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She hates him.

Tossing around ingredients like he’s a circus performer and not a chef. Always encroaching on her side of the kitchen. Looking over her shoulder while she assembles different dessert elements.

Michael Langdon.

Decorated Michelin star chef and James Beard award winner. 

Fuck that noise.

Mallory hates him with every molecule of her being. She hates every flex of tendons and muscles in his hands as he mixes, chops and kneads culinary masterpieces into being. She hates the way his smile makes her lose focus when she’s placing caramel drizzle or a chocolate shaving just so over a tarte or raspberry mousse.   

She hates the way his strong hands press against her shoulders or back to move her aside as if she’s merely an object in her own domain. As if she’s just another ingredient for him to manipulate or cast aside as he pleases. She hates him because he controls her so easily, bends her artistry to his whims with a wink of vivid blue eyes and a quirk of his lips.

“Malcontent,” he’d sneer laughingly, “that mille-feuille would pair better with dogshit than my duck. Do the dacquoise instead.” And she’d start all over again, “Yes, Chef,” falling numbly from her lips. He probably used the same tone of voice to berate school children and old grannies on his days off—or whatever he did when he wasn’t at Descensum. 

Most of all, Mallory hates the way she wants him. Hates the way her body becomes molten in his proximity; as if her nether regions are an aquifer tuned specifically to his dousing rod. Fuck her life, she had it bad.

Not that she’ll ever let him know. No. She’ll finish her contract here, slot his name onto her resume and get the heck the out of dodge. She’s seen the women he meets outside of the restaurant. They’re all extremely beautiful and it’s never the same one twice. She’s not interested in being another notch in his cutting board. The man can hang from his apron strings for all she cares. She’ll even tie the knot for him if he keeps making last minute changes to the menu. 

-- 

“You’re covered in flour and icing sugar, Malady. I’m not sure what kind of back alley kitchen you trained in, but we keep a more professional appearance at Descensum,” Michael drawls. His body is a wall of heat at Mallory’s back.

She doesn’t turn around or look up from her work. “Maybe if you hadn’t asked for four dozen sfogliatelle, I wouldn’t look this way.” 

The Italian dessert required yards of dough to be stretched, brushed with butter, rolled, cut and shaped into delicate pockets that were filled with cream. The layers of pastry would separate in the oven creating a delicate fan or lobster tail effect. Michael had asked her to cut what was normally a four-hour process in half. He’d thrown out his menu ninety minutes before prep was set to begin for the dinner service. Again. 

Michael moves his lips close to her ear and scoffs, “you seemed much more capable when I hired you.” 

The icing sugar in Mallory’s hand scatters all over the plate in an ugly, amateurish clump. She straightens from her bent position, her back stiffening against his chest. “Fire me then. See how far you get,” she snaps.

Michael doesn’t give an inch, rising with her to maintain full body contact. The only thing her cold shoulder accomplishes is transferring his breath from her ear to the top of her head. God. Has he always been so tall?

“You’re nothing without my name, Howell. You’d come crawling back and beg me for another chance within the week,” he murmurs, voice smooth as silk.

Mallory braces her hands against the marble counter. “You should really get help for that God complex, Michael. Now, if you don’t mind Chef, I have pastries to plate.”

She grabs the cloth slung over her shoulder and begins wiping away her mistake. Michael doesn’t speak but his aura presses down on her, radiating dark menace. After a moment, he huffs a breath and spins on his heel, stalking back toward his side of the kitchen. Mallory feels a sliver of guilt for the tongue lashing his sous-chef is about to receive.

-- 

She makes it to end of the service by the skin of her teeth. She’s high-fiving her apprentice Zoe when a nervous looking waiter ducks his head around the walk-in. 

“Chef Howell? Chef Langdon’s requesting you meet him in the dining room.” 

Mallory narrows her eyes. “What for?”

The kid gulps. “Something about a hair.”

Mallory storms out of the kitchen and finds Michael posturing in front of a table of society darlings. He catches sight of her angry face and says loudly, “here she is, Chef Howell can explain to you why you found a hair in your dessert.”

A pinch-faced blonde titters at Michael’s announcement and holds out a long auburn hair for her inspection. Mallory darts a glance at the offending strand and turns to Michael. Confused, she says, “none of our staff have hair that colour. If it made its way onto her plate it was after it left the kitchen.”

Michael furrows his brows. “Are you calling Ms. Montgomery a liar?”

“Come off it, Michael. She’s obviously angling for a free meal,” Mallory responds.

Something vicious crawls across his face. Fuck. He was counting on her resistance. “I’m afraid I can’t allow you to continue with this line of argument. We take responsibility for our actions here at Descensum. I’ve let other discretions go in the past but alienating the customers to protect your pride is a step too far. Chef Howell, you’re fired.” 

Rage bubbles in her chest. Mallory grabs the jug of water on the table and throws it in Michael’s face. His look of superiority disintegrates with an icy splash. Hanks of blond hair slip from his bun to drip wetly on his shoulders. 

“What the fuck, Michael! Did you plan this? How long have you been plotting to get rid of me!” she yells. 

By now they’ve caught the attention of the entire restaurant. Several people have their phones out and are filming the altercation.

Strong hands clench at Michael’s sides. Dread floods Mallory’s gut, mixing with indignation. “KITCHEN, NOW!” he barks.

He takes a hold of her arm through her chef’s jacket marches her through the dining room. When they push through the swinging doors to the kitchen he shouts, “EVERYBODY OUT!”

 Zoe gives her a wobbly smile as she flees with the masses.

Michael doesn’t wait for everyone to exit. He keeps his hold on her arm and drags her into the pantry. He releases her with a shove and closes the door behind them.

Mallory’s breathing heavily. “You absolute snake! You scheming piece of shit! You think you can just get rid of me that easily!”

Not finished expressing her frustration, she grabs the nearest thing to her and throws it at him. Michael dodges the container of rice but isn’t quick enough to avoid the brown sugar she flings next. He winces at the blow to his shoulder, but it doesn’t slow him down. He ducks a flying onion and a can of tomatoes and tackles her into a shelf. It isn’t hard for him to pin her there with his larger body.

Dark thrill overtakes Mallory. He’s caught her. The fucker. She can’t think, she can only breath, filling her lungs with the scent of his cologne, charred meat, roasted vegetables and the cinnamon of her pastries. Michael’s eye glitter with something reptilian as he cranes his neck and leans down toward her face.

“You think you can question me?” he pants, voice rough. His face is so close to hers that Mallory can feel every puff of breath from his words against her lips. 

Fingers flex on her hips, shattering her focus on his plush mouth. Please do that again.

“You infuriating harpy! You couldn’t just leave in peace! Why must you torment me?” he demands, white teeth flashing inches from her face. 

Mallory bares her own teeth. “Because you deserve it,” she tells him boldly. 

Michael growls and kisses her as punishment. One hand rises to rip the elastic from her hair, burrowing into the long brunette strands. The other curls around her lower back, dipping to grab a hold of her ass. Michael pulls her to him, molding himself to her curves. 

His kiss is too much. Sensory overload. He doesn’t give her a chance to recover. He takes and takes from her mouth, absorbing every atom of taste and texture with the slide of his tongue and the drag of his teeth across her lower lip. Grabbing for his body, Mallory gives as good as she gets.

His wet chef’s jacket frustrates her instantly. It’s too cold and thick. She pushes under it and finds dry cotton and then hot, smooth skin. Michael shifts under her touch and starts pulling at her own uniform. He pushes her away, breaking the kiss to pull her clothes up her arms and over her head before dealing with his own. He takes in her bare torso with hungry intensity. Mallory feels her nipples tighten against the silk of her bra.

Michael prowls forward and presses his upper body against hers, rubbing her breasts hard against his chest. His mouth closes over hers again as he dives a hand down to pull at the button on her pants. Clever fingers slide their way inside her zipper and bump up against her clit. Mallory gasps and bucks her hips.

Michael lets her press against his palm but doesn’t linger. He gives her mound a tight squeeze and pulls his hand away to work her pants and underwear down her hips. Mallory shimmies her thighs and shakes her ankles free of the fabric. 

She loops her arms around Michael’s neck when his hands flex into the bare skin of her ass. Hopping up, she locks her thighs around his waist and grinds her core into his abdominals. Michael’s treasure trail glistens with her juices.

He growls at the press of her slit and pushes her into the shelves. Mallory shivers at the touch of cool metal to her back. Michael stills the frantic motion of her hips and pulls them into his own. Hardness pushes against her centre, making Mallory moan. Blue eyes meet brown. He’s enjoying this power he has over her. His pupils dilate as they take in the exquisite agony on her face. He works her against him, grinding her clit against the bulge in his slacks until she comes helplessly.

At the sound of her cries, Michael rips his pants open one-handed. He pulls her onto him while she’s still pulsing with her release. Mallory squeezes his length tightly, clutching at him in a rhythm beyond her control. Michael presses into her over and over, tearing sounds from her lips with firm thrusts and the brush of his thumb over her clit.

Mallory’s flying. A white-hot flame is licking at the base of her spine and building in her core. She tears at Michael with her nails, raking his hair from his bun and scratching across his back. He bites at her jaw in retaliation.

“Cunt!” Michael breaths into her neck, nuzzling his nose into her racing pulse.

“Bastard,” Mallory gasps, mouth dropping open as he nails her sweet spot and stirs her with the head of his cock.

When she comes again, she takes him with her. Michael pants loudly as she groans at the explosion of feeling.

He sags over her, pressing his forehead against her own. His face, so fierce a few minutes ago, looks utterly relaxed. He could almost be asleep.

Mallory slides a hand from his shoulder and gropes along the cooling rack to her left.

Michael’s eyes shoot open as she smashes a tart shell filled with leftover Chantilly cream against his cheek.

He gapes at her like a fish. 

“I still hate you.”

Genuine affection curves his lips. “The feeling's mutual.”