Home > Seduced(5)

Author: Lili Valente

But I love Crave, and I’ve worked my ass off to rise through the ranks at one of New York’s most innovative and well-respected kitchens. I don’t want to start all over again, especially not in the current market, where so many restaurants are closing mere months after opening.

And surely, with a little persuasion, Natalie will see that we’re all adults, capable of balancing business and pleasure.

I just have to figure out how to persuade her.

Luckily, I’m more than a pretty face and a pair of gifted chef’s hands. I also have a solid head on my shoulders.

I’ll figure this out…as soon as I survive my first conversation with my new boss, who is headed my way.



Chapter Three



Cristina Natalia Barbu III



A woman about to cut off her nose to keep her

face from making out with a super cute,


sous chef or…something like that.



I have the worst luck in the world.

The very worst.

I’m cursed. I’m sure of it. It probably happened a few hundred years ago when one of my wealthy Romanian ancestors tortured the wrong peasant and ended up on the ugly end of a witch’s curse. I’ve certainly done nothing in my relatively short life to earn the kind of love karma I’ve had the past six years.

I’m a nice person!

Okay, maybe not “nice”—I never met a piece of constructive criticism I didn’t feel compelled to give, and I’ve made more than one tender-hearted fish station chef cry—but I’m kind. Or I strive to be.

I don’t want to hurt people, I just want to make my food the best food in the world. I want people to hear a new Cristina Barbu restaurant is opening and instantly race to their closest reservation app to book a table. I want to give my patrons one relentless and beautifully layered mouth orgasm from the first bite of their amuse bouche to the last nibble of their dessert.

And in order to deliver those mouth orgasms, I’ll have to take actual orgasms with The Cutest Boy in the World off the menu.

Ugh. It’s going to hurt. A lot.

Cameron’s so freaking cute, with that shaggy, dirty-blond hair pulled back in a low ponytail, gorgeous blue eyes, and lips I would write poetry about if I were still fourteen and hadn’t yet realized that I suck at poetry.

And love.

And keeping beautiful boys from breaking my heart and throwing my life into utter chaos.

Shit, I want to vomit again.

But I won’t. From now on, I will not show weakness in front of this man. He’s my employee and the highest-ranking veteran of the kitchen, now that I’ve given poor, arthritic Wendall the retirement package he deserved. I need Cam on my side and in my pocket, giving me the inside scoop on the strengths and weaknesses of my new team—not in my panties.

Even though I really, really want him in my panties…

But this isn’t about what I want. It’s about making my new life in NYC a success, and that isn’t going to happen if I’m distracted by sexy sous chef squirrels at work.

I stop in front of Cam, sucking in a deep breath. “Cristina Barbu, but I go by Natalie, to avoid confusion with the rest of the people in my family who share my same name,” I say, extending my hand. “You can call me Chef Natalie. What should I call you?”

“The team calls me Chef Brennan,” he says, an unspoken question in his dreamy blue eyes as his big, warm fingers wrap around mine, reminding me of how freaking amazing it felt to hold his hand last night.

Fuck! Why does the first guy to make me tingle since everything went to shit with my ex have to be my employee? In a city of literally millions of people, I just happened to tumble into an instant crush on the one who’s off-limits? What the fuck is up with that?

Cursed. I must be cursed.

Maybe I should look for an exorcist or a fortune teller or a person who specializes in casting out dating demons or something. Or a matchmaker to set me up with an age-appropriate, workplace-conflict-free boyfriend who will help keep my mind off how much I want to kiss this man again.

“But you can call me Cam or Chef Cam, whichever you prefer,” he continues, bringing my thoughts back to the present.

I realize I’m still holding his hand and force myself to release it. “Chef Brennan is fine. I don’t want to confuse the rest of the team.” I nod toward the kitchen. “I figured we’d start the day by running a simulated brunch service, with you filling in for Wendall as head chef. I’ll observe and take notes on how to increase productivity, streamline processes, and where I think we can cut or adjust our brunch offerings. Then, we’ll break for lunch, eat all the yummy things the team made this morning, and move into adjustments in the afternoon with the servers who are coming in to train at one. Sound good?”

“Sounds great,” he says, “except that we won’t have enough eggs. Since we only serve brunch on weekends, the egg shipment doesn’t arrive until Thursday afternoon.”

I grin. “No worries. I stocked the fridge with all the necessary supplies yesterday before cricket class. That’s why I was a little late.”

His forehead furrows. “Right. About that… I don’t think this needs to be weird, do you? I mean, I had a great time with Natalie last night, and I’m excited to work with Chef Natalie today. I don’t see why those two things can’t harmoniously co-exist—one in the restaurant and one after hours.”

My heart flutters even as my stomach balls into a stress knot. “If I were just your boss, hired by someone else, maybe, but…” I glance over my shoulder to see the rest of the staff cleaning up their coffee cups and breakfast wrappers on their way into the kitchen.

None of them appear to be eavesdropping, but I still drop my voice to a whisper as I turn back to Cam, “But I blew every single dime in my savings to buy Crave. If this restaurant fails, I will lose everything, and I have too many people depending on me for that to happen. I help my mom and dad pay their mortgage and pay my gram’s rent, too, and it’s just…” I sigh. “There’s a lot on my shoulders right now. I need to keep my focus laser sharp at work and that means no distractions, no matter how pleasant, adorable, or tempting they might be.”

His lips twitch up on one side. “Adorable and tempting, I’ll take. Pleasant, I’m not so sure about. I endeavor to be more interesting than that, but since we’ve only known each other a few hours, I’ll let it pass.”

“Thanks,” I say, before adding in a firmer tone, “But that was a little flirty. So, you should stop that. No more flirting. Not even tiny little baby flirting.”

“You’re the one who called me tempting, Chef Natalie. But I’ll let it pass this time. Next time I’ll go to HR. I’m assuming we still have an HR rep? Or did you can Sammy along with Wendall?”

“I didn’t can Wendall,” I say, standing up straighter. “He was eager to retire, once he was offered the kind of severance package a legend like him deserved. And yes, Sammy will still be here on Thursday afternoons and Saturday mornings to take meetings and address any issues that may arise. She seems capable, and as long as she continues to fulfill her duties, she won’t be terminated. The same holds true for the rest of the staff. But I won’t hesitate to fire people who don’t carry their weight or follow the rules. Like I said, I have too much riding on Crave becoming a success to tolerate dropped balls, chronic lateness, or chefs who lack the skills needed to succeed in their chosen specialty.”

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