Temperatures rise when there are two cooks in Jude’s kitchen...
Jude’s drowning in guilt when he can’t save his family business single-handed. The last person he expects to throw a lifeline is Rob, a rival chef who once beat him to first place in a cooking contest.
Two chefs working together won’t be easy. Not when Rob is everything Jude isn’t—popular, extroverted, and a one-time hook-up. What’s worse is that Rob wears his heart on his sleeve while Jude’s still in the closet.
Jude’s dilemma doesn’t end there. Rob’s rescue package comes with conditions that mean sharing everything from the profits to Jude’s sleeping quarters. Sleeping with the enemy will either be a disaster or signal a much brighter future, but only if Jude can meet Rob’s final condition and love him in the open.
There's not a Con Riley book I haven't loved, and this one, the first in a new series, was no exception. Another thing I tend to expect in one of Con's novels is grief in some form, and the pain that comes with it. Again, this book was no exception. I'm going to do my best to keep my review spoiler-free.
We open the book to Jude's coming home from a long trip that took him halfway around the world to search for his parents who disappeared with their boat during a huge storm while sailing. Gay, but closeted, and having left home as soon as feasible to escape potential judgment, Jude not only deals with the loss of his parents, but also believes that his father would never have been okay with him being gay, and now he'll never get the chance to even find out for sure.
Just before his parents' disappearance, Jude was a participant in a cooking contest, where he met Rob so there's a bit of history between the two. Upon returning to his home in a small village on the Cornish coast, expecting to find only his sister waiting for him and to help her with their parents' inn/pub The Anchor, Jude finds the business mostly in tatters but in the process of being changed into a B&B, and the other man occupying his room.
Rob won the cooking contest after Jude's hasty departure to search for his parents, and has used his winnings to help The Anchor stay afloat, while working with Louise to turn the inn/pub from its previous incarnation as a beach tourist summer spot into a boutique hotel/restaurant.
This is a slow-burn, out-for-you romance, as well as a family drama, filled with grief, tears, fear, and moments of despair and anger, but also friendship, family and love. As always, Con's vivid and descriptive writing transported me directly to this small town on the Cornish coast. I could see The Anchor in my mind's eye in full color, and almost smell the delicious food Rob and Jude whip up in the kitchen.
The UST is high pretty much from the start, with both men lusting after one another, but Jude is scared of Louise finding out that he's gay, and Rob is unwilling to push for what he wants most. It's clear that Rob is invested in developing a relationship, but he also knows that Jude likely won't give up the search for his missing parents and will leave again to continue looking for them.
The supporting cast, some of whom are people in the same town, and someone who has some history with Jude's father (which has influenced some of Jude's assumptions about his father's reaction to his being gay), was really well done. I enjoyed meeting those folks, and I think that all of them brought something to the table, including the haughty food critic who turned out to not be haughty after all, and even Rob's father. That's another plot point that causes some angst and anger, again based on an assumption.
The climax of this story had me on the edge of my seat. I didn't entirely understand the how, but tried to follow along as best as I could, and then when... well, let's just say I was very emotional at that point. The way this was all woven together, how the plot points converged, how everything just came together - so well done.
I couldn't put this book down for any length of time. The emotions just drip off the pages, whether they be angst or joy, and I was fully engaged from the start. Highly recommended.
** I received a free copy of this book from its author in exchange for an honest review. **
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