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A Dash of Salt and Pepper

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One of Amazon's Best Romances of December
A December LibraryReads Pick

Sometimes two cooks in the kitchen are better than one in this swoony romantic comedy from the author of I’m So (Not) Over You.

Xavier Reynolds is doing less than stellar. He just got dumped, was passed over for a prestigious fellowship, and to top it all off he's right back home in Harper's Cove, Maine (population: 9,000). The last thing he wants to do is to work as a prep chef in the kitchen of the hip new restaurant in town, The Wharf. Especially since the hot, single-father chef who owns it can’t delegate to save his life.

Logan O’Hare doesn’t understand Xavier or why every word out of his mouth is dipped in sarcasm. Unfortunately, he has no choice but to hire him—he needs more help in the kitchen and his tween daughter, Anne, can only mince so many onions. It might be a recipe for disaster, but Logan doesn’t have many options besides Xavier.

Stuck between a stove and a hot place, Logan and Xavier discover an unexpected connection. But when the heat between them threatens to top the Scoville scale, they’ll have to decide if they can make their relationship work or if life has seasoned them too differently.

ISBN-13: 9780593334461

Media Type: Paperback

Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group

Publication Date: 12-06-2022

Pages: 384

Product Dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.10(d)

Kosoko Jackson is a digital-media specialist, who lives in the New York Metro Area and spends too much time listening to Halsey and Taylor Swift.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

You up?

In most circles, that text would read like a very ineloquently crafted booty call, one that absolutely should not warrant a response. Or, as Miranda Priestly-a fictional god among men-would call it, Boring, dull, and derivative.

If a boy texts you at 4:00 a.m., don't answer it, I would always tell my girlfriends in college. If he can't text you in the daytime, why should you answer him when the lights go out?

I have firsthand accounts that my guidance has helped many girls in my resident hall-Clark Street pride, baby-avoid some embarrassing situations. I would even give the same advice to the (few) straight male friends I had.

Don't you dare go texting a girl at 4:00 a.m. and ask her to come over. If you care about her, you'll message her when the sun is high. Ask her out. Wine her. Dine her. And THEN, and only if she consents, you can finger blast her in the back of a movie theater. #Romance.

Because remember: When we let boys succeed by performing the bare minimum, we'll never see them blossom into the men we know they can become. No, it's not our responsibility to help boys achieve their full potential, but if we don't do it, who will? It's a hard job, but someone has to do it.

Someone, obviously, in this situation, being me, a gay, and my fellow female partners in crime.

But, going back to the topic at hand, this isn't a booty call text I'm sending, for three key and very important reasons.

ONE: The message was sent to my friend Mya, and I do not hook up with friends. Point-blank. I don't have many rules I've set for myself that I've followed-which is probably a mark of my flightiness or inability to stay focused on any goal that doesn't have strict consequences if I fail, which is a topic for my therapist, when I get a therapist again-but that is a hard-and-fast one.

FBI-friends, bosses, idols-the trifecta of people you should never EVER have sex with. Someone always gets hurt and the night ends with some sad ballad written by an airy breathy white girl who sings in cursive on repeat, causing the neighbors to bang on your door or issue a noise complaint and lead you to being homeless on the street, begging for change, realizing a boy completely and utterly destroyed your life.

Dramatic? Maybe. Factual? Absolutely.

TWO: This can't be a booty call because, even if Mya is up, there's no potential for her to be free to actually, you know, do the big nasty. She's a teacher and they-especially those who teach second grade-never sleep because they're always working. So, the whole suave acting-like-she-might-not-be-up thing is a moot point. Mya is as close to a vampire as one could personify, which we all thought our teachers were when we were in second grade. Vampires who lived at school and went into their coffins during summer vacation.

TWO POINT FIVE: It's only 4:00 a.m. That's not that early. Many people in the United States get up at six to start their day. In fact, roughly 23 percent of Americans get up between six and six thirty, and if you include those up between five and six, that adds another 32 percent, for a total of 55 percent of Americans-more than half are up to make the world their bitch.

And THREE: Probably the most important bullet of all these: I am a raging homosexual. Like, a big ol' "knew the lyrics to 'Rain on Me' twenty minutes after it came out, makes a point to analyze each queen on RuPaul's Drag Race each season to pick the top contender" homosexual.

Ergo, in conclusion, as you can see, Your Honor (etc., etc.), there's no possible way, given the facts presented, this could be a booty call. In truth, though? I just can't sleep. A logical person would just give up and start their day, like a normal member of the 55 percent of America, but being awake-truly, fully awake-means I have to deal with my life. And I'm not at all ready for that.

If I lie in bed, maybe just for a little bit longer, the real world lurking outside my window will stay at bay. I won't have to deal with the fact I'm a twenty-six-year-old who just lost his job. I won't have to address the heartache and embarrassment of three days after losing my job, my boyfriend of five years saying to me, I feel like my life is on the express train and yours is on the local, before kicking me out of the house. All of that is a distant concern, like a poorly formed dream. I won't have to deal with the growing cloud of self-doubt, or the ballooning feeling of failure that threatens to shroud every accomplishment I've achieved. And I most certainly won't have to deal with the fact that I'm in fucking Harper's motherfucking Cove motherfucking MAINE when I should be in Chicago, Paris, London, England, Edinburgh, or New York. LITERALLY anywhere but goddamn Maine.

I was supposed to be better than this. To succeed. To make it out of this town and create a life for myself more than "the Black boy Rory Gilmore of Harper's Cove," where the three biggest industries are fishing, miscellaneous mom-and-pop shops, and the school where Mya teaches. Me, the one who got a full ride to NYU, and then a fellowship to the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business. My life was S-E-T. I was going to be the Cristina Yang of business school, with a touch of Meredith Grey to balance out the sassy.

Everything was perfect. But you know what happens when things start to look a little too perfect in someone's life? Whoever controls the universe laughs in your face and throws everything out of whack.

And now I'm back here. End credits. Twenty percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

Let me be perfectly clear: There is nothing wrong with living your whole life in Harper's Cove, population nine thousand. Stars Hollow, I mean Harper's Cove-seriously, we're nearly the same population size, the same single high school and middle school combined, everything-is a great place to settle down and raise a family, if the quiet life is what you want. It's why my parents moved here from Washington, DC, when I was barely six months old.

It's just not the life for me.

Which is why, as soon as I graduated from high school, I got the fuck out of here and intended to never look back.

I thought my future and, by extension, my happiness, was in New York. Every homosexual does. New York, LA, London, Atlanta, the four homosexual metropolises for us. That, of course, as luck would have it, is why I ended up in Chicago, thanks to a professor who invited me to a speech by another professor from UChicago who spoke at NYU when I was an undergrad. Going to Booth School of Business and living in the Windy City made sense when the bones were thrown on the table. And getting a job (while still at Booth) at TixFlixs, a start-up that helped pick movies based on your interests and sold you discounted tickets, was supposed to be my stepping-stone into the big professional world. Helping start-ups better themselves in the first two years of their inception, the most critical point of a start-up, is where I thrived. By helping companies, I help the owners, and by helping the owners, I help people. And the fact that it was owned and created by a nonbinary Asian American? Even better. This fit my professional goals and my personal goals.

I might have an MBA, but I'm not a monster who is only money driven, like so many people think. My parents taught me better than that.

To make my time in Chicago even better, my boss at TixFlixs then nominated me for the Carey Foundation, a twelve-month-long study fellowship in Berlin that would allow me to take a mentorship under a professional in one of twelve specializations, one of them being start-up support. That would rocket me down the fast lane of success. And I deserved it. I'd earned it.

I know that sounds cocky, but I did. Life isn't a meritocracy, but I worked hard to get there. And finally, finally, I had everything I wanted out of life. A great first job. Great education. Great boyfriend. I had all the right checks. I did all the right things. My life résumé was padded to the max. I was a Black person who was going to be a success story by all metrics.

And then, like a poorly constructed gingerbread house made while drunk on eggnog, it came crumbling down around me. Now I'm right back to where I was seven years ago-in my bed, in a room that seems frozen in time.

The company I worked for went under. I got the infamous thank you for applying email from the Carey Foundation two weeks after my seven two-hour-long final-round interviews spanning three months. Then my boyfriend fucking broke up with me and blocked me on all social media platforms. All of this happened one after another in a span of two months; blow after blow, gut punch after gut punch.

"What a great and anticlimactic fucking ending," I say to no one in particular in the empty room.

I roll over and check my phone again: 5:05 a.m. No message. Just me and my shame. Love that for me.

When I was younger, I loved waking up with the sun. It's why my parents switched bedrooms with me, so my room-though it is slightly larger by about sixty square feet-faces the east. The sun illuminates the alt-rock posters of Paramore, Relient K, Fall Out Boy, and Panic! at the Disco that plaster two of the three walls. On the third, birth charts of me, Mya, and a kid from school I barely remember thanks to losing touch that pepper the remaining three walls. Cities and countries I wanted to visit. Companies I wanted to work for. What would teenage Xavier say to me now? How would he feel, knowing we failed at every single thing we aimed to accomplish?

"He'd say we're a loser," I mutter. I know how vicious I was as a teen. How driven and only focused on succeeding and getting out of this town I was. People made excuses for it. Forgave me for it because I was going places. I was getting out of here. I was an inspiration. I fucking hate that word.

And now look at me, back home in a bed that's too small for me.

A ball of fluff and weight at the bottom of my bed shifts and presses against my right leg. That fuzz ball is Naga, my family's Samoyed. She's more my parents' dog considering my parents got her only two years before I moved out as a not-so-subtle way to get me to stay in Harper's Cove. It didn't work, obviously-but maybe it did. I mean, after all, I'm still here, aren't I? And they got a cute dog out of it. Win-win for everyone.

Naga rolls over and sighs, her bright eyes blink at me, like there isn't a thought behind them.

"Can't sleep either, huh?"

She says nothing in response because, well, she's a dog, and dogs can't talk.

I reach down and give her head a quick pat and a rub. Naga may be almost ten years old, but she's as spry as she was when we first got her. A bundle of white live-wire energy that can go from one side of town to the other in a matter of seconds, it seems.

Spry. Jesus, how old am I? They say living fast and hard ages you quickly, and that's why you shouldn't take high-stress jobs like, I dunno, being the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, but I think the complete opposite is true. Moving at a glacial pace makes me want to throw myself off the top of a building.

Moving at a glacial pace is everything that makes Harper's Cove appealing to some people. Some of those people aren't me.

"I need to get out of here, girl," I say to Naga, swinging my legs over the side of the bed. Pressing my feet against the cold wooden floor, I close my eyes and let my shoulders fall into place. My body slips into gear, relaxing my muscles and bones cramped from sleeping on a twin-sized bed my parents had no reason to replace. "Maybe I'll take you with me next time."

The only thing I miss about this place-besides seeing my parents and my best friend Mya-is the house. The stillness in the air isn't oppressive like the rest of the town. Harper's Cove's silence makes me feel like everyone can hear every mistake I make. But the house? It's like I'm safe here. The stillness in the air absorbs every bit of fear, of panic, of self-doubt and-

What the fuck was that sound?

Like some comical duo, Naga and I both look up and toward the half-cracked-open door at the same time. Our heads turn to one another in sync, too.

You heard that? her cocked head says.

You did, too? I ask silently, nodding.

Now, again, I know she can't really talk. I'm not that stupid. But there was 100 percent a sound downstairs. I reach for my phone, tapping the screen once. A text from Mom forty-five minutes ago.

MOM: Went into Portland to meet with Robbie. Biscuits on the counter. Siri input Love you emoji.

Robbie is one of my mom's closest friends and a fisherman, meaning she's getting some fresh lobster from him, which also means I know what's for dinner tonight. Assuming we make it to tonight. Harper's Cove isn't the place where you see grisly murderers, but you know what they say. Cabot Cove in Murder, She Wrote is technically the murder capital of the world, if you judge by population-to-murder ratio. Who's to say Harper's Cove isn't following in its footsteps with me being the first victim? A morbid thought, but at least I'd be known for something.

Mom never misses the meeting with Robbie; it's every other Wednesday. Not only does my mother pride herself in being on time and not prescribing to CP time, but Robbie's fishing skills are unparalleled, his fish won't stay for long, and there's always a wealthier buyer willing to pay for whatever he has for the day.