A Tasty Dish


Kelly Cain

The show must go on…

Kasi Blythewood has spent most of her life in the shadow of her famous film producer father who’s deliberately kept her under his thumb with tough love. Ready to make a name for herself, Kasi secretly heads to Austin for a film conference to rustle up some financing for her dream project—an indie series that showcases cuisine from around the world.

When Kasi meets chef Declan Everheart, it’s instant lust spiced with an intriguing business opportunity. Declan’s father, a Michelin star chef, is interested in funding her film, but there is a sexy string attached—Declan must be a producer on her series. Not ideal. Kasi craves independence, and she knows business and pleasure never mix well, but she’s exhausted all other options.

Declan’s more than just eye candy and Kasi’s not blind. She immediately discovers Declan’s not just a natural producer and talented chef, he also shines on camera as the host. Can Kasi convince Declan to break away from his father and build the life he wants…with her?

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The club is dark and the music loud, the beat reverberating through my bones. Indieknot is on stage playing a vaguely familiar alternative pop/rock tune. It’s not my normal music scene, but it’s catchy so maybe I’ll check it out later. Weed still isn’t legal in Texas like back home, but I recognize the sticky, musky smell as soon as I step through the door. I guess anything goes during South by Southwest.

I crowd Joy’s back as she weaves through the tightly packed throng toward the band on the center stage. This is absolutely the opposite of my idea of fun, but I’m not here for fun. I need financing for my next project and this is where the woman is who can give it to me. Sometimes you have to sacrifice.

We round the stage and Joy shows her backstage credentials when we’re met with a wall of security in the form of a tall brick of a man. He scans it and lets her through, but when I try to follow, he stands in my way.

Joy backtracks. “She’s with me.”

“No such thing. Everyone needs a pass to get back here.”

I cross my arms and give him my meanest stare, straightening my spine. It usually works for me because I have the height and defined arms to back it up. This guy though? Nah, he’s not phased. Not even a little bit. Matter of fact, his lips twitch begging off a smile.

“Everyone. And I mean every single one, needs a pass to get back here.”

I frown and lean against the wall. This asshole.

Joy peaks around the security guy. “Stay there. I’ll be right back.”

“Yup.” I mean, I guess I could leave but what would be the point? I’m beginning to run out of options. I only need one yes, but I have to be able to ask the question first.

I stand there a few more minutes when my phone buzzes in my back pocket. I wore jeans because South by Southwest is mostly casual and that’s typically my wardrobe anyway. Either that or shorts or sweats depending on if I’m shooting or not. One of the things I love most about this film business is the casualness of it. When shooting, it’s almost like the grubbier, the better. You’re working long days and doing all sort of dirty tasks either on set or location, so it’s better to be comfortable than not. That’s even on a big production like the ones I worked on for my father. Definitely true on my little indie films. Or will be if I get this financing.

The text from Joy holds no joy for me. She’s not here but is expected soon.

Okay. What should I do?

She responds right back. Do you want to wait? I think she’ll be able to get you back here, but I don’t know anyone else.

Yeah, I guess so. What choice do I have?

I’m sorry, Kasi.

I tap out: NP.

Going to my father isn’t an option. Not after what happened last time. I’m not sure I’ll ever talk to him again. Definitely won’t ever trust him. Tariq said the loss of his investment wasn’t a big deal, but letting down my friend since elementary, especially over some bullshit, hasn’t set well with me. I need this next gig so he gets his back in spades, and I restore my reputation.

So, for now, I’ll manage this musty club and see what’s what. Because Joy has been loyal and earned my trust, I’ll follow her anywhere. She dreamed of becoming a lawyer since forever. Tariq and I are lucky our best friend decided to become our agent too.

I scrub my hands across my face. I’m not wearing makeup tonight, so no need to worry about smearing anything thankfully. I look down at my worn Chuck Taylors and am grateful they’re comfortable for standing. Not so much for walking long distances, but we took a rideshare from the hotel, and it dropped us off fairly close.

When I look back up, there’s a guy staring at me. Pretty good-looking but also pretty full of himself. I can tell these things. I’ve had plenty of experience the way I grew up. This guy is dressed to impress. Who? I’m not sure. He’s wearing an expensively cut light-beige shirt that screams tailoring just for him, and brown trousers fitting around his trim waist.

He walks right up to me, a cloudy brown drink in his hand. “Hey, what’s up?”

Not the greatest opening as pick-up lines go. I’ve had plenty of experience with those too. I think the worst one was, “Here I am, baby. What were your other two wishes?” Yeah, okay, bruh. Hold on while I drop my panties. I give him a flat smile. “Hi. Nothing much.”

Doesn’t leave him a lot to work with. The truth is, he may be smoking hot, but I have other business to attend, and I don’t have time for a one-night stand type of situation this trip. There’s too much riding on me getting this funding.

“You here for South by or do you live here?” He takes a sip of his drink and his eyes take me all the way in now that he’s moved closer. He’s seeing a hazelnut-brown-skinned Black woman with long, auburn cornrows and intense brown eyes. If he dares to venture lower, he’ll take in a curvy figure with plenty of top and bottom. I’m a stone-cold smokeshow and he need not apply. He’s fine, but not fine enough to temp me away from by business. I have plenty of men barking up that particular tree, and I don’t trust a one of them.

I look into his alarmingly blue eyes, the color of the salty depths of the ocean, even in this low-lit club. “I don’t live here.”

“I do.”

I nod because what else is there for me to do? Does he want a gold star? Next, he’ll ask where I’m from.

“You here for business or pleasure?”

Okay, got me on that one. “Business. All business.” I offer a slight smile and raise my eyebrows.

He takes a sip of his drink. “Okay, I got the message. It was nice to meet you.” His spine is straight, and his head held high when he turns away from me. He’s not worried about finding someone else tonight. I like his confidence.

I open my mouth to say, “You too,” when he pulls out his backstage credentials and takes a step toward my old friend, brick wall. Instead, I say, “Hey, not so fast. I’m sorry for being rude. What’s your name?”

He looks around like I couldn’t possibly be talking to him.

Yeah, I know. Complete one-eighty. I can’t miss an opportunity though.

He blinks.

“I’m Kasi Blythewood.” I hold out my hand.

“Declan Everheart.” He moves his drink to his left hand and reaches out to take my hand in a strong shake. Yeah, this guy has confidence like nobody’s business. And why shouldn’t he? Taller than my five foot ten inches. I’d say around six one or two. Midnight-black hair, cut into an expensive disconnected undercut with a matching perfectly trimmed beard. Clear olive skin and those eyes. He’s not wanting for dates, I’m sure.

“I’m an indie filmmaker in from LA.” There, I saved him the need to ask.

“Cool. Are you related to Reggie Blythewood?”

“Um, yeah. He’s my father.” Dammit to hell. Is there nowhere I can go without that man following? Time to change the subject. “So, what do you do here in Austin, Declan? You in the business?”

He leans on the wall next to me and turns his whole body into me. There’s a foot between us, but it’s an intimate move. “No, not at all. I’m a chef at my father’s restaurant. Everheart Bar and Fine Dining.”

Now it’s my turn to ask because I’ve heard of that restaurant. You can’t be planning a documentary about food and not know about the Michelin-starred restaurants. “Your dad is Flynn Everheart.”

“One and the same.” He downs the rest of his drink like a champ, and smirks. Clearly, he’s a lot prouder of his pedigree than I am of mine.

“That’s a bit of a coincidence. My documentary is about global cuisine.”

He quirks a perfectly shaped eyebrow.

I take a moment to ponder if he gets them threaded or waxed. Probably waxed.

“That is a coincidence. Can I get you a drink?”

“What are you having?”

He looks at his empty glass. “It was peach-mint kombucha. They brew it here locally.”

“So, like kombucha and vodka?”

He smiles and shakes his head. “No, just kombucha.”

I wonder if there’s a story there. Plenty of my childhood friends are on the wagon, and they don’t drink at all. If they do, they fall off. Then again, maybe he only wanted kombucha tonight. “If you’re getting another one, I’ll take one too. I’d love to taste locally brewed kombucha.”

“Be right back.”

He’s gone maybe thirty seconds before Joy comes from behind the security guy. “Sorry, my stomach is not agreeing with me. What did we eat?”

Ha, what didn’t we eat? There’s a goddamn food truck on every corner down here. Multiple ones. “Maybe it was the Maine lobster truck. Or the Peruvian food. Perhaps the South Philly cheese steaks.” The longing in my voice is obvious. That Peruvian food truck was everything. I intend to make Peru my first stop when we film.

“Don’t remind me.” She holds up one hand and presses the other over her stomach. “Seriously. I don’t want to remember.”

I chuckle to myself. “I know, girl, it’s hard to pass up all this deliciousness. Yolo, right?” I wince at the saying that I never use. What’s gotten into me? “You ready to go home? I can try to meet Melissa another time.” I need this meeting, but my friend means more to me.

“I don’t want you to miss her, but I’m not sure I can stay too much longer without causing a scene. I’ve already spent way too much time in the restroom. I’d tell you to stay, but you won’t be able to get back there without me talking to her first. Ugh.” Joy bends over and takes several breaths.

“Don’t worry about me. If you can make it back to the hotel by yourself, I think I may have an in.”

“Are you sure, Kasi? I can stay if you need me.”

“A hundred percent. I’ll see you later. Text me if it gets worse.”

She pecks me on the cheek then heads for the exit. I sure hope this Declan guy can do something for me. I know what Melissa looks like if I can just get back there.

As if I conjured him, the man himself returns carrying two capped bottles of the same cloudy liquid he had before plus large glasses. He hands one to me, and I pour it into one of the glasses. He then waits expectantly.

I take a sip. “Yeah, it’s really good.” It is, but no better than any I can get in LA. California is the produce capital of these here United States. You can’t beat it. But this is good, and I take a deeper drink. Very sour, but somehow still smooth. “Thanks, by the way.”

“You’re welcome. I’m happy you like it.”

“If you’re a chef, what are you doing up here exactly? Are you a big Indieknot fan?” I point at the band walking back out to the stage for another set.

“I wouldn’t say big, but they’re cool. I really like their song, ‘Mad to Cook.’” The twinkle in his eye brightens and he grins.

I try not to roll my eyes. “Ha, that’s cute.”

“I’m actually here with my dad. He’s backstage talking business with some folks.”

I take another taste of my drink and grimace a bit at the bite. “If you’re both here, who’s running the restaurant?”

A shadow passes over his face, but he recovers quickly. “My brother, Knox. He’s in charge when Dad isn’t there.”

“Oh, well I hear older brothers can be a pain.” I’m an only child so I have no idea.

“I’m actually the oldest so let’s hope not. Knox is the youngest. Weston’s my middle brother, and he’s the pastry chef.” He leans back against the wall and takes a long pull of his drink.

Silence sort of sits there between us. I have no idea what to say, but the fact that his baby brother is second in command has to be a sore spot. That explains the shadow earlier.

“It’s not a big deal. Knox is the more talented chef. He’s keen with business too, but that’s my strong suit, which is why I’m here with Dad.” He shrugs.

I’m not sure if he’s trying to convince me or himself.

“I’m sure your father values your opinion which is why you’re here instead of your brother.”

He draws his lips into a thin line. “Look, I don’t want you to get the wrong impression. My brothers mean everything to me. We’re very close, and I always want the best for them. Matter of fact, Knox just got accepted into a cooking challenge. He needs me and Weston on his team and we’re going out to San Francisco next month to compete.”

“Oh cool. What’s the competition? Maybe I’ve heard of it.”

“It’s called Restaurant Family Feud. It’s a television show.”

“Yes, I know. I love that show. I’ve binged both seasons. The presenters are the best. They make it really interesting plus I love seeing the chefs compete. I like the home cook shows too, but the professional chefs take it to another level. That’s really awesome.”

To say he’s stunned would be an understatement. His eyes are like saucers and those beautiful full lips of his are parted into an O shape. He shakes himself to recover. “I had no idea. Although maybe I should have considering the prize. I probably need to watch it myself before the competition.”

I can’t help but sound slightly incredulous. “You’ve never watched? You were just going in blind?”

“Like I said, it’s for my brother. He wants his own restaurant away from Dad, although my father doesn’t realize that yet. It’s complicated.”

I nod because this sounds like the same family drama I’ve been dealing with. “Yeah, I know about complicated family stuff.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

I release a mirthful bark. “Not even a little bit.”

“Okay, I understand. We just met like five minutes ago. Doesn’t matter that I poured my heart out to you.” He flashes a toothless smile and bats his lush eyelashes.

I observe him another moment. “You’re not as cute as you think you are.” I take another sip.

He moves a little closer and looks down at me over my raised glass. “We both know that’s not even a little true.”

I can’t do anything but laugh. This dude is tripping, but he’s not wrong. “Whatever.”

“You never said why you’re hanging out against this wall.”

“I’m supposed to be meeting a possible financier here, but this guy”—I shoot a thumb the big man’s way—“won’t let me back there.”

“Why didn’t you say so?” He takes his pass out and holds in it the hand with his drink, then reaches for my hand with his other.

“I don’t think it’ll work. My friend’s…”

The guard moves aside and doesn’t give me a second look.

“Okay, never mind. I guess you have more clout than my friend.”

“It’s not me, darling. But what I’m really wondering is why you weren’t able to do the same thing. Given who your father is.”

I purse my lips and think about how I want to answer. “I don’t like to use Dad’s name for anything. I plan to make it in this business on my own merits.” Especially since he’s already sabotaged me. Proving him wrong will be the ultimate revenge.

“Well, that’s just—”

The look I give him freezes his mouth, mid-sentence. “Be very careful, Declan. You don’t know me like that.”

“You’re right. I’m sure you have your reasons. Meanwhile, let’s see if we can find your contact.”

I’m glad he corrected himself. Even though I have no interest in him, it would have been a shame to cuss him out after I finally got back here.

End of Excerpt

A Tasty Dish is available in the following formats:

ISBN: 978-1-956387-17-9

March 8, 2022

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