Excerpt – Never Ever Satisfied (The Perfect Date #4)

 

Chapter 1 of Book 4, Never Ever Satisfied…

“Whether you like Chef Baker or not is moot, Jack. She’s the boost you need to convince the affiliate to take your show national. The big guys all have guests and they play nice with them.”

Jack studied Luke’s bland expression. He wondered if he thought that giant desk of his would keep him safe from Jack’s wrath. Granted, his producer was a hard man to read, but Jack had gotten pretty good at it over the years they’d worked together.

“Why do I need a boost? The network had enough faith in me to give me her show when she left. Don’t you think that made her more angry at me? Chef Baker has no reason on earth to want to help me. ”

“You’re being unreasonable about this and she’s already said yes,” Luke stated firmly.

Jack gave a disgusted grunt. “You know me, Luke. You know I need the money this job brings in, and I’ve never questioned anything you’ve asked me to do…”

“Who are you trying to kid? You questioned everything for years. You’ve only stopped that crap in the last few. I thought you were never going to learn to trust me.”

“Some would say I’ve grown up. Even you have to admit my temper’s been tamed. I care about different things now and I have a lot at stake here,” Jack argued.

Luke snorted and held up a hand. “Stop. Let me break out the violin first. You can play your sad song while I work to save your ungrateful ass. Trudy Baker is the best chance we have of getting you what you deserve. The network people loved the idea of her being on your show, even as a guest.”

Jack glared at his producer. “Why? The woman’s loud, bossy, and obnoxious to work with.”

“So are you,” Luke said firmly. “The difference is Trudy’s a solid national celebrity whose successful show got picked up during the first year. She only quit the limelight because she wanted to do other things. And if she hadn’t stepped down, there wouldn’t have been a freaking job for you to get. Like it or not, Jack, you’re following in her famous footsteps. Make the most of it.”

“Tell me something then—what’s in this for her?” Jack asked.

Shrugging, Luke shook his head. “Money… and trust me she asked for a very solid amount. Plus, it will make her fans happy to see her on the air again. I don’t know all her reasons. Maybe she was feeling nostalgic when I asked. With Trudy, you never can tell how she’s going to react to a request.”

“Exactly my point,” Jack said, lifting a hand. “I don’t like the idea of this segment and I don’t like her.”

“In this business not liking someone doesn’t fly as a reason not to use them to help raise your show’s popularity. It’s a segment of twelve one week guest spots. The other four days your show will go on just like it always has. You can deal with her for one day a week.”

“My life will never be the same if I have to deal with her,” Jack said.

“You’re being too dramatic. Maybe this is just you feeling intimidated a little. I agree Trudy’s a force to be reckoned with, but she’s also a pretty nice person.”

“You don’t know her like I do,” Jack said bitterly.

“I think I know her better than you do if you can’t see I’m right about her,” Luke said, rubbing his chin.

Having reached a stand-off, they just stared at each other. Jack blinked and looked away first, even knowing it was the exact wrong thing to do. His brain was running through other possible ways to convince Luke not to do this, but he was all out of reasons that didn’t reveal the emotional hell he’d gone through—hell, still went through—over a woman who couldn’t care less about him or his career.

“I feel very strongly about this, Luke,” Jack said finally, unwilling to share the details. His preferences should be enough at this point.

Knowing Trudy was due any moment, Luke decided to play the ace he’d been holding back. “Fine, Jack. Don’t do this segment because it’s right for your career. Do it for St. Christopher’s and the boys. Aren’t they worth putting up with Chef Baker for twelve short weeks? Imagine what you could do with all the extra money you’ll make from the show going national. How do you think Trudy managed to buy her restaurants? She didn’t do it just from a local TV show.”

Jack crossed his arms. There was no argument good enough to refute the massive responsibilities he would willingly take on again if given the choice. Yes. He wanted to be selfish and refuse because he really, really did not want to interact with the woman who had broken his heart. But he hadn’t been able to have his way in much for the last fifteen years. It was like the universe conspired to keep him from having a peaceful, happy life.

“Three weeks, Luke… and three shows. Not twelve,” Jack insisted, hoping for a miracle.

“Nope. Got to be twelve to be effective. Three weeks won’t raise the numbers enough,” Luke insisted back.

Swearing under his breath over Luke’s unwillingness to flex on the issue, Jack turned his back before temper got the better of him for the first time in years. He’d never really bought into the whole bad karma thing, but he would have to rethink it now. The emotional hurt Chef Trudy Baker had caused him years ago continued to affect his entire adult life. Maybe this was his chance to get over her. Maybe he could look at it that way.

“Trudy will be here any minute,” Luke said. “Be nice. We need her.”

Jack glared at his producer, and sometimes friend.

Maybe he couldn’t avoid working with the woman who continued to haunt him, but he’d quit before giving her the satisfaction of knowing he still cared.

They didn’t make money green enough to make him play nice the way Luke was hoping.

***

Dressing up was like putting on armor and every female she knew was versed in it by the time she was thirteen.

Today Trudy was seeing a man who had once considered her attractive enough to kiss. While she held no thoughts of rekindling anything, she didn’t want him having one of those “What was I thinking?” moments when he saw how old she’d gotten.

She didn’t often admit she had that kind of vanity… but she did.

She’d carefully air-dried her multi-toned hair into soft waves before pulling on a white, daisy covered summer dress that still fit. She couldn’t bring herself to wear the white three-inch matching heels that would make her legs look longer and thinner. No, she was a couple decades away from a time in her life when causing her feet abject misery seemed necessary. A woman over fifty, or so she told herself these days, would bravely pair the cute dress with beaded white sandals.

The result had looked pretty good in the mirror and Trudy was grateful now for the pedicure Jellica had insisted she get. The wedge heels on the shoes weren’t too bad to walk in, though they were nothing like the supportive sneakers she wore when cooking. Still, she filed the whole outfit away in her mind one worthy to be moved from the red room treasures of her former career into her bedroom closet.

The outfit greatly helped her feel confident as she walked alongside one of the TV station’s poorly paid interns.

As tight-fisted with money as the station manager was, the girl was probably working for college credit and nothing more. Trudy was proud of herself for not complaining to the girl and asking why the producer hadn’t come to meet her. Her mood worsened though as she neared Luke’s office and 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 while Jack kept saying “she” and “her” with venom in his voice.

Trudy couldn’t bring herself to smile at the nervous girl, but she did nod and whisper thanks. The barely twenty-something spun and sprinted back the way they’d come like the building was on fire. So much for the kid’s career in TV if two men arguing managed to intimidate her.

Did she really have any right to judge though? Trudy stared at the partially open 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.

And the boost could get Jack’s show picked up by the national affiliate.

Of course, the two of them trying to talk after all this time was potentially explosive. Was she looking for the kind of drama Jack Dozen seemed to bring to her life? No, she certainly wasn’t, but she wasn’t one to back down from it either, especially not when the chance to clear her conscience once and for all beckoned.

There were also her best friend Georgia’s snarky comments about her lackluster breakfast eggs. That failed experiment 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. Her well-paid chefs just needed to rotate the entrees more so customers didn’t get bored.

Sometimes her involvement in the restaurants only made things worse, which made her feel worse than useless. That feeling always irritated her and left her at loose ends which was why she’d accepted this current ridiculous offer.

In the bigger picture, working together was going to resurrect old feelings between her and Jack that were probably better left buried alongside their other youthful indiscretions. After fifteen years the dead horse of their rivalry needed burying instead of kicking. Wasn’t that reason enough to forge a new relationship? Wasn’t it kismet that it might lead to something mutually rewarding for both of them?

Not bothering to knock, Trudy pushed on the already cracked door until it was wide enough for her to enter. The older, bearded man behind the desk looked vastly relieved to see her appear. The handsome younger man standing with his arms crossed looked like he’d shoot her if someone handed him a loaded gun.

That realization brought a real, albeit evil smile to her face for the first time since she’d helped Georgia get ready for her date with Brent. She tossed her head to send her hair swinging a bit around her face. If she were being brutally honest with herself, apathy from the handsome man in front of her would have been much worse to face after all this time. Seeing hate was actually a relief… or the dress worked. It was hard to tell.

Whatever the cause, Jack Dozen’s obvious resentment of her appearing on his show at least cranked the entertainment value up by a factor of ten. They just had to settle a bit of old business first.

She gave Luke a big smile. “Hello, Luke. It’s been a while.”

“Yes, it has. It’s been too long. I was getting tired of only talking on the phone,” Luke said gruffly, getting up to come around and give her a hug. “Thanks for coming by today so we can chat about the details.”

Trudy hugged back, grunting as Luke squeezed her hard. She ignored the glare Jack was giving her over Luke’s shoulder, mostly because she didn’t care about the younger chef’s opinion of her hugging a friend.

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 over her hugging Luke? It didn’t even phase her. A big part of her was still—and would always be—the local celebrity, Chef Trudy Baker, who was well known for the size of her ego about her work.

Ignoring Jack for a moment, she focused on Luke, keeping one hand on his arm. “The contract’s out to my lawyer, but Rodney will have it back to me in a couple days. I didn’t see any big problems with it when I looked over 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. “Of course, I do. Hello, Jack. Good to see you again.” She smiled, knowing he couldn’t ignore her pleasantries without looking like the eccentric ass about his work he was well known to be.

Jack’s mouth twisted into a grimace before he spoke. “Chef Baker,” he said tightly.

Trudy smiled at hearing him say her title instead of her name. She liked Jack using it because it meant this wasn’t going to be personal for him, even if it had been said with a very sarcastic tone.

“What’s wrong, Chef Dozen? 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. This is yours. You should embrace it.”

Jack snorted. “My teacher? That’s a rather subtle dig.”

“Is it?” Trudy asked, giving Jack a wide-eyed look. “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 said dryly.

Trudy grinned at the insult, earning herself another glare.

Jack had been a student of hers. She’d criticized something he’d made one day and Jack had walked out of her class, never to return. Such things happened with students all the time, but Jack had taken her dig far more personally. Unfortunately, so had she afterward because it was the only time she’d not felt justified.

She’d been cruel to Jack on purpose. He’d been flirting with her and she’d felt the need to nip his flirting off before the attention of a man over a decade her junior ended up ruining her reputation and her chance for the show to be picked up nationally.

She’d danced around and played the avoidance game, waiting for Jack to make the kind of mistake she could fault him for. He’d always had lots of promise as a chef, more so than any of the other students. That’s mostly how he’d ended up where he was. Her personal boost—the one Jack didn’t know about—had only started his journey.

Jack had been twenty-five back then but no better looking than now. He’d always been a gorgeously different looking male with his Asian black eyes and Roman jaw. His hair was solid black and hung past his shoulders. He tied it back for the show. His body was leanly muscled but developed enough in all the right places to catch a woman’s eye, no matter what clothing he was wearing.

He was lucky to be aging slowly and well—two important assets for a television icon. His career should definitely be evolving into something much bigger than a local station in Cincinnati. It just made sense to her. She felt sure it did to Luke as well.

“Trudy?”

Ignoring Luke for a moment, Trudy walked to stand in front of the glaring man from her past. She crossed her arms to mirror Jack’s body language as she met and held his gaze. She wasn’t sure about Jack’s maturity after fifteen years, but she was very sure of her own. She had no problem speaking her mind to people she cared about, even people who didn’t know or deserve her support.

“This is your career on the line, Jack Dozen. Don’t let misplaced pride keep you from using the publicity I can bring you. Working with me is a short three months of your life, but Luke’s idea for this segment has merit. I have no intention of coming back full-time if that’s what worries you. My attorney is putting that stipulation in my contract even as we speak. I’m retired and done—I promise. Don’t blow this opportunity off just because you’re still mad over the past.”

Jack grunted, shook his head, and then glared across the room at his producer. “Three shows, Luke—not three months. If fans don’t respond to the first one, I want her gone, or I’ll go.”

Trudy shook her head. “I’m still in the room, Jack. It’s not good to insult your guest host while she’s listening to you rant about her.”

Jack’s glare turned her way. “You know I don’t want this, and you know why. You’re still as hard to work with as you ever were.”

Trudy shrugged. “Do you think you’re the first chef I’ve ever come across who couldn’t see me as anything other than competition? Be better than that. Chef up and let’s do this segment together.”

Shaking his head, Jack stomped past her and slammed open the office door to escape. It bounced off the hallway wall, making a dramatically loud sound.

***

Luke rubbed his beard and stared at the now wide open door. Trudy chuckled at the tense expression on his face. Jack’s stormy exit from their meeting would be tomorrow’s gossip at the station.

“How can you laugh about this, Trudy? Jack’s the calmest person around here. He wouldn’t tell me the real reason for his resistance to you, but he’s been in my office for two hours trying to talk me out of doing the segment. What the hell did you do to him?”

Trudy snorted. “If he won’t tell you about our sordid teacher-student past, why should I?”

Luke grinned at her teasing and lifted a shoulder. “Because you and I are better friends than you and Jack?”

That weak defense made her laugh again. “Friends? We’re more like partners-in-crime. I promised you the perfect replacement for me and then I gave him to you. So what if the station manager and the network disagreed? He’s been here for years now. How much more proof do they need that he’s ready to go national?”

“Trudy, you gave up your finder’s fee and residuals so they’d hire him and give him a chance. Jack owes his career to you.”

Trudy snorted. “Yeah, I can imagine the depth of his disgust if he ever found that out. I had my reasons, Luke. Yes, they were more personal than business, but I’d do it again.”

“Those reasons cost you a ton of money. The more successful Jack gets, the more money you lose because of that stupid deal you cut with the network.”

“Thanks for not telling him,” Trudy said.

Luke nodded as he shrugged off the gratitude. “You told me never to tell him, so I never have. All this time, I secretly thought it was because he studied under you as one of your students. Now I think Jack would never have taken this job if he had known you were his silent producer. Would he?”

Trudy slowly shook her head. “No. He probably wouldn’t have.”

Luke narrowed his gaze. “He didn’t have any problem spending the finder’s fee money you gave up to make sure he got the job. Want to know what he did with his windfall?”

Trudy hung her head, moving it slowly from side to side. “No. I didn’t want to know when I gave it up and I don’t want to know now. Jack’s life is none of my business, outside of his success. I get enough satisfaction from being right about his value to the network.”

She lifted her head and smiled. “Maybe that’s why I charged the network so much for the twelve guest spots. I’m not completely stupid. Really, it was just the one time I was foolish financially.”

Luke studied her closely. When Trudy said nothing else, he sighed in frustration. “Okay, I can see you aren’t going to spill any big secrets today. Just tell me one thing, Trudy. Is there some bad history between you and Jack that could erupt on the show?”

Trudy lowered her gaze to her nails. What could she say? That she’d once ignored a sexual pull to a man she’d decided was too green about life in about fifty different ways? She’d done her best over the years to forget why Jack hated her. Apparently, Jack hadn’t forgotten anything.

It was too bad he held so much animosity towards her, but his hate didn’t change what her gut was pushing her to do. Was she still acting out of guilt? Possibly. She could only hope that helping him up the next rung of the celebrity ladder would finally, finally put it all to rest.

“I’ll not let you down… or Jack. You just have to trust me.”

Luke went back to sit behind the desk. “It’s not you I’m worried about. If Jack ever found out what you did for him…”

“But he won’t.” Trudy said. She drew in a deep breath and blew it slowly out again. “Jack’s talented, good-looking, and has great ideas. He has the whole package, Luke. Sure, I can understand why the network isn’t super impressed with him at the moment. It’s tough to stay excited week after week after week. Maybe his normal stuff is a little dry, but he’s not a comedian or a guy who talks incessantly about his personal life. He’ll find the right groove eventually—just like I did.”

“Listen to you. You actually like him,” Luke concluded, shaking his finger at her. 

“It’s hard to like someone when he’s always being a shit to you,” Trudy replied smoothly. She shrugged off her profanity when Luke chuckled over it. She didn’t dislike Jack. Wasn’t that nearly the same thing? 

“Maybe he’d treat you better if he knew what you’d done.”

Trudy shook her head. “Tell Jack nothing about our discussion… or how he got on the show to begin with. Just help me handle the Baker’s Dozen episodes in a way that won’t make me want 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 truer than she’d like to admit, Trudy sighed and turned to leave. “I haven’t been physically in a room with Jack Dozen since the day he walked out of my cooking class. That was over fifteen years ago, Luke. Things will get more friendly between us as the show goes on. You’ll see.”

Her words held more conviction than she felt, but her mind was now made up. Jack would have to deal with her. Together they would entertain his fans like never before and that would catapult him to the next level. Then her nagging emotional debt to him might finally get paid off.

As for Jack worrying about her returning to the show, that was a joke. All she wanted was to go back to her retired life, her restaurants, and her friends. She was learning to live happily ever after sans male companionship. Of course, it might be nice to have a few she could call now and again… but she’d work on that later.

It was about to get hot in Jack’s kitchen. Hopefully, the two of them could handle the heat.

Releases August 23, 2017  Pre-Order Now!

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