Recipe for Lust - Alice Ward

CHAPTER ONE

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“I can’t believe this is really happening,” Lauren said calmly, but with hurt still shining in her eyes. “I still don’t understand why you didn’t tell me sooner.”

I knew she was upset I hadn’t shared my audition details with her, but after a rough several months, life had finally returned to normal, and the only thing I wanted my friend worrying about was her own happiness.

“I honestly didn’t think I would be considered, let alone chosen,” I admitted, tucking a strand of hair behind my ear.

“Seriously, Claire? You’re one of the best chefs I know,” Lauren insisted.

“I’m the only chef you know,” I added with a grin, then smiled wider when Lauren rolled her eyes.

My best friend picked up her half-empty glass of wine from the oak coffee table while I stared at the townhouse, realizing how much I’d miss it. It was my first place on my own. Mine. A single woman, free and finally living my dream, not Royce’s. It felt good here, but I knew Deacon would be returning soon from Australia, and I would have to move on anyway, so the sooner the better. Right?

I taped the thank you note to the fridge. I hoped the words inside came close to conveying how much I appreciated Deacon and his wife for letting me live here while they were away. I’m not sure what I would’ve done if I hadn’t had this soft place to land after the sudden explosion of my long term relationship.

“So, tell me… how did you hear about this competition? How did you get selected? What was your audition like?” Lauren pounded out questions faster than I could think.

“This calls for more wine,” I said, trying not to sound stressed by her inquisition.

I picked up my sunglasses from the kitchen counter and slid them to the top of my head for safe keeping before grabbing the wine bottle from the granite island.

“I’m a little scared,” I admitted, pouring another glass of wine for myself and topping off Lauren’s glass until she waved her hand to signal enough.

“Why? You’re amazing,” Lauren insisted, covering my hand with hers.

“I didn’t tell you about my audition process, well, because when I sent in the tape, I honestly didn’t think I would be considered, let alone selected, like I said. But, once it was submitted, I received a call from the program director and was questioned about my connection with you and Asher.” I gulped down half of my wine in one large swoop as I waited for Lauren’s reaction.

“Well, I doubt that had anything to do with your acceptance,” Lauren assured me. Her smile was kind and convincing, but I’d known her long enough to know when she was being protective. It was absolutely the reason I was selected. Maybe not the only reason, but certainly a factor in the decision process.

I decided not to argue and smiled graciously as I sipped more of the sweet red wine from my glass. Even if it was my connection to her and her husband that got my foot in the door, I’d work my ass off to make sure I deserved to be there on my own merit.

“So, how did you hear about the competition?” Lauren asked, seeming to be as eager to change the subject as I was.

“One of my clients left me the flyer when I served their luncheon a few months back,” I explained, remembering stuffing the paper in my back pocket and forgetting about it until later. I’d watched Extreme Cuisine since the show’s conception but had never dreamed or even thought about applying for