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A Kiss for the Cook

Written by Melinda Curtis

couple that cooks together…stays together?

Claudia Giordano is a whiz in the kitchen. She should be. Her family are world-renowned chefs. A temporary blip in her own career means she can come home to help her grandmother and her fledgling pizzeria business. Claudia thinks this will be a walk in the park compared with what she's faced in the past. Little does she realize she's just entered the culinary equivalent of a war zone.

Lorenzo Diaz's family owns the Harmony Valley restaurant directly opposite Nonna's pizza place. His parents, brothers and sisters—cousins, too—all rely on the humble eatery for their livelihood. The last thing they want to see is master chef Claudia across the street. Enzo has big ideas and even bigger dreams and makes an ally of Claudia, rather than an enemy.

Once the two start cooking together, they quickly realize how deep their feelings run. Family loyalty is also important and soon each faces a difficult choice. Add in a town of charming eccentrics, some great food and numerous nosy relatives who ask a lot of awkward questions and it's a recipe for disaster…or possibly true love!

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Chapter One

Claudia Giordana had a pedigree.

And she wasn't even a poodle.

Generations of Giordanos were masters in the kitchen, renowned for their exclusive clientele. Uncle Guido's restaurant in Chicago's Little Italy was rumored to have served Al Capone pasta Vesuvio. Claudia's parents had once plated eggplant parmigiana for A-list celebrities at their restaurant in Malibu. Nonna Blanca had once sold deep-dish pizza to a presidential candidate.

And Claudia? She'd served a food critic spaghetti Loquercio at a restaurant in Napa. The simpleton hadn't realized the difference between al dente and à la carte. He'd sent the plate back and she'd sent him a piece of her mind. Unfortunately, he collected followers like a brand-new chef collected recipes. His negative review cost Claudia her job and her job prospects.

Claudia pushed her wheelchair-bound grandmother down Main Street's brick sidewalk feeling like she'd hit rock bottom and then been flung on the rocks—again and again—until the only place she could crawl to recover was Siberia. Or the back-country town of Harmony Valley. She hadn't visited Harmony Valley in more than a decade, but everything looked exactly the same. Quaint old buildings, quaint town square, and the quaint smell of fresh air because with a population around one hundred, and most of those octogenarians, rush hour wasn't much of a rush.

"So you lost your job." Nonna tightened the knot of the Italian flag scarf covering her drugstore, ink-black hair. "Big deal. Why do you want to cook someone else's food?"

"Because the pay is good." And her rent was high.

"I pay you good." At 82, Nonna had decided retirement was for the dead, and re-opened her pizzeria. A fall two weeks ago had broken her hip, but not her spirit. When she'd heard about Claudia's disgrace, she'd immediately called and offered her minimum wage. Part time.

So much for pedigree.

With the stench of a bad review tainting her reputation, it was either become a part-time pizza cook, or declare bankruptcy. Claudia had arrived yesterday.

"Wave to the Diaz boy." Nonna's voice was as thick as freshly made tomato paste as she unlocked the pizzeria's front door. "It pays to be friendly to the competition."

Claudia raised her hand toward the man sweeping the outdoor dining patio across the road. The man—tall, lean, and heart-attack handsome—had a perfect smile formed by perfect lips. Lips Claudia still remembered kissing.

Breathe, girl. It's not the end of the world.

But it might just as well have been.

Claudia wasn't wearing a man-slaying dress with killer heels. She didn't have a killer job at a to-die-for restaurant. And that man wasn't looking at her in faded track pants and a baggy hoodie, and wanting to expire from did-not-call regret. Heaven forbid he came over to say hi and got a whiff of the garlic-laden frittata she'd had for breakfast.

She hurried to open the door and push Nonna inside. Colossal mistake in a series of colossal mistakes. Nonna's restaurant looked like a cheap dive that served pizza by the slice just off a college campus. Yellow plastic chairs and red Formica tables on a dull black linoleum floor. A soda dispenser broke up the monotony of dingy white walls. But the ultimate chef's horror sat in plain site on the counter: a microwave.

Claudia felt ill, and it wasn't from her frittata. "You sold food here? Successfully?"

"This restaurant supported your father as a child." Nonna spun her wheelchair to face Claudia, bumping her shins with the leg rest. "You think it ruins the Giordano family name?" Nonna kept coming, backing Claudia against the wall. "You think I don't know how to run a restaurant?"

Claudia refused to disrespect Nonna's feelings anymore, but everywhere she looked there was something every chef—even fallen ones—found distasteful, demeaning or demoralizing. She even tried looking out the window.

But there was Enzo Diaz, gorgeous as ever, leaning on his broom and smiling that perfect smile.

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About the author

I grew up on an isolated sheep ranch in California, where I was allowe...

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Melinda Curtis

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