To Catch a Thief - By Sherryl Woods
The office at Café Tuscany on Manhattan’s Upper West Side was little bigger than a broom closet, large enough for a desk, a chair and a bookshelf crammed with cookbooks, nutrition reports, menus and file boxes of handwritten recipes. It could only hold one person at a time, but at the moment Gina Petrillo’s feeling of claustrophobia had more to do with the court document in her hand than the size of the space.
“I’m going to kill him,” she muttered, fingers trembling as the summons to appear for a deposition slid to the desk. “If I ever get my hands on Bobby, I am going to kill him.”
She had met Roberto Rinaldi when they were both studying cooking in Italy. A passionate enthusiast of fine food, Bobby was an intuitive genius in the kitchen. They had struck up an instant rapport that had more to do with ingenious blends of sauces and inventive uses for pasta than lust.
Truthfully, Gina wouldn’t have trusted Bobby anywhere near her bed. The man was more fickle about women than he was about ingredients. He was constantly experimenting with both. He got away with it because he was charming, impossible to resist when he tempted with either delectable dishes or devilish kisses—at least according to his many conquests.
Gina had ignored his romantic overtures and concentrated on his skills in the kitchen. He was the most creative chef she had met during all of her studies, which was saying quite a lot. After forsaking college, she had studied at some of the finest culinary institutes in Europe. Though she had loved French cuisine, from the gourmet recipes of Paris to the simpler fare of Provence, Italian cooking spoke to her soul. Maybe it was genetic, maybe not, but the first time she had walked into the kitchen in Rome with its aromas of garlic, tomatoes and olive oil, she had felt at home.
It had been the same for Bobby, or so he had claimed. His recipes were both bold and adventurous. She doubted he’d ever tasted plain old pasta and tomato sauce, much less eaten canned ravioli, even as a child.
Five years ago, when the year-long course in Italy had ended, they had agreed to form a partnership, seek out investors among Bobby’s financial contacts and open a restaurant in New York. It had taken another year to put the deal together, but it had been worth all of the scrimping and sacrifice, all of the long nights scraping paint and sanding floors. Café Tuscany had been a dream for both of them.
Apparently, it had also been Bobby’s personal get-rich-quick scheme.
According to the summons she’d been handed an hour ago, Bobby had not only embezzled restaurant funds, but stolen from their backers, as well. A check of the café’s account, made just minutes ago, confirmed the worst—the coffers were empty. And the rent was due, as were payments on invoices from most of their vendors.
Gina had no one to blame but herself for this disaster. She had allowed Bobby to keep track of their finances, because she was more interested in cooking and marketing than calculating. The fact that an outsider—an attorney representing the supposedly swindled backers—knew more about the state of the business’s finances than she did was humiliating. It didn’t seem to matter that she had done her part to make the business thrive. She was as much at fault as the man who’d run off with the money. At least, that was the implication in the summons.
Gina thought of all she had sacrificed to put Café Tuscany on the map, including a personal life. But it had been worth it. With a promotional push by one of her old high school classmates, superstar Lauren Winters, Gina had launched Café Tuscany as the hottest restaurant in a town where five-star dining and excellent neighborhood eateries were a dime a dozen. Prime tables were booked weeks in advance, and special events were sold out. Celebrities liked to be seen here, their presence always noted in the next day’s papers. In the past year, their brand-new catering division had been booked for a dozen of society’s most important charity events. With each success had come new bookings that kept her on the go morning till night.
So where had all that money gone? To finance some new scheme of Bobby’s, no doubt. Or perhaps to freshen his designer wardrobe of Italian suits. Or maybe to buy diamonds for his latest lover. All Gina knew for certain was that