He patted his shirt. "Family business. My mom makes the wedding cakes, and I make everything else."
"That’s kind of…cute. My mom hates my job."
He grinned. "You make her go see your movies?"
"Not after the first one. She screamed at all the wrong moments." A reluctant smile was curving my mouth. God, it was so nice to talk to someone, even if it was Owen. "So what kind of pastries do you make?"
"Better shit than they were serving here. That catering was a joke."
I arched an eyebrow. "That sounds like a challenge to me. Am I going to have to insist that you show off your culinary skills?"
"I don’t know. You going to let me read those script notes of yours?"
I looked down at my nonsensical notes. Lots of scratch outs, and Sugarbean? Walls? Train? Yeah. No way I was showing that to anyone. It looked like the ramblings of a psychopath. "Okay, fine. You win."
"That’s what I thought," Owen said smugly, but there was a smile on his face.
THE NEXT MORNING, I MADE enough coffee in the coffee pot for two people. That was my concession to Owen that I didn’t wish death on him any longer. I grabbed one of the stale donuts from the plate in the kitchen, headed out into the living room, and wrote on my notepad. I had a character or two sketched out by the time Owen woke up. I’d probably have to change everything, but at least my pen was moving instead of going nowhere.
"Morning," Owen said as he headed down the stairs.
"Hey there," I said, keeping my voice pleasant. "There’s coffee in the pot."
He grunted and headed for the kitchen area. I watched him pour himself a cup of coffee, sipped it, and then rubbed his face. He sat down at the breakfast bar and then looked over at me with hooded, sleepy eyes.
I felt a shiver in my belly.
"You want French toast?"
I tilted my head, interested. "French toast? From a self-professed amazing pastry chef? That seems a little simplistic if you ask me."
He laughed. "Stuffed French toast with whipped cream on top?"
"Now you’re talking." I got up from my perch in the living room and joined him in the kitchen.
I had to admit, Owen knew his way around. He pulled ingredients out of the overstuffed fridge and began to combine things, then whipped eggs in one bowl while turning on the burner with another. Me, I wasn’t good at multi-tasking, so it was nifty to watch him work. He was all suave confidence, and when he cut a thickly sliced piece of homemade bread open to stuff it, my mouth was watering. When had he made the bread?
By the time he put the plate in front of me, wild horses couldn’t have kept me away from that delicious smelling creation. I took the fork he offered me with a smile, cut in, bit down, and moaned. "Oh, my god. That is incredible."
He blinked his eyes at me. Then grinned. "So you approve?"
"I’ve never tasted anything better," I admitted, cutting another huge bite. "I fully admit you are incredible."
"My ego is fully repaired now that Luna thinks I am incredible," he said with a laugh, then sat down to eat his own breakfast.
The room felt weirdly charged after that. I ate quietly (though my insides were still moaning with glee over each delicious bite) and thought. Maybe I shouldn’t have said Owen was incredible. Maybe just ‘good’ would have been enough for his ego. ‘Incredible’ had made things odd.
Owen toyed with a bite of his food and glanced at the massive windows on the far side of the room. "Is that a snowstorm?"
"Yup." I couldn’t keep the smugness out of my voice.
He grinned over at me, and little lines of pleasure crinkled around those magnificent amber eyes. "You feeling a little gleeful that the others are trapped out in this while we’re not?"
"Yup," I repeated.
He laughed. "They won’t let them freeze. I mean, we had blankets and fire and someone came by to help us finish the shelter after you left. They just want us to look miserable for the camera."
"I hope they look exceedingly miserable," I told him. "I’m cheering for Patty."
"Me too," he said.
That surprised me. "You’re not rooting for Clarissa?"
Owen shook his head. "Who do you think ousted me? We lost the second challenge and she decided strength wasn’t doing us any favors, so she kept the people she felt she could control the most. She even asked me to not have hard feelings."
I scraped the last bite from my plate. "And do you?"
"Have hard feelings? You bet I do." He looked at the windows. "Let it snow all it wants. I hope we get a f**king blizzard."
I raised my coffee cup into the air. "To a blizzard!"
He clinked his mug with mine.
LIKE A PAIR OF WARY CATS getting used to living with each other, Owen and I spent a fair amount of time apart, but were gradually coming together. Kitty had stopped by with some groceries, and to my surprise, there were quite a few baking goods included.
"I thought I might as well bake for the crew if we’re stuck here," Owen said. "Kind of as an apology for dicking over the exec’s big meal."
"And sucking up so they’ll let us into the lodge with the others?" I guessed.
Owen gave me a small smile. "Maybe."
I eyed the ingredients. "So what are we making?"
"I happen to be the world’s best cookie maker," he told me.
I snorted. "Please. Anyone can make cookies."
"I bet I can make them better than you."
"Oh, is that so?" I told him. "You wanna make a bet?"
He rested a hand on the counter next to me and leaned in. "What kind of bet?"
I considered it for a moment. "Loser has to do all the dishes."
"That’s not much of a challenge if you ask me."
"Loser also forfeits all of the hot water in the house." The hot water was still a sore point between the two of us. The lodge might have been massive, but the hot water heater was stingy, and there was usually only enough heated water for one shower.
"Now that sounds like a deal. Who’s going to judge?"
I shrugged. "We can have Kitty judge when she comes in to pick up the cookies for the crew tomorrow, right?"
"Sounds good to me. You’re on." Owen’s eyes gleamed with a challenge.
"Get ready to lose," I declared loftily.
WE SPENT THE AFTERNOON IN a cookie-off. I started off with a tried-and-true—chocolate chip cookies. Of course, Owen had to show me up and made some sort of ‘twice dipped’ biscotti thing that he said was coated with ganache.
I said I didn’t even know what ganache was, and that we didn’t eat sissy stuff like that in Boston, and only dudes that wore cupcakes on their chests would know what the hell ganache was.
So then we had another food fight, but this one was full of giggling and flour, and cookies shoved down each other’s front. I ended up with ganache all in my bra before I conceded defeat…but only on the food fight front.
From there, we went to stages. I decided to make gingerbread men.
Owen decided to make divinity in the shape of stars.
I decided to make sugar cookies in fun Christmas shapes.
He made something called snowflake drops that melted in your mouth.
The f**ker just didn’t play fair. At all.
By the end of the day, my stomach was aching from taste-testing both my own creations and his. We had plate after plate of cookies, and I had to concede defeat even before they went out the door. Mine were questionable at best. His were gorgeous creations. I admit that watching him work distracted me. Owen had great big football-player hands, but they were surprisingly delicate and could ice a curly mustache onto a gingerbread man with expertise.
My gingerbread men looked more like rancid hobos that had been caught in a blender. Sigh.
So I did the dishes that night, though Owen had swung by to help me. It was only fair, he said, since he dirtied a lot more bowls than I did with his ornate creations. It wasn’t my fault, he told me, that I only knew how to make stuff that had one-step instructions.
So then we had a suds-and-dishwater fight.
AFTER BREAKFAST THE NEXT MORNING, we were in the living room, drinking our coffees and just hanging out. I was still poking at my notes for Termite 3, since it wasn’t truly coming together just yet. "I’m not sure how he gets from California to Alaska," I told Owen. "He’s hideously deformed so it’s not like he can take a plane."
"Put him on a train," Owen said, stretched out on the couch opposite me, coffee mug in hand.
I rolled my eyes. "I can’t put him on a train, either. Did you not hear the part I said about hideously deformed? Wait…is that how is it you get around?" I fluttered my eyelashes at him. “Tell me how it works for you.”
He tossed a throw pillow at me.
I ducked, giggling.
We’d gone from abject hatred to a competitive sort of friendship. I had to admit that it was fun to taunt Owen. He gave as good as I did.
"A train," he repeated, as if I were the slow one here. "You know, like hobos do in the movies. They climb onto an open car when it’s at a stop and ride all the way to wherever it takes them. Problem solved."
"Oh. That’s pretty good, actually." I wrote a few notes down. "I might have to use that."
"I could totally write a horror movie better than you," he said smugly.
I snorted. "Dream on. You don’t have the patience to sit down and write seventy five pages of dialogue and scene blocking, Cupcake, so don’t even start."
"Well, Boston," he said, enunciating my nickname. "I think I’m better at you than most stuff."
"You would think that."
"You ever built a snowman?" He gestured at the snow-laden grounds outside. Heavy drifts blanketed the land surrounding the lodge. "I bet I could build a better snowman than you any day."
"I wouldn’t build a snowman," I told him. "I’m an equal opportunity builder. I’d have to make a snow lady. And she’d be a better snow lady than whatever you could come up with."
"Sounds like a dare to me."
"Winner gets the hot water?" I hated the cold showers.
"You’re on," he said, and bounded up from the couch.
I’m not hating this whole ‘Loser Lodge’ thing, I have to admit. But Luna’s being kind of thick-headed. How many times do I have to pick a fight with the girl to get her to realize I want to kiss her? – Owen MacIntosh, to Kitty
"I’M SO GLAD THE TWO of you are getting along now," Kitty said, smiling at me as she brought in the groceries one morning. "I felt really guilty that you guys were left out in the cold when it comes to the whole jury thing."
"It’s okay," I told her. I was over it. Mostly. "You brought the s’mores?" Owen had said I couldn’t make a s’more properly, so I had resolved to show him just how great a s’more maker I was.
"Great. What’s in the other bag?" Kitty normally only brought one bag with her, but today she had a second one.
"It’s some Christmas stuff. You guys haven’t decorated or anything."
I regarded the bag as if it would bite me. "I’ll, um, see if Owen wants to." I hadn’t brought it up. I wasn’t interested in Christmas.
Kitty sensed my lack of enthusiasm, and her eager face looked a little unhappy. "Well, no one says you have to decorate, I suppose. I just thought you might be bored." She glanced around. "Where’s Owen?"
"Hogging all the hot water." I smiled at her. "The spoils of victory." We’d made snowmen all day and then bickered about who had the better snow person. It turned into a snowball fight, and when we ran out of easily accessible snow, the snowmen had been cannibalized.
The snowman match was declared a draw.
"I should go," Kitty said. "Lots to do at the jury lodge. It’s busy as heck over there."
"Oh? Who’s in there?" I gave her an innocent smile.
"You know I can’t say." She wagged a cheery finger at me. "Nice try, though."
"I always have to try," I told her, and saw her out the door.
I didn’t touch the bag of Christmas crap. Instead, I returned to my favorite spot on the couches and continued working on my script. The ideas were coming hot and heavy now, and morphing (as they always did). Sugarbean was now a burly football player with the last name of ‘Sugarman’ and had a heart of gold. He was the chesty beefcake that the quiet, scholarly her**ne would fall for – provided he didn’t die at the Termite’s clutches. I hadn’t decided yet. In the scene I was working on, Sugarman had just arrived at the lodge after a long, sweaty day of wood-chopping and was undressing to get into the shower. Then, of course, he heard a noise coming from the wall. Next–
"Hey, what’s all this stuff?"
I looked up to see Owen in the kitchen area, peeking through the bags that Kitty had left. I blinked, putting aside my notepad. I’d been so into my scene that I hadn’t even noticed he was downstairs. He was dressed in his usual – workout pants and one of those bakery t-shirts he always wore. I wondered if he’d packed them all to give his mom’s business a little boost by wearing them on camera, and then felt guilty that we were being removed from the Loser Lodge footage for our bad behavior. So much for that boost. "That stuff? Kitty brought over some Christmas garbage."