Authors: Jacquie D'Alessandro
Kiss the Cook
ate word count is 65,900)
by Kensington Publishing Corp. in 2000
Original Copyright 20
00 © Jacquie D’Alessandro
Copyright 2012 © Jacquie D’Alessandro
Cover Copyright 2012 © Jacquie D’Alessandro
Print ISBN: 082176604X Ebook ISBN:9781476291802
edition published by D’Alessandro Associates, Inc, August 2012
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever, in any form by any electronic or mechanical means, now known or hereafter invented, including but not limited to xerography, photocopying, and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without the written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews and critical articles.
This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places, occurrences and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locations is entirely coincidental.
The author and the author alone holds the copyright to this book and has the sole right to establish how this work is distributed. Any scanning, distributing, and/or uploading this book via the Internet or by any other means without the written permission of the author is illegal and punishable by law. Please do not participate in or encourage the illegal piracy of copyrighted materials. Please purchase only authorized editions of this and other works. This author and authors everywhere appreciate your support in this very important matter.
This book is dedicated to my sister, Kathy
Guse, for all the fun times we’ve shared, in and out of the kitchen. And, as always, to my wonderful husband Joe, who always kisses his cook, even when I serve Froot Loops for dinner, and our terrific son Christopher, kiss the cook junior.
Table of Contents
MEET THE AUTHOR
New York Times
Bestselling author Jacquie D’Alessandro has written more than thirty books spanning the historical, contemporary romantic comedy and women’s fiction genres. She is a four-time RITA finalist, four-time Maggie Award of Excellence finalist, two-time Daphne du Maurier Award finalist, and both a PRISM Award and National Readers’ Choice Award finalist. She’s the recipient of three Orange Rose Awards, two Golden Quill Awards as well as a Booksellers’ Best Award, a Barclay Gold Award, and a Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Award for “Best Historical Love and Laughter.” Her books have been published in over 21 languages. Jacquie grew up on Long Island, New York, graduated from Hofstra University and now lives in Georgia with her husband and son.
Jacquie loves to hear from readers! You can contact her through her website at
or join her on Facebook at
or follow her on Twitter at
. Jacquie also blogs with the Whine Sisters at
. She is currently working on a new series of
ebooks in a joint venture with other bestselling authors. Visit
for more details. No matter what genre she’s writing in, all of Jacquie’s books are filled with two of her favorite things--love and laughter.
KISS THE COOK
Melanie Gibson eased her beat-up, rusted-out lime-green Dodge into the circular drive of the soaring office building at One Atlanta Plaza. Exhaustion pulled at her every muscle. “Thank God this is my last delivery for the night,” she muttered, praying she’d find an open parking space. She craned her neck, peered around, and sighed. A solid row of cars lined both sides of the wide driveway.
She looked at her watch. Ten past seven. If she didn't deliver the order of food in the next five min
utes, the customer wouldn't have to pay for it. That was the guarantee of the Pampered Palate--Gourmet Food To Go.
"If we don't deliver on tim
e, it's on us," Melanie grumbled. "Since I was clearly insane when I came up with that slogan, I'm making an executive decision to change it tomorrow to, 'You'll get your food when you get it, and be damn glad about it.' "
She glanced at the large warming container of food in the backseat and made another executive decision: If she pulled around to the back of the building and parked in the lot, she'd ne
ver make it in time. Almost three hundred dollars' worth of food. She could not afford to be late. She pulled up alongside a dark blue Mercedes and double-parked.
I’ll only be upstairs for a few minutes
she rationalized under her breath,
hauling the heavy red-and-white-striped warmer into
her arms. Besides, whoever owned the Benz would be working ‘til
midnight to afford their car payment.
She slammed the car d
oor with a thrust of her hip then awkwardly maneuvered herself and her ungainly package through the revolving door. She'd certainly be glad when she got her bank loan and could buy her catering truck. Then she could use the special delivery entrances and forgo this double-parking/revolving door ordeal.
When she entered the lobby, a blast of air-conditioning greeted her and she almost groaned with pleasure. Atlanta was into the second week of a record-breaking July heat wave and the Dodge's air-conditioning consisted of rolled-down windows.
After scribbling her name on the security roster, she rushed into an open elevator car and pushed the button for the thirtieth floor. No way was she going to be late. No way. The elevator zoomed upward, then opened with a quiet ping. “Whew! Made it!”
She hurried down the hall to the double
glass doors leading to Slickert, Cashman, and Rich, Attorneys at Law. Great name for a bunch of lawyers. Kinda like the way her gynecologist's name was Dr. Seamen.
After setting the heavy container on the floor
, she raised her hand to ring the bell. And froze. She stared through the glass with disbelief. Her stomach fell to her toes.
The digital clock on the reception desk glowed in the deserted waiting area. It read 7:40.
She looked at her watch. It still read 7:10.
She shook her wrist and held the timepiece up to her ear. Nothing. Zip. Nada.
She slapped the watch's face. No signs of life. Like the Wicked Witch of the East, her watch was not merely dead, it was really most sincerely dead.
But how could that be? She'd just boug
ht the blasted thing last month-- a twenty-eighth birthday present to herself. Sure she’d only invested twelve bucks in the timepiece, but still. Surely it should work for more than a month. The stupid thing had just cost her three hundred dollars in food. Three hundred dollars she couldn't afford to lose.
She glanced down at the box at her feet and suppressed an urge to kick it. Fifteen gourmet dinners, all
the condiments, plates, cutlery. Everything for a Pampered Palate meal. And now the meal would be on her.
Great. Well, no way around it. She was late and that was that. She toyed with the idea of trying to talk her way out of it, but quickly dismissed the notion. If
she didn't live up to her promises, her fledgling business would suffer. She'd worked too hard and too long to risk her reputation with one of her best customers. Besides, a ravenous Cashman or a starving Slickert might slap her with a lawsuit if she reneged on her slogan. Stupid slogan. She was definitely changing it tomorrow.
But that didn’t help her now.
Nana always said the only way to swallow a bitter pill was to do it quickly and get it over with, so Melanie took a deep breath and rang the bell. She tapped her foot, waiting, mentally cursing Mike, her delivery man. Of course it wasn't Mike's fault he was sick, but having to make this batch of deliveries herself had turned a bad day into the day from hell.
The day had started when her alarm didn't go off and she woke up forty-five minutes late. Then there was no hot water for her shower. In her haste, she got shampoo in her eye, burned her fingers
removing her bagel from the toaster, and stubbed her toe rushing out the door. And in spite of all that rushing around, she’d still been thirty minutes late to work.
And speaking of late, where were
She rang the
bell again and knocked on the glass door for good measure. Another minute went by with no response. Another round of ringing and knocking brought no response.
Great. They'd probably given up on her and gone home. A weary sigh escaped her. Now what? She wasn't about to leave the food here in the hall.
Clearly everyone had left. Weird. Maybe some sort of court emergency had occurred. What she knew about the workings of a law office could fit on a poppy seed.
fting the heavy warmer into her arms, she struggled back to the bank of elevators then set down her unwieldy load. “I'll go down to the
lobby and call the lawyers just to make sure they’re not holed up in some back conference room,” she muttered, “If they don't answer, I'm outta
here.” She could have saved herself the trip if she’d had her cell phone with her, but it was right where she’d left it—on the passenger seat of the Dodge.
Probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway,” she said with a sigh, “since the battery was about to die. But that’s no surprise. That’s just the sort of day it’s been.” Yup. And now she was talking to herself. Next stop-- the loony bin.
The elevator door opened and she shoved the box inside with her foot. When she stepped in after it, her heel got caught in the narrow space between the doors. She gave her stuck foot a heave and the heel snapped off cleanly.
“Seriously?” With a
grunt of disgust she yanked
ken heel from the crack then limped onto the elevator and jabbed the L button. After slipping off her broken shoe, she sagged against the wall, closed her eyes, and wondered what she'd done to bring the wrath of God down on her head. Must be her tendency to speed in the Dodge, she decided. Or maybe the fact that she'd kicked Tony Pasqualio's shin in the third grade had finally come back to haunt her.
But couldn't those evils be canceled out by some good stuff? She
loved animals and kids, and she always held the door open for strangers. She looked down at her bare toes, groaned, and squeezed her eyes back shut.Apparently third-grade shin-kicking carried more weight with higher beings than holding doors open.
The elevator stopped
. Melanie peeked her weary eyes open a crack. Twenty-fifth floor. Great. Of course someone would be getting on to see her in all her broken-shoe/ one bare foot glory. She caught a glimpse of masculine tassel loafers stepping into the car. By the time she opened her eyes all the way, the man had turned his back to her and re-pushed the L button.
Her eyes drifted shut, traveling down the ma
n's back as they did so. Tall. Charcoal gray suit jacket flung over one arm, burgundy leather briefcase. White dress shirt fitted across broad shoulders. Her gaze dipped lower. Pants that matched the jacket. Nice butt. She inhaled deeply and caught a whiff of spicy-clean cologne. Whoever he was, he smelled great. A lot better than she did. She smelled like fried chicken and Caesar salad. Her eyes settled again on his backside. Yes, indeed, he had a
Christopher Bishop stepped into the elevator, barely noting the fact that another person was in the car, and pushed
with a sigh of relief. He was tired. Bone weary. He glanced at his watch. Seven forty-five. Another fourteen-hour workday. He rolled his aching shoulders and sighed. Since he'd made partner at his accounting firm, his workload had become murderous. He couldn't wait to get home, ditch the suit and tie, get into his sweats, grab a beer, and relax. And food. Yeah, something to eat would be really nice. The half a sandwich he’d managed to grab for lunch between meetings was loooong gone.
While he watched the lit numbers dro
p, he became aware of an aroma… a mouthwatering, drool-inducing aroma in the elevator. Fried chicken.
His nostrils twitched and his stomach let loose a ferocious growl.
He turned his head and noted the woman leaning against the back wall. Her eyes were closed and she looked about ready to drop. His gaze traveled over her, noting her disheveled reddish-brown hair, wrinkled white man-tailored blouse, short black skirt, and… one shoe? She stood lopsided, but she had great legs.
great legs. The words
were embroidered on the pocket of her shirt and printed in red block letters on the sides of the large box that sat at her feet. He'd obviously found the source of the tantalizing aroma.
Pampered Palate. Now why did that sound so familiar? He'd probably ordered an eat-it-at-your-desk lunch from them. A frown scrunched his brow. No, it was something else. He searched his mind, but his exhausted brain cells refused to
function. It would come to him eventually.
and the door slid open. Almost groaning with relief, Chris hastily crossed the marble-tiled lobby.
"Thank God it's Friday," he muttered with a weary nod to the security
guard. A whole weekend to rest. Sleep late. Read the paper. Do the crossword puzzle. Fifteen minutes. He'd be home in fifteen minutes. His car was right out in front-- he'd left it there when he ran back up to his office to pick up some forgotten papers. He pushed his way through the revolving doors, debating whether he wanted to watch the Braves game or a History Channel documentary. The thought had no more than entered his head when he stopped dead.
Someone-- some idiot—
had double-parked and blocked him in. He strode over to the offending vehicle and peered in the window of the dilapidated Dodge.
The car was empty.
“Terrific. The owner probably abandoned this junk heap.” He straightened and blew out a long breath. “What else can go wrong today?” No sooner had the words passed his lips than a huge raindrop landed smack on his nose.
Chris closed his eyes and shook his head.
“I had to ask.”
Lugging the heavy warmer, Melanie limped in one shoe across the lobby to the security desk. The guard dialed Slickert, Cashman, and Rich and handed her the phone. She let it ring twenty times. No answer. She hung up and called the Pampered Palate.
Pampered Palate," a gravelly voice answered. "Gourmet to Go. It's on time or it's on us. May I help you?"
"Nana, it's Melanie. I'm--
"Melanie! Thank goodness you called," Sylvia Gibson said. "The lawyers canceled their order not five minutes after you left.
I called your cell but you didn’t answer. Did you forget to charge that sucker again?”
Melanie ignored the rhetorical question. “
I'm at the lawyers’ office now. What happened?"
"I don't know. Some emergency. They all had to leave. Looks like we'll be eating chicken for a while."
"I guess so." The meals might still be on her, but at least she had the meals to show for it. Melanie blew an unruly lock of hair out of her eyes. "How are things going there, Nana? Is everything all right?" She worried that her seventy-five-year-old grandmother would overwork herself.
"Everything's great. Mike's brother came in to help out with the deliveries, and Wen
dy's manning the front register.”
"Good." She glanced at her watch, forgetting it was broken until she saw it still read 7:10. "I'm leaving now.
There’ll probably be some traffic, but I'll see you within half an hour."
"Take your time, dear. All's well here. The evening rush is over."
Melanie hung up, thanked the guard, and hefted the heavy box into her arms. She limped across the lobby, then struggled with the revolving door, maneuvered herself around, and stepped outside.
discovered it was raining.
Actually, rain was an understatement.
It was pouring. Pouring as if to make amends for a century-long drought. Torrents of water rushed from the canopy protecting the doorway, falling in a veritable sheet. Large drops splashed up a good six inches once they hit the sidewalk.
igures." Of course, like her phone, her umbrella was in the car. Even though the Dodge was close by, she'd be drenched by the time she reached it. Jeez. Could this day get any worse?