Chapter 1: The old life
After years of hard work, I had my dream job. Working as a chef at my favorite restaurant. It used to be a small café across the street from my high school, but it has since expanded and moved.
I knew that when I became a chef, this would be the place I wanted to be. Nooks and Crannies have become a popular and successful book café.
I was thinking about my boyfriend while standing over a stove, cooking a sauce for one of our most popular dishes, when another order came in.
“Yes chef!” the kitchen staff replied in unison and finished preparing the order.
Lately, Jared, my wonderful and noble boyfriend, has been rather distant. He says he is feeling overworked and tired, but the nagging worry doesn’t go away. We’ve been dating for two years now.
“Miree, is that brown sauce ready?” A voice interrupted my train of thought.
“Yes, chef.” I said as a spoon dipped into the sauce and went to the mouth of my boss, head chef David.
He was standing close enough that I could feel his warmth on my back.
“This is great stuff, as always.” He told me as he took the pot from the stove.
Lunch service ended without a hitch and as always I waited outside for Jared. I usually drove him home, but lately, he had excuses for not doing so.
As usual, he walked out and looked for me. He noticed me when I walked toward him and gave him a tight hug. He returned it, but it felt distant somehow.
“Ready to go home?” I asked lovingly.
“I’m sorry, I have things I need to do. I’ll visit tonight.” His smooth voice reached my ears.
It filled me with sadness. “That’s what you said yesterday and the day before, but you always end up cancelling on me. Is something wrong?” I finally voiced my feelings, uneasiness began filling my heart.
He remained quiet. “Nothing is wrong, I have a lot going on, is all.” He said with a smile.
I thought I saw love in them, and it made me happy. So, once again, I shoved down the feelings of unease and worry. I watched him leave and tried to smother the doubt in my heart.
“Miree, I hate to do this, but can you work an extra hour? Milly is going to be late” chef David ran up to me, flustered.
His messy blond hair blowing around his green eyes.
“Yes, chef.” I told him with a weak smile.
His own faltered for a moment and his eyes softened.
“Miree, you don’t always have to be so formal. I’m only two years older than you.
Let’s be friends.” He said with a small smile.
For some reason, his words calmed down the lonely and uneasy feelings I had since my talk with Jared. I couldn’t help but smile at him.
“I’d like that.” I told him.
I watched as his expression showed that he had an idea.
“I know. Why not take you out to lunch when we finish here. I’d like to repay you for all your hard work.” He asked with an innocent grin.
Only then did I realize how hungry I was.
“That sounds great.” I told him with a huge smile.
“Won’t Jared get upset with you?” Jacob, one of the other chefs, asked.
“How long have you been standing there, Jacob?” David asked annoyed.
“Long enough to hear you ask Miree out on a lunch date.” He said with a mischievous glint in his eyes.
“If he were smart, he would make sure I never had the opportunity to get close to her. It’s what I would have done.” He told Jacob with a strange tone of voice.
“Well, that is true. Someone like her doesn’t show up often.” Jacob replied in a quiet tone.
“You know I’m still here, right? What do you mean by ‘someone like me’?” I spoke up after listening to their conversation.
I was still feeling confused about what David said, but Jacob’s words sparked my curiosity. They became flustered when I spoke up. Jacob gave me a wry smile.
“You are never the same from one moment to the next, yet you never change.” I thought about Jacob’s words for a moment.
“That makes no sense.” I told him and giggled.
“In any case, what about Jared?” David asked me with concern.
I winced at the question, but I already knew the answer.
“Let’s call it an experiment. If he gets upset at us, then I know nothing has changed.” I told them as I looked down at the pavement.
They nodded, and I walked back to my locker to get my chef’s jacket and then back to the kitchen.
The extra hour became an extra two hours, but it passed by uneventfully.
I went out to a late lunch with David after my shift, as planned.
He took me to a small restaurant a few blocks from us. He ordered a double cheeseburger with extra crispy fries and onion rings, while I ordered a toasted chicken mayonnaise sandwich with fries and extra onion rings.
I had fun and I felt comfortable in his company. He was easy-going and kind. He also had a great sense of humor. Our conversation flowed from one topic to another effortlessly.
Soon after our lunch I went home and waited for Jared, I took a shower and put on nice, but comfortable clothes. I even tidied up a little.
He never showed.
Later that night, I got a text message from him, apologizing for not letting me know sooner.
He said something came up and that he would explain later, but I had grown tired of his excuses. My lunch date with David had reminded me what it felt like to be heard and paid attention to.
That night, I decided to keep my distance from Jared. If he wanted me, then he would have to come to me.
I had a late shift the next day. That would usually mean a quiet afternoon and evening. We were only busy during breakfast and lunch.
I loved the evening shift because it was our time to experiment and come up with new recipes. We also spent time baking cookies and other desserts.
Some evenings we even let the front-of-house staff take the night off, and we would serve guests in their place.
It was a great way to keep in touch with our customers. Tonight we had planned to do exactly that.
It also made for a great opportunity to avoid dealing with Jared, or so I thought.
I got to work a little earlier that afternoon. The morning shift was about to leave.
As usual, David was there before me and I saw him talking to one of the managers at the front of the restaurant.
I walked past Jared and gave him only a slight smile, making sure to put some distance between us.
David saw me and gave me his usual happy wave.
“Good morning, Miree!” It was a late shift joke that I had started when I began working here.
I gave a knowing grin and waved back, making sure that my greeting was as natural as ever.
“Good morning Chef.” I told him in a friendly manner.
I could feel Jared’s eyes on my back as I walked to my locker. I could sense that he was unhappy. Does he know about me going out to lunch with David? I thought to myself as I opened my locker.
“I heard you went on a date with Chef David.” Jared asked as he snuck up behind me.
So he did hear. I thought as I tried to keep my heart from leaping out of my mouth.
“It was just lunch. He asked me to work late again and wanted to repay me.” I told him with honesty.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” He asked with anger.
So far so good. A normal response for him.
I had to think hard about my reply. I wanted to ask him if he was always telling me everything, but I knew it wouldn’t end well. So I opted for the lesser of two evils.
“I was going to tell you when you came over. You never did.” I told him as I put on my thick cotton Chef’s jacket.
He remained silent for a moment.
“Something came up.” He gave the same reply as the message he sent me. His explanation told me nothing new.
“That doesn’t tell me anything.” I told him and was about to walk to the kitchen when he grabbed my arm.
“Why are you acting this way?” He asked with concern in his voice.
I turned to him and threw the question back at him.
“I can ask you the same question. You have been acting differently longer than I have.”
“I’m sorry. I will explain everything later. I love you very much.” He said as he hugged and kissed me.
It warmed my heart and I felt a little better, but something nagged at me from the back of my mind. I shoved it down and smiled at him.
He left right after, almost running away from me, and I began baking shortbread cookies.
David walked in as I took the second batch from the oven.
“We have two special guests. Two noblemen. Could you help serve them please?” He asked with a strange expression.
“Of course, Chef.” I told him with a smile. “What is their order?” I asked as I got some cookies ready.
“They asked for our best and strongest tea.” He gave me a sideways glance and I knew why he had asked me to serve them. I couldn’t help but laugh. He blushed a little.
“You’re a very sneaky chef.” I told him as I began making their tea.
“Not as sneaky as you may think.” He mumbled and walked back to the restaurant.
“He thinks highly of you, doesn’t he?” One of the other female chefs asked in a whisper.
“Nah, he believes I make great tea, and he would be right.” I told her with a smile as I poured their tea into the kettle and set out the cups and cookies.
“You ever consider that he could be into in you?” She asked again, and I almost dropped a cookie onto the floor.
“Are you crazy? Why the hell would he ever be interested in me?” I asked with shock and exasperation.
She looked at me with surprise and began to giggle. “You are clueless.” she said between giggles and went back to her work. I shook my head and walked to the restaurant with the order.
The noblemen were very easy to spot, as they were the only customers we had at the time. The two men sat on the couches at the back of the restaurant. I put on a brave and confident smile as I walked up to them, but my heart was pounding in my chest at the sight of them.
They were both young and inhumanly handsome. Their contrast in appearance only made their intense features stand out more. The presence they commanded nearly knocked me off my feet. One had light blue eyes with sandy blond hair, the other had brown eyes with pitch-black wavy hair. The blonde man’s eyes were kind and gentle, while the black-haired man’s eyes were fierce and commanding. For a moment I saw my best friend and sister in him. They looked nothing alike, but the presence he had was rather similar.
They both looked at me as I approached. “Good evening gentlemen, your tea is ready. Please let us know if you need anything else.” I told them when I reached their table and placed the tea and cups between them.
“Where did all the usual waiters go tonight?” the blonde-haired man asked. His voice reminded me of a crème caramel, one of my favorite desserts.
His presence reminded me of a pure white, gentle stallion. “We sent them home for the night. Now and then we decide to take over and let them rest.” I told them with my brightest smile.
“I see. So, you are a chef?” he asked again, and I looked him in the eyes, they were kind and curious.
The sincerity made me smile. “Yes sir.” he didn’t reply, only nodded his head.
I had turned around to walk away when the black-haired man spoke. His voice was of the smoothest dark velvet chocolate, but this seemed deceptive. He reminded me of a huge alpha wolf.
“Was it you we heard laughing earlier?” his voice sounded with a low rumble in his chest.
It made my heart beat so fast I thought I would die. I snapped my head around.
“Please forgive me, I didn’t realize I was being loud.” I told them. He gave me a strange smile.
“You weren’t loud, we have good ears. It was a beautiful sound.” he said without looking my way.
If I didn’t leave then, they were going to have to mop me off the floor. I thought to myself as my cheeks burned.
I smiled at him. “Thank you.” I told him and walked away.
I stayed in the kitchen for the rest of their time at the restaurant. I kept myself busy baking cookies and desserts. The kitchen was quiet.
Once the newest batch of sugar cookies was in the oven I walked over to my locker to grab some water and an energy bar. I heard the men talking through the wall.
“Thank you for the tea and cookies, they were incredible. Please let her know, we will see her here again.” it was the blond man. His sincere compliment warmed my heart.
“Thank you, I will let her know.” I heard David reply. I couldn’t help but smile proudly as I blushed a deep crimson.
I have never blushed this much in my life, not even around Jared. So that’s what noblemen are like. Bloody hell. Those two probably have women killing each other for a chance to say hi. Are they even human?
“Miree, are you listening?” David’s voice shocked me out of my train of thought and I nearly had a heart attack.
“Eek! Chef!” I told him as I spun around and tripped over my own feet.
“Are you alright?” he asked with concern and amusement as he deftly caught me by my arms.
“I’m fine Chef, but you scared the crap out of me.” I told him with a huff of embarrassment.
He chuckled and drew closer to me. His breath smelled of peppermint chocolate. His green eyes were shining with amusement.
“Perhaps if you didn’t withdraw so deep into your own thoughts you would have noticed that I was trying to talk to you.” he said with a strange grin.
“I am so sorry chef, what were you trying to tell me?” I asked.
“I was telling you that you did a fantastic job, they said they would come back.” he told me with a big grin and I smiled back.
“Thank you chef, but all I did was make tea and bake cookies. It wasn’t anything special.” I told him as I turned to close my locker and began walking back to the kitchen.
I had walked only a few steps when his hand caught my wrist. I looked at him questioningly, but his expression seemed disapproving and troubled.
“Chef, is something wrong?” I asked him, worried about the sudden change in the atmosphere.
“You deserve better.” he said.
“Huh? What you mean chef?” I asked confused. His expression became angry, and he drew me to him.
“I wish you could see yourself through my eyes, then you would understand how special you are. That piece of crap doesn’t deserve to be with you.” His voice was low, but I could feel the passion behind it. Before I could ask any more questions he let me go and walked away. His pace harsh and angry. He left me standing there in dumbfounded silence.
A few days had gone by since David’s strange words. He still treated me the way he always had, but there was now something else behind it. Jared had only said a few words to me since I spoke up. He hasn’t looked at me much either.
I could no longer ignore the pit in my stomach and grew increasingly lonely and frustrated. I had a double shift today, which meant I was working until closing time. There was a quiet moment and I found Jared in the lounge, reading a novel about Vikings.
“Jared, we need to talk. I’m tired of this silent treatment crap.” I told him as I sat down opposite him. He closed the book and looked at me with distant eyes. There is something very wrong here. My instincts screamed at me and I couldn’t hold my tongue anymore.
“Something has been bothering you lately, and I’m worried. What’s wrong?” I pleaded with him to open up to me again, the way he did in the past.
“I thought you were the one who was angry with Me.” he said somewhat sadly.
“I was angry with you, you are keeping things from me and making lame excuses when I ask you about it. I haven’t spent any time with you outside work for weeks. The only explanation I get from you when I ask is that you are either tired, sick or busy. It’s as if you are trying to hide something from me. Is ... is it another woman?” I blurted out, once again seeing the vision of him in bed with another woman.
I have been seeing that vision more and more lately, and it was getting on my nerves. I refused to believe that he would do such a thing. He was different from other men, he even said so himself.
He gave an exasperated sigh and a gentle smile as he drew me into a hug.
“I’m sorry for making you feel this way. I promise there is no other woman. I’ve been planning a surprise for you is all. I was hoping to keep it a secret.” his voice rumbled in his chest and for a slight moment, I felt happy again.
I considered his words and one thought kept popping up along with a sad feeling of certainty. He was lying. I squeezed my eyes shut and forced the thought away. I was sure I could fix our relationship if I tried harder. I was sure this all happened because of something I did or said. I didn’t want to start over with someone else. It was too terrifying a thought. He let me go and planted a kiss on my forehead.
“Time to get back to work.” he said and returned to his post. I followed suit and returned to the kitchen to prepare for lunch.
“Did you sort things out with him?” I heard Jacob ask when I returned to the kitchen.
I wasn’t sure how to express my conflicted feelings, so I chose to keep them to myself for now. I would talk to Mickey about it later, I’m sure she would know what to do.
“ We talked about it, and he gave me reassurance.” I told him with a slight smile.
He seemed as convinced as I felt. I’m not the only one who is suspicious then. I thought as I got back to work.
Lunch service went by quickly as usual, and I took a small break to say goodbye to Jared. Outside the restaurant, he seemed more himself than he had in weeks and relief flooded my senses.
“I wish I could ride home with you today, I miss spending time with you. Why don’t we make a date for tomorrow? We have the day off don’t we?” he asked with a big smile.
I returned it with one of my own. “We do. I would like that very much.” I told him and gave him a loving kiss.
I poured all my love into the kiss, and he seemed to return it. I smiled and waved him goodbye, then returned to the kitchen with a happy smile. It faded as the hours passed and a strange sense of unease filled my gut.
“Did you hear Miree? People are going missing a lot lately.” the female chef told me again, and I nodded.
“I saw it on the news this morning, rather troubling.” I told her as I chopped some vegetables for dinner.
“How are you holding up Miree?” David asked behind me.
“I’m doing fine chef, this is nothing.” I told him with a bright smile.
He nodded back with satisfaction. “Keep up the good work.” he said, and I thought I saw affection in his eyes as he turned and left.
The female chef walked up to me and stood quietly beside me. “You should dump that jerk and date chef David. He’s way cooler.” she whispered and moved away again.
I felt surprised, not by her words, but by my reaction to it. I found myself considering the prospect.
It was late that night when we finally closed up shop. I felt tired, hungry, and in a hurry to buy dinner. There was no way I was going to cook for myself this late at night. I reached my car and fumbled around in my purse for my car keys. I found it but dropped it on the floor.
Tch, clumsy woman. I berated myself as I bent down to pick them up. I became aware of a presence behind me.
It was unfamiliar and creepy. I could sense the ill intent from my position on the floor. I tried to act as if I were looking for something while getting out a pocket knife I kept hidden in my purse. I forced myself to stay calm. There was no proof that there was someone behind me, at least not someone in the physical realm.
I stood slowly and turned around. There stood a man in a coat, obscured in shadow. I couldn’t see him, but he was terrifying. I clung to my pocket knife as I turned to unlock my car.
“You are very perceptive. You will make an interesting soldier.” the man said in a smooth, higher-pitched voice.
It would have been beautiful if there wasn’t so much menace in it. I had opened the car door when something grabbed the back of my head. I screamed and tried to kick my assailant’s legs. I also tried stepping on his shoes and thrashed around. For a moment he lost his grip on my head and I yanked open the car door again.
“Tch, you are a decent fighter.” I heard the man speak as he grabbed my head and yanked it back.
“I almost want to keep you for myself.” he whispered in my ear as I watched the top of my car door rush toward me.
We had finally gotten a chance to take a break and relax. Things have been rather busy here, with all the folks in town going missing. I had asked my best friend and fellow Captain to help with the investigation.
We had some evidence to suggest that a new facility had been built somewhere in the forest. We feared that the people who were kidnapped were being taken there as test subjects.
“Say Aaron, why don’t we visit that book café again, I’m dying for some peace and quiet.” I told him as we walked down the street.
He chuckled beside me. “You are dying for some tea and shortbread cookies, don’t lie about it.” he told me in his usual accusatory voice.
“Fine, I’m dying for some tea and cookies, sue me.” I told him in a huff.
“Is it the cookies? Or the chef that made them? There’s no guarantee that she would be there today.” he told me the one thing I didn’t want to hear.
“If she isn’t there I’m going to be very disappointed. No one makes tea like that.” I told him, avoiding the first part of his question.
I wasn’t ready for a relationship. Especially not with a human. “ It was great tea. She seems very talented.” I heard him mumble to himself.
I laughed at him, and he punched me in the shoulder. “Are you sure it’s the tea? And not the chef?” I returned his previous accusation, and he grabbed me by the neck and twisted his knuckle into my head.
I couldn’t help but laugh harder at his reaction. Knowing full well that he was even more closed off toward women than I was.
“You are full of it Jonathan.” he said with mock anger.
“Hey, what’s going on there?” he asked with curiosity as we approached the café.
I looked ahead to where he motioned. Police cars and men were standing around in front of the café. I saw the head chef talking to a police officer and a female chef talking to another.
Worry and fear were evident on her face. “That’s not the chef we met the other day.” I heard Aaron whisper, concern filling up space between us.
I took a closer look at the woman. Aaron was right, this one was taller and had brown hair. She was also far more slender and appeared a little older. I looked toward the head chef again. His face was ashen as he spoke to the police.
“I hope she has the day off.” I told him, and we shared a knowing look.
We were never that lucky. We rushed over to the commotion. The head chef saw us and excused himself. He hurried over.
“Good morning gentlemen, I’m afraid the restaurant is closed for today.” he told us, but he looked even worse up close.
He was tense, ashen and his eyes were dull. “What happened? We may be able to help.” Aaron asked with concern.
The chef shot up his head with hope. The entire area around the restaurant was cordoned off by police tape. He asked the police if we could enter the zone. The policeman recognized us and gave a curt nod.
“You remember the chef you met the other day? The one who made your tea?” he asked and we both nodded, a strange fear gripped my stomach.
Not her. Please; not her. I kept thinking as he continued. “She’s missing. That’s her car over there.” he pointed to a small blue car.
The police had surrounded it. Dread and worry rushed to the surface. I instinctively looked toward Aaron. He had the same clouded expression.
“There’s blood on the rim of the car door and there are signs of an intense struggle. Her purse and phone was left on the ground where she must have dropped it.” he trailed off as anger washed over him.
“Is there anyone who would harm her? A jealous co-worker, abusive boyfriend?” Aaron asked the usual questions.
For some reason the thought of a boyfriend harming her made my blood boil. I remembered her face from that night. The impressive shift between expressions and her kind smile. Her strong blue eyes seemed far too perceptive for her good. I’m sure she must have realized that we were not quite human.
She seemed far too gentle for the cut-throat life of a chef.
“Everyone liked her, and she has a bright personality. There may have been someone who was jealous, but I doubt they would have been jealous enough to harm her like that.” the chef looked toward the car, a mixture of anger and worry.
“And a boyfriend? Surely she wasn’t single.” Aaron asked the one question I was most nervous about.
Someone like her must have many suitors. The chef’s expression changed to pure disgust.
“I wish she was.” he said as he turned and motioned to a manager answering questions.
“That’s him. He’s a good manager, but a horrible partner. I doubt he would hurt her physically, but He would rip her heart out emotionally.” he said,but looked like he wanted to rip the guy’s head off.
I looked toward the guy in question, he was tall and built like a rugby player.
“Someone like that would be able to harm a woman like her.” I said, but a sharp poke in my ribs brought me back to the present.
Aaron glared at me and looked at the chef. It was clear from the murderous rage that he cared for her. “If he did, I’ll kill him myself.” he said to himself.
After talking to the chef we headed over to the detective who was standing next to the car.
“I see you heard the news already.” he said with a disgruntled frown.
“We are here by chance detective, we were on our way to the café. We have met the missing woman.” I said.
He looked at us for a moment and sighed.
“She put up one hell of a fight, enough to hurt the assailant. She gave us a lot to work with.” he said as he looked to the ground.
There was a pocket knife next to the purse and car keys. It had blood on it. There was also blood on the rim and top of the car door.
“Are you sure the blood on the knife belongs to our suspect?” I asked with caution.
He shook his head. “Right now it’s nothing more than wishful thinking. All we know is there was a struggle.” he said and watched as his officers collected evidence.
“You said there is a new lab set up somewhere in the forest.” he asked, referring to a conversation we had a few days before.
We could only nod. He sighed in defeat. “It’s a big forest.” he whispered to himself.
“We will step up our search for it; and pray she was not taken by them.” I said and began walking away.
“What if she has? What are her chances for survival?” the detective asked.
My heart ached a little at the thought. I only turned my head.
“Next to nothing.” I said and walked away, determined to find that place. If only to find out the truth.