Her Client from Hell

Her Client from Hell
Louisa George
Harlequin (2014)

Her customer satisfaction guarantee...!

Cassie Sweet has a new mantra in her life: Failure Is Not an Option! Her good-for-nothing ex may have run off with all her money, but she's determined to make her new catering business a success. So no distractions. Nothing. Nada. Zero. Which means her infuriatingly rude (and exasperatingly handsome!) new client, filmmaker Jack Brenner, is
definitely
off the menu....

After all, while the customer may always be right, Jack's clearly every shade of wrong! So when his clothes end up on her bedroom floor, why do they look so
right?
And the biggest question of all: Is this a recipe for disaster--or the best mistake of her life?

Her customer satisfaction guarantee…!

Cassie Sweet has a new mantra in her life: Failure Is Not an Option! Her good-for-nothing ex may have run off with all her money, but she’s determined to make her new catering business a success. So no distractions. Nothing. Nada. Zero. Which means her infuriatingly rude (and exasperatingly handsome!) new client, filmmaker Jack Brenner, is definitely off the menu….

After all, while the customer may always be right, Jack’s clearly every shade of wrong! So when his clothes end up on her bedroom floor, why do they look so right? And the biggest question of all: Is this a recipe for disaster—or the best mistake of her life?

SNEAK PEEK EXCERPT FROM

Her Client from Hell

“Jack.” It was meant to be a warning. A definitive no. But it sounded like a whimper.

No, it sounded like an invitation. And maybe it was. Cassie didn’t know. Didn’t know anything really except that this man had stirred something in her that had long been dormant. Which was equal parts thrilling and scary. Actually it was scary as hell.

Before she could breathe again, Jack was in front of her, all six feet plus of impressiveness, his scent of heat and man filling her nostrils. His hard body…there. The open-necked shirt revealing just a little of a tanned chest that she suddenly wanted to touch, his smile now almost blossoming.

The street seemed to fade out a little as her vision narrowed to just him. His hand was on her cheek, the lightness of his touch making her heart stutter. The intensity in his eyes causing her abdomen to contract with a need she hadn’t expected.

This was utter crazyville. A choc-chip short of a cookie. How could she want to slap him and kiss him at the same time? He was pompous and a giant pain in the ass…and she wanted to kiss him.

No. No. No.

Yes.

Dear Reader,

When deciding to write a book we’re often told to
write what you know,
but with this book I got a chance to write what I love, too! Heroine Cassie is a chef, and while I am far from the proverbial domestic goddess, I do absolutely adore food, so it was a real treat to be able to indulge that passion throughout Cassie’s story and have a little fun with it along the way!

I also love carnival time and dancing, so setting some scenes at the famous Notting Hill carnival in London meant I could reminisce a little about my experiences there, too—I hope I’ve captured some of the magic of this amazing event.

We met Cassie Sweet in my first Harlequin Kiss book,
Backstage with Her Ex,
where we discovered she is a woman who just wants to have fun and takes life less than seriously. What better, then, to meet her match in Jack Brennan, who is the ultimate in serious!

Now Cassie is trying to make a go of her catering business, under a certain amount of financial pressure, so she has to impress the unimpressionable Jack in order to win a catering contract—while trying to ignore the pull of an intense attraction. Jack, meanwhile, is not interested in having any kind of deep and meaningful relationship, especially with a woman like Cassie, so watching these two struggling with the sizzling tension is a real delight (authors can be so mean!).

I love writing for the KISS line—the characters are so fresh and real and fun. I hope you enjoy reading about them, too.

For all my writing news and release dates visit me at
www.louisageorge.com
.

Happy reading!

Louisa x

HER CLIENT
FROM HELL

Louisa George

ABOUT LOUISA GEORGE

Having tried a variety of careers in retail, marketing and nursing (where a scratchy starched uniform was mandatory), Louisa is now thrilled that her dream job of writing for Harlequin means she gets to go to work in her pajamas.

Originally from Yorkshire, England, Louisa now lives in Auckland, New Zealand, with her husband, two sports-mad teenage sons and two male cats. Writing romance is her opportunity to covertly inject a hefty dose of pink into her heavily testosterone-dominated household.

When she’s not writing or reading, Louisa loves to spend time with her family and friends, enjoys traveling and adores eating great food (preferably cooked by someone else). She’s also hopelessly addicted to zumba.

Visit her at
www.louisageorge.com
.

Other Harlequin® KISS™ titles by Louisa George:

Backstage with Her Ex

This and other titles by Louisa George are available in ebook format from
www.Harlequin.com
.

To Warren, my carnival partner and failed recipe-attempt victim, your support means everything to me. Happy anniversary! Thanks for the last 20 years—here’s to another 20! I love you x

ONE

Sweet Treats Website Contact Form, 10th
August, 9.55p.m.

Hi! How can Sweet Treats help you?

Contact from: [email protected]

I need catering for a wedding party of 50
(fifty) adults (no children) on 6th September. Better include some vegan
options. Nothing too ‘out there’. (Neither too trendy nor
endangered).

Send menu suggestions ASAP.

I hope your food is better than your
website.

JB

* * *

Whoa,
someone was
in serious need of a happy pill.

Cassie Sweet squeezed the bridge of her nose, closed her eyes
and wondered what the hell she’d done that was so bad she had to endure
this.

Impossible clients
. 1: Like
[email protected]
. At way too late o’clock, making rude comments
about her business. 2: People who said things and then explained them in
brackets.

Impossible choices
. Her regular
no-holds-barred mojito night with the girls struck out for a mind-distorting
evening in front of the laptop trying to magic her business out of financial
chaos.

And
impossible decisions
. Instead
of telling JB where to stick their rude comments, she’d have to smile sweetly
and reply positively. It was a job and, even though her work schedule was
overflowing, one glance at her bank statement told her there were far too many
minus signs. Looked as if she didn’t have a choice.

Email to:
[email protected]

Well, hi, JB. Are you Mr? Miss? Dr? Rev?
Lord?

Cassie resisted the temptation to add
Sith?

Congratulations on your upcoming
wedding!

Sweet Treats would be happy to help. Please
find enclosed a copy of our specials menu and suggested vegan options for
three, four and five courses. Please don’t hesitate to contact me for
further info. I’m more than happy to talk things over.

Cassie

For Sweet Treats

She looked back down at the spreadsheet and willed the red
numbers to be black. Damn her stupid trusting genes. She was way too much like
her father; there was no doubt that William Sweet’s too-trusting blood
definitely ran through her veins.

The figures swam in and out of focus. One day she’d been
financially stable and then...wham! Sucker-punched by betrayal. She would never
trust a man again.

Except, perhaps, for her bank manager, who she would not only
trust but would love for ever if he could help her work a way out of this. Or
maybe the bank manager was a woman? Who knew?

Her ex, actually. He’d set up the accounts with Cassie’s
signature and apparent blessing. She, meanwhile, had focused on the catering
side, giving little attention to running the business.

Well, hell, she was paying attention now. And oh, it would be
so easy to run to her family and ask for help, but this time—
this time
—she was going to prove them all wrong. She
did have stickability. She could cope without them.

Unlike her failed dog-walking business...her brief foray as a
children’s entertainer...or the blip that was her disastrous market stall—why
the hell they had to have them so early in the morning she didn’t know. This
time she was going alone and this time she would succeed.

Her mobile rang.
Blocked
number.

Glancing at the clock, she breathed in, fists curling in
anticipation. What time was it in deepest, conveniently out of killing distance,
South America? By the time she’d finished with him, his number wouldn’t be the
only thing that was blocked.

Picking up, she kept her voice steady. ‘Patrick, if that’s you
I swear I’m going to take out my paring knife and chop your—’

‘Hey, hey. Steady, lady. Put. The. Knife. Down.’ The voice, so
not her ex’s, was deep and dusky, a little tired at the edges. Like her. It
wasn’t a posh accent per se—definitely London. Did she mention dusky?

‘I’m not Patrick. And even if I were I wouldn’t admit to it
now.’

‘Believe me, if you were Patrick you wouldn’t have a breath
left in your body.’ Although, three months down the line, she’d given up hope of
seeing him or her money again. Case closed, they’d said.

‘Oh? A woman scorned?’

She supposed she was. Her ex hadn’t so much broken her heart as
completely stamped on every trusting fibre in her body. ‘Who is this?’

‘Jack Brennan. I just got your email with suggestions.’

Not the ones she was really thinking. Such an unexpectedly warm
voice for one so rude.

‘Oh, hello. Yes. My food is great; I come highly recommended.
You saw the testimonial page?’

‘Eventually. Does it need to be so busy? I couldn’t find
anything; it’s definitely not user-friendly. There are too many tabs. Too many
options.’

Well, really? Mr Sexy Voice had become Mr Cocky and Irritating
in the blink of an eye. Maybe she wasn’t so desperate that she needed to add his
job to her already overflowing schedule.

Yes, she was. ‘Thanks for the feedback. I’ll make a note and
consider a re-jig of my website next time I have an advertising budget.’ Like
never. Raising her head above the cyberworld parapet and reminding the webmaster
of her existence, and therefore her unpaid overdue bill, would only cause more
trouble. ‘I guess it could do with a spruce.’

‘It needs a deforestation.’

Like your manners
. ‘As it happens,
the website detail belonged to my...er...ex-business partner. I’m making
changes. It takes time.’

‘Your ex-partner and Patrick—I presume they’re the same
person?’

‘Yes, he was the brains behind the business, allegedly. I’m the
chef.’


Private party? Personal chef
.
Yes—’

‘Please don’t make any comments about that byline. I came up
with it, and I like it.’ It was about the only thing she had left.
Apart from my dignity
, and that was starting to sag a
little round the edges too.

But that voice... How could someone so rude sound so hot? It
was like chocolate velvet, wrapping her up and making parts of her warm that
hadn’t been warm in quite a while.

Which was a stark enough reminder that this was business.
Hadn’t she learnt already never to mix that with pleasure?

And she was not that desperate to flirt with a client
who was getting married
. It was just a voice.

‘So, considering your late call, I presume you are interested
in using Sweet Treats for the wedding? Have you had a look at the menu options?
I’m happy to juggle things around if you want to mix and match.’

‘I don’t know. It’s complicated. We need to meet and discuss
this further. And time’s running out.’ She wondered how easy it was for him to
speak without the aid of brackets to explain everything in duplicate. A hum of
traffic buzzed in the background. He raised his voice. ‘How about tomorrow?
Afternoon? Evening?’

‘I’ll just check.’ Looking at her diary, she worked out she
could fit him in between Zorb’s regular Friday Feast lunch order, little
Hannah’s third birthday party and the carnival meeting early Saturday morning.
Couldn’t she? Sleep was seriously overrated. As was a social life.

As for a sex life? She literally laughed. Out loud. Sex was
something she remembered from her dim and distant past. Vaguely.
Hell
, twenty-six and sex was just a memory? If she
planned right, she could fit in a quickie between the hours of three and four in
the morning. Next Wednesday week. But, in her experience, most guys weren’t
particularly happy with that. Well, not the kind of guys she wanted to spend
that special hour with, anyway.

Better make that two people in need of a happy pill. ‘I can fit
you in at around six-thirty. Would that work? Where are you based?’ She jotted
down the details. ‘Actually, you’re just down the road from me; I’m in Notting
Hill too. When the business started to take off we decided to move—’

He sighed. ‘Look, I’m in a cab; it’s hard to hear. I don’t need
your life story. I just need food.’

‘Of course. Of course.’
Tetchy.
She
hadn’t quite mastered the art of managing her thoughts in silence. Or managing
anything at all, really, outside the kitchen. But she was trying hard. ‘I
usually meet my clients at Bean in Notting Hill Gate, just a few shops down from
the cinema. It’s a sort of café-bar, open office space for independent
professionals. I’ll hire a meeting room so we can chat in relative privacy.
There are also office facilities there in case we need any photocopying et
cetera. If that suits your requirements, Mr Brennan?’

‘Perfectly.’ His growl wasn’t nearly as scary as he intended.
‘This is my first time at organising a wedding breakfast and I want to get it
right. I’ve absolutely no intention of doing it again.’

‘I’m sure Mrs Brennan-to-be will be very glad to hear
that.’

‘What?’ Some tooting and a curse from a voice that wasn’t dark
and rich interrupted the conversation. Then he was back. ‘Sorry?’

Cassie spoke slowly. ‘Your intended? Mrs Brennan-to-be. Will
she be joining us tomorrow? I find that it cuts down on problems and saves a lot
of everyone’s time if the happy couple thrash out ideas and differences way
before the event. So I’d prefer to meet you both. Tomorrow. If that’s okay?’

There was a pause. Then, ‘There is no Mrs Brennan-to-be.’

Ah. She knew it—that deep voice was way too good to be
heterosexual. ‘Oh. Sorry. Er...well, bring
Mr
Brennan-to-be along.’

‘No. No. No. Not at all. I’ll explain tomorrow...er...?’ She
imagined him sitting in the back of a cab, squinting through a monocle at her
business card, trying to make out the name of the woman he was phoning.

‘Cassie,’ she reminded him. No wife? No husband. ‘Erm...you’re
not one of those marrying his pet iguana kind of guys, are you? I mean, I’m not
one to judge, but I’m not sure what iguanas eat.’

He laughed. Finally. Hesitant—reluctant, even, but there. Free
for a moment, unctuous like thick, warm chocolate ganache. Or was it just a
gasp? Whichever, it was gone as quickly as it appeared. ‘I have no intention of
marrying a man or an iguana. Or anyone, for that matter, Cassie. Yes. Short for
Cassandra?’

‘Says the guy who doesn’t want my life story.’ But now she
really, really wanted his. Although she wasn’t surprised such a grumpy, tetchy
man hadn’t got a wife-to-be or a husband and was only appealing to a
reptile.

But she really, really needed his money.

There was another toot of a horn, his voice fading in and out.
‘Tomorrow, then. Oh, and one more thing.’

‘Yes?’

‘Leave the paring knife at home.’

This had to be the weirdest conversation she’d ever had.
Organising a wedding breakfast for a man who wasn’t getting married. Maybe he’d
had his heart broken and couldn’t move on? Maybe he was channelling Miss
Havisham? Tragic.

And that was definitely none of her concern. Because she was
not going to allow any man to wheedle his way into her business or her
heart—
especially
her heart—ever again.

* * *

Jack Brennan jogged down the steps of his Notting Hill
home and checked his watch—time minus twenty minutes. What the hell he was doing
he didn’t know. But if he could organise a film crew to shadow a rock group
across twenty European music festival venues at the drop of a hat, he could
organise a few flimsy sandwiches.

No.

His heart squeezed a little. Lizzie was not getting sandwiches
for her wedding. He’d make damned sure of that. She deserved a whole lot better,
whether she liked it or not. He just had to find the time—and courage—to tell
her.

A wall of noise greeted him as he opened the door to Bean. The
café was filled with the Friday after-work-before-dinner crowd. With standing
room only, he was grateful that the scatty-sounding Cassie had shown a little
foresight to book a room, because discussing the finer points of canapés across
this racket would be impossible. Still, the food smelt of something exotic and
spicy—garlic, chilli and coriander—sending his stomach into a growling fit, and
he remembered he hadn’t eaten. Editing his current documentary had taken up the
majority of his afternoon. Food had, as always, taken a back seat.

Ten minutes later he was still standing there, blood pressure
escalating. Unused to being stood up, looked over or generally let down these
days, he made for the exit. Cassie Sweet had had her chance. If she couldn’t
make it on time for the initial meeting, how could he trust her to be reliable
for the event? The event he needed so badly to be a success.

As he reached for the handle the door swung almost off its
hinges and a blur of colour rushed in. ‘Hey—Mr Brennan? Jack? Are you Jack? I’m
Cassie.’

‘You’re late.’

‘I know—I’m sorry. I tried to call but reception was patchy—’
She dug deep into a large battered brown satchel that looked like a relic from
way before his school days and pulled out a phone and showed him it. ‘I got held
up with a client at a birthday party. There was an emergency and I just couldn’t
leave her with all those children.’

From the phone call last night and what he knew about
chefs—which was diddly-squat—he’d conjured up an image of an older, larger,
bitter woman, hair piled up on her head exposing two fat ruddy cheeks and small
glittering eyes. Okay, so what he knew about chefs amounted to a TV reality show
about some Scottish bloke swearing in a sweat-filled steel kitchen and the
overly cuddly nineteen-twenties period drama below-stairs cook.

Wrong. So damned wrong on every level.

A twinkle in her eye, yes. A cocky mouth, yes. But he hadn’t
imagined such a mouth—teasing and smiling. Lips that were full and covered with
a slick of something shimmery and red. Pinned-up hair, yes. But secured with a
pair of chopsticks on the top of her head, with wisps of vibrant auburn
corkscrewing at angles round her face.

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