Originally published by Ellora’s Cave, March 2011. Re-released as part of Sweet Heat: Collected Stories, Volume 1, October 2015.
Two chefs who strike sparks off each other. A secluded retreat. A competition they must work together in order to win. It’s a recipe for hot times in the kitchen.
Liana Richardson had her eye on Tommy Howard back in culinary school, but since she was in a committed relationship, she never made a move. Tommy had his eye on her too, and now he’s seized his chance to show her the kitchen isn’t the only place where she sizzles.
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Liana didn’t trust him. Perfect things between us. She hadn’t ruled out the possibility of something more than cooking happening between them this weekend. She knew damn well raw attraction simmered between them. The looks he’d shot her during the organizational meetings sizzled more than a Kobe beef steak on a hot grill. She’d woken in the middle of the night, her pussy grasping for a phantom cock. Tommy’s. God help her.
The door to the master suite swung open. Her mouth dropped open. Candles littered the room and the bed was covered in a sea of azure silk. Tommy was pulling out the big guns. Her muscles strained to turn and storm out the door.
Common sense reasserted itself. Tommy could tempt her as much as he wanted to, but she had the choice. Right now, her choice was to claim one of the other bedrooms for the time being. She chose the one connected to the hall bathroom. That it happened to also be the closest to the master suite didn’t matter to her.
Focus. She needed to focus. Her attraction to Tommy Howard had been a living presence since culinary school. His constant television presence didn’t help matters. Thanks to him, she had discovered an unknown passion for historical documentary shows. It was either those or watching people with more money than she’d ever see searching out second homes in foreign countries. Foreign countries she’d kill to at least visit. Masochism didn’t interest her, thank you very much.
Memories of culinary school flooded her. His quick smile over prep tables as their instructors bullied or coaxed the students to their best. Hanging out in the bar off campus with him and their group of friends. A new girl on his arm every few weeks. Back then, she’d fought down her attraction. And the jealousy of the girls. Those feelings had no place in her life. Especially since her boyfriend at the time, Kevin, was a year ahead of them at the school and hung out with their group.
Kevin had been the one to convince her to go to culinary school. They’d started dating around the time he’d begun his coursework. She’d been convinced they’d eventually marry. Those thoughts fizzled over the years until the relationship followed suit last year. She’d give Kevin credit. He’d never cheated on her and they were still friendly.
All the girls in the program had lined up to be next on Tommy’s dating list. Some didn’t even bother with the date. They only wanted a piece of his very fine ass. Since he’d become a bona fide television star, it was even worse. His fan group called themselves Tommy’s Tarts. Ostensibly, it honored his prowess with pastries, but she wondered how many of his former girlfriends and lovers were in the group.
She shook off the dangerous thoughts. This weekend needed to be about the competition. Tommy didn’t know she knew about the lobbying he’d done to have her as part of the new show. At first, she thought it had been due to knowing and being friendly with each other in culinary school. After the first meeting with him and the producers, he’d made it known he was taking the opportunity to make a play for her.
She’d been ready to walk when they’d been all out for drinks to celebrate the new venture and he’d started hitting on her. As soon as she’d made her intentions known, he apologized and backed off. His behavior had been thoroughly professional ever since, but she’d also caught the looks he’d sent her in the meetings since. Her bullshit detector never once went off.
With efficient movements, she had her clothes put away and her luggage stowed in the back of the closet. They were only here for the long weekend, but that didn’t mean she needed to live out of her suitcase.
Halfway down the stairs, she caught a whiff of aromatics. She drew the air in with a flare of her nostrils. Trinity. In butter. The only way.
Her knives and other tools were still in her car. She didn’t bother to check on Tommy, but felt the weight of his gaze on her as she crossed from the stairs to the front door. Her nipples hardened and her pussy prepared itself for him as it had in her dreams. She gritted her teeth and focused on her car. Her leather case, almost as big as her smallest suitcase, sat on her back seat. She grabbed it, reveling in its weight as she did every time she picked up the sign of her trade.
Tommy’s head was stuck in the fridge when she re-entered the house. Yep, the man had one fine ass. Maybe if she acknowledged his good looks, they wouldn’t get her so hot.
She set her tool case on the island. He’d pulled the trinity off of the burner and set it to the side to cool. The other pots on the stove were tall enough she couldn’t quite tell what was in each, but she smelled both tomatoes and something else she couldn’t quite place. Familiar, but not. She looked back in time to catch Tommy as he closed the fridge door. He turned around and flinched when their eyes met.
Drawing her brows down at him, she opened her case and started unpacking. “What’s wrong?”
“Oh, nothing. Just wasn’t expecting you to be right there. Anyone ever tell you to make some noise when you move around?”
She hunched her shoulders. Kevin had often complained of the same thing. “I wasn’t trying to be quiet.”
“I’m sorry, Liana. I got lost in my thoughts. You’re fine.”
She nodded and looked back down at the case. Her knives lay in the bottom in a leather folder. She reached in and pulled it out. As an excuse not to watch Tommy, inspecting her knives was the most natural. “I saw you claimed the master bedroom.”
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him freeze for a moment before he turned back to the stove. “What makes you say that?”
“Silk comforter? Candles all about the bedroom?”
“Wait, I put the candles in the bath…that is, what makes you think it was me?”
Liana only raised an eyebrow in response. Red stained his cheeks. “Fine, the comforter was me. And the candles in the bathroom. The ones in the bedroom are probably from the homeowner. I didn’t notice them when I was getting things ready.”
“Why did you do it?”
This time his smile had a roguish edge to it. She shivered. “I live in hope. Always have since school.”
Wait, what? “Wait, what?”
“I’ve had a crush on you since culinary school.”
He said it so matter of factly. As if he hadn’t dropped a bomb in the middle of the room. The idea this man who could have had any woman he wanted, and frequently did according to the tabloids, had a crush on her made as much sense as pairing a Riesling with a twelve-ounce porterhouse steak.
“No.” It was all she could say. All she could comprehend. No way on Earth. Julia Fucking Child would have to rise from the dead before she believed this.
“Yes.” The look he threw her seared her and drove her to one step away from orgasm.