Taryn Cummings bit her lower lip as an excited thrill shot through her. Her taxi pulled up in front of the building she`d be calling home for the next little while… if all went well.
Here in front of her was the International Institute of Culinary Arts, and her future, her dream of joining the ranks of top chefs.
“Taryn? Are you still there?”
“Oh, Mom,” Taryn shouted gleefully into her phone as she pulled a few Euros from her wallet. “Yes! Yes! Oui! Oui! I’m just now arriving at my apartment. I’m so excited, Mom. Paris, can you believe it? This is more than I ever dreamed of.”
“I know,” Samantha said. “And I’m happy for you, honey.”
Taryn heard the strain in her mother’s voice. While she knew her mother was indeed happy for her, she also knew she desperately needed a helping hand back home.
“Mom, I won’t let you down. When I`m through here, I’m going to come home a great chef and you’ll see what I’ll do with our little East Side restaurant. I’ll turn it into the greatest place in all of New York City. Errol King is the best chef in the world and I hear he’s a pretty good teacher, too. I’m going to soak up all the knowledge he has to offer. ”
Samantha chuckled. “Yes, I’ve heard he is quite the teacher.”
“Mom, just because the guy is young and good looking doesn’t mean he can’t be a good teacher.”
“No, but it does mean a lot of young and impressionable young female students are going to have a hard time concentrating on cooking… a meal, that is.”
Taryn grinned. Chef King was certainly charming. He’d even taken to showing off his charms in a recent print add wearing only his very brief briefs. Fanning her face, Taryn tried to put the heated image aside. “I’ve seen cute guys before, Mom. I’m here to work and nothing else.”
Samantha let out a warm laugh. “That’s funny. I could have sworn I saw a few magazines that talked about the handsome young chef along with a lot of interesting photos, too.”
The sexy photos of Errol King’s muscular tanned body, barely covered by skimpy thong underwear came back to Taryn’s mind. “There were some very interesting articles with those photos, Mom.”
“Hmm, yes, I’m sure there was. Look, don’t worry about the restaurant for now, sweetie. I’ll do just fine. You have fun in Paris and call me once you’re settled in.”
“Oui, oui!” Taryn paid the fare, grabbed her coffee and stepped out of the taxi. “I’ll call you tonight.”
She slipped her phone into her purse as the taxi driver pulled her bags out of the trunk and set them on the curb. He nodded and mumbled as he made his way back into his cab.
“Thank you,” Taryn called out. “Merci!”
As she turned to grab her luggage, a rambunctious chocolate Lab came around the corner and slammed into her. “Oh no!” With her warm and sweet coffee splattered across the front of her dress, she looked at the dog with affectionate reproach. “And why are you in such a hurry?”
The big dog sat and looked woefully at her, his big, dark eyes begging her for forgiveness.
“Ah, mon Dieu. Javier, mais que fait tu la?” An older gentleman with a distinguished air about him, came up to Taryn, an empty dog collar hanging from the end of a short leash. “Milles pardons, Mademoiselle.”
“I’m sure he didn’t mean any harm, sir.” Though she understood little French, it was easy to see he was dismayed by his dog’s behavior.
“Mais, il à tout renverser votre café.” He quickly slipped the collar around the dog’s neck then took Taryn by the elbow. “S’il vous plait. Laissez-moi-vous acheter un bon café chaud.”
Taryn politely disengaged herself, but the man persisted. He took her by the arm, chattering all the way as he led her to a nearby café.
“Le moindres que je peut faire c’est de remplacer votre café.”
Frustrated by her inability to understand him and confused by his actions, she struggled to free herself. “I’m sorry, sir, but I don’t really understand French very well, but I’m fine. And my bags… my luggage is there on the…”
The gray haired man relented and released her arm, but put his hand to the small of her back and gently pushed her toward the coffee shop. “Vous aller voir. Ici c’est le meilleur café du quartier.” The man pointed to the waiter.
“Really, sir, I have to get my things into my apartment and I have to register at the Institute. Please… What do you want from me?”
“He just wants to buy you a cup of coffee.” The deep, velvety voice behind her sent a thrill down her spine, and her skin felt a distinctly strong male presence close to her. With a bit of a European accent, the voice held a hint of humor.
Taryn turned to face the source and instantly blushed as she faced the gorgeous young man whom that velvety soft voice belong to…a face whose smiles and piercing blue eyes with dark hair gazed at her so many times from all those magazines. In person, he was even more impressive; tall, strong and imposing with broad shoulders and a chest that filled out his tight v-neck black sweater.
He glanced down at her soiled dress and smiled. “I imagine he feels bad for his dog’s faux pas.”
“Oh.” Taryn could think of nothing else to say. As the blush that heated her face intensified, she hoped he’d simply think she was embarrassed by the situation and not flushed by his horribly, terribly, debilitatingly excruciating proximity. He stood so close to her, she could smell him.
Damn, she thought. He even smells good; like a man who worked hard, but took meticulous care of himself. His sultry smile exposed perfectly aligned teeth that gleamed. His dark hair fell in thick curls almost to his shoulders and it wasn’t hard to understand how he’d landed the brief brief’s ad campaign. Dark, sexy and talented… perhaps even a spark of danger in his eyes; tempting danger.
She was overwhelmed with a sudden need to touch him, to get close to him. The air around her grew suddenly too warm, and her face felt flushed. Without realizing it, she’d leaned in closer to him and when her knees buckled slightly, he quickly took a hold of her arm and held her steady.
“Yes, I’m fine.” She got control of her emotions and straightened up. “I’m sorry. I should have studied a little more French, but…”
Errol looked at the older man. “Ca va aller, Monsieur. Merci.”
“Il n’y a pas de quoi.” The gentleman nodded at Taryn and turned to speak to a waiter, all while holding his dog leash close to his hip.
“American, I take it.” Errol looked pointedly at Taryn.
“Maybe.” Taken aback by his question, she looked at him with a slightly defensive scowl. “What of it?”
“Nothing,” he said with a chuckle. “I heard you mention you’d be a student at the Institute. It’s been a while since an American has studied there. Most students are from Europe, some from Asia and a few from Africa and the Middle East. We barely get a handful of Americans, and they’re mostly men.”
“Oh.” For a moment she wondered if her American status was an asset or a bad disappointment.
“Having an American woman at the Institute is a delightful surprise.” Heat smoldered in his gaze as he took her in. “I’m Errol, Errol King.” He shook her hand. “I’ll be teaching a class this semester.”
“Really?” Taryn said, trying to keep the excitement she felt hidden.
The older man returned with a steaming cup of coffee. “Voila.”
“Oh, no. You don’t have to…”
“You should take that” Errol whispered.
Taryn glanced at the man then back at Errol who nodded.
“This is Dr. Philippe Emanuelle, Head Administrator at the Institute.” He turned to the man. “Dr. Philippe, this is a new American student at the Institute, a Mademoiselle…”
“Taryn, Taryn Cummings.” She extended her hand to greet the prominent Frenchman. “I’m so pleased to meet you, Doctor.” In the far reaches of her mind, a few French words came to her. “Heureuse de vous connaitre, Docteur.”
“I think he wants to make sure you have your dose of caffeine before you get to the Institute.”
“Oh.” She accepted the cup of coffee. “Thank you. Merci.”
“After all, the Institute is the toughest culinary school in the world. We churn out the best… we’re that good, but we do want to make sure everyone is well prepared to succeed… so, if caffeine is what you need, well, caffeine is what you’ll get.”
“I appreciate it, but it’s not that dire a need.” She held the cup up to show the man her appreciation and gently patted the dog on the head.
“Dr. Emmanuelle is very fond of taking Javier for a walk on his break. Every Friday he brings him to school then takes him to the park at the end of the day.”
“I can understand why. On the taxi ride over I saw a beautiful park, and it’s such a lovely day.”
“A tout a l’heure.” Dr. Emmanuelle nodded and led his dog out of the café.
Errol stepped closer to Taryn, his blue-eyed gaze intense and heated on her. “I suggest you take advantage of this lovely day while you can. Classes can be very challenging and demanding.”
“You make it sound so hard. I love to cook and I’m sure I won’t have any trouble keeping up.”
“A passion for culinary arts is admirable and much needed, but you need more; determination, perseverance… stamina.” His gaze went from her eyes to her lips and back up to her eyes. The small glance, as simple as it was, made her lower body clench. Errol held her gaze. “This isn’t fun and games. It’s serious.”
“I fully expect it to be… and I’m very serious about it. I want to come out of this a top chef,” Taryn managed to say.
“Good.” He licked his lips while his gaze dipped down to the coffee stain at the front of her dress and down to her exposed legs.
The heat was suddenly more than she could handle and she stepped out into the fresh air. The moment she turned around to face him again, the heated intensity of his gaze sent a wave of arousal over every inch of her body. His sapphire eyes seemed to undress her slowly, taking in her every curves. Her clothes seemed inadequate and she felt nude and exposed before him. It made her both thrilled and embarrassed at the same time.
She knew the fabric of her bra was thin, as was the cotton of her dress. In addition to that, the thin cotton of her dress was plastered to the thin fabric of her bra with brown coffee, drawing attention to her erect nipples peeking through her dress. She didn’t even dare to look down at the picture she presented him.
Could he see through all that thin fabric and see how aroused she was? Could he see the glow of perspiration on her skin, the sensual flush of her cheeks or the pulpy flesh of her lips?
“You know, you have the kind of passion I like seeing in my students.” His gaze trailed over her body again. “I’m sure you’ll do fine.” He lightly touched his fingertips to her shoulder and leaned in closer.
For a moment she thought he’d kiss her and she didn’t know is she should be shocked or elated.
“The first year’s tougher than you think. The best way to ace your classes is to pay attention to everything the instructor does, and make sure you know what he or she wants.”
A few short, sharp breaths escaped her lips before she could speak. “You don’t say.” She took a step back. “I had kind of planned on that.”
Unable to endure his intoxicating presence any longer, she turned to walk away, but he pulled her back. “You have all these bags to bring to your apartment?”
“Yeah, and I’m not really sure which entrance I’m supposed to take.”
“I wish I could help you, but…”
She nodded her understanding. “It wouldn’t be appropriate…”
“No,” he said as he flashed a magnificent smile worthy of a Hollywood close-up. “I guess it wouldn’t.”
“Right.” Taryn snapped out of the daze that had taken over her brain. He was to be her teacher for the next semester and here she was already drooling all over him. She put her hand to the handle of her large suitcase and dreaded lugging it around all alone.
“I’ll see you in class.” He turned to walk away.
“Mr. King,” she blurted out before she could stop herself. “As inappropriate as it may be, I really do need your help. I could walk through this maze of apartments for hours and I have all these bags to…”
“Say no more.” With a warm smile that seemed to say so much, he slipped his hand over hers and took her suitcase.
They walked to the address Taryn had scribbled on a piece of paper, only to realize the address didn’t exist.
“I don’t understand. I took this down as I spoke to the woman about the apartment. I know my French isn’t very good, but I know my numbers.”
“Phone connections can sometimes be scratchy. Maybe you misunderstood one of the numbers.” Errol took the piece of paper from her hand and looked at the numbers. “Follow me.”