17 - Nothing

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Rian lifted the spoon to his lips. I leaned forward slightly, trying and failing to hide my eagerness.

He paused and glanced up at me from beneath his irritatingly long lashes. I impatiently gestured for him to keep going. He rolled his eyes and tilted the spoon, letting the soup spill into his mouth.

I rocked in my seat, studying his reaction carefully over the counter. "So?" I ventured. "How is it?"

He savoured it thoughtfully, and I felt a touch of pride watching him. Like a true chef, I thought, a little pleased.

"It's . . . decent."

My mouth dropped open. Rian looked at me again, the barest hint of a smirk on his lips. "Decent?" I spluttered in disbelief. "Decent?"

He shrugged. "Could have been better, in my opinion."

I waited incredulously for a moment longer before nodding slowly. "Okay," I acknowledged reluctantly, trying to rationalize being told my food wasn't amazing right off the bat. "Alright." Rian took another sip, his hair falling over his forehead alluringly. "I guess that's to be expected when it's the first time."

He choked and began coughing violently. Alarmed, I reached over and patted his back until he regained his breath. He stared at me in shock. "This was your first time?"

I regarded him warily, not totally sure of his recovery. "Yeah. Why?" I frowned, taking his spoon and tasting it for myself. He watched me, his eyes darkening when I put the warm metal to my lips. "It's not that bad, is it?" I mused concernedly.

Rian cleared his throat and glanced away. "Maybe I was a bit harsh," he said gruffly. "For your first time making chicken soup, that's . . . impressive."

I blinked. A slow smile stretched across my face. "No. Is this really happening?" I mock-questioned. "A compliment from Rian Aronhalt?" My voice was teasing, and I felt a little thrill when the cold black orbs pinned on me narrowed in response. "That's it. My life is complete."

Rian scowled, silently taking the spoon back from me and swallowing another mouthful. I sighed a little wistfully; his guard was back up. "It was an observation, not a compliment. Don't confuse the two."

"Whatever you say," I acquiesced, my playful smile still intact. His eyes darted menacingly to mine at my submissive tone, and when his tongue swept up a droplet of soup on his lip I suddenly found it difficult to breathe.

"Anyway," I blurted, forcibly breaking myself out of that same spell he always managed to put me under, "we should talk about the ecomp."

Rian nodded neutrally, easily scooping up a piece of chicken and taking a bite. "That list of recipes seemed fine. Does it really warrant further discussion?"

I huffed. "Yes, because these are all things we've done before," I said, gesturing to the list laid out between us. "See? The ratatouille, the tenderloin, the french onion soup, even that one time Lisa forced us to make fluffernutters—"

"Okay!" Rian cut in. "I get it," he said curtly, his brow furrowed in irritation and something else. Embarrassment? I recognized confusedly. But what's there to be

Oh.

My own cheeks went pink as I realized where I'd gone wrong. Freaking Lisa, I thought, mortified. Now I understood that wicked grin she'd been wearing when she made her request.

I struggled to continue. "I mean—the point is we have to make something entirely new. Innovate, you know?" I felt the hint of a smile overtake my awkwardness. "We gotta improvise, adapt, overcome."

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