Chapter 1: The Manor
With its stark white columns and walnut doors, the manor was more imposing in person than it looked on television. I gripped my luggage a bit tighter. I had no idea what I was doing here. This had to be the worst idea I had ever had.
The driver smiled and gave me a thumbs-up, “Good luck!” before driving down the long driveway and leaving me alone.
Even though my stomach was still in my throat, I knew I needed to be in a much better headspace tomorrow than I was now. Tomorrow would be the first day of filming. I walked into the front door and was greeted by Daniel Groes, the executive producer.
“Chef Wilson!” his arms raised up in delight before clapping down onto my shoulders, “Welcome to the Chop, Saute, Fricasse house!”
“Thank you,” I tried my best to smile authentically.
Daniel’s assistant, Terry, walked into the entrance room a moment later, breaking our awkward silence.
“Chef Wilson, there you are,” she smiled kindly, “Welcome, welcome. Let’s get you settled into your room.”
Terry picked up my luggage and began walking up one of the two staircases on either side of the room before I had a chance to say anything.
“See you soon,” Daniel waved and smiled. I liked him, but every bit of him seems made for television, surface-level. Terry escorted me into the last room on the left-hand side.
“Here you are,” Terry placed my luggage next to the closet in what would be my living space for the next six months.
“Wow,” I tried not to act impressed, but I was. Even though I was a Michelin star chef my family had always been frugal and, even in my thirties, I kept that habit. This room was, by my standards, opulent.
“Please, let me or another one of our staff know if anything is wrong,” Terry began walking to the door, "You’re one of the first contestants to arrive, so please relax and enjoy.”
“Thank you so much,” I turned around and Terry was almost out the door. I knew how thankless assistant jobs were and I hoped I wasn’t a problem for her.
“Dinner will be served at six,” she smiled and closed the door before rushing off, surely to the next fire she needed to put out while Daniel stood, looking pretty in the entrance.
I sat down on the bed and closed my eyes, trying to settle my nervous stomach. I had come here for a reason, to prove to myself that I was more than my restaurant. Why did I feel so nervous? I sat for a while longer before I decided to unpack. Perhaps making this place feel more like my own would help.
On the right-hand side of the room was the hall closet, the door into the bathroom, and a potted plant in the corner. On the wall opposite the door was a large window overlooking the manor’s garden. On the left-hand side were two archways, one led to the kitchen and the one led to the bedroom.
I laid on the king-sized bed in my bedroom as a wave of exhaustion took the place of nerves. Oddly enough, the urge to pleasure myself and christen this space also came over me. I had time before dinner, but did I dare? I hadn’t had sex since The Glass Bistro had shut down. Everything had been so depressing that there was no way I could feel desire.
But now...I closed my eyes and breathed deeply as the warmth spread from between my legs to wrap around my thighs. There was a yearning, a slight tingle, from my delicate clitoris. I opened the buttons on my pants and began to push my hand into them. My breath caught in my throat as I felt my panties. They were already damp. My hand moved further down and I began to rub my lips gently when a knock at my door startled me.
My eyes shot open and I realized where I was, and what I was doing.
“Coming!” I yelped, buttoning my pants quickly before washing my hand off in the sink and jogging to the door.
“Hi there!” I was greeted by a man with dark brown hair and striking green eyes, “Hope I’m not interrupting anything.”
I wasn’t sure if it was the masturbation he interrupted that was affecting my thinking, but he was incredibly handsome.
“Uh, hello,” I said. I didn’t recognize him.
“I’m Chef Quinn,” he smiled and held his hand out.
“Oh!” I nodded and shook his hand, “Nice to meet you, Chef. I’m Chef Wilson.”
“Man, it’s pretty crazy that our parents all gave us the same first name, huh?” he joked.
I chuckled, “My name is Lucy, actually.”
“Oh man, I lied. My first name is actually Lewis.”
“Well, it’s nice to meet you, Lewis the Liar.”
Lewis looked down the hallway, “Come here, Ellie!”
“Ellie Browning?” Now that was a name that I recognized.
Sure enough, Chef Browning came into view, “Hey there. Is Lewis bothering you?”
She looked much less intense than she did on television, but Ellie was still every bit hardcore. Her hair was dyed a variety of colors and her skin was adorned with various piercings and tattoos.
“No, not at all. It’s an honor to meet you, Chef Browning,” I reached out to shake her hand, “I’m Chef Wilson.”
“Of course,” she shook my hand, “I’ve heard of you! So sorry to hear about your restaurant, but I’m excited to compete against someone with your skill.”
I tried not to blush, “Thank you.”
“Chef Quinn here, he’s definitely the outsider,” she patted his back, “But he and I go way back.”
“Oh? Were you trained in the same school?”
“No professional training for me,” Lewis shook his head, “I learned everything I needed from the best chef - my grandma. But Ellie and I grew up together before we lost contact.”
“I had to move and then,” Ellie looked away from us, her eyes glazing over, “Well,” she said after a moment, “I’m just glad we reconnected.”
“Me too,” Lewis smiled at her, “Anyway, I think dinner is ready. Want to go check it out, Lucy?”
I nodded and headed downstairs with Ellie and Lewis, my desire forgotten on my bed.
Downstairs, we were greeted by the dining room filled to the brim with an amazing meal. Another competitor was already seated and digging into some salmon rillettes, but he stood when he saw us.
“Hello,” he bowed formally, “Chef Max Taylor.”
We introduced ourselves to Chef Taylor and got comfortable in the plush chairs. The next hour was filled with delicious food, including seared scallops and a banana cake with dark chocolate ganache, and conversation. It was nice to meet the people I would live and compete with for the next six months in a relaxed atmosphere without cameras. But one chair stayed empty.
Eventually, the chef, Melinda Whitestone, came out. We lauded her praises and thanked her heartily before Max asked to talk with her further about her processes. Still, our last competitor was nowhere to be found.
I was about to go to my room for the evening when they finally arrived. From my chair, I could see only her back as she came into the manor. Daniel was no longer there, but Terry grabbed her things and escorted her up to the hallway. I went to the doorway to get a better look.
“There she is,” I whispered and pointed to the entrance room. Ellie and Lewis ran quickly to the doorway to see while Max continued to chat with Chef Whitestone about her chocolate ganache process, seemingly unfazed by the arrival.
“Oh, she’s really tall,” Ellie whispered, “Quick, Lewis, google tall female chefs.”
“Shut up, she might hear us,” Lewis whispered back. He was behind me, leaning over my short frame to see. I felt his warmth on my back and felt my stomach flutter.
We could hear some conversation echoing off of the marble, something about a late flight, but nothing that could tell us who they were. Frustrated, I was about to go back to my seat, but the chef dropped her jacket halfway up the stairs.
“Damnit,” we heard her say before running back down the stairs to grab it, showing us her face.
“Oh shit!” Lewis yelped, “It’s Cirsi Rodriguez!”
Shit indeed. Cirsi Rodriguez was one of the trailblazers of Latin American cuisine and fine dining food trucks. As the youngest chef in twenty years to win a Michelin star, she was a force to be reckoned with.
She was also my ex-girlfriend.