***Please Share Widely***
Today, July 12, is the official release date of Perfect Pairing! I am so excited to share this one with all of you for so many reasons. I think it is one of the most fun books I’ve ever written. The characters kept me amused and on my toes the whole time I wrote it. It’s also my first book with Bywater Books, and I adore their team. I think you’ll see that came through in every aspect of the book. Also, of all my books, this is the one I got the most advanced feedback on. We sent out a lot of advanced review copies, and the response has been unanimously positive. I generally don’t read reviews, but my publisher sent a few along, and I admit they impressed even me!
Still, reviews don’t matter to me nearly as much as direct feedback from my friends and long-time readers, so please buy it, read it, and let me know what you think. You are the reason I publish, and I can’t wait to start hearing from all of you.
You can get your kindle version here.
You can get a paperback version here.
You can get an ePub version here.
And if that’s not enough for you, I’m going to offer you this sneak peak of the first chapter right here:
Hal Orion loved the smell of food cooking in the morning. The scents were more pure, more distinct before the air grew heavy with steam and the thin film of grease clogged her pores. Energy seemed to flow more freely too, without the press of bodies to impede its natural course. Energy was important, especially in such confined spaces. Conducted by metal walls and high heat, the buzz could become frenetic, sharp, and combustible as the day went on, but early in the quiet stillness, clarity reigned and potential hummed, as charged as a gas flame ready to whoosh into life. The promise of a new day felt as crisp as the crack of an eggshell against the stainless steel griddle.
Yes, she loved mornings . . . if by mornings you meant almost noon.
She held her hand a few inches from the top of the griddle. She could feel the difference between three hundred degrees and the three-fifty she was looking for. Like a heat-seeking missile, she effortlessly zoned in on the sweet spot and marked it with an “x” made out of hickory-smoked bacon. As the slices began to sizzle, she pulled an array of cheeses from a refrigerated bin. Moving past the brie and Havarti, she reached for the guilty pleasure kept in the bottom of the drawer. American cheese was not something she was proud of loving. It wasn’t bold or artsy, edgy or even classic, but damn, it melted beautifully. She peeled off two slices and buried the rest back behind a few logs of chevre, then grabbed a few pieces of sourdough bread from yesterday’s yield.
The bacon crackled and popped a joyful tap dance behind her as she pulled a bowl of whipped butter from another cooling bin and slathered a healthy dose on each slice of bread. Flipping the bacon, she gave it a little spin, both to spread the grease in a wider circle and to make sure it cooked evenly. She liked—no, required-her bacon well done. Texture was as essential to her art as it was to a painting. It conveyed depth, nuance, and mood every bit as much as taste did. The second the bacon reached the perfect level of crunch, she lifted it from the heat and immediately replaced its sizzling sounds with those of a fresh egg dropped, yolk and all, into the bacon grease.
Moving over a smidge within the sweet spot of the grill, she painted a thin line of vegetable oil in the shape of a bulls-eye and watched it spread as it warmed. With one hand, she reached for a slice of the buttered bread and laid it gently over the oil. Then sliding it around, she let her fingers feel the heat and guide her to the optimal position before releasing it completely. With her free hand, she plucked a spatula from a canister to her left and deftly flipped the egg over onto its sunny little face. Scooting back to her right, she laid a slice of cheese across the bread, then topped it with bacon before left-handing the spatula back into action. Scooping up the egg, she dropped it atop the X like a helicopter settling onto a landing pad of bacon. With a flourish she added the second slice of cheese and bread before standing back to admire her masterpiece in the making.
“Is that a Wake ‘n’ Bake?”
Hal started so badly she dropped the spatula with a loud clang. “Shit.”
Sully laughed and grabbed it quickly. “Seven second rule.”
“Ew. No. And how do you always manage to sneak in here without me seeing you?” Hal gestured around the truck. “It’s not like you have any place to hide.”
“Maybe you were just too busy undressing that sandwich with your eyes to notice anyone else in the room.”
Hal took a clean spatula from a tin canister and used it to plate and cut her creation crossways. “Maybe, or maybe you’re just a creepy stealth fucker with mad stalker skills.”
Sully snorted lightly and wiped her hands on her T-shirt, which featured a picture of a Chef ’s knife and the caption that read “Mine really is 10-inches.” Crouching down so her eyes were level with the sandwich on the prep table she whispered, “That’s a thing of beauty.”
“Just look at the way the egg yolk runs into the cheese, and the bread has little bits of bacon stuck to it from the grease.”
It was awfully pretty, but pretty only partly sold sandwiches. Hal picked up half of the sandwich and nodded for Sully to help herself to the other, then in unison each took a sizeable bite right from the middle.
“Oh mah gawd,” Sully said with her mouth full. “That shit is gooey.”
Hal nodded. The texture was perfect, so crisp and simultaneously soft. Her teeth sank in satisfyingly, and the muted bacon echo cracked through her own ears. The bacon grease and the sourdough added two of the touches she’d been missing.
The flavor was good. Real good.
And real good was good enough for most food truck drivers. Hell, it was good enough for most of Buffalo. But not for her. “Needs something.”
Sully quieted her munching noises. She didn’t argue. She respected the process and waited while Hal took another bite. This time she was more clinical in her approach. She broke down each flavor as it hit her, sour, tangy, smoky—they all blended nicely, but nothing popped. Breakfast has to wake a body up. Somewhere along the way Americans had forgotten that. They’d settled for flat in order to get fast. It was a warrantless trade and probably the reason everyone got so addicted to coffee.
“Coffee?” Sully asked. “You want me to run and get you a cup?”
“No, I want the grounds. Like ground-this-day kind of grounds. Go over and see if Joey’s working at the coffee shop today. If she is, have her grind me a couple pounds of something robust.”
“Then get me some brown sugar and cayenne.”
Sully’s grin spread. “Yes, Chef.”
“I’ll hit the butcher and the bakery. Then meet me in Larkin Square by 3:00.”
“Where we’ll dry rub the shit out of some bacon,” Sully finished with a fist pump.
Hal nodded, but she didn’t join in Sully’s exuberance yet. She had work to do.
“Got the coffee, got the brown sugar, and I picked up some molasses. Thought that might help it paste.”
“Genius,” Hal muttered, already prepping other ingredients for sandwiches they’d feature today.
“Yeah, yeah, sweet talker. I also picked up a few of these,” Sully said, a smile evident in her voice.
Hal had known her long enough to be worried by her tone. In their teens, it usually meant someone was about to get in trouble, the fun kind. Scooping out one more avocado, she shook a few flecks of green from her fingers and finally looked up.
Sully leaned casually against a gleaming metal prep table, one eye- brow quirked and her dark hair falling across the other. In one hand she held a chef ’s knife flat across her chest. In her other she clutched a magazine cover with a picture of Hal standing in the exact same position.
Hal didn’t know whether to laugh or swear, so she did both. “Shit, what is that?”
“It’s you, Chef. On the cover of Spree. Lookin’ like some lesbian’s wet dream. The chicas are going to cream themselves for this.”
Heat flushed across her skin. “Shut up and get to work. I need apples sliced thin. Then could you get the sloppy joe sauce going?”
“Um, no, Chef,” Sully said as though Hal had asked her if she could fly.
“I cannot prep anything until I do a dramatic reading of this article. Complete with dance moves.”
“Oh yeah. Mine aren’t as good as yours, though. Apparently no one’s are as good as yours.” She opened the magazine and cleared her throat. “‘Hal Orion moves around her food truck with the grace and rhythm of a dancer, a sexy, salsa-style shimmy, mixed with enough spicy bump-and-grind to make your teeth sweat—or maybe that’s just the Heard of Buffalo? grilled cheese sandwich she mixes up as she moves. Whether it’s the chef or sandwich, this recent addition to the Buffalo food-truck scene is bringing the heat back to Buffalo this summer.’”
“Oh, it does, and so much more. Let me read on.”
“I’ll skip to the good parts.” Sully’s dark eyes scanned the page.
“‘Buffalo native’ . . . blah blah . . . ‘self-trained’ . . . boring boring . . .” Hal tried to wait patiently. She wanted to snatch that stupid magazine from Sully’s hands and stuff it in the trash, then wait until late at night before digging it out and reading it sans peanut gallery commentary.
“Oh here: ‘Her food truck, aptly named ‘Cheesy Does It,’ is a veritable hot box of taste sensations.’” Sully snickered. “That’s what she said.”
“No really, that’s what she said, ‘you have a hot box of taste sensa- tions.’ Did you fuck this reporter?”
Sully raised her eyebrows, clearly not believing her.
“I didn’t. Really.”
“Then I think you should. Seriously, she has practically dubbed you the second coming of Ralph Wilson.”
“The owner of the Bills?”
“Or Theresa Bellissimo.”
They both bowed their heads in salute to the mother of the famous Buffalo wing. Then Hal cracked a smile. “So this writer really knows her food history?”
“No. She wouldn’t know a gouda from a fontina, but even a broken clock is right twice a day, and her description of you is spot on. She’s right. You’re what Buffalo needs right now. She says you’re ‘blue collar meets bleu cheese.’”
“Huh. I do like that.”
“I like the part where she says you’re the best she’s ever had.” “Me?”
“Well, the sandwich, but she strongly implied she’d like to feast on you as well.”
“Oy, you’re crazytown. Put that shit away.” She snapped a towel at the magazine, knocking it to the floor. We’re live in one hour.”
“Yes, Chef,” Sully said, “but there’s one more thing you should know. She gave you a nickname.”
“Yes, you have been dubbed ‘Fryboi.’”
“‘Fryboi?’That makes me sound like I make French fries.”
“Maybe you should, but I get a feeling that whatever you’re selling, the fine ladies of Buffalo will be buying tonight.”
“Back to work.”
“Yes, yes, Fryboi, but be honest. You kind of dig it.” Hal turned back to the avocados to hide her grin. She wouldn’t lie.
As a kid she’d never stuck around anywhere long enough to get a nickname, but if she’d had to wait until she was almost thirty for her first one, at least Fryboi was cool enough to make the wait seem worthwhile.
# # #
Quinn Banning rarely left work early. Actually she rarely left work at all. She might leave the building, but between her iPhone, her iPad, and her Macbook Air, it may have been more accurate to say she took the office with her when she went. Right now she was taking her mobile office to a mobile restaurant—fitting. Larkin Square was a warehouse district on the south side of Buffalo, one of the many rust- belt relics currently being reclaimed by hipsters and the corporate suits eager to capitalize on their cash flow.
She glanced down at her tailored navy blazer and pencil skirt as she pulled into the Larkin Development Group parking lot. She sup- posed the outfit made it clear which side of the culture war she fought for. In this crowd of bearded men and skinny-jean-clad girls on bicycles, she probably should’ve been ashamed to display such blatant symbols of the ruling class, but she didn’t care. She’d been in Buffalo long before they were old enough to grow their mustaches, and she’d be here long after they all surrendered to better hygiene practices and shaved them off again. Still she decided to forego the briefcase and tucked the rolled up copy of Buffalo Spree under her arm. Then she double-checked to make sure her Volkswagon Jetta was locked before she fully joined the throngs of pedestrians moving toward a throbbing pulse of music and people ahead.
Food-Truck Tuesdays were becoming a big deal in Buffalo. The number of local food trucks was on the rise, and every Tuesday night they gathered in Larkin Square as local indie bands played.
She wandered down a brick walkway between warehouses turned upscale apartment buildings until the space opened into a courtyard of sorts, only instead of being filled with gardens or benches, this one was overrun with food trucks. Big, boxy, and loud, they lined every wall and squatted stagger-stacked three deep in some places. Beyond them, a covered wooden walkway held a small stage surrounded by benches and patio furniture, an old, beat-up piano, and a bunch of bar stools. Farther out, even more food trucks hummed, each one over- lapping the one next door. There had to be more than thirty of them within view. Who knew a city the size of Buffalo could sustain so many? She guessed it wouldn’t sustain them for much longer.
She’d come prepared to hunt for her target but didn’t have to work hard to locate Cheesy Does It. The neon yellow truck had electric blue trim. If the combo wasn’t so happily appealing, it might’ve been too bright to look at, like the sun, but noisier. In fact, even if she’d been blind, she could’ve found her target by following the thump of bass currently reverberating from its two outward-pointing speakers. They looked like the old sirens on the sides of schools or fallout shelters, but instead of heralding news of a nuclear attack, they loudly proclaimed that Justin Timberlake was bringing sexy back.
Me too, Justin. Me too, she thought as she threaded her way through a pack of women in everything from maxi dresses to shorts that were entirely too revealing for late spring in Buffalo. A few young men in jeans and button-down shirts flecked the crowd, but for the most part she felt like she’d found the world’s most disorganized ladies’ room line. She wasn’t sure she could even make it up to the truck, but still it beckoned to her like one of those lights that zaps flies. She hadn’t gotten as far as she had in business by being timid. Her cool air of politeness and a clearly voiced “excuse me” parted much of the crowd, and when they didn’t she punctuated her words with a sharp elbow.
When she finally stood below the large serving window, she could barely see the people above her until they leaned out under the awning to take an order. The first head to pop out over hers was dark, with black hair pulled back behind a red handkerchief. Even darker eyes regarded her expectantly. The face wasn’t exactly what she’d expected, but close enough to the one in the magazine picture she carried with her that she pulled it out to double check. No, not the same. This woman’s skin was a little darker than the deep olive complexion she sought, and her hair both a little darker and a lot longer.
“Can I help you?” The woman shouted to be heard over the music. “No, I need to speak to Hal Orion.”
The woman’s smile was not unkind, but certainly suggestive. “Sorry, you got me. What can I get you?”
“You can get Hal Orion for me.”
“Like I said, she’s helping other customers. I’m helping you. You can either order now or get back in line and try your luck again.”
“She didn’t get in line the first time,” someone nearby said. “Line?” Quinn asked. “I see no lines here.”
The woman in the truck laughed and pointed to the back of the crowd she’d just pushed and cajoled her way through.“That’s the line to order from the Fryboi.”
She’d left the office early on a business call. She’d arrived just before the starting time in order to beat the rush. She’d done her due diligence, but she would not waste all night milling around this hipster cattle herd. She wasn’t here for some grilled cheese, no matter how mind melting they may be. She had work to do, and she couldn’t do it from a distance.
“Well, tell Fryboi, that I’m not here to order anything. I am here to offer her something.”
“Just like prom night,” the woman said, causing everyone within earshot to laugh, including someone inside the truck.
“How dare you. I don’t know what kind of a business you’re run- ning here—”
“We’re running a food truck, sweetheart, so unless you want food from this truck, go ahead and scribble your digits on a cocktail napkin, hand it over, and stop holding up the line.”
Heat flared beneath her cheeks. “Listen, I’m not sure who you’re used to working with, but I’m not some sort of booty call. I’m not one of your little unshaven hipster fan-girls. More importantly, I’m not leaving here until I speak to your boss.”
“I’m not her boss. I’m her chef. We’re a team, like a pilot and a gunner.”
Quinn wheeled around to see Hal Orion leaning casually against the back corner of the truck in a white chef ’s coat with the sleeves cut off. Her dark brown hair sharply angled to a point just above her right eye. She was the exact mirror image of the magazine cover, sans knife, only more enthralling up close. Either her proximity or her magnetism actually made Quinn falter long enough for this Fryboi to continue. “I’m the quarterback and Sully’s my receiver. I’m a rapper and she’s my DJ. I lay the tracks, and she locks the flow. Comprende?”
“The lyric is ‘lace,’ not ‘lay.’” Quinn recovered. “P-Diddy laced the tracks. Biggy locked the flow. If you’re going to drop ’90s hip-hop, you should do it right.”
“Copyright infringement.” Hal shrugged. “The point is, talking to one of my team members like they’re your personal butler is a horrible way to go about getting anything from me.”
Quinn took a deep breath and released it quickly. Clearly she’d misjudged this woman. No matter. She was more than capable of thinking on her feet. Actually, she preferred it. “Point taken. Moving on.”
Moving on? Who was this woman? Hal had watched her approach, first from the serving window, then up close. She didn’t even know what possessed her to leave the truck. She often had to deal with a rowdy or drunk customer, but Sully could easily handle a petite blond with entitlement issues. Something about this woman’s tone, or maybe her eyes of steel, had pulled Hal closer. The feeling was unsettling. Challenging. And she didn’t like it. Still, this tiny ball of accountant- looking spitfire had just dropped some old-school rap lyrics like her name was on the mic.
Still, she couldn’t let Sully be spoken to like a hired hand. The bonds of business and friendship demanded a firm hand here. “No moving on, ’cause I’ve yet to hear an apology.” She nodded from this woman up to Sully, who still watched them from the window.
The woman’s face didn’t flame, and she refused to so much as frown, no matter how much it may have irked her. The little way her hands tensed quickly, as if wanting to ball into fists, was the only fleeting signal of her ire. Whoever she was, she’d perfected the stone cold business face. “Sully, was it?”
“The one and only.”
“Great. Sully, I’m sorry for speaking to you the way I did. I’m sorry for taking up so much of your time.” She turned back to Hal. “I’m sorry for not following the proper procedures for setting an appoint- ment. I wasn’t able to find a phone number on your social media pages, or I would’ve called ahead, but the least I could’ve done is ask for a more convenient time to talk.”
“Maybe if you’d done that,” Hal said almost wistfully, “I would’ve told you I always stay until the food is gone or the last person is fed. After that, I’m all ears. But you didn’t ask. You got all entitled up in our grill, backed up our lines, insulted my friend, and took me away from my job—a job I love.”
“And I apologized for that.”
“You also dropped some old-school rap cred, which impresses me from a woman in a shark suit and three-inch heels,” Hal said slowly. “So I’m going to give you a do-over.”
“A do-over?” Both the woman and Sully repeated.
“I’m going to go back in my truck and make some food for all the nice people who understand how a line works, and if at the end, the very end of that line, you happen to want to buy a sandwich, I might talk to you while you eat it.”
“And if I just walk away right now? You won’t even wonder about what you missed out on?”
Hal’s short shot of a laugh was unexpected even to her. “Lady, I’ve missed out on more things in my life than you can even begin to imagine. Nothing you could possibly offer will keep me awake at night.”
There you have it, friends. I have given you the best I have. I hope it’s enough to pique your interest, because my new baby is now in your hands!