Katherine Bloom told herself she could do this. She just needed to focus and concentrate on getting the job done as quickly and as efficiently as possible. She refused to think about the fact that she didn’t have much experience. Though surely it was no different than riding a bike. Once you’d done it, you never forgot how. And if this was what she had to do to keep her job, so be it.
Nerves tried to break through her raised-chin bravado, and suddenly keeping her incredibly great job as an award-winning newswoman didn’t seem all that important. If she hurried, she realized, she could walk out the door and be in Mexico by lunch. She could change her name. Dye her hair. Find employment selling tacos on the street corner in downtown Ciudad Juárez. Didn’t everyone need a career change at one time or another?
Groaning at herself, she shook the thought away. During the last week, she had put her reporter’s skills to work. She had found magazine articles, online Web sites, and books with titles like Make It Sizzle and Spice Up Your Life.
Not one to depend on a man to think of every eventuality, she’d had the foresight to purchase a few things she thought they might need.
A bottle of wine.
Some painful-looking utensils. Who knew things had gotten so creative?
Plus, carrots and potatoes.
She still couldn’t believe Julia expected her to cook on live television with a man referred to as the Naked Chef.
Kate took a deep calming breath, thought about the stress management techniques she had learned in the company-sponsored stress management course—which she had failed—then smoothed her apron.
Seconds more ticked by before she finally settled on a smile, taking in the pristine white-latticed window behind her, the perfect sink, the shiny oven. Even a real refrigerator. She had thought of everything when planning this kitchen.
Forget the fact that the refrigerator wasn’t plugged in, the sunrise in the window was painted, and the walls were fake. Only the stove top actually worked. Regardless, the television set for Getting Real with Kate couldn’t have looked more authentic if they had shot the segment from the cozy confines of someone’s very own home.
However, none of that mattered just then. With only three minutes until airtime, the producer made her heart go still when he spoke into her earpiece.
“Kate, we’ve got a problem. The chef isn’t here yet.”
Julia had sworn the cooking segment was going to be Kate’s ticket to better ratings. “We won’t have just any old chef for the launch of Getting Real, we’ll have a sexy naked chef. Women will love it!”
Kate wasn’t so sure.
“What do you mean, he isn’t here yet? He has to be here, Pete. I need him here.” Her voice tried to rise, panic surging through her. “I can’t do a cooking segment without a cook.”
Forcibly, Kate reined in her growing concern.
Fact One: She was not a worrier.
Fact Two: If she repeated something to herself often enough eventually it became true—or so they said in stress management. Any minute now she fully expected Fact One to come true.
And most important, as she had pointed out to Julia, Fact Three: She was a competent woman who had risen to the top of her field with hard-hitting news exposés.
Unfortunately, and a very heart-skewering Fact Four: The audience thought she was too prim and too proper. The focus group had used words like stiff, rigid, inflexible. One person had gotten creative and called her doggedly unbendable. Now there was a description to warm a girl’s heart.
Kate refused to give in and cringe with embarrassment. Who would have thought that strangers not liking her could make her feel so bad?
Which brought her to the mind-numbing and utterly terrifying Fact Five: Julia’s brainchild of moving Kate off the morning news and putting her on Getting Real with Kate—an attempt to show a different side of Katherine Bloom by having her interview and get involved with “something real.” This week she was getting real in the kitchen, her least favorite room in the house.
For years, her mother had had an on-again, off-again love affair with cooking. Kate had never known if Mary Beth Reynolds, Bloom, Fisher, Radley, Smythe, Lombardi would prepare an extravagant five-course meal or none at all. Kate had learned that it was easier to count on TV dinners and peanut butter sandwiches. Which made her ill-prepared for today’s segment without a chef.
When Kate had balked at Julia’s plan, she had been taken aside.
“Sugar,” Julia had drawled in her thick Louisiana accent, despite the fact that she had lived in Texas since she was seven years old, “I have to tell you. In this day and age of witty banter and anchors acting like family, and now that my daddy has passed on, if you don’t let those walls of yours down and show the audience that you know how to have fun, even I’ll have trouble convincing the new auditors to keep you employed.”
Kate’s response that she didn’t keep walls around herself had gotten little more than an unladylike snort from the very ladylike Julia.
The station was KTEX TV, founded and formerly operated by Philippe Boudreaux, man of extreme wealth, father of Julia. Up until the day her daddy died, Julia had meddled more than worked at the station, ensuring that her two best friends had been hired straight out of college.
Now the three of them were twenty-seven, with Chloe Sinclair serving as KTEX’s ultra organized station manager and Katherine as a news anchor. Julia did her best to be there for anyone who needed her, as long as it didn’t entail any actual work. Not that she needed an income. It was widely reported that Julia, as the only heir of Philippe Boudreaux, was set for life.
With equal measures of resolve and determination, Kate swallowed back panic. With or without a chef, she told herself, she was completely ready. She had memorized the recipe so she could concentrate on asking the whole slew of “light and fun” questions she had prepared, not to mention reel off the spontaneous “witty banter” she had been working on for a week. She’d just have to do the cooking herself, eek!, and chat with the camera.
“Two minutes, thirty seconds, and still no naked guy,” Pete squawked in her ear. “What are we going to do?”
They both breathed a sigh of relief when they heard Julia’s voice as she entered the studio.
“Hello, darlings! Julia is here to save the day.”
But saviors and chefs were forgotten when Kate turned around. She would have sat down on the kitchen stool if her knees hadn’t fused with shock when it wasn’t Julia in her high heels and short skirt whom she saw, but a man whose dominating size and presence blocked out everything else.
“Jesse,” she whispered on a rush of breath.
Jesse Chapman, tall, dark, and more handsome than any one man had a right to be.
“Surprise!” Julia called out, the simple word echoing inside the cavernous studio.
Kate took him in, absorbing his height, the brown hair, almost black, that brushed his collar, the dark eyes that traveled the length of her in a way that made her breath catch and her skin tingle. He looked like a cowboy stepping out for the night, his white long-sleeved, button-down shirt tailored perfectly over broad shoulders, narrowing into lean hips and thighs encased in tight, soft Wrangler jeans that cupped his crotch like a lover.
Heat scorched her cheeks when she realized where she was looking. Quickly, she lifted her gaze, reminding herself to breathe.
He said her name with a deep rumble that skittered down her spine, his smile tilting one corner of his mouth. If she had needed any proof, the fact that he had called her Katie would have been enough to prove that Jesse Chapman stood before her. No one called her Katie. No one but Jesse.
“Aren’t you going to welcome me home?” he asked, his smile sliding up at one corner.
Julia hooked her arm through his. “Can you believe it? Our very own Jesse has returned. I couldn’t have been more surprised when I came down the driveway this morning and I glanced over and there he was standing at the curb in front of your house, Kate. Just standing. Just looking.” She laughed with the same abandon she always did. “Looking like a cover model, I say. Doesn’t he look great?”
Saying he looked great was like calling a blistering West Texas summer day warm, but Kate hardly heard. Jesse was here.
She had grown up next door to him since the day she was born. She was four years younger, and her very first memories were of him. It was Jesse who had always reminded her that it wasn’t her fault after every one of her mother’s five divorces. Jesse who had never made her feel embarrassed when a new “father” moved in. And Jesse who had let her sleep in his bed after those new fathers inevitably moved out, leaving her mother in despair.
Excerpted from Suddenly Sexy by Linda Francis Lee. Copyright © 2004 by Linda Francis Lee. Excerpted by permission of Ivy Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.