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What happens when you put a novice in the kitchen with a master? Sparks do not just fly out of the pan. Can he teach her how to cook, and not become the main ingredient in her life? Can she make him her main ingredient? A cute romance with cooking and other hot stuff on the plate

Kate McKeown
Age Rating:

Chapter 1

“I’m not sure I can eat this,” Casey looked at the plate in front of her. She poked at the sandwich. Finally, she looked up, “It’s looking at me?” The camera focused on her disgust as she looked at the sandwich. Stanley, the cameraman, laughed as he filmed.

“Yes, you can. It’s a Maryland delicacy,” Will Potter replied. “Chicken?”

She scoffed at him, then looked over to her cameraman, “This is Casey McFarren, and we’re here to try a Baltimore staple, the soft shell crab. Thanks to Will Potter of Meat and Three. I think he’s challenging me. Is there guts in here?” She suppressed a shudder as she picked up the plate. The camera zoomed in on the crab. Fried to a crispy brown, she could have sworn the eyes were still looking at her. She hated him at that moment.

Her soft brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail, a WFBWI ball cap on her head. Will watched her eye the crab and almost laughed. She wore her prim WFBWI polo shirt and khakis, but you’d think she’d gone on death row. Her brown eyes shot to him. He could see the resentment in them. Take that newscaster, he thought.

She looked over to Will Potter, the owner of Meat and Three, who was enjoying her discomfiture a little too much. “Go ahead and take a bite,” he said with a wry smile. “It’s delicious. You’re not from Baltimore until you’ve had a crispy fried soft shell crab.”

She looked back at the camera, “Softshell crabs are crabs that have recently molted the exoskeleton. That’s why you can eat the entire crab. We’re at the beginning of the season in April, so WFBWI thought we’d show a great way to welcome spring to Baltimore.”

Will leaned close, looked at the camera, “Some people usually start with the legs, they are crunchy. I think she’s afraid.”

Casey looked at him, “I’m not afraid.” She tore a leg off and took a bite. She chewed thoughtfully and looked at the camera, “Crunchy with a great taste. With these fried crabs, they can be eaten whole except for the gills and the stomach cover.”

“We clean them before we serve them, take off the mouthparts also. Now go for the good stuff,” Will said. He held the sandwich up for her.

Casey took a deep breath and grabbed the sandwich from him. She cut into the crab. The juice came out of the body, made her hold back her gag reflex.

Before she could think about liquid or whole crabs, she bit a piece, chewed, and looked at the camera. “You see, the entire crab is edible, not like what we are used to here in Baltimore. I’m more of a picker and cleaner.”

She looked over to Will, who watched her intently. Then, he added, “Yep, some of the best parts of the soft shell are the liver or the yellow stuff. The organ meat is delicious,” He said as he watched her face turn a little green.

The camera went back to Casey, “Well, that’s it for me and our street food of Baltimore segment. I’m Casey McFarren, and I’m going to enjoy the rest of this delicious crab. Back to you, Stuart.”

The light went off. She jumped and moved over to the trash can and wretched. The cameraman and Will both laughed as they looked at her. Finally, she turned back to Will, “Did you have to talk about organs! I almost lost it on camera.”

Will chuckled. He’d watched her before on WFBWI. So when she approached him about a Baltimore staple, he immediately went to the soft shell crab. Every other segment he watched, she was thrown softballs, easy things to eat. So when she called him, Will figured he’d make it more interesting for her. “It’s a Maryland staple,” he said with a smile.

“Oh!” Casey threw her hands up. “Well, you could have prepared me. I can’t eat something that’s looking at me.”

Will shrugged, “I did. You sounded good on the history of the crab.”

She frowned at him, then turned to her cameraman, who was hiding a smile, “It’s not funny, Stanley.” She turned to Will, “I can’t stomach another bite, but I’ll nibble on another leg.” Then shuddered, “I don’t think I can eat a leg? God, why did you do this to me?” She looked over to Will, “Let’s put in a plug for the restaurant.”

“Sure thing,” Will said as he hated the attention but knew it would be good for his business. He came over to the metal chair, which he set next to hers. Will Potter stood a tall 6 foot 2, his legs long. He wore khakis and a button-down shirt with the restaurant logo, a white plate with three black squares. As he sat, his legs brushed against Casey’s, causing her to flinch. He looked over to her and smiled. Her eyes narrowed as she moved her legs away, but they still touched since there wasn’t much room under the table. He deliberately rubbed a leg against her. Her smoldering brown eyes made him smile more.

Casey moved from frowning at Will to a broad smile as soon as the light on the camera came on, “Welcome back to Street Food with Casey McFarren. Will Potter of Meat and Three has promised to show us some more of his restaurant and perhaps give us a few secrets to his great cooking.” She turned to Will. His eyes were hooded, his hands clasped behind his head. He watched her hold up a leg of the crab then move to her soft drink. “Is there a right way to eat a soft shell crab, Mr. Potter?”

Will smiled at her. It was wicked, “Nope, you dig in. Don’t let me keep you from finishing.”

Casey took another bite as her stomach did a flip, Will watched her intently, “This is very delicious. Tell me a little more about Meat and Three.” The camera went over to Will. Casey spit the crab into her napkin as she wiped her face.

“We’re a family-owned business. It’s me, my son Simon and my parents running the roost. We’ve been open for two years now,” Will replied as he noticed her spit out the crab. “This is a springtime specialty for us. I’m glad you like it. Without the camera on her, Casey stuck her tongue out at him, Will laughed out loud.

The camera went back to Casey. She put her professional face on, “You’ve got something special here with the crab sandwiches. Let’s go inside and find out more about Meat and Three. We’ll see you after the break,” she said as the light on the camera went off.

Will unfolded his long body out of the chair and held out his hand. Casey ignored it. She felt a flush run through her face and checked herself. She had to stay professional when that light was on. She took his hand.

Will held on to her hand a bit longer then let it go. Casey smiled at the camera with her microphone in hand, “I’m surprised I liked it. I’m so full.”

Will laughed, “You’d be surprised at what people will eat in Baltimore.”

Casey laughed. She turned to the camera, “So Will Pottery, let’s take a look at the Meat and Three.”

They walked into the restaurant. An old row house transformed into a restaurant; feet creaked on the old wooden floor. Small wooden tables lined the inside of the building with white table cloths, dark green napkins, tiny lights in the middle of the table. An oak bar ran along one side of the restaurant. A pretty blonde woman smiled from behind the bar as she polished glasses. All the tables were full. Will offered a free meal to his friends and regulars so the diner would look busy. The open kitchen was in the back, complete with a wood fire oven. A tall, burly man in a white apron with a Meat and Three baseball cap was working some dough for the night’s dinner rush. Casey turned to the camera, “So how did you end up in the restaurant business?”

They stopped in the middle of the restaurant as Casey put the microphone up to Will. He took a deep sigh, then said, “When my wife passed away from cancer, I realized I spent too much time away from my family. My parents,” he pointed to his father behind the grill then waved to his mother behind the bar, “I wanted to be with my family. And to do that, we needed something we could do together and make money. Meat and Three is a family business. We are in this together.” As if on cue, Will’s son, Simon, came running over to his father. Seven years old, he was tall for his age. He took his coloring from his father, dark black hair with sea-blue eyes.

Casey smiled at the camera as Will took them back to the kitchen, “My Dad, Richard Potter,” they walked over to the bar, “My mother, Ethel Potter.”

Casey looked back to the camera, “We’ll be back live after the break with the Potter family.”

The light went out she turned to the family. “So I have it looks like a few minutes left of filming. Shall we do the family angle of things?”

The cameraman’s arm went up, signaling 3-2-1. Casey smiled at the camera as the light went on. “I’m here with the owners of Meat and Three in the downtown neighborhood of Canton. Owners here, Ethel, Richard with their son Will and his son Simon.”

Ethel looked like a deer in the headlight, so Richard jumped in, “We are open Tuesday through Sunday and serve brunch. So stop by for a great meal, a meat and three where you choose the three sides. We only serve organic local beef, chicken, pork, and of course, during the season now our famous soft-shelled crab entree or sandwich.”

Casey turned back to the camera, “As always, Casey McFarren letting you know our great options of street food in Baltimore. Always straight shooting. Back to you in the studio.”

The light on the camera went off, and everyone visibly sighed in relief. Will turned to Casey, “You don’t look as green anymore.” He winked at her.

Casey felt her face turn red, “Well, I’ve learned my lesson. I don’t trust you.”

Will laughed, “We can make you something else? As a compromise?”

Casey wanted to get away from him. He made her nervous. After the last breakup, she wasn’t trusting anymore with her feelings, “Oh, I’ve got some editing to do. For the blog post.”

Will nodded, “OK, let me get you a gift card.” He walked back to the bar as Casey’s phone buzzed.

“Celeste?” Casey said as she answered. Celeste never called her.

“Oh my God, Casey! You actually turned green!” Casey could hear the laughter in the studio. “I mean, you looked like pistachio ice cream kind of green! I loved it!”

Casey sighed as Will walked back over, “You know I’m not a seafood fan Celeste, I could have been warned.” Her eyes narrowed at Will as his eyebrows went up. He looked so innocent now with deep blue eyes, ruffled black hair, a slight smile on his face.

Dangerous was her first thought.

“And that restaurant owner is one hunk of a man. I think this segment was one of your better ones. Can you get some pictures of the food for the follow-up blog post?” Celeste asked.

Casey looked over to Will and sighed. He mouthed, “What?”

“The station wants me to get some pictures of the food for the blog post,” she said in a flat voice.

This time it was Will’s turn to frown, “Well, don’t sound so excited. I’ll feed you lunch.”

Casey went back to the phone, “Sure thing, boss, I’ll be back after lunch.”

“Great! Maybe bring us a doggy bag!” Celeste hung up.

Casey put her phone in her back pocket, “I don’t know if I trust you to feed me.” Will smiled. No backpacks, no oversized bags, just a back pocket. Simple.

Will laughed again, “You were always so vanilla on the shows I watched. So I thought it would be fun to spice things up. And it is a Baltimore staple during the season. Let’s get a table. I’ll be kind to you this time.

He escorted her over to a table by the front window of the row house. He figured maybe someone would recognize her and come in to eat. He left her there in the booth, walked to pats on the back, and recognized for the segment. He brought her a menu as his son came up with glasses of water.

Casey chuckled then looked over to Will, “Looks like child labor.”

Will shrugged, “It’s a family business.”

He sat across from her at the table. His long legs brushed against her again. Casey tried to move her legs, but there was nowhere to go. She frowned at him. He just smiled back at her. He turned to his son, “Give us an order of meatloaf, the fried chicken sandwich.” He turned to Casey, “You do eat meat, right?”

Casey nodded. Will turned back to Simon, “The Mac and Cheese, green beans, and of course, Momma’s Apple Cobbler.”

Simon nodded and left for the kitchen. Casey watched as he relayed the order to Richard, who nodded in approval. Will took a sip of his water as he appraised Casey. She was cute, he thought, and nervous around him.

She had light brown hair in long curly waves but pulled in a ponytail coming out of the ball cap. Her face was heart-shaped, her brown eyes were soft, her lashes long. Her lips were full, her smile wide each time the camera turned on, “So how do you get into the news business?”

Casey took a sip of her water, “I guess I like asking questions.”

Will nodded, “Well, we appreciate you doing the segment on us.”

Casey looked at him over her water, “So you are a widower?”

Will nodded, “My wife, Karen died of cancer when Simon was three years old. We met in college, married young, and Simon was a surprise. I got my business degree while she took care of Simon. It’s been over four years.”

Casey replied, “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

Will shrugged, “It’s been four years. I know my son more than when she was alive. Cancer sucks, but my takeaway is it brought all of us closer together.” He gestured to his parents to his son.

Simon came back with a tray full of plates. He placed everything in the middle of the table, putting two clean plates in front of Casey and Will.

Will waited while Casey pulled out her phone and took some pictures for the blog. He then went ahead and divided the food into two plates.

“I like a girl who isn’t shy about eating,” He said as he pushed the plate over in front of Casey. She was thin with just enough curves in the right places, he mused. His parents would say she was too skinny and would work on fattening her up.

Casey didn’t realize she was hungry until the plate went in front of her. The comfort food made her stomach grumble. Finally, she picked up a fork and looked over to Will, “This looks so much better than that crab sandwich. Where do I start?”

He laughed, “That’s your decision.” He picked up his fork and started with the meatloaf.

For a steady diet of frozen dinners and pizza, the lunch was delicious. Casey never ate meatloaf, but after the first bite, she devoured the entire piece. She looked over to Will, who watched her eat. “This is delightful. I’ve never eaten meatloaf, always had a problem with it being a loaf of meat.”

Will laughed, “The meatloaf is made from several different types of ground meat. I can’t give away our secret ingredients, but that’s part of it. Now try the chicken.”

Casey picked up her chicken sandwich and took a bite. It was an interesting combination of fried chicken, fried egg, lettuce, tomato, and a sauce. Will watched as she chewed, thoughtful. “We make the batter ourselves, another one of the different secrets here. What do you think?”

Casey nodded, “This is delicious and not something I would order, but I will order now.”

Will nodded, “Don’t get too full. Try out the sides that come with this, the Mac and Cheese is Ethel’s recipe, and Richard is famous for the potatoes and green beans.”

They ate quietly and worked through the items at the table. Simon came back and refilled the waters, took away empty dishes as they worked through lunch. When the peach cobbler came as the desert, Casey begged for a cup of coffee to go with it.

Casey leaned back in the booth. She felt an excellent coma coming on. “I’m glad I stayed. The food is delicious. I appreciate the hospitality.”

Will nodded, “No problem. You are putting us out there, and I appreciate it. I’m sure the next few days will be busy with the show airing. Richard is putting together a doggy bag for the station.”

Casey got up from the booth, “I have to get back to work. I’m not sure I’ll get anything done. I feel a food coma coming on.”

Will laughed and went and shook her hand, “Well, come back anytime. I haven’t shared the other half of the menu with you, and of course, we always have specials. Maybe another swipe at the soft shell crab?”

Simon came up to his father’s side, “Dad, the truck is pulling up outback. They need you to confirm the order.”

Will nodded, turned to Casey, “Thanks again. Hope to see you soon.”

Casey left the restaurant to the bright sunshine of a spring day in Baltimore. She made it over to her car, jumped in, and drove back to the TV station. She called everyone from their desk and left four brown paper bags of food on the counter. She laughed as there was a lot of pushing and shoving as her friends dug into the food.

Her office was a cubicle in the middle of the building, a computer, a telephone, and pads of legal paper. There were no pictures of the family at her desk, no boyfriend. She’d already taken down the image of Chad when he dumped her and tore it up. A small bookshelf was next to her desk. Casey picked up the soft shell crab tape and placed it with the others from her Street Food segments. She sighed.

When she graduated from college, she thought she’d be a hard-hitting reporter as she joined WFBWI. She had an interest in politics and crime. But her bookshelf was littered with tapes about dancing puppies, a cat stuck in a tree, literary festivals, and visits to the Humane Society. She thought she was moving forward with the station for a year and with her boyfriend for over six months. Then, the station came up with Street Food, and then her boyfriend dumped her via text. Now she felt like she was swimming upstream.

Celeste Sherman, the manager of WMBWI walked through the newsroom and stopped by Casey’s desk. The two were good friends, even with two distinctly different personalities. Celeste wore a sharp red dress, her hair coiffed perfectly and a string of pearls around her neck. Her red shoes matched her dress. The shape showed off a tiny but trim figure. Casey usually reported in khakis and WFBWI polo shirts, her hair stuffed in a ball cap.

“Great shot about the restaurant in Canton. The owner is dreamy,” Celeste said. “I may have to go there for lunch. Unless you want him.”

Casey shrugged, “I’m swearing off men for a while since Chad dumped me. Focus on work and not notice if someone is dreamy.” Casey thought about Will’s smile as his leg brushed hers. “OK, maybe he’s a little dreamy. But I’m a professional. I’m not supposed to do dreamy.”

Celeste replied, “God, when you turned green, that was hilarious. I’ve never eaten a soft shell crab.”

“The legs were crunchy and good. But when I bit the body, you know my aversion to textures. But, God, my stomach did flip thinking about it,” Casey replied.

“Well, in case you didn’t know, your name trended on Twitter for a bit after the story. So you got the station some good exposure. Who would have thought?” Celeste laughed again.

“Maybe with the name recognition, I could have something a little more meaty to work on?” Casey said quietly.

“You read my mind,” Celeste volunteered.

Casey’s heart fluttered. Time to step up to the plate, she can finally put her college degree to use, “I’m open to anything!”

Celeste nodded, “Yep. I approached the network and said we should use you more and let you run with a series and see how it goes.”

Casey’s mind churned. True crime? “What are you thinking?” Politics?

Celeste waited for a second, “So, we’ve established that you have no cooking skills. But, watching you with this restaurant owner, it looked like good chemistry. And I’ve mentioned that he’s dreamy. So, I think you should learn to cook through him. Let him teach you how to cook.”

Casey was quiet. Her heart sank at another fluff piece. Then she bust out laughing, “Me? Learn how to cook? I can’t even boil water.”

Celeste replied, “That’s the point. Go back to the restaurant and see if they will teach you how to cook. Teach you how to make something from scratch. You cook, and we film. I think it is something that will trend the news station.”

Casey thought about this. Celeste continued, “This special would air as a part of our evening news. So people would see you more, your name would get out there more. This segment could be your ticket to the stories you want.”

Casey was usually part of the lunch crowd, and the 6 pm slot would help her career as more people saw her. “Let me think about it.”

Celeste added, “I know this is putting yourself out there, but increasing your time on the air also will increase your pay. Just saying. Let me know by tomorrow.”

Casey nodded, “Sure thing.”

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