by Elisa Lorello
Re-release date: January 17, 2017
Amazon | Goodreads | my review
Slim, successful, and soon to marry the man of her dreams, Katie Cravens is leading the life she always wanted. As the face and CEO of Pasta Pronto, a “Carbs for the Calorie-Conscious” line of frozen food, Katie chooses to live life like one of her Slimline Spaghetti dinners―no mess, no surprises, and everything tied up in a neat little package. But when Katie’s fiancé runs off with another woman and a quality control fiasco sends her customers running for the hills, it’s time for Katie to make a change.
Her company’s salvation presents itself in the form of a partnership opportunity with the legendary Ristorante Caramelli of Rome, and Katie has no other choice but to jet off to Italy to convince gorgeous, hotheaded co-owner Luca Caramelli that she’s a worthy partner. Gaining Luca’s respect proves harder than Katie could have ever imagined, however, when he insists that she must learn how to cook―and how to eat―true Italian food before he will ever agree to their companies’ partnership.
Katie and Luca's tension in Italy mounts into a fierce public rivalry that erupts back in the States with a nationally televised cooking competition. As Katie tries to channel her inner Mario Batali to win the competition, she must choose between the flavorless prepackaged life that she worked so hard to maintain and the mouth-watering uncertainty of a life chock full of carbohydrates and Caramellis.
About the Author:
Elisa Lorello was born and raised on Long Island, the youngest of seven children. She earned her bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. Elisa is the author of the Kindle best-selling novels Faking It, Ordinary World, Why I Love Singlehood (co-authored with Sarah Girrell), and Adulation. She lives in Coram, New York.
There are two kinds of people in this world: those who love coconut and those who hate coconut. I am not one of the coconut people. In fact, I happen to think coconut is the work of the devil. Think about it—would a benevolent deity invent something that could cause brain damage if it happened to fall on your head from a tree? Would it grow on trees in the first place? Would its innards be shaved and shredded into a confetti-like substance that could double as packing filler? Would it get stuck in your teeth for days? Weeks? Months? Like, you go to the dentist, and she crinkles her nose and furrows her brow and digs that torture hook between your incisors, muttering to herself, “What IS that?” Oh, it’s just coconut from a cupcake you ate in 1992.
I mean, it tastes good and all, but so not worth the effort. Give me Nutella on a graham cracker. Give me chicken marsala. Give me red velvet anything.
Don’t even get me started on coconut water.
In a span of three days, coconut managed to ruin my life.
I’d just returned home to Long Island from the Food & Wine Festival in Miami, entered the house calling out for Max, abandoned my coat, overnight suitcase, and briefcase by the door, and headed straight for the barren kitchen. It’s a habit—open the refrigerator door after a long flight or stressful day at work, stare at its inhabitants in wistful longing, and close the door—I don’t even do it consciously anymore. There’s not much in there, usually, save for plastic baggies of carrot and celery sticks, salad, a pitcher of cucumber-infused water, and at least one half-empty bottle of chablis. The freezer, on the other hand, is jammed with an assortment of Pasta Pronto meals. Since founding the company nine years ago, I’d made it a leading contender with Lean Cuisine and every other weight-loss line in the frozen food section. “Carbs for the Calorie-Conscious” is our slogan, coupled with our mission statement of “Lite Indulgences for Women on the Go.” Last year we rolled out the new Slimline Spaghetti series, and we exceeded sales projections months ahead of schedule.
My eyes honed in on the Styrofoam container sitting on the top shelf, and I peeked inside.
Breaded coconut shrimp. Odd. Max is allergic to shellfish.
“Honey?” I called from the kitchen. No answer. I went to the garage entrance to see if Max’s car was still there. It was. He moved into my house when we got engaged six months ago, and the sight of his car in my garage—our garage—still made my heart flutter with sprinkles. Like finding the perfect frame to a photograph. Proof that you really can have it all, if you want it badly enough.
I returned to the showroom-style living room—designer sofa and loveseat; apothecary table; lamps from a specialty store; custom plush carpeting—and leaned on the staircase banister. “Maaaaaaaaxxxxxx?” I called again, with a more seductive tone this time, my voice echoing. “Come out, come out, wherever you are . . .”
Seconds later, I heard the bedroom door open. Max jolted down the stairs. “Katie! Hey, honey-muffin,” he said. He leaned in to kiss me on the cheek and pulled away before I had a chance to nuzzle against his sandpapery beard or clasp my hands around his neck. What gives?
“Where’s the fire?” I asked.
He headed for the kitchen, looking over his shoulder at me as he spoke. “How was your trip? I wasn’t expecting you home until tomorrow.”
I scoffed as I followed him. “These events are getting so snooty. Pasta Pronto sells, like, five times more product than these vendors, and they’re all like, ‘oooh, oooh, frozen dinners aren’t food’!”
“Jealous, babe,” said Max. “No one makes a better fettuccine alfredo than you.”
“Especially at three hundred calories!”
“And in three minutes.”
He looked as if he’d just come from the gym. Chestnut hair tousled. Pupils dilated. Sweaty.
“You okay?” I asked.
“I’m fine,” he said, averting his gray eyes at the last nanosecond. “Why?”
“You buttoned your shirt wrong.”
He jerked as if someone had snuck up on him from behind and given him the Vulcan nerve pinch. “Shit!” he exclaimed as he frantically realigned the buttons. “I . . . I didn’t even notice. To think I’ve been walking around like that all day.”
“Bad day at work?”
“Meh. The usual. Cuppiecake, why don’t we skip nuking the noodles tonight and go out to dinner instead? Say, Francine’s? We haven’t been there in ages.”
I shook my head and went back to the fridge, with Max seemingly vigilant of my every move. “Can’t,” I said. “I was totally Code Orange this week. My avatar went up three dress sizes!”
In addition to the meals, Pasta Pronto had its own weight management system, complete with a food journal app in which you created your own avatar, and color-coded food rankings: Green was “safe,” Yellow was “good in moderation,” Orange was “danger zone,” and Red was “nuclear meltdown.” When you entered your food intake in the journal (you’re allotted as many Greens as you want per day, three Yellows per day, one Orange per day, and only one Red per week), the size of your avatar adjusted according to your portion and food selection. If you wanted something simpler than color-coding, you could also scan a food nutrition label in the supermarket and an angel or devil icon would appear. The app was a huge hit with our customers.
I retrieved a baggie of celery sticks (Code Green) from the fridge and plopped them on the food scale. Then I pulled half of them out and returned the baggie to its place. “This will have to do. By the way, cinnabun, whose coconut shrimp is that?” I asked, pointing to the container.
Max stared at it as if he’d never seen it before. As if he’d never seen the inside of a refrigerator, ever.
“It’s mine,” he said, sounding uncertain.
“Yours? Are these magic shrimp? Hive-free?”
He backpedaled. “The restaurant must’ve given me the wrong doggie bag.” Now he seemed even more doubtful.
“A bunch of us from the office went out to lunch today.”
“And you want to go out again for dinner?”
I heard a door close lightly, as if trying to go undetected, and my ears perked up like a Jack Russell terrier’s as I whisked around.
“What was that?” I asked.
“What was what?”
“A door closed. In this house. The front door, to be precise.”
“You’re imagining things, Katie.”
“You know very well I am not imagining things.” Max told people that I would be able to hear footsteps on the moon.
And then it all conglomerated into one gooey, globby mess: the coconut shrimp. The disheveled shirt. The evasive kiss on the cheek. The befuddled tone since I walked in the door. I wasn’t expecting you until tomorrow . . .
I broke into a dash for the staircase, tripping on the third riser as I tried to pull off my pumps along the way, and could smell the foreign fragrance with every step. Was practically assaulted with it, like when soda gets caught as you swallow and goes up your nose instead.
“Sweetness, wait!” Max called right behind me, scaling the stairs two risers at a time. I froze in the bedroom doorway and took in the scene:
The Hotel Collection sheets and duvet: tangled.
The Sterns and Foster pillows: head imprints. One on each pillow.
The corner bedpost: shackled in handcuffs.
And OH MY GOD, WAS THAT A PILE OF BUTTERFINGER WRAPPERS ON THE FLOOR BY THE FOOT OF THE BED???
Max’s and my engagement portrait lay facedown on the night table—I wondered: was it knocked over during the sex, or did they think they were doing me a favor by hiding two-dimensional-me from the scene?
The sex? Holy frappe, the sex????
“I-I-I’m sorry, Katie. I’m so sorry.”
His hand on the back of my shoulder felt like a slab of ice.
“You . . . ? Here . . . ? Wha . . . ?”
I turned to face him. He looked like a kid who’d just been caught with his dad’s Playboy.
“Who?” I asked.
“Who, what?” he responded.
I could push him down the stairs, right now. One little shove and this would all be over.
“Who?” I snarled.
He gave in. “Cheetah,” he said as he stared at his socks.
Cheetah? Cheetah, the Hostess with the Most-ess from the Cheesecake Factory—that Cheetah? My high school nemesis? Also the work of the devil?
That was her actual name, by the way. She beat me out of the Entrepreneurs Club contest with a caramel apple moon pie recipe that she stole from a Woman’s Day magazine. She drew mustaches all over my student body president campaign posters. She stole the box of brownies I’d made for Kyle Carney on Valentine’s Day and presented them to him herself.
“She’s never had an original idea in her life! She says things like ‘O-M-G.’ She . . . she makes hourly!”
“She also eats, Katie.”
“I eat plenty,” I insisted.
Shit. That totally didn’t come out right.
“I mean, she eats real food. It’s not her enemy, like it is for you. Lately I’ve been finding that very . . . well, appetizing.”
Real food. I could’ve maimed him with a coconut at that moment. After I set fire to my bedroom.