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Authors: Leigh Ellwood

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BOOK: Sugar Rush
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“Okay, if you’re committed to that, let me get you an order
form to fill out while I check on my cookies.” Neve dashed behind the counter,
eliminating any possibility of a spontaneous kiss. Judy sighed her
disappointment, though the aroma of warm oatmeal and chocolate provided some
balm to her bruised heart.

“We will need fifty percent of the total cost up front, just
so you know,” Neve called from under a counter. “If you can’t swing that now,
we’re open until seven today. If I’m not here when you come in, my assistant
Terri can handle it.”

“Oh, it’s no problem to pay in full right now,” Judy said,
willing away a stomach pang as Neve returned with a carbon paper form with the
total already written on it. “The group will reimburse me for any extra costs.”

“Bottom copy is yours. I’ll be right back to swipe your
card.” Neve dashed back into the kitchen.

Judy rose halfway from her chair to judge the baking
activity and, betting Neve would be occupied for more than a few minutes,
whipped out her phone to text Rachael.

Yo, birthday girl. Ready for Sunday?
With every touch
of a thumb to a letter, Judy prayed her never-a-morning-person friend had
decided to change things up today. After several seconds, a quick vibration
from the device relieved her.

Yep. Fresh batteries in all the toys and a hot hottie to
help me drain them. That’s after we go out for pizza, of course.

Thank God.
Change of plans. Got a big surprise for you.

What, you won Powerball?
Rachael texted back.

I know you said to forget about the party, but I want to
do it anyway. Got you an awesome cake and food. Emailing everybody to tell them
it’s back on at Little Dude’s. You better be there, bitch.

What! After all that crap those people gave us? How do
you know this one isn’t gonna bake a Bible in the cake?

Trust me, she’s cool. You deserve a party on your
birthday, screw the haters. GTG, will explain later.

The loud click of a lock passed like a bullet through Judy’s
brain, and she fumbled with the phone. She looked up to see a plain, pudgy
woman bustle into the shop, her head still down as though she’d battled the
wind all the way here.

“Got here as soon as I could, Neve,” she called out. “Hit
every damn light on Rosemont—oh!” She glanced quizzically at Judy as she pulled
off her toque, unleashing a tangle of sandy-blonde curls. “Good morning.”

“Hi.” Judy gave a slight wave. “I was just placing a special
order.”

“Oh cool. Did you find everything you wanted?”

Judy nodded. “Yeah. I really appreciate your availability,
and the short notice too. It’s going to be great.”

The curly haired woman, presumably Neve’s employee, frowned.
“How short are we talking?” she asked, but marched into the kitchen before Judy
opened her mouth.

Judy listened quietly, sipping her coffee and recording her
information on the form in heavy, straight pen strokes. Despite the open
doorway and service window connecting the kitchen to the sales floor, she had
trouble hearing their conversation. She picked up bits and pieces, mostly
protests from the other woman.
Are you kidding…did she pay up front…how are
you going…

Bodies paced back and forth, Neve’s employee bearing trays
and banging bakeware. The scene made Judy uncomfortable to the point that she
wanted to slip away without saying goodbye. She didn’t like causing discord,
and the employee seemed quite perturbed about her order.

Finally Neve emerged from the kitchen with a long tray of
cupcakes. Her employee followed with a variety of scones and set about sorting
them in the display case. “You all set there?” Neve asked, nodding toward her
table.

Judy brought the form to the register. “Uh, yeah. Do I need
to pick up the food, or do you deliver…?”

Neve glanced at the paper, raising an eyebrow. “I think I
know where this is. Hyland Avenue…that’s over by the mall, right?”

“It’s close, yeah.”

“Well, my GPS should find it. We’re closed on Sundays, so it
will be easier for me to just deliver.” Neve shrugged and offered a smile that
struck Judy to her core. Her pussy squeezed as it had last night, and Judy
crossed her legs where she stood to fight the ache of want. The move, however,
served to put more pressure on her clit and heighten her desire. She handed Neve
her card and waited patiently to sign the sales slip.

“Terri, can you check on the ladyfingers?” Neve called
behind her. “I think they’re ready to come out.”

Terri didn’t answer until she reentered the sales area with
another tray of goodies. “They’re cooling now,” she said. “Oh, did I tell you I
saw Gianna last night?”

The pen in Neve’s hand fell to the floor with a clatter, and
she looked as if she didn’t know what to do about it. Judy studied the
discomfort wrinkling the lovely baker’s features, and figured this bit of
gossip involved somebody who’d upset her.

She shook her head, as though coming to, and bent down for
the pen. “Sorry about that,” Neve said. “So we’ll deliver at the venue an hour
in advance, according to this agreement. If you wish to retain us for service
during the party, that will cost extra. We do keep a mobile credit card app, in
case you need us last minute.”

“Sounds great. Thanks so much for doing this.” Judy fisted
her receipt and backed slowly toward the exit. Neve had recovered completely
from her earlier jolt and looked more enticing than ever. Terri, on the other
hand, eyed Judy as if she willed her to get lost if she didn’t plan on buying
more treats.

“See you Sunday. Oh!” Judy backed into the locked door,
feeling silly.

“I’ll get the door behind you, don’t worry,” Terri said
almost happily.

Outside, Judy nearly skipped to her car. She still had an
hour before she had to report to work, and her stomach growled. She was right
there with scones she could have purchased too.
Rats.

Ah well.
Judy decided to stop at the McDonald’s near
the hobby store for a breakfast sandwich and juice. She didn’t know how she’d
make it to Sunday evening when the prospect of seeing Neve again already
excited her so much. She’d find a way to get Neve to stay on at the party too.
Maybe hint that some guests wanted her services for other functions.

Of course, she had to convince Rachael to let the party
happen, and get the owner of Little Dude’s to let them bring in food other than
cake. Then buy some decorations, and round up all the people they’d previously
invited, and hope Rachael hadn’t pissed any of them off in the last week.

Easy-peasy. Ugh.

Chapter Four

 

“I cannot believe you agreed to a two-day turnaround on food
for thirty people.” Terri held the whisk like a weapon, and Neve noticed her
tight grip. “I may not need this today. I can tell your brains are already
scrambled.”

“What was I going to do, say no?” Neve asked in her defense.
“The poor thing was distraught, like the world didn’t want her having this
party for her friend just because she’s gay.” Well, maybe not
distraught
,
but Neve figured the girl had probably nursed some heartbreak and frustration
trying to get this party catered. Terri didn’t have to know any details outside
of what they needed to make. “And after that Facebook kerfuffle with the
lesbian wedding cake, I didn’t want us to look bad, either.”

“Did you just say kerfuffle?” Terri snorted. “1912 called.
They want their lingo back.”

Neve sighed. “I’ll pay time and a half for every hour you
work over getting this done. Like you said, it’s only thirty people.”

“Yeah, thirty
hungry
people, no doubt.”

Neve just looked at her assistant.
Say yes, please.
If Terri agreed to help, she’d forgive her for bringing up Gianna earlier.

Terri had worked with Neve since opening day—months before
that, actually, as they renovated the space and tested recipes. That had
granted her a front-row seat to the regular drama that was Neve’s love life.
Gianna’s departure two years ago, though, had left virtually no opportunities
for Terri to munch popcorn on the sidelines and play commentator.

Had she mentioned seeing Gianna to get a rise out of her, or
did she believe enough time had passed that it wouldn’t bother Neve?

Hey, stop it. Terri was just making conversation.

“You all right, sprite?” Terri aped one of Neve’s rhyming
endearments.

She nodded. “It’s a quick job, I guarantee it.”

“Fine. I’ll work late on Saturday and pause my busy social
life, if you need me.” Terri nodded toward the storefront. “And I’m inclined to
ask for hazard pay now. Look at that crowd gathering.”

Neve followed her assistant’s gaze and gulped. When Judy had
left after finalizing the party’s menu, the sidewalk outside the store had been
empty. Corky had arrived thirty minutes before the hour to finish opening
procedures—still no people. Now, with five minutes until go time, the crowd had
returned, all toting steaming paper cups and bouncing on the balls of their
feet to stave off the cold.

“Go ahead and unlock it,” she called to Corky, who looked
downright nervous, probably about being trampled. “I think we’re prepared.”

“I don’t think
I
am,” Corky said, moving toward the
door.

* * * * *

By mid-afternoon, with two hours until closing, Neve wanted
to slip out of her flour-and-buttercream skin and into a hot bath. In the five
years she’d operated the bakery, she’d never before experienced such a busy
workday. Customers came and went in a steady stream of delighted chirping and
eternal gratitude for Neve’s LGBT-friendly stand on Facebook, and not all the
people who bought treats identified as such. Neve typically recognized repeat
customers, and a fair number came through to stock up for the weekend, but
today she actually learned more about the people who supported her livelihood.

The silver-haired woman who resembled one of her favorite TV
actresses stopped in for a few minutes and talked of how she helped bring the
AIDS quilt to town back in the nineties.

The shy teenager who always wore a brown knit cap regardless
of the weather—who Neve had suspected was gay—bought two chocolate cupcakes for
a dinner date, and said he couldn’t wait to surprise his boyfriend.

The blonde woman with the pink vintage
bowling-bag-turned-purse, who normally bought single treats each visit, took
home a dozen whoopee pies as a show of support.

Between the three workers, they managed to keep the cases
filled with product so nobody left disappointed to see a favorite treat sold
out. Now, however, Neve noted she probably wouldn’t be able to replenish the
dwindling racks of macaroons and madeleines before they closed for the day.

Corky handed a customer a pink pastry box filled with
cookies and brownies. “Enjoy, and come back and see us.” The young man, crisp
in a business suit, smiled his thanks.

“I’ll be sure to give you a good review on Yelp,” he said.

“Thanks,” Neve called to him as he left, wondering what he
meant. “What the hell is Yelp?” she asked Corky, who already had her phone out
to show her.

“Damn, how many of these tweety-bird pages are there?” she
murmured, scrolling down the bakery’s profile on the site. “I didn’t even make
this one.”

“The sites kind of generate them for the businesses, but I
can claim the listing,” Corky said.

Neve eyed her, wary. “What does that entail?” she asked, still
holding the phone.

“You don’t have to surrender any DNA, don’t worry.” Corky
laughed. “Yelp isn’t the only site, either. There are a number of foodie social
networks I’ve been monitoring, and we can do a lot with them for promotion.”
Strange names rolled off her tongue—Urbanspoon, Foursquare…they all sounded
rather foreign, but since Corky knew the business, Neve trusted her to manage
their social presence.

She nodded, half listening to the girl, and scrolled though
the Yelp reviews of her shop, many of which had been written not long after the
Facebook incident. She saw a number of people hoped to trash her store and
reputation through the partial anonymity set up by the site, but all the
one-star vitriolic rants focused mainly on the gay issue and not the food. A
number of five-star reviews provided good balance.

“What do you think?” Corky asked.

“I think I’m more likely to trust a review written by
somebody who knows the difference between ‘your’ and ‘you’re’,” Neve said with
a grimace. “Honestly, don’t these sites require proper spelling?”

“Um, I meant about offering an incentive to customers who
check into these sites, or give us a review.” Corky nudged. “Like give them a
free cookie or something?”

Neve looked up. “Oh. Well, we have the punch cards.” She
indicated the thinning stack of business cards by the register, which granted
customers one free cupcake with the purchase of twelve.

“I know, but…” Corky bit her lip. Neve could see she was
having trouble explaining something technical to her. She should probably just
let Corky do what she wanted, so long as it didn’t affect the store in a
negative way.

The girl leaned closer to Neve, reading the small screen.
“We can report the harassment too,” Corky said, pointing to one of the one-star
posts. “I’ll get on that when I have a free moment.”

Neve handed back the phone. By that logic, they’d have to
report the glowing reviews that praised their support of the LGBT community as
well, but made no mention of food quality. All she wanted to do was sell cupcakes
and pie—she didn’t want to lead a revolution.

“Leave them,” Neve said, to Corky’s visible surprise. “You
know, when I’m on book sites and see one that has a hundred five-star reviews,
I wonder if they’re all from the author’s friends and family, or paid
endorsements. Nobody censored me when I posted on Facebook.”

The look on Corky’s face told Neve that the young girl had
trouble believing she managed that feat and lived to tell about it.

“Anyway,” she added with a raised eyebrow, “if somebody
wants to bellyache that we make wedding cakes for gay people, let them. I end
up ignoring crappy reviews of books. Others will come here and decide for
themselves.”

“Ever read a book that turned out crappy anyway?”

Neve nodded. “Luckily everything we make here is so damn
good, we may just change a few minds and hearts. Now,” she clasped her hands,
“back to work, Dirk.” She had to plan the sweets to sell for the following week
and get everything ready for Judy’s party. No matter how she looked at it,
she’d need a week to rinse off the sugar.

To her relief, Corky volunteered to stay after closing and
help with assembly of the items for the bakery, while Neve and Terri handled
some of the menu for Judy’s party. “Some of this stuff we can freeze until
Sunday, the rest I’ll handle day of. It’s going to be mainly finger foods and
little treats for small plates,” Neve said.

Terri pulled out a few bowls from an overhead rack. “I
already have an idea for a new candy to sell, the kerfuffle truffle.” She
glanced over her shoulder and smiled. “It’s full of nuts.”

Corky paused in her task of setting paper liners in muffin
tins. “Ker-what?” she asked, laughing.

“Kerfuffle, with a K. It’s a word from 1912 that I’m fond of
using.” Neve winked.

“Really?” Corky brought out her phone for a quick check.
“Hm, this dictionary site says ‘kerfuffle’ originated sometime in the
thirties.”

Neve glanced at Terri. “You were off by two decades.
Now
who’s nuts?”

“Oh hush,” Terri replied.

They worked for a couple hours, taking care of a few staples
they kept in the store and placing them in the cooler. Though Neve came in
early to bake the cupcakes and other confections fresh, other treats like cake
pops and brownies seemed to taste better chilled. With the former becoming more
popular, Neve tried to keep at least six different flavors on hand, therefore
making it necessary to prepare them in advance.

For Judy’s party, they completed the requested Oreo truffles
and chocolate-mint truffles for the dessert bar. Using brightly colored
fondants, they wrapped each treat so the truffles could be arranged in rainbow
patterns. That left the brownies and lemon squares to complete. The tea part of
the dessert service she could handle on her own Sunday morning. It would only
require buying a variety pack of bags, and sugar and sweetener packets. Per the
order agreement, Judy would supply hot water and cups, and surely a place like
Little Dude’s could handle that.

Terri mumbled something incoherent while stirring ganache in
the double boiler. Neve caught “she better appreciate” and shook her head,
choosing to concentrate on forming solid truffles for enrobing. Judy had
expressed her gratitude plenty for their agreeing to the short deadline. Terry
need not worry.

Corky emerged from the walk-in, rubbing the cold from her
arms. “Need any help?”

“If you don’t mind waiting a bit, we’re almost done here.”
Neve hated to let either of the women out alone at closing. The shopping plaza
sat in a relatively safe area, but why take chances?

As they stored the finished goods, a knock sounded on the
glass door.

“There’s a woman out there, can you see?” Terri nudged Neve.
“I can’t tell from the distance. Corky, is that your ride?”

Corky sat at the round yellow table, immersed in her
smartphone. “No, ma’am. I took the light rail.”

Neve looked through the service window and her stomach
instantly dropped. From where she stood, she had a better view of the would-be
customer…only Neve knew this woman probably wanted more than a simple sweet to
go.

“Oh Lord. What do you want?” Neve muttered. She washed her
hands quickly and grabbed a paper towel on the way to the door.

“Neve?”

She ignored Terri and stormed toward the front door. The
deadbolt clicked loudly, and Neve grimaced at the noise as she greeted the
brunette with the smoldering gaze and tight red sweater underneath an open
leather coat.

“Hello, Gianna.”

Gianna flashed a hundred-watt smile and hugged her arms
under her rib cage. She bounced a bit in place, no doubt hinting at her
discomfort in the cold evening.

Nice try
, Neve thought. She reserved the right to
refuse service to anyone, and no-account ex-girlfriends topped that list…right
above Nazi storm troopers. She’d just as soon serve zombies.
You’re not
getting in here.

“Hi, Neve.” Gianna let out an awkward laugh, as though
unsure of herself. “I saw the lights still on and people moving around. I
thought for a moment you might still be open, but I guess not.”

“Yeah, well, we’ve already cashed out and put away stock,
otherwise I’d let you shop for a minute.” Maybe Gianna would buy the lie, told
merely out of courtesy. With Corky in earshot, Neve didn’t want to create a
scene. “We were just winding down some special orders for the night,” she
continued, “but if you want to try us tomorrow morning—”

“Actually, I was hoping I could talk to you sooner than
that. Do you have a moment?”

Still gripping the doorjamb, Neve turned back toward the
kitchen. Terri, clearly giving in to curiosity, now idled at the front counter
under the pretense of straightening sale flyers and sugar packets. Even if Neve
wished to invite Gianna inside, they’d have no privacy, and the disapproval
creasing Terri’s face promised a future lecture regardless of her next move.

“If you two want to head home, I can finish here,” she said.

Corky brightened, her thumbs paused on her phone screen, but
her expression faded with Terri’s curt, “We can wait.”

“Fine.” Neve stepped outside without her jacket, ensuring
she wouldn’t spend too much time with Gianna before she had to beg off for
warmer environs. They strolled past the other storefronts, barely glancing at
the displays.

“What brings you by?” Neve asked. “Might as well be open
about this. I know you didn’t come for cupcakes.”

Two years…two damn years after leaving Neve an emotional
wreck with an emptied heart. The nerve of Gianna, looking sexier than ever with
her thick dark hair flowing over her shoulders, her flawless skin, her full
lips pouting for a kiss. Jeans encased her long legs and hugged her
heart-shaped bottom. Neve inwardly groaned, remembering how she’d loved that
perfect ass—quite literally. The night Sugar Rush turned its first profit,
they’d celebrated with a private buttercream taste test. Neve had licked enough
flavored icing from Gianna’s nipples and backside to send a weaker person into
a coma. Gianna had snickered at Neve’s idea to sell frosting shots for a dollar
and advertise sixty-nine varieties…until they tried the position themselves
with a few dollops of chocolate cream.

BOOK: Sugar Rush
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