Hi Kelly and welcome to HJ! We’re so excited to chat with you about your new release, Tastes So Sweet!
To start off, can you please tell us a little bit about this book?:
Ryan Landry really only has a couple of things on her mind. One is sending her younger twin sisters off to college successfully (read financially) and the other is excelling at her job: executive manager of the Michelin-star restaurant Everheart Bar and Fine Dining. In her mind, Ryan is an excellent manager. Flynn Everheart got that Michelin star on her watch after all. But Flynn won’t recommend her for the executive management competition she desperately needs to enter so her tuition worries are minimized. She needs his recommendation to enter but he has some strings attached in order to change his mind.
Another wrench thrown into the mix is Ryan’s best friend, Weston Everheart. He’s the restaurant’s pastry chef and Flynn’s son. She learns he wants more – he’s always wanted more – but Ryan’s apprehensive about risking their friendship if a relationship doesn’t work out. There’s also the no-fraternization policy Flynn has in place. If they’re caught, not only will Ryan not get that recommendation, she’ll lose her job.
Will Ryan play it as safe as she always has? Or follow her heart?
Please share your favorite lines or quote(s) from this book:
“What about you, West? What do you want or not want?” My voice is just above a whisper as his touch heats my skin.
He looks up at the ceiling and huffs a breath of air. “I want it all, Ryan. I want us together, in love, forever.”
Blinking back tears, I try to clasp the necklace around my neck, standing in front of the full-length mirror.
Weston must see my struggle, and he steps behind me, then gently removes the chain from my hand and winds it around my neck, trailing light touches of his fingers as he secures the necklace in place. He stares at me in the mirror, then places sweet kisses down the length of my neck, never breaking eye contact.
I knew the Everhearts would be the death of me. I just didn’t realize I’d die of happiness.
What inspired this book?
A few actually. Ryan’s grandfather is very much like my dad. He always had a wonderful garden filled with a variety of vegetables. He would till it by hand and never grew tired of piddling around out there. Ryan’s grandfather is much the same.
This book is also a love letter to Austin. I’ve only lived here 4 years, but my mom was from here and I spent most summers here visiting family. I’ve always loved it but can appreciate it even more as an adult. From the lake to hanging out on the river watching movies on the big screen to the amazing food, I wanted to encapsulate all of that in this book.
How did you ‘get to know’ your main characters? Did they ever surprise you?
Both characters are the softest I’ve ever written. Ryan borders on martyrdom, blaming herself for her parents’ car accident when she was a teenager. It wasn’t her fault, but she’s internalized guilt and the need to take care of her much younger twin sisters. As well as the elderly grandparents who took them in after the accident.
Weston is a classic beta, cinnamon roll hero. He loves freely and is the kindest person anyone in his circle knows. He’s an amazing pastry chef but lacks confidence. Maybe because he’s the middle child or maybe he’s so much like his deceased mother, his father can’t stand to be around him. It really doesn’t matter the reason, because he only chose this profession as a way to honor his mother. As his fan fiction writing turns into a sci-fi novel, that may not be enough to anchor him to the restaurant anymore. Something that surprised me about Weston is that he’s an exhibitionist. I wasn’t expecting that.
To get to know my main characters, I had a head start on Weston since he makes appearances in his brothers’ books. I did a deeper dive on what it can mean to be a middle child. Birth order played a factor for Ryan too which is why she’s ultra-responsible and everyone leans on her.
What was your favorite scene to write?
When Ryan sees Weston in a new light. The first touch where maybe this is something more than friendship.
Jerome comes from the direction of the garage, pushing a wheelbarrow full of bags of ice. “Hey, Ryan.” He sets the cart down and kisses me on the cheek. “When’d you get here?”
“Hey. About five minutes ago. I came straight out here. Where is everyone?”
“Weston’s in the kitchen getting the corn together to bring out. That fire is roaring.”
Somehow I missed the huge barbecue pit blazing with sky-high flames. If you could call it a pit. It’s more like the hearth at the restaurant. “Wow.”
“Yeah. My brothers ran to the store for more beer. They didn’t think we had enough.” He chuckles and shakes his head. “Lisa’s in the house.” He looks longingly to the second-floor windows. “Darryl’s up there, too, playing in the game room.” He picks up the first of the ice bags in strong arms and unceremoniously dumps it into the nearest cooler.
“Let me text and see where the others are.”
I send a message to the twins first, then fire off a message to Naomi.
“So what’s been happening at the firm lately?”
He smiles wide enough for those gorgeous dimples of his to pop. “We just landed a huge project downtown. Fifteen stories, living space in the top stories with various entertainment businesses down below.”
“Oh my goodness. I hadn’t heard. Congratulations!”
“We just signed everything this morning, so now it’s official. Looks like you’ll have to keep Weston busy the next few months because this is our last hang for a while.” He winks before dumping more ice.
I scrunch my face, trying to decide how he meant that wink. “You know Weston and I are only friends, right?”
He looks up from his task and chuckles. “I think I may have heard something like that.”
“Okay, Jerome. What’s the deal? What are you not saying?”
He wipes his hands on his khaki shorts. “Look, I get what you’re saying. I hear you.” He shrugs and grabs the back of his neck, looking around. “For those of us on the outside looking in, lately it seems like you and Weston are getting…closer. That’s all.”
I blink several times. “Did Weston say something?”
Jerome throws his hands up, waving me off. “Nah, not at all. Don’t get me in trouble with my boy. I’m just making an observation.”
“Yeah, an observation. You said ‘those of us’ so I’m assuming everyone’s gossiping behind our backs, so you can go back and let everyone know that Weston and I are friends. I love him like a brother.”
“Sure, sure. Whatever you say, Ryan.” He picks up the wheelbarrow and heads back to the garage before I have a chance at a rebuttal.
I zip over to the back door and stumble through narrowly losing my balance completely. Jeesh, Jerome has me feeling some kind of way.
Weston rotates my way, then moves to come help me. He steadies me on my feet and kisses me on the temple.
The kiss feels more intimate for some reason. “I’m okay. Carry on.”
He smiles. “What has you all flustered?”
The question of the day is do I answer this or not. If I do answer, the proverbial worms will spill all down the can. This is not where I want to go with Weston. He’s my best friend and I’d never want to lose that. “I probably need some water. It’s hot as Hades out there.”
He laughs and turns to the cabinet to take down a glass.
“I can get it. You keep doing what you were doing.” We both reach for the glass and our fingers brush like they have a thousand times, but this time something moves inside my chest. Maybe because what Jerome said is fresh on my mind, but I don’t move my hand. Instead, I allow the heat from his finger to penetrate my skin. I slide my gaze to him, meeting his perplexed expression, eyebrows drawn together. “I—”
The twins burst through the back door—Meagan giggling and Saron rolling her eyes. “Hi, Ryan and Weston” reaches through the air in stereo.
What was the most difficult scene to write?
For me, it’s always difficult to write the scenes where the main characters have an issue. They’re both so kind and sweet to each other so this made it doubly so.
Weston leans in and they hug. “Hi, Naomi.” His voice is cheerful and welcoming. Does nothing ever bother him truly?
“I’m sure you’re wondering why I needed you out here, but I’m on my way to the airport to New York for a week and wanted to talk with both of you in person.”
I scrub my face with both hands. “There’s sure a lot of that going on today.”
She scrunches her face up but waves me off. “I don’t have time to unpack whatever that is, but I wanted you to be together when I gave you the news.”
Weston is confused then, his eyebrows drawn together. “What’s going on?”
“Your story, Weston. We want to offer you a contract for it. That and four more in the series.” She grins with the toothiest smile I’ve ever seen from my all-business cousin.
My heart drops and I tense.
Weston’s confusion deepens. “I don’t understand. What story?”
“Titanium Paradise. We’ll probably need to change that title, though. You’re okay if we need to, right?”
His gaze hits the side of my face because I can’t look at him. Weston, who’s so good and loving. Who trusts so easily, and I’ve done the one thing he asked me not to do. I had one job.
I turn to him and reach out, but he backs up. “I’m sorry, West. I only showed it to Naomi because I knew it was so good and you were having confidence problems. I only wanted Naomi to give you some feedback.”
She clears her throat. “I see you two need to work through some things and I can’t be late for my flight, so, Weston, please give me a call later.”
He doesn’t say anything, but he doesn’t even nod at Naomi. He’s never rude.
Naomi drives away, and I want to be mad at her because I told her I was giving the manuscript to her without Weston’s knowledge, that he didn’t want me to share it with anyone. But that’s on me, not Naomi.
“I asked you not to show it to anyone.” His shoulders are stiff, and he looks away at the street and the passing cars as he speaks.
“Yes, I know. I shouldn’t have done that. I realize that now. That I had to control everything and make decisions for everyone because I thought I knew what was best. I was wrong, West.”
He nods. “Yeah, you were definitely wrong. How come you can’t understand I’m happy with my life? I don’t need a big book deal or my own restaurant or chain of pastry shops. It doesn’t seem like that’s good enough for you, though.”
I reach for him, but he backs up. “Weston. You can’t believe that. You’re so talented. I just wanted you to see it as much as I do. To point you in a direction, give you a purpose. Your dad has beaten you up so much you lost your confidence. I was only trying to help you get it back.”
“My conf— Okay. I need to go back inside and get ready for lunch.” He walks a couple of steps, then turns back to me. “I do need to go back inside, but I really just want to be away from you right now. I need you to understand how much of a betrayal this is and how hurt I am by what you did.”
Would you say this book showcases your writing style or is it a departure for you?
This was such a departure for me. My comfort zone is writing snark and quips. My characters smirk a lot. I had to really work hard for these characters and this story.
What do you want people to take away from reading this book?
Sometimes self-forgiveness doesn’t come easy, but the longer you hold on to the past, the more difficult it is to accept that you deserve all the good things now and in the future. It will be a surprise that more than one character needs to hear this.
What are you currently working on? What other releases do you have planned?
I’m currently writing the 3rd book in my new series, Secret Ties. The first book will be released April 20, 2023. The books are connected by an adoption support group but still romance.
Thanks for blogging at HJ!
Giveaway: An ebook copy of Tastes So Sweet & 3 Tule ebooks
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Excerpt from Tastes So Sweet:
These dang Everhearts will be the death of me. I swear.
I rush down the hall from my office, passing the large storage room filled with kitchen equipment on one side and the employee break room opposite it. I catch the weeping employee heading toward the back door of the restaurant before he can open the exit. “What happened? Where are you going?”
He takes in a deep breath, makes a valiant effort at quelling his emotions, then releases another sob before pulling off his chef’s hat and hiding his face behind it. “Mrs. Landry…”
“Ms. And please, call me Ryan.”
“Ryan, I don’t think this is going to work out.”
I don’t need to ask why because this is the third chef who’s departed through this same back door in the month since the second of Flynn’s three sons unceremoniously quit. I’m all for Knox and Declan venturing out on their own paths, but it would have been helpful if they could’ve spread their departures over some time, like two or three years instead of weeks. Heck, even months would have been helpful.
I offer the man a small smile. “I’m sorry to hear that, Chef. I’d hoped with your Michelin experience, you would understand our special circumstances.”
He lifts his hazel gaze to mine, bright with tears, and hiccups, then places a hand on my shoulder.
I resist the urge to pull away from both his touch and his intense, unwavering stare, understanding this is more a comfort for him than me.
“I’ve worked with Michelin chefs who overstrained and corrected me to no end. Their training made me a better chef. This is something different.” He squeezes my shoulder and glances up at the ceiling, sucking in a raggedy breath. “Chef Everheart’s goal is total denigration, and I value my health—both physical and emotional—too much to be subjected to his unearned punishment. I see why his sons left.” With one more squeeze of my shoulder, he storms out the door without a backward glance.
I take a deep breath to steel myself, then trudge to the kitchen. Before picking up the abandoned knife, I wash my hands and don the white jacket I pull from the dish-washing area. There’s a chef’s jacket in closer reach, but I don’t dare. This one is close enough.
Flynn marches my way, his fair white skin turning almost purple, chef’s hat askew.
After putting the knife down, I place a hand on my generous hip and narrow my eyes. “You can’t keep running off the chefs I hire. Pretty soon, we’ll need to start looking outside Austin. Maybe even the state at this rate.”
He scrunches his thin lips together and takes a moment to calm before speaking. “If you’d hire someone worthwhile, they wouldn’t run as soon as I explain how I want something done. I’m a Michelin-star chef. Surely you can attract better quality personnel to work under my wing.”
“You’re a Michelin-star chef who won’t give anyone a chance. You’re lucky we’ve been able to retain the ones we already had. They’ve been here long enough to know you’re not normally this over-the-top, but if you continue, we may be in a bigger hole than either of us will be able to dig out of.” I pick up the knife again and wave it at the seating area of the restaurant. “You forget you’re on display. At some point, our customers will tire of the show.”
He opens his mouth, then shuts it and glances at the nearby chef’s table that separates the kitchen from the front of house. When Flynn designed his restaurant, he wanted to show off, calling attention to himself and his ridiculously handsome chef sons. Now that he is down to one offspring, the one he often forgets about, he’s probably rethinking his life choices. Flynn’s parting rebuff from under his breath floats back my way. “We’ll discuss this later.”
I go back to chopping because while I need to contact the next person up, there is an immediate need for a pile of sliced onions and as short-staffed as we suddenly find ourselves, there’s nobody else to do it.
When the restaurant closes and the staff initiates the nightly ritual, I finally trudge back to my office and turn my monitor back on so I can print out the list of chefs we’ve already interviewed. I only had time to press the button underneath the screen before rushing to head off our wayward now ex-employee. Leaving my laptop on and accessible is a huge faux pas, but it couldn’t be helped.
I’m just about to kick off my shoes and massage my aching insoles when Flynn barrels into my office, still spry considering the long night. “You need to get me someone competent.”
“Working on it, Chef. Next time, try to give the new person at least a couple days before you jump down their throat. Maybe we can retain someone.”
He shoves a hand into his pocket and jangles the coins within. Who actually carries real money around anymore, less known change? Old-school Michelin-star Chef Flynn Everheart, that’s who. “We wouldn’t need to retain anyone if you’d done your job to begin with.”
Here we go again. “Your sons leaving the fold is not my fault.” I raise my eyebrows, daring him to counter.
“Perhaps if you’d given me notice when you found out, I could have stopped it.”
I’m not usually a rolling-my-eyes kinda gal, but if this conversation continues down this path, I may have to change my policy. “Perhaps if you hadn’t tried to strong-arm your sons into working for you, they’d still be here.”
And now we’re heading back to purple skin. “That is none of your business. But keeping me in the loop on kitchen personnel changes are in your wheelhouse, isn’t that true?”
I throw my hands up in surrender because he’s right. I should have told him. I never thought his sons would abandon him without a heads-up. “You don’t pay me enough to jump in the middle of you Everhearts. I have enough to do without navigating your family drama, Chef.”
And therein lies the problem. He pays me nearly thirty percent lower than my counterparts because I didn’t have the same level of experience coming into this job. It doesn’t matter that I’ve proven myself over and over again the past four years I’ve had this job. It’s why we have this contentious relationship, though, and why he allows me to speak my mind. Sure, he could fire me, but he’d be hard-pressed to replace me. He earned that Michelin star during my tenure here. Not that I don’t believe he wouldn’t dismiss me if I went too far or broke one of his golden rules. But now I do have the experience. I only stay because my salary puts me in a good position when it’s time to fill out the financial aid forms for my twin sisters. And I only have one more year before they go off to college. I just need to hang on until then.
“Back to your compensation, I see. Do you really want to go there? Especially now?”
May as well. In for a penny, in for a pound, right? After all, it’s the principle of the thing. “My assistant general manager earns nearly as much as I—”
“That’s your issue, not mine. You have free reign to pay your staff as you see fit.”
“Right. And I compensate them at the market rate so we retain our high level of excellence. Just like you pay your chefs. I’m the only one getting the short end of the stick here.”
“Your compensation package is in line with the market for your experience, Ryan. I’ve explained that to you before.” He sighs and pulls his hand out of his pocket, readying his stance for his exit. “Just ensure that we are properly staffed. Night.”
I watch his retreating back, completely dumbfounded. Not that I thought he’d magically give in all of a sudden, but because of how cavalier he is about it, then ordering me to dig even deeper.
That’s all I do these days. Dig deeper here and at home. The time to pay the piper is coming up soon, and I need to solidify my plans.
I smell Weston before I see him. A slightly sweet and yeasty scent meets me at my open door. Soon his big body shadows across the hood of my car, his smiling face leaning down to catch my eye. “Do you need some help, Ryan?”
Giving up on the heavy crate I’m attempting to pull out of the back seat of my SUV, I pass it to him instead. “How’d you know?”
He shrugs and easily balances the box under one strong arm.
I smile and shake my head. I’m certainly no small person, but the box is not only heavy, it’s bulky. Where I struggle to wrangle it with two hands, Weston makes it seem like a small box of packing peanuts. “Thank you, Chef.” I can’t help the title when he’s decked out in his gear for work. We established long ago that it is a visceral reaction rather than a conscious decision. He finally relented and just goes with it.
“Anything for you?”
Most of the time I can tell when he’s really asking a question rather than ending his sentence with a curious-sounding lilt, but only because we’ve been such close friends for so long. Without Weston, I’m not sure I would have been strong enough to persevere those first few months of managing the restaurant. Knox was nice enough but busy, and Declan was…decent most of the time, but Weston really went out of his way to help.
We walk to the door in the rear of the building, the same one Weston just came through. The more potent Weston-smell catches me right in the nose and jets down to my stomach. “What in the world are you making?”
I frown and glance in the direction of the kitchen. The restaurant won’t open for another couple hours, but the crew is already well into prep work for lunch. Thankfully we are fully staffed for the next two days, giving me a little time to find another chef. “Switch-Dutch-who now?”
Weston laughs, a bright twinkle in his gleaming blue eyes. “It’s a German cake made with Italian plums. I thought it would be a nice addition to the dessert menu.”
I walk down the hall to my office with Weston trailing behind, carrying my burden. “You can just put it over there on Nancy’s desk, please. She won’t be in today.” I place my purse in the bottom drawer and turn back to Weston. “The cake sounds delightful, but did you run it by your father? You know how he is when any of you try to slip in anything Italian around here.”
His shoulders slump and he bows his head, having the nerve to look ashamed when we both know he isn’t. “Why bother, Ryan? It’s not like he’ll notice anyway.”
“Oh, he notices everything that goes on in his restaurant, trust me. You can’t keep changing the dessert menu.”
He bends forward, balancing his forearms on the chair facing my desk. “When I added the chocolate brioche, he didn’t even mention it.”
“He most certainly did. Why do you think I had you switch it to the triple-chocolate mousse cake?”
His mouth drops open in disbelief. “Ryan, how could you? You said it was your favorite?”
I shrug and switch on the monitor topping my desk and connect my laptop. “Two things can be true. Flynn nixed the brioche.”
“As if you don’t have enough to do. I don’t understand why Dad can’t just tell me himself. Does he have you making any other menu decisions?”
“I’m sorry. It wasn’t my decision. I was just the messenger.” We both know why Flynn doesn’t tell his only remaining son about the dessert menu. He’d have to remember Weston existed first.
Good-naturedly as usual, Weston straightens up and grins. “It doesn’t matter anyway. The fruit is only in season this month.” He gives me an eyebrow wiggle. “Speaking of which, isn’t your birthday coming up?”
My heart beats a little faster. “You know it is.”
“Calm down—you’re turning blue.”
I do a quick check on my phone camera and examine my skin color. Still medium brown, but I can agree it has paled some. I smooth my closely cropped curls over my ear. “I am calm. You know I don’t want to talk about my birthday.”
“Come on, Ryan. Can’t this be the year we celebrate your special day? You never do?”
“That’s a firm no.”
“But why? At least let me make you something special.”
“You’re already making my favorite, remember? And the way you make it with a hint of raspberry really sets it apart. I’ll just grab a slice of that.”
His friendly smile doesn’t falter, but he does run long fingers through his wavy black hair. His fair olive skin reddens ever so slightly, and his usually bright eyes dim. “We’ll table this until later. I haven’t given up.”
“I won’t change my mind.”
He tilts his head to the side and purses his lips, then snaps his fingers. “I almost forgot. I heard what happened last night. Sorry I missed it?”
“Be glad you did. Your dad is not making my job any easier. Pretty soon word will get out and I won’t be able to pay someone to interview.”
“I wish I could help, but all my friends from culinary school have great jobs. Nobody wants to come here.”
“It’s okay. I plan to ask your brother for help. I already texted him this morning.”
Weston’s eyes widen considerably. “Uh, Ryan. Not the brother I think you’re talking about.”
I suck in a deep breath. “I already know, but I’m desperate. Your dad will just have to deal with it. At least we’ll have someone worthy of Knox’s replacement.”
“I’m not sure anyone will ever be able to replace Knox. Especially in Dad’s eyes.” His expression doesn’t change, which is even more heartbreaking because he’s so used to his father’s snubs.
I soften my expression, giving Weston a small smile. “Your father thinks the world of all of you. He misses Declan, too, and if something were to happen and you left, that would create a big hole. You’re the best pastry chef around.”
He smiles brighter, but his eyes stay the same. Clearly placating me.
Although Knox was the star chef in the family, I really do believe Flynn misses Declan being here to bounce investment ideas off and would truly feel Weston’s loss if he were to leave. He just has a terrible way of showing his love for his sons. But that’s not my business.
“Are we all still heading over to Lady Bird Lake tomorrow?”
“As far as I know. Restaurant’s closed, so I’ll be there for sure. The twins may come after school if we stay long enough and the others said they would meet us there, but I’ll check with them later to verify. I already told you Lisa can’t make it. That’s it for the cousins.”
Weston claps his hands and releases a high-pitched sound. “I’m so excited. We haven’t all been together in ages.”
I could catch up on my rest, do some cleaning, and maybe even read a book tomorrow, but it’s totally worth going to witness Weston’s glee. “Me, too.”
“Okay, I better get back to the kitchen. I also want to get a little writing in before the rush starts. See you later, Ryan?”
“See you later, Chef.” I watch him stroll through the open door and smile how lucky I am to have such a great friend like Weston.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Forbidden fruit has never tasted better…
After losing her parents in high school, Ryan Landry grew up fast, solely focusing on supporting her younger twin sisters. With the twins now preparing for college, the financial stakes are raised so Ryan enters a restaurant manager of the year contest. Her chances for the grand prize are strong—after all, she’s the executive manager of Everheart Bar and Fine Dining, which is as famous for its exemplary service as it is for its mouth-watering food.
The only thing standing in her way? The restaurant’s Michelin star patriarch chef. Ryan meets his near-impossible challenges, except this creates another obstacle—increased temptation with her best friend and pastry chef Weston Everheart. She’s fought to keep Weston in the friend zone, because romantic fraternization means immediate firing, and she needs her job and the prize money more than ever.
But when she realizes Weston has also been in love with her for years, it becomes impossible to maintain business as usual. Will Ryan play it safe or finally listen to her heart?
Meet the Author:
Kelly Cain is a native Californian but has spent the last couple of decades in Texas, currently residing in the live music capital of the world, Austin. Consequently, most of her books are set somewhere between those two locations.
Kelly writes multicultural romance with determined women directing their own fates, and the swoon-worthy men who adore them. She loves reading most genres but please don’t ask her to pick just one. However, she can pick her favorite book boyfriend – Will Herondale.
When she isn’t reading or writing, Kelly is most likely using a genealogy site to research her extended family, both old and new. Or cooking/baking something delightful.