INFO [chapter 1 starts right after the info]
The Sweet Caroline series consists of many books. All books can be read as stand-alones, but they work best as a series. At the start of each book, I always tell my readers which book would be wise to read first to understand the past of the characters.
The series can be split into two separate series: the first generation & the next generation. The next generation is about character that were kids in the books about the first generation.
FIRST GENERATION: 1. Sweet Caroline // 2. Slutty Shaughna // 3. Eager Annabel // 4. Feisty Francesca // 5. Twisted Thomas // 6. Chef Quiroz // 7. Caring Christopher
NEXT GENERATION: 1. Blooming Rose // 2. Jealous Jagger // 3. Needy Nia // 4. Guarded Marcus // 5. Charming Creed // 6. Thompson Twins
You can read this as a stand-alone story, but if you’re going to read my other stories as well, you might want to start with “Sweet Caroline”.
The main character of “Chef Quiroz” is the Michel Quiroz, a character from the novel “Twisted Thomas”. He didn’t get his happy ending in that story, but he deserves one! Read “Chef Quiroz” to find out where Michel ended up after Tracy dumped him.
I do recommend reading “Twisted Thomas” before reading “Chef Quiroz”, but it can be read as a stand-alone.
This isn’t a full novel, just a short story, so it won’t have 70 or 80 chapters like my other books do. It's only 22 chapters. Short and sweet!
Chef Michel Quiroz spends the last three weeks at his old job training his replacement Nina. Too bad Nina seems to think Michel is an asshole. The question is… why? Will Michel convince her he’s not who she thinks he is?
Michel Quiroz tried relationships. He tried dating. He gave all that up years ago. First, he wasted six years of his life in an on-again-off-again relationship with Tracy, who ended up marrying another man. When Michel finally managed to move on and fell in love with Farisha, she left his heart even more broken than it was in the first place. At 41, he’s a workaholic. He doesn’t need anything or anyone but his work, his family, and his best friend Sofia. He certainly doesn’t need love.
He’s a well-known chef now, and he’s happy. Well… semi-happy. When he gets three weeks to train the chef taking over his place at his old place of employment before he goes off to work at a new restaurant downtown, he didn’t expect to get scoffed at by the curvy and sassy Nina. She’s a great chef, but she seems to think Michel is an asshole out to get her. That sucks, especially since Michel thinks Nina is the most interesting, talented and beautiful woman he’s ever met. Will he manage to show her that he’s not as bad as she seems to think he is?
#1 Job interview
“You’re kidding, right?” Shaughna Elmore says when I tell her that I’m leaving. Her hands are on her hips and she’s looking feisty as ever, her bright blue eyes boring into mine. “You can’t just leave! You are this place!”
We’re standing the middle of the kitchen at glorified burger restaurant The Stable, where I’ve been working for the past ten years. I love this place, I’ve helped build it from the ground up, and I know each and every inch of this kitchen, but it’s time to move on. I get that my boss isn’t happy about that, but she always knew I wouldn’t stick around forever. It’s a miracle I lasted for ten years.
“You knew I was going to leave at some point,” I remind her, leaning against the counter. “I signed on for two years when you opened this place, and I stayed for ten. That’s a long time, Shaughna.”
She grunts. “I know. Who poached you?”
“This new place downtown, Da Verdi.” After ten years, I’m finally getting back to Italian cuisine. My family may originally be from Mexico, but I lost my heart to pastas, meatballs and pizzas. Dad still thinks I’m betraying my heritage, but the heart wants what the heart wants. And my heart wants to create the most fabulous Italian dishes.
“Ah fuck, I can’t compete with that.” Shaughna pulls her hands through her long blonde hair and sighs. “It sucks to see you go, Michel. We’re gonna miss you. I know I am, for sure.”
“You know I’m not leaving because I don’t like it here.” I hate the sadness in her eyes. “I’m still grateful for the chance you gave me ten years ago.” I nod to the wall full of awards, frames reviews and other testaments to how well The Stable has done since it opened. “You’re the best boss ever. It’s just that I was never planning on staying here this long. I’m done with mostly serving drunks at night, and getting awards like Best Burger in Town or Best Cheap Lunch Ever. I need something… more.”
“I know.” She sighs again. “I get it. Please tell me you’re going to help me find someone to replace you, Michel. Please.”
“Of course.” Like I would leave without making sure this place is in good hands. “I hate to tell you, though… we don’t have anyone on staff who can step in. You’re not just looking for a head chef. You need someone who does everything here.” Shaughna may officially be the owner, along with her boyfriend Dshawn, but I’ve been in charge since she poached me from Giovanni’s ten years ago and opened this place. She trains the waiting staff and meets with me once a week to stay on top of things, but I take care of everything else. I hire staff, fire people if needed, do inventory, take care of most of the PR, including updating the social media profiles I set up. I do the finances, train new hires, reinvent the menu every few months, make birthday cakes and party snacks for their other business The Party that organizes kids’ parties, make schedules… I could go on, but that would take days. I do more than a head chef needs to do, taking on manager and owner duties as well. We need someone who will fill my shoes. I don’t mean to sound conceded, but that won’t be easy. I pretty much live here. I’m the heart and soul of this place.
“When are you leaving?” she asks, taking a bite of the appetizers I’ve been making the past hour for a wedding I’m catering later today. Even though she pays me enough for rent, food, and everything else a person needs to live, and even a little extra, I never gave up on the catering company I started when I was 20. I don’t have kids, a wife, or even a girlfriend. What else am I gonna do with my time? I’m a textbook workaholic.
“In two months.”
“Oh thank God, that gives us some time.” Suddenly, her face lights up. “Hey, I don’t think I’ve congratulated you yet. Or thanked you. So… congrats on the awesome new job, and thank you for everything, Michel.”
I wrap my arms around her when she hugs me. Leaving her makes me a little sad. I’ve known this girl since she was a waitress at Giovanni’s, still in college. I watched her struggle through life for a while, make manager eventually, and then had the privilege of being there by her side when she opened her own nightclub and this restaurant next door. She came a long way since her first day waiting tables. She gave me the big break I needed. The Stables may only be a burger place, serving simple lunches in the afternoon, easy dinners, and perfect food to soak up the alcohol around midnight, but it did allow me to make my mark in this city. I’ve been interviewed by magazines about my burgers, I’ve had my picture on the front page of the paper, and best of all, Shaughan and Dshawn always gave me the freedom to do whatever the hell I wanted to do as long as I stayed within budget. And they were always generous with the budget, might I add.
Now, it’s time to move on. Time to be the head chef at an Italian restaurant where the owner has the money to hire the best staff there is, and where I will be working to get a Michelin star. My dad always jokes that he named me Michel because he knew I’d one day end up in the kitchen of a restaurant with a Michelin star. That’s bullshit, of course, but I do like the idea.
I’m ready for my next challenge. Bring it on.
It’s been a few weeks since I handed in my letter of resignation, and we’re finally at the point where we are going to start interviewing possible new chefs. I’m anxious to see who I’ve got to pick from. Shaughna insisted on being the one to decide on how to do this whole thing. I gave her some names and resumes of old buddies from culinary school, but it’s up to her who she wants to hire in the end. I know I’ll get a huge say in this, but it’s her restaurant, not mine, even though it feels like my baby.
“Okay, I’ve already met with every single applicant and all the guys you recommended,” Shaughna tells me, clapping her hands together. She’s on the opposite side of the small table we’re sitting at, her boyfriend Dshawn right next to her, his arm around her shoulders. “I’ve narrowed it down to three people. You get to pick who we hire, Michel.”
“Okay, bring them in,” I say, rolling my eyes at her eagerness. They’re just job interviews. No need to get this carried away.
“Oh no, you don’t get to see them yet,” Shaughna says, winking at me. “You go into the kitchen and put out ingredients for them. They will make us something, and we’ll do a taste test. Then, you will get to read their resumés without knowing their names or what they look like, and after all that, you get to interview them.”
“Sorry man,” Dshawn says, laughing. “You know my girl. No changing her mind.”
Honestly, this sounds like more fun than normal job interviews, so I’m not even going to complain. I get up, walk into the kitchen, and pull some ingredients out of the fridge and from the storage space in the back. I make sure to include everything to make burgers – this is a burger place, after all – but also a few other things, to see if anyone feels like getting creative.
When I get back, Shaughna hurries off to get the three prospective chefs – I bet she hid them in my office in the back – and then she’s back, grinning like a madwoman. Soon enough, one of my line cooks walks in, and he puts down three plates.
“Thanks, Billy,” I tell him, already examining the plates. Two of the chefs made burgers, but the third one didn’t. He made ground beef quesadillas that look exactly like the ones my mother makes. I dive in right away, moaning softly when I taste it. Perfection is the only word I have for this simple dish. They’re better than my mom’s, although I will never tell her that. Better than mine even, which I don’t like to admit.
Dshawn and Shaughna agree with me that the quesadillas are amazing. The burgers are good too, but one of the chefs pretty much copies my own recipe – not very creative – and the other did something a little out there, with spicy sauce, avocado and caramelized unions that isn’t the kind of thing our clientele is into. They want simple comfort food.
Next are the anonymized resumés. One is perfect for this job, based on education and experience. It looks a lot like my own resumé from ten years ago, actually. The second one is way too experienced for this job. That may not sound like a problem, but it leads me to believe this person’s career took a turn for the worse at one point, and I wonder why that was. The last one is no good at all. No culinary school, no experience as a chef, just as a line cook, and not even at a very good restaurant. I would never invite someone like this for an interview. How did this guy end up in the top three?
“Ready to meet them?” Shaughna asks, grinning.
She leads all three of them into the front of the restaurant at the same time, and I take them in from head to toe. The first one is a guy in his late fifties. Big, bald, sickly greyish skin and with half his teeth knocked out. The second one is a small man with deep brown skin, a huge moustache and a warm smile on his face. I recognize him from culinary school. We didn’t stay in touch, though, and I didn’t give his resumé to Shaughna, but I know I’ve worked with him before. We nod at each other politely.
The last one… oh, the last one. She’s another story entirely.
Honestly, I didn’t expect a woman. I know that sounds horrible, and I hate myself for it, but in my mind, all three of them were men. My best friend Sofia will have a field day when I tell her that. She always calls me a pig, and I guess this time, she’s right. I am a pig.
The last chef is a woman with thick black hair pulled back into a bun and covered by a hairnet. Her brown skin is slightly flushed from the heat in the kitchen, and her face is covered by a sheen of sweat. Her dark eyes are twinkling, but her mouth is set into a grumpy expression. Underneath her apron, she looks curvy, but I don’t dare stare at her body for too long, not wanting to seem unprofessional. It’s obvious that she’s got a great body, though. Big breasts, wide hips, and just the right amount of softness to those gorgeous curves.
They all get a moment to introduce themselves. When the bald man starts talking, I know right away he’s the one with lots of experience, who’s career is going down the drain. He sounds so full of himself that I write him off right away. I bet he made the burger with the avocado. Pretentious bastard.
The man with the moustache is way more modest. He seems alright. I don’t remember what I thought of him in culinary school, but I guess it’s good that I don’t have bad memories of him. I can picture him in the kitchen, his calm and commanding nature rubbing off on the younger staff members. He’s a leader, but not a dictator. He might be a good fit.
Then it’s her turn.
“I’m Nina Quiroz,” she says, looking straight at me without blinking.
“Quiroz?” I repeat, surprised to hear my own last name come out of her mouth.
“That’s my name.” She sounds like she’s defying me, although I can’t figure out why.
“Are you related?” Dshawn asks, looking from me to Nina and back.
“Not that I know of,” I say, shrugging.
“I figured you wouldn’t remember me,” she bites out, looking downright scary. “No, we’re not related.”
“But… you know him?” Shaughna cocks an eyebrow at her. “I thought you said in our interview yesterday that you didn’t?”
“I don’t,” Nina agrees, still staring at me. “I was married to his second cousin, Juan Quiroz.”
Oh fuck. This is Juan’s wife. Which means she’s a widow, because my second cousin died years ago. I didn’t really know him, since my father fell out with his father, so I’ve only met Nina once or twice, I think. One of those times must have been at the funeral. I vaguely remember a woman in black, looking worn and tired, not meeting anyone’s eye. Was that her? I honestly don’t remember. I’m not close to that side of the family.
What do you say to someone who is sort of family, but who feels like a perfect stranger?
“Sorry for your loss,” I blurt out, feeling like an asshole.
She scowls. “Thanks. Anything you need to know about me before you decide not to hire me?”
“Who says we’re not hiring you?” I ask, studying her expression.
“Please,” she scoffs. “These two have way more experience than I do. I’m the widow of the second cousin whose father got shunned from the Quiroz family. We both know you’re not going to go with me. Just rip off the band-aid, will you?”
I look at Shaugna, not sure what to do. She shrugs, her expression bemused.
“Erm… could we get a moment to talk?” I ask. “Me and the owners, I mean?”
“Kicking us out already?” Nina asks, smiling wryly.
“Just to the kitchen,” I verify. “And only for a moment.”
The three of them walk back into the kitchen, and I turn to my bosses. “Okay… I need to ask. Which resumé was hers?” When Shaughna points at the one with the least experience on it, I nod. That’s what I figured. “She made the quesadillas, didn’t she?” I ask, picking up the last of her dish and taking another bite. Even cold, it’s good. So good.
“I like her,” Dshawn says, laughing. “She’s spunky. And her food is the best.”
“Your call, Michel,” Shaughna says, frowning. “I’m not sure, to be honest. I want someone who you can get ready in three weeks, not someone who will be all defiant. Sure, her food is good, and I loved her in the interview, but I don’t like the way she just handled herself.”
I agree with Shaughna, but something about Nina makes me think she could do this. I’m not all that happy about hiring someone from the black sheep side of the family, even though she’s not technically related to me. She did just act unprofessional, but her food is great. She’s creative. Not afraid to take risks. I like that.
Billy walks in with another plate, dropping it in front of me. “I figured you might want to know that the girl chef didn’t stop at the quesadillas. She made a shitload of food while those two men fussed over their burgers. She had lunch while she cooked, and she even took time to teach me how to perfect my own guacamole recipe. And instead of sticking to the ingredients you put out, she went through the fridge and took whatever she wanted.” He gives me a pointed look. “She reminds me of you, Michel. Only female. And fat.”
I flip him off. That’s Billy for you. “Don’t call her fat,” I tell him, annoyed. “She’s beautiful.”
“Hey, fat is not a bad thing,” he replies with a shrug. “Never trust a skinny chef, right?” He pats his own belly, which is too big to be healthy.
“Still,” I insist. “Don’t call her fat. She’s… curvy.”
“Yeah, yeah, we all know you like big knockers, Michel.”
Deciding to stop arguing with him, I look at the plate, not surprised at all to see a lot of Mexican dishes, but all with her own twist on them. I dig in, and so do Shaughna and Dshawn.
“Okay, we’re hiring her,” Shauhgna decides, her mouth full of food.
“Yeah,” I agree. “She’s the one.”
I just hope that showing her the ropes the next three weeks won’t turn into too much of a nightmare. Judging by the way she glared at me earlier, I might end up regretting my choice. Still, she deserves a shot. Nina Quiroz is taking over the restaurant that I helped build from the ground up. Let’s just hope she will change it for the better and not be the end of it.
Thanks for starting to read this short story about Michel!
In past books, I’ve been called out for having an almost completely white cast, with only a few black people in the stories, who are all family. And all the black guys end up with white girls. I didn’t do this intentionally, and I don’t think I’ve been racist in any of my stories (God, I hope not). I value diversity and in my daily life I often talk about race with my friends and boyfriend, and I learn a lot from their experiences. So I want to be different. To learn and grow as a writer. No more all-white cast.
I’m kind of shocked at myself that while race plays a role in my everyday life, I don’t write diverse. I know a lot of people who aren’t white and blonde like me, and they talk to me about their heritage, the snide remarks they sometimes get about the color of their skin, and how they don’t always feel included when it comes to movies and books. From now on, I am going to try and work this into my stories. It won’t be the main focus (I write erotic romantic fiction after all, and it’s all about the sex and the love), but I want to at least pay some attention to it.
Like I said, I’m white. And blonde. Which makes me a little apprehensive about writing about characters very different from me, because (1) I am scared I will end up accidently using a description that is offensive, without me meaning to offend anyone. And (2) because I have to admit that I realized that my “default mode” is to write about white people. Which sounds horrible, I know, but I’m not afraid to admit that as a white woman, I automatically write about white women. I didn’t even know I was doing that until I got called out, which I am grateful for. Time for change!
So… long story short… I am trying to make my stories more diverse from now on. I already know I will fail sometimes. I will write things the wrong way, and maybe even offend someone. Not intentionally, but I’m only human, so I know it will happen. Of course, I try to do my research, and I will always try to be respectful and not write anything offensive. Please call me out if you see anything that rubs you the wrong way, because I am eager to learn! Just know that I am trying, and that I’d love some help from all you guys. :)
Love, your favorite Goddess