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Summer Desserts

Nora Roberts

  Summer Desserts

  Nora Roberts

  Could a cordon bleu chef be a junk-food addict? The more Blake Cocharan learned about Summer Lyndon, dessert chef extraordinaire, the more intrigued he became—and the more determined he was to hire her. Blake wanted the Best, and Summer looked extremely good to him. Her superb credentials were icing on the cake.

  Summer was accustomed to traveling around the world, creating the perfect ending to perfect meals. But Blake had a unique appeal. Summer found herself responding to the challenge, both professionally…and personally… For the first time, Summer was planning a meal from start to finish—and creating a perfect ending all her own.

  To Marianne Shock,

  for the cheerful and clever last-minute help.


  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter One

  Her name was Summer. It was a name that conjured visions of hot petaled flowers, sudden storms and long, restless nights. It also brought images of sun-warmed meadows and naps in the shade. It suited her.

  As she stood, hands poised, body tensed, eyes alert, there wasn’t a sound in the room. No one, absolutely no one, took their eyes off her. She might move slowly, but there wasn’t a person there who wanted to chance missing a gesture, a motion. All attention, all concentration, was riveted upon that one slim, solitary figure. Strains of Chopin floated romantically through the air. The light slanted and shot through her neatly bound hair—rich, warm brown with hints and tints of gold. Two emerald studs winked at her ears.

  Her skin was a bit flushed so that a rose tinge accented already prominent cheekbones and the elegant bone structure that comes only from breeding. Excitement, intense concentration, deepened the amber flecks that were sprinkled in the hazel of her eyes. The same excitement and concentration had her soft, molded lips forming a pout.

  She was all in white, plain, unadorned white, but she drew the eye as irresistibly as a butterfly in full, dazzling flight. She wouldn’t speak, yet everyone in the room strained forward as if to catch the slightest sound.

  The room was warm, the smells exotic, the atmosphere taut with anticipation.

  Summer might have been alone for all the attention she paid to those around her. There was only one goal, one end. Perfection. She’d never settled for less.

  With infinite care she lifted the final diamond-shape and pressed the angelica onto the Savarin to complete the design she’d created. The hours she’d already spent preparing and baking the huge, elaborate dessert were forgotten, as was the heat, the tired leg muscles, the aching arms. The final touch, the appearance of a Summer Lyndon creation, was of the utmost importance. Yes, it would taste perfect, smell perfect, even slice perfectly. But if it didn’t look perfect, none of that mattered.

  With the care of an artist completing a masterpiece, she lifted her brush to give the fruits and almonds a light, delicate coating of apricot glaze.

  Still, no one spoke.

  Asking no assistance—indeed, she wouldn’t have tolerated any—Summer began to fill the center of the Savarin with the rich cream whose recipe she guarded jealously.

  Hands steady, head erect, Summer stepped back to give her creation one last critical study. This was the ultimate test, for her eye was keener than any other’s when it came to her own work. She folded her arms across her body. Her face was without expression. In the huge kitchen, the ping of a pin dropped on the tile would have reverberated like a gunshot.

  Slowly her lips curved, her eyes glittered. Success. Summer lifted one arm and gestured rather dramatically. “Take it away,” she ordered.

  As two assistants began to roll the glittering concoction from the room, applause broke out.

  Summer accepted the accolade as her due. There was a place for modesty, she knew, and she knew it didn’t apply to her Savarin. It was, to put it mildly, magnificent. Magnificence was what the Italian duke had wanted for his daughter’s engagement party, and magnificence was what he’d paid for. Summer had simply delivered.

  “Mademoiselle.” Foulfount, the Frenchman whose specialty was shellfish took Summer by both shoulders. His eyes were round and damp with appreciation. “Incroyable.” Enthusiastically, he kissed both her cheeks while his thick, clever fingers squeezed her skin as they might a fresh-baked loaf of bread. Summer broke out in her first grin in hours.

  “Merci.” Someone had opened a celebratory bottle of wine. Summer took two glasses, handing one to the French chef. “To the next time we work together, mon ami.”

  She tossed back the wine, took off her chef’s hat, then breezed out of the kitchen. In the enormous marble-floored, chandeliered dining room, her Savarin was even now being served and admired. Her last thought before leaving was—thank God someone else had to clean up the mess.

  Two hours later, she had her shoes off and her eyes closed. A gruesome murder mystery lay open on her lap as her plane cruised over the Atlantic. She was going home. She’d spent almost three full days in Milan for the sole purpose of creating that one dish. It wasn’t an unusual experience for her. Summer had baked Charlotte Malakoff in Madrid, flamed Crêpes Fourée in Athens and molded île Flottante in Istanbul. For her expenses, and a stunning fee, Summer Lyndon would create a dessert that would live in the memory long after the last bite, drop or crumb was consumed.

  Have wisk, will travel, she thought vaguely and smiled through a yawn.

  She considered herself a specialist, not unlike a skilled surgeon. Indeed, she’d studied, apprenticed and practiced as long as many respected members of the medical profession. Five years after passing the stringent requirements to become a cordon bleu chef in Paris, the city where cooking is its own art, Summer had a reputation for being as temperamental as any artist, for having the mind of a computer when it came to remembering recipes and for having the hands of an angel.

  Summer half dozed in her first-class seat and fought off a desperate craving for a slice of pepperoni pizza.

  She knew the flight time would go faster if she could read or sleep her way through it. She decided to mix the two, taking the light nap first. Summer was a woman who prized her sleep almost as highly as she prized her recipe for chocolate mousse.

  On her return to Philadelphia, her schedule would be hectic at best. There was the bombe to prepare for the governor’s charity banquet, the annual meeting of the Gourmet Society, the demonstration she’d agreed to do for public television…and that meeting, she remembered drowsily.

  What had that bird-voiced woman said over the phone? Summer wondered. Drake—no, Blake—Cocharan. Blake Cocharan, III of the Cocharan hotel chain. Excellent hotels, Summer thought without any real interest. She’d patronized a number of them in various corners of the world. Mr. Cocharan the Third had a business proposition for her.

  Summer assumed that he wanted her to create some special dessert exclusively for his chain of hotels, something they could attach the Cocharan name to. She wasn’t averse to the notion—under the proper circumstances. And for the proper fee. Naturally she’d have to investigate the entire Cocharan enterprise carefully before she agreed to involve her skill or her name with it. If any one of their hotels was of inferior quality…

  With a yawn, Summer decided to think about it later—after she’d met with The Third personality. Blake Cocharan, III, she thought again with a sleepily amused smile. Plump, balding, probably dyspeptic. Italian shoes, Swiss watch, French shirts, German car—and no doubt he’d co
nsider himself unflaggingly American. The image she created hung in her mind a moment, and bored with it, she yawned again—then sighed as the idea of pizza once again invaded her thoughts. Summer tilted her seat back farther and determinedly willed herself to sleep.

  Blake Cocharan, III sat in the plush rear seat of the gunmetal-gray limo and meticulously went over the report on the newest Cocharan House being constructed in Saint Croix. He was a man who could scoop us a mess of scattered details and align them in perfect, systematic order. Chaos was simply a form of order waiting to be unjumbled with logic. Blake was a very logical man. Point A invariably led to point B, and from there to C. No matter how confused the maze, with patience and logic, one could find the route.

  Because of his talent for doing just that, Blake, at thirty-five, had almost complete control of the Cocharan empire. He’d inherited his wealth and, as a result, rarely thought of it. But he’d earned his position, and valued it. Quality was a Cocharan tradition. Nothing but the finest would do for any Cocharan House, from the linen on the beds to the mortar in the foundations.

  His report on Summer Lyndon told him she was the best.

  Setting aside the Saint Croix packet, Blake slipped another file from the slim briefcase by his feet. A single ring, oval-faced, gold and scrolled, gleamed dully on his hand. Summer Lyndon, he mused, flipping the file open….

  Twenty-eight, graduate Sorbonne, certified cordon bleu chef. Father, Rothschild Lyndon, respected member of British Parliament. Mother, Monique Dubois Lyndon, former star of the French cinema. Parents amicably divorced for twenty-three years. Summer Lyndon had spent her formative years between London and Paris before her mother had married an American hardware tycoon, based in Philadelphia. Summer had then returned to Paris to complete her education and currently had living quarters both there and in Philadelphia. Her mother had since married a third time, a paper baron on this round, and her father was separated from his second wife, a successful barrister.

  All of Blake’s probing had produced the same basic answer. Summer Lyndon was the best dessert chef on either side of the Atlantic. She was also a superb all-around chef with an instinctive knowledge of quality, a flair for creativity and the ability to improvise in a crisis. On the other hand, she was reputed to be dictatorial, temperamental and brutally frank. These qualities, however, hadn’t alienated her from heads of state, aristocracy or celebrities.

  She might insist on having Chopin piped into the kitchen while she cooked, or summarily refuse to work at all if the lighting wasn’t to her liking, but her mousse alone was enough to make a strong man beg to grant her slightest wish.

  Blake wasn’t a man to beg for anything…but he wanted Summer Lyndon for Cocharan House. He never doubted he could persuade her to agree to precisely what he had in mind.

  A formidable woman, he imagined, respecting that. He had no patience with weak wills or soft brains—particularly in people who worked for him. Not many women had risen to the position, or the reputation, that Summer Lyndon held. Women might traditionally be cooks, but men were traditionally chefs.

  He imagined her thick waisted from sampling her own creations. Strong hands, he thought idly. Her skin was probably a bit pasty from all those hours indoors in kitchens. A no-nonsense woman, he was sure, with an uncompromising view on what was edible and why. Organized, logical and cultured—perhaps a bit plain due to her preoccupation with food rather than fashion. Blake imagined that they would deal with each other very well. With a glance at his watch, Blake noted with satisfaction that he was right on time for the meeting.

  The limo cruised to a halt beside the curb. “I’ll be no more than an hour,” Blake told the driver as he climbed out.

  “Yes, sir.” The driver checked his watch. When Mr. Cocharan said an hour, you could depend on it.

  Blake glanced up at the fourth floor as he crossed to the well-kept old building. The windows were open, he noted. Warm spring air poured in, while music—a melody he couldn’t quite catch over the sounds of traffic—poured out. When Blake went in, he learned that the single elevator was out of order. He walked up four flights.

  After Blake knocked, the door was opened by a small woman with a stunning face who was dressed in a T-shirt and slim black jeans. The maid on her way out for a day off? Blake wondered idly. She didn’t look strong enough to scrub a floor. And if she was going out, she was going out without her shoes.

  After the brief, objective glance, his gaze was drawn irresistibly back to her face. Classic, naked and undeniably sensuous. The mouth alone would make a man’s blood move. Blake ignored what he considered an automatic sexual pull.

  “Blake Cocharan to see Ms. Lyndon.”

  Summer’s left brow rose—a sign of surprise. Then her lips curved slightly—a sign of pleasure.

  Plump, he wasn’t, she observed. Hard and lean—racketball, tennis, swimming. He was obviously a man more prone to these than lingering over executive lunches. Balding, no. His hair was rich black and thick. It was styled well, with slight natural waves that added to the attractiveness of a cool, sensual face. A sweep of cheekbones, a firm line of chin. She liked the look of the former that spoke of strength, and the latter, just barely cleft, that spoke of charm. Black brows were almost straight over clear, water-blue eyes. His mouth was a bit long but beautifully shaped. His nose was very straight—the sort she’d always thought was made to be looked down. Perhaps she’d been right about the outward trimmings—the Italian shoes, and so forth—but, Summer admitted, she’d been off the mark with the man.

  The assessment didn’t take her long—three, perhaps four, seconds. But her mouth curved more. Blake couldn’t take his eyes off it. It was a mouth a man, if he breathed, wanted to taste. “Please come in, Mr. Cocharan.” Summer stepped back, swinging the door wider in invitation. “It’s very considerate of you to agree to meet here. Please have a seat. I’m afraid I’m in the middle of something in the kitchen.” She smiled, gestured and disappeared.

  Blake opened his mouth—he wasn’t used to being brushed off by servants—then closed it again. He had enough time to be tolerant. As he set down his briefcase he glanced around the room. There were fringed lamps, a curved sofa in plush blue velvet, a fussily carved cherrywood table. Aubusson carpets—two—softly faded in blues and grays—were spread over the floors. A Ming vase. Potpourri in what was certainly a Dresden compote.

  The room had no order; it was a mix of European periods and styles that should never have suited, but was instantly attractive. He saw that a pedestal table at the far end of the room was covered with jumbled typewritten pages and handwritten notes. Street sounds drifted in through the window. Chopin floated from the stereo.

  As he stood there, drawing it in, he was abruptly certain there was no one in the apartment but himself and the woman who had opened the door. Summer Lyndon? Fascinated with the idea, and with the aroma creeping from the kitchen, Blake crossed the room.

  Six pastry shells, just touched with gold and moisture, sat on a rack. One by one Summer filled them to overflowing with what appeared to be some rich white cream. When Blake glanced at her face he saw the concentration, the seriousness and intensity he might have associated with a brain surgeon. It should have amused him. Yet somehow, with the strains of Chopin pouring through the kitchen speakers, with those delicate, slim-fingered hands arranging the cream in mounds, he was fascinated.

  She dipped a fork in a pan and dribbled what he guessed was warmed caramel over the cream. It ran lavishly down the sides and gelled. He doubted that it was humanly possible not to lust after just one taste. Again, one by one, she scooped up the tarts and placed them on a plate lined with a lacy paper doily. When the last one was arranged, she looked up at Blake.

  “Would you like some coffee?” She smiled and the line of concentration between her brows disappeared. The intensity that had seemed to darken her irises lightened.

  Blake glanced at the dessert plate and wondered how her waist could be hand-spannable. “Yes, I would.�

  “It’s hot,” she told him as she lifted the plate. “Help yourself. I have to run these next door.” She was past him and to the doorway of the kitchen before she turned around. “Oh, there’re some cookies in the jar, if you like. I’ll be right back.”

  She was gone, and the pastries with her. With a shrug, he turned back to the kitchen, which was a shambles. Summer Lyndon might be a great cook, but she was obviously not a neat one. Still if the scent and look of the pastries had been any indication…

  He started to root in the cupboards for a cup, then gave in to temptation. Standing in his Saville Row suit, Blake ran his finger along the edge of the bowl that had held the cream. He laid it on his tongue. With a sigh, his eyes closed. Rich, thick and very French.

  He’d dined in the most exclusive restaurants, in some of the wealthiest homes, in dozens of countries all over the world. Logically, practically, honestly, he couldn’t say he’d ever tasted better than what he now scooped from the bowl in this woman’s kitchen. In deciding to specialize in desserts and pastries, Summer Lyndon had chosen well, he concluded. He felt a momentary regret that she’d taken those rich, fat tarts to someone else. This time when Blake started his search for a cup, he spotted the ceramic cookie jar shaped like a panda.

  Normally he wouldn’t have been interested. He wasn’t a man with a particularly active sweet tooth. But the flavor of the cream lingered on his tongue. What sort of cookie did a woman who created the finest of haute cuisine make? With a cup of English bone china in one hand, Blake lifted off the top of the panda’s head. Setting it down, he pulled out a cookie and stared in simple wonder.

  No American could mistake that particular munchie. A classic? he mused. A tradition? An Oreo. Blake continued to stare at the chocolate sandwich cookie with its double dose of white center. He turned it over in his hand. The brand was unmistakably stamped into both sides. This from a woman who baked and whipped and glazed for royalty?