Ember only wants two things out of life: to be reunited with her sisters, and to see people come back to her café. Catering to people she never sees again, she experiences a loneliness that can’t be filled. As one of the last Whakamanu—a descendant of the Maori bird-god Tane—she has to hold on to the secrets of her tribe. Family first.
Gourmet TV personality Austin Garten, host of the popular show Back Road Eats, needs more in his life than Breadbasket America grilling. He’s tired of the safe routes, the easy and dependable foods that the Network loves to display. When his RV breaks down in Wyoming, and he learns about Kai, a Maori restaurant outside of Casper, his interest is piqued. Once he meets the proprietor, he realizes he’s wants more than just her food. He wants her.
Ember isn’t too sure. The Solstice, the Maori New Year, is fast approaching, and with the heat in her kitchen ratcheting up, she knows she can’t keep her secret for much longer. But will Austin be able to accept her? Or will her secret drive them apart?
The bell dinged and broke Ember from her morose thoughts. Plastering on her best please-buy-my-food-and-come-back smile, she smoothed the front of her apron. Three people sat clustered at a table near the door, all hunched over the menus and talking quietly. She always hated interrupting, but she had a job to do. “Hi, I’m Ember. Can I help you?”
The trio looked up, and she had to catch her breath. These weren’t her usual customers; by now, she’d learned exactly the kind of people who came into her restaurant, and she wondered what had happened to bring these three in.
Besides, men as attractive as the one staring a hole through her did not show up here. Ever.
“Actually,” he said, “I’m really intrigued by the menu. What would you recommend?”
Despite herself, she grinned. Until now, she’d been cooking Maori food in the hope that her sisters would come home. Now someone wanted her opinion? “How hungry are you?”
An unexpected heat zipped through her chest. Of course, he had to be gorgeous, with sun-kissed, wavy blond hair; cheekbones that could cut glass; and the bluest eyes she’d ever seen on another person. Approachable, but still… Gorgeous. “I’d go with the stew, then.”
She took the rest of their orders and disappeared into the kitchen for a few minutes before grabbing their drinks. He’s a cute customer. That’s all. Though she’d met attractive men in the café before, usually they were with their girlfriends or wives or college drinking buddies, but they had come in. And a few men in Casper had caught her fancy. Her lifestyle hadn’t prevented her making a physical connection, just…. She didn’t believe in soul mates or any of that romantic nonsense. Still, something stirred in her that never had before, like her soul finally had a purpose.
Breathing deeply, she returned to the front and poured two sodas and an iced tea. When she dropped them off at the table, he smiled at her in a way that was far more than polite, almost seductive. “I like your restaurant. Whatever you’ve got cooking back there smells amazing. What is it?”
“Lamb,” she replied. “It’s kawakawa-encrusted.”
He quirked up his eyebrow. “I’ve never had kawakawa.”
“It’s very peppery. Gives the lamb a beautiful flavor. I could bring some out for you.” Never before had she offered that, but then again, no one had ever asked.
With a grin, he said, “I would love that.”
“I’ll be right back.” Giddy, she returned to the kitchen. Someone wanted to learn about her food! She wanted to skip or dance back to the kitchen. When she opened the oven, the full scent of the lamb enveloped her, and she breathed it in, calming herself down. Who was this man? Did he love food as much as she did? She didn’t want to seem rude, but she wanted to find out everything she could about him. Starting with his name.
This is a great book, I was pulled into the story from page one. Being a bit of a foodie myself, I enjoyed reading about Ember’s passion for cooking and learning about the food of the Maori culture. Cate Peace is a wonderful author, she really brought this book to life, I can’t wait to read more of her work.
Ember’s family life leaves a lot to be desired. Her mother is dead, her father is closed off and disapproving, one sister is missing and the other is out of touch while looking for their mother’s family. For so many reasons she needs the resaraunt to be a success and Austin and his team are her best chance at making it happen.
A fantastic read, the food sounds absolutely delicious… not to mention how delicious Austin is. He has a great sense of humor, he’s goodlooking and a good cook, can we say yummy? She fights her need for him and the need to tell him the truth about herself and her tribe. Their connection is amazing, they both just need to accept it. Ember longs for her sisters to return but could Austin be the beginning of a new family?
~Review by Jai~
Catherine Peace has been telling stories for as long as she could remember. She often blames two things for her forays into speculative fiction—Syfy (when it was SciFi) channel Sundays with her dad and The Island of Dr. Moreau by HG Wells. She graduated in 2008 from Northern Kentucky University with a degree in English and is still chasing the dream of being super rich and famous, mostly so she can sit around in her PJs all day and write stories. When not being a slave to the people in her head, she’s a slave to two adorable dogs.
Blog: Going from Nobody to Somebody
Blog: The Pen Punks
Reviewer for Indie Books R Us
Founder of Scream for the Cure
BWU: So far, which of your books has been your favorite to write?
CP: Not just because I’m promoting it, but probably Ember’s Secret. I got to go back to my roots a little in playing with the mythology and creating something altogether new. I think people will enjoy the Maori aspects of her tale, since it’s not an ethnicity that gets a ton of airtime in current fiction.
BWU: Is there one of your characters that you are more attached to?
CP: I’d have to say Austin is one of my absolute loves. I wrote Ember in a lot of the way I felt about myself at the time–where I just felt like I was too much for someone to handle. Too much baggage and a need to stick close to family. In Austin I found a little more solace, probably similar to what Ember finds in him. Plus he’s just fun to write.
BWU: Do you have a favorite book/author? Or one in particular that inspired you?
CP: Tiffany Reisz is one of my favorite authors ever. Her prose has such a ridiculously beautiful flow that I’m always falling in love with in every new book.
BWU: Are you currently working on something new?
CP: I’m working on a couple of things actually. Solstice Quartet #2, which is Ember’s older sister Amy’s story. There’s even more mythology to play with because she meets two different native Canadian tribes — the Mi’kmaq and the Abenaki. Why does she go to Canada? You’ll have to wait and see!
The second new project is one that won’t leave my head alone. It’s actually a Young Adult book about a girl who has to solve her own murder.
BWU: As an avid reader, this is something that I’ve often wondered, do you get bored with readers gushing over your books, or is each time as exciting as the first?
CP: Not. At. All. Mostly because every single time I go to write a book, I’m convinced I’m doing it completely wrong and that it’ll be awful and no one will like it, so when people actually do? And then they even tell me they do? Oh man. No better feeling in the world.
BWU: Do you have a playlist that you like to listen to while you write? If so, can you name a few of the songs?
CP: Absolutely! These are kind of hilarious since I’m more of a hard rock girl, but they fit.
Falling In — Lifehouse
All Fall Down — One Republic
Over My Head — The Fray
Crack the Shutters — Snow Patrol
Just Say Yes — Snow Patrol
BWU: I know you have dogs, do they ever inspire animal characters in your books?
CP: This might be my favorite question so far! I love talking about my dogs. I have a lot of unpublished (and unfinished) stuff that features dogs, some of which are loosely based on mine. Not that I wanted to work a dog into the mix; rather, they were a natural fit into the plotline. One of my favorite video games ever, Fable 2, is on my favorites list because there’s a dog.
I guess technically Amy gets a dog……
BWU: Who has been your biggest supporter?
CP: I’m lucky in that I have several. My mom, who doesn’t really read my books but tells me I can do anything. My writing pals/critique partners. One of my coworkers is buying her mom and grandmother copies of Ember. And one of my friends from high school is like my biggest fan (Hi, Sammy!).