“I loved this book! Beautifully written and the story has stayed with me.”
Most families have a favorite recipe or two, handed down through generations. The Holloway women are a little different. Emma Holloway, like her grandmother before her, bakes wishes into her delicious cupcakes, granting the recipient comfort, sweet dreams, or any number of good things. It’s a strange gift, but it brings only happiness. Until gorgeous, smooth-talking newcomer Hunter Kane strolls into her shop, Fairy Cakes—and Emma makes the mistake of selling him not one, but three Sweet Success cupcakes.
Hunter, it turns out, is opening a fancy new restaurant and bakery right on the waterfront—Emma’s competition. To make matters worse, the town committee has decided to split the upcoming summer festival contract between the two, forcing Emma to work with her nemesis. But she can’t afford to split her profits. The solution: create a recipe that will make Hunter leave town permanently.
The Holloway charms are powerful. But there are other kinds of magic in the world—like red-hot first kisses, secret glances, and the feeling that comes with falling truly, madly, inconveniently in love . . .
Award‑winning author Tara Sheets is a lover of fairytales and a staunch believer in happily ever after. She enjoys writing women’s fiction and lighthearted romance with a splash of magic. Tara holds a BA in Communications and is a graduate of the University of Washington’s Popular Fiction Writing Program. Her debut novel, Don’t Call Me Cupcake, won the 2016 Golden Heart® sponsored by Romance Writers of America. Tara now lives in the Pacific Northwest with her book‑loving family and a book‑eating dog named Merlin. Please visit her at www.tarasheets.com or on Twitter @Tara_Sheets.
The storm on Pine Cove Island was about to make history. Thunder rumbled in the distance and the sky darkened to a charcoal gray. Clouds loomed over the sleepy island town, casting shadows against the rocky shore. For Emma Holloway, this just wasn't acceptable.
She stood in her kitchen, eyeing a mixing bowl with the single-minded focus of an ER surgeon as she whipped lemon frosting into soft peaks.
A loud clap of thunder made her jump, and she quickly scooped out a dollop of frosting and tasted it. The sharp, clean zest of lemon burst on her tongue, but it needed more vanilla to balance it out. She checked the ancient cookbook. "Close. But not quite there yet."
Lightning flashed, making the old two-story Victorian house creak. A door slammed upstairs.
"I know, I know," she called out. "I'm working as fast as I can."
Another door slammed and Emma sighed. The house was chastising her. In the seven generations her family had lived on Pine Cove Island, the house had been a part of their lives, and just like the quirky, unusual Holloways, the house had a mind of its own. It wasn't always feisty. Most of the time, it was as warm and inviting as a cozy sweater. Doors would open for her when her arms were laden with grocery bags, and if there was a cold snap, the heater would go up a notch to chase away the winter chill.
No one in the family knew exactly how the house had become enchanted; they just accepted it as part of the Holloway family gifts. Emma shook her head and added a splash of vanilla to the frosting. Gifts. That's how her grandmother had lovingly explained it, but Emma could think of a few other names for the Holloway family abilities. If her mother hadn't had the "gift" of wanderlust, maybe she'd have stuck around to watch Emma grow up. Maybe Emma wouldn't be so alone, now that her grandmother was gone. She swallowed the lump in her throat and mixed faster.
Thunder struck again, and this time a hard, steady rain began pelting the windows. She spun the whisk one last time and quickly spread the frosting over the vanilla cupcakes on the counter. They smelled divine, like a warm summer day. Perfect.
She placed the tray of frosted cakes on the counter near the window. Heavy sheets of rain cast a dreamy quality to the gardens that lined the path to the old house. It was a typical Pacific Northwest spring morning, and any other time Emma would have already been working in her bakery down by the waterfront, but today, she couldn't leave the house defenseless.
"Okay, house. I think this will do it." She raised a cupcake to her lips and took a bite. Delicious. It was like sugared sunshine, and she smiled as the rain began to ease. Her body thrummed with warmth and she licked frosting from her fingertips, waiting.
The stairs creaked and the old house seemed to sigh. Emma sighed, too. With three holes in the attic roof, the last thing she needed was a torrential downpour. She had climbed up to the attic last week to try patching the leaks herself, but her magic skills in the bakery did not translate over to carpentry. What she really needed was decent weather until she could afford to hire a roofing contractor. With property taxes coming due soon, it was all she could do to come up with the money for either.
Emma watched out the kitchen window as the rain slowed to a steady drizzle, eventually settling into a soft mist. A few moments later, sunlight burst through the fog, and the clouds were swept away on a sudden breeze. The sky returned to a bright, clear blue and the trees swayed softly, their leaves sparkling with raindrops. Somewhere outside, a bird began to sing and Emma slapped powdered sugar off her hands. Done and done.
"There you have it," she told the old house. "We live another day."
The house settled in what sounded to Emma like a hmph. She knew her kitchen charm wouldn't last forever. A few days, at most. Mother Nature always had her way in the end, and it was never a good idea to use magic to mess with the weather. The next time the storm came around, it would be even worse. But she'd have to worry about that consequence later. At least now, she had bought some time to figure out how to get her roof patched.
Emma crossed her arms, hugging herself. By many standards the old house was falling apart, but she refused to think of it that way. Aside from her quirky cousin, the Holloway house was the only family she had left. Somehow, some way, she was going to protect and keep it.
* * *
Fairy Cakes was located near the wharf on Pine Cove Island's waterfront. Emma skirted a puddle on the sidewalk, balancing the box of lemon cupcakes as she nudged open the turquoise door to her shop. It was quiet inside, but that was to be expected for early spring. By summer it would be bustling with tourists from Seattle and British Columbia.
As always, the shop smelled heavenly. Today it smelled like toasted marshmallow buttercream frosting, and — yes! — freshly brewed coffee. "I brought a new batch," Emma called.
"Good, because you're going to need the extras." Her cousin Juliette stood up from behind the pastry case, licking frosting off her finger. "I've already eaten like, three of them. Seriously, if I worked here every day, I wouldn't be able to fit through that door."
Emma rolled her eyes. Juliette was one year older than her, and at twenty-six, her cousin was utterly, stupendously gorgeous. She was curvy in all the right places, and had that milky, porcelain complexion Emma had always envied growing up. "Jules, you look like you just floated off the pages of a Victoria's Secret ad. The only thing missing is a pair of wings. You have nothing to worry about."
Her cousin grinned. "See, that's why I love you so much. You're so very smart." She gave Emma's shoulder an affectionate nudge and took the box of cupcakes, inhaling. "Mmm, lemony. What are they called?"
Emma took out a scalloped tray, placing it on the counter. "They're called 'Summer Sunshine.'"
"Ha! I knew it. I so knew this weather was your doing. I mean, this morning there was a storm rolling in, and the forecast for the week was rain, rain, and more rain. And now we've got blue skies and even a rainbow. What gives?"
Emma leaned against the sink and balled a dishrag in her hands. "There's another hole in the roof."
Juliette nodded solemnly. "A fine reason to do a little sweet charming, then. How's the house?"
"Grumpy." Emma grabbed a flouncy black-and-white apron, cinching it around her waist.
A gift from Juliette, the apron had rows of frothy lace and looked a bit too much like a French maid costume for Emma's taste. But with business so slow, she didn't have to worry about appearances. The only customers coming through the door were the town regulars, anyway. Everyone on Pine Cove Island knew one another. It was both a blessing and a curse. "I have to get someone to fix the roof, but I can't seem to find anyone who wants to work for cupcakes."
Juliette swung a colorful bag over her shoulder. "I work for cupcakes."
It was true. Her cousin practically did. Emma could barely afford to pay her for the few hours she took over the shop each week. Juliette was busy enough working at Romeo's florist shop, and selling her handmade bath products to local vendors. She didn't really need the extra work. It made Emma all the more grateful. "Seriously, Jules, I don't know what I'd do without you."
"Well, since we're the last two Holloways left, you'll never have to find out. You're stuck with me." She planted a kiss on Emma's cheek. "Hey, I'm going out dancing tonight with the girls from Dazzle. You should come."
Emma thought of their two friends who worked at the local hair salon. They were always ready to paint the town red. Or a glittery shade of hot pink. "No, I don't have the energy for that right now."
"Come on, Em, it's Friday. You've been stuck here too much and you need a break. You should come out." Juliette shimmied her hips and smiled mischievously. "Shake things up for a change."
"I don't want to shake things up. I don't need change." What she needed was a truckload of money, dumped directly into her dwindling bank account.
Juliette groaned, grabbing Emma by the shoulders and shaking her dramatically. "Everyone needs change! It's good for the soul."
"My soul is fine. It just needs to finish baking. Now get out of here." Emma laughed in spite of herself.
"All right, I'm off. Everyone in my garden will be in fine form today with all this sunshine. I can't miss it."
Emma waved good-bye and began stacking the cupcakes. By "everyone," she knew Juliette meant her garden plants. That was her cousin's gift. She could make roses grow in the middle of winter, and her garden was always brilliant, with a profusion of flowers that had even the best green thumbs shaking their heads in awe.
The dragonfly wind chimes tinkled over the front door as Emma placed the last cupcake on the tray. She glanced up, then froze.
A man stood just over the threshold, surveying her tiny shop. He didn't see her at first, so she had several heartbeats to recover. He was striking: tall and broad shouldered, with sun-bronzed skin and dark hair. He wore a navy sweater over dark denim jeans, but despite the simplicity of his clothing, Emma could tell they were expensive. Cashmere maybe, and designer denim. Not the kind of relaxed, slightly outdated attire that most of the locals wore. A tourist, then. Figured. Someone like him didn't belong in her world.
He turned, his leaf green eyes sweeping over her. A dark brow rose for just a moment.
Emma suddenly remembered her French maid apron. Crap. Her cheeks grew hot and she cleared her throat, giving him a perfunctory nod. "Good morning." Totally professional. All business. She set the tray of cupcakes on a display stand.
He approached the pastry case slowly. "Those look amazing."
His voice was deep and smooth, reminding her of dark chocolate mixed with honey. Sweet, but with a subtle bite that made a person want to savor it on the tongue, so it would last longer. She shivered. What the heck? Get your head in the game, Holloway. Pretty boys like him were not a good idea. She had about a million past experiences to prove it.
He gestured to the cupcakes in the case. "What do you recommend?"
Ahh. Emma studied him for a moment. This was her favorite part of her talent — learning a little about what people needed. "Well, what do you usually like?"
He shrugged and gave her a crooked grin that sent a tiny ripple of warmth over her skin. "I like anything sweet, so I'm a pretty easy target in a place like this."
Emma felt her knees go weak. This guy was some serious kryptonite. Focus, Holloway. "Well, what brings you to the island?"
"How do you know I don't live here?"
It was laughable, really. As if he thought for one second that he blended in. She had lived on Pine Cove Island almost her entire life, and a man like this could never be a native. He looked like some business tycoon on holiday, or a marauding pirate from one of her romance novels. Someone who'd breeze in on a whim and then move on to his summer home in Spain or his high-rise penthouse in New York.
"Trust me, I'm good at reading people," she said. "Are you here on business or pleasure?"
"Business, as a matter of fact."
Emma noted the slight shadows under his eyes, and the way he stretched his neck as though to work out some stiffness there. For a moment he stared down at the pastry case as if he were a million miles away.
He seemed to catch himself, then glanced up. "Big day today. Lots of negotiations to handle." His smile was suddenly so warm and genuine that Emma felt as if sunlight bloomed inside her chest. On impulse, she made a decision. "Success is what you need, then."
"Sure," he laughed. "That would be great."
She lifted a pair of silver tongs and pulled out a chocolate cupcake with salted caramel frosting. "This one is called 'Sweet Success.' It will grant you luck in what you want most." She smiled brilliantly, wishing him all the luck in the world on his next marauding adventure.
Wide green eyes studied her for a moment. There was laughter in his gaze, but his expression remained all seriousness. "In that case, I'll take three."
Emma watched the dark stranger leave her shop, his profile strong in the morning sunshine. Jeez, if ever there was a man who could embody all her secret fantasies, it was that guy. She dragged her gaze away as he walked down the street toward the waterfront. So long, pirate king.
"Well then," a chirpy voice called from the front door. Mrs. Mooney, owner of the curiosity shop next door, stood beaming on the threshold. "I've got a new shipment of Venus flytraps today. The kids love them, and I brought one for your front window."
Emma murmured her thanks. A Venus flytrap? Not her first choice for a cheerful window plant, but Mrs. Mooney seemed so pleased with herself. Her white hair was fashioned in its usual shellacked pouf, and her blue eyeliner was just a little too thick and a bit crooked. Emma suspected Mrs. Mooney's eyesight was going, but it certainly didn't stop her from seeing everything that happened on Pine Cove Island. If there was one person who knew the latest gossip and kept a sharp eye on everything, it was Moira Mooney.
The older woman bustled in, setting the small plant on a table near the window. "What have you got whipped up today? I could really use something for Bonbon. He's been chasing squirrels again, and I think he bruised his paw."
Emma arranged her features into what she hoped was a look of polite sympathy. Bonbon was Mrs. Mooney's ridiculously spoiled toy poodle.
Mrs. Mooney sidled up to the counter and stared down. "Well, there's the chocolate one, but that's poison for dogs."
"Mmm," Emma agreed. She had learned long ago that "mmm" was an all-purpose answer that seemed to appease Mrs. Mooney. There were only three other options for Bonbon in the case. "How about 'Summer Sunshine'? Would Bonbon like to feel warm and cozy?"
"He's plenty cozy in his new doggy sweater. What else have you got?"
"Well, here's 'Raspberry Kiss,'" Emma said. "But I don't imagine Bonbon needs a boost of confidence in the looks department."
Mrs. Mooney snorted. "My Bonbon is the most beautiful dog on the island, and he knows it."
Emma didn't doubt it. But she did have to wonder if Bonbon minded having his toenails painted fuchsia. "I think this would be just the thing." She reached in and pulled out a pale lilac–frosted cupcake. "This is 'Lavender Bliss.' It is intended to bring about peaceful moments and good feelings."
Mrs. Mooney nodded firmly. "That's perfect for my baby. Thank you, dear."
Emma couldn't help but feel a wave of gratitude for the older woman. Mrs. Mooney had been a friend of Emma's grandmother, and she never doubted Emma's gift. Her grandmother had been kind to Mrs. Mooney over the years, never missing a chance to remind Emma that true friends came in all different packages — sometimes even the nosy, quirky ones. Mrs. Mooney had always been a believer, which wasn't very common. There were only a few people on the island who truly believed in the Holloway magic. Almost everyone else, including tourists, treated Emma's cupcake charms as a whimsical marketing gimmick. Oh, they still bought her baked goods with a wink and a good-natured smile. But they felt the same way toward her cupcakes as they would about finding a four-leaf clover, or making a wish on dandelion fluff. Fairy Cakes baked goods were just like their namesake: make-believe. And if a person happened to feel good after eating a "Be Well" cupcake, they usually shook their heads and told themselves it would have happened anyway.
That was the odd thing about people. They were surrounded by magic all the time, but they just couldn't see it.
Mrs. Mooney leaned in, her voice vibrating with the gossip she was about to spill. "Have you heard the news? You know the old property on the waterfront?"
Emma knew it well. She could see its front door from her own shop window. It had once been a seafood restaurant, before it went out of business when the economy fell. Since then it had remained empty, and nobody had taken it because the rent was so high. "What about it?"
Mrs. Mooney lowered her voice to a fierce whisper. "It's been purchased! I saw the new owner just yesterday."
"Mmm." Emma wiped the counter and eyed the clock on the wall. If prattling on forever was an Olympic sport, Mrs. Mooney would win the gold. "Well, it's good to know we'll have another restaurant again."
"But no, that's what I'm trying to tell you." Mrs. Mooney fluttered her hands dramatically. "It's not nice at all, my dear. At least not for you. The new shop is going to be a fancy restaurant with French pastries and a bakery with cakes and everything."
Excerpted from "Don't Call Me Cupcake"
Copyright © 2018 Tara Sheets.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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