Book Spotlight: For Butter or Worse by Erin La Rosa

For Butter or Worse
by Erin La Rosa
Release Date: July 26, 2022

About For Butter or Worse
“[A] sparkling romance...witty and lighthearted, with plenty of tender moments to keep readers invested, this work gets the enemies-to-lovers trope right.”
Publishers Weekly

They go together like water and oil…

All chef Nina Lyon wants is to make a name for herself in the culinary world and inspire young women everywhere to do the same. For too long, she’s been held back and underestimated by the male-dominated sphere of professional kitchens, and she's had enough. Now, as co-host of the competitive reality TV series The Next Cooking Champ!, she finally has a real shot at being top tier in the foodie scene.

Too bad her co-host happens to be Hollywood’s smarmiest jerk.

Restaurateur Leo O’Donnell never means to get under Nina’s skin. It just seems to happen, especially when the cameras are rolling. It's part of the anxiety and stress he has come to know all too well in this line of work. So nothing prepares him for the fallout after he takes one joke a smidge too far and Nina up and quits—on live TV.

To make matters worse, the two are caught in what looks like a compromising situation by the paparazzi…and fans of the show go absolutely nuts. Turns out, a “secret romance” between Nina and Leo may just be what their careers need most.

Now all they have to do is play along, without killing each other...and without catching feelings. Easy as artisanal shepherd's pie. Right?




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An Excerpt from For Butter or Worse
Chapter 1

Nina Lyon stared into her dressing room’s vanity mirror. Her palms were planted firmly against the table, but she bounced on the balls of her feet—the same way she did whenever she was nervous. And she was borderline vibrating with unease.

The average at-home viewer would never notice, because her glam team, who’d become experts at giving her the “natural” look—despite the false lashes, bronzer and endless eyebrow filler—had done a superb job. Her stylist had zipped her into a classic black jumpsuit accessorized with a gold statement necklace and slim python belt that cinched her waist and showed off the roundness of her hips. Even if she didn’t feel confident, she looked as flawless as a mirror-glazed cake. She was iced perfection.

“I can do this. I. Can. Do. This,” she said out loud.

“Hell yes, you fucking can!” Her sister Sophie’s voice burst through the phone. “Hell yes, you fucking can!”

Nina looked down at her best friend, Jasmine, and her sister on FaceTime. If anyone could pump her up, it was her minihype team.

“Repeat after me,” Jasmine commanded. “I will not fall in my heels.”

“Now that you’ve cursed her by saying it out loud, she’s definitely going to fall,” Sophie chided.

“On this very helpful note, I should probably go.” Nina raised a playful eyebrow.

“Nothing, and I mean nothing is going to go wrong!” Sophie said.

“Just remember these words—do not fall—”

Nina interrupted her bestie, “Okay, ’bye!” Then she ended the video chat.

She exhaled sharply. Normally, she wouldn’t give Jasmine’s comment more than a passing thought. But tonight was deeply important, and something as innocuous as tripping could actually be a problem.

I can do this, Nina reminded herself. It was the taping of the finale of the third season of The Next Cooking Champ! and she’d worked her entire career to get to this point. While most chefs cooked in obscurity, people knew her name. She was also a female chef, a minority in the restaurant world, and the producers had taken a chance on her. But she’d earned her spot. She’d built Lyon—a successful restaurant—on her own, and had won awards while growing a loyal clientele. To her, food was more than a meal. Food was everything.

“We need a hair-and-makeup check on Nina,” Tiffany, a producer on the show, said quickly into her headset. She had one of those inscrutable faces that meant getting a read on how she was feeling was nearly impossible until she actually spoke.

“What do you think?” Nina cautiously spun to show the full effect of the costume designer’s wardrobe choice.
“You’re sweating.” Tiffany stared at Nina’s hairline.

Okay, well, that wasn’t the answer she’d hoped for. “Wait, I’m what—”

“Walk with me,” Tiffany said, cutting her off, then turned on her Converse-sneakered heel. Nina trailed after her.

They left the cocoon of Nina’s dressing room and made their way to the soundstage, which was outfitted with cooking stations, KitchenAid mixers, multiple burners, mixing bowls, measuring cups and an alphabetized spice rack. The setup wasn’t dissimilar from her own restaurant’s kitchen…except for the reality-show part.

Nina carefully ran a finger along the top of her forehead. She was sweating, and not just because of the bright, overhead lights or the row of cameras that would soon be trained on her.

Sharp footsteps approached the soundstage, and Nina turned to see the real source of her jitters: Leo O’Donnell.

Her cohost on the show was as annoying as a piece of spinach lodged in between her front teeth. He wasn’t a chef. He was a businessman, and his only accomplishment was turning his father’s charming Italian restaurant, Vinny’s, into a bland chain. Unlike Nina, he wasn’t passionate about food—all he cared about was the bottom line.

Her cohost on the show was as annoying as a piece of spinach lodged in between her front teeth. He wasn’t a chef. He was a businessman, and his only accomplishment was turning his father’s charming Italian restaurant, Vinny’s, into a bland chain. Unlike Nina, he wasn’t passionate about food—all he cared about was the bottom line.

However, not yelling would be difficult, because Leo—aka the person whose face she pictured when she needed to pound out some dough—always knew how to provoke the worst in her.

After tonight, though, the show would wrap for the season. She’d return to the day-to-day running of her restaurant, and trade in bowls of prop food for the real thing. Instead of working with Leo, where she had to control her gag reflex, she’d be in the kitchen with Jasmine. Just the thought of her old routine was like a warm cup of cocoa—comforting and extremely necessary. As much as Nina loved mentoring the budding chefs and working with the insanely talented behind-the-scenes crew…she needed the time off. From Leo the man-child, to be more specific.

A stylist soundlessly appeared at Nina’s side and worked on the unruly flyaways that always erupted from her head under the heat of the on-camera lighting, while a man with a compact dabbed over her forehead.

“How’s my hair and makeup?” Leo stopped and cocked his chin at the exact angle for the overhead light to accentuate his immaculate swoop of dark hair. It was as if someone had marked, with an X, the exact spot for him to stand so he’d look his absolute best. He was close to being six feet tall and carried himself in an overly confident way that gave him even more height. He wore a crisp white shirt, unbuttoned just enough to reveal the faintest whiff of his chest hair—a touch she’d bet a hundred bucks that he’d made, and not the stylist. As he came to stand next to her, he studied her face.

“Are you sweating?” he finally asked.

“What?” Of course, he’d noticed. “No.” She self-consciously touched her hairline again.

The makeup person gave him a once-over, then smiled. “You’re set.”

Nina rolled her eyes. One of his many flaws was that he was physically flawless. The kind of man who only got right swipes and never had to pay for a drink in his life. And if anyone claimed they weren’t attracted to him, well…they’d be lying. Like people who said they hated cake. Liars. Even Nina would never deny that he was handsome, in a certain light, if you squinted hard enough. Luckily, his habit of “playfully” undercutting her canceled out any urges she might have toward him.

“It’s a good thing they can get your hair big enough to hide the witch hat.” Leo absentmindedly rolled up the cuff of his shirt, like he hadn’t even noticed she was there.

Nina ignored how seeing a hint of his skin made her mouth twitch, just slightly. Stop drooling.

“Don’t you want to use a little powder to take the shine off his cloven hooves?” Nina asked the makeup person, but she couldn’t help but notice that Leo’s lips twinged at her comment.

“We’re back in sixty!” Tiffany called out loudly to the crew, then turned to Nina. “Should I be worried?”

“If he can play nice, I will, too.” Nina eyed Leo, who either didn’t hear her or, more likely, chose to tune her out.

She understood why Tiffany was twitching, just like everyone else on set. For the first time in the history of the show’s three seasons, they were taping live. A ploy to boost the ratings, which had been steadily declining thanks to all the new reality shows cropping up…or so the network executives had explained. They needed to attract viewers to remain on the air, and stay relevant, even if it meant entering dangerous territory by taping live.

Which meant there were no editors to cut around the indignant stink eye Leo made every time Nina gave a food critique. The director couldn’t call “Cut!” so the audience wouldn’t hear the fake retching sounds Nina made when Leo attempted a lame dad joke. While nuanced editing created the illusion that Leo and Nina were occasionally cheeky toward each other, rather than mortal enemies, this time they wouldn’t have that luxury. They had to pretend to be absolutely delightful together—two sublime cake toppers for their audience at home. The stakes were high, and it was Tiffany’s job to keep them both in line.

“Don’t worry. I’m channeling Betty White.” Nina squeezed Tiffany’s shoulder.

In classic Tiffany fashion, she returned the gesture with a blank look.

“We both know I’m not the problem. Only one of us has an official nickname,” Leo said offhandedly, like he hadn’t just turned the stove up to high.

And now Nina was truly about to boil over, but instead she bit the inside of her cheek to keep what little cool she had.

Even after years of having “Nasty Nina” trend on Twitter, be used in tabloid articles and left in comments on her IG posts, the fact that she had that as a nickname genuinely hurt her feelings. She was Nasty Nina, and the word nasty was definitely not a compliment. Especially not when trolls on Twitter lobbed it at her any time she so much as forgot to smile as the end credits rolled.

“I guess I should thank you for coining the nickname?” He was the reason she had one, after all.

“It was a joke. How was I supposed to know people would run with it?” He shrugged off her annoyance, like he couldn’t understand why she’d even be bothered.

That moment, captured in the holiday special during the show’s second season, was one she’d never forget. She could replay the clip on YouTube—it had over three million views and counting—whenever she wanted. His comment had caused their relationship as coworkers to turn from placid to a raging hellfire.

A contestant had baked a cake into the shape of Santa’s naughty-or-nice list. Unfortunately, the iced cursive letters weren’t easy to read. So when Leo bent down, he’d said, “Nasty or nice? We all know I’m on the nice list, but Nina…”

In response, she’d made a face. More specifically, her nostrils flared, her eyebrows raised nearly up to her scalp and her mouth had twisted open into a horrified grimace as if trying to swallow Leo whole.

The Nasty Nina meme soon followed. His offhand “joke” resulted in #NastyNina trending on Twitter for a whole weekend. And the nickname had stuck, further adding to her current reputation problem.

Well, “problem” was more of a euphemism for “nightmare.” When the show first started, patrons had flocked to her restaurants in San Francisco, Napa and Los Angeles. But after multiple seasons in which she’d been the harsh judge, the crowds had waned. As it turned out, people didn’t want to give money to a chef who made everyone cry. Nina was never proud when one of her comments hit a nerve, but she didn’t want to sugarcoat her reactions, either. She knew women were expected to be nurturing and sweet, but that just wasn’t her style. While she liked to think of herself as a mentor, ultimately, she preferred to give honest critiques that would help the contestants improve their craft. Was being candid really so wrong?

The novelty of her being a celebrity had worn off, too, and as of last month she’d quietly closed her Napa location. Her San Francisco spot had closed the year prior. All she had left was her Los Angeles restaurant—the first one she’d opened. At this point, using the show’s platform to turn her reputation around was critical.

And going down as the female Gordon Ramsay had never been part of the plan. She was ambitious, worked hard and saw this as a massive opportunity. She’d signed on to the show with the hope that she could become a household name and brand herself so she’d be in every living room in America. Eventually, she’d get her own show and open more restaurants. Maybe even bring her food to the east coast. A chef could dream!

But how could she accomplish any of that with Leo by her side? The truth was, he wanted her to be seen as the mean judge. From day one, he’d taken advantage of the fact that she was blunt, so he’d cranked up his own charm. When asked about how he “managed” working with Nasty Nina in interviews, he never came to her defense. And while she couldn’t completely prove it, she was fairly certain he’d even talked a producer into giving her the smaller dressing room. How else to explain that she got ready in a broom closet while he had enough space to fit a sectional sofa?

“We’re back in thirty!” Tiffany shouted to the set. Then added to Nina and Leo, “Remember, don’t step on each other’s lines. That last rehearsal was a disaster.”

“I’m happy to deliver Nina’s lines, since she seems incapable of reading off a monitor.” Leo glanced beyond her and directly at Tiffany, just as easily as discarding a wilted garnish.

Whatever—she wasn’t going to let his petty antics distract her from fixing how the viewers perceived her. Well, maybe she was… “The real problem is that you think your voice is the only one worth hearing.” Nina enunciated every word, and he finally looked at her. She glared back.

“My voice is preferable to the screeching banshee noise that comes out whenever you open your mouth.” He smiled widely, his teeth as white and sparkling as a clean countertop.

“I use a pitch only dogs can hear, so no surprise that includes you.” Nina squeezed her arms tightly across her chest to keep from lunging for his throat.

“Children, this is live. And you promised to behave.” Tiffany listened to her headset. “Back in fifteen!” Tiffany walked away from them, disappearing behind the wall of cameras pointed their way.

“Did you miss a Botox session? I see a line.” She reached up to touch a finger to an imaginary spot on his forehead, and he swatted her hand away.

Her breath caught in her throat at the unexpected warmth of his skin against hers. But she immediately shook it off.

“Back in ten!”

“Why don’t you take your broom and ride off to the local coven meeting?” He ran a hand through his unfairly thick hair.

“Back in five!”

“That would be great for the show’s ratings. All alone, you’d rock that demo of viewers who love watching paint dry.” Nina smirked, happy to have the last dig before they went on-air.

“Three, two…” Tiffany’s voice faded and the red light on camera C blinked back to life.

“Welcome to the finale of The Next Cooking Champ!” Leo said in his fake, shellacked-on TV voice, which was smooth and measured in a way his natural one wasn’t.

The first time she’d heard that tone was the day they met, in a truly unglamorous casting office. When he’d walked in she’d assumed he was in the building for a different audition—leading man in an upcoming rom-com or handsome doctor in a future Shonda Rhimes drama. He had the good looks of an actor, and the arrogance of someone who wasn’t used to being told no. But, incredibly, he was there for the cooking show. He was in tailored, dark-wash jeans and a snug black shirt that fit him like poured chocolate ganache. He had thick chestnut waves, well-groomed facial hair and a distinguished nose that bent ever so slightly at the top. He was lean and defined, like he put in effort, but wasn’t about to say no to a slice of pizza. Or three. Which Nina preferred. She couldn’t get involved with someone who didn’t eat. Of course, now that she knew him, she would never ever, ever, ever consider being with someone like Leo.

Not that she dated. She didn’t have the time, unless you asked her sister, who thought it was more that Nina didn’t make time. Most men were intimidated by someone on television who had a reputation for being “difficult,” and her last relationship had been, well, an absolute failure.

“For those just tuning in, I’m Leo O’Donnell.”

“And I’m Nina Lyon. We have two contestants competing for the prize of two hundred thousand dollars, a cookbook deal and the title of The Next Cooking Champ,” she said, reading off the teleprompter.

She smiled for the cameras, but a big shot of genuine dopamine hit her at the same time. This was the finale of the third season. Her job was hosting a beloved cooking show, and she had the privilege of helping to change someone’s life for the better. She was damn lucky to be in this position. And she was a good mentor and chef. She wasn’t going to let the fact that Leo was standing next to her diminish any of what she’d achieved.

“That’s right,” Leo chimed in. “Our contestants have one hour remaining to present us with their appetizer, entrée and dessert courses. They’re cooking live so you can really get a sense of the pressure they’re currently under.”

She would definitely get through the taping. Why had she been so stressed about being with Leo? The night wasn’t about him, or her, really. She was just excited to see the dishes the chefs made for them. She could do this.

“Let’s check in on our two finalists!” As she turned to move toward a cooking station, she caught Leo’s eye. He winked at her, a move so subtle she wasn’t even sure if the cameras caught it. But she did, and a quick flutter rose in her belly that then caused her to blink rapidly. A move she was absolutely sure the cameras did catch. He is so irritating, she told herself.

“Tell us about your entrée, Samantha.” Leo leaned across the counter, something he always did to endear himself to the contestants. “It looks like a dish I’d want to eat with a tall pint of beer.”

Samantha visibly relaxed at the comment. For all of Leo’s faults, Nina couldn’t deny how quickly he made the contestants feel at ease. He wanted them to succeed just as much as she did. Maybe she could remember that one positive trait whenever she wanted to stab daggers at him with her eyes.

Then he tap-tap-tapped his foot at Nina. He’d started this “fun” new tapping code during dress rehearsals. His way of signaling that he was waiting for her to speak. As if she couldn’t do her job fast enough for his liking. He’d found a secret way to irritate her, even though she’d asked him repeatedly to stop during rehearsals.

The response flowed out of her as if the tapping from his foot had turned on the faucet in the sink. “Speak slowly and simply so Leo can understand what you’re saying.”

She instantly regretted the dig. Hadn’t she just talked herself into trying to be nice to him? Being rude wasn’t who she was, not really. Only Leo brought out this side of her. When she watched clips from the show, she sometimes barely knew whom she was watching. She just couldn’t fake being polite with him, no matter how hard she tried. Still, this version of herself wasn’t who she wanted to be, or what she wanted the fans to witness.

He raised one thick eyebrow at her, a challenge. She’d tossed out the first grenade, and now he’d probably return with a cannon.

Shit. So much for not reacting to him. Being enemies was their dynamic—it was how they were. She just hoped they could make it through this live taping without destroying each other, and the show, in the process.


Excerpted from For Butter or Worse by Erin La Rosa
Copyright © 2022 by Erin La Rosa
Published by HQN


About Erin La Rosa
Erin La Rosa is a writer living in Los Angeles. As a writer for BuzzFeed, she frequently writes about the perils and triumphs of being a redhead. Before BuzzFeed, Erin worked for the comedy websites Funny or Die and MadAtoms, as well as E!s Fashion Police, Wetpaint, and Ecorazzi.

Erin has appeared on CNN, Headline News, Jimmy Kimmel, and The Today Show on behalf of BuzzFeed. She is the author of Womanskills and The Big Redhead Book.

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