Emily Kate Boudreaux runs a restaurant located on a bayou in Texas, because it’s what her family expects of her. She’d rather pursue her living as an artist. Then sexy chef Connor Rikeland walks into her life and turns it upside down. Soon, Emily Kate’s restaurant is a roaring success, she has time to paint to her heart’s content, there’s a hunky guy warming her bed, and she’s having visions of happily ever after.
Connor Rikeland is used to women throwing themselves at him, and he’s been known to use relationships as a bargaining chip in his climb up the ladder. He wants a culinary career in the spotlight—and Cajun cooking isn’t his ticket to fame even if Emily Kate is unlike anyone he’s ever met.
Not to mention Connor has a few secrets that have put him on the wrong side of her brother’s FBI case. When the pieces of just why Connor is hanging out in a backwoods town begin to surface, Emily Kate must decide what’s real, what’s a lie, and what’s worth risking her heart over. Because deception or not, life with Connor is delicious.
The restaurant had a strange vibe.
Just as Connor reached for the door, an older couple stormed out, complaining about jambalaya. Was the chef’s jambalaya not up to par tonight? That seemed like a dish a place called Louisiana Kitchen would have perfected.
The building was an old wooden structure with a covered porch wrapping around three sides. Ceiling fans lazily spun every few feet. They didn’t do much to ease the muggy, early summer air, but their real purpose was to keep mosquitoes at bay. The small lobby contained a hostess stand positioned to discourage patrons from seating themselves. Wooden benches lined the walls for waiting customers. Eclectic paintings and sculptures hung on the walls, all portraying some sort of Louisiana-esque theme. He studied an especially whimsical design of two crawfish that appeared to be holding hands—er—claws, until another unhappy couple who appeared to be in their forties walked into the lobby, chased by a frazzled woman with flour smudges on her face and curly blond hair attempting to escape the bun on the back of her head.
She had smooth, lightly tanned skin and looked as if she wore very little makeup. She was taller than average for a female, maybe five seven or eight, and most of that appeared to be legs. He had always had a thing for great legs.
Despite the smudges on her face, the snappy red and white sundress she wore was unsullied. Having worked in restaurants for most of his life, Connor immediately pegged her as some sort of manager. She’d probably been in the kitchen, sampling the chef’s dishes. Did the chef deliberately let her leave the kitchen looking like that, or was he so busy, he hadn’t noticed? Connor himself had experienced plenty of both types of days.
Except this restaurant didn’t look particularly busy. He could see into the dining room from his vantage point, and no more than half the picnic tables and booths were occupied.
In Detroit, Thursday evenings were often nearly as busy as Fridays. Yet another difference between this place and his home.
“Please, Mr. and Mrs. Henry, don’t be upset. I know you were looking forward to the pecan-encrusted trout. I promise, next time you come in, I’ll have a new chef. That will be one of the interview questions,” the blond pleaded with the unhappy customers as they paused in the lobby so Mrs. Henry could dig her keys out of her purse.
Pecan-encrusted trout? New chef?
Connor could do pecan-encrusted trout, assuming the kitchen had the ingredients on hand, of course. His interest was officially piqued. Not only in the hot blond, but in the situation that was becoming clearer. His mind spun a million miles a second: here was a way to hide out for a while, until it was safe for him to go back to Detroit and figure out
what the hell to do with the rest of his life.
It was crazy, but he had done crazier. It was risky ... Wait, no it wasn’t. This cozy, backwoods restaurant was not the sort of place his pursuers would ever dream of visiting.
His family had no clue what he was doing. Hell, he hadn’t even told them he was applying for the chef’s position at the casino. He hadn’t wanted to face their disappointment if he didn’t get it. As little as his family offered their praise, they were far too effervescent with their sympathy when things did not work out to his advantage.
It was perfect. It was ... “Uh, excuse me, Mr. and Mrs. Henry.”
The blond and her unhappy customers all turned their heads to look in his direction.
He offered his most charming half smile. The one most women found irresistible. Mrs. Henry’s eyes glazed, but the blond narrowed hers as suspicion bloomed on her face. Of course, when he was charming women, they were not normally under duress at the time.
“I’m sorry I’m late, uh ...”
“Emily Kate, is this your new chef?” Mrs. Henry gave him a hopeful look.
Emily Kate. While he’d only been in the South a few days, he had already decided he would never understand the locals’ insistence on using first and middle names.
“No, I ...” Connor cut her off.
“And, yes, pecan-encrusted trout happens to be my specialty.”
“It ... is?” She looked utterly confused. Connor bit the inside of his cheek to keep from chuckling. Sometimes, it was almost too damn easy. Another reason he couldn’t quite understand why his former boss up in Detroit had never promoted him. Everybody else loved him, almost instantly.
“Remember, I mentioned it when we spoke on the phone? I also told you I might be a little late today, considering I had to drive up from New Orleans,” he lied through his teeth. It was worth the small fib, though. The Henrys were hooked. Emily Kate was still dubious, but she was about to not have a choice. Connor knew how to play this game.
“You’re from New Orleans?” Mrs. Henry asked, her voice breathy. Mr. Henry didn’t even notice his wife was all but drooling. He was clearly too busy envisioning the pecan-encrusted trout that was now in his immediate future.
“Studied there,” Connor hedged. He didn’t want to get too caught up in his own lies. He didn’t know jack shit about New Orleans, and if these people started asking questions, he’d be screwed before he even got started.
“How about you all take your seats, and the server’ll get you a drink while Emily Kate and I head back to the kitchen and I get started on your order. Is that two pecan-encrusted trouts?”
“Crab stuffed shrimp for me,” Mrs. Henry piped up. “With tezcuco seafood salad.”
Tuscan what? “Uh, right. Come on, Emily Kate.”
The Henrys happily headed toward the hovering hostess, while Emily Kate remained where she was, glaring at him.
“Don’t look at me like that,” he chided. “I just saved your ass.”
Tami Lund likes to live, love, and laugh, and does her best to ensure the characters in her books do the same. After they've overcome a few seemingly insurmountable obstacles first, of course.
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Tami is multi-published, both self and with a few publishers, including Crimson Romance, Liquid Silver Books, and Soul Mates Publishing. Chances are, there is a new book coming out soon. Be sure to stalk her on social media, so you know when.
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