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Authors: Nina Harrington

The Secret Ingredient

BOOK: The Secret Ingredient
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The Secret Ingredient
Nina Harrington
Harlequin (2014)

Lottie Rosemount's top tips for dating--

1. Ignore all advances from inappropriate men. Celebrity chef and notorious heartbreaker Rob Beresford can certainly flirt, but that doesn't mean his intentions are honorable!
2. Keep your cool. Rob is not a safe bet, so don't let him see that he gets you hot under your apron!
3. If 1) and 2) fail, indulge in a wild fling with said inappropriate man. Because remember, wild nights with no strings attached are this man's specialty!

But Lottie is about to discover that Rob has a few secret ingredients to add to the mix, which could make her throw her tips out the window forever!

Lottie Rosemount’s top tips for dating:

1. Ignore all advances from inappropriate men. Celebrity chef and notorious heartbreaker Rob Beresford can certainly flirt, but that doesn’t mean his intentions are honorable!

2. Keep your cool. Rob is not a safe bet, so don’t let him see that he gets you hot under your apron!

3. If 1) and 2) fail, indulge in a wild fling with said inappropriate man. Because remember, wild nights with no strings attached are this man’s specialty!

But Lottie is about to discover that Rob has a few secret ingredients to add to the mix, which could make her throw her tips out the window forever!

SNEAK PEEK EXCERPT FROM

The Secret Ingredient

Rob Beresford was a player.

And she had no intention of being part of his little game.

Then he lifted his head and looked at her. No. More than that. He seemed to be studying her. She had been expecting those famous piercing cobalt-blue eyes to give her the beauty-parade head-to-toe assessment.

He didn’t. His gaze was locked onto her face as though he was searching for something, and finding it. Because one corner of his mouth turned up into just the hint of a smile, which only drew her attention to that kissable mouth.

“I think we have met before somewhere, but I am embarrassed to say that I have forgotten your name. Can you help?”

His voice was hot chocolate sauce on top of the best butterscotch ice cream and had all the potential to make her silly girl heart spin just fast enough to make breathing a challenge.

Could she what?
Oh, was that the best he could do?

“Oh, please. Does that line still work?”

Rob’s eyebrow arched and a sexy smile designed to defrost frozen food at twenty paces switched on like a light bulb.

“Occasionally.”

Dear Reader,

Since walking away from her high-flying job in the financial world, Lottie Rosemount is reveling in her new life as baker extraordinaire at Lottie’s Cake Shop and Tea Rooms, set on a busy London high street. Lottie loves meeting the wide range of customers of all ages who have welcomed her into their community.

The one person she did not expect to run into is Rob Beresford, the gorgeous head chef who is just as notorious for his lack of social skills as the award-winning recipes he creates for Beresford hotels.

Five years earlier Rob almost brought her fledgling career crashing to the ground, but now her best friend is dating his brother. They have to get along!

Rob cannot commit to any girl for more than a few months. Lottie is looking for a long-term relationship. But perhaps Rob can persuade her to have just one tiny fling…with him.

I do hope that you enjoy traveling with Lottie and Rob on their journey to discover where they truly belong and who they belong with.

I would love to hear from my readers, and you can get in touch by visiting
www.ninaharrington.com
.

Nina

THE SECRET
INGREDIENT

Nina Harrington

ABOUT NINA HARRINGTON

Nina grew up in rural Northumberland, England, and decided at the age of eleven that she was going to be a librarian—because then she could read
all
of the books in the public library whenever she wanted! Since then she has been a shop assistant, community pharmacist, technical writer, university lecturer, volcano walker and industrial scientist, before taking a career break to realize her dream of being a fiction writer. When she is not creating stories that make her readers smile, her hobbies are cooking, eating, enjoying good wine—and talking, for which she has had specialist training.

Other Harlequin® KISS™ titles by Nina Harrington:

Trouble on Her Doorstep

Blame It on the Champagne

Last-Minute Bridesmaid

The First Crush Is the Deepest

These and other titles by Nina Harrington are available in ebook format from
www.Harlequin.com
.

ONE

Rob Beresford stepped
out of the black stretch limo onto the red carpet outside London’s newest and most prestigious art gallery, slowly rolled back his shoulders, and stretched out to his full height.

Rob ran the fingers of his right hand through his mane of collar-length dark wavy hair in a move he had perfected to draw attention to what, according to the Beresford hotel group marketing department, was his best feature.

‘Make sure that your fans see that fantastic head and shoulders shot,’ his agent, Sally, kept telling him. ‘That’s what your millions of lady followers will be looking for. Make the most of it while you can!’

Ah. The joys of self-promotion.

After twenty years in the hotel business Rob knew the drill inside out.

He gave the press what they wanted and they loved him for it. They had seen him on good and bad nights and both sides played the game when it suited them.

It was a pity that the paparazzi made more money when he was playing the bad-boy celebrity chef than on all of the other countless occasions when he was working in the kitchens creating the award-winning recipes for the Beresford hotel restaurants.

They wanted him to misbehave and throw a tantrum and grab a camera. Punch someone out because of a careless remark or lose his temper over an insult to his family or food.

The Rob Beresford they wanted to see was the young chef who had become notorious after he physically lifted the most famous restaurant critic in Chicago out of his chair and threw him out of the Beresford hotel restaurant when he dared to criticise the way his steak had been cooked.

And sometimes he was tired enough or bored enough to let them goad him and provoke him into a stupid response, which he instantly regretted.

Press the red button and watch the fireworks. Oh, yes!

But not tonight.

For once he was not here to celebrate the Beresford name or promote his TV show or best-selling cookery books. Tonight was all about someone else’s success. Not his. And if that meant that he had to act out his part in public yet again, then so be it.

He was wearing the costume; he had rehearsed his script. Now it was time to act out his part until the star of the show arrived.

Tonight he needed the crowd to love him and play up the success of the art gallery. And the artist whose work had been chosen to be exhibited for their prestigious grand opening event. Adele Forrester. Fine Art Painter. And his mother.

But inside his designer clothing?
Inside, he was a wreck.

Even the photographers in the front row only a few feet away could not see the prickle of sweat on his brow on this cool June evening and he quickly covered up the tenseness in his mouth with a broad smile so that no one would ever know that, for once, Rob Beresford was more than just nervous.

He was dreading every second of the next few hours and would only be able to relax when he was safe back in the hotel room with his mother, congratulating her on a stunning exhibition that was bound to sell out fast.

The plan had been simple. They would arrive together, his mother would smile and wave a couple of times and Rob would escort her sedately into the exhibition to the sound of applause from her faithful fans and art lovers. Proud son. Star mother. Winner all the way.

So much for that plan.

The past week had been a blur of rushed last-minute arrangements and then a twenty-four-hour cold virus, which had been going the rounds in California, had knocked her out for most of the day. Followed by a serious attack of first-night nerves.

Until an hour ago he’d thought that he had succeeded and his mother was dressed, made up and ready to go, smiling and happy that after eight years of preparation her work was going to be shown in public.

But then she had made the mistake of peeking out of the hotel front entrance, seen the press pack and scurried back into the room, white-faced and breathing hard. Trying to control her panic while pretending that it was about time that she walked down the red carpet on her own. After all, this was her special night. No need to wait. She would make her own grand entrance. Why did she need her handsome son stealing her spotlight?

Right. She was forgetting that he knew her. Only too well.

So the limo had driven around the corner with him inside alone. While she cowered inside her hotel room, going through the relaxation exercises one more time. Afraid to come out and walk a few steps down a carpet and have her photo taken.

And just the thought that his beautiful mother did not think she was ready or good enough for this crowd was enough to make his blood boil.

They had no idea how far she had come over the past few years to get to the point where she could even think about turning up in person to an exhibition of her paintings.

And they never would.

Fifteen years ago he had made his mother a promise.

He had given her his word that he would protect her and take care of her, and keep her secret, no matter what. And he had kept that promise and would go on keeping that promise, no matter how much it had impacted his life and the decisions that he had been forced to take to keep her safe.

He had stayed in Beresford hotels in cities close to the major psychiatric specialist units and turned down gigs in restaurants other chefs would kill to have worked in, just to make sure that his mother had a stable environment when she needed one.

Not that she liked cities. Far from it. He had lost count of the times he had made mad dashes to airports wearing his chef’s clothes so that he could keep her company on a long flight to the latest new creative retreat that she had heard about, that afternoon. And suddenly it was the only thing she needed to complete her work and
she had to go that day or the rest of her life would be in ruins
.

No time to pack or organise anything. Then she was on her way, usually without the things she needed, but it had to be done now.

So he had to drop everything and go with her to keep her safe. Because when she was manic she was amazing, but there was one universal truth: whatever soared high had to come back down to earth. Fast. And hard. Sometimes very hard.

Walking down a red carpet and smiling was a small price to pay for being able to support his mother financially and emotionally.

Rob scanned the rows of photographers lined up behind the mesh barriers on either side of the narrow entrance and acknowledged some of the familiar paparazzi that followed him from event to event whenever he was in London with a quick nod and a wave.

The rest of the pack jostled for position at the barricade, calling out his name, demanding pose after pose.

Fans held up signs with his name on them. Cameras flashed wildly. All desperate to capture a rare evening appearance from the chef who had just been shortlisted for Chef of the Year. Again.

Spotlights hit him from every angle.

He turned slowly from side to side in front of the floor-to-ceiling poster for the gala exhibition of new work from Adele Forrester, making sure that her official photograph and the poster would always be the background to any of his photos.

One hand plunged into his left trouser pocket. One hand raised towards the crowd. Wearing his trademark pristine white shirt and dark designer suit. No tie. That would be too conventional. A call to look this way then that was answered with a swagger. He rolled back his shoulders, lifted his chin and went to work the crowd.

It had taken him every day of the past ten years to create an image and a brand that served him and the Beresford family well and now was his chance to use it to help his mum.

A pretty brunette in her twenties held out one of his recipe books, stretching towards him, her stomach pressed against the metal barrier and shoulders so low that he had a perfect view down her deep V-necked top into a very generous cleavage.

Rob quickly stepped forwards, grin locked in place, his pen already in his hand, and signed a flourish of his name on the cover page while the crowd went mad behind her, screaming and calling out his name at ear-damaging volume.

He walked slowly down the line, signing yet another recipe book—one of his early ones—then a poster from his restaurant-makeover show.

And then the questions started. One male voice and then another.

‘Is Adele turning up in person tonight for the show or has she done a runner like last time?’

‘Where have you hidden your mum, Rob?’

‘Have you left her behind in that treatment centre? Is that the only kind of artist retreat she knows these days?’

‘Are the rumours true about her retiring after this show?’

Louder and louder, closer and closer, the questions came from every direction, more pointed and all demanding to know where his mother was.

They were goading him. Pushing him harder and harder, desperate for a reaction.

They wanted him to explode. To push the camera down someone’s throat or, even better, give one of them a black eye.

A few years ago? He would have done it and taken the consequences. But tonight was not about him and he refused to let the press win, so he pretended to have developed sudden hearing loss and politely ignored them. This of course made them goad him even more.

Nine minutes later he had walked the whole of the line, smiling and laughing towards the waiting crowd, leaning in for the compulsory mobile phone shots.

Then just like that the press turned away as the next limo pulled up and, without waiting for permission or a good-behaviour pass, Rob turned his back on the crowd and photographers and strode purposefully down the last few feet of red carpet, through the open door of the art gallery and into the relative calm of the marble atrium where the other specially invited guests were already assembled.

This preview show was the one exclusive opportunity for the art critics to admire and study his mother’s work without having to share the gallery with the general public. That was the good news. The less-good news was that it had been the art critics who had descended on his mother like a pack of rabid wolves when she had imploded at her last exhibition in Toronto.

Having a screaming and crying nervous breakdown in public was bad enough, but for her tormented and terrified face to be captured for ever by the press had made it worse.

Instead of defending her for her fragile creativity, they had condemned her for being a bad example to young artists for her excessive lifestyle.

But that was eight years ago.

Different world. Different faces. Different approach to mental illness. Surely?

Rob paused long enough to take a flute of chilled champagne from a passing waiter and was just about to launch into the media crew clustered around the gallery owner when he caught sight of his reflection in the installation light feature.

A sombre dark male face glared back at him, his heavy eyebrows low above narrowed eyes and a jaw that would be a better fit on a prizefighter rather than a patron of the arts.

Yikes! Maybe not.

He didn’t want to terrify the critics before they had even had a chance to see the artwork. And most of them seemed to be enjoying the refreshments.

A quick scan of the room confirmed that unless there was a back door through the kitchen, he was trapped. Unless... Yes! There was one person who was taking time to actually see the paintings instead of networking over the catalogues and free booze before the food was served.

A pretty blonde woman. Correction. Make that a very pretty blonde. She was sitting completely alone at the far end of the gallery, away from the hustle and noise from the street. Her gaze appeared to be completely engrossed in the artwork in front of her.

Rob turned away from the other guests, nodding to people as he passed, and started strolling down the gallery space, taking the time to scan some of the twenty-two paintings that he knew inside out.

He could give the critics a full history of each and every brush stroke. Where and when and what mood his mother had been in when she painted them. The hours spent debating locations and the quality of the light. Desperate for each work to be perfect. Flawless. Ideal.

The despair that came when they did not match up to her exacting standards.

The joy and delight and laughter of walking along beaches day after day, which only seemed to make the darker ones blacker. Like the time he was called out of a business meeting when she set six of his favourite canvases on fire on the hotel patio in a barbecue pit. That depression had lasted weeks.

These paintings truly were the survivors.

Especially the canvas that the blonde was looking at that very minute.

Rob exhaled long and slow. He should have known that a critic would be drawn to such a totally over-the-top sentimental and emotional piece.

It was good—no doubt about that.

But it was so obvious that his mother might as well be standing there waving a banner telling the world that she had painted it in a dark time when the depression had almost become too much and she’d had to go back on the much-hated medication again.

It was probably the only piece that he had suggested to his mother to leave behind in her villa in Carmel, California. It was just too personal and way too deep to show to the world.

Too late. Because there it was. Not the biggest painting but the most intimate and revealing in the whole collection.

But just who was this woman who had obviously spotted the best picture in the room?

Rob stood to one side, sipping his champagne, and watched her for a few minutes in silence, his gaze scanning her pose, her body, her clothing, taking it all in and trying to make sense of what he was seeing.

She certainly didn’t look like one of his mother’s art critic pals or the hyenas back in Toronto. Failed artists every one of them. Far from it.

Straight blonde hair falling to her shoulders, she was wearing a sleeveless aqua dress and he could just make out a line of collarbone above a long, slender, elegant neck, surprisingly overlaid with muscle as opposed to starved thin like most fine artists he had met.

BOOK: The Secret Ingredient
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