I See...Love (A Different Road #1), page 1
Book One in:
A Different Road Series
by Annalisa Nicole
All Rights Reserved
Copyright © 2015 by Annalisa Nicole
This book is a written act of fiction. Any and all names, places, or similarities are coincidental. No part of this book may be used, reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any electronic or written form without written permission except for brief quotations for reviews or blogs. This book may only be distributed by Annalisa Nicole, the owner and author of this series.
To my brother
Since the fifth grade my best friend, Nina St. James and I, have always talked about going into business together. We were determined to always be stuck to each other’s side until the day we died. You know, all for one and one for all. We were going to work, eat, play, and live together, just the two of us. In the fifth grade, we were going to open up a pet store together. We were going to call it Joss and Nina’s Pet Store. Original, I know. We both loved animals and the idea of having them around all the time just made sense. We dreamt of rescuing abandoned kittens and puppies and taking them home to bottle-feed them like we were their mommies. But, we eventually realized that it would probably break our hearts if a dog or a little kitty didn’t get adopted right away. So that idea went out the window.
By middle school, we decided we were going to open a candy store, because let’s face it, who doesn’t love candy. We were going to call it Nina and Joss’s Confections. That summer I was also told that I needed to get seven cavities filled. Seven! All because I loved candy way too much! Well, that venture went out the window, too.
Our junior year of high school, we both took home economics together and discovered how much we both loved to cook and bake. Of course, it was natural that we decided we were going to open our own restaurant. We were going to call it Two Best Friends Restaurant. Well, that’s not what happened either.
After we graduated from high school, we both went to work for a catering company while attending college and decided we would go into the catering and personal chef business. Nina was going for a business degree while I decided college just wasn’t for me. So, I dropped out and started attending culinary school. After Nina graduated from college and I graduated from culinary school, with our parents help, we opened California Chef out of our home, just outside of Malibu. At California Chef, we offer a variety of services ranging from healthy, fresh food in a box delivered to your door, to fully prepped and portioned container meals delivered to your door, or a chef in your kitchen.
Our fresh food in a box is one of our most popular choices. Hand delivered to your front door is a box full of fresh farm to fork ingredients along with everything you need to prep and cook a week’s worth of meals. We even include detailed instructions with step-by-step photos.
The fully prepped and portioned option is a combination of fully assembled fresh and frozen meals with the same detailed cooking directions as our fresh food in a box option. You just take it out of your refrigerator or your freezer and cook it on your stove, your oven, or even on your grill.
Our chef in your kitchen option, which is my personal favorite option, is where either Nina or I come into your home with all of the fresh ingredients, and we prep and/or precook a week’s worth of meals in the clients own kitchen. This is my favorite not only because I get to get out of my home office, but because this is more for the higher end clients and I get to cook in their amazing, kickass kitchens. Seriously, I would die for some of my client’s kitchens. We’re talking luxury, state of the art professional kitchens here. Like a kitchen that I can only ever dream of owning.
Our clients log into their account on our website and choose their desired amount of meals from our preset carefully planned meals. We rotate our meals from a huge library and we are always adding and switching up our recipes to keep things fresh and exciting. We pride ourselves on using ingredients from as many local farmers and ranchers as we can. If it’s in season, it’ll be used in some way, shape, or form in our menu. And in California, the options and the ingredients are seemingly endless.
Our website is Nina’s pride and joy and runs smoother than a baby’s bottom. Each client has complete control over their meals and they are completely customizable. If they don’t like cilantro in their salsa, they can click the button to omit it. Don’t like mushrooms in your spaghetti, click the button. Love capers and want extra in their chicken breast in caper cream sauce, just click add extra. Nina is a tech genius and our website is absolutely amazing. With Nina’s business degree and my mad chef skills, we make one hell of a team. Every day we get to live out our fifth grade dreams, well, except we’re not pet store owners like we originally thought.
We also do catering jobs consisting of cocktail parties, birthday parties, office parties, and weddings. In the beginning, we relied on our catering jobs to make ends meet, but we’ve been able to cut back on the catering side and we’ve been slowly moving the business to be personal chef only. Nina and I have built quite a client list and a stellar reputation to go with it. Which is why I’m sitting here dumbfounded and in shock.
“Joss, did you hear what I said?” Nina asks, softly.
“I heard you. I’m choosing to ignore you and maybe what I heard will just go away,” I reply, holding in my tears.
“We both knew this was bound to happen. We’ve grown so much that I need to devote all of my time to the website, the orders, and the day-to-day business stuff. This is a good thing. We need to hire another personal chef. We’re still in this together. I just need to devote my time to where it’s needed,” she says, reaching across our two-person desk in our modest three-bedroom home just outside of Malibu.
“It’s not a good thing. It’s a sucky thing. Next thing I know you’ll find a man, get married, and want to move out,” I return.
“Joss, I’m not moving out. We just need to hire another chef to take on my clients, so I can stay in the office. But you do realize that no matter who we hire, you’re going to have to take the Mason account,” she says, eyeing me through her eyelashes.
“Oh, no fucking way, he’s a pain in your ass. All I hear you do is complain about his perpetual bad mood and how picky he is. He’s like a food ninja and he’s way too arrogant. You have to still keep him,” I insist.
Good, Lord, all I hear her do is complain about River Mason. She always tells me how he’ll come in from another room because he can smell that she’s cooking something wrong. Yes, I said smell, and all the way from across his Malibu beach mansion. I’d like nothing more than to ditch him all-together, but truth be told he’s our biggest client. Nina brings back more rejected food from him than any other client. I guess the one good thing is that Nina and I get to eat it.
“No way, you have to take him. We can’t afford to risk that account to anyone new, he’s your client now.”
“I don’t have the time available to take on a client of that magnitude,” I try.
“Nice try. You’ll make time. We’ll hire someone right away and you’ll have to rearrange your other customers and giv
“Fuck,” I say, pushing away from my desk, leaning back in my chair.
“He’s not all bad. He has the most gorgeous kitchen that I’ve ever seen. I know how much you love gourmet kitchens. Trust me, the view from his house is amazing and so worth the aggravation, and he’s not so bad to look at either,” she says, and then winks at me.
“I think I hate you right now,” I tell her, standing up.
“No, I’m pretty sure you love me, and besides you love a challenge,” she says, standing, and then she follows me out of our office. “And, boy, is he a challenge,” she whispers under her breath, behind my back.
“What?” I say, stopping in the hallway.
“Oh, nothing, I was just saying a challenge, I know how much you love a challenge.”
“Yes, I do, and you’re challenging my patience right now,” I say, then turn back around and walk into my bedroom.
I sit on my bed and fling my body back on top of the mattress with a giant, irritated sigh.
“I have him scheduled for tomorrow. I think you should come with me to his house. I’ll introduce you to him and we can work side-by-side in his kitchen, like the old days. Come on, it’ll be fun,” she says, plopping on my bed next to me.
The old days were fun. I had such mixed feelings when we had to stop working side-by-side. On the one hand, we were growing as a business, and that was freaking awesome. But, on the other hand, we were always side-by-side, it was so much fun. Then we grew and took on more clients and we had to separate to meet the demands. I thought separating was the worst day of my life, but now this. Now she’s not even going to be doing the personal chef thing at all.
“This will be good for our business, Joss. This is what we’ve always wanted. We’re growing. We’re making our dreams come true. If we keep growing like this, maybe someday soon we can afford to actually move to Malibu,” she says, lying down next to me.
She rolls on her side facing me and takes my hand in hers. I can feel her goofy face staring at me. I dart my eyes toward her and try not to crack a smile.
“Fine, but you have to promise me that we’ll at least still live together when we hit it big time and move to Malibu.”
“Always,” she replies, squeezing my hand.
Waking up every morning feels the same as the morning before. I can feel the warm sun on my face, I can hear the birds squawking in flight, and I can smell the salty ocean air coming in through my open bedroom window. I hear and smell beautiful things, yet I feel lonely, angry, and dead inside. It’s ironic that I’m constantly surrounded by people, yet, I feel like I’m completely alone in a crowded room.
The people that flock to be by my side aren’t my friends, they’re my employees, or they’re want-to-be friends. But, all they want from me is a paycheck, or wish they were me, or they want the hype and fame that they think comes along with knowing me. They’re all so far from the truth. Yes, I employ many, but why anyone would want to be me is incomprehensible. They don’t know the demons and turmoil that I live with.
Since I was ten, I’ve learned to close myself off from the world and what it wants, or what it expects me to be. Eighteen years ago, my world was turned upside down and the life that I had as that ten-year-old boy was shattered in the blink of an eye. It was ripped away from me. I know none of this sounds feasible, but I suddenly felt like I had no soul. I actually felt a dark hand descend from the heavens, reach inside of me, and rip my soul right from my body. I suddenly had to become a man and step into a role that was never intended for a ten-year-old boy. Today, at twenty-eight, I still wear those shoes, and they still feel too big to fill. I don’t show it on the outside, because that would be weakness, and weakness is not tolerated. But, on the inside, I feel like that dark hand can reach back down from above and swallow me whole at any moment. I wake every morning thinking it will come back for me and finish what it started.
My life has become a system of numbers in my head, as I run one of the country’s biggest investment firms and family company, Mason Group. Today, my older brother, Stephen and I run the company.
People think living my life is glamourous with all the appearances and social obligations I have. But they’re just that - obligations. The expensive suits, watches, shoes, and car companies beg me to wear or use, is absurd. Why beg and give to me free, what I can afford to buy a million times over, when there are people on the street corner that don’t know where their next meal will come from? There’s just something wrong with society these days. Companies think that just because I wear it or use it that their sales will go up. The sad truth is, it’s true. And the fake, plastic women, my public relations people want me to drape on my arm like some piece of candy, is comical and something I flat out refuse. I’m not going to further some up-and-coming actress’s career by escorting her to a charity event. With my reputation, no one dares to argue with me when I refuse.
It’s a little hypocritical that I even go to all the events that I do, because like I said, I could just refuse to go. But living in my head all the time can be a dangerous place, and if I’m honest, I enjoy seeing men and women alike throw themselves at me like a piece of meat. But, I never let anyone in. It’s my number one rule. No one needs to know the real me. If I’m honest, there isn’t a real me anymore.
The tabloids say I’m devastatingly handsome, well dressed, and one of the country’s most eligible bachelors. But honestly, I don’t even know what the true me looks like anymore. I’ve become this monster that hates life and everything in it. I’d trade all my wealth and worldly possessions for just one more minute as that ten-year-old boy. I just need ten seconds to say to my mom, something that to this day I swore would never cross my lips again.
“Good morning,” Josh says, standing in my bedroom doorway.
“Morning,” I reply in a quipped, angry tone.
I swing my legs over the side of my bed and dig the heels of my hands into my eyes, and then I run my fingers through my hair. Josh walks into my closet, takes out a suit and everything that goes with it. He then lays it out on the end of the bed.
“Do you need anything before I hit the weights?” Josh asks.
“What’s on the agenda today?” I ask, standing up.
I reach my hands up in the air and stretch out my aching muscles while I wait for an answer.
“Nina will be here at seven. We need to be in the office by eight thirty for a conference call at nine. We also have a lunch meeting today. Nothing too pressing,” Josh replies.
I nod at Josh, then walk into the bathroom and turn the water in the shower on as hot as it will go. I can feel the constricting steam quickly building in the room. It’s a challenge to allow myself to feel what I’ve felt all those years ago in my lungs. I step in the shower, close my eyes, and try to wash away the memories that play over and over in my head like a broken record. They never leave. The sights and the sounds, they never leave. My shower is the only place I allow myself to feel weak and vulnerable. The pain, the sadness, the memories, and the heartbreak - they seep from my eyes and mix with the water that runs down my face, never to be known by anyone. Only here can I let myself feel sorry for myself and grieve selfishly. Only here can I let what plays repeatedly in my mind’s-eye and my dreams wash away. If only it were that simple, and they weren’t replaced the instant the last tear is shed.
As the shower starts to run cold, I finally give in and turn the water off. If only the water stayed hot forever, maybe one day with enough time, the memories will finally stop.
I get out, and then I shave, brush my teeth and run my fingers through my wet hair as the doorbell rings. I growl in the back of my throat, and walk back into my bedroom. I pull on my trousers and pull an arm through my dress shirt that Josh set out, as I walk down the hall to the family room to answer the door.
Before I get to the opening of the family room, I hear Josh running to the front door, and then he opens it quickly. Nina
“I’m going to grab a shower, and then we can head into the office, River,” Josh says, as Nina forcefully places bags on the kitchen counter.
“Joss, you’re going to kill me,” Nina says, walking into my bedroom looking like a screaming banshee on a humid summer night. How I would know that, I don’t know. California isn’t known for its humidity.
“Why am I going to kill you?” I ask curiously, putting my hair up in my standard chef ponytail. No one likes long brown hair in their food.
“I can’t go with you to Mr. Mason’s this morning like we planned. Something is wrong with the website. I’ve been on the phone with tech support all morning, and no surprise, they’ve been no help,” she says, as she swats at her head in an attempt to tame her hair in my bathroom mirror.
“You’re right. I’m going to kill you. We’ll just reschedule for tomorrow,” I say. It’s not a big deal. We sometimes need to reschedule, as do clients.
“Uh…yeah, no. If Mr. Mason is anything, he’s anal about keeping his schedule.”
“Ha ha ha, you just said anal,” I tease, trying to cheer her up. I know how upset she gets when there’s something wrong with her website.
“Really, I’m not kidding. You’re going to have to go by yourself and you can’t be late, not even by a minute.”
“Are you being serious right now? If he lives in a big Malibu mansion beach house and has this gorgeous gourmet kitchen as you say, then doesn’t he have a staff? What, is he going to be there the whole time?” I ask, surprised.
Half of our clients have staff that just lets us in. We do our thing, clean up, then get out and go on to our next client. The other half are stay at home wives and mothers that, most of the time like to hang around and chat with us while we cook, some even like to help a little.
Other author's books:
- I Speak...Love (A Different Road Book 3)A Fighting Chance
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