Today is release day for Truth or Dare! I had so much fun with these characters! Here’s another excerpt.
The dining room was in an odd state of disarray when Gwyn entered it, just a few minutes past her usual time. The breakfast buffet seemed to have been hastily set up and was missing several key ingredients—like most of the food that should have been there.
There was no oatmeal, no eggs, no bacon, no pork roll. The DIY pancake station was missing batter. The yogurt parfait station was missing entirely. Apparently, the only things on offer this morning were toast, cold cereal, and a choice of either apples, oranges, or bananas. Wonderful.
Catching sight of Brenda just outside the kitchen door, in animated conversation with several of the servers, Gwyn headed over to join her. The servers scattered at her approach.
“What’s going on?” Gwyn asked her cousin. “What’s happening with breakfast?”
Brenda had her phone in a death grip and a stack of file folders clutched against her chest. She shot Gwyn a harried look. “What do you want to hear first—the bad news, the other bad news, or the even worse news?”
“Bad, I guess.” It was early, she hadn’t had coffee, and her day hadn’t exactly started off on a high note. She was going to have to work her way up to worse.
“Morris?” Gwyn repeated stupidly. “Morris our cook?”
“Are there any other Morrises who work for us that I don’t know about?” Brenda asked, seemingly without unclenching her teeth.
“There’s your answer then.”
No cook. Perfect. “What’s worse?”
“Remember that power surge or whatever it was last night?”
“You mean when the lights went out?”
“Yes. The lights went out. There was an explosion or something? I’m still not clear on what caused it.”
Ghosts. Gwyn nodded. “Uh-huh.”
“Apparently it did something to the walk-in and now it’s not working.”
“The walk-in fridge?”
No, my walk-in closet. Brenda didn’t say it, but it was there in her eyes.
“Sorry. Stupid question.” Gwyn shook her head. “Well, damn. I guess, until we get it fixed, we’re going to have to move everything over to the bar’s walk-in,” which was smaller and older and farther away, and so much less convenient.
“Already started on it. And, there’s still more I haven’t told you—but Gwyn, this is not good. We can’t afford the repairs, for one thing.”
“Brenda! We have no choice!”
“I know, but…” Brenda gazed at her appealingly. “Gwyn, we have other problems too. What are we going to do about dinner? The prix fixe meal that people have already paid for? That’s tonight.”
“Oh, fuck,” Gwyn groaned. “This can’t be happening.”
Just then a warm pair of hands settled on her shoulders. She turned her head and found Berke gazing at her inquisitively. “Is there a problem, darling?”
“Don’t ‘darling’ me,” Gwyn snapped. She was about to ask him what he’d done with his husband this time, when Cam appeared with three paper coffee cups.
He handed one to her, one to Berke; then he smiled apologetically at Brenda and offered her his cup. “Coffee?”
“No. Thank you,” Brenda replied a little faintly.
“What’s wrong?” Berke repeated.
Gwyn sighed in defeat. “Oh, not much,” she said as she took a life-saving sip of coffee. “Our cook quit. Our other cook…” She glanced at Brenda.
“…is also out, and the walk-in’s toast.”
“The what now?” Cam asked, startled.
“The walk-in refrigeration unit,” Brenda explained. “Where we keep all our perishables. It died a sudden and untimely death last night.”
“Ah.” Cam nodded. “The power surge?”
“One can only assume,” Brenda agreed.
“It wasn’t a fucking power surge!” Three sets of eyes turned to stare at Gwyn.
“What was it then?” Brenda asked just as a hint of a chuckle scampered up the wall. It scudded lightly across the ceiling and thinned out into nothingness somewhere in the vicinity of the big front windows that looked out over the street. As usual, no one noticed.
Gwyn sighed.“Oh, never mind.”
“So what do you think?” Berke asked Cam.
Cam raised his cup in a small salute.“Your call to make. You do what you have to.”
Berke nodded. “Okay. I think I’ll just go and take a look.”
“Berke,” Gwyn snapped, stopping him just as he was pushing through the door to the kitchen. “What are you doing?”
He paused and smiled at her. “Well, at the moment, I’m gonna see about breakfast. After that, I don’t know.” Then he winked and disappeared through the door.
“Who was that?” Brenda asked, staring after him.
“No one,” Gwyn said, amending herself after Cam cleared his throat. “Berke’s a friend.”
“Berke,” Brenda repeated the name thoughtfully. “That name sounds familiar. Have I met him before?”
“Oookay. And can he actually cook, or will we be giving all our guests food poisoning today?”
Good question. Gwyn looked at Cam. Cam gave her a wink, then smiled at Brenda. “Yes, he can cook. As it happens, my husband and I own a catering company.” The semi-amused glance he shot in Gwyn’s direction made it clear that the extra emphasis he’d put on husband had been for her benefit.
He took a card from his wallet and handed it to Brenda. “Weidman and Steiner. I promise you have nothing to worry about. But feel free to check us out, if it makes you feel better.”
“Not necessary,” Brenda said with a smile—one of the rare and wondrous Donovan smiles that, for years, had been reducing stronger men than Cam to adoring puddles of goo. “As long as Gwyn vouches for you, I’m sure everything’s fine. I’m Brenda Donovan, by the way,” she added as she held out her hand. “Gwyn’s cousin.”
“Cam Steiner. Gwyn’s…friend.”
“Oh, bite me, Cam,” Gwyn said.
“Love to.” Cam smirked.
“Well, Cam Steiner, Gwyn’s friend, it’s lovely to meet you. I suppose it’s too much to hope that you’re a licensed electrician?”
“I’m not, but I am a licensed contractor, and I do know my way around electrical motors. I’d be happy to take a look at your refrigeration unit if you’d like.”
“I would.” Brenda looked faintly startled. “Thank you.” She shook her head as though to clear it, then asked, “I’m sorry, did you say you were married?”
“I did.” Cam held up his hand and flashed his ring.
“Ah, pity.” Brenda sighed.
Gwyn glared at her cousin. “Really, Bren?”
Brenda grinned at Cam. “I mean, not for you, of course. It’s wonderful for you. At least I assume it is. You’re happy?”
Cam smiled. “I am. Very happy.”
The phone Brenda had been clutching began to buzz loudly. She jumped and glanced quickly at the screen. “Excuse me. I have to take this. Cam, once more, lovely meeting you. Gwyn, we’ll talk later.” Then she hurried away, speaking too quietly into the phone for Gwyn to hear what she was saying.
Cam watched her go, a thoughtful, admiring, and entirely too interested look on his face. “You and your cousin sure don’t look that much alike, do you?”
Gwyn glared at him. “So help me, Cam, don’t even think about it.”
“Woman, what are you talking about?”
“You know damn well what I’m talking about.”
“I really don’t.”
“Stay away from my cousin.”
“Yes. You were.”
“Gwyn.” Cam shook his head. “Stop it, all right? Give me some credit for having grown up since college. I’m not like that anymore. I’m a reformed character.”
“Sure you are.”
“I’m also married.”
“Don’t remind me.”
“What is it with you today?” He glared at her in exasperation. “I don’t get it. We were good last night.”
“Don’t flatter yourself.”
“Oh, honey,” Cam said, cutting her off. “I don’t need to flatter myself. I have you for that.”
“And Berke. Can’t forget him.”
“Yes, and Berke.” Cam sighed. “Anyway, that wasn’t what I meant. I said we were good last night—all of us together. Weren’t we?”
“You suppose?” He stared at her in disbelief.
“Okay, fine.” Gwyn rolled her eyes. “Last night was good.”