Can’t Stand the Heat
On the Steamy Side
On the Steamy Side
St. Martin’s Paperbacks
NOTE: If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolenproperty. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the authornor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations and events portrayed in thisnovel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
ON THE STEAMY SIDE
? Copyright ? 2010 by Louisa Edwards. Excerpt from Just One Taste copyright ? 2010 by Louisa Edwards. ? All rights reserved. For information address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010. ? EAN: 978-0-312-35646-0 ? Printed in the United States of America St. Martin’s Paperbacks edition / March 2010 ? St. Martin’s Paperbacks are published by St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY
10010. ? 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 For my parents, Jan and George,who gave me my adventurous palate and alwaysencouraged my vivid
imagination and passionfor the written word. Acknowledgments Prologue Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Chapter Fourteen Chapter Fifteen Chapter Sixteen Chapter Seventeen Chapter Eighteen Chapter Nineteen Chapter Twenty Chapter Twenty-One Chapter Twenty-Two Chapter Twenty-Three
Chapter Twenty-Four Chapter Twenty-Five Chapter Twenty-Six Chapter Twenty-Seven Chapter Twenty-Eight Chapter Twenty-Nine Chapter Thirty Chapter Thirty-One Chapter Thirty-Two Chapter Thirty-Three Chapter Thirty-Four Chapter Thirty-Five Chapter Thirty-Six Chapter Thirty-Seven Chapter Thirty-Eight Author’s Note
Thanks to my stellar agent, Deidre Knight, and the smart, savvy ladies of the Knight Agency,whose advice and support are indispensable. To my incomparable editor, Rose Hilliard, for herchampionship through the launch of this series. Also to Jeanne Devlin, my tireless andenergetic publicist, for her incredible work and help. These women all routinely go so farabove and beyond the call of duty that it’s hard to imagine what my career would look likewithout them. I suspect it would be pretty bleak. So thanks!!
The first draft of this book would never have been finished without the cheerleading (and butt-kicking, when I needed it) from a very special group of women: the Queens of Peen. You know whoyou are, and you know I appreciated every second of it. Extra thanks go to my duo of muses,Kristen Painter and Roxanne St. Claire—you make every day of sitting alone in front of mycomputer feel like a party! I adore you guys.
My family gets special mention for this book because many of the dishes mentioned come straightfrom my childhood. My mother even helped perfect the already-perfect recipe for DelmonicoPudding, which appears in the back of the book! Other recipe-testing thanks go to the lovelyMegan Blocker, home cook par excellence and food blogger extraordinaire.
And, as always, the biggest thank you of all to my husband, Nick, who never flags, neverwavers, and never complains when I serve him frozen pizza for the fifth night in a row whileI’m on deadline. Beta reader, sounding board, best friend, and love of my life all wrapped upin one tall, delicious package. I’m truly the luckiest woman in the world!
It’s wonderful to have so much support and help as I write—if this book is any good at all,it’s thanks to all of you. Any mistakes are mine alone.
Trenton, NJ May 1995
Black caps launched into the air, gold tassels flying, and everyone around him broke intoecstatic cheers.
High school was over, life and its myriad possibilities stretched out in front of them like awide, open highway—and all Devon felt was dread.
Time up. No more excuses. He had to tell his dad today.
Pushing past his jubilant classmates, Devon kept to his tried-and-true method of avoidingunwanted attention. He kept his head up and looked neither right nor left, and moved withunwavering purpose, as if on a mission of life-or-death importance.
He ignored the occasional glances he caught from the corners of his vision, as well as thefamiliar catcalls and kissy noises.
After a dozen years in the Trenton public school system with these knuckle-headed losers, Devonwas immune to moronic comments about his looks. Nicknames like “Pretty Boy” and “Baby Face”had long ago lost all power to faze him. He never flinched, never blushed, never showedweakness.
But was that enough for his old man?
Devon spotted his family clustered stiffly under one of the gymnasium’s raised basketballhoops. Angela Sparks smiled when she saw Devon, and raised one hand to wave at him. She lookedolder than the other moms, even though she wasn’t. Still, underneath the worry lines andgraying hair was the source of Devon’s overblown, inconvenient looks.
Devon’s younger brother, Connor, shot him two thumbs up, then made the code signal for “Momand Dad are driving me nuts, so I’m sneaking off.” Devon jerked his head once in agreement.He didn’t need any more of an audience for this, anyway.
Connor grinned and said something to their dad, who grunted and waved him away. Phil Sparks wasnever anything but gruff, although Devon easily read the quiet pride and satisfaction in theman’s eyes as he followed Connor’s exuberant jog across the gym floor to join his buddies.
That look, accompanied by a complacent “boys will be boys” shrug, was never aimed in Devon’sdirection. Never had been, never would be. It was one of the main ways Devon knew there wassomething about him that was just . . . wrong.
As a rising junior, Connor would be the starting quarterback next year. He played football inthe fall and baseball in the spring, and excelled at both. At sixteen, he was already as tallas Devon, and the accident of genetics that cursed Devon with perfectly symmetrical features,vivid blue eyes, and the much-loathed long lashes had bypassed Connor entirely. Not that he wasugly or anything, just normal. Average.
In short, Connor was everything Devon wasn’t. For instance, Connor was a nice person; tooannoyingly nice for even Devon to despise.
Devon, on the other hand, was the opposite of nice.
He was also the opposite of average. Who the fuck wanted to be mediocre? Most of his graduatingclass did, as far as Devon could tell. They wanted nothing more than to go to Rutgers, get aboring desk job, get married, and die.
Devon already knew. That kind of life wasn’t going to be enough for him.
“Hi, guys,” Devon said, projecting his best nonchalant, devil-may-care attitude. “You caughtthe show, huh?”
Angela’s eyes brightened, the deep, electric blue of them sparkling with rare happiness.“Wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” she said and clasped him close in a quick, hardhug.
Phil frowned. Big surprise there. “For God’s sake, Devon. You couldn’t comb your hair beforeyou went up on stage? You look like somebody dragged you through a bush backwards.”
Yeah, Devon wanted to say. But if I’d slicked my hair down you’d have complained I lookedlike a brown-nosing nerd, so what’s the point?
He managed to hold his tongue, though, because he had bigger issues than his hair to tackle,and he wanted to get it over and done with in the middle of this crowd where there was a slightchance his dad would be too embarrassed to go all out and explode.
“We are so proud of you,” his mother jumped in, ever the peacemaker, and Devon smiled at her.He was grateful for the lie, or at least for the affection that prompted it.
Phil snorted like a startled racehorse. “Speak for yourself. For me, I can’t see being proudof a kid too lazy to take advantage of the work and sacrifices his parents made so he could goto a good school and get into a good college.”
And there it was. The opening Devon had been waiting for and dreading in equal measures eversince he got his letter from the Academy.
“I know there wasn’t anything listed in the program,” Devon said, swallowing down the nervesthat wanted to make his voice shake and fade. “But I actually do have some plans for nextyear.”
“What? You get a football scholarship when I wasn’t looking? Oh, wait. That’s right. Youwouldn’t even try out for the team.”
Unwilling to be sidetracked into the old, old argument, Devon persevered.
“I did get a scholarship, but not for football.” He set his jaw and lifted his chin until hegave the illusion of staring down his nose at his father, even though Phil Sparks was a goodthree inches taller.
It was an effective expression. Devon knew because he practiced it in the mirror. Phil’sglower deepened.
Deep breath in. “Dad. Mom. I got accepted to the Academy of Culinary Arts with a fullscholarship.”
And then he braced himself for impact.
“Oh, honey,” Angela said, darting a glance at Phil. Whose face suddenly appeared to be carvedfrom stone.
“My son,” he said thickly, pushing the words past his clenched teeth. “Going to school tolearn how to cook.”
“Now, Phil,” Angela said, hands fluttering. But Devon didn’t want her getting in the middle.For once, for once and fucking all, he wanted to have it out with his father.
He got right into Phil’s face, tension shooting down his back and vibrating his bones. “Yeah,Dad. I want to be a chef. What about it?”
“It would be a fine career if you were my daughter. But come on, Devon, what am I supposed totell people? That my son is going to school to learn how to bake pies with a bunch of fairies?Why don’t you just get a job styling ladies’ hair at the beauty parlor, then you can reallymake your old man a laughingstock.”
“Right. Because that’s what matters, Dad—what the neighbors think, or the guys down at theunion hall. I’m sure you’d like it better if I stuck around the neighborhood and startedworking for you, snaking toilets and grouting showers. Real appealing.”
Phil’s face went red. “It was good enough to put food on the table and clothes on yourungrateful back.”
Direct hit. Score one for Devon.
Part of him wanted to take it back, knew he was crossing the line, but he couldn’t. If hefaltered for even a second, he was done for.
Brazening it out the only way he knew how, Devon said, “I want more than that, Dad. I want tobe somebody.”
“Sure,” Phil scoffed. “And you’re gonna get famous slinging hash in some diner? Or betteryet, gonna make somebody a nice little wife someday. Shit. You got no clue how to be a man.”
A hideous combination of rage and tears surged into Devon’s throat and threatened to chokehim. He wanted to scream at his dad, tell him how hard he’d fought to be admitted to theAcademy, the most prestigious culinary school in the country. Tell him what an honor it was andhow many graduates of the Academy went on to open their own restaurants to critical acclaim andenormous success.
But it wouldn’t make any difference. Cooking wasn’t ever going to impress Phil Sparks. Thefact that his son loved it, and was actually gifted at it, was nothing more than anembarrassment.
With a superhuman effort, Devon stomped down on the emotion and locked it away, deep inside.All he allowed onto his face was a twisted half-smile.
Rocking back on his heels, he said, “What I know is that ten years from now, I’m going tolook back on this conversation from the Jacuzzi in my Park Avenue apartment and laugh my assoff. I’ll be rich and famous and successful, and I will have done it all on my own.”
Phil ground his teeth, the sound audible even over the chatter and squeaking shoes of fourhundred recent graduates and their families.
“Damn straight you’ll do it all on your own. I’m not supporting this foolishness. You wantto throw your life away in some kitchen, throw away all the hard work your mother and I havedone to give you better options than that, go right ahead. But don’t expect any help fromme.”
Devon laughed, shocking himself with the bitterness of it. “I gave up expecting anything fromyou a long time ago, Dad.”
And then he kissed his mom on the cheek, waved to his brother, and walked out of the schoolwithout a backward glance.
He was finally on his own for real.
Devon told himself it was nothing new, he’d been alone in every way that mattered foryears—but it felt different, somehow.
Well. He’d get used to it.
Lower East Side, ManhattanSeptember 2010
“I’ve got fantastic news! Prepare to congratulate yourself, yet again, on having theintelligence, and the money, to hire me.”
Devon Sparks squinted through the dark miasma of illegal cigarette smoke and the humid press ofsweaty, raucous bar patrons to see his publicist, Simon Woolf, wrinkle his nose and give thestool beside Devon’s a swipe with a cocktail napkin before perching on it.
“You look uncomfortable, Si,” Devon drawled, amused. “You disapprove of my taste in divebars?”
Devon caught Simon’s derisive sneer as he looked around Chapel and the dingy, smoke-filledunderground room they were in. Propping his elbows on the scarred oak bar, Devon cocked hishead and watched his personal publicity shark move his ever-present PDA fussily out of the wayof a few crumbs scattered around the bowls of bar mix, popcorn, and wasabi peas.
Simon ought to see the place when the real after-hours crowd came out—kitchen crews coming offservice, off-duty cops, and ER docs mixed with punk musicians and the avant-garde theatercrowd.
Holding himself rigid to keep from brushing elbows with any of his fellow bar patrons, many ofthem pierced and tattooed and leathered up, Simon didn’t appear to appreciate the democraticnature of the scene.
“I don’t see why we couldn’t have met at your place.” Simon’s aggrieved tone had Devonrolling his eyes and holding up a hand to the bartender. Christian was an old friend; ex-employee, actually. He’d know what to fix Simon.
“Order something,” Devon told him. “You look like you could use it. And you know exactly whywe’re meeting here.” Devon had just finished a grueling season of the show, culminating in aweek-long shoot at a chain fondue restaurant where no fewer than seven idiot servers hadspilled molten cheese or chocolate on him. “I’m fucking exhausted, and I wanted a drink.”
A silky note of malicious amusement threaded through Devon’s tone as he continued, “And youagreed because it’s your job to do whatever the hell I say.”
After the week he’d had, it was a balm to Devon’s soul to be back in the position of dealingwith underlings who could be relied upon to twist themselves into pretzels to avoid pissing himoff.
The premise of Devon’s show was that he went into unfamiliar professional kitchens for asingle night and cooked any type of food, for any size restaurant, with tools and a staff he’dnever worked with before. The tag line of the show was Anything you can do, I can do better.
The producers had sent him all over the place, from banquet halls serving shrimp cocktail tohundreds of guests, to tiny, hole-in-the-wall corner joints. It was the Cooking Channel’s top-rated program, watched by millions across the country. It was big enough to have spawned aseries of spoof sketches on Saturday Night Live.
The fact that Devon was sick to death of it was his dirty little secret.
“No, it’s my job to keep you in the superstar stratosphere to which you’ve becomeaccustomed,” Simon corrected, peering suspiciously at the martini glass Christian set beforehim. “What is this?” he asked, taking a tiny sip. Which turned into a longer guzzle. “Hey,it’s actually not bad.”
“Not bad,” Devon snorted. “Hey, Chris, you hear that?”
The bartender cut his dark gaze to Devon, straight, hippie-length brown hair swinging againsthis shoulders.
“I sure did, and boy, do I ever thank him for the kind words,” Christian drawled, tipping animaginary cowboy hat to Simon. Devon wasn’t sure his publicist caught the sardonic edge Chrisgave to the gesture.
Simon took another sip, brows drawn in concentration. “It’s clear like a martini, but it hasa more complicated flavor, something I can’t place.”
Devon sat back on his barstool. This ought to be good.
“White peppercorn-infused vodka, junipero gin, dry vermouth, ouzo, and a dash of white crèmede menthe. I call it a Fuck Off & Die.” Christian smiled, wide and insincere, before movingoff down the bar to take another order.
Simon gaped after him for a moment, then shrugged and took another drink. Devon sniggered intohis glass of straight Kentucky bourbon—yeah, it was that kind of night—and Simon gave him across look. “What? It tastes better than it sounds.”
“It would have to,” Devon said. “Come on, spill. What’s so important you braved the perilsof the Lower East Side to come and meet me? I know you’re not here for Adam’s going-awayparty.”
If there were anyone Devon considered a friend, it was his former executive chef, Adam Temple.The other reason Devon had chosen Chapel for his post-shoot decompression was that Adam and hisone true love were about to leave the country for an extended vacation. Tonight was Adam’sbig sendoff. There was an outside chance it would be amusing.
Simon shook his head. “Right, my news. Are you ready?”
Devon raised a sardonic brow. “This better be the fabulous news you think it is, Si.”
In the past, they hadn’t always been in complete agreement on what constituted a wonderfulcareer move for Devon. But then, Simon’s single-minded intensity of purpose was his biggestrecommendation as a PR guy, so Devon supposed he shouldn’t complain.
Looking a little apprehensive—and why wouldn’t he? Devon had more than earned his reputationfor intolerance of incompetence both in and out of the kitchen—Simon cleared his throat.“Well. We should’ve asked that rude bartender if he stocks champagne behind the bar.Although, really, what are the odds? We’ll have to celebrate without the champers. You’lllove this! Here, take a look.” With a flourish, he produced a copy of Restaurant USA, amagazine that reported on news and trends in the food industry.
Devon took it and flipped idly through the first few pages. “What? Looks like the standardstats and stories to me. Fewer Families Dining Out. Spain is the New France. What do I careabout that?”
Simon grabbed the magazine back and turned to a dog-eared page Devon hadn’t noticed.
“There,” he said, pointing a triumphant finger at the headline.
Devon squinted at the page and felt his blood congeal to the consistency and temperature ofgelato.
Cooking Channel Superstar Named #1 Chain Restaurant Operator.
Was that weak bleat Devon’s voice?
“You bet,” Simon beamed. “The Sparks brand beat out every fast-food chain in the country.They graded on profitability and name recognition, and you won!”
“Oh, God, there’s art with it,” Devon moaned, snatching the magazine out of Simon’s hand.There beside the article was one of Devon’s publicity stills. Devon stared at his intense blueeyes, his artfully tousled dark brown hair, the seductive expression on the face that hadlanded him at #23 on that big list of Top Fifty Hottest Men.
Then his gaze drifted to the right and fell on the maniacally grinning white-painted face ofthe beloved red-haired, yellow-jumpsuit-clad icon.
“You don’t look happy, Dev.”
Was that a hint of nerves Devon detected in his publicist’s voice?
It sure as shit better be.
“Not happy? I’m sharing the limelight with a fucking clown. I beat out the king, the colonel,and the little girl with the red braids. Wait till everyone I know sees this. They’re going tolaugh their asses off! Simon. Christ. You’re supposed to be the best publicist in thecity—that’s why I hired you. How could you let this happen?”
“This is a good thing,” Simon, ever the Spin Master, protested. He snatched the magazine backand snapped it shut, as if by covering up the evidence he’d dissipate the head of steam Devonwas building up. “When people visit New York, or Miami, or Vegas, they want to eat at a DevonSparks restaurant! You’re the go-to guy. This survey proves your effectiveness as a brand.”
“What if I don’t want to be a goddamn brand?” Devon shouted, uncaring of the heads thatturned or the voices that began whispering.
Shouting felt good. He hadn’t let loose in a while. “I’m a serious chef, or at least I usedto be. A real chef would be humiliated by this so-called honor. My restaurants serve hautecuisine, for Christ’s sake, not burgers and chicken nuggets! I’m going to be alaughingstock.”
“Now, Dev,” Simon said in the soothing tones reserved for lunatics and hysterical children.“You’re making too much of this. It’s not like this story is going to get picked up by thenews media or anything. Restaurant USA is a trade pub; no one even reads it. Do you read it? Inever read it.”
Devon gritted his teeth against the urge to reach across the bar for a bottle to bean Simonwith.
Just then the bar door opened, distracting Devon from his homicidal thoughts and admitting aswirl of laughing, shouting people. Giving them a quick glance, Devon stiffened. He knew them.Christ, he’d employed half of them at one point or another. The New York culinary world wasnot unlike major league baseball—there was a finite number of talented players, and thebiggest managers traded them back and forth.
“Hey, Sparks,” one of them called out. “Congratulations on the chain, man. Should we startcalling you Ronald?” And the crowd erupted in laughter.
“You know who reads trade publications, Simon? People in the fucking trade. That’s who. Mypeers. My friends. My goddamn employees.” Devon gestured at the crowd and lowered his voice.“This so-called ‘honor’ will be proof to them that I’ve sold out, lost myself, ransomed mysoul to the capitalist gods.”
That I’m not a real chef, and never will be again.
The worst part? Devon was starting to think they might be right.
“Whoa, enough with the drama,” Simon protested, nerves pitching his voice high and grating.“That Restaurant USA piece isn’t worth all this, Dev, come on.”
Devon stared at his PR manager. “Shit. You pitched the magazine, didn’t you? The whole thingwas your idea.”
As soon as he said it, Devon knew he was right. It was exactly Simon’s style, aggressive andbold, heedless of the cost.
“Who, me?” Something in Devon’s face must have registered how much he wasn’t buying whatSimon was selling, because the guy held up his hands in surrender. “Okay, okay! Maybe I didpitch them the chain thing. I thought it would be cool, show how successful you are! Successbreeds success, Dev, you know that. I definitely never thought you’d get this bent out ofshape about it.”
“You never think,” Devon said, his throat so full of hot anger he could hardly force thewords out. “You just push and push, and you don’t fucking think about what kind of shit