you’re out.”
“Because Seth doesn’t rank on any of those lists,” Chef shot back.
Big Tag shrugged. “Not my call. Charlie shot down John Wayne Taggart. Apparently when you shove a ten-pound baby out your hoo haw, you get naming rights. Also, I have zero intention of ever letting this one or the girls anywhere near my club. They can start their own. So will you do it?”
“Do what?” His head was kind of spinning. He wasn’t sure if he was being asked to do something at the club or change his name to something more manly than Sebastian.
He was probably going to turn them down on the latter.
“Will you take on a private training class with a billionaire and decide whether or not he gets access to the club?” Big Tag huffed a little like Sebastian needed to get with his highly reasonable program.
Chef held out a hand. “Don’t fall into his trap. He’s not telling you the whole story.”
He got the feeling he was going to need to sit down again. Unfortunately, Big Tag and his ten-pound addition were occupying the chair he’d sat in previously. He eased into the one to Big Tag’s right. “What’s the catch?”
“He wants a sub to train his females. Another female. Preferably one who can relate to them,” Chef explained. “And he would prefer a couple. He wants a long-term D/s couple to train him and his subs.”
“There are several couples who would fit the bill.” Why were they asking him? He didn’t even have a submissive he played with on a regular basis. “Deena and Eric would be excellent.”
Eric and Deena Vail were a lovely couple who happened to be regulars at Sanctum. Sebastian admired the hell out of Eric, who was taking on the role of executive chef at the new Fort Worth Top.
“Yeah, Eric’s kind of busy with the opening,” Chef replied. “If I ask him to do anything else, he might explode. I know you’re busy, too, but it’s not your name on the door. And Deena’s got her hands full.”
He got why the two Taggarts in the room couldn’t handle it. Their wives had recently had babies. “You have two other brothers. They both have subs.”
Big Tag shook his head. “Nah. Case and Mia would work well, but Mia’s on a story and I can’t count on her to be around. It’s the private jet. Give a woman a personal jet and she takes off. As for Theo and Erin, well, Theo’s still kind of a bag of cats when it comes to memory and Erin would likely shoot the subs if they annoyed her. She’s cool that way. So really it’s just you. It makes sense when you think about it. Outside of Wade, you spend the most time in the club working. Wade’s working with the bodyguard unit at McKay-Taggart right now so he can’t do the extensive training needed to make it look good with a sub.”
Yes, and there was still a problem with the scenario. Wade Rycroft was the Dom in residence at Sanctum, but apparently his day job was getting in the way. Sebastian had problems of his own. “I don’t have a sub.”
There was a knock on the door and it opened suddenly. Tiffany Hayes stood there wearing jean shorts, flip-flops, and a shirt that explained how she spoke fluent sarcasm. Her blonde hair was in a messy bun on top of her head and apparently she’d been called away from her art. Not only were there flecks of paint on her hands, there was a nice streak of blue by her chin.
Deep blue. Like her eyes.
“I’m so sorry, Chef.” She started to back out. “I didn’t realize you were having a meeting. Anyway, I’m here. I came as soon as I got your message. I’ll wait out in the front.”
Chef shook his head. “Don’t bother. Come inside. You’re a part of this meeting, too. I need you to be Sebastian’s submissive for a few weeks.”
What the hell was happening? At least he had a partner now. Going up against the Taggarts on his own might have been tough, but now Tiffany would shake her head and explain there was zero chance of that happening.
He turned, ready to back up her absolutely reasonable indignation.
She smiled brightly. “Sure. Sounds like a blast. Oh, my god, is that the new baby? Can I hold him?”
She squealed a little as Big Tag started to lift the kid out of his pouch, and when she bounced up and down, her breasts did the same.
And just like that he was totally uncomfortable.
And completely trapped.
Copyright 2016 Lexi Blake