“Cutler’s engaging, down-to-earth storytelling makes this contemporary romance soar. A prideful, strong-willed heroine in Emily combined with Knox’s toughness and grit, along with the battle-of-wills between them, will appeal to readers. With genuine, delightful secondary characters, a rock-solid plot, and the passionate tension between Emily and Knox, Cutler’s latest is full of humor and heart.”- RT Book Reviews
If you can’t take the heat…
Chef Emily Ford has the talent and ambition to make it in the cutthroat culinary world—which is why she refuses to accept her demotion at the hands of Knox Briscoe, the new CEO of Briscoe Ranch Resort. He has grand plans that include bringing in a celebrity chef to helm an exciting new restaurant at the resort, but Emily has plans of her own—to do whatever it takes to change his mind…
ONE MORE TASTE
Cut out of the Briscoe fortune by an old feud that left his family in ruins, Knox grew up dreaming of revenge. Out-maneuvering his uncle for control of Briscoe Ranch is merely the first step in a grand plan that doesn’t include the brazen and beautiful Emily Ford…or the attraction that sizzles between them. With both their futures on the line, can they keep their desires on simmer—or are they headed from the frying pan straight into the fire?
- The Mistletoe Effect (One and Only Texas Prequel)
- One Hot Summer
- One More Taste
- If Santa Were A Cowboy (holiday novella)
- One Wild Night
It wasn’t the first time Emily Ford had spied on a VIP guest at Briscoe Ranch Resort. In fact, she considered it a mandatory part of her research as the resort’s Executive Special Event Chef. Wowing elite guests with personalized, gastronomic marvels was her specialty. As long as the guests never checked her Internet search history or spotted her peering at them through binoculars, she was golden.
She didn’t usually involve her best friend for life, Carina Briscoe, in her covert ops, but today was an exception. Because today’s resort VIP was Knox Briscoe—a cousin of Carina’s whom Emily had never met and Carina had only seen a handful of times, though they’d grown up only a couple hundred miles from each other, and who was about to sign on with Carina’s dad as the heir apparent of the resort, making him Carina’s future landlord and Emily’s newest boss.
Since Carina was eight months along in a pregnancy that had supersized her whole body from her ankles to her face, stealthiness in this covert ops mission was not easily achieved. So, once Emily had gotten the call from the security guard manning the resort’s cameras that Knox had arrived—two hours earlier than expected—Emily and Carina had settled for spying on him from a window in the bridal gown shop Carina operated in the resort’s lobby.
A shiny, black sedan matching the description the security guard had given Emily came into view on the long road through the property leading to the circular driveway in front of the resort’s main building.
Carina nudged Emily in the ribs. “This is exciting. I’m glad he’s here. I’m glad my dad asked him to work for him.”
“Why are you so happy about that? It could ruin everything.” Including the dream that Emily had been working toward for a decade. Ty had finally, finally agreed to bankroll the building of her dream restaurant at the resort—and she had no idea how much Knox’s entry into the family business would delay her grand idea from materializing.
“Don’t be such a pessimist,” Carina said. “He’s family, and I’m proud of my dad for putting the rift behind us. It’s ancient history.” She wrapped an arm around her belly. “With a new generation of Briscoes coming, it’s time for the family to forgive and move on.”
The rift was the term Carina and all the Briscoes used to refer to the catastrophic falling out that had happened more than thirty years earlier between Carina’s grandfather, Tyson Briscoe, and his two sons, Ty and Clint, that had resulted in Clint Briscoe being excommunicated from the family and their business. Whatever the three men had fought over that night, however, had remained shrouded in silence and speculation. To the best of Emily’s knowledge, no one but Tyson, Ty, and Clint knew the reason—and Clint and Tyson had already taken that secret to their graves. Unless either Clint or Tyson had confessed it to his wife before their deaths, that is.
“I get it that he’s family,” Emily said. “But the man’s amassed a net worth of nearly a billion dollars by buying and flipping failing businesses. So, then, why is he bothering with buying into Briscoe Ranch? How can we trust him not to sell us all out?”
“I was skeptical when my dad first told me his plan, but I trust my dad. And I trust his lawyers. They’re too business savvy to make it possible for anyone to sell the resort away from the family.”
When the car rounded the driveway and came to a stop, Carina and Emily crowded together, ducking their heads low in case either Knox or his driver looked their way.
Emily already knew what he looked like from photographs accompanying write-ups and interviews in business magazine and blogs, as well as the occasional photograph of him attending a charity ball or museum opening posted on a Texas society blog. By all accounts, Knox was loaded with money, charm, and ambition. An impeccable business reputation. A scandal-free personal life. By every account, he’d made his fortune the most ruthless way possible—fair and square.
None of that research, however, prepared her for the sight of him.
Knox Briscoe stepped out of the back seat of the sedan one long leg at a time. He fastened his black suit jacket and surveyed his surroundings, looking far more intimidating in person than the confident intellectual spirit that his photographs conveyed. He was younger. Larger. His features were darker and more brooding. His leather shoes were as shiny black as the paint job on the limo, as slick as his black hair and cowboy hat and suit.
“Oh wow,” Carina said on a breath. “I forgot how much he looks like my dad.”
Emily had been too wrapped up in ogling him to notice, but now that Carina mentioned it, he did look a lot like a young Ty Briscoe back before he’d decided to go bald. “The Briscoe gene is a strong one, there’s no doubt.”
“What are you feeding him and my dad at their meeting?” Carina asked.
Emily flushed with a sudden, rare case of insecurity as she considered the lunch menu she’d created for the menu. How could she possibly feed Knox Briscoe pheasant? He looked like he dined on nothing but porterhouse steaks and the tears of his enemies. “Brine-roasted pheasant with an heirloom sweet potato puree and a wild mushroom reduction.”
“Everything looks tasty to you these days. You’re an eating machine, but look at Knox. I can’t pair him with that menu.”
Carina snickered. “He’s not a wine.”
Definitely not as decadent and sweet as a wine. He had the muscular grace of one of those hard-core Crossfit athletes who bench-pressed semi-truck tires in his spare time and had a single digit BMI number. He probably didn’t even drink wine. He definitely didn’t eat sweet potato purees or mushroom reductions. Though he should. It would probably do him a world of good to indulge his senses like that.
Just like that, inspiration struck. “That man needs peaches.”
Specifically, the late season peaches she’d gotten that morning from her orchard supplier in Fredericksburg.
“Come again?” Carina said.
“Sugar. Butter. Fat.” Inspiration jolted Emily like a zap of electricity. She slid down the wall to the floor, closing her eyes to visualize her new masterpiece. “Charred peaches with a balsamic vinegar reduc—no, not vinegar—a pinch of cayenne lacing a brown sugar brûlée crust. Oh my god, that’ll piss him off.” She rubbed her hands together like the evil genius she was. “All that butter and sugar. He’ll hate that. Right up until he takes a bite. Then he’ll understand.”
Carina poked her with her shoe. “You’re doing that weird fantasy food rambling thing again.”
Emily barely heard Carina’s teasing. She was too busy perfecting the recipe in her mind. “Huh?”
“I love you. But you’re crazy.”
Carina was right; Emily was crazy. All great chefs were. She stood, hung the binoculars around her neck, and smoothed out her chef’s jacket. “I’ve got to go. I have a lot of work to do.”
“I thought the meal was ready.”
“Not anymore. I’m going to share my peaches with Knox Briscoe.”
Carina poked her tongue against her cheek as her forehead crinkled with delight. “Someday, one of my lessons about double entendres is going to sink in.”
Emily wasn’t daft or naive. She knew a double entrendre when she heard one—or, more accurately, inadvertently said one—but it wasn’t her fault that the vast majority of people didn’t understand that sex and food were incomparable. The perfect meal trumped sex every time, and anyone who claimed otherwise had obviously never experienced Emily’s cooking. Knox Briscoe didn’t know it yet, but his tongue was about to have the ride of its life.
With food, of course.
Two hours later, Emily pushed a loaded food cart behind the resort’s main reception desk, then through the maze of cubicles and offices tucked away from the guests’ view. She nodded to Ty Briscoe’s secretary, then let herself into his corner office, where Ty and Knox were deep into discussion at his conference table.
Ty afforded Emily the briefest of glances, but Knox’s focus remained unrelentingly on Ty and the business at hand. With those dark eyes and hard-set jaw, he exuded the same fierce focus that Emily prided herself on in the kitchen. Except with Knox, the fierceness heightened the energy in the room, beating like waves of power through the air. Emily froze near the door, stunned to find herself suddenly, uncharacteristically intimidated. The spying from Carina’s dress shop hadn’t prepared Emily for that.
“That idea has merit,” Knox was saying to Ty in a deep, firm voice. “But my equity firm’s vision extends beyond a cosmetic update. This resort has the potential to become a self-contained city, a beacon for travelers from all over the world.”
Even from the door, Emily could see beads of sweat on Ty’s bald head. His thick, bulldog neck had turned red, something that only happened when he was keeping his anger in check. Emily wasn’t sure she’d ever seen the larger-than-life man, her father figure for all intents and purposes for the past decade, be cowed by another man before. But he was definitely not the alpha in the room today. “Yes, I know, but not—” Ty said.
Knox plowed ahead. “Yes, but nothing, Ty. The vision I have for the resort, the vision you agreed to, is the reason I was able to put together a team of investors so quickly. They’re expecting me to make their money back plus at least a twenty percent profit in record time, and I intend to do just that. Your focus here has been on branding Briscoe Ranch as a one-of-a-kind destination, but it’s time to convert all that potential into real change. So let’s not pretend we’re going to give the resort a simple facelift.”
Emily shook herself out of her eavesdropping trance and busied herself creating place settings on the table in front of each man. She could have brought along an assistant to do such menial labor, but she’d wanted to make a strong first impression. As it was, though, Knox had yet to acknowledge her at all.
“I hear what you’re saying, but we already have a world class stable of horses and hill country’s premier golf course. What more do you plan to add?” Ty said.
Emily set servings of chilled peach soup in front of Knox, then Ty, with a flourish. She’d labored for nearly two hours on the soup, which was in the running for her best culinary creation ever, if she did say so herself.
Knox picked up his spoon and poked crisp brown sugar brûlée. “We’ll need to double the number of guest rooms, for starters. From there we add a bar or two, expand the number of upscale shops in the lobby, and add a five star luxury restaurant. No luxury resort is complete without its own award winning chef.”
On his next breath, Knox frowned down at the soup, then pushed it ever so slightly away.
Emily gave a quiet gasp. The nerve…
“Agreed,” Ty said. “And we just so happen to have plans for a new restaurant in the works. It’s one of the reasons I asked our special event catering chef, Emily Ford, to showcase her skills by preparing us lunch today.” He gestured to Emily, who was still gaping at Knox’s untouched soup. It wasn’t until Knox’s eyes roved over her in a dispassionate study that she realized she was wringing the bottom of her chef’s jacket in her hands.
Ty continued, “She’s been working with me to develop a dynamic proposal for a world class restaurant here at the resort. All we’ve been waiting for the right investor, and here you are.”
Knox’s mouth gave an almost imperceptible frown. “No offense to Ms. Ford, but my investors have shelled out millions of their own dollars to transform Briscoe Ranch into a world class luxury resort, so we need to aim higher.”
Aim higher? And here she’d thought Knox’s whole claim to fame in the business world was not being a jackass. Her loyalty to the Briscoes meant nothing to this man. And very little to Ty, either, obviously, who was allowing his family’s business be yanked away from them. No, not yanked. Knox Briscoe had too much poise to do anything so passionate as yanking. Rather, this was chess. Or, perhaps, Monopoly. A slow, deliberate erosion of his opponent down to nothing.
Standing tableside, she touched the edge of the plate on which Knox’s soup bowl sat. Oh, how satisfying it would be to flip it over onto his perfectly pressed slacks. Her masterpiece deserved a better fate, but the temptation rippled through her with wicked glee.
Knox’s body tensed. He knew what she’d been contemplating, too. His hand twitched as though in preparation to grab her wrist and stop her before she could soil his clothing.
“Emily,” Ty warned.
Was she so obvious? So predictably reckless that both Ty and Knox could read her thoughts so plainly?
Screw them. Sure, they held her career in their hands, but neither deserved to eat her cooking today. With outrage pounding through her veins, she pulled out the seat at the head of the table between the two men and dropped into it. She slid Knox’s bowl in front of her, grabbed his spoon, and—as both men gaped at her—cracked through the brûlée and dipped into the bright orange soup.
The soup exploded in her mouth in a burst of complicated, unexpected flavor. Perfection. Better than sex. Better than just about anything else this heartless, cynical planet could offer.
She flattened her palm over the bound stack of papers in front of Knox. His grand plans for her home, her livelihood and the livelihood of so many of her friends and colleagues. He was going to ruin everything and there was nothing she could do to stop it, not if Ty was just going to roll over and let Knox walk all over him.
She pulled the dossier in front of her. Ty and Knox sat, stunned, watching her. Neither had yet to say a word about her brazen intrusion. She flipped open the document.
How the hell was she getting away with this?
Her anger was too blinding for her to focus on the words or make heads-or-tails of the legal jargon. But she’d heard all she needed to know. Knox and his investors were going to turn the resort into yet another cookie cutter chain hotel. “Ty, this is a bad deal. He’s going to sell out. He’s a business flipper. That’s what he does. He doesn’t care about the Briscoes at all.”
“I am a Briscoe,” Knox said in a dull, even tone.
Emily was too pissed off to look him in the eye. She took another bite of soup to keep herself from telling him that he wasn’t a Briscoe in any way but his name. Instead, to Ty, she said, “If you do this, you’re going to lose everything your parents built, everything you’ve worked your whole life for.”
“That’s enough, Emily,” Ty said, but there was no mistaking the tinge of regret in his eyes.
Knox rose slowly, buttoning his suit jacket as he loomed over Emily. “Are you asking to be fired, Ms. Ford? Because I was hoping the chef I hire for the new restaurant would see the value in keeping on some of the resort’s restaurant workers as line cooks.”
Emily stood to face him nose-to-nose while visualizing the way his suit would look covered in mushroom reduction, sweet potato puree, and bits of roasted pheasant.
“Emily, leave us,” Ty said, standing. “We’ll serve ourselves the rest of the meal.”
Ty’s tone left no room for argument.
Emily stalked away from the table, but lingered in front of the serving tray near the door. She glanced back at the table, where both men were resuming their seats. Not too late to make a childish protest using one of the plated lunches. In the end, she decided against it, out of respect for Ty more than any sense of dignity or self-preservation.
With a sniff, she left the room. As the door closed behind her, Knox’s voice wafted through the air. “I wouldn’t have expected that from you, Ty. Sleeping with the special event chef. Interesting. And against my business policy.”
Emily’s tenuous self-control snapped. She pivoted on her heel, pushed the office door open, and grabbed one of the lidded lunch plates. In one sweeping motion, she pulled the silver lid off and lunged at Knox, overturning the food into the bastard’s lap. She stood over him, seething and watching glorious glops of gravy and sweet potatoes ooze like lava into the creases of his slacks.
Ty Briscoe is like a father to me. The father I never had. He took a huge risk in giving me a job when I was a no-name chef school graduate. His family took me in when I had nothing and no one. When I was goddamn homeless, you son of a bitch. Of course, she didn’t say any of that. She refused to splay open her chest and give Knox Briscoe one single glimpse of her heart. His careless response to her peaches was proof enough of his lack of a soul.
For his part, Knox didn’t rise or curse at her—as Ty was doing, she noticed out of the corner of her eye—nor did he attempt to clean himself off. He kept his cucumber-cool gaze locked on hers, a slight smirk curved on his lips. “Did I hit too close to home on that observation, Ms. Ford?”
Emily braced her hands on the table and the back of his chair. “I may not know what your father did to get disowned by the Briscoes, but it’s no wonder you’re trying to deflect some of that shame you inherited from him onto the people of this resort. Even after all these years, it still stings, doesn’t it? Whatever he did to get shunned? The shame of it all?”
A shadow crossed Knox’s face. Good. She’d meant for that to hurt. She picked one of the pheasant halves off his lap by the drumstick and took a bite of the meaty breast. Delicious, briny, and with a flavor profile that any Michelin star chef would kill to have created. She tossed the pheasant bones back on his lap.
“It makes sense, now, this whole alpha power vibe you’ve got going on. You know what they say about men who seem like they’re overcompensating for something.”
The shadow vanished from Knox’s eyes and the shark-like calculation returned. “That they have big feet? Or am I mixing my old wives tales?”
A hand closed around Emily’s arm and tugged her away. Ty pushed between her and Knox, scolding her, apologizing to Knox. When did the giant she’d long revered as a force of nature turn into a spineless, apologetic noodle? She would’ve never expected her idol to fall from grace in the blink of an eye.
“Emily, please. Leave us,” Ty said. “You’re embarrassing yourself and insulting me.”
That pulled her up short. She was way beyond caring if she embarrassed herself, but she did care about insulting Ty. She might not trust Ty to know what he was doing, not after this crippling deal with the devil himself. But she still respected Ty enough to honor his plea. With a nod, she walked with stiff, proud steps to the door.
“Ms. Ford, the suspense is killing me. What do they say about men who seem like they’re overcompensating?” Knox said, sounding amused.
Gritting her teeth, she paused with one foot out the door and tossed a look over her shoulder, startling all over again at Knox’s aura of cool perfection. The cut of his jaw, the fullness of his lips, eyes that were as cruel as they were wise. How had she ever thought she could win over a man like that with peaches and pheasant? Whatever family shame Knox was overcompensating for, it wasn’t going to save Emily or her beloved resort. Knox Briscoe was beyond redemption, her career was over before it had even gotten off the ground, and life was never going to be the same again.
“Haven’t you heard?” she said. “The thing about men who seem like they’re overcompensating for something is that they always are.”