Wednesday, October 21, 2015

WIP Wednesday: cooking with King of the Kitchen

Photo credit: Brandon Witt
I'm back from GRL 2015 and the usual post-con slump has hit. It's hard coming back to reality after spending a week with so many amazing people. I loved catching up with old friends and making a bunch of new ones, too. There's really nothing like getting to be among your tribe, and that's exactly what GRL is for me. A week where no one looks at me askance when I say I write gay romance, and no one asks me when I'm going to write "real" books. (I usually tell them that my imaginary ones keep me more than busy enough on their own.*g*)

My reading from King of the Kitchen went really well. The audience was amazing and laughed in all the right places, which made me a lot more confident. And the King of the Kitchen T-shirts I made to give away were a big hit, too.

I'm sharing an excerpt from King of the Kitchen with you today because it's finally up for preorder everywhere. Yay! The book will be out on Nov. 6, and I'll be guest blogging during release week. You can find me on Joyfully Jay Nov. 3, GayList Book Reviews on Nov. 5, the Dreamspinner Press Facebook page on Nov. 7 (stay tuned for my chat time), Prism Book Alliance on Nov. 9, and the Novel Approach on Nov. 10.

King of the Kitchen, Dreamspinner Press, release date Nov. 6

Preorder links: Dreamspinner Press, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, ARe, Kobo, Google Play

The kitchen was as hot as a sauna, and the bandanna Duncan had tied around his head had lost its ability to keep his forehead dry hours ago. His feet ached, his hands were chapped, and despite being surrounded by food, he hadn’t eaten since breakfast. It was long past the dinner hour, but the flurry of frenetic activity hadn’t slowed much at all. People were underfoot everywhere in the small space, bustling around with hot pans and large pots, and no matter which way he turned, Duncan ran the risk of toppling a precariously placed container.
It was perfect.
“Order in! Rancher’s omelet, no onions, no peppers, no potatoes, no meat.”
Duncan rolled his eyes, yanking the ticket out of John’s hand. “So basically they want a cheese omelet? You don’t think you could make it easier on us in here and just write down what they actually ordered?”
John grinned. “She ordered the rancher’s omelet, dude.”
“Without three quarters of what makes it the rancher’s omelet? Did you tell her she could order a cheese omelet and save $3.75?”
“I did, but she’s not the one paying, and she wanted to stick it to him.”
That startled a laugh out of Duncan. John motioned over his shoulder, toward a table, and Duncan leaned through the pass-through, trying to see the couple without being too obvious. He knocked over a battered pot in the process, making most of the diner’s customers look up. So much for subtle.
“Them,” John said, pointing toward a small table in front of the plate-glass windows near the entrance to the diner. The woman was tall and slender, with dark wavy hair cascading down her back. Her clothing and the purse hanging off the back of her chair screamed money, as did the suit on the man she was with. They weren’t the diner’s typical patrons by a long shot, but Duncan did have to concede she looked like the type of person who’d be a special order. When business was slow, he and some of the other kitchen staff passed the time by betting on whether the customers who walked in the door would be complicated. He was almost always right.
“What about him?” Duncan asked, jutting his chin toward the man she was with. He could only see him from behind, but from his immaculately cut hair and his ramrod straight posture—difficult in the rickety diner chairs, Duncan knew from personal experience—he looked like a special order as well.
Duncan looked down at the ticket, frowning as he tried to decipher John’s chicken scratch. No matter how many times the kitchen complained, John’s handwriting never improved. Duncan had worked at the restaurant on and off for more than ten years, and the only constant had been John and his atrocious handwriting. It was kind of comforting, in an extremely exasperating way.
“Seriously? Two eggs over easy, bacon, and whole wheat toast?”
Duncan looked from the ticket to the man, surprised. He peered at him, studying his shoulders and finding himself wishing he could see the mystery man’s face. Duncan’s culinary profiling rarely went astray. Intriguing.
“They’re cousins. It was his week to pick where they had dinner. I’m getting the feeling she’s less than pleased,” John said.
“Which is why she special-ordered something guaranteed to piss him off?”
“That’s just it, though. He didn’t get angry. He laughed and told her if she really wanted to pull one over on him, she should have ordered the eggs Benedict, since that’s the highest profit margin dish on the menu.”
Duncan furrowed his brow. It was true the eggs Benedict was the most expensive breakfast item on the menu, aside from the steak and eggs, but the dish was hardly ridiculously priced. None of the regulars ordered it, but that was more because they had traditional meat-and-potatoes palates.
Francie, the other waitstaff on duty at the moment, broke Duncan’s view of the man as she walked up to grab an order off the warmer, and Duncan shot John a mischievous grin before ducking back through the pass-through into the kitchen.
“Duncan,” John said, his voice holding a note of warning.
“Order in!” Duncan yelled, ignoring him completely.
Ten minutes later, Duncan got his wish when a plate clanked noisily on the pass-through. He looked up absently, about to scold John or Francie for being so harsh with the dishes, when he realized it wasn’t either of them. It was the man in the suit, and even scrunched up in irritation, his face was beautiful. He had a strong, straight nose and full lips—currently thinned in annoyance—and eyes the most interesting shade of blue Duncan had ever seen. He absolutely looked like someone who would special order, and Duncan found himself wishing even harder that he could puzzle him out.
“We didn’t order this.”
Duncan looked at the plate of eggs Benedict and smiled his dopiest grin, the one that never failed to get him free refills and phone numbers whenever he applied it. He’d sent the guy a free meal along with the breakfasts he and the woman had ordered—could he seriously be pissed about that?
“On the house. I heard you had a particular interest in them.”
The man blinked in confusion but seemed to recover quickly, anger clouding his features.
“If you wanted to impress me, you’d have to do a hell of a lot better than a plate of fatty ham and congealing hollandaise. We don’t serve eggs Benedict in our restaurants, Charlie,” he said, eyeing the name on Duncan’s chef’s whites with disdain and drawing it out like an insult, “and even if we did, I don’t appreciate having you encroach on my personal time with your pathetic attempt at a job interview.”
Duncan’s mouth hung open, and he wavered between outraged and completely confused. What was this guy talking about?
“Listen, buddy. I was only being friendly,” Duncan snapped, choosing to go with outraged. He left the plate in the pass-through, pointedly ignoring it—and the man—as he pulled a new ticket off the carousel. “Order in! One deluxe hamburger, one order of chicken tenders, one spinach frittata!”
He turned toward the kitchen to get started on the eggs but was pulled up short by a hand on his shoulder.
“You can’t talk to me like that, buddy.”
Duncan scowled. “Of course, sir. The customer is always right. Yes, the eggs Benedict was part of a convoluted plan of mine to apply for a job cooking for your, what?” He made a point of studying the gorgeous guy’s suit. “Office building? Hotel, maybe? I admit, it’s always been my life’s ambition to run a carving station at a Marriott buffet. How could you tell?”
The man gaped at him and would have responded, but the woman he was with—his cousin, John had said?—walked up behind him and unceremoniously placed her hand over his mouth.
“I apologize for Beck’s behavior. Charlie, is it?” Duncan nodded, figuring it was easier than correcting her. He was too busy watching as the man fumed silently behind her hand. “He’s a bit on edge at the moment, and he misread your intention in sending the plate. He’s used to having dishes we didn’t order sent over to our table when we go out, and it’s almost always a gesture followed by the chef coming out to ask a favor or chat him up.”
She leveled a look at Beck, her sculpted eyebrow arched in challenge as she removed her hand. He huffed ungraciously but didn’t resume yelling at Duncan, so Duncan was going to go ahead and call it a win.
“I apologize,” Beck bit out, the words sounding forced. “Please add the eggs Benedict to our check in recompense for the misunderstanding.”
Duncan was struck by a familiar pang of guilt. He could never hold a grudge against anyone. It was well known among his friends—and often taken advantage of. But he had sent the eggs over as a prank, and now he felt bad because he’d obviously ruined their meal. As he looked closer, he could see the designer suit was wrinkled, as if the poor guy had been wearing it all day, and dark circles smudged the skin under his brilliant blue eyes.
“No need,” Duncan said, lifting the untouched plate down from the pass-through and setting it aside. He and John were both off shift in twenty minutes; the dish wouldn’t go uneaten. He looked over at their table, noting that neither of them had touched their food. “I’d be happy to remake your meals. I’m sure they’ve gone cold by now.”
The man stared at him with an unreadable expression, but the woman chimed in.
“We’ve had a long day, and I don’t think we were that hungry anyway,” she said, smiling slightly. She slipped a business card on the pass-through. “I’m Lindsay. I realize you’re not looking for a job right now, but if you ever are, give me a call.”
Beck looked a bit sour at her parting words, but he followed her silently back to their table, pulled his wallet out, and dropped some cash on the table. Duncan watched them leave, Beck’s posture stiff and menacing until Lindsay wound an arm through his and leaned into him. He seemed to melt against her, his shoulders relaxing and his gait less abrupt as they walked down the sidewalk and out of sight.
Duncan looked down at the card on the pass-through, his eyes widening when he read it. Lindsay King, Assistant Producer, King of the Kitchen.
“Holy shit,” he muttered, staring at the empty sidewalk. The Kings were legends in the restaurant and culinary television worlds. Lindsay’s father, Christian, hosted what was widely considered the most popular cooking show on the air, and he had a huge stable of high-class restaurants as well. Duncan had been forced to listen to rants about the evil King empire practically every time he talked to his father.

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