Once we were both inside, she studied me with a curious expression. “Is everything okay?”
“I, ah…Not really.”
She waved her hand to indicate I should follow her into the oblong kitchen/dining room area. Our floor plans were almost identical, but her furnishing was as modern and fashionable as she herself was. She sat in a straight-backed chair at the black lacquered table. I remained standing, restless despite my fatigue.
“You want to talk about it?” she prompted.
Sort of. I mean, that’s why I was here, but the words didn’t exactly burst forth.
How did my family do this? If I explained how the evening had begun so promisingly, only to end in my being dumped and rejected, wouldn’t it start stinging all over again? Wouldn’t I sound like a pathetic loser? Clearly, if spilling your guts was an Olympic event, I wouldn’t make it past the qualifying round.
Besides, although Amanda was arguably my closest friend, we had an unspoken agreement not to discuss Trevor much. He had never hit it off with her, which I’d found ironic considering the huge number of men she did like. It was a little embarrassing to find out she’d been right.
I stared at her blankly.
“I’ve got some vino in the fridge,” she offered. “Want me to break it out?”
As long as it wasn’t the type of cabernet sauvignon you were supposed to pair with lamb. “Trevor and I broke up.” The admission got me going—pushed me over the edge and unleashed the building g-forces.
Amanda’s memorable violet eyes widened in shock as I paced around the table, explaining in rapid-fire delivery that I was somehow “too bland” for the man who had proclaimed to love me as recently as…Well, I couldn’t specifically remember the last time he’d said it, but still! Then I talked about how Hargrave NonFiction, people who’d reportedly paid six figures for the biography of a supermodel’s Chihuahua, didn’t want me either.
At some point, Amanda poured us each glasses of white wine. Having had practice with people sharing tales of woe over cocktails, she was a seasoned pro at listening. Mostly, she muttered little sounds of encouragement and, where appropriate, a briefly interjected, “That pompous bastard.” All much appreciated. When I finally wound down, I slumped into one of the matching chairs, realizing I did feel oddly better. Maybe there was something to be said for this talking stuff out.
But they’d be serving sorbets in hell before I worked cracked nipples into a conversation.
“Wow.” Amanda heaved a sigh. “I’ve never heard you say so much at one time. You’re good and truly pissed off.”
“You don’t think I should be?”
“Are you kidding? I’m ecstatic. I mean, not about the rotten night, but everything will work out in the long run. This just gives you the chance to write an even more kick-ass cookbook. And I never was convinced that Trevor was the right guy for you.”
After tonight, I was inclined to agree. Who the hell did he think he was? The encounter at the restaurant had knocked me so off balance that his unexpected criticism had temporarily made me feel lacking somehow. Colorless and insignificant. But the only thing wrong with me were the hours I’d wasted on an ungrateful egomaniac.
I’ll show him colorless.
I slapped my hands down on the table and leaned forward. “You know what? I want to get—”
“Sloshed?” She stood to get us more refills.
My friend, the ever helpful bartender. When life hands you lemons, do tequila shots.
“No. Well, maybe.” I was getting there, since I’d been pretty tired even before the first couple of glasses. “But I was going to say even.”
“You want vengeance?” she asked as she walked around the counter that separated the dining room from the kitchen.
“Not vengeance.” In the past, I’d channeled my emotions into cooking and had come up with some of my best dishes. Now, my anger had taken a subconsciously productive turn. “Vindication.”
Bland, huh, Trevor?
Not compelling enough for the Big Apple big shots?
Maybe I could roast two ducks with one glaze.
“I have a plan,” I said.
Amanda shook her head. “Can I be like you when I grow up? I’d still be cussing the guy out and cutting up his picture, and here you are already methodically working through your problems and coming up with sensible solutions.”
I winced at the word methodical, wondering if it was code for boring. “I’m not sure sensible is the right word for what I have in mind.”
“Ooo…I’m liking the sound of this. Anything I can do to help?”
“Possibly.” Even though I’m often more of a loner, I couldn’t think of anyone better for helping me brain-storm my bizarre, fledgling idea—the type of idea best mulled over at 3:00 a.m. with a little alcohol buzzing through your system.
“So, what’s your plan?” she wanted to know.
I laughed recklessly. “Sex sells, right?”
An appetizer is the first impression—that simple yet delicious moment when your eyes meet across the room and zing!
Six months later
THE PROBLEM WITH temporary insanity is that it’s temporary. Eventually it wears off and you’re left with “What have I done?” Such was the case with me this fine afternoon in mid-January.
Spicy Seas was closed on Tuesdays, so I sat in the empty tavern where Amanda worked. Since the bar didn’t open until happy hour and the early-shift waitress had called in sick, the place was deserted except for me, Amanda and a hunky bar-back named Todd. They were setting up for this evening’s business, and I was swiveling listlessly on one of the stools lined up at the polished teak counter that ran the length of the wall. I glanced past Amanda, a shag-cut strawberry-blonde since Christmas, to the mirrored paneling, trying to reconcile my reflection with the author of the sexy book that would be on shelves at the beginning of February.
What I saw was a woman with stick-straight, shoulder-length hair, a bulky blue cable-knit sweater, and a disbelieving look in her puppy-dog brown eyes.
You’d think I would have adjusted by now to Hargrave NonFiction’s remarkably fast decision to buy Six Course Seduction—once I’d given them the hook they’d needed, they’d jumped on the idea and rushed it into production to get it out for Valentine’s Day marketing. The sale hadn’t quite seemed real when I’d fielded the call from my editor saying they wanted to contract the cookbook and a follow-up, but I’d started to believe it was going to happen after I’d flown to New York in the fall to discuss the release and promotion schedule. However, any adjustment I’d finally made to impending publication, or to my book’s racy new subtitle, had been rendered null and void by the arrival of the dust jacket this morning.
Six Course Seduction: From Hors D’Oeuvres to Orgasm. The cover was currently tucked in the manila folder I’d brought with me, but the image lingered like a visual aftertaste.
While Amanda sliced limes behind the bar, I mulled over Miriam Scott printed in immediate large-font proximity to the word orgasm. Though I was panicking in reserved silence, my feelings must have been clear in my expression. Or dazed lack thereof.
“You’re overreacting,” Amanda chided. “I kind of like it.”
“Your name won’t be on it.” I clutched the folder closer to me as if Todd might have X-ray vision.