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Tantalize

Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith




When they were in middle school, Quincie and Kieren sat on the railroad tracks, very romantically. All Quincie wanted was for Kieren to act on liking her back, because she's pretty sure he does. She makes sure to sit close, mashing her newly formed middle-school boob up against him and everything. Then, she tries to hold his hand. Tentatively, she curls her fingers around his, but then they hear the train, and Kieren partially wolfs out, his claws piercing straight through Quincie’s hand. Damn it! Who knew liking a teenage wolfman would be so difficult?!


Now, they're in high school and Quincie is still in love with Kieren, but she's also in love with her family's soon to be reopened Italian restaurant. The restaurant used to be called Fat Lorenzo's, but after Quincie's parents died in a car crash and a newer, bigger Italian restaurant opened just down the road, they decided they needed to do something different. Now run by Quincie's Uncle Davidson until she turns 21, they've decided to revamp the restaurant. In just a few weeks, Sanguini's, the first vampire-themed restaurant in Austin, Texas, will be opening. Unfortunately, Vaggio, the long-time chef, is having trouble making the vampire-part of his menu shine, but he's still got time. He sends Quincie off, suggesting she profess her amore for Kieren, but then the phone rings. Quincie leaves the kitchen to answer it, but there's no one on the other end of the line.


Quincie goes to the break room of the restaurant to watch a wolf documentary while waiting for Kieren to arrive. She's tried all sorts of things to tip him over the line from best friend to boyfriend, but nothing has worked, not even the super thin, super sheer tank top she wore braless in the AC! He shows her lots of affection and it seems he really does have feelings for her, but ever since the railroad tracks, it also seems he's being extra careful around her on account of his wolfmanness. Lost in her snack of habanera olives and watching wolves mating, Quincie doesn't notice that Kieren has arrived until she hears his panicked shouts for her. Quincie runs to the kitchen to find that Kieren is okay, whew!, but Vaggio is not. It looks like he's been mauled by a wolf! But was it a werewolf or a vampire who has changed forms? Either way, Vaggio is dead and Quincie is freaked out.


Kieren takes Quincie to a hotel down the road so they can call the police. They also try Uncle Davidson, but he still seems to be out with his new girlfriend, Ruby. The police arrive, Officers Bartok and Matthews, and begin questioning Quincie and Kieren, but then they take them down to the station and separate them to question them further. They ask Quincie what hospital she was born in to not-so-subtly make sure she's not a wereperson. The weres don't go to hospitals, so Kieren, even though he's only a wolfman, a half-wolf, won't be able to answer that question, which won't look very good since everyone is pretty sure Vaggio was killed by a wolf.


At Vaggio’s funeral, Quincie finds out that her 60+ year old friend and stand-in grandfather had five different girlfriends, but they are all lovely. Not quite as lovely, though stunningly beautiful, is Uncle D’s girlfriend, Ruby. She's a living vampire, aka a wannabe vamp, and she and Uncle D are laughing off to the side and being really inconsiderate of the situation. Later, Quincie and Kieren are snuggling together and she tells him that she's scared because the killer could still be around. She doesn't tell him that she low-key thought it was him after leaving the police station and that that thought still lingers in the back of her mind. She plans on carrying her late grampa’s gun with her from now on. Kieren has some ideas of who could be responsible and thinks that Quincie carrying a gun is a terrible idea, but she doesn't want to talk about anything right now.


A week after Vaggio's death, Quincie is put in charge of the new chef even though they haven't hired anyone yet. The restaurant gets tons of prank phone calls and even more faxes with resumes that are mostly garbage. Uncle Davidson toys with the idea of renting the restaurant space out but Quincie protests and Uncle D relents. Quincie goes to Kieren's house after and is greeted by his dog, Brazos, and his mom who used to be best friends with Quincie's parents. Before going upstairs to see Kieren, Miz Morales talks about how when Kieren turns eighteen, he's going to have to go off and join a wolf pack, which might be weird since he can't fully transform. Quincie doesn't want him to go though. 


Kieren tucks his little sister Meghan in bed and then Quincie tries to put the moves on him, but he says he doesn't want to hurt her, then Quincie embarrassingly trips on a highlighter and falls into the waterbed. Things get worse when Kieren confesses he thinks a vampire killed Vaggio, drawn to the restaurant by its vampire-theme. He hates vampires. Quincie gets mad, but she's really mad about Kieren leaving and not wanting to make out with her. Before they can argue too much about that, Kieren thinks he smells something and takes off. Downstairs, Brazos is barking like crazy and when Quincie gets down there, Kieren says he smelled someone spicy. Maybe a man? Maybe a Cat? Uh oh, Dogs and Cats don't get along!


School starts in just a few days and Sanguini's opens in about a month, so Quincie has to get busy because no one good has applied for Vaggio’s head chef position. The rest of the staff is easy and most worked at the restaurant when it was Fat Lorenzo's, but the chef is the most important. Quincie is determined to find someone good so she goes to the restaurant where she does all her school work and work work, but… someone is already inside. Then a hand clamps down on her shoulder!


The hand belongs to local harmless vagrant Mitch. He's been coming by the restaurant for years getting leftovers and now he's going to hang out with Quincie while she calls the police. When they arrive, everyone learns that the stranger in the kitchen is the new head chef, Henry Johnson, hired by Uncle Davidson earlier that day. It sure would have been nice, and a lot less embarrassing, if he told Quincie that! Henry's a regular-looking cowboy type, but wait… are all his teeth pointy?! No no, those are just fake teeth he was trying out to work on his vampire aesthetic. They plan to meet the next day, with Uncle D, to get to work.


Uncle Davidson barely does anything, exhausted from a night out with Ruby, but Quincie immediately starts working on Henry's vampire persona, though Uncle D suggests Ruby could do that, or even be the vampire ruler of the restaurant. No! Ruby isn't even a part of their family, so Quincie doesn't want her to have anything to do with the restaurant. Luckily Henry seems to agree and tells Uncle D that he and Quincie can handle it. Today he's tried out lavender contact lenses, but they aren't working. Maybe red next time? And a cape? The patrons of the restaurant will take this all very seriously so they have to do a great job convincing everyone that Henry really is a real vampire.


First thing? Change his name from Henry Johnson. That does not sound like a vampire name at all. They settle on Bradley Sanguini as if the Sanguinis are an actual family. While they're discussing this, they try some food Brad has made and drink some red wine, though Quincie says she prefers white, but what does she know, she's seventeen and has only tried wine a couple of times while cooking with Vaggio. They drink half a bottle, Quincie really starting to enjoy it, and then there's a knock at the door. Two friends of Kieren's, Travis and Clyde, both small, pointy, hairy guys who Quincie is pretty sure aren't 100% human, are there to start new jobs.


School starts the next day and Quincie catches a ride with Kieren. They see Mitch, who mentions talking to the police, and then head to school. Before they go in, Kieren tries to convince Quincie to drop the vampire part of the new restaurant, but nah, not gonna happen. When they get in, they see Quincie's locker has been defaced which is a little weird, but then the assistant principal catches her before class starts. He offers her the opportunity to homeschool for the year since she's going through so much right now and she's already doing half days anyway with work study so she can run the restaurant. He's already talked it over with her uncle and everything. Quincie declines.


Later, at the restaurant, Brad gives Quincie lots of wine and she tries another dish, minestrone, and finds it orgasmically delicious yet boring. Every Italian restaurant has minestrone. Quincie wants the restaurant to be more exciting, like a role playing game. Ruby and Uncle D come in then, Ruby unimpressed with Brad and his attire. She also comments as if he and Quincie are on a date, which is weird, don't do that. Brad does like, continually flirt with her though, and there's not that much of an age difference. Ruby just wants him to fail so she can be the head vampire, but Quincie won't let that happen. They shop for clothes the next day but don't find anything promising.


Quincie gets a call from Kieren, upset that she didn't call him back the night before, but apparently Uncle D forgot to tell her. Seems he really doesn't like Kieren much. Quincie mentions that Kieren's been acting weird lately and Uncle D asks if he should tell the police. Wait. Does he think Kieren killed Vaggio? Does he know that Kieren is part Wolf? The two friends pretend everything is fine between them but Kieren clearly doesn't like vampires or the vampire-themed restaurant and Quincie is clearly upset that her best friend/crush is about to leave her to join a wolf pack. Better not talk about their actual feelings or anything.


At the restaurant later, Quincie is plied with more wine. Brad offers her a ride home but she refuses. Travis is still there, cleaning up, and instead of accepting the ride from Brad or asking Travis, she decides to walk home. It's a good thing really because she was supposed to drive Uncle D's car home, but like, she's had a million glasses of wine and he came to get his car earlier anyway. She takes off walking after midnight in a big city and is immediately panicked, but she doesn't have that far to go. As she's walking though, she realizes someone is following her. Close to her house, the follower catches up. Quincie turns around to punch him with a key fist, but it's just Kieren. He wanted to make sure she got home okay after hearing from Travis that she was walking. When they get to her house, she sexually invites him inside, but Uncle D is there, reminding them it's a school night. Damn! She might've seduced him this time!


The next day, Quincie and Uncle D have some time alone together. He shockingly gives her some red wine he brought home from the restaurant and they talk about werecreatures being dangerous, which Quincie thinks is nonsense, and the vampire theme for the restaurant. Quincie wants to tell Uncle D that it might be a bad idea because a vampire might've killed Vaggio like Kieren said, but they don't make it that far because Uncle D talks about family being the most important thing and also Ruby trying to find a real vampire, maybe in hopes of actually becoming one. It's cheaper and more permanent than Botox! It only costs your immortal soul! 


The next day at school, Quincie daydreams about banging Kieren enough for her teacher to notice, then later, she goes shopping with Brad again. He's tried out a vampire costume where the shirt and pants were attached, which is weird, leather pants and a satin shirt, which is also weird, but probably more attractive, and now a tuxedo. He and Quincie dance without music and she gets pretty swoony, but Uncle Davidson snaps them out of it. He's not pleased with any of Brad's outfits and just wants Ruby to be the star, but like, what if they broke up? That would be weirder than your shirt and pants being sewn together. Quincie asks for one last try. Before they can go shopping again, a police officer, Sanchez, calls and tells Quincie that the perp, the murderer, the shifter who killed Vaggio, was probably someone he knew, which means she probably knows them too.


The next day at school, Quincie falls asleep in one class, is offered homeschooling again by the assistant principal, and then cries about a quiz she's definitely going to fail in English class. The teacher thinks she's sad about her life outside of school so she sends her to the nurse, then she and Kieren skip the rest of the day. He takes them to his house where he grabs a picnic and Brazos and then takes them to the cemetery. Oh… that's right. It's her parents’ wedding anniversary and she typically sets this day aside to celebrate them, but this year, she totally spaced. Kieren remembered though. Maybe he does have feelings for her!


Later, Quincie and Brad are at it again with the clothes shopping. Quincie is kind of annoyed and Brad asks if her puppy love has broken her heart. Uh, no! They're still friends! But then she asks Brad about his first love and then she thinks about Kieren and if he would ever want a life with a budding restaurateur or if he'll prefer his life with his new pack. Sigh … The costuming still isn't going well, and it doesn't seem to get any better after Quincie suggests an Iron Chef outfit and/or a black trenchcoat. With only a week to go before the opening of Sanguini's, it's not looking like they're going to have a handsomely dressed vampire chef at the helm.


Quincie goes home after a long day’s work and notices a disgusting smell coming from her bedroom. Inside she finds a giant armadillo and Clyde, looking dead on the floor. She yells at the stupid wereboys who have been sent to her house by Kieren to vampire-proof it, but it seems, judging by the pink panties in Clyde's hand, that they got distracted. Clyde tells her that he's a wereopossum and can play dead in both human and ‘possum forms and that the armadillo is Travis. When shifting, weres give off a terrible odor, and that, combined with the garlic candle, has to be disgusting. She kicks the idiot boys out and cleans up their mess.


Quincie is pissed at Kieren the next day. He tries to pick her up as she's walking to school to apologize for Travis and Clyde, but nah dog, they were messing with her underwear. They also maybe took her grampa's gun that she was going to start carrying ever since she walked home by herself that night. Kieren swears he's going to talk to them but is that good enough? Quincie decides she's going to skip school and go straight to work, and to Brad. She doesn't want anything to change and it seems like he's pretty steady. He's been there for her at the restaurant every time she's needed him, you know, for the past almost month. Maybe it's time to let Kieren leave for his pack.


The day before Sanguini's opens, Quincie has one last outfit for Brad to try, but it seems Uncle D and Ruby are pretty sure that Ruby is going to be the head vampire. At the restaurant, Brad, in his red contact lenses and fangs, tries on the chef's hat Quincie has brought him, but he's like, 6’4”, so with the hat, that makes him over 7 feet which is just ridiculous. She gives up when Brad offers to let her sample the menus. Yes, there are two: Prey and Predator.


The Prey menu is pretty standard, but still delicious, with items like eggplant parmesan, three cheese ravioli in mushroom sauce and tiramisu. If the Prey menu is safe, the Predator menu is dangerous with its veal tartare, pigs feet and, the most tantalizing of all… a chilled baby squirrel as an option for dessert. As Quincie tries all the food, yes all of it, even the squirrel, Brad strokes her wrist with long fingers and keeps refilling her wine. Since they're all alone in the restaurant, it really feels like they're on a date, and Quincie doesn't mind it at all. There's only a few years difference in their ages. She's almost 18 and he's what, 22? It's fine…!


It's finally time for the restaurant to open and everyone is dressed up for the occasion. Quincie is wearing fishnets, leather hot pants and a bustier with black lipstick and cowboy boots. Bradley is in a gray suit with a hint of makeup to bring out his cheekbones. That, plus his standard red contacts and fangs make him the vampire chef Quincie longed for him to be. All the staff, new and those that returned from Fat Lorenzo's, are ready to go, though Travis appears to be missing. Patrons start arriving and they're dressed just as spectacularly in leather and feathers and lace. Quincie grabs a glass of wine and prepares herself to carpe noctem! Seize the night!


The night-seizing goes fairly well with only one ass grabbed and one dinner spilled. The dessert course is fast approaching and soon Bradley Sanguini will make his midnight toast. Quincie wants to be a part of it, but then she notices that Kieren has arrived. He wasn't supposed to be anywhere near the restaurant, on orders from his parents and/or the police who have been asking him constant questions since Vaggio's murder. It's quite possible they think he's responsible and maybe Quincie does, too, sometimes…


Before Quincie can rush away from him and back for the toast, Kieren tells her he thinks Ruby is the vampire who killed Vaggio and is using the restaurant as a vampire beacon to draw more of her kind to the area. He then tells Quincie she looks and smells different, then calls her out for missing so much school and not even realizing that several of their classmates and neighbors are missing or dead. Yikes. She heads out into the floor of the restaurant with Kieren right behind her, but then, in the middle of his midnight vampire toast, Brad tells Kieren he's not welcome amongst the blessed, so he leaves. Brad finishes his speech and raises his glass to Quincie.


The next night is Sanguini's first regular service, but it's still very fancy and busy. Clyde arrives only to tell Quincie and Uncle Davidson that he's quitting and that Travis is dead. He literally doesn't say it any gentler than that. Uncle D gives him a check to give to Travis’s family and then offers Clyde $300 to work his shift. He agrees, but he refuses to stay after the restaurant closes. Quincie, in her navy blue lace dress, beige thong and chafed nipples, goes to talk to Brad. He apologizes for Kieren ruining the previous night and tells her he'll always take care of her, then shares that he has written a bio insert for the menu. It includes his presumably made up younger years and how now, as a Blessed Vampire, he longs to feed his prey, and also find a bride… Does that mean he wants to marry Quincie?!


Guests start arriving including a very annoying family that asks to see Quincie. The parents teach Sunday School at her church and they brought their five year old child in, who constantly yells that he's five. It's dreadful, but soon Brad swoops out on the floor and escorts the obnoxious family to a private soundproof party room, and Quincie tells him she loves him. Then she sees Kieren. He's come to tell Quincie that someone poisoned his dog, someone bought silver bullets from a Werewolf salesman using Vaggio’s ID, and that he's found a ton of articles written by Henry Johnson that date back to the 1920s. Henry Johnson, aka Bradley Sanguini is a vampire! A real one! Bradley sends a glass of wine to Quincie as she summons bouncers, beefy sunburnt guys named Ian and Jerome, to escort Kieren out. He's mad because Quincie is changing and doesn't even realize it, but he vows to keep her safe. Uncle D comes by after Kieren's kicked out to tell Quincie he's going to tell the police about him being aggressive.


The rest of the evening goes well and as everyone clears out, Quincie tells her uncle and Ruby that she's going to catch a ride home with Brad. She spins into the kitchen, very pleased with how the night went, but things keep spinning and she passes out into Brad’s arms. She wakes up the next day on the couch in the breakroom feeling like garbage. She changes out of her lacy dress and into a t-shirt and shorts and feels like herself, and sober, for the first time in a long time. She feels emotional about Travis and about Brazos and about Kieren, but she can't get him or anyone else on the phone. She thinks about the documents he brought in, but then decides that you can't trust everything you read on the Internet and heads to Bradley's house.


Jerome and Ian, the beefy bouncers, are there and go get Brad who welcomes her to enter his house of her own free vill. He apologizes for abandoning her the night before, but says she needed to come to him on her own. He gives her wine when she asks for water and then they make out until she passes out again, clearly drugged. She wakes, no longer in her t-shirt, but instead in a white flowing nightgown and tied to a bed in a basement. Oh great. She's gonna die.


Bradley comes to visit her, and Ruby, too, and a Wolf. Quincie hopes against hope that that Wolf isn't Kieren, but luckily for her, it's Uncle D, who transforms into his Vampire form right before her eyes. A wolf is an easy transformation for a new vampire, and now, standing before her, he apologizes for not Blessing her parents, but he wasn't a vampire yet when they died. Now that she's about to turn, too, he hopes to keep their new Vampire family safe. Later, after asking if “the boss” has told her everything yet, Ruby licks her hand and slinks into the basement to tell Quincie that Bradley is turning everyone much faster than he normally would because he wants to take over Texas, and he'll be able to do that pretty quickly. Everyone who was brave enough to eat the baby squirrels will soon be Neophyte Vampires, and shockingly, that is a lot of people.


The next time Quincie wakes, Brad is next to her in bed. He tells her that he hates that he's had to keep her locked up in the basement, but she's just coming into her vampireness and he doesn't want to lose her. When she asks for clarification, he explains a bunch of ways that vampires can be killed and says that werecarnivores can be especially dangerous because they can't be turned and they get mad when a vampire tries to eat one of them. He says that there are even some that spy on them with the hopes of assassinating them. He tells her everything's going to be okay though and that she should meet him on the dance floor of Sanguini's the next night with a drink, aka a sacrifice, and her devotion. If she doesn't, he's going to kill Kieren. Then, he bites her.


Quincie wakes up in her bed at home. She wants to warn Kieren, but when she calls, he doesn't answer. She realizes she has a ton of missed calls and messages though and listens to them. Most of them are from Kieren, looking for her. One says he's following a lead at the school. One says he's going to find her. The last message is from Bradley asking if she slept well. She gets thoroughly creeped out, feeling like he's watching her, but finally gets out of bed. She discovers several bite marks all over her body and realizes that Bradley was tasting her, then, she tastes herself and finds that her blood is pretty delicious. She goes looking through drawers and finds her grampa’s gun in Uncle D’s dresser and grabs it, wanting any protection she can get even though she's more likely to accidentally shoot herself than anyone else. Then, she sees herself in the mirror. Red eyes, fangs and all. 


Quincie goes to the kitchen for something to eat but doesn't really find anything that doesn't make her gag. She does spot a bottle of wine from the restaurant, but instead of drinking it in all its blood-spiked deliciousness, she pours it down the drain. She leaves the house to try to find Kieren, and makes it to his place. His truck is outside, so she pounds on the door until her knuckles bleed. His little sister Meghan opens the door and tells her Kieren's not there and that she looks and smells funny. Quincie almost eats the little girl, but screams at her to shut the door instead. Door closed, Quincie licks her own blood off of it, then licks her knuckles clean, too. She needs more blood. Now. Quincie walks around town, scoping out someone she can eat when she runs into Mitch, her homeless friend, in the park. As she starts to eat him, thinking no one will miss him, he wakes up and is also a vampire. Damn it! She goes back home, wondering if Mitch is responsible for some of the deaths she's heard about. 


Back at her house, Quincie decides to try to eat some chicken that she thaws in the microwave like a popsicle. While she's enjoying her treat, Detectives Bartok and Matthews come by, looking for Kieren. She tells them she hasn't seen him and also that Detective Sanchez called a few weeks ago and he told her that they're close to an arrest of a shifter. They are shocked by this statement. Detective Sanchez is a she, not a he, so whoever called and told her that was not a police officer. Damn it! Everyone's been tricking her into thinking Kieren is a killer this entire time! It seems Kieren might be the only person telling her the truth.


Uncle D and Ruby come in shortly after the police leave, full of blood and vigor. Uncle D is impressed with how quickly Ruby made the transition into a vampire and they promise to take her Quincie for a feeding later. They just finished off the police officers, which can't be great considering the rest of the police officers will probably think Kieren is responsible, but maybe he'll have extra time to run away to find a wolf pack now without Bartok and Matthews looking for him. It's almost time for Quincie to meet Bradley at the restaurant with her victim, so she goes upstairs with plans to take Uncle D and Ruby out so she can then kill Bradley.


Turns out, Uncle D is already dead, staked, and Ruby isn't a vampire but a werecat. All the werecreatures hate vampires so Quincie makes sure to tell Ruby that she's going to kill Bradley and save Kieren and that she should let her go. When Ruby lunges at her, Quincie shoots the giant cat in the shoulder. She tells her to go find Kieren's mom who is a healer who will help her. Hopefully. Ruby Cat leaves and then Quincie grabs the stake from her uncle's back and heads to the restaurant.


Clyde is in Kieren's mom’s work van outside Quincie's house, but Kieren isn't there. Clyde, after a moment of sexy-panic, tells Quincie that Kieren took off after Ruby. Quincie drives them to the restaurant and plans to take Clyde inside as a fake sacrifice, then kill Bradley while he's feeding on him. Clyde figures this out, minus the killing Bradley part, and starts shifting into his ‘possum form. Quincie gets him under control and he tells her they should wait for Kieren to come back. Then he tells her that Ruby is the one who killed Travis, not Bradley or another vampire, basically because cats don't give a fuck. He says they all hate vampires though, sorry not sorry, but if she's there to kill Bradley, then he's going to help. Just then, Kieren arrives.


Kieren rips the door off the hinges and Quincie gets out. She realizes that if Kieren would just kill her, then Bradley would have no reason to hurt him, (uh what?) so she holds the stake out to him. Instead of killing her, he kisses her! While they're making out, fangs and hips grinding, Clyde speeds off. He's a smart little wereopossum. Kieren suggests they run away, too. Quincie will be able to become a wolf soon enough, but she's not going to let Bradley use her family restaurant to vampirize and/or eat people, and she doesn't want Kieren to live a life with her on the run without a pack. Quincie tells Kieren the plan she has previously concocted and they go through with it, swapping him out for Clyde. He says he'll surprise attack while Bradley is drinking him. As they go inside, Quincie worries about the bouncers, Jerome and Ian, but Kieren reveals they are wereturkey vultures and only hang out with Bradley for his easy corpse pickins left behind. They won't interfere.


Inside Sanguini's, Bradley is waiting for Quincie. When he sees that she's brought Kieren as her sacrifice, he's startled but appreciative. He asks if Kieren had a bad day at school because he heard that the assistant principal was decapitated, which yikes, but then she realizes that he was a vampire and vandalized her locker and was pushing her to homeschool so she'd spend more time at the restaurant with Brad and less time with humans and Kieren. Jeez! The lengths this guy will go to. Whatever, she's still got her plan. Brad goes on that they're going to be together forever and it's going to be amazing. Then he tells her to drink. Wait, what? She has to bite Kieren? She thought it would be Bradley drinking him! This is not the plan at all! 


Bradley tells her that if she drinks from Kieren but chooses not to kill him, then he will leave Sanguini's and Austin and all his Neophyte Vampires for her to lead because his plan won't be worth it if he has to bully her into loving him. He’ll just walk away. Adios. Just like that. But, she has to be able to stop drinking from Kieren, which is going to be difficult to do. Kieren helps make this decision by wolfmanning out and tearing into his own hands. Quincie begins to drink from her best friend, from her crush, from her love. Bradley thinks he's won, but then, she stops drinking. She’s going to lose Kieren to his wolf pack and Bradley to another town but she will not lose herself or her restaurant. Adios, Brad! Now she's gotta find a new head chef.


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