"This is one of my boyfriend's favorite dishes," Nicole Vitarelli said, smiling at the camera.

            Yeah, my imaginary boyfriend, she thought. 

            "And you can see how beautiful the Chicken Cordon Bleu looks when it's finished," she continued.  One of the cameras moved in to get a close-up of the main course.  "That wasn't too hard, was it?  And it's so delicious."             

            She automatically added a scoop of lemon rice to the plate, then spooned on some plain green peas.  "And here's how the whole meal looks together."  She brought the dishes over to the table which was already set with fine china and sparkling crystal goblets.  She kept her hands steady as she proceeded to light two red candles on the table.  "Now, you're all ready for your romantic dinner!  Enjoy it, and please join me in two weeks for another  episode of  'A Taste of Romance!'  I'll be sharing my grandmother's secret recipe for lasagna!"  She continued to smile as the cameraman slowly backed up and got a wide shot of her with the food in the studio's kitchen.  

            "Cut.  Very good, Nicole, I think that's it."

            Nicole relaxed her smile and posture.  As much as she enjoyed taping the show, it was always a relief when it was over and she didn't have to perform and be quite so perky.  She sat on the kitchen stool as Irene Abrahams, the show's producer, came towards her.

            The two camera people backed up, and someone switched off the brightest lights and put on the regular lights in the studio.  She immediately felt the change in temperature as the room cooled. 

            Taping this show had gone pretty smoothly and they hadn't had to do more than a couple of retakes.  Nicole smiled at Irene as she approached, satisfied that this episode of her show would be easy to edit.

            As she got a look at Irene's face, however, she felt a twinge.  Irene looked perturbed.  The curly-haired woman was in her fifties and usually wore a happy expression.  But today her expression was different.

            "Nicole, do you have a minute?" Irene asked.

            "Of course," Nicole replied.

            "C'mon over to my office."

            Nicole followed Irene, wondering what this was about.  Her show had been well-received since it aired almost six months ago.  She didn't think it would be cancelled.  Then what?  Were they going to change the time it aired?

              She'd first met her producer when Irene took the Italian Cooking class Nicole taught one night a week at her community Adult School.  After the six week class ended, Irene, a producer at the local Cable TV station, had told Nicole they were going to try doing a few cooking shows on a rotating basis.  "They're so popular now," she'd said, "and our executive producer wants to try something new.  We have advertisers already interested in the idea."

            Irene had said that they wanted to do one of the shows on "Romantic Dinners."  Her boss, Thomas Clarkson, the executive producer, had asked her to find a young, attractive, enthusiastic woman who knew how to cook to host the show.  "I immediately thought of you!" Irene had said.

            Nicole had auditioned and been accepted, and the show, which aired every other week, had quickly become a success.  Over the last few months she'd gotten friendly with Irene.  As she slid into the chair by Irene's desk, Nicole now wondered what was on the producer's mind.  She took a deep breath.  Even in here, she could smell the delectable Chicken Cordon Bleu with its ham and swiss cheese filling.

            Irene sat down, a slight frown marring her otherwise pleasant face.  She glanced out the window.  The September evening was warm, and the windows were closed to let the air conditioned air circulate.  There were starkly beautiful pink streaks in the sky as the sun moved towards sunset.

            "What's up?" Nicole asked lightly, trying to ignore the strange sensation in her stomach.  What was wrong?

            Irene sighed, and looked at Nicole.  "I guess this is.kind of my fault.  You know how I suggested a few months ago that you mention your boyfriend once or twice on each show?  Since it's about romantic dinners?"

            "Yes." Nicole said slowly.  She had complied, although Irene knew she wasn't dating anyone special right now.  And hadn't dated anyone special for a long time.  Her boyfriend was pure fiction.

            "Well." Irene sighed again.  "Thomas wants your boyfriend to put in a guest appearance on the show."

            Nicole felt her stomach plunge to the floor.  "He what?"  She stared at Irene as astonishment and consternation swept through her.  "But I don't have-"

            "--a boyfriend.  I know," Irene said.  She met Nicole's look straight on, her face flushing guiltily.  "And I feel bad.  Your 'boyfriend' was my idea.  But--you're going to have to come up with one, fast."

            Nicole's stomach churned.

            A boyfriend?

            Where was she going to find a boyfriend?