𝐀𝐧 𝐞𝐱𝐜𝐞𝐫𝐩𝐭 𝐟𝐫𝐨𝐦 COOKING UP LOVE by Candace Shaw
𝐏𝐚𝐫𝐭 𝐨𝐟 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐅𝐚𝐦𝐢𝐥𝐲 𝐅𝐢𝐫𝐬𝐭 𝐥𝐢𝐦𝐢𝐭𝐞𝐝 𝐞𝐝𝐢𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧 𝐛𝐨𝐱 𝐬𝐞𝐭 (𝐨𝐧𝐥𝐲 𝟗𝟗 𝐜𝐞𝐧𝐭𝐬!)
𝐑𝐞𝐥𝐞𝐚𝐬𝐞: 𝐅𝐞𝐛𝐫𝐮𝐚𝐫𝐲 𝟗, 𝟐𝟎𝟐𝟏
Shelbi entered the kitchen and was engulfed by the delectable aromas. B. B. King and Lucille roared through the speakers of the small radio on a shelf above the stove. She recognized the song, “Caught a Touch of Your Love,” from her dad’s B. B. King record collection. The chef, whose back was to her, sung off-key, but it still made her smile. She didn’t want to disturb him, especially when he turned the music up and sang into the spoon. She placed a hand over her mouth to muffle a giggle.
His crisp jeans showcased his thighs and butt, revealing the fact he was quite muscular and probably athletic. His broad shoulders filled out the white chef jacket he wore. The chef’s hat was tilted to the side and waved back and forth as he danced. He gyrated his hips to the song as he stirred something in the pot. As much as she enjoyed his performance, she interrupted him.
She cleared her throat and tried to hide another giggle.
“Excuse me, but are you Jay?”
The chef turned off the king of blues, took off his hat, and twisted his muscular physique toward her.
“Why yes I am, Ms. Arrington.”
Shelbi’s heart raced as her breath caught in her throat. Falling back on the door to steady herself, her stomach tightened, and a heat wave charged through her. The man she tossed and turned over last night stood in front of her looking even more delicious than yesterday.
“It’s you! The man from the trolley.” She ran her fingers through her hair and hoped she didn’t look like she felt—completely flustered.
“Yep. One and the same,” he said, flashing a million-dollar smile. “Come sample this caramel sauce and tell me if it needs something else.” He held out the spoon for her. “I’m experimenting with you today.” His lowered voice held a hint of seduction.
I wouldn’t mind him experimenting with me, but not in the kitchen. Well, maybe we could start in the kitchen and end up somewhere else…
A sensuous shiver raced through her. She tried to remain composed, but how could she when this fine, masculine man stood before her with a sexy smile, succulent lips, firm chest, and wild, crazy hair she just wanted to grab a hold of while he drove her up a wall. Literally.
She placed her belongings on one of the stainless steel prep counters and walked toward him, trying to shake herself from her fantasy, but her imagination was running rampant. She blew on the hot caramel before placing her lips on the spoon. He slowly inched the tip of it into her mouth as his eyes held hers in an intense stare. She closed her eyes and moaned as the sweet caramel with a hint of cinnamon traveled down her throat. She licked her tongue over her lips.
“Justin, this is superb. What dessert are you making this for?”
“Haven’t decided yet, but it reminds me of you. Sweet, hot caramel with a touch of cinnamon, like your eyes.”
Blood rushed to her face, and she hid her expression by leaning over the stove to open the stockpot on the back burner. A New Orleans low-boil consisting of crabs, shrimp, hard-boiled eggs, potatoes, onions, and corn on the cob smelled heavenly.
“This looks and smells divine.”
“So do you,” he answered in a seductive tone before turning off all the burners on the stove and stepping toward her. He was close enough to kiss her, and she almost wished he would. After last night’s tossing and turning, she needed him to just hurry up and satisfy her longing. She stepped closer, and the enticing scent of his cologne, mixed in with his manly scent, filled her senses. She inhaled to take it in even more.
“Is the low-boil for me?”
“Yep. Hopefully, it will make up for my store-bought barbecue sauce you didn’t like,” he responded sarcastically.
A heat wave of fury washed over her skin, and Shelbi became annoyed at the handsome chef.
“I hope you aren’t flirting with me just to receive an excellent review, because we can end this meeting now!” she snapped. She turned to gather her belongings.
“Look, lady, I don’t need some young contributing food critic telling me my homemade barbecue sauce taste like it came from the grocery store. If you thought that, then maybe I should bottle it!”
His comment forced more anger from her, and she turned toward him as she waved her finger in the air and her down-home Memphis attitude came out.
“Well, then maybe you should bottle it along with your attitude.” She stepped into his personal space, refusing to back down, the anger seething through her body. “First of all, I like your restaurant. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have requested to meet the executive chef and owner. If I had known he would be an arrogant, pompous jerk like you, I wouldn’t have wasted my time!”
Shelbi stared him down like a bull ready to send the matador flying across the ring with a swift blow to his butt. She hated being unprofessional; however, this man caused her to lose her cool. Heat rushed through her body, and apparently his as well, because she could feel the warmth radiating from him onto her skin. The room was silent except for their hearts beating fast and loud together in sync.
He stepped closer to her. Too close. The angriness on his face made Shelbi want to kiss him. Hard. Real hard. Little beads of perspiration had formed on his forehead, drawing his manly, intoxicating scent out even more. His muscular chest rose up and down, and his smoky eyes penetrated her, causing her breathing to stagger. His bold gaze held her entranced, and she couldn’t unlock it, no matter how hard she tried.
Stay focused, girl. You’re supposed to be mad at him.
He let out a long sigh and stared down at her, placing gentle hands on her shoulders. She thought he was going to kiss her and was prepared to respond willingly. Instead, he spoke in a calm and gentle tone.
“I sincerely apologize, Ms. Arrington. You’re entitled to your opinion. Lillian’s is my brainchild, my life. I’ve put my heart and soul into this restaurant. I’d understand if you don’t want to continue with the interview.”
“I accept your apology. I apologize as well. That was totally unprofessional of me.” Shelbi stepped away from him and grabbed her belongings from the prep counter before she acted upon her thoughts.
“So, are you ready to interview me? I’ll put on my chef’s hat, not literally, and we can get started. Perhaps you can tell me your opinions of other dishes I have prepared especially for you today.” He paused and made a call on his cell phone. “Brooklyn, I’m taking Ms. Arrington to my office for the interview and lunch. Can you bring everything out in about ten minutes?”
He gave her a once-over while he was on the phone, lingering over her breasts, whose nipples had hardened. He ran his tongue over his lips, and his eyes settled seductively on her face. She was self-conscious of her jeans, simple yellow blouse, and sandals.
“I thought you put on your chef’s hat,” she said when he hung up with Brooklyn.
“I did, but I can’t help it. You’re wearing those jeans.”