Jolie Manon's father was one of the very top chefs of France, before his restaurant lost it's third Michelin star, and he had a stroke. Now Jolie is trying to coax him back into greatness, with a cookbook featuring several of his most famous recipes, although her father is cranky and despondent and refuses to be seen in public. Of course, she can't tell her father that they're being sued, by his former employee, now a star chef in his own right. Jolie needs to go to the Côte d'Azur to negotiate some sort of compromise. She's worried that news of the lawsuit is going to make her father have a relapse.
Gabriel Delange has a three star restaurant in Provence, but still can't believe that his old nemesis, Pierre Manon, has the gall to publish a cook book where at least a third of the recipes were invented by Gabriel, while he worked himself nearly to death to secure Manon the coveted third star, sacrificing his health and losing his girlfriend. Gabriel is furious to realise that Manon won't even face him personally, but sends his youngest daughter to negotiate. He's shocked to realise that his old nemesis had a stroke, but still can't forgive him. He knows that if he forces the issue, the old man may get sicker. Maybe he can blackmail the beautiful daughter into making a deal on her father's behalf.
Jolie remembers Gabriel as a skinny and constantly overworked young man from her father's kitchen. She's not prepared for the burly, muscular and very loud man she encounters, and she certainly hadn't expected to be completely incapacitated by her attraction to him. When he promises that he will drop the lawsuit if she works on a cookbook with him, spending three days a week working in close proximity with him, she has no choice but to agree. She wants to make a name for herself as a food writer, and working with one of the star chefs of France certainly can't hurt. Of course, she remembers all too vividly how her parents' marriage fell apart, and her mother's dire warnings that she never get involved with a chef. Besides, what chance would she have with a man who considers her father his greatest enemy?
I adore Florand's romances, which seem very calculated to appeal to women on a number of levels. You have the tall, handsome, temperamental supremely confident and very capable heroes, all involved in some form of food preparation, be it chocolate, pastries or gourmet food. They're set in France, in supremely romantic locations, with lavish descriptions both of the surroundings and the many delectable things that the heroes create with their magical food preparation skills, and that they woo the heroines with. In this, Florand has also written a modern twist on a classic fairytale. There's the sick old man, the youngest and most loyal of three daughters. There's a stolen rose (in this case a famous dessert created by Gabriel, which Manon takes credit for and agrees to have on the cover of the cook book) and there is the daughter agreeing to spend time with a loud, beastly individual to protect her father's health. As variations of Beauty and the Beast go, this was a very creative and incredibly fun one.
I loved how Gabriel was both wonderfully arrogant and supremely confident both in his attractiveness and his skills as a chef, yet was so vulnerable because of his terrible luck in previous relationships and his desperate yearning for a stable, long-term relationship with a wife and kids. While Jolie has seen her parents' marriage dissolve because of her father's single-minded focus on his work, and is deeply aware of her mother's warnings, she's also clearly fascinated with the work of top chefs, and loves spending time in busy kitchens. She understands what drives Gabriel, and as she feels a need to be alone a lot, his demanding work schedule is not actually a major obstacle. Like Florand's previous novels, this was a delight to read. I can't wait for her next one.