Author: Dee Carney
Series: Book #1 in the Close to the Heat series
Release Date: 13 November 2012
Number of pages: 97 pages
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Source: ebook provided by author
Purchasing Info: Goodreads, Author's Website, Amazon
Grade: 4 stars
Temptation never tasted so good.
Close to the Heat, Book 1
With a chance to win a cooking competition that will advance her career, the last thing food truck chef Pepper Joseph needs is a distraction. Except she’s got a heaping helping of it in the form of fellow chef Darien Priest, the man who broke her heart.
It’s been years, and she tells herself she’s over his betrayal, but to her irritation, she finds she still has an appetite for his steel-gray eyes, clean-shaven head, and sleeve tattoos.
Darien regrets the single, juvenile act that ended it with Pepper, but he’s never found the courage to apologize. Now that they’re in close quarters, something’s steaming and it’s not just the saucepots. One toe-curling kiss proves there’s the potential for more than just a guarded friendship, and he sets out to prove he’s grown into an honorable man.
Until he discovers she’s pulled a seasoning switch that could have ruined one of his dishes. Now it’s on. There’s ten thousand dollars on the line, but if they don’t surrender to another chance at love, one—or both—of their wounded hearts could get singed.
Product Warnings: “Scorching hot” doesn’t refer to the food. Contains two chefs who’ll inspire cravings of the very carnal kind. Includes one delicious recipe guaranteed to blow any diet out of the water.
My Thoughts: You all know how much I love culinary romances, so as soon as I glimpsed the cover of Once Burned I knew I had to learn more about it, because it sure looked like one very hot and delicious story. And now, having read it I can confirm that the cover perfectly conveys the tone and heat level of the story!
Once Burned is centered around a cooking competition for food truck chefs to win the "honour to be called the city's top truck chef", there are several rounds, in each one of them the judges up the ante by challenging the creativity of the contestants: Pepper Joseph has made a name for herself due to her delicious grilled cheese sandwiches while Darien Priest is famous for his burgers. But these two have more going between them than just contestant rivalry: back in high school they were best friends and even young love started to blossom before Darien one day just started going out with the popular white blond girl instead of Pepper. Pepper still hasn't been able to get over her hurt and resentment and Darien still feels the guilt his cowardliness and immaturity caused.
“You and me constantly being thrown together.”
“What’s so wrong with you and me?”
“Like you don’t remember,” she mumbled. Darien’s heart clenched. Yeah, he remembered. All too well. “You’re not going to let it go ever, are you?” he asked softly. “We were kids, Pep.”
“You broke my heart, Priest. I forgave you a long time ago, but I am never going to forget it. I believed in us. I trusted you.”
In my opinion the success of Once Burned is due to the fact that the two storylines play equally important roles: the scorching chemistry between Pepper and Darien kept things simmering whenever these two were within sight of each other, while the detailed descriptions of the food, the creativity and succulent preparation that went into them just made my mouth water. And when these two were combined, the way Dee Carney used the sensual aspect of food to highlight the seduction and sexual attraction between Pepper and Darien that made things really steamy:
Every time she looked his way, he was looking back. And every single time, the hunger in his eyes made her reach for an egg, a slice of bread…anything to toss his way should he decide to act on his appetite. He couldn’t be that ravenous for her, could he? The worst of it was the little hints he kept dropping throughout the short time frame. Always, just when she thought she’d centered herself, here came Priest to muck it up. “How sturdy do you think this table is, Pepper?” A low, murmured question. The simmering cream had almost bubbled over the top of the pan then. “That maple spread you’ve made looks heavenly. Very, very lickable.” If she sliced through a finger instead of the bread loaf, no one could really blame her. Was this his attempt to sabotage her thoughts, to keep her from focusing on the French toast, or did he really intend to put maple syrup on her body while she lay willing and wanton on the prep table? The very thought dampened her panties.
Due to Dee Carney's evocative writing Once Burned truly made an impact despite its shortness: both the scenes full sexual innuendos and banter between Pepper and Darien that crackled with sparks as well as the scenes where they each were busy perfecting their creations for the contest were made memorable in how they came together in the perfect mix of cuisine and seduction, while not lacking emotional rawness and vulnerability.
“I flirted with you because I couldn’t stand any moment I wasn’t talking to you. I wanted you to be with me and no one else. I wanted to take you places, buy you things. I wanted so much for both of us.”
Verdict: Once Burned is the perfect culinary romance with delicious, mouth-watering descriptions of the meals and a sexual tension between the hero and heroine that will give you goosebumps. It was both steamy and appetizing, the food descriptions were written with such gusto and succulence they made my mouth water, and at the same time highlighting the passion and sensual chemistry between the hero and heroine. The only thing that could have made it better was if it were a bit longer. It doesn't come any hotter than Once Burned!
Review originally posted at Book Lovers Inc.