Authors: Genevieve Jourdin
Tags: #friends to lovers, #just add heat, #series prequel, #romantic comedy, #short story, #Contemporary, #Romance, #Amnesia, #Chick Lit, #series, #novelette, #New Adult, #prequel, #Contemporary Romance, #women's fiction
PreHeat (Fire & Ice Book 0)
Justine’s conflicted about the feelings she has for her best friend’s brother. Can Carter make her see how good things could be between them? This is how it started.
Prequel Novelette to
Just Add Heat (Fire & Ice Book 1)
PreHeat Table of Contents
I crawled into bed, bone tired but anxious to see how many people had replied to my comment about microwaving the potatoes for gnocchi instead of steaming them as a time and energy saver. It was nice to have something besides work to focus on because tonight at the restaurant had been brutal.
The walk-in freezer went out at some point during the day and we had spent the bulk of the afternoon trying to cram everything we could into the cooler and changing the specials so that we could use up the quickly thawing veggie chili that wouldn't fit into the small working freezer no matter how we tried to rearrange things on the shelf. That was on top of Frank's complaints about my liberal use of Parmigiano-Reggiano in the freaking
béchamel sauce for the eggplant lasagna. It had all left me longing to get the heck out of Heavenly Vegetables.
I loved my job, maybe not as much as I used to, though. I was head chef at one of the most popular vegetarian restaurants in town, and I wasn't even a vegetarian. I had actually gotten the position as a temporary promotion when Cecil quit during a busy Friday night, but although I had only been working the line for four months, I stepped right in and Gina, the manager, ended up filling my old position instead.
Now that Gina had quit to have her baby and Frank managed the place, I was finding myself less excited to go to work, but I was already looking ahead. I had been contributing to several of the largest foodie websites for months, and I'd been encouraged by dozens of people that I knew virtually to start my own blog. I’d even had my best friend, Cheryl's, fiancé Paulo record a short cooking demo of me making a spicy roasted pineapple salsa that I'd uploaded to Youtube and a few other places. It already had several thousand hits. The comments had emboldened me to the point that I had let Cheryl talk me into hiring her brother, Carter, to design a website for me. He was coming over tomorrow to talk about what I was looking to do. Honestly, I had so many ideas that I wasn't exactly sure what I needed, but I was more than ready to make a change in my professional life. After seeing a few “thumbs up” on my comment I settled into bed, satisfied that I’d been able to help at least a few people. Now it was time to work on myself.
The bell chimed and I opened the door to Carter. He was dressed in jeans and a brown shirt that fit him like a glove. Not that I was noticing, or anything.
“Hi Carter, thank you so much for helping me figure out where to start with this. I can't tell you how relieved I am to be able to talk with someone who knows what he's doing.” I had tried to set up my own blog a couple of weeks ago, but it looked so amateurish that I had abandoned it and given up. I ushered him in and closed the door while trying not to look at his butt as he passed by.
“No problem. I don't know if I should mention this, but you'll only be my third paying gig, and one of the other two is Cheryl.”
“Her website is gorgeous. That's why I wanted your help.”
He smiled at the compliment and I noticed again how attractive he'd become. He’d filled out, and now sported broad shoulders in addition to his well defined muscles. His face also seemed to have become more, for lack of a better word, manly. He'd always been good-looking, but it was like I was finally seeing him as a grown man instead of the kid I'd first met. That was only appropriate, though, since he'd graduated from UT a few months ago. It wasn't like he was a teenager anymore.
I led him to the kitchen where I had my notes and laptop, and he pulled his computer bag off of his shoulder and set up as I got us some drinks.
The time seemed to fly by, and before I realized it, I had hired Carter as my new webmaster. He'd taken my notes and pictures and agreed to work up a few ideas for me for next Monday, my only certain off day at the restaurant. He even quoted me a price I could afford (dirt cheap) in exchange for dinner when he came over. I knew he would be doing almost everything at his own apartment, so I was really getting the nepotism discount I'd always heard of.
“Okay then, I'll see you next Monday at six?” he asked as he gathered up his belongings and stuffed them into the bag with his computer.
“It's a date. Oh, and what kind of food would you like?”
“Anything chicken,” he stated as we made our way to the front door. I didn't know if I was supposed to shake his hand or give him a hug like I did at his parents’ party a few months ago, because both of those things would feel awkward right now. Instead, I leaned down and picked up my Chihuahua, Lucy, and carried her into the living room with me. He pulled his bag over his shoulder and walked out to the front step.
His arms were muscular without being bulgy, and it struck me that he was nicely put together. I had even noticed what looked like honest to goodness six-pack abs when he had stretched his arms over his head earlier. Now that our business was concluded, thoughts like that were trying to worm themselves into my head and I forcibly tamped them down.
“Thanks again. See you next week.”
“Bye Juss.” He lifted a hand to give me a wave as he walked down the sidewalk to his truck. I was very much looking forward to it.
“Okay, what do you think about this one?” I snapped myself back into the present to stop my mind from wandering into forbidden territory.
“That looks good.” I had to get my eyes off of Carter's body and back to business. To be honest, all three of the layouts Carter had shown me so far had been great. I was mentally patting myself on the back for taking Cheryl's advice and asking her brother to set up my website. He really was good at it. I mean, I already knew that, he had made the website for her party planning business and it was fabulous. This
thing, however, was becoming a problem.
I had been practically mooning over him since he walked in the door an hour ago. It was slightly annoying and just a little bit creepy on my part. I blamed the Ross gene pool. Cheryl's whole family was gorgeous, but Carter was looking
. Yes, I said it. I think Cheryl's little brother is hot. I can't help it; I have eyes, don't I?
“Well, which one do you prefer?” I was sitting here acting like a stooge while Carter was all business. Damn. Why did he have to look so delicious? I had a real problem interacting with good looking men. I liked to think it was some kind of glitch in my makeup, but hot guys had a tendency to short circuit my brain.
“Um. I guess the second one is my favorite.” God, I couldn't even sound decisive. This was unacceptable. I had to get out of here and clear my head of the sexy images that had implanted themselves in my brain. This week Carter was in my office making the tiny room seem even smaller. I figured now was a good time to leave him to his own devices and make us something to eat.
“If you don't mind, I'll get started on dinner while you're working in here. I'm not really much help in the computer department.”
“That sounds great.” He turned his head and smiled at me and my stomach seemed to drop to my feet.
He was turning me to mush.
I had to get to the safety of my kitchen, I was in control there.
“Fried chicken sound good?” I don't even know why I asked him, that's what I had bought for tonight and that's what I was making, but like I said, it was the way I was wired.
“Homemade fried chicken? That sounds great.” Oh my god. Something about his voice sent shivers through me. Holy smokes. This was worse than I thought. I absolutely could
harbor these feelings for him. For one thing, he was way too young for me. At least four years younger. More importantly, he was Cheryl's brother. I just couldn't go there. It was wrong on so many levels.
“Awesome. Let me know if you need my opinion on anything else. I'll be in the kitchen.”
? Was I back in high school? I turned and fled to the kitchen before I could say anything else that was likely to make Carter think I was mentally stunted.
I paused at the antique mirror on the living room wall and tucked a piece of my straight, freshly dyed auburn colored hair behind my ear. I wished I had put on a bit more mascara, because I wanted to make my brown eyes stand out a little more.
Stop right there, woman
. What the heck did I care what Carter thought of me? I wasn't trying to impress him.
Unfortunately, the answer to that question was yes. I was trying to look cool to him. Gack. This is what I get for inviting a man to my house when I hadn't had sex in months.
I pulled out the chicken and everything else I needed for dinner and I was able to lose myself in my task. I was almost surprised when he came walking into the room when I was getting a platter for the chicken.
“That smells wonderful.”
“Just like mom used to make?” I smiled at my own joke. His mother was a horrible cook, and her crispy fish balls were the stuff of legend.
“I sure hope not.” He grinned back at me and my insides turned to jelly. This was only the second time he and I had any one on one interaction and if this was how I was going to behave, it was going to be the last time.
“It's not ready yet. Did you need my help with anything?” Duh, he obviously didn't need my
, opinion maybe, but that was about it.
“Nah, I think I'm at a stopping point tonight. I just needed to know what direction you wanted to take in the design. I can work up some things to show you next time. Would you like any help?”
“Well, I guess you could put together the salad. I've got all of the fixings over there.” I motioned to the counter behind me as I pulled the chicken out of the pan.
“You got it.” He walked to the sink and washed his hands before turning toward the vegetables. Wow, he even made sure his hands were clean before handling food. It made my chef's heart thump harder.
“So Carter, are you seeing anyone special right now?” Crap. What kind of brain fart would make me ask him a question like that? Not only was it none of my business, but did I really want to know if he was?
“Nah. I haven't had the time, really. I've been working my butt off since I graduated. I'm trying to make myself indispensable at W&J. Plus, I'm trying to get work building websites.”
I was inappropriately happy with his answer and I smiled and nodded before I realized he was behind me and couldn't see what I was doing. “That's cool.” Kill me now. I couldn't believe I sounded so juvenile.
“Here you go.” The next thing I knew he was right beside me with a bowl of salad.
“Uh, thanks. We can just eat here on the island. If you want you can get out some plates.” I had to get him away from me when I started noticing how good he smelled. This whole evening was spiraling out of my control. It almost felt like a date.
“No problem. I really like your kitchen. It's so homey.” He said this as he opened up cabinets looking for my dishes. I used this time to drain my potatoes for mashing.
“Thanks, it was one of the reasons I chose this house. I've got to be able to cook.” He set out the plates and I quickly mashed the potatoes before pulling the last of the chicken out of the pan. I needed to feed him and hurry him along before I said something that made me look like a fool.
seeing anyone?” His question caught me off guard. I shouldn't have been surprised; I had just been equally nosy. I looked over at him and he winked at me. He
What the hell was going on here?
“Uh, no.I, uh...no.” He had done it. He had officially robbed me of my powers of coherent speech. Not only that, I could tell I was blushing from my head to my toes. He continued to look at me and he smiled at my answer. Well, maybe he was smiling at my blush, I don't know. All I knew for sure was that he was making me feel things I shouldn't be feeling towards him.
Thankfully, eating would keep my mouth occupied, and I slid the platter of chicken closer to where we were going to sit. I walked around to the other side of the island and plopped down next to him. “Dig in.”
“Wow Justine, this looks and smells great. I can't thank you enough for making dinner.”
“It was the least I could do for dragging you over here. Anyway, I love cooking for an appreciative man. I mean person.” Stupid, stupid, stupid.
He smiled and we reached for the chicken at the same time. When our hands brushed I felt a zing go up my arm. I jerked my hand back at the same time Carter said, “Ladies first.”
“Thanks.” I mumbled it so I'm not actually sure he heard it, but I grabbed a thigh and dropped it onto my plate.