Featured Excerpts - J.Morgan
Bite The One You're With
"I'm going to be Paula Deen!"
Oops, did I say out loud? Considering all the strange looks aimed my way, I would have had to say yes. But, my excitement was understandable. Still, it might have been a good idea to hold some of in until I got off the sidewalk and into my restaurant, The Southern Bistro. Who would have thought Megan Marshall, daughter to one of the greatest Vampire Slayers of all time, could find a life outside the family business? Not only had I made my own way, but now I was on the verge of becoming a superstar! That last bit might be jumping the gun. Still, thanks to a lot of hard work on my part and even more time spent slaving over a hot stove, I had just landed a television contract to become the newest star on the Culinary Channel. In one short month, Megan's Mouthful would hit the air, and all my dreams would finally come true.
Not too shabby for a girl from New Orleans with nothing more than a long standing family history of mindless violence directed at creatures the rest of the world thought imaginary to fall back on. Honestly, it was a wonder my dad hadn't pressed the issue when I told him I didn't want to hunt Vampires for a living. He just nodded and asked what my plans were. Like I knew. I just didn't want to be a Slayer. I had the greatest dad in the world! When it was clear I'd never be Slayer material, he didn't say a word. He let me drop out of St. Vlad's and transfer to St. Catherine's. Same Catholic prison, just a different curriculum. Dad didn't even balk after graduation when I explained how my dream had always been to become a famous chef. Well, he did balk a little. Before he let me run off to the Culinary Institute, he made me take a two year course in accounting, so I'd know how to run a business once I finished cooking school. Smart of him, once I thought about it. Without those two years, I wouldn't have had a clue how to run a restaurant to make it profitable.
Considering my generous plus size, that involved a good deal of sampling of my own cooking. Since Dad had been eating my meals after Mom died, he couldn't very well have said I didn't have talent. Not that he would, he was all about letting us kids follow the path God put in front of us. Besides, he already had my brother, Kristain, and sister, Savannah, following in his footsteps. So, I was free to venture forth without a guilty conscience. It came as no surprise when my sister, Pam, did the same two years later. Of course, I wouldn't have considered becoming an accountant a fun way to while away the years, but to each her own. Dad had been big on accounting for some reason. Pam took to accounting like a duck to water. Maybe because she loved the stability that numbers represented, or she was just really really anal. My money was on the second one I'd never been much for the whole running around in the dark and stabbing stuff anyway.
Now, Savannah... She was all about it. Even when we were little kids, she'd have her Barbie shoving toothpicks in every Ken in the house, even those that didn't belong to her. Namely, mine. It was kind of hard to explain to your friends why all your Ken's looked like voodoo dolls. As if the other kids didn't think we were weird already. Just thinking about those days gave me a dose of homesickness I hadn't felt in years. With the exception of Pammie, I hadn't talked to my other siblings in over a year. Dad either, for matter. In a normal family that might have sounded strange, but we weren't a normal family.
There was no telling where my sibs were. St. Vlad's could have them stationed anywhere in the world. In fact, the last time I'd heard from Savannah had been when she called to tell me she graduated to full Slayer status. That had to have been close to a year ago. Like I said, we really weren't big on keeping in touch. To be honest with myself, I hadn't had anything exciting to call her about. Who wanted to compete with slaying Vampires for conversation topics? I didn't for one. Then again, she had a nasty habit of rambling on about anything and everything. I loved her but much ado about nothing got on my nerves after the first half hour or so. Still, it felt kind of lonely to have no one to share my good news with.
Sure, I had my assistant Rhea to go "yippie!" with, but it wasn't the same as family. Let's not even go into the nonexistent men in my life. In my own defense, working twelve, sometimes sixteen, hour days wasn't conducive to having a prolonged relationship with anyone. Well, me and Dove chocolate did have a long standing thing going on, as could be testified to by my expanding-- Never mind, my what. I refused to even discuss my sizes with myself, let alone in the confines of a public forum.
Now, I finally had something to call them in my giddy voice about. Thanks to the work of my amazing agent, Steph, all those long hours had finally paid off. After multiple meetings quite frankly made me grateful for triple shot espressos, I'd just signed a four year exclusive contract with the Culinary Channel, which would see me in every cable household in America. The thought made my insides do a triple back flip. A scared crapless one, to be perfectly honest. My little cooking show up to this point had been just...little. Sure, my audience share had increased so much over the last two years Megan's Mouthful dominated its Saturday morning time slot. Six months ago I got bumped to an evening spot right after the weekend news and won that time slot, too. At first I figured I was up against a kajillion repeats of Criminal Minds and NCIS, so why shouldn't I have beat them out. How was I to know nobody did. Well, Paula Deen might, but not a nobody like Megan Marshall. Well, she -- I mean I -- wasn't going to be a nobody for much longer.
I certainly never expected to become anything other than not a slayer. My love of food and cooking in general finally led to me becoming a chef. Dad wanted me closer to New Orleans, but I wanted to stretch my wings. Saying Dad was overprotective was putting it mildly. We compromised. Instead of going to France, I settled for the Houston Culinary Institute. Settled might not be the best word, because the education I received gave me everything it took to get the job that led to Megan's Mouthful. Sandy hired me right out of school and five years later I signed the papers on The Southern Bistro, located on Procter St. in scenic downtown Port Arthur. It was right down from the Museum of the Gulf Coast, housing one of the best Janis Joplin exhibits ever. If you wanted to get right down to it, Janis could be called my guardian angel. One night after a gala at the museum, fate stepped through my door. Fate or the general manager of KVMP Channel 13, it had been one of those things. Whoever claimed responsibility, all it took was one forkful of my Crawfish Acadian with a dash of my own sparkling personality, and I found myself hosting a ten minute segment on Waking Up with Jack and June. That led to my own show a few months later. As one reviewer said, Megan Marshall breathes new life into cooking and eating. His words, not mine. The rest happened so fast, I'm not even sure how this snowball finished rolling with me jumping for joy.
Luckily, I spotted the SoBis, my nickname for the restaurant, just ahead. The way my toes were tingling, I felt a leap seconds away. The place was doing a fair bit of jumping itself, like I expected any less during our supper rush. One sight of crowd, and I knew I wanted to keep this perfect moment to myself for a little while longer before sharing it with anyone, even Rhea. Even with the yippie strangling me from the inside out, a part of me was afraid if I opened my mouth, this might all dissolve into a dream. So, I felt justified in cultivating that irrational fear.
Besides, I couldn't resist the sunset blooming over Sabine Lake. All the pinks and oranges soothed me on a subconscious level I couldn't explain. Maybe it was my Slayer blood asserting itself, but I truly did love this time of day. A warm breeze ruffled my hair as it swept past me to assault the city. I pushed a wayward clump of my naturally unruly ginger hair out of my face. Unlike my siblings, who somehow inherited my mom's blond disposition, I'd been the victim of my dad's mother's red hair. I couldn't even call it strawberry blond. Nope, red as red can be. I hated it growing up, but grew into loving it, especially when I found out how much Savannah despised me for having it when she was plain old blond. I realized if my gorgeous little sis wanted to be like me, then maybe I should stop wanting to be more like her. Plus, I had to admit I was pretty awesome in my own right.
Pushing my glasses back where they belonged from where they'd slipped to the tip of my nose, where they habitually thought they needed to stay, I took one last look at the dwindling sunset. In spite of the sweltering humidity, a cold chill ran up my arms. I hugged them close, giving them a good rub to get the circulation flowing. It would be just my luck to be coming down with a cold right before I had to catch a flight to New York for a meeting with the brass at TCC. The contract was already signed, but I didn't want to sneeze half of Texas ragweed all over them. It might be off-putting and painted a negative image of me in their eyes.
Shitake mushrooms! I still needed to give Rhea the good news and see if she could handle things at the SoBis until I got back. Sure, we'd already discussed the possibility she might need to hold down the fort, and it wouldn't be the first time. In all likelihood, once the show got underway, Rhea would be more or less running things when shooting got started. The contract called for a thirteen episode run initially, with more shows if the ratings warranted it. I hadalready decided to think positive. Not picking out million dollar homes positive.
Still, I did envision paying off my credit cards and the Bistro, so one could say I was realistically optimistic about all this. To make even that possible, I had to stop daydreaming about sunsets and get my booty inside.
"Well?" a familiar voice demanded behind me.
Keeping my expression neutral, I turned to face my best friend. Unlike me, Rhea’s hair was perfectly coiffed. I'd give anything for mine to do that. Ginger equaled frizzy as all get out in this humidity. Maybe it was because we were the same height, just this side of Hobbit, but her eyes bore through me from under her scrunched up brow. Impressive, considering she managed it from behind a pair of glasses that wouldn't have dared slip down her nose. They knew better.
You would have thought her sparkling personality would negate the irk written all over her face. She flicked a finger against her chocolate cheek. A move I knew she normally reserved for her daughters when they got on her bad side. That wasn't too often. I'd only seen her go ballistic once, and it had cured me of wanting to do it myself. We were the same body type, so I knew she could take me easily. Then again, if she had been a size six, I knew she could have twisted me into a tiny knot and threw me into the nearest trash can. All five foot three of her was that scary.
I had let her stew long enough. "I'm going to be Paula Deen!"
She let out a whoop and threw her arms around me. "I knew it. I did a reading this morning and it said the fates had conspired to throw fortune your way."
Her arms squeezed me so tightly I couldn't tell her my opinion about her cards. Besides, I wouldn't. It wasn't that I believed in her faith in tarot cards and all that hooey. I didn't. I might have grown up in New Orleans, but that didn't mean I got wrapped up in all the mystical side of the city.
For one thing, I might as well have been raised in a convent. We had been thrown into it. Vlad's by Dad after Momma passed away, and they locked the door behind us. It could be called strange I knew for a fact Vampires existed but dismissed the possibility Voodoo actually worked. The only problem I had with it was her and her cards tended to be right most of the time. Like me, Rhea was a product of Louisiana. She found her way to Texas before her husband Willard passed away. Instead of going back home, she decided to stay in Port Arthur so her girls wouldn't have to leave the only home they'd ever known. Of course that didn't stop her from running up the SoBis' phone bill up talking to her sister Ophelia. She was the reason I got unlimited long distance. Believe me, doing it saved me a bundle. I just hoped she'd take the news I'd be leaving for New York City in two days, and she'd be in charge of the restaurant, without throwing a hissy. Ophelia's daughter, Dela, was due to give birth any day now. Rhea planned to be there with bells on. As much as I wanted this show, I wasn't about to deny my friend the chance to be there for her sister. Well, we'd cross that bridge when we came to it. For now, we needed to get inside before all these skeeters sucked us dry.
"You can let me go now." I wiggled in her arms. "Before you squeeze the life out of me."
She pushed me back while keeping a grip on my arms. "I'm just so happy for you. You've worked hard for this and if anyone deserves this, you do."
"I love you too, Rhay Rhay." I gave her a quick hug. "Let's get inside, and I'll tell you all about it."
"You don't have to invite me to dinner twice. I swear if I feed one more skeeter, I'm going to need a transfusion just to make it through the night." She guided me toward the door.
If she only knew there were things out there that make mosquitoes seem like ladybugs in comparison. Knowing the truth about the world was one of the downsides of coming from a Vampire slaying family. It was a wonder I ever left the house without putting crosses around my neck with a felt tip marker. Doing that had already earned me a nasty nickname in grade school. I saw no reason to revisit the humiliation now. Walking through the doors, I had another type waiting for me.
"Surprise!" That was yelled by more people I, in all likelihood, knew.
The banner pronouncing "Megan, our Paula Deen!" clued me in Rhay Rhay had already known and all that business outside was just to keep me occupied while they finished putting together this party by ambush. Instead of being mad, I did what I always do. I turned five shades of red and willed myself to shrink as small as I could manage without actually being able to do it.
Now, Savannah would have dealt with it like the belle of the ball she was. It amazed me how I could go in front of a camera with an audience not twenty feet away from me and be fine. A crowd of people, I saw almost on a daily basis, shouting my name like I was a Roman gladiator made me want to run and hide. I wished someone would tell me how that made any sense? It didn't and more than anything let me know maybe this cooking star business wasn't for me. The only thing stopping me from doing a skip was Rhay Rhay's hands holding me in place with an iron grip.
"Don't be afraid, Megan. These are your friends." Oh how that woman knew me. "Think of it as training for all those adoring fans in your future."
Like that helped the butterflies doing back flips in my tummy. Still, I couldn't very well let down my friends. They'd gone to a lot of trouble to make this day extra special for me. I put on my happy face and waved. "Thanks, guys! You shouldn't have."
A chorus of "yes, we did" rocked me back on my sensible heels.
The door to the kitchen swung open. Taryn, Rhea's oldest daughter, came walking through with a cupcake-laden tray grasped in her hands. I spied my absolute favorites sitting front and center. Butter cream frosting and red velvet cupcakes were the bane of my existence and my expanding waist line. Oh, there went my diet!
Taryn came to a stop right in front of me. "Congrats, and yes we should have. You're the best, and it's high time the rest of the world knew it."
I loved that girl. Not only did she always know the right thing to say, but had the makings of a damn fine sous chef. After hanging around the SoBis since before she hit puberty, I guessed I shouldn't have been surprised when she decided to go to the Culinary Institute. In her last year, she helped out during breaks and on the weekends. She was good, too. I just hoped when she graduated I could convince her to stay in Port Arthur. Every chef needed an heir apparent. She might not know it, but Taryn was mine.
"Quit that before you make me blush." Even brighter than the one I already had plastered across my face. I snagged a cupcake, praying it hid the worst of the pink rising up my cheeks.
"Now, get to passing those around. I'm sure I'm not the only one wanting to taste your masterpieces."
That earned me another round of cheers. I took a bow before motioning for Rhea to follow me back to the office. In spite of the celebration going on around me, I needed to talk to her before her stupid cards clued her in on the more mundane implications of this big move. She plucked an orange cream cuppie from the tray and followed me to the back. Most of the kitchen staff was in the dining area enjoying the good will and cupcakes. I only had to endure a couple pats on the back before I was able to slink into my office.
"You should have stayed for a few minutes at least." Rhea closed the door behind us. "They just wanted to let you know how proud we all are of you."
I wiped a glob of icing from the corner of my mouth, as I sat behind my desk, which had been converted into a tarot card reading table. "I know, but there's a lot we need to go over and I'm not sure how you're going to take some of it."
"You always were the pull the bandage off fast type." She reached over and patted my hand. "Megs, it can't be that bad."
I sucked in a deep breath. "They want me in New York in two days." And there went the bandage.
"Wow, that's quick." She eased back in her seat.
"I know. With your niece ready to pop any day now, I hate leaving you in charge." I pushed my wayward glasses back up and kicked my shoes off under my desk.
"Don't worry your head about that." She waved her hand absently.
"But, I don't want you to miss it." Rhay Rhay had taken it better than I thought she would, and it made me feel guilty as heck.
"Oh, I won't miss it." She sat up. "When Dela goes into labor, I plan to be on the first plane to Louisiana. What I meant was this. Taryn knows everything that needs to be done in the kitchen. You've tainted my daughter so much she has extra virgin olive oil running through her veins instead of blood. Cherish has two years of business management under her belt and has been helping me run things all summer. With a little coaching, she can handle the daily receipts and paying vendors. Little did you know when you hired me you hired me on the family plan."
"No, I didn't." I let that breath out finally. She was right. The girls were more than capable to run the SoBis. I trusted them to do it, which was the important thing. "Okay, I'll go over the menu with Taryn before I leave and take her on the rounds of the market with me in the morning, so she knows who I deal with when it comes to produce and meats. Since I left the day to day running to you anyway, I'll let you bring Cherish up to speed."
It hit me then I might have lost my real family, but I'd gained a second one with Rhea and her girls. Realizing it made me feel better about not being able to share this with my blood relatives. Of course I still planned to call them later and let them share in my yippie moment. They'd kill me if they saw me on TV and I hadn't told them.
Rhea stood up. "You just stay in here and get things in order. I'm going to go out there and remind everyone this is still a restaurant."
I nodded but had already pulled out my phone. Checking over the dailies and coming up with a list of all the things I needed to go over with Taryn could wait. If I wanted to get a hold of my siblings, I'd have to catch them before they headed out to hunt. Well, if they were still in this hemisphere. With my luck, they were all in Timbuktu, except for Pamela, who I knew would still be at work in California. She taught history at Vanguard University, so I'd catch up with her later on. When Savannah's phone, then Kris', went straight to voicemail, I wasn't surprised. They were always hard to reach. I hastily left them both a message nothing was wrong, just to call me when they got the chance. Dad, on the other hand, shocked me by not picking up. He'd talked to me during firefights before. I left him the same message as I had the others, and set my phone on the desk. Well, that blew my yippie apart.
With nothing else to do, I set about doing the boring bit of my evening. I had to wonder if Paula had dailies, produce inventories and a hunk of other snooze to deal with at the end of the day. Probably, but I bet she had people to bring her enough coffee to get her through the mountain piled on her desk. All I had was a half drunk bottle of Dasani from this morning and a blob of icing I'd missed stuck to my chin. I toyed with yelling for a second on the cupcake but figured one was my limit, even if this was a special occasion.
Rapidly scanning the dailies, I set them to the side to go over the inventory list Taryn had worked up before the evening rush. I managed to look down the first page, when all hell broke loose in the kitchen. The clanging of pans and the sound of dishes slapping the floor brought me to my feet. Rubbing a hole into the migraine blooming in the center of my forehead, I snatched up my phone in case I needed to hit up 911, and threw open the office door.
I would have slammed it shut if what I saw hadn't frozen me in place. A Vampire! A big honking Vampire straight off the cover of a romance novel. Yes, I read them. He stood every bit of six and a half feet tall, every inch of what I could see rippling bronze muscle and stone cold hot. There was an awful lot of it showing, too. A pair of black jeans hugged his hips and molded to his legs, leaving little to the imagination. The jeans were tucked into a pair of buckskin boots that came to his knees. A black leather vest flapped open, revealing a set of abs worthy of the name. I swooned just thinking about popping a quarter off them. He whipped his head around revealing a chiseled face that bespoke a Native American heritage. Long flowing ebony hair danced around his head as my kitchen staff whacked him with ladles and what I could only identify as day old breadsticks. Not very effective in slaying a Vampire, but was amusing as heck to watch. I would have enjoyed the show if I hadn't been afraid one of my people might get hurt. If I'd learned anything from my early education at St. Vlad's it had been to never piss off a Vampire. My kitchen staff was dangerously close to doing just that.
"Stop!" I shouted above the insanity.
Surprisingly, everyone halted in mid-attack. My employees gained a brain and backed away from the hulking undead monster oozing sex all over my kitchen. I wished like crazy for either a stake or a big block of ice. I needed to kill this guy or cool down before I had unsightly sweat stains to deal with. He might be a ghoulish creature of the night, but that didn't mean Iwanted him to know I perspired like a nun in a whorehouse. Especially since he had been theonly man in my kitchen to even remotely make me go weak in the knees in over -- Well, in forever.
"Megan Marshall?" His husky voice melted me in ways I didn't even want to admit to.
"Yes?" Oh that didn't come out all breathless and needy in the least.
He stuck out a hand. "Come with me if you want to live."
If this had been a cheesy porno, they would have called it the Sexinator. That didn't stop me from shoving my hand in his general direction like the inner skanky slut I was.
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