Janie, for all her bravado at the hospital, took a turn for the worse after she’d returned to her trailer. She’d been downing painkillers and sleeping nearly round the clock to deal with the trauma to her body. So in addition to slapping on a happy face as a hostess and dealing with the shit storm at the Split Rock, Tierney had been playing nursemaid, checking on Janie every couple of hours. Talk about exhausting. “Better, but not ready to come to work yet.”

“Does she know about the last two days?”

Tierney shook her head.


“Are the guests ready to run for the hills yet?”

He rubbed his jaw, in what she recognized as a frustrated move. “Damn close. There’s part of me that’s happy we’re not full on opening week.”

“Well, I hate to bring it up, but Dodie burned the pies. I’ve never seen an apple pie with a black crust.”

“I have. My first wife broiled a frozen pie once. We’re talkin’ flames. Hell, we had to buy a new oven.”

First wife meant he’d been married more than once. No stunner Renner had taken a trip or two down the aisle, but Tierney wasn’t bowled over by the fact he was divorced.

“Any suggestions on what we can offer as dessert?”

“I’m hoping they’re so traumatized by the horrendous meal they won’t want dessert.”

“Or maybe they’re starved and hoping something sweet will fill up the empty spot in their gullets from the shitty supper,” he countered.

“Damn. This sucks.”

“No kiddin’.” He bumped her with his hip. “Come on, brainiac. The food service part is outta my area of expertise.”

It was out of hers too, but someone had to fix it. And since there was no one else to step up, it was trial by fire time. Literally. Tierney checked her watch. “How much time do we have?”

“About an hour.”

She had exactly one dish in her cooking repertoire. “I saw boxes of brownies in the pantry when I was looking for . . .”


Tempting to lie, but enough half-truths existed between them. “A hiding place,” she admitted sheepishly.

Renner laughed in that deep, sexy way that made her want to press her mouth to his throat and feel the vibration on her lips.

“Brownies are easy. Add some ice cream and whipped cream, and voila, brownie sundaes.”

He sent her a sidelong glance. “What? No sprinkles?”

“I can run to my place and get a jar of sprinkles,” she offered.

“You have your own jar of sprinkles?”

“I have two jars. Everything in life is better with sprinkles.” She peered at him over the top of her glasses. “If you ask if I store my sprinkles next to the rainbows and butterflies in my cupboard, I’ll leave you here all by your smart-ass self to dish up blackened apple pie.”

“Shutting up now.”

Tierney smirked and pushed off the wall.

After she’d mixed, poured, and shoved the pans in the oven, she grabbed the sprinkles from her cabin. While the vanilla ice cream softened, she lined up twelve bowls and dusted them with powdered sugar. Hah! Take that, Dad. I can too think on my feet.

By the time Renner returned to the kitchen, she was sliding warm brownies into the bowls. “That looks fantastic. Almost like we planned it.”

“We did plan it. Late planning still counts.” She gestured with the can of whipped cream. “Start carrying those out before they melt.”

“Bossy, much?” He frowned. “You’re short a couple.”

“Twelve guests, twelve plates.”

“What about me? Don’t I get to sample your wares?”

Heat stained her cheeks. But she doubted he’d meant that as a sexually suggestive comment, especially toward her. “Got a sweet tooth?”

“Like you wouldn’t believe.” He lifted the first two bowls and winked at her on his way out the door.

Once the guests were served, Renner positioned himself against the steel prep counter with his black cowboy boots crossed at the ankle. He should’ve looked ridiculous, holding the delicate gold-rimmed dessert plate with his large, scarred hands, but he was completely at ease. “You got raves out there.” He took a bite, chewing slowly and thoughtfully. “I prefer my brownies more cakelike than chewy. And you were awful damn stingy with my sprinkles, but besides that, it’s not bad.”

“Not bad?” she repeated.

He offered her a roguish grin. “Just funnin’ with ya, Tierney. I’m afraid if Dodie doesn’t pull her head out of her”—he stopped and amended—“if Dodie can’t pull off consistently good cooking, you might be called in for KP duty.”

“It’s a one-time-only offer.”

Renner scrutinized her face and set down his plate.

“What?” she said testily.

“Lickin’ the bowl, were you?”

When he reached out to touch her cheek, she flinched.

“For Christsake. I’m not gonna punch you. Hold still. There’s brownie batter on your face.” Renner curled his fingers around her neck and rubbed her jawline with the pad of his thumb.

Her heart rate spiked. His fingers were so warm, so rough against her damp skin. His tender touch sent a shiver through her. Was it pure insanity to imagine Renner replacing his thumb with his mouth as he slowly, thoroughly licked the brownie batter away and grazed his lips down her jawbone to capture her lips with his?


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