Imperfectly Delicious – Only one more day!

Hello hello!

Book SIX in the Imperfect Series is coming at you within the next 24 hours!

I can’t believe it. I normally post the first chapter in advance, and I’m cutting it close this time. Things are bananas and my brain is like mushed bananas. With peanut butter and a hint of bacon 😀

Things you should know about this book:

1) Scarlett loves love. And cupcakes. And she’s good at getting herself into silly situations.
2) Guy Chapman is a little bit of a douche-nougat, but he gets better.
a) He also has a little sister with Angelman Syndrome.
b) If you want to know more about Angelman Syndrome, go here: https://www.angelman.org/what-is-as/
c) If you want to cry sweet tears, check out these adorable twin brothers who inspired me a great deal for this story: https://youtu.be/S0fbGF5Gjz8

3) Running a food truck in NYC is INSANELY difficult and expensive and crazy and I had to blend some fact/fiction to make this story work.
a) For reals, though. There’s a black market permit industry in NYC because of the limited number available and purchasing them on the black market costs upwards of $25,000! JUST FOR A PERMIT! Not to mention finding a parking spot in one of the most populous cities on the planet, requirements to cook/store all food at a commissary, and competing with thousands of other food vendors. It’s beyond bananas, like my brain.

4) If you are anticipating a story for Beast from the Dorky Duet books, his lady love is a side character in Imperfectly Delicious. Her name is Fred and I love her and I’m working on her and Beast’s story right  meow and it will be coming this fall. There are some other cameos from Dorky Duet characters in this book ❤

And now, feast your eyes on chapter one of Imperfectly Delicious! Link to purchase at bottom 🙂

 

Chapter One

 

If anything is good for pounding humility into you permanently, it’s the restaurant business. –Anthony Bourdain

Scarlett

 

Fred steps over me to reach the order window, an exaggerated motion that makes her dark ponytail swish behind her. “Confrontation is your kryptonite,” she says over her shoulder.

“Do not tell him I’m here or you’re fired.” It’s a threat that would carry more weight if I weren’t a grown woman cowering on the floor of my own food truck in unequivocal terror.

She’s not wrong. I like dealing with conflict as much as I enjoy public speaking while scorpions crawl all over my face.

It’s not that I’m a total doormat. I deal with a variety of challenges and complications with ease. After all, I started my own food truck, I hired an employee—one who isn’t very respectful or deferential, but who’s counting? —and I run my own successful catering business as a side hustle.

I can totally adult. But talking to people who have a problem with me? Not my strongest suit.

And there is one person in particular who has many problems with me.

“Where is she?”

Guy Chapman.

His voice is as powerful as lightning in a summer storm—as if the air molecules themselves divided in terror at his words.

“She’s hiding,” Fred says.

I pinch her ankle and she kicks me with the top of her foot, bumping into my side with more force than necessary. I scowl up at her but it’s a wasted effort, my glare striking the underside of her chin as she leans on the counter toward my nemesis.

This isn’t the first time he’s been here, and it’s not the first time I’ve avoided him. We’re parked in a narrow lot adjacent to his restaurant. I have the perfect view of his door when it swings open, an intricately carved, thick wood piece. It probably cost more than my life is worth.

He sighs like he can’t believe he has to listen to such drivel, then says in a flat voice, “She’s hiding. Why would she be hiding?”

“Because you’re very scary,” Fred stage whispers.

There’s a small pause. “I am not.” Is that a thread of dismay lacing his voice?

Can’t be. He doesn’t care if he’s scary. That was basically the theme of his reality TV show, Devil’s Kitchen. It was all about him being a handsome devil and behaving like one, too. It only lasted a season, despite its popularity.

“Yeah, I don’t think so either,” she murmurs, tapping her fingers on the counter. She’s getting anxious, probably at the line of customers forming behind my sworn adversary.

Even though we’re parked too close to the devil for comfort, there’s no denying this is the best place I’ve found to park in the city. Situated on the south side of Gramercy Park, it’s close enough to where the Wall Street gurus call home to make it absolutely worthwhile for them to stop by when they’re heading home and need something sweet along the way.

He owns the block, but not this tiny little slice. And much to my satisfaction, he never will.

“When will she be available?” he asks.

Fred thinks about an answer while I examine her shoes. There’s a small hole in one seam at the top of her low-top black and white Vans, right next to a Ravenclaw patch.

“If I had to guess,” she says finally. “I’d say never. She doesn’t want to talk to you. I also can’t tell her what to do, since she’s my boss. You know how it is. I mean, you don’t know how it is, but you have people who know how it is.”

Laughter bubbles in my chest. But Guy Chapman isn’t laughing. Oh no, I can’t see him, but I can imagine the glower. His scowl can be felt within a three-mile radius.

I haven’t seen him up close in over a year, but I have watched him from a distance over the past few weeks, coming and going to his restaurant while they get it up and running. Everything about him screams efficiency, from his neatly trimmed dark hair to his perfectly tailored business casual suits. His features are strong and severe: sharp nose, sculpted jawline—always impeccably shaved, facial hair wouldn’t dare appear before five P.M.—and a thin slash of a mouth that would sooner crack into the earth than into a smile.

His features, on their own, are too much on the other side of harsh to be considered conventionally handsome. But it’s his confidence when he moves, the forcefulness of his speech, the way his presence demands attention and obedience…. He exudes a force of character that is entirely overwhelming. He’s like 125% of a person inside a body.

He’s too much to handle. Which is why the last time I saw Guy Chapman up close, I may have accidentally set him on fire.

It’s still silent up above. Is he leaving? Is he gone? It is over?

“Is this how you run a business?” His words are like the snap of a kitchen towel, quick and biting.

I cringe from my position crouched down low.

Fred, however, is not impressed. “It’s not my business, and since the person in charge is trembling at my feet, I don’t think she runs it well either, but you make an excellent point. I’ve got customers to serve and I don’t think they’re lining up for the smell of asshole in the afternoon, even if you were on a reality show three years ago. Do you mind stepping aside?”

Guy makes a disgusted noise, like he’s unable to clear a particularly tough glob of phlegm from the back of his throat, and then he says, “If you see her, if she actually exists that is, please tell her I need to speak with her. Right away.”

“I will for sure!” Fred’s voice is bright and happy. “So, what was your name?”

Ominous silence.

This is the third time this week that Guy has come over here, and every time, Fred’s asked him the same thing.

“Guy Chapman,” he bites out.

“Right. Got it. I’ll remember it this time.” A few fraught seconds later, Fred starts taking an order for a dozen bite-size When Life Gives You Lemon cupcakes, and I peer carefully over the counter in the direction of Decadence.

Guy is stalking back to his restaurant, head high, the line of his shoulders rigid.

“You can’t avoid him forever,” Fred tells me while she rings up the customer.

“I can try.” I stand up and move over to the counter on the opposite side where we’ve racked the cupcakes to help her box up the goods.

“You knew parking here would bring the troll from under the bridge.”

I didn’t know. And once I did, it didn’t matter. There weren’t any other good choices and failure wasn’t an option. Besides, I didn’t think he would even notice my little truck. We aren’t doing anyone any harm.

“I can’t believe you told him I was hiding from him.”

She shrugs. “He didn’t believe me. He’s an idiot.”

When I first parked here, I didn’t know Guy was in the middle of renovations on the giant building next to this lot. And even if I had known, it wouldn’t have deterred me. Finding decent parking for a food truck in New York City is like finding a tapdancing unicorn: both impossible and fantastic.

Fortunately for me, a friend owns this empty lot—her company does, anyway—and she offered to let me use it.

“I hadn’t really expected it to affect his business at all,” I tell Fred.

To be honest, I had both hoped and feared that parking my food truck outside Guy’s newest restaurant venture would piss him off. Show him that his attempts to push me down hadn’t worked. But I didn’t expect to have to talk to him. I didn’t expect him to lower himself to the point where he would come over and confront me directly.

Fred shrugs. “Clearly you’ve done something to get his attention if the King himself is deigning to mingle with the commoners.”

We switch places and I plaster a smile on my face before greeting the next customer.

“Welcome to For Goodness Cakes, how can I help you?”

My body goes through the motions of ringing up orders and boxing up cupcakes for the after-work crowd, but my mind is still on the man who’s disappeared inside his restaurant across the street.

It just plain doesn’t make sense. I mean, he’s Guy Chapman. He’s a famous chef. He’s been on TV. He’s renowned for his culinary skills, business acumen, and sexy brooding demeanor. All of his restaurants are Michelin rated. He only hires the best—which knocked me out of the running before I could even start. The fire bit didn’t help.

I didn’t mean to torch him. And normally, I’m very meticulous and safe in the kitchen. It was just that he flustered me. He was standing so close, and he smelled like an expensive forest. Not like a normal woodsy pine scent, but like a fancy forest where the birds wear Rolexes and the deer drive Teslas. He was behind me, so close and leaning in and I…basically lost my mind.

I can’t imagine that my business is affecting him enough for him to need to “speak” to me about anything. My proceeds are not even enough to live off of, yet—although I’m creeping into the black. Catering is a necessity since winters in New York City can be harsh and customers won’t likely shovel themselves out of their apartments or brave below-freezing temps.

Fred and I move around the narrow food truck, ringing up orders and switching places as needed. The timer sounds on the oven and Fred calls out, “I got it,” before standing in front of it, holding up a hand and saying, “Live long and prosper.” It’s like her thing, since the oven is a Vulcan.

She insists it’s good luck, and I can’t complain because it makes me laugh. I don’t know what I would do without Fred. She’s a true New Yorker, born and raised. She’s the only person I’ve ever met who can walk, talk, eat and hail a cab all at the same time. She’s super into fandoms and wears clothes that I don’t understand 90% of the time. She’s ballsy and confrontational, but at the same time there’s a hint of innocence and naivete about her, especially when it comes to her long-term boyfriend. She lets him run all over her. She’s only a little bit older than my little sister, Reese. In a way I feel responsible for Fred.

I turn to the next customer. “Welcome to—oh it’s you. Come to spy again?”

Before Guy started hounding the truck, he sent a lackey in his stead—Carson something or other. He’s a tall, thin hipster who always wears bow ties and suspenders but somehow makes it cool and sleek instead of weird and passé, and always orders the specials.

The line has dissipated and he’s the last one.

“I’m not spying,” Carson says. “I like your cakes. Do you ever make hummingbird cake?”

“You know what that is?” Hummingbird cake is a true southern specialty, banana pineapple spice cake flavored with cinnamon, pecans, vanilla and a cream cheese frosting.

“Darling, despite the fashionable man you see before you, I hail originally from the backwoods of Moultrie, Georgia.”

I gasp. “No! You don’t even have an accent.”

Personally, I’ve been working on talking more like a Yank so I don’t come across as a hick. There is a more than a little bit of stereotyping when it comes right down to it.

He shrugs. “Can you make it?”

“I’m Southern and I bake. What do you think?”

Fred cuts in, handing him a container with the three daily specials. “We’ll make your weird cake if you give us some intel in return.”

He taps one long finger on his bottom lip. “It might be worth it, actually. Despite what you think of my intentions, your product is excellent. Why else do you think Guy cares so much?”

“Cares?” Fred scoffs. “He only cares about himself.”

“That’s not true.” He pops open the small pink box and his eyes brighten at the cakes.

Even though he’s technically the enemy, I can’t help but take delight in his reaction. It’s the best part of my job. I love feeding people. Everyone is happy when there’s cake.

“It is true,” Fred insists. “I don’t know how you work for that monster and live to talk about it, let alone defend him.”

“He’s not as bad as everyone thinks.” He shoves one of the bites into his mouth and his eyes fall shut as he chews. “This one is definitely my new favorite,” he tells me, frosting sticking out of the sides of his mouth.

Fred pushes a couple of napkins at him. “You’re right, he’s not as bad as everyone thinks, he’s worse.”

“Guy is a little bit of a perfectionist, but that’s not a bad thing.” Carson dabs at his mouth with the napkin.

I enter the conversation with a laugh. “Perfectionist is an understatement. If you’re not a robot you’ll likely get fired within a week. He’s not only a perfectionist, he demands it from everyone around him.”

Carson cocks his head at me. “How do you know?”

“She has ears and eyes,” Fred says before I can reply, saving me from revealing the truth.

Technically, I’ve never actually worked for Guy. I only had an interview in one of his kitchens, but didn’t make it past that process. Due to the whole, you know, fire incident.

“Why does he keep coming over here?” I ask.

Carson shrugs. “He wants you to move. He’s got a plan for this area and you’re in the way. It’s not personal.”

I’d figured as much, yet the audacity of the man still stings. “And he thinks, what, that he can snap his fingers and we’ll do his bidding?”

“It generally works that way for him, yes.”

“Well he can’t boss me around.”

“If you say so.” He is clearly unconvinced.

Fred and I exchange a glance. The only reason I’m parking here is because my friend Bethany found the available real estate when she was going over Crawford and Company assets, and it’s too small for them to use for anything at the moment, or to sell. They had originally owned the entire block, but then had sold off pieces over the years and this is all that’s left. Bethany brokered me a killer deal to rent the space, an amount that’s significantly less than what I would pay in parking tickets if I tried for anywhere else, but Guy could make this a problem. I can’t ask them not to sell if he’s going to make them an offer.

It’s true that I have a few friends in high places—friends who own random real estate around Manhattan—but at the end of the day, I’m still an unknown hick with nothing to show for it but baking skills and a whole lotta motivation to make it in the big city and not go crawling back to Blue Falls with my tail tucked between my legs.

Carson picks up the Rhett Velvet and pops it in his mouth with a groan. “How do you make these so good?”

“It’s a gift. Has he put in an offer for this lot?” I ask.

“We have someone working on it.”

Fred makes a derisive noise.

“What? It’s only a matter of time. Despite who you may know at Crawford and Company, money is louder than friendship.”

Fred says, “We don’t just know someone at Crawford and Company, we know one of the founders. As a matter of fact, the whole family is super tight with Scarlett, so you just try it, buddy.”

Fred! I slap a hand over her mouth. Carson watches us, a half-smile on his face.

“It’s been great talking to you Carson, but we have to prep for an event tonight.”

“Do you?” He’s intrigued. “Which event?”

“Not telling you. We’ve given you enough for one visit.”

“Oh, come on.”

“Bye, Carson.” Fred closes the window on his surprised face and then turns to me. “Sorry. I get a little defensive and my mouth moves without my permission. But it’ll be fine. I didn’t give him much to go on. And you need to go home and get ready. I’ll head to the commissary and get the stuff to the event within the hour.”

“Thank you, Fred. You’re a life saver.” Literally. She does so much more than take orders on the truck and bake. She helps with social media, she does a lot of local deliveries, and she sometimes cleans and parks the truck at the commissary. Something we have to do every night, as required by the New York Health Department. Or as I like to call them, the people who bring on the pain and make things as difficult as humanly possible.

“Yeah, yeah.” She waves me off. “Make sure you put on extra makeup before you go tonight because you look exhausted.”

“Gee, thanks Fred. You sure you don’t want to come with me?”

“Nah. I want to be home when Jack gets off work.”

It must be nice to have someone to come home to. Once upon a time, I wanted it badly enough to date a whole variety of losers and users. It’s not like I have high standards, I just have a vision in my head of what my life would be like—if I had someone. Someone to snuggle with on the couch while we argued over what to watch on TV. Someone I could call up for no real reason, just to have a mundane conversation about my day, or the weather, or how I got scared again by that guy who hides in the bushes by Mullaly Park. All of those ordinary moments made worthwhile simply by sharing them with someone who actually cares.

At least I have good friends and For Goodness Cakes. That has to be enough.

Click here to purchase!

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