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If you can't stand the heat…
Cass and her beloved Killian are in Chicago filming her new cooking show. Being the star of her own TV show does not keep Cass Harper-Nelson from being herself, which means she flies by the seat of her (often rather toasty) pants. Her wit and down-to-earth manner has her making new friends and embracing a former enemy when she goes head to head with an adversary from her past.
How does a conflicted, feisty submissive embrace all that life has to offer while dueling with Men's Rights Activists? Trust her loving husband to make sure the beloved cook learns what happens when you jump out of the frying pan into the fire.
Friends from Slick Trench, Alaska, visit, and a new venture is embraced. Rendered features all the love, heat, belly laughs and scrumptious recipes that are a feature of the Cass series.
DISCLAIMER: This book contains the spanking of adult women and sexual scenes. If these offend you, please do not purchase.
Cass Harper-Nelson was beginning to relax. Her first national talk show was going swimmingly. She had been made up until she looked like a much prettier woman than she actually was. She had established a rapport with the earnest hipster interviewer. It helped that her topic, How to Plan a Wedding and Not Lose Your Goddamned Mind, was one that she was conversant with. The secret was managing your expectations. Somewhere along the line, she reassured Evan, the handsome young host, forcing herself to make eye contact with his horn rimmed glasses, brides were sold a bill of goods. Time to snap out of the matrix. Zero need to offer a vast cocktail hour with multitudinous appetizer choices, unless you are going for a flat out cocktail reception. Guests do not need thirty-seven choices of entrée unless your last names are Baskin and Robbins. Wedding cake is cake—it is; therefore, dessert. There is no reason to spend a fortune on an elaborate cake and also serve chocolate fondue and meringue swans. The cue music that her time was ending softly chimed.
“So,” her host concluded as the camera panned to the next guest who was patiently waiting in the wings, “you don't need to serve endless courses.”
Cass was on a roll now, so she threw her last joke in. Which is why viewers saw Ms. Sarah Huntley, body image advocate and recent victim of online “fat shaming,” and heard Cass’s voice say, “That’s right, everybody is too too fat anyway.”
The, “Oh my God. I didn't mean that. I don’t mean you. You are lovely, really pretty, in fact. It was a joke,” was recorded as well. Evan motioned the newer guest onto the couch.
Cass felt like the coyote in cartoons as he launches himself over a cliff and then desperately attempts to backpedal his way back onto terra firma.
Ms. Huntley couldn't have been more gracious. She took Cass’s hand. “I know you were kidding. It’s okay.”
Evan demonstrated his shrewdness by saying, “Why don't you stay with us for the next segment?” Cass reeled. On the one hand, she couldn't really look worse. On the other, what the hell was she doing? She agreed. As the cue music came on, the audience saw Cass Nelson sitting beside Sarah Huntley. Evan led into the interview by saying, “If you were watching the show when we went to break, then you heard Mrs. Nelson make a joke at the end of her interview.” The footage rolled and Cass died a thousand deaths.
Sarah rescued her. “I think this is perfect, since if someone as clearly well intentioned as everybody’s favorite food blogger can make a joke that hurts other people, then we can all understand how it happens. But that’s not really what I am here to talk about today.” Cass squeezed her hand, raw with gratitude.
It took all of her self control to stay in the studio while the truly lovely and articulate Ms. Huntley spoke about her work to help all women accept their own bodies and strive for health. Sarah was discussing an online movement to “whale shame” which posted pictures and nasty comments about overweight women. A website called Made to Reign was encouraging men to seek out and humiliate overweight women, a response to what the “reign readers” called “you go girrrl type feminism” which left Cass baffled. Why would anyone be so mean? And what was the goddamned point? Sarah had been a prime target for this group. She calmly discussed how her pictures had been turned into memes and her work email stuffed with vicious comments. Cass found herself growing furious on her behalf. Evan was a skilled interviewer and he brought Cass into the conversation just as she was exploding with unanswered questions.
“So is that a real thing? It’s not an internet hoax?” Cass asked, subtle as a jack hammer.
Sarah nodded. “Yes, it's a small group. Virulent, though. Some of these groups have even been labelled hate groups. They are that bad.”
A side effect of being married to Killian, who had zero problem laying her out and spanking her scarlet, was that Cass had gotten really good at apologizing. She didn't get all tongue tied and embarrassed and make excuses. She had come to expect to be forgiven. That turned out to be a useful skill to have. “I was thoughtless and I am so sorry.”
Sarah grinned at her. “I am planning a wedding—maybe you can help me out.”
Cass grinned back. “I can do that.”
* * *
The backlash began before she was in the car. A meme of Sarah and Cass sitting side by side had the legend “Whale Powerrrrr!” It was a horrible picture, of course. Cass’s face was angled down and she had a roll at her throat; Sarah was laughing and her eyes were closed. By the time Cass visited the “Reign” site to see what it was like, she was the story of the day.
Whale apologist Sarah “pass the fried chicken” Huntley exchanged “you go girl!” platitudes with fellow fatty food obsessive Cass Harper Who needs men—we can be our fabulous selves and the boys will have to foot the bill. Thank you third wave feminism.
Someone named “Ahab the whale slayer,” had posted her phone number. She could not imagine how this could have happened. He claimed to be a “near genius tech hacker.” He’d somehow found her cell phone number in less than thirty minutes, so he had to be pretty good.
Cass slumped sobbing into the front seat of their SUV. The responses began to roll in.
“You are stupid bitch.”
“You are fat yourself bitch.”
“I hate you bitch.” Calling her a bitch was the common factor.
There were texts from women slamming her for insulting another woman. Texts from men suggesting what she really needed was a real man to keep her in line.
“It will be okay” from the most supportive best friend ever, and ominously, “Stop by my office” from her brand new boss.
She had begged Killian to throw her off a bridge, shoot her in the head, help her find hemlock, anything to put her out of her misery. He had gamely insisted that it wasn't so bad. It was every bit that bad. To distract her, Killian turned the radio on, the tinny voice of the morning show host floated into the Tercel. “Can you believe it? The chubby broad was sitting right there and she just kept talk—” Killian roughly jabbed the power button with his pointer finger. Cass considered banging her head on the window of the passenger side door. Only the knowledge that Killian would put a right quick stop to that prevented her from doing so. She glumly kissed him goodbye. “Would you like me to come in with you?” He had some errands to run and had planned to return in time to see the taping.
“No,” she answered. The only thing worse than looking like a moron was looking like a moron who brought her husband into work with her when she was in trouble.
She headed to the office that was the home of Tabby, the chief executive producer. Cass had discovered that jobs in the TV industry made about as much sense as sizes on condoms. Instead of Large, Xlarge and jumbo, everyone was a vice executive producer, but no one had been able to make it clear to Cass what that entailed.
Tabby looked like one of those Precious Moments figurines that Cass had always found rather creepy. All eyes and teeny tiny shoulders. “Well,” Tabby said.
“Well,” Cass said.
“The best way for us to interpret today is to view it as actionable analytics. This doesn't have to be a disruptor.” Cass was reasonably certain that those were English words, although she couldn't have said what they meant exactly.
“Okay,” she answered. “I am so sorry.”
“It’s all right; your brand identity is still malleable. With you, content is king. You’ve proven that with your successful media operations.”
Now, this was simply getting absurd, thought Cass. She had run a blog. A blog that had led to an offer to host a TV show. The only media operations she had ever attempted involved hitting a “send” button.
Tabby continued, “Just be aware that, of course, I will be seeking reassurance from your other KPIs.”
There was nothing for it. “KPIs?”
“Yes, you heard me. I’m sorry, but that's the nature of this business. We are committed to you, unless something happens that makes us not be, of course.” She sat behind her desk, which featured three computers, and a laptop, and opened up her phone. Cass was dismissed.
She careened into Ben. He had been the cameraman who had spent a week in Slick Trench filming the pilot that had led to her show. He was the lone familiar face in the studio. It was unseemly how happy Cass was to see him. “Am I fired?” she asked. “I just spoke to Tabby, and I think that I am not fired. Probably.”
Ben laughed. “No, you aren't fired. You were very likable.” He squeezed her elbow. “It’s all okay.”
“What in the name of God is a KPI? I think we had those at summer camp, but I spent all of camp in the nurse's office since I wove daisy chains out of poison ivy.”
“KPI is ‘key performance indicators.’ She’ll be looking to see how other things go. That's all. She’s a good kid. You better get to make up.”
* * *
Cass almost tiptoed into the makeup room. She kept waiting for someone to yell, “You fell for it! Why would you ever think you belonged in here?”
But no one did. A young woman, probably the executive vice production director of something, handed her a hanger with a dress on it. Cass pulled on some Spanx and zipped up the dress. She settled into the makeup chair. A hairdresser stood behind her and a makeup artist in front. It took the two of them five minutes to work their magic. Ben stuck his head in the door. “We’ll call you when we are ready for you.”
She nodded and pulled out her phone and decided to check out Made to Reign. She regretted it when she found the website. Reams and reams of vile articles about women having no value aside from their beauty and fertility, articles on coercing girls from other cultures to have sex with you… The anger radiating from these pages was scary. It gave Cass pause. She tried to imagine submitting to any of these violent sounding, entitled “because I have a penis and God wanted it that way” jerks. Her marriage was a work in progress. She had wasted a lot of time reading books on dominant/submissive relationships before realizing that only she and Killian were experts on Cass and Killian. In some ways, she was growing more submissive and in others, even less. It wasn't difficult; it was the easiest, most joyful thing she’d ever done. Still, she sometimes had to fight the urge to try to make it fit neatly into some category. Killian was the leader, but it wasn't as simple as he said jump and Cass jumped. It was in the intertwining of energies, a back and forth of the receptive feminine and the guiding masculine and it was a way of loving that was sexy as all get out.
She had to get her head in the game. Cameras were rolling. She stood in the middle of the studio, which had been staged to look like a home kitchen. A decidedly upscale home kitchen, but a home kitchen none the less. They were taping a segment on how to begin planning to cater your own wedding reception. Cass had insisted that some recipes be included in every show. It was a whole new ball of pastry to be filmed while she cooked. She had a new appreciation of how artificial everything on the TV was. Her dress had been clipped in the back to emphasize her waist. The “casual updo” perched on her head included a spongy donut contraption and some hair extensions—pounds of hair that she did not grow, and that she did not want to end up in her mixing bowl. Keeping up the self-deprecating, slightly snarky patter while she stayed aware of where the cameras were, was nerve wracking. She was focusing on DIY food for casual weddings. She had come up with sangria popsicles, and was able to cheerfully address the camera.
“This is probably not the best thing to serve at a black tie gala, but even if your party is mostly indoors, imagine serving these to guests while they wait outside the church. Don't be surprised if lots of them dash away to go buy you a better present before they show up at the reception. We start with some red wine—supermarket box wine is perfectly fine for this. Remember, many places will let you return unopened boxes so, seriously consider stocking your bar with them—they are also easier to store. If you must, cover them with wrapping paper. Personally I have no problem with a box of wine that looks like a box of wine. Look online for instructions… I, however, wear my boxed wine with pride… Anyway, you want to reduce your wine by about two-thirds. Too much alcohol and your “sicles” won’t pop. Alcohol doesn't freeze—which I know because when I was sixteen, my best friend Jen and I tried some of my Dad’s Stoly, which lived in the freezer full of lemon slices. I panicked and added some water… which is why I was grounded for much of eleventh grade… I digress… you want to be careful here, you want a sort of winy syrup—you will be adding sugar and fruit—we are trying to steer clear of mulled wine territory, since that is strictly a winter indulgence.”
The camera operator nodded encouragingly and motioned for her to move along. She held up the empty popsicle container. “You can get these anywhere—if you are going to making a lot of them, it's simpler to get these basic rectangle molds—you can get the wooden sticks and plastic baggies from your local crafts store.” She began to pack the barren receptacles with finely diced fruit. “I have nectarines, every kind of berry, and melon. Apples don't freeze well and bananas are a giant NO. Pink grapefruit, or oranges, would be nice—but all the fruit needs to be finely minced.”
She daintily sprinkled in lime zest and tender ribbons of mint. She combined her wine syrup with several tablespoons of sugar and stirred until dissolved, then she added white grape juice. “A trick—I'm eyeballing this—but each of these molds holds about six ounces. So I figure I need about three ounces of liquid to top them up. Now, I know it seems odd to add sugar AND juice. There is however a method to my madness.” She leaned conspiratorially over the counter, hoping her breasts weren't sitting on it awkwardly. Just in case, she leaned back. “Frozen things numb your taste buds—so we have to jack up the flavor. If I tried to drink this, it would be gaggingly sweet, but once frozen, it will taste just right. You could go with purple—but it would hide all your fruit, which you spent all morning dicing. We never waste effort like that in this kitchen.”
She rested her hands on the counter, confident of her breast placement and continued, “In this series, we will talk about different ways that you can DIY wedding things. One way is the sort of ‘Bataan death march’ method—whereby you force every female who loves you to devote an entire weekend to crankin’ out crafts or food in a grim push to the finish. That has its place, some things can't be done any other way. I prefer the ‘do two batches a day and stockpile your spoils’ method.
“Back to the popsicles—if you got your fruit prepped and stored in Ziploc bags—press all the air out.” She demonstrated this by rolling the bag and forcing all air out before zipping it closed.
“Boil down your wine and have your syrup ready to go and then you can do a batch in the morning and a batch at night—in a few days you will have a freezer full. Easy peasy. That’s how we do things in Cass’s kitchen. Pop them out, and wrap them individually in these cellophane bags—I got them in the candy making section. Store them in your freezer.” She gestured over to the counter where the miracle of television had caused a huge galvanized tub full of ice and colorful pops to appear. A cute little intern came riding unto the set with an ice cream delivery bicycle. Cass had decorated the sides of the bike with a colorful monogram. “Imagine that your guests are waiting for you to come out of the church and ‘Surprise!’ Isn't this the cutest thing? Another idea for really casual wedding is that the bride and groom could ride in and play ice cream delivery! So many fun ways to put your own spin on this. Look on the web site—there are lots more popsicle ideas. There are also resources to find these nifty bikes.” Ben, the cameraman, gave her the “wrap it up” signal.
“I am so so happy you were here. There are a lot of things you could be doing this minute and I am grateful you chose to be with us. I’m Cass. I cook. Make your life delicious.” She grinned. She was flying along. The taping of the show had gone well. She still had a job. She was gonna jump the fuck outta that sexy husband of hers. They held hands as they walked to the car. She kept up a running commentary about how awesome it had been, and how relieved she was. Killian occasionally got a word in edgewise telling her how wonderfully she had done and agreeing that the whole situation was beyond cool.
* * *
Killian was a masterful driver—she loved to watch him drive. Left arm on the window, right hand skillfully commanding the steering wheel. She was a nervous, scattered driver. He was confidence on wheels. “I am really proud of you. So fucking proud.”
She beamed. “Thank you for moving here with me.”
“It’s a package deal, baby—you go I go.”
The voice in her heart gave a tiny “hooray.” They started kissing in the elevator. Her hands roamed over him. She wondered if this heat could go on forever—it seemed impossible. She prayed that it did. He pressed her against the wall and his hands slid over her skirt. He gripped her bottom possessively. “Who’s my good girl?”
“I am,” she whispered joyfully “I am. I am. I am.” The ping of the door opening made Cass start, but Killian didn't flinch. He led her towards their door, right past their new neighbors. “Hi,” Cass mouthed to the elderly couple standing there holding their cloth grocery sacks.