Saturday, June 28, 2008

A Taste of Love: Richard

Spreading out the newspaper on the picnic table, Dawn pulled the red Sharpie pen out of her handbag and searched for another job. Her eyes dropped down to the want ads and skimmed over them. "I can't stand one more day at that place," she complained as a bird sang above her in a tree. "Why did I even say yes?" Because I have bills to pay and an empty checking account won't help me with rent, water, or cable, she thought.

Biting into the apple, she prayed she would spot another restaurant manager's job, so her four-year business degree wouldn't be wasted. Thinking about her old manager's job brought Richard Drace front and center in her mind. "Stop thinking about that man after what he did to you," she scolded herself, tossing the apple into the trashcan beside her. "He didn't want you in his life or business, so why are you still giving him a second thought?"

Yet, his compelling, magnetic eyes were rooted in her mind like a bad dream. All she had to do was close her eyes, and there they were, staring back. "Richard Drace is one man who's way out of your league." D4 had been in the papers a lot lately. She remembered reading a critic's comments just last week, wondering how a business started out with such promise only to slowly fade into the background.

Several times she had wanted to go back and offer Richard some help, but the last instance they had been together was different from any other time. He had pressed her back against the wall with his tall, towering body and leaned down like he was going to kiss her until Melissa burst in on them. Ashamed at being caught in that position with him, Dawn shoved Richard away and then rushed from the office.

Deep down, the love she felt for Richard was still there, waiting to be stoked by him. But Richard wasn't interested in her like that and never would be. It had pained her seeing him out with Emily two nights ago. Swallowing down the hurt at the memory, Dawn looked back down at the newspaper in front of her. "Get over him and move on. Once I have enough money saved up, I can get out of this town."

* * * *

Walking with his head down, lost in his own personal thoughts, Richard didn't see Dawn sitting at the bench until he was almost upon her beautiful form. The afternoon sunlight bounced off her shoulder-length black hair that now had a kinkier look to it. She was just as he recalled—gorgeous. Moving softly so he wouldn't startle her, Richard stopped in front of the table, blocking out the sun.

"Hello, Dawn."

Dawn looked up and gasped when she found him standing above her. "What are you doing here?"

"Can I join you?" he asked, pointing to the empty seat. It was fate. He was meant to leave D4 to find her.

"Sure," she replied, sliding the newspaper closer to her.

A smile touched the side of his mouth as he slid in front of her and noticed the want ads. "Are you looking for a job?" Richard drawled with the Texas accent he knew Dawn loved so much.

"Girl has to pay bills," she answered, looking at him quickly and then back down at the newspaper.

Closing his eyes, Richard said a quick thanks and reopened them. He took the paper away from Dawn and pitched it into the trash. "I have the perfect job for you."

"Hey, don't do that," she snapped, getting up, reaching towards the paper.

Richard touched Dawn's arm, noticing how soft her skin was. "Please sit back down so we can talk," he said softly. Her eyes filled with suspicion as Dawn did as he asked.

"Would you think about coming back to D4 as manager?" his silky voice asked.

Her eyes widened in shock, as Dawn drew back from him in amazement. "Y-you can't be serious?" she stammered.

Leaning forward on the bench, he said in a controlled voice, "I wouldn't joke about my business. I know you read the papers and saw that D4 is in a lot of trouble. I know you can help me get it back on top."

Jumping up from the picnic table, Dawn grabbed her purse without answering him and headed back to her car in the parking lot. She had moved so fast that Richard sat there, stunned, before it dawned on him to get up and follow her.

"Stop!" he yelled, chasing after Dawn. Catching her at the grass's edge, he spun her back around to face him. "Did you not enjoy working with me?" he questioned.

"It was okay," she replied, shaking off his touch. Moving to her car, she unlocked it and got in without taking another look in his direction.

"Please reconsider coming back," Richard pleaded as Dawn was closing the door. "I need you," he pleaded, stepping back from the car as she pulled out. Richard hoped he had reached the soft spot that he knew was inside Dawn.

* * * *

When Richard got back to the restaurant, there wasn't a customer in sight, and the crew was in the back, cleaning up the kitchen. "Everyone can stop working and go home," he told his employees. Everyone stopped working and stared at him like he had spoken a foreign language.

"Are you saying we're fired?" Melissa asked.

"I can't afford to keep paying you and save D4 at the same time." Richard replied, looking at his stunned workers. "So I'm going to let you go and close down for a while. Hopefully, I can hire another manager or, if I'm lucky, get Dawn to come back." He heard the groans coming from Melissa. "If you have a problem with Miss Summers, you can leave now because I have spoken with her and offered her the position back."

He wasn't going to be dumb and allow Melissa or anyone else to cost him Dawn again if she came back to work for him. While she was gone, he had started to realize that he wanted a little more than an employer and employee relationship with his stunning former manager.

"I've your paychecks back in the office if you come with me. I'll pass them out," Richard stated, going toward the back of the building. He paid his staff and thanked them for their service. All of them but one filed out of his office in a state of confusion, and he could understand why. Melissa stayed behind and gave him a harsh look. He didn't need three guesses to know what her problem was.

"Do you really want to bring Dawn back?" she complained, standing at the edge of his desk. "She had such horrible people skills. I don't know if I can come back here if she comes back as manager."

Richard knew now that Dawn was right about Melissa and he should have never hired her back. The way she lingered behind him and gave him her advice was something he didn't appreciate.

"Melissa, you don't have any say if Dawn comes back as manager or not. You're my employee, not my business partner. I think it would be best if you took your check and left," he said, holding it out to her between two fingers.

Snatching the check out of his hand, Melissa stormed towards the door. "Well, I can promise you that I won't be back if Dawn is rehired. I can't work for someone like her." With that, she marched out of the room.

Reclining in the desk chair, he looked around the small, cramped space that he called his office. D4 was the most important thing in his life right now. Dawn had to come back to help him save it. Seeing her today in the park had been a sign she was meant to be in his life. It had been almost two months to the day since she walked out of this office.

Richard couldn't believe how touching her today affected his blood pressure. It had shot up to a dangerous level. He wondered what made Dawn want to leave her current job. The last time he had heard about her, she had a good job working for a firm. Hell, he didn't care about the reason as long as he could convince her to come back. Pulling a legal pad from his desk, Richard started writing down ideas for how to save his business.

* * * *

"How long do you want me to work for you?" Dawn's voice broke through Richard's thoughts as she came into his office.

He wanted to be surprised to see her, but he wasn't. He knew that Dawn loved the time she spent here at D4. Sitting up straighter, his gaze slowly traveled up her body, finally making eye contact. He couldn't stop the pleasure he felt from shining through.

"I can't say, because I don't know how long it will take you to save my restaurant," he confessed. Thank God, she's going to take the offer. Stay calm and don't scare her away.

"What went wrong after I left?" Dawn asked.

"Do you mind having a seat so we can talk better?" he asked, pointing to a seat in front of her.

Coming further into his office, Dawn sat down on the edge of the chair and stared at him. Richard saw the uneasiness on her face and the distrust in her eyes. He hated that he put that look on her face, but he would try his damnedest to get rid of it. "I'm really glad you decided to take my offer." Richard smiled, lighting up his already handsome face.

Dawn kept herself calm. "I should let you know that when D4 is back up and running the way you want it, I will leave," she tossed out, shocking him. "Too many of the employees don't like how I run the business, but I can't allow a place as beautiful as this to fail."

Looking at her mouth, Richard wondered what it would be like to kiss her. Dawn looked so striking in her lavender top and matching skirt. They brought out the richness of her lovely brown skin. Focusing back on the words coming out of her luscious mouth was hard, but he did it. "Dawn, I fired the staff. If you want to hire all new employees, we can. I'm a hundred percent behind you this time," he stated, staring straight into her eyes. "I want to you know that I'm willing to do anything to help you."

Dawn didn't seem to trust how agreeable Richard was being with her. "I don't understand the change in you. The last time we talked about this, you let me know I was just the manager and nothing else. Did you wake up one day and change your mind?" she asked, arching one eyebrow over soulful eyes.

Chuckling, Richard loved that Dawn still had the outspokenness he found so sexy. "Can't I admit to being wrong without you rubbing it in more? I know you were the one who kept the suppliers and investors happy when I wasn't around to do it. You wouldn't believe how many of them told me I needed to hire you back."

Folding his hands, he placed them on the desk, leaning forward to be a little closer to her. "Dawn, I think you have your own mini-fan club," he teased, making his drawl more noticeable. "How did it get past me how much they liked you?" he asked, flashing a sexy smile.

Crossing her unbelievable legs, Dawn adjusted her skirt before answering him. "You were busy with your girlfriend Emily, and then you had to keep Melissa happy so she wouldn't quit. Other things were more important to you at that critical time, and I took on the problems of D4. Isn't that what a good manager does when the owner is MIA?"

Pissed off by the way Dawn pointed out his flaws, Richard wanted to hurt her back. "The reason I stopped coming around was much as I should have was I got tired of you constantly having a crush on me."

Dawn took his insult without batting an eye. "I guess we both know where we stand with each other. If you don't have anything else to say, I'd like my job back."

Richard wanted to take the words back. Dawn didn't have to come back, but she was doing it. Clearing his throat, he said, "I should apologize for what I just said." He watched her face for a reaction.

"Why should you apologize when you meant every word? Your honesty is what I like the best about you. Don't change it now," Dawn retorted. "The only thing I wanted to add to my agreement is that you'll give me a good reference when I leave."

"I can't believe you're serious about that," Richard said, confused, as he got up and moved within touching distance of Dawn. "You're really going to leave after you help me? What if I want to hire you permanently?"

Dawn shook her head. "I can't agree to that. Like I said earlier, I'll help you get D4 back up and running, but after that, I'm leaving Houston and would appreciate a reference from you," she informed him staring straight into his eyes.

Perched on the edge of the seat, she waited for an answer. Words left Richard at the possibility of Dawn no longer being in the same town. He would agree to her wishes for now because, in the end, Dawn wouldn't leave him or the restaurant. "You have a deal, Miss Summers," he said.

Following his movements, Dawn stood up and shook his hand. "Good. I'll see you tomorrow morning at eight o'clock sharp."

"Why can't we get started right now?" he asked, shocked by the fact that Dawn was leaving.

"I've a date," she replied, going out the door without looking back.

Richard didn't like being jealous, but he was. Dawn didn't need any distractions from him or the restaurant. He needed her free for any time he might want her. Oh, you want her and not at only to help with D4. Tomorrow, they would set some ground rules about dating while helping him out. There would be no outside dating until D4 was up and running smoothly again. The only man she was going to be spending any time with was him.

Instead of following Dawn and finding out who her date was, Richard decided to stay at D4. He had to make sure all the windows and doors were locked and the security alarm was set. Richard wondered who Dawn had a date with, because during the two months she had worked for him, he never saw a guy around her.

Why did he care so much anyway? Dawn only wanted to be his employee now and nothing else. So why couldn't he forget how so soft her skin felt hours ago, or how her perfume still lingered in the room? Yet he did notice how Dawn didn't look at him like she used to, and it did hurt a little.

Richard knew he needed a night out to push Dawn to the back of his mind. Until he came to grips with the fact it might be too late and he might have already lost her to another man, Emily was always happy to hear from him. He would drop by her house on his way home. If Dawn had a date tonight, he sure in the hell was going to have one, too. Even if it wasn't with the woman he wanted.