have a peek!
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: BITE TELEVISION ANNOUNCES NEW ADDITION TO FALL PRIMETIME LINEUP
Atlanta, Georgia, March 14th: BITE Television has cooked up their latest hit, mixing some of their viewing audience’s favorite things: travel, food, and a splash of sweet heat are on the menu in their new series, We’ll Bite! BITE Television veteran and fan favorite, Lucas Nash will star with newcomer Georgia Graham in the show which is slated to begin production next month with a tentative air date of September.
I walked into the office of Bane Talent and made small talk with the receptionist as I waited for my agent to be available. Tasha Bane was one of the top reality television agents in the business. She had called me to come in to talk about an “exciting new opportunity,” as she put it.
As a rising star of BITE Television, my second book, Georgia Bakes: A Second Slice, was a best-seller. I loved Tasha. She found me doing a book signing at a women’s show in Nashville not long after I’d won the Southern Baking Championships right out of high school. She was vibrant, polished, and easy to talk to. Her expertise and industry contacts quickly led to me getting a new show on BITE Television.
In its first season, my show, Sweet, Georgia! was one of the network’s top-grossing shows of all-time. As I sat waiting to find out what new surprise Tasha had in store, I thought about my career. Even with everything I had experienced, sometimes, none of it seemed quite real to me.
Within a year of graduating from high school, I was a best-selling author and Tasha had secured me a show on the hottest food channel on TV. The social media followers I had managed to develop during the Southern Baking Championships had been quick converts to my television presence.
Tasha had always said that my personality, combined with appearance and southern charm had proven a winning combination. I wasn’t sure about all that. There were lots of beautiful women working at BITE TV, but I always thought people liked me because I looked like a real person.
My blonde hair was a mess of unruly curls, and I had a few freckles across my nose. I had some curves, but I was so short, they had to build a platform in the kitchen where I shot my segments to put me at a reasonable height over the counters for the camera. I was a far cry from your typical tall, exotic beauty like so many of the other network stars.
As I sat in the office, waiting, I was pleating the hem of my floral dress. It was a nervous habit, but better than the nail-biting the network had made me give up when my hands began appearing on camera in cooking segments.
“Hon, Tasha’s ready for you now, go on in,” the receptionist said.
“Thanks, Dara,” I responded with a smile. I stood up straight, flicked my long, loose blonde curls back behind my shoulder, and walked into my agent’s office as confidently as I could muster.
“Georgia!” Tasha jumped up and walked around the desk as soon as I came in, hugging me tightly. Tasha was an elegant woman, five-foot-ten – taller in heels – with a slim frame. Her short, sleek hair perfectly accentuated her long graceful neck, and the jet-black color offset her beautiful, cappuccino-colored skin.
“Honey, you look tastier than a sweet potato cupcake! How are ya, darlin’?”
“Good, Tasha, really good, thanks.” I smiled up at her. Tasha was a money-making machine – that much I knew, but I also knew she didn’t take advantage of me. I was by far her youngest client at only twenty. Instead of taking advantage of my naiveté, I often felt like she was trying to protect me from the worst parts of the business.
“Have a seat – did Dara offer you some cucumber water?”
“She did, thanks, Tasha.” I sat back into the white leather sling chair across from my agent’s desk, trying to be cool. “I gotta tell ya, Tasha, I’m not quite sure what I’m doin’ here.”
“Georgia, just wait ‘til you hear what an opportunity I’ve got for you!” Tasha beamed at me. “So, you know Lucas Nash, right?”
“Oh my God, Lucas Nash? Of course! I grew up watchin’ him on TV, and I’ve got all his books. He’s amazin’! So talented!” I should’ve tried not to gush, but I meant it.
When I was in high school, I had studied all the most famous TV chefs and cookbook authors. When our mother had died, I had only been fourteen, and with my older sister in college, it was up to me to cook for my dad and twin brother. Lucas Nash had been one of my all-time favorites, and I learned a lot from his shows. I’d had a sort of crush on him back then, too.
Tasha dragged a photo of Lucas to the computer screen that was turned on her desk to face me. “Pretty easy on the eyes, huh?” Tasha winked at me, and I felt myself suddenly sit up very straight, my cheeks swiftly growing warm as the blush rose in them. He was tall, broad-shouldered, and had thick, wavy brown hair. Best of all, though, he had the dreamiest British accent I had ever heard. Holy shit he’s hot, I thought. He was gorgeous when I was a kid, and I swear he has only gotten hotter.
“Yeah, I mean he’s a good-looking man, for sure.” I tried to be cool but doubted I’d been successful. Tasha could always see right through me, after all. The photo Tasha was showing was one I recognized. He’d been one of People magazine’s sexiest men alive two years before, and the image showed him shirtless, cooking at a campfire as his blue eyes danced playfully while he looked up at the camera. I crossed my legs and squirmed a bit in my seat.
“So, Georgia, you know that Lucas has had some problems the past couple of years. He had a nasty divorce, and a lot of negative tabloid press after that – some of it based in truth, some of it not.” Tasha rolled her eyes. “The gossip rags can be brutal! Now you are another story! Your star is on fire right now! The fans love you…for the most part.” Tasha took on a more serious tone.
“I know you read all your press, despite how many times I’ve warned you not to,” she gave me a wry smile. “Some people love you – super sweet, and what you see is what you get. Some people, though, think you’re a little too sweet. They don’t believe you’re for real, or they think you’re a little too girl-next-door. They’re ready to stop seeing Georgia, the girl, and ready to see you as a grown-ass woman,” she snapped her fingers. “So, when this opportunity came up, I knew you were the perfect fit!”
“Wow, okay…,” I leaned back, putting my hands on the armrests of the chair. “I can see where it might be time to update my image a little. I can still be me, maybe just a little more refined version,” I nodded, more to myself than to Tasha. “So, what is the opportunity then, exactly?” My curiosity was definitely piqued.
“BITE Television is developing a new show that combines travel with cooking. The hosts will take viewers around the world, then cook a regional recipe. The working title is We’ll Bite! So, what do you think?” Tasha’s enthusiasm was contagious, and I couldn’t help but be excited.
“Wow, that’s sounds amazin’! Are you sure they want me?” I asked, pointing a finger at my own chest, surprised that they would want someone who had never been much of anywhere to show viewers the world.
“Honey, they asked for you by name! You would be hosting with none other than Lucas Nash. Sweet southern girl, a handsome English gentleman, both gorgeous, both popular, both talented...I think it’s a match made in TV Heaven! All we need to do is put you two together for a screen test, and make sure the chemistry is there. Speaking of which, when I say chemistry, that’s what the network is looking for, ya hear what I’m sayin’?” Tasha looked me up and down with a raised eyebrow to gauge if I had followed her meaning.
“Chemistry? Like, they want to be sure we get along on camera?” I asked.
“Look at the picture again,” Tasha pointed to a shirtless Lucas bending over a campfire. “Now look at this one,” the next photo showed a close-up of him, head and shoulders, with a neat beard, looking directly at the camera, the blue of his eyes so focused and bright, they seemed to glow from within. That image, in particular, made me feel as though he was looking right at me. I felt a warm spot grow between my thighs and shifted in my chair.
Tasha clicked through a slideshow with a few more images. Him laughing, one dimple on his left cheek showing, him in his chef’s jacket, and one of him emerging from the water, a tabloid photo that was taken somewhere on a European beach, his rippled chest and stomach glistening with a sheen of sea water. How can a man be that gorgeous? I lived on the outskirts of Nashville my whole life. I’d seen tons of celebrities in person, and none of them had ever looked like that.
I shifted uncomfortably, my mouth suddenly dry. “Could I – could I please get that water now?” I squeaked the question out. Tasha threw her head back and laughed.
“Sure thing,” she typed, presumably a message to Dara. “I don’t know about you, girl, but a man this fine is enough to lubricate my lingerie any day!” She laughed again, and I snickered at the evocative turn of phrase.
“If this,” she pointed to the washboard abs in the photo with her pen, “doesn’t make you hot, then men might not be for you. Know what I’m sayin’?”
Dara appeared a moment later and silently handed me the glass of water. I took a big gulp, nodding my head in agreement.
“So that look on your face right now?” Tasha continued, “That look like you’ve been on a no-carb diet for a month, and someone just set the most luscious piece of chocolate fudge cake in front of you? The network wants to see you looking like that at each other. You can keep your sweet, girl-next-door smile, but if you could throw in a sultry grin here and there, maybe a playful little pout, or graze his shoulders with the tips of your fingers when you step around him in kitchen…that’s what I mean by chemistry. Do you think that will be a problem on your side of the equation?”
“I – I don’t think so,” I replied, “I may need to practice some of those looks, so they’re more comfortable. Making sexy faces feels a little silly if I’m honest.” I smirked a little at the thought of me trying to be sexy.
“Well, if you aren’t comfortable…I know Jackie Maloney would jump at the chance to screen test with Lucas…” Tasha was goading me, and I knew it.
Jackie wasn’t exactly a rival – we always got along. I didn’t care for her over-the-top sexy persona, though. She always wore too much makeup and showed too much cleavage. On her show, Slow Drip, Jackie focused on coffee culture, and always said, “Oh my gawwwd,” after every sip or bite as if the very act of consuming food or beverages gave her an orgasm. It was all a bit much in my opinion.
Tasha pulled up a photo of me next to the one of Lucas, then added a photo of Jackie. “Hmm…not my first choice, but she’d jump at the chance if you’d like me to call her.”
I furrowed my brow, crinkling my nose a little and stuck out my bottom lip, an expression of disappointment I didn’t even know I’d made until Tasha pointed it out.
“THAT!” Tasha said, quickly grabbing her phone and snapping a photo, turning it for me to see. “That pout right there! Maybe lose the forehead wrinkle though.” She snickered. “Girl, please! You know I’m not gonna send Jackie’s overexposed ass. I want you for this. So whadya say?”
“I say, when and where do you want me for the screen test?” I smiled.
“I’ve got you scheduled in LA next week. First, though, I booked you a spa day on Friday at La Visage to update your look. I’ll send you all the deets.”
“How long will I be gone filming? That’s if I get it, I mean,” I said.
“If everything works out, you’ll be filming on location for about three to four months. All goes well…there could be a book and even a second season. There could be a lot of money in it, and some great exposure,” Tasha replied.
“When you say a lot of money…,” I tilted my head slightly, raising an eyebrow at my agent.
“Lord, pity the fool that underestimates you, Georgia Graham!” Tasha laughed. “I knew you’d ask! You’ll get $15k per episode – that’s $225k for a 15-episode arc. There’ll be residuals, of course, and if there ends up being a book deal and tour, that could be lucrative, too. The more positive press you generate during filming, the higher the bonus...of course, I get my standard rates.” Tasha winked at me. “Now Lucas commands a higher rate, but he…,” she started to defend his salary.
“He is none of my concern as far as that goes,” I cut her off. “He’s a star. I get that I don’t warrant those kinds of rates,” I said, then added, “Not yet, anyway.” I sat back casually in my chair, but inside, my stomach was doing flips. The pay was four times what I had made in my first season with the network, and it was money I desperately needed.
“I’m glad you’re on board, Georgia,” Tasha said. She walked around the desk and hugged me goodbye.
As I turned to walk away, I saw Tasha grab her phone and hastily send a text, smirking.
Outside the office, I climbed into my 1998 Chevy pickup and headed back home. I couldn’t wait to tell my Dad about the opportunity. He wouldn’t love his baby girl being away from home for so long, but the money would sure help. The last few years had been rough on us.
Our mother’s sudden illness and quick decline had taken its toll on our father. After she was gone, though, it felt as though the entire homestead, from the land to the old house, was determined to follow her to the grave.
“Soil’s gone still,” my father had said after the third low-yield season. A man came out from the University of Tennessee’s agriculture department to survey the situation. He was a professor. One of the guys my sister Celia had gone to school with, Mike, was in his class, and he had apprised the man of the situation on our farm. The professor was interested because of the history of the place.
A Graham had farmed that piece of land for over two hundred years, ever since Owen Graham had received the property as part of a Revolutionary War grant. The professor came out with an SUV full of equipment for testing irrigation and the levels of different chemicals in the soil.
Daddy rotated the crops, putting different plants in different tracts each year, a trick passed down from our great-great-grandfather. When the professor had finished all his testing, he gave Daddy a 206-page report, bound with a navy-blue cover, that told him all about the soil erosion, and levels of potassium and alkaline in each tract. The end result was the same. At the end of the conversation, Daddy said simply, “Like I said, son – soil’s gone still. Thanks for coming out.”
The Graham farm was more than an agricultural legacy, though. All the Grahams going back to the seventeen-eighties were buried in the family cemetery at the end of the harvest road, including our mother. Since Daddy couldn’t make much of anything grow there anymore, the government subsidies were running out faster than the tax liens were piling up.
Developers stopped by every month to leave him their business cards, interested in putting up subdivisions and shopping centers. If one of us didn’t come up with a plan, and some cash, sooner rather than later, he would have no choice but to start parceling out our birthright.
My hands gripped the faded steering wheel tightly as I drove home. Pulling into the gravel parking area beside the back door to the kitchen, Rome’s car was there, but Daddy’s truck was not. The screen door screeched and clanged against the frame as I walked through it.
“Hey Ro,” I said, squeezing my brother’s neck in the crook of my arm in a move that was part affectionate, part headlock. He was sitting at the kitchen table working on his laptop. “How was class?”
“Good, I guess. I still don’t understand why I have to take Survey of American Literature for a music degree, but I don’t have much choice, do I? What about you? Was it a meetin’ with your agent you went to?” He stood up and poured himself a glass of tea from the pitcher in the refrigerator. Without having to look, he put his glass down on the counter and reached behind him for the empty one I was already handing him. He filled it and gave it back to me.
“Yeah,” I said, leaning against the counter. As I spoke, I texted Daddy.
ME: in the kitchen – come back to the house – have good news
“Well, Geo, you gonna tell me what that was about, or are we playin’ twenty questions?” Rome leaned against the counter next to me, crossing his feet just as I did. Geo, pronounced like J-o-e, was the nickname that only he called me. In turn, I called him Ro. We’d done it since we could first talk. Like mirroring, it was one of the things peculiar to our twin bond.
Although he had a good foot on me in height, and his blonde hair was a shade or two darker than mine, everything else about us matched. His hair was curly, just like mine, and he had the same scattering of freckles across his turned-up nose. His apple cheeks made his eyes crinkle at the corners when he laughed, just like mine did.
I loved being a twin and loved Ro with my whole heart. I was closer with him than I was with our sister Celia, and I knew that above everyone else, that no matter what, Ro would always have my back.
“Oh, sorry, distracted.” I tossed the phone onto the counter and grabbed a couple of apples from a basket nearby, handing him one. “So, I was gonna wait for Daddy to tell both of ya’ll at once, but, anyway, Tasha is sending me to audition for a new show. In LA. How ya like that?” I took a bite from the bright green orb and caught the tart juice with the back of my hand before it had the chance to drip to the bottom of my chin.
“Really? That’s great! What kinda show?” Rome asked.
“A travel show. Can you believe that shit? Sending a girl who’s never been anywhere to show people where they should go on vacation? Anyway, it’s part travel, part cooking, and I’ll have a co-host – if I get it, I mean.”
“That sounds pretty cool,” Rome replied.
“What sounds cool?” Daddy asked as he walked into the kitchen, the screen door clanging behind him.
“Daddy, you’ll never believe it!” I threw my arms around my father’s neck. Heat rose off his clothes and skin from having spent the afternoon in the sun, working in the field. “I have an audition for a new show, and it’s a really, really good gig! I’d be traveling with a co-host, going to different places, showing people where to eat and what to see.”
“You mean like New Orleans and Chicago and places like that?” He deposited a kiss on top of my head and broke the embrace to get a glass of water from the tap.
“Uh, well, a little further than that, actually,” I said tentatively. “Our first season would include London, Paris, Rome, and a few other cities in Europe.”
Daddy rubbed the stubble of his chin with a calloused finger and thumb. “I don’t know, baby girl – that seems awfully far. You’d be gone for how long, ‘xactly?”
“About 3 or 4 months. But Daddy, the co-host will be Lucas Nash. Lucas Nash!”
“You’re sayin’ that like it’s supposed to mean something, Georgia.” He turned to refill his glass at the sink.
“He’s the TV chef – the British one. I’ve watched him since I was a kid.” I looked at my father, but it was clear that what I said wasn’t registering with him at all. “Hold on.” I went to the pantry and pulled a stack of books from the shelf, bringing them back to the kitchen and depositing them on the counter.
I held up one with Lucas’ picture on the cover. He was posing behind a farmhouse table full of vegetables. “This guy,” I said, pointing to the cover.
“Oh, right, I think I have seen him on the TV. I dunno though, Georgia. I don’t like the idea of you being halfway across the world on your own like that for so long. What if somethin’ happened to ya?” He still wasn’t convinced.
“Dad,” Rome said, “Geo is smart – smarter than any of the rest of us! She’ll be careful and do everything she can to stay safe.” I tapped my brother’s arm affectionately with my fingertips.
“Ro’s right, Dad, I’ll be careful. Besides, there will be a whole film crew with us the whole time. I go to LA on Monday for a screen test. If I get the job, I’m takin’ it!” Daddy crossed his arms and looked at me.
“Daddy,” I stepped forward, lightly gripping his still-crossed forearm with my fingertips. “It’s a lot of money. Enough to pay off the tax lien.”
“For the whole year?” He asked.
“No, Daddy, the whole thing. All of it. It’ll be ours free and clear again.” I tried to fight the emotions stirring in me as my lip began to quiver. If I could pull this off – if I could pay off the liens on the farm, Daddy could quit working so hard for so little. He was getting older, and I worried about him, especially with Mama gone.
He rubbed his chin again. “Well, money ain’t much of a reason to do somethin’ as far as I’m concerned. I can take care of the taxes myself. I’ll figure somethin’ out.” He looked at me again, but my eyes were pleading.
I needed this – I needed to feel like I was doing something useful, and I might never get another chance to see the world. He saw the look in my eyes, and grumbled to himself, then continued, “But if this is what you want to do, baby girl, I won’t try to stop ya. Just promise you’ll check in and be careful.”
“Thanks, Daddy! I promise I will!” I squealed and jumped up, wrapping my arms around his neck.
I can do this, I thought, as I went through my closet, trying to decide what I had that was decent enough to wear to LA. In between, I couldn’t resist looking up some of the gossip papers online on my phone.
I’d read that Lucas Nash had an ego, but I thought it would be worth putting up with a little chest thumping from an egomaniac if it meant getting our family out of the massive financial hole that threatened our home.
I thought about all the stories I had read about him. The bad boy. The rogue. The perfectionist. Still, every time I thought of him, I saw, in my mind, that picture of him that Tasha had shown me – the one of him looking directly into the camera.
I was about to come face-to-face with Lucas Nash, and I had to prove to the network we had chemistry if I was going to make it work. I can learn to flirt on camera – actors do it every day, I thought. Besides, he truly is gorgeous. How hard can it be?
I was nursing a serious hangover as the flight neared LAX. “Could you get us another Bloody Mary then, darling? My mates gave me a proper send-off last night, and my head’s done in. If you’ve got any cream crackers left too, yeah? Cheers!” The flight attendant went to fulfill my request. I enjoyed the view of her walking away, her navy British Airlines skirt swaying back and forth down the aisle, before replacing the eye mask and laying back in the business class seat.
“Nash, you should at least look over the project… get some idea what you’re supposed to be doing when we land.” John looked back to his phone at the text message from Tasha confirming that someone called Georgia Graham would be meeting us in LA.
“You’re a complete wanker, you know that, John? Could you just shut it and let me get some sleep? I’m knackered! Is that too much to ask? Seriously!” Just because he was my best friend didn’t mean he wasn’t a royal pain in my ass half the time.
John Abel had known me since we were in primary school together as boys in a small village in Kent in the beautiful countryside of the southeast of England. When I had started cooking, much to my father’s chagrin, John had been in my corner, so I hired him as a sous chef. When BITE Television came along with a TV deal, I wrangled him a spot as my personal assistant.
Most of the time, it was a good thing. John was organized and sensible – a stark contrast to my own style, which had often been called impulsive, and rightly so. He usually kept me grounded, but when I was nursing a headache like I was that morning, it was annoying as far as I was concerned. After the second Bloody Mary and crackers arrived, I began to perk up a bit.
“Alright, mate, what is it you want me to see again?” I sighed heavily, rubbing my eyes.
“Here you are, this is the gig. It’s a travel show with a cooking element. It’s called We’ll Bite!” “Travel show? What’s the concept – the hook?” I asked, choking down a cracker to settle my stomach, which still churned with liquor.
“It’s about contrasts. Spicy dishes, and sweet desserts. Exotic nightlife, beautiful countryside, that sort of thing.” John said.
“I don’t do desserts – I’m not a fucking Frenchman.” I rolled my eyes angrily. “Well, that’s the interesting bit. You’d be doing it with a co-host.” I could see John was cautious in dropping this bit of news.
“A bloody co-host? What the actual fuck? I’m top bill! They want me to go touring around the world with some sad old mum who bakes or something?” I was incensed at the idea they thought I didn’t warrant a solo gig. “No thanks, mate. Turn this bird around and take me back to London.”
“Not exactly,” John smirked, “This is the co-host you’ll be screen-testing with.” John held up his iPad which showed a press photo of Georgia Graham. “Isn’t she gorgeous? She’s really something!” I could hear the warmth and enthusiasm in his voice.
“Fuck me! That’s my co-host? This might be alright then! What’s her name? Where did she come from?” I was looking at a photo of one of the most attractive women I’d seen in a while. She had that rare combination of cute and sexy that drove me absolutely mad.
“Georgia Graham. Her show only just finished its first season at BITE. Her show is called Sweet, Georgia! She’s a baker, and a rising star at the network,” John said. “Tasha represents her too, and thinks you too will be a good fit,” he said, smiling almost wistfully. “Her show’s great – I watch it! We met briefly last year. She won’t remember, I’m sure. I can’t wait to see her, really.” He was gushing like a schoolboy.
I took the iPad from my friend’s hands. I looked over the photo of Georgia, pinching and scrolling to examine every part of it for signs of Photoshop. Holy fuck, she’s hot! She had long, pale blonde hair with loose curls that fell to her elbows, and big blue eyes. She may have looked young, but her curves were definitely all grown up. “She’s fit!” I exclaimed. Very fit, I thought. She could provide a serious cure for this whole, unfortunate business with Simone.
“Well, I’m not sure that what you might be thinking is the best plan if you want to keep the show going for more than a series,” John said as if reading my thoughts. “Tasha did say they were looking for some good chemistry between you. This could be the gig that puts you back on top if you don’t make a cock-up of it.”
“Cock up in it, more like,” I chuckled and raised an eyebrow at my friend.
“Could you just take this seriously? Sales for the last two books were sub-par at best, and the last series had the lowest viewer ratings of anything you’ve ever done. This is serious, Nash, if you don’t pull this off your career could be over like...,” I cut him off.
“Over like my marriage? Is that what you were going to say, you sorry piece of shit? I know you never liked Simone, but Christ, man! That’s low!”
I was still touchy on the subject, and the continuing barrage of media coverage over my recent ex-wife’s new love interest – the one she had cheated on me with – wasn’t helping.
“I was going to say over like that,” John snapped his fingers. “Bloody hell you’re a sensitive little bugger these days!”
I put my headphones on and pulled the eye mask down again. I knew how bad things were, and I didn’t need John reminding me. The last six months had been some of the worst in my life.
I did love Simone once, in a way. We’d had great physical chemistry, and I had cared about her. On paper, the exotic, French beauty was perfect for me. By the end, though, I saw her for what she really was, but that didn’t make her cheating, very publicly for that matter, with a French business tycoon any easier to swallow. I’d been humiliated.
Her comments about marrying an Englishmen had been fodder for the tabloids who speculated on everything from my sexual orientation to the need for little blue pills. Little blue pills, my ass! I’ve always left the ladies begging for more, I reminded myself.
The tabloids were what had precipitated the binge drinking, and late-night whoring around London to soothe my pride. Even some of my chef buddies had asked me not to come back to their establishments until I’d straightened myself out, and coming from that crowd, that was really saying something.
John had been right there with me through it all, but I knew he hated Simone, and felt like an, “I told you so,” was always on the tip of his tongue.
Okay, lad, I thought, here’s your chance. Do try not to fuck it up too badly, would you? Don’t turn yourself into the loser they all want you to be. Turn up the charm and keep yourself sorted for a few months. Flirt on camera with a gorgeous blonde, and with any luck, who knows what off-camera as a bonus. How hard can it be?