Thursday, July 17, 2014

Cooking Up a Storm by Ashley Ladd

TITLE – Cooking Up A Storm
AUTHOR – Ashley Ladd
GENRE – Contemporary M/M/M romance
PUBLICATION DATE – July 11, 2014
LENGTH (Pages/# Words) – 26,500
PUBLISHER – Totally Bound

Brooks and Rique desperately want to win the head chef’s position for eccentric millionaire Jonah Verleun on his beautiful, private, but peculiar island that includes a zoo full of exotic animals, an amusement park, and a monster shark tank beneath Jonah’s bedroom floor. While Brooks wants the job to escape his heartache and the lover who thwarted him, Rique is hiding from the mob hoping to live long enough to pay them off with the prize winnings. Fierce competitors, they cook up a storm in a series of cooking challenges all the while trying to turn down the heat on their intense attraction. When a hurricane strikes the island, the storm Rique has been cooking up, explodes and no heart or body are safe.

     When pain flared in Rique’s upper arm, he saw that something, maybe a bullet, had sliced through his jacket. He spied blood trickling down his arm and knew it hadn’t been caused by lightning. “Shit! Someone’s shooting at us.”
     Fear leapt into Brooks’ eyes. He grabbed Rique’s arm and examined it. “Are you all right? We really need to get into the shelter to have that checked out by the doctor.”
     Knowing they might be fighting for their lives and that the shelter wasn’t an option, Rique shook his head. “It’s not deep. I’ll be okay. But we have to get out of the open now!”
     Brooks scowled and his gaze pinned Rique to an invisible wall. “What the hell is going on? Why would someone be firing at us?”
     Rique longed to explain everything to Brooks, as his life was in danger because of him, but now wasn’t the time, not when he could smell death. He glanced over his shoulder past Brooks, seeking his assailant. “No time to explain. We have to get out of here. Run in a zigzag.”
     Lightning flashed across the sky and shortly after, thunder boomed, making Rique jump.
     They ran hunched over through the slashing rain, zigging and zagging as bullets flew past them, sounding as if they were exploding in his ears
     The water was cold and hard as needles on his face. It didn’t smell fresh like a normal, sweet rainstorm, but dangerous and musty. Rique damned himself for putting Brooks in this mess. He wondered if the mob held the others prisoner and that’s why they hadn’t answered the door.
     Gravel crunching underfoot, at times so slick it made him skid, he turned the first corner they came upon then the next. He stopped dead and the moldy air left his lungs. A moment later, Brooks ran into his backside almost knocking him over. He swayed dangerously but managed to stay upright and spread his arms wide to keep Brooks from stumbling forward.
     He couldn’t believe his eyes. He could taste fear, dark and evil. One of Jonah’s tigers lay in their path, crouching low, baring his teeth and eyeing them as if they were dinner.
     He tried to quell the jitters attacking his stomach so the animal wouldn’t smell his fear. He whispered to Brooks through clenched teeth, “What do we do now? Freeze or run?”
     “Run. But where?” Brooks whispered back, frowning.
     “To the closest protection.” He prayed their hunters had lost them, that they wouldn’t run back into a barrage of bullets. As Rique bunched his muscles to run, he imagined the animal’s fangs ripping into him. He noted how the tiger’s thick muscles corded in his shoulders and how saliva dripped from his snarling lips.
     “Dear God, we’re going to die.” Panic laced Brooks’ voice. “If we get out of here alive, let’s both turn down the job and move in together.”
     Swallowing hard, Rique could only nod in agreement. Besides, as much as he wanted to live with Brooks, he couldn’t do it as long as he was in debt to the mob. However, the point was moot. He couldn’t see a scenario in which one of them didn’t die in the next five minutes.
     Feeling responsible, Rique couldn’t let anything happen to Brooks as long as he was alive. He would take on the tiger, giving Brooks time to reach safety. “On the count of three, run!”
     As Rique whispered, “One,” hisses, followed by a blood-curdling growl filled his ears. It was a different sound than the tiger was making. Then a crocodile bellowed, sprang out of the bushes then snatched the tiger by its belly. As it dragged the struggling creature back into the bushes, the tiger howled in surprise and pain. It clawed the air in vain as the reptile’s powerful jaws clamped tighter, biting through flesh and bone.
     Blood gushed on the ground, and Rique quickly became sick to his stomach. He didn’t know whether to be sorry for the tiger or grateful to the reptilian monster. Deciding he didn’t have the luxury of either, he pointed behind them and screamed, “Run that way!”
     They ran, and Brooks yelled, “Do you think the storm destroyed the zoo’s cages?”
     This storm wasn’t that strong. Rique bet the thugs had had something to do with the freed animals and he cursed Eddie and his gang.
     They reached the main building and wrenched the door open to stagger inside. Brooks fumbled with the door.
    “What in hell are you doing? Come on!” Rique slid to a stop down the hall and glared at his lover.
    “Trying to lock the door, slow them down.”
    “It’s glass. They’ll shoot through it. We have to hide.” As if Rique’s words invited danger, bullets riddled the door, shattering the pane.
     Jumping like he’d been electrified, Brooks rocketed down the hall after Rique. “Why do they want to kill us? I haven’t done anything.”

     Troubling thoughts whirled through Rique’s mind. Why had Jonah called him and Brooks into his office? Had they violated some fine-print rule he’d missed? Had Jonah learned about his debts and Mafia troubles?
     Gulping, Brooks shared a worried glance. His gait was uneven and stilted and his frame was stiff and wary.
     “Are we in trouble?” Brooks whispered.
     Worried about the reason for their summons, Rique forced himself to relax and not shake his head at his lover and his loose-cannon lips. As much as he was beginning to love Brooks, there was no way he could share his mob secrets. Not only would they overly alarm Brooks, but the security team might overhear and he didn’t trust anybody.
     Jonah locked the door and leisurely returned to his desk. He folded himself into his chair and looked, long and assessing, at first Brooks then Rique. Finally, he said in a smooth, debonair voice, “No. Not at all. But I wish to remind you of your contract.”
     Damn! Rique gulped as they pulled up chairs across from their boss. So they were in trouble. Too late, he realized his toes were tapping fast and that his fingers were linking and unlinking, so he stilled them.
     “What about the contract?” Brooks inched forward in his chair and wrung his hands in his lap as his eyes bulged.
     Jonah bent over the desk then he pointed at the security cameras.
     Before a word came out of Jonah’s mouth, Rique had an epiphany. As he recalled Fiona’s warning, his heart threatened to burst. “You’ve been watching us. Everything. Everywhere.”
     Several seconds later, Brooks blanched and his Adam’s apple convulsed.  “You saw us together. Intimately, I mean.”
     Leaning closer, Jonah nodded. “Yes. You gave your signed permission, and this is my private island which means it’s governed by my rules.”
     It could mean Rique’s life if he left. With his heart feeling as though it was beating in his throat, he pleaded, “Please don’t kick us out. Our love lives are our choice and should be private.”
     He watched a deep flush crawl up Brooks’ neck and into his cheeks as Brooks begged.
     “Please don’t hold it against us. We didn’t plan to fall in love. It just happened. We haven’t hurt anybody.”
    Fall in love? Shock and wonder filled Rique. Warmth flowed through him. So Brooks felt the same way he did. Giddiness replaced the dread born moments before.
     Brooks loved him. And he loved Brooks. How could he have fallen so hard, so fast? He reached over and put his hand on Brooks’ shoulder. Then he turned and faced Jonah. “I won’t apologize for loving this wonderful man. And I won’t stop loving him. If it means we can’t be together then I’m torn whether or not I still want the position.”
     He couldn’t believe he’d just said that. Damn my heart!
     When Brooks squeezed his hand and tilted his chin, light refracted off his glasses and made his pupils look fractured. “Ditto. No disrespect intended, sir.”
     Laughing heartily, Jonah slapped the table, causing a few sheets of papers to float to the floor.
    Is the man crazy?
    Blushing, Jonah gave them a shy smile. “Don’t apologize, and please call me Jonah. I loved watching you. I wanted to join you. I came as much as you did.”

This was a very pleasant read.  The chef setting is intriguing and kept my interest to the end.  The characters are enjoyable and well written.  I would have liked to have had more detail and length to the story which is the only reason I'm giving this a 4 bookmark rating instead of 5.  The story itself is well written and a very easy read that sucks you in.


Character Bios:
Enrique Fuentes, known as “Rique” is a world-class chef who has been invited to participate in a cook-off to find the new head chef for eccentric billionaire Jonah Verleun. Although it’s an awesome position on a paradise Caribbean island with a substantial paycheck, Rique’s motive is self-survival. He’s running from the mob in Las Vegas because he owes hundreds of thousands in gambling debt he can’t pay. Thus meanwhile, he’s hiding from the mob and hoping to pay them off with his prize winnings.
This tropical island reminds him a lot of his prior home in the bayous near New Orleans, complete with alligators and hurricanes. Since he lived through Katrina, he’s not overly concerned with tropical storms that may threaten the island, as are many of his competitors. He also likes to work out and swim in his spare time.
So Rique’s really not in the market for love. He has to stay focused and win this job. Nor does he want to pull anybody else into his problems.

Brooks DuBois is a charmer from New York City. Usually he’s lost in his cooking zone, happy-go-lucky the rest of the time. He wants this elite job too. He can’t go back to NYC and face his former lover Xavier who dumped him for Amber to become a breeder. If he loses this competition, he’ll move on rather than risk bumping into Xavier and Amber. 
Thus his heart is still too sore to start a new relationship, or so he thinks until he meets Rique.

Jonah Verleun is a self-made billionaire and a real go-getter. He’s an eccentric recluse who likes fish and animals. He keeps his own zoo and a shark tank under his bedroom floor. Statues of merfolk, big game fish, and Neptune adorns his limestone mansion.
He’s also a voyeur and likes to watch his employees, especially in their private suites. Soon Rique and Brooks become his favorite people to watch and it doesn’t take long before Jonah decides he wants to join their little group.

If Your Book Were Made Into A Movie – What Songs Would Best Fit The Story On The Big Screen?
I Did It For You – David Cook
Heroes – David Cook
Declaration – David Cook
Always Be My Baby – David Cook
Life On The Moon – David Cook
It’s Not Over – Daughtry
Crashed – Daughtry
What About Now – Daughtry
Start of Something Good - Daughtry

Author Bio:
Ashley Ladd lives, loves, and writes in Paradise, aka Florida, thus many of her stories are set in the Sunshine State. Also a Trekkie and an Air Force disabled vet, Ashley often creates military heroes and heroines and goes where no woman has gone before. She loves romantic comedy, time travel, and cats so don't be surprised if a talking cat shows up in some of her stories.

Ashley writes for Ellora's Cave, Totally Bound, and New Concepts Publishing under this name. Please visit her blog at:

To follow her on Twitter and Face Book, look for "AshleyLadd" (all one word, no quotes).

Author Links:

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