The Devil Served Desire

By: Shirley Jump

A Sweet and Savory Novel

The Devil's Seven-Deadly-Sins-in-One Manicotti with Ricotta

1 pound whole-fat ricotta cheese

1 egg

2 tablespoons chopped parsley, green as envy 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind

Dash of nutmeg

12 manicotti noodles, cooked until tender 1 cup pasta sauce, homemade and tasty as sin 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano—only use the best for yourself

Mix the cheeses, egg, parsley, lemon rind and nutmeg. Spoon into prepared noodles. Lick any excess from the bowl and your fingers ... slowly, enjoying every bit. Don't worry about the salmonella thing. This tastes too good to be bad for you.

Come on, admit the truth, feel a bit of pride. Tastes like heaven ... or even better, like temptation.

Drizzle the noodles with the sauce and admire the food for the scrumptious art that it is. Don't get angry about any mess it might make. Living in sloth can be very relaxing. Dust with extra Parmigiano, then bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, lusting after the dish while you wait. Remember, anything bad for you is best served hot.

Worry about the calories later. There's always tomorrow. Indulge today. Don't bother to share. Greed is good.

Chapter One

Maria Pagliano was serious this time.

No-holds-barred, no-prisoners-taken, no-cheese-allowed serious. She had eight weeks to do what she'd never been able to do before—lose twenty-five pounds.

This time, she vowed, was going to be different. She wasn't going to cheat and fall victim to her own desires. But in order to stick to her plan, she needed a little help, which was why she had come here on a Tuesday night.

To a meeting of the Chubby Chums support group.

In the lime green basement of a tiny church in Boston's North End, a dozen or so people sat on folding chairs in a circle. Above them, a fluorescent light flickered and hummed like a pathetic disco ball. Maria crossed her legs, pantyhose swishing in the quiet, trying very hard not to think about the lone manicotti from Guido's Italian Cafe sitting in her apartment refrigerator.

"Welcome, group!'' A woman in tight jeans who looked like she'd never been tempted by a bowl of raviolis in her life stepped into the room and opened her arms wide, in an all-encompassing group hug. "And how are my Chubby Chums tonight?"

"We're peachy with light syrup!"

Maria looked around at the group, all laughing at their practiced pun. Had she accidentally stumbled into the Lunatics with Heart Support Forum?

The pixie leader's name badge said, Hello, my name is: Stephanie, with a smiley face and an exclamation point. Stephanie took a seat in one of the chairs, thrusting out her hands. The group copied her, becoming a human circle of joined palms. A portly guy—his tag declared his name was "Homer"—grabbed up Maria's left hand with a sweaty palm, giving her a smile that lacked a few teeth. "Jillie," a middle-aged sniffling woman, put down her stash of tissues to take Maria's right hand in a floppy fish grip.

Then, as if on cue, the group dropped their heads to their chests and began to recite: "God grant me the serenity to accept my goal weight, the courage to resist anything with more than three hundred calories, and the wisdom to check the fat grams before I open my mouth and insert a fork."

Goose bumps rose on Maria's arms. Bunch of lunatics.

She should leave. But...

Mary Louise Zipparetto had gone from a size twenty to a size two, with the help of the Chubby Chums. Mary Louise had told her mother, who'd told Maria's mother, who'd told Maria over a cheese danish, that Mary Louise would be wearing a sleeveless Band-Aid of a dress to the class reunion     to show off her new figure.

No way was Maria going to let Mary Louise be the best-looking woman in the Sons of Italy hall. All her life, Mary Louise had been the one to compete against. The first one to get an "A" in Mr. Marcetto's impossibly hard geometry class. She'd run for class president and won— two out of four years in high school. The other two, Maria had taken the top spot and made Mary Louise serve as veep.

And now, Mary Louise was skinnier and planning on taking the spotlight at the reunion    .

Over Maria's dead bruschetta-fortified body.

Maria straightened in her seat, yanked her hand away from Homer, who let out a sigh of disappointment, and started paying attention. Stephanie's hands danced around her head as she talked, dramatizing her clear joy at being among a crowd of wannabe-thin people.

"Let's get started with a little bit of sharing! Tell us the last food you ate today and then name an animal you'd most like to be."

Mary Louise Zipparetto. In a size two.

Starting today, Maria intended to leave the double digits behind for good. She'd been okay with herself as a ten, but as twelve edged toward fourteen, she'd begun to dread shopping. Getting dressed. Looking in the mirror. But most of all, she now dreaded dating and the inevitable getting naked part. For a woman who enjoyed sex as much as pasta, that presented a few problems.