For some, the kitchen represents a sanctuary of the senses—a mergence of soul and sustenance that licks at the flesh while teasing the mind’s pleasure. To others, it’s but a steely hive of horror. And then there’s JESSICA AMES, a canned soup kind of girl in a land of haute cuisine whose aversion to culinary adventure once seemed all but incurable. But when she catches the eye of celebrity chef MARCO ADRIANO at a pretentious rooftop soiree, his uniquely sensual take on food whets an appetite that may just prove insatiable. If only they’d had more time…
“A little secret about fresh pasta.” He took every opportunity to give me my money’s worth with his endless culinary observations. “You want to let it rest after kneading.”
“And why is that?” I asked demurely, faking ignorance that would once have come so genuinely.
“You see, pasta that has just been mixed will tend to recoil on you when stretched. And I’m pretty sure the last thing a woman wants to feel when she starts tugging is a nervous resistance to her charms.”
His quirky humor caught me off-guard, drawing an embarrassing snort from deep down that triggered one of his own in kind. Here in his natural state, Marco seemed so much more at ease than any persona he’d ever publicly broadcast. His warmth flowed so generously. His sensuality, once detached from the Casanova illusion, now corrupted like a ten-year-old smile. Even his terrible jokes became more charming without a script or cue card in sight.
Our back and forth escalated as his right hand gripped around my waist while his left fed each ribbon through the blades. I had the enviable job of standing between them, catching the silken strands that emerged and resting each gently over the hanging rack.
“Good,” he whispered, his voice always encouraging, as he positioned himself a step behind me. Sending shivers down my spine, he brushed across both shoulders to collect my hair loosely down my back. “Now, we want to separate.”
“Aw, no…so soon?” I pressed back against him in mock protest, then rocked quickly forward as I felt him harden against me.
“Gently.” Compelling me into action, he led by example, spreading his fingers through my hair and pulling slowly down my back.
“Like this?” I moaned, mirroring his motion with my own hands through the draping pasta. My God, is it any wonder that Italians are so passionate about their food? Everything inside me wanted to grind back for another feel, but that just seemed so obvious. If he taught me anything, it’s that the finer things cannot be rushed. Besides, his prowess in preparation did nothing to hide the man’s true nature. Marco was a hunter. Why else would he have chosen me in a roomful of easy kills?
Allowing him the intricacies of the chase, I made him come to me—with dinner hanging in the balance. I began to mangle the strands with clumsy strokes, all but forcing his next move.
“Here, let me help you.”
Inching closer, his substantial length now ground firmly up the small of my back, thrusting every other thought out of my mind and filling me with a single-minded need to devour. To hell with the strawberries!
Tickling hungrily against my spine without any pretense of embarrassment, he reached around to assume control of my technique. I never doubted for an instant that Marco knew my game. He played into my hands while I fell into his—the line blurred between stalker and quarry until the roles themselves became academic. Yet he let me lay my own trap, using his excitement as a distraction while awaiting my first misstep.
“Back home, we always say that a good sauce can make anything better,” Marco proudly shared as he blended shaved Parmesan, mozzarella and a pinch of seasoning into his heavy cream base and stirred lovingly. From anybody else, the words might sound like a travel bureau tagline, but he delivered them with authentic nostalgia.
While I sat politely attentive, he wove a familiar story that I’d heard countless times before. This time, however, everything felt new again. This time, he directed every word so intimately to an audience he could see and touch, no longer hindered by the cold glass of the television screen or the one-way discussion of a written page.
“You don’t say.” I reflected back to that night and the wine-laced red silk we spun together. In that sense, a good sauce certainly made me better or at least it sparked my devotion to improvement. “And have you ever put that theory to the test?”
“Come to think of it,” he replied after a moment of contemplation, “perhaps we should. What would you suggest?”
Lifting a long white linen from the counter, I fashioned a makeshift blindfold and cinched it tightly behind my head. “Feed me.”
From my right came a faint sigh of deviance, broken by the crackle of fresh semolina crust. I would have thought it impossible, but my mouth managed to water even more at the prospect of things to come.
“Open.” He coaxed the plain slice of bread between my lips, then dipped a second into the bubbling sauce. I could feel the heat as he approached. Instinctively, I parted wide to receive that second slice—or anything else he desired—on my tongue.
“Dirty girl!” Marco laughed when a splash of hot white cream escaped my mouth and trickled down my chin. As I reached up to wipe it away, he snatched my wrist from the air and pinned it to my side. Then he gathered the rogue sauce on the tip of his finger and whispered again.