When Kate heads to Mauritius on an assignment, she seems set to secure her dream job at Be magazine until a cyclone curdles her carefully laid plans for the summer issue. With her career at stake, Kate will stop at nothing to get things on track, shamelessly entangling others in her quest, including the irresistible Fai Li, but when she takes a step too far, she sets herself on a tempestuous course that will upturn some long-held beliefs.
Set in the glamorous, racy world of magazines and suffused with sensual descriptions of food - plus recipes - Love Apples delves into love and lust, marriage and infidelity, and why people continue to invest in a convention so prone to failure.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.70(d)|
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The Last Supper
'I want to experiment, but I can't remember if you like beetroot.' Kate had to shout into her phone to hear herself over the buzz of shoppers trawling Borough Market.
'You know I'm always a willing guinea pig when you're wearing the lab coat,' Daniel said. 'Anyway ...' An industrial-strength meat slicer nearby let out a high-pitched wail and drowned out his last words.
'Sorry, I didn't get that.' Kate plugged her left ear with her index finger to hear him.
'It was probably a bit sordid for a Friday afternoon. When will you be here? I want to linger over our last supper.'
Kate laughed. 'Not long. It's too damn cold. I'll stick to essentials.'
'Yeah, right,' Daniel said sceptically, as Kate generally found it impossible to resist the multitude of edible treasures laid out on trestle tables here, and would inevitably buy more than she needed. Tonight, however, she too wanted to savour every last minute with her sexy significant other, so she would make a concerted effort not to go off-list.
'O ye of little faith,' she said. 'See you very soon; I can't wait.'
As she paid for the prime specimens of the purple root vegetable, she felt a twinge of guilt about having so easily dropped Daniel's favourite dish from the menu. Although she was in the habit of putting her job before anything and anyone, this was to be their last meal together for a while – and she had planned to surprise him with roast pigeon. When the beetroot had presented itself, however, her desire to try out a recently sampled dish for a future recipe column had proved greater than her desire to please Daniel. She would make it up to him in other ways, she decided, sweeping away her momentary misgivings with thoughts of the potentially career-changing trip that lay ahead. A frisson of excitement ran through her, and she pulled her coat around her to contain it as she re-entered the stream of shoppers weaving through the market's stalls.
True to her word, she resisted the lure of black olives gleaming in large barrels, jars of jewel-coloured relishes vying for attention with slabs of marbled country pâté, and a stall where a bearded man in an orange windcheater was doling out oysters with a dash of lemon and Tabasco. Just a couple of those oysters would be the perfect antidote to Kate's hunger pangs resulting from a missed lunch, but she continued resolutely on in the direction of her organic chicken supplier until a cloud of fragrant steam brought her to an involuntary halt. She inhaled the sweet chocolate aroma rising from a tray of just-out-the-oven brownies and considered buying one for the road, but her recollection of a recent dressing-room encounter with her reflection in a bathing suit propelled her on. A bathing suit! It was hard to imagine that she would soon be in an environment conducive to shedding the layers she was currently wearing – a grey silk jersey shift dress, knee-high boots, and a black coat – in favour of flesh-baring attire. It was even harder to believe that she would be doing this in the name of work. Lifestyle di-rec-tor; directorrrrr; director. She rolled her new title around in her mouth, savouring its rich flavour, but stopped short of swallowing, all too aware that until her probationary period was over, the title wasn't truly hers. This upcoming trip, however, was her chance to prove that she was truly worthy.
A table piled with jars of tapenade caught her eye – one of Daniel's favourite things. She would buy some as a parting gift to him, she thought, and as some form of compensation for not getting the pigeon. Of course, he hadn't known about the pigeon, so he wouldn't feel short-changed, but she still couldn't shake off the feeling that she had been unnecessarily selfish, particularly given that Daniel had recently sampled a steamed sheep's head on her behalf in a Moroccan restaurant.
After Kate handed over a sum of money more befitting a jar of caviar, the woman behind the counter said, 'Merci.' There was a heftier price tag attached to produce bought from a woman whose family grew the olives for her tapenade organically in just the right terroir – or a man who knew by name every cow that produced his thick clotted cream – but it was worth it to Kate, who had absorbed a passion for good food as if by osmosis in her mother's kitchen while growing up. That was when it had been all sugar and spice, of course, before things had turned sour and Kate had begun to fantasise about a very different life from one dedicated to hearth and home. It was ironic, she thought as she made her way down London Bridge Road, passing stores glowing yellow in the grey dusk light, how this foodie gene that she had once fled had finally been the ticket to her dream job. Stranger still was that, having once reviled her mother's thankless devotion to the domestic domain, Kate now used Annie Richmond's talents like a secret test kitchen, to the extent that she sometimes felt like a fraud accepting accolades for the recipes she presented on the page. The new role, however, entailed a broadening of scope and would allow her to make her own honest mark in virgin territory, which she craved. The question, of course, remained whether, without this crutch, she would fail. As she drove along the Thames to Daniel's apartment, she thought of the stumbling blocks she had already encountered while preparing for her first major assignment, and panic began to rise in her. What if she really was only as good as her mother's last recipe?
'I see you stuck to essentials,' Daniel said at the door, talking not so much to Kate as to a bunch of deep-purple tulips. He kissed her forehead, which was the only exposed bit of flesh, as he rescued the flowers from their precarious perch atop a large brown paper shopping bag.
'I did. Anything not specifically for dinner has been purchased to keep you sweet while I'm gone.' Kate followed him into the kitchen and deposited her bags on the counter that separated the kitchen from the living area. One bag slumped, and a wheel of dark yellow cheese rolled onto the floor.
'I don't think anything in these bags is going to compensate for your absence,' Daniel said, stooping to pick up the cheese.
'There's tapenade,' Kate said, pulling the jar out of the bag she was unpacking.
'Perhaps I'll survive then. ... Beyos,' Daniel read off the cheese packet. 'Flinty-textured, tangy, and smooth.'
'Cheese tasting's the new wine tasting. Didn't you know? That's also for your private consumption, by the way. And this.' Kate pulled a bar of artisanal dark chocolate out of the bag – 85 per cent cocoa solids was too bitter for her liking, so Daniel would appreciate that this was purely for him.
'But, Madame Ambassador, you are spoiling me,' Daniel said in a confused foreign accent, affectionately running his fingers over the bridge of Kate's nose. He took delivery of the chocolate and then turned to his glass-fronted wine fridge. 'Red or white?' he asked. 'Or something more befitting the launch of a maiden voyage?' He reached inside and pulled out the type of bottle that never failed to excite Kate, one with a bulge at the top sheathed in foil. This particular bottle had a pink hue to it and an instantly recognisable garland of white flowers highlighting the name.
'Perrier-Jouët.' Kate swooned. 'Mm. I don't know; it might be tempting fate at this stage – you know, celebrating the birth before I've come to term.'
'You're not serious?'
'I think I am. ... Yes, I am.'
'Really?' Daniel cocked an eyebrow and held the bottle up at a jaunty, come-hither angle.
'Let's save it for when I get back. Provided that I haven't screwed things up, of course. White would be good for now.'
'Crazy Kate.' Daniel put the Champagne back into the fridge. 'You're brilliant. The job is yours. And you deserve it.'
'I'm not; it isn't actually 100 per cent yet. And Amber's definitely not convinced I do deserve it. She's stated quite clearly that I'm on probation.'
Although prone to paranoia, Kate knew that in this case her trepidation was not unfounded, as the job had not so much fallen into her lap as been plucked from the Fates via some artful manoeuvring. Since her focus in the past had largely been on food writing and styling, she wasn't the ideal candidate for the job, which entailed editing an entire section encompassing food, décor, and lifestyle. But she wanted this job more than she had wanted anything in her life before. So she had made a pitch to Be's editor with bells and whistles – elaborate storyboards and feature plans – that she hoped would drown out the quieter CVs provided by more qualified but less hungry contenders. Mission accomplished, she now had to live up to the hype she had created.
'I'm pretty sure that this trip is my ultimate test and that I'll be out on my ear if I don't pull it off,' she added.
'What makes you think you'll fail?' Daniel asked. 'You've planned the whole thing like a military operation.'
'Well, the troops aren't exactly happy.' Kate snipped off the stem of a tulip with a little more force than was required. 'Roberta found out today that the hotel I've arranged for us doesn't have a spa.'
'Ah, the lovely fashion editor?'
'Which effectively puts you on a par with her now, right?'
'Except she's not on trial, and the fashion team occupies a higher plain than do those of us dealing with the mere necessities of life like food.'
'You mean a plain where a spa is a standard? Like pay TV and a mini-bar?'
Kate laughed. 'Yes, precisely. Argh, I don't know how I'm going to survive eight whole days in that woman's company.'
'We clearly need to get some of this into you pronto,' Daniel said, pulling the cork out of a bottle of Pouilly-Fumé.
'I should have mentioned that the good stuff is wasted on me,' Kate said. 'Alcohol of any description would serve my needs just fine, but thank you.' She kissed Daniel's nose as she reached over his shoulder to get a vase from an open shelf. 'And sorry, I will stop ranting, but she's been on at me all day. I mean the hotel isn't fantastic. It's a little bit plastic and familyish, but we're not Vogue, who could get an entire five-star resort in exchange for a mere paragraph.'
Kate's first major task had been more difficult than anticipated. 'Find us a location for our summer special,' Amber had said. 'Something beachy, but with standout cultural elements that we can integrate into the resort-wear and food pages.' Apart from showcasing barely-there bikinis and other seasonal essentials, the destination would be a backdrop for warm-weather food, as well as décor and outdoor entertaining ideas. Kate's mouth had watered at the delicious possibilities. No problem, she thought.
'Accommodation also needs to be boutique or four- or five-star to cater to our reader profile,' Amber added, 'and our budget is more or less nil, which means this has to be a barter deal.'
'And I'm not keen on Asia,' Roberta said. 'It won't work with the new collections. I'm thinking colonial island style: Mustique, St Barts ...'
Big problem. Mustique and St Barts were quickly crossed off the list since it was peak season in the Caribbean and rooms at hotels on these high-end islands weren't going for a song of praise in a new, unfamiliar UK magazine. More rejections from other islands followed.
Kate had been surprised and disappointed to find the wings of her imagination clipped just as she had been poised to soar, leaving her scavenging like a seagull for what she could get. Even more distressing was the discovery, now that she was in the management sphere, of just how badly affected by the financial crisis Be was. She had been aware that the magazine was under financial pressures; seven months after the Lehman Brothers collapse in September of the previous year, many sectors were now feeling its snowball effects, but Be had appeared to be in excellent health. Although just under two years old, it had recently scooped Women's Lifestyle Magazine of the Year at the prestigious Ink Publishing Awards, where it was described as 'a delicious blend of style, substance, and savvy', 'a magazine with savoir faire and savoir vivre', and 'a beautifully packaged manual for modern living'. Added to this, its owners, Eric and Terry Lowell, had been lauded for making such a success of a new launch at a time when electronic media was encroaching on print.
Having made a small fortune churning out community newspapers bulging with classified-style advertisements, along with low-budget IT and DIY magazines, the small-town rough diamonds behind Lowell Media had decided two and a half years previously – some might say untimeously – to produce their first upmarket magazine. After identifying a gap for a women's glossy with a strong lifestyle focus, they had poached one of the hottest editors in the genre, Amber Love, to serve as the magazine's face, giving her carte blanche to hand-pick an editorial team to mould the body into shape. For Kate, being selected to take charge of the food pages of the highly anticipated title had been like finding Willy Wonka's golden ticket wrapped up with her favourite chocolate bar.
However, the financial crisis, coming so soon after Be's launch, had hit the magazine where it hurt most, in advertising. Even Lowell Media's cash cows were being milked by cutbacks, while its fledgling thoroughbred was getting a real whipping, losing to more established titles such as Marie Claire, Red, InStyle, and Living Etc. when advertisers were forced to choose. And the Lowell brothers were getting nervous. It was make-or-break time, Amber had told Kate upon announcing her new role. Everything was riding on a bumper summer issue that would take ABCs to a healthier level and drive advertising sales up.
Kate had thus felt her failures in the Caribbean acutely and experienced sleepless nights before finally coming up trumps in the Indian Ocean, where Mauritius's Sunshine Hotel Group had agreed to accommodate the entire team in their four-star property Paradise Bay.
'Let's see if this is the right medicine for you.' Daniel inhaled the small taster of pale gold wine he had poured, and then tipped it into his mouth and sucked in air. As a wine broker, he did this out of habit, but it still made Kate smile. He had such a serious, earnest expression when tasting wine, like he was taking Communion rather than mentally assessing the wine's legs, nose, and body. Kate in turn considered his. He was still wearing his navy suit trousers from lunch, but his jacket and tie had been discarded and his pink cotton shirt, now untucked, hung loosely on his tall, slim frame. She found him particularly sexy when he was slightly dishevelled, and she suddenly felt aroused at the thought of having a whole evening ahead with him.
Having assessed the wine to be 'very drinkable', Daniel half-filled a second glass and handed it to Kate, who took a generous sip. 'Heavenly. I feel better already,' she said. 'Salvation in a glass of wine – does that make me an alcoholic?'
'Not in such mitigating circumstances. Are you going to take off your coat?'
'I have to get my bag out of the car – my hands were full.' Kate reached for her keys on the counter, but Daniel got to them first.
'But you're half undressed. And it's all the way past the corner store.'
'Relax. I need to pick up some milk anyway.'
'Well, at least have a nut for the road.' Kate dipped a hand into a brown paper bag and placed a smoked Spanish almond between his lips.
'Mm, you know how to whet a man's appetite,' Daniel said, his mouth curled in a delicious grin. 'I'll be as quick as I can.' He slipped his feet into a pair of loafers that he kept next to the door for making milk, bread, and newspaper runs. 'And I want this nut to forget about work for a bit, please.'
After watching the door close behind him, Kate took off her coat and finally sank into the sofa, stretching out along its length, her glass of wine poised to wash away the day's stresses. Bliss. Or almost. She propped a fluffy purple angora cushion behind her head and placed a red velvet one on her tummy to support her glass. These were two of a collection of mismatched cushions strewn on the couch that Kate had added to soften Daniel's flat in the course of the year and a half they had been together. When they had met, the second-floor warehouse conversion overlooking the Thames had been stylishly minimalist and defiantly bachelor, something one might see in Wallpaper magazine. There was the blue leather corner sofa she was sitting on pushed against the exposed-brick wall, the angular glass dining table on trestles surrounded by red Verner Panton chairs that looked like upside-down question marks, a large flat-screen TV, and a foosball table. 'Defiant' wasn't far off the mark, she had later learnt; he had bought the flat and furniture shortly after his ex-wife had walked away from their marriage, taking with her their Blackheath house, two golden retrievers, and Daniel's squash partner. He said he missed the dogs most, but he hadn't played squash since that time – and it was obvious he had been deeply hurt.
Excerpted from "Love Apples"
Copyright © 2016 Melissa van Maasdyk.
Excerpted by permission of Lulu Publishing Services.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 The Last Supper,
Chapter 2 Island Dish,
Chapter 3 Sugar and Spice,
Chapter 4 Out to Lunch,
Chapter 5 Bananas Flambé,
Chapter 6 Breakfast and Epiphanies,
Chapter 7 Playing with Fire,
Chapter 8 Cold As Ice,
Chapter 9 Tea and Sympathy,
Chapter 10 Walking on Eggshells,
Chapter 11 Puttanesca,
Chapter 12 Sour Grapes,
Chapter 13 Sweet Revenge,
Chapter 14 Home to Roast,
Chapter 15 Noble Rot,
Chapter 16 Fashion Plates,
Chapter 17 Love Apples,
Long, Lazy Weekend Lunch,
Seductive Supper (aphrodisiacs included),
About The Author,