...At midday, Cara found herself trying to work up the nerve to walk into the French restaurant for her cooking lessons. The memory of the time she burned her parents’ kitchen to cinders as a teenager haunted her. Could it be possible her refusal to step within a mile of a stove made her an unlikely candidate for marriage? Her mother insisted it did.
If it weren’t for Riva’s sure thing guarantee, no way would she be doing this. Taking a gulp of air, she locked her hand around the handle of the heavy-looking carved door and gave it a tug. The sight of wall-to-wall people in a lobby better suited to a boutique hotel than a five-star restaurant surprised her.
Cara pushed into the crowded room and began to search for someone to give her directions. When she took a closer look at the women who surrounded her, she stopped. There were almost a dozen tall blondes in slinky black dresses, cramped together and trying to look bored.
Could all these Vogue wannabes have come for cooking lessons?
Cara tried to become invisible. When that failed, she stood straighter, stretching her five-foot-nine inch frame another quarter-inch and wished she’d worn her slut-city shoes, too.
“Everyone who’s here to participate in Chef Nichols’ cooking lessons, please follow me,” one of the women said. Another blonde, but this one had pizzazz. When the woman waved her hand in the air with a motion for the group to follow, a diamond solitaire, at least four carats in size, sparkled under the light of the chandelier. She made all the other women in the room look like day-old bread.
Compared to Cara…she didn’t want to go there. The thin woman could easily fit twice into Cara’s suit.
“Are you here for Chef Mike’s class?” asked an older lady standing to Cara’s left.
Cara nodded. The taste of lip gloss reminded her to quit chewing her lip. Someone might guess the idea of cooking had her rattled. And, she told herself, allowing her mother to talk her into cooking lessons didn’t make her a pushover. After all, none of these anemic women could know she’d nearly burned her parents’ house to the ground while attempting to make French fries. None of these women looked like she’d even eat a French fry, let alone cook one.
“Michael is a wonderful teacher,” the woman gushed. “This is the third time I’ve taken his class.”
“That’s nice,” Cara said, visions of well-built firemen popping into her head. Ordinarily it would be a good thing, but cooking with a mob of too-skinny blondes redefined her perception of being out of her element.
“Don’t worry. You’ll do just fine,” the woman assured.
“Why bother to worry when you can just as easily obsess?” Cara quipped. She followed behind while the statuesque leader showed the group into the kitchen.
“Welcome, everyone, to Chef Mike Nichols’ kitchen!” The woman gave an exuberant Vanna White sweep of her skinny arms.
Cara had only a moment to be captivated by the sparkling white walls and gleaming metallic surfaces before she spied the cameras. Why were there TV cameras in the kitchen? Riva might want her face in front of a camera. Cara definitely did not.
“That’s not good,” she said under her breath, her feet glued to the floor while everyone else continued to file into the room. “I can’t do this. I don’t like to have my picture taken, let alone this,” she said to anyone who cared to listen.
Cara’s mouth started to dry. She managed multi-million-dollar portfolios and yet the thought of cooking in front of cameras reduced her to a mass of quivering green Jell-O—the only thing she could cook, once she’d coerced someone else into boiling the water.
The sound of a dull thud penetrated her fear. Cara turned her head to see a metal tray careen toward her out of the corner of her eye and then heard the tray’s contents hit the floor with a crash.
“Shi—shoot! Please move the camera cord before someone gets killed.” The big man who had just dropped the tray stood defiantly, fists on his hips, glaring at the cameraman. Just as quickly, the frown left his face when he glanced over at Cara.
She felt like a deer caught in the headlights surrounded by a herd of blonde heads as she looked back at the man who had to be Chef Mike. The sure thing? Her sure thing? No way!
Cara had to remind herself to breathe as she looked at him—inch by incredible inch. There were so many hunky inches she couldn’t take them in fast enough. Perhaps seventy-five of them in all, and each begged for her complete attention. Hunk with a capital “H.” She was getting hot just looking at him. Chef Mike? Could she get that lucky? This was her sure thing?...