Read an Excerpt
"Ma'am? This is your stop."
Reese blinked, dazedly staring out the window of the taxicab she'd taken into Midtown Atlanta that evening. She couldn't believe she'd already reached her destination. She'd meant to take in the sights and sounds of the bustling metropolis during the cab ride into town. Instead she'd zoned out, succumbing to painful memories of the day her patient died in childbirth.
Deidra Thomas's untimely death had left her husband and family reeling with shock and grief. Although Reese had tried her damnedest to distance herself emotionally from the tragedy, every time she closed her eyes at night, she saw Ian Thomas's ravaged face, heard his anguished wails of denial. Every time Reese delivered a new baby, she was gripped by a terrible fear that something would go wrong. She was losing sleep, becoming withdrawn and finding it difficult to concentrate at work, which was not only unfair to her patients, but dangerous, as well.
And then one day out of the blue, she'd received a phone call from her longtime friend Layla Chase. An award-winning photojournalist for National Geographic, Layla had mentioned that she was looking for someone to house-sit for her while she was on assignment in Somalia for two months. Almost immediately Reese had known that this was the lifeline she'd so desperately needed, an opportunity to take a sabbatical before she had a nervous breakdown. She'd made the arrangements with Layla, cleared her leave of absence with the hospital, then packed her bags and headed to Atlanta.
She'd made a pact with herself not to discuss or even think about work for the next two months. Yet there she was, torturing herself with thoughts of Deidra Thomas and the motherless children she'd left behind.
"Ma'am? Are you okay?"
Reese glanced up, embarrassed to realize that the cabdriver had opened the back door and was patiently waiting for her to get out so he could be on his way.
Glancing quickly at the electronic meter, Reese fished three twenties out of her Louis Vuitton handbag and passed the money to the cabbie. "Keep the change," she told him as she climbed out of the taxi.
He beamed at her. "Thank you, ma'am. Enjoy your dinner. You can't go wrong with anything on the menu."
"So I've heard," Reese said with a smile.
As she joined the flow of patrons heading into the brick-fronted restaurant, she couldn't help feeling a thrill of excitement. For the past three years she'd dreamed of visiting Wolf's Soul, a world-renowned restaurant made famous by owner and executive chef Michael Wolf. Reese, whose favorite hobby was cooking, had been a huge fan of the hunky celebrity chef ever since he burst onto the national scene with his cable television show Howlin' Good. Reese owned all four of his bestselling cookbooks, religiously TiVoed his program and had prepared many of his recipes for her family and friends, who often teased her about having the hots for the popular chef. Not that anyone in their right mind could blame her. With his dark good looks and smoldering charisma, Michael Wolf had stolen the hearts of women everywhere, solidifying his status as a bona fide sex symbol.
Located just a few blocks from the Fox Theatre in Midtown Atlanta, Wolf's Soul boasted a clientele that included famous celebrities, athletes and politicians whose images were captured in framed photographs that graced the mahogany-paneled walls. Over the years Michael Wolf had hosted everyone who was anyone—from movie mogul Tyler Perry to President Barack Obama, who'd made a stop at the restaurant during the historic election campaign two years ago.
As Reese waited in line to be seated, she wondered if she'd be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of Michael Wolf tonight. Despite his busy schedule—which included the daily taping of his show, book signings and regular visits to his six other restaurants scattered around the country—he still managed to put in several hours a week at the Atlanta location whenever he was in town. As luck would have it, she'd heard on the radio that morning that he'd just returned from a national media tour to begin taping the new season of Howlin' Good. After years of admiring him from afar, the possibility of seeing Michael Wolf in person filled Reese with giddy anticipation. She'd even brought a copy of his very first cookbook in the hopes of getting his autograph.
As the maître d' escorted Reese to her table, she eagerly took in her surroundings. With the restaurant's high ceilings and recessed lights turned strategically low, she felt as if she were entering the heart of a plush cave. The tables were made of gleaming mahogany and accentuated with soft candlelight. Music floated from a baby grand piano tucked into a shadowy corner, subtle enough to add to the intimate ambiance without drowning out the pleasant buzz of laughter and conversation.
Reese was led to a small table in a private corner that gave her an unobstructed view of the entire dining room, which was perfect. She could enjoy her meal and people-watch in peace.
After she was seated, the maître d' passed her a leather-bound menu and a thick wine list. Almost at once, a waiter appeared to fill her water glass and drape a linen napkin across her lap.
After placing her order, Reese glanced around the restaurant. Even on a Tuesday night the place was packed, every table and booth occupied. Reese made eye contact with an attractive stranger seated alone at a nearby table. He smiled invitingly and raised his glass in a toast to her. She returned his smile before glancing away.
She hadn't come to Atlanta looking for romance. In fact, romance was the last thing on her mind these days. For the past year she'd been dating one of her colleagues at the hospital, a cardiothoracic surgeon named Victor Carracci. Handsome, intelligent and incredibly gifted, Victor was everything Reese could ever want in a man. From the very beginning he'd wined and dined her and made her laugh. Yet something was still missing between them.
It didn't help that over the past few months she'd sensed a growing distance between them. She told herself that their busy careers were putting a strain on their relationship, but deep down inside she knew that their problems were more complicated than conflicting schedules.
Before leaving Houston, she'd suggested to Victor that they use the time apart from each other to figure out what they both wanted. He'd agreed, but not without first telling her that she couldn't solve her problems by running away.
The waiter returned at that moment, interrupting Reese's grim musings. She took a grateful sip of wine, then dug into the steaming lobster bisque. It was delicious. She ate slowly, savoring each spoonful.
Halfway through dinner, her cell phone rang. Reluctantly she reached inside her handbag and checked caller ID. She frowned when she saw Victor's number. She'd barely been gone two days. He'd promised to give her time to settle in before he called her.
Damn it, Reese thought as she turned off the phone and resumed eating. She wasn't ready to talk to Victor. Not yet. Maybe not for a while.
"I hope that frown has nothing to do with what's on your plate," said a deep, masculine voice laced with Southern heat.
Reese's head snapped up.
Her breath stalled in her lungs.
Staring down at her was a pair of dark, mesmerizing eyes set in an arrestingly handsome face. A face she recognized immediately.
"Michael Wolf." His name escaped in a throaty whisper of awe.
A hint of a smile curved lush, sensual lips that promised untold delights. "At your service," he drawled.
Reese gulped, heart hammering against her ribs. She couldn't believe it. Michael Wolf was actually standing at her table and speaking to her!
She'd always imagined that when—and if—this moment ever came, she wouldn't be reduced to a fawning idiot. Nope, not her. She'd be the epitome of calm, cool and collected. She'd be charming and witty, impressing Michael with clever little anecdotes that demonstrated her own culinary prowess.
But when she opened her mouth to speak, what came out was a breathy "I'm one of your biggest fans."
Those dark, penetrating eyes glittered with amusement. "Is that right?"
Reese instantly wanted to duck under the table. What the hell was wrong with her? She'd graduated at the top of her class from a prestigious medical school. She was a respected obstetrician who'd given lectures to some of the best minds in medicine. She was a smart, confident, articulate woman. Yet all she could come up with was a lame I'm one of your biggest fans?
So much for not being reduced to a fawning idiot.
Michael gave her a slow, lazy smile that tripled her heart rate. "I just stopped by to see if you were enjoying your meal."
"Oh, yes. Absolutely. Everything is delicious."
"Good. Glad to hear it."
After following his career and fantasizing about him for so long, Reese couldn't believe she was finally face-to-face with Michael Wolf. She'd always thought he was good-looking on television, but nothing compared to seeing him up close and personal. Her hungry gaze swiftly catalogued smooth mahogany skin, low-cut black hair, heavy eyebrows and chiseled cheekbones. His nose was strong and masculine, and his firm chin hinted at a cleft that was indescribably sexy. He was tall, with shoulders as wide as a mountain range and a ruggedly powerful build to match. He wore a black Armani tuxedo with the silk tie hanging loose around his collar, as if he'd yanked it free the first chance he got. No television camera could begin to capture the overwhelming virility of the man, a raw animal magnetism he exuded like a potent drug.
Reese couldn't take her eyes off him. And it wasn't lost on her that Michael seemed in no particular hurry to move on to the next table. His dark eyes traced her features in a slow, deliberate perusal that elevated her blood pressure. When his gaze drifted to her cleavage and lingered, her breasts swelled to aching. She was afraid to look down and see her nipples saluting him through the lightweight sarong dress she wore.
"Is this your first time here?" Michael asked, returning his attention to her face.
"Yes." But it definitely won't be my last!
"How long have you been in town?"
"Two days." Reese gave him a saucy smile. "How did you know I was from out of town?"
Michael chuckled softly. "We've been open for seven years. If you were really one of my biggest fans and you lived in Atlanta, it wouldn't have taken you this long to visit the restaurant."
Her smile widened. "Good point."
They stared at each other. The voltage between them scorched her nerve endings and left her feeling hot and tingly all over.
"Well," Michael murmured, "I'll let you get back to your dinner."
Reese felt a sharp pang of disappointment. She didn't want him to leave. There was no guarantee she'd ever see him in person again.
Before she could stop herself, she blurted, "Why don't you join me?"
He looked at her, a smile lurking in one corner of his mouth. If he was surprised by her invitation, he didn't show it. No doubt he was used to strange women throwing themselves at him.
"I already had dinner," he told her, lips quirking.
Reese boldly held his gaze. "Then keep me company until I finish mine."
Something hot and wicked flared in his eyes. "With pleasure."
As he lowered his long, powerful body into a chair, she caught the subtle, masculine spice of an expensive cologne. She couldn't help noticing that every eye in the restaurant was trained on them, as if a spotlight were beaming down on their table. Several women were glaring enviously at Reese, making her glad that looks couldn't kill.
"What's your poison?" Michael asked, nodding toward her half-empty glass.
"Riesling," she answered.
With the barest hint of a nod, he signaled to her waiter, who must have been standing at the ready. A bottle of Riesling was produced within moments.
"Wow," Reese said after the young waiter had topped off her glass and glided away. "You didn't even have to crook a finger. I'm impressed."
Michael chuckled softly. "I take good care of my employees. They like to return the favor. Finish your food before it gets cold."
"Yes, sir." Smiling, Reese picked up her fork and continued eating. "This stuffed salmon is to die for."
"I'm glad you like it," Michael stated, leaning back comfort ably in his chair. "It's one of my favorite dishes on the menu."
Reese gave him a teasing, hopeful grin. "Any chance you could share the recipe?"
"That depends." There was a wolfish gleam in his eyes. "What would I get in return?"
Heat rushed into Reese's belly. She stared at him, the air between them vibrating with sexual awareness. For several moments she forgot how to breathe, let alone speak.
"Well?" Michael prompted at length. "What would I get in return for giving you the recipe to one of my prized signature dishes?"
Reese smiled slowly. "My undying gratitude?"
Michael laughed, a low, husky rumble that made her nipples tighten. God, he was sexy. Sexier than any mortal man had a right to be. "And here I thought you'd promise to write a glowing review of the restaurant or something," he teased.
Reese guffawed. "You already have a ton of those. What difference would mine make?"
Before he could respond, they were interrupted by two attractive black women, each bearing a copy of Michael's latest bestselling cookbook.
"Excuse us, Mr. Wolf," gushed the taller of the pair. "We couldn't wait for you to make your way over to our table. May we have your autograph?"
"Of course," Michael answered smoothly, standing to greet the women like the Southern gentleman he was.
As he signed each of their books, they raved about his show and told him how much they'd always enjoyed eating at his restaurant, which they declared to be the best in all of Georgia. He took their compliments in stride, smiling and conversing with them with a lazy charm that Reese found utterly disarming.
At one point, the taller woman whipped out her cell phone and turned to Reese with a giddy smile. "Would you mind taking a picture of us with Michael?"
"Not at all," Reese said.
She snapped a group photo, then two more as each woman insisted on posing alone with Michael.
After they left—with obvious reluctance—Reese said to Michael, "I've kept you from the rest of your customers. I'm sorry."
His eyes glinted. "Are you?"
She paused. "Not really."
They smiled at each other. The moment stretched into two.
Dragging her gaze away, Reese returned her attention to her plate. "So," she began idly, "do you always come to the restaurant dressed in a tux?"
Michael glanced down at himself, as if he'd forgotten what he was wearing. "I was at a fundraiser dinner. I decided to stop by the restaurant on my way home." His voice deepened as he stared at her. "I'm glad I did."
Reese felt herself blushing like a schoolgirl. "So am I."
His mouth curved with a slow, sexy smile. "What brings you to Atlanta, Miss—?"