Home > Cream of the Crop (Hudson Valley #2)(2)

Cream of the Crop (Hudson Valley #2)(2)
Author: Alice Clayton

“In the end, I think you’ll see that no one else will be able to deliver such a unique, specifically crafted campaign as we can here at Manhattan Creative Group.” I leaned across the table a little bit with a twinkle in my eye, looking straight at Mr. Caldwell. “This is the one occasion where we here at MCG think it makes perfect sense to talk shit about the competition.”

The room was silent and still. I could feel every set of eyes on me, including Intern Rob. His were about ten inches below my eyeballs. Eh.

Mr. Caldwell leaned across the table, mimicking my posture. “I do love a pie chart.” His eyes twinkled back.

The call came in two hours later. T&T Sanitation could now officially be counted as a client of MCG.

There is nothing more glorious in the entire world than Manhattan in October. I sighed happily to myself as I walked up the steps of the Fourteenth Street station along with everyone else heading downtown on a Friday afternoon, anxious to get the weekend started. After the smell of stale air and countless bodies, when I emerged into the sunlight and the crisp autumn air, it felt like a little bit of heaven. With only a six-block walk to my apartment, I slowed my pace a bit, lingering as I often did at the windows along the shops, nodding to some of the shopkeepers I’d come to know. Some by face, but more than a few names in the shops I frequented often.

I didn’t understand people being scared to come to New York. Being born and raised here, I tried to see my city as others might. Loud, noisy, brash, full of concrete. I saw excitement, lively, vibrant, architecturally magnificent. A college friend had once asked me, “It’s only thirteen miles long, two miles wide. Don’t you get bored of seeing the same things every single day?”

I’d drawn myself up and told him, “It’s 13.4 miles long, and 2.3 miles at its widest part near Fourteenth Street. And anyone who could get bored in Manhattan doesn’t deserve Manhattan.” I’m not friends with fools.

I walked along the street, noticing for the thousandth time how charming my neighborhood was. Anyone who thought New York was endless blocks of cement and concrete high-rises had never spent any time downtown. Or in Midtown for that matter. Or the Upper West Side. Or the Upper East Side. Regardless of where you plunk yourself down on my island, I can guarantee you that you’re within a few blocks of a park. A green space. An old beautiful brownstone. A hundred-year-old pub. There are pocket neighborhoods and incredible history literally around every single corner. And in a city made up of corners and right angles and hard turns, I lived in the pocket that was all wonky angles and soft turns, winding streets and impossible-to-follow street signs. Off the city grid, in a neighborhood built before the city laid out its easy-on-the-eyes pattern. The West Village.

And it was in this Village that my favorite cheese shop on the entire planet lived, this cheese shop that I walked three blocks south of my normal route to stare at. And quite possibly drool at.

Cheese. Cheeeeeese. What a thin, flat, nasal-sounding word for such a luscious, rich, gorgeous thing. Hard. Soft. Ripe. Grainy. Creamy. Often stinky. I’d yet to find a cheese I didn’t adore.

My love affair with cheese went back to childhood, when I’d sit in our kitchen with a dish of ricotta sprinkled with sugar. My mother, a world-renowned artist, would work on her sketches; there were countless sketches in every room of our brownstone. I’d eat scoop after scoop of the decadent cheese, and we’d talk about anything and everything. As I got older, my palate developed further, and I continued my love of all things dairy. If I ever developed lactose intolerance, I’d throw myself into the East River.

I’d often wondered if the size of my considerable posterior was directly related to my love of Gorgonzola. If the size of my thighs was exacerbated by my craving for Edam. Probably. But I could live with big thighs and a grabbable ass. Live without Roquefort? Perish the thought!

As I approached La Belle Fromage, I felt the fontina sending out a tendril or two. Come here, Natalie, lay your gentle head down on these pillows of Camembert, or cradle a chèvre against your lovely bosom. And here, Natalie—come sit by this English cheddar, a cheeky bastard but strong and capable, willing to prop you up if you are tired from your long journey underground . . .

“Never skip lunch again,” I muttered to myself as I pushed open the heavy oak and lead-glass door.

“There she is!” a voice sang out, and my favorite cheese monger, Philippe, came around the counter.

“My beautiful Natalie. I worried when I didn’t see you! It’s almost six o’clock, I was almost ready to close up!”

“Had to work a little late.” I smiled, leaning in for the double kiss but with a curious look. “How’d you know I’d be stopping by?”

He rolled his eyes in a way that only a Frenchman could get away with without seeming rude. “Être vénère. You think I don’t know the habits of my best customer? Always on Friday, always on your way home. ‘How’d you know I’d be stopping by’ indeed . . .” He walked around the counter muttering, knowing I’d follow. The shop was almost empty, just one other customer. Younger guy, knit cap, with a few blond curls escaping. Bottle-green eyes that met mine in the mirror behind the case. I let the tiniest smile creep over my face as I checked out a display just to his left, making sure to make eye contact once more.

Good boy, come this way. He grinned at me in the mirror, and I pretended to not see it. I played with the edge of my coat, letting my fingers do their lingering along my collarbone. He put down his Gouda, picked up a cheese log, and from the way he was holding it, I knew I’d hit pay dirt.

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