First – congratulations to my final winner – Jeanette R from Huntington Station NY
Next, I also want to thank each and every one of you for following me, for buying and reading my books, for sending me emails that tell me about your own midlife plans, and being right here as a part of this very special community.
Back in 2012 when I added “write a novel” to my bucket list, I had no idea where that goal would take me. In fact, I didn’t even have a clue I’d be writing romance. My first attempt was a travel novel – think Under The Tuscan Sun. It was inspired by my summer in Europe as I fell in love with Spain and Italy.
But as an entrepreneur, I had to look at the statistics. And statistics said the biggest, most profitable niche was romance. So I converted Destination Barcelona into a romance.
And I’ve never looked back.
This 12 Day Giveaway is ending with the release of my seventh romance novel – The Photographer. And as a romance author, I can tell you that this one was one of my most fun. Of course, it might be because photography is personal to me. It might be that I know quite a bit more about the process. But I truly love The Photographer – I love Lauren and Joel’s story.
Whether you are a photographer or not, you’re going to love this story about two headstrong people right in the heart of midlife, living lives their own unique ways, who aren’t totally convinced there’s room in their hearts for another. But fate has different plans …
I gave you chapter one yesterday – enjoy another chapter today.
Thank you, and enjoy the rest of this holiday season!
“Who the hell left this here?” Joel Bennett picked up a pan by the handle and swung it into the sink.
With six people in one small kitchen, space was at a premium. And with thirty courses to cook for forty people each night, staying organized was not an option.
“People, clean as you go. I can’t be picking up behind you.” Joel’s voice bellowed across the back room.
“Yes, Chef,” echoed across the kitchen as people continued to move quickly from place to place, finalizing each detail they’d been assigned.
“Joel, I’m back. I’m ready when you are.” Stephen Montgomery poked his head around the door from the dining room.
Stephen had called Joel intense on more than one occasion. Joel had agreed that he could come off that way. But he also said it was because he knew what he wanted and wouldn’t settle for anything less.
Joel didn’t swear at his staff like he’d seen on the chef shows on television. But that didn’t mean he didn’t get a little hot under the collar from time to time. He liked things done his way. He’d paid his dues and he knew what he was doing. He’d listen to ideas, but there were a time and a place to discuss them. Cooking for guests wasn’t one of them.
“Jen, watch these for me,“ he nodded to the pots on the burners.
“Yes, Chef,” Jen responded as she moved into position.
Joel rinsed his hands under the water, dried them on a towel and moved around his staff to make his way into the dining room.
Stephen was sitting at the bar, flipping through files and papers. Joel knew what he was doing. They’d been operating the same way for more than four years.
Tristan’s was one of the hottest restaurants on the West Coast. They had more publicity than they could handle, especially after topping Food Magazine’s Best Restaurant in the World list for the third year in a row.
And if that wasn’t enough to get the foodie world talking, Joel had taken it one step further. He’d recently received his second Michelin star rating. His rugged good looks had also made Hollywood take notice.
The offers had recently started coming in for his own show on the Food Network. Offers he’d happily declined.
He was a chef. He enjoyed what he did. Why screw with it all and stretch beyond his comfort zone?
And being in front of camera on a television show that would be seen around the world was well beyond his personal bubble. No way, no how. Not unless it truly captured his attention. And to date, nothing had.
He’d preferred to remain head chef to one of the hottest restaurants in the world. His bookings were more than six months out. He charged more than he needed to live the lifestyle he wanted.
Life was good. Why mess with success?
But that didn’t stop Stephen from pushing.
Stephen had been his right hand man for four years. Ever since they’d decided to partner up and go out on their own.
Joel had spent years perfecting his skills as a chef at restaurants around the world. He’d been happy working under others, honing his skills.
He’d started several restaurants before only to mild success. Sure, they’d done well in suburbia. They’d been great places to go after a hard day at work.
But they’d never been exactly what Joel had dreamed of.
All that changed when he met Stephen on a twelve hour flight from Barcelona to Vancouver. With no place to go, the two had talked for hours, forming a friendship and a mentor-ship that continued to this day.
Stephen had managed and marketed several major restaurants, sharpening his skills along the way. But they’d always been a job, not a career. Until he’d met Joel.
And so Tristan’s was conceived. Joel pressed the edge of what being a chef meant. Stephen made sure the world knew about it.
Joel had been the focus of too many articles to even re-member how many there had been. But Stephen kept finding more opportunities. And sometimes it drove Joel more than a little crazy.
Joel moved behind the bar, grabbed a glass and filled it with water. He filled a second and placed it in front of Stephen. Then he perched on the edge of a chair waiting for Stephen’s weekly meeting to begin.
Tristan’s was a farm to table concept, only selecting the freshest ingredients from local farmers. They didn’t go to big distributors, but instead relied on newly picked foods from the community around them.
After four years in business, they had strong relationships with the best farmers in the region. They knew them all by name.
“So this is what John will have for us next week. This is Pete’s list. And here’s what Jason expects over the next two weeks. Let’s talk about what we should add to the menus.”
Menus changed based on what was available in the moment. Even if they expected something and it couldn’t be delivered, they’d substitute and change the menu, even for the coming evening.
Booking a seat at Tristan’s was always full of surprises. That’s what the guests expected. That’s what they demanded.
Joel handcrafted a new menu for every evening, depending on what would be served. Each evening was personalized. The guests would receive up to thirty separate courses, each dish to be sampled, tasted, and explored over an evening together in a room with new friends.
With twenty tables available and forty attendees each night, many came in knowing no one other than the person they entered with, but all left as friends. It was to be expected when you shared a thirty course meal and several hours in the presence of nothing but fun.
Of course, the free flowing wine never hurt either.
After several minutes, they’d worked through the menus and the food selections for the coming week. Barring anything happening to the food supply, they were in good shape. After months of working together, they’d figured out a system that worked well for the both of them. They could get through their meetings in minutes instead of hours.
Joel watched Stephen flip through folders and pull up ideas on his iPad. What would he do without him?
They’d been good for one another. They’d met at the perfect time. Any other year, they might not have ventured out, started this concept that had grown beyond either of their wildest dreams.
But somehow, luck had been on their side, and their chance encounter had turned into so much more.
Stephen was more than a business partner; he was a friend. Almost a son, really, even though they were only fourteen years apart.
Joel trusted Stephen. He’d listen to anything he had to say. As long as he didn’t push to far.
Like he was about to do right now.
“Stop,” Joel shook his head. “I know you’re going to do it again. What is it this time?”
“Jen’s ready to take on more responsibility, don’t you think?” Stephen flipped his pen through his fingers, waiting for Joel’s response.
Warily, Joel answered, “Yes. We’ve talked about her. She’s been with us since the beginning. I trust her.”
“So you could leave her in charge a day or two here and there.”
“Yes,” Joel swiped a hand through his hair. “I’ve done it a couple of times. She knows her stuff.”
“The network wants to talk with you about a new show they’re putting together and I told them you’d fly in. It’s a couple of days there and back, at the end of the month.” Stephen held up his hand, trying to ward off the temper he knew was about to fly.
“Stephen, how many times do we have to go over this? I don’t want the television thing. I don’t. I love the press you’re bringing in. I don’t mind the interviews I’ve given over the phone. And the reporter that came up last month wasn’t half bad …” Joel held his hand up to his mouth to hide his smile.
Stephen merely rolled his eyes. “You’re supposed to talk with the reporters, not do the reporters.”
Joel shrugged. “She didn’t seem to mind. She got her in-depth account of what I do. The article wasn’t half bad either.”
Stephen responded with another eye roll. But he let it slide. He had a wife. Joel almost never had a date. If the occasional reporter kept him happy, who was he to argue?
“This one is different. I think you’re going to like the concept. You wouldn’t be working with contestants or have a game show atmosphere. Instead, this would be more of a travel series. You’d be working with top rated chefs, world class restaurants, and showcasing the best of the best around the world. They pitched it almost as a documentary, educating viewers on the concept of food preparation from chefs at the top of their game. You’d be the host and travel to locations around the world, diving into what makes being a world class chef so special.”
Stephen placed a file in front of Joel. “This is the pitch they sent over. It’s good.”
Joel knew that tone. Stephen didn’t sound like that unless he was passionate about what he was saying. He reserved that voice for the few things he pushed for at any cost. And Joel almost always relented when he heard it.
Joel stared at him for a moment. Then nodded. “Okay, I’ll read it.”
Stephen was caught off guard. He’d worked up other arguments, ways to make Joel listen. So he stammered, “Great. You’re going to like it. It’s a winner. I can feel it.”
“When’s the meeting?”
“Three weeks from now. They want a day for pitching it to you and another to introduce you to several people you’d be working with. They’re serious. So if you take this, be prepared they’re going to hit hard.”
“Like you’re doing now?” Joel raised an eyebrow at his friend.
Stephen shrugged. “I just want to see you succeed, man. It’s because I love you.”
Yeah, Joel knew that. The feeling was mutual. But he wouldn’t say it, not now. He grunted instead.
Joel rose, grabbed the files he needed and said, “Anything else?”
“Nope. That should do it.”
And with that, they both moved on.