A Muse Bouche Review: August 2021


Dear Readers,

Welcome to our August issue!

In this issue, we talk about food. We hope you brought your appetite.

Warmest regards,
The Amuse Bouche Review Team

A Muse Bouche Review Logo

Feature: Romancing the Bread (Crystal L. Kirkham)  Essay
Miller’s Bachelor Bistro (A.P. Miller)   Review
Fairy Tales are for White People (Melissa Yuan-Innes) Essay
Tastes like Home  (Renée Gendron)   Writing Advice 
Sweet Revenge Excerpt (Aedyn Brooks   Fiction 
August Team Showcase

Romancing the Bread: Making Your Reader Hungry for More

by Crystal L. Kirkham (@canucklick)
Steam drifted lazily in the summer breeze, carrying with it that sweet, yeasty aroma of the fresh-baked bread cooling on the windowsill. Andrea’s stomach growled in response to the mouth-watering scent. She sauntered over, her eyes darting to make sure that no one was watching. Like a striking snake, she snatched one of the cooling loaves and hugged it against her chest as she ran back to her hiding place. Away from prying eyes, she admired her prize. Squeezing it gently, the crust crackled and precious crumbs floated to the ground. She broke off a chunk and shoved it in her mouth, barely acknowledging the rich, sour flavour before ripping off another piece.

If you have a sudden craving for fresh-baked bread right now, then, as an author, I have succeeded in my goal: to accurately describe food in a way that makes it real to the reader. For some, writing about food is an afterthought, an unimportant detail, but as I said in a previous article (https://ambreview.com/newsletters/newsletter-2020-8-1/#clk) it is something that I love including in my work.

Writing about food in a story is very much a part of world-building—even if food is unimportant to your character—because it gives us insight into the culture, characters, and/or world you are writing about. There is so much of it that is important. A character who doesn’t care much about what they eat has a reason for that, ask yourself why?

However, this isn’t about the world-building and character-building importance of food. Today I am writing about the sensual aspects of writing food. Above, I wrote a small scene about bread. Although my focus was on describing the bread, I ended up telling you about a summer’s day where there isn’t much of a breeze and a hungry girl stealing food. A girl so hungry that she cares less about the taste of the food than she does about filling her stomach.

The food isn’t as important as what it describes and how it can allow the reader to understand that they are there with this girl. Smelling the bread, hearing the crust crackle as it’s broken, tasting the acidic sourness of it. And that is the goal since food does allow you the wonderful opportunity of using all the senses available to a writer for descriptive purposes.

Sure, I could simply say she was hungry, but we all know the saying about show vs tell. This shows the reader, invites their senses and imagination into the story with you. They can understand more completely the temptation of freshly baked bread, especially for a hungry child.
So, as you write your next story, take a moment to consider if you can further engage your audience by diving deeper into the five senses using descriptive writing of food. Romance that bread and make your reader hungry for more of your writing.

REVIEW: Miller’s Bachelor Bistro 

by A.P. Miller (@Millserverse)

REVIEW: Miller’s Bachelor Bistro
By: Burns Wenneipi
[Originally Printed in New Divorcée Illustrated — September 2020, Swimsuit Edition]

As newly single, and ready to mingle, it’s important for me to stay hip to all the happening joints where “till death do us part” is referred to as “I’ll see you in hell.” That quest to have my finger on the pulse of “Going through the Big ‘D’” dining had brought me to the doors of Miller’s Bachelor Bistro in Wilmington, North Carolina.

The whole menu is centered around the theme of a man who has to suddenly learn[ed] how to cook for himself. The dining area was dripping in the eloquent dad-of-divorce chic — moving boxes used as tables, plastic cutlery, and whttps://twitter.com/Millerverseine glasses shaped like insulated foam cups. The real charm in the place settings were the napkins, which were printed with the logos of the fast-food establishments within a 1-mile radius.

The magic of Miller’s Bachelor Bistro was surely the menu. I ordered the blackened chicken, which was grilled to a charcoal perfection on the outside and a cool medium-rare center. The ice-glazed broccoli, served in a Butter Container, had that exceptional blend of scalding hot on the outside of the presentation and ice cold in the middle. The side was garnished with a glop of butter and a comically exaggerated serving of salt. The sky was the limit on the choices of accoutrements, a veritable tour-du-flavor from around the region, a gallery of taste curated from the nearby restaurants, and put on display on the pallet! Salt and pepper in individual paper packets, duck & soy sauces in individual plastic servings, ketchup in quaint dipping cups, and I even had the option to eat my meal with chopsticks.

The evening concluded with dessert, a log of nougat & peanuts, drizzled in caramel, and then cased in chocolate. While the dining expectation of Miller’s Bachelor Bistro was that of poise and refinement, the desert was meant to tantalize the baser instincts and diners were encouraged to eat it with their hands. When I asked the server what this culinary delight was called, he called it a Ricané (which is French for “sneer” or “snicker”).

All in all, I’d give Miller’s Bachelor Bistro a solid 8.5 out of 10. The rating would have been higher, but the kitchen staff kept taking personal phone calls from legal counsel, practically chanting the phrase “You tell her I said “F*** YOU,” and “I hope her new boyfriend chokes on rocks.” The bathroom only had one towel for all guests to use to dry their hands, and it would have been more pleasant if the waiter hadn’t broken down into sobs of “she kept the dog!”. Truly, a fantastic experience.

Fairy Tales Are for White People 

by Melissa Yuan-Innes (@dr_sassy)

A great story is memorable. It captures our attention, leaves an imprint on both our minds and hearts. A mystery or a thriller, or a horror story can touch our hearts because we root from the main character to get out of the mess. A sci-fi action adventure inspires, and a romance ends with the reader having a sense of fulfilment the couple will have their happily ever after.

A well-told story resonates with people. Every culture has a practice of storytelling. It’s a way of transmitting information (lessons, survival techniques, morals, ideas of what constitutes a life well-lived) that keeps people’s attention. Great salespeople, marketers, and leaders all harness the power of story to motivate, encourage and create a sense of team or community.

Here’s a random aside: If you have to make a presentation for work, keep the statistics and raw data light and focus on the story, what the data is telling you. Audience members who want the raw data can be provided with the information in an annexe. Focus on the story to capture people’s attention. Don’t be like Ben Stein’s character in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off trying to keep the class’ attention: Anyone? Anyone?

Great stories capture people’s attention and create an emotional and psychological relationship between the teller and listener. Vivid imagery, compelling goals, a noble cause, tragedy, heartache, mistakes, regret, crushing defeat, and humour combine to create an emotional ride. More importantly, they generate opportunities for the audience to relate to the characters, the story’s circumstances, and the arcs of the story. The arcs can be a character’s personal development and/or the steps a character took to address the book’s main plot.

Stories can be oral or written. An oral story relies heavily on the storyteller’s ability to use an engaging voice and have a strong presence in front of a crowd. I’ve been to many meetings where the storyteller had important information to convey. Unfortunately, their body language wasn’t confident, they didn’t make eye contact with those in the room (please don’t stare at your feet or just one person while giving a presentation), and they lost the audience. Again, for the few who could concentrate on the speaker’s content, the content was excellent, but the delivery was poor.

Storytellers whose preference is the written word also need to deliver high-quality content. The words need to suck the reader into a rich world that engages all the senses. Too many authors rely on describing what the character sees instead of immersing the reader in the story by engaging all senses. Consider the two examples:

Example #1: One ankle hooked over the other, John stretched out on the sofa. A gameshow flashed on the television with bobbleheads in wide ties and plaid jackets. He scrambled off the couch and walked to the kitchen, where a cherry pie cooled on the windowsill.

Example #2: A tart scent laced with sugar and rhubarb and a hint of honey wafted from the kitchen. An empty Twinkie wrapper lay strewn on the coffee table. Its sweet taste had nothing on mom’s pies. The fake smiles and surprised gasps from the bobbleheads in wide ties and plaid jackets on the gameshow faded.
John patted his stomach for the remote but spotted it on the top of the tv set, resting above the dials for volume and channel changer. He rolled off the couch, his bare feet caressed by ultra-long shag carpeting.

I’m certain there are better ways of wording example 2. I hope there are. Example #2 uses multiple senses and paints a more vivid image of where and when the character is. Which clues do I leave to give you a sense of time?

I recommend the following books to improve your writing:
-Write your Novel from the Middle by James Scott Bell
-The Last Fifty Pages by James Scott Bell
-How to Write Funny by Scott Dikkers
-Deep Point of View by Marcy Kennedy
-There are some great courses https://www.margielawson.com/ There are new courses each month. The site is geared towards romance writers. However, craft is craft. Show not tell is applicable across all genres. Every book needs a strong plot and conflict.

Tastes Like Home 
by Renée Gendron (@reneegendron)“Left.” Iracem Mota jabbed her finger in the air towards an alley. “We can’t let them get the pharmaceuticals. They’ll keep hundreds alive in the Good Lands.”
“Like I don’t know that.” Tabiki Watanabe jerked the hovercar to the right. “That’s the wrong way.”

“No. It’s not.” She changed the angle on the side view mirror. Flashing yellow and red lights spun. The Corps. “Cops are right behind us.”

A series of hundred-year-old skyscrapers stood to her left. The windows long lost their polish, the steel girders leaned a little, and cheap restaurants and second-hand shops lined the street-level while substandard housing occupied the remaining sixty storeys.

Tabiki took a second sharp right, gunned the accelerator, and narrowly missed a cluster of pedestrians. “There’s a shortcut through here.”

“Why do you never listen?”

“I listen. You’re wrong in this case.”

Sharp words lacerated her tongue. “You didn’t listen in Okino.”

“I did listen. I was right on everything, except the time.” His voice carried no sense of smugness, only his usual, casual, matter-of-factness that spoke truth to power.
Her thoughts blurred with nightmarish memories of the ambush. She was across the street, behind a pile of rubble, ready to attack a tank. Tabiki lay low in an alley, pulse cannon on his shoulder. Two minutes ahead of plan, the love of her life ran out from the alley, stood alone in a darkened street, and raised the pulse cannon. He struck the tank, but the second tank blasted his position.
She blanked out for minutes, her mind shutting down, her body number, and her heart in survival mode. When awareness returned to her, she dragged Tabiki two hundred metres away and gave him mouth to mouth resuscitation.
The event marked her DNA, a trauma to be passed down from generation to generation.
Her stomach lurched, and her thoughts wobbled from left to right and back to left. A wave of nausea consumed before. Drawing in long breaths, she braced against the front panelling. “Watch out!”
“I see them. I see them.” He swerved around a series of dumpster bins, overtook a transport truck, and headed for the giant wall that penned the city.
The windshield whippers shoved the deluge off the windshield, but still, the road ahead was blurry. The air was thick with ozone, chemicals, and some metallic taste from thousands of destroyed buildings and tanks that no scientist or rebel could identify. The Sendai City Council’s only response to the metallic taste was to change the warning on the blimps from moderate irritation to severe respiratory aggravation.

She sucked in a long breath, clearing a bit of nausea but not the hunger. Cold sweat poured from her, and she turned up the heat.

“The windows will fog,” he said, “and the medicines will spoil.”

“The drugs are in chilled coolers. They’re safe.” She removed a rag from the passenger door’s pocket. “It’s better I keep wiping down the windows, then us breathing in that crap.”

He sucked on his cheek the way he did when he refused to concede a point.

Sweat cascaded down her back, adding to the overall stickiness of the humidity. “How long to the gate?”

“One minute.”

Three Mega Corps. cop cars streamed in from the side streets, blockading the road. Officers in full-on hazmat suits with oxygen tanks stood behind opened car doors. Guns were drawn.

Tabiki drew in a long breath. His fingers tightened around the steering wheel. “Hang on.”

A thrill shot through her then was trampled by an overwhelming sense of dread. She forced her eyes open to look death in the face. She reached for the single pistol between them and placed her twitchy finger on the trigger. Years of street fighting and scavenging kicked in. If she missed one shot, she would be dead. Tabiki would be dead. Everything she ever cared about would be dead. All or nothing, the way she had survived until this point.

Her breathing slowed. Everything around her slowed. The blur of the skyrises become clear. The logos onto the cop cars forming a blockage came into focus. The squareness and stiffness of the cops’ shoulders sharpened until they were squarely tarped in bright-yellow plastic.

This one shot. A kill shot to survive. A missed shot to die in a blaze of unglorified futility.

Tabiki drove the hoover car towards the Mega Corp vehicles and took a sharp left to an alley. Another hard turn, and the gates to the city were in sight.
“Won’t be long.” He shot her a glance. A glance that conveyed twenty years of emotions. From the first time, they met when they were ten years old in a soup line, to their first kiss, to the daily struggle to find bread and supplies, and dodge the AI tanks, and run faster than the acid rain, and evade the Corp cops, and fighting the street gangs, and rallying to unite the street gangs into a formal resistant. And. And. And. And. And. And.

Somewhere in the last two seconds, her brain shut off, and her body forgot to breathe.

The sun-blocking city gates loomed in the too-close distance. Guards in their bright-yellow uniforms patrolled the area, armed with laser pistols and energy cannons. Water pelted the windshield, adding a blurry layer to the scene, confusing reality from nightmare.

“Always together,” he said.

She squeezed his hand until every knuckle in hers popped. “Always together.”

The dense cityscape of metal and concrete gave way to clusters of two and three-storey buildings. The landscape was dented from shells, the trees and vegetation burned from plasma, and the dwellings hastily constructed out of wood easier to pack up and leave.

Tabiki glanced in the rearview mirror. “It looks like we lost them.”

Her pulse tripped, and she closed her eyes to centre herself. “I think so.”

“Are you all right?” He squeezed her hand.

Yes. No. Yes. Never. Always if he was around. “We’ve been through worse.” She collected stray locks and tied them back in a loose bun.
The engine wheezed and sputtered. The bright lights of the Corps. cars flashed through the haze and sheets of rain.

Speeding past the hamlets, they reached a stretch of no-man’s land. Relics of recent and distant wars littered the landscape. Rusted scraps, too far gone to be of use, spread red-coloured stains on the ground even acid couldn’t wash away. Unburied dead lay in bleached bones, staring at the sky in dismay for their abandonment.
These were the Good Lands. The lands where people could have a marginal living if they kept out of sight of surveillance blimps, raiders and avoided diseases. The Bad Lands still had the living dead wandering, aimless, hopeless, restless, and wanton.

Tabiki tugged on his collar. “Two hours until the first stop.” He brought her hand to his lips. “We made it through another mission.”

“It’s not done yet. Still need to deliver the meds.”

The rain ceased once they crossed the inland divide, a series of valleys that marked the barrier in climate zones from coastal to the interior. The air was less humid, more laden with barren dirt. The sky was less sullen grey, more an unyielding brightness that parched everything it caressed. Trees replaced concrete and dust, but they had an eerie silence to them. The monkeys, insects, birds, and snakes long ago, having felt the desolation, quit this part of Nippon en masse.

Rocks lay strewn at the base of each tree, and browning undergrowth carpeted the area. Relics of different times littered the area—a rusted car, an abandoned war robot, a doll with jet-black hair and onyx eyes staring blankly at the sky.

She pointed to a series of stacked stones in a copse of trees with yellowing leaves. “Here’s the turn.”

He slowed the vehicle and made the turn. Branches touched the doors and roof. The headlights shone against yellowing leaves and dark-brown branches. Still, Tabiki drove forward until they reached a small clearing where two dozen people in modest clothing and armed with twenty-year-old laser pistols encircled them.

A few people looked down their weapon’s sites. Some lowered their weapons, and others looked on with concern. Three continued to grip their weapons like it was the last thing keeping them alive. An elderly man spoke over his shoulder.

A fountain of joy overflowed in Iracem. She lowered the window. “Pedro! So glad to see you.”

An elderly man with more white hairs than dark brown approached the vehicle. His eyes held both wisdom and wariness, but the smile on his face indicated he hadn’t been hardened by life. “Iracem?”

Tabiki had just stopped the cat when she sprang from it, bounding towards Pedro and pulling him into a hug. Pedro, her mentor for years, her grandmother’s friend, a figure in the resistance Pedro, the man who became family when she had no family left. Greetings exchanges, she released her hold.

Pedro patted her pat and let his hands fall to his sides. “Tell me of news in the cities.”

She gave her head a little shake. “Another time.”

“That bad? Are there still food riots?”

She gave a slight bow and circled to the trunk of the vehicle. “Time to think of brighter days. We bring gifts.” She removed a box from the trunk. “The latest pharmaceuticals. This box will help you fight the spring fevers, the winter coughs, and the scourge of the Bad Lands.”

“Thank you, child.” The crack in the old man’s voice was strong enough to break another piece of Nippon away. “Come, we feast.”

“We have more deliveries to make.”

He draped his arm over her shoulder. “You cannot be the only one who brings gifts. We’d be terrible hosts. Besides, it’s not wise to make deliveries on an empty stomach.” Pedro flashed a warm smile to Tabiki.

Tabiki helped others in the encampment pull camouflage tarps over the vehicle and caught up with Irachem.

Pedro led them along a narrow trail that wove between branches. The further away from the road, the greener the underbrush. Deeper in the forest, tight circles of rocks lined the base of trees, the stones damp from condensation. Rings of vegetables grew around the base of trees, and chickens pecked the ground. Metre-tall Indio chickens pecked the ground.

Light-brown and yellow camouflage were stitched together and draped over the lush green treetops. A cluster of huts stood nestled among the tallest trees.
Seated on a long outdoor table set for twenty, Tabiki and Irachem were served shrimp soup and chicken pie.

Irachem leaned against Tabiki and let the weight of the day ease from her shoulders. Friendly faces looked at her, a familiar fishy smell filled the night’s air, and the conversation turned pleasant. There were no harsh words over conflicting strategies, no bitter words over casualties and starvation, no vitriol over which corp to strike next.

Smiles, and relaxed shoulders, and her childhood language of Portuguese filled the night. Fish and seasoning and laughter between comrades fille the night’s air. A kitchen table spread out for twenty where all were welcome, and the woes of the day and the grind of existence were hung up to dry outside of the copse of trees.
Here, among friends and family, flavours that made everyone one at home.

Salt and fish and warmth and love rolled around her tongue. Through watery eyes, she gave Pedro a heartfelt smile. “Mãe’s recipe. You remembered?”
“Hard to forget such a delicious recipe.”

“Where did you get the fish?” Years ago, she spent Saturday afternoons with her mother at local markets, finding the right ingredients and negotiating prices. At the time, she resented so much time wasted in the market. Today, she’d give up ten years of her life for another hour with her mother wandering the markets.

The soup was not too salty, not too fishy, not too laced with paprika. It was perfection on a spoon. With each taste, a memory of her father—Pai— and sister surfaced. On the day of her mother—Mãe’s—death, Pai took Iracem and her sister out to eat after the funeral to a Brazilian restaurant. That soup was oversalted and canned, lacked passion and flavour.

Tabiki angled his back to the table and pulled her closer. “Why the tears?”

Surprised, she dabbed her eyes. “We always made fish soup on Tuesdays.”

“The restaurant,” he whispered and drew her in a hug.

She nodded and pressed her eyes shut. The pink neon signs of the Brazilian eatery were still as bright and vivid as the day her mother died. Her Pai brought her and her sister to this hole in the wall Brazilian place that claimed to serve authentic Brazilian food. Only the recipes were altered to some weird-tasting fusion food, the chef wasn’t interested in not burning the food, and the bench so hard that she hurt her bum.

“The soup we had in the restaurant was so horrible, Pai vowed never to return and to perfect Mãe’s recipe. We used to make fish soup every Tuesday. I miss Mãe.”
Tabiki pulled her closer.

“I’m fine.”

“There’s so much sorrow in your eyes.”  He leaned his forehead against her.

She leaned into him, pressing her eyes shut for a moment and abandoning herself to the warmth of his embrace. Her body trembled, and he held her closer. Her breath faltered, and he pressed a kiss to her temple. She was overwhelmed by tastes and savours and smiles and touches she’d never feel again, and he held her, strong and true. He held her.

“I’ve been emotional lately.” She pressed a kiss on Tabiki’s cheek and straightened. “Sorry. You were saying?”
Pedro looked on with sympathetic eyes. “Your mother was a special lady. She’s missed by many. As I was saying, we’ve established trade networks. We’ve got some routes further north near Sakata.”
She took another spoonful, letting the liquid tickle her tongue before swallowing. “That’s really good.”

“It’ll take years to rebuild…” Pedro cleared his throat. “But there’s a chance. Get resources, remain independent, and fight.”

Iracem nodded, the only way she knew how to keep her emotions at bay. She dug into her chicken pie, and one tear escaped.

Pedro’s cheeks pulled back in a smile. “It’s hard to forget the recipe when she took it from my Belinha.”

“That’s not true.”

“Of course, it is. In the first winter in the war, your mother and my Belinha were strategising a counter-offensive. They came to heads one night, and it looked like our cell was going to collapse. We couldn’t let our best strategists walk away from the cause. It would have been the end of everything. Everyone in the camp was hungry. We hadn’t eaten in days.”

Iracem smiled inwardly, comparing how Pedro told the story and how Mãe told it. Pedro told it matter of fact, Mãadded more flare.

Pedro pushed away his empty plate. “The decision was made to use most of the available resources to have one full, satisfying meal. Weeks on half-rations turned many of us temperamental and weak. There was all sort of bickering in the camp, pettiness, and shouting matches. Frustrations, really, over the same inability to gain in the war. Your mother and my Belinha decided to cook as many dishes from back home as possible. Volunteers were to cook their favourite dish and serve it to others. Belinha and your mother were beside one another, each cooking chicken pie. Belihna swore that your mother stole her secrets.”

Tabiki pinched his lips the way he did when he was engrossed in a story. She smiled inwardly. He was the same, man or child. He loved a good story.

A dreamy look covered Pedro’s eyes. “Sure, it was a huge gamble on limited resources. But it brought everyone together. That night, there were no petty rivalries, no bickering, no squabbles over who was first in line to take a field bath. Only stories and songs. The next day, your mother and my Belinha came up with the strategy to push the Corps back in Osaka. It was the first significant victory in the war.”

Pedro’s eyes shined. His wrinkled cheeks curved in a smile that melted forty years from his life. “Eat my Belinha’s pie.” He winked.

She laughed. “I’ll happily eat my Mãe’s pie.” 

She and Tabiki stayed up with Pedro until the minuscule hours of the morning, discussing possible trade routes, connections with other resistance groups, and ways to skirt the Corps. Cops.

After a breakfast of stuffed bread and a warm açaí smoothie, a long farewell to Pedro, she and Tabiki took to the hovercar with her behind the wheel.
She put the craft in drive. “Where?”

“Mogami first, I want to visit my grandmother.”

Her thoughts pressed down her heart, shoving it past her feet, weighing against the accelerator. She steered the car through the thick forest and emerged onto a series of pocked goat trails. “You never told me your grandmother was there.”

“It was too risky.” The heaviness in his voice could anchor a ship.

“I share everything with you.”

“So do I.”

“Except that your grandmother is only two hours away.”

He held his hand up the way he did when he didn’t want to hear anymore. “She didn’t want her presence known.”

“Even from me? After I risked my life stealing corporate secrets to help her?”

“You know she’s grateful.”

She swallowed past the bitterness that soured her words. “Years, Tabi. We’ve been together for years. My mother died protecting her.”

“You know she loves you.”

“I know. But she should have told me.”

Laser blasts shot by them. High-pitched whizzing blew past either side of their vehicle. A blast landed against a boulder, ending in a cloud of dust. The car rocked left with one close call, and a second blasted landed under them, launching the vehicle three metres higher.

Iracem startled and pressed her foot against the accelerator. The vast expanse before them was an unending landscape of dunes and rust heaps and long, high-noon shadows against the parched ground.

“Where’s your pistol?” he asked.

She removed it from the small of her back and handed it to him. “It won’t be enough to stop them, and there aren’t that many charges left.”

“I know.” He loaded the charge into the weapon.

A series of pulse blasts shot around them.

Tabiki pointed to the mound of rusted metal ahead. “Head for those tank heaps.”

“That’s a tight space.”

“I know. Full speed.”

She ran her tongue along her lower lip, ignored the twisting in her gut, and gunned it for the tanks. The sides of the hoover craft grated against the long-defunct tanks, slowing down her vehicle.

Tabiki lowered the window and leaned out of it, pistol aimed at the Corps.

She pressed all her weight into the accelerator, but the car didn’t go any faster. “Can’t.”

He shot three rounds, ducked inside, and hung out of the side again to release more rounds. “Try again.”

The sides of the vehicle scraped against metal and slowed their forward momentum. The driver’s side mirror dangled from its wires. Vapour hissed from the engine.
“Woah,” Tabiki said. “I said close, not smashed.”

Fingers coiled around the steering wheel, she placed her hand on her lower belly and sucked in air.  A wave of nausea hit her, rocking her insides this way and that. “It is close, and I didn’t smash the car.”

The dent in the hood and the vapour seeping around said otherwise. She tried the starter button, but the engine gurgled.

“Can you fix it?” He swung the door open and used it as a shield.

“I think something’s been knocked loose. I’ll have to see.” She grabbed the tool kit in the back seat. “Cover me.” She ducked out of the driver’s side door under a series of blasts and opened the hood. The engine was hot, fluids leaked, and there was an unmistakable smell of smoke. The smoke she ignored, the fluids, she patched with duct tape, and as for the hot engine—that she let aerate under the midday sun in the middle of nowhere known for its crushing heat.

Three energy blasts fizzed by her ear, exploding against the boulders to the right. Thousands of dust particles clouded the air and watered her eyes. One shot shattered the rear window of the car, sending a spray of glass. A second shot blasted through the windshield, pelting the raised hood with shards.
“Are you hurt?” Tabiki shot three rounds. “What do you have?”

“I’m fine. The hood stopped most of it.”

“Most?” Still firing rounds, his eyes met hers.

She ignored the stings in her forearms and the rivulets of blood from the shrapnel. “Only scrapes. It’s an overheated engine.”

He had the same look in his eye he got when he didn’t believe her but chose to say nothing. “Any water in the back?”

She retrieved a handkerchief from her back pocket and fanned the engine. “We’ve only a litre left between us to get to Mogami.”


“Spit and piss.”

He shot off another two rounds. “It’ll have to be yours.”

Muttering, she lowered her trousers and relieved herself on the engine. Steam rose and warmed all her intimate parts.

Energy blasts pulsed around her, leaving charred scars on rocks.

Head down, she hurried to the driver’s seat and tried the engine. It didn’t turn. “No luck. Need you to try.”

He tossed her the pistol, and it was her turn to use the door as a shield. She shot three rounds, wounded one Corp and dogging a thunderstorm of bolts.

“Try now.” Tabiki crouched behind the passenger door, and he extended his arm towards her.

She tossed him the pistol, slid into the driver’s seat, and tried the engine. A low hum gathered moment, and the engine sputtered to life. “Get in.”

She and Tabiki slammed their doors shut, and she stomped on the accelerator. Once clear of the derelict tanks, Tabiki leaned out of the window and fired more rounds.
A fireball lit up in the rearview mirror, but she didn’t stop. She pressed forward, pushing the old engine as fast and far as it would go.

“That’s it. I’m out.” Tabiki eased into the passenger.

Too many unspoken words danced on her tongue. The tension in her shoulders increased tenfold, and she swept her gaze over the vastness of the Good Lands ahead.
“We’ll make it.”

“Hmm.” It was the only sound she could make. Every few minutes, she risked a glance in the rearview mirror, searching for any yellow spark, any light that didn’t belong, any movement that was too fast and too sleek for any vehicle belonging in the Good Lands.


“Turn at the stone,” he said.

“Are you sure?”

“That’s O bāchan’s marker.”

Days-long tension in her lungs eased. Not enough for a full breath, but enough to give her courage.

They followed the rocky path, along a river, past a thicket that was blocked by fallen logs. Irachem stopped the car, got out, and placed her hands on the side of the car in preparation for being searched.

Tabiki got out of the car and raised his hands above his head. “It’s me. Tabiki Watanabe.”

The energy in the air thinned as blaster after blaster was turned off, leaving behind a distinct ozone smell. A captain camouflage gear stepped out from a tree holding her Series 403, no-recoil, no-charge time blaster with its nuzzle angled to the ground. “We weren’t expecting you.”

“There wasn’t time,” Tabiki said. “We’ve meds.”

The captain motioned for her platoon to search them. The infantryman who frisked Irachem did so with enthusiasm, squeezing all of Irachem’s fleshy bits and taking extra time to smooth over her lower belly.

Irachem forced her features to remain placid, despite the harassment and the humiliation. “Is this necessary every time?”

The captain lifted her chin. “Every time there’s a tuga.”

Every muscle in her face pinched.

Tabiki shrugged off the soldier frisking him. “What did you call her?”

“You heard me.” The captain squared her shoulders. “The tuga’s got us in this mess.”

“After all the times she’s risked your life to help?” Tabiki stepped into the captain.

Irachem’s chest swelled, and her stomach lurched. She stepped towards Tabiki, but the soldier who frisked her yanked her back.
“She’s clean, captain,” the soldier said. “Fat and clean.”

Tabiki scowled. “We’ve brought you medicines, and you insult us? You insult my O bāchan with such behaviour. We’re in this together, to bring down the Corps. It doesn’t do us any good to fight amongst ourselves.”

The captain drew her lips together in a straight line. She cocked her head to the side, and her troops fell back to their defensive position behind the fallen tree. “Open the gate.”

Irachem released a slow breath, but the tension in her shoulders remained. She sunk into the driver’s seat, waited for Tabiki, who muttered a string of curses in Japanese and Portuguese, and drove down a dusty trail until it opened up into an encampment of tents and trailers. She parked the vehicle, and Tabiki hopped out with the energy of a ten-year-old. She followed him a respectful distance behind, ignoring the curious and hopeful looks of those in the camp. Some she knew by name, most she didn’t, but they all wore the same discoloured clothes of those who had been at the fringes their entire lives.

“O bāchan,” Tabiki bowed in front of an elderly woman with streaks of silver in her hair. Wise in the eyes with a polite smile, she returned his bow. “It’s good to see you.”
Quiet words were exchanged before O bāchan peered around Tabiki to Iracem. “It is good to see you, child.” She approached and pulled Iracem into a tight embrace.

“Tell me good news.”

“Your guards are so effective they nearly stopped us from entering.”

Soulful dark eyes met Irachem’s. “Did they hurt you?”

Irachem shook her head.

“It’s the third time we’ve moved camp in three months. There’s a leak somewhere, but Captain Domen hasn’t been able to find the information.”

Irachem tugged at the front of her shirt, not that it removed the creases or splotches of dirt. “We’ve medicines.”

“That is good news.” She motioned for Tabiki and two soldiers to remove the supplies from the car. “Tell me better news.” O bāchan dusted her hand against Iracem’s lower abdomen.

Heat scorching Iracem’s cheeks, she leaned into O bāchan. “He doesn’t know yet.”

Delight blossomed in O bāchan’s dark eyes. “You must be hungry.”


O bāchan straightened and led Iracem and Tabiki to her tent. A modest tent with one cot and a table for two with a third chair pulled up to it.

Fighting a wave of nausea and fatigue, Iracem plunked into a chair. O bāchan served miso soup, the perfect thing to ease Iracem’s stomach. With just enough salt to quash a wobbly stomach and enough heat to warm her from the inside out. The taste brought her back to the earlier days of the war, where meat and fish were scarce, but the crops were yet untouched by battle. With enough onion to fortify the blood and miso paste to enhance the flavour, a sense of camaraderie filled her. In the early days, when everyone was confident, the war would be over soon, and deep friendships formed—like the one she had forged with Tabiki.
Irachem finished her bowl with an audible ahh and eyed the larger bowl.

Captain Domen scowled at Irachem, but O bāchan served Irachem a second helping and leaned into Irachem’s ear. “I put some ginger in this recipe. It should help.”
“It does, thank you.”

“How is it Sendai?” O bāchan asked.

“Not good.” Tabiki slurped his soup. A contented expression descended on his face. He helped himself to another bowl of soup, the way a five-year-old does when reaching for his favourite candy. “Everything is in short supply.”

“We must find away,” O bāchan sipped her tea, “for the free folk to prevail.”

Tabiki picked up sushi with his chopsticks. He took one bite and pressed his eyes closed, his expression somewhere between ecstasy and bliss. “There’s always a way. We need to keep a step ahead of them.”

Fortified by the soup, Iracem helped herself to a second bowl. “How can we stay ahead of them if we are always scrounging to survive?”

“Get smarter,” O bāchan said. “Cultivate better contacts in the Mega Corps. Send some of our own there.”

“How did you get fish?” Tabiki popped a second piece of sushi in his mouth, and a serene expression descended over his features. “It’s just like you used to make it.”
Bliss fogged his eyes, and he sighed.

O bāchan smiled. “It is my recipe.”

Tabiki selected another piece of sushi. “Where’d you get the fish?”

“Other groups are seeing the wisdom of collaboration. We buy fish from a group in Kitakata in exchange for helping them access certain corp files.”

“Seem a lopsided traded.”

“Not so lopsided that you can’t stuffing your mouth.” O bāchan laughed.

The corners of her eyes crowded with tears. “Sushi rolls.”

One piece of sushi was a rare treat. A second piece was reserved for a birthday party or commemoration of all those fallen in a war. But a full sushi roll was reserved only for mid-level Corp managers or higher.

Years, no aeons ago, on a log next to a travelling sushi bar, Tabiki served her a piece of salmon sushi. She had taken it from him with chopsticks. They sat, arms extended, chopsticks outstretched the way they had on their first date. Only a few thousand Yen to their names, they splurged on seafood when they had been surviving on rice, Goma-ae, and kiriboshi daikon.

Salmon was a once in a six-month splurge, and they splurged on some sketchy street vendor who peddled his cart from neighbourhood to neighbourhood among piles of rubble, dodging gangs and Corps. soldiers.

Chopsticks touching, his gaze softened. Rich, dark eyes held her gaze. The edges of his mouth rounded in a shy smile, the same smile he had on that date. There were a few extra lines around his mouth, his features filled out from age, and his body told of scrapes, accidents, and battles, but his boyish, shy smile remained. A smile that wrapped her in a warm blanket and pulled her to him, whispering words of comfort.

Emotions slammed in her throat, and tears threatened to overflow. She popped the piece of sushi in her mouth and swallowed it to push down the sentiment.
He handed her another piece of salmon sushi, again with his chopsticks. Three more pieces were passed this way, each little white square topped by a pink strip, carrying a precious memory. The first was about their first proper outing together. The second was about the frustrations they felt. The third concerned their hopes, the fourth about their dreams, and the fifth about their dreams together.

Tabiki poured Iracem some tea.

O bāchan smiled. “I’ll be reinforcing the trade routes to Nikaho.”

“How’d you get past the wall?” Tabiki asked.

“The same way we also do, bribe someone.”

Irachem took one last piece of sushi from Tabiki and motioned for him to take the rest. “That’s really dangerous.”

“If we don’t risk, we won’t win,” O bāchan said.

Tabiki eyed another piece of sushi and chopsticked-it to Irachem. “You have enough food, water, weapons, and medicines to hold out here.”

O bāchan cradled her teacup. “If no one comes looking.”

“We need to rebuild our numbers and salvage what weaponry we can from the Good Lands.”

“That takes too long for these old bones.”

“O bāchan,” Tabiki said, “the situation has stabilised in the cities.”

Despite cataracts, O bāchan had lost nothing of her insight. “Has it? How many millions go without?”

Iracem ran her tongue along her lip. “It takes all our resources to steal our supplies. To raise more resources to wage a proper campaign against the Corps…”
“It’s worth it.” Tabiki squeezed her hand. Long gone was the boyish look in his eyes. In its place was the steadfast resolution of a man in his prime, a man with every reason to fight and live and see justice. “I have one more reason to fight.”

Heat travelled the length of her body, boiling over in her core and settling deep in her cheeks. “How?”

“You’ve been hungrier, sneaking in naps, every part of you is more sensitive.”

“You’re not upset?”

He looped an arm around her and pulled her to his lap. “Why would you think I’d be upset?” His lips curved in a smile she hadn’t seen in years. A smile that knew no hardships, no injuries, no anxiety-filled nights evading the Corps.

She rested her head on his shoulder. “With so much going on.”

He splayed his fingers along her lower abdomen. “Without a reason, we are all lost.” He fed her another piece of salmon sushi. “I have three reasons to fight with all I’ve got.” He inclined his head to O bāchan, squeezed her, and he tapped her belly.

“As long as it has chicken pies and salmon sushi, I’m in,” Iracem said.

He barked in laughter.

Sweet Revenge (Excerpt)

by Aedyn Brooks (@aedynbrooks)

Sweet Revenge, Grave Intentions, Book 4, will be released in December 2021, is a paranormal romance. It’s Amazing Race meets Chopped (two of my favorite competition reality TV shows). The two main characters, Keller and Wyatt, married because it was a requirement for the competition—fully intending to divorce once the show’s over. This season’s theme is Line of Duty and Line Cooks. Keller works as a line cook at her grandma’s restaurant and has other paranormal gifts she keeps under wraps as much as possible. Wyatt is a Navy SEAL who has two weeks left on his service agreement before he taps out and opens his own auto body shop. All Wyatt needs to do is keep Keller safe from the serial killer that escaped from prison who is set on seeking revenge. If they win the competition, they split the million-dollar prize. This month’s A Muse Bouche Review theme is food, so I wanted to share Keller and Wyatt’s first cooking session for the show Hometown Advantage.

An hour remained on the clock of their two-hour competition to present an appetizer, an entrée, and a dessert.

Wyatt stood at military rest, hands clasped behind his back, feet spread apart before three world-renowned chefs. They eyed their plates, then him with skepticism. Good thing he’d stood in front of plenty of superiors and held his shit together.

Wyatt cleared his throat. “We made some salmon on toast.”

“Wyatt.” Keller dropped a plate onto the counter, causing such a loud clatter that everyone stopped and looked at her, including Wyatt.

He burst out laughing. The judges appeared to like his barb, joining in on his laughter.

“She’s a bit tense.” He hooked his thumb over his shoulder. “Thought I’d lighten the mood.” He glanced over his shoulder again.

Keller wiped her brow with the back of her wrist.

Wyatt turned back to the judges. “Our appetizer is garlic-flavored olive oil rubbed bruschetta and smoked salmon over herb aioli, with a sprig of dill. I hope y’all enjoy.” He waited for the show’s director to nod to see if he’d need to do the explanation again, before walking away.

The director ordered the different camera operators as the judges provided their feedback as they ate. There were plenty of camera crew members filming the contestants under the hot lights.

Wyatt returned to their cooking station. They were the last team to present their appetizer and he had a feeling they were running behind. Keller had insisted they get their cake in the oven first before sending out the appetizer. He did as he promised and followed orders. It killed him to watch team after team head over to the judges. He liked coming in first, being in last place went against his entire mindset.

“Do you know how to make a nautical star?” Keller piped dark chocolate on white plates. When he didn’t respond, she shook her head. “Never mind. Take the asparagus and snap off the woody end.”

Wyatt headed for the place on their counter where she’d stacked all of their washed vegetables.

Isaac and Trendie were at the station next to theirs. They worked well in tandem. Isaac didn’t need to wait for instructions. He knew what his tasks were and executed them with ease.

Oh man, he was a handicap. No wonder Keller was so nervous.

Trendie’s frantic voice rang above the din of pots and pans, clanging in the background. “Where are the lemons?” She lifted several bowls.

Wyatt stared at their large pile of lemons. The assistants who set up the groceries might have got theirs mixed in with someone else’s. “Sugar?”

Keller bit her bottom lip, carefully piping the chocolate onto the plates. “Yes?”

“How many lemons do we need?”

“At least four, five to make sure.”

“We have ten.”

“No, we don’t. I didn’t buy ten lemons.” She stopped piping.

“You have our lemons.” Trendie headed toward their station.

“We must have gotten things mixed up from the grocery store.” Wyatt stepped back as Trendie invaded their counter. “Take what you need.”

“Wyatt.” Keller’s tone edged on feral. “I bought five lemons.”

Trendie plucked some from their pile and headed back to their station.

“Put it behind you, Kel.” He winked. “Get your head in the game.”

Townsend’s voice rose above the chaos. “Fifty minutes.”

Wyatt ran to the ovens and checked on their cakes. Keller had already instructed him to put a toothpick in the middle and see if it came out clean. The batter was still raw. He checked the temperature. “Kel, what’s the temperature supposed to be?”


Wyatt turned the dial and glared at the other contestants. “Someone turned the heat down on our oven.”

“Doesn’t matter.” Keller shook her head. “Our cakes are still going to taste awesome.”

Wyatt arrived at their station, grabbing the asparagus. What did she say? Snap off the woody end. Which one was the woody end? Didn’t look like any wood he’d ever seen. Damn, he needed to do a crash course in cooking techniques. “Sugar, which one’s the woody end?”

“Snap it.”

He grabbed a spear and bent it. It snapped at the wider, whiter end. “Hm.” He repeated with each spear. “Now what?”

“Sprinkle with olive oil, lightly salt and pepper, then wrap a set of three spears tightly in prosciutto.” He liked her emphasis on saying the Italian word like a true Italian.
Once Wyatt finished, he interrupted her again. “Do we bake them?”

“Not yet.” She finished piping the stars with white and milk chocolate. They looked amazing. “I need you to put these plates in the refrigerator and check on the cakes.”

He returned a few moments later. “They’re almost done. Now what?”

“Melt some butter.”

Keller lowered a couple of the lobsters into the salted boiling water. “Can you go through the crab meat one last time and make sure there aren’t any shells?”

“How long do the lobsters cook?” Wyatt clicked on his watch.

“Seven minutes.”

He set his watch’s timer. He was a fish out of water. Setting a timer was simple, but cook? Put ingredients together and present them? This was far harder than he’d anticipated. He’d learned to barbeque and toss a bag of greens on the side, but cook? Nope. He counted on restaurants, fast food, and the mess hall. Cooking wasn’t something he’d ever done. He wasn’t allowed in the kitchen growing up. Mama said he was underfoot and about to be trampled. He understood the warning and stayed out of the way and enjoyed the bounty. He hadn’t thought much of how food was prepared to get on the table. It magically appeared and he loved it that way.

Keller was so focused. He hated to keep interrupting her, but it was better that he not have idol hands with the clock ticking down. He wished he could give her some hope that he wasn’t a total failure. “Can you give me some sugar?”

She placed the lid on the lobster. “You don’t need sugar.”

He lowered his voice. “Come here.” He looked her straight in the eye and wrapped an arm around her waist. “Are you having fun?”

“I’m concentrating.”

He leaned in and bussed her lips. “We got this.”

“We’re behind.” She pulled away, heading toward the ovens, and returned with the sheet cakes. “Hot, coming through.” She placed them on the end of the counter. “Separate a dozen eggs.”

“Six in one bowl, six in another?”

She clenched her hands and her whole body shook as she took a shaky breath. “Go get five, white, square dinner plates, please.”

Why did he get the feeling he’d failed to understand a simple command? “Kel.”

Her tear-filled eyes slanted to him and her lips were in a firm line. “I’ve got to make the sauce.”

He returned with the five black plates. “They were out of white.”

Her mouth flopped open as she gasped on a sharp intake of air. She looked at the other stations and twisted her lips in a disapproving frown. Wyatt followed her gaze. Ken and Barbie had stacked several plates on the end of their station. “Black will be fine.”

She cracked the last egg, using the shell to put the whites in one bowl, the yolks in another. Ah, so that’s what she meant by separating the eggs. Yet, he was thankful she hadn’t said anything to demean or ridicule him. She gave him simple tasks. A glorified gopher. They needed to spend some time tonight going over some basic cooking terms.

The timer on his watch went off. Without being asked, he took the lid off of the lobster pot and pulled the cooked ones free, lowered the next two in, and reset his timer. “Want me to clean the lobster?”

“Yeah. Oh crap. We need to get the crab cakes on.” She stopped what she was doing, pulled out a pan and put a healthy layer of vegetable oil in, then added a stick of butter.

This wasn’t a lean meal. 

Townsend Gray, Hometown Advantage’s host stood in front of the judges. “We have one extra judge joining us for the main course and dessert. Please help me welcome popstar Wicked Temptation.”

Wyatt grabbed Keller’s arm. “Wicked Temptation? I’ve been a fan of hers since forever.”

Keller clapped as the staff made room for the new judge.

Damn, she was prettier in person than her album covers and music videos. She wasn’t wearing her usual thick eyeliner but looked damn near innocent and fragile with her pale skin and platinum blonde hair pulled back in a slick ponytail.

Townsend welcomed Wicked. “Anything you’d like in particular for tonight’s dinner?”

Wicked’s soft, sexy, sultry voice filled the room. “Hello, everyone. I’m excited to be here. I’m a pescatarian and I’m allergic to garlic.”
What the? Wyatt stared at Keller.

She smirked. “I anticipated this. That’s why I made pasta. It should be ready to roll. I already grabbed a pasta roller. It’s under the counter.”

Keller was the queen of her battlefield. He had a whole new respect for her planning skills. Contingency plan specialist needed to be on her resume.
Barbie ran by their station. “They’re out of pasta rollers.” She eyed theirs. Wyatt employed the vise that gripped it to the counter. “Can I have that?”
“Sure, after we’re done.”

Barbie didn’t like the answer.

Why did Wyatt get a feeling they were going to sabotage them if they could? Had she or Ken turned down their oven?

Wyatt took the pasta dough out of the bowl.

Barbie didn’t move. She crossed her arms and stared.

“I can bring it to you when I’m done.” Hell, he was nervous enough as it was. He didn’t need the beauty staring while he rolled dough for the first time.
“Get out of my kitchen.” Keller’s growl was loud and left no room for argument. “You’re bothering my assistant.”

Barbie opened her mouth to speak.

“Or we’ll offer the pasta roller to every other team before we give it to you.”

Barbie unfolded her arms, and her lips twisted in a grimace. She splayed her fingers, indenting her hand in the middle of one of their baked sheet cakes and slid it off the counter.

Wyatt moved fast enough to grab the edge, but not before half of the contents splatted onto the floor.

Barbie huffed and stomped back to her station.

Keller placed their chilled crab patties into the hot oil, splattering a bit.

“Ignore her.” Wyatt righted the half-emptied sheet tray onto the counter. “Sorry, Sugar.”

“It’s okay. I’ll think of plan B.”

He could tell she was falling apart inside, but she kept up a brave front, and damn, he was proud.

# # #

Keller died a little inside. She hadn’t anticipated someone with Barbie’s mean-spiritedness. It was all for ratings, right? It was critical she keep her temper in check. When the show aired, she didn’t want to appear as a pushover, but at the same time, she didn’t want to come across as a raving bitch either.

Thank God she’d anticipated a vegetarian requirement. No garlic. Now, that posed a momentary problem. Keller placed more crab patties into the hot oil.

Wyatt’s timer chimed. He swapped out the last two lobsters. Other teams had used their burners for more than one pot of boiled lobster. Keller knew they had enough time to cook them in stages. Either way, it took time to clean them. At least Wyatt knew how to devein and remove the poop tube without supervision.
Now she needed to take five seconds she didn’t have to teach him how to roll pasta.

Townsend’s voice boomed across the room. “Forty minutes.”

Shit. They weren’t going to make it.

“Take a deep breath. We’re almost done.”

She floured the counter. “I’m going to give you a crash course in rolling pasta.” She explained how the roller worked.

“Let’s divide the dough into halves. One half will be for our vegetarian medley.”

His eyes widened.

“We’re making ravioli. All we need is one long continuous piece of pasta. You played with Play-Doh, right?”

Wyatt nodded.

“Same principle. Keep putting the dough through the roller, making it thinner each time, until it’s about an eighth of an inch thick.”

She threw together additional chopped vegetables doused with vegetable oil on a separate cookie sheet. Keller ran the asparagus and veggie trays to the oven.  When she returned to their station, she flipped the crab cakes.

Wyatt rolled pasta like a pro.

She took a deep breath before committing to the hollandaise sauce. Once she started stirring, she wasn’t going to be able to let up until it was finished. “Wyatt, can you put the sheet cakes in the blast chiller for five minutes?”

“Copy that.”

She was thankful he did what was asked without question. He could accomplish simple tasks that would have stolen precious time.

Once the hollandaise was finished, she began plating the main course. Wyatt pulled out the last two lobsters and turned off the burner.
“The crab cakes should be done. Put some paper towels on a cookie sheet and put them on there—it’ll absorb some of the extra oil.” Keller spread out the plates. “Crap! I forgot about the vegetables. Can you put them in the oven–I’ve already turned the temp to 450, and grab the cakes from the blast chiller?”

Wyatt took off running.

Ken sauntered to their station in Wyatt’s absence. “We need the pasta roller now.” He started to unclamp the device.

Wyatt’s threatening tone broke through her concentration. “Keep your mitts off of the pasta roller.”

“You’re done.”

“I’ll tell you when I’m done.”

Wyatt placed the cakes at the end of the counter. He took one deep breath, his chest expanding another six inches, straining the Navy SEAL t-shirt he wore. “We said we’d bring it to you when we’re done.” He stepped so close to Ken that he leaned back, keeping his greedy hand on the roller.

Wyatt placed his hand over Ken’s. He lowered his head and glared.

Keller hoped he never looked at her like that.

Wyatt’s tone edged near terrifying. “Cold day in fucking hell you’ll get this now. Your wife ruined that opportunity when she destroyed our cake. Better learn to play with the big dogs. Otherwise, you’ll be left on the curb.”

Ken wouldn’t move. “You’re bullying me about the pasta roller?”

“Bullying?” Wyatt’s incredulous tone raised fifty decibels, grabbing the attention of judges and contestants alike. “Asswipe, you came into my kitchen, trying to steal our roller. Go fuck yourself and get the hell out of my station. Now!”

“Wyatt.” Keller tried to cool the situation. He wouldn’t look at her. “Viper.” Using his SEAL name got his attention. “Get the veggies.”

“Not until he gets his sorry, manipulating, victimizing ass out of our kitchen.”

Keller cringed. How many bleeps was that?

Wyatt looked over Ken’s shoulder. “Isaac? You need the pasta roller?”

A wide smile broke over Isaac’s lips. A silent bro-code translated in one nod. “Hey, man, that’d be great.”

Ken tried to yank the roller from underneath Wyatt’s grasp and lost. “You’re going to regret this.”

“Are you threatening me? My wife? You come after my wife and I’ll—”

“Babycakes. Veggies. Now.”

He half-smiled, cocking a brow. “Babycakes?” He glared at Ken. “Get your mother ‘effing hand off the roller.”

Ken yanked his hand free. “You’re going down.”

Wyatt laughed in his face. “Not on my watch, pretty boy.”

“I’m one of New York’s finest.”

“Well, you sure as hell ain’t acting fine today.”

Keller elbowed her way between the men, grabbing the oven mitts. Her wrists ached from making the hollandaise. She returned to the kitchen in time to see Mr. Machismo strut over to Isaac. The two of them laughed as Wyatt placed the pasta roller onto Isaac and Trendie’s counter before heading back.

“We don’t have time for arguing.” Keller’s hands shook as she removed the ravioli from the boiling water, placing three on each plate. “We’ll plate Wicked’s meal first. That way, it won’t be contaminated by any garlic that are part of the other dishes.”

Wyatt followed behind her with the lobster tails. She scooted around him and plated the crab cakes, and Wyatt finished with the asparagus while she added the vegetable medley on Wicked’s plate. The meal would look better on white plates, but no, Ken and Barbie had to be selfish.

One final swipe with a towel around the edges to make sure everything was clean before Keller nodded to the wait staff for service. They were the last team in putting their entrée before the judges. It was okay, she told herself. They had twenty minutes to finish assembling their dessert. Damn, she hoped they’d make it.

“Sorry, Sugar.”  Wyatt leaned in and kissed her cheek. “No one threatens my family.”

She couldn’t help but smile. Fake marriage or not, he was a great ally in the trenches. “Thank you, baby.”

“I need you to start cutting circles from the sheet cakes.” She handed him a cookie cutter. “I need enough for three circles for each plate.” She handed him a serrated-edged knife. “If we don’t have enough”—her eye wandered to her half-destroyed cake— “you’ll need to cut the circles in half. Okay?”

Wyatt wrapped his arm around her waist, hauled her hard against his body, and slanted his mouth over hers, suckling her bottom lip like it was a chocolate-covered strawberry.

She’d married Tarzan. All that was missing was “You, Jane” and a loin cloth.

He set her feet on the floor. Keller struggled to get her bearings. Damn, his kisses were so passionate. What else could he do with that tongue?
She took a deep breath and followed the wait staff to the judge’s table. She had to describe her dish. What the hell had she made?
An assistant stepped forward with a placard. “Boston. Sweet Venom. Entrée. Take one.” Snap.

Her voice shook. “Hello, I’m the sweet part of Sweet Venom.”

“Oh, I like that for a team name.” Wicked, the platinum-record singer wiggled her eyebrows. Keller hadn’t ever been a fan of the rock star, but in person, she had charisma.

“Thank you.” Keller’s attention focused on the three distinguished judges who had palates that should be insured.

Michelin winner Aaron Miller peered over his black-framed glasses, his bald head gleaming under the hot lights. Chastity Zane had six restaurants with a menu to die for. Keller had eaten at the one in Seattle. Last was snooty, never-liked-a-damned-thing Pizall Sans. Piss-all is what Keller called him at home. She closed her eyes and secured a mental barrier. She was going to need nerves of steel as she accepted their criticism.

Pizall was the first to speak. “Nice plating.”

Keller held her breath. Usually, he started with a bland compliment and then stung on the backend like a scorpion.

“The black’s a stark backdrop to the red lobster and crab. Though with the asparagus, it looks like Christmas in May.”

There was the zinger. “I-I’ve.” Keller steadied her nerves. “I mean, we’ve”—she glanced over her shoulder to Wyatt—“made a lobster with hollandaise, crab cakes, vegetable medley ravioli with brown-butter sauce, and prosciutto-wrapped asparagus.” They’d run out of time to make the cheese filling she’d planned for the ravioli. It was better to have a finely diced vegetable and minced tofu filling. It didn’t taste bad, but Keller knew the meat-loving judges would forego the compliments on the tofu mixture. She’d substituted oregano and rosemary for the garlic, but she was afraid it was going to be a bit bland.

Keller focused on Wicked. “I also lightly salted and peppered the vegetables. No garlic came in contact with your plate, nor the food.”

“Thank you. I appreciate that.” Wicked’s gaze shifted to Wyatt. Yeah, I’m married to a tall drink of handsome, hunky water. “I noticed your husband doesn’t do a lot of the cooking.”

“We’ve had a long-distance relationship and were married a few days ago. We’ve never cooked together.”

“Congratulations,” Aaron Miller said, slicing off a bite of crab cake. “The ravioli’s a bit thick, but otherwise, not bad.”

Dammit, she’d forgot to check the thickness of the pasta. “Yes, chef.” She’d had too many other things on her mind. “If you would please excuse me, I need to finish your dessert before we’re out of time.” She glanced at the director, who nodded that she could leave.

“Can’t wait.” Wicked took a bite of the ravioli. “Tofu? Wow. I love tofu.”

She likes my food? “Thank you.” Keller’s ego inflated, giving her a much-needed boost of confidence. She zipped to the refrigerator and grabbed her custard filling for the Boston cream pie.

Keller placed the custard on the counter and returned to the fridge to grab their plates. She found four of them. “Wyatt, where’s the fifth plate?” There were four plates for the judges and one for the camera that Townsend would sample. He was the silent non-voting judge but could also weigh in if the judges couldn’t come to a consensus.
“In the fridge with the rest of them.”

Cold reality sent a chill through her. “Someone stole one of our plates.”

“Oh, here it is.” Barbie held up their plate. “I needed a template to make ours.”

Was she serious? 

Barbie began to hand her the plate but pulled back at the last second. She licked the entire length of the chocolatey surface.

“Wow.” Keller shook her head. “Classy.” She yanked the plate out of Barbie’s hand and tossed it in the dish bin. “You have a little something.” Keller pointed to a spot under her own lip.

Barbie dabbed at her chin, smearing the chocolate further.

“Looks like someone shit on their chin,” Wyatt muttered under his breath.

Keller’s eyes widened, and she bit back a laugh. Sailor mouth to the rescue.

Wyatt grabbed the piping bags from underneath the counter. “I’ll make another.”  He left to grab another plate and returned with a square one. “Sorry, no round ones left.”
Tears bit the back of her eyes. They didn’t have time. “It’ll do.” She squeezed his arm. “Thank you.”

“By the way, the lobster’s fantastic.”

At least her future ex-husband liked her cooking. “I’m glad you liked it.”

Wyatt eyed a cameraman coming in closer. “If I ever go to bed hungry, it’s my own damn fault.”

Keller didn’t dare look at the judges. She needed to finish strong. She placed the first layer of cake in the middle of the nautical stars, doused the spongey goodness with rum, smeared on a layer of custard, and added sliced almonds. After two layers were completed, she covered the top in a decadent ganache. It was more of a Boston cream pie cake-ette than one large dessert with each of the judges enjoying a slice.

The other teams were putting their desserts forward. They’d all made one large cake. Would making hers individual sized set hers apart, or would the judges think she was trying to conceal mistakes?

Wyatt finished making the nautical star, and she immediately assembled the final plate.

“I’ll be right back.” He took off running toward the fridge.

Townsend stood in front of their station. “Five minutes.”

Damn, she didn’t need the distraction. Keller’s hand shook as she placed the first round on the last plate Wyatt had piped. He’d done a nice job in making the star. “Hi, Townsend.” She smiled at the host.

“You’ve been targeted by the Piscapelli’s today.”

“Who?” Keller frowned.

“Darren and Katya Piscapelli.”

Keller followed Townsend’s gaze. “Oh, Ken and Barbie.”

Isaac’s baritone laughter rumbled through the studio. He had a contagious laugh. He was the one who’d come up with the Ken and Barbie nickname for the annoying couple.

Townsend smiled but had the good graces not to laugh. “What did you do to make them single you out?”

She almost forgot to layer rum trying to think of a clever answer. “Some people don’t need an excuse to be mean. Some people think diminishing others or being indignant makes them superior. It doesn’t.” Wyatt returned with a half tray of white chocolate old-fashioned nautical steering wheels. “Those are beautiful.”
“I thought this is what you meant when you asked me what a nautical wheel looked like. I thought they’d look good on top of the cake.”

Keller stopped and stared at Wyatt. He was trying hard to please her and doing his best to contribute. “They’re beautiful, honey.” She leaned forward. “Give me some sugar.”

He cupped her chin and placed a gentle peck to her lips. His smile said it all. He was happy if she was happy. An odd sensation bubbled in her veins. Teamwork wasn’t half bad. Not when your better half wanted what you wanted.

“Thirty seconds,” Townsend interrupted. “For having a long-distance relationship, you two are truly in love.”

“She’s a trooper to put up with me.” Wyatt wrapped an arm around her waist. “I can’t imagine being married to anyone else at the moment.”

Nice spin on the facts. At least he didn’t lie. She poured ganache over the top layer as Wyatt secured the final decoration.

“Time!” Townsend yelled.

They’d finished before the buzzer. That’s all that mattered. Now she could relax and pray they didn’t get sent home. Ken and Barbie should go home. America would be rooting against them. However, networks had a way of hanging onto bad eggs for ratings. God, how she hoped she didn’t have to keep competing against them.
If they did, she might have to call her spirit guide, Chief Keokuk, for some help.

AMBR Team Showcase: August 2021

Dead Reckoning, Grave Intentions, Book 1 by Aedyn Brooks

Ready or Not, Grave Intentions, Book 2 by Aedyn Brooks

Devil’s Due, Grave Intentions, Book 3 by Aedyn Brooks – August 2021

Book 1 of the Outdoorsman Series, by Renée Gendron to be released October 14, 2021

Seven Points of Contact, by Renée Gendron to be released fall/winter 2021-2022

Heads and Tales A supernatural / mythological anthology. Renée Gendron contributed a historical, supernatural, romance. Amazon.

A Law of Constants by A.P. Miller is available on Amazon
Beneath The Twin Suns An Anthology, edited by https://reneegendron.com/james-and-mirabelleRenée Gendron, available now. Find the link to your Amazon here.

Days of the Phoenix by A.P. Miller is available on Amazon

Dead Reckoning: Grave Intentions, Book 1 by Aedyn Brooks is available on Amazon

Duel Visions by Misha Burnett and Louise Sorensen is available on Amazon

Heartened by Crime from Renée Gendron is available now.

In The Red Room : A crime anthology with heart Edited by Renée Gendron is available now.

Judith’s Prophecy, a Supernatural Thriller by D.W. Hitz is available from Evolved Publishing
– Also book 2 and 3 are available + check for it now on audiobook

They Stole the Earth! A Middle Grade Sci-Fi Adventure by D.W. Hitz is available from Fedowar Press
– Now available on audiobook!