Sneak Peek of Into the Flame

Book 2 in the Sizzle in the Kitchen Series

“Maria? Maria Devere?”

Ah, scummy, scum, scum! He’d seen her trying to sneak out the back door. There was no denying the situation now. She turned and gave him a huge smile and a dorky half-circle wave.

“Hey, Hank. Been a while, huh?”

It had been a year to be exact--a long year of struggle and fighting to make a name for herself in the culinary world. A year spent lacking a personal life and obsessing over one unforgettable night--a one night stand that happened almost a year ago today with the stunningly gorgeous man approaching her through the kitchen right now.

Just two more seconds and she would have been out the door. Such was her nothing-but-bad luck lately.

She had known he was here. He’d arrived fifteen minutes ago to begin setting up for the reality show, Restaurant Rescue, of which, as of a month ago, he was now the host. Not that she was keeping tabs on him or anything. Why would she care? It had come up in conversation with her older sister, Shyann Devere, whose fiancĂ©, Luke Tracy, was Hank’s close friend.

The big surprise was finding out which restaurant he was going to rescue first. She’d nearly choked on her indulgence of choice, an ice-cold mocha frappe, at Luke’s casually spoken, “Flamenco.”

They both knew she was the head sous chef here, but she’d thought only Shyann knew the history between Hank and her. Yet, the fact that they’d brought it up at all seemed to be a heads up for her to prepare herself. And prepare herself she had.

He stopped a foot away, blue eyes sparkling, cocky grin tightening his lips. “Actually, the show’s producers thought it would be more appropriate if I went by Henry, but I’ve always been Hank, so as long as you call me, you can call me Hank.”

Though Brad Thornton, the owner of the restaurant, told her ahead of time when the crew was coming, she thought she’d have just enough time to slip out the back. So much for planning ahead. She cringed. She had no desire to be a part of this show or any other again, for that matter.

Of course, Brad wanted her to be a part of the show. After all, she was the only sous chef who, for any length of time, could tolerate Rob Preston, the executive chef of the restaurant, who had a well-earned reputation for being temperamental. She liked to think he had a little respect for her skills as a chef, but she still had no intention of being on the show.

With her smooth-operator persuasion skills, she’d managed to convince one of the other chefs to act as sous chef instead. Okay, so it was more the exciting prospect of being on T.V. that convinced him but no matter how it came about, her relief was instant. She wouldn’t have to work side-by-side with Hank or Henry or whatever he was going by now.

“I’m still just Maria.” Ugh. How lame. I’m still just Maria? She really needed to escape, away from the mess that was her past and present right now.

She’d met Hank on another reality-show competition last year called, Kitchen Twist. Her sister was actually competing against Luke on the show at the time. Maria had been by Shyann’s side as her sous chef, and Hank had been with Luke. At the end of the evening, Shyann left with Luke and Maria left with Hank, and after an incredible night of the hottest sex in her experience, as limited as her experience was, she’d snuck out while he was still asleep and never looked back. She hadn’t left her number, and he hadn’t asked. In her mind, if he’d wanted to reach her badly enough, he would have gone through Luke or something like that. He never had.

“Do you work here?”

“Yes, but I’m not on your show.”

“Oh. Too bad. Will you be around though?”

“Probably not. I’ll try to stay out of your way as much as possible.”

His eyebrows slid down in the middle, and though she knew enough about him to know he didn’t think much before speaking, he seemed to be trying to work something out about her.

“Look, I don’t want to mess with your livelihood. We’ll be here for about two weeks total and back in a month for a follow-up. Is that going to be a problem for you?”

Would it be a problem for her? Of course, it would, but it wasn’t up to her. She didn’t have a say in anything around here. She just did what she was told, for the most part, and rarely said no to anything, until Restaurant Rescue invaded.

She shrugged. “You’ll have Rob Preston and a couple other kitchen chefs participating. I’ll be working when you guys are done filming. It shouldn’t be a problem.”

“Okay. As long as you’re sure.”

“What if I wasn’t? Would you not do the show here?”

He chuckled. “I guess you’re right. Everything’s already signed on the dotted line. Looks like we might bump into each other occasionally. I hope we get a chance to catch up.”

With a nod of her head, she twisted the knob and swung the door open, ready to step into the afternoon sunlight. She slid her sunglasses into place, and turned away from him. “I hope so, too.”

She didn’t feel too badly about the lie. After all, he hadn’t attempted to catch up before now, though the opportunity to get in touch with her had always been there through Luke and her sister. The doorknob slipped from her hand, and the door slammed a little hard behind her, but she didn’t stop or look back.

Though she wouldn’t forget it for the rest of her life, their night together obviously hadn’t made a lasting impression on him. More than likely, his suggestion they catch up was just a polite attempt to relieve the awkward situation. Her plan now was simply to steer clear of him, and she was sure he’d work hard to avoid her as well. She wasn’t even bitter about it. Not even a little bit, and if she kept repeating it over and over, it might actually be true.

* * *

Hank watched Maria, the focus of the night he liked to think of as “my life changer,” walk away, yet again. He inhaled deeply and clenched his fingers tight around the pen in his hand. Maria Devere left an unforgettable impression on him, and though he’d convinced himself she was out of his league and made the conscious decision not to call her until he’d become someone of which she would be proud, here she was anyway. Like Fate donkey-kicked him in the teeth, he’d run into her and, as usual, reacted before thinking. Close to his goal to take charge of his life, he felt compelled to stop her from leaving, only to scare her away again instead. When would he stop acting on impulse?

“Hey, boss, you ready to set up the camera shots?”

Hank turned toward the familiar voice of his head cameraman, Chris Thompson, and nodded. Time to screw his head on straight and get to the real reason he was in this run-down, little food stop. “Let’s start out front and work our way through the restaurant.”

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