January 19, 2015
Cupcakes And Crushes has a cover, has pre-order options and now an excerpt from the first chapter! That means it’s almost here! Order your copy now and then on April 14th, you’ll be all set to read. What better way to celebrate wrapping up your taxes than with a little sweet reading?
Sometimes there is enough sweet to make up for the bitter.
Turtle Pine, Book 1
Years ago, a broken heart sent Annie Cookie running from home, and she’s never looked back—until now. Her grandpa’s broken wrist means the family bakery is at risk of losing two big orders.
Reluctantly, Annie returns to Turtle Pine to help out, only to discover it’s not just seven hundred cupcakes she has to bake, but also a wedding cake for the half-sister who stole her high-school sweetheart. Annie left town to get away from her sister. No way is she getting mixed up with her again. Once the cupcakes are done, she’s outta there.
Back in high school, Cade Revlin hid his crush on his brother’s girl, but when his brother dumped Annie for another Cookie sister, Annie slipped through his fingers and out of town. Now that she’s back, he’s determined to give her a reason to stay.
He’s got one week to change her mind. Or she’ll be gone in a cloud of powdered sugar.
Warning: Contains small-town meddling, family drama and all the necessary ingredients for a second chance at love—if they have the guts to turn up the heat.
Oh, dear heavens, Turtle Pine, Alabama. Home of the fierce Snapping Turtles. Their biggest claim to fame was consecutively winning the AA basketball state tournament for ten years straight.
Get. Me. Out. Of. Here.
The only reason Annie wasn’t breathing in a paper bag while waiting for her suitcase to come around the baggage carousel, was because she knew she was only sticking around long enough to do a favor. Then it was back to the highly acclaimed bakery she worked at, where the booking for weddings was currently eighteen months in advance.
Step one of getting out of Turtle Pine the fastest was finding her ride to her grandparents’ house. There was no tall, slender woman with an eye out for a hot date impatiently waiting for her. Not that Annie was shocked, but she had hoped for once her half-sister Tina would have something together besides her shirt matching her shoes.
Annie aimed her phone away from the sunlight pouring in through the glass front windows of Turtle Pine’s regional airport. She scrolled through her contacts in a game of eeny, meeny, miny, moe in hopes of finding a ride from the airport to her grandparents. Her grandma didn’t drive anymore, and Grandpa was uncomfortable going much farther than the grocery store with his broken wrist. Annie had two other half-sisters she could choose from, but she was only fine with calling one of them. Sadly, that sister didn’t live in Turtle Pine. Out of four sisters, Mary was the only one who hadn’t been raised by their grandparents.
Contact list it was. A total introvert who’d been gone from town for years? Annie sighed and scrolled some more. As if there wasn’t enough fun packed into coming back home, it was surely about to get even more so. She shielded the screen with a magazine and attempted to tilt it a little more to choose from slim pickings when the shadow of a man moved over her.
“Annie?” The shadow belonged to a tall man who appeared to have shopped at Camouflage, Mud and More. His brow lifted a touch as his head tipped to the side. “Annie Cookie?”
That was her. Now who was he and—wow. She rubbed a hand under her nose to get a refreshing whiff of her hand lotion. He must be three days late for a shower. Once upon a time, you could have found her looking and smelling like that. She would have been making one of those goofy in-love grins through every last minute of it. The very thought of it flipped her stomach. She couldn’t pin down if it was butterflies or nausea. They were simultaneously good and bad memories. “That’s me.”
His smile broadened. “You’ve changed since high school. I would give you a hug, but I’m so nasty.”
He extended a grimy hand her way. There was something about his face that was vaguely, sort of familiar. By his greeting, she was one hundred percent sure she was supposed to recognize him. But her mind was all blank. Fake smile it was as she accepted his hand. Dear, God, please let her put a name to his face soon.
Dark mud filled under his nails and there was a stark, clean line on his wrist showing where he’d washed up. Had Turtle Pine’s annual mud run been this morning? By the bags under his eyes, she didn’t think he’d been doing that. The mud run was more fun and less exhausting. At least, that’s how she remembered it. She hadn’t actually participated in it since she was fourteen or so.
“Tina asked if I could pick you up.”
Well, looked like Tina had come through after all. Sort of. Seeing as she hadn’t seen her half-sister in years, it would have been nice to have the fairy tale where her sister greeted her with a hug and excited scream. Fairy tales hadn’t existed for Annie in a long time though. She also doubted Tina had started caring about her in the time she’d been gone. “One of the kids have a ball game?”
They always had ball games. Baseball, football, soccer—hell, even a golf ball was included. She didn’t have any confirmation, but based on Facebook, Tina’s life ambition was to find a dad for her kids at an assortment of sporting events. Since one such candidate was standing in front of her, doing her bidding, she was succeeding.
He winced. “She’d probably wish it. She hasn’t talked to you?”
What a laugh. “No. Grandma said she’d send Tina to pick me up. I sent her a text before my plane took off to remind her, but she never responded.”
He didn’t ask, but grabbed her suitcase and had it spun around and ready to roll all in one seamless move. “Her oldest and another kid from school snuck out last night, took her truck and got it stuck in a field. Took us hours to get it out and her boy got stung by some yellow jackets.”
“Oh.” Well, damn. Figures about the time she started thinking the worst, it would bite her on the ass to make her feel guilty. “Is he okay?”
“He’s okay now. They were leaving the hospital about half an hour ago.”
“That’s good. I remember her mentioning he had some allergies.” And good grief, when did Tina’s son get old enough to drive? Sure, Annie was out of the loop, but she could swear the boy was just twelve…thirteen?
“So that’s why I’m here.” He pointed at her, aiming his finger to her toes and back up the front of her. “Those washable?”
She looked down. “My clothes?”
She rubbed a hand over the soft-pink, slinky material of her skirt. “Yes…why?”
He dusted the front of his shirt. Sunrays beaming through the windows showcased dust puffing off him. “Because we used my truck to get your sister’s out of the mud.”
“I see.” And she still saw all the dust in the air. Her nose tickled and she rubbed at the tip in an attempt to resist a sneeze.
“I didn’t have time to wash it.” He started for the doors and the glass opened as he neared.
She glanced at the airport and considered a run for the ticket counter, but that would be useless. The next flight out of here wouldn’t be for another week. It wasn’t so bad yet that she was open to hitchhiking to Birmingham. Not to mention that somebody who she was supposed to know was walking away with most of her prized possessions in her suitcase. She stepped into the sunshine. Even though fall had landed and cooler air draped blessedly over grass dying off in the heat of summer, dampness coated her back. So different from the last time she’d stood here at the airport. With the thrill of escaping, the rush of going somewhere new, she couldn’t recall if she’d been sweating or shivering. She had been leaving this place that had spit out so much misery they should rename it that. Misery, Alabama.
Call the darn place for what it was.
There were only a handful of vehicles in the parking lot. All but one of them was clean. As for the one that wasn’t…a thick knot landed in her throat. The last time she’d ridden in a truck that had more mud than paint on the side of it, she’d said bye-bye to her virginity. It had been blue and looked a lot like that dirty one in front of her. The topless Jeep with tires right up to her neck sat in the front corner lot. Clumps of dirt had plopped on the parking lot surrounding it. There were no running boards, so the undercarriage showed off the mud the tires had slung under there.
Oh boy. It was definitely butterflies dancing in her stomach, not nausea like she’d hoped for. Shameful, really. Well, she should feel ashamed, but she wasn’t as her knees were getting wobbly with each unsteady step toward the vehicle made for fun. A truck like that one had played a big part in why she’d gone to a city. Trucks like those always drove headfirst into bad decisions. She’d avoided bad decisions for years. Made a point to, as a matter of fact. Nothing about that was changing, no matter how appealing his truck looked. It was time to get her keister to her grandparents’ house before she put serious thought into ways to delay her trip.
That bakery was the only reason she was back in this town. Specifically, she was back in town to fill in for her grandpa, and she would do well to remember that. He’d taught her everything about baking, decorating, and with some help from her grandma, all things about life in general. Of everything she’d been taught and learned and soaked up, she’d never once expected her grandma to utter the five words she had two days ago on the phone.
“Your grandpa needs your help.”
As much as Annie hadn’t wanted to return to Turtle Pine, she’d had her suitcase across her bed before she’d even found out why. Discovering Grandpa had promised seven hundred cupcakes to the local school as well as a wedding cake had slowed her packing, but it hadn’t stopped her.
Her driver, who would hopefully have his name written on something in his vehicle, because it was way too late now to admit she didn’t have a clue who he was, grabbed the door handle. More dirt, and even some pine straw, raked off in his hand as he tugged it open and revealed a seat just as filthy. Hunks of mud and leaves and, God, she didn’t even know what all was clumped on the seat. She could nearly feel the grit against her thighs, and it made her remember wind in her hair and cool muddy water being slung on her cheeks.
“I don’t suppose you have any towels in your suitcase that you can sit on?” He rubbed his chin that carried a couple days’ worth of good-looking facial hair. With his short-cut dark hair topping off tanned skin and statue-worthy muscles, calling him attractive was just scratching the surface. This guy couldn’t have gone to her high school. A girl didn’t forget a guy like him. Either that or he’d changed a shitton and she couldn’t even begin to whittle his sex appeal off to fit someone from her fuzzy memory.
“I…” Lord, there she went. Blank. Her whole mind just blank. Hot truck and all of a sudden the man driving it went from that guy picking her up to hello, aren’t you just an attractive drink of water? She blinked and turned away to get the vehicle and the man out of sight. Trucks like this was why she’d started hanging out at the library halfway through high school. These kinds of vehicles didn’t park at the public library. Also, since Tina had sent this guy, after he’d helped her with her kid, they were probably dating. That was a big heck-to-the-no and even more of a reason to get her head on straight. Here for work. Not for play. Side trips into mud riding? That was off the table. “I’m sure I’ve got something.”
She turned her bag around and opened it for the T-shirt she’d stuck down inside. The name of the bakery she worked at was printed across the front, but it was a size too big, stained with use and had been now downgraded to her sleep shirt. With all the food stains on it, why not add some mud too? Or she could just lift her skirt up a little and get that feeling of grit against her thighs.
Good grief, she needed something to drink to wet her dry throat. Ideas of hiking her skirt up to drive down the road wasn’t exactly a ladylike thought like any her grandma had tried teaching her. She lifted the large plastic bag stuffed with her bakery tools and dug for the shirt.
“Did you pack a kitchen sink in there too?”
Her cheeks warmed over. He was looking? Her pulse kicked up a notch as her throat tightened. More than ever, she was in dire need of something to drink now. He was staring at her bag where her cotton granny panties were packed? She pushed her utensils over the top of the suitcase to hide the practical things. She hadn’t come prepared for a man to pick her up from the airport in an attractive truck. If she’d known this was coming, she’d have rethought all her clothes—including the ones on her back. Cut-off shorts, flip-flops and a tank top sounded about right for something to change into. Pretty much all the things she’d left behind when she left this town.
Goodness, this was surely some kind of sickness. Even with the way he smelled vaguely of a swamp, if he offered to take her for a ride, she wasn’t sure she could resist. It’d been too damn long since she’d seen a vehicle like this one and had the fun it promised to deliver. She needed to resist any kind of man who drove one. Back woods. Muddy roads. She’d been gone for years, but she hadn’t forgotten about that pond tucked in along those old trails. So maybe there were some parts of Turtle Pine, Alabama that weren’t too bad.
She cleared her throat and stuffed her hair back. “Grandpa asked me to come in and help with the shop. I brought a few of the tools I like.”
“Looks like enough for a whole kitchen in there.”
“Just about.” She pasted on a friendly smile. She couldn’t go the rest of the day not knowing who this guy was. Maybe if she put a name to the face, recalled he’d been a dick to her in school, then she could focus all her energy where it should be—on her grandparents. “I didn’t catch your last name.”
“Revlin.” He chuckled, and that sound did tingly things to the hairs on her neck. His grin wasn’t so bad either as he hooked his thumbs in his belt loops. But the name, oh heavens, the name was all kinds of wrong. “It’s me, Annie. Cade Revlin. I thought you knew who I was.”
She paused in her search through her bag and looked up. Another knot touched the back of her throat. “Revlin. Like Sheriff James Revlin?” She cleared her throat. Younger brother to… No, she wouldn’t say that. Best to stick to his dad. “That is, if he’s still the sheriff.”
He nodded and smiled. “That’s my dad and, yep, he’s still holding down the fort at the department.”
She looked him over, trying to fit this man’s frame into the kid she remembered. “Oh my God. Cade. Little Rev.”
He chuckled. “Nobody’s called me that since school.”
The last time she’d seen him was then. “I’m sorry. I didn’t even recognize you.”
Obviously. Wait. If that was Little Rev then was that…Oh my God.
She took another look at the Jeep—a closer look. Under the brown clumps along the side was red paint. Air seeped from her chest and the tight knot in her throat eased. Red, not blue. Not the same truck. Thank heavens for little blessings. That would have been too awkward for words, and believe it or not, probably the only thing to put her libido on ice. Little Rev had grown up and looked nothing like his older brother. From the height, the build, the scruff on his chin and dark hair. She took time for another look, trying to find some similarity with the older brother she had known a little too well. She found nothing. Except for their taste in vehicles. They had that in common to a T.
Cade patted his stomach. “Mom made me start eating all my potatoes and rolls. She was determined to put weight on me before the wind carried me off.”
“Well—” she tucked hair behind her ear, “—it worked.” She wished mashed potatoes and rolls would do to her body what it had done to his.
His tight jeans and tucked-in shirt said there was a flat belly under there. His arms stretched the snug cotton. His shoulders were broad enough he shaded her from the sun. Heat curled through her body. Was it suddenly warmer outside? She got her hands around the shirt in her suitcase and tugged it out. “Your, ah, Mrs. Revlin should market that diet plan.”
“I think she does. She calls it Sunday lunch and anyone is welcome to attend.”
She chuckled and put her suitcase back in order as he took her shirt and turned for the truck. He pounded the seat, loosening the dried mud. Little hard balls of dirt bounced and he swept most of it off to the floorboard. He spread her shirt over the seat and he faced her while swiping his hands.
He paused and frowned toward her feet. “Are you going to be able to get in wearing those shoes?”
Definitely. She tried to keep her smile more polite and less eager beaver. “I can manage.” She grabbed her skirt, hiked it halfway up her thighs and set her foot. The oh-shit handle was right where it needed to be. With a satisfying tug, she pulled herself up and was in the seat. Like a glove.
“Nicely done.” He pushed the door closed.
“Some girls can’t manage it in tennis shoes. I have to pick them up.”
Well, if I’d have known that was an option… Bad Annie! This was why she’d quit cold turkey all those years ago. Being five days late for a monthly confirmation from her uterus had scared her butt out of trucks like this one and right into hard wooden chairs at the library. Where there were librarians who watched and chatted with her and in general made it impossible to be doing things with boys that she shouldn’t be doing. Those cold chairs and being surrounded by the steady thump of the librarian checking books in and out had saved her hide. She’d not only left tempting trucks driven by grinning, shirtless boys behind, she’d gotten clean out of town and traded them for a promising future.
He put her suitcase in the back and then climbed in behind the wheel. He cranked the engine with a heavy foot over the gas that caused a good rumbling. The vibrations hummed through the seat, flaking a few crumbs of dirt down the back of her shirt. That’s how a truck was supposed to sound and move. She ran her thumbs over the seams of the armrest of the door. It was made for back roads, mud and squeezing between trees. Sweat against the seat and sun on your cheeks. Every last bit of it made better by a hot guy behind the steering wheel with an ice chest between them. Especially if the guy stripped his shirt off.
He put the truck in drive and pulled away from the airport. “I guess I’m taking you to your grandma’s?”
She nodded. “Yeah. I don’t know where I’m going after that, but she said I could use her car.”
“Good. It’s real awesome what you’re doing.”
A sense of pride overwhelmed her for a bit. “I’d do anything for them. They were there for me. It wouldn’t be right to not be here.”
“I know all the kids are happy.”
Work. Work was a good, focused thing to talk about, and she wasn’t letting this conversation end until the old wood of her grandma’s porch was creaking under her heels. “Why did he promise all those cupcakes?”
“Motivation. The football field needed a makeover. He said if they got out there, worked hard and had it all looking like it was supposed to before the season started, he’d bake them all a cupcake each. They got it done.”
“Sounds like Grandpa.”
“But I don’t just mean being there for your grandpa. You’re also taking over the wedding.”
She lifted her shoulder. “Might as well while I’m here. Brides plan so far out in advance. It’s not like you can just blindly pick a bakery out of the phone book a week before your wedding.”
He looked a little surprised at that with the way he shot her a quick glance with raised eyebrows. “No cake probably would have ruined the wedding.”
“It certainly would have messed up the pictures at the reception.” She lifted a shoulder. “There’s nothing else like wedding cake. I swear, I use the same ingredients with a wedding cake as a birthday cake, and still…there’s this extra taste with the wedding cake.”
“You’re starting to sound like a romantic.”
“I haven’t made a cake yet that I wouldn’t enjoy a good romance with.” Not to mention cake had this dependable aspect. She leaned against the truck, settling in more and finding herself comfortable in town when not half an hour ago, she’d been dreading every step. Work wasn’t just some focus. It was good. It was her purpose. “You don’t think wedding cake is special?”
“Cake is cake, I guess.”
“Bah.” She readjusted, tucking a foot under her and facing him a little more while the wind kept her hair flying out of her face. “It’s not only the cake that’s different. Everything is. The size, the decorations, the uniqueness applied to each cake. Sure, birthday cakes are special, and some can really wow you, but every wedding cake wows you.”
“Just the sheer time it takes to make a cake is different. I’ve spent days working on nothing but one wedding cake. That’s it. One wedding cake. By the time I’m done and it’s put together, my back aches from being bent over, my fingers are cramped from holding the pastry bag and there’s so much grit in my eyes, they’re practically living off eye drops.” She breathed. “But when you’re finished, there’s this indescribable awe. And then I get that awe again when the bride comes in and sees the cake for the first time.”
“I hope you’re right and it’ll still be worth it. I don’t know much about the wedding details. I know my niece is dressed like a fairy flower girl instead of a princess, but from what I’ve picked up, your sister has a doozy planned.”
Annie frowned. “My sister?”
He nodded. “Jane.”
Why in the world would Jane have any input on the cake? Why would Cade’s niece be… Unless…no.
A nervous chuckle went over her. She wasn’t exactly on speaking terms with Jane, but somebody would have told her that her sister was getting married. By not exactly, she meant, not at all. Still. Marriage. That gossip was sure to float down a chain somewhere. Facebook at least. Or by someone like, oh, she didn’t know, her grandma for starters when she’d called last week.
There was that feeling again. That dread sitting heavy and hard in the pit of her stomach. The one that had been there since she’d left home and gotten on the airplane. One that about had her wanting to make a dash back to the ticket counter to take a flight to anywhere but here. “I hope you’re about to tell me Jane quit her job and became a wedding planner.”
Cade slid his gaze to hers and then back to the road. He turned at the corner, putting them on her grandparents’ street. “You don’t know?”
She pointed at her face. “Does this look like the face of someone who knows something?”
“Not so much.” He rubbed the back of his head and dropped his arm with a breath. “Damn it, I thought you knew. Jane’s the one getting married. To Peter.”
Holy mother, Annie was going to be sick. That heavy pit of despair in her belly exploded. She was about two seconds away from full-on blowing-chunks sick. Her cheeks cooled, but her head filled with warmth. She put a hand over her stomach as houses and trees flew past. The wind from the open-top Jeep should have made her feel better. That was the rule of riding in a car, wasn’t it? Get sick, open a window. My goodness, she could hang her head out the side like a dog right now and wouldn’t find relief.
“Hold on. Almost there.” Cade’s voice was a soothing little sliver of a chill pill going through her mind. Just not enough.
“I think I’m going to be sick.”
“It ain’t going to hurt this truck any. Don’t get it on me and we’ll be fine.”
She laughed. A little more ease settled through her tumbling stomach. She sat back against the seat. Dirt embedded in the fibers of the cushioned seat rubbed comfortably with the cold sweat on the back of her neck. A good little gritty distraction. He turned into her grandma’s drive and stopped the truck. It didn’t stop all of her churning, but it was down to manageable levels.
He twisted and rested an arm over the steering wheel. “I’m sorry. I thought you knew. I wouldn’t have said anything.”
She reached over and patted his hand. “It’s okay. I’d rather find out now than later when she walks in and says, ‘Hey, you’re making this for me’. Grandma knew I wouldn’t have agreed if she’d have told me who it was for.”
“Just think of all the kids you’re going to make happy now that you’re here.”
“Oh, I would have come for them. I would have left after I delivered the last cupcake.” It was petty and sounded terrible, but she really didn’t care. Getting to turn her back on her sister—even after all these years—felt like the sweet justice she’d been waiting to deliver. And in the form of refusing to make a cake—a sweet? Oh man, she was practically foaming here at the idea of it. She glanced over and tried to look sorry about it, but she wasn’t feeling it. “I know this is your brother’s wedding and you probably think I’m horrible for even saying that out loud.”
He lifted his shoulder. “All I know is you and Peter were together, and then he was making out with Jane.”
Yeah, that was a good roundup of the story. There were a lot of middle parts in there. Hugs and concerns from her sister. A couple of, “Don’t worry, Annie. I’ll talk to him.” Just when Annie had thought she was going to get the supportive sister who’d have her back like she’d always wanted, Jane stuck her tongue in Peter’s mouth and put her hands in places they shouldn’t have been. After all these years, finally, this was her moment to stick it to them. She was pretty sure she was supposed to be too old for those kinds of thoughts. Then again, revenge was best served cold, they say. “Last I was here, the grocery store sold box mix and canned frosting. They can do that together.”
He chuckled and got out of the truck. “Let me get your bag.”
She sat forward in the vehicle and stared down. Getting married. Last she knew, they’d broken up. Then gotten back together. Back apart. She knew this because that’s usually when people who didn’t talk to her attempted to. To see if she was getting back with Peter now that he wasn’t with Jane. That had been her life for two long, miserable years until Annie had gotten out of town, left that fun dance behind and hadn’t kept up since. At times, it seemed like a lifetime ago. Today? Felt more like yesterday.
Cade opened her door and leaned on the frame. It brought him in closer and nearly towering over her.
She glanced to him. “I don’t want him back. I never did.”
He lifted a shoulder. “I’m not judging you.”
She sat back in the seat, rubbed the top of her thighs and straightened her dress. “I don’t want you to think I want him back or anything. Not wanting to do their wedding cake isn’t jealousy. I just plain and simply don’t want any part of their lives mixing in mine.”
“Watching them cut a homemade cake sitting on a foil board could be fun.”
She laughed. “I would actually love to see that.”
“Guess you won’t be going to the wedding?”
“I wasn’t even invited.”
“I’ll take pictures for you.”
She swung her legs out and faced him. “You know why I don’t want to do the cake at the wedding. This is your brother getting married. How come you’re on my bandwagon?”
He leaned in a little closer. “Is it fine if I’m completely honest?”
“I always liked you better than your sister.”
She blinked and had no words. Not what she’d been thinking. At all. So. Not. Thinking…that.
He lifted a shoulder. “I’m sorry he did it, but I’m also a little glad my brother cheated on you. If he hadn’t, y’all might have gotten married, and the rest of my life would be one awkward, uncomfortable moment after another.”
Oh, boy. Holy hell, Little Rev was not little anymore, and he was coming on to her like no man ever had. Boy, oh, boy. Except. She eyed him. “You’re dating my other sister, Tina, aren’t you?”
He straightened like she’d hit him. “No. Where did you hear that?”
“She asked you to pick me up. You helped her last night. I thought—”
He put his hand up, stopping her. “I’m a deputy. That’s why I helped her last night. She asked me to get you from the airport because I was standing there when your grandma called to remind her.”
He got her about the waist, lifted and stood her on her feet on the ground. At least, she thought they were her feet. “I…uh.” She cleared her throat. “Okay. I don’t know what to say.”
“Then don’t say anything.”