TCO is excited to have T. Neilson stop by today, bringing everyone a guest post, excerpt and giveaway from Dreamspinner Press’ newest release, Yes, Chef. I love the excerpt, especially the ending! Make sure to leave a comment at the end to enter the giveaway.
A savory slice of first love.
Simon’s dad died when he was young, leaving Simon to take the reins of the family restaurant business—and the responsibility for his mother and brothers. His commitment to his duty left Simon time for little else, least of all romance.
Argentinian celebrity chef Luke Ferreya has wanted Simon since their culinary-school days, but for Simon, family always came first. Now Luke’s back in Simon’s life—briefly before he returns to South America—and he’s determined to give Simon a sample of everything he’s missed out on.
Simon’s brothers are grown, and his mother is doing fine on her own, and Luke is offering a second chance for a future full of the pleasures of fine food, wine, and especially love. Without his obligations to hide behind, can Simon finally allow himself to say “Yes, Chef”?
If you can’t handle the heat…
Well, Simon never could handle the heat, which was exactly why he got out of the kitchen. He’s a much better restaurant manager than a chef. At least, that’s what he’s been telling himself. He was never really chef material. Not like his friend Luke. Luke with a natural ability with flavors, with great knife skills…. and an exceptional ass. But that was more than ten years ago, and anyway, Simon ran away to work the family restaurant at Lake Balmoral, Middle of Nowhere USA. It seemed so much easier than figuring out why Simon did what he did the last time he saw Luke.
As for Luke, he’s had about as much of the kitchen as he can stand. Burnt out after earning two Michelin stars, Luke is ready to leave the culinary world behind, and his family’s ranch in Argentina is singing a siren song. There’s just one thing he wants to do before he leaves forever, and that’s find out if an old culinary school friend could, after all this time, be something more.
Now Simon Love, a man too busy to have his own place let alone go on a date, suddenly finds himself back where he was ten years ago — head over heels with Luke. Which would be fine, if Simon wasn’t prepping for the biggest make-or-break event in the culinary calendar, and if his kitchen wasn’t in total disarray.
On the shore, Simon tried not to watch Luke dress, but he still found himself sneaking glances. He told himself not to be a creep, but he kept right on doing it.
Luke didn’t seem to notice, but then, Luke seemed to be having trouble getting his jeans on over his wet legs. They seemed to stick to his skin, and Luke wriggled and twisted to get them up his thighs and over his ass. Jesus. Simon tugged his own pants on as fast as the fabric would allow and then zipped his cock safely away. Luke left his pants undone as he pulled his shirt on. Ridged belly, black- fuzzed treasure trail, skin all damp and glistening. Simon’s cock pulsed. The lake had not been cold enough.
He pulled on his shirt and saw Luke watching him. Horrified, he glanced down at himself, but didn’t see any evidence of unplatonic interest, at least not visible. “What?” he asked.
Luke shrugged. “I think it’s important for you to know what it is you do and don’t do,” he said.
“I mean, I think if you don’t set boundaries, you try to do everything yourself. And then you wind up like me.”
Luke touched Simon’s shoulder with a cool, damp hand, and the contact startled him. He looked at Luke, at his hand.
For an instant he imagined that hand tightening. He imagined Luke stopping him, turning him. He imagined Luke leaning toward him. God, his skin would be cool still from the water, and damp, but his mouth would be hot. He thought of how it would be to feel the thick muscles of Luke’s legs brush against his, slide along his, frame his hips.
“You are worried that you’ll burn out like me. Aren’t you?”
Simon forced his mind back from the brink. “You’re the best chef I’ve ever known,” he answered in a croak. “I should be so lucky.”
Luke’s eyes were fixed on him, dark and soft and warm as an August night. His broad brow creased under the slick of his wet black hair. He’s beautiful. How did I miss it for so long?
Luke’s grip on Simon’s arm softened just a little, and the subtle shift made the hairs on Simon’s arm and neck stand up. The contact was as electric as a rolling summer storm. He found himself holding his breath, waiting for something he couldn’t explain or express. “I should be so lucky,” Simon heard himself say again, in a whisper.
Luke’s mouth parted just a little and curved just slightly into a small, soft smile.
“Simon,” Luke said in a low, soft voice that Simon could hardly hear over the buzzing in his head. It was a rumble—a purr. I want him to kiss me. God, please let him kiss me. “It’s not lucky to burn out. It’s a disaster. I wasted my whole youth building a business I walked away from. And what good have I done in the world? Who have I helped? No one.”
Simon reached for something that would sound sensible, reasonable. “You’ve mentored so many chefs,” he managed at last.
Irritation creased Luke’s features. He shook his head. “That’s the absolute least I could do. Besides, I get their labor. It’s not altruism. It’s trade. Listen to me,” Luke said. He turned and gripped both of Simon’s arms, firmly but not hard. “There’s more to life than your kitchen. Don’t do what I did. Don’t let the work become who you are.”
It was too late. Work had poured like sand into every part of Simon’s life and filled up all the empty space inside of him until he was his own shape, but all the him had been displaced… until now.
He felt his breath coming short, as though he were about to give a talk to a banquet room full of guests. His lungs felt too small for his chest, and his heart battered against the cage of his ribs like a bird beating at a window. He knew what he wanted in a way he had never known before. Kiss me, kiss me, please kiss me.
This being a category romance, usually you do have the MCs separate for a while, before they do finally find their way to each other. In this book, the MC’s don’t even acknowledge to each other that they want the other, much less kiss, before 85% of the book has been completed.
I felt like there was a ton of “I want him, but he doesn’t want me” and “I want him but he’s leaving for Argentina”, and very little of the two men actually re-connecting. As a reader, it felt like a repeating pattern throughout 3/4 of the book.
There were definitely aspects that I really enjoyed. I’d like to see a follow up scene with these two men, to see where they are at six months down the road. I want to know more about Sam’s circumstances, as a future possibility of a story. He was intriguing to me. I also really loved the camaraderie with the Brasserie employees. They all seemed to get along so well, and cared about each other so much. A very different scene versus what Luke had left behind.
Overall, a book that had potential, but needed more character connection for this reader, but still has kept me interested in a next in the series.
3 pieces of eye candy
About the Author: T Neilson is a writer and foodie who lives on Vancouver Island where the bread, beer, and coffee scene is a thing to behold. A romance writer since 2015, and a food industry die-hard for over a decade, Neilson decided to get out of coffee tasting and get into writing for good. These days Neilson spends a lot of time chasing after a toddler, thinking about upcoming books, and working toward the perfect hand-pie crust. It’s not an easy life, but someone has to do it.
T. Neilson is giving away an ebook copy of her book Submission Guidelines (a book that features some of the side characters who appear in this book). Leave a comment on this blog post and be entered for a copy of it! Check the book out here.