Las Vegas, Nevada
The low light in the dining room of Amare usually suited Marco DiSanti’s tastes—all the better to prowl in the semidark. Plus, shadows gave him panty-dropping cheekbones and made his eyes pop. Squinting through candlelight was tantamount to beer goggles, in Marco’s experience.
But tonight, something felt different. Itchy, like he’d forgotten he was wearing wool, or staticky, like he kept touching a light socket in the dry air. He couldn’t put his finger on it, and the half-dark made everyone seem sinister. Or romantic, if you were into that.
The farther he strolled into the dining room, the more electric his insides became. Someone was out there, and judging from the only other time he’d felt this way, he assumed it was another shifter.
His first instinct was to ignore the sensation, but even as wrapped up as he had been in preparing a special plate of crudo for one of the A-listers who frequented Amare, he could not block out the pull. He had done his best to tightly shave segments of fish and arrange them on the platter, but he had to turn the task over and wander out among the humans.
Partly out of curiosity, partly out of annoyance, Marco stalked between the heavy, naked oak tables and high-backed, tufted leather chairs. His employer liked him to schmooze with the ineffably wealthy clientele, but he had no patience for the old millionaires trying to impress their gold-digging dates, or the D-list celebrities maxing out credit cards in a desperate attempt to look relevant.
He felt like he was on a mission.
One of the waiters streamed past him, angling plates of elegantly arranged pasta nests onto one of the long tables. Marco made unfortunate eye contact with Troy, his floor manager, who pointed at the table as though it were Marco’s responsibility.
“Chef DiSanti,” said a pock-faced actor when Marco finally stopped. “A revelation, as usual.” The man pointed to his plate and Marco offered a bow. He put on the affected Italian accent everyone expected.
“Grazie, grazie,” he offered. “Thank you so much-a, Joe. You know I make-a de best only for you.”
The actor and his wife gushed over the food and Marco continued to bow and smile. Tourists. They lived for the show.
“You know, I’ve been to Italy many times, and you are the real deal, Marco.” The older man stood and shook his hand, but Marco already had his eyes on the next table, looking for the source of the itch.
“Yes, you must have Italy in your veins, my boy,” the blonde-wigged companion smiled up through impeccable teeth. “Because your food is unbelievable.”
Marco gave her a wiggle of the brows that sent a blush up underneath all her makeup. He was just about to kiss the woman’s hand when he spotted her.
The source of the itch.
Sitting in the very back, face hidden by a menu, her long, dark hair spilled over her shoulder and contrasted sharply with the white leather of the chair. So…the shifter was a woman?
He hadn’t met one of those before, unless you counted his long-estranged mother—which he didn’t. This should be interesting.
Marco pressed his lips quickly to the older woman’s hand, and begged away. Each table glanced up at him expectantly, as though he might stop and pay his attentions to them next, but he had found his mission.
One of the waiters stopped at the shifter’s table and the menu came down. Her eyes settled on him, over the top of the chair in front of her, and wrecked his insides, setting everything on fire.
He’d felt lust before—hell, he made people lust after him for a living—but this… He’d never felt this before.
Marco’s jaw fell open just a touch and he let her see his tongue working inside his mouth, letting her imagine all the things he might do to her with that tongue. Her eyes seemed to twinkle, almost in amusement, and Marco felt the challenge rise inside him.
He put on his best sexy-playboy-chef ice stare and kept stalking through people, toward her. When he got a little closer, he could hear her back-and-forth with the waiter, although her eyes didn’t leave Marco’s.
“And don’t give me any of this bullshit cucumber water with extra oxygen, or whatever the fuck y’all pump into this place to make me spend money. Just open the tap into a glass, like a human being, and bring me some fucking water.” She handed the menu to the stunned waiter. “No fuckin’ sparkles, okay?”
The waiter stuttered and took the menu. “Y-y-yes, ma’am.”
“And I want the tasting menu. The secret one. With all the wine pairings.”
“Of course, yes. Certainly.” The waiter saw Marco approach and his eyes went wide, begging to be saved.
Marco approached the table with languid ease, sliding his arms onto the back of the chair opposite her like he might be caressing a lover. “Ciao, Signorina. And what-a brings you to mi Amare this eve-ning?”
Her eyes flickered between him and the silent waiter, still holding the paper menu like a shield. She shook her head.
“If this is the chef that I’ve heard so much about, he can drop the fake Italian bullshit. I can smell an actor from the Million Mile Mall. Just make my food and leave me the fuck alone.” She narrowed her gaze. “This isn’t the Olive Garden. I don’t need you to make salad on me or any shit like that.”
With a dismissive wave of her hand, she turned to her phone, swiping angrily at some letters on the screen. Marco nodded at the waiter and switched to his flat Nevada accent.
“Please put in the lady’s order.”
Without looking up, she called out, “And remember what I said about the sparkles.”
Marco studied her as she texted. She was drop-dead hot, easily the most beautiful woman in the room—which probably meant she knew she was hot. No one had that kind of skin and cheekbones and lips and tits and didn’t know she was a goddess.
But all her energy read unavailable. Like blaring lights and sirens, una-fuckin-vailable.
Normally, Marco rose to a challenge, but something was different about this woman. Well, for starters, he was pretty sure she wasn’t a woman. No one made his wolf growl inside like another shifter, and the one male shifter he’d met in his life hadn’t come anywhere near this woman. She was the Disneyland firecracker show of shifters to the beast inside him.
Plus, it wasn’t her wolf that was on the offensive. There was something distinctly normal about her anger, if he could just find out what it was.
Marco pulled the chair out and sat down across from her.
Her icy eyes slid up his body and landed on his face. He saw the nostril flare, the pupil dilation. She felt something, too. Instead of more bullshit, he opted for the head-on approach—she appeared to be the kind who wouldn’t fall for a game.
Those were his favorite.
“What made you pick Amare?” he asked, nodding at the ceiling as though it represented the entire empire he’d built.
She regarded him with fire in her eyes, pursed her lips, and shook her head. “Nope. That’s not working, either.”
But she couldn’t fool Marco. He recognized this façade all too well. It was the same one he put up when someone had reached too deep and plucked too hard on something inside. It was the wounded animal defense.
He softened. “Come on, you have to know you’re the most beautiful woman in this place…maybe in this building—I don’t know, I haven’t seen all of them. You’re not going to fault a guy for trying.”
A smirk curled her lips into half a smile. “I’m not sure if that’s a compliment.”
Marco leaned forward and pitched his voice down to gravelly. “It was.”
There was the full smile.
She put her phone down. “You really want to know why I came here? Because you won’t like the answer.”
Marco settled his arms onto the table. “Try me. You’d be surprised what kind of punishment I can handle from a woman as beautiful as you.”
No blush, no response, nothing. Wow. Even the brash ones usually folded with that kind of intentional innuendo. This woman. He needed to know this woman.
“Okay, then.” She crossed her arms. “I make it my business to try all the so-called best in whatever city I visit—my job, we don’t get to travel much.” A pause and the briefest glance of a wince across her features. Pain. Her job, or family, or something, and it was visceral enough that she felt it in her body.
Damn, he wanted to strip her down and nuzzle her straight into orgasm, right there in front of Joe and everyone. No woman that beautiful should be hurt like that.
“So whenever I travel. I make a point to try all the best chefs.” She finished with a flick of her head.
“How many of these best chefs have you tried?” Marco asked.
She eyed the waiter as he set down her tall, slim glass of plain old water. “Enough.”
“And how many times have you been pleased?”
A down-turn of her eyes, a curl of her mouth. “Not enough.”
Marco’s wolf practically rose up and jumped across the table. He wanted to get her up to his suite and eat her. But first, he was going to make her eat those words.
* * *
This guy was trying so hard, but she’d heard every line in the book.
He was hot. In an arrogant I’m-awesome-and-I-know-it kinda way. The Italian shtick was lame, but this was Vegas. Everyone played a part. If she hadn’t been so pissed about not being let into the summit meeting with her alpha, she might’ve played along with his Romeo-bullshit-attempt at flirting with her.
As it stood, Rain, the almost-brother she hadn’t seen in years, was in the summit as her alpha’s enforcer and she was out here. The least she could do is enjoy some good food. Maybe riling up this fancy-pants chef would get her some really good cooking. It’d been a long time since she’d had something fresh that really knocked her socks off.
Still…the chef was a wolf. That was new. And intriguing. She’d been under the impression that the Vegas pack pretty much stayed off the grid. In fact, they hadn’t even come to the summit at all.
“Why don’t you come up to the VIP table and let me show you why Amare is the best restaurant you’ll ever eat at.” His voice was like honey and she was hungry for something sweet.
Aria raised an eyebrow. That was one hell of a proposal, too. She’d dropped a couple grand just to get this table. Getting to sit at the VIP table would be a true treat. Even if the food wasn’t as good as he claimed, she wasn’t about to pass up the invitation. She loved the energy and the passion of a good restaurant kitchen.
Although her mind was wandering in a dirtier direction as his scent filled her lungs. Chefs were good in bed. She would know, having slept with several. They wanted everything to be perfect and they worked hard to make sure guests were satisfied. Plus, they didn’t cling or call after she left. It was a win-win.
No strings attached.
Damn, she could use a good lay tonight. Watching Reyna and Allan in the coat closet earlier this week had really gotten her juices flowing. And as of yet, she hadn’t found an outlet for her building libido. But with Chef McHotty—as Reyna would call him—right in front of her, she might be able to scratch that particular itch.