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Nailed It!

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Nailed It!

Laurent never intended to be part of the showbiz. He was a pastry chef —one of the most renowned in the business—, and he wasn’t interested in cameras, interviews or followers. His social media were simple and direct. His Instagram and Pinterest only had promotional pictures of his creations and his Facebook rarely showed anything other than information about his bakery. His Twitter account was strictly personal and the only thing on it were jokes he exchanged with Auguste and Nicaise and some news about the baking world.

However, in this interconnected world, it was only a matter of time before one of his desserts went viral. What weighed most on Laurent was that it wasn't even a particularly spectacular job. It was a simple set of golden macaroons decorated with caramel gemstones. They looked like pieces of antique jewelry and the decadent result caught the attention of the right people. Before Laurent understood what was going on, thousands of new followers came into his social media and hundreds of new customers crowded his store in New York.

At first, Laurent was outraged that such a plain dessert had made him famous. Although he made his own sugar gemstones, the truth was that they could be bought at any confectionery store. Also, the flavors involved were ordinarily boring. Nonetheless, with time he began to thank his incipient fame, not only for the additional profits, but also for the new range of suppliers willing to collaborate with him. He wasn't quite sure why a new line of baking accessories would sell better if it had his name stamped on it, but he was not one to decline such a generous offer.

One year after his surge in popularity, an especially interesting proposal came into his hands. Laurent had never considered being a judge on a television show and he almost turned down the role as a guest on the second season of Nailed It. Fortunately, his brother convinced him that it was a great opportunity to both promote his business and experience his favorite guilty pleasure first-hand. Plus, he reminded him that his nephew, Nicaise, would never forgive him if he let such a wonderful opportunity pass him by. They watched the first season together —three times— and the fear for his eleven-year-old nephew’s hatred was enough incentive to make him accept the invitation and the flight to California.

The first part was simple enough. He talked to the producers and designed the first challenge for the contestants. He got to know the set and made sure the kitchens had all the necessary ingredients and utensils. He was also introduced to the other two judges, Nicole and Jacques, and together, they went through the script.

In the end, Laurent's experience wasn’t entirely positive. He was so nervous that he ended being more scathing than he originally intended. Fortunately, the editors managed to make him look like someone with a dark sense of humor rather than a horrible human being.

Despite the fact that Laurent suspected that his physical appearance was also put into consideration, it was his attitude what gave him his ticket for the third season, where he made sure to be more helpful and less caustic. His good humor reflected well on the small screen; so much, that the producers invited him to the fourth season.

Laurent was embarrassed to admit it, but he was thrilled when he received the call to restart recordings. Without hesitation he packed his suitcase, escaped the grip of Nicaise (who wanted to infiltrate the studio pantry at all costs) and took his flight to California.




On his third visit to the set, Laurent was already familiar with the recording process. After preparing the desserts for the first challenge, he went with the rest of the judges to read the contestants’ files. They didn’t include much information. Occupation, where they came from, why they wanted to participate on the show and several pictures of them with some of their nefarious creations.

The first two participants were pretty much conventional. One was a housewife with four children who, for obvious reasons, did not have enough time to perfect her culinary art, while the second was a recently retired doctor who was looking for a gentle and relaxing hobby in his last years of life. The third one?

The third one was a big problem.

A problem as bulky as the muscular arms he displayed under his slim t-shirt. A danger as deep as the dimple that decorated his left cheek. A threat so within reach that he also lived in New York. A challenge as immense as the bank account of the owner of a gym in the financial district of Manhattan. Speaking of which, was it fair to let someone with that amount of money participate? Perhaps he was being unfair, but Laurent suspected that ten thousand dollars would mean little to someone like him.

The blonde instantly knew that it would be extremely difficult to concentrate with such a man on the set and the only thing that comforted him was knowing that he was straight. Knowing him unattainable would help him focus on what was really important: desserts and not to embarrass himself on camera. He was lucky that neither Auguste nor Nicaise were there to see him in such a deplorable situation!

“Well, well, well,” exclaimed Nicole while fanning herself with one of the contestant’s picture, “I wouldn't mind tasting this caramel baby.”

Jacques shook his head and laughed more at Nicole’s serious tone than at her comment. Meanwhile, Laurent felt an unexpected warmth rising from his stomach to his cheeks.

“What do you think, Laurent?” asked Nicole while poking him with her elbow. “He could almost compete with Wes.”

Laurent frowned and thought that, as attractive as Wes was, he was far of the participant’s league. Damianos was his name?

“Laurent?”

He didn’t react until Nicole called him for the third time.

“What?”

“Damianos is really attractive.”

Wearily, Laurent exhaled and took a glimpse at his photographs.

“Good for him, because he makes the most hideous Christmas cookies I've ever seen.”

Nicole stared at him for several seconds, after which she smirked and moved her shoulders to the tune of an imaginary ditty. Laurent, of course, chose to ignore the bait. His only duty was to support and judge the contestants. Everything else would be a waste of time.

He took notes of the participants and, as soon as they were done, he went back to his hotel room. It was only then that he was able to calmly think things through. It was most likely that Damianos was a fool and an ignorant jock. Without a doubt, he convinced himself, the only good thing about him would be his appearance and his bank account. He was sure he would stop liking him as soon as he opened his sensual mouth.

Appeased by the thought, Laurent turned the lights off and went to bed in order to prepare for the following day.




My name is Damianos, but my friends call me Damen. I’m from New York, I’m 30 years old and I work at a small gym in Lower Manhattan. I decided to come to Nailed It because a year ago I broke up with my girlfriend. Although it was a mutual decision, it was a complicated situation for me. I chose to stay single for a while and it was then that I discovered the baking world. I don't always have the best results, but if there is something that characterizes me, it's that I never give up. I will not rest until I master the art of baking and I know that Nailed It will be the best first step I can take.

Laurent replayed in his mind Damianos’ video over and over again. The ominous images, sent earlier to his email, haunted him all throughout breakfast and his only consolation was knowing he had watched the unedited video. He was sure the final version would include a clip of him baking half-naked and he really didn’t need that right now.

Hoping that his self-control would help him avoid embarrassment and that the participants’ inexperience of would allow him to forget Damianos' stupid dimple, he made his way to the set at the appointed time.

After checking that the microphones were working properly and receiving the latest instructions from the director, the judges stood on their respective markers in front of the podium. The director gave the order and the cameras began to roll.

Bonjour, mes amis! And welcome to a new episode of Nailed It,” gushed Nicole, “The show that seeks to recreate cakes that make you exclaim c’est magnifique, but end with a heartbreaking oh la vache! Today we’ll have three amateurs who will try to create delights inspired by the land of the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the wine and, of course, the pastries. Whoever has a better result will take home ten thousand dollars! And now, let's meet our bakers!”

The studio door opened with its usual exaltation and presented their potential poisoners. Nevertheless, Laurent didn’t have the chance to worry about trifles like that. Not when Damianos appeared before his eyes, walking as confidently as if he were a celebrity and with a stature that surpassed anyone on the set.

Laurent couldn’t believe that Damianos could be even more attractive in person than on video. His dark eyes turned into honey under the spotlights and his excited smile filled his face with the candor of the summer sun. Laurent had to muster all his strength to appear impassive and almost gave himself away when his gaze met Damianos'.

For a moment, Laurent wondered what the man was looking at so intently. Could it be Nicole? The cameramen? The teleprompter? Oddly, the closer they got, the clearest it became that he was looking at Laurent. He pursed his lips and convinced himself that Damianos probably recognized him from previous episodes, which made him dread that Laurent’s sharp tongue would deflate his humble illusions.

“Are you ready to make art, guys?!”

The group responded animatedly. Laurent raised an eyebrow at the way Damianos’ muscles flexed with his triumphant pose. Was his apron custom made? He doubted that normal sizes could cover his broad chest and enormous stature.

As Nicole broke the ice with the rest of the contestants, Damianos barely took his gaze off Laurent. The blonde was used to catch prying eyes and for a moment he thought he recognized the desire in the participant's darkened pupils. Yet, that was impossible. Damianos was perfect enough to, also, be bisexual. Something like that would be Laurent's downfall.

“Damianos,” said Nicole with a cheerful flirtatious tone. “You prefer to be called Damen, don’t you?”

“Yes, I do. Damianos is reserved for my parents when they are about to lecture me.”

"Oh, a bad boy! I like that. You were born in Greece, do your parents live there?"

"No. They moved to New York many years ago. I have lived there most of my life."

Nicole made a strange movement with her eyebrows and glanced at Laurent sideways, who knew it was too late to avoid the incoming attack.

"So you're a single, foreign New Yorker," she hummed a tune. "Do you know who is in the same boat? My second favorite French judge: Laurent de Vere!" the participants and some staff members applauded enthusiastically. "This is the third time we have Laurent on the show. He is an expert pastry chef and has a popular patisserie in the Big Apple. As if that wasn’t enough, he is totally single."

"This must be my lucky day," Damianos responded with a hateful heart-breaking smile.

"And this will be my lucky day only if I can avoid being poisoned," assured Laurent in an attempt to look as intimidating as possible. Interestingly, Damen seemed unfazed by the threat.

Nicole winked at Laurent and patted him on the shoulder.

"Let's hope we don’t reach that point," she dramatically spun over her heels. "What do you think, my most favorite French judge, Jacques ‘roudoudou’ Torres?"

"I trust that today's participants will do a great job and that no one will need to go to the hospital."

Nicole crossed her fingers as she readdressed the contestants.

"Let's hope so. All right, bakers! It's time for you to choose your creations for the first round called Baker’s Choice! Behind door number one we have the quintessential French desserts. Designed and prepared by our unique and special Laurent, we have…," the first door opened and showed three sets of three macaroons each. "Fruit macaroons!"

Laurent looked proudly at his creations. Those desserts were relatively easy to make —if they were familiar with the recipe for macaroons—, but, as always, the trick was in the decoration. The first three sweets looked like half-cut oranges, the next were small watermelons and the last group were decorated as kiwis. In addition, each set of macaroons was filled with cream with the flavor of the represented fruit. Even if the sweets weren't particularly original, they were very popular in Laurent's bakery, and the producers were kind enough to let him use them for the show.

"When I say ‘go’, each of you will select a macaroon design," Nicole said. "No pushing, okay?! Go!"

The housewife, Lillian, was the first one to run toward the counter, being closely followed by the doctor, Michael. It was fortunate that Damianos didn't jump into the race, otherwise he would have vanquished his competitors. Instead, he waited patiently for the others to choose, leading him to end up with the orange shaped macaroons.

“Damen is quite a gentleman" said Jacques.

"It doesn't matter which one I choose," Damen responded. "I’ll win anyway."

Laurent rolled his eyes, though he had to admit that the pedantic phrase sounded witty and optimistic on Damen's lips.

"All right!" Nicole shouted. "Lillian! Why did you choose the watermelon macaroons?!"

"Because they seemed the easier to make," she replied with an unsure giggle.

"Good answer. Michael?! Do you like kiwis?"

The man widened his eyes and his graying mustache jiggled over his lips.

"Kiwis! That’s what they were! I don't know why I chose these. I didn't know what they were."

"I hope you can recognize the kiwi extract, Michael," the woman at looked him accusingly. "Otherwise we'll end up with strawberry flavored kiwis. Damen?!"

"Yes?"

"I know you chose the oranges because they were the last ones left," Damen nodded as he laughed out loud. Laurent noticed that one of the cameramen brazenly zoomed in to his face. "Any recommendations for our participants, Laurent?"

"The key to make the perfect macaroon is in the mixing of the wet and dry ingredients," he said. "To know if you reached the correct consistency with the meringue and the almond flour, you must raise the spatula and see how the mixture falls. If it creates a thread and you can write the first letter of your name, you are at the perfect point. Okay?"

Damen opened his mouth to make what would most likely be a bad joke, but, luckily, he managed to control himself.

"Okay, bakers," Nicole joined her hands with anticipation, "for this challenge you'll have… fifty-five minutes! Go, go, go!”

The participants hesitated for a few seconds before heading toward their work stations to read their ambiguous instructions.

Nicole sighed contentedly and faced the judging podium.

"To the judges' seat!" Laurent and Jacques followed obediently.

While the contestants searched for the ingredients in the pantry, Laurent explained the generalities for making the macaroons. With Damen away, it was easy to answer Jacques' attentive questions and even follow Nicole's jokes. Sadly, the moment Damianos returned to his post, Laurent's eyes and ears stopped paying attention to anything other than him.

The judges, cameras and staff became an intelligible mass of sights and sounds as Laurent turned his full attention towards Damen. He especially enjoyed the careful way in which he mixed his wet and dry ingredients. Damen's hands moved with unexpected gentleness for a man as big as him. He achieved the desired consistency thanks to his patience and effort. Even his handling of the pastry bag seemed impeccable, since he pressed the meringue in the perfect place, with the perfect force. Despite the fact that the result was far from perfect, Laurent recognized Damen's potential. Yes. It was just that. It had nothing to do with how his apron adjusted to his narrow waist or how his curls bounced each time he turned his head. Of course not.

Laurent took a long sip of his glass of water as Damen put the tops of his macaroons into the oven.

"Twenty-five minutes!"

Nicole's short phrase was enough to trigger a wave of nervousness in the participants. Damen didn't seem particularly concerned, but his movements became clumsier and he made his first big mistake as he prepared the filling.

"Oh oh…"

"Is everything okay, Damen?" Nicole asked.

"Yes!" he replied with a broken voice. "Of course! I always have everything under control!"

"I hope so, sweetheart," Laurent said, hoping his sarcastic tone would mask his nervousness. “Remember I want to avoid a trip to the hospital.”

"Don't worry, sweetheart. I’ll save you if you get intoxicated," Damen said without raising his eyes from the mixer. "I’m certified to perform first aid."

Outraged, Laurent pouted and crossed his arms.

"Of course he is certified…" he mumbled.

"What did you say, Laurent?" Nicole asked with a particularly insidious tone.

"Nothing."

Nicole shot him an incredulous look which slowly moved toward the nearest camera. Once again, Laurent felt the blush coloring his cheeks. Silently, he began to plot a way to keep Nicaise and Auguste from watching the episode.

The remaining time passed quickly and soon the judges had to get up from their seats in order to start the countdown. With some awkwardness, the participants placed their macaroons behind screens with the colors of the French flag and, one by one, they presented their results.

Although Lillian's macaroons looked dreadful, they had all the required components. However, both the toppings and the filling lacked flavor. On the other hand, Michael's ones were a complete disaster. The toppings were burnt and the filling was so runny that it practically enveloped everything. Finally, it was Damen’s turn.

"Okay, Damen," Nicole said. "These are the orange macaroons you were trying to make. Now let's see what you did."

Damen lowered the screen and presented his three small creations. Even though all his macaroons were of different sizes, the shells were properly baked. Furthermore, the decoration was not so terrible (although the colors did not resemble those of an orange at all).

"The details in your decoration are good," Jacques said, "but the color surprises me. Was this what you were planning?"

"My orange was too yellowish, so I added a little bit of red. It was too much, too late to fix it.

Damen did not seem disappointed. On the contrary, he understood that he'd been given a challenge designed to fail and he still managed to do a good job. It was admirable he had so much confidence despite of how his oranges looked more like like basketballs.

"I like them," Nicole said, "they look like grapefruits."

"I'd say they are blood oranges," Laurent noted. "They look like Halloween decorations."

"What?" Damen asked. "Isn't this a Halloween special?"

Nicole snickered and reached out for one of the macaroons.

"Okay, let's try this blood orange," she took her first bite and, after a few seconds, she grumbled. "Wow! That was like biting an unpeeled orange."

Jacques nodded.

"How much flavoring did you add to the filling?"

"Maybe I added a little bit more than I should have," Damen admitted with a stupid, charming smile.

"The shells aren’t too sweet," Jacques explained, "so it works well if you take the whole bite"

When Laurent tasted the macaroon, he was surprised by its pleasant texture and proper ingredient mixing. The only flaws were the color of the frosting and the excessive flavoring. He rose his head in order to give his verdict and met with Damen's hopeful expression.

"You put way too much flavoring into the filling," discouraged, Damen squirmed and looked at him with big puppy eyes, "but oranges are my favorite fruit so… I liked it. It tastes good and the texture of the shell is perfect."

His words worked like magic and Damen instantly regained his high spirits.

"I could write a D with the dough," he smiled playfully and Laurent hoped he could poke his ridiculous dimple with a spatula.

"Thank you so much, bakers," Nicole continued. "Now it's time to choose the winner."

The director gave ordered to stop the recording. He led the contestants to a separate part of the set to continue their individual interviews and the judges returned to their table in order to discuss the results.

"Well, we already know who's going to get help for the next round," Nicole laughed.

"Michael's nerves completely betrayed him," Jacques agreed. "What do you think, Laurent?"

Before he could respond, Nicole raised her right hand and started bouncing on her seat.

"U! I know! I know! Loulou is going to vote for his new boyfriend, Damen."

"Nicole…"

"I agree that the best macaroons were Damen's," Jacques conceded, "they looked good and tasted good."

"Fine... I'll let Loulou vote for him, but only if he invites me to his wedding. You’ll come with me, won’t you, Jacques?"

"I'll follow you wherever you wish, Nicole."

"I'm not going to marry him," Laurent suddenly felt back in elementary school when Auguste wanted to pair him up with all the girls he spoke to. “I just think he's the lesser of three evils."

"Yes, whatever you say, Loulou." Nicole stood up. "Whoa! That was fast. I'm going to get something to drink. Wes!"

Laurent exhaled wearily and dropped his head onto the table.

To think they were only halfway through!




"Okay, bakers," Nicole said once everyone was back on set, "it's time to announce the winner. Jacques?"

"It was a difficult round. Macaroons require meticulous work and a lot of patience. The one who showed both qualities in the first round was… Damen!"

"Yes!" Damen raised his arms and, for the first time, Laurent cursed his apron. He was certain that the movement would have made his shirt rise enough to see his abs. He definitely had abs.

"Congratulations, Damen. Laurent, please tell him what his prize is."

In order to maintain his stoic appearance, Laurent nodded gravely and pointed with his open palm to where Wes sprouted with the reward cart.

"You are taking home a new mixer and a set of my pastry bag tips. It'll take time, but with these tools you might one day do something that's truly worthy of your Instagram."

"You've seen my Instagram..." Damen said with certainty.

"I've got better things to do online," Laurent said as he made the mental note to search for the Greek's social media. "For example, cleaning up my spam folder."

"Easy there, lovebirds," Nicole said as she took the golden hat from the car with the prizes. "It’s time to crown the winner of this round."

The woman held the hat between her hands and slowly turned her gaze from the hat to Damen. After a few seconds, she turned her attention to Laurent, who quickly looked at the teleprompter in order to understand what was going on. Sadly, the little screen offered no clues.

"Oh, Laurent? Damen seems to be too tall for me. Could you do the honors?"

A deep silence fell over the set. Laurent waited four, five seconds for the director to request a new shot, but the indication never came. He looked at Damen who, smiling, winked at him in such a cheeky way that Laurent didn't know if he should throw the hat to his face or pull him into a kiss.

After what seemed like an eternity, Laurent inhaled and exhaled slowly as he took the hat from Nicole. Slowly, he walked until he stood right in front of Damen.

Damn, he was huge.

"Congratulations, Damianos," he said with a charmingly fake smile.

Excited, Damen leaned his body toward him as he placed the hat over his soft curls. Damen didn't move away once Laurent finished adjusting the hat, but remained in that position so they could see each other face to face.

"Merci, Laurent."

Laurent wasn't used to people pronouncing his name correctly and he couldn't help but part his lips in amazement with Damen's impeccable French accent. Was there something that idiot couldn't do?

Unable to do anything other than blush, Laurent stepped back and returned with the other judges.

"Perfect!” continued Nicole, “Now, come with me to door number two! Jacques?"

"We're going to transport ourselves to the city of love: a beautiful land full of art, meringue, and tourist traps. Everyone, get ready to visit…" door number two opened and showed a huge cake in the shape of the Eiffel Tower. "An Eiffel Tower made with dark chocolate cake topped with a delicious wine-flavored buttercream. The decoration is made with strips of fondant and royal icing covered in silver powder to give it a more realistic look."

"This is a very revolutionary challenge, but don't worry," said Nicole. "If you need help, all you have to do is press your 'Panic' button and Jacques or Laurent will help you for three full minutes. Michael? In ancient times your macaroons would have taken you directly to the guillotine, but today we'll give you an advantage. We have given you the 'Laurent Judges' button. If you press it, Laurent will go to your opponents’ stations and he will observe and intimidate them for three full minutes. Understood?"

"Understood!"

"All right, bakers," Nicole continued. "This time you have an hour and forty-five minutes to bake and decorate the cake! On the count of three! Un, deux, trois!"

The participants ran to their kitchens while the judges took their seats. After an explanation of how the cakes should be prepared, Nicole decided it was time to tease Laurent once more.

"You have a brother, don't you Laurent?"

"An older brother, yes. His name is Auguste and he owns a construction company in New York."

"And what does he think about 'Laurent Judges' button?"

Laurent bit his lower lip in an attempt to contain the smile brought by the memory of his family discovering the button during the third season.

"He said it'd be wonderful if I only criticized him for three minutes."

Nicole laughed loudly and shook her head histrionically.

"I like your brother! Is he as handsome as you? Is he single?"

"He's a very dedicated family man."

Nicole pouted and turned her chair toward Jacques.

"Jacques, Jacques! Why are the good guys always taken?"

"Because they're the good guys, Nicole."

"Oh, right."

Once the participants started working on their cakes, Laurent decided that he should stop fooling around with irrelevant chatting in order to focus on Damen, who looked extremely charming with his golden hat. It was incredible that a person could look so regal with his shoulders and nape covered in glitter. The vision of that man wearing something more imposing like a thin white chiton and a laurel wreath would be a gift for the senses.

Damen made the first part of the challenge with relative ease. He prepared a sufficient amount of cakes and managed to put them in the oven within thirty minutes of the round. Then, it was time for the buttercream; a key point for the construction of the enormous cake.

It was at that moment that poor Michael realized that his cake batter was way too thick and had to return it from its molds to the mixer. Hoping to buy some time, he pressed the 'Laurent Judges' button.

"Duty calls," he said as he stood up and walked toward Lillian's station.

"Oh oh..." she lamented once Laurent was close enough. “Are you here to judge me?"

"I'm just here to see what you are doing. Pretend I’m not here."

Easier said than done. Laurent was an expert at intimidating people and it was easy for him to picture the contestants as incompetent employees. While he didn't seek to be too cruel, it was incredibly easy to make them nervous. All he had to do was to stand beside them, watch their every move and ask apparently innocent questions.

Lillian began incorporating the red wine directly into her buttercream. This was a serious mistake, because first she should have reduced it on the stove. Adding it directly would thin out the cream to a point of making it useless.

"Are you sure you want to do that?" he asked innocently. The poor woman was shaking so badly she could barely hold the spatula.

"Why? What's wrong? Did I do something wrong?"

Laurent shrugged and looked carelessly at the kitchen counter.

"I don't know. Do you think it's wrong?"

"I don't know. I think this will work."

"Mmm…"

"A minute and a half, Laurent!"

At Nicole's announcement, Laurent left poor Lillian on the verge of a nervous breakdown and headed to Damen's station. He was mixing his sugary wine on the stove with one hand and with the other he was holding an opaque plastic container where he had poured some of the alcohol.

"Are you drinking while you cook?"

"It's a good wine," he offered him the container. "Want some?"

Laurent crossed his arms and shot him a contemptuous look. At least he had found a flaw in that man: he was shameless.

"I'd rather not get drunk on set."

Damen shrugged, and without taking his eyes off Laurent, he took a long sip of his wine.

"Do not look at me like that. I have a very high alcohol tolerance."

"No surprise there. A giant animal like you would probably need gallons of wine just to get tipsy." Laurent didn't need to look into the abandoned frying pan to know that the wine was beginning to caramelize.

"Giant animal? You say that only because you're so small."

"I’m not small; it's a matter of scale. Even someone as tall as me would be easily overpowered by a giant like you."

Damen's eyes seemed to darken underneath the spotlight. He made a very short step towards Laurent, who nervously took an equally short step back.

"Don't be presumptuous," said Laurent, coldly.

"Too late, sweetheart."

"Three minutes!" Nicole shouted.

Relieved, Laurent tilted his face to the stove and looked with satisfaction at Damen's frying pan.

"There seems to be a problem with your wine. Good luck!"

As he reunited with the judges, Laurent heard Damianos curse. His sugary wine had caramelized so much that it would take forever to remove it from the pan. He would surely need to repeat that step.

“So, Laurent,” said Nicole once Laurent returned to his seat. "Where will you celebrate your wedding? New York? France? Greece?"

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"Oh! You could get married here, in California! We could do a special! We'd call it Nailed It: Lamen Special!"

"Please no."

"Jacques could make little versions of you for your wedding cake."

"With white and dark chocolate, of course," added the chef.

"Nicole…"

"You have sixty minutes left!"

The participants redoubled their baking efforts. It didn't take long for Damen to finish his second batch of buttercream, after which he ran into the pantry to gather what he would need to decorate. Once he returned to his kitchen, he removed his cakes from the oven and pressed the 'Panic' button.

"IT’S A PANIC!" Nicole shouted. "It's your turn, Laurent!"

"Why me?"

Nicole didn't allow Laurent to propose other alternatives. Her screams were so loud and sharp that the blonde decided to stand up and head to Damen's station.

"How I can help you?"

"Yeah... uh... sorry about later."

"Excuse me?"

It never occurred to Laurent that the man would be ashamed of his insolent behavior, especially considering he hadn’t done anything too terrible. After all, Laurent was everything but begging for it.

"Damen-"

"I'm impulsive. I've gotten into trouble for that-"

"Damen, we can save this for later. How I can help you?"

Damen stared at Laurent for a long time and, whatever it was, he seemed to find what he was looking for, since he beamed up with newfound optimism.

"All right, yes. Let’s do that. Now, how should I build the tower?"

With a more familiar topic in hand, Laurent relaxed a little bit and he did his best to explain the best way to build the replica of the Eiffel Tower. He reminded Damen the importance of chilling the cakes first and using the right amount of buttercream.

"You left your cakes in the oven for too long. They are dry, but you can compensate by spreading more buttercream between the layers. You could also use jam in some of the cakes. Be creative."

"Three minutes, Laurent!"

"Thank you very much." Damen seemed so grateful that Laurent found it difficult to leave him by himself in that cold and sad kitchen station.

Time kept running. The participants started decorating and, before Laurent could get bored of the way Damen ran back and forth from the pantry, Nicole started the countdown.

"Time's up! C’est fini, bakers! Hands up or we'll send you to the Bastille."

Yet again the cakes were presented one by one while the judges tried to contain their laughter. Lillian didn't correct the consistency of her buttercream. This made it so runny that not even a pound of fondant could cover the mess that was her cake. Meanwhile, Michael managed to achieve a good effect with his royal icing and offered the most detailed Eiffel Tower (despite the fact that the last level of his cake was a block of rice krispies). Damianos' case was exactly the opposite. His assembly of the cake was impeccable, but the decoration was appalling. His cake was a long silver tower that looked more like…

"I can't tell on camera what that looks like," snapped Nicole once she stopped laughing.

"I know." Damen covered his face with both hands. "I know what it looks like."

"You used too much fondant," Jacques explained. "You must flatten the strips in order to achieve a more uniform finish."

"I agree with Jacques," Laurent added. "The original cake only uses fondant on specific parts of the tower. For the rest of the details it would have been better to use the royal icing."

"You know? In hindsight that makes a lot of sense."

"Very well, bakers! It’s time for you to prepare us the best slice of your Parisian cakes!"

The participants did as instructed and soon the judges were unlucky enough to try the unique creations. Lillian's cake was the worse by far. It was slightly raw in the center and the liquefied buttercream turned everything into a blob or sugary flavor. Michael did a much better job than with the macaroons. Although his cake was unsavory, the buttercream sweetened it enough for it not to be unpleasant. Finally, it was Damen's turn.

"Wow!" exclaimed Nicole after taking a bite of the cake. "I like it! I didn't hate putting it in my mouth.”

"The bread was a little dry," Jacques added, "but you complimented it well with the buttercream and the jam. Which jam did you use?"

"Orange and peach." Damen did not have enough willpower to prevent him from staring into Laurent. "I received wonderful advice."

"Like all my ideas, it worked perfectly," Laurent said. "It tastes good, the texture is nice, and I can feel the taste of the wine in the cream. Good job."

Damen radiated happiness after receiving Laurent’s flattery, who regretted lacking the courage to be as picky as he wanted. It would be so easy to break his sweet little heart!

"Thank you very much, bakers. You all did an excellent job, but we can only have one winner.”

The director paused the recording. The judges began to deliberate as the participants went to another part of the set for the last part of their interviews.

"So!" exclaimed Nicole. "Who's going to take home the ten thousand dollars?"

"We have an interesting situation here," Jacques said. "We have a cake that looks great, but doesn't taste as good and another one that tastes great, but looks..."

"It's a dildo, Jacques," Nicole cut in. "Damen made a giant dildo."

"You should shoot an erotic cakes special" Laurent suggested regardless of moral propriety.

"Those exist? Jacques? Do people buy that? We should sell erotic cakes!"

"We digress." Jacques' red face made it clear that his insistence on limiting himself to voting was more out of modesty than responsibility. "My vote goes to Michael. His cake didn't taste spectacular, but it wasn't bad."

"I think-"

"No!" Nicole shouted. "I will not let Loulou vote again for his boyfriend. They will criticize him for nepotism."

"You can't tell me who to vote for," Laurent defended himself.

"I only want the best for your public image, Loulou."

After debating for several minutes (Jacques was the most patient man Laurent had ever met), they finally reached a verdict. It didn't take long for the participants to return from their interviews and the recordings resumed.

"All right, bakers," Nicole said very solemnly, "it's time to announce the winner of the ten thousand dollars and the priceless Nailed It trophy. Wes!"

Unsurprisingly, Wes appeared from door number two wearing a striped long-sleeved shirt, a scarf, and a red beret. Laurent rolled his eyes at the insidious stereotypes he had experienced all day knowing he couldn't complain. He participated in the planning of the episode and he never tried to avoid them.

At least, he thought, Wes was cute. Not Damen cute, but cute.

"Merci, mon chéri!” Nicole thanked Wes as he placed the trophy on the table. "Laurent? You’ve got the money?"

Laurent showed the cash gun in his hands. He always forgot how heavy it was.

"Ready."

"Jacques?"

"This time we judged the cakes based on appearance. This means that the winner is… Michael!"

Laurent pulled the trigger of the gun and the cash started raining down. From that moment on, everything turned into chaos. People applauded, there were several camera movements and when everyone gathered for the selfie, Laurent felt a warm hand hovering his waist. He did not dare to look up, but it was obvious that Damianos was doing his best to huddle the group under his enormous figure. The touch was soft, delicate and comfortable. If it weren’t because he was surrounded by people, he would’ve tackled Damen down in order to feel his body heat in a more personal way.

After a long photographic session, the competitors were removed from the set in order to finish whatever paperwork they had to make. Laurent couldn’t say goodbye to Damen, but he supposed it was for the best. He had made a fool of himself enough for one day and it'd be best for him to return to his hotel room and order a thick chocolate cake from room service.

"Thank you so much for inviting me, Nicole," Laurent said hoping that the woman wouldn’t recognize his melancholy. "I hope we can see each other next year."

"Are you kidding? After today's show, I am sure we will receive a million requests to make you a permanent judge. Although we would have to make Damen the second assistant director…"

Even though Nicole was joking, at that moment, when it was clear that he would never see Damen again, the situation seemed everything but funny. He bid his farewells and silently returned to the dressing room, where he took off his makeup and packed up all his things.

He knew was being dramatic. He knew Damen's last name and it would be easy to locate his gym in New York. Moreover, someone like him would surely have a very active social media life. If he really wanted to, he could reach him and invite him on a date, but he was so inexperienced in those matters that he was afraid of embarrassing himself even more.

He sighed.

Perhaps Auguste was right when he said that Laurent needed to liven up. He generally was so focused with his work and family that he left little time to experience all that the world had to offer. But no… someone like Damianos was an herculean challenge. If he was going to experiment, he should lower the difficulty. He needed someone that wouldn't intimidate him with his huge arms, soft black curls, charming smile and…

"Laurent?"

The deep voice shocked Laurent to the point he almost dropped his cell phone while putting it in his backpack.

"Damen? What are you doing here?"

"Nicole gave me a pass to the dressing rooms."

Laurent exhaled and ran his hands through his hair.

"Of course she did."

Damen smiled sheepishly and slowly narrowed the distance between them. Laurent felt the heat rising from his belly to the nape of his neck and watched his reflection in the dressing room mirror just to make sure he looked as awful as he felt.

"You said we could talk about it later and-"

"It’s unnecessary," he interrupted. "Nothing happened. You didn't do anything." He hated himself when he realized that his voice carried a certain tone of resentment.

"I wanted to," Damen replied, "but it was not the right moment."

"Oh?" Laurent's mouth had completely dried up, making it almost impossible to talk. He couldn’t understand why he was acting like a high school student who had never flirted before.

"Do you think we could... look for the right moment?"

Laurent sighed as he fretfully opened his backpack. After three attempts he found his wallet and took out one of his business cards, where he wrote down his personal number.

"I think it's best for us to make our own moments," he said, hoping he didn't sound too cheesy.

Fortunately, Damen either didn't realize the absurdity of his words or preferred to ignore them, since he held the card as if it was the most valuable thing in the world. He saved the number on his phone right away and texted Laurent.

"There it is. I…" Damen cleared his throat. "They asked me to stay here for one more day, in case they had to record something else. I’ll return to New York on Friday."

"If you want, we could have dinner when you return."

"Yes!" Laurent chuckled at his enthusiasm. "I mean, yes. That would be fine."

"Good. Just make sure to take the golden hat with you. That way they’ll give us the best table."

Damen widened his eyes, raised his hands to his head and confirmed his fear: he entered the dressing room with the golden hat on. He took it off as fast as he could, causing the golden glitter to fly everywhere.

"This is embarrassing."

"Not at all." Laurent dared reach out to Damen's shoulders to remove part of the glitter. "It looks good on you. Like a king of days bygone." Laurent dropped his gaze and put his backpack on his right shoulder. "I have to go now. My flight leaves in three hours."

"We’ll see each other next Friday, then."

Laurent nodded and, in an incredible display of bravery, he rose his head to lay a soft kiss on Damen’s left cheek.

"If you play your cards right, you might actually nail something that day."

Laurent headed toward the exit while Damen laughed and fiddled with his chef's hat.

"I was going to make that joke."

"Too late, sweetheart. Save it for when they ask us how we met."

Laurent waved goodbye and left the dressing room feeling nervous, but incredibly satisfied. As he walked toward the exit, one part of his brain started thinking what he would do on his first date with Damen, while the other plotted a way to cancel Auguste's Netflix account.

He would never allow them to watch that episode.