My propensity for lateness was something I inherited from my mother so I could argue it wasn’t my fault. She always blamed it on living at the beach. Said it could be too distracting. It worked for her.
I tried the excuse, too, but she could flash a sweet smile and get out of anything while making everyone fall in love with her. A trait I hadn’t inherited. The clear water on the other side of the beach sparkled like a giant diamond under the morning sun making it difficult to ignore. As was weaving around early-bird tourists already in town even though the season hadn’t officially begun yet. Some liked to arrive early to get a jump on the others.
I missed the quiet mornings.
Seeing Romano’s, my family restaurant, up ahead, I kicked it into high gear. Gramps would’ve already opened but I should’ve been there to help with the prep. Our primo location continued to be highly sought after but Gramps managed to stay put for four decades no matter what larger chains offered him. And there had been a lot of offers over the years.
Instead, I burst through the door ten minutes past opening to find the new girl, Carly, with her Technicolor dream coat hair (reminding me of my best friend, Bailey) setting up tables. Even the ‘deviant’ high schooler who’d been on the job one day beat me in.
“Hey, Carly,” I said with a smile, making my way to the counter where Gramps stood casting a stern eye at me with the corner of his lips turned up, and he couldn’t hide it. “I know, I know,” I held a hand up as I got to him. “Eight and two, Gramps.” Gathering my light blonde hair in my hands, I pulled it back then twisted it into a messy bun.
“Eight and two and you never go wrong, Bianca.” Gramps had a theory—eight minutes early and stay two minutes late. This would lead to a successful life. He loved to rub it in especially knowing how I ran behind so often.
“I said I know. Here’s a thought… ever think you could knock on my door as you leave in the morning?” Biting the inside of my cheek to keep my own smile at bay, I already knew his answer. It wasn’t the first time we’d played this particular game.
“I’m an old man and can drag my sorry butt out of bed all by myself. You’re grown, Bianca, you can do it, too.”
I shrugged. “I blame my upbringing.”
It got an actual laugh out of him and the guy standing next to him, who leaned against the counter as he watched this playful exchange. Those strong, muscled arms had a slight pop of vein belonging to a man who worked with his hands. Tattoos covered one from his wrist to shoulder though I couldn’t see all the way up because the sleeve of his shirt obstructed the view. The other arm had a few scattered around. Either way, it was all kinds of sexy.
“This is Gio Diamati.” Gramps indicated the tattooed man next to him. “Just hired him for the kitchen. He throws dough with the best of us. I figure he’ll piss Joe off pretty well.”
Nodding, I picture the scenario in my head.
Joe Kelly had been with Gramps for years and he’d been one of Gramps’ best friends my entire life which meant I knew him well. Gramps’ mission had always been to find the next kid who could turn Joe’s face purple. Even though they were both in their sixties, they acted like frat boys.
“Hey.” I shook his hand as his eyes roamed my body from top to bottom which warmed my blood.
Yeah, it probably should have bugged me but it didn’t. I didn’t mind him looking even if I only wore shorts and a tank top.
I’m pretty sure Gio could’ve been wearing a trash bag and it would’ve been the hottest trash bag in the world. The man was gorgeous.
Standing six feet, maybe a touch more, Gio looked like a mountain next to my five feet and a couple of inches. The way the white t-shirt stretched across his chest led me to believe I wanted to see what was underneath and it’d be worth any wait. On top of all the hotness, Gio had a face that made you want to slap your Italian grandma. Nice olive skin perfectly complementing short black hair and dark, almost black, eyes.
I was light where he was dark. I was soft where he was hard. And boy was his body hard.
“So, are you Mama Romano?” He smirked then glanced down to where, like a complete dork, I hadn’t let go of his hand.
I pulled mine back but the heat of his skin lingered. I rubbed my hands together to ease the feeling and hoped he didn’t pay attention close enough to notice.
“Hardly. She would be my Grams. I can’t hold a candle.”
“Only woman more beautiful than you and your momma.” Gramps eyes sparkled when we spoke of his dead wife. It’d been a while since she died but the mention of her brought everything to the surface for both of us. “This is my granddaughter, Bianca. She hangs around to keep the old man sane.”
I snorted. “Please, Gramps, as if I have that kind of power.” I spun around on my heel and started toward Gramps’ office. “I’m gonna run to the post office before we open.” I grabbed the stack of mail needing to be sent, grabbed some petty cash, and went back out. “Nice to meet you, Gio,” I called over my shoulder as an afterthought.
When I got back, Gramps had the whole group in the kitchen showing Gio around and giving the returnees from last summer a quick refresher course on how we did things at Romano’s.
With only a handful of customers in the restaurant, I decided to check on all the stations to make sure they didn’t need any help. I knew how to work them all.
As I slipped through each area, the beachside window moved like a well-oiled machine and the kitchen wasn’t behind. I could use the time to catch up on the paperwork I did for Gramps but a high-pitched squeak from the front of the restaurant grabbed my attention instead.
A pitch that said someone was about to reach her maximum on the frustration meter.
Nope. Not time for paperwork. I turned toward the sound instead.
One of the new girls… needed some more training.
Grabbing an order pad, I jumped in sending her off to do drinks for each table until she learned the job a little better. We almost always had a line waiting which could easily overwhelm the newbies. Luckily customers were typically easy-going.
“I need an extra-large with pepperoni,” I said entering the kitchen during our first lull. And by lull, I mean half as busy as usual.
“No problem,” Gio grabbed a round of dough and using those well-defined arms to start pushing it out.
We’d been swamped and I’d momentarily forgotten he’d be in the kitchen when I went in there.
“Oh, I wasn’t done.”
His eyes flashed to me.
“Pepperoni on all of it, half with green pepper, a quarter with pineapple. On the other half, I need black olives, ham, and a quarter anchovy.”
His face dropped while Joe snorted in the background. Joe didn’t balk at our orders anymore.
“Are you fucking with me?” he asked.
I shook my head no.
“What bipolar customer ordered that?”
I plastered the biggest smile across my face and pointed at my chest. “Me.”
Realizing his mistake, his lips opened and closed twice as he struggled to come up with something to say. Since it was his first day, I decided to give him a break.
“Actually it’s for all of us out there. It’s easier than making a bunch of different ones. When it’s done, could you put it in the break room and let me know so we can start rotating lunch?”
“Oh, don’t look sad. You can have some, too.” A quick pat on his back as I walked by got Joe laughing even more. Then I returned to the dining area where I tried not to think about how his muscles felt under my hand or how much warmth soaked through his shirt.
These were not things that would help me do my job.
Twenty minutes later, we started lunch breaks. Gramps sent Carly and me together. Not sure if we both looked like we were about to chew off an arm out of hunger or if he decided to be nice but we weren’t complaining.
Half-way through my first slice, Gio shuffled in and plopped down across from me. Most days laughter and voices filled the room while we ate but now only the sound of chewing filled the air.
“Haven’t seen you around, Gio.” Carly broke the silence. “Are you local or a summer transplant?”
“Transplant but I haven’t decided if it’s only for the summer or not.” He raised a slice to his mouth but didn’t get a chance to take a bite.
“How old are you?” Carly pushed in again.
“Twenty-five.” He tried lifting the slice again but Carly stopped him.
“Did you go to college?”
“Yes.” He shifted his weight in the chair, uncomfortable with the fifth degree she gave.
“Jesus, Carly.” I couldn’t watch him squirm under her inquisition any longer nor could I watch the slice go up then down one more time without him getting a bite. “Let the man take a breath. You’ve met new people before, right?”
Gio gave me a thankful smile.
I could imagine how it felt being new to town let alone a job and some little pipsqueak decides to grill you like you’re the prime suspect in an infamous crime.
“So, are you local?” His deep voice caught me by surprise, I flinched and looked up. His gaze landed on me. Those eyes unleashed a swarm of butterflies in my stomach.
With one look this man flooded my body with warmth and sent my heartbeat into double time. The hard line of his chin looked like it had been created by Michelangelo himself.
Corny but true.
One of his eyebrows quirked up.
“I spent summers here growing up but lived in Michigan with my parents.”
“I live here.” Hopping onto my feet, I tossed my paper plate and napkin into the nearby trash can and headed for the door. “I’m heading back in.”
I could’ve sat there and looked at Gio Diamati all day but Gramps didn’t pay me to look at Gio. If I gave any indication I already knew the answers to Carly’s questions, I’d have to admit to pulling his application after we met this morning to get said information and maybe reading it more than once.
No thank you.