Authors: Carol Durand,Summer Prescott
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Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction.
Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Copyright 2015 by Maven Publishing - All rights reserved.
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Table of Contents
Melissa Gladstone brushed a stray golden curl back from her damp forehead after peeling off her sterile gloves. The proud owner of
Missy’s Muffins and More
in LaChance, Louisiana, and its sister store,
Crème de la Cupcake,
in the nearby town of Dellville, had just finished baking her last batch of specialty cupcakes for the evening, and was dismayed when she looked down at her watch, seeing that it was already after nine. She’d been so wrapped up in perfecting her new recipe for Peach Cupcakes with Cream Cheese and Pecan Frosting, that she had completely lost track of time. Her stomach grumbled, reminding her that, yet again, she had completely forgotten to eat dinner. She eyed the freshly frosted treats in front of her, tempted, but decided to wait and fix herself a nice bowl of gumbo when she got home. She’d made a huge pot of it earlier in the week – it came in handy for times just like this, when she needed a good meal, but was too exhausted to cook. Glad that she had tidied up the commercial kitchen while the muffins baked, she cleaned up the bowls and frosting knives and headed for home.
The late Fall breeze was cool, but still pleasant, and Missy inhaled deeply, glad to be done for the day. Her lemon-yellow Victorian with white trim and shutters was pleasantly aglow when she pulled into the drive, and her heart leaped a bit because she knew that lights on in the house meant that her handsome, amazing, wonderful, boyfriend, Detective Chas Beckett, had stopped by to feed the dog and close the windows before night fell. She didn’t know who she was more excited to see, the dashing detective, or her golden retriever, Toffee. Locking the car, she turned just in time to see her ecstatic pet bounding down the porch steps and making a beeline for her. Missy received sloppy kisses with giggles, and started for the house, where she saw dark-haired and gorgeous Chas waiting patiently for his greeting.
“You might want to wait to kiss me until I wash my face,” she grinned at him, Toffee at her heels.
“Good call,” Detective Beckett agreed, taking her by the hand and leading her inside. “I heated up some of your gumbo when you texted that you were on your way home, so once you get freshened up, there’ll be a nice warm dinner waiting for you.”
“Chas Beckett, you are amazing,” she smiled, squeezing his hand before heading upstairs to change and wash up.
“There’s wine too,” he responded, watching her with an appreciative gaze.
“Perfect,” Missy sang out, taking the stairs faster.
Freshly scrubbed and clad in a comfy knit maxi-dress with matching sweater, Missy joined Chas at the kitchen table, where a steaming bowl of spicy gumbo and a glass of Cabernet awaited. Smooth jazz played softly in the background, and the thoughtful detective had lit two candles, giving the eating nook a warm glow.
“Oh Chas, I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to come home to this after a ridiculously long day,” she breathed, kissing him softly before settling into her chair.
“I’m glad to do it,” he returned her kiss. “It helps me feel more human after a day of dealing with situations that are anything but normal.”
“Rough day?” Missy asked, blowing softly on a spoonful of gumbo.
Beckett sipped his wine before replying. “No more so than usual,” he replied. “There was a burglary over at the Plantation, and Chloe Beauregard was so upset about it that she had to be sedated.”
Missy involuntarily snorted in a most unladylike manner. “Chloe Beauregard requires sedation over a hangnail,” she commented dryly.
The detective sat back, surprised. “Why, Melissa Gladstone, are those claws that I see on such a lovely kitten?”
She washed a bite of gumbo down with a swig of wine. “Sorry, it was a reflex. Everyone in the county knows of Chloe’s histrionics. We were in the same class in school, and she used tears and manipulation quite effectively to get whatever she wanted. Particularly from men,” she gazed pointedly at Chas over the rim of her glass.
“I think the degree of emotion was appropriate for the situation. Remember how upset you were when your house was vandalized a few months ago?” he chided her gently.
“Of course,” Missy agreed reluctantly, savoring a succulent piece of shrimp. “It’s just hard to take Chloe Beauregard seriously after having seen some of the fits that she’s thrown over absolutely nothing.” She dug into her gumbo with gusto, and Chas, seeing that she wasn’t going to budge in her skepticism, changed the subject.
“How was your day? You stayed well past your usual time,” he observed, concerned.
“Long, but good. I finally perfected my peach cupcake recipe, so it’ll be featured as Cupcake of the Day at both shops tomorrow.”
“Hmmm…sounds like I’ll have to pay you a visit tomorrow then, peach is one of my favorites,” he grinned in anticipation.
“Seeing you devour one of my cupcakes is one of my most favorite things in the world,” she admitted shyly, then focused on her wine.
Chas reached over and took her hand. “Missy, are you okay? You’re working so hard these days. Your hours are stretching longer and longer…I worry that you’re overdoing it.”
Missy sighed. She knew that Chas was right. She had been burning the candle at both ends for quite some time, and with the Holiday season in full swing, it was going to get worse before it got better. “I’m okay. I need to figure out a new strategy though. I’ve been trying to do a new recipe every day for the featured cupcake, and it’s wearing me out.”
“Maybe you should go for a new recipe once a week, rather than every day,” he suggested.
“Maybe, but my customers love seeing what’s new, and I’d hate to lose business by cutting back the new recipes to once a week,” she worried.
“I think folks love everything you make, and would still come in for their old favorites whether there was a new feature or not. I know I would,” he kissed her hand.
She smiled fondly, appreciating his concern. “I’ll figure something out. I’m doing a staff dinner here at the house on Sunday, and we’ll toss some ideas around then.”
“Staff dinner? Are non-staff members invited?” he asked hopefully.
“Only if they bring their world-famous five alarm chili,” she teased.
“Consider it done.”
Missy scurried around the kitchen all day on Sunday, preparing for the staff dinner. Her contribution, as hostess, consisted of cooking up massive amounts of her renowned southern fried chicken, and grilling all sorts of fresh veggies. All other dishes, drinks and desserts had been delegated to the attendees. Cheryl, the manager of the LaChance shop, was the first to arrive; proudly bearing a large pan of Jalapeno Cheddar Cornbread that would be a perfect complement to Chas’s chili. She was followed soon after by the Dellville manager, Ben, who brought an out-of-this-world Sour Cream Potato Salad. Grayson, Cheryl’s sidekick, arrived next shyly presenting the most decadent Triple-layer Chocolate Cake that Missy had ever seen, and Chris, Ben’s assistant, completed the staff presence with his homemade deviled eggs.
Missy had invited her friend Echo, who had moved from California a few months prior and bought the vegan ice cream shop across the street from Crème de la Cupcake. Echo tried to live a completely “green” lifestyle that had as little impact on the environment as possible, and didn’t have a car, so Chas was picking her up on his way. The duo appeared just as Missy was setting the table, Toffee’s enthusiastic tail wagging signaling their arrival. Echo brought a Sesame Quinoa Salad that looked and smelled delicious, and Chas carefully carried in a huge crockpot of chili. The kitchen had never smelled so delightful, and the guests readily grabbed plates and loaded them to overflowing. Once everyone was seated and munching contentedly, Missy broached the subject of why she had invited them.
“The people in this room are the most important people in my life, and because I love y’all, I’m not afraid to ask for your help,” she admitted, looking at each person with great fondness. “You all know that I’ve been working some really long hours lately, trying to keep up with the new recipes for Cupcake of the Day. The promotion has been working out well in terms of sales, but I’m just about burnt out. I’m hoping that we can come up with an alternative that will keep our sales high, but give me some time to breathe.”
Ben, a grad student in Criminal Justice, who had been with Missy the longest, nodded in agreement. “Yeah, gotta admit Ms. G., I’ve been worried about you.”
“We’ve talked about it,” Cheryl, his girlfriend and fellow manager chimed in.
“What can we do to make it easier on you?” the ever-sensitive pale and dark-haired Grayson asked, his giant brown eyes sympathetic.
“That’s what we’re here to figure out, sweetie,” Missy replied with an affectionate smile. She had taken a chance in hiring the pierced and tattooed Grayson, and it had ended up being one of the best decisions she’d ever made. The quiet youth was creative, talented and loved by the customers.
“I’ve been trying to think of ways to drum up more business at Sweet Love too,” Echo mused, referencing her store.
Ben suddenly sat up straight in his chair, a look of excitement in his eyes. “Hey! What if you two joined forces?” he asked, glancing back and forth between Missy and Echo.
Missy was confused. “I don’t understand what you mean, Ben. Our businesses are very separate entities.” Echo looked puzzled as well.
“I don’t mean combine the businesses,” Ben explained, clearly inspired. “I mean combine the products. Everyone loves cake and ice cream. If the two of you came up with a way to combine our cupcakes with Echo’s frozen treats, I bet we’d sell out!”
A slow smile spread over Echo’s face. “So you’re thinking along the ideas of an ice cream cake, or an ice cream sandwich, made with Missy’s cupcakes and my ice cream…Ben, that’s a great idea – I love it!” she enthused.
Missy sat back, taking it all in. She was open to the idea, but her mind had already jumped to the logistics of such an endeavor, considering joint prep time, freezer space and the like. “It’s certainly something to think about,” she hedged, noncommittally.
“I personally would eat a ton of ice cream filled cupcakes,” Cheryl said, already thinking about flavor combinations.
“I’d like to do some test batches if you wouldn’t mind,” Grayson offered quietly, looking hopefully at Missy. His soulful eyes were her undoing.
“Okay,” she relented. “Grayson, you and I will experiment on Thursday night with a couple of recipes and feature them on Friday. I should be able to get a freezer case into the Dellville shop by then. Echo, we’ll let you know by Wednesday what flavors of ice cream we’ll need, and how much.”
Echo nodded happily and raised her glass. “Here’s to Sweet Crème Sandwiches!” she toasted.
Chas stayed to help with cleanup after the rest of the guests had gone. They made quick work of it, and sat down on the couch to relax with large mugs of tea.
“So, what do you think of Ben’s idea?” Missy asked, snuggling into the detective’s side.
“Sounds delicious to me, but what do you think of it?”
“I think it could work. I’ve just never considered branching out beyond baked goods before,” she admitted. “This is completely new territory to me.”
“Well, the good news is that, even if the venture is a total flop, you still have two successful businesses, and a whole group of people dedicated to the idea of helping you make them stay successful,” he hugged her and kissed the top of her head.