some kind of wonderful cupcake lovers
Have yourself a scrumptious, small-town Christmas with this special Cupcake Lovers holiday novella!
Growing up in Sugar Creek, Maya Templeton and Zachary Cole were best friends. After high school, each went out into the world in search of adventure. Maya moved to Florida to explore her passion for baking and pastry-making, eventually establishing her own business: Cupcakes & Dreamscapes. Zach joined the military and became a Marine Scout Sniper. Now, after years apart, they’re both going home for the holidays. They don’t seem to have much in common anymore. In fact, Zach seems to have the hots for Maya’s business partner. But when the two get stranded together during a blizzard, they are forced to reexamine their connection. Are Maya and Zach better off “just friends”—just as they were when they were young? Or could it be that true love was there all along?
what people are saying
Nothing says holidays like a fruitcake cupcake! ~Daisy Monroe
“Talk about your winter wonderland. Is this place for real? Are you sure we didn’t drive through some sort of wormhole that redirected us to the North Pole?”
Nerves brittle from navigating a snowstorm in a cheap-a-zoid rental car, Maya Templeton glanced at her friend and business partner, Giselle (just Giselle), as they breached the limits of Maya’s hometown. “Is that your way of saying Sugar Creek looks like Santa’s Village?”
Tricked out in festive decorations, the two-story brick-faced mom-and-pop boutiques featured regional novelties, season’s tidings, and bountiful holiday specials and sales. Even the most down-and-out shopper would be able to find a meaningful gift within their restricted budget.
“I’m surprised you ever moved away,” Giselle said. “This place has you written all over it.”
“Except it doesn’t look magical year-round,” Maya said while focusing on the icy road.
“Just around Christmas.”
And especially in the midst of a snowstorm.
Peering through the frosty windshield was like looking into a snow globe, the old-fashioned scenery reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting. Enchanting innocence with a dash of whimsy.
Considering the location and purpose of Maya’s self-started business, you’d think she’d be numb to magic. Cupcakes & Dreamscapes operated out of Orlando, Florida—a city that boasted multiple theme parks. A city that perpetuated whimsy. Then again there were all kinds of magic. Whereas Orlando had death-defying amusement rides and dazzling production shows . . . Sugar Creek had heart.
“Quaint, but small,” Giselle said as they crawled down Main Street. “And from what you told me most everything closes by six. No dance clubs or martini bars. No concert halls or theme parks. I’m pretty sure I’d die of boredom.”
“You’d absolutely die of boredom.” Maya noted her dark and sultry business partner, wishing she possessed half her charisma. And, okay, maybe Maya was a smidgeon envious of Giselle’s exotic and curvaceous blessings. When she walked into a room all heads turned—male and female. Although Maya wouldn’t give up brains for beauty. Not that Giselle was dense, just . . . reckless. A bona fide adrenaline junkie, Giselle got her kicks on roller coasters and the stage (or any venue that provided her with an audience). A professional actress, she operated the “Dreamscape” portion of their co-owned company, appearing as select “characters” and performing interactive games and adventures with the party guests—most usually children. Maya handled the custom-made “Cupcakes” and bookkeeping. Their personalities were vastly different, yet they clicked to the tune of a healthy friendship and lucrative business.
Giselle fidgeted in her seat, then rooted in her purse. “I can’t believe how nervous I am about meeting Zach. My freaking palms are sweating.”
Heart thumping, Maya flexed her hands on the wheel as she made a left onto Maple Avenue, her mind awash with childhood memories. Zachery Cole was also a native of Sugar Creek. He was Maya’s oldest friend and at one time he’d been her closest. Sadly, they’d grown apart after she’d gone off to a top-notch pastry school and he’d joined . . . The Few. The Proud. The Marines.
She remembered the first time she’d seen a televised recruitment advertisement—long before that famous slogan had been introduced. She’d been ten and she’d been with Zach. She’d seen his eyes light up and his shoulders roll back. He’d only been eleven at the time, but she’d known then and there he was serious about serving—like his father and his grandfather before him. He’d enlisted in the Marine Corps straight out of high school. Then there’d been 9/11—that awful attack on home soil—and Zach hadn’t been able to blast through training fast enough. He’d aimed high. Just like Maya. Only his goals involved vanquishing evil with specialized skills and rifles. Maya championed good via cupcakes and fairy tales.
Like Maya and Giselle, Maya and Zach were opposites. The diplomat and dreamer versus the rebel and realist. Yet he’d been her best friend. Someone who held a special place in her heart.
And she’d set him up with her beautiful and charismatic business partner.
“I’ve read those letters and e-mails you composed for me a million times,” said Giselle.
“Okay, maybe a dozen. The point is I’ve read them a lot. I’m not keen on going blank if
Zach asks me to expand on something I supposedly wrote.”
Maya wasn’t keen on that happening either. She still couldn’t believe she’d pulled a Cyrano de Bergerac.
Thirteen months ago, while feeling lonely and nostalgic, Maya had been going through her scrapbooks, reliving some of the best times of her life through a collection of photographs. Snapshots of Maya and her best friend, Zach—from ages eight to eighteen.
Then there were random photos Zach had occasionally sent of himself over the last several years. They hadn’t stayed in constant touch, but they did send cards and notes on holidays and other special occasions. Giselle had walked in while Maya had been admiring a photo of Zach decked out in his dress blues. It had been lust at first sight for Giselle, and Maya had been certain Zach would drool over a picture of G as well. That’s when Maya had had the bright idea of setting her friends up as pen pals. What deployed soldier wouldn’t want to correspond with a super hot woman like Giselle? G, who didn’t have a shy bone in her curvaceous body, had jumped at the chance to hook up as Zach’s “pen pal.” Sending sexy pictures of herself? No problem. But composing something more than a 140-character tweet?
Why Maya had ever agreed to help Giselle write several letters and answer the occasional e-mail from Zach was a mystery. A lapse in judgment. A moment of insanity. But Giselle, whose many talents did not extend to creating intelligent, engaging prose, had begged Maya’s help. And Maya, who’d wanted to provide Zach with a mindless, playful fantasy during his dreary and dangerous time on foreign soil, had complied. She’d been so focused on providing Zach with an element of sexy escapism and so entranced with his sexy responses, she’d lost herself in the fantasy, giving little thought to Zach and Giselle meeting in person. Especially since he’d cooled on the epistolary liaison a few months back. Whether out of boredom or due to his combat situation Maya didn’t know.
She hadn’t anticipated his sudden and surprising leap from Gunnery Sergeant to civilian. She hadn’t anticipated her own parents, who’d moved to the Sunshine State five years prior, booking a Christmas cruise, leaving Maya to fend for herself over her favorite holiday. She hadn’t anticipated the invitation to join the Coles for Christmas in Sugar Creek or Giselle’s insistence to tag along.
The thing that worried Maya most was that the invitation hadn’t come from Zach himself. This was a surprise visit arranged by his great-aunt, Helen Cole. Helen was a senior member of the local charitable club the Cupcake Lovers, a club Maya had admired since she’d been old enough to appreciate their noble mission as well as their unique recipes. If Maya still lived in Sugar Creek, she’d be a member of that club. But she’d had big dreams and those dreams had led her to Orlando. She’d been happy there (although not so much recently), but she’d been happy in Sugar Creek, too. Thanks to Zach, who’d rescued her from a schoolyard skirmish in the second grade and who somehow ended up being her closest friend up until and throughout high school. Theirs had been a unique and cherished bond.
When Helen had called to say her great-nephew had returned unexpectedly to Sugar Creek and that she thought he’d benefit from a surprise visit from his oldest friend, Maya hadn’t thought twice. Not to mention, she was curious as to why Zach hadn’t informed her he was leaving the military. She never thought she’d see the day, and now that it was here Maya felt unsettled on several counts.
“How much farther to Mrs. Cole’s house?” Giselle asked while flipping down the visor mirror and reapplying her already perfectly applied lipstick.
“About five minutes unless I spin out and wreck this miserable excuse of a car. I don’t think this thing has front-wheel drive, let alone four-wheel drive. Who loans out a death trap like this knowing Vermont’s harsh winters?”
“You’ve driven two and a half hours in blinding snow and haven’t spun out yet. You slid that one time, but for what? A millisecond? I haven’t feared for my life even once. Obsess much?”
“Connect with reality much?” Maya breathed deep and tempered her caustic tone. “Sorry. I know you don’t know the area. Here’s the thing: Normally the drive from Burlington to Sugar Creek takes a little over an hour.”
“I may be a southern girl,” Giselle said, “but even I know a snowstorm puts a kink in travel time. That said, we’re not that much off the mark. If this Cupcake Lover Christmas bash was an evening party instead of an afternoon mixer, we’d be ahead of the game. As it is we’ll only be an hour late.” She glanced at her watch. “Scratch that, forty-five minutes late. Not all that late. Fashionably late. All the better to surprise Zach.” She squealed as she spritzed perfume. “What fun!”
“We’ll see.” Maya couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong. Because of his elite position as a Marine sniper scout, Zach had never shared much about his exact location or assignments. Mostly because of security issues. Not that Maya had ever pressed for details. She knew the gist of Zach’s job, and though she knew his motivation and purpose were noble, it wasn’t something she felt comfortable dwelling on. Their typical exchanges focused on waxing nostalgic, touching base regarding their families, and providing random updates on Maya’s adventures in party planning—hence the natural introduction of Giselle. By keeping their personal correspondence light and mostly rooted in the past, Maya had kept Zach forever young and safe in her heart and mind. She’d kept their relationship chaste and on familiar ground.
It wasn’t until she’d stepped out of her safety zone and shared a more sensual part of herself under the guise of Giselle that Maya had connected with Zach on a different level, a level beyond platonic. Even so, he hadn’t intimated he’d be leaving the military anytime soon—even to “Giselle.” So why now and why had he kept it secret? What’s more, why had Helen skirted the subject when Maya had asked the woman outright?
An image flashed in Maya’s mind as Helen Cole’s house came into view and her meeting with Zach became more imminent. A picture of Zach in his cammies and protective gear, a picture he’d sent to Giselle six months back. He looked handsome and fierce and, as G had pointed out, drool worthy. Maya had always appreciated Zach’s good looks, but she’d never lusted after him. Not until she’d read some of the frank and sexy letters he’d written in response to Giselle’s notes. Not until she’d laid eyes on that photo.
Although, unlike G, Maya wasn’t dazzled by the sharpshooter rifle clutched in his right hand. She was enamored by the way he hugged the dog on his left. A scraggly mutt he’d rescued from a “precarious situation.” Whereas Giselle was attracted to the warrior, Maya was attracted to the savior. The man just inside the house Maya was parking in front of. The same house where, as kids, they’d played hide-and-seek, then, years later, crammed for Algebra exams.
Pulse racing, Maya cut the engine and wrangled her emotions.
Giselle fluffed her luxuriant sable locks. “As you know, Zach and I were pretty intimate in our correspondence,” she said, looking uncharacteristically anxious.
“As close to a threesome as I’ll ever get,” Maya said, remembering one particularly graphic exchange.
“When we meet I’m wondering if I should shake his hand, hug him, or kiss him.”
Maya stared up at the illuminated reindeer and sleigh sitting atop the Coles’ roof, remembering the winter she’d braved her fear of heights to help Zach reanchor that same decoration after a powerful windstorm had blown it off. She thought about the “intimate correspondences” she’d been party to this past year. “Funny,” she said, trying to reconcile the Zach of her youth to the Zach who’d recently stirred her soul. “I was wondering the same thing.”