Turning Up the Heat: Chapter Three

All the leaves on the vines were changing colors as we passed through the towns heading north along the 101 the next afternoon. We took the turn-off toward Josh’s winery and the trees got thicker along the side of the road. We dipped and swerved through the hills, laughing as the flocks of wild turkeys dive bombed the car.


We followed a short line of cars that was turning from the main road up to the Whispering Oak Winery’s small drive. Talia parked in one of the employee spots next to the tasting room and I went to find Josh. He was serving a traditional Santa Maria style barbecue for the party and uncorking some of the new wine for club members and a few invited guests. It was the highlight of his year, and I was thrilled to see the turn-out.


The smell of the spicy tri-tip beef filled the air and a country singer was warming up on the patio. I saw Josh at the grill standing next to a tall blond man. Just as my brother turned and spotted me, his companion turned and I froze.


It was Oskar Olson, and he really was better looking in person. He had a smile on his face and a glass of white wine in his hand.


And he was about seven feet tall.


Okay maybe six and a half, but seriously, the man was huge. He wore a pair of well-worn jeans, boots and a white button-down shirt, unbuttoned at the top with the sleeves rolled up to show deliciously strong forearms that bore a scattering of black tattoos. His eyes squinted into the sun a little, and he had a faint line of stubble along his jaw. His hair was wavy dark blond and sort of shaggy, falling just short of his shoulders and reminding me of the surfers that I grew up with.


Holy Danish Sex-gods, Batman. The chef was eye candy.


“Hey Kelsey, come here,” my brother shouted across the patio.


I threw on a smile and walked over to Josh and he enveloped me in a giant hug. I might have held on a little longer than normal to give myself a chance to calm down.


I wasn’t sure it worked because when I turned around, Oskar was shifting his feet, the smile had fallen off of his face, and he was looking away across the patio. He seemed distracted, and his eyebrows were drawn together as his eyes scanned to the side surveying the rest of the party.


I was ogling him and he totally caught it. Kill me now.


After a quick kiss on the cheek Josh threw an arm across my shoulders and introduced me to the man who would likely be starring in pretty much every sex dream I had from now until ever.


I just wished he didn’t look like he wanted to be anywhere but around me.


“Kelsey, you gotta meet Oskar. Oskar, this is my baby sister, Kelsey.” He held out his hand. “She’s a food writer in San Francisco. Kelsey, Oskar is the chef who’s gonna be featuring my wines at his restaurant. We’ll be collaborating on the menu and everything. It’s gonna be great.”


“It’s nice to meet you, Oskar.”


“Kelsey Rankin.” Oskar’s voice was deep, with only a faint trace of an accent. “I’ve read some of your writing. It’s a great pleasure to meet you.”


I was surprised that he’d read any of my stuff, but when I looked back at him it seemed like he’d warmed up a bit. I held out my hand to shake his.


“It’s really nice to meet you. I read an article that the Chronicle wrote about you after Josh mentioned your name. Your restaurant sounds great. I look forward to visiting.”


His large hand enveloped my own and a shock of static electricity popped.


“Oh shit.” I pulled my hand away. “Sorry about that.”


“No.” He stared at his hand.  It was scarred and callused, the hand of a working chef. He looked up and his eyes seemed to drill into mine. “It’s nothing.”


His stare made me feel like I was naked.


When Oskar Olson paid attention to you, he really paid attention. I felt like his eyes examined every inch of my face. I could feel heat crawling up my neck.


Josh piped up. “Kelsey, you look hot, girl. The barbecue getting to you? Go grab a glass of white. Oskar, can you show her where it is? I’ve got the grill. This meat’s gonna take awhile as it is.”


Oskar nodded. “Of course, I’ll catch up with you later.” And he turned and brushed a hand lightly on the small of my back to direct me toward the tasting room. “Shall we?”


That brush sent tingles up my spine.


“I, uh, actually know where the tasting room is, you don’t have to keep me company if you don’t want to.” Shut up, mouth. Why are you trying to sabotage us?


“I want to.” He glanced at me. “I can give you a tour. I helped blend some of the wines this year.”


“Really? Well then, lead on.”


A smile flashed across his face.


It was devastatingly beautiful.


Oh, this was not good.


After I grabbed a glass with Oskar, we made our way out to the patio. We chatted about what Josh was doing at the winery and how Oskar was helping. He seemed to be very curious about the wine making and had a lot of ideas about marketing as well.


“How do you like living in the Bay Area?” he asked. “San Francisco is beautiful.”


“It is, and I like it.” I was starting to relax.


“Josh speaks of you often. You must be very close.”


“We are. Busy though. I haven’t seen him in months.”


“I hope I’ll see you more.” He caught himself. “That we’ll see you more. When the new menu launches.”


Wait, was that what I thought it was?


Okay, Chef. Maybe Oskar Olsen wasn’t as formal as I’d been expecting. He seemed a little more relaxed when it was just the two of us.


My skin prickled when he came close. My neck was hot. My face had to be hot. I was hoping he thought it was the late fall heat.


I didn’t have these kind of reactions to men. Ever. Maybe Oskar Olson tapped into some particular nerve in my brain that seemed to short-circuit all my normal reactions like the shock when our fingers touched.


We were sitting on a stone bench on the patio, drinking more wine and listening to the singer who had started playing in the background. He covered some classics by Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard and even a few from Patsy Cline.


Oskar and I were sheltered from the sun by the spread of a large oak tree.


“So what do you like to do in San Francisco?”


“I eat out a lot, obviously, but I don’t actually live in the city, so most of what I do isn’t there. But I like the museums and the music in San Francisco. There’s quite a bit that keeps me busy.”


“If you don’t live in San Francisco, where do you live?”


“Oh, I live across the Bay in Marin County. A little town called San Anselmo.”


“You’re kidding.” He smiled and it was spectacular again. “My sister lives in San Rafael; you and Hanna are practically neighbors.”


“You’ve been to San Anselmo.”


“They have the best gelato place in Marin.”


“I think I know the place you’re talking about. What’s your favorite flavor?”


He raised an eyebrow. “Of gelato?”


What did he think I was talking about?


“Yes, gelato.”




I smiled. “Same.”


“Is that everyone’s favorite?” He leaned in a bit. “It’s the best.”


“Obviously, right?”


“It’s the only rational option.”


My heart skipped a beat…or two. I watched his lips as he tilted his wine glass back and took a drink. No man’s neck should be that sexy.


It was so hot on the patio. Just… way too hot for the season.


Someone rang the bell for dinner. “Oh thank God.”


“What?” Oskar asked.


I shook my head. “Nothing. Are you sitting with…?” I looked around for Josh, but he was chatting with another table. “Would you like to sit with me and my friends?”


Oskar nodded. “Please.”


We walked over to Kurt and Talia, and I immediately noticed that once he was in a group of people Oskar clammed up. Maybe it was just his personality to not warm up right away with new people. He seemed reserved with everyone but me and Josh.


He was stiff and formal, even with Kurt and Talia, who he’d met before.


His quiet, teasing side had hidden again.


Let’s see what we can do to loosen things up.


I looked across the table at Talia. “I love a good Santa Maria barbecue.”


She cut into her tri-tip. “Right? It’s the best.”


I looked at Oskar. “What do you think of the meat?”


He opened up when he talked about food. “Tri-tip isn’t a cut of meat we use in Denmark, but it’s very good the way they cook it here. The spices, the freshness and simplicity of the ingredients are part of what make food in Central California so attractive.”


He continued talking about where he and Josh had sourced all the ingredients for the barbecue, and I tried to ignore the mental orgasm that my brain was reeling from listening to him talk about organic beef.


If the man’s looks didn’t kill me dead, hearing him talk about ethical product sourcing might.


This level of hotness could not go unanswered. Plastering on my most innocent expression, I leaned in. “So do you rub your meat?”


He almost did a spit take with his wine when he heard the question. “Wh-what?”


Talia’s eyes were dancing, but she picked up the baton. “You know, some cooks use a really wet marinade. Meat does love a good wet marinade.”


Kurt covered his eyes. “You two.”


Earnest expression firmly in place, I nodded at Talia. “I’ve always preferred a nice rub on a good piece of meat.”


Oskar’s neck was red.


This was fun.


Talia egged me on. “Professionally, Kelsey, do you think the size of the meat matters?”


Oskar snorted and Kurt’s shoulders were shaking.


I nodded seriously. “Big cuts of meat always react well to wet marinades, but I think a good, spicy rub is the right way to go if you’re looking to get a mouth-watering reaction.”


Talia pursed her lips. “True. You wouldn’t want someone disappointed to have a piece of your meat in their mouth.”


“Disappointing meat is always something I try to avoid.” I was trying really hard not to blush and it was almost impossible to keep a straight face


Oskar’s reaction was priceless. Right about the time Talia mentioned someone having a piece of meat in their mouth, he took a big gulp of wine and a little Cabernet dribbled down the corner of his mouth.


I reached over and caught it with my napkin. I may have let a fingernail scrape along his stubble. “Let me get that. Wouldn’t want you to get your clothes all messy.”


“Thank you.” He swallowed hard and followed my hands as they rearranged the napkin on my lap. “You and Talia have a lot of opinions on meat.”


“Foodies,” Talia said. “Big foodies, the two of us.”


His gaze traveled from Talia to me. I felt victorious when he shifted in his seat a little.


Oskar leaned his elbows on the table and looked at Talia. “Lucky for me that Kelsey agreed to put my meat in her mouth soon, so she’ll be able to give you a personal review.”


I couldn’t hold it in any longer. I hooted in laughter. Kurt and Talia were laughing, and Oskar finally seemed to relax. The unmistakable sexual tension was cut for the moment and we turned to our meals.


The party was going off without a hitch. Everyone chatted across long tables while the sun started to set over the hills. It was wine country dining at its best, and as I looked over the long tables filled with friends family and guests, I felt a little twist in my heart.


This was what I missed the most.


The guests and the winery employees were together, eating and drinking and telling stories about the season. There were fancy luxury cars in the parking lot next to beat-up pick-ups and motorcycles. My brother’s foreman Sergio was chatting with a young woman who looked like her handbag cost more than his truck, but neither of them seemed to notice as they talked about wine and food and the best beaches in the area.


Everyone was having the best time. It was what a good meal should be about.


Oskar must have noticed my wistful expression, because he leaned over to me and asked quietly, “Do you want to take a walk? I’d love to show you some of the new vines that Josh planted.”


I looked at him. His wavy blond hair glowed in the evening sun and his blue eyes were cast in shadow. Maybe it was the wine going to my head or the intense way his eyes seemed to bore into mine, but I felt wild.


There was something here. Something different.


“Love to.”




The sun was setting over the hills as we made our way out into the vines and down the hill that sloped out of view of the tasting room and patio where all the guests were gathered.


The hill was quite steep, and Oskar grabbed my hand when he noticed me stumble in the crumbly soil. “Let me help.”


“Thanks. I’m not wearing my boots tonight, am I?”


“Do you have cowboy boots?” He seemed to freeze at the mental picture. “I think I’d like to see you in those.”


He led me over to a row of vines that was no more than a couple of feet tall and planted along a sturdy wooden fence that marked the boundary of my brother’s vineyard. He was explaining the selection, but all I could see were his strong, callused fingers carefully folding back grape leaves.


That should not be as hot as it is.


I put my hand on his shoulder and climbed up on the fence, hooking my ankles behind the split rail fence so I could lean forward.


Oskar looked at me, then blinked and kept talking. “So the type of trellising we’re doing for these grapes is—“


“Why are you here?”


He was so beautiful. What on earth was he doing here in my neck of the woods? He was intelligent, had all the right training and with his obvious charisma, he could have made an impact in any city he chose.


He stopped talking and looked at me with a confused expression. “Your brother invited me.”


I shook my head.


“No, no…why are you here here? On the central coast? I mean, you could probably go anywhere you wanted. New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco… Why are you in a little town that no one’s heard of in central California hanging out with a bunch of farmers and ranchers?”


His shoulders stiffened and he stepped back a little. It was like a mask fell over the warm, curious man who had just been talking to me.


I immediately regretted my question. Damn your curiosity, Kelsey. Is it any of your business?


I quickly clarified. “I mean it’s great that you’re here. I love it here so why wouldn’t you, right? I think it’s great that you’re… here. I mean, I think you’re… great.”


Jesus, Kelsey, need a thesaurus much?


Oskar stepped closer, and I was trapped on the fence. The sun had almost set and the red gold colors filled the sky but all I could see was the intense expression in his deep blue eyes as he placed his hands on my knees. He parted them and stepped between my legs.


Whoa. I took a deep breath. He smelled like smoke from the barbecue, red wine, and freshly washed cotton. I leaned toward him, my fingers hanging on to the edge of the fence.


He tilted his chin up. “You think I’m great?”


This was my brother’s new partner. Even if I did one-night-stands, this was not the one to pick. Unless I wanted to avoid seeing Josh for the next year, this was not the hill to die on.


Even if it was a very tall and delicious hill and the death would probably be agonizingly sweet.


I leaned back and took a deep breath. “I think you know you’re great.”


Gradually I became aware of the music coming from the patio and the breeze that started to creep over the hills from the ocean.


Oskar ran a finger down my arm. “You’re cold. We should go back.”


“Yeah.” I cleared my throat and he helped me off the fence. “It’s getting late.”


We walked back up the hill, but Oskar stopped right before we turned the corner to the patio. “Come to my restaurant tomorrow night. I want to cook for you.” His eyes were dancing like a little boy who wanted to show off.


“I’d love to, but won’t you be busy?”


“I can make time. It’s Sunday, so it’s not too busy. You can sit at the chef’s table in the kitchen if you want.”


That was a fantastic opportunity. Watching a chef cook up close was like peeking backstage at a show. “I would love that.”


“Good.” He tapped my temple lightly with his forefinger. “I can tell that Journalist Kelsey has more questions for me.”


Yes, and Horny Kelsey was right on board with watching Oskar Olsen cook for a couple hours.


Oskar excused himself and went to find the coffee.


Talia started immediately. “So Kelsey, how is the state of Denmark?”


I had to give her points for the Shakespeare reference. “Can we at least wait ’til the drive home?”


Kurt was now almost snoozing on her shoulder and rubbing her belly absently as he drifted. Talia linked her fingers with his and leaned back. “You’re still coming home with us?”


“Seriously, stop.” I glanced at my brother. “That’s his partner.”


Talia mimed zipping her lip when Oskar came back with a cup of coffee and sat beside me on the picnic bench. “What did I miss?”


“Oh, nothing much,” Talia said. “I was just teasing my best friend here. I think we’re about ready to go. How about you, Kels?”


I nodded.


“My handsome flannel prince.” Talia nudged Kurt. “Come on. Let’s get you home.”


Kurt blinked at her. “You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen in my life.”


“On that note.” She stood and reached for his hand. “Let’s get you home, Prince Charming.”


“I’m serious, baby.” He let out a happy little sound. “Baby.”


“Okay, time to go.” Her smile was bordering on deranged. “See you at the car?”


“Do you need any help?”


“Nah.” Kurt was already walking. “We’re good.”


I stood and turned to Oskar. “I have to go. What time tomorrow?”


“Hmm.” He stood next to me. “If you come around seven-thirty or eight that would be good. Is that too late?”


“Nope, that’s perfect. I wasn’t planning on heading back up to the city until Monday afternoon so late isn’t a problem.”


“Great. Do you know where it is?”


I did, but I asked for the address anyway. I put into my phone along with the mobile number he also volunteered. Then he stood up and walked with me over to the parking lot.


I could see Talia already in the car and Kurt sprawled in the back seat. “Sweet, I get shot-gun.”


“Shot…? Ah.” He nodded. “The front seat is yours.”


“Right. It’s kind of a weird expression when you think about it.”


“There are a lot of things about California that are strange.” He patted the top of the car. “I’ll see you tomorrow. Talia and Kurt, it was nice to meet you.”


“You too.” Talia was grinning.


“Night.” I wasn’t feeling particularly articulate at the moment, so I just gave Oskar a small wave and he shut the door. He walked back to the patio, and I shamelessly ogled his extremely fine-looking ass. “Wow. He is… wow.”


Talia looked at me. “I can see why they pay you the big bucks with that kind of vocabulary.”


“Shut up.”

COPYRIGHT 2024 Elizabeth Hunter

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