The Sweetness of Life(7)

By: Kathryn Andrews


More flashes follow, and twinges alert me to a headache moving in.

My eyes land back on hers, and she’s scowling at me in complete disapproval. What she has to disapprove of, though, I don’t know. I’m the one who has to be worried. Fear slides like glacier ice into my veins, only to melt from the anger—anger, which is causing my blood to boil. I know who she is, I know what she does, and she needs to leave—immediately. Although she didn’t write the four wilted grapes review, I still despise her and everyone like her. I don’t want her to have any ammunition she could fire at us. We’ve worked too hard building back up our brand and business.

Kyle clears his throat to break the silence, or should I say standoff. Out of the corner of my eye, I see him and Michelle glance at each other.

“Really?” Her voice echoes across the room and sends my heart racing. Damn, I forgot how lovely her voice is. It’s all Southern and slightly raspy. Too bad she’s the epitome of a snake in sheep’s clothing, the devil in disguise. She props one hand on her hip and gives me a disgusted look. “That’s all you have? A blank stare and baby owl eyes.”

“Baby owl?” My voice is rough with emotion. What’s she talking about?

“Oh, he can speak. Yeah, you know.” And she blinks at me several times in an exaggerated way. Her long eyelashes waving at me.

Kyle chuckles and then turns it into a cough, covering his mouth with his fist as I flash him a warning look.

Turning back to Shelby, I ask her, “What are you doing here?” My hand holding the football squeezes to the point of pain, she sees the movement and her face clouds with confusion.

“What do you mean?” Slowly, her bag begins to slide down her arm. She catches it and places it on the floor next to her feet.

“I didn’t realize the question was a difficult one. Let me rephrase then, why are you standing in my tasting room?” The hate I feel for this girl drips off my words, and she takes two steps back.

“You’re joking, right?” She crosses her arms under her chest. My eyes drop straight to her rack, which is being pushed up in a very enticing way. Damn. Internally, I curse myself. I cannot find this girl attractive.

I don’t answer her, and her frown deepens.

“The magazine did tell you I was coming, right?”

“They told me they were sending a chef from Charleston, a Ms. Leigh from OBA.”

OBA! Oh, hell! I was so excited during the call I didn’t realize that was the name of the restaurant! I am an idiot.

She throws her arms out in a “here I am” gesture and then drops them down by her sides.

You have got to be kidding me.

Not once in all of the conversations I had with the editor of the magazine, did I ever consider the possibility that Ms. Leigh would be her. When Lexi, a close friend who is the sister of a former teammate, first told me she had someone for me to meet, she called her Shelby Leigh, but it sounded more like Shelbyleigh—one word, like KerriAnn. And after the charity benefit, I tried my best to forget her and her name, but her face—a face so beautiful it’s haunted my dreams—has stuck with me. But once I agreed to the article, I should have realized. I mean, I don’t know a lot of people from Charleston, but I do know one Ms. Leigh, and here she is . . . staring at me as if I’ve somehow ruined her day.

Shaking my head, the condemnation of this situation I’ve found myself in leaves a bad taste in my mouth. More flickers of light appear, and the pain above my left ear takes root and increases. I glance at Michelle, and my left eye twitches a little. She sees the movement in my face, frowns, and goes about getting what I need.

Of all the people the magazine could send! Why? Why did they send her? Don’t they know she’s a critic? A critic! Or should I say dream killer.

Anger surges through me, and my hand grips the football so tight I feel strong enough to pop it.

Wait, shit.

Of course they know! Magazines love to give reviews and recommendations. Hotels, restaurants, equipment, which brand is best, and so on. They all know each other, and they all stick together.

Slowly, I unfold my arms and set the ball on the bar. Kyle, who must have finally realized I am about to lose it, steps up.

“So, I take it you two have met?” Kyle says, waving his finger back and forth between the two of us.

“Unfortunately,” she says, shifting her weight to lean against the bar.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I snap at her. What have I ever done to her? She’s the one who goes around consorting with the enemy and sucking the life out of people.

“And now he needs a vocabulary lesson. Hmm, let’s see . . . unfortunately, as in regrettable, unlucky, or unsuitable.”