The Billionaire's Embrace Page 43

“You’re right,” I said, amused. “I’ll speak with the board of directors immediately. In the meantime, why don’t we work on the first three steps for now? You wouldn’t want me to get overwhelmed.”

“Hmm,” Sadie said. “You’re probably right. Your tiny man-brain can’t handle too much change all at once. Get started on this, and I’ll check in on you next week.” She folded the list in half and handed it to me.

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” I said dryly. Tiny man-brain? I had to admire Sadie: there weren’t many people who would say something like that to my face. I found it refreshing. I was surrounded by people who told me what they think I wanted to hear; it was an interesting change of pace to be around someone who had no compunctions about telling me what she really thought.

“Good luck, lover-boy,” Sadie said, standing and gathering her things. “Call me if you need help.” She winked at me, pulled the hood of her coat over her head, and sailed out of the coffee shop.

I watched her go, torn between irritation and amusement. I wondered if she would call Regan and give her a full report of our meeting, and if so, what that report would entail.

Hopefully nothing but flattering statements about my animalistic appeal.

As Henry drove me back to the office, I thought about the tasks Sadie had assigned me. The first was probably the most necessary and useful. I knew next to nothing about Filipino culture, and I didn’t think that Sadie would have suggested it unless it mattered to Regan. At the very least, I was sure that Regan would appreciate the effort.

Learning the cuisine seemed the obvious choice. I was a competent chef, and I had never known a woman to turn up her nose at a home-cooked meal. Mastering the full repertoire was out of the realm of possibility, of course, but learning the basic techniques shouldn’t be too difficult. The only hurdle would be finding someone to teach me.

I put Nancy on the case. To her credit, she didn’t even blink when I asked her to find someone to come to my apartment within the next few days and teach me traditional Filipino cooking. “I’ll have a list of names for you by this afternoon, Mr. Sutton,” she said.

She had it for me by lunch: four names, along with references and brief biographies. I spent a few minutes studying the list. The first name seemed the most appealing: an older woman who ran a successful restaurant on the Lower East Side. I called the number Nancy had provided, and quickly arranged for the woman to come to my apartment the following evening for a private cooking lesson. She sounded suspicious at first—and even I had to admit that it was an odd request—but quickly acquiesced when I suggested a price.

The next evening, I left work early to go grocery shopping. The woman, Marites, had given me a long list of ingredients to purchase, and I didn’t have all of them on hand. None of it was too exotic, fortunately, and I was able to find everything I needed at the Chelsea Market. The noise and crowds at the Market reminded me why I ordinarily had my housekeeper do the shopping. As soon as the thought passed through my mind, I imagined Sadie telling me sharply that regular people had to do their own shopping.

I wished I knew how to explain to Sadie—and by proxy, to Regan—that I would never be regular.

Promptly at 6:00, my intercom buzzed, and the security guard downstairs informed me that I had a visitor. I told him to send her up, and a few moments later, the elevator doors slid open, and the woman I presumed to be Marites stepped out.

She looked like someone’s grandmother: short, round, gray hair pulled back into a bun. She carried a plastic bag in one hand, and she looked around the foyer of my apartment with a narrow-eyed suspicion that immediately reassured me that I had chosen the right person.

“Mrs. Bautista, thank you so much for coming this evening,” I said, doing my best to look friendly and non-threatening.

“Hmm,” she said. “You have a very large apartment, Mr. Sutton.”

“Please, call me Carter,” I said. “Could I offer you something to drink?”

“Yes, you’re very polite,” she said. “A glass of water. Where is the kitchen? Did you buy the things I told you to?”

I led her into the kitchen, feeling incredibly entertained. I suspected that being raised by my mother had hardwired me to respond positively to grumpy women. Whatever the case, I was looking forward to a delightful evening of being bossed around by Marites.

My kitchen, at least, met with her approval. I had gone all out when I designed the unit, and had every top-of-the-line appliance. Unnecessary and indulgent, yes, but once you cooked on a Bertazzoni, there was no going back. Marites turned on one of the burners and clicked her tongue appreciatively when the gas flared into life. “Good,” she said. “We’ll make some good food tonight.”

We laid out the ingredients on the counter, and she set me to chopping vegetables. “I will teach you to make beef kaldereta,” she said. “A very popular dish. Nice flavors. It has liver paste, maybe you think that’s weird? But it makes a nice flavor.”

I did what she told me: fried the potatoes and carrots in a pan, sautéed the onions and garlic, processed the liver into a fine paste.

“Why do you want to learn to make Filipino food?” she asked me. “To impress a woman?”

I smiled wryly. Right in one. “You could say that,” I said.

“How do you know this girl? She works in your office, makes pretty eyes at you?” Marites narrowed her eyes at me.

“Nothing like that,” I said. “She was... well. Someone very special to me.”

“Oh, and you want to win her back,” Marites said, nodding. “This kaldereta will do it. My grandmother’s recipe, from Luzon. She will fall into your arms, and maybe cry.”

“I would rather not make her cry,” I said, scraping liver paste from the food processor.

“Tears of joy,” Marites said. “Probably.” She pursed her mouth at me. “Now slice the beef into cubes.”

She walked me through the recipe, step by step. She made me do everything myself, and while I worked, she told me about Filipino cuisine: how it was a blend of Spanish and pre-colonial cooking, which spices were the most important, how regional variations influenced dish preparation. She left me with handwritten directions for the kaldereta and a number of other recipes, and strict orders to let the beef simmer for two hours before I touched it. I wrote her a check and thanked her profusely.

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