Today's Reading

China and Trisha high-fived. Were her best friends high-fiving her failure?

Trisha grabbed Ashna's hand, dragged her into the dining area, and pushed her into a chair with the stupid know-it-all smile Ashna was only too familiar with.

Looking at China for answers simply caused her friend to study her beer bottle.

"Now that you have a boyfriend," Ashna said to Trisha, not attempting to hide her irritation, "shouldn't you be home spending time with him instead of worrying about Curried Dreams?"

Trisha dropped into a chair across from Ashna. "First, you should smack me upside the head if I let myself get involved with someone who doesn't understand how much you and Curried Dreams mean to me."

Fair enough. But Ashna kept her eyes stubbornly narrowed. "Second, this actually has to do with said boyfriend. DJ needs your help." Trisha tried to look pleading, but she was incapable of pulling off helplessness.

Ashna very much doubted DJ needed help, and she could clearly imagine the scene where he had tried to stop Trisha from whatever fanciful errand she was on.

"Right," Ashna said, leaning forward in her chair. "First, if DJ needed my help, he'd ask himself. Second, I know that face." She stuck a finger at Trisha. "And that one." She moved her finger to China's face. "What are you two up to? Spit it out. I need to be at the farmer's market at five a.m."

"There's my girl. We would very much love to spit it out." Finally China spoke, relief clear in her alpha-of-the-pack voice. Her ability to lead crews through crazy schedules had made Food Network steal her away from a local production company earlier this year.

"So, you know how DJ was going to be a pro on my new show?" China was one of the producers on Cooking with the Stars—a new competitive show that followed the format of Dancing with the Stars, where they teamed up celebrities with professional chefs and the duos duked it out for viewer votes and judges' scores.

Ashna had helped China and Trisha talk (bully?) DJ into it. DJ was handsome, madly talented, charismatic, and had that magic element for American television: a Very British Accent.

"Did you say was?" Ashna asked, alarmed.

"Yeah, he's not going to be a pro chef on the show anymore." Trisha sounded far too cheery.

"I thought he was all excited about it. What happened?"

"Well," China said, "Aaron Smith, our host for the show, his wife has cancer. So he had to quit to take care of her."

"Oh no. That's so sad." Ashna pressed a hand to her mouth. "Yes. But the prognosis is excellent. Catching ovarian cancer at stage one is a win." Trisha sounded every inch the doctor she was. "DJ is taking over as host."

"DJ? Our DJ?" Ashna sat up.

"The very one." Trisha beamed like a smitten fool. "It's the accent. Also, he's actually a better fit to host the show than Aaron was in the first place. He knows so much more about food. Plus, I was a little worried about him working with a celebrity. He's such a diva about cooking, I can't imagine him teaming up with someone who might not turn out something utterly perfect."

Ashna grabbed China's beer and took a sip. "What does all this have to do with me?" The moment the words left her mouth, she knew she shouldn't have asked.

"Well, the network is set to announce the pro chefs the day after tomorrow on a special episode of Iron Chef. We've been promoting it for months." China grabbed the beer back and took a sip. "And we're short a chef."

"Oh no, look at the time." Ashna jumped out of her chair. "If I don't close up I won't be able to get to the farmer's market before all the best produce is gone. Palo Alto chefs are ruthless. You won't believe how fast everything gets swept away. Last week they ran out of bitter melon because I was twelve minutes late."

Using both hands, Ashna tried to yank China out of her chair, but she didn't budge. "This doesn't sound like an emergency." It totally sounded like an emergency. For Ashna, not them. "We can discuss it tomorrow." She tried to move Trisha with similar results. "Don't you have work tomorrow? Surgeries maybe? Saving lives and all that?"

China made her best puppy-dog eyes. "Trisha will have her lives to save. You'll have your restaurant to run." Her sigh took on a desperate quality that didn't sound like she was faking. "But I won't have work to go to. Not if I don't have a new chef to replace DJ by tomorrow."

Boom.

Trisha and China stared at Ashna with all the gleeful expectation of friends who had you perfectly cornered.

"Of course you'll find a chef to replace DJ. Chefs have to be scrambling to get on your show."

"Like who? We start shooting in less than a month. How will I run auditions before the announcement in one day?"

"How about..." Ashna racked her brains. Why oh why hadn't she worked harder to network with her peers? She wanted to help. Truly, she did.

"You know how hot DJ is," Trisha said.

"We need someone hot and talented," China said.

"I can't think of anyone—"

"We can," they both said in a perfectly delusional symphony. "You, Ashna."


This excerpt ends on page 16 of the paperback edition.

Monday we begin the book A Tender Thing by Emily Neuberger.
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