Susan Mallery
2006, Contemporary Romance
HQN, $6.99, 379 pages, Amazon ASIN 0373770561
Part of a series

Grade: B
Sensuality: Warm

Seattle and fine restaurants seem to go hand in hand in my mind and make a rather delightful setting for romance. But a romantic dinner for two is hardly the scenario in Delicious since its focus is on the fast-paced business behind the ambiance and excellent dinner fare. And there is an additional element of intrigue – this tale features a formerly married couple who reunite as co-workers.

Cal Buchanan grew up amidst power as a member of the illustrious Buchanan family known for their restaurant empire. Expectations were high that Cal would one day run the family dynasty, but the manipulative nature of his grandmother eventually caused Cal to leave the family business far behind. Now the owner of a prosperous coffee house chain, Cal has no desire to help his grandmother when she asks him to return and rescue their flagship restaurant from its growing reputation for bad food and worse service. But family loyalty calls and Cal agrees to manage the operation for four months. First on his agenda is finding an imaginative chef with trusted name recognition to run the back operation and create a menu that is both delectable and memorable.

After working years to prove herself, Penny Jones has garnered a reputation as a chef of some renown. Since marriage to Cal once made her feel she wasn’t good enough to make it in their world, Penny can’t help but feel excited that her ex-husband now has need of her talents and is willing to pay for them as well. As she prepares to see Cal for the first time since their divorce three years ago, Penny determines to act purely as the professional chef she is and forget that he once broke her heart and trampled her fragile dreams. But she is still unprepared for the effect Cal has on her when he shows up for their meeting looking better than ever and just as belligerent despite his need for her skills.

Cal needs Penny’s name to dig the restaurant out of its hole so he comes with a competitive offer. He wants to tell her that there are five chefs who can do the job as well but he can’t truthfully do so. And he should have anticipated that she wants much more than a job as a chef – she wants an opportunity to build her future. He can only grit his teeth and attempt to keep a lid on his anger as she negotiates hard for her services and receives most of what she wants, including her name on the menu, complete control in back, and four weeks vacation.

Penny's aspirations for the future include more than fame – most importantly, it includes a family. After years of wanting a child, Penny has embraced the concept of single parenthood and is ecstatic about her pregnancy. Fearing this bit of information may keep Cal from hiring her, Penny remains silent about the baby she is carrying. After all, he knows when she is taking her four week vacation and assures herself that theirs is a new-millennium relationship wherein her parental status will have nothing to do with their ability to work together.

Cal and Penny operate as equals with a shared tendency to push, but ultimately they must learn to compromise – an overused phrase certainly, but effective in this scenario since compromise involves both their jobs and personal relationship. As both learn to respect the other on a new level, they finally begin to dig into the problems and misunderstandings that caused their breakup.

Delicious is the first of a series featuring the four Buchanan restaurants and siblings Cal, Reid, Dani, and Walker. All appear in this first entry, with Reid playing the part of Penny’s best friend. Gloria Buchanan, the family matriarch, is not a character I look forward to revisiting - she is just too mean and petty and more than a little unrealistic. Regardless, this is a series I plan to follow and I am already anticipating Walker and Reid’s stories. You will definitely want to check Mallery’s website – it has a delightful summary of this series, complete excerpts from all four books, and planned release dates. Irresistible, Walker’s book, is scheduled for July 2006.

Not only is this a story of a divorced couple reunited, it is also a story of a man learning to love and risk his heart for the first time. There is a high level of interaction between Cal and Penny throughout just as I like it and their relationship remains the primary focus with no suspense in the mix. Besides a rather abrupt ending and the evil grandmother, I enjoyed Delicious and it left me wanting more of Cal and Penny. I hope they make some significant reappearances throughout the series.

-- Lea Hensley

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