“Boss!” the teenage boy at the host stand, whom Evan knew to be named Beverly even if his name tag claimed B.V., was calling. “Your blond guy is here!”
“Danne?” replied a voice from the kitchen.
“No, the other one!”
“…Evie!” And Trice came swinging out of the kitchen, to him in a second and latching onto the man she treated as a big brother in a tight hug.
Evan was chuckling, picking her up to whirl her about and setting a smooch at her forehead after she had been set down safely. “Thought I’d drop by to see if you’ve got anything new on the menu,” he lied, though it was still actually a curiosity. “And how’s my girl, huh?”
She was tugging at his shirt collar though, pursing her lips in an almost pouting frown. “You didn’t come see me first,” she complained, poking a hickey she’d spotted on his neck. But then she hugged him again before taking his hand and dragging him with her back toward the kitchen. “I have a new braised ribs stew I wanted you to taste-test for me. And a red pepper walnut dip. You were gone for four months. I thought it was supposed to be three. Did you get shot?” At this she gave him a glare, a warning should he think to try to fib.
“No, I did not get shot.” She eyed him suspiciously, and he added, “Okay, so maybe I was shot at, but I was not shot.” She watched him until she seemed satisfied with this answer. “But I did cut myself shaving.” He made an adorably sad puppy face and pointed to his neck.
Trice made a face like he’d just dipped her hair in ink and slapped his chest with the back of her hand. “Well, then, don’t do that either!” she told him, but she hooked her arm with his as she returned to her cooking station and took over from one of her staff, working with what was in the skillet one-handed.
“You’re not off the hook for not coming to see me first. It’s one thing if you want to go home and sleep, but that—” she poked another hickey with a wooden spatula “—is something different. And if you weren’t going to come see me first, you should have at least gone to see Buddy. At this rate he’ll be the only one left to love you. Oh! I stolllllllle…nothing. Right. But I have this new thing I wanted to show you! And…goodness, she did leave an awful lot of those on you.” The bubbly cook raised her eyebrows, both, at the number of little marks she’d noticed by now on Evan’s person. “What did you do, go to bed with a hungry kitten?” Just as quickly she waved the spatula in a bit of a flail. “Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. Ew.”
“Meow,” he replied satirically, with a smirk. “Well perhaps later I’ll tell you about my trip. That should make up for me a little. I think you will be quite amused.”
He peered around the kitchen at items being made and looked into her pan. “God, I’ve missed your food.” He was tempted to sneak a taste but knew he’d be slapped with her spoon for his efforts, so he stuffed his hands in his pockets safely instead. “And what’s my trusty sidekick been up to these days? Not getting you into any trouble, is he?”
“Um, define ‘trouble,’” Trice said slowly. After all, she could probably take credit for an equal portion of the shenanigans that she and Dan seemed to end up in, simply because, between the two of them, their ‘work’ offered lots of opportunity for risk. “I think he’s upset because I accidentally caught one of his favorite shirts on fire.” She glanced at him and said with utter innocence, “It’s not my fault it was right there when the compound I’ve been trying to combust for the last two months finally ignited. And it’s not like I couldn’t just buy him a new one! Wait, missed my food? What about me?”
“I maaaaaaay have possibly missed you. Just a tiiiiiny bi—” He dodged the back end of a spoon and gave her a smooch on the cheek for her effort. “Of course I missed you, Freckles. You know I could never go a few days without your fudg—I mean face,” he mock-corrected himself, “without missing its…sweet, gooey, caramel centre…” He trailed off to lengthen the joke as much as he could before she thwapped him again.
Seeing that thwacks of cooking utensils and hands weren’t going to get her anywhere with the incorrigible humor that was Evan, Trice threatened, “I’m not going to feed you!”
Evan’s mouth instantly opened and closed like a landed trout before it slammed shut indefinitely and he pouted.
“That’s what I thought,” she said, all cheerful-smugness. But she moved to a large pot, picking up a bowl from a stack next to it and ladling some of the stew in before tugging him with her toward the kitchen’s back room. “Here. Now, come on. I want to hear what’s so amusing about your trip.”
He ate a few spoonfuls before he allowed himself to talk, his adventures in the bedroom that morning still leaving him hungry, and he continued to eat casually as he told her the entire story. That was, the entire story sans his escapades with a certain Englishwoman. With great detail he told her about how he had quite happily murdered all involved in the worldwide nuclear bust, and after he finished, she pointed at a hickey and noted that he hadn’t told her the whole story. “Ahh, well, as into details as I am at the moment…yeah. That’s all you want to know. Trust me.”
Luckily, this was Trice and she was an easily distracted girl most of the time. “…is your nose a little more crooked than before?” She reached out and pinched it, frowning. “It is. You—Evie! Oooh, no cake for you now.”
Still, she seemed mostly mollified by the story and when he’d finished the stew and they had returned to the kitchen proper, she packed him food for supper and breakfast while telling him what she and Dan had been up to in his absence.
“I think Boffer’s finally starting to not want to kill him,” she added at the end of it all. “And she likes Buddy, most of the time. As long as he doesn’t bark. Oh, and you have to come play paintball with us on Friday. Dan thinks he can beat me if I’m outnumbered.” She raised an eyebrow with a cheerful taunt of, “Unless hickeys are going to make you a total wuss, that is.”
“Please, woman,” he mocked, the second after food was secured in his grasp as he did not want to lose his feeding privileges with the next statement. “Why don’t you two try ganging up on me? If I can kick his bee-hind any day, then I can sure as hell kick yours.” He grinned sassily.
Trice stuck her tongue out at him. “And I could still beat both of you at disassembling and reassembling any weapon at all so don’t you get so big for your britches!” she huffed. Then it was another random hug before she sighed, “I have to get to work. Early dinner rush starts in twenty and I’ve hardly started on the specials. See you Friday then?”
“Friday,” he agreed, and as he backed up stated wistfully, “Ahh, two whole weeks of solid relaxation.”
He was only half right. Work called, as they were wont to do during supposed vacations, and his second week was cut into by a few days as he was, to his great dismay (there was much eye-rolling after he was told), put on protection duty for a visiting ambassador.
He spent his last two days relaxing with Trice and Danne, making catch-up phone calls around the world to friends in different countries, thinking more on the paintball game which he wished he could enjoy more often—in this latest, he had sneakily hid and let Dan eliminate Trice by shooting her through a small space in a tree, though upon discovering it was her and not Evan, Dan had smooched the spot where he’d paintballed her and chased her around the course with painted lips making silly kissy faces—and pondering where Victoria had gone off to in a hurry. She hadn’t called, but he was not put off in the least. After all, she had said she was going in, so was probably immediately going on assignment.
When his leave was up, he was swiftly put on a recon mission that saw him in Miami for three weeks before he was able to return for a few days and, after a slew of bombings in countries that seemed to draw closer to England, he was immediately called in for duty.