34 - Voices In My Head

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"Hand me the chili pepper."

Rian gave me what I asked for, and I quickly cut them up and added them to the sauce. We moved fluidly, like a well-oiled machine, perfectly in sync despite our differences. Every once in a while I would glance over at him on impulse, with that promise of his ringing in my ears.

You never have to see me again.

Then I would scowl at where my thoughts had strayed, and turn back to my work.

The clock on the wall read that we had half an hour left. What I was trying to do wasn't easy, but I'd been harbouring a lot of anger recently, and cooking had always provided an outlet. I only hoped the judges would be able to handle it.

"Okay," I breathed, stepping back. "We need to let this fry for a bit." Rian nodded and busied himself with chopping up some vegetables. It was hard to keep my eyes from lingering.

Instead, I glanced up at the stands. Rokim grinned as soon as we made eye contact. I caught the gazes of Adrian and Prof, looking on encouragingly. Adrian flashed me a thumbs up, and I smiled despite myself.

Then my focus drifted to the left, where Lisa sat. But upon seeing her face, my smile faded.

Her eyes were wide with shock, and then horror. She cut her eyes to mine worriedly, then tilted her head in the direction behind me. I frowned, turning to follow her gaze. Inexplicably, I felt ice-cold dread slither down my back. What could have made even Lisa look so—

A grinning set of teeth stopped me in my tracks.

Vanessa leaned against a table, wearing an apron that betrayed her to be a member of the competition. Her unnerving smile grew when I locked eyes with her. The sliver of dread I'd felt suddenly made sense.

I glanced between her and Lisa rapidly, not comprehending what was going on. Lisa caught my gaze again and slowly pointed to their table. My eyes darted back and zoned in on the name-tag on Vanessa's station, the one that identified their school. My blood ran cold.

"Bainbridge," I murmured in disbelief. "She joined up with Bainbridge Academy."

Our biggest competitors. She'd dropped out of our program for them? 

My eyes flitted to Vanessa's partner. A young blond man was moving at a blindingly fast speed through the station, his pale blue eyes moving even faster. He would bark commands at Vanessa, who complied almost immediately. I was surprised by how harsh his voice was, but what was even more shocking was the fact that Vanessa did it all without complaint. 

It was only then that I put the final pieces of the puzzle together.

He was Jared Benoit, the impossible-to-work-with chef Lisa had told me about. He must have been. And that meant that Vanessa . . . Vanessa was his AC. His AC.

She hated us—me—so much that she'd become an Assistant just to try her hand at beating me? That was insane. 

Just then, Vanessa glanced up from where she'd been slicing at a cutting board. Another bone-chilling grin spread across her face, and she blew me a kiss with the knife in her hand. My eyes widened. 

The way she was looking at me . . . it was nothing like before. Her gaze glowed with venomous fervour. She wasn't just hateful. She was unhinged.

Maybe insanity wasn't as far out of reach as I'd thought.

"Hanna?" 

Rian's voice snapped me out of it. I broke my gaze away from Vanessa and turned to look up at him. I guess something in my face must have tipped him off to my distress, because he frowned. 

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