Cajun chicken with linguine
Continues from Business and Pleasure
Charlie stood at the kitchen counter, holding a butcher knife in one hand while the other lay flat on the plastic cutting board. A slender, brown arm reached across him, grazing his flat hand, causing shivers to run up spine. He lifted his thumb as it passed again, letting it touch the arm. Clearing his throat, the hand that belonged to the arm put a round, beef-eater tomato in front of him.
"Want this diced?," he asked, looking at the rest of the body that belonged to the brown arm. Vivienne flashed her bright smile and nodded, wiping her hands on her red apron.
"You can cook...right?"
"I've seen Top Chef."
Laughing, Viv wrapped an arm around his back and pressed her mouth into his shoulder. She patted him on the back before she turned, picking up a large set of dishes, and backed out of the kitchen's saloon style swinging doors.
Rolling his eyes, Charlie tried to catch his breath and ignore Vivienne's scent on him. He listened to her set the table when he heard the telltale noise of the rest of the Pipers coming to her door. Their voices carried through the walls and Charlie could hear Red, Domingo, and Lewis knock loudly on Vivienne's apartment door.
He had managed to be alone with Vivienne for almost a half hour, coming early to avoid the other Pipers not so quiet whispered teasing and attention. He had been put on prep duty, which was fine, since he spent the entire time in the kitchen with her. Looking at the knife, he began cutting the wet tomato into diced pieces for her dish. In no time, the other three Pipers that had shown up came into the kitchen and were put to work along with him.
Red came in first and clapped Charlie on the shoulder, winking at him. "You say anything to her?"
"No! God, Red." Charlie looked over his shoulder and blushed.
"You should tell her," Lewis said washing his hands, using the sound of the water to mask his whisper.
"Tell her tonight, after we all leave." Domingo even felt the need to give his advice, smiling as he did so.
Charlie held his knife up and used his index finger to mimic slitting their throats. "Come on, leave me alone."
Red shrugged as Vivienne reentered the kitchen, silencing the rest of them.
"She can handle herself, Brig."
Brig turned and looked at Hammer who was standing with his arms crossed in front of his chest. "We all know you give two shits about her, Hammer, but her safety is our responsibility," Brig said turning his attention back to LT, "and if something happens to her, it's on us."
LT nodded but stayed quiet.
"Did you get a copy of her report?"
Hammer sighed, breathing out of his nose. "No."
"Where is she now? Her apartment?" His nephew nodded an affirmative and Brig turned to Hammer.
Hammer checked his watch. "It's early still."
Brig pointed to the door and LT walked out ahead of him, with Hammer bringing up the rear.
"LT," he said and both men turned around. "You're dismissed. See you tomorrow."
"Sir," LT said and left without looking at his Uncle. Beta trumped Commander any day.
Brig put his hands on his hips and stepped closer to him. Hammer didn't wait for Brig to open his mouth.
"What, you're going to yell at me like a kid now?"
That stopped Brig who dropped his hands and let his shoulders slump.
"I'd ask what's wrong with you, but I already know." Hammer continued walking, slowly until Brig caught up with him silently. "You're coming down too hard on them. Too hard on Lothias."
"Listen Brian," he started not looking at his cousin, "whatever is going on between you and me, it's affecting the Pipers. You run them ragged all day and then disappear all night. They're actually coming to me with personal things now. Me."
Hammer looked at Brig as they hit the stairs to the second floor, leading to the guest apartments. He wasn't sure what else to say, so he left it as they double timed it up the steps to Viv's rooms. Checking his watch, he noted the time again.
"We're a little early."
"Early for what?" Brig asked and knocked on the door.
Or so he kept telling himself.
Staring at the door, he reached up to bang on it again when he heard the shuffle of footsteps, heavier than Vivienne's. His hand froze in front of the door as it opened widely, revealing Charlie's smiling face.
"What the fuck are you doing here?" It was the first thing he blurted out as he looked at a now startled Charlie.
"Sir..." Charlie started, looking over to his left.
"He's here for dinner, Brig. As are we." Hammer stepped around Brig and entered the apartment, forcing Charlie to take a step back to allow his sizable frame in.
Brig stepped in and looked to his right at the dining area. The table was filled with food and wine glasses. Charlie closed the door and pointed into the kitchen, just as the rest of the Pipers came streaming out, carrying more food and Vivienne came out smiling, bringing up the rear.
"What dinner?" Brig asked.
Viv shoulders slumped as she set down her dish. Rolling her eyes she said, "God, do you ever read my emails?"
That said he walked in and said, "Is this where the party is? I got this email..."
Nikhila was, sadly, in a class. But he'd brought another lovely lady along instead. She promptly left his side, deserting him for her fiance. "Well, so much for mom."
Approaching Viv, Xeph smiled and handed her a "thanks for dinner gift," which was a small plant, a young orchid, in a decorative pot. Only a few inches high, it was already beginning to bloom. He wasn't sure if Viv had a green thumb at all but his message was fairly clear; it would be difficult for her to travel far or long with this to take care of. He was hoping she'd stay a while.
Of course, he had a feeling Brig would be far more convincing than he could ever be.
At any rate he handed the little orchid to Viv and bent to kiss her cheek lightly. "Thanks for the invite," he said. "Can I help with anything?"
Looking back and forth between Brig and Iov, Lily noted something.. well, slightly off. In both of their manners. As if they hadn't just arrived for a friendly dinner. They were too tense.
Nestled in against Iov's side she turned her head slightly and asked under the chatter of other voices, "Is everything all right?"
"Oh my god, I'm blind," she mumbled as the Alpha approached her, handing her a lovely gift.
"Aww,...thank you, Al...Xeph. May I call you Xeph? I'm going to call you Xeph." Blushing, she stammered again when he kissed her lightly on the cheek and thanked her for the invite, as well as offering to help.
"Odds are I will kill this, but I am really going to try not to do that." Grinning, she cradled the little pot and nodded toward the dinner table. "Actually, the Pipers helped me finish everything up." Turning toward them, she hooked a thumb toward the Alpha. "Gentlemen, your cousin is here."
The Pipers whooped and cheered.
"Ok, I think we're all here. LT is off with his woman, but hopefully he'll join us next time. Let us break some bread, get incredibly drunk, and eat!"
Holding a hand out to the table, Viv smiled at Lily, touching her shoulder gently in a welcoming gesture. She looked up at Hammer who gave her a slow blink and a nod, apparently his way of thanking her for the invite, and showed them a seat.
Turning, she saw Brig who nodded politely at the Alpha's mother and then gave Viv a blank look. She set down her orchid on top of the sofa table and walked up to Brig, crossing her arms. "Seriously...you delete my email when you see it, don't you. I sent this like last week."
"We need to talk."
"Ok, don't talk." Brig narrowed his eyes at her. "Eat please, will ya?" Viv held her hand out to the table, forcing him to grumble and finally find himself a seat. "All right then, mazol tov, yo!"
"My cousin is angry with Vivienne going along with the Pipers to talk to Duban and Huntington. He didn't know about the dinner, apparently he doesn't read Vivienne's emails...or something like that."
Hammer led Lily to the table as the men waited for the ladies to sit. As Lily and Viv took seats around the large, rectangular table, he was surprised she managed to find a large enough set to seat them all, granted the Pipers were squeezed in.
They waited for Mrs Xephier and Vivienne to sit before they themselves sat down. There was a chorus of "ma'ams" from the Pipers when they finally all took their seats. Immediately Charlie reached out and began passing bread in one direction as Red passed dishes of pasta in the other direction.
"This is Cajun chicken linguine pasta and it is not fat free. Made with a bevy of spices and heavy cream, tomatoes diced nicely by Charlie, garlic by Lewis, and the pasta made by Marko, Domingo, with Dougie and Marthinus supervising. Thank you gentlemen for helping tonight."
Charlie smiled at Vivienne as she announced the dinner. She caught his eye and gave him a friendly wink as the Commander settled down next to her seat which was at the head of the table. Ignoring the Commander's glare, he turned to the Alpha and made small talk as he heaped noodles onto his plate.
"So how does it feel being a Hammerthynn, sir?"
"WAIT!" she said, standing and holding her hands out, forcing everyone to stop. The men immediately stood politely, holding their plates and looking at each other.
Running into the kitchen, she opened up the fridge and pulled out a few more dishes. Running back in, she set them on the table, forcing the men to stand back up again.
"Sorry, sorry. I forgot about the raw food. Sit sit. Eat, eat!"
Everyone resettled into their seats and Viv giggled to herself, laughing at the men standing when she did. She was about to stand when Brig quietly spoke to her.
Narrowing her eyes at him, he continued to grab food without any reaction to her, save for the tiniest bit of a smile on the corner of his mouth.
"Fine," she mumbled to herself.
At her hastily stammered question/decision he laughed and shrugged his shoulders. No one called him Alpha Xephier. Well, okay, a few people. Which was fine. But Alpha Xephier was the previous Alpha's name. Come to think of it he probably should even be "Xeph" anymore, but he wasn't sure he could drop that. He just grinned easily at Viv; it didn't matter what she called him.
As they gathered around the table Xeph considered Charlie's question. "Well, I was a little worried at first but my eyeball didn't shrivel up and fall out and my sense of humor is still intact so I guess it's better than I thought it would be."
He didn't glance at Hammer, just delivered the line in a solemn voice with a slight twitch of his lips.
Used as he was to choking down cooked food at various functions and events, Xeph hadn't expected Viv to provide for every single variance in palate but apparently she had. He thanked her for her thoughtfulness and helped himself to what looked like chicken spiced with the same cajun recipe as what everyone else was digging into. He eyeballed the pasta suspiciously, passed the bread along, and when he turned back to his plate discovered a small pile of something vile and green had been deposited there.
He turned his head to Lily, who sat between him and Hammer, and raised his eyebrows. "Really?"
"Thank you Vivienne.. and thanks to all the helpers," Lily said with a smile, helping herself to the same dish as Aidan and politely adding small amounts of various cooked foods to her plate as well. She was a light eater but courtesy dictated she sample a little of everything.
"It's all beautiful," she said, enjoying the vivid colors on her plate and surreptitiously adding some green to her son's. Really, she'd raised him better. She pretended not to notice that several Piper plates that had been void of green things suddenly became very colorful.
"I don't care how fast you regenerate. They're still good for you," she said decisively to Aidan.You never stopped being a mother, just because your child was fully grown.
"Oh that is just gangster," Red exclaimed. Smiling, he picked up the bowl of greens and heaped a serving onto his plate, then Charlie's.
"Aw, man," Charlie grumbled and then passed the bowl down the line.
Turning, he looked back at Vivienne who was opening another wine bottle but misplaced the opener. Brig gently took the bottle from Vivienne and entered the kitchen. Within moments he was back with the opener, twisting it into the cork and popping it. He handed it back to Vivienne as he sat back down and gave her one of his trademark impish grins.
Hammer's eyebrows furrowed at what he saw. Leaning back in his seat, he looked down at his plate and then back at Vivienne and Brig. His cousin's attention was back at his plate while Vivienne was talking to someone across the table. Hammer took a deep breath and dismissed what he saw, again, and returned to eating the enormous portion of pasta on his plate.
Her pseudo-adoptive (but not really) brother looked up at her from his pasta.
"How does everything taste?"
Picking up his napkin from his lap, he wiped his mouth and beard and set his fork down. Viv watched, completely baffled that someone so big would have such incredible table manners.
"Delicious. It's very good."
Raising her eyebrows, she made a face at his compliment. "Wow, thank you." Hammer had set his hands on the table, resting his wrists on the edge. He lifted his fingers and gave her a questioning look. "Oh, I was just wondering. Making small talk."
Hammer's lip cocked to the side, in what she assumed was a smile, and picked up his fork again.
Hammer set his fork down again.
"I was going to ask, if you wanted, you and Brig can stay afterward to talk about that thing earlier."
"That would be fine, Vivienne." This time Hammer did not hesitate to shovel a large bite of pasta into his mouth, not too concerned with answering her questions.
"Okie dokie," she said and leaned back into her chair. Her eyes moved to her left and saw Brig looking at her, tapping the bottom of his fork on the table cloth. She sighed dramatically and faced him. "We'll talk about it later."
Brig flipped the fork in his hands and continued eating his meal without another word.
Grimacing as the slippery spinach or whatever it was slid down his throat, Xeph took a healthy bite of raw cajun spiced shicken, feeling relieved at the familiar taste and texture.
He hoped everyone who had noticed the exchange had the good grace not to mention this to Nikhila. Ever. He'd never live it down. There would be vegetables everywhere. He'd start having nightmares.
He tore into the chicken with the full gusto of a carnivorous wolf, giving the tasty meat the attention it deserved.
"So, as a Hammerthynn, Xeph, do you plan on taking on any of the other Hammerthynn traditions? Say - your father's last name?"
The Pipers, Hammer, and Vivienne all stopped talking. Brig knew at this point the Alpha's mother did not think much of him, or ever will, but he was only asking what everyone was thinking. Brig scooped up a fork-full of pasta and ate it. Nodding, he looked at Vivienne.
"This is pretty good," he said talking around his food. Swallowing, he took another bite, looking up at the Alpha with a polite smile.
She carefully laid down her fork and turned to Aidan, waiting for him to speak. They hadn't discussed the matter of his last name but she assumed he'd given it some thought. Surely he and Nikhila would have talked it over themselves. It wasn't really anyone's business for now.
But Brig's innocent question brought everything to the center of attention in all its awkward uncomfortable glory. And Lily, whether through intuition or some other ability, could see where he was aiming. But what his reason was, she couldn't fathom.
"Well, considering I was raised by two great men and only one of them will get to see his legacy live on it seems fitting I keep the name of the other, since it's been with me all of my life."
His answer was confident despite his internal relief that he wasn't Liam Xephier's son. Liam had been a good Alpha for years and years. The strife between him and Xeph would have happened regardless of who had raised him.
He shrugged a shoulder at Brig. "Beside, can you imagine the paperwork?"
Viv said the only thing she could think of saying, now that the room was pregnant with a heavy and awkward pause. She took a deep breath and let it out.
Charlie snorted at the other end of the table, followed by a cough and soft apology. Viv ran her tongue over her teeth and set her fork down in her plate and picked up her full wine glass, draining it to the very last drop. Brig seemed to accept the Alpha's answer and the chatter started back up again, except for Hammer who stayed silent with undoubtedly some anger issues.
"I was going to say a toast." She picked up the wine bottle and poured herself another glass, hitting the now empty wine bottle's back end trying to get the last drop out. "I'm going to say it from my seat because I'm a girl and I don't want to stand, but," Viv lifted her wine glass and closed her eyes. "May we get what we want, may we get what we need, but may we never get what we deserve. Or...Wise, kind, gentle, generous, sexy. But enough about me, here's to you."
The others raised their glasses and the Pipers pounded out their toast, thoroughly deflating the tense atmosphere that Brig seemed to want to perpetuate. The dinner concluded without any more awkward situations and the Pipers helped clean the table as Vivienne made plates for everyone to take with them.
"Dad," he said, the word having lots of weight behind it. "Just let it go."
It was obvious that Hammer was angry. "I was going to talk to you both about this, but I was hoping you wouldn't mind if, when the baby is born, we give him both of your names. Stafford and Hammerthynn. If everyone's agreeable."
He shrugged. "My name is my name, but it doesn't have to be his."