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Excerpt:The Secret Ingredient

The Secret Ingredient Series

Hollywood, Tuesday afternoon

“The secret ingredient to good food and a good life is?” Kate shifted her gaze from Camera One to the studio audience.

“Love!” the group sang out, voices bright with anticipation.

She smiled, full teeth, back to Camera One, her chest tightening in an all-too-familiar response as she spoke. “That’s right!”

“Ten…nine…eight…” Joe Krentz, the stage manager, counted her out in her ear piece as he stood next to Camera One.

Focus, Kate.

“Until next time.” Ignoring the uncomfortable tightness, she raised a forkful of that day’s recipe, Beg Me Baby Brownie, and saluted the audience, “I’m Katelyn Karr. Join me tomorrow on The Secret Ingredient as I continue my Devilish Deserts series with Sin for Six Soufflé.”

Applause filled the set. Kate’s camera smile turned real and the vice around her chest released a fraction. The studio audience didn’t need the lighted prompt above their heads to spur their enthusiastic reaction. Her fans were the most genuine on Earth, and she enjoyed every show with them.

On Krentz’s cue she turned toward Camera Three so it could catch her placing the bite of brownie in her mouth. With a hundred-thousand viewers watching, she closed her eyes and sighed, suggesting the taste was as close to heaven as you could get. In her humble opinion, it was. She’d spent long hours of research and prep perfecting the recipe. The result? She couldn’t snap her favorite pair of jeans.

Countless friends and the crew of her award-winning television series had been her guinea pigs as she tested the recipe sixty-two times looking for just the right mix of chocolate, coffee, cream and cardamom. It had been worth every minute, every failed batch.

Even, God help me, the extra inch on my hips.

The show’s theme music rose in the background. Camera Two swiveled to grab audience shots while Camera One followed Kate as she left the marble and stainless steel kitchen to interact with the front row of the audience. Tasting their own samples of brownie, many mimicked her reaction, and those in the aisle seats talked over each other, attempting to grab her attention. Several held up her latest cookbook, The Secret Ingredient’s Devilish Deserts, asking for an autograph. Stacks of the entire series leaned against each other on the back table for fans to purchase.

Interacting with the women who’d made her a star was the highlight of her day, silencing the nagging voice in her head that told her she was a fraud.

“And….we’re out!” called Krentz. The bright studio lights shut off and the house lights went on. “Great show, everybody.”

Relieved the cameras were no longer catching her every emotion, Kate relaxed. She could breathe easy now and not worry about camera angles catching her making a double chin or wrinkling her forehead in concentration. Now she could enjoy being herself and interacting with her fans.

Gabby, her PR manager, marched down the aisle in a steel-gray power suit doing crowd control. Kate threaded her way between the two rows of benches, greeting women as she headed toward the back of the sound studio.

“Katie, dear.” A fortyish woman with Farrah Fawcett hair grabbed her arm. “These are better than my Death by Chocolate brownies. How did you come up with this recipe?”

Before Gabby could ask the woman to remove her hand, Kate signaled it was all right. “I’ll tell you the real secret about this recipe.” She bent forward as if conspiring with Farrah. All the women in the row leaned toward them, co-conspirators. “PMS, a lot of chocolate in my pantry, and a guy who never called when he said he would. That combination is deadly to my hips but prosperous for my cookbooks. It produced this recipe and recipes twelve and forty-one in Devilish Deserts. It also sent me to Rodeo Drive for a size ten in my favorite jeans.”

Real women, every one, they laughed and nodded understanding.

A minute later, Kate sank into the chair behind the signing table and kicked off her four-inch Dolce and Gabbanas with a sigh of relief. She set the shoes upright, wiggled her toes, and straightened the books stacked next to her.

“More press this morning about your breakup,” Gabby mumbled under her breath. Women started up the aisle, heading for the signing table. “Brad gave incriminating pictures of you to one of his friends who posted them on Facebook last night. His manager’s denying it was him, but I know there’s no one else who would have these particular photos.”

Kate’s heart squeezed offbeat for a second. Pictures? Scanning her memory of the last two months, she racked her brain for any revealing pictures Brad, the scum bag, might have taken of her. There was the trip to Cancun where he had filmed a guest spot … beach pictures of her in a bikini? Maybe revealing, especially her not-so-flat stomach and round hips, but not exactly scandalous. They’d taken a trip to Disneyworld to open the new Katelyn Karr Cowboy Café … a group shot with Mickey and Minnie? What could possibly be insidious about that?

Bad press was as effective as good press in Gabby’s world of celebrity management. In Kate’s world, it was embarrassing.

Focus, she reminded herself. Stay in control. “Great.” She forced a smile. On set, even without the cameras, she would not let the fans see her anxious or upset about anything, particularly, her recent tabloid-making love life. “Our breakup is making more news than the relationship did, thanks to Brad.”

A young woman in a jean dress snatched up three copies of Devilish Deserts, handing the top one to Kate. “Could you make this one out to me? Bonni? That’s B-O-N-N-I. No E. And this one to my mom, Sylvia? And this one’s for my sister, Denise.”

Kate began signing, silently chanting the names in her head to block out thoughts of Brad and whatever he’d posted on the internet. She never should have gone out with him. She, of all people, knew a lot of pretty frosting often covered a flavorless cake. Unfortunately, Brad Glass was THE man red-blooded women the world over wanted. Only they wanted what they saw on the big screen. Fantasy man.

In reality, Brad was height challenged and made up for it with an ego the size of Montana and a nose to go with it. Besides the fact he was gay.

Of course, even he hadn’t realized that yet. Mr. Megastar brandished denial with the same nonchalance he did everything else. He’d tried to convince himselfand her thathis bronchitis medication had kept him from performing in bed the one time he’d seduced Kate. She may have been from Montana instead of L.A., but she wasn’t stupid.

Bonni, no E, handed Gabby the money for the books. “My mom is upset about your announcement, but Denise and I don’t care. We think it’s okay to be gay.”

“What?” Kate looked up, and Bonni smiled a sympathetic smile.

“It’s okay. Really.”

“Of course, it’s okay, but I’m not gay.”

Bonni brushed her confession away with a hand flip. “Brad said he did everything he could to turn you back to normal, but it didn’t work. Goodness, if Brad Cross can’t change your stripes—” she made a fanning motion with her hand “—you must be one of those gay people who are born that way. It’s in your genes.”

Sliding her gaze to Gabby’s face, Kate clenched her teeth. “What is she talking about?”

The PR manager cringed and offered a strained smile. “Brad’s blog. This morning, right after you went on the air, he suggested you had hang-ups about men. I believe ‘frigid’ was the term he used and in conjunction with those photos he posted—the ones with you and Rosie at his birthday party? It was actually one of his fans who suggested you were gay and the proverbial light bulb apparently went on and now…” Gabby shrugged. “Larry King, Ellen and Oprah have all called in the past fifteen minutes wanting exclusive interviews. If you’re coming out, that is.”

The entire group of women fell silent, all eyes on Kate. Focus. Control. Drawing a stabilizing breath, she unclenched her teeth and tried not to yell. “Coming out? Why would I come out when, between Brad and me, I’m not the one who’s gay?”

A murmur of excitement rippled through the group. Gabby pinched her lips together and made tiny no-no-no motions with her head. Dozens of perfect black curls swung around her big eyes and then stopped as the PR Queen took over. “Perhaps Larry will bump his guest tonight if you’d like to tell your side of things.”

Brad had claimed to be head over heels for Kate two months earlier. Their work schedules had made it impossible for the two stars to have any kind of relationship, however. To top it off, Kate’s hackles constantly went up because of the media’s interpretation of her as Brad’s arm bling.

She was a lot of things, but bling on a man’s arm was not one of them.

During their short affair, she’d struggled with Brad’s blatant flirtation with every waiter, every limo driver, and every bodyguard, male or female, they’d encountered during their dates. While she’d thought it was just a Hollywood thing, it was too over the top for her. Too weird. Then when Brad suspected she was about to break up with him, he took the young, sexy costar of his new movie Operation: Vampire to a party at WorldScene, the Hollywood hotspot of the week. He never took Kate there.

The Scum Bag.

So she took herself. And had a great time with her tribe of friends.

Typical of me to attract the Big Fish in town and then pay for it. Ten years ago, it was Nick Juno, her hometown’s high society Golden Boy. Now it was Brad Glass, megastar. The two men couldn’t have been more different and yet they’d both taught Kate the same thing: love fails. It was an uncontrollable, seat-of-your-pants, imperfect emotion. If there was one thing Kate hated, it was lack of control. Imperfection. Seat-of-your-pants anything.

Okay, that’s three things I hate. Love is all three.

Bonni handed over the next book. On autopilot, Kate opened the cover and jotted a brief note to the woman’s mother. “Larry King? That would be He Said, She Said. No one wants to hear my side of things.”

“I do,” Bonni piped up. Several women behind her nodded their heads.

“Me too,” one agreed.

Bonni’s face filled with pity. “I’m really sorry he dumped you, even if you are gay. You two made such a cute couple. It will be really hard to find such a great guy again. Or girl. Or…whatever you’re looking for.”

Heat rushed to her cheeks. Katelyn Karr, dumped by a great guy. She could see the marquee floating above her head, invisible, but there all the same. Yeah, Brad was a great guy all right. A great guy lying about her to cover his backside. Forget that he was spreading rumors. The world was feeling sorry for her because she’d been dumped by such a great guy.

That bothered her.

Time to rally. “If you really want to know about Brad, what do you say we all hit Guido’s up the street for an early lunch? I’ll buy, and—” she smiled, evil intent kicking her bravado up “—I’ll tell you a few thingsthat will curl your toes.”

As one, the women gasped. Hands flew to chests. Excited chattering filled the air.

“Katelyn,” Gabby warned. “What are you doing?”

Kate turned her signature smile from the fans to her best friend. “I’m taking this nice group of women to lunch. My fans are my best press, Gabby. You taught me that. No matter what Brad says, I’ve got nothing in my closet to hide.”

Except my past in Secret. But no one cared about her past in Montana beyond where and when she’d been born. Her story, the one the press had gobbled up, started when she hit the road at seventeen to make her way to the bright lights and big city.

Shaking her head, Gabby laughed softly. “You’re going to out Brad Glass, Megastar.”

“I would never do such a thing.”

And she wasn’t going to. She really didn’t want to out Brad or anyone else. All she wanted was to focus on her own career. Brad, however, was making that difficult, so she’d at least solidify her popularity with her fans. “Passive-aggressive men are best ignored. Brad isn’t man enough to break things off in a nice way and I don’t appreciate it. He’s embarrassing me publicly, and if he isn’t careful, I’ll bring him down. Maybe not today, but if he doesn’t quit slandering me, I will defend myself. This may be Hollywood, but no one is going to smear my name without getting a little dirt on himself.”

“A woman scorned and all that.”

Kate picked up the next book and signed her name with a flourish. She rarely swore, but the occasion seemed to call for it. “Damn right.”

About the author

USA TODAY Bestselling Author Misty Evans has published forty novels and writes romantic suspense, urban fantasy, and paranormal romance.