Never Ever Satisfied
If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen. Right?
That’s easier said than done when Chef Trudy Baker has to co-host the cooking show of a former love, Chef Jack Dozen. The problem is Jack’s a jilted former love who would rather throw Trudy into the fire than share the spotlight with her.
Sexy Jack has all the right ingredients for the perfect man… except he’s too young for her. He’s also her guilty secret—one she never told anyone about.
Trudy’s romantically happy friends are insisting she gets happy too, which is the only reason she signed up with The Perfect Date. Dating sounds nice in theory, but in practice, the only place Trudy ever gets hot these days is in the kitchen.
Her saner self knows she’s better off dating a mature man closer to her own age than a cocky idiot who’s spent the last decade hating her. The recipe of the network putting them together on TV is one that spells disaster. The only thing she and Jack ever cooked up together was trouble.
Maybe trouble is the ingredient she’s been missing…
RELEASE DATE: August 23, 2017
Read Chapter 1
“Whether you like Chef Baker or not is moot, Jack. She’s the boost you need to convince the network 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 his producer thought hiding behind his giant desk would keep him safe. Luke was a hard man to read at times, but Jack had gotten pretty good at it over the years they’d worked together.
“Why does my show need a boost? The network had enough faith to give me the show when she left. Don’t you think that choice made her angry at me? Chef Baker has no reason on earth to want to help me. ”
“You’re being unreasonable about this and Trudy’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…”
Luke barked out a laugh. “Who are you trying to kid, Jack? 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 in that time. 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 a 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 retired, 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.
“Jack… 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 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 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 from hosting a local TV show.”
Jack crossed his arms. There was no argument good enough to refute the massive responsibilities at St. Christopher’s that 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 kept conspiring 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, for the first time in years Jack turned his back before temper got the better of him.
He’d never really bought into the whole bad karma thing, but now he would have to rethink his stance. The emotional hurt Chef Trudy Baker had caused him years ago had continued to affect him for 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.
Plus, her best friend Georgia’s snarky comments about her lackluster breakfast eggs hadn’t helped. That failed experiment had been enough to keep her out of both her restaurants for a couple weeks now. She’d perfected the food they served years ago. Her well-paid chefs just needed to rotate the entrées more so customers didn’t get bored.
Sometimes her involvement in the restaurants only made things worse, which made her feel useless. That feeling always irritated her and left her at loose ends about how to fix it, 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 it kismet that the Baker’s Dozen segment 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 had worked. It was hard to tell. Whatever the cause of his extreme reaction, 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 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.
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. This place hadn’t change a bit.
“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. His show is very popular. 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.”
“Maybe the money wasn’t as important to me as being right. 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 did. 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.”
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 firmly. 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. I’m sure 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 he never had 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.
Read Chapter 2
Trudy sighed heavily as she peered at herself in the small bathroom mirror. She really, really, really didn’t want to do this. Her hair looked okay because she’d come straight from having it done at her favorite hair salon, but she hadn’t bothered with professional makeup. The camera would just have to deal with her two light coats of mascara and her nearly nude lip gloss.
Swearing to herself over some unnamed guilt she refused to acknowledge, Trudy dug her mineral powder compact out of her tote and a large round brush to apply it. With her hair swept to the side and back, a sweaty forehead would be the only thing people paid attention if she didn’t lose the shine there. No one would ever hear what she was saying. Looking pale and tired was something she could live with, but looking greasy was more than she could handle.
Knowing she was still stalling only made her madder at herself, so Trudy tossed everything back into her tote and headed to the room Della had asked her to come to when she was finished. The woman smiled wide when she saw her.
“Hi Trudy. Please sit in the seat and turn your body and both legs to one side. There’s tape on the floor to give you an idea of where to put your feet. I find a side position allows me to get the best angle on a client’s face.”
“No problem. It’s been awhile since I’ve been in front of the camera, but I remember the drill. The tape on the floor is called a mark by the way,” Trudy said, trying not to sound as grumpy as she felt. She ordered herself to think of this dating video as practice for her upcoming return to doing a live TV show.
Before Della could start the actual recording, Trudy saw Ann and Georgia slip quietly into the room. Della arched an eyebrow over the unexpected intrusion, but Trudy knew it would take a hell of a lot more intimidation than that to run off her two nosiest friends. Jellica was probably working today or she’d have been there too.
“What are you two doing here? All you’ve done is caught me playing nice. See?” Trudy said, pointing to her butt. “I’m here and in the chair.”
Georgia leaned against the wall and crossed her arms. “We decided not to trust you. You didn’t go to Mariah’s stylist or use her image consultant… and now look at you. You look like frump woman.”
Trudy glanced at Della who ducked her head and closed her eyes to laugh privately. Keeping out of Della’s line of sight, Trudy raised her hands high and gave them a double middle finger salute while Della wasn’t looking. Ann and Georgia both laughed at the insult. Their continued laughter had Trudy automatically straightening in her chair.
“Hold up a moment, Della. We need to fix her before she starts,” Ann ordered. She rummaged in Trudy’s purse on the floor, found what she wanted, and trekked around the camera to Trudy. “Here—please at least use this so you won’t be invisible.” She pushed a red lipstick and a tiny mirror into Trudy’s hands.
Rolling her eyes, Trudy snatched them both from Ann’s open palm. While she applied the expensive red stain to her lips with an expertise she’d nearly forgotten she had, Ann stepped around and ran fingers through Trudy’s now shorter and layered haircut. The sneaky woman included a scalp massage as part of her interference which had Trudy lowering the lipstick and groaning over the release of an incredible amount of tension.
“Good lord,” Ann said, massaging harder. “What have you been doing to yourself this week?” When Trudy closed her eyes and groaned louder, Ann looked over and winked at Della. She massaged a bit more, fluffed hair, and ran her fingertips over Trudy’s earlobes to restore some energy to her face. “Okay, Della. This is the best I can do about her stiffness without putting her completely to sleep. Hopefully some guy will ask about her despite those nearly permanent forehead wrinkles.”
“Oh, stop bragging, you smooth-faced cradle robber. Did you mess up my expensive haircut?” Trudy demanded.
“Are you jealous of my younger man?” Ann asked snidely. She stepped around to the front of Trudy and inspected her hair as she slipped the lipstick and mirror from Trudy’s now lax fingers. “If I messed anything up, it was in a good way. Now you look a little brighter, a little more relaxed, and not like a frump woman.”
Trudy narrowed her eyes at her so-called friends and watched as Ann gave a grinning Della a thumbs up before she went back to the wall where a smirking Georgia waited.
“Want me to toss them out, Trudy?” Della asked.
Trudy snorted. “No. They’d just grill me later until I cracked. Let them stay. I don’t care. I can handle a crowd, even a heckling one.”
“Okay,” Della said, starting the recording. “Say your name, your age, and anything else you would tell someone you’re meeting for the first time.”
Trudy nodded and fought back a resigned sigh before drawing in a breath to speak.
“My name is Trudy Baker. No, wait—that’s not true and I don’t want to start this recording with dishonesty. My actual name is Gertrude Adelaide Baker, but no one left on earth calls me Gertrude because I’d kill them outright if they did. Now you’re probably wondering how I got such a name. No? Too bad, I’m going to tell you anyway. The camera and I are old friends, but it triggers the bossiness in me, so consider yourself warned.”
Trudy laughed dryly at her own bad joke, tilting her head to show her best angle—now that she remembered which way to tilt her chin and turn her head. She may not have liked being on display in her celebrity career, but she did know how to work being the center of attention.
“My maternal grandmother, Oma Herxheimer, was old school German. To this day, I don’t know what kind of dirt she had on my parents, but it must have been good because they allowed her to name me. Oma was both feared and hated, her reputation saved only by her exceptional culinary skills, which she passed on through the business end of a spoon.”
“Your grandmother taught you to cook?” Della asked.
Trudy nodded. “Cooking was the one thing Oma did that kept her from being totally unlovable. Now I know people always say bad things about their relatives, but I swear every word I’m speaking about my Oma is true. The appalling woman also named my brother after Hitler and made sure everyone we grew up with knew it. No worries though, he changed it as soon as he could. My sister, Diana, got lucky. By the time she was born, Oma Herxheimer had gone on to that great beer fest in the sky.”
Della cleared her throat. “That’s good for the introduction. Let’s talk about something else, Trudy. Do you care for people to know how old you are?”
Trudy snorted over Della’s redirection. She mock-glared at the camera in retaliation. “Honey, no one knows how old I actually am except the Ohio Department Of Motor Vehicles.” She grinned wickedly when she heard Ann and Georgia stifling giggles behind their hands. “Okay. Okay. I guess potential dates have a right to at least know my decade. I’m just going to say that I’ve hit the big Five-O and leave it at that.”
Della nodded solemnly and made a mental note to edit out the Hitler commentary. “Let’s talk about your work now,” she suggested, looking for more normal ground.
Trudy shrugged. “I did two years of college to get an associate and then I went to culinary school. I’ve been working as a chef since I was twenty. It’s been a great career, but a demanding one. I also did a cooking show on a local Cincinnati television network for fifteen years. Before, during, and while the show was airing, I also taught at several cooking schools… and still occasionally teach. In addition to that, I own several restaurants and help produce a…”
Trudy halted her revelatory spewing just in time. It would give too much of her personal information away to admit she had picked her replacement for the TV show that once featured her. Jack probably would never see this stupid video, but she didn’t want to take that chance.
She shrugged and took in a deep breath. “I’ve diversified over the last seven years. Besides the restaurants, I have several other financial investments in the Cincinnati area. I don’t work full-time though. At the moment I’m…” Trudy paused, looking for the right words, and then snapped her fingers and smile. “I’m semi-retired. Yes, that’s what I am—semi-retired. I only work when I feel like it.”
“What do you do when you’re not working? Tell us about your hobbies,” Della ordered.
“I like to cook for my friends. I like to read. That’s about all. I’m mostly a boring gal.”
“No, you’re not. You also cook for lots of charity events. I know because I’ve attended them,” Della chastised.
Trudy reluctantly nodded. “Okay, yes… that’s true. The charity events are my way of giving back to my city and community. But,” she held up a warning finger and glared into the camera, “I don’t take solicitations for my services. I volunteer where I feel I can genuinely help, and that’s the extent of my contributions. I won’t be dating some guy trying to get me to cook for his favorite cause.”
“No. Of course not,” Della said, smiling. “Potential dates are forbidden to capitalize on any information contained in your dating portfolio. They would get kicked out of the database for a single report of solicitation.”
“Rules are nice, but that won’t stop the really determined people. Trust me, I know. Thank you for letting me record this warning. It will make the harassment lawsuit stronger,” Trudy teased.
“There’s no need to worry about anyone overstepping, Trudy. Mariah is adamant with her clients,” Dell replied, answering the concern with an assurance she knew to be true. “So now we get to the more interesting stuff. Tell us about your perfect date.”
Trudy reached up and rubbed her nose. If she’d ever dated in the normal, everyday sense, she might have an answer to that question that people would believe. As it was, she had nothing. “I’m not sure how to answer. Can we just go on to the next question?”
Della laughed softly at the dodge. “Why? Have you been disappointed in love too many times?”
“No,” Trudy said carefully. “It’s just that I don’t really date. Over the years I’ve hooked up with plenty of men for the short term, but I’ve never had time for more than that. It’s sort of been the penalty of being too busy.”
Della shook her head. “So there’s been no candlelight dinners for you? No movies? No long walks through the park holding hands?”
Surprised by Della’s specificity, Trudy wrinkled her face in thought. Had she ever gone to a movie with a guy outside of her brother? She couldn’t recall doing so. Maybe in a group of friends, but then most of her friends were women.
“I’m sure I’ve done those things at some time or the other, but they weren’t a normal part of my typical relationship. Most of the men in my life have been a lot like me—busy business owners with agendas to keep. I’m not sure what I’d do with a guy who wanted all that romantic stuff you just mentioned.”
Della had to work hard not to wince at the sincerity in Trudy’s voice. “Okay. Let’s visit fantasy land for a moment. When you think of your perfect date, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?”
“Fantasy land?” Trudy squirmed in her chair and made a face as she tried to conjure up a dating fantasy. An image of sexy Jack Dozen instantly popped into her head. He was cooking dinner for the two of them in her gourmet kitchen at home. He was also telling her stories and making her laugh. And he was doing all that just before kissing her again like she’d ten thousand times fantasied about after he’d kissed her that one time all those years ago.
The epiphany that she was fantasizing about her now fifteen year old lust for Jack hit her hard. “Holy shit.”
Her immediate swearing and face palm startled the others in the room with her. She heard Ann and Georgia whispering. She heard Della clearing her throat. And the whole time her own heart thundered nervously in her ears. Where had that crazy stuff even come from?
Outside of watching Jack on his show, she’d not seen the man in fifteen damn years. She’d seen other men—lots of other men. Some of them had kissed well too. She’d let her lust lead her into the beds of several men, but for some bizarre reason, not a single kiss except Jack’s featured in the fantasy Della ordered her to conceive.
Wow, she really needed to get laid.
She’d been blaming her lack of interest in a lover on menopause, which had ended that phase of her life a couple years ago. However, sexual abstinence was all that could reasonably explain why she was still sexually interested in such an inappropriate man after all these damn years.
“Sorry, Della. The fantasy thing is beyond me,” Trudy said, genuine regret in her voice, but about way more than just her swearing. She was over fifty. Didn’t infatuation have a freaking time limit? “I hope you can erase my panicked tongue slip from the recording.”
Della nodded. “No worries. I can do some fairly amazing things.”
“Good,” Trudy said, sighing. “Now let me try and genuinely answer your perfect date question.”
Trudy lifted her chin, looked at the camera, and conjured a fearless smile any beauty pageant participant would have envied. Poise in front of the camera was starting to come back to her.
“My perfect date is going to be a total surprise to me because I’ve never taken the time to actually date the way most people do. But if we’re talking about fantasies… the man who provides me with a perfect date will be incredibly handsome, boyishly charming, and yet mature enough to be totally at ease with himself… and with me.”
“That sounds very good. I’ll take one of those dates as well, please,” Della said with a laugh.
Trudy held up a hand. “Wait—I’m not done. My fantasies tend to run long and get very detailed,” she joked, grinning as she leaned a bit forward. “My perfect date must also be confident enough in his own self-worth not to mind dealing with what remains of my celebrity life. I still get stopped in public by fans of my old show. Plus, they are frequently guests in my restaurants.”
“Sounds perfectly reasonable. Anything else on that list of details?” Della asked.
Trudy thought and nodded. “Yes. There are a couple more things. While it’s probably not fair of me to ask for this at all, I would really like the perfect guy to be a passable cook in the kitchen. Even the most talented chef gets tired of eating her own cooking, which is a problem because I hate to eat out. Lastly, having a sense of humor is high on my list of good character traits in a person. I love to laugh. In fact, laughing and having a good time is as equally important to me as good food.”
“Great stuff,” Della encouraged, glancing up. “Now tell us something about yourself that you’ve never told anyone else. It can be a small confidence. It doesn’t have to be a big one. Take your time answering. The camera is digital. I can even pause the recording if you want to think out loud for a while first.”
Trudy shrugged and laughed. “No need for all that, but are you really ready for me to share my biggest secret? This one will be a shocker to those with a romantic soul.”
Della laughed. “Go ahead. Shock me,” she ordered.
Trudy shrugged. “I’ve never been in love.”
“Never?” Della squeaked, lifting her head from the camera.
Trudy chuckled softly. “No—never, as in not once in my fifty years of living. I’ve been infatuated many times, and I’ve experienced my fair share of lust, but I’ve never met a man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. I like living alone. I like not answering to anyone. So any man interested in dating me should know beforehand that it’s best not to weave too many happily ever after dreams. If I’m being honest here, I simply don’t think I’m that kind of woman.”
The minute the words left her mouth it occurred to Trudy that her answer might stop all the determined rich men in Mariah’s precious database from picking her out for any dates at all. Trudy smiled at the pleasant thought of being totally ignored, now very pleased with her smart-aleck revelation. She didn’t even have to feel the least bit guilty about it because it was absolutely the truth. She wasn’t shopping for a man to complete her or anything else that sappy.
“Okay. I think that’s it, Trudy. Do you want to see your video before I upload it to the database?”
Trudy belly laughed. “God, no. I’m just glad the torture is over. Let me know if you need to re-record any of it.”
“I can tell you already that I won’t need to,” Della said confidently.
“Great.” Trudy looked at the back wall. “Come on, you giggling idiots. Let’s get a drink somewhere. I need a stiff one after all that fantasizing crap.”
Georgia snorted. “If you truly needed a stiff one, you should have worn a boob shirt instead of that Catholic schoolgirl blouse you have on. You’re going to need all the help you can get after telling your Hitler story.”
“Oh, screw you, Georgia. That’s my family history. I’m not ashamed of it.”
They said goodbye and left the room with Della resetting the camera.
Ann sighed heavily at their bickering. “Don’t worry, Trudy. I’m sure there are plenty of guys in Mariah’s database who’ll think your Nazi-supporting granny story is funny.”
Trudy laughed as she stared at Ann. “God, I must have sounded really bad if my video has you making wishes for me.”
“Oh, it was bad alright,” Georgia said with a head nod. “Good thing Della’s a miracle worker. If I know her, she’ll cut the Hitler reference out and manage to save your proud German ass.”
Trudy rolled her eyes. “Georgia, if you can get a date, I’m pretty sure anyone can, no matter what they said on their video. You practically told all men to eff off in yours.”
“There’s no practically about it. I did tell them that,” Georgia agreed as she opened the door of the office so they could leave. “Why I actually have a man in my bed again after all this time is still a complete mystery to me. Hollywood likes me for reasons I can’t fathom. I haven’t been this sexually content since my twenties. Mariah would be so proud if she knew.”
Georgia turned and waved a finger. “But I will kill you if you tell on me. My daughter does not need more reasons to gloat.”
Ann huffed as she looked at a now laughing Trudy
“Well, I hope you find someone to finally fall in love with and I hope the man loves you madly back. I hope the two of you run off to some secret island in the Caribbean to get married just because you can’t wait to be man and wife.”
Trudy rolled her eyes. “Wow—just wow. Talk about fantasies. The Caribbean? Is Calvin really that good, Ann?”
Ann grinned as she nodded. “Yes. And finding the right person makes all the difference when defining the word good. Plus, there’s something great about finding it when you’re mature enough to appreciate the true gift that passion is.”
“Passion,” Trudy repeated, sighing heavily herself. “I’m so unromantic. Even the word makes me tired. No wonder I haven’t wanted sex in ages.”
“I know what you mean, but when you find the right guy, he’ll wake all those girly parts of yours back up. You’ll find energy for him,” Georgia promised.
“Great,” Trudy said, exaggerating a sigh. “Now I’m feeling the pressure to perform. I’m going to need two drinks.”
“You can have as many as it takes to start dating again,” Georgia declared, patting her hanging wallet. “We’re using Mariah’s credit card to pay for your liquid therapy.”
The three of them chuckled as they headed to a nice, little bar that wasn’t far from Mariah’s office.