DECADENT HOLIDAY PLEASURES (December, 2019)
Executive chef Elise Jennings is eager to prove herself at her new job. But when Giovanni Castillo, sexy heir to the Hamptons polo club, saunters into her kitchen, she’s tempted to taste forbidden fruit. An affair with her boss’s son could ruin her professional credibility. But Giovanni’s seductive caresses are impossible to resist! When their secret fling leads to not-so-secret gossip, will Elise get the man and career for Christmas…or be left outside in the cold?
Giovanni Castillo sat inside the award-winning restaurant at his family’s polo club in the Hamptons on Friday morning, bored out of his mind. Auditions for the Executive Chef position had started three hours earlier, but none of the candidates interviewed had impressed him. They were all stiff, and uptight, visibly anxious and fraught with nerves. Worse still, their entrees had been run-of-the mill dishes that lacked originality, flavour, and presentation. Giovanni was an elite polo player who’d won countless championships, not a New York food critic, but he knew what exceptional cuisine tasted like, and none of the entrees had had the wow factor.
“Next up is, Elise Jennings,” his sister, Rosario, announced in an animated tone of voice, consulting the resume she was holding in her long, slender hands. “Elise Jennings graduated from the top of her class at the International Culinary Center of New York, and spent five years working as a sous chef before being hired at By the Bay Restaurant. Best of all? She’s a seasoned traveler, who’s explored culinary delights all over the world, and incorporated them into her scrumptious entrees and decadent pastries…”
Thank God, he thought, cracking his knuckles. One more audition and I’m out of here. If it was up to him he’d be working out in his home gym with his personal trainer, not interviewing potential candidates for the executive chef position, but he’d promised he’d help, Rosario out while their father was home recovering from knee surgery and Giovanni wanted to be a man of his word. But once his dad returned to the club, Giovanni was resuming his polo career and nothing was going to stop him—not even his medical team.
A female voice spoke in Portuguese, siezing his attention, and Giovanni surfaced from his thoughts. Straightening in his chair, he regarded the statuesque woman with the doe-shaped eyes, delicate features, and flawless brown complexion who entered the dining room, waving. His gaze slid down her face, lingering on her lush, full lips. They looked luscious, soft and moist, and when she smiled he noticed Elise Jennings had a small space between her two front teeth.
“You speak, Portuguese.” Feeling like an imbecile for stating the obvious, he pretended not to notice the what-are-you-thinking expression on his sister’s face and coughed into his fist. “Welcome to the, Hamptons Polo Club, Ms. Jennings. Tell us a little about yourself.”
“It’s an honor to be here,” she gushed, in an animated tone of voice. “I know you’ve probably interviewed dozens of people for the executive chef position, but look no further. I’m the perfect person for the job. I’m an outstanding cook, who’s passionate about haute cuisine, and once you try my flavoursome tasting menu you won’t need to interview anyone else…”
A scowl curled his lips. Someone has an ego! he thought, cocking an eyebrow. And more pride than a ten-time Olypmic gold medalist. Turned off by her speech, Giovanni folded his arms across his chest. He didn’t care if candidate number 6 was the female version of Wolfgang Puck. They couldn’t hire her. In the ninety year history of the polo club the restaurant had never had a female executive chef, and Giovanni suspected that was by design. Yesterday, his dad had advised them to find a male chef, who knew about international cuisine, but Giovanni seriously doubted Elise Jennings was who their father had in mind.
“What do you want us to know about you?” Rosario asked, reaching for her water glass.
“I’m a hard-worker, who values and respects everyone in the kitchen regardless of their position.” Elise rested a hand on her chest. “Cooking is my life, and being named the Executive Chef at the Hamptons Polo Club would be a dream come true. The Winner’s Circle is the best restaurant in the Hamptons, and I want to be part of this talented, incredible, team. ”
Giovanni gave a polite nod. Elise spoke with a drawl, in a voice that was pleasing to his ears, and he guessed she’d been raised in the South. Sniffing the spicy aroma in the air, Giovanni licked his lips as he peered into the kitchen. Two servers entered the dining room, pushing a cart with oversized silver trays on it. The national dish of Argentina was asados, and seeing plates of barbequed meat with sauteed vegetables, stuffed tomatoes, and humita made his mouth wet.
“For the first course, I prepared favorites such as pan de atun in my creamy, secret sauce, sandwiches de miga, torre de panqueques, and I hope you enjoy every moist, flavorful bite.”
“You created a traditional Argentinian meal for Christmas day. Why?” Giovanni asked.
“Because the holiday season is right around the corner…”
Don’t remind me, he thought, stabbing a stuffed tomoato with his fork.
“Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, everyone has Christmas on the brain, including me, and I wanted my excitement for the holiday season to shine through in the menu I created.”
Giovanni tasted the beef. Savoring the spices, he was impressed with how succulent and delicious it was. He took a bite of the veal, then another, and finished the food on his plate in seconds. Wow, Giovanni thought, nodding his head in appreciation. Elise Jennings cooks almost as good as my mom! He wanted to ask for more food, but rested his utensils on his plate instead, then wiped his mouth with a napkin. Giovanni didn’t think Elise was the right person for the Executive Chef position, but he was impressed with her cooking. Blown away by her flavorful tasting menu. Awed by her talent. Elise was the youngest person they’d interviewed, but obviously the most creative. She’d done her homework about, Argentinian food, but she’d added her own unique twist to each dish, creating a winning combination.
“I’m glad you enjoyed the first course, but I hope you’re not full because there’s more…”
Giovanni listened to Elise with rapt attention. His eyes strayed to her curves, and his body failed him. Sweat clung to the back of his dress shirt, and an erection stabbed the zipper of his tailored black pants. Her uniform failed to hide her fine, feminine shape, and it took supreme effort to concentrate on what she was saying about the dessert menu instead of gawking at her. His intense physical attraction to Elise Jennings surprised him, and even though Giovanni was single, he felt guilty for ogling the talented chef.
“I took the liberty of creating sample menus for the Tree and Tinsel Party, Breakfast with Santa, the Family Fun Buffet, and the Christmas Eve Feast,” Elise said, handing out a white sheet of paper. “You’ll see that I included decor ideas for each event as well.”
Giovanni frowned. “I think you have us confused with another establishment, Ms. Jennings. We don’t host these events at our club, or have a seasonal menu.”
“I know, but you should.”
“Are you telling me how to run my club?” Giovanni asked, between clenched teeth.
“No, of course not. I’m simply giving you some free advice. This is a gorgeous facility, that’s being underutilized, and this is the perfect time to do something about it.” Elise pulled out a chair at the table, sat down, and took off her chef’s hat, causing her lush, auburn locks to fall across her shoulders. “Host weekly Christmas events, and open the club to the public at a discounted rate—”
“This is a private club for a reason, Ms. Jennings.”
“I understand that, Mr. Castillo, but it’s the holidays, the season for giving, and if you open, The Hamptons Polo Club, to the community you’ll attract even more business and ultimately increase your bottom line.”
His temperature rose. Giovanni realized he had to take control of the interview, and plotted his next move. The southern beauty with an impressive resume and outstanding cooking skills, but she’d rubbed him the wrong way from the moment she’d entered the dining room and Giovanni had to get rid of her before it was too late.