He had it good. Hell, he had it better than good, he had everything.
His own line of cookware at Kohl's, the chef's table at every restaurant in town, his name on Tribeca's best steakhouse, and a loft apartment overlooking Central Park.
He grilled burgers with Bobby Flay on the man's roof top deck, sipped cocktails with Ina Garten on her perfect Long Island patio, made the ladies on Good Morning America laugh with his self-deprecating charm, flew down to Savannah to make shrimp and grits with Paula Deen, and had just gotten back from eating his way through New Orleans with Emeril himself.
He drove a top of the line Mercedes SL63, wore Armani to premieres and restaurant openings, and enjoyed the success of having the number one rated show on Food Network.
But, despite it all, the one thing he didn't have, and couldn't seem to find, left him cold and alone in his very expensive bed.
He was rich, gorgeous, and on top of the world, but there was still something missing.
Win a day with James Beard Award Winner Castiel Novak, host of Food Network's A Little Taste of Heaven and Owner of Tribeca's Blue Heaven Steakhouse. Chef Novak will come to your home, and assist you in shopping for and preparing a romantic meal for two. Win a chance to be a guest on A Little Taste of Heaven , and surprise your loved one with a special meal cooked just for them by you and Chef Novak.
"It's a brilliant idea, Cassie, and you're doing it. Everything's already set, there will be no more arguments on this."
Castiel Novak says nothing, just continues staring out the window of the over-large black SUV, eyes hidden by Ray Ban sunglasses. He shifts uncomfortably in the seat, feeling the burn of Balthazar's eyes on his neck.
"It's ridiculous, and a publicity stunt. I'm supposed to teach fine dining to some Midwestern redneck in seven hours? Do I even have to mention all the ways this could go wrong?"
"It will be fine. The winner consented to a full background check, we've been to his house, and he's a charming young man. I think you'll enjoy yourself. Besides darling, I'm your producer, and what I say goes."
Castiel sighs, and slumps down in his seat, crossing his arms over his chest, knowing all too well that he looks like a petulant child.
"Does our redneck have a name?"
Balthazar thumbs through the leather attaché case on his lap, pulling out a manila folder.
"Here's a dossier for you. His name's Dean, and I'll tell you Cassie, he's very easy on the eyes."
Castiel takes the folder and flips it open. On the first page is a brief bio. Dean Winchester, thirty-four years old, mechanic, resides in Lawrence, Kansas. The picture attached confirms what Balthazar had said, Dean is easy on the eyes. Light brown hair, fair skin covered in freckles, plush full lips, but what really catches Castiel's attention is his eyes. Longest lashes he'd ever seen, and so green, like fresh grass or shamrocks, he couldn't decide, but Castiel had never seen greener.
"I still think this is a terrible idea."
"Well, think it all you want. We're on our way to JFK, and you're pretty well screwed at this point." Balthazar grins over at him. "Is it really that bad? Honestly, Cassie, you'd think we were torturing you."
"Is that not what this is? Torture? Punishment of some kind?"
"Really, Cassie, you think the whole world's out to get you. It's just publicity, a stunt for the show. Nothing else. You're not being punished for god's sake." Balthazar's phone chimes, and he's distracted by emails the rest of the way to the airport, leaving Castiel to stare out the window and wonder how the hell he let himself get sucked into this mess.
Dean Winchester sighs as he surveys the first floor of his little house.
Why the hell had he waited until the night before to start cleaning? Not that his house was messy, but there was stuff everywhere. He honestly didn't even know where to start, and the production crew would be here by 7:00 am the next day to start setting up.
He swallows down his nervousness, and the butterflies that had been flitting around his stomach since his interview with the production staff last week. This was really happening. He was really going to get to meet his idol.
Dean had watched Chef Novak's show from the very first episode, impressed with the way the man made delicious food look so incredibly easy. He had all of Chef Novak's cookbooks lined up on the shelf over his sink. He'd made many of the recipes in the books, the pages covered with splattered foodstuffs.
So when the contest had been announced, Dean had gotten online right away and put his name in. He'd lost count of how many times he'd put it in since that first one.
Still, when Balthazar Roche had called him and congratulated him, he still hadn't believed it. It didn't really sink in until the affable Englishman and his staff had rolled up last week, to meet him and survey his house.
Even now, the night before, Dean's still having trouble believing this is really going to happen. He wants it to happen, more than anything, but Dean's used to not having good things happen to him. He's used to getting the short end of the stick.
Maybe cleaning is a waste of time, maybe they really aren't coming.
Moving into his kitchen, intent on finding his half full bottle of Jack, he spies the envelope with the details of his prize and is quickly reminded that yes, this is happening.
Grabbing a broom and dustpan, he gets to work.
Tomorrow is one hell of a big day.
Bright and early the next morning, a caravan of black SUVs pull up in front of a small arts and crafts style home just around the corner from Kansas University.
It's a quaint home, painted a soft moss green, white tapered pillars supporting the front porch roof, weathered cedar shingles on the ridge. There are well maintained gardens at the base of the porch, perfectly shaped shrubs and pansies artfully arranged.
But what catches Castiel's eye is the black beast in the driveway. It's a 1967 Chevrolet Impala, and he's never seen one in better condition. She sparkles from head to toe, every inch of her gleaming and shiny. It's April too, there's pollen everywhere, but nowhere on this beauty of an automobile, which suggests her owner was up before the dawn to wash her.
Castiel loves classic cars. He's currently driving a 2013 SL63, but someday, he hopes to have a second residence, one with a huge garage, where he can house and maintain his own fleet of classics. The Impala in the driveway would be a great first addition.
Maybe he'll make an offer.
Pulling himself out of the vehicle, Castiel stretches his arms over his head and yawns. They had all stayed in Kansas City last night, leaving at 6:00 am to make the drive to Lawrence. Castiel had not slept well, and was dreading spending the day with his new "friend". He'd bitched over drinks the night before, complaining louder and louder the drunker he got. Balthazar finally dragged him off to his room and told him to sleep it off.
The sun's murder on his eyes that morning, his dark Ray Bans doing nothing to prevent the sharp spikes of pain it's causing.
Which is why, when Dean finally meets him, he's a little…confused.
He expected something different, he expected the guy he knows from TV.
The man standing on his porch in a ratty AC/DC shirt, threadbare grey hoodie, ripped jeans, and scuffed cowboy boots looks nothing like the stylish and put together chef he knows. His eyes are obscured by dark sunglasses, and his hair makes him look like he had a very busy night.
He shuffles impatiently on the porch while Balthazar makes introductions, and looks everywhere except at Dean, who's staring at him, all while holding the door open. Dean smiles and shakes the offered hands. Castiel stands near the door, staring off into space like the day is too much for him.
Dean shakes his head. What was this guy's deal? He's always seemed so nice and downright charming in his interviews, and on the show, but right now, Dean's getting a distinct "don't want to be here vibe" from the guy.
"So, here's how it's going to go. You two will head to the local store and pick up the items you need, Cassie giving you shopping advice on what to choose. You'll have a small crew with you, a camera and sound guy, and Sarah Blake, our star P.A. Once you get back, we'll have the lights and sound ready in your kitchen, and you and our star here will get started."
"Ok," Dean says quietly. He turns to Castiel. "Would you like to see the kitchen?"
Castiel stretches and looks at spot on the wall above Dean's head. He hasn't removed his glasses yet, and has an air of being bored with the whole thing.
"I'll give you thirty grand for the Impala."
"The Impala. In the driveway. Give you thirty for her."
"Um. She's not…no, she's not for sale." Dean feels like he should be flattered, after all, his baby is beautiful, but this is the first thing Novak has said to him directly, and it rubs Dean the wrong way.
Now he's getting angry. "No. Not for sale."
"Oh come on, everything has a price. Name yours."
"No. Some things are priceless and my baby? Is. Not. For. Sale." Dean growls.
Castiel is surprised at the ferocity in the man's voice, and he finally takes off his shades and looks at Dean. Really looks at him.
The snapshot in the dossier didn't do him justice.
Dean is gorgeous. Castiel has seen his share of beautiful men in his time, even dated a few of them, but Dean? He's in torn jeans, which ride alluringly low on slim hips, and a faded Led Zeppelin concert tee, which does nothing to disguise how well built he is. His light brown hair is spiked just so, and for some reason, his bare feet make him even more charming.
He's angry, a red flush growing in his ears and dancing across his cheekbones, bleeding into his neck. His green eyes are narrowed and dancing with fury. Castiel can't look away. He knew the man's eyes were green, but they are deeper and greener than he imagined. Like jade, or emeralds, something wonderful and poetic, a word that his hung over brain refuses to supply.
And the freckles alone…
"So now that we've established the fact that you won't be buying my car, would you like to see the kitchen?"
Castiel can hear the barely controlled fury in Dean's voice, and god help him, it's turning him on. He needs to squash that, quick, fast, and in a hurry. "Sure," he replies easily, "let's see your kitchen."
Dean nods and moves off to the left, down a short hall.
The kitchen is a large room, with an open floor plan that includes a den with a monster flat screen taking up most of one wall, hanging above a roughhewn mantle with a deep stone fireplace below. The den portion is painted a deep red, with lots of Chevrolet and KU memorabilia on the walls. There's a leather sofa, the color of dark chocolate, positioned directly in front of the TV, an oak coffee table in front, Super Chevy magazines stacked neatly on top.
The carpet is thick and plush, a deep tan, and Castiel's feet sink into it. The room is extremely welcoming, a set of sliding doors opening to reveal a deck, and Castiel can see a lovely backyard through the deck rails.
And the kitchen, well, the kitchen surprises him.
It's state of the art, granite countertops, Viking range, stainless steel fridge, cream porcelain farm-style sink under mounted in the granite island. The cabinets themself are honey colored oak, the floor a deeper tone, the granite, black with flecks of gold and green running through it, and the walls are a deep cream color. It's a wonderful kitchen, and Castiel can't help but be surprised, after all, Balthazar told him the man was a mechanic, and he wonders how a mechanic can afford such a nice place.
"Wow. I admit, it's nice. How the hell do you afford this place?"
The grin of pride on Dean's face is wiped away, confusion replacing it immediately. "What do you mean?"
"Well, you're just a mechanic right? How do you afford this on your salary?" Somewhere behind him, Balthazar groans quietly, and he watches in fascination as the fury dances across Dean's face again.
"I'm not "just a mechanic", I own my own shop and I specialize in classic car restorations. I make plenty, thank you very much, plus, I bought this place in bad shape and did most of the work myself, because I happen to be pretty fucking handy. It's not a fancy New York loft apartment, but it's home, and I love it."
Castiel is taken aback by the fire in Dean's voice, and he opens his mouth to apologize, but Dean's apparently got more to say.
"You know, I'm sorry you're stuck here in fucking Kansas with some hapless redneck that you have to teach cooking to, but you know what? It's your job man, this is what you do, so why don't you suck it up and act like a grownup? Take a look around, I have everything on the list your people gave me in the pantry, I have decent appliances, I have All Clad pans, I have your knives from Kohl's, and surprise! I actually already know how to cook! I should have never entered this stupid contest. I thought you were cool, man, but you're just another stuck up celebrity. So let's just get through this, and at the end of the day, you can walk away from here and pretend it didn't happen."
The silence in the house is overwhelming, and all Castiel can do is stare. Dean's breathing hard, anger creating that beautiful flush again, and all Castiel can think is, I am so screwed.
Because this man in front of him is making his heart do some pretty crazy things.
"Well alright then," Balthazar says cheerfully, "now that we've cleared the air, let's get you two dressed up and ready to go." He pulls a short redhead from the crowd and she smiles at Dean. "This is Charlie Bradbury. Dean, she's going to go with you to look at your wardrobe and pick something lovely for you to wear, so you run off with her, and I'll take care of our lovely chef here."
Charlie comes over and grabs Dean's hand, and smiles. He smiles back half-heartedly, and he leads her up the stairs to his bedroom. She stops just inside and looks around. "Holy cow. This is gorgeous!"
Dean beams, because his bedroom is gorgeous. It's his favorite room in the whole house.
The walls are Caribbean blue, the floor is hardwood stained deep mahogany. His dresser, armoire, nightstands, and massive four post king size bed are all about two shades lighter than the floor, and they're all thrift store finds that he stripped and refinished himself. None of the pieces match exactly, but look like they belong together anyway. All his bedding is white, and matches the white curtains hanging in the wide window. Through a doorway is his bathroom, with the big steam shower he and Sammy spent a whole entire weekend putting together.
This is his sanctuary, and as much as he loves his den, this is the place he loves the most in the entire house.
"I'm serious. This is beautiful. Did you do all the work in here, too?"
"Yeah, me and my brother."
"Wow. I mean…just wow. It's like something out of magazine." She grins. "Bet the ladies love your bed, huh?"
"Sure," he says easily, and pushes down the hurt that threatens to well up. He's not thinking about that today, no fucking way.
"Ok, well let's get in your closet here, and see what you've got." She pulls open the doors to his armoire, and starts pawing through his clothes. "Wow, you've got some really nice stuff. Don't think I'll need any of the things we brought." She starts pulling things out, appraising them, and putting them back or moving across the room and laying them on the bed. Dean shifts uncomfortably, wondering if he should help, or just stay out of the way.
"Dude!" she holds up a tee, "killer Star Wars shirt!"
He smiles, and she puts it back. "Hey, Charlie? Can I ask you something?"
"Sure, dude, ask away."
"Is he always like that?"
She stops and turns, a sad smile on her face. "Yeah, sometimes. He doesn't do the publicity thing well. Castiel's all about the food, and he sees publicity as a necessary evil, but he also thinks Balthazar gets carried away sometimes. He really, really didn't want to do this. But, Dean, it's not your fault, ok?"
"Yeah, sure. Ok."
She beams at him again, and holds up several items she's laid on the bed. "Time to play dress up!"