Dining with Joyby Rachel Hauck
Chef Joy Ballard longs for a simpler life. But when a good-looking outsider arrives and spices things up, life becomes deliciously complicated.See more details below
Chef Joy Ballard longs for a simpler life. But when a good-looking outsider arrives and spices things up, life becomes deliciously complicated.
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Dining with Joy
A Lowcountry Romance
By Rachel Hauck
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2010 Rachel Hayes Hauck
All rights reserved.
Driving the Sea Island Parkway with her windows down, the nose of her Dodge Ram cutting through the swaths of shadow and light cast through the limbs of shading live oaks, Joy surfed her hand through the textured, saline lowcountry breeze.
Yesterday she'd been at peace, finally home from three months on the road, guesting on radio and morning talk shows, hosting food fairs, judging cooking competitions, riding in convertibles as a parade marshal, waving at the crowds standing on the curb, acting the part. Always acting the part.
Joy Ballard, host of Dining with Joy.
But when she returned home to Beaufort from the spring promotional tour, she ached to sink back into being plain ol' Joy Ballard: lowcountry girl, softball player, aunt, daughter, friend.
This morning she'd planned to sleep until the noon sun spilled through her window with a golden heat. Then she'd tug on a pair of baggy shorts and a tank top, wrap her hair in a ponytail, mosey outside with a lawn chair, and sit under the ancient live oak with her feet pressed into thick blades of green grass, wiggling her toes down to the red South Carolina dirt.
After a few hours in the shade, Joy would move to the backyard dock, catch rays from the afternoon sun while dangling her legs over the side, breaking Factory Creek's velvet surface with her red-stained toes.
What she hadn't considered was a predawn call from her executive producer, Duncan Tate.
"I'm driving down from Atlanta. I'll see you around four."
"Duncan, it's my first Monday home."
"We need to talk."
"If this is about Omaha—"
"See you at the studio."
"I need a Big Mac."
And that's how she found herself driving the parkway toward the Boundary Street McDonald's. Served old Duncan right. Disturb her vacation with business. She'd disturb his diet with McDonald's.
Her cell chimed from where she'd propped it in the cup holder, displaying Mama's smiling face—tanned and lined—on the phone's rectangle screen.
"Joy, I know you won't forget the girls' softball game this afternoon."
"Duncan called, said we needed to talk. I'm on my way to meet him. I'll try to get there."
"Doesn't he know it's your vacation?"
"I think this is about Omaha." Over the drawbridge, Joy peered right toward the Atlantic, catching a glint of sun off the mast of a drifting schooner.
"Serves him right. He should've watched your back."
"Maybe he didn't know."
"As your producer, it's his job to know. It's his show, Joy. You'd think the man would know the fine details."
"All right, thank you, Mama. I'll see you at the game." Mama wasn't a big fan of Duncan Tate since he finagled the show away from Joy's father.
"Four o'clock. They only play five innings, so don't think you got gobs of time."
"I know how many innings they play, Mama."
"Bring Duncan, let him see you have a life outside his show."
"Mama, his show affords us some of the nicer things. In case you forgot, my income made up the difference last year when Ballard Paint & Body ran into trouble." Joy braked for the traffic light, switching to red just as she exited the bridge. Her irritation over Duncan's surprise visit eased up as she gripped the steering wheel of her own truck, inhaled the scent off the Beaufort River, and gazed over the familiar landmarks of home.
"Yes, and I'm grateful, but it don't give him no right to own your time off."
"I'll tell Duncan to talk fast. See you in a bit."
Joy ended the call, set her phone back in the cup holder, and tapped the gas when the light turned green.
Mama. The woman had definite ideas. Like the notion Duncan stole Dining with Charles from Daddy. But during Joy's brief stint as an associate producer on the show, watching Daddy from the studio shadows, she suspected Daddy didn't care much for the business and production side of television. The man merely wanted to share his cooking creations with America, or his segment of it. How and when, why and where didn't matter much to him.
Then he died. Joy resituated in her seat, hands tight around the wheel, taking the bend of Carteret to Boundary, the aroma of sun-baked pine and steaming palmetto leaves saturating the air blowing through the cab. And Dining with Charles became Dining with Joy.
A sliver of light glanced off the edge of the Bible verse Joy had clipped to the truck's dashboard. Old Miss Jeanne had passed the verse to her one Sunday after Daddy's funeral, the week she'd agreed to take over the show.
"God's got your back," Miss Jeanne had said, handing her the slip of paper, her lively blue eyes sparkling from their high perch above her round, crinkled cheeks.
Three years later the square ends were bent and cracked from years of sitting under the windshield, the words on the old, lined notebook paper dim and sun-faded.
"My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me." John 4:34CHAPTER 2
In the McDonald's parking lot, Joy eased into the spot next to Duncan's Lexus. Cutting the engine, she angled down for her Alabama ball cap tucked inside the door's side pocket.
"Sure you want to eat here?" Duncan asked, watching her, propped against the polished hood, dressed in crisp khakis and a stiff, blue button-down, the wind tousling his silver hair.
His blue eyes communicated nothing but disdain for fast food.
"I've been hankering for a Big Mac." Joy peered over her shoulder as she tugged open the restaurant's door, Duncan stepping up behind her. She scanned the horizon for a glint of light off a camera lens or a shadowy movement among the trees. "No cameras?"
Duncan liked to send the show's cameraman, Garth, into Joy's everyday life sometimes to film spontaneous clips for the show. It'd become part of their unique brand.
But Garth had been with her on the road gathering footage for a new opening segment, and he'd probably had enough of her. In fact, he was probably enjoying his first day of vacation. Unlike the show's host ...
"What's with the hat?" Duncan followed Joy to the front counter, a bit of sarcasm lacing his voice. "Hiding?"
"Yes, my dirty hair." But if the hat obscured her identity too, then so be it. When she first became the host of Dining with Joy, someone snapped a picture of her eating Cheetos in front of a 7-Eleven and a headline ran the next day: This Is How We're Dining with Joy?
The shiny-faced teen behind the counter eyed her as she ordered a Big Mac Extra Value Meal, tipping his head to peer beneath the cap's bill. "Hey, aren't you—"
"The hungriest woman in Beaufort County? You bet."
"Yes, she's Joy Ballard, the cooking show host." Duncan tossed a twenty onto the metal counter. "I'll have a grilled chicken salad and a water."
The teen grinned as he punched in their order. "My mom can't stand your show."
Joy's sigh slipped through her puckered lips. She'd heard similar comments dozens of times, if not hundreds, but the words stung fresh every single time.
"Tell you what." She tugged a napkin from the dispenser and signed it with the Sharpie she kept in her handbag. "Tell your mom I'd love for her to come by the studio next month when we start filming our fourth season. We can give her a behind-the-scenes tour, show her around."
He laughed as he took the napkin, jamming it into his pocket. "She won't go, but I bet my dad will." The counter jockey handed Duncan change from his twenty. "Mom says she feels like a bloated tick when she watches you on TV."
"Just give her the napkin."
"How come the host of a cooking show eats at McDonald's?" The teen set Joy's Big Mac on a tray next to Duncan's salad.
"Because a foodie loves all kinds of food." Joy tugged her cap low and snatched up her drink cup. "But let this be our little secret, okay?" She aimed two fingers at her eyes, then swung her hand around to his face. "You and me, eye to eye, our secret." She nodded once, giving him a good, stiff stare.
Duncan mumbled, "Good grief" and picked up the food tray, leading Joy to a booth by the front window, the teen's voice billowing through the dining room. "The cooking show lady—Joy Ballard—is eating a Big Mac."
"You'll be on the front of the Beaufort Gazette tomorrow." Duncan drizzled low-fat dressing over his chicken and lettuce.
"I haven't been on the front of the Gazette since Daddy died and I took over the show." Joy peeled the paper from her straw and wiggled it through the top slit of the cup lid. "People around here don't really care about my claim to fame. Just another hometown girl trying to make good."
Popping open the Big Mac box, Joy took a large first bite, eyes closed, savoring the scent and taste of the special sauce and warm beef. When she swallowed, exhaling, she glanced at Duncan.
"My friends and I used to ride our bikes over the bridge to this McDonald's on Saturday afternoons."
"How old is this salad?" Duncan frowned at the cherry tomato speared on the end of his fork.
"We'd go to the beach in the morning, bake in the sun, then ride our bikes across the bridge, our money tucked into our bathing suits."
"Hmm, nice." Duncan leaned over his salad and sniffed, making a face. "So, you want to tell me about Omaha?"
Joy reached for her napkin to wipe sauce from her fingers. Right, Omaha. "Wenda Divine blindsided me. We were watching two young chefs demonstrate Culinare's latest cookware, and all of a sudden, I have an apron over my head and I'm being challenged with a secret ingredient." Joy eyed her Big Mac, her appetite waning. "I panicked."
"Panicked?" Duncan nibbled at his chicken, the lines of his face accented in the light falling through the window. "Panic is burning the food. Panic is undercooking. Panic is forgetting an ingredient. You, my dear Joy, fell off the stage." Duncan twisted the cap from his water. "Garth showed me clips."
"I didn't fall off the stage, I swooned." Joy shoved her food forward and folded her arms on the table. "After the initial shock of crashing onto concrete, it was pretty funny." She smiled. "You should've seen Wenda's face as she bent over me, her bow lips tight with fake concern while her fat eyes fired daggers."
"You could've broken your neck, Joy." Duncan slapped the plastic lid onto his uneaten salad.
"What would you have me do? Try to cook with the secret ingredient?"
"Yes, if you must know. I'm sure you could burn food with the best of them." Duncan tipped up his water bottle for a long, hard swig.
"Burn the food? I'd have to graduate to burning food. Got to know how to cook before I can burn." Joy closed the lid on her Big Mac box. "Did you know, Duncan? That I'd end up on stage with Wenda Divine? I have a rider on my contract. No cook-offs."
"No, I didn't know." Duncan sipped his water again, his gaze drifting out the window. "Who were the men who picked you up from your swoon?"
"The men of Delta Tau Delta, University of Nebraska." Joy sipped her soda. Part of her success was her male following, especially on college campuses. Whole fraternities TiVoed her show and watched at night.
When Joy came up with the idea of Stupid Cooking Tricks, college men across America were the first to submit videos.
Duncan picked at the wrapper on the water bottle. "Your mom ... how's she doing? Your nieces still living with you?"
"Mama's fine. Lyric and Annie-Rae are fine. In fact, they're playing softball right now." Joy leaned toward Duncan. "As we speak."
Duncan nodded. "Your brother and his wife—"
"Sawyer and Mindy."
"Still in Vegas?"
"Still in Vegas. Trying to find themselves." Joy regarded Duncan, trying to determine how his demeanor started a swirl of dread in her chest. "So, what's new with you, Boss? Ready for season four of Dining with Joy?"
The man leaned forward, cupping his hands around his water. "Remember how you felt when you stood on the pitcher's mound, bottom of the seventh, your team was up by one and the opponent's next batter was their best hitter? And if she hit off you, the NCAA championship would be lost?"
Joy narrowed her eyes at her producer. "Is there a reason you're talking softball to me?" She didn't like the way the conversation settled over her soul.
"You're going to need the same courage this season."
"Courage? What are you talking about?" Why did he hesitate? A no-nonsense producer and businessman, Duncan hardly wasted time with small talk or cushioning hard news.
"We've had fun, haven't we?" Duncan smiled, slow and steady, more cushioning of the conversation.
"We've had fun, yes. Despite the fact your show's host can't cook, we've had some success. But you didn't drive down from Atlanta to remind me of the good times, did you? What's going on? Did we lose a big advertiser?"
Duncan lifted his eyes to Joy's. "I sold the show."
The declaration pressed against her. "Excuse me?" She slid her soda cup to the edge of the table. "You sold the show?"
"Closed the deal two weeks ago." Duncan started stacking their uneaten food onto the tray.
"Why? To who?"
"Allison Wild at Wild Woman Productions. She needed a show to pitch to a network and contacted me about Dining with Joy. She thinks you're fabulous, by the way. She's on her way to Beaufort. We're meeting her at the studio tomorrow morning, nine o'clock."
"This is incredible ... Duncan, you can't just sell the show. What happened to all the fun?" A thin tremble started beneath Joy's skin, creeping through her middle. She gripped her hands in her lap. "This makes no sense."
"Out of the blue like this, yeah, it doesn't. I should've said something, but toward the end of last season, I realized I'd taken the show as far as I could. I was bored—"
"Bored? How can you be bored? The show is coming into its own. Stupid Cooking Tricks alone is putting us on the map. We're defining our brand, creating a cooking show that's about the viewer, the fans. There's no cooking show out there like ours."
"I agree, all true, all true, but I'm tired of cooking shows." Duncan's flat monotone conveyed his boredom. "This would've been my eleventh season. Seven with your dad, three with you. I'm out of ideas. Out of zeal. To be honest, Joy, if I didn't get out of the way, I'd wind up killing the brand. So when Allison called, nearly salivating over the phone about you and the show, I knew it was my chance to do what I want to do. I'm forty-nine years old, and if I'm ever going to try movie production, I'd best start now. I have a friend in L.A. who's been asking me to merge DT Productions with his company."
"You should've talked to me." Joy shook her head, squinting beyond the window at the pale blue horizon.
"Look, I know this doesn't seem fair."
"No, it doesn't." Joy swept up the napkins from the table and wadded them onto the tray, slightly aware that the volume of her voice drew stares from around McDonald's dining room. "Not even close to fair." She jerked to her feet, tray in hand, and started for the trash bins.
"Joy, listen." Duncan's grasp on her arm stopped her in the middle of the room, between tables. "You're still in business. Still host of the show. Your contract remained intact. Allison is very talented and creative. I don't know which network she pitched the show to, but you can bet your audience will double or triple this season. We'd gone as far as we could on the Premier Channel."
"I hosted the show because you were desperate." Joy freed her arm from his hold and leaned toward him. "Because Daddy asked me to help you as he lay in a hospital bed, dying."
"And we've done well. But I can't believe in three years this show hasn't woven into your DNA, become a part of you. You don't get a little bit of a thrill by hosting your own television show? Being a celebrity?" His grin mocked her.
"You think I enjoy lying to the viewers? That I get a kick out of pretending to be something I'm not? Do you think I like falling off stages and joking my way out of cooking questions?" The trembling in her middle intensified. "But I did it for you and because my dying father asked."
"Seems that new Dodge Ram out there was a nice pill for your pain."
"Duncan, I'm a cooking show host who can't cook. It's a miracle we've pulled off the charade this long. Now you want me to continue with a new producer, a woman I don't even know? Did you even tell her?"
"She knows what she needs to know. That you took over the show after your father died suddenly of a heart attack. She knows you did it to help me save my financial investment. She knows we changed the name from Dining with Charles to Dining with Joy. She knows you're funny, clever, and very popular with male viewers and the under-thirty crowd. She knows you're gorgeous and absolutely dynamite in front of the camera."
Excerpted from Dining with Joy by Rachel Hauck. Copyright © 2010 Rachel Hayes Hauck. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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