Close to the Heat, Book 1
With a chance to win a cooking competition that will advance her career, the last thing food truck chef Pepper Joseph needs is a distraction. Except she’s got a heaping helping of it in the form of fellow chef Darien Priest, the man who broke her heart.
It’s been years, and she tells herself she’s over his betrayal, but to her irritation, she finds she still has an appetite for his steel gray eyes, clean-shaven head, and sleeve tattoos.
Darien regrets the single, juvenile act that ended it with Pepper, but he’s never found the courage to apologize. Now that they’re in close quarters, something’s steaming and it’s not just the saucepots. One, toe-curling kiss proves there’s the potential for more than just a guarded friendship, and he sets out to prove he’s grown into an honorable man.
Until he discovers she’s pulled a seasoning switch that could have ruined one of his dishes. Now it’s on. There’s ten thousand dollars on the line, but if they don’t surrender to another chance at love, one—or both—of their wounded hearts could get singed.
Warning: “Scorching hot” doesn’t refer to the food. Contains two chefs who’ll inspire cravings of the very carnal kind. Includes one delicious recipe guaranteed to blow any diet out of the water.
“That’s so not right,” she said beneath her breath.
On two levels. Pep had just set herself up for failure with her loud mouth. Why in heaven’s name had she told Priest she didn’t want to work with him?
Standing next to him in the previous challenge had left her brain synapses fried. Forcing her fingers to curl around a spoon instead of sliding over the tattooed patch of exposed skin on his arm had tested her willpower. The moment he’d popped a sauce-covered finger into his mouth for sampling, her own mouth had begun to water.
She’d been aware of every movement. Every meticulous action. Every fluid motion.
All distractions she could ill afford.
“So who are you pairing?” the judge asked. The crowd beyond her practically buzzed with excitement, having anticipated what teams meant for the odd man out.
“Chef Joseph just announced she didn’t want to work in a team,” Priest declared in a mischievous bet-she-regrets-it-now voice.
The judge frowned disapproval while Pep fought an urge to go in search of a set of knives. Very sharp knives.
“Not quite, Chef,” Pepper said in a tone made of the thickest, richest, most decadent honey. “I said I don’t want to be on a team with you. Big difference.”
A wave of laughter crested the air.
The angry realization that she actually did want to team up with him prickled at her skin. Fighting opposing needs—her wallet versus a visceral desire, awake and full of desire, unsettled her. The animosity between them, once a raging boil of tumultuous emotions, had softened over the years. Now it was a simmer of regret and what-ifs.
Too late, Pep recognized that while she’d been contemplating, Priest had shifted until they almost touched. This close, she recognized his unique scent, flavored with Korean cooking spices. My, oh my.
“I think”—a pause—“Chefs Platt and Ross should be paired together as one team.”
Her breathing stuttered, the understanding tightening around her throat that Priest was about to pair himself with Jimenez and leave her defenseless. Not once had she imagined it would go down like this. Not betrayed by a so-called friend. Not again.
The judge took advantage of the pause to prolong the expectant agony. “So…either Chef Joseph, who’s only half a point behind you, or Chef Jimenez, currently in third place, will be left out in the cold, huh? You have to wonder what your strategy is for choosing between the two of them…or do you?” She turned a knowing eye to the audience. “Great way to make the gap bigger between you and the next contestant would be to get rid of the person following you in line.”
Ice formed in Pepper’s veins, the words too logical to be anything but true.
Then the most subtle touch brushed against her lower back. A graze designed to capture her attention. It made her stand up straighter, take notice. She turned to find Priest’s face almost within kissing distance of hers. He emanated exotic spice, and she couldn’t help but draw in a deep, deep breath, pulling his scent into her.
“Oh, I definitely have a strategy in mind. One that makes total sense to me.” At least one of them had a clue. Pepper had no idea where he was going. His words said one thing, but his body said something totally different. Fitting, though. That was the way Priest had always been.
“So what’s it going to be?” the judge asked.
Pepper willed herself to stay still. To not make a sound, and certainly not to cry. Whatever way Priest took this, she’d follow through.
Her eyes narrowed as her resolve firmed.
She’d also win. No matter what he threw at her.
Q: What would you like readers to know about the book before they read it?
A: I’m a sucker for Food Network competition shows and totally stole this idea by watching their chefs cook in some amazing competitions. It’s my salute to The Great Food Truck Race and Food Network Challenge, all tumbled into one.
Q: What do you hope readers will take with them after they’ve read the book?
A: Interracial romances make some readers uncomfortable. I would hope readers might dip their toe in the waters with ONCE BURNED, and if they’ve never tried one before, take a gander. If nothing else, you’ll walk away with a kiss ass recipe for Banoffee Pie.
Q: Who is your favorite character in this book?
A: Love me a bad boy and Darien Priest is bad, bad, baaaad. Except when you dig beneath his surface, he’s not really what he appears to be. Even those tats of his, look at them closely, and you’ll be left smiling.
Q: Is there a character who gives you fits and makes you want to go ninja?
A: I wanted to throttle Pepper sometimes. Darien is so hot and she’s willing to walk away from that? Girlfriend! Puhleez!
Q: You may have noticed we like to include our favorite quote in our reviews of the books we read. What is your favorite quote from this book?
A: “Darien would remember to punch him in his shit in the morning.”
Q: What’s up next for you?
A: HUNGER AWAKENED, sequel to Hunger Aroused, my sizzling vampire romance will be releasing in Spring 2013 from Carina Press. Hopefully, right on its heels, Book 2 from the Close to the Heat series will be getting ready to release as well.
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