James’ cell phone ring seeped through the haze of unconsciousness he’d tried so hard to cloak himself in. Sitting up groggily, he swiped his palm over his face, feeling days’ worth of stubble on his chin and cheeks. He let out a groan as his gaze landed on the mess surrounding him, remembering his desire to envelop himself in drunken oblivion last night after his daughter’s parting words before slamming the door to spend the night with her friend.
“Grow up, Dad.”
He ignored the phone as tendrils of last night’s discussion broke through his haze.
“You’re not old enough to date. Period.”
“Right, and you’re the expert?”
“For Christ’s sakes Nicollette, you’re twelve!”
She’d announced her desire to spend the night with friends at some sleep-over, and James had put his foot down. After the one-sided discussion about boys, James didn’t trust her to not sneak around.
When she’d left in a huff, to walk to her friend’s house against his wishes, he’d called the mother of said friend to make sure all was right in the world.
After her reassurance no boys were coming to the sleep over, and she’d keep an eye out, he’d drunk himself stupid.
Nicolette didn’t trust him, and James couldn’t blame her. He’d never known of her existence until recently, when her mother died tragically. Olivia had been a force of nature, a whirlwind of life, when he’d known her. They’d dated years ago, back when they were both young and learning how to deal with their respective successes—he with his restaurant, she with her modeling. They’d met at the restaurant after she’d asked to give her compliments to the chef, and he’d been smitten with the vibrant beauty. They’d dated for nearly a year, but her travels and his arrogance had driven a wedge between them. He’d never known she was pregnant.
So when Olivia had died six months ago, he’d been saddened to hear of her passing. When her lawyer had contacted him, telling him he now had custody of a daughter he’d never known he had, he’d immediately ordered a paternity test. Of course it was positive, and James was still trying to figure out how to include Nicolette in the downward spiral that was his life.
Of course, she didn’t believe he’d never known about her. How could she? She loved her mother, and knowing that Olivia had kept her a secret from him was damaging to a young girl’s psyche, he’d imagine. He wouldn’t believe him either.
So she hated him. Hated him for never being involved, for not knowing her birthday, for existing. He had no way of knowing if she had always been difficult, or if he just brought that out in her.
Well, he wouldn’t be winning any parenting awards any time soon, he thought to himself as he eyed the pizza box sitting open with one-slice of greasy pizza missing, and a bevy of beer bottles strewn about.
His phone started ringing again. Infernal thing.
Finding it between the cushions on the sofa, he managed to get his voice together enough to not croak out, “—lo?”
“James, sweetheart, we need to meet. I think I’ve got you a job.”
“Thank fuck, Adelle.” Any time his agent said those words, James felt a sinking in his stomach. It was never the right job, but at the moment, he’d lick pavements for money to make his mortgage payment.
“Can you meet me in an hour? At the coffee shop under my office? This one could be the one.”
Trying to reign in excitement at the prospect of his agent finally finding him the job he’d been wanting, he promised her he’d be there, then dialed Sharon where his daughter was staying to see if she could keep an eye on Nicollette for the rest of the morning.
“You’re shitting me…” James ran his palm over his stubble again, wishing he’d shaved before meeting Adelle. He would have had time. She’d been twenty minutes late, completely disregarding his attempt at meeting her on time, eyeing his wrinkled state with distaste as she’d sat. Her “job” was a joke.
“No, I’m not. They want you specifically. You’ve got the quality they’re looking for in their host.”
“I can’t host a dating show, I’m a chef! I cook. I do food. Not relationships.”
“Look, the way they put it to me is, you’re the quintessential dater. And you’re sexy. You have the look, and you have the skills they want. This could be your break, James. Maybe you can even figure out a way to get some recipes on the show. It might lead to what you’re looking for, but in the meanwhile, it’s a paycheck.”
His palm stopped rubbing his face long enough for his face to drop into it. They wanted him to help people who couldn’t date? These reality TV shows were getting out of hand. He’d never really watched them, except for the few exceptions on EAT TV, where he would have done anything to have a show of his own. Instead he’d been a judge and guest chef a couple of times, but even those had been fewer and fewer the last year.
Sonata, the four-star restaurant he’d built from scratch should have been something he could fall back on. But he’d sold it, against his agent’s wishes, three years ago. That seemed to be his kiss of death—starting the downward spiral of his TV career. If he’d realized owning the restaurant would give him such credibility with casting agents, he’d have kept it. At the time, though, he’d only thought it a major time suck, pulling his focus from his TV career. Now, it would be a great source of income to fall back on.
“What about EAT TV? They have nothing?”
She shook her head. “Your reputation isn’t what they’re looking for. I’ve brought you up at several meetings with their producers and casting agents, and your less than stellar history is a black mark, hon. Fortunately, that reputation is what’s got you this gig. You really shouldn’t turn your nose up so fast.”
She was right. He was behind on his condo payments, and his daughter’s needs were expensive. He had to continue paying the housekeeper, and his own lifestyle wasn’t cheap either. A date was a couple of hundred bucks, if he wanted to get laid, easy. He felt like a total sell out, but he needed the money.
Sighing into his hands again, he finally brought his gaze up to Adelle’s. “Alright. Set it up.”