Chapter 1 of Book 4, Never Ever Satisfied…
Trudy walked alongside one of the TV station’s poorly paid interns. The girl was probably only working for college credit. She was proud of herself for not complaining or asking why she hadn’t been met by the producer.
Her mood worsened though as they neared Luke’s office and she heard two male voices raised in argument. It didn’t take much to figure out the problem since she heard Luke calmly repeating her name over and over.
She couldn’t bring herself to smile at the nervous girl, but she did nod when the barely twenty-something left her and sprinted back the way they’d come. She stared at the door and suddenly felt too bone weary to face the challenge inside.
Why was she here again? Oh, yes… her old producer, and the station, had offered her gobs of money and something creatively interesting to do for three months. Of course it was also potentially explosive, but the producers didn’t know that part of the story…
Her snarky friend’s comments about her lackluster breakfast eggs had been enough to keep her out of both her own restaurants for a couple weeks now. She’d perfected the food they served years ago. They just needed to rotate the menus more so customers didn’t get bored. Sometimes her involvement only made things worse which made her feel useless. That kind of feeling always irritated her and left her at loose ends. Hence the reason she was considering this ridiculous offer.
Not bothering to knock, Trudy opened the already cracked door wide enough to enter. The older, bearded man behind the desk looked vastly relieved to see her. The handsome man standing with his arms crossed looked like he’d shoot her if someone handed him a gun.
That realization brought a real smile to her face for the first time all day. Apathy would have been worse to face after all this time. Jack Dozen’s resentment of her appearing on his show cranked the entertainment value of this gig up by a factor of ten for her. They just had to settle a bit of old business first.
She gave Luke a big smile. “Hello, Lucas. Been a long time.”
“Too long,” Luke said, getting up to come around and give her a hug. “Thanks for coming by.”
Trudy hugged back, grunting as Luke squeezed her. She ignored the glare Jack was giving her over Luke’s shoulder, mostly because she didn’t care about the younger chef’s opinion. In her fifteen years on the air, she’d suffered frequently from the venomous attitudes of co-hosts, guests, and even audience members.
Jack’s frown? It didn’t even phase her. A big part of her was still—and would always be—Chef Trudy Baker.
She focused on Luke, keeping one hand on his arm. “The contract’s out to my lawyer, but Rod will have it back to me in a couple days. I didn’t see any big problems with it. That’s why I came in when you asked.”
“Good. Good,” Luke said, rubbing his beard. He lifted a hand and pointed. “You remember Jack Dozen, don’t you?”
Trudy turned, lifted an eyebrow. “Yes, I do. Hello, Jack. Good to see you again.” She smiled, knowing he couldn’t ignore her pleasantries without looking like an eccentric asshole.
His mouth twisted into a grimace before he spoke. “Chef Baker.”
Trudy smiled at hearing him say her title, even if it was said with a very sarcastic tone.
“Afraid to share the limelight with me?” she asked, going straight for Jack’s celebrity balls. Guesting was never going to work if the star of the show was resentful. “I thought every student dreamed of getting a chance to show up their old teacher.”
Jack snorted. “That’s a rather subtle dig.”
“Was it?” Trudy asked. “I didn’t mean for it to be subtle. I meant for it to be blunt.”
“Right. I forgot who I was talking to for a moment.”
Jack had been a student of hers. She’d criticized something he’d made and Jack had walked out of her class—never to return. Such things happened with students all the time.
But Jack had taken it far more personally. And unfortunately so had she.
He’d been flirting with her and she’d had to nip his flirting off before the attention ruined her reputation. He’d deserved the criticism. He knew it too. She’d waited two damn weeks for him to make the kind of mistake she could fault him for. Chef Dozen was good in the kitchen—not as good as her—but he had talent and the loyal following of modern women like her friend, Jellica.
Jack had been younger back then, but no better looking. He had Asian black eyes and a Roman jaw. The hair on his head was still solid black and his body was still lean. He was aging slowly and well.
His career in TV should be evolving into something a lot bigger than Cincinnati. Instead, his show was floundering.
And she was fairly sure she knew why.
Trudy walked over to stand in front of the glaring man. She crossed her arms to mirror Jack’s body language, as she met and held his gaze. She wasn’t sure about his inexperience, but she was very sure of her maturity.
“Don’t let boredom cost you your career. Don’t let pride keep you from using the publicity I can bring your show. It’s three months of your life and dealing with me again, but Luke’s idea will work. I have no intention of coming back to this crap full-time, if that’s what worries you. My attorney is putting it in the contract even as we speak.”
Jack uttered a grunt, shook his head, and then glared across the room at his producer. “Three shows only—not three months. If fans don’t respond, I want her gone… or I’ll go.”
“I’m still in the room, Jack. It’s not good to insult your guest host while she’s listening.”
His glare turned her way. “You know I don’t want this and you know why. You’re still as much a hard-ass as you ever were.”
Trudy shrugged. “What lovely things you think of me. Do you think you’re the first chef I’ve ever come across who couldn’t handle seeing me as anything other than competition? You’re not the first, Jack. Probably won’t be the last either. So chef up and let’s do this…”
Shaking his head, Jack stomped passed her and slammed open the office door to escape. It bounced off the hallway wall, making a dramatically loud sound. When Luke rubbed his beard again and stared at the now open door, Trudy chuckled at the tense expression on his face.
“Jack’s the calmest person around here. He wouldn’t give me any good reason, but he’s been in my office for two hours trying to talk me out of doing this feature. What the hell did you ever do to him?”
Trudy snorted. “If he won’t tell you, why would I?”
“Because we’re friends?” Luke suggested.
That weak plea made her laugh again. “We’re not real friends, Luke. We’re business partners. Only you didn’t tell him that, did you?”
“No. You told me never to tell him, so I never have. All this time, I thought it was just because he studied under you. Now I can see Jack would never have taken this job if he knew you were one of the money people. Would he?”
Trudy slowly shook her head. “No. He probably wouldn’t have.”
“Is there some bad history between you that could erupt on the show?”
What could she say? That she’d once ignored a sexual pull to a man she’d thought to be too green about life in about fifty different ways? She’d all but forgotten why he hated her. Apparently, Jack hadn’t forgotten anything. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.
“How badly is Jack’s show doing?”
Luke went back to sit behind the desk. “They’re talking about moving him to a graveyard time slot. You know what that means.”
Trudy drew in a breath and blew it out again. “There’s not enough history between me and Jack to let him fail that badly. Jack’s talented, good-looking, and has good ideas. He has the whole package, Luke. It’s tough to stay excited week after week. That’s all that’s wrong with Jack’s show.”
“I knew it. I knew it. There’s a vibe there. You like him,” Luke concluded, shaking his finger at her.
“Hard to like someone when he’s always being a shit,” Trudy replied smoothly.
She shrugged off her profanity when Luke chuckled. She didn’t dislike Jack. Wasn’t that nearly the same thing?
“There’s no vibe, but I’m willing to tolerate Jack for the sake of the show succeeding. My business needs the tax write-off of sponsoring it.”
Luke chuckled again. “Can I tell Jack that he’s nothing but a tax write-off to you? That would remove any question in his mind of your presence here being something personal.”
Trudy sighed. “No. I… ”
She stopped, looking for an excuse not to go that far, but she didn’t have one other than she didn’t want to hurt Jack anymore than she already had.
“Tell Jack nothing. Just help me handle these first few shows of ‘Baker’s Dozen’ so I don’t have to use my knives on him.”
“Like you’d go after Jack with knives…” Luke said, grinning from ear-to-ear. “I just watched you eviscerate him with cold words and an uncaring stare.”
Knowing Luke’s observation was more true than she’d like to admit to herself, Trudy sighed and turned to leave.
“I haven’t been that close to Jack Dozen since the day he walked out of my cooking class. That was over fifteen years ago, Luke. We just need to get over our little emotional… bump. Things will get more friendly between us. You’ll see.”
My words held more conviction than I felt, but my mind was now made up. Jack would have deal with me. Together we would save his show.
It was about to get hot in the kitchen. Hopefully both of us could handle the heat.
Releases August 23, 2017 Pre-Order Now!