Last Bite: A Novel of Culinary Romance (5 page)

BOOK: Last Bite: A Novel of Culinary Romance
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When I stepped out of the subway, four blocks from the studio, it was pouring rain. Did they say rain on the news? No one said rain on the news. You were supposed to say it was going to rain if it was going to rain. I tried to hug the buildings, but everyone on my side of the street was going the other way, and I kept getting pushed to the outside. By the time the truck splashed water all over me at the corner, I had given up trying to keep myself or my box of pastries dry.

I arrived at the studio with my hair and clothes soaking wet and watched the water as it dripped onto the floor just inside the studio door. My lovely white pastry box was now a dull, wet gray. Looking like hell is the same as feeling like shit. I went directly to the kitchen, hoping the Tonys had remembered to restack the drawer with clean dish towels. There was an unfamiliar stagehand sitting on the counter, drinking coffee and doing the
crossword puzzle. Give me a break! They
given work sheets when they arrive in the morning. This was unacceptable—and a sitting duck for venting my annoyance.

“Good morning, uh, I’m going to guess Tony, but if it wasn’t it is now because that’s all we’re used to. So, Tony, why don’t you get that well-toned butt off the counter and at least
to look busy.”

“Hmm. Me mam never said anything about Tony. She said she thought about Sean and Bryan before naming me Daniel,
but I’ll answer to Tony if that’s what you like.” The brogue was soft but undeniable. “As for the ‘well-toned’ observation, thank you. I’m on me feet a lot and I think that helps.” He was obviously amused by my crankiness because his blue eyes were laughing at me as he slid off the counter. “And I’ll be happy to look busy if you’ll tell me what it is you think I should be doing.”

I opened my mouth to explain but nothing came out. I was having trouble extracting my expensive new Sergio Rossi shoe from it. And even if I did, I couldn’t think of an explanation other than “I’m the kitchen witch.” So I said nothing and just stood there dripping with my mouth wide open.

He extended his hand. “Danny O’Shea. You’ll catch flies if you keep your mouth open like that.”

I closed my mouth. I was still holding the box, and when I turned to put it on the counter to free my hands, the wet bottom gave out, dispersing a shower of pastry, ricotta, and tiny chocolate chips in a cloud of powdered sugar at my feet. I ignored them.

“You must be Casey. A girl with a purple streak in her hair told me to look for a tall, pretty lass who’d be eating a dozen pastries in the kitchen. Seems to be you.”

“I am not eating pastries.”

“Some of them look to be in good form.” He stooped down to retrieve the ones that had landed on the top of the pile. He was wearing faded jeans and a tight-fitting black polo shirt and I could see that his backside was not all that was toned. He looked to be about six feet two inches, and every inch was lean and hard.

I grabbed a tray and stooped down to help reassemble breakfast. “Chef O’Shea. I—”


“Chef Danny—”

“Just Danny, or Tony if you prefer.” He was licking cream filling off his fingers and looking at me as though I was next.

“Cute.” I picked up the tray and stood quickly and rigidly, hoping he would get the idea that I was immune to his bold flirtation. He slowly rose to his feet and I said, “Look, I
sorry about the mistake and the comments. I got caught in the rain, I’m soaked, and I’ve ruined a perfectly good pair of shoes. Trust me, I’m not always such a witch.”

His eyes moved down but didn’t make it as far as my shoes. They stopped briefly at my wet shirt and returned to my face. “I’m sure you’re not. A bit flustered perhaps . . .” His eyes went south again and then returned, amused, to my face. “But perfectly lovely.”

Was I blushing? I had no idea how transparent Chloé silk was when it was wet, so I lifted the tray breast-high to hide well, whatever.

“Would you like one?”

“Love one.” He took a bite of a broken cannoli and looked into my eyes with lust written all over his face.

I was positively blushing, and it was flustering me. Caught off guard, I was behaving like an absolute dingus, and this man was outrageously bold with a libido that seemed to be in overdrive; he was also drop-dead gorgeous. His short black hair had a slight wave to it, and a few stands fell forward over a square face with well-defined features and a strong chin. His eyes were the killer. They were a deep blue outlined by dark eyelashes and they had a sensuous, suggestive glint that had probably gotten him kicked out of Ireland.

I was still wondering how much of me was actually showing when Mae walked in and answered my question by immediately handing me a chef’s coat from her backpack. I needed
to get control and take charge. I turned authoritatively to Danny and used my best executive chef’s voice. “Do you know you’re here two weeks early?”

“Not really. Sonya said I should come in this week to have a look around and discuss my recipes with you. I’ve never been on the telly before and I don’t watch food shows, so I didn’t know what kind of things you were looking for. I was on my way to the fish market anyway and thought this would be a good time.”

“Well, we don’t have a food spot this morning, so you can’t see what actually happens. But since you’re already here, we can discuss what you’re going to make for yours.”


I told him to sit down at Romeo, cautiously referring to it as “the island” while I gave Mae instructions for tomorrow’s prep. The Tonys came in and I put them to work helping Mae but first asked them to clean up the residue of powdered sugar on the floor. I was giving orders a mile a minute and beginning to feel executive again. I took a legal pad and a pen from the drawer and sat down at Romeo, across from him. “Okay. What are your thoughts about what you’d like to demonstrate? You’ll only have about three and a half minutes.”

“Whoa! That’s not a lot of time.”

I explained about swaps and backups and asked if he had some signature recipes that he’d like to highlight. “You know, something you serve at the restaurant that is really outstanding.”

“It’s all outstanding.”

Add nauseatingly arrogant to outrageously bold. “Did you by any chance bring a menu with you?” I was feeling totally executive again when Jonathan came in to complain about tomorrow’s brown chocolate cheesecake and the brown tempeh fajitas. “Nice hair. What’s with the eyes?”

I touched my head; my hair was still soaking wet, and I could guess where my carefully applied eye makeup was. “Is there mascara running down my face?”

Mae looked up from her work. “There is. It looks kind of funky cool.” This from someone who paints her face with Magic Markers.

“I thought it was one of those new American looks. It’s kind of sexy.” Danny’s wicked twinkle looked right into my mascara-streaked eyes as he said it, and I was back to feeling like a dingus. I stood up.

“You know what, Danny? This will be a lot easier if I have your menus first. Why don’t you get them to Sonya or me as soon as possible and I’ll look them over. I’m sorry that I’m not familiar with your food. I haven’t had a chance to get to your restaurant.”

“Oh, that reminds me.” He reached into the pocket of a rain jacket he’d hung on a coat hook—he obviously listened to the right weather forecasts—and pulled out two envelopes. “I have an invitation for all of you and any of your friends for this Thursday night. Oran Mor will be a year old and we’ve decided kind of at the last minute to have a party to celebrate.”

He handed me a generic envelope, and I could see that the other one had “Sally Woods” written on it. “I also have one for Sally Woods and wanted to deliver it to her in person. Is she around?”

I got it then. The outrageous come-on. He wasn’t coming on to me; he wanted Sally. This wasn’t the first chef to try to use me to get to her. Sally was the closest thing to a megastar the culinary world had to offer, and chefs wanted the celebrity status of having her in their restaurants. It guaranteed press at an event that might otherwise be just another night out. A lot of
climbers in the field thought that if they befriended me, they’d get Sally in the bargain.

“Not today.” Executive-chef tone.

Mae ignored my tone. “But she’ll be here Thursday, and I’ll bet she’d love to go. Sally craves a good party.”

Danny turned his twinkle on Mae and handed her the invitation. “Brilliant. Would you mind seeing that she gets this, love? And I hope you’ll be coming.”

Way-cool Mae March simply melted in front of my eyes. Danny turned back to me and said, “If you come, I can give you the menus then, if that’s soon enough.”

“That’ll be fine, if I can make it. Otherwise, can you fax them?”

“Not a problem.” He smiled at me and left.

As soon as he was out the door, Mae let out her breath and said, “Isn’t he gorgeous?”

“Actually, I found him arrogant, self-centered, and rude.”

Mae looked horrified. “You have to be kidding. He was so charming.”

“Charming? He’s just another trendy chef, hoping to make the right connections that will make him a star.”

“Wow.” Mae raised her eyebrows, but said no more. I didn’t mention that I did think he was one of the most gorgeous specimens of masculinity I had ever seen. Besides, I thought as I checked out my damp attire, I wasn’t in my best connecting condition.

The rain had stopped by the time I left the studio, and I assessed the damage it had done before heading off to meet Mary. My hair was okay. At least it was dry. My skirt had lost the crisp sateen finish of its former life but it had dried evenly, so it looked okay. My shirt, however, had shrunk on my body,
and my shoes were history. I didn’t look quite as chic as I had planned, but I wasn’t a total disaster. Mary, on the other hand, looked incredible and could easily be mistaken for one of Calvin’s models.

We’ve always been just about the same height, but growing up she was many pounds lighter than I was. She was what you might call “gangling,” if your definition included gawky and awkward. She had a Letterman gap between her front teeth, seriously mousy brown hair, and thick glasses secured to her head with an elasticized black strap. By her junior year in college, a large orthodontic bill, a talented Fifth Avenue hairdresser, and tinted contact lenses had re-created Mary as a knockout. Somehow, she’d managed to gain weight exactly where you’d want it, and had me beat by a cup size. She can apply liquid eyeliner evenly while riding in a taxi on the way to a date, of which she has many. She is my romantic adviser as well as fashion and makeup consultant. She has lots to say on all those subjects.

She led me directly to the sale rack and demonstrated the decision-making talent that had vaulted her to buyer in record time. She started at one end of the rack and began pushing hangers along it too fast for me to see what she was moving. “No. No. No. Yes. Maybe. No. No. Definitely not you. Yes. Yes. Yes.” She went right to the end of the rack, pulling out the yeses and maybes and piling them in my arms. “All right. Try them on.”

My arms were wrapped around a very heavy assortment of color-coordinated pants, skirts, tops, and dresses. Mary followed me into the dressing room so I wouldn’t waste time wondering if something worked or not. She’d know immediately.

While I started to undress, Mary said, “Okay, let’s
parle chiffon
.” That’s French for “have a girl talk.” Her work involves
numerous trips to France, and Gallic expressions creep into her conversation, making her sound feminine and sophisticated. I should think of that the next time I resort to Neapolitan profanity. “You know that lawyer, Bill, I met a few weeks ago? He has a friend who sounds terrific and Bill’s looking to fix him up. I thought we could all go out together.” She shook her head no to the skirt I had just tried on and handed me another one.

“You know I hate blind dates.”

“But you’re not doing anything on your own to get back in the game, Casey! It’s been five weeks.”

“Four and a half.”

“Whatever. You have to get over it already! I’m begging you.” Mary had exhausted her sympathy for my situation about week after I discovered Richard in his office with Lexi. That was so her. When Mary says she’s leaving, Mary’s gone. I’m more like a dog with a bone. I couldn’t let go. She pretended she was strumming a guitar and sang a little George Strait: “If You Ain’t Lovin’ (You Ain’t Livin’).”

I picked up my imaginary guitar and sang her some Mark Chesnutt, “I’m Not Getting Any Better at Goodbyes.” When we were growing up, we had a friend, Susie Jo Banks, whose father was from Nashville. If the stereo at her house wasn’t playing country songs, he was singing them. Mary and I could probably carry on an entire conversation using country-and-western song titles and lyrics.

“I know, but I’m here to change that.”

“I know you’re right. I’d just like to have some—”

don’t say ‘closure’!”

“I was going to say ‘satisfaction.’”

“Well, in this case ‘satisfaction’ may well be in the form of some Italian dish, and I don’t mean food. Try these.” I zipped up a pair of cropped pants and she stood back and said, “I
knew those would look great on you, and they travel well. I just bought the same pair for my trip.”

“What trip?”

“I didn’t tell you? Buying trip to Paris, in three weeks.”

“So you’ll be in Paris when I’m in Italy.”

. Aren’t we the sophisticated, continental family? Who would have thought?”

“I wish I felt as sophisticated as you do. You should have seen the ass I made of myself this morning.” I told her about my encounter with Danny. She ignored the description of my bumbling behavior and zeroed in on his personality.

“Bold’s not bad. Bold is where it’s at. And why do you care if he just wants to meet Sally? Everyone wants to meet her.”

“That’s not the point. Going through me means he’s a user. A user is not sincere. You can’t trust them in business or in love.”

“Is that the world according to Dr. Phil or according to cynic Casey Costello?”

“It’s just a fact.”

“So are you going to see this Danny again?”

BOOK: Last Bite: A Novel of Culinary Romance
3.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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