Blurb: Cake is often a major part of life’s celebrations, both big and small. From birthdays to wedding days, cake, in all its delectable concoctions, marks joyous occasions with a sweetness that can’t be beat. But even better is the love that is shared when two people connect over a sweet confection. Maybe it’s a cute new guy wreaking havoc on a broken heart, or a beautiful woman testing the limits of love, or an old beau stirring up long lost desires. Whatever the circumstances, cake can always be relied upon to save the day when it comes to affairs of the heart. In this collection of short stories, cake is the delicious center around which each tale unfolds and romance blooms.
When single mom and journalist, Olivia, sets out to find romance in Cindy Arora’s “Cake Therapy,” she gets a little help from her friends and more than a few slices of cake to coax her off the couch and into the arms of a truly great love. Lucie Simone’s “Aprez Vous” finds success-driven Tara in Paris reminiscing of her long lost love, Jean Marc, and her niece bound and determined to reunite them. In “The Heart-Shaped Secret of Raspberry Jam” by Sue Watson, cake enthusiast, Milly, meets her match in the kitchen, and other places, when new owners take over the tea rooms where she works and her talents and her heart are put to the test. And Scott, mayor of a small seaside community, flirts with political suicide in Joel Zlotnik’s “Her Charms” when he falls for new-in-town Nicole, an entrepreneur with a passion for cupcakes, and whose latest venture proves a little too sexy for the sleepy beach town.
From San Francisco to Paris, from small towns to tea rooms, this anthology tempts readers with humor, style, romance, and the powerful aphrodisiac that is cake. Petit Four is four stories, frosted with love.
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Excerpt for “Aprez Vous” by Lucie Simone
“Does your mother know you packed that outfit?” Tara said to the empty room. She doubted her sister would have let Marissa out of the house knowing that skirt was in her suitcase. Meg was what magazines called a ‘helicopter parent.’ It was practically a miracle that she’d even let Marissa go on this trip. But Tara had assured her that she’d keep Marissa out of trouble. Besides, it was her job as an aunt to spoil her rotten.
Growing up in the quiet suburbs of Charleston, South Carolina, Meg and Tara had been raised on a proper Southern diet of hospitality, grace, and censure. While Meg was always the ‘good girl,’ Tara had acquired a more rebellious reputation in her teen years with her green Doc Martens, purple hair, and passionate political debates. In fact, her summer excursion to Europe only happened because she had earned a full ride to New York University and her father figured she deserved a bit of fun before freshman year. Whereas Meg had always been tied to their mother’s apron strings, Tara was Daddy’s girl. And it was his word that ruled the household.
Now, Tara slipped on her sandals and dropped her bag on the console table in the foyer. Beyond the French doors in the living room, the sun was indeed descending past the horizon, and soon the Eiffel Tower would burst into light. They’d never make it to the park in time for the show.
She went into the kitchen and retrieved the complimentary bottle of champagne from the refrigerator, a bottle of sparking water for Marissa, and two flutes from the cupboard, and headed out to the balcony. Settling in on the chaise lounge, she saw her niece step into the living room wearing a pair of jeans, Vans, and a T-Shirt emblazoned with Che Guevara’s image. Well, there was a little Tara in her after all.
“Munchkin! Out here,” Tara called.
Marissa hurried out onto the balcony. “What’s going on?”
“We won’t make it in time for the light show, so let’s watch it from here.”
Marissa took a seat, folding her legs under her as Tara carefully opened the bottle of champagne, wrapping a towel around the top and twisting until the familiar ‘pop,’ signaling a celebration, rang out.
“Oh, but it didn’t fizz all over the place,” Marissa said, slightly disappointed.
“That only happens to amateurs.”
Marissa picked up one of the flutes from the table between them and held it out to Tara.
“Nope. Sparkling water for you, little Miss.
“But we’re in France. It’s legal here.”
“Not on my watch. Your mother would have my head.”
“Okay,” Marissa sighed, twisting the cap off the bottle of Perrier as the last ray of sunshine slid beneath the horizon.
“Watch,” Tara said, pointing with her glass at the Eiffel Tower in the near distance as it exploded into sparkling light.
It blazed white and gold and a huge spotlight erupted from the top of the tower like a beacon. Both women watched in silence for the next ten minutes as the structure twinkled in the darkness, Tara gazing part of the time at Marissa, her face aglow with joy and wonder. She remembered that feeling, the first time she saw the tower light up. The feeling that anything was possible. It was as captivating then as it was now. And as the lights settled into a steady golden hue, she lifted her glass of champagne in a toast.
“To Paris,” Marissa said, raising her flute.
“To new memories,” Tara said, clinking her glass against her niece’s.
**About Lucie Simone: Lucie Simone has a passion for travel, romance and all things chick lit. She also has a degree in Journalism and a Master of Fine Arts in Television Production. She is the author of novels, Hollywood Ending and Picture Perfect, both offering an insider’s take on life in the City of Angels. Her love of comedy (and living under the delusion that she might one day be an actress) resulted in a stint studying improvisation, which, ironically enough, taught her to be a better writer. She lives in Los Angeles (and loves it), but considers New York City her imaginary second home and visits the Big Apple as often as her bank account will allow. For more information on Lucie, please visit her website at www.luciesimone.com.
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Excerpt for “Cake Therapy” by Cindy Arora
The first time I met Tammy Kovac, she was eating a slice of cake at her cluttered desk while angrily telling someone on the phone to “kiss her well-toned ass” right before she slammed the phone down so hard I was sure it would burst in her hands.
I clutched the paperwork Human Resources had given me and took a few steps back as I reconsidered introducing myself. Suddenly the idea of working with ‘Tammy the Terror’ didn’t seem as exciting as it did, well…terrifying.
“What kind of cake do you like?” She swiveled her desk chair to face me, and I stumbled back, surprised she knew I was hovering nervously behind her. She stared impatiently at me, and I found myself speechless as I took in my first impression of the Pulitzer Prize winning reporter. She was disarmingly pretty, in that natural way that girls appreciate and admire. Her sandy blonde hair was neatly pulled into a high ponytail, her brown eyes looked at me curiously, and her lips were glossed in a peaches-n-cream sheen giving her a girl-next-door look. But you could feel the trouble. She had that glint about her that revealed she could somehow convince you to do things you never thought you would or could.
It was an instant girl crush for me. But the feeling was not mutual.
“I don’t like cake,” I answered truthfully. “I’ve just never really been a big fan of sweets, and honestly, it’s a waste of calories if you think about it.”
“A. Waste. Of. Calories? Who says absurd things like that?” Tammy looked at me with a mixture of outraged interest and disappointment. She leaned over and picked up my freshly printed press badge I had proudly put on just a few moments earlier.
Olivia Cisneros, Staff Reporter, SF Bridge News
“My mom used to always say cake is the great uniter. It can bring people together in ways that national leaders haven’t even figured out yet.”
I blinked at her, still unsure of where all this cake talk was going to lead to.
“You do realize it’s the only food that can make an entire room of virtual strangers burst into song?”
“You mean, ‘Happy Birthday?’” I said confused, realizing that she was right, but also never having really seen it as a social commentary. But she did have a point.
She gave me an exasperated look right before she picked up the police scanner sitting on her desk that buzzed with inaudible chatter. She turned the volume up and leaned in to make out what the dispatchers were saying on the other end.
“Do we need to head out?” I asked her and handed her my paperwork listing her as my mentor for the first three months at SF Bridge News. She quickly read through the paperwork and handed it back to me.
“No, it’s a standard robbery call. You’ll get the details from the Watch Commander later.”
She tossed the scanner onto the desk, and I stared at it longingly.
“Listen, O-Livia, cake isn’t just something you have on your birthday. And it’s definitely not something you claim not to like because of calories. Where’s your lust for life? Cake has history, it’s a tradition, and it tastes utterly fantastic when everything else is falling apart. And around here, in this never-ending hamster wheel that is journalism, the world falls apart every five minutes, so you better get used to it.”
**About Cindy Arora: Cindy Arora was a staff writer at The San Gabriel Valley Tribune, The Orange County Register and Sacramento Magazine. She’s been published in Saveur, Tasting Table, Orange Coast Magazine and Fodor’s. She’s also mama to an adorable little boy, a feminist, a whiskey enthusiast, and proud to call herself a Chick Lit author. She is the author of Heartbreak Cake, a delicious debut novel, and a contributor to the anthology, Merry & Bright, with her story, “Christmas at Mulberry Inn.” To learn more about Cindy, please visit www.cindyarora.com.
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Excerpt for “The Heart-Shaped Secret of Raspberry Jam” by Sue Watson
He gazed into the menu while she watched him, thinking what a lovely suit he was wearing. It was navy blue and beautifully cut, probably very expensive, worn with an open-necked shirt. She was staring at his neck when he looked up and into her eyes. Despite his cool demeanour, she saw a flicker of something. He had gorgeous brown eyes, soft around the edges, the colour of coffee cake, and they were smiling.
“Now, what would you recommend from the menu?” he asked.
“Ooh, we have an extensive cake range, sir. All classic recipes, but I particularly like the Black Forest,” she said, warming to her favourite subject—cake. “I’m a purist when it comes to the old Black Forest combo:chocolate, cherries, kirsch. It speaks for itself, in my view. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” She said this in an American accent and immediately regretted it. She wasn’t very good at accents, and it came out all wrong.
He smiled, clearly trying not to laugh at her, but she carried on anyway. “We also do a good coffee and walnut. What’s not to love? Delicious walnut sponge made with freshly ground coffee, which is echoed in the rich buttercream. I love coffee and walnut, but I make it at home with coffee liqueur for an extra kick. It makes it a little more, I don’t know, somehow edgier. I mean, coffee and walnut can be a bit of a well-worn cliché, so you need to ‘sex it up’ a little.”
He watched her patiently. She couldn’t tell whether he was bored or mesmerised by her cake monologue.
“The same applies to my grown-up lemon cupcakes. Classic recipe with a sexy twist…limoncello.” She said this with an awful Italian accent and kissed her fingers. He didn’t flinch. She felt rather silly. Why did she feel the need to get ‘in character’ with every cake she mentioned?
“Then, next on the menu is lemon drizzle cake,” she continued, being more serious now. “Another favourite. It’s citrusy and bittersweet and makes your jaws ache. I like to add a little fresh lemon zest just before it leaves the kitchen, to give that lemony punch. The aroma always reminds me of summer. Then, there are some bad boy brownies. Oh, and we have kickass Battenberg. Lovely almondy marzipan edged around cute little squares of pink and yellow sponge. But then there’s also chocolate fudge cake, which is delicious warm, bathed in ice cream.” Her pen was now poised over her notebook. “So what will it be?”
“I’m sorry, could you tell me again? I’ve forgotten what you said.”
Milly was open-mouthed, until she realised he was teasing. “Ha. It would take me hours to say all that again. I’m glad I don’t have to choose. I wouldn’t know what to pick. Hell, I’d order them all.” She giggled.
“Well, if that’s your considered advice? Okay.” He put down the menu. “And I’ll have a pot of Earl Grey tea to go with that.”
“To go with….”
“To go with the cake.”
“Yes, but which cake?”
“The ones you recommended.”
“But I recommended them all.”
“Yes, and I’d like to try them all.”
“When I said, if it were me, I’d order them all, I didn’t mean…”
“You’re my waitress. You suggested I order them all, so I’m taking your advice. As I am paying for them, I believe I can order as many cakes as I like.”
“Of course.” She felt stupid again.
“Oh, I see there are also cupcakes on the menu, too?”
She was hoping the cupcakes didn’t come up, but she had to be honest.
“Well, I’m afraid they aren’t ready, sir.”
“Oh, what a disappointment. I’d heard they were quite good here.”
“Yes. It’s just…the baker had a few technical problems, and he had to leave early.”
“Technical problems? With cupcakes? That’s a new one.”
She felt awkward now. “They are only out of the oven and need frosting. I haven’t had time to do them yet.”
“I could try one without?”
“A naked cupcake? I’m sorry, I couldn’t serve an undressed cupcake. It would be indecent.”
**About Sue Watson: Sue Watson is a former BBC TV Producer who woke up one morning to the realisation that there was no such thing as ‘having it all.’ Marriage, motherhood and a full-time career were taking over her life and what she really wanted to do was stay home all day, bake and eat cake, watch reality TV and write… in that order. So she quit the day job, baked a year’s supply of cupcakes and chased the dream. What followed was a lot of cake and many hours in the company of ‘The Real Housewives of New Jersey,’ ‘The Biggest Loser,’ and ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians.’ During this, time Sue also managed to write a few books too: Fat Girls and Fairy Cakes; Younger, Thinner, Blonder; Love, Lies and Lemon Cake; and her latest cake offering, Snow Angels, Secrets and Christmas Cake. Learn more about Sue by visiting www.suewatsonbooks.com.
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Excerpt for “Her Charms” by Joel Zlotnik
For the last eight months she’s been bringing him cupcakes more or less once a week. The first full batch was waiting for him on his doorstep when he got home from City Hall the day after their date at The Vault. He was half a step away from a loafer covered in red velvet and vanilla buttercream frosting before the shiny silver pizza charm caught his eye. It sat atop the cupcake in the center of the plate, surrounded by five tasty companions. He brought them inside and picked up the center cupcake. A little snack before dinner couldn’t hurt, could it? He slowly peeled away the liner, releasing the scent of the red velvet. As it mixed with the sweet aroma of the buttercream, he wondered if one could be a cupcake connoisseur. ‘Have you tried the ’06 Duncan Hines Triple Chocolate? An excellent vintage for sure, but the ’08 Betty Crocker Molten Chocolate is life altering.’ Scott laughed out loud and it echoed through the empty house. He took a bite and decided he should in fact become a cupcake connoisseur. Another bite and he freed the cupcake completely from its liner where he noticed what looked like writing. He brushed away a few red crumbs from the waxy paper and pulled his steel-rimmed reading glasses from the inside pocket of his sport coat that he had hung on the stool at the kitchen counter. He read and re-read the note and his whole body felt like smiling.
Because we never did get dessert!
He unwrapped the remaining cupcakes hoping for more messages but there was only the one. After having another for breakfast the next morning, he decided to bring the rest into work. The quizzical looks as to why there were unwrapped cupcakes in the break room quickly evaporated after the first bites. His secretary Laurie popped her head in his office just as she was polishing off half of one herself.
“Good morning, Mayor. So the cupcake lady strikes again?” She tapped her fingers against the doorway grinning like a teenager probing her BFF for first date details.
“Good morning to you,” Scott shot back with just enough of a grimace to shut down her inquiry. “I’ll pass along that you liked them.”
Laurie came with the office when Scott got elected. She was in her late twenties, a five-foot-two fireball of energy who spoke so fast, her words flew from her mouth like a speeding freight train. She took an interest in Scott that landed somewhere between mild crush and big brother. And in either case, the fact that her boss was the mayor—a position that usually commanded at least a hint of respect—seemed of little consequence to Laurie.
“Will you just answer one question?” And before he could respond, she added, “Do you think we’ll be getting more? I love, love, love cupcakes.”
“Are you giggling, Laurie?” Scott lowered his voice, but was having a hard time covering up his amusement.
“That’s a yes, isn’t it?”
“Get to work, Laurie.”
**About Joel Zlotnik: Joel Zlotnik is a former Southern California journalist who was lucky enough to find a second career on the other side of the notepad, answering questions instead of asking them. He recently cancelled his cable so he would write more and quickly discovered online binge watching. You can find him living at the beach in South Orange County, where he listens to records, reads and watches the waves. Find some of his essays and short fiction at www.joelzlotnik.com.
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