Blake, p.1

Blake, page 1

 

Blake
 


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Blake


  This is a work of fiction. Similarities to real people, places, or events are entirely coincidental.

  BLAKE

  First edition. November 8, 2019.

  Copyright © 2019 Lori Wilde and Carolyn Greene.

  Written by Lori Wilde and Carolyn Greene.

  Blake

  Sweet Southern Charmers Book Two

  Lori Wilde &

  Carolyn Greene

  Contents

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Epilogue

  Excerpt: Boone

  Also by Lori Wilde & Carolyn Greene

  About the Authors

  1

  She was doing it again.

  Blake Cassidy turned up the volume on his headset and watched the monitors in the master control booth.

  Her voice quivered.

  He cringed. To make matters worse, she used “and uh” too often while describing the next step in the intricate recipe she demonstrated for the television audience.

  She was flubbing up royally.

  Blake could almost hear the channels clicking as he imagined viewers tuning in to competing stations.

  Competing stations, indeed!

  He leaned back in the swivel chair and propped his sneakers on the corner of the console. The difference between his station’s ratings and the others’ was laughable. To everyone but him, that was.

  Glancing over at his best friend and fellow investor, Blake watched him beam at the televised image of the lovely, tongue-tied brunette.

  “Why did you do this to me?” Blake asked the burly man sprawled in a chair in the corner.

  Memphis Reason grudgingly took his eyes off the monitor. “Ain’t she the prettiest little thing you ever did see?” He rubbed the back of his tattooed forearm across his graying beard.

  Blake had to agree with his friend. With her dark hair and classic features, she reminded him of a young Elizabeth Taylor, only warmer and more vulnerable. Much more vulnerable. She was enough to bring out the protective instincts in a man.

  “But don’t let my wife know I said that,” said Memphis. “She thinks you hired her, you ol’ rascal.”

  “What about talent?” Blake swept a hand toward the viewing screen. “You can’t make ratings go up just by putting a babe in front of the camera.”

  “Hey, man, she’s got plenty of talent. Why, look at that fancy stuff she’s pulling out of the oven.” Both men leaned forward to try to identify the unusual dish. “Nobody I know can cook anything that fancy.”

  “Bingo.”

  Blake put his feet back on the floor. He’d better go back to his office and start clearing his desk. Might as well try to look professional when he called her into his office.

  He’d fired people before, but he never liked it. This time he hated it more than ever. He really liked Jillian and wished it could have worked out.

  “That’s all for today.” The brunette smiled becomingly at the camera’s red blinking light and displayed her latest culinary creation. “I’m Jillian Reed. Be sure to tune in tomorrow for more ‘Cooking with Jillian.’”

  The spotlights dimmed, and the show was over. Jillian set down the plate of coq au vin and sagged against the counter.

  What was wrong with her? Why couldn’t she talk her way through a relatively simple recipe without stumbling over her own tongue? It wasn’t as if she hadn’t made the chicken-in-wine dish a thousand times before. Normally Jillian felt very much in control. She’d been cooking ever since she was big enough to stand on a stool at her grandmother’s elbow. Plus, she’d been teaching cooking since she’d earned her chef’s diploma a few years ago.

  There was no reason for her jitters.

  She hadn’t even been this nervous when, as a teenager, she’d prepared meals to help her father impress his Army superiors. Nor had her knees shaken when she’d cooked exotic banquet dinners for her ex-husband Quint’s law associates.

  “You okay, Miss Reed?”

  Jillian looked up to find the cameraman watching her as he put the cameras and cords back in place. Mike was such a nice, quiet man, she was tempted to confess her feelings of inadequacy. She caught herself. Like a whisper, she could almost hear her father’s voice: “Never reveal a lack of confidence, especially to the troops.”

  With the studio lights lowered and the set lights on, she hadn’t been able to see the crew’s reaction to her show. Right now, she wasn’t sure she wanted to know what they thought of her performance.

  “Yes, thank you, Mike. Just tired, that’s all.”

  It was bad enough that she would have to discuss with Amanda, the show’s editor, how to compensate for her on-air flop. And, to the rest of the staff, she must maintain a professional distance. It wouldn’t do to let them know how stupid she felt talking to a camera. It sure would have made matters easier to have seen a dozen eager cooking students waiting for her next instruction.

  Jillian straightened and started collecting the assorted dishes and utensils used during the show. She put them in the sink behind the island counter and rolled up her sleeves. If she raised a fuss, she might persuade the owners of this tiny television station to assign one of the other employees to wash the dishes, but the warm suds on her hands helped ease the tension until her shoulders relaxed from their stiffened position.

  Amanda bounced onto the seat and helped herself to a piece of chicken. “Mmm,” she said, forking in another mouthful before she finished chewing the first. “What are you going to do with the rest of this stuff?”

  “I’m sending it home with you.” Jillian hesitated a couple of seconds until Mike finished coiling the cable around his hand and elbow and then left. “You’re going to earn your supper with all the editing you’ll have to do on today’s taping.”

  “No offense, but this is a half-hour show, not fifteen minutes,” Amanda blurted after she swallowed the last bite.

  Jillian stopped wiping the pan. The woman might have more television experience, but Jillian’s confidence level didn’t need the additional bashing. The hurt look she sent the younger woman had Amanda apologizing for the slur.

  “Sorry, I didn’t mean that.” Amanda reached into the refrigerator for a soda to wash down her hastily eaten lunch. “You’ll get the hang of things,” she assured her. “Give yourself time. You’ve only been at it for two weeks.”

  Two weeks, and she’d gotten worse, not better. At this rate, she’d be drooling and babbling by the end of the month.

  “By the way…” Amanda emitted a carbonated burp, and Jillian blinked at her crudeness. Amanda laughed at her reaction and continued. “Mr. Cassidy wants to see you when you’re done here.”

  Mr. Cassidy? Jillian wondered why he wanted to see her. The big, bearded one that looked like a motorcycle gang member had been the one to hire her. Blake Cassidy had never said more than hello in passing.

  Actually, he’d said, “G’mawnin’,” in that southwest Virginia accent of his. Having spent several years studying the French language to complement her French cuisine lessons, she now found her employer’s southern accent almost comedic—in an odd sort of way. Despite his manner of speaking, or maybe because of it, he still managed to exude an effortless male confidence that made people pay attention when he spoke.

  Mr. Reason’s dialect sounded even more twangy than Mr. Cassidy’s but, oddly, it didn’t bother her. Maybe it was because she would expect a man who looked like Memphis Reason to speak in a backwoods
drawl.

  But Blake Cassidy, except for his casual attire, seemed to have otherwise left behind his mountain-boy upbringing when he came here to Bliss, Virginia. It came as a shock whenever she heard that funny voice come out of such an attractive man.

  And his laugh. It carried all the way to her office. Unrestrained and infectious, his was often joined by others at the station.

  Jerking her mind back to the present and away from thoughts of her boss’s attractiveness, Jillian rinsed the last dish and dried her hands on the dish towel before turning back to Amanda.

  “Did Boondock Blake say what he wanted?” Immediately Jillian regretted her indiscretion.

  Amanda’s mouth dropped open and her hand flew up to cover it. Then she let out a little squeal of delight.

  “I love it, I love it!” Amanda exclaimed. “That nickname fits him perfectly. Wait’ll I tell the others.”

  Jillian laid a restraining hand on the program editor’s arm. “I wish you wouldn’t let that name get around. Mr. Cassidy is our employer, and I shouldn’t have called him that.”

  Amanda had turned away and was heading for the exit when she said over her shoulder, “Lighten, up Jill. He’ll probably laugh as hard as the next guy. Anyone who could start his own chain of cell phone repair and accessories stores against the bank’s advice and then sell it at the profit he got is used to having the last laugh.”

  The door clicked shut behind Amanda.

  “It’s Jillian,” she muttered to the empty set.

  Grabbing the dishcloth, Jillian started cleaning the counter with a vengeance.

  After years of learning to say just the right thing at just the right time, she’d opened her big mouth and neatly inserted both feet. Jillian only hoped Amanda was mature enough not to spread the unbecoming nickname around the station.

  Fat chance.

  Jillian hung the dishcloth on the rod over the sink and went to her office to prepare for her meeting with Blake Cassidy.

  The office was small and located in a remote corner of the station. Jillian suspected it had once been a janitor’s closet, but the walls on one side of the room were conveniently lined with shelves.

  The shelves now held dozens of recipe boxes and cookbooks, six years’ worth of her favorite Bon Appetit magazines, and a small television and tape machine for viewing her shows before they aired.

  Jillian rummaged through folders on her desk until she located the one with next week’s scripts. Certain that Blake Cassidy intended to discuss her program plans, she wanted to be prepared.

  She opened the folder and picked up the top sheet. The paper shook in her hands. With a start, she realized how nervous she was about this meeting with her employer. Although her culinary skills were unquestionable, Jillian knew without a doubt that her on-air performance left a lot to be desired. She’d always had difficulty letting go, and she’d always envied people who had the ability to make everything they did seem fun.

  Except for the cooking classes she’d taught at a community college, Jillian had never been comfortable in a crowd. In fact, that was one of the reasons she’d taken up cooking as a hobby, then later as a career pursuit.

  Whereas other teenage girls might have squelched their loneliness and insecurity by eating double-Dutch chocolate cake and second helpings of linguine, Jillian had squelched hers by creating the richest chocolate cakes imaginable and experimenting with clam sauces until hers was the creamiest.

  Cooking had been a solitary diversion, and even more so after her father’s military career had taken them away from her grandmother’s neighborhood in Houston.

  She couldn’t pack her few, close friends into the crates when her family moved every other year, but no matter where her father was stationed, a stove and refrigerator were certain to welcome her into her new home.

  Jillian had been halfway through her freshman year in high school when her father had accepted a promotion to the Pentagon.

  It was in her senior year in the Arlington, Virginia, high school that Jillian had penned her aspirations for the yearbook: I will earn my chef’s diploma and become a household name by the time I’m thirty. It was also in Northern Virginia that she had met Quint and given up her dream of becoming a famous chef, at least for the duration of their short, ill-fated marriage.

  Now, with six months left before her thirtieth birthday, she realized her lofty goal would be almost impossible to reach. Maybe, she consoled herself, she should give herself an extra three years for the time she’d wasted with Quint.

  Unbidden, a memory of her tenth-year high school reunion pushed its way into her mind. It had been just a year and a half ago, but it seemed more like a lifetime. Quint had escorted her to the reunion, and they’d separated a couple of months afterward. As she and her former classmates had sat around examining their yearbooks, Karen, who had been Jillian’s partner in science lab, cruelly ribbed her about her career goal.

  “Looks like you won’t make it,” Karen had teased loud enough for everyone to hear. “But it seems the class knew you better than you knew yourself,” she said, pointing to the prediction printed next to her picture.

  Jillian gritted her teeth as she remembered the laughter that followed Karen’s reading out loud that she had been voted “Most Likely to Get Married.”

  Well, they may have been right on that account, but Jillian was determined to become at least half as successful as her idol, Julia Child. And she had vehemently told them so.

  Her determination was doubly potent after the way Quint had battered her self-esteem with his womanizing ways. To divert the blame from himself, he’d frequently belittled her, criticizing her slightest mistakes.

  To prove him wrong, she had tried to be perfect in everything she did. She made sure that her appearance was flawless, her housekeeping was spotless, and her meals and parties were unequaled. No matter how hard she tried to give Quint nothing to find fault about, he always subtly managed to make her feel incompetent, and frequently insinuated as much.

  It later became a point of honor to prove to herself that she could reach her goal, despite what he believed.

  “Cooking with Jillian” was her vehicle to success. With any luck—and it would take a lot for Jillian to overcome her stage fright—the show would become syndicated. Then, with a sure audience, she could publish a cookbook.

  Now all she had to do was make the show successful enough to be syndicated.

  Jillian reached for a pencil to make a note on her script, but her trembling hand hit the cup and sent pens scattering across the floor. Take a deep breath, she told herself. Try to forget your future is riding on this show.

  She closed her eyes and took another deep breath before dropping to her knees on the thinly carpeted floor. She gathered up the pencils and pens and reached for a stray that had rolled under the desk.

  2

  Blake’s steps automatically slowed as he approached Jillian Reed’s office. His fingers tightened around the newspaper in his hand. He hated what he was about to do, but he hated what he’d read in the paper even more. Something had to be done. Immediately.

  He stepped into her office and stopped cold in his tracks. Her posterior aimed skyward and the upper half of her body wedged under her desk, she caused his thoughts to veer crazily and his blood pressure to skyrocket.

  Standing rooted to the spot, he waited for her to notice him.

  In the meantime, he feasted on the view of her nicely rounded bottom straining against the soft T-shirt fabric of her dress. He smiled as he realized this was the first time he’d seen Ms. Reed looking less than regal.

  “Mmm,” he said, “rump roast.”

  The lovely Ms. Reed jerked, cracked her head against the underside of her desk, and said words his mama used to wash his mouth out with soap for saying.

  Immediately, Blake went to her and knelt beside her.

  “Are you all right?” He cradled her between his legs as his hands swept through the long, velvety brown hair in search of a cut o
r lump on her scalp. Blake breathed a sigh of relief to know that she hadn’t injured her beautiful head.

  The smell of her intoxicated him, and he barely noticed that his fingers now twined aimlessly in the dark strands. In the next moment, she turned to face him, and he became lost in the pale blue eyes that stared back at him.

  Rimmed with thick, black lashes, her eyes elevated her from a classic beauty to an extraordinary one. His gaze took in the small nose with the slightly flared nostrils that made him picture a thoroughbred mare testing the wind for danger. And then down to her lips, soft and lush, but not quite full enough to hide the crooked eyetooth that seemed to be her sole imperfection.

  Blake’s chest constricted until he could barely draw a breath. His perusal of her had lasted no more than a few seconds, but it was long enough for his body’s self-defense mechanism to kick in.

  It was as if his body knew, when his mind did not, that her own special fragrance was as potent as a deadly drug. It certainly took its toll on him.

  Why else would he be so disoriented in her presence when, from a distance, he had merely appreciated her looks as much as any other healthy male would?

  Jillian blinked twice, stunned at the effect this man had on her. Why was she so attracted to him? She knew that behind that thick mountain accent there existed a keen intelligence. But he was not the type of man she ordinarily found herself attracted to.

  Quint had courted her with expensive trinkets, the best wines and food, and pretty words that accomplished what he wanted. That’s what she was used to.

  This man, on the other hand, compared portions of her anatomy to a cut of beef.

 
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