"I once had one in my mouth twice that size," I boast as I adjust the collar of my chef's jacket. "I had it all the way in before it exploded. I swallowed most of it."
"You what?" Drea, the newly hired sous chef stares across the counter at me, a knife at the ready in her hand. "There's no way you did that, Cadence. I don't believe you."
"Whether you believe me or not isn't relevant." I turn back to my prep station. "I know what I'm capable of and I know that if I was given the chance, I'd happily prove that I could take Tyler Monroe's in one swallow. I'd do it right now if I could."
"You'd think I'd have a say in that, no?"
I stop with my hand in mid-air. No one else is supposed to be in the kitchen right now. The only other people in the entire restaurant are the two front-of-the house staff and they're busy confirming reservations. They're both also women. That means that there's no way in hell either of them just asked that question considering the voice attached to it is all kinds of deep and sexy. I know that voice. This is the first time I'm hearing it in person. Every other time has been on television during one of the dozens of appearances he's made on cooking programs and talk shows the past three months while he's been on tour promoting his newest cookbook.
"Who are you?" Drea asks because she's not only new, she's na?ve. She must also be one of the few people working in the restaurant industry in New York City who has never seen a picture of him.
"I'm Tyler." I hear footsteps behind me. "I'm Tyler Monroe and you are?"
"Drea Hernandez," she offers. "You're not actually Tyler Monroe, are you?"
"I'm actually him." He chuckles.
I hear shuffling behind me and then in a way too excited tone, Drea screeches out the words no one working in this kitchen should ask. "Can I have your autograph? I have all of your cookbooks at home, but can you sign my jacket?"
I pick that moment to turn around because I know inevitably I'm going to have to face him. He's one of the reasons I applied for this position after I graduated from culinary school. His career is outstanding and his accomplishments are nothing short of impressive. He's only twenty-nine-years-old and he's already the owner and executive chef at one of the most prestigious restaurants in Manhattan. He's also one of the most recognizable faces in food today.
"I sign your paycheck." He ignores the offer of the pen that Drea is dangling in front of him. "I assume that whatever you're working on needs your attention."
She purses her lips together in a grimace before she tucks the pen back into her pocket. "I thought you were on a book tour."
"I thought you had work to do," he counters. "I'm here for dinner service tonight. I want everything in order."
I stare at his profile. He's gorgeous. His brown hair is long enough in the back to brush the collar of his jacket. His jaw is covered in stubble. It's no wonder that women come to the restaurant with hope that he'll be here. I've lost count of how many of my classmates from culinary school have asked if they can stop by to meet him.
"You and I should talk." He suddenly turns to the side so he's facing me directly. "Come with me."
My breath catches at his words. "I have a lot of work to do."
His tongue slicks his bottom lip. It's an innocent action that shouldn't stir me the way that it does. "That can wait."
I lower the knife in my hand onto the cutting board. I tug on the hem of my chef's jacket to straighten it before I take a deep breath and silently follow him down a corridor toward a makeshift office that I've seen the restaurant manager use to fire those who don't pull their weight.
"If this is about what you overheard, I can explain that," I say the moment we're through the doorway.
He shrugs out of his leather jacket revealing a plain black t-shirt and muscular, tattooed arms. I look to the open doorway hoping someone, anyone, will save me from the reprimand I'm about to receive.
"I don't need an explanation." He tilts his head as his eyes rake me from head to toe. His gaze stalls on my name, which is sewn on the front of my jacket in red thread. "I'm going to assume you were talking about one of the new, signature, one-bite starters when you said you could fit the entire thing in your mouth."
My heartbeat quickens when he takes a step closer.
"That's what you were talking about isn't it, Cadence?"
My lips part slightly as I draw in a deep breath. "No. I was talking about… I was actually talking about your…"
"My what?" He taps his index finger on his chin. "I'm curious now. Tell me what of mine you think you can fit in that mouth of yours."
I open my mouth to respond. His eyes are cast on my lips as I breathe slowly, deliberately. "It's not what you think, Chef."