Kandy Laine built her wildly popular food empire the old-fashioned way—starting with the basic ingredients of her grandmother’s recipes and flavoring it all with her particular brand of sweet spice. From her cookbooks to her hit TV show, Kandy is a kitchen queen—and suddenly someone is determined to poison her cup. With odd accidents and threatening messages piling up, strong-willed Kandy can’t protest when her team hires someone to keep her safe—but she can’t deny that the man for the job looks delicious. . .
Josh Keane is a private investigator, not a bodyguard. But with one eyeful of Kandy’s ebony curls and dimpled smile, he’s signing on to uncover who’s cooking up trouble for the gorgeous chef. As the attraction between them starts to simmer, it’s not easy to keep his mind on the job, but when the strange distractions turn to true danger, he’ll stop at nothing to keep Kandy safe—and show her that a future together is on the menu. . .
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Cooking with Kandy
Will Cook for Love
By Peggy Jaeger
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Peggy Jaeger
All rights reserved.
"Hold on to your forks, folks, because today I'm making one of Grandma Sophie's to-die-for layer cakes, guaranteed to make your sweet tooth tingle." Kandy Laine aimed a wide, dimpled grin at the television camera.
The moment her sexy, heart-stopping smile flashed, Josh Keane knew he was in trouble.
He stood on the sidelines of the studio kitchen set, where he'd been instructed to wait, visitor badge secured to his jacket, and watched the hostess of EBC's most popular food show, Cooking with Kandy, film her season premiere.
"She'd discovered the benefit of adding pudding to the batter to increase the cake's moisture content decades before any of the big commercial baking companies did," Kandy told the camera.
Josh ran a hand through his thick, black hair and blew out a breath. From his concealed vantage point behind the studio equipment, he was impressed by the practiced ease with which she moved around the set kitchen, talking nonstop, explaining the details of the recipe she was preparing without the use of cue cards or even a glance at the teleprompter.
A little kick of awareness ricocheted through his midsection every time she glanced up, looked into the camera, and spoke. It was as intimate as if she were speaking to him and no one else.
Kandy lifted the baking tins from the cooling rack and turned them upside down to deliver two perfect cake rounds. "Perfection," she said, adding with a chuckle, "Grandma sure knew what she was talking about."
After reading the bio her assistant had faxed to him the night before, Josh had gone to bed, his dreams filled with visions of a tiny cherub-faced angel soaring around a kitchen.
One look at Kandy Laine in the flesh knocked that ethereal vision to hell.
At five-foot-nine in flats, most of it was leg packed into second-skin jeans. Jet-black curls tumbled down the middle of her back, secured from her face by a flaming red headband.
And that face.
Heart-shaped, its peak descended almost to the middle of a smooth, flawless forehead. Arched eyebrows and thick eyelashes framed her eyes, the outer corners tipped upward at a slight angle, their color a blue that rivaled a pale sky.
"Make sure you don't overbeat the frosting," Kandy instructed in a throaty voice made for seduction. "If you do, you'll break it down and your cake will have a flat, metallic taste. Another of Grandma's helpful hints," she added with a wink and a devilish grin.
When her dimples emerged, that little kick tackled his insides again.
Maybe he should just forget this whole thing. Leave now while no one was looking.
Josh took a deep breath and turned to the serious-faced blonde in wire-framed glasses who'd appeared next to him.
"I'm Stacy Peters. Max's daughter? I'm the one who contacted you."
Josh extended his hand to her outstretched one.
"You got my fax?"
He nodded. "I read through it last night. I've got to tell you, Miss Peters, bodyguard's not my usual gig. Investigations are more my speed."
"I realize that, but my dad told me how you and your partner helped his firm with a securities investigation last spring. He's a very good judge of character and he claims you're the best at what you do, so please, hear me out?"
Resigned, Josh swept his gaze back to the set. The hostess was busy assembling the now-cooled cake.
"Come with me. I'll explain everything." She led him from the back of the studio set down a long hallway, and into a room.
"This is my office."
He opened the bottom button on his jacket and sat in the cushioned chair she indicated. The room was large, windowless, and crammed with books and furniture.
"First, I'll be honest." She sat behind a desk cluttered with paper, various magazines, and two computer monitors. "Kandy is totally opposed to the idea of a bodyguard."
Great. "Won't make the job easy."
"I know, but she's just being stubborn. She doesn't believe there's anything to be concerned about."
"And you do?"
She nodded. "Kandy's just too obstinate to accept it. She refuses to think someone is out to harm her. Her exact words on the subject are 'why would anyone?'"
Josh leaned back in the chair and crossed one leg over the other. "She doesn't feel there's a problem, then?"
"I think she doesn't want to believe there is, which is different. But unusual things have happened and I'm worried."
"Why don't you start at the beginning, take me through everything, so I can get a better picture of your concerns."
Stacy leaned forward, elbows resting on her desk. "Two months ago we were on a working vacation in Los Angeles."
"Kandy, myself, Reva — her agent — and Gemma, one of Kandy's sisters." She ticked the names off on her fingers. "We had car trouble one night while on the way to dinner. Kandy was driving, which she does almost like a NASCAR pro. The brakes gave out when we came around a curve. The car picked up speed and, by the grace of God and Kandy's skills, we managed not to crash. But it was a scary few minutes."
"Did you have the car inspected?"
"Yes. The brake line had a nick. Not all the way through, but enough so the stress of driving caused the fluid to leach out."
"Was there a police investigation?"
"Minimal. Since the car was a rental, the cops just cited the company for poorly maintaining it."
He shrugged. "Sounds negligent, but plausible."
"Kandy thought so, too. The next thing happened when we got home. Kandy went back to her condo and found the door unlocked."
"Didn't she think that was unusual?"
"Well, yeah, but after the fact she told me she thought the housekeeper might have forgotten to lock up when she left."
"Doesn't say a lot for the housekeeper," Josh said. "Was anything missing?"
"Not missing, no." She pushed her glasses up higher on her nose. "But there was something wrong. At first Kandy didn't realize it. She was so beat from the trip and the time difference that she just crashed. The next morning, she discovered her home answering machine had been unplugged from the wall. Kandy is old-fashioned in some ways and the answering machine was Grandma's, so she uses it for family members to leave her messages instead of on her cell. Then, when it was time to get dressed, she noticed something was off in her closet."
Stacy sighed and swiped at her bangs. "You have to know Kandy to understand this. She's the most organized and meticulous person on the planet. She can tell you down to the penny how much is in her checking account. She knows what's missing from her pantry when she needs to shop, and she never uses a list. All of her shoes are lined up according to color and heel height."
Josh whistled. "Sounds obsessive."
"Being obsessive's gotten her where she is. Anyway, some of the things in her closet weren't in the places they should have been. Spring blouses in the fall section, skirts with pants, things out of order. Nothing major, just items out of place."
"How did she explain it?"
"Well, again, she thought the housekeeper might have riffled through them. But she couldn't come up with a reason why."
"Did she confront the woman?"
"No," she said, lips pressed tightly together. Josh could feel her displeasure from across the room. "Kandy refused to. Claimed she probably did it herself. Blamed it on the stress of the television season starting and the new book coming out at the same time."
"So she brushed it off." Josh thought for a moment. "Does anyone aside from the housekeeper have a key?"
"Where do you keep it?"
She opened the bottom drawer of her desk and took out a key chain with a number of keys. Holding it up, she jiggled it a few times and said, "Everyone in my family has at one time or another given me a spare key to something. Houses, cars, condos. I keep them here in case of an emergency, or if someone ever forgets theirs. I don't even know which one belongs to which person."
Josh grinned. "You're the responsible one in the family, aren't you?"
She didn't return the smile. Instead, she threw the keys back into the drawer and pushed it closed.
"I wanted to confront the housekeeper, but Kandy wouldn't let me. Then, her wallet went missing."
"I thought so. Kandy assumed — again–she'd misplaced it."
"Did she file a theft report?"
"She didn't want to, but I forced her hand. We had to change all her credit cards, pin numbers, etc." She sat back and blew out a breath. "What a hassle it was. A few days later, the wallet showed up in her office closet."
"So she had misplaced it."
Stacy stared at him.
"Except you don't think so, do you?" he added.
"No. Kandy is methodical, like I said, and it takes a lot to distract her, so I find it hard to imagine she took her wallet out and put it in her closet without thinking."
Josh nodded. "Were there any charges on the credit cards when it went missing?"
"If it had been stolen you'd expect there would be."
Stacy took a breath then said, "I know. Anyway, the latest thing to happen is the reason I felt we finally needed to take action. About a week ago, we were in preproduction for the season premiere. Kandy was going over some blocking with the director —"
"Blocking?" He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees, folding his hands together.
"It's when they decide where to put the cameras while Kandy's moving around the kitchen, so every shot is perfect."
"Cort Mason, our director, and Kandy were standing at the kitchen island, going over some of the directions, when a spotlight fell from the rafter column."
"Was anyone hurt?"
"No. Cort heard the cable snapping, and looked up just as the light started to disengage. He pushed them both out of the way. The light weighs more than two hundred pounds. They could have been crushed to death."
"What did you do about it?"
"Cort screamed about notifying the network; I wanted to call the police. But Kandy nixed both ideas without even a consideration."
"When we asked the studio set manager and the lighting grip, both said they hadn't checked the lights in a while, so we couldn't know for sure if it had been tampered with or had just started to give from weight and age."
"Is that common?"
She shrugged. "In the past the crew has found a loose-fitting light during an inspection. Like I said, they're not given a great deal of thought unless a bulb burns out. When they did look at the connection after the fall, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. No cut lines or frayed wires."
Josh sat back and considered what she'd told him.
"So, to be clear, you don't think these are just arbitrary accidents or coincidences. You think someone is bothering her, intentionally trying to harm her?"
Stacy gnawed on her bottom lip again and nodded. "Yes."
"I have to ask, why? To what end would harming and harassing her serve?"
"I wish I knew. We could have been hurt if the car had crashed, and Kandy could have been severely injured if it weren't for Cort's quick thinking."
"But the clothes, the wallet," Josh said, "those seem more petty than harmful."
"I agree, it's weird. But I have this nagging thought something isn't right, and it makes me think she needs protecting."
"And I still disagree."
They both turned at the sound of the voice.
Standing in the open doorway, arms crossed at her chest, Kandy Laine regarded them with a look of annoyance. From twenty feet away and under harsh studio lights, she'd been beautiful. Up close and in person she was magnificent. Even with the thick theatrical makeup, her face was luminous.
"How long have you been standing there?" Stacy asked.
"Long enough." She came into the room, her hand extended. "I'm Kandy Laine."
He rose from the chair. "Josh Keane."
Years of practiced professionalism stopped him from showing any outward reaction when their hands met. But on the inside, it was like being targeted with a stun gun — quick, intense, heart-stopping. Raw, primal energy filtered through her long fingers into his.
One of her eyebrows arched a bit higher as she regarded him.
"Well, Mr. Keane, my cousin here seems to think I'm in need of your services. What, exactly, are they?"
He couldn't tell if she was serious or amused.
"I run a private investigations company along with a partner. We do corporate research, background checks, insurance fraud detection, things of that nature. Plus, I do a small amount of protection work when I find an assignment to my liking."
He watched her face as amusement won. Kandy's lips curled back and a bark of laughter jumped from her. The hearty, caustic sound was a stark contrast to the lovely woman standing before him.
"So I'm an assignment, am I?" Her grin lit the room in all four corners.
"Kandy," Stacy said. "Sit down and let's talk about this. Please."
Josh held a mental breath while she decided to stay or march out. He was pleased when she plopped down on the leather couch across from the desk.
Stacy rose, came around the desk, and sat next to her cousin. "Kan, I know you're against this, but you can't just keep disregarding the strange things that have been happening to you."
"Every one of them is explainable —"
Stacy raised her hand. "No. You just wish they were. Now, I asked Mr. Keane to come down here today to discuss the possibility of looking into these incidents. We need answers."
Kandy stared at her cousin for a few seconds and then turned her gaze to Josh.
He sensed the battle playing in her mind. From what he'd read in her bio coupled with the in-depth Internet search he'd done before coming to the studio, this was a woman used to calling the shots. To relinquish some control couldn't be an easy feat for her, by any means.
A moment later she sighed, and said, "Oh all right. If it will get you off my back and let me get back to my show, then fine. I'll go along with looking into everything, even though I think it's a huge waste of time. But I don't need a bodyguard. I won't have my life disrupted with someone following me around every second of the day."
"You don't have a choice in the matter," Stacy said.
Stacy's gaze shot to Josh and then back to Kandy's irritated face. "Part of the package with hiring Mr. Keane is he'll provide protection for you until I'm satisfied it's not needed."
"Stacy, I will not live with someone constantly monitoring me." She jumped up from the couch, her voice rising like her body.
"You have to," Stacy said, keeping her tone calm and even. "When I told Reva what happened with the light fixture, she had her phone in her hand, ready to call the network. But we realized the bosses would have hired outside people to investigate and I knew you'd hate that even more, so we didn't. This way, with Mr. Keane working for us, you can have one-on-one protection from someone who'll be looking out for yourbest interest and not the network's."
"Stacy, I can't allow this —"
"If I may," Josh said.
Kandy's gaze held barely suppressed fury as she turned toward him. Her lips flattened and grew tight; he had to give her kudos for her self-control.
She gave him a curt nod. "Go ahead."
Josh had dealt with resistant clients before and measured his response. "What Miss Peters says makes a great deal of sense. I can understand you value your privacy, and I assure you, I'd be as unobtrusive as possible if I was with you. You could live your life as you usually do, no restrictions. Unless, of course, I found a need for them." When he saw the anger leap back across her face, he raised a hand. "Let me finish. You could go where you want. Do what you want. I'd be shadowing you, not limiting you. Nothing would have to change. It would be my job to see you'd maintain as normal a life as possible."
"My life isn't what anyone would term normal." She'd reined in her anger, her voice once again seductively low and calm. "I'm on the go from the minute I wake up, working fourteen-to sixteen-hour days most of the time. I have a national book tour starting in two weeks, plus I'm filming the new season. There are public appearances and television interview spots I'm scheduled to do. Go, go, go, all day, every day. You should know what you'd be setting yourself up for."
Josh relaxed for the first time since meeting her. "Don't worry about me. I'm used to working long hours, and I can take whatever schedule is thrown at me."
Excerpted from Cooking with Kandy by Peggy Jaeger. Copyright © 2017 Peggy Jaeger. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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