Author: Stephanie Fazio
Publisher: Syafant Press
Release Date: November 11, 2021
Series: Hex Kitchen #1
Genre: Fantasy (magical realism; fantasy romance)
Need. Coffee. Now.
Kenzie stumbled around her tiny apartment like a zombie. She didn’t even bother turning on the lights—a decision she regretted when she whacked her knee against the edge of the tiny coffee table. Mumbling half-hearted curses, she wedged herself into her apartment’s postage stamp-sized kitchen.
She managed to grind up the coffee beans and boil water without further maiming herself. Four agonizing minutes later, the silky, slightly bitter scent of coffee curled around her nostrils. Her beloved French Press was the sole relic of her life from before. Her dad always liked to say there was no greater crime than weak coffee and—
And why the hell was she thinking about her father? She really needed to get some caffeine into her system pronto.
Kenzie moaned in relief as the dark roast hit her tongue. The precious liquid transformed her from a scary approximation of a human being into herself. She flipped on lights and went to check on Kiwi.
Kiwi, her pet chameleon, was perched on a branch in his habitat. His bulging eyes rotated as he regarded her. In his resting state, Kiwi was romaine lettuce-green, with yellow stripes and orange dots all over his scaly body. As Kenzie reached into the enclosure to take out his food dish, Kiwi’s coloring changed to match the red sleeve of her hoodie.
“Morning, bud,” Kenzie told the little creature.
Kiwi responded with a yawn.
“Hungry, little dude?”
Kiwi cocked his head at her in the universal signal for Duh.
Kenzie hummed to herself as she pulled out a box of live crickets from the cabinet that was dedicated to Kiwi. She also got out a bag of wriggling waxworms.
“Sorry,” Kenzie apologized to the insects. She fished them out and arranged them in a container.
Kenzie sprinkled vitamin supplements over the insects in a swirling motion, making the meal look like it was covered in a light dusting of powdered sugar. She retrieved a bunch of collard greens from her otherwise-empty fridge. Grabbing a knife from the block on her counter, she began to chiffonade the greens.
Kiwi didn’t care about the presentation of his meal, but Kenzie had a long-standing habit of plating food so the colors and textures added to the eating experience. Not that a meal of crickets, waxworms, and greens could really be appealing no matter how it was arranged.
Preparing Kiwi’s meals was as close as Kenzie came to gourmet cooking these days. Unless one counted boiling water for ramen or nuking Easy Mac….
Kenzie raked her dark hair into a high ponytail as she watched Kiwi’s long tongue flick out to devour his meal. She finished her coffee as she put on the horrible pink monstrosity otherwise known as her uniform. The color washed out Kenzie’s already-pale skin, making her appear ghostly. The uniform always smelled like grease no matter how many times she washed it. The pink fabric was also splotched from various food stains because Loretta was too cheap to ever replace her employees’ uniforms.
Kenzie didn’t bother with makeup, except to apply a double coat of mascara to her lashes. Her gunmetal-gray eyes were her most attractive feature, and since she had neither the sufficient assets nor the inclination to display cleavage, her eyes were her best shot at earning extra tips.
Kenzie scowled as a thunderous banging on the downstairs apartment’s ceiling made her floorboards shudder.
“It’s six o’clock in the morning!” Kenzie’s grouchy downstairs neighbor and landlord shouted, his voice reverberating through the floor. He devolved into raspy smoker’s coughs. He banged what must have been a broomstick handle on his ceiling again. “Hush your racket!”
Kenzie rolled her eyes and held back a sarcastic retort. She couldn’t stop herself from shutting a cabinet door with more force than strictly necessary. Her neighbor really should know better than to test Kenzie’s goodwill before she’d had her second cup of coffee.
“And your rent’s two days past due!” he called. A corresponding bang on his ceiling accompanied the unwelcome reminder. “Get me my money, or you can find somewhere else to call home.”
Home. Kenzie looked around at the bare walls and ratty furniture she’d inherited from the previous tenant. Despite the fact that she’d been living in this apartment for four years, ever since Nana had died and Kenzie decided it was high time to leave New York, this place wasn’t home.
And that was precisely the point.
Kenzie had moved from Manhattan to this rusty Tennessee town because she wanted to leave home and everything that came with that loaded word behind. She’d had a little money from selling Nana’s house in Queens, but it hadn’t amounted to much after all her grandmother’s debts were settled. Rent in this tired old building was stupid cheap…part of the reason she’d picked the place…but so was her boss.
“I’m getting paid on Friday,” Kenzie called, infusing her voice with as much saccharine as she could stomach. She could almost taste that artificial, over-sweetened powder the old ladies in town swirled into their already-sweet tea.
“Goshdarn lazy kids and their crummy work ethic,” her landlord muttered.
Because of the non-existent insulation, Kenzie heard every word. She could have informed him that, at the age of twenty-two, she wasn’t a kid. And that putting in fourteen-hour shifts at the diner six days a week didn’t match Kenzie’s definition of lazy. But she kept her mouth shut. Kenzie knew from experience that goading her landlord only resulted in one outcome: late fees.
She could move, she supposed, but it wasn’t like there was a plethora of apartment options in this town. Kenzie wasn’t nomadic by nature, and the thought of needing to find a new apartment and new job was too exhausting to contemplate.
Kenzie sighed. Unless she could convince her cheapskate boss to give her a raise, she’d need to get a roommate. And aside from Kiwi, who didn’t give a flying fig about Kenzie’s past, a roommate would ask questions she didn’t want to answer. Besides, Kenzie was better on her own.
After blowing a kiss to Kiwi, Kenzie wrestled her bike out of the narrow hallway, down the steps of her second-story unit, and onto the cracked cement walkway outside. Her breath immediately fogged the air.
Spring in East Tennessee meant it was chilly in the morning but would get up into the sixties later in the day. Not that Kenzie would be able to enjoy the milder weather. She got to work in the dark of morning and left in the dark of night. And Loretta was firmly opposed to giving her employees breaks that lasted longer than the time it took to pee.
Kenzie nestled deeper into her hoodie as the cold wind slapped at her cheeks. She pedaled harder to warm herself up.
It had been a shock to her system to come from Manhattan, where she’d grown up taking the subway and bus system for granted, to a town without any public transportation. But everything Kenzie had been through taught her how to adapt. Hence the bike. And some killer calf muscles, if she did say so herself.
It was four miles to Good Ol’ Apple Pie, the diner where she worked. The darkness of pre-dawn was giving way to a murky gray. The light made the run-down houses on either side of the potholed road look haunted. It was eerily quiet, which only emphasized the spooky feel.
Kenzie pedaled into the Good Ol’ Apple Pie’s gravel lot and carried her bike onto the sagging porch. She parked it against the wall, where a layer of chipped, pink paint covered the ground like snow.
She glanced across the street and past the cornfield, where the sound of engines cut through the otherwise-silent morning. A tiny jet was racing down the short runway.
Kenzie watched as the jet took to the sky and headed off to deliver the important people within to important places. A minute later, a tiny, single-engine plane landed on the same airstrip to refuel before taking off again.
If it wasn’t for this private airstrip, Good Ol’ Apple Pie would have died along with so many of this town’s businesses years ago. Since it was the only eatery within miles of the airfield, the diner got a steady flow of customers from the airfield’s staff and families wanting to grab a bite while their private jets refueled. None of the planes stayed longer than it took to fuel up and the passengers to stretch their legs.
It was always a little jarring to see people wearing Armani and three-carat diamonds walk into this crap-hole diner. It was even stranger to see people who probably regularly dined in the world’s finest restaurants sitting in plastic booths and eating soggy corned beef on rye.
“You’re late,” Loretta informed Kenzie the moment she stepped inside the restaurant.
Kenzie checked the rooster clock on the wall above the cash register. She met her boss’s beady eyes and forced an approximation of a pleasant smile. “It’s six fifty-five, Loretta. My shift starts at seven.”
“And by the time you get the coffee going, you’ll be late! We already have a customer.”
Kenzie glanced at the man sitting at the counter. Billy-Joe—yep, that was seriously his name—swiveled on his stool to face her. He smiled, displaying his missing front tooth.
“My, Miss Kenzie,” he drawled. “Ain’t you a sight for sore eyes this mornin’.”
Kenzie could never tell if Billy-Joe was creepily flirting or if he was simply exercising that southern friendliness she still hadn’t gotten used to.
You could take the girl out of New York, but you couldn’t take New York out of the girl, apparently.
About the Book:
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets The Hunger Games in this mouthwatering, magical, and murderous fantasy.
Hex Kitchen is a once-a-decade tournament where contestants have to cook magical dishes that are to die…and maybe even to kill…for.
Kenzie has perfected the art of outrunning her past. New city, new tattoos, new name. No one from her former life as a chef at one of Manhattan’s top culinary hot spots would think to look for her in the middle-of-nowhere Tennessee. When Kenzie’s dishes go from normal to inexplicably bizarre, she is plunged into the secret world of magical cuisine.
On the other side of the globe, famed culinary magician Braxton McKaid is cooking up a storm. He’s just days away from a tournament with a mysterious prize that is powerful enough to save his family’s failing restaurant empire. But his preparations are derailed when a ghost from his past turns all of his thoughts away from the tournament and onto revenge.
When Braxton and Kenzie’s paths collide, the result is betrayal, a perilous attraction, and a brewing threat neither can escape unscathed. What begins as a magical cooking tournament transforms into a fight for their lives…where only one can win.
“Hex Kitchen transports you to a delicious world of culinary magic and fantastical, sometimes deadly, competition where every dish keeps you at the edge of your plate—wondering who will win the next move and what bite may be their last.” —Elizabeth Karmel, best-selling cookbook author, and Chopped and Iron Chef judge
About the Author:
Stephanie Fazio is a fantasy author. Stephanie grew up in Syracuse, New York, and prior to writing full time, she worked in the fields of journalism, secondary education, and higher education. She has an undergraduate degree in English from Colgate University and a Master’s degree in Reading, Writing, and Literacy from the University of Pennsylvania.
She lives in Austin with her husband and crazy rescue dog. When she isn’t writing, she’s getting lost in parks, hosting taco nights, or ironically and miserably losing at word games, but having fun while she does it.
For more information, or to sign up for her e-newsletter, please visit stephaniefazio.com.