Love Irresistibly(2)

By: Julie James

“Playing hooky for the afternoon, Ms. Parker?” Brooke turned and saw Kurt McGregor, one of the managers of The Shore. “Unfortunately, no. Just sneaking out for a quick break.”

Kurt gestured to the bartender. “I hope Ryan here is treating you well.”

“Ryan has been most charming,” she assured him.

The bartender pointed between them. “You two know each other?”

Kurt chuckled at that. “You could say that. Ryan, this is Brooke Parker from corporate. She’s general counsel of Sterling.”

The grin on the bartender’s face froze, replaced by a look of panic. “Oh, shit. Sterling Restaurants.

As in, the people who sign my paychecks?”

“The one and only,” Brooke said.

The bartender looked like he’d swallowed a bug. “I just called you a stiff.”

“And Ms. Thing.”

“Please don’t fire me,” he whispered.

Brooke pretended to think about that. “It’s tempting.

But firing someone involves a lot of paperwork. Not something I want to do on a Friday afternoon. I’ll hold off until Monday instead.” She saw his eyes widen. “I’m kidding, Ryan.” Kurt cleared his throat pointedly. “Ryan, maybe this would be a good time to check on Ms.

Parker’s order?”

The bartender straightened up, clearly relieved to be dismissed. “Good idea. One order for Chicken Tac—uh, Ms. Parker—coming right up.” With that, he bolted for the kitchen.

Kurt turned to her after the bartender left. “Okay, seriously. Should I fire him?”

“Nah. He sneaks me extra pico on the side. He’s a keeper.”

Kurt chuckled at that, then gestured to the terrace.

“Are you sticking around? I’m sure I can finagle you a table with a view of the lake if you want to eat in.”

Brooke looked out at the umbrella-covered tables on the sunny terrace, tempted by the idea. It was a gorgeous June day, and the view from the terrace was undeniably one of the best in Chicago: skyscrapers towering majestically against the shimmering blue of Lake Michigan. Today, however, duty called.

Actually, duty called every day. Duty had her on speed dial.

“Wish I could. But I’ve got a conference call in”—

Brooke checked her watch—“yikes, twenty minutes.”

Ryan the bartender came out of the kitchen with a carryout bag and a smoothie. With a sheepish look, he set both on the bar in front of Brooke and scurried off.

“By any chance would this conference call have anything to do with a certain deal you’re negotiating with the Staples Center?” Kurt asked in a sly tone after Ryan disappeared.

Brooke’s face gave nothing away. “I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of any such deal.”

“Spoken like a true lawyer.”

Brooke winked as she grabbed her smoothie and tacos and headed for the door. “Always.”

* * *

BROOKE BRISKLY WALKED the two blocks from Oak Street Beach to the elegant eight-story building on Michigan Avenue that was home to Sterling’s corporate offices. Tacos and smoothie in hand, she pushed through the revolving doors and waved hello to Mac, a retired Chicago police officer who manned the front security desk, as she passed through the lobby and headed toward the elevators.

When Ian Sterling, CEO of Sterling Restaurants, had approached her two years ago about coming on board as general counsel—or “GC” as the position was commonly called—he’d been very candid

about his vision and plans. He’d started the company with one restaurant, an American bistro in the

heart of downtown Chicago, and within eight years had opened six more restaurants that ran the spectrum from summer hot spot The Shore, to an Irish pub on the south side of the city, to Sogna, the company’s “crown jewel” that had just this year earned a coveted three-star Michelin rating.

Many restaurateurs would’ve been satisfied there, but not Ian Sterling. He was aggressive, he was driven, and he had plans. Big plans.

A friend of a friend knew the owner of the Chicago Cubs, and Ian convinced the owner to consider letting Sterling Restaurants take over the food and beverage service for the Stadium Club and skyboxes at Wrigley Field.