It’s been two weeks since Leap of Faith came out – and time’s been racing away from me. I remember promising a food-themed blog post – because if there’s a way to write a story without food I’ve not found it yet – and comfort food came to mind pretty promptly. When you have a job like Joel and Kieran’s, one that involves negotiating with kidnappers one moment and storming a building the next, when you’re on the go for hours and at the drop of a hat, then you’re bound to need a little comfort now and then.
In Joel’s case, that comfort food is sugar. Four spoons of it in his coffee, a box of emergency hostess cupcakes under the drivers seat of his car, and Mars bars in his desk and jacket pockets. Kieran has learned not to drive past bakery shops when they’re on the road. He knows that the air around them will turn blue should he dare to reach for the last donut in the box. He keeps Hershey bars in his go bag beside the first aid kit and spare knives and when they eat out he makes sure they have cheesecake and chocolate fudge brownies to go, as well as dessert.
Joel knows his partner just as well. He drags Kieran home every time his father breaks out his famous barbecue sauce. He feeds him clam chowder when it’s cold. He keeps pickles and mustard in his fridge and a skillet ready to hand. And he knows exactly where to get the cheese and the ready-spiced pork Kieran loves in his Cubano.
Like love, comfort comes in all shapes and sizes and knowing what to offer your partner to smooth out the edges on a rough day is a vital skill if you want your partnership to last. It’s not just a thing for Joel and Kieran, of course. Many of us have a treat we reach for when we need a culinary hug, from cinnamon-laced hot chocolate to cheese and mayonnaise sandwiches or cheesy, garlicky mashed potatoes eaten with a spoon straight from the pot.
There wasn’t, perhaps, quite as much food in Leap of Faith as there is in my other books, but I can promise you that there’ll be more in Once Burned, the sequel to Joel & Kieran’s story. And because many of you have been kind enough to ask, there’s a sneak peek under the image. Remember Joel finding out that Kieran was having dinner with the doctor?
Sneak Peek from Once Burned:
McCoy’s was packed. As packed as this haven of seafood deliciousness ever got. Dr. Marius Leven stopped by the hostess desk and let his gaze roam the large, wood-paneled dining room with its stunning vaulted ceiling. Every booth and table was taken and even on the newly added terrace waiters scurried back and forth with trays of drinks and seafood. The mouthwatering aromas of charcoal, brine and fennel hung in the air. They reminded Marius he’d had nothing but coffee and a Mars bar since breakfast. While running non-stop.
A refined hush lay over the dining room despite every single table being occupied. Low-voiced conversations and the ring of silverware on porcelain blended with strains of soft music. Rich and Sam McCoy, the owners of one of Lissand’s most popular restaurants, could have squeezed twice as many people into the space had they been intent on minting money. They hadn’t even tried.
“May I help you, sir?”
Marius turned and Sam’s wife Caro smiled widely at him.
“Dr. Leven, how nice to see you again. You’re dining with Mr. Ross tonight, am I correct?”
“You are.” Kieran had called him that morning and Marius had accepted the invitation with delight. McCoy’s had a lengthy waiting list for reservations and Marius’s job as a trauma surgeon at the local hospital rarely allowed him to plan far ahead. Even in the few short hours since breakfast there’d been moments when he doubted he’d make it.
“He’s already here, so if you would follow me?” Caro came around the desk to show him the way. She was a gorgeous woman, made from voluptuous curves, glossy black hair, and dimples. She was also one of the kindest people Marius had ever met, volunteering at the hospital whenever she wasn’t needed in the restaurant. “You look as if you’ve not stopped all day,” she said as she led him into the dining room. “So let me tell you that this afternoon’s catch included some very fine skate.”
Marius’s stomach growled in happy anticipation and when he saw Kieran Ross, looking amazing in tight black pants and a pale gold shirt that showed off his dark tan and darker hair, he couldn’t have wished for a better end to a long and tiring day. He knew Kieran wasn’t his to pursue, but window shopping was pleasant enough. And there was no law against it.
“Ross,” he greeted, sliding into the booth. “I can’t tell you how much I’ve been looking forward to this.”
Kieran’s eyes crinkled at the corners as he smiled. “Good to see you. Sit your butt down and relax.”
They both watched as Caro filled Marius’s water glass and handed them each a leather-bound menu. “What would you like to drink, Dr. Leven?”
Marius didn’t look at the lengthy list of drinks or even at the tall glass that sat beside Kieran’s left hand. There was only one thing he’d coveted since the moment Kieran had invited him to dine at McCoy’s. “I’ll have a Mauresque, please.”
Caro left and Kieran regarded Marius over the top of his menu. “I heard there was a bad accident in the warehouse district this morning.”
“You heard right. A floor collapsed in one of the converted factory buildings. I’ve been in surgery for most of the day.” Marius breathed out. “All good, though. Nobody died.”
“Must feel great. Being able to say that at the end of the day.”
“It does. Bet you get the same feeling when you have your hostages safe.”
“Yes and no. Reuniting a family is great, but the relief, the elation… it’s never pure, you know? In the background, there’s always the kidnapper. And in most cases, he’s not a stranger.”
Silence fell between them until Caro returned with Marius’s drink and took their orders. Knowing how amazing the food at McCoy’s always was, how little he’d eaten all day, and how much energy he’d used up, Marius didn’t hold back. He treated himself to a large seafood platter and his favorite dish of all, skate au beurre noir. He could see dessert in his future, too—and that hadn’t happened in a while.
“This was meant to be a relaxing evening out for you,” Kieran observed when they were alone again. “How did we get so serious so quickly?”
“Nature of the beast, I suppose. The way we met, the hostage rescue and all— We’ve only had the last couple of weeks to get to know each other.”
“And yet, I’ve trusted you to keep me safe. More to the point, I’ve trusted you with Joel’s life.”
“I am a surgeon.”
“Oh, not then. I’d not even met you then. No, I meant after. When I needed to get him out of the hospital, and we needed a safe place. Most of all on that damned driveway.” Kieran’s eyes grew darker with the echoes of remembered fear. “I’ve rarely been so scared in my life.”
“That wasn’t serious. Just cramp.”
“Easy for you to say. Joel was in pain. He couldn’t breathe. He turned blue right in front of me and I was about as useful as a chocolate teapot.”
“Kieran, he’s fine. He didn’t suffer any long-term damage. Not from the chest wound and certainly not from a simple muscle spasm.” Marius took a sip of his cocktail. He savored the flavor of anise and liquorice, taking a mental vacation right there. “I expected to see both of you here, actually. Where is he?”
“Hopefully on the way home,” Kieran said. “The boss sent him out on a delivery. Man has good timing, I’ve gotta give him that. Joel was turning into one cranky-assed bastard.”
Marius’s chuckle at Kieran’s acerbic tone grew into an appreciative moan when the waiter set the huge seafood platters on the table between them. Prawns, crab, mussels, whelks, a lobster tail…. and McCoy’s famous garlic and herb butter dip. Dinner would be heavenly. Marius just knew it.
He picked a prawn from the plate, peeled it and dipped it into the butter. “You’ve been fighting?” he asked when he’d savored the first bite.
Kieran waved it off. “We fight all the time. It’s rarely serious.”
Marius caught the odd note in Kieran’s voice. “And this time it was?” He wouldn’t have been surprised had Kieran told him to mind his own business. The few days Kieran and Joel had spent at Marius’s house, hurt and hiding, had bent all their perceptions. They treated each other like old friends and granted confidences when they barely knew anything about each other. Marius knew these things happened, but they’d never before happened to him. “So… was it serious this time?” he asked again, when Kieran had done little more than contemplate the artistic arrangement of seafood on his plate.
“Dunno. I’m sure half of it’s frustration.” Kieran quirked a tiny smile. “Sexual and otherwise.”
“The other half’s jealousy?”
“He knows he has no reason, right?”
“He should.” Kieran teased a whelk out of its shell. “I’ll remind him later, don’t you worry.” He popped the morsel into his mouth and Marius saw the moment when the garlic and herb butter dip hit his taste buds. “Wow. That’s…something.”
“I mean, I love seafood.” Kieran reached for a prawn next and peeled it before shoving it into his mouth. “Seafood in Florida is very different. Bright and colorful and hot and zingy. This is just…decadent.”
“You’ve been in Lissand for four years and you’ve not had a seafood platter before? You poor deprived creature!”
“Yeah, deprived my ass. You forget that I’m partnered with Weston. He grew up here.”
“And he’s never taken you to eat at McCoy’s. That’s shocking. He should be ashamed of himself.” Marius set his utensils down and breathed. After the day he’d had he was well past hungry, but he really needed to pace himself. His stomach demanded food and what sat in front of him was beyond delicious. But shoveling the food in as fast as it would go wasn’t just disrespectful. It would also earn him one hell of an uncomfortable night filled with stomach cramps. At least this time, he had Kieran to distract him. “Does Weston not like seafood?”
“Don’t be silly. He practically lives down at the crab shack during the season.”
“Oh, the little one by the beach, with the endless queues?”
“That one. And then there’s that place near the sailing school. Marietta’s?”
“And the best ice cream this side of… whatever. Gods, I sound like a doting grandfather, don’t I?” A hint of color dusted his cheekbones and then his gaze zoomed in on Marius. “Anything wrong?”
“Oh. I see.”
Kieran stopped eating and Marius held back a smile. Not having to explain was nice. And watching Kieran was, indeed, the distraction he needed. He’d expected an awkward pause, but Kieran wasn’t at all put out. He leaned forward and rested his chin on his folded hands.
“I meant to let you enjoy your dinner first, but if you need a distraction I can get the questions out of the way first.”
“History and background. What you want to do. What we can do. But I suppose it all boils down to just one question: do you want our help to find your sister’s children?”
And you can find the beginning of the whole tale right here:
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