Spanish Groom(11)

By: Lynne Graham

And Dixie was terrified of being taken to court and appalled by the reality that she had no way of settling those dreadful bills. That was so unfair to the creditors concerned, and Cesar Valverde had offered to pay them...

'Can I just run over this again?' Dixie asked the table of customers anxiously. 'That's one cheeseburger with pickles, one without dressing, a double—'

'How many times do we have to go over this?' one of the teenagers groaned. 'A double hamburger with pickles, a single cheeseburger without...'

Pink with embarrassment, Dixie hurried to amend her notebook as the girl ran through the entire order again. Beneath the jaundiced eye of the manager, Dixie thrust the order over the counter.

'Get those tables cleared,' he urged impatiently.

Scurrying over to her section of the busy cafe, Dixie began to load up a tray. She was so tired that she could feel her knees wobbling whenever she stood still. Wiping her damp brow with the back of her hand, she lifted the heavily laden tray. As she straightened, she could not help but focus on the tall, dark male blocking her view of the rest of the cafe. Dixie froze in shock and dismay.

Cesar Valverde stood six feet away, emanating the kind of lacerating cool which intimidated. Brilliant dark eyes en-trapped her evasive ones. As he lifted one ebony brow at her frazzled appearance and coffee-stained overall, Dixie simply wanted to curl up and die. Oh, dear heaven, how had he found out where she worked? And what did he want now, for heaven's sake?

But then had she really believed that Cesar Valverde would take no for an answer? He wasn't accustomed to negative responses. His naturally aggressive temperament geared him to persist and demand in the face of refusal, she reminded herself. A workaholic, he thrived under pressure and lived for challenge. When Cesar Valverde set himself a goal, he went all out to get it. She should feel sorry for him, she told herself. He really didn't know any other way to behave.

An exasperated male voice demanded, 'Where's our food?'

'It's's coming!' Dixie promised frantically, rudely dredged from her reverie. She fled without looking where she was going, as to look would have brought Cesar Valverde back into focus again.

A shopping bag protruding from beneath a table was her undoing. Catching her foot, Dixie tipped forward, and the tray shot clean out of her perspiring hold. Eyes wide with horror, she watched pieces of food, coffee dregs, crumpled napkins, plates and cups go flying up in the air and fall in all directions. The noise of smashing china was equalled if not surpassed by the shaken exclamations of customers lurching from their seats in an effort to escape the aerial bombardment.

A deathly silence fell in the aftermath. Feverishly muttering incoherent apologies, Dixie bent down to scoop up the tray. The manager removed it from her trembling hands and hissed in her ear, 'You had your final warning yesterday. You're fired!'

Only yesterday, three entire meals complete with accompanying drinks had landed on the floor, because in an effort to speed up Dixie had overloaded a tray and then stumbled. Tears of mortification and defeat stinging her eyes, Dixie scuttled into the back of the cafe. Ripping off the overall, she reached for her cardigan and bag.

When she emerged again, the manager stuffed a couple of notes into her hand. 'You're just not cut out for waitressing,' he said ruefully.

A long, low and expensive sports car hugged the pavement outside the cafe The driver's window whirred down. Cesar surveyed Dixie with an enquiring brow.

'It's your fault I dropped that spooked me!' Dixie condemned unevenly.

'If you hadn't been so busy trying to ignore me it wouldn't have happened.'

'You are so smug and patronising. I hate you!' Dixie gasped truthfully, studying his staggeringly handsome dark features with unconcealed loathing. 'You always think you're right about everything!'

'I usually am,' Cesar pointed out, without skipping a beat.

'Not about deceiving go away and leave me alone!'

Walking on past, Dixie struggled to swallow the aching thickness of tears in her throat. The car purred in her wake but Dixie was oblivious. In the space of one ghastly day a security that had at best been tenuous had come crashing down round her ears. Jasper was dying, she thought wretchedly, and she was going to end up being prosecuted like a criminal.

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