Stella McAdams knew she had reached the end of the rope. There was no way around it. It was a case of do or die, if she didn't got a job soon she would find herself very much in the streets… Well, okay, maybe that was a little too dramatic, but the bills were pilling up, she had her college loan to pay and with her mother's illness… there was no more time. She had to get a job now.

So, Stella found herself in the front steps of Zephyr, one of the coolest, hippest restaurants in town, this was the first place she had tried to get a job interview but had been summary dismissed by the owner – A Mr. John Devane – well, at least by the owner's secretary,

Sighing deeply, Stella moved forward and crossed the door into the restaurant, just to be immediately stopped by a tall man yelling "It's closed."

"Oh, I know." She said, steeling her voice as much as she could. "It's just that I heard this restaurant is looking for a new pastry chef… and I've been trying to get an interview but Mr. Devane is always otherwise occupied so I decided to come myself and see about it…" She was babbling. She knew she was babbling but she always did when she was nervous.

"Do you have any experience?" The man asked.

"Some… I worked at the school's bakery for the last two years to help pay for tuition." She answered. "And I was a waitress at the Sticksjocksandhokeygrillbar." She murmured the last part a blur.

"What did you say?" The man asked again…

Stella blushed, swallowed and answered in a tiny voice: "The Sticks, Jocks and Hockey Grill & Bar."

Okay, so it wasn't the best of all references but Mr. Martineu, the owner had been extremely flexible with her shifts and the tips on game night were always good. Plus, Mr. Martineu's daughter had been Stella's best friend since the third grade so…

"I'm sad to say, Miss, but that kind of references won't earn you an interview in any well respected restaurant in the city," The guy said in a mocking voice.

Now, Stella could stand for a lot of things… but being mocked by a complete stranger while asking for an honest job? Now that was too much!!!

"Don't you think I know that?" She snapped. "But I'm a damn good pastry chef! I went to the CI for two years and I'm perfectly capable of cooking any kind of pastry, bread or dammed tortilla that has ever been created!"

"Gee, sweetheart, no need to yell." The guy answered with a smirk.

"Look, is Mr. Devane here?" Stella asked, somewhat impatiently.

"You're talking to him." The guy answered in this superior tone making Stella blush.

"Er- well… I…" She began to sputter. So much for her job interview… She had been so unprofessional, cursing and yelling and, God, blushing!!

"So… you wanted to apply for the pastry chef job?" John Devane asked, the very image of professionalism and composure, save for the evil gleam in his eyes, he was clearly enjoying her distress.

It was not, John thought, as if he was enjoying her distress. Well… maybe a little. The way she had stormed into his restaurant was certainly amusing. It had been a long while since he had found anything amusing. And she had been arguing with him!

With him!

Most of the staff at Zephyr was terrified just by the idea of talking to him, much less argue. But this young miss didn't seem to mind it at all… well, at least until she had figured out that he was John Devane, aged 28, dark haired, brown eyed, a Capricorn, and owner of the restaurant that had gotten only starred reviews since it's opening two years ago. He knew all that there was to know about the restaurant business and, if fancy took him, he could see this little miss would never get another job in town.

Simple as that.

And she knew it. John could see it in the way her eyes widened, her skin blushed and she began to sputter.

Suddenly, the girl's nerve returned. She steeled her spine, raised her chin and answered "Yes, I'm here for the job." And to her credit, her voice waved only the tiniest bit.

Well, John had to give it to her, she was brave.

So he figured, letting her try for the job wouldn't hurt.

Not that he thought for a second that she was qualified. John needed an experienced pastry chef; the girl in front of him had to be fresh out of school, even if she had attended CI, that didn't mean a damn thing in the real world. Plus, she couldn't be a day over twenty! The girl was practically in dippers.

But still, if he let her try, no one could say he wasn't fair.

"Did you fill a job application?" John asked.

"Yes!" The girl answered brightly and handed him her resume.

The girl had a name. "Stella McAdams." John muttered, reading the name written with clear, even block letters. She had graduated in the top of her class in Chocolate confections, European Desserts and Table Bread. She also had high recommendations from her teachers at the Culinary Institute… oh, and she was 23 years old.

John raised his gaze to see Stella, she looked much younger than 23, yet, as he looked at her more closely, he could see lines of tension and strain in her face, as if she hadn't slept a night through in months, and her eyes had a hard, disenchanted expression. And John suddenly knew, she needed the job. Badly.

And so, he decided to let her try.

"I think the head chef has arrived already, if he's not too busy I'll ask him if he can test you for the job." John said evenly.

"Thank you!"

"I'm not giving you the job. Just saying you may try. But I warn you, both Mr. Sadler and I are impossible when it comes to food. Anything less than perfect and you'll be on the streets before you can say… lamb chop."

Stella nodded and followed him through a door off the side of the bar.

"Jason!" John called to his best friend and head chef. They had met at the Culinary Institute of America and been friends ever since. When Zephyr kicked off and John had to begin worrying seriously about the more… administrative aspects of running a restaurant, he had shipped Jason back from Seattle, offered him a big fat salary and let him in charge of the food part.

"John." Jason answered without lifting his eyes from the produce's list of To Buy.

"Got fresh meat," John answered none paused. "Says she can cook every kind of pastry, bread or dammed tortilla that has ever been created."

Jason Sadler finally adverted his eyes from the produce list to look inquisitively at John – who rarely ever cursed – and then to a small,green eyed young woman who was blushing furiously. Which lead Jason to believe that the last few words to leave John's mouth had been a rather accurate quote.

"Oh." Was all Jason said, though.

"Got time to test her?" John asked mildly

Jason smiled. "Sure thing," He said and focused on Stella. "I want you to make…" Stella inched forward, eager to hear what her test would be… a biscuit? Fancy type of cake? "Strawberry Cheesecake!"

"That's all?" Stella asked surprised, more so when John began to shake with laugher. "Why on Earth would you be laughing?" Stella asked.

"Ah, Miss Mc Adams, it's just that I know something that you don't, though on all truth and fairness I shall tell you now. See Mr. Sadler here? Well… he happens to be a cheese expert and he happens to love Cheesecake above all else. Mess up one little bit and you'll feel his wrath."

Jason was nodding and smiling rather wickedly.

Stella felt her knees go weak.

But it wasn't ask if she had any other options…and well, once you reach the end of a rope you tie a knot and hold on…

"How much time do I have?"

"An hour and a half." Jason said.

"You might help yourself to the ingredients here." John said over his shoulder, already retreating from the room.

He had things to do.

He always had things to do. And, to top it all, he had to take Jess to her therapy session at exactly six in the afternoon.

John sat at his desk and got ready to work. He had much to do and certainly no time to worry over what was going on in his kitchen, yet so, he kept thinking on how Stella had looked when she crossed the front door of his restaurant: Small, young, though her clothes were neat and clean, they weren't exactly flattering, making her look short and a little stumpy, her hips wide, her stomach not completely flat; her hair a indistinctive shade of brown in a neat coil at her nape… she almost reminded him of his evil third grade teacher.

But then her temper had flared and her eyes had grown huge in her face. Stella's eyes, he decided, were her best feature: large, round and an attractive shade of green.

Moss green

The color of wet grass…

"Oh, snap out of it!" John hissed at himself. And afterwards he managed to concentrate in his work for a while.

Stella wasn't sure what to do…

She knew, of course, several cheesecake recipes but how to know which one was the best to use?

Stella darted a look in Mr. Sadler direction, he seemed engrossed with his ever growing produce list, almost as if he had forgotten she was there But Stella wasn't fooled. She was being tested… and she better aced this test!

Closing her eyes, Stella took a deep breath, and suddenly she knew just what cheesecake she wanted to make. The McAdams' secret cheesecake recipe, as secret blend of cheeses, corn liquor, a crustier crust ever to be found and fresh marmalade…

John worked for a good long while, humming to himself a silly pop song he had heard that morning as he drove Jess to his mother's house. It didn't escape to him that he usually worked in complete silence. But he suddenly felt on a damn good mood.

Up until his mother arrived with Jess.

"Hello, Sweet." John said gently as he pushed his chair back form his desk and reached to pick Jess up and settle her on his knee. As usual, the five year old girl didn't speak at all but she reached into her pocked and took out a crumpled piece of paper and smothered it over John's desk. "You did it?" John asked and at Jess' nod he added "It's lovely."

It was a good enough drawing, a childish representation of a park with a mary-go-round and some swings, but even if it had been something incredibly wretched, he would have called it magnificent.

Jess pointed at the drawing. "Did your Grandma take you to the park?" Jess nodded. "Did you have fun?" This time Jess rewarded him with a big grin. And then she opened the top drawer of John's desk, took out a fresh piece of paper and some crayons and began drawing. John smiled, smoothed her hair back and kissed Jess' temple.

Jess was a big reason why he had opened Zephyr; the restaurant gave him financial stability and a reason to stay in one place with her instead of moving clear across the country as he had been planning when Jess came to live with him.

"How was she today?" John asked his mother, Hannah Devane-Jones-Trent-Robertson.

"She was an angel, as usual," Hanna answered with clear affection for her only grandchild. Only! She couldn't allow it! In her opinion, John needed to marry and give her more grandchildren to spoil. "I saw Callie Fairchild today," Hannah said, not even trying to conceal her matchmaking attempts. "She has grown just lovely! And she asked after you. I got her phone number; I told her you would call!"

"Mother…" John growled. "You know I hate it when you try to pair me up with one the uptight daughters of your friends."

"Callie is…"

"Granddaughters are also included."

"I worry about you, John. It has been two years and you're still hung on that… creature."


It was the nicest thing his mother could bring herself to call John's former fiancée Chloe.

"I'm not still hanging onto her, mother. I got everything I need right now in my life. I got Zephyr, Jess, and good friends. What more could I ask for?"


John rolled his eyes. "I will love again, Mom." He answered, not sure if he was trying to convince her or himself.

"I hope you will…" Hannah answered wistfully.

He tried not to think about his mother's tired expression. John knew his mother didn't believe he was happy, that Zephyr, a couple of friends and taking care of Jess was enough for him and if something Hannah had learned out of Mark's – her eldest son and Jess' father – dying was that there was no time to lose when life could be taken away so swiftly.

"Well, I must be of now." Hannah said, changing the subject quickly. "Give me some sugar, precious darling." She said to Jess who quickly gave her grandmother a peck on the cheek. "Be good to your mean, old uncle, alright, sweetheart?"

Jess nodded, already focused on her drawing once again.

"TIME'S UP!!!"

Jason Sadler's happy call almost made Stella drop the cheesecake she had worked on so hard for the last couple of hours. Jason grinned and went to the door to call out for John.

Stella tried hard to just focus on her task, her goal: To Land A Job. But instead, she found herself thinking just how good Mr. Devane had looked when she had first saw him… and how infuriating he was!!!

"All right then!" John said coming into the kitchen accompanied by a little girl. "Let's see how well you did, Miss Mc Adams." John said. "Seat here, sweetie, this will only take a second." He said to the little girl as he sat her up on a tall stool next to the table over which a beautiful strawberry cheesecake sat.

"May I do the honors?" Jason asked, already standing in front of the cake with a wickedly large knife and beginning to slice the cake deftly.

Stella held her breath as the two men tasted the cheesecake…

Who would have thought that all her hopes would someday center on something like a cheesecake!!!