Read an Excerpt
Reggie Tremont snapped off the TV and tossed the remote onto the sofa, startling her fat cat, Mims. "Damn it, Tom." Fired again.
Not a world event, but he was enough of a bad-boy chef to get a small blurb on the E! entertainment network. Volatile chef dismissed. Celebrity witnesses involved.
They'd flashed a photo that made him look more like a pirate than a chef, with his black hair pulled into a ponytail, scruffy facial hair, dark eyes glinting. She was quite familiar with that unrepentant expressiona mask he popped on when he didn't want anyone getting too close. Or when he was getting ready to walk away.
Reggie grabbed her red cardigan off the arm of the recliner, where she'd left it the night before. She slipped it on while Mims twined around her ankles.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah." She headed for the pantry, where the cat food was stored. Like she'd forget to feed the cat. Mims was as wide as she was high.
Reggie opened the can and dumped it into the ceramic dish with Meow spelled out on the bottom, wrinkling her nose as the scent of fish mixed with who-knew-what hit her nostrils. Her stomach roiled. Second day in a row. That did it. She was going back to the old brand.
She fanned the air as she retreated from the kitchen. She had to make a quick stop at the catering kitchen she ran with her sister, Eden, and her brother, Justin, to pick up her portfolios, before her client meetings and site visits. At noon she'd trade her business heels for kitchen clogs and prep for a luncheon the following day.
Full days were good days.
She glanced at her watch after pulling her hair into a barrette at the back of her neck and double-checking her makeup. Please let the traffic be with me for a change.
The kitchen still smelled of the awful cat food and she tried not to breathe as she retrieved her keys from the hook next to the sink. Once she got outside the house and took a deep breath of fresh, non-cat-food-tainted air, she felt better. Well, a little better, anyway. The scent of the lilacs blooming beside the house was surprisingly strong and cloying, but not nearly as bad as Mims's new food.
Reggie pressed the flat of her hand to her stomach as she walked to her car, parked on the street, since her tiny brick house had no garage. She would not, could not, come down with something while they were short one prep cook.
Mind over matter. That was the trick.
Eden swiveled in her chair as soon as Reggie walked into the tiny Tremont Catering kitchen office. "We have three applicants for the prep cook position!"
Finally. The employment agency they used for catering temps had taken its sweet time. Eden and Reggie had been fighting to keep their heads above water after their last employee quit.
"Have you set up interviews?" Reggie asked, dropping her tote bag on the floor next to her small workstation. She was still fighting queasiness and now her forehead felt damp.
"Day after tomorrow. Back-to-back, starting at one o'clock."
Eden slipped an elastic band off her wrist and gathered her dark blond hair into a haphazard knot, then pulled a clean white chef's apron off one of the hooks next to her station. She wrapped the strings twice around her before she tied them. Eden was petite, but
"i think that's Justin's apron," Reggie said.
"It'll do," she replied distractedly. "After the agency called about the applicants, i got news that the Dun-mores have an unexpected guest this week, so I have to figure how to stretch what I made yesterday and add a couple more dishes. Then I still have all the morning prep for that luncheon."
Reggie glanced at the handwritten schedule she kept next to her computer. "Justin's coming in at nine?"
"New cake order and he wanted to get started."
"Of course," she murmured. He wasn't quite overextended enough and had to take on that one extra project to tip the scales.
When they'd first started Tremont six years ago, all three of them had worked extra jobs to keep the business afloat. Reggie, who like many would-be restaurateurs and caterers, had taken business and accounting classes along with her culinary courses, did the books for a couple small firms. Eden worked as a personal chef and Justin had snagged a part-time job as a backup cook for a resort at Lake Tahoe.
Reggie had long ago given up the bookkeeping to run Tremont full time, but Eden still cooked for three families on a weekly basis and Justin was a backup pastry chef and fill-in cook at the same hotel. And he made cakes. Exquisitely crafted and gloriously expensive cakes that were gaining popularity and bringing some serious money into the business. At the same time they were forcing him into a ridiculous work schedule that didn't involve a lot of sleep.
"i saw that your ex got the ax again," Eden said.
"I saw it, too," Reggie said, without looking up. She tucked her site notes into the wedding portfolio.
"I guess he should have kept his mouth shut." Eden breezed by her and disappeared into the kitchen.
"A lesson for all of us," Reggie muttered. A lesson Tom wasn't learning.
She shut off her monitor before shouldering the leather portfolio. Her stomach tightened as she walked into the kitchen, where Eden had beef stew simmering.
"There's something wrong with your stew," Reggie said, wrinkling her nose. She stopped a few feet away from the stove.
"What?" Eden lifted the spoon and sniffed.
"Can't you smell it? It's off."
Eden sniffed again, then tasted. "No, it's not."
Reggie came closer, took a deep whiff of the rich brown broth, and her stomach roiled violently. She clapped a hand over her mouth. "Reg?"
The leather portfolio hit the rubber floor mat in front of the stove as Reggie turned and raced for the bathroom, barely making it before she heaved. She pushed away from the porcelain bowl as sweat broke out on her forehead. Then pulled herself closer as she heaved again.
"Reggie!" Eden knelt beside her, one hand on her back, offering her a wad of toilet paper.
"I'm fine," Reggie said automatically, taking the tissue to wipe her mouth.
"Oh, yes. Totally fine."
"No. Really." Reggie focused on her sister. "I feel better."
Eden regarded her for a moment. "Could you stop by the seafood shop right now?"
Reggie's stomach convulsed at the mere thought of fish. It must have showed.
"Uh-huh." Eden helped her to her feet. "You need to go home and lie down before you get really sick."
"This was just a fluke. Besides, I have meetings." That she couldn't afford to throw up in.
"How long have you been feeling like this?"
"A couple days," Reggie said. "Just a little out of sorts. Kind of sick in the mornings."
Reggie met her sister's eyes, then slowly started shaking her head. "No. I feel sick in the morning. There's a difference."
"Oh, yeah? And what is that difference?"
"I believe what you 're talking about is called pregnancy," Reggie said.
"No chance ?" Eden asked.
"Who are you talking to? I never take chances."
Eden merely stared at her in a decidedly unconvinced way.
"Ever," Reggie added. She glanced down at her shoes, which, thankfully, hadn't suffered any damage.
"You've been damned cranky lately and now you're puking in the morning." Her sister lifted her chin, looked Reggie in the eye and asked flatly, "You swear there's no chance at all?"
Next she'd have her putting her hand on the Bible.
"None," Reggie replied. After all, she and Tom had used condoms.
Tom walked down Fifth Avenue, hands shoved deep in his pockets, chin tucked low to his chest against the pelting rain. He hated rain.
Right now he hated just about everything, and especially Jervase Montrose. It was one thing to get canned, and another to get canned in front of his kitchen brigade just after service. Jervase had planned it that way. He'd all but called in a news crew. And he'd made such a fricking big deal about having taken a chance on him. What chance? Tom had delivered everything he'd promised. The number of covers had increased exponentially since he'd taken the helm of Jervase's restaurant.
Tom climbed the four stone steps to the entryway of Pete's office building. The security guard nodded at him as he passed on his way to the elevator. His business manager's receptionist did the same, then ignored him during the twenty minutes Pete kept him waiting. He hadn't even sat down in one of the sleek ebony chairs on the opposite side of the equally sleek but cluttered desk when pete announced, "It was your fault."
Tom didn't bother sitting after that, since it was going to be one of those kinds of meetings. Pete might be a good six inches shorter than Tom and generally soft spoken, but he didn't take crap from anyone. "My fault? How the hell did you come to that conclusion?"
"What? Who? Because anyone there last night could tell you"
"Not last night. The night before. When you told the group of diners how ridiculous upper management was."
Tom shifted his weight impatiently. "I didn't say anything that wasn't true." Rampant inefficiency was making it damned hard for him to do his best work, and it wouldn't have been that tough to fix it.
"But unfortunately, you said it to one of the men responsible."
Tom snorted. "All the more reason to say something. If they would have listened to me weeks ago"
"Play the freaking game, Tom! Other people do. Why can't you?"
He placed his palms on Pete's desk and leaned closer. "Because the game bites. If there's a problem, you identify it and fix it."
"Well, apparently Jervase has identified the problem and fixed it."
Tom had no answer for that. Jervase was within his rights to fire him. He was stupid to, but within his rights.
"What now?" he asked.
"What the hell do you mean, what now? You're burning bridges faster than I can build them." "Build faster."
Pete slumped back in his chair. "Jervase is well respected. I hate to say this but you may have burned your last bridge. For a while, anyway."
"If he wants to, he can blackball you."
Tom's chin came up. "He's a money man. He doesn't know squat about running a restaurantor creating a menu." One of their first bones of contention. "I mean, seriously."
"Money talks." Pete got out of his chair and came around his desk. "Consider an apology. Possibly even a public one."
"An apology?" Tom almost choked. "Give me one frigging reason why I should apologize to him when his head is so far up his"
"He can do you some major damage, no matter how good you are." Pete paused, then added significantly, "Even more damage than you're causing yourself."
"/ am not the problem."
"So this has all been what?" Pete asked calmly. "A run of bad luck?"
Tom slapped his hand down on the desk. Why in the hell couldn't the man see what was going on? "It's been a run of idiots with money thinking they know more than the experts they hire. Assholes who can't handle hearing the truth because they didn't think of it themselves."
"Assholes who do the hiring and firing." Pete pointed a finger at him. "Assholes who hold your future in their hands."
"They don't hold my future," Tom said. "7 hold my future."
"Don't be so sure of that."
Tom's head started to pound. Pete was missing the point, and Tom needed to get the hell out of there before he really blew. He turned and headed for the door. "I've got to go."
"Don't do anything stupid," Pete said. "Or should I say stupider."
"Wouldn't dream of it." Tom yanked the heavy paneled door open and strode out into the hall. "I'll check back with you."
Pete didn't answer. Tom didn't know whether that was good or bad, and didn't care. Pete had been his manager since he'd been a candidate for the James Beard Upcoming Chef awards, and once they weathered this particular storm, things would be good again.
He could see why Pete wanted to make nice with Montroseafter all, Tom wasn't Pete's only client. But he was his biggest name, and Tom would pound nails with his knife before he'd apologize for speaking the truth.
Let the man do his worst.