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A Kiss for the Cook

Written by Melinda Curtis

Chapter Twenty

"Are you dumping me, pizza girl?" Enzo had come to Claudia's walking on air. Now he felt deflated.

"I'm being realistic. I'm going into the city tomorrow for a job interview." She looked around the restaurant as if saying goodbye.

"You're going to cook for someone else?"

"What did you expect me to do? Stay here?"

"Yes." He tossed his hands much as he'd seen Mayra do all his life. "You're happy here."

"But Enzo." There was pain in her voice. Pain in her dark eyes. "This is a pizzeria."

"It ceased being that the day you re-opened." He pointed to the collection of dented vintage brass cookware he'd helped her hang last weekend where the old plastic menu board used to be. "If someone wanted pepperoni pizza, you told them they had to wait until you felt like making it."

"Fridays." Her lips almost turned up in a smile. "I usually felt like making it on Fridays."

Enzo took her hands, mustering a small and desperate smile. "You earned my respect. You mentored my dreams. You fed my soul." He whispered, "How can you return to a life working for someone else?"

"I'm a chef. Chefs don't settle until they have their own place."

"Who says this can't be your place? Who says it isn't already? The people who told you rice and beans are filling?"

"Generations of Giordanos—"

"The generations including Blanca and your grandfather? They were happy feeding the population of Harmony Valley, just as my parents and grandparents have been." His voice lowered once more. "Just as we could be."

She didn't seem to be breathing. Her eyes widened. Her cheeks paled.

"Stay with me. Here." He squeezed her hands. "In Harmony Valley."

"As what?" She sounded weary. "Your cooking buddy? Your competitor? Your assistant?"

"As my wife." He kissed one hand. "As my lover." He kissed the other. "As my life."

"Two chefs. Two egos." She shook her head, but there was longing in her eyes.

Enzo had to think fast. "Mayra is in charge of breakfast at El Rosal. Arturo would love to take over midday operations. That would leave me to assist you here for lunch. And you to assist me there for dinner."

"You're asking for the stars to align." She tried to tug her hands free.

"Stars have done greater things. For love." He held on tight. "You love me, don't you, pizza girl?"

She sighed. "I fell in love with you a dozen years ago. And I fell in love with you again in this kitchen when I bossed you around."

"I love it when you tell me what to do. And I love it when you listen to me." A feeling of happiness filled his chest. "Let's do more than create dishes together. Let's create a life together."

Claudia gave him a hopeful half-smile. "Filled with love and joy and laughter?"

He nodded. "We'll cook what we want." He gathered her in his arms and spun her around. "And we'll dance."

"Wait. I have something for my sweetheart." She grinned as she pulled open a drawer and handed him a red satin bag—a Harmony Valley tradition, a bag of sweets. "But Enzo, before any of that, you really have to reclaim that man card and kiss me."

He did what any man in the kitchen would do.

He kissed the cook.

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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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