New Release! Check out this excerpt for UNDER THE TABLE by Stephanie Evanovich!

The New York Times bestselling author of Big Girl Panties puts a modern twist on My Fair Lady in this funny, romantic confection in which a canny young woman makes over her awkward millionaire client . . . with some hot, sexy, and surprising results.

Suffocating in a dead-end marriage, Midwesterner Zoey Sullivan fled to New York and moved in with her older sister Ruth, a carefree, vivacious beauty with a string of eligible bachelors at her beck and call. Giving herself three months in the city to clear her head and find a direction, Zoey dodges calls from her ex Derek, and distracts herself by cooking and catering a few private dinners and parties. Pursuing her passion for cooking was never an option when she was with Derek, and now Zoey relishes her independence.

When Zoey’s meets reclusive millionaire Tristan Malloy, she’s blown away by his kitchen—a marble and stainless steel temple worthy of the culinary gods—and charmed by his impeccable gentlemanly manners. But despite his firm body, handsome looks, and piles of cash, Tristan—a computer programmer—is shy and more than a little socially awkward. Zoey is sure that Tristan has all the right raw ingredients—and she’s the right person to spice them up turn him into a delectable dish.

But Zoey’s unprepared for just how well her makeover works. Tristan turns out to be even sexier once he’s gained a little confidence and the right wardrobe. Beneath the gorgeous package, Tristan is a great guy who deserves a woman who really appreciates him. Slowly but surely, Zoey realizes she may have found her perfect match—but does Tristan even know how her feelings have changed? Is that warm look in his eyes gratitude for the new and exciting world she’s ushered him into, or something more? And what will happen when Zoey’s ex comes to town, looking to win her back?

 

 

 

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Excerpt

Chapter 1

Zoey Sullivan didn’t mind the cold. She liked the feel of the wind in her hair, even when it bit at her ears and made her nose run. It encouraged her to walk briskly, just like natives of the Big Apple did. Since Zoey had arrived from a Cleveland suburb nine months ago, she made it her mission to avoid the “tourist stroll.” Not only did it aggravate people hurrying to get where they were going, but she also had been sufficiently convinced the night before she left Lakewood, Ohio, that slow walking made you a target of thieves, rapists, muggers, and murderers that lurked on every corner. So, when her phone started vibrating in her coat pocket, she ignored it. Don’t pull out your phone, don’t flash any cash. Walk confidently with your head up and purpose in your eyes. Ax the headphones. Keep a loose but firm grip on your bag, like there is nothing important in it.

Keep moving, even when walking down Park Avenue on the Upper East Side. Anyone not sporting a borderline sneer is either being watched over by someone else or carrying a weapon.

While growing up, she was often accused of taking things too literally.

Zoey’s phone vibrated again and she picked up her pace, this time sticking her free hand into her pocket and around the phone while her other hand tightened around her magic bag. Surprisingly, she was unable to identify the caller through telepathy. Then it shook again. It became a series of one vibration after another, a veritable calling frenzy. What if it was her appointment canceling on her? The very thought was a mixture of disappointment and relief. Zoey ducked into a Duane Reade and pulled out her cell phone. There were only two callers, her sister and an unknown number. Neither had left a message. As she looked down at her phone, her older sister’s name became visible on the screen and the phone shook again. Her sister did love her drama, as long as it wasn’t too real.

“Ruth,” Zoey answered, “I just left our apartment a half hour ago. Why are you calling me every thirty seconds?”

“Not me.” A snicker came through the phone followed by the warning. “I’ve been waiting a minute or two. I wanted to make sure you weren’t caught off guard.”

Ruth and Zoey were the oldest, born a year and a half apart, in a family that inadvertently ended up with six children. Not originally their parents’ plan, but they were passionate people who often threw caution to the wind when Barry White came on the radio. All their siblings were welcomed and loved, even if money sometimes got tight. Their mother had read every book on parenting available in those early years, before her hands became permanently full, and had acted accordingly. The firstborn is the perfectionist, the serious one, the rule follower. The second (and last child if it had gone according to plan) was supposed to be the quirky daredevil, who faced life fearlessly, the risk taker.

The only problem was, nobody told the girls. Zoey got the whimsical name; Ruth got everything else. Well, not everything. Zoey got the pretty face and attention to detail; Ruth got the rocking bod and the swagger. Ruth was carefree and vivacious, perfectly content grinding out her nine-to-five inputting insurance claims for a big company in the financial district and cutting loose every weekend. She broke hearts like peanut shells and could break a bone on any would-be assailant just as fast. Ruth lived setting her own rules and without regrets. The boss at her first job when she was eighteen learned that lesson the hard way, along with the one about keeping your hands to yourself. After settling out of court what would have been a hefty sexual harassment lawsuit, Ruth packed up and never thought about Ohio again. She was so much damn fun, when she offered to let reserved, cautious Zoey become her roommate, it was a no-brainer, even if Zoey did have to acknowledge she was living vicariously through her sister . . . and sometimes woke up to nearly naked stockbrokers, lawyers, and/or piano bar players roaming around their Lower East Side apartment.

“What’s up?” Zoey got to the point after Ruth’s ominous leadoff.

“Derek figured out you got a cell phone.”

Zoey closed her eyes tight for a few seconds, leaning against the cap at the end of the candy aisle until she felt it start to give way. She quickly straightened back up, her grip tightening around both the phone and her precious bag.

No, no, no . . . this is not what I need today. At least now Zoey had a pretty good idea who the unknown caller was.

“Zoe?” Ruth asked when she got no immediate answer.

“Yeah, I’m here. What did you tell him?”

“Right now, I’m sorry I answered the phone, but he’s becoming a pest. I don’t mind lying by omission. But he flat out asked me if you had gotten one. I told you once you started screening his calls on the landline that he was going to know something was up.”

Zoey knew Ruth harbored a soft spot for Derek, probably because they both embraced their selfish sides. “What did you tell him? Did you give him my number?”

“Of course not!” Ruth sounded slightly put off. “I don’t ever give out anyone’s cell phone number without their permission. But I did promise him I would ask you if it’s okay.”

“Well, you know the answer to that.”

Zoey heard Ruth’s heavy sigh. “I’m too late. He did recite me your correct number, but I swear I didn’t give anything away. I just said that I would ask you.”

“I have one caller other than you. It keeps coming up as unknown. I don’t think there is a scam in the world that wants to robocall me that much.” Irritation whistled through her teeth. “This is the last thing I needed today.”

“You’re going to have to talk to him eventually. He is your husband.”

“Only because he doesn’t know when to quit.” Zoey was loud and quick with the response. After noting the glances in her direction from other, usually aloof Duane Reade shoppers, Zoey brought her tone back down to a whisper and took a few steps toward the door. “I can’t deal with this right now. And I’m creeped out enough as it is.”

“Ah. The secret customer with his penchant for all things NOLA,” Ruth said, back to being jovial. “Maybe he’s the one who’s been calling?”

“Nope. I have him in my contacts by name.”

“Of course you do.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Zoey snapped with pent-up tension. She wasn’t the one who collected phone numbers for a hobby.

“I just meant that you’re as conscientious as ever. Get ahold of yourself, little sis. Don’t worry, I remember what you told me to do. If I don’t hear from you by three that everything is on the up-and-up, I’m to call you. And if I get no answer, then call the police to tell them that you’ve been abducted by the Craigslist Crawdad Killer.”

Ruth was making too light of a situation she thought was serious. Zoey gave a quick “That’s right. Gotta go or I’m going to be late. Thanks for the heads-up.” Zoey pushed the END button on the phone, cutting off Ruth’s follow-up. Then she powered the phone down, even though that meant there would be no way to track her if she was kidnapped and thrown into the trunk of a car in the next twenty minutes. She dropped the phone back into her coat pocket and pushed the drugstore door open. She was back on the street. There was no problem with the pacing, since she felt the all-too-familiar urge to run. She also no longer appreciated the chill; all she felt was the heart-pounding flush that came with the feeling of having no control.

Zoey didn’t want to admit it, but just the mention of a potential return of Derek Sullivan into her life was enough to turn her inside out. And she was already on shaky ground since accepting a job offer from one Tristan Malloy.

It started innocently enough, with a phone call inquiring about private catering. Zoey had placed the ad on Craigslist and other NYC-based platforms in the hopes of appealing to small dinner parties and wealthy romantics who wanted something a bit more intimate than making reservations. She had no official culinary training, just an honest love of cooking and a large family to experiment on. Once she broke free from the Midwest and Derek, she drove her twenty-year-old Chevrolet Cavalier through the Lincoln Tunnel into the electric, pulsating city. When the car promptly seized up and died on Forty-Second Street, the song playing on her radio was “Empire State of Mind” by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys. And if her dreams of conquering the concrete jungle included watching her car get towed away for scrap as soon as she got there, then she was off to a great start. She took it as a challenge. Zoey knew within weeks of working in a cubicle three floors down from Ruth that an office job was never going to cut it. But she was a terrible singer and all of the acting jobs in town were probably taken, so she settled on trying to make something out of the hobby that she loved. Within the first month of running the ad, she had yielded a kid’s birthday party where she tested her skills on chicken nuggets and hot dogs with fries for ten kids who were only interested in the cake, a pseudo BBQ for some foreign exchange students from Turkey, and a jerk-ball who upon their first meeting asked her if she was going to be the dessert at his dinner. So much for conquering the concrete jungle. Still, Zoey refused to be daunted. Thanks to her sister’s vast network and her own word of mouth at the monotonous day job, she soon was booking all her weekends. Four months later, she was able to abandon the nine-to-five, pay her half of the rent, and still have something left over. She even scored a few regular customers. She had three months to prove she could make it on her own. None of it prepared Zoey for when the landline rang last week.

“Good evening. May I please speak to the person who placed the advertisement for a personal chef?”

“Speaking,” Zoey sang, then, not recognizing the voice, she dialed it back to a more professionally courteous, “My name is Zoey. And I just need to clarify, I’m more like a private caterer.”

“May I ask what you see the difference as?” the caller asked politely.

“Well, a personal chef is usually a full-time position with a single client. I’m more along the lines of the person you call when you want to impress your boss or a date. A full-fledged caterer would be able to feed as many people as you want, but I max out at about twenty guests.” Zoey wasn’t doing a very good job at selling herself, but the leering perv who wanted her to jump out of a cake was impossible to erase from her mind. And she thought it vital that whoever was on the other end of the line know she was her own boss and wanted to remain that way. “May I ask who I’m speaking to?”

“Certainly, please excuse my bad manners,” the masculine voice continued. “My name is Tristan Malloy. And I’m not looking for a personal chef, at least not yet. Can you prepare Cajun food?”

Not yet? One of her pet peeves was people who assumed if they offered her something, she would automatically want it. This man sounded different. Zoey had never gotten much further than looking up a Cajun recipe, but she did know how to read and measure, and she always had her little bag of tricks. “Mr. Malloy, that happens to be my specialty. Would you like to set up a meeting to discuss a menu and I can quote you a price?”

“A meeting won’t be necessary. I’m interested in a five-course meal, including sorbet, with a Cajun theme, not too heavy on the fish. For myself and seven guests. Nothing that requires a lobster bib or can get a person messy. Just the staples are fine, you don’t have to go overboard with creativity. Are you available next Thursday?”

She was; her work mostly filled up her weekends. That served a dual purpose. She made money and had a built-in excuse for preventing her sister from dragging her all around town. She wanted to take this time in NYC to clear her head, not cloud it further, and it was working for her. But this whole conversation was becoming highly unorthodox. He didn’t want to meet her, wasn’t asking for references. He wanted to give her free rein. “I do happen to have that day open. I would need a few hours to work up a price quote.”

“Would it be possible to give you my number and you can call me back with the details?” the ultrapolite Tristan Malloy asked, making Zoey all the more intrigued, and slightly suspicious. She wanted to insist on a meeting, to verify that he wasn’t wasting her time with some prank.

“Do any of the guests have food allergies?” Zoey asked.

“Not that I’m aware of. Let’s keep away from peanuts, just in case. Shellfish should be fine for at least one course. Mix it up though?”

“Would you like me to email you the details so you can have them in front of you as we chat?” Zoey offered.

There was a long pause before “That won’t be necessary. Just call me back with your final total. Feel free to add the cost of a server on too.”

Zoey made a mental note to bump up the price and do the serving herself. She could present to eight people with her eyes closed. And a man who wasn’t interested in dickering about the price probably had a nice kitchen . . . or was a psychopath. She took his phone number then checked the expiration date on the can of pepper spray she’d bought when she arrived but had yet to use. Why didn’t he want an email? Everyone wanted some sort of confirmation in writing. That was just good business. Unless it’s someone who doesn’t want to leave a trail. A chill ran through her and she chastised herself for watching too much Law & Order: SVU.

Zoey did her research and called him back with a menu of Shrimp and Sweet Potato Bisque and Broccoli Salad for starters; Sausage Jambalaya, Crawfish Mac & Cheese, and green beans for the main course; with a bread pudding for dessert. She recommended lemon sorbet for the palate cleanser.

He listened patiently and then there was a pause after she wrapped up her spiel, quoting him two prices, one with him providing the food and one if she had to buy it.

“Don’t worry about having to purchase the food, Zoey,” Tristan said. “But the mac and cheese dish is a bit much if you’re serving it with jambalaya. Let’s switch that up with an eggplant and corn casserole I have a recipe for. If you would be so kind as to fax me the rest of the menu and the ingredients that you need at this number, I’ll make sure it’s all here when you arrive.”

Zoey knew what she’d be doing this week. Trial running recipes. But she had to admit, the eggplant and corn dish sounded delicious.

It also wasn’t unusual for a customer to buy their own ingredients to prevent her from marking them up. But fax him? It was so odd. Tristan Malloy didn’t sound like a dinosaur. After taking a minute to wrack her brain about where she might find a fax machine, Zoey remembered Ruth’s office had one that was gathering dust. “Is it all right if I get it to you tomorrow, Mr. Malloy?”

“That will be fine.”

He gave her his address and a noon arrival time. Before hanging up, he added, “And, Zoey?”

“Yes, sir?”

“Please call me Tristan. I look forward to meeting you next week.”

And then he was gone and she was left staring at her landline’s receiver.

Zoey spent the days leading up to Thursday buying a cell phone and trying to anticipate all the things that could go wrong while Ruth teased her for being overly paranoid. Then when she tested the recipes she had chosen, the end result on some of the dishes was less than she had hoped for. By the time she was ready to leave the apartment, she was strung tight as a drum. Now Derek was incessantly calling a cell phone number he wasn’t supposed to know. It added a layer of foreboding.

She should’ve insisted on a meeting. Then she wouldn’t be walking into this whole situation blind. But he sounded so . . . what was the right word? PoliteHonestShyMaybe the word she was looking for was innocent. If Zoey wanted to take advantage of him, she would have no problem doing so. It was the levelheaded politeness that had set her off-kilter. Now was not the time to let her guard down.

Zoey made her turn onto East Seventy-Ninth Street and began looking at building numbers. When she found 139, she breathed a small sigh of relief. A beautiful high-rise, complete with front awning and a doorman. If she was walking into some sort of trap, at least there would be a witness who “saw her last.”

She announced herself and the older man with the row of shiny buttons didn’t call up to any apartment, just directed her to the end of the hall on the twelfth floor.

Zoey got off the elevator, taking her first few steps. She hated the huge buildings with the long hallways. They were broken up by nothing but closed doors, waiting to pop open as she passed them. It was eerily quiet, and with each of her footfalls on the carpet getting her closer to her final destination, she could almost hear “Redrum” in the background.

This is just another job. Get ahold of yourself.

She reached the end of her walk, took a few centering breaths, and lightly rapped on the door.

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