Jade Archer 
   ~ A Shot For The Heart ~
Excerpt ~ Sandpipers' Secrets

Chapter Two


Brody watched Lark—the cute, bubbly little blond he’d been directed to when he’d walked in asking for work—flipping through his resume. He tried not to let his nervousness show. The man might mistake nervous for shifty, and shifty could cost him a job. Brody couldn’t afford that.

Actually, right now he couldn’t afford anything.

This really was his last chance, he acknowledged grimly. He had absolutely no money left. The rent was paid up for another two weeks, but after that, they were out on their ear. And worse still, there was no food left. Wolf had eaten the last tin of baked beans for dinner. The cupboard was quite literally bare. If he didn’t get work here tonight, he was going to have to take drastic action.

Brody fought hard to control his breathing. He knew that if he started turning tricks, he’d be risking everything. It was a steep, slippery slope to disaster after that, and once he started down, there was almost no hope he would ever be able to climb his way back up.

He didn’t want that. He and Wolf had moved halfway across the country to escape that sort of thing and leave that life behind forever.

Trying to distract himself from such desperate and depressing thoughts, Brody surveyed the dining room while he waited. The restaurant—Sandpipers—was small but had that warm, intimate feeling he knew people loved.

That was good, he reassured himself. If the restaurant was well liked, people would come back. And if people kept coming back, then they might have enough money to hire him on. Brody found himself crossing his fingers and hoping to catch a break for once.

Gazing around, he took in the huge, rough, wooden post that broke up the otherwise open floor plan. He admired the large potted palms scattered about and the whitewashed walls lined with seascapes depicting the beach just a short walk down the esplanade. It was all very tastefully done to be neither fish-and-chip-shop casual, nor fine dining intense.

Brody could imagine couples and families dropping in after a stroll along the boardwalk, or lovers enjoying the evening breeze and the flickering candlelit center pieces.

Focusing again on the man in front of him, Brody tried to work out exactly what Lark’s story might be. He’d introduced himself as the co-owner and front of house manager. But he really didn’t look old enough.

Propped up on a stool, leaning back against the long bar with one foot resting on the cross-brace and one dangling free—because he was too short to touch the floor—Lark looked even younger than Brody’s own twenty-two years. Yet, as the wait-staff and barmen moved around them preparing for the evening opening, it was obvious that he was definitely the one in charge. People constantly interrupted to ask questions or get direction.

While Brody continued to watch, Lark began to play with the pen in his fingers and bounce his foot against the stool’s cross-brace, a movement that made his whole leg wiggle rapidly. It was as if his body simply refused to stay still, even while he was concentrating on something else.

Man, he’s cute. Brody shifted and tried not to stare. But it was hard to look away. The man’s ruffled, pale blond hair hung forward slightly, shadowing his eyes. It made Brody want to reach out and brush it away so he could see the amazing dark blue orbs looking back at him again.

Clamping down on his runaway thoughts, Brody tore his gaze away. He was just overanxious, he reassured himself. This was the first time in days of job-hunting that anyone had actually asked to see his resume. It wasn’t much, but it gave him a small thrill of hope—one his experiences had taught him he should smother.

This Lark—and what sort of a name is that anyway, it’s way too cute and perky—might just want to dangle me a little longer before giving me the brush off.

But chancing another glance over at the man, Brody didn't think so. Lark didn’t seem like the type. In fact, when he had first met him, Brody had thought the man was going to give him a hug.

Not that he would have minded necessarily. Lark was amazingly attractive, and watching him, Brody couldn’t help smiling. He seemed to be the sort of person people gravitated to and liked automatically—the sort of person who always had a happy smile and a kind word and a…hug. It set up a little ache of longing deep inside that Brody really didn’t want to acknowledge or examine too closely.

Thinking about what it would feel like to have the smaller man wrap his arms around him, Brody suddenly found himself watching Lark’s sweet bow-shaped, pale pink lips and wondering what they would taste like. Brody looked away again as he felt himself flush with embarrassment.

What the fuck am I thinking? This man was obviously one of the bosses around here, and this could be Brody’s one big chance to finally get a job. And there was nothing to suggest Lark would be interested anyway. The man co-owned a restaurant for fuck’s sake. Why would he give someone like Brody a second look? He might not even be gay.

Although, on that front, Brody would be rather surprised. His gaydar was pinging like mad. His cock was half hard just looking at the man and Brody couldn’t help but imagine all sorts of delicious things they could do together.

Yet it also made Brody start to ponder the smaller man’s story. Since it looked like they were about the same age, Brody wondered how Lark had managed to be in a position to co-own a restaurant already. Maybe he had some rich boyfriend. Maybe that was who the other owner was.

Well, of course it is, Brody, you dumb schmuck. Just great. He was not only lusting after the boss, but probably the other boss’s boyfriend as well.

“So, when can you start?” Lark suddenly asked as he looked up and threw the slim resume onto the bar over his shoulder like the piece of worthless crap it was.

“What?” Brody asked, startled out of his self-recriminations by the abrupt job offer. “I mean, I…really?”

But if Brody had been shocked by the job offer, he was even more staggered by the radiant smile the little man turned on him as he chuckled softly—happiness and pleasure twinkling in Lark’s dark blue eyes.

“Yes, really. I mean, it’s only a kitchen hand’s position, but you seem to have done the work before, and I’m sure the others will let you know pretty quickly about anything else you need to learn.”

“Oh! That’s… Now! I mean, I can start right now if you want me to,” Brody stammered. The chance of a paycheque even one day sooner was too good an opportunity to pass up.

“Cool. Come on. I’ll introduce you to the rest of the gang.”

With that, Lark grabbed his hand and tugged Brody along behind him as he literally seemed to bounce through the still-deserted dining room—leading him through a set of swinging doors and into the kitchen.

“Gentlemen! I come bearing gifts,” Lark announced grandly as he dragged Brody into the room. “As promised, one kitchen hand!”

“About fucking time,” grumbled a tall, dark haired man in a white chef’s tunic, without looking up from the carrot he chopped with efficient strokes.

“Now, Dave, language please. We’re trying to make a good impression,” Lark admonished playfully in a light, musical voice.

Dave flipped him off casually, almost without pausing his rapid knife work.

“Everyone, this is Brody. He’ll be starting tonight, then working Thursday through Sunday from now on.”

“Sucker,” a skinny man with his dark brown curly hair pulled back under a black bandana grunted from the back corner.

“So, you’ve meant Mr. Potty-mouth, Dave, over there.” Lark indicated the man still cutting up vegetables. “Mr. Sarcastic is Andy. Then there’s Rio and Gus, head chef and mains respectively. Saturday night, we have all hands on deck, as you can see, but normally we rotate through our days off during the week. So it’s good you came tonight; you get to meet everyone at the same time this way.”

“Yeah! That and the fact we’re going to have a fucking truckload of pans because someone decided to cater a cocktail party on the deck as well as open for dinner,” Dave commented, again without looking up from his chopping block.

Lark ignored him completely this time.

“Everyone has Monday off at the moment because it’s just too slow to justify opening, but that might change if things pick up—so there could be a chance for some more work later on in the season.

 “That would be great,” Brody hurried to assure the man, wanting him to know he would always take any work they wanted to give him.

“So what else…” Lark wondered aloud as he gazed around the room. “Oh! Of course. Uniforms. Have you got some of your own?”

Brody shook his head, hoping it wasn’t going to be a deal breaker. He simply couldn’t afford a set of uniforms at the moment. Or probably any time soon for that matter.

“That’s okay. I’m pretty sure we’ve got a spare couple of sets you can use, back in the office. The last guy left them when he ran off to who knows where. He was about your size. And I guess we better get onto the paperwork too. Then you can come back in and get familiar with the place before it starts getting busy.”

Brody felt a little overwhelmed by how fast everything was moving all of a sudden. As Lark led him towards a door on the far side of room with the word OFFICE printed on it in neat, gold letters, he could only nod dumbly and follow along behind.

With his brain refusing to co-operate and the intense smell of food reminding him he hadn’t eaten today, making him feel slightly dizzy, Brody concentrated on Lark and hoped he didn’t make a fool of himself. The bright little man couldn’t have been more than five-foot-four in boots, he thought, as he tried not to stare at the firm ass encased in tight black pants that flexed and tensed in front of him.

Suddenly, Lark looked back over his shoulder at him—grinning as if he knew exactly what Brody was doing. His bright white teeth and mischievous blue eyes made Brody’s heart stutter out a funny little beat for a second before settling into an even, but slightly faster rhythm.

Just as Brody was sure he was going to die of embarrassment for being caught ogling his new boss’s ass, someone stepped out of the office in front of Lark and the two of them collided heavily.

As Lark bounced off the man’s broad chest, Brody stepped forward to try and save him from falling on the hard kitchen floor. But the bigger man had already reached out to pull Lark back—wrapping large, muscular arms round him. Brody found himself caught up in the impromptu hug—pressed up tight against Lark’s back.

For a moment the three of them just stood together, frozen in place with Lark sandwiched between them. Then the man holding Lark protectively against his chest chuckled.

“You okay, baby?” he asked.

Brody found himself mesmerized by the man’s face. His eyes—not green or brown, but some sort of indescribable mixture of the two, framed by sinfully long, dark lashes—were breathtaking. As was the ultra-short dark hair that covered his head and shadowed his firm, square jaw. Brody couldn’t stop watching the man’s beautifully shaped lips as they moved to speak to Lark.

“Oh! Yes. Very okay,” Lark replied in a slightly husky, amused voice. “This is nice.”

As Lark wiggled between them suggestively, Brody suddenly realized how closely he was standing and hastily stepped back. The flush that had begun when he got caught ogling Lark’s ass burst into full flame on his cheeks.

Man, what is wrong with me today, Brody wondered, thoroughly mortified by his overactive libido.

“How disappointing,” Lark sighed with a hint of laughter in his voice as he patted the impressive, muscular chest in front of him.

Brody pushed away the sudden desire to be in Lark’s shoes as Lark turned back to face him.

“Zak, I’d like you to meet Brody McAllister, our new kitchen hand. Brody, this is Zak—co-owner and resident hunk.”

“Behave, trouble,” Zak warned. He bumped Lark gently with his hip, which only caused Lark to laugh once more.

Brody fought against the sudden erection that threatened to tent his pants and shame him. A strange sensation—something almost like jealousy—swept over him as he watched the two share a smile of unmistakable love and happiness.

Lark stepped aside and Zak stretched out his hand in greeting.

“Nice to meet you,” Zak rumbled in a deep, penetrating voice that seemed to vibrate right through Brody.

The man’s eyes were boring into him now, and Brody found it difficult to let go of his warm, calloused hand when the handshake needed to come to an end, or become something more intimate.

Man, I need to get laid. It was as if having the all-consuming pressure to find a job suddenly lifted from his shoulders had sent it all straight to his pants. His cock was certainly stressing that it needed some action. And apparently it was happy to pick out likely candidates for him to consider—left, right and center.

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