Hopeless romantic Samantha is unlucky in love. After an instant connection with a sexy restaurant owner, however, she believes her luck is on the uptick.
Shameless sleaze Nick uses his high-end restaurant as an endless source of women. He never has any trouble sealing the deal—that is until he meets Samantha.
She requires a minimum of ten dates before she’ll jump into bed with him so he plays the part of the perfect boyfriend and suggests a romantic getaway as a means to get around it. What was supposed to be a fun, sexy weekend quickly transforms into eighteen harrowing hours when a catastrophic accident thrusts them into survival mode.
Nick is faced with his deepest fears and ultimately questions everything he’s ever believed about life and love. And once Nick’s true character is revealed, Samantha questions whether she should be with him at all.
Stay With Me is set to release in February 8, 2016 through Liquid Silver Books, and all major eBook retailers worldwide.
“Erica,” Ramone breathes into my ear as he presses his hips against my bottom, pinning me in place against the kitchen counter. My breath becomes instantly shallow at the feeling of his rigid manhood against me, with only minimal layers of clothing separating me from the forbidden object of my affection. He combs his fingertips through the tendrils of my long, golden hair, plants his lips against the nape of my neck, and I allow my head to fall backward to rest on the hulking muscle of his shoulder.
“Erica, I know you want me,” Ramone continues. “There is nothing wrong with your dishwasher. You’ve been calling me out here for weeks because you want me. Haven’t you?”
“Yes,” I manage to say. He moves his hands from my hair and slips them under the hem of my blouse, drawing them over my tummy in a sensual tease. His lips kiss their way down my neck, then pull away momentarily as he lifts the blouse over my head.
“You are a goddess,” he murmurs as he spins me around and then plunges his tongue deep into my mouth. With our lips entwined, I feel him tug away the straps of my bra and his palms finally descend over the puckering peaks of my—
Samantha dropped the book into her lap and kicked it out of sight under her desk before swigging a large gulp of scalding tea, which jolted her out of her fantasy. She spun her chair around to see Cammie, the perky temp receptionist, who waved a slip of paper at her.
“I’m heading out,” Cammie announced. “Mind signing my time card?”
“Of course.” Samantha gestured at the young woman to come into her office and scribbled her signature in two places, then handed the paper back. “See you Monday.”
Cammie waved as she flounced out of the office. “Have a great weekend!”
Samantha paused briefly as her gaze flicked side to side, reassuring her that the coast was clear and then reached down to retrieve the book.
“Oh Ramone,” I gasp as he grazes his palms over the curve of—
“Hey, Miss Holt,” AJ, the cute, young coffee supply guy, called as he approached the office door with a clipboard.
Samantha tossed the book behind her monitor.
“Hey there, AJ.” She flipped her hand in front of her face a couple of times to fan away the pinkening of her cheeks. “Were you able to get that French vanilla creamer?”
“You betcha.” He handed off the clipboard. “Got you two boxes. You should be good for the month.”
She grinned after scrawling a signature. Probably the hundredth signature of the day. “You’re the best. See you next time.”
AJ let himself out and Samantha sighed discreetly after he left.
Too bad he’s at least six years younger than her. Too bad he’s a vendor. AJ was a doll. And with his dark hair and deep olive skin, he could have perfectly played the part of Ramone to her Erica if it wasn’t wholly inappropriate. Being the HR manager, a person tends to preface every thought with, how appropriate is this?
AJ was definitely inappropriate.
She shook her head.
Never going to happen.
The two-year drought would continue. Probably indefinitely, as far as Samantha could see. It bothered her, but there wasn’t much she could do to remedy the situation. Besides, she had Ramone, the swoon-worthy Latin lover slash handyman.
She picked up the book a third time when her phone rang.
“Hey, Mom,” Samantha answered.
“How are you, honey?”
“Same old, same old. Did Jenna make it in town yet?”
“They got here about an hour ago. The kids are napping. She and Andrew are helping themselves to margaritas and the pool.”
Samantha laughed politely. “Sounds nice right about now. What time should I meet you guys?”
“Oh, I’d say around seven would be good. We’re going to Chapman’s. That fancy place overlooking the bridge on three-sixty. Do you know it?”
“I know where it is. I’ll see you then.”
“Okay, honey. Love you.”
“Love you too.”
Samantha hung up and checked the time. She had enough time to squeeze in a Pilates class and shower before dinner. Ramone would have to wait until later tonight.
She powered down her computer and filed away a few loose documents, shaking her head slightly at one of them.
Anderson Brick Company was cutting the fat yet again and decided, against Samantha’s urgings, that the small sales branch and showroom didn’t need a receptionist after all. The inside reps apparently didn’t have enough on their plates already and would now be forced to field incoming calls from their desks in between servicing customers. But whatever. Not her business. It was only her business to handle the ugly process of letting the bubbly girl go gently. First thing on Monday’s to-do list was to write a sterling letter of recommendation for Cammie. Maybe take her to lunch, too.
This job sucked sometimes. It would probably suck less if Samantha could manage to avoid becoming emotionally invested in the employees, especially since the board wasn’t emotionally invested at all. At least not with anything beyond the bottom line.
After flipping off the lights and locking up, Samantha trudged across the parking lot and immediately broke into a sweat. Mid-August in Austin was a scorcher, as per usual. Rain was a pipe dream. This was now day seventy-one of triple-digit temperatures. Maybe she’d skip Pilates.
She let her car’s AC blast her face briefly as she remembered her dinner plans.
No, Pilates was a requirement today. She’d never been to Chapman’s, but she knew it had a reputation for decadent dishes and irresistible desserts. Samantha was a petite girl, but the only way to stay petite was to get her exercise in daily. Especially being three years away from the big 3-0. She’d be single forever if she accidentally let herself go. Although, after all of two relationships and one disastrous summer fling from a couple of years ago, Samantha was starting to wonder if she should let guys like Ramone be her lifelong lovers.
* * * *
After showering, blow-drying, curling, and makeup-ing, Samantha stood in her closet and scanned the clothes for something to wear. Her sister would probably insist on sitting outside at the restaurant. Something light and cool would probably be the best bet. She pulled a little red sundress off a hanger. Red was a good color on her. It made her mousy brown hair look more chestnut, and brought out the amber tones of her blah-blah brown eyes. She slipped on the dress and heard her phone vibrate from across the room.
Come to Mom and Dad’s first and have a cocktail, Jenna’s message read. We’ll carpool.
Cocktails. Of course.
Will do, she messaged back.
She slipped on a pair of wedge sandals, stuffed her phone and keys into a small clutch, and headed out the door, but not before casting a lingering glance at the steamy cover of the book waiting on her sofa.
“And I’ll see you later. Rrrrramone.”
Hot. So hot. Stifling, suffocating heat that could only be cured by the warm breeze created by zipping through the shady trees of the greenbelt on a mountain bike.
Nick braced himself as he flew off a short cliff and landed deftly on the other side.
Small group ahead.
“On the left!”
The group glanced behind them and stepped to the right of the path.
Beepbeepbeep came the notification of a call interrupting his fast-paced electronic music.
“Answer,” he commanded the Bluetooth device. “Hello?”
“Hi, Nick. What are you doing?”
He whipped the bike around a tree. “Hey, Mom. Just biking.”
“Then I won’t keep you. Think about coming to dinner tonight.”
The bike careened across a shallow stream. “I’m on the schedule tonight.”
“Nick. You don’t need to wait tables in your own restaurant.”
“Someone needed the night off.”
“Don’t lie to your mother, Nicholas.”
“Your father and I are not dense. You’re too old to behave this way. You should take one of those women on a real date and then bring her home to meet us.”
“Mom!” He squeezed the brakes and the bike skidded to a stop. “Can we not have this conversation right now? One of my guys caught some kind of virus. I have to work. I’ll come over tomorrow. “
“All right, dear. Be safe on the trail.”
“Will do. Love ya.”
“I love you, too.”
Nick growled to himself after pulling the ear buds out.
He was not too old. Thirty was when life began! Four years of college, two years of the MBA program, and five years of getting the restaurant established and successful. He’d put in more than a decade of tireless work and now it was time to coast. Cruise control. Why else would you work so hard for something if not to be able to enjoy yourself at some point? Life was good and easy and there was no way in hell he’d take on one more exhausting project, such as a serious relationship.
He knew his mother meant well. She wanted him to have the stability and partnership of a lifelong marriage like the one she and his father shared. And maybe he’d want that someday—or maybe not. But definitely not right now. Right now was all about him and what he wanted to do. And what he wanted was the challenge of crunching numbers, the creative control of conjuring up creative dishes that he couldn’t cook—that was the job of the chefs—implementing clever marketing schemes, and the thrill of the trails in his downtime.
All of that and the ladies.
Nick smirked to himself as he jumped back on the bike and pumped up a steep grade to exit the trail.
He wasn’t stupid or naive. He knew his habits were a bit sleazy. Hooking up with customers in his back office. But he was good at … well his job. And it seemed to result in stellar reviews for the restaurant so that made it a … pragmatic business approach. Pragmatic. Exactly.
As a result, he had a very comfortable life. What more could you ask for, especially in a dicey economic climate? Even though Austin seemed to be pretty immune to the financial woes the rest of the country was experiencing.
Regardless, he wished his parents would butt out of his personal business.
He wasn’t hurting anyone, and he was successful so why did it matter?
It didn’t. He was happy and that was the point.
* * * *
“Are you sure nobody’s going to come in here?” The blonde’s voice squeaked through hitched breaths as she clenched her thighs tighter around his hips.
“Yup,” Nick grunted as he gripped at the minimal flesh of her bony ass. Three deep thrusts and he was finished. Maybe she was too. He hadn’t noticed.
He set her down and assaulted her mouth with his one last time.
She tittered as he disposed of the rubber and adjusted everything.
“Now that’s what I call dessert!” she exclaimed. “Nobody’s going to see me leave, right?”
After he was alone, Nick collapsed into the chair behind the desk to catch his breath before heading back out. He checked his watch. 7:00 p.m. Maybe he should take off the rest of the night. Now that he’d taken care of the most pressing item on his agenda. Although, since he was in his office anyway, he probably should take care of a few things before cutting himself for the night. Then maybe check to see if anyone interesting was seated in his section. Blondie had been all right. Not exactly his preferred type, but she was receptive and quite eager so why not?
Probably should look at his e-mail.
You can expect me Wednesday evening around 6:30. I prefer to have the meal selected for me so please put something together that you feel best represents the restaurant’s style of cuisine. Don’t be afraid to take a risk.
New York Times
He typed in a quick Internet image search to assess what he’d be dealing with and was pleasantly surprised. She was hot in a classy, no-nonsense, semi-stuck-up kind of way.
Nick lifted an eyebrow at her picture as he smirked. Then he shook his head as he closed the lid of his laptop.
Annabelle was one of the most influential restaurant critics in the country. Probably not the best idea. The last thing he needed was for his little back office secret to get out.
He opened the laptop again and briefly skimmed over the menus for Restaurant Week, then pulled up the website for the Statesman and then the Chronicle, meticulously checking the pages to ensure the blurbs matched the info he’d sent over the week before.
Pecan crusted chicken with acai—
“Aw, what the hell, man!” He groaned and then picked up the phone. It rang several times before reaching a voice-mail box.
“Misty, Nick Chapman. There’s an error in one of the blurbs. It says acai rice and it needs to be achiote. Achiote. That’s a-c-h-i- Never mind, I’ll shoot you an e-mail. Let me know you got it. Thanks.”
He huffed as he scrubbed his hands over his face and through his hair, then rested his chin in his palm as he stared at the screen.
Acai rice. That sounded interesting. He made a note to himself to run it by Chase, the head chef.
He glanced at the time again. 7:05 p.m. Time to wash up and get back out on the floor.
* * * *
Nick glanced over the group at his table as he crossed the patio briskly.
Obviously married couple about his parents’ age; obviously married couple about his age; three young kids—groan; woman who appeared to be single and slightly younger than him.
He bit his bottom lip.
She was pretty, but she was obviously with her family so he immediately dropped the idea and put on his classy-friendly at your service smile.
“Good evening, folks,” Nick greeted the group. “Welcome to Chapman’s. My name is Nick and I’ll be taking care of you tonight. Did you have a chance to look over the drink menu?”
The older gentleman spoke first. “Maker’s on the rocks.”
Nick glanced at the man’s wife. “For you, ma’am?”
“I’ll have the pomegranate mimosa.”
“Excellent choice. It’s refreshing on a warm evening such as this.”
He turned to the younger married woman. “And for you, ma’am?”
“I’ll have a dirty martini,” she blurted out as she attempted to calm two of the kids, then shot him an exasperated smile. “Make it stiff.”
Nick chuckled politely. “Of course. For you, sir?”
“IPA,” the other man muttered from behind the menu.
Nick tipped his head toward the other young woman, mentally noting the lack of a ring on her left hand. “And you, miss?”
The young woman met his gaze and opened her mouth to answer, only to be cut off by the other woman.
“Do you have lemonade or something?”
“Can I get three of those in cups with lids?”
“Thank you! Sorry, Samantha. Go ahead.”
“I’ll have a … um … I don’t know. Some kind of white wine,” she stammered as she skimmed the wine list, then looked back up at him through big brown eyes and long eyelashes. Her brows lifted as she appeared to get a good look at him, and he pretended to read her mind.
Yes, I am that hot, he thought. And so are you.
“Uh…” she stammered again as she quickly turned her gaze back to the list. “What’s a good white wine?”
“Sauvignon blanc is quite nice. Domaine Vacheron 2012 is one of my favorites,” he answered, managing to avoid a smirk.
“I’ll have that, thank you,” she sputtered and handed the list to him, flicking a glance at his face again and then sipping her water.
“You’ll enjoy it, I promise,” he assured her. “I’ll have these out for you right away.”
Nick stepped away from the table and eased up to the bar to put in the order. He leaned against it and looked back at the table to discover Samantha staring at him. He blatantly held her gaze for a moment and smiled before turning back to retrieve the tray of drinks.
The group was heavily engulfed in conversation when he returned so he silently placed the drinks on the table. When he set down the white wine, he darted a glance at Samantha’s face, who looked at him intensely with slightly narrowed eyes and an arched brow. He returned the gaze in a less discreet fashion than was probably appropriate and they sort of stared at each other for a moment.
“Thank you,” she said in a low voice.
Damn. That was—by far—the most blatant eye-fuck he’d ever seen. Maybe he didn’t have to write off this opportunity completely.
The stare held for another second before he jolted himself back to reality and addressed the table.
“So, ladies and gentlemen, tonight’s special is Redfish with Maitake mushroom, Cipollini in Beurre Rouge—”
“I’ll have that,” Samantha piped up, still holding his gaze.
He offered a half smile. “Lovely choice. Sides include herb roasted zucchini, asparagus in lemon and brown butter, or spinach with hazelnut and Brazos Eden Brie.”
“Uh…” She paused to fan her face. “The zucchini.”
He gave a subtle lift of his eyebrow. “Beautiful.” He paused to check his peripheral vision then winked discreetly. Samantha handed the menu to him and he intentionally grazed his fingertips over hers. She sat back in her chair and appeared to gulp some wine.
“I’ll have the rib eye,” the older gentleman cut in, glancing at the menu. “Medium rare. I’ll have the asparagus.”
“Excellent,” Nick replied.
“I’d like the wedge salad with grilled chicken,” the man’s wife requested.
Just then, one of the kids shrieked, another one shouted, the third burst into tears, and a cup of lemonade was sent flying across the table, spilling next to Samantha.
“That’s enough,” the younger married man announced as he stood. “We’re going for a walk.” He turned to Nick apologetically as he ushered the kids away. “Sorry about that.”
Nick shook his head. “No worries. I’ll take care of it.”
The younger married woman interjected. “I’ll have the Gulf shrimp with the spinach thing. My husband wants a rib eye, too. Medium. Side salad. And three sides of the mac and cheese for the kids. Can you hold the bacon?”
“Can you bring those out first? They’re getting restless from hunger.”
“And another lemonade,” she added. “I’m so sorry. They don’t do well in restaurants.”
“No worries. It happens. I’ll run and grab a towel.”
After retrieving the towel, Nick wiped down the table and Samantha shifted slightly to give him more room as he kneeled down next to her. She leaned sideways to pick up a napkin that she’d placed over the spill, causing her face to linger mere inches from his.
“Sorry about this,” she apologized in a low voice, wearing the same heated expression from before.
“It’s okay,” he said, taking the napkin from her and brushing his hand over the back of hers.
“I think I’m a little wet,” she mentioned, causing his eyebrows to shoot upward.
“From the spill,” she clarified with a smirk. “Where’s the restroom?”
He cleared his throat and pointed toward the inside of the restaurant as he stood. “Right that way. If you follow me, I’ll show you.”
“I’ll be right back,” she said to the group. “I need to clean off my shoe.”
Samantha followed him until he gestured down the hall that housed both the restrooms and his office, and she disappeared into one of the doors. Nick instantly decided this was an opportunity so he quickly dropped off the towels and put in the order, then made his way into the hall, pretending to make a phone call while he waited for her to emerge.
Oh. My. God.
Samantha stared into the mirror after cleaning the sticky mess off her foot and shoe. That waiter had totally been making eyes at her since he showed up. And he was quite a morsel. Tall and fit with great skin and a healthy tan. Gorgeous green eyes and light brown hair long enough that she could imagine herself running her fingernails through it and giving it a nice tug.
She should definitely come here for happy hour sometime. Maybe she should leave her phone number on a napkin. Maybe she should go ask the hostess if he was single.
She glared at her reflection.
“You are sex starved and crazy,” she said to herself. “Leave the poor guy alone.”
He probably wasn’t making eyes at her. He’s probably flirting for good tips. For good measure, she tousled her hair one more time and adjusted her bra in an attempt to make herself look at least half as hot as he was, then pulled the door open.
And there he was.
Right in the hall.
Giving her that same look.
She paused to throw an overtly flirtatious glance at him and intended to walk back to the table, only for him to touch her hand again.
She peeked over her shoulder and saw that the coast was clear. Then, throwing caution to the wind, she lifted her eyebrows and inched backward toward the ladies’ room door and gestured with her head inside. He hesitated and appeared to check the hall for bystanders, then motioned with his head toward a third door at the end of the hall and disappeared inside.
She followed him through the door, into some kind of office, and he spun the lock before taking both of her arms and pulling her close to him. He lifted her hands to place them on his shoulders and she took the opportunity to run her fingers through his hair.
“I’ve never done anything like this before,” she admitted.
He tilted his head to kiss a spot to the right of her lips and her tummy did a flip. “Neither have I.”
She managed to stifle a giggle at the fact that she’d read something identical to this in one of her smutty romance novels. The humor of the situation quickly melted away as she felt him clutch her waist and slowly push her backward against the wall.
Her HR manager bells began going off. All kinds of rules were definitely being broken right then, but something about the whole thing was a huge turn-on and she couldn’t help tugging his neck so their faces were close.
“So inappropriate,” she uttered with a seductive smirk.
“Too inappropriate?” he asked, smirking back.
With that, his lips were on hers and, my word, he was even better at kissing than he looked like he would be. A shiver shot down her spine as he stroked her cheeks and the sides of her neck with his thumbs. He moved forward again, pressing himself against her, and she couldn’t tell if there was something in his pocket or if he was thoroughly enjoying this too.
The kissing grew more fervent and she realized it was definitely not something in his pocket, rather inside his well-fitting slacks, as he let his hands travel south again. They made their way to the hem of her dress and she instinctively lifted her knee to wrap around his hip while he slid his palm down the back of her thigh and his lips caressed her neck.
He slipped two fingers under her panties, giving her firm, but delicate strokes. Whether it was her alarms going off at how scandalous this was or the shock of being touched after so long, Samantha suddenly chickened out.
She jerked her leg down and pushed him back slightly.
He immediately released her and stepped away as he took on a concerned appearance.
“Sorry. Are you all right?”
She caught her breath. “I’m fine. You know, that was … I mean, I don’t think I can have sex with you in your boss’s office.”
“Well, actually it’s—”
“I mean, not that I don’t want to,” she added quickly. “Because I do. Er … I mean, but not like this.” She paused to laugh. “I probably need to get back and so do you.”
He smiled at her and nodded. “Probably.”
She got a little lost as she stared at his lips and then abruptly shook her head to bring herself back.
“Here,” she offered as she pulled the pen from his pocket and pushed up one of his sleeves. She scrawled her name and phone number on the inside of his forearm and pulled the sleeve back down. “You can call me if you want. I’m Samantha.”
He dipped his chin politely. “Nick.”
“I know. You said that earlier.” She tapped the pen on his name tag before sliding it back in his pocket. “And it’s right there.”
He chuckled sheepishly. “Oh yeah. Right.”
“Anyway,” she went on as she clumsily bumped out of the room. “Thanks. Uh, I mean, you know … whatever.”
* * * *
Samantha avoided eye contact with Nick for the majority of the rest of the evening. Although when she glanced at him a couple of times, she noticed him giving her a bit of a knowing smile, which caused her to fan her face.
What the heck had she been thinking?
She was this close to having sex with a random waiter in the back of a restaurant.
Desperate. She was totally desperate.
And not to mention thoroughly amused by the whole thing. She couldn’t wait to gossip about it later with Jenna.
Eventually, Nick came by and began clearing the dessert dishes.
“How was everything?”
“Absolutely wonderful!” Mom exclaimed.
“Yes,” Dad agreed. “Definitely lived up to the expectations we had.”
“Excellent,” Nick said pleasantly. “Well, the owner would like you to know that your dinner is on him tonight, and he hopes that you’ll come back and join us again.”
“Why, how wonderful!” Mom exclaimed again. “That’s terribly kind.”
“Is he around?” Dad inquired. “I’d love to thank him personally.”
“He’s uh.” Nick paused to clear his throat. “He’s actually tied up in the back, but I’ll be sure to pass the message along.”
Samantha raised her eyebrows in concern, wondering if her little rendezvous with Nick had been seen by the owner and he was now in deep trouble.
“Well, at least let us leave you a little something for your service, Nick,” Dad went on, pulling out his wallet.”
“That’s not necessary,” Nick replied hastily. “I’ve been well taken care of tonight. And it was entirely my pleasure.”
He then turned to leave without saying anything else.
Now Samantha was positive something was up. He probably wasn’t allowed to accept a tip from a patron he’d canoodled with. She suddenly felt an urgent need to speak to the owner and clear up the situation. She’d been as much a guilty party as Nick had, and hoped to potentially save his job.
“I’ll meet you guys at the car,” Samantha called to her family. “I’m going to hit the restroom.”
She made her way to the hostess stand and waited for the young woman to get off the phone.
“Hi, ma’am, how can I help you?”
“I was wondering if I could speak to the owner or the manager, or whoever is in charge. Privately, if possible.”
The young woman took on a concerned appearance. “Of course. Is there a problem?”
“No, but I think there’s been a terrible misunderstanding with one of the waitstaff.”
“Certainly. Follow me, please.”
The hostess led Samantha down the hall and into the office where the canoodling had taken place earlier. Once alone, she dropped her face into one of her palms and groaned quietly at her indiscretion.
You ought to know better, you shameless hussy.
Just then, the door swung open and Nick waltzed in, and he immediately took on a surprised look.
“Uh, hi, Samantha,” he greeted her as he closed the door. “What can I do for you?”
She raised her eyebrows. “What are you doing here? I was trying to talk to your boss.”
He gave her a funny look. “I am my boss. Is everything okay? Are you upset? I mean, about earlier?”
“I’m fine. I thought you got in trouble,” she replied. “What do you mean you’re your boss? Are you the manager or something?”
“Sort of. This is my place.”
She stared at him blankly. “You own the restaurant?”
“You own the restaurant and you wait tables?”
He shrugged. “I had a guy call in sick. Also, I like to, I guess.”
“Oh. So you’re not in trouble about earlier?”
“Then why did you comp our entire meal?”
He rubbed the back of his neck. “Well, I felt kind of weird. You know, making your family pay after I … well, you know.”
She grinned at him and crinkled her nose. “Really?”
“Well, that was nice of you.”
He smiled as she swayed slightly and eyeballed the closed door behind him.
“So,” she went on as she stepped closer to him. “Are you going to use my number or what?”
He stepped forward and closed the distance between them, then grasped her hips. “I am definitely going to use your number.”
She lifted up on her toes. “Are you going to kiss me good-night?”
He smirked and moved his hands to the sides of her face. “I am definitely going to kiss you good-night.”
* * * *
Samantha made her way out of the restaurant and into the backseat of the SUV and sat next to Jenna.
“What took you so long?” Jenna demanded.
“Long line for the ladies’ room.”
Samantha pulled out her phone and shot her a text.
I totally got that waiter’s number.
What! OMG. He was so cute, good job! LOL!
And I kissed him.
OMG! You hussy! LOL!
The two women exploded into a fit of school girlish giggles, which caused Andrew to wrench his neck around and give them a look.
“What’s so funny?”
They continued to chortle as they blurted out in unison, “Nothing!”