The Beast Gets His Cowgirl in the Show Me State - Jessie Gussman

Chapter 1

“And... Roll!”

The red taping light came on, and Madeline flashed a smile that showcased both deep dimples in her cheeks. It was part of what had made her famous. Those dimples.

That, and her mossy green eyes.

Well, and her classic features, which she got from her mother.

Her childhood in the UK was a long time ago and felt far away as she stood in the kitchen studio in the middle of Hollywood with a giant NFL football player in front of her. She couldn’t remember his name. Jarvis? Jarnell? Something with a J. No, wait, the J was last week. Or the week before.

Bollocks, she should at least remember the guy’s name.

“Khalil.” A quiet voice came in her earpiece. Cheryl, bless her sweet heart. Madeline had no idea what she’d do without her best friend who happened to hail from Australia.

Making a mental note to thank her later, she looked up at the giant beside her. “So now, Khalil, you know what we’re doing next, right?”

She pulled her cheeks in tighter to really make her dimples jump. She was an expert at it. It was necessary to distract from the fact that, while she was a world-famous chef, with five best-selling cookbooks out, and an even better selling children’s cookbook, and two cooking shows, she didn’t, in fact, have the slightest idea of how to cook.

She could barely boil water.

She was forever grateful for Cheryl.

Few people could resist her dimples, and Khalil wasn’t one of them. He gave her a killer smile, not anything that helped him be successful on the field in the NFL, but it probably was a huge boon to him off the field. Maybe if they’d been sitting at a bar together, that smile would’ve made her own grow real.

But they weren’t at a bar, they were in front of the cameras on her cooking show, and she had to be on her game.

“I think it’s gotta be time to eat.” Khalil clapped his teeth together, not the first time he’d done it during taping, and Madeline had almost grown used to it. She didn’t even blink that time. She’d met all kinds on her show, honestly, but this was the first teeth clacker.

“Not quite. A good meal takes time and patience.” Her British accent made her words ring with authority. Or at least that’s what people told her when they watched her show. She hoped so. Her accent was another one of those buffers, like her smile, her dimples, and her facial features that she put out there to take people’s attention off the one thing that could make her entire kingdom of cards come crashing down.

“Take the tomatoes and pour them over the top of the chicken in the slow cooker.” Cheryl’s voice came softly in her earpiece.

Madeline’s hand reached out for the bowl with the red things in them.

“No! Not the red peppers. The tomatoes. Next bowl over.”

Cheryl always had her back. Thankfully. She didn’t know why it was so hard for her to tell vegetables apart, although she did know why she’d never been able to learn how to cook.

Well, she didn’t actually know. It had something to do with her artist brain and the fact that she couldn’t concentrate for more than three seconds at a time. That made her good at seeing the next business opportunity and always staying on top of trends, but it made it really hard for her to learn anything that took more than a glance or that – even worse – actually had steps to it. It was a miracle, and a testament to her mother’s determination, that she could even read.

“We’re going to put these tomatoes with green chilis over the top of the chicken in the slow cooker. Would you like to do the honors, Khalil?” She added batting eyes to her flashing dimples.

Khalil held out his hand and took the bowl. “Like this?” He held the bowl over the chicken in the slow cooker, waiting to pour until she gave the okay.

“Yes. Just like that,” Cheryl’s voice spoke into her earbud.

“Yes. Just like that,” Madeline echoed.

She watched as the big man carefully poured the tomatoes over the chicken, never getting over the fact that she had her own cooking show and had no bloody clue what to do next.

“The bacon! The bacon in the oven! You better get that out, or it’s going to burn.”

“The bacon!” she exclaimed, startling Khalil, who dumped the last half of the tomatoes out in a blob rather