Authors: Mae Nunn
HIS PAST...OR HER FUTURE?
From the moment Gillian Moore set foot in Temple Territory, she knew it was the perfect place to open her boutique hotel. The fact that it’s also the ancestral home of currently out-of-work Texas cooking sensation Hunt Temple seems like fate. With the cowboy chef in her kitchen, success is practically guaranteed! Too bad their visions of his family land couldn’t be further apart.
Hunt can’t let Gillian destroy his family legacy—not before he and his brothers have a chance to rebuild it. Hunt’s prepared to challenge Gillian at every step and make sure she embraces the local Texas flavor. But despite their differences, they make an amazing team. And not just in business. Yet when Hunt’s own opportunity knocks, even Texas may not be big enough for both of their careers.
“Hunt, what is it going to take to get through to you on this?
I own this property. Temple Territory is going to become Moore House. You can roll with the punches or punch out. I will meet my opening deadline, with or without you. So which will it be?”
Hunt folded his arms, did an about-face and seemed to study something outside the window. His white knit shirt stretched tight across solid shoulders, revealing the body of a man who could have played professional baseball—if everybody who ever mentioned him to her was to be believed. Those powerful arms could definitely swing a bat.
Or hold a woman close.
Maybe she’d been hasty. What if he walked away? She’d be out more than an executive chef.
Oh, knock it off. Don’t let your emotions get in the way of your plans.
“Well, what’s it going to be?”
“In the great oilfield piracy trials of 1960, many were tried, many were sued, many faced a jury, many heard the prosecutors condemn them as thieves and crooks and pirates. But no one went to jail. No one went to prison….When it came time for a jury of twelve good men to make a decision that would forever affect the lives of their community, they no longer talked about the thieves and crooks and pirates. They felt a close kinship with a bunch of good, hard-working, and unfortunate neighbors, businessmen, and church deacons who weren’t guilty of anything but hauling out a little black gold that the Good Lord had put in the earth.”
—Author Caleb Pirtle III
As an oil-well survey engineer and witness for the prosecution, my father was part of the trial proceedings mentioned above. Daddy told me stories of being chaperoned by a Texas Ranger, sitting in local restaurants with his back to the wall and his face to the door and of having his expert testimony challenged on the witness stand as if he were the one on trial for oil piracy. In the end, no one went to prison for the crimes committed against the major oil companies. But my daddy’s memories fueled my writer’s hunger to tell a “what if” story about the lives of brothers, two generations later, who’d grown up in a small East Texas town in the shameful shadow of their grandfather’s scapegoat conviction.
My Deep in the Heart series is about brothers Hunt, Cullen, Joiner and McCarthy Temple. Each brother, in his own way, struggles with their family history and, in his own way, rises above the past to create a life and future worthy of the Lone Star State. Please enjoy Hunt’s story,
Cowboy in the Kitchen.
Until we meet again, let your light shine!
Cowboy in the Kitchen
Deep in the Heart
grew up in Houston and graduated from the University of Texas with a degree in communications. When she fell for a transplanted Englishman living in Atlanta, she moved to Georgia and made an effort to behave like a Southern belle. But when she found that her husband was quite agreeable to life as a born-again Texan, Mae happily returned to her cowgirl roots and cowboy boots! In 2008 Mae retired from thirty years of corporate life to focus on her career as a full-time author.
This book is for my daddy, Ward Cooper, whose life experiences inspired me to create the Deep in the Heart series. And it’s also for my aunt, Lucille Cooper Perry, who inspired me to keep writing when I was quite happy to rest on my laurels. Daddy and Aunt Lucille, you are each amazing in your own right, and I thank God that I still have both of you in my life.
between Hunt Temple and the morning sun of a cool September day as effectively as she stood between him and his heritage. It wasn’t enough that she’d cast a shadow across his life by purchasing his grandfather’s estate, she had to block his reading light, too. Hunt’s quiet moments on the back steps of what was once Pap’s home had come to an end.
Possibly for the last time.
“Would you mind if I join you?” she asked.
Without waiting for his response, the lady gracefully folded her tall, slender body to perch on the edge of the step nearby. She shrugged off the shoulder strap of a glitzy red-leather handbag and settled it beside her on the fieldstone ledge—where she had not been asked to have a seat.
But as the property’s future owner she hardly required his invitation.
Slanted rays of East Texas sunlight glinted off her fancy dark glasses. Even a guy like Hunt, who’d spent most of his life in a kitchen, recognized the pricey logo on the rich-girl shades. Besides, he’d noticed it splashed all over Paris during his recent trip to visit old friends at Le Cordon Bleu.
The attractive woman offered a smile his way that he might find charming under different circumstances. Instead of returning it, Hunt lowered his gaze to check out her long bare legs. French manicured toenails were poking through high-heeled sandals that she’d pulled close to the step beneath them. She tugged at the hem of her knee-length skirt and sat with her spine ramrod straight, expectant as a high-strung bird dog waiting on shotgun fire.
She was uncomfortable. Good.
“It’s lovely, isn’t it?” Her question was rhetorical, just something to break the silence.
“I’ve always thought so,” he responded anyway. “Since I was old enough to drive, I’ve been coming to this spot to enjoy the quiet.
“I’m sorry to interrupt,” she apologized. “But I didn’t expect anyone to be here, Mr. Temple.”
“Mr. Temple was my grandfather,” he corrected her. “Mason Dixon Temple to be exact, nickname was Pap. My daddy was Dr. Temple, and my name’s Hunt. And since I can’t stop you from buying my family home out from under me, I don’t guess there’s any point in trying to keep you off Pap’s patio. So, by all means, have a seat.” He glared at her to acknowledge the fact she’d already done so.
If she was embarrassed by his bluntness, it didn’t show on the fair skin of her face.
Hunt lifted a disposable cup to his lips and took a sip of coffee while he considered the situation that had him over the proverbial barrel. Pap would surely be disgusted if he was aware his grandsons were sitting by calmly while a stranger took possession of the home he’d built with his own two hands. Well, maybe somebody else had done the building, but Pap had drilled the wildcat wells that ultimately paid for Temple Territory, the infamous Kilgore estate gossiped about by everybody who was anybody for the past fifty years. The thirty-eight-room mansion was a legendary landmark, even though it had been vacant since way before Hunt and his brothers were born. The overgrown acres came complete with an oil derrick that served as a monument to the world-renowned East Texas reserve.
Gillian Moore slipped her sunglasses to the top of her head, causing honey-blond bangs to poke up in spikes. She fixed a gaze the color of violet pansies on his cup, and then angled her eyes toward his thermos.
“Is there any chance you have a little more in there?”
“I drink it black and very strong,” he warned.
Hunt set his cup aside, twisted the top off the thermos and filled it nearly to the brim. “What’s mine is yours.” He offered her the steaming brew. “And as much as I hate to say it,
mi casa es su casa.
“My home is your home.” He jerked his chin toward the Italian renaissance-style structure that had never really been his at all.
She reached over the paper bag on the step between them and accepted the coffee.
“Might as well have these, too.” He elbowed the sack, shoving it in her direction.
Shame on you, Hunt.
He imagined Alma scolding him. The grandmotherly Mexican woman who’d fed the four Temple boys all their lives would be mortified by his rudeness. She’d kick his ankle with the side of her sneaker and hiss, “How many times have I warned you to check your ego at the bus station? You’re a chef, not a heart surgeon. Use the manners you learned from your
God rest her soul.”
Hunt knew better than to argue with Alma, even in his imagination.
Gillian Moore leaned close, unrolled the bag and sniffed the pastries.
“Are these from a local bakery? They smell incredible,” she complimented.
“Alma makes fresh sopaipillas every morning.”
“The woman who’s been lookin’ after my brothers and me since long before our parents died. She’s an awesome cook. She might be interested in helping out here when you start hiring your management staff. You’d be lucky to have her,” he muttered, imagining his surrogate mother as she wandered about his brother Cullen’s quiet kitchen, with so little to do these days.
“Alma knows every nook and cranny of this old place. She brought me here most days during the summers when I was a kid so we could scout the house and outbuildings.”
“I hadn’t planned on hiring locals for the hotel’s management.”
Hunt whipped his head toward the comment.
“You can’t be serious! Why, that’d be like buying the Alamo and filling it with Russians.”
Gillian took a sip from the plastic thermos cap that doubled as a cup. She willed her hand not to shake, determined she wouldn’t let nerves caused by Hunt Temple give her plan away.
Only two days ago she’d toured the property with her Realtor. Standing in the windows of what had once been the library, she’d marveled at the potential below. Gillian was sure without a doubt that destiny had led her to this peaceful place to fulfill her dream.
At fifteen her father had gotten her a job working the weekend housekeeping shift at a local Marriott. And even at that young age, she had begun to envision her own boutique hotel. Gillian had no intention of giving her future to a huge corporation and risk being ordered around by some bossy manager who would always want to tell her what to do, just like her father. All these years later, however, thanks to her parents’ generosity and faith in her experience and vision, it would only be a matter of a few months before Temple Territory would officially become Moore House.
Gillian raised her eyes to meet the dark gaze of Hunt Temple and couldn’t help wondering if he’d ever been mistaken for David Beckham. She’d been warned that the celebrity chef sitting beside her on the steps could be as temperamental in private as he was in the kitchen of a three-star Michelin Guide restaurant. The vein in his throat throbbed as he waited for her response to his insistence that she should hire his friends.
“It’s one thing to come in here and snap up a piece of Texas history, but it’s another altogether to deny jobs to the local folks,” he insisted.
“Allow me to state for the record that I’m hardly
this property—it’s been on the market since before I was born.”
“So, what’s the big hurry? My brother says you’ve insisted on a fast closing and meanwhile I should observe the no-trespassing signs for the first time in my life.”
“I presume your brother is McCarthy Temple.”
“As a courtesy to your family, my local attorney asked for a few days to notify your brother that the bank has accepted my offer.”
Hunt rolled smoky gray eyes skyward and raised his hands in surrender.
“I rest my case,” he huffed.
“Meaning I don’t have any say about all this, it’s just secondhand information to me. But at least give me a chance to say goodbye to Pap’s place.”
“If the estate means so much to you, why haven’t you bought it yourself?”
“Honestly?” He lifted his shoulders in a sheepish shrug. “As you said, it’s been on the market for decades. I guess I always figured my brothers and I were the only people who might ever want it.”
“Well, you figured wrong. I didn’t even need to sleep on it overnight before I made my offer. As the old saying goes, ‘When you snooze, you lose.’”
“What’s your hurry?” Hunt drummed the fingers of his left hand on his knee, impatient for her answer. How ironic that he wanted her to rush her response, just not her actions.
“I have an endless to-do list to get underway and deadlines to meet. Renovations will begin as soon as building permits can be approved.”
Hunt folded his arms, the negative body language stretching a snug-fitting T-shirt tighter across the chest and shoulders of a former athlete. His mouth clamped as if pinching in an argument. She hurried on.
“And regarding your comments about hiring locals, I’m sure I’ll have opportunities for hourly employees, but I had handpicked my management staff before I ever started researching the right property. They’re experienced people I trust, men and women I’ve worked with over the years who are prepared to relocate.”
“Was McCarthy notified about this, as well?”
“There’s no reason why he should have been,” Gillian countered. “Mr. Temple, people are not fixtures that come with real estate just because they happen to live in the same zip code.”
“Will you look around, for cryin’ out loud?” He held both arms out, and then turned his head from side to side, giving Gillian a chance to appreciate his handsome profile.
“This place is huge! No matter how much you trust your handpicked buddies, they won’t figure out in a year what an old-timer in these parts forgot last week. Alma and her husband, Felix, have had their whole lives to become experts on this place, and they’ve taught my brothers and me everything there is to know about Temple Territory.”
The correction slipped out.
“I beg your pardon?” There was disbelief and an angry edge to the way he asked the question.
She hadn’t meant to bring it up in this conversation. But she couldn’t unring the bell so she might as well get it over with.
“The name for the estate will be Moore House. And that’s just the first of many changes I’ll be making. This old place has to be modernized so it will appeal to my guests.”
Hunt pushed to his feet. He shoved both hands through his tidy crop of dark hair, and then drew in and expelled several deep breaths as he glowered down at her.
“Since you have so many objections to Temple Territory in its historic condition, what is it that actually appeals to you about this place, Ms. Moore?”
Gillian mirrored his action, stood and stretched her spine, determined to deal with Hunt Temple eyeball to eyeball. She’d done her homework, certain this moment would come. She desperately needed his help, but it would be financially fatal if she tipped her hand or let him intimidate her.
“Mr. Temple, these are tough times, and this is strictly business. If you understood anything about running one, maybe you wouldn’t be taking this so personally.”
“And by what right do you assume I don’t understand how to run a business?”
She smiled, armed and dangerous.
“It’s not about assumptions. It’s about the facts.” She began to recite his résumé. “You passed up a full ride to the University of Texas on a baseball scholarship to work your way around the U.K. and Europe as a line cook. You eventually earned your cuisine diploma from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris—though it took longer than usual because you struggled with classic French techniques. You shifted continents, became a pretty hot sous-chef in Costa Rica and finally settled into an executive chef position at the Four Seasons in Cancun. But that doesn’t appear to have worked out since you’re in Kilgore again.” She tilted her head. “And unemployed.”
The gleam in his eyes said she’d made an impression.
“Did I get the facts straight, Chef?”
“Except for that wisecrack about techniques. I didn’t struggle. I just didn’t practice. The French preoccupation with peeling vegetables is moot compared to the perfect searing on a tender strip of flank steak.”
“I happen to disagree. You can get a hunk of grilled meat on any corner in Texas, but fine continental cuisine is not so easy to come by around here.”
“And that’s what you plan to serve in your restaurant, of course.” He lowered his eyes, shook his head.
“Of course,” she answered, convinced she was absolutely on the right track. “Being unique and a cut above the rest is precisely why our dining experience will be appealing. We’ll offer our customers a menu with exquisite choices. In less time than it takes to sing ‘The Eyes of Texas,’ the private celebrations at Moore House will be the talk of the state.”
“Is that a fact?” He was working at being unimpressed.
“It is, indeed. I’ve employed an extremely high-profile event planner who has guaranteed fabulous bookings and media coverage if Moore House is operative by the holidays.”
“Since you have this rush job all figured out, I’m sure this experienced staff of yours includes a classically trained chef, correct?”
Aha! The opportunity she’d hoped for. She raised her chin and smiled to cover the quivering in her stomach.
I have to appear and sound more confident than I feel. I need this man’s help in a big way, and he has no reason to cooperate and every reason to refuse.
She took a deep breath and chose her words carefully.
“No. Not at the moment, anyway. My first choice hasn’t worked out, but I’m still hoping he’ll reconsider,” she lied.
Once Gillian had discovered the connection between the property and culinary celebrity Hunt Temple, she’d realized she was on to something big. Having the TV-acclaimed Cowboy Chef in her kitchen would guarantee the success of her restaurant, even if she could only afford him temporarily.
“Alma’s quite an amazing cook, and she’s friendly with all the local produce suppliers.” Hunt’s mouth curved with the suggestion Gillian could sense was coming. “If you should change your opinion about a hunk of grilled meat, I’m sure she’d consider running your kitchen.”