Spicing It Up. Tanya Michaels

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Название Spicing It Up
Автор произведения Tanya Michaels
Жанр Зарубежные любовные романы
Издательство Зарубежные любовные романы
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the motions of shuffling the day’s mail. But I couldn’t truly focus on any of the envelopes in my hand, stuck as I was on the unexpected relationship drama that had unfolded. In this evening’s performance, the part of Arrogant Jackass will be played by Trevor Baines.

      I was bland?

      Until tonight, I’d been “methodical,” which benefited my cooking and was one of the traits Trevor had claimed to like, part of what made us a good match. Trevor had always been more an ambitious dreamer than a doer, although he had been proactive about our relationship. From the beginning, he had pursued me. Perhaps that in itself should have been a red flag, now that I thought about it. None of the men I’d attracted before—not that their numbers were legion—had possessed Trevor’s looks, money and charisma.

      Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t fall out of the ugly tree or anything, I’ve just never been one to put much energy into attracting attention. Because of my hours sweating in the kitchen, I tended to skip makeup and simply pull back my too-dark-to-be-blond, not-quite-brown hair. My style guidelines came from the health department rather than fashion magazines. Besides, even if I were more fashion-conscious, I’m not exactly a hotbed of potential, with a body just waiting to be draped in the right materials. I exercise frequently to avoid love of food becoming expanse of ass, so I’m not overweight, but I’m not waiflike, either. Or curvy. I have what’s politely called “an athletic build.”

      The no-frills exterior hadn’t dissuaded Trevor, though. We’d met when I was working as a sous-chef at an upscale restaurant where the manic executive chef walked out in a prima donna fit one night. I’d received a hasty interim promotion, and Trevor, a regular patron, had noticed the difference. He’d asked to come back to the kitchen and pay his compliments, and we’d started dating soon after.

      Now that I thought about it, even his earliest displays of interest had included his conviction that I was destined to be the headliner somewhere instead of an understudy…and hints that he wanted to open a place of his own. Some men schemed to get into a woman’s pants. Guess Trevor had just wanted into my recipe box.

      I blinked away a fleeting sense of feminine inadequacy, redirecting my irritation to this month’s bills. But the dove-gray envelope in my hand said Hargrave NonFiction. My fingers trembled slightly, and I dropped everything else on the mosaic-tiled end table. Although it had originally been Trevor’s brainstorm for me to try to have a cookbook published, as a possible promotional tie-in to the restaurant, I’d enthusiastically warmed to the idea. So many months had passed since I’d submitted the pages, however, that I’d almost given up hope of ever hearing back from the publisher. Fine cognacs aged in less time than it took these people to make decisions.

      The letter in my hand was thin, and I was half-afraid to open it. Wouldn’t good news have come by phone so that we could discuss details? Then again, if it was bad news, what better time to get it than tonight? All I needed were some black balloons and second-rate wine and I could throw myself a genuine pity party.

      I scanned over the letterhead and obligatory “Thank you for thinking of us” opener. They don’t want it. I read the note twice, then wished I’d stopped at the first pass. The upshot was that my recipes sounded fantastic—but people would never discover this if they didn’t buy the book, and I didn’t have a strong enough marketing hook to stand out among the daunting competition of better known chefs. The editors invited me to try again if I could present a more persuasive selling point, which I took to mean, “Please resubmit if you ever get famous.”

      It’s not personal, I told myself. But it sure as hell felt that way, in light of the double whammy I’d received tonight. My lover found me to be not woman enough for him, and now an editorial committee in New York had deemed me not chef enough. My identity was caving in like a subpar soufflé.

      I punched a sofa pillow. Normally, my coping mechanism of choice was a therapeutic cooking binge, but for what it would take to make me feel better tonight, my kitchen didn’t have the necessary square footage. I wasn’t sure the eastern seaboard had enough square footage. I knew how everyone else in my family handled crisis—talking. They’d talk it out, then do a recap, followed by lengthy discussion of how much it meant to them that they could have these meaningful conversations.

      Big with the sharing, my family.

      Mom, Dad and my older brother, Eric, have a patent-pending method of baring their souls as quickly and often as possible. If they could get it registered as an Olympic event, the Scotts would take home gold every four years. I picture it as a lot like the luge, but in the three minutes it takes the team to get to the bottom, they’d have to exchange stories on every date, breakup and medical condition they’d ever had. Judges would base scores on technique around the curves and accurate recall of personal details.

      Despite my family’s manic outgoingness—or maybe because of it—I’ve always been a little reticent. There used to be tremendous pressure for me to “open up,” but then my brother married a woman who filled the gaping hole in my parents’ lives, giving them the daughter they’d expected me to be. It’s difficult to tell from my twin nieces’ frequent inappropriate public announcements whether they’ve inherited the legacy, or they’re just being standard-issue three-year-olds.

      I’m thinking they came by it honestly. My sister-in-law is not to be trusted in public. I’d been with her at a grocery store a few months ago, bent down to grab a pack of gum, and by the time I straightened, Carrie had launched into a discussion about breast-feeding with the cashier—much to the chagrin of the elderly man ahead of us in line. I may have temporarily blacked out when the words cracked nipples became part of the conversation.

      I had to admit, though, that for all my discomfort with the soul-baring Scotts, a sympathetic ear sounded pretty good right now. What I really needed was a sympathetic ear that came with mob ties and an affordable have-your-ex-whacked layaway plan. (I’m kidding, of course. I have my eye on a new set of Calphalon cook-ware I’d spend money on long before I wasted any funds on Trevor.)

      Just this once, I gave into genetic coding and reached for the cordless phone. Lord knows Carrie would be elated if I called her. The dial tone buzzed in my ear along with second thoughts. If I confided in Carrie, everyone who’d ever met me would know about my humiliation by noon tomorrow. Besides, my sister-in-law wasn’t part of the Vampire Club—meaning she, like most normal people, would be asleep right now.

      Folks who work in the food services and the club/bar scene tend to form a tight-knit group because of our isolating schedules. For instance, my neighbor a few doors down, bartender Amanda White, is my polar opposite in many ways—from her outspokenness to her compulsive dating—but we share the habit of getting home around three in the morning. Over the past four months, we’d become pretty good friends, frequently meeting after hours for breakfast and parting ways before sunrise. Hence the vampire reference, though frankly I’d be lost without garlic.

      I knew Amanda hadn’t been scheduled to work tonight; would she still be up? Before I even realized I’d stood, I was opening my front door, still clutching the rejection letter. The summer night air was muggy around me, and I clenched my fists as I strode toward Amanda’s. By the time I reached her front porch, I’d unconsciously crumpled the paper in my hand to roughly the size of a bouillon cube.

      Soft lights spilled through the curtains of Amanda’s front windows, so I rapped my knuckles across the door, loudly enough to catch her attention if she was reading in the living room or watching a DVD, but gentle enough that she could ignore it if she was sleeping…or otherwise engaged. She receives amorous offers on a near nightly basis, which, trust me, you’d understand if you saw her. I try never to stand too close to her, for self-esteem reasons.

      Footsteps thudded on the other side of the door, followed by a pause. I knew she was glancing through the peephole, and I stood waiting, feeling oddly like a suspect behind a one-way mirror in a police lineup.

      The security chain rattled, then Amanda opened the door. Her curly chin-length hair, platinum blond of late, was tousled—very new-millennium Marilyn Monroe—and a pink nightshirt hung to midthigh, her tall, curvy frame making her look like a lingerie model despite the plain cotton.