Sugar Rush (Cupcake Club Romance Series #1)by Donna Kauffman
Devil's Food. . .Angel Cake. . .Red Velvet. . .Praline Crunch. . .Lemon Chiffon. . . How's a woman to choose?
Luckily, the members of the Cupcake Club are about to taste it all. . .
When baker extraordinaire Leilani Trusdale left the bustle of New York City for Georgia's sleepy Sugarberry Island, she didn't expect her past to follow. Yet suddenly, her former… See more details below
Devil's Food. . .Angel Cake. . .Red Velvet. . .Praline Crunch. . .Lemon Chiffon. . . How's a woman to choose?
Luckily, the members of the Cupcake Club are about to taste it all. . .
When baker extraordinaire Leilani Trusdale left the bustle of New York City for Georgia's sleepy Sugarberry Island, she didn't expect her past to follow. Yet suddenly, her former boss, Baxter Dunne, aka Chef Hot Cakes, the man who taught her everything pastry, wants to film his hit cooking show in her tiny cupcakery. The same Chef Hot Cakes whose molten chocolate brown eyes and sexy British accent made Lani's mouth water and her cheeks blush the color of raspberry fillingstirring all kinds of kitchen gossip, much of which Lani wished was true. . .
Lani's friends are convinced that this time around, Baxter is the missing ingredient in her recipe for happiness. But convincing Lani will be a job for Baxter himself. And he'll need more than black velvet frosting to sweeten the deal. . .
"Donna Kauffman writes smart and sexy, with sizzle to spare!" Janet Evanovich
"Deliciously sexy!" -Carly Phillips
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By Donna Kauffman
BRAVA BOOKSCopyright © 2012 Donna Kauffman
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIt was the cupcakes that saved her.
Leilani Trusdale thought about that as she carefully extracted the center from the final black forest cupcake, then set the corer aside and picked up the pastry bag of raspberry truffle filling. She breathed in the mingled scents of dark chocolate and sweet berries. It was inspiring, really, how much power a single, sweet cup of baked deliciousness could wield. Cupcake salvation.
Lani shifted the tip into position. "So, it's all on you, my tasty little friends. Work your magic. Heal me now." She focused intently—fiercely, even—on her way to piping the precise amount of filling into each and every one of the one hundred and fifty-six cupcakes that lined the racks on the stainless steel worktable in front of her—which was totally unnecessary. The fierce focusing, not the filling. She could fill a table of cupcakes blindfolded. In her sleep. With one hand tied behind her back. Possibly on one foot. She'd never done it, but she'd take the bet.
Of course, there were other things she'd never done before—big things, important things—that she'd also taken the bet on. And those bets had all paid off. Every last one. So, she should feel confident, right? About this most recent bet. This huge, ridiculous gamble that kept her awake every night, wondering what in the hell she'd been thinking.
Had she been completely insane, walking away from the career she'd slaved actual blood, sweat, and many, many tears to construct in New York City, to start over on little Sugarberry Island and open her own shop?
Who did that?
"I did," she said out loud, rather defiantly, hoping the statement alone would inspire confidence. It wasn't like she couldn't go back to New York if all else failed. She hadn't hated her life there. Exactly. So, she had a backup plan ... if absolutely necessary.
Her cell phone buzzed in her chef's jacket pocket. Frowning, she set the pastry bag down and wiped her hands before digging it out. Only one person would be calling her at the crack of dawn. She hit the mute button on the stereo remote, silencing the cantina band from the Star Wars soundtrack—everyone had their own mix tape, hers just happened to be made up of her favorite movie theme song hits—then touched SPEAKER-PHONE before propping it on the worktable. "Hey, Charlotte," Lani said in greeting. "What's up, besides us pastry chefs?" She picked up the bag again and went back to work, too antsy to stand still and chat.
Antsy, and angry.
"You sound awake," Charlotte said, "which means you're in the kitchen."
"Where else would I be?"
"You live in Georgia now—where even pastry chefs probably sleep past five AM."
"Not if they want to get their product baked and frosted before opening, they don't."
"You're not in Atlanta. How many cupcakes could the entire island of Sugarberry consume in a day?"
"Answer me this. How many racks of cupcakes are in front of you right now?"
Lani didn't answer. On the grounds that the truth would totally incriminate her. Friends could, occasionally, be a pain in the butt. Especially best friends. They knew too much.
"Chocolate?" Charlotte prodded.
Lani sighed. "One hundred fifty-six. Black forest." At Charlotte's continued silence, she sighed again. "Okay, okay. With raspberry truffle filling. And Dutched chocolate ganache frosting."
"Oh no, I'm too late! You already heard."
"I have to make these." Lani tried not to sound defensive, knowing she failed even as she said the words. "They're for the Kiwanis Club."
"What on earth is a Kiwanis?" Charlotte asked. "Never mind. I don't think I want to know. Much less why they're congregating in clubs."
"It's all part of the annual fall festival here," Lani explained. "It starts with a huge community dinner tonight. The Kiwanis raises money for local civic improvements, so I'm contributing cupcakes to help the cause."
"Good heavens, Lan, you're working . . . what, bake sales now? Is it going so badly as all that?" The lilt of Charlotte's Indian accent came through a little stronger than usual. It always did whenever she was upset.
"Your confidence is inspiring. It's not like I'm helping the high school glee club earn money at a table in front of the local grocery store. I'm doing signature cupcakes in boxed sets as part of a huge auction they'll hold as a kickoff event after the dinner. The people here support me. I'm happy to do it. Plus, it's good marketing. And the Kiwanis Club I'm sponsoring is going to donate all the money they earn from their auction entries to expand and improve the youth and senior centers."
"See, the fact that you need to keep your youths and seniors in centers is a big part of what concerns me about this sudden life shift," Charlotte replied. "But we've had that little talk. As long as you think you need to be on your little island in the middle of nowhere, you know I am your biggest cupcake cheerleader."
Lani did know that. Charlotte might not understand, but she did her best to support. "You really need to come down here, Char. You'll see. This town is like living inside a sustained, continual group hug. You can't believe what it's like to have such loyal support. I mean, I know it's mostly because I'm a Harper, and my great-grandmother was revered here, but they're very sincere about it. And it just feels ... well, great, actually. Come down. Feel the Sugarberry love. You'll understand then, I know you will. You never know, you might even stay." Lani smiled. If you could hear a person shudder, she was pretty sure she'd heard Charlotte do just that. "I miss you."
"I miss you, too. At the moment, however, we have more important things to discuss. I didn't think you'd already know. That's why I called so early. I wanted to get to you first. Are you okay?"
Lani squeezed a bit harder on the pastry bag than necessary, but managed to keep from making a raspberry truffle volcano out of the next cupcake. She didn't pretend to not know what Char was talking about. "I'm fine." Total lie, and one Charlotte wouldn't buy for a second. Especially given the black forest and Dutched ganache. Dead giveaway, really. "How in the world do you know? I just read about it in our little local daily less than an hour ago." Which was why, less than an hour later, she was filling cupcakes as if her life depended on it.
"I'm still in New York, remember? We know everything first. Franco told me this morning when he came in. He's here helping me with setups. We're catering a champagne gala at the Lincoln tonight. It's crazed."
"Bon matin, ma chère!" came Franco's shout from somewhere in the distance, via the speakerphone.
The accent affectation never ceased to amuse Lani. Franco was definitely tall, dark, and swarthy. He was the youngest from a family of seven with six older sisters, and just about the best gay boyfriend a girl could hope to have. But he'd been born Franklin Ricci and raised in the Bronx. He was about as French as baseball and Mom's apple pie. Still, he somehow made it work.
"Bonjour, mon ami," Lani said, warmed by his always cheerful voice, feeling anything but, herself.
"Before you ask," Char said, "Franco got the news last night from a production assistant on Baxter's show he's been hot after for a month now. I had to tell you the second I heard. It's not out for public consumption—yet—so it's not national news."
"It will be international news when we finally get together, ma chère," Franco crooned. "And we will. Like the finest Belgian chocolate with French vanilla filling. Mmm mmm. For private consumption only." His rich laughter echoed into Lani's kitchen.
"Seriously, Franco," Char scolded him. "No one cares about your latest conquest. We're in a state of emergency here."
"Almost conquest. And it's true love, this time, chérie," Franco said with a wistful, dramatic sigh. "Or could be."
"What else do you know about this?" Lani asked, feeling a bit sick, along with antsy and angry. "What exactly did you find out, Franco?"
"Not much," he said, dropping the accent momentarily. "Just that production is gearing up to start filming the next season on location in Sugarberry. I made the connection immediately, of course, but no one else is saying anything about it. Or you. At least not that I've heard. At the moment, Baxter's website and the show website are touting the third season, which launches this week. Baxter is going around doing all the standard promo for the season premiere, but it's only a matter of time before he mentions the next season, since it's going into production this week, too. His ratings are so high there's a lot of buzz about the major networks trying to steal him away for his own daytime show. Apparently, his network execs are pushing like mad to get him going, filming this next season. They want to get all the sponsors inked early on, before the rumors get out of hand." Franco came closer to Charlotte's phone. "Brenton told me they're going to make a big splash about the season premiere on the morning talks all this week. Someone will get him to spill."
"Brenton?" Lani asked. "Really, Franco?"
"It's adorable on him, trust me," he said, all Bronx now. "Listen, Baxter is supposedly doing a surprise spot on Today tomorrow. And honey, you know Hoda and Kathy Lee will be all over him, because—straight or gay—who wouldn't be? They'll bring up the network rumors, and I wouldn't be surprised if he mentions that he's already begun the next season of filming, just to squash the buzz. Word is going to get out, ma chère. Of course they'll make the connection as it's the only one to make. It's only a matter of time."
Charlotte came back on the line. "We just wanted to give you a heads-up, Lan. I didn't want you hearing about it from anyone else. How did it make your little local paper before making the entertainment news here?"
"Ask Baxter." Lani was certain he was behind the personal little news bulletin. He was nothing if not a master at controlling the whims of his own fate. The question she still had no answer for was why? Why was he doing this? Any of it? She said as much out loud.
"I don't know," Charlotte responded. "But, like Franco said, your name hasn't come up in conversation amongst the crew or production, so I don't think anyone else has made the connection yet."
"Well, I'm not news, entertainment or otherwise, so why would anyone on the set care? The only one who will be bothered by this whole thing is me. I just don't understand what possible explanation he used for wanting to set his show here on Sugarberry, of all places."
"Lani," Franco said, butting back in, "you know it's not coincidence. I don't know what he told his bosses, but they obviously went for it. There has to be a hook, don't you think? And the hook has to be you."
"But, why? Just because I worked for him?"
"You know better than that. The world might not care now, but you know it's only a matter of time before it's all out there. Any news that includes Chef Hot Cakes being interested in a woman—particularly one he worked with, mentored, and handed over the running of his beloved shop to ... and about whom there was some pretty juicy gossip back in the day—is not just going to be any news. It's going to be the news."
The very suggestion made Lani's stomach sink further. Just like it had, regularly, "back in the day." Those days had mercifully ended ten months ago. She wanted to keep it that way. "There's nothing to get out. Come on, you and Char know that better than anyone. There was never any substance to those rumors. Most definitely not from Baxter's perspective. You two are the only ones who ever knew how I felt, and you both know I'd kill you in your sleep if you ever breathed a word."
Charlotte gasped. "You don't think we—"
"No, of course I don't." Charlotte and Franco were the two people Lani trusted most in the world. They were "her people," and she was theirs. "It wouldn't have mattered anyway, even if you had," She went on. "I mean, the world won't care what I might have felt for him, because Baxter doesn't care. It's certainly not newsworthy now. Yes, he made my professional life utter hell for the better part of three years—which I signed on for—and yes, he never once stepped up to defend me when the personal gossip started. Not once. But, though I hated it, and it hurt, it wasn't exactly a surprise that he didn't. Baxter is notoriously, completely oblivious to anything not in his own personal line of interest. So, I'm equally sure he had no idea what kind of hell my life was then, and I'd certainly like to believe he doesn't have a single clue about the hornet's nest he's stirring up coming down here now. I can't imagine he'd intentionally do something so—"
"Heartless?" Franco said.
"Sadistic?" Charlotte added.
"Thoughtless," Lani finished.
Charlotte sighed. "Like I said, he had to sell this idea somehow."
"You think he purposely used me as, what, some kind of bait? Even if he had, why would they go for it? There's nothing to mine here. We never were anything but business associates."
"You're right, it doesn't seem like something he'd do. Yet, he's heading your way, with a production crew in tow. Clearly he had to tell the network something, and I don't know how else he'd have sold Sugarberry as a location if not for you."
"Maybe he does realize how hard he made it for you to be taken seriously," Franco offered. "Maybe, from his perspective, he's bringing his show to Sugarberry Island as a way to help make amends. That sounds more like something he'd try to do."
Lani almost choked on her own tongue. "Help? How? By invading my sanctuary? My home? And turning it into some kind of media circus? How on earth would that do anything other than turn my new life into the same crazed hell I just left behind? Even he's not that obtuse." Was he?
"Maybe the gossip and behind-the-scenes kitchen controversy wasn't the hook he pitched. Maybe he just simply pitched you, going from fast climbing, award-winning pastry chef to running your own little island cupcakery. How you're blending the two worlds? I don't know, but that is unique, and something of a hook," Charlotte said, though she didn't sound completely sold on the idea.
"Besides," Franco added, "by the time you took off, what you actually left behind was a whole bunch of people who were in awe of your talent."
When Lani snorted, Charlotte added, "All right, so maybe they were in awe while their mouths hung open in stunned disbelief, after you proved they were all narrow-minded, gossipmongering, donkey's asses. But, the point is, no one doubts you or your talent now." Charlotte's lovely, proper accent was always an odd contrast when she was angry. It was like being bitched out by royalty. "Baxter's favoring you and singling you out because your talent warranted that kind of support and mentoring. He left you in charge of his shop because you were accomplished enough to handle it. He treats Gateau like his firstborn child. He'd have never trusted it to just anyone. When you left, everyone knew you'd earned your place the right way."
"Those were still the same people who had nothing better to do than dish vicious, snide dirt about exactly how they thought I'd 'earned' my position, and just how many positions I had to get into, and how often, to do it," Lani said. "I know what they were saying, Char. We all know what they were saying. It was ugly and gross, and I won't pretend it didn't hurt. A lot. I'd never come up against anything like that in my entire life."
"Because you're the good girl," Franco said. "The nice one, the kind-hearted BFF everyone wants on their side. Of course they chewed you up and spit you out. But you showed them what you were made of."
"Franco, I didn't stay and run Gateau when Baxter left to do his television show to prove to them, or even Baxter, that I was worthy. I stayed because I thought it was what I wanted, what I'd worked so hard for. It was the pinnacle, the dream. I knew I'd earned my way to that success, because I'm the one who busted my backside to achieve it. And that was all that mattered."
Excerpted from Sugar Rush by Donna Kauffman Copyright © 2012 by Donna Kauffman. Excerpted by permission of BRAVA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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