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Chapter Nineteen

This expanded chapter goes into Chloe and Ellie’s celebration when Chloe gets her first sponsorship for her Kitchen Saint blog. 

 

Almost like clockwork on Monday afternoon, a text came in from Miles. 

Rethinking this flooring. You have time to take a look?

Yes. But I wasn’t going to. Let him be Aaron’s problem. I wasn’t so sure that Aaron was

right about Miles needing to hand off the club, but I had a feeling he was dead right about Miles and women. If Miles did stay committed to the club, it would be even worse for us to date and breakup when he got bored, then have to deal with a changing lineup of women underfoot. Literally. 

I texted back a short, No, sorry.

No problem, he answered. Maybe tomorrow. 

Should I ignore him and let him get the hint? Make up an excuse? Probably not, I

texted. Busy week.

He answered with a thumbs up emoji. 

He texted again Tuesday anyway, wondering if now I had time to look at flooring. I told

him I had a client dinner. 

Wednesday morning, he asked me to weigh in on the bar construction. I declined. 

Thursday I didn’t hear from him. It was both a relief and a letdown. But Friday

afternoon he texted about getting my opinion on tabletops as I pulled in from work. Clearly, he’d been watching for my arrival, timing the text so I couldn’t make an excuse of not having time to look. 

I didn’t answer, letting myself into my apartment. “Chloe?”

“Present,” she called from her bedroom. 

“Let’s go out. You in?”

“Perfect timing,” she said, walking out. “Because I have something to celebrate.” Her

eyes practically danced with excitement. 

“Tell me.” 

“The Kitchen Saint got her first sponsor!”

“What? Yay!” I squealed. “Tell me who. I want to know all about it.”

“I’ll tell you at dinner which should be somewhere excellent that I’ve already reviewed

so I don’t have to work while I eat.”

“Deal! Let me change and we’ll do this.”

She glanced down at her watch. “It’s not even five-thirty yet.”

“Yeah, but we won’t even get anywhere until six and we can enjoy some drinks first.”

“It’s a date.”

Relieved that I had an actual plausible excuse, I texted Miles. Sorry, plans tonight. Go

with your gut. 

An hour later, I was in a sundress and sandals on the patio of Tucker’s, a French

martini sitting in front of each of us. Chloe was almost vibrating with excitement. “Tell me all about it,” I ordered her. 

“I got an email through my Kitchen Saint account, which I hate checking, because it’s

always chefs and owners who are mad about a review or begging me to come try their place. But the subject line for this one said, ‘An offer,’ and it’s a restaurant I reviewed two weeks ago asking to run a banner ad.”

“How do you feel about that? Does it feel like a conflict of interest?” Chloe had strong

feelings about ethics and reviews and truthfulness. It was not in her to lie. At all. 

“I would never run an ad for a place I haven’t tried and loved, so I feel good about that.

And I trust myself completely not to start giving good reviews to get more ad dollars.” 

“I couldn’t see you doing that in a million years.”

“Nope. Will never happen. I emailed the owner to find out what made him choose my

blog, and he said that after I raved about the blackened alligator, they’ve been selling about thirty percent more than usual, and they realized that I have the right audience. I might finally make enough money to at least pay for my weekly dinners, and my conscience is clear. As a matter of fact,” she leaned forward and lowered her voice, “this is the restaurant. I’m scouting it one last time to make sure I’m comfortable endorsing them, but so far, service, ambiance, and drinks are on point, so basically, this meal is on them, kind of.”

I picked up my glass. “Then a toast to my girl getting paid for the thing she loves and is

good at.”

We clinked glasses and grinned. 

“How’s the club coming along?” she said after taking a drink.

I shrugged. “I assume it’s fine.”

She narrowed her eyes at me. “What do you mean you ‘assume’? You’re down there

every day, pretty much.”

“I decided it doesn’t make a ton of sense to be down there. I don’t want to be

responsible for making recommendations that Miles hates later. I’ve made excuses the last few times he’s texted.” 

Her eyes were still narrowed on me, and I didn’t like it, so I picked up my menu as an

excuse to look elsewhere.

“Put that down,” she ordered mildly. “I’ll order for you. Now tell me why you’re

avoiding Miles.”

“I just did.”

“It’s not the whole story.” She cocked her head and gave me a tiny smile. “How

annoying is it to live with someone who knows your every single tell?”

“Incredibly irritating.” I remembered Miles saying the same thing, that I was easy to

read.  But these were the only two people who thought so. “Can you move out?”

“No.” She drained her glass and signaled the server. “So what’s up with Miles?”

I tapped the edge of my glass, not sure I could explain because I didn’t know the

answer. “At Miss Mary’s goodbye party, we kind of had a moment.”

“Oooh, I like moments. What kind of moment? A Jane Austen yearning look moment?

Or a Grey’s Anatomy overcome with lust and suddenly start making out moment?”

“Is there a middle option?”

She leaned forward, her eyes gleaming. “Even better. Tell me.”

“He asked me to dance—”

“I saw.”

“And he almost kissed me. Or I almost kissed him?”

She raised her empty glass. “You get yours, girl.”

“I think we almost kissed each other. Which is a sucky idea.”

“Is it, though? He’s grown on me. It would be okay not hold his sixteen-year-old self

against him.”

“It’s not that. It’s…I don’t know.” I tapped on the glass again, a nervous tattoo of clinks.

“I’m still too much of my fourteen-year-old self. Prone to fall even when it doesn’t make sense.”

“Fall,” she repeated the word, tone musing. “Falling is definitely different than flirting.”

“I’m not built to flirt,” I said. “You know me. I’m more about the steady boyfriend, the

known quantity. Miles is neither.”

“What makes you say that? He seems like a steady guy. Not what I thought a celebrity

would be like.”

“Aaron.”

“Aaron?” She said it like it was a foreign word she’d never heard. 

“Yeah. He had a talk with me last week.” I told her about it, and by the time I’d

summed it up, she wore a slight frown.

“I mean, you do you, boo. But Aaron has a vested interest in Miles going back to LA

and making him some cash. Unless that’s what Miles also wants, I wouldn’t put much stock into Aaron’s opinion.”

“Maybe.” I tapped on the glass again, trying to organize my swirling thoughts. “I kind of

think Miles means to stick around. But getting involved with him is a bad idea. It would be so lopsided. I’ve been there before, and I don’t want to go there again.”

“Don’t write him off completely. Watch him for a while. If he sticks around, then maybe

his relationship tendencies have changed too.”

“Can we not talk about my stupid boy problems anymore? Because I’m way more

interested in celebrating the heck out of you,” I leaned forward to add in a whisper, “Kitchen Saint.”

“Shhhh.” She did the “keep it down” gesture even though there was no way anyone

else could have heard me. “But yes, let’s keep celebrating me.”

So we did, taking a Lyft home afterward, pleasantly buzzed and stuffed with excellent

food that sealed the deal for Chloe: she would officially accept Tucker’s as her blog’s first sponsor. 

Saturday I spent doing some cleaning and laundry, then catching up on paperwork.

But Sunday…Sundays were for me. I lived for Sundays, and I needed this Sunday more than ever. 

On Sundays, I didn’t flat iron my hair or do a lick of work. I didn’t choose a carefully

coordinated outfit or check my planner. I slept late, greeted the day with some coffee and yoga whenever I woke up sometime mid-morning, and if I felt like it, I drove out to see my parents for dinner. 

When I rolled out of bed close to ten, I pulled on my oldest, comfiest sundress, threw

my hair up in a messy bun, and slid into my flipflops to trek over to Bywater Bakery for my coffee. I only allowed myself the smallest twinge as I reached for the door handle that I couldn’t nip down to Miss Mary’s where she’d always have a cup waiting for me. Maybe one day I wouldn’t feel that missing in my routine, but today wasn’t that day. 

I opened the door to find Miles there, his hand raised and ready to knock, a surprised

look on his face to match the tiny gasp I’d made. 

“Whoa, hey,” he said. 

“Hey.” I resisted the urge to reach up and smooth my hair. There was no point. It was a

barely contained half-frizzed mess, same as it was every Sunday. I wanted him to see me like this. Mainly so I would remember that I wasn’t an Instagram model or rising starlet and quit thinking there was some sort of chance here. “Can I help you? Is there something wrong downstairs?”

“No,” he said, almost sharply, and I looked at him, startled. “Sorry, no.” He said it softly

that time. “Or yes, but it’s not a landlord thing. Um, could we…” He ran his fingers through his hair and stared up at the ceiling for a moment before taking a deep breath and meeting my eyes. “Could we talk? Maybe get some coffee?”

“Sure.” He looked so stressed that the word was out before I could second guess

myself. “I was heading over to Bywater Bakery.”

“I already went. And I have coffee and sticky buns downstairs if you’re up for it.”

“Miles…”

“I promise not to hold you hostage.”

I sighed. 

“Please?” His eyes were soft and hopeful. 

He was making it impossible to say no. “All right. I’ll come down for coffee.”

 

***The rest of this chapter reads like it does in the book with no changes.***

 

Chapter Twenty-Four

This chapter expands on Dylan’s mood the night of the chef auditions

 

The next couple of weeks passed in a blur. Miles was preoccupied with staffing,

finding a restaurant manager, then scheduling the two cooking demos. Jordan was focused on booking entertainment. They were both constantly in a state of panic over what to do about a head chef. The people they were most interested in didn’t want to take the job on such short notice. The ones who were hungriest for the job didn’t have as much experience as either of them wanted. 

One morning when I was answering my work emails at one of the newly arrived tables

in the club, Jordan and Miles were thinking themselves in circles again on what to do about a chef. Jordan wanted to poach an experienced chef from another restaurant. Miles wanted to find a new talent, someone with big ideas and something to prove. 

“It’s the whole point of the Turnaround,” Miles said. “Finding new artists and giving

them a chance.”

“But you can’t take chances with food in New Orleans of all places,” Jordan argued

back. “Besides, you said the Turnaround is also about reinvention.”

There would be getting no work done here this morning. I closed my laptop with a

loud snap, and they both glanced over. “Give me your top three names. I’ll run them past my brother. He’s a sous chef at Redbird. He’ll know.”

“He won’t mind?” Miles asked. “I kind of got the feeling he didn’t like me.”

“He likes you fine,” I told him. “He’s protective, that’s all.” We hadn’t brought each

other home to our families yet. It was early still in this thing between us, and at least on my side, bringing Miles home would provoke the kinds of loaded and uncomfortable questions I didn’t know the answer to. I wouldn’t it put it past my dad to straight up ask Miles what his intentions toward me were. 

Which is why I kind of sort of hadn’t mentioned exactly who the new tenant was in

their building. They knew it was a jazz club. I just hadn’t explained that Miles was the owner. They’d left me to manage the building for over a year, focusing their time on multi-family residential units in and around Mandeville, a New Orleans suburb. New Orleans wasn’t exactly a fast-paced city; people took their time here in a way they didn’t in most other big cities I’d visited, but my parents liked the even more low-key suburban pace now. 

I wasn’t trying to hide Miles from them, exactly. But they were going to be super

protective on my behalf, having lived through three years of the Starstruck fallout before I went to college. 

“Look, I’m going to run into the office to work. I’ll talk to Dylan and see what he thinks.”

“I’ll email the resumes,” Miles said. “Thank you so much for getting his opinion.”

“Yeah, thank you,” Jordan said, jumping up on the stage to take a seat at the piano.

“Danke schoen, Ellie, danke Schoen,” he sang, lounge singer style. 

I saluted him and headed out for the office to get some work done in peace and quiet.

I called Dylan on the way. He didn’t go into work until mid-afternoon, so there was a good chance I’d catch him if he hadn’t left for the gym yet. 

He answered on the third ring. “What’s up?”

“The Turnaround is looking for a chef,” I said. 

“I got a job.” 

“I know that. But they’re trying to narrow down their candidates, and management is

having a difference of opinion. I thought you might know enough about their candidates to offer an opinion.”

“Who are they?”

“I don’t know yet,” I said. “They’ll send me the resumes and I’ll pass them on. Just

wanted to make sure you’re up for it first.” I knew I was being kind of cagey by not mentioning Miles’s name and referring to “management,” as if I were distantly removed from the discussions. 

“Sure,” he said. “Shoot them over.” 

I thanked him and hung up, and with that out of the way, I drove the rest of the way to

work, smiling. The days had taken on a rhythm over the last two weeks, me starting mine downstairs until the regular renovation bustle took over and I headed out to work. Me ending each workday there where Miles would wait for me, pulling me in for a hug and a long kiss the second I walked in. Then he’d either coax me into singing something for him, or sometimes we’d go back to his place and hang out in his studio where he’d play something he was working on. 

Then we’d eat together, sometimes cooking for each other, more often going out so

he could “research” different chefs he and Jordan were considering. And before, after, and in between, there was so much making out. 

He was becoming so familiar to me as we learned each other, what made him growl

low in his throat, or tighten his arms around me so hard that it made hard for me to breathe but also lit a fire inside me each time. 

If this was love, then I’d only ever felt twitterpated before. I’d never felt this intense

delirium that could make the rest of the room fade just because our eyes locked, or the way I wanted to melt while I curled up in a chair in his studio, listening to him sing, his voice alone enough to make me feel boneless. 

Miraculously, Miles seemed to feel the same. He invented reasons to touch me,

begged me for stories from all the years he didn’t know me, sang the Usher lyrics to me softly every time he walked me to the door, but with a small change. I got it bad, he would sing. And I would smile and give him one last kiss before he left or I went home. 

But that was the thing: the only time he ever mentioned his feelings was in his music,

and even then, other than the Usher lyrics, it was never a song specifically to me. He showed me all the time that he wanted to be with me. But he never said it. Was that enough?

I didn’t say it either. But I felt it. 

There was just something about having my feelings be splashed across tens of

millions of screens when we were kids that made it impossible for me to say the words first now. I needed it to be him. 

We’d been officially together all of two weeks. There was time. I didn’t need to worry

about this. It would happen when it needed to. 

When I got to my desk, an email was waiting for me with the chef resumes, and I sent

them on to Dylan, then shifted my focus to my work. Worrying about what Miles hadn’t said yet would only make me nuts. 

By the time I stopped by the club after work, the weird, jittery head space I’d been in

this morning was gone. Miles was already at the piano, messing around with a song he’d been trying to nail down a bridge for. He glanced over his shoulder when he heard my footsteps on the wooden floor, and with a smile, slid into a rendition of “She Don’t Know She’s Beautiful.” It was clearly for me, and I slid into one of the newly installed booths so I could listen to him. I decided to hear them all that way; as if each song were the words he meant to say to me. 

* * *

Based on Dylan’s recommendation, Jordan and Miles narrowed it down to the two

chefs and scheduled them to come in on two different nights to do a showcase, a Monday and Tuesday, since those were the slowest nights at the candidates’ own restaurants. 

“You excited?” I asked Chloe when she walked into our living room. 

“Low-key excited, I guess,” she said. “I do eat out a lot, so…”

“Yeah, but how many times do you get to influence which chef a restaurant will hire?”

“I’m one of a bunch of votes tonight, Ellie. It’s not like they know what I do. I’m sure

Dylan’s opinion will count more.”

Miss Mary and Mr. Douglas were still off “gallivanting,” as she liked to hashtag her

pictures, but Jerome had agreed to come. With Dylan, Chloe, Jordan and his wife, plus Aaron—unfortunately—there was a good-sized crew with well-trained New Orleans tastebuds ready to render a verdict. 

“If only they did know,” I said. “Then your opinion would be the only one that

mattered.”

“I would hate that,” she said, leading the way out of the apartment. “I value my

anonymity like you value…”

“My what?”

“I’m trying to think of something you love as much as I love keeping my identity a

secret.” I followed her down the stairs, and at the bottom, she announced, “Miles.”

“Miles what?”

“No, I love keeping my identity secret as much as you love Miles.”

“I don’t—”

But she held up her hand to cut off my half-hearted denial. “Don’t even try it. I won’t

believe you. Now let’s get our grub on.”

We went in through the main entrance tonight to give the auditioning chef his space.

Everyone but Dylan was there. Tanya, the no-nonsense middle-aged restaurant manager they’d hired had set up two tables for dining. 

“This looks so good,” I said to Miles when he came to hug me. “I can’t believe how

good it all looks together.” Tanya had used the linens and settings they’d be using for real when they opened for business. 

“It does, doesn’t it?” He ran his eye over everything. “I think this is going to work.”

“You better hope so,” Aaron said, passing us to get to his seat. 

I shot Miles as a questioning look, but he just shook his head. “I think we’re starting

with apps,” he said.

“That means appetizers and aperitifs,” Jordan added. “Let’s get this started.”

I was about to text Dylan when he walked in. “Hey,” he said. Normally, he walked in

with a touch of swagger, but tonight his shoulders were stiff. 

“Everything okay?” I asked. 

“Yeah, fine. Just some friction at work.”

I could almost see Chloe’s story antennae go up. “Trouble at Redbird?” she asked. 

“It’s nothing,” he mumbled. “Did someone mention drinks?”

“Coming up,” I told him, leading him over to the table. They were situated for two

separate dinner groupings but close enough that we could talk back and forth between the tables. He’d be sitting with me, Miles, and Chloe. “Before we start, I wanted to tell you—” 

But before I could give him a heads up that Miles and I were dating now, Miles slid an

arm around me and held his hand out to Dylan for a shake. “Good to see you, man.”

Dylan’s eyebrow went up, and he returned Miles’s handshake. “So you’re with my

sister now?”

Miles looked down at me. “You didn’t tell him?”

“I was about to.”

“You don’t tell me a lot of stuff,” Dylan said, his face losing some of its animation

again. 

I had no idea what he was talking about. I loved my brother, but we weren’t close. It

wasn’t like I knew what was going on in his dating life in any given week. “Did I do something wrong?” I asked, trying to figure out his weird mood. 

“Nothing. It’s fine. Forget it. Which one is my seat?”

Miles tried to smooth over the awkwardness by being a good club owner. “Right over

here,” he said. It was a table meant for eight but that was to accommodate the fifteen dishes in the tasting menu we were trying. 

He pulled out my chair and waved Dylan into the one across from me, then Miles sat

next to me with Chloe across from him. 

“Hey, Clo,” Dylan said, sounding a tiny bit less grumpy. 

We settled into small talk until Tanya emerged from the kitchen to announce that

dinner service would begin. “Tonight, we’re eating from Chef Le’s take on refined classics. We begin with a shrimp starter.”

The servers brought us each saucer-sized plates with a gorgeous piece of Gulf shrimp

in Cajun pesto resting on  triangle toast. 

“Points for the plating,” Chloe said. Dylan nodded. 

It proved to taste good too. So did almost every other dish she sent out with the

exception of two that fell on the mediocre side. The conversation mostly flowed easily. Every now and then Dylan’s weird moodiness would fall over him again, but the rest of us would work harder to compensate for it. It wasn’t disastrous, exactly, but it still bothered me that he couldn’t just grin and bear it, whatever it was that was bothering him. 

After the two dessert tastings—a coffee crème brulee and torta ricotta—Tanya brought

Chef Le Anh out to the floor. We gave her a sincere round of applause, and then she returned to the kitchen to pack up. 

“Hey, Jordan,” his wife said, loud enough for us to hear her. “How about if you and

Miles hop on stage and give us a preview of the entertainment?”

Jordan shook his head, but everyone else hooted and clapped, and Miles waved him

toward the stage. Jordan shook his head again, but this time he was grinning as he rose and went to the piano. “How about some classic jazz?” he called out to more hoots. “Let’s do a little ‘So What’ from Miles Davis.”

He was flawless, he fingers lightning quick on the keys. We clapped when he ended.

“We’re about honoring the classics, but a big part of what Miles and I want to do is highlight new talent too, and contemporary jazz is welcome here. This is some Ashley Henry.” It was a piece infused with hip hop and punk but still rich and gorgeous coming out of the piano. 

He stood as we clapped, gesturing for us to simmer down. “We’ll bring in people to

cover the standards, but we’re also going to showcase some singer-songwriters who aren’t strictly jazz but have an interesting point of view. Sometimes that may verge toward Americana, other times toward soul and R&B roots, but from blues to bebop, the Turnaround will have it.”

“How’s the booking going?” I asked Miles as Jordan headed back to his seat.

His big smile tightened a tiny bit at the question. “A little tougher than expected. We’ve

got some great regional acts coming in from Memphis and around town, but we’ve had a hard time getting calls back from some of the other acts I wanted.”

“Use your name,” Aaron said from the next table. “I keep telling you that, bro. All you

have to do is use your name.”

Miles rolled his eyes at him. “Eat your torta,” he said. 

“What was that about?” I asked him. 

“Nothing. Old argument.”

“Get up there,” Jordan told Miles. “It’s your turn.”

Miles leaned toward me instead, his eyes glinting. “Jordan has our little group primed.

These are all friendly faces. How about you get up there and sing? Do a cover if you don’t want to do your own stuff.”

My cheeks burned even at the thought. “No. Not even covers.”

He lowered his voice, his expression turning serious. “It kills me that everyone else

doesn’t get to see how good you are.”

“Dylan and Chloe know. That’s half the room. And it’s fine. I don’t need anyone else to

know.”

Miles looked like he wanted to say something else, but he closed his mouth and shook

his head instead. “Okay. But I wish you would.”

“I know.” He stressed me out more each time he brought it up. “But they’ll be happy to

listen to you. Go,” I said, as Jordan called for him to go up again. “Do one of you new ones.”

“Which one?”

“Any of them. I love them all.” It was true. He’d played me three new songs over the

last month, and I’d loved each of them for different reasons. 

Miles went to the piano and sat for a few seconds, like he was deciding what to play.

As soon as he plucked out the first notes, I recognized it. He’d chosen his new up tempo one, a song about dancing like no one is watching. If the industry was a fair place, this would be everyone’s new summer jam, but it was fun just to watch everyone’s head move and fingers tap, even cranky Dylan’s. 

And once again, when he sang about love, I pretended he was singing the words just

to me. It might be the only way I’d ever hear them from him, and for now, it was enough. 

He played a couple more songs, and when he stood, we all cheered loudly for him too.

As he walked back to the table, Dylan pushed back his chair. “I should go.”

“I’ll walk you out.”

He shook hands with Jordan and Miles before heading out. “See you in two days,” he

said when we got to the exit. 

“Wait,” I said, putting my hand on his arm to hold him in place for a moment. “What’s

wrong?”

“Nothing.”

“That’s one hundred percent not true. You’re in a mood. Did I do something wrong?”

This time he didn’t deny it. He stared down at the sidewalk and gave a tiny shrug. 

“Talk to me, Dylan.”

He sighed and met my eyes. “Did you even think about asking me, Ellie?”

“Asking you what?” I wasn’t faking my confusion. 

“To apply for the chef position.”

“No,” I said, startled into the blunt answer. 

He nodded. “Okay, great. Thanks. Bye.” He pulled his arm away and started down the

sidewalk.

I hurried to catch up with him. “Why would I? Even when I called to ask you to look

over the resumes, the first thing out of your mouth was, ‘I already have a job.’ I had no idea you were looking for a new one.”

He stopped again. “I’m not. Yet. But you know the goal is to open my own place

someday. I want to be an executive chef sooner than later, and something like this could have been a great opportunity to get my name out there.”

“You seem really happy at Redbird,” I told him. “How was I supposed to know you’d

want this job?”

“You didn’t even ask!” He took a deep breath like he was trying to dampen his temper

which had a tendency to flare easily. “If I’d told you I was interested, would you have given my name to Jordan and Miles?”

“I…” 

His face tightened. “Yeah. That’s what I thought.”

“It’s complicated,” I said. “What if it didn’t work out? I don’t want to get stuck between

the two of you.”

“Wow. Your loyalties switch that easily, huh?”

Frustration bubbled up through my chest. “You’re misunderstanding everything I say.”

“Nah. I understand it perfectly.” He started down the sidewalk again. 

“Dylan!” I called after him. 

“Don’t worry. I’ll be there tomorrow night for the other chef.” Then he kept walking, not

looking back even when I called his name again.