"Mm," I said, my mouth still half-full. "That’s good. Really tasty."
He eyed me as I finished the bite of cheese, nodding as I swallowed. "But not as good as this." He replaced the cheese plate with another dish.
Beneath the cover, I saw something I couldn’t figure out. Four wrinkly, thick shell things surrounded some kind of meat. My nose wrinkled slightly, and I sipped at my drink to hide my reaction. "Jax, is this brains, or something?"
He gave me a devilish look. "No. And don’t tell me you’re not brave enough to try it."
I stabbed my fork into one of the wrinkled shells. "Watch me," I said with a laugh, and took a bite.
The bite exploded into my mouth, intensely flavored. The shells themselves were toothsome and rich, with a hint of garlic, while the meat filling them was smooth and almost buttery. "Wow," I said, grabbing another bite. "This one’s even better."
"I’m just glad I could get you eating. It’s morel mushrooms stuffed with foie gras."
"It’s incredible," I said as I picked up another forkful. "By the way, how do you know all of this about food?"
He smiled and shrugged. "Comes with being a rock star."
I swallowed my delicious bite, a little confused by his answer but too focused on the food to care. "Whatever you have under that last cover, save it for Chewie, Sky or Kev. It couldn’t possibly be better than this."
"You have to at least try it. I saved the best for last."
"Fine, then," I agreed. "One bite."
The dish in the center was a little larger than the others, and when he took the cover off, I smelled something, an earthy scent that reminded me somehow of Jax. I saw a sliced duck breast spread into a fan shape, its crackling skin crusted with pepper. A richly-colored sauce—red wine of some sort, I assumed—was drizzled over the top.
"Oh wow," I breathed. "That’s almost too beautiful to eat."
"You’ll have to tell me if it tastes as good as it looks," he said. "But drink first."
I set my fork down and nursed the fruity, peppery drink, closing my eyes to enjoy the bubbles on my tongue. When I finished a few sips, I realized that Jax had picked up my fork and was cutting a piece of the duck breast.
"Did you want some?" I asked.
"This is for you," he said, lifting the fork to my mouth. "Open."
I opened my mouth slightly, and felt the fork gently push past my lips. I bit down, and the fork slid back away, leaving the crisp duck skin and juicy meat on my tongue. The earthy smell was stronger, now, and I tasted it in the dish, something unfathomably deep and complex, dark and pungent. The sauce, sweet and savory in equal parts, kept the earthy taste from dominating.
"Duck with peppercorns, port reduction, and black truffles," Jax said, before I even had to ask.
The truffles must have smelled like him, I realized.
The pepperiness of the duck was echoed in my drink, and I realized I wanted another sip. When I took one, I saw for the first time what Jax meant. The drink and the food both tasted better together than they would have on their own. They almost sparked off each other, bringing new flavor combinations into my mouth that shifted and changed, but never clashed.
I took another bite of the duck breast, and let out a soft moan. "Mmmmm. . ."
Jax’s eyebrow cocked higher. "Sounds like you want more than dessert."
I blushed and took the napkin away from my neck. I didn’t have time for an innuendo war with Jax—I knew where those led, and the last thing I wanted was for the band to see the two of us lip-locked. And come to think of it why wasn’t Jax concerned they’d see him serving me?
"Uh, so when’s everyone getting here, anyway? The food’s getting cold."
Jax finished making his own Riley and sipped it for the first time. He gave a half-smile, as if to say not bad. "The rest of the band’s probably gambling or hanging out in their own free suites. They weren’t invited anyway."
"Huh? Then who’d you invite?" The room suddenly felt a whole lot warmer, and I took a large swig of plum and champagne.
One of his eyebrows flicked upward, and a smile spread over his face.
"Just you, Riley."
My hand flew to my mouth, and I almost spat the drink all over the bar.
Taking a hard swallow, I set the glass down and narrowed my eyes at Jax. "You must think I’m really naive, if you thought I’d fall for this."
"Fall for what?" He had the nerve to laugh.
"The cowbell. The blindfold. The food, the drink . . ." I tallied them up on my fingers, my voice rising. "The whole thing was a setup. You didn’t want to show me the rock star lifestyle, you just wanted to get in my pants!"
Jax’s smile faded, and his eyes lost some of their luster. "Hold on," he said, reaching out to touch my arm. "I didn’t realize you were being serious. Yes, I planned tonight."
I brushed his hand away and glared at him coldly. "At least you admit it."
"And yes," he added, giving my body a head-to-toe stare that made me feel suddenly naked, "I’d be happy to spend tonight f**king you. But this isn’t a game like you’re thinking. It’s not a conquest."
I crossed my arms over my chest. "It sure looks a lot like one from here."
His mouth twisted, and he squeezed both my shoulders. "Dammit, Riley," he said. "I’m doing this because I like you. Because I care about you."
I rolled my eyes, but my heart started beating faster. "Yeah? Then why were you ignoring me all day?"
He looked taken aback. "Ignoring you? Is that really what this is about?"
"In the hot tub, you looked at me with disgust and left me without saying a word after we . . . after what we did."
"What? No . . . no." His expression looked pained. "Riley, I’d never look at you with disgust. You’re gorgeous."
"Then what was it?"
"Something changed," he said, momentarily averting his gaze. "I don’t know. When I was looking at you, I felt . . ." His eyes softened, and he shifted, seeming uncomfortable with what he wanted to express. After a pause he said, "I felt I had to do this." He gestured to the room around us. "It took some effort to get all this done, Riley. I had to arrange it quickly, and I couldn’t exactly do it with you in the room."