Gage Perry was in a very grumpy mood, mainly because his dessert chef quit and went back to Paris to marry, leaving Gage and his restaurant without a pastry chef. With the biggest love holiday approaching, Gage was at his wit’s end, until the culinary teacher from the nearby university recommends a student who has recently graduated.
Gage didn’t have time to teach a beginner, but gets the surprise of his life when in walks a young man who looked like he fell from the pages of a Japanese boy-love manga. Even though Gage is sure with a name like Valentin Dubois, Valentin was at least French. And to prove that he isn’t a slouch in the kitchen, Valentin creates a tiramisu that nearly brings Gage and the other chefs to tears.
One chef who isn’t impressed is the butcher Alexandre Boucher, who thinks Gage has bitten off more than he can chew by allowing Valentin and new baker Raphael Lambert to be in charge of the Valentine’s Day promotion at the café attached to the restaurant. And even Gage, who only agreed to let Valentin do it because Valentin is cute, underestimates the abilities of the pastry protégée and his baker sidekick. Watch them teach a couple of old dogs some knew new tricks as they transform the café into the hot new snack location for all generations.
“I can’t believe both of you got hired at the most prestigious French restaurant in New York,” said Ethan Garnier, a friend who graduated a year before Raphael and Valentin.
Ethan had landed a job at his family’s Cajun/Creole restaurant. They had moved from New Orleans to SoHo, an area rich in French culture. Little Paris was in lower Manhattan and had a multitude of French cafes and restaurants. Both he and Raphael also lived in the area and had worked for Ethan’s father until they graduated. Now it was time for his baby birds to fly, as he’d put it.
Valentin and Raphael were joining Ethan for dinner to catch up on things.
“I can’t believe it either,” Raphael said. “I was so nervous at first, but Antoine was so kind.”
“Antoine?” Ethan asked.
“Antoine Moreau. He’s the sous chef for the restaurant.”
“And you’re on first name basis with him already?” Ethan asked Raphael.
“Oui. He insisted.”
“I bet he did,” Ethan said.
Both he and Ethan chuckled at Raphael’s naivety.
“What about you, Valentin? Do you call him Antoine, as well?” Ethan asked.
Valentin loved to hear Ethan speak. He had French-Cajun accent, mixed with a southern twang. Valentin had had a tiny crush on Ethan since they were kids, until he learned that Ethan was very popular with the ladies. “Who me? No. He is Chef Moreau to me.”
“What’s the head chief like?” Ethan asked.
“Big guy, and handsome as fuck,” Raphael answered. “His name is Gage Perry.”
“Why are you blushing,” Ethan asked Valentin. “Did you find him handsome too?”
“I was too afraid to notice,” Valentin lied. He thought Gage Perry was the handsomest and sexiest man he’d ever lay eyes on. Hugo had described him as gruff and grumpy, but with a heart of gold. Valentin supposed he’d be grumpy if he was in charge of such a large restaurant and its people.
“What were you afraid of?” Ethan asked Valentin.
Their food arrived. Valentin had a Ceasar salad. Raphael had the same. Ethan had ordered gumbo as well, but the kind with okra. They shared a basket of honey-tasting rolls.
Pierre, the sommelier, arrived at their table with a bottle of red wine. Pierre was one of Ethan’s cousins. He was twenty-five and had a thing for Valentin. He’d been trying to get into Valentin’s pants since he turned eighteen. “Are you even old enough yet to drink wine, Valentin?”
Raphael chuckled. “If he’s not you’re going to be in a world of trouble.”
“Oui,” Valentin answered. “I turned twenty-two in December.” In fact, Pierre had attended his birthday party.
Pierre poured for him. “Okay, just a little since you’re driving.”
True. He and Raphael had driven over instead of taking the bus. They had been out most of the day shopping for the things they would need to start work on Monday. They weren’t roommates, but they did live in the same building.
Pierre poured for Raphael and Ethan, then he left.
“When are you going to give in to Pierre, Valentin?” Ethan asked.
“No offense, but like you, he dates way too many guys. I don’t want to be another notch on his headboard or a statistic.”
Ethan chuckled. “No offense taken. But who are you saving yourself for?”
An unfair question. “Mr. Right,” Valentin answered after sampling his food. His salad was so delicious.
“There is no such thing as Mr. or Miss Right,” Ethan said. “You should live for the moment.”
“But I want to live forever,” Valentin said.
“Valentin is a bit old-fashioned, I’m afraid,” Raphael said. “He’s looking for companionship, instead of hot sweaty sex.”
Valentin spit wine. He mopped his chin and the table with his napkin.
Ethan chuckled at them. “Raphael, you are so bad.”
“Well, it’s the truth,” Raphael said. He turned to Valentin. “You need to come out of that shell.”
All his life people often referred to him as antisocial or an introvert because he wasn’t a social mixer and didn’t like crowds. He knew he would be around a lot of people at the restaurant. That didn’t bother him because he would be in the kitchen and not in the dining room. “I’m fine with my life,” Valentin said. “Next subject.”
Dinner and their visit with Ethan eventually ended. They even said goodbye to Pierre on their way out. He was pouring for another table of guests.
“Why does everyone want to get me laid?” Valentin asked once they were back in his car.
“Because it isn’t normal to be still a virgin at twenty-two these days,” Raphael answered.
“In my world it is,” Valentin said. “When the time comes, I will know it.”
“You’re such a hopeless romantic,” Raphael said.
What was wrong with that? Valentin wondered.