Too Hot to Handle is a work in progress right now. It’s the story of two people in their twenties who think they are supposed to have it all figured out by now. Alexis is sous-chef at a famous New York restaurant, and Charlie is an undercover food blogger with massive clout in the culinary world. Their lives collide when Charlie decides to make Alexis the subject of his next article. She has no idea that the busboy she’s constantly explaining things to is the secretive blogger who has the power to launch her cooking career to the next level. Once attraction for each other enters the mix, work may become too hot to handle for both of them.
Too Hot to Handle
Copyright (c) 2014 Adrienne D’nelle Ruvalcaba
Now is not the time to be humble, Alexis thought as she looked around the restaurant. The eyes of the staff watched her in anticipation. The entire wait staff, including the servers, bartenders, and busboys, looked bored. They clearly didn’t want to suffer through a speech aimed mostly at the kitchen staff. The manager stood off to the side and allowed her to run this little show. Alexis was the new executive chef—for the time being—in New York’s only French and Russian Fusion restaurant. She had been the sous-chef for three years, and tonight would be her first service as executive chef. It was a temporary change, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t make the most of it.
She took a deep breath and launched into her impromptu speech. “Most of you know Chef Markovic had to fly back to Russia to be with his family. His mother collapsed suddenly and has since been diagnosed with terminal cancer. He’s expected to be out of the country for the next few months, but he wants to keep his absence quiet. He specifically said he doesn’t want any press speculation or tabloid coverage. If there are any leaks about this, heads are going to roll.
“I don’t think I need to remind anybody about all the bad press that Danielle Stacey has been responsible for this year. Chef Marko doesn’t want that woman undercover-blogging about his career as his mother dies, and we’re going to make sure that doesn’t happen. If I see one word about Chef Marko or his mother’s illness in the press, I will figure out who’s responsible for the leak and you will pay. Chef Markovic will have your head on a platter, and I’ll be the one serving it up. Y’all know he ruled his kitchen with an iron fist, and in his absence I’ll do the same.”
Alexis turned on her heel and stomped into the kitchen, and the rest of the kitchen staff followed. She felt she was in command of the situation—until she glanced back and saw the sullen looks their faces. They were Markovic’s staff, and they always would be. From the day she’d walked in, she’d been an unwanted outsider. Now she’d just crossed the line from unwanted to downright hated. She was lucky she had both Markovic and the owner on her side.
Charlie watched the little sous-chef as she spoke. She was surrounded by men who were all a head taller than she was. Her voice was surprisingly loud and strong for such a petite person. As he watched her harp about ruling with an iron fist, his amusement melted into respect. She definitely had gumption. When she marched into the kitchen, her back was ramrod straight, and her hands were balled into little fists down by her hips.
He watched as she gave yet another long winded speech filled with all manner of threats and promises of bodily harm. Charlie looked around at the other men in the kitchen; they didn’t even try to hide their disdain from her.
Her dark brown eyes fastened onto each man as she spoke. There was a challenge in her eyes, as if she was daring anyone to voice their contempt to her face. She made a few more references to iron fists, and then she snapped her mouth shut and raised one of her perfectly arched eyebrows.
The first dinner service went perfectly. The dinning room was the picture of New York refined elegance, and it hummed like a finely tuned instrument that night. There was no indication of the absolute, yet tightly controlled, chaos that dominated the kitchen. Charlie was one of five busboys on staff. Every time he ventured back into the kitchen, he was aware of Alexis barking orders at everyone.
“What’s the time on the stroganoff for table five?!”
“Where’s the dill cucumber salad that goes with this order?!”
“Why isn’t this steak medium-rare? This is well done!”
It seemed like every other word out of her mouth was an expletive, but Charlie was accustomed to such behavior. Charlie’s parents owned a diner in Saint Louis, and his first job had been as a dishwasher. As the night wore on, Alexis reminded him more and more of his mother.
Charlie had inherited his tallness from his mother, but, in every other way, he’d taken after his mellow and thoughtful father. His plain, light brown hair would have been described as mousy if he were a woman. His eyes were an average medium brown color—nothing memorable. He had an average looking face and a physique that was just good enough to snag an occasional date. Everything about him was average and forgettable, and that was just the way he liked it. In his line of work, he had to be forgettable.
He ran one of the most followed blogs on the internet, and he was the most popular food blogger for the second year in a row. For the past five years, he’d been blogging about New York’s restaurant scene under the alias Danielle Stacey. His opinion on cuisine now carried more weight than the top food critics who had been the gatekeepers of the culinary world for decades. Part of his blog’s appeal was that nobody had ever seen his face, and there was a great deal of speculation surrounding his identity. His subscribers also loved his no-holds-barred investigative approach when profiling restaurants. He often spent weeks, or months, on staff in a low-profile, high turnover position like busboy or dishwasher.
As tonight’s dinner service went on, Charlie got over his disappointment about Markovic. After one night, it was clear that Alexis was something special. He told himself that his decision to stay had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that he found her attractive. Actually, unreasonable, distractingly attractive was more accurate. He had a hard time keeping his eyes off her smooth, dark brown skin, because his eyes involuntarily sought her out.
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