Malcolm didn’t have a lot going for him. He wasn’t one of the blessed, or one of the beautiful. He didn’t have many talents. He was, however, a damn good chef. He worked hard and he insisted on perfection -- not just from himself but also from everyone else in his kitchen. And if that made others miserable, that was just too damn bad. If one couldn’t live up to expectations then one didn’t belong at Burgeon Manor.
Darien on the other hand, was everything Malcolm envied, hated, and secretly fantasized over. Lean, slim, with a smile that could melt ice and enough charm to woo demons, Darien surprised Malcolm by showing not only interest but also attraction. Which only meant one thing as far as Malcolm was concerned: Darien had to be playing some kind of game. There was no way that a rock god like Darien Flint could have honest feelings for someone like him.
Yet the more Darien tries to know him, the more Malcolm feels himself being drawn into the lie.
Malcolm sighed, squared his shoulders, pasted a smile on his face, and knocked on the door. He took only one breath to calm what he knew would be his instantaneous, self-righteous rage the moment he heard something negative about his services, and smiled. "Good morning, sorry to disturb you but I understand ..." His voice trailed off as he stared at the guest that opened the door.
Darien smirked. "Nice hat."
Malcolm lifted his chin. "It's part of my uniform. And I'm quite proud to wear it."
"Oh, as you should be," Darien mocked, both in tone and expression. "It makes you look very ..." He paused, narrowed his eyes, and thought for a moment. "Tall."
Malcolm's eyes swept over Darien; over black silk pajama pants and bare torso, the curtain of hair over one shoulder that looked like it had been brushed to gleaming. "Funny," he drawled. "Yours just makes you look like a whore."
Darien's eyes flew wide and he snorted a laugh. "Oh, I am so telling on you!"
"Oh, no, please don't," Malcolm deadpanned. "But seriously, do you have an issue? Because I have a job to do."
Darien grinned. "I do. And it's a travesty. Please come in."
Malcolm's lips tightened in annoyance. Darien was being a smart ass. He could just feel it. He gritted his teeth and stepped through the doorway. "Sir, you'll understand if I stress how important it is that I return to the kitchen," he said with well-rehearsed formality. "While I don't mean to undermine the importance of your complaint, and while I can assure you that we will do everything in our power to make it right, I really must get back --"
"Look." Darien pointed at the tray. "There's fruit on my plate."
Darien tsked. "Is that how you were told to reply back to a client with a concern? With an 'and?'"
A twitch started in the corner of Malcolm's eye. "Look, Darien. Mr. Flint. Rock God. Whatever you prefer."
"I kinda like Rock God --"
Malcolm hushed him with a hard look. "As much as I love playing with you, Darien, I have a job to do. You and I both know you eat fruit. So how about you stop acting like a princess and either eat it or throw it the fuck away?"
Darien grinned and picked the melon off his plate. "Maybe I should feed it to you?"
"And I'm leaving," Malcolm turned back to the door.
"No, you're not," Darien said calmly. "I'm not done with you yet."
Malcolm spoke through re-gritted teeth. "I, on the other hand, am most certainly done with you."
The request stopped Malcolm cold. It wasn't a demand. It hadn't been said with a tone of jest. It had actually sounded fairly humble. He stood with his hand on the doorknob and his mind rolling in confusion.
"I-I have a job, Darien. I'm expected back. As much as I like to think I'm important, my ass can get kicked just as much as anyone else's --"
Darien rolled his eyes. "Oh, come on! I'm a very valuable client!"
"Yes you are, sir," Malcolm said quietly, turning to stare at Darien over his shoulder. "But you are hardly our only client. And certainly no more valuable than the rest."
"Are you sure? Like, really one-hundred-percent sure on that?" Darien stepped forward. "Do you think for a second that I wouldn't be able to put another call in to the man who sent you here in the first place? What was his name again, Jervais? Jarvis? Do you honestly believe I wouldn't get his glowing permissions to have you spend the entire afternoon with me?"
Darien pushed his back up against the wall beside the door; close enough that Malcolm could smell the coffee on Darien's breath. He tilted his head and looked at Malcolm with another grin. "Hell, I bet I could not only get his permission, but that he'd be so head-over-heels to help me that he'd be grinning ear-to-ear when he gave it to me. I'll even go so far as to wager that within two seconds of me getting off the phone with him, your own personal cell phone would start ringing with an ominous, suggestive call recommending that you do everything within your power to make me happy."
Malcolm shook his head and let his own little smile perk the sides of his mouth. He watched something hopeful flare in Darien's eyes and tried to tell himself it wasn't smugness. "Ever heard of something called harassment, Darien? Because this is sounding a wee bit too close to it then I'm sure you intended it to. Do us both a favor, hmm?" Malcolm turned the knob on the door and nodded at Darien. "Don't make me call the press."
To Malcolm's complete shock, Darien let his head fall back against the wall and laughed out loud. "Oh, you're good," Darien said appraisingly.
"I'm ... sorry?"
Darien's eyes danced with amusement. And it was not only confusing the hell out of Malcolm, it was completely freaking him out. "Sure. You've got it all figured out, don't you? It's human nature. The more you keep telling me 'no', the more I'm going to want you. It's very clever."
Really? Reasoning in Malcolm's brain seemed to sputter out. "You think I'm manipulating you?"
Darien snorted. "No, of course not. Just playing me. But don't get me wrong, I think it's damn impressive."