About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
“Cat, you have to try this brioche. It’s to die for, if I do say so myself.” Beckett waved a thick slab of the warm, buttery bread he’d baked just before we left under my nose, but my stomach roiled at the mere thought of taking a single bite.
“Thanks, I’m not hungry.” I turned my attention back to the scene outside the window of the cab: the gridlock of Chicago’s afternoon rush hour traffic. We were on the Kennedy, and I hoped the traffic would clear once we got off at Randolph
. “Do not check your watch again,” Beckett warned through a mouth full of bread. “We aren’t going to be late.”
I gave him a wobbly smile. He was a good friend and only trying to help me relax, but this photo shoot was my big chance and I didn’t want to mess it up.
The cab crawled forward, and finally, we exited and headed west. The driver studied row after row of industrial buildings and warehouses looking for the address we’d given, and I clenched my hands on my black denim jeans. I wished I had driven instead of taking a cab, but oh well. I was still getting used to big city driving, and the Fulton Market neighborhood was not somewhere I wanted to get lost on a weekday night. All the buildings looked the same, and even though a few really hip art galleries and restaurants had opened in the neighborhood, it was still a pretty sketchy area. I hadn’t been a Chicagoan for long, but I had quickly learned to pay keen attention to my surroundings and think about my safety.
“You’d feel better if you ate something,” Beckett said. “You skipped lunch, and coffee and toast for breakfast only get you so far.”
I gave him a rueful smile. He knew me so well. But when I was nervous or busy, I couldn’t be bothered to eat. “My coffee had milk in it,” I answered lamely.
“Skim,” he chided me. “Not that you need it.” He took another bite of brioche.
“You’re going to have to start taking skim milk in your coffee if you don’t lay off the carbs,” I told him. “It’s the week after New Year’s. You’re supposed to be dieting.”
He gave a mock gasp. “Perish the thought!”
Beckett probably could perish the thought. He was naturally slim and gorgeous with wavy blond hair and light blue eyes. Even though he hadn’t lived in Santa Cruz for years, he looked every bit the quintessential California boy I’d known since high school. He just dressed better these days. Today, he wore a stylish, black wool trench coat, open so I could see the collared shirt and V-neck sweater beneath. His matching trousers were pressed and crisp, and his shoes the best Italian leather. I honestly didn’t know how he managed to keep so slim when as a pastry chef―a truly amazing pastry chef―he loved to sample his own creations. I was certain the brioche stuffed with juicy, fragrant peaches would be wonderfully sweet and filling if I allowed myself a bite. But I couldn’t. I was on my way to possibly the most important photo shoot of my career, and though I appreciated Beckett’s concern for keeping me fed, I was much more grateful to him for keeping me employed.
Once he’d finished culinary school, Beckett had spent time working in several impressive restaurant kitchens around Chicago, including two years baking at a Michelin-starred emporium of French haute cuisine. But he hadn’t been happy, so now he was paying the bills by working as a food stylist. And thanks to him, I was reinventing my career by taking pictures of the food he made look so good.
I glanced at my watch and felt a stab of panic. It was almost five and we were going to be late. That was no way to make an impression on the owners of Willowgrass, the new restaurant which was our destination. And I needed to make an impression―a good one. In California, I had a reputation and was a known commodity with a following. But in Chicago, I was starting from scratch. I really didn’t want to blow this.