Out of the Frying Pan
by Sophie Mouette
Little Kisses Press
eBook ISBN: 9781310205323
Print ISBN: 9780615938462
Take one chef displaced in the wacky world of Hollywood, Add one hunky pool boy who isn’t what he seems, Mix with a heavy dash of spicy sex. Then fold in a self-absorbed starlet who’s on a different diet every night, Blend with her action-hero boyfriend (secret ingredient: closet cross-dresser).
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That morning, Chloe’s horoscope had said “avoid false turns.”
If only she’d heeded that advice. It was just that she’d never put much stock in astrology, and only started reading the horoscope page when she’d moved to Los Angeles a month ago, adrift and starting a new life across the country with nothing much to do in the morning but read every inch of the LA Times, starting with the food section and ending with the horoscopes.
She hadn’t expected it to be so hard, the move and all. In Boston, she’d had a fabulous job as the sous-chef at an acclaimed restaurant.
What she hadn’t known until she’d gotten here was that acclaimed restaurants in Boston were sneered at by acclaimed restaurants in LA. Who knew that LA restaurants looked down their long noses and sniffed at Boston restaurants, then turned dismissively away, making snide comments under their breaths?
Which is why she’d taken this temp job helping cater for the American Action Movie Awards, or AAMies. It was beneath her talent and skill, but it would help pay the rent—and rent in LA was outlandish.
But everything was going horribly wrong.
First of all, she’d been late. Very late. Boston traffic was bad, but it didn’t hold a candle to the southern California freeways.
She’d had to show her ID and pass to five different security checkpoint guards, and then she’d gotten turned around and almost missed the door to the kitchen.
Only to learn that she’d been hired as a waitress.
There had to be a mistake. She was a chef, dammit. Trained at Culinary Institute of America. Paid her dues at Printemps and Harvest before working for Maurice.
She was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a goddamn waitress.
Chloe wanted to storm out. She almost stormed out.
But she had no money, and no real job.
And Luanna was counting on her to pay her half of the rent. Because if she didn’t, they’d be out on the street. That meant Evenrude wouldn’t get fed, or even have a home. When Chloe imagined those big, liquid brown eyes staring up at her, she caved. She pushed aside her pride (it pushed back, but in the end, she muscled it into submission), grabbed hold of her responsibilities with both hands, gritted her teeth, and said,
“Right. Waitress. Where do I change?”
She repeated the directions under her breath. “Down the hall, past the dining room, across the lobby, behind the staging area, the door’s on your left. No, on the right. It’s not marked, but it’s just past the Steven Seagal display.”
Getting across the lobby entailed going through two more security checkpoints, one at either end, and at the first one she’d forgotten where she’d shoved her ID once she thought she was free and clear, and in the lobby she thought she’d spotted The Rock, so she was admittedly flustered.
And she didn’t even like The Rock that much.
So where was the staging area?
“Excuse me,” a voice said. “Do you need any help?”
“I’m looking for the staging area,” she said as she turned.
If she hadn’t been so frazzled and late and miffed, she would’ve taken more time than just Huh, he’s really cute! But all she processed was a killer pair of bedroom eyes behind a cute pair of little wire-rimmed glasses as he said, “I think it’s that way, but I’m not sure—let me ask.”
He headed back towards the lobby, and Chloe felt bad but she just didn’t have time to wait. She went in the direction he suggested, and hallelujah! found the Steven Seagal cardboard cutout surrounded by posters from Marked for Death and Out of Reach and Under Siege (1, 2, and 3). She pushed open the first door on her left. It was heavier than she expected, and she stumbled in.
No, she stumbled out. She was outside.
On the freaking red carpet.
Red was all she saw before the flashbulbs started going off, at which point just about all she could see was yellow and white glowing blobs. She’d been blinded. She’d never see again.
Chloe whirled. The door, swinging shut on its well-oiled hinges, was almost closed. She lunged.
There was no handle. It was an out-only door.
Her fingers scrabbled for a handhold, to just catch the very crack of space before the door—
—shut with an utter, resounding finality.
Shit. Oh holy shit on a stick.
Surely there was another door. She scanned the wall, left and right, back and forth. Nothing. Nada.
She turned back around, frantically seeking an exit. Running right along in front of her like the damn Yellow Brick Road was the red carpet. There were stars on it—not The Rock, or even Vin Diesel, although that woman there could have been Angelina Jolie’s stunt double—as well as the press—she was sure that lady there was from VH-1’s Hottest Entertainment News.
Just beyond the carpet was a rope barrier and a buttload of paparazzi, all with cameras and booms and mics and equipment she couldn’t recognize and didn’t want to, and where the hell was she going to go?
Okay. She couldn’t go left, in the direction the stars were headed. That would send her through the front door, and she didn’t have the creds to get through the front door. So she’d go right, and find the street where they were all coming from, and then she’d get her bearings…
Who was she kidding? She didn’t know the damn Hollywood streets without a Thomas Guide or a cheap GPS.
Still, it was better than no plan at all.
She took a step forwards, and lights exploded in her face.
“Wait, no, I’m not famous—”
They couldn’t hear her. She was on the red carpet, and thus they had to capture her for tonight’s television recap and tomorrow’s website and next week’s US Weekly.
And that’s when she saw the security team advancing, looking as menacing as rent-a-cops could.
Rent-a-cops with tazers, she saw, and gulped.
“Hey,” a deep voice said. It didn’t sound menacing, thank goodness.
He was tall, broad-shouldered, and his tuxedo jacket had obviously been tailor-made for him because nothing off the rack would have contained those bulging biceps and sculpted pecs.
He looked a little familiar.
“Who are you?” he asked.
His brown eyes were kind, and somehow they reminded Chloe of Evenrude, and something broke inside of her and she started to babble.
“I’m one of the caterers.” Okay, technically not true, but she ought to be one of the caterers, dammit. “I got lost, and I came out the wrong door, and it closed behind me and doesn’t open from the outside. I’m really, really lost.”
He laughed, a rumbling chuckle that triggered some memory for her. “Yes, you really, really are.” He glanced over his shoulder. “They don’t look too happy,” he said of the guards.
“Please don’t let them arrest me,” she said in a teeny-tiny voice that made her cringe, but she couldn’t help it. That was the way it came out when she was in a panic.
“Okay, Miss Pretty Caterer,” he said. He held out his arm. When she didn’t respond—she was still gaping in dread—he gently took her hand and tucked it into the crook of his arm, and started back down the red carpet at a leisurely pace, smiling and waving at the photographers.
Out of the corner of her eye, Chloe saw the guards stop, confer quickly, and then turn away.
She wilted, relieved. It was all going to be okay.
“Ray!” a reporter cooed. “Where’s Sandrine? Who’s the lovely lady you’re escorting tonight?”
Ray. Suddenly it all crashed down, complete with a roaring in her ears. She was on the arm of Ray Stark, who was expected to win the Best Action Actor AAMie for his role in Rode Hard and Put Away Wet (although Jackie Chan was considered a close contender for his latest kung-fu flick).
Of course he looked familiar. He looked just a little bit like Brad Pitt (if Brad Pitt were bald and three inches taller and beefier), which all the media capitalized on.
And Rode Hard had been an awfully fun movie.
“Just a new friend,” Ray told the reporter. “Sandrine’s still resting her foot—the temporary cast doesn’t go with any of her evening gowns.”
“Ray!” another reporter called. “What’s her name?”
Ray glanced down at Chloe.
“Chloe Montiero,” she whispered.
“Chloe Montiero,” he told the reporter.
“And where did you meet her?”
“It’s a long story,” he said, flashing that twinkling grin that made the ladies swoon and had put him in People magazine’s Most Beautiful People issue (although he hadn’t made the cover, sadly). “Let’s just say we sort of ran into each other.”
A microphone was shoved into Chloe’s face, a very bright light hovering over it. She could feel the heat pouring out of bulb. Dizzied, she tried to step back, but the crowd had gotten too thick.
“Chloe, that’s an unusual choice for the red carpet,” the interviewer said. “Who are you wearing?”
“I—uh—” She was wearing a strappy little turquoise dress, one of Luanna’s creations. It had been so hot today that she hadn’t wanted to put on more. The little sandals were off-brand, although she’d been vain enough to go with spiky heels to add to her height, figuring she’d change into flat shoes right before she got to work.
Thank the gods she wasn’t wearing her chef’s whites already. Nobody would have believed she belonged there. The tote bag—thank goodness a cute bohemian-chic one embroidered with shisha mirrors—containing her comfy shoes was bad enough.
“Luanna Devenaux,” she said to fill the silence.
“So how did you and Ray…”
Inexplicably, Ray saved the day again. “I’m sorry we don’t have more time to talk, but I need to get inside. Don’t want to miss those exquisite hors d’oeuvres they always serve.” He smiled that dazzling smile again, and steered Chloe in the direction they needed to go. It was all she could do to keep herself from stumbling, the after-effects of the flashbulbs still causing spots in front of her eyes.
Inside it was just as cacophonous as outside, but in a different way. Whereas outside there had been a lot of shouting to get the stars’ attention, inside it was just crowded and busy, the normal sounds trapped and bounced back off the walls and ceiling. Harried PAs tried to direct the flow of people, but everyone seemed to have their own agenda of where to go and what they wanted.
“Well, this is where I get off the train,” Ray said. “I gotta go in and make sure I haven’t forgotten anybody in my acceptance speech, just in case.” He patted his chest, where he had apparently tucked the speech.
“Good luck,” Chloe said. “I mean, break a leg. Is that what I’m supposed to say? I hope you win. I loved Rode Hard.”
Jesus, could she ever stop babbling?
“Good luck to you, too, Miss Pretty Caterer,” he said, a smile crossing his face and making him look far less menacing than he did on screen when he was beating the bad guys all the way to hell and back. “Go make some of those fabulous hors d’oeuvres.”
He put an arm around her, leaned down, and kissed her cheek. Just barely brushed against her skin, a touch that was obviously brotherly, as opposed to flirtatious or sexual. (Brotherly, she knew, having an abundance of big brothers.)
Then he was gone, lost in the crowd of people except for the fact that he was one of the tallest among them. Chloe watched him go, still reeling, until someone bumped into her. She opened her mouth to bitch, but thankfully no words came out before she realized that the offender was Kit Harding, star of the Amazon series of films.
You don’t piss off a six-foot-tall woman with gladiator arms who could wipe the floor with Jennifer Garner’s Elektra. You just don’t.
“Sorry, my fault,” she mumbled and squeezed her way through the crowd until she found a wall to press herself against.
Right. She just had to find her way back to the Steven Seagal exhibit and figure out where she’d gone wrong. They wouldn’t’ve needed any servers yet, and even if they did, she could slip in and grab a tray from some overworked waiter and everything would be fine.
Taking a deep breath, she pushed away from the wall.
“Hey, aren’t you Ray Stark’s date?” A reporter shoved a microphone in her face.
Shit. There was no way she could go out there in a waitress uniform and not get attacked by a camera.
Self-preservation won over rent money. Chloe ducked under the man’s outstretched arm and fled, right out the door she’d first entered not half an hour before.
Chloe woke when a violent shaking nearly tumbled her out of bed.
Her heart thudding as hard and painfully as her head, she ripped the sleep mask off her eyes. She squinted in the bright sunlight pouring in her window that made her head throb worse.
Luanna had been out when she’d gotten home last night, and she’d fixed a miserable (but creative) dinner while sipping Trader Joe’s Two-buck Chuck, and she didn’t remember much more than that.
Well, okay, she remembered being concerned that Evenrude, Luanna’s Welsh corgi, had split into three, and she’d wondered whether she needed glasses, which she couldn’t afford anyway.
Now there was a blurry blob blocking some of the light. Was their apartment haunted? Did those crumbling Art Deco features and once-fancy molding mask a sordid and horrifying tale of murder and revenge?
At least the shaking had stopped. If it had been an earthquake, it was over now. She braced herself in case there was an aftershock and she’d have to fling herself at the nearest doorway. (She wasn’t sure why you were supposed to do that—the doorframe was just as creaky as the rest of the place—but that’s what everybody said.)
The blurry blob in front of her shifted into semi-focus of a dark outline of Luanna.
Oh good. She didn’t need glasses.
Then her morning took a sudden downturn as her best friend demanded, “What the hell have you done?”
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