If you can’t take the heat...
Chef Emily Ford has the talent and ambition to make it in the cutthroat culinary worldwhich is why she refuses to accept her demotion at the hands of Knox Briscoe, the new CEO of Briscoe Ranch Resort. He has grand plans that include bringing in a celebrity chef to helm an exciting new restaurant at the resort, but Emily has plans of her ownto do whatever it takes to change his mind…
ONE MORE TASTE
Cut out of the Briscoe fortune by an old feud that left his family in ruins, Knox grew up dreaming of revenge. Out-maneuvering his uncle for control of Briscoe Ranch is merely the first step in a grand plan that doesn’t include the brazen and beautiful Emily Ford…or the attraction that sizzles between them. With both their futures on the line, can they keep their desires on simmeror are they headed from the frying pan straight into the fire?
Return to Brisoce Ranch Resort in the second book in Melissa Cutler's One and Only Texas series!
About the Author
Melissa Cutler is the author of The Mistletoe Effect and the One and Only Texas series. She knows she has the best job in the world writing sexy contemporary romances and romantic suspense. She was struck at an early age for an unrelenting travel bug and is probably planning her next vacation as you read this. When she's not globetrotting, she's enjoying Southern California's flip-flop wearing weather and wrangling two rambunctious kids.
Read an Excerpt
One More Taste
By Melissa Cutler
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 Melissa Cutler
All rights reserved.
Not everyone was lucky enough to drive a haunted truck. Then again, lucky wasn't a word Knox Briscoe would use to describe his current predicament. On a prayer, he turned the key in the ignition, but the Chevy offered him nothing but a dull click in response.
"I don't believe in ghosts," he said, although if anyone had actually heard his declaration, it'd have to be ghosts, or perhaps some unseen wildlife. Because there was nothing or nobody in this stretch of backcountry other than him and his truck, a roadside sign proclaiming Briscoe Ranch Resort straight ahead in three miles, and a wide, calm lake nestled in the Texas hills.
He tried the key again. Nothing but that maddening click.
He tapped a finger on the steering wheel, denying himself any more grandiose a reaction because Knox was nothing if not a man in command of his emotions.
He popped the truck door open to the crisp October day. His freshly buffed black dress shoes hit the gravel with a crunch. Given the statement he'd planned to make on this, his first day as part-owner of Briscoe Ranch, it wouldn't do to soil his suit with engine grease. He shrugged out of his sports coat, hung it on a hanger he kept in the back seat for just such a purpose, tucked the ends of his blue silk tie into his shirt, and rolled his shirtsleeves to the elbows before pulling the truck's hood up.
He'd never considered himself much of a car guy until he'd inherited this one through his dad's will three years earlier. It'd taken a lot of YouTube videos and conversations with his mechanic for him to get up to speed on maintaining the thirty-year-old truck, but it'd been worth every hour and dollar spent. None of that new knowledge was going to help him today, though. Nothing obvious was broken or out of place, and the engine had plenty of oil and other fluids.
Knox patted the truck's side. "Okay, Dad. Message received. You don't want your truck on Briscoe Ranch property. I get it. But don't you want to be there to see poetic justice done, even if it's just in spirit, with your truck?"
God, he felt like a moron, talking to his dead father, but what other explanation was there for the '85 Chevy Half-Ton's mystifying quirks or the neck-prickling sensation that he wasn't alone every time Knox got into the cab? Even in death, it seemed, his dad had decided to stubbornly hold his ground against the father and brother — Knox's grandfather, Tyson, and his uncle Ty — who'd excommunicated him from the family before Knox's birth. Even in death, his dad refused to let his prized truck lay one spec of rubber down on Briscoe Ranch property. Which sucked, to be honest. It would've been icing on the cake to have his dad's spirit there, watching Knox take control of the very business his dad had been robbed of.
Behind the wheel again, he gripped the key in the ignition and closed his eyes. Please work. Please.
Click. Click. Click.
"Okay. But this sucks. I didn't want to show up for the meeting in a Town Car with a driver like a mobster goon who's there to shake everybody down. Would you at least let me get to the entrance of the resort before stalling the truck again?"
Wow. Bargaining with a ghost. Knox's freak flag was really flying this morning. "Never mind. I don't believe in ghosts."
After another futile turn of the key, Knox grabbed his messenger bag and stepped out of the truck, then rummaged around the copies of the Briscoe Ranch shareholder contract his lawyers had prepared until he found his cell phone.
As the phone rang with his office in Dallas, he spotted a for sale sign ahead of him, demarcating a gated driveway a few yards from the lake. He walked along the road to it, the phone to his ear. Was there a house at the end of that twisty, tree-lined driveway? Did the property border the resort? Looked like it might. Perhaps he'd buy it and expand the resort even more than he'd originally planned.
Shayla, his younger sister, who also worked as Briscoe Equity Group's office manager, picked up on the fourth ring. "Don't tell me Ty Briscoe's giving you shit already. I told you that you should've brought Yamaguchi and Crawford with you."
Maybe another boss would've bristled at such insubordination, even by a blood relative, but Knox had developed a deep mistrust of kiss-asses over his years as an entrepreneur, which was why he valued Shayla's loyalty and honesty so much. And, in this case, she was absolutely correct. Linda Yamaguchi and Diane Crawford were his firm's lawyers, who Knox should have brought along today as he usually did for business acquisitions. But Knox wanted to close this deal on his own, eye-to-eye with the uncle he'd never met before they'd started this negotiation — the uncle whom Knox was going to ruin, just as Ty had ruined Knox's family.
"You can tell me 'I told you so' later, but that's not why I called. My truck broke down three miles from Briscoe Ranch. I need a driver, and I need him to get here in —" He lifted the flap of a clear plastic box affixed to the for sale sign and pulled out a flier.
The photograph gracing the center of the flier drew his eye. A grand, modern house sitting on a hill overlooking the lake. It was exactly the kind of dwelling Knox was hoping to move into somewhere in the vicinity of Briscoe Ranch since he couldn't very well run the show from his home base of Dallas, five hours away.
"Hello? Are you still there?" Shayla asked.
"Sorry. Something caught my eye. If you could have the driver here in less than an hour, that would be great. Can you find me someone?" His meeting with Ty Briscoe wasn't for another two hours, but he wanted to take one last walk around the resort without any of the employees knowing who he was or why he was there.
"I can't imagine that being a problem." He heard the fast click-clack of keyboard typing. "And ... let's see ... Nope, no problem. Your car will be there within the half hour."
"You bet. And Knox? I'm proud of you. Dad would be proud, too. You know that right?"
Knox eyed his broken-down truck. He had to believe Dad would be proud of him for taking ownership of the family business, despite this hiccup. Otherwise, what would be the point of Knox putting himself through all this? "Thanks, Shay. I'll talk to you soon."
As the call ended, the crackle of tires on gravel snagged Knox's attention. He pivoted around, expecting to see a Good Samaritan pulling to the shoulder to see if Knox needed help, but his truck was the only vehicle in sight — and it was rolling backwards, straight toward the lake.
Dropping the flier, his messenger bag, and his phone, he took off at a sprint. "No! No, no, no. Shit!"
This couldn't be happening. He'd engaged the emergency brakes — hadn't he?
The truck was picking up speed as it backed towards the lake. Knox lunged toward the door handle. He was dragged along a few feet before finding his footing again. He dug his heels into the ground and yanked. The door swung open. He staggered and hit his back against the side of the hood, but managed to rebound in time to throw himself in the cab.
He stomped on the parking brake. It activated with a groan, but the truck wouldn't stop. He pumped the manual brake. Nothing happened. The truck bounced over rocks hard enough to make Knox's teeth rattle. He turned the key. Again, nothing. Nothing except a splash as the back of the truck hit the water.
"Jesus, Dad! Help me out, here!" he shouted.
The truck slammed violently to a stop, pitching Knox forward. He bit his tongue hard. The burst of pain and taste of blood was nothing compared to his relief that the truck, with him in it, hadn't submerged any deeper in the water. His pulse pounded in his ears, even as his labored breathing turned from panicked to annoyed. "I don't get it. What are you trying to tell me? I thought this was what you wanted."
With a hard swallow, he thumped a fist against the steering wheel, jolting himself back into composure. All this talking to ghosts was getting out of hand. Today, of all days, he could not afford to be off his A-game. He fixed his Stetson more firmly on his head and gave himself a stern mental lecture to get a grip.
All business again, he assessed the situation. Not knowing what had caused the truck to stop or if any sudden movements would jostle it back into motion, he rolled the driver-side window down and peered over the edge to stare at the brown-green water, thick with silt and mud that roiled through the liquid like thunderstorm clouds. The water lapped at the bottom of the door, not too deep, but the back tire and back bumper were fully submerged. If the truck had rolled only a few more feet into the lake, Knox would've been in real trouble.
As things stood now, though, Knox's main problem was that there was no way for him to avoid getting wet on his walk back to shore. Carefully, so as not to jar the truck back into motion, he unlatched his belt then opened the zipper of his pants. Shoes off, socks off, then pants. If he got to his first day at Briscoe Ranch on time, in one piece, and dry, it would be a miracle.
Clutching his pants, socks, and shoes to his chest, and dressed in only his shirt, a pair of boxers, and his black hat, he opened the door and stepped into the water, sinking knee deep. Silt and muck oozed between his toes. The cold ripped up his bare legs, making his leg hairs stand on end and his balls tighten painfully. Grunting through the discomfort, he shuffled away from the door until he could close it.
A series of exuberant splashes sounded from farther in the lake. It sounded like two fish were having a wrestling match right up on the water's surface. He turned, but only saw ripples. Setting his mind back on the task at hand, he pulled his foot off the lake bottom, muscles working to overcome the suction, and took a carefully placed step toward shore.
From seemingly out of nowhere, something blunt and slimy smashed into his calf. The surprise of the hit knocked Knox off balance. With a yelp totally unbefitting a thirty-three-year-old Texan and former rodeo star, he danced sideways, fighting for his footing and clutching the clothes in his arms even tighter.
He desperately scanned the water around him, but the swirling silt had reduced the visibility to almost nothing. He held still another moment, listening, watching.
"Holy shit, are you okay?"
The man's voice startled Knox. He looked up and saw a young guy of maybe twenty-two standing on the bank of the lake, dressed in a suit and with a panicked expression on his face. Behind him, a black sedan idled on the shoulder of the road.
"I'm fine. I think. Are you my driver?"
"Yeah, Ralph with the Cab'd driving service app. Shayla at Briscoe Equity Group ordered a premium lift for Knox Briscoe. I'm guessing that's you since your truck's underwater."
And observant, too. "Yep. You see a cell phone and messenger bag somewhere up there, Ralph?"
"Hold up. Is that an '85 Chevy Silverado? That's a hell of a truck."
"It is." Except when said truck was haunted and decided all on its own to take a swim despite its owner's better judgment.
"You're lucky the tire got snagged on that rock."
Knox took a look at the front of the truck. Sure enough, the passenger side tire was stopped by a boulder, though he wasn't entirely sure luck had anything to do with it. "About that cell phone and messenger bag, Ralph. Would you mind?"
"Oh. Yeah. On it."
With Ralph in search of Knox's stuff, Knox chanced another step toward shore, keeping his head on a swivel, looking for whatever the hell it was that had slammed into him. An attack beaver? Did hill country even have beavers?
Despite his vigilance, he still startled at the sight of a massive, charcoal gray-green fish swishing through the water, coming straight at him. It had to be longer than his arm. It turned on a dime and surged at him. Knox's curse echoed off the hills surrounding the lake.
Time to scram.
He made it two more steps before his foot snagged on a rock and pitched him forward. Desperate for balance, he reached out to grab on to his truck, but the fish had other ideas and head-butted his leg again. Knox splashed down, nearly dunking all the way underwater.
The bite of cold stole his breath all over again. He exploded back out of the water and onto his feet, spluttering and gasping.
"Fuck!" he shouted, loud enough that even if his father were in Heaven and not haunting the truck, he would've heard him just fine. He held himself back from adding, Thanks for nothing, Dad.
Sloughing water from his face and breathing hard through flared nostrils, Knox shifted his attention to the water in search of the piranha on steroids that had put his ability to keep a cool head to the test. The fish was long gone. Though his pants floated around his knees like dark seaweed swishing in waves, and his shoes bobbed like little black boats only a few feet away, his hat had drifted into deeper water. Terrific. Just terrific.
He was sopping wet from head to toe and standing next to his equally waterlogged truck on the most important day of his life.
"What was that thing?" Ralph asked.
"I was hoping you'd gotten a clear view of it."
"Naw, but I did find your cell phone and bag."
That was something, at least. Knox fished his soggy pants from the water, removed his wallet and set it on the roof of the truck, then tossed the pants in the truck bed. Next, he grabbed his shoes and tossed them onto the shore. Maybe they wouldn't squish too loudly when he walked.
With that taken care of, it was time to get the inevitable over with. He loosened his tie, then unbuttoned his shirt and peeled it off.
"Uh, sir? Are you stripping? I mean, uh, why don't you get out of the water first?"
"Going after my hat." It wasn't until he'd spoken that he realized his teeth were chattering. The sooner he was out of the frigid water, the better. He added his shirt and tie to his pants in the truck bed, then drew a fortifying breath and pushed into the water for a freestyle swim across the lake.
Technically, the hat was replaceable, but this particular one had been the first he'd bought with his own money, back when he was fifteen and working his first real job outside of the local junior rodeo circuit. Over the years, it'd become a habit to wear it to new jobs or when he needed a little extra boost for a negotiation. He believed in good luck charms like he believed in ghosts — which meant surreptitiously and despite his better judgment — but there was no denying the slight edge that the black Stetson with the cattleman's crease and the rodeo brim provided him.
He was a solid fifty yards into the water when he reached the hat. Grabbing on to it tightly, he ignored the fact that his legs were going numb and made short work of returning to shore. He shook the water off the hat and placed it firmly on his head again, then took his phone from Ralph and dialed his office again.
Shayla answered on the first ring this time. "Hey, Knox. If you're calling about a tow truck, one's already on its way. I forgot to mention that before."
Ladies and gentlemen, Shayla Briscoe, World's Best Office Manager. "Thanks. You're awesome, sis."
"Figured you'd need one for that awful truck. It always was unreliable, even when it was brand new."
Knox glanced again at the Chevy. It might be a pain in the ass, but some of the best memories of his life involved that truck. "It has its moments."
"Is the Cab'd driver there yet?" Shayla said. "Should be, any minute."
"He's here. One more thing. I need you to email me with some information on a property." He rattled off the address of the lakefront home from memory and thanked her again. When the call ended, Knox turned to Ralph and sized him up. The two of them were roughly the same height and build. "You're, what, six-one? One-eighty?"
Ralph gave him the side-eye, apparently on to Knox's plan. "Six even and one-ninety," he said hesitantly.
Close enough. Knox took out three, soggy one hundred dollar bills from his wallet. "Ralph, I'm going to need to buy your suit."
* * *
It wasn't the first time Emily Ford had spied on a VIP guest at Briscoe Ranch Resort. In fact, she considered it a mandatory part of her research as the resort's Executive Special Event Chef. Wowing elite guests with personalized, gastronomic marvels was her specialty. As long as the guests never checked her internet search history or spotted her peering at them through binoculars, she was golden.
Excerpted from One More Taste by Melissa Cutler. Copyright © 2016 Melissa Cutler. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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