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Feel the Heat (ebook)

Feel the Heat (ebook)

Hot in the Kitchen

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A beat-cute for the ages . . . A hot British chef clashes with the strong-willed daughter of his cooking show competition. The heat is on ...

Tropes: Celebrity/commoner, British hero, family saga, opposites attract, heroes who cook


A beat-cute for the ages . . .

What Lili DeLuca meant to do: investigate the mysterious light in her family restaurant’s kitchen. What she actually did: Brained a famous chef with a frying pan.

Between her family’s failing restaurant, her soggy-bottomed love life, and her dreams put on hold as she manages, well, everything, the last thing Lili needs is an arrogant celebrity with a concussion. But when sexy TV chef Jack Kilroy challenges her father to a cook-off for his show, she spies an opportunity to save the family business and indulge in some no-strings fun with the hottest man she’s ever seen in a chef’s jacket. Pity the reputed playboy has decided to turn over a new leaf …

Jack's celebrity has left him feeling used and used up. While Lili's throaty moans when she tastes his creations turn him on, he's even more aroused by how this beautiful, funny woman is unimpressed by his fame. He knows
they could be amazing together, if she could only see past his rabid fan base.

Now as he's about to start a new prime time TV cooking show,
can Jack convince Lili to realize her own ambitions …

and turn up the heat in his kitchen?

Chapter One Look Inside

She should have been safely ensconced in the apartment above her family’s restaurant, scarfing down leftover pasta and catching up on the reality show glut bursting her DVR. Instead, Lili DeLuca was considering a three a.m. stealth mission down a dark alley, wearing shiny, blue Lycra hot pants and a star-bangled bustier. As ideas went, this one was as smart as bait.

Peeling off her Vespa helmet, she sent a longing look up to her bedroom window, then peered once more into the alley leading to the kitchen entrance of DeLuca’s Ristorante. The door was still propped open. Light still streamed out into the night. Brightness had never looked so wrong.

A busy Damen Avenue could usually be relied upon to assure an unaccompanied woman that she was not alone. Wicker Park, formerly a low-income haven for underfed artists and actors-slash-baristas, had grown into a dense jungle of expensive lofts, chic eateries, and shi-shi wine bars. Between those, O’Casey’s Tap on the corner, and the regular influx of suburbanite good-timers, the streets were always full and safe.

But not tonight.

The bars had dribbled out their last drunks an hour ago and by now, the 708ers were snoring soundly on their sleep number beds back in the ‘burbs. Despite the stifling ninety-degree June heat, her neighborhood had never appeared so stark and cold. Living so close to work might have its perks, such as a thirty-second commute and the best Italian food in Chicago, but it was hard to see the upside in the face of that damn kitchen door, open like a gaping maw.

Maybe it was Marco. Her ex liked to use her family’s business as his personal playpen, adamant that his investment accorded him certain privileges. A bottle of expensive Brunello here. A venue for an after-hours poker game there. Even a chance to impress, with his miserable culinary skills, the latest lithe blonde he was wearing. He’d cooked for Lili once. His linguine had been as limp as his…

Sloughing off those memories, she refocused on her current problem. Six hours ago, the Annual Superhero Extravaganza had seemed like a harmless way to rehabilitate her social life and get out there (oh, how she hated there). Guilting her into living was a favorite pastime of Gina’s, and her cousin had persuaded her to attend with honeyed words.

Time to get back in the game, Lili. No, your thighs don’t look like sides of beef in those shorts. The Batman with the wandering digits? He’s not fat, he’s just husky.

A husky Batman might come in handy right about now.

Leaving behind the safe hum of traffic, she crept toward the door. The garbage stench stung her nostrils. Something furry scurried behind one of the dumpsters. A raucous riff from the Rolling Stones' Brown Sugar swelled and filled the space around her. Insanity had its own soundtrack.

You might be dressed like Wonder Woman, but that doesn't mean you should play the hero. Just take a look then call someone.

She sneaked a peek around the door. Expensive kitchen equipment—her equipment—lay strewn with serving dishes, pots, and pans on the countertops. Renewed alarm streaked through her. This didn’t look like the handiwork of Marco, who thought a bain marie was the name of a girl he’d like to date.

So much for the plausible explanation. Some shithead was burglarizing her restaurant to the strains of Jagger and Richards.

The next move should have been obvious, but her cinder block feet and racing brain warred all the same. Call someone. Anyone. Her father. Her cousin. That cute chocolate-eyed cop who stopped in for takeout on Fridays and insisted she give him a buzz at the first scent of trouble. She swallowed hard, desperate to stop her heart from escaping through her throat. It settled for careening around her chest like a pinball.

A cautious sniff returned an astringent blast of bleach that competed with the lingering basil aroma of Friday night’s dinner service. Trembling, she nestled her camera, an eight hundred dollar Leica, inside her Vespa helmet, then squeezed her phone out of the tight pouch at the side of her shorts. She started to dial. Nine. One-

Her twitchy finger paused on hearing something more eerie than heart-stopping. From inside the walk-in fridge, a voice bounced off the stainless steel interior. High-pitched.

Indeterminate gender. Singing at the top of its lungs. It was also completely out of tune.

She pulled open the screen door and quietly stepped inside. Damn feet had never known what was good for them.

Frantically, she searched for a weapon, and her gaze fell gratefully on the cast iron frying pan resting on the butcher's block. She swapped it out for her helmet, appreciating how the new heft almost worked to stop her hand from shaking. Almost. Her blurred and frankly ridiculous reflection in the fridge’s stainless steel should have given her pause; instead it emboldened her. She was dressed for action. She could do this.

Rounding the walk-in’s door, she took stock of the enemy in a millisecond. Built like a tank, his back was turned to her as he reached up to the top shelf for a container of her father’s ragu. For the briefest of seconds, the incongruity gnawed at her gut. A tone deaf, ragu-stealing brigand? So it didn’t exactly gel, but he was in her restaurant.

In the middle of the night.

Any hesitancy to act was wiped away by his stutter-step backward and the corresponding spike in her adrenaline. She hurled the pan and allowed herself a gratifying instant to confirm his head got the full brunt. Wolfish howl, check. Then she slammed the door shut on his thieving ass.

It had been quite a nice ass, too.

Good grief, where had that come from? It must be relief because a drooling appreciation of criminal hot stuff was so not appropriate. She loosed a nervous giggle, then covered her mouth like she could smother that wicked thought along with her chuckle. Naughty, naughty.

Now what, shiny shorts? Time to call in the cavalry, but as she pulled out her phone, another thought pierced her veil of giddy triumph. By now, Fridge Bandit should have been making a fuss or bargaining for his freedom, yet a full minute had passed with not a peep.

Confident that the broken safety release on the walk-in's interior would keep him at bay, she laid her head and hands flush to the cool fridge door. Somewhere behind her, the music’s boom-boom bassline meshed with the walk-in’s mechanical hum. Both now vibrated through her body while the thump-thump of her heart tripped out a ragged beat.

Still nothing from within that cold prison. New horror descended over her.

She had killed him.

Fortunately or perhaps, unfortunately, the panic of that dread conclusion was dislodged by the fridge door’s sudden jerk outward, sending Lili into a rather graceless meet-cute with the kitchen floor. Butt first, of course.

So someone had fixed that safety lock, then.

Her former comrade, the frying pan, emerged like a mutant hand puppet, soon followed by a wrist and a hairy arm before the whole package materialized. Vaguely, something big, bad, and dangerous registered in her mind. He held the pan aloft to ward off any imminent attack, but he needn't have worried. Still grounded, super powers severely diminished, she blinked and focused. Then she wished she hadn't bothered as the tight knot of fear unraveled to a cold flood of embarrassment.

“Jesus Christ, you could have bloody killed—” Fridge Bandit said. His mouth dropped open. Scantily-clad superheroes flat on their butts often have that effect.

Thick, black hair, green eyes flecked with gold, and a face straight out of a Renaissance painting were his most obvious assets. Lili postponed the full body browse because she knew she was in trouble. 

It was him.

He touched the back of his head, a not-so-subtle reminder of her transgression, and placed the pan down with all the care of someone disposing of a loaded weapon. His casual wave at the countertop behind her cut the music abruptly. Probably a skill he had acquired during an apprenticeship with the dark side of the Force.

“You all right, sweetheart?” he asked in the casual tone of one who doesn’t really care for the answer. He pocketed a remote and made a half-hearted move toward her. She held up the okay-hand. Too late, buster.

Lowering her eyes to check the girls, she exhaled in relief. No nip slips. She jumped to her feet, surreptitiously rubbed her sore rump, then cast a glance down to her red, knee-high Sandro boots for inspiration. Nothing doing.

You’re wearing a Wonder Woman costume and you just went all out ninja on one of the most famous guys in the Western hemisphere.

At last, she raised her eyes to his face, now creased in a frown. 

“I'm Jack.”

“I know who you are.”

Lili figured anyone sporting a painted-on outfit like she was probably had, oh, a ten- second ogle coming her way. Her ego might have taken a shot along with her behind, but she knew she had started the evening looking pretty darn good. Hell, four out of five flabby-muscled Supermen at the party had thought so. With her overweight teens firmly in the past, she’d since embraced her size fourteen figure, and on the days she felt less than attractive—for every woman suffered days like those—she had enough friends telling her to own it, girl, revel in those curves.

So here she stood, owning and reveling, while simultaneously forging a somewhat unorthodox path for feminism with her own leering appraisal.

Jack Kilroy's extraordinarily handsome mug was already branded into her brain. Not because she was a fan, heaven forbid, but because her sister, Cara was constantly babbling about its perfection, usually while nagging everyone she knew to watch the cooking show she produced for him, Kilroy's Kitchen. (Monday nights at seven on the Cooking Channel—don't forget, Lili!) A hot-as-a-griddle Brit, his star had risen in the last year, first with his TV show, then with his bestseller, French Cooking for the Rest of Us. And when not assailing the public with the sight of his chiseled good looks on food and lifestyle magazines, he could invariably be found plying his particular brand of brash foodie charm on the daytime talk show circuit. He wasn’t just smokin’ in the kitchen, either. Recently, a contentious break-up with a soap star and a paparazzi punch-up had provided delicious fodder for the tabloids and cable news outlets alike.

The camera might add ten pounds but in the flesh, Jack Kilroy was packing the sexy into a lean six-and-change frame. The matching set of broad shoulders didn’t surprise her, but apparently the tribal tattoo on his right bicep did, judging by the shiver dancing a jig down her spine. It seemed so not British and just a little bit dangerous. Her gaze was drawn to his Black Sabbath t-shirt, which strained to contain what looked like extremely hard, and eminently touchable, chest muscles. Sculpted by years of lugging heavy duty stockpots, no doubt. A pair of long legs, wrapped in blue jeans that looked like old friends, completed the very pleasant image.

Jack Kilroy was proof there was a God—and she was a woman.

“Is that your usual M.O.? Frying pan first, questions later?” he asked after giving her the anticipated once-over. He had used up his ten seconds while she had stretched her assessment to fifteen. Small victories. “Should I hold still and let you use your lasso to extract the truth from me?” He gestured to the coil of gold-colored rope hanging through a loop on her hip. If he expected her to act impressed by his knowledge of the Wonder Woman mythology, he'd be a long time waiting.

Maybe she was a little impressed.

“I thought you were stealing. I was about to call the police.” 

“You're telling me there's something worth stealing around here?”

Her body heated in outrage at his dismissive tone, though it could just as easily be down to the way his dark emerald eyes held hers. Bold and unwavering.

“Are you kidding? Some of this equipment has been in my family for generations.” Right now, most of it had been pulled out from under the counters and was scattered willy-nilly on every available surface. “Like my nonna's pasta maker.” She pointed to it, sitting all by its dusty lonesome on a countertop behind a rack of spices.

“That rusty old thing in the corner?”

“That's not rusty, it's vintage. I thought you Brits appreciated antiques.” 

“Sure, but my appreciation doesn't extend to food-poisoning hazards.”

A protest died on her lips. Her father hadn't used that pasta maker in over ten years, so a zealous defense was probably unnecessary.

“So either I’m being punked or you’re Cara's sister. Lilah, right?”

“Yes, Cara's sister,” she confirmed, “and it’s Lil—”

“I thought you were the hostess,” he cut in. “Are frying pans the new meet-n-greet in Italian restaurants?”

It’s three in the morning, she almost screamed. Clearly, the blow to his skull had impacted his short-term memory. On cue, he rubbed his head then gripped the side of the countertop with such knuckle-whitening intensity that she worried he might pass out.

“I'm the restaurant's manager, actually, and I wasn't expecting you. If I'd known Le Kilroy would be gracing us with his exalted presence, I would have rolled out the red carpet we keep on hand for foreign dignitaries.”

She sashayed over to the ice cabinet and glanced back in time to catch him, his gaze fixed to her butt like he was in some sort of trance. Oh, brother, not even a whack to the head could throw this guy off his game. With a couple of twists, she crafted an ice pack with a napkin, and handed it to him. 

“How's your head?”

“Fine. How's your—?” He motioned in the direction of her rear with one hand while gingerly applying the ice pack with the other.

“Fine,” she snapped back.

“I'll say,” he said, adding a smirk for good measure. Oh, for crying out loud.

“Is that your usual M.O.? I can’t believe you have so much success with the ladies.” The gossip mags devoted pages to his revolving door dating style. Only Hollywood fembots and models need apply. 

For her insolence, she got a blade of a look, one of those condescending ones they teach in English private schools, which for some ridiculous reason they called public schools.

“I’ve had no complaints.”

She folded her arms in an effort to project a modicum of gravitas, which was mighty difficult considering what she was wearing. It didn’t help that every breath took effort in her sweat-bonded costume. 

“So, care to explain?”

“What? Why I’ve had no complaints?”

“I mean, what you're doing in my family's restaurant at this ungodly hour.”

“Oh, up to no good. Underhanded misdoings. Waiting for a superhero to take me down.”

Okay, ten points for cute. She battled a smile. Lost the fight. Palms up, she indicated he should continue and it had better be good.

“I'm doing prep and inventory for the show. Didn’t Cara tell you?”

Of course she hadn't told her. That's why she was asking, dunderhead. 

“I haven’t checked my messages,” she lied, trying to cover that she had and her sister hadn’t deigned to fill her in. “I was busy all evening.”

“Saving cats from trees and leaping tall buildings in a single bound, I suppose.” 

“Wrong superhero, dummy,” she said, still ticked off that Cara had left her out of the loop. “You haven’t explained why you’re doing this prep and inventory here.” It seemed pointless to remind him of the lateness of the hour.

“Because this is where we’ll be taping the show. Jack Kilroy is going to put your little restaurant on the map.”

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