Every woman on Key West is swooning over newcomer Chase Buchanan. All except bakery owner Nikita Coles. Bad enough that he's bought the building next door, blocking Nikita's plans to expand her business. Worse, he works for a big oil company. She can't trust the man or his motivations, even if he does look good enough to eat....
Convincing Nikita to sell her property will be a challenge, but Chase is ready for it. The Coles family has a rich history on Key West, but the Buchanans never give up on what they want. Seduction begins as a business strategy, and quickly becomes the most pleasurable experience of Chase's life. Yet winning the battle of wills could mean losing the love he never expected to find....
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Harlequin Kimani Romance
July 01, 2012
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Excerpt from Just One Taste by Celeste O. Norfleet
Nikita Coles looked up as Russ, the waiter, paused briefly before he exited the kitchen. She spared a quick glance at his tray of delectable delights. Her dark brown eyes sparkled with pride as she examined the succulent bite-size morsels. Perfect. She nodded her approval and he hurried out the kitchen door to the dining room and waiting guests. She spared a moment to look around. Today had been crazy, but she'd actually done it. Two events in one evening and to her credit both had been perfectly planned and executed.
Because of her early hours at the cafe, she didn't usually take weekday catering jobs, let alone two in one evening. But this last one was special. It was at her older brother Mikhail's home and he had asked her to do this as a favor. While he was overseas, he'd rented his home out to a business associate and asked her to cater this event in his absence. She agreed. So after setting up, cooking and supervising the first event, she hurried here to the second job of the evening.
The kitchen hummed with the harmony of a well-orchestrated symphony. Every instrument fit perfectly and everyone knew their job and performed it expertly. Leroy, the sous chef, prepped and readied the food, she cooked and prepared the plates and Russ served the guests. What probably looked like disheveled confusion was actually perfectly planned and controlled chaos, which would result in two successful events. She had pulled together an exceptional team and knew that when she left the first job, everything would continue exactly the same in her absence.
But the long hours were starting to take their toll on her. It was getting late and she was exhausted and wanted to go home. She looked at her watch, then went back to wrapping dessert packages. All she needed now was for this job to be done.
Nikita glanced up a brief second upon hearing her friend and business manager, Darcy Richardson's, voice as she hurried into the kitchen. "Hey, what are you doing here?" she tossed over her shoulder without turning around completely.
"I stopped by to see if you needed any last-minute help."
"The only thing I need is for them to leave," Nikita said, nodding toward the dining-room door. "They've been huddled talking all night."
"Well, they'd better hurry up. It's starting to rain and it looks like it's gonna get really bad out there. The wind's picking up and you know what that means--we're in for a crazy, stormy night. I know they say it's just the tail end of a tropical storm, but it sure feels like a whole lot more to me."
"I just have to finish wrapping these take-home desserts. We'll be out of here long before it starts getting really bad," Nikita assured her as she continued wrapping desserts and placing them on the tray.
"Good," Darcy said, walking to the counter to see what Nikita was doing. "You know how the roads around here flood in just an inch of rain. And don't even get me started on the falling trees."
"Yeah, I know," Nikita said, then finally glanced up again. "Whoa, check you out. You look great. I know you didn't have that on earlier at the Bentleys'. Where are you going tonight?"
"I had to change into something more appropriate. I have a date later this evening. You like?" She struck a classic fashion pose. Leroy, the sous chef, whistled and in pure vanity mode, Darcy smiled from ear to ear. "Thank you, darling," she said with her throaty Southern drawl that would've put Scarlett O'Hara to shame. She turned to a large shiny pan sitting on the counter, looked at her reflection and checked her makeup.
Nikita just shook her head and chuckled. Darcy was incorrigible at times--apparently this was going to be one of them.
A retired model, Darcy was tall and thin with bleached-blond hair styled in a perfectly coiffed French braid. She was dressed in a white single-button pantsuit cut low in front, minus anything underneath, and five-inch stiletto sandals. Her makeup was flawless and of course her smile sparkled. Compared to Nikita, dressed in her white cook's jacket, jeans and comfortable flats, Darcy looked like a shimmering gemstone.
She had her Prada evening clutch and bedazzled cell phone in one hand and a check and a bottle of champagne in the other. "This is for you, darling--compliments of Mr. and Mrs. Woodrow Bentley III. They loved the food, especially the desserts, and along with their guests, they came into the kitchen to meet you. I relayed your sincere apologies."
"Thank you," Nikita said, then looked at the bottle and the check. "I'll take the check."
Darcy smiled happily. "Good, I was hoping you'd say that. Oh, and here," she began as she dug into her clutch, "you left this at the Bentleys'." She pulled out a cell phone. "I swear you must be exhausted. I've never known you to leave your phone behind at a job before. And seriously, I don't know how you did it today--up and at the cafe by four in the morning, working all morning and afternoon and then acing two catering jobs this evening."
"It's all for the greater goal," Nikita said proudly.
"Still, I will never set up another double booking in one night again. I can't believe it's only just Tuesday." She inhaled deeply. "Mmm, it smells like heaven in here. What was for dinner? I'm starved," she said, looking around.
"I thought you said you have a date tonight."
"I do, but you know I can't eat when I'm on a date. I just order a salad and water with lemon. Guys like that."
Nikita chuckled, shaking her head again. "We served grilled salmon with a light lemon and caper sauce, smashed potatoes and sauteed asparagus and shallots in white wine."
Darcy took the offered plate of food from the sous chef and began securing an equal amount of everything onto her fork. Then slipping it into her mouth, she closed her eyes and moaned lovingly. "I swear I have no idea how you do it every time. This food is smack-your-mama delicious. I can't wait until you expand the cafe into the space next door. With your cooking skills and my connections, it's gonna be fabulous."
"I certainly hope so," Nikita said optimistically. "With all the catering referrals from my two sisters' weddings and the lucrative personal chef jobs you've booked for me recently, I just about have enough money to pay off my mortgage outright, make a serious down payment on the building next door, then connect the two together. The designs are already drawn up, and I have an appointment with Wendy at the real-estate office next week."
"You know you could have secured the building years ago. I have some money from my trust fund and I know your family would have helped out."
Nikita shook her head. "No, I couldn't do that. Suppose it didn't work and went belly-up? I would have lost everybody's money and I couldn't do that to you or my family, no matter how much you all insisted. No," she said definitively, "I needed to do this on my own and I did. So, now that I almost have enough, I can focus solely on expanding the cafe."
"Okay, I'll make a note. No more private chef jobs."
"Actually, maybe one or two more jobs. Remodeling never goes like it's supposed to, so a little extra cash won't hurt."
Darcy shook her head. "Girl, you and I both know you're sitting on a gold mine with your cottage and land out on Stock Island. How many offers have you had recently--a dozen? That place is worth a fortune. All you have to do is sell it and cash in. You know you didn't even want it before."
Nikita smiled. Darcy was right. When her ex-fiance, Reed Blackwell, presented her with the cottage instead of an engagement ring, she was thrilled. Then when she saw it she was stunned. The place was a run-down shack that had been abandoned and neglected for years. She didn't really want it before but she also knew that she'd never sell it.
The cottage was her badge of endurance. She had loved Reed and he had betrayed her. A part of her still wanted to get back at him, and keeping the cottage was doing just that. She had intended to sign it over to Reed years ago, but his family's threats and demands had soon ended that notion. Now she was going to keep it until she wanted to let it go. "You're right. I didn't want it at first, but now I do want it. There's no way I'm gonna sell it."
"And when they double the real-estate taxes?" Darcy asked.
"Then I'll just figure something else out."
Darcy nodded. "Okay, I'll see what private chef jobs I can come up with."
"So how did the Bentley party finish out?"
"Flawless, as usual," Darcy said. "I was the last one out, and the place was spotless."
Nikita knew it would be, particularly with Darcy's slight touch of obsessive-compulsive disorder when it came to cleanliness and organization. "Good, thanks."
Russ hurried in and looked around. "Are they almost done in there?" Darcy asked him.
He nodded. "Yep, in a few minutes. They're ready for the--"
Nikita instantly handed him a tray of wrapped desserts. He grabbed it, then hurried out again. Nikita went to the sink, washed her hands and turned back to Darcy. "Leroy's almost finished with the pots and pans and I just have to load the dishwasher when the rest of the dessert dishes come back." She looked around. "This is my brother's home, so I really need to make sure everything's perfect when I leave."
"The kitchen will be immaculate as usual. And I gotta tell you, girl, if the rest of the house is anything like this kitchen, this house needs to be photographed for Architectural Digest. It's breathtaking."
"Actually it has been in a couple of magazines, including Architectural Digest. But you know I still can't believe Mikhail rented it out like this. He's never done that before. I asked my sisters and no one's even heard Mikhail mention Chase Buchanan before."
"Hmm, now talk about mouthwatering. Chase Buchanan is tall, gorgeous and built like a warrior. You know who he is, right? His family owns Titan Energy Corporation--the largest African American-owned energy company in the United States. They're the ones who bought the huge Blackwell property on Stock Island a few months ago."
Nikita nodded her head. "Yeah, I heard. To tell you the truth, I'm surprised the Blackwells sold it. They always said it was their family legacy."
"Well, not anymore. Money talks and I hear everyone and everything has a price tag. Rumor has it they're going to build some kind of research facility out there."
"Nah, they're probably gonna build an oil refinery and pollute the air, and then destroy the entire ecosystem in the process. My cottage and the land will be worthless."
Darcy chuckled at Nikita's extreme assessment. "Come on, I don't think it's gonna be that bad. But you know you could always just sell it to Titan. The cottage is right beside their property, isn't it?"
"Yeah, but the cottage sits on less than two acres of land. That's nothing compared to the Blackwell property. What's two acres compared to over fifty?"
"Still, I'm surprised Titan hasn't tried to buy it from you."
"They have. I keep turning them down. They have what they want. I'm sure they don't need my little two-acre cottage. It's totally insignificant. Besides, I'd never sell to an oil company."
"Did you meet him yet?" Darcy asked.
"Buchanan?" Nikita asked. Darcy nodded. "No, I spoke with his assistant when I arrived, and after that I was too busy." Nikita grabbed her backpack. She dug out her small leather-bound journal and began writing. She'd altered the sauce of the salmon and wanted to make a notation in her recipe book. This was where she kept all of her work-in-progress recipes.
Darcy quickly finished her food then took one of the extra chocolate desserts on the counter and popped it into her mouth. She closed her eyes and allowed the sinful sensation to slowly melt down her throat. "Oh, my God, this is insanely delicious," she moaned. "What is it?"
"Something I've been playing around with. It's a bite-size chocolate parfait cup filled with spiced dark chocolate ganache layered atop chocolate mousse and topped with crumbled chocolate-covered cocoa beans. What do you think? You like?"
"Are you kidding? It's so good I swear it's damn near orgasmic."
Nikita chuckled and shook her head. Darcy was a bona fide chocoholic with a supersonic metabolism. She could eat anything and never gain an ounce. "Orgasmic is an interesting description. I like it. Maybe that's what I'll call them--mini orgasms."
Darcy laughed. "So how'd it go out there earlier?" Darcy asked.
"Like piranhas on a feeding frenzy," Nikita joked. "The food was disappearing as fast as we were getting it out there. I've never seen people eat so fast. Four of the guests even asked for seconds. Thankfully we came prepared."
"You're a hit, darling."
"Or maybe they were just hungry."
"I don't think so. It's the food. They love it. They love you and you know they're gonna want to meet you. They always do at these private dinner parties," Darcy said as she walked over to the kitchen door to peek out into the dining room.
"No thanks. I need to get this place cleaned up then get out of here. My alarm clock goes off in--" she paused to glance at her watch "--seven hours, and I need to be in bed for at least five of them. Besides, schmoozing with our clientele is your job, not mine." Along with her other responsibilities, as business manager for her cafe, Darcy ran interference when it came to situations like this. She was responsible for dealing with cafe customers and catering clients. She had the personality for it and thankfully enjoyed doing it. "I just cook the food, remember?"
"You do a hell of a lot more than that," Darcy said, returning to the island across from Nikita who was drying and putting the pots and pans away. Since it was her brother's home she knew where everything went. "See, case in point--look at these dinner plates. Rich people don't eat everything on their plates. It's some kind of rich rule. But look at this plate. I swear it looks like it's been licked clean. See, even the design is eaten off."
Nikita laughed. Darcy was a character and she could always depend on her to lighten her mood.