All’s Fair In Love and Cupcakes, страница 1
All’s Fair in Love and Cupcakes
Copyright © 2014 by Betsy St. Amant
ePub Edition © May 2014: ISBN 978-0-310-33844-4
Requests for information should be addressed to:
Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49546
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
St. Amant, Betsy.
All's fair in love and cupcakes / Betsy St. Amant.
ISBN 978-0-310-33845-1 (softcover)
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Publisher’s Note: This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. All characters are fictional, and any similarity to people living or dead is purely coincidental.
Cover design: Sara Wood
Interior design: Lori Lynch
To Jennye, my fellow cupcake-eater-in-crime, who also happens to be my best friend, my sister—and more importantly—someone who understands that eating cupcakes for breakfast is perfectly acceptable.
Kat’s Raspberry Lemonade Torte Cupcakes
About the Author
There was more to life than vanilla buttercream. Or at least, Kat Varland used to believe so.
Once upon a time, she created magic with flour and sugar and eggs. With cinnamon and nutmeg and vanilla. Every measured cup was instinct, every whisked ingredient inspiration. Baking held promise, potential. Power.
Now she could make the simple cupcakes filling the Sweetie Pies shop display in her sleep—in fact, one morning after she’d been up late experimenting with new recipes, she very nearly had. But Sweetie Pies had a reputation, and the owner, her aunt Maggie Mayfield, kept that even more sparkling than the tiny sugar crystals adorning the otherwise plain desserts. Fancy didn’t have a home at Sweetie Pies, and neither did gourmet. Or, as Aunt Maggie usually put it, weird.
The display lights caught the clear sprinkles and the miniature cakes seemed to wink, as if knowing Kat could do so much more. Or maybe they were just begging her to try. Who was satisfied with a vanilla identity, anyway?
The door to the shop swung open, letting in a burst of crisp autumn air. Kat straightened on instinct, like a child caught daydreaming in school. The bell on the knob tinkled as a smattering of crimson leaves followed Aunt Maggie inside, skittering across the black-and-white checkerboard floor. Little did they know they’d be swept out within the hour—or else.
“I’m back, finally.” Her aunt attempted a smile as she bustled behind the counter to join Kat, but the lines around her eyes appeared to be etched deeper than usual, sabotaging her effort. “Tuesday afternoon already. Did I miss anything Saturday? My, but I hate being sick.” She tied her trademark white ruffled apron around her round waist, but it didn’t fit nearly as snugly as it used to. She glanced around the spotless work area. “Where’s Amy?” Then she must have caught sight of the leaves in her peripheral vision, because she frowned and marched toward the storage room door before Kat could catch up—figuratively or literally.
“Amy left early to study for her test since business was a little slow.” Not that it was ever technically busy, but at least having Amy’s part-time, high school help allowed Kat some days off and picked up the slack when Maggie was sick. Which was more and more frequent these days.
Kat sidestepped to make it to the storage room first, unwilling to let her aunt, who clearly didn’t feel much better than she had last weekend, do more labor than necessary. Maggie was her mom’s much older sister in the first place, and now that she’d been sick so often, Kat wanted to protect her strength even more than usual.
“I’ll handle the leaves, Aunt Maggie.”
Her aunt didn’t argue, which proved how poorly she must still be feeling. Once again, Kat fought a burst of guilt from her internal, ongoing frustration over her aunt’s baking restrictions. Maggie owned the shop—not Kat. It was her choice what products they sold, and if Maggie liked vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate, then vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate it was.
Even if Kat had just perfected a raspberry lemonade torte recipe that could very likely bring world peace.
She grabbed the broom and began to sweep the leaves back to their rightful place outside as Maggie opened the register and riffled through receipts. “Don’t worry, you didn’t miss much Saturday. We had the usual stream of customers, is all.”
Kat could predict them like clockwork. Right on schedule, Heidi Mann had shown up for the single chocolate cupcake she routinely bought each Saturday as a reward for making it through another week of teaching preschoolers. And then there was the group of stay-at-home moms, including Kat’s friend, Rachel Cole. As usual, they wanted to distract their husbands with chocolate cupcakes so they wouldn’t notice the piles of laundry they hadn’t been able to get to all week. There was Mrs. Lucille, Kat’s father’s secretary at the Bayou Bend Church of Grace where he pastored, who needed her weekend indulgence. And of course, Kat’s best friend, Coach Lucas Brannen, with his standing order of two dozen strawberry cupcakes for his high school football team’s weekend practice. If Kat had been given free cupcakes every weekend in high school, she might have gone out for a team too.
Most of the other Bayou Bend regulars seemed to suddenly realize the shop would be closed for two days and had to rush in for their favorites before they missed their chance.
But Kat knew the business could be so much more than what appealed to the regulars. She had so many ideas for marketing that got lost in the oppressing aura of routine at Sweetie Pies. Ideas that could expand Maggie’s business, allow Kat to bake the recipes of her heart, draw in customers from surrounding counties—the works.
But not with strawberry, chocolate, and vanilla.
Kat lowered her voice, nearly muttering to herself. “Nope. Didn’t miss much at all.” She swept harder, as if attempting to scrub the black off the black tiles. As if effort and hard work made a difference. As if one could create color from darkness.
“That’s nice, hon.” Maggie didn’t seem to be listening anymore, immersed in the contents of the register from that day’s sales. But Kat knew she didn’t really care about p
She’d learned two things since coming to bake for her aunt almost five years ago. One—less is more, unless sugar is involved, and then you should be exact. And two—privacy equals respect. If you don’t allow someone their privacy, you don’t respect them.
That perhaps explained why Kat was twenty-six years old and still in the exact same spot in life since graduating college with her bachelor’s degree in Business. No one asked her what she wanted.
Her ex-boyfriend, Chase, surely hadn’t asked when he suddenly decided he preferred blondes.
But that was a lifetime ago.
She worked a rhythm with the broom, watching the leaves swirl back into the late afternoon sun, wishing she could capture their exact color in her piping bag. She could make an autumn harvest cupcake, maybe apple and cinnamon with an apricot icing and a sugared date on top, or a caramel apple cupcake with generous dustings of brown sugar and—
“Hey, watch out!”
The warning came a split second before she swept straight into a jean-clad leg. The stick of the broom bounced off the victim’s shin, and bristles coated the unsuspecting navy-and-gray athletic shoes with clods of dirt and dust. Very familiar athletic shoes. She couldn’t hide her smile as she lifted her gaze to meet Lucas’s. “Hey, your shoes are dirty.”
“I guess that’s what I get for keeping the boys late at practice.” His eyes, the color of the cocoa she mixed into the chocolate cake batter every morning, warmed, and she knew he didn’t really care. Lucas wore those shoes to every team practice, and they’d long since seen better days. His gaze darted over her head toward her aunt, and he leaned in and lowered his voice. “Do you have any of the good stuff in the shop today?”
A red flush heated Kat’s neck, and she pretended to smack him with the broom. “Hush. My aunt will hear you.”
“Good. Then maybe she’ll realize there are some people in Bayou Bend who enjoy weird cupcakes.” He winked, his broad shoulders filling the door frame of the shop.
“Not weird. Gourmet.” The retort flew off her lips before she could process that he was teasing. How many times had she held that reply in around her aunt, wishing she could just speak her heart?
She glanced over her shoulder, but Aunt Maggie must have gone into the kitchen. Come to think of it, Kat probably did have some rejected recipes in her file at home that could only be defined as weird. But how did you know unless you tried? That was the best part of baking—getting to experiment and figure it out as you went. If it didn’t work, you just poured out the batter and started over.
There was always a second chance.
Lucas must have taken her sudden silence for insult. “I’m teasing, Kat. I would never speak ill of Maggie. The town loves her.”
Rightly so. She was a wonderful woman—just not a visionary. “I know. She’s . . . vanilla. A staple. Classic.” Sort of like everyone else in her family in Bayou Bend. Between her father’s pastoring, her mother’s committee heading, her aunt’s cupcake shop, and her younger sister’s pageant wins, Kat was the only expendable one in the family.
Figured her family, who had options, didn’t even want out of Bayou Bend, while she remained stuck. Permanently.
“Nice observation.” Lucas crossed his arms over his chest, the sleeves of his dark gray T-shirt pulling across his biceps as he studied her. He leaned against the door frame. “So what flavor are you?”
Her breath hitched in her throat as she met his steady gaze. She knew right away what Lucas’s flavor would be—dark chocolate with cherry ganache filling. A deep, bittersweet taste that lingered long after it was gone.
But no—she didn’t know her own.
She drew a tight breath, eager to break the unintentionally heavy turn of the conversation. “Hey, I’m so busy baking for you on the side . . . I don’t have time for taste tests.”
Lucas might be her best friend, but he didn’t need her dumping her self-analyzing psychobabble on him. After all, he came for cupcakes. She should save the rest of her drama for Rachel. Somehow, even while knee-deep in PTA forms and stacks of baby onesies to monogram, her friend always found the right thing to say when Lucas couldn’t.
Or when the topic was about Lucas, which had been happening way more than it should lately.
Kat gestured with the broom inside the shop, ignoring how sweaty her palms suddenly felt against the handle. “You coming in, or are you just going to stand here and let more leaves inside?”
Lucas stepped fully inside the shop and the door swung shut. “Actually, the guys were especially hungry Saturday, so I didn’t get my strawberry cupcake then. Going to need a replacement.”
“You should have told me. I’d have snuck you one at church on Sunday.” It wouldn’t be the first time she’d passed him a bag of homemade treats after the morning welcome or in the parking lot. Lucas was a great sport about tasting her experiments. Only once in the two years she’d started daring to bake her own recipes had he spit one back into his hand.
Apparently licorice and Greek olives didn’t go together after all.
“I should have. I think I was still in denial that I’m this addicted.” Lucas rubbed his jaw, his five o’clock shadow scratching under his fingers. His eyes roved over the display behind her, though Kat wasn’t sure what he was expecting to see. It hadn’t changed in the decades since her aunt had opened Sweetie Pies. “Too bad you don’t have any of those raspberry things you made me try last week. That one had medicinal qualities—should be a prescription for a bad day.”
“You’re corny.” She swatted at him, but the compliment attempted to fill the nooks and crannies inside—the hollow spots that still whispered fear into her heart. At least if nothing else, she knew Lucas loved her creations—all of them, exactly for what they were. Not only the simple cupcakes filling the racks inside Sweetie Pies, but the ones she baked from her heart. Of Lucas, she was certain.
It was the rest of the town that had her guessing.
“Not corny. Cheesy.” Lucas grinned, then his expression sobered. “Seriously, Kat, my mission is to make you less humble. You’re good.”
She clutched the broom like a life preserver, simultaneously wishing his words didn’t carry so much weight and wishing he would keep speaking them forever. “Good, huh?” She swallowed, her throat dry. She wanted to think so. But she wanted so much more than good. She wanted great.
She wanted to be seen.
“Very good. You just need to believe it already.”
He reached out and ruffled her hair, and the feeling of fullness leaked away at the brotherly gesture. The best friend line blurred more often than she cared to admit, but Lucas was good about yanking her back from the edge of that particular precipice when she veered too close. Even if it stung—and even if he was unaware how often she teetered.
Hopefully, he’d stay that way.
She moved to put the counter between them, pausing to lean the broom against the far corner of the wall. Under the framed photo of her sister, Stella, from last year’s win, tiara perched snugly atop a mass of perfect curls. Blonde curls.
But Chase wasn’t Stella’s fault.
No, putting all her hopes and dreams into a very flawed man was completely her own fault—though maybe she wouldn’t have done so if she’d imagined she’d ever have a chance of more than a friendship with Lucas.
With a resigned breath, she took her place behind the cupcake counter. “So what’ll it be?” She tugged on a clear glove and let her hand hover above the trays of desserts. “Oh, strawberry, right?”
She knew what she’d choose.
But dark chocolate cupcakes with cherry ganache filling were definitely not on the menu.
For someone used to calling plays for a living, he sure was see
He’d actually ruffled her hair. Good grief, it was a shock he hadn’t gone ahead and slapped her on the shoulder or called her “buddy.” Lucas wrinkled the white pastry bag in his hand and tried to keep his expression neutral as he waited for Kat to close out the register so he could walk her home. He’d apparently spent way too much time on the field with his football players and not enough time dating.
Though he certainly spent more time than he should imagining what it’d be like dating Kat.
Talented, beautiful, completely oblivious Kat.
Lucas pulled his cupcake from the bag and took a bite, less from impatience and more from needing to mask the flood of embarrassment over his fumble. He’d just placed a bid on Roger Johnson’s old farmhouse on Highway 169 and the accompanying ten acres of land—land he pictured strolling with Kat. Curling up under the live oak that spread its massive limbs halfway to heaven and back. Tossing a football to their children over the wheat-colored fields every autumn. Maybe planting their own pumpkin patch.
He wasn’t going to see his dream come true by ruffling a woman’s hair. Kat Varland needed a hero, and heroes didn’t act like immature high school boys every time they came around. What was wrong with him?
He couldn’t help watching her work behind the counter. Hmm. Maybe he was addicted to more than the cupcakes.
“All done.” She shut the register drawer with a solid click, reminding Lucas it was time to stop staring at those shiny brown strands of hair still tousled from his idiocy. “Let me just check on Aunt Maggie and see if she wants me to take the deposit tonight or if it’s okay to wait until tomorrow.” She disappeared into the back, where Maggie’s office was tucked off the corner of the small but efficient industrial kitchen.
As the swinging door shut behind her, Lucas dropped the uneaten half of his cupcake back into its sack and folded the bag closed. The strawberry cakes were great, but man, Kat could do better. Did better, in fact, every time she went home, put her hair up, and baked to a background of Sinatra. How many times had he watched her do just that over the years, while he sat on the walnut bar stool and offered suggestions, prompting her to take it to another level?