Authors: Darlene Panzera
The Cupcake Diaries: Recipe for Love
For my children,
Samantha, Robert, and Jason
Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first.
ACHEL PUSHED THROUGH
the double doors of the kitchen, took one look at the masked man at the counter,
and dropped the freshly baked tray of cupcakes on the floor.
Did he plan to rob Creative Cupcakes, demand she hand over the money from the cash
register? Her eyes darted around the frilly pink-and-white shop. The loud clang of
the metal bakery pan hitting the tile had caused several customers sitting at the
tables to glance in her direction. Would the masked man threaten the other people
as well? How could she protect them?
She stepped over the white-frosted chocolate mess by her feet, tried to judge the
distance to the telephone on the wall, and turned her attention back to the masked
man before her. Maybe he wasn’t a robber but someone dressed for a costume party or
play. The man with the black masquerade mask covering the upper half of his face also
wore a black cape.
“If this is a holdup, you picked the wrong place, Zorro.” She tossed her fiery red
curls over her shoulder with false bravado and laid a protective hand across the old
bell-ringing register. “We don’t have any money.”
His hazel eyes gleamed through the holes in the mask, and he flashed her a disarming
smile. “Maybe I can help with that.”
He turned his hand to show an empty palm, and relief flooded over her. No gun. Then
he closed his fingers and swung his fist around in the air three times. When he opened
his palm again, he held a quarter, which he tossed in her direction.
Rachel caught the coin and laughed. “You’re a magician.”
“Mike the Magnificent,” he said, extending his cape wide with one arm and taking a
bow. “I’m here for the Lockwell party.”
Rachel pointed to the door leading to the back party room. The space had originally
been a tattoo shop, but the tattoo artist relocated to the rental next door. “The
Lockwells aren’t here yet. The party doesn’t start until three.”
“I came early to set up before the kids arrive,” Mike told her. “Can’t have them discovering
“No, I guess not,” Rachel agreed. “If they did, Mike the magician might not be so
“Magnificence is hard to maintain.” His lips twitched, as if suppressing a grin. “Are
She shook her head. “Rachel, Creative Cupcakes’ stupendous co-owner, baker, and promoter.”
This time a grin did escape his mouth, which led her to notice his strong, masculine
“Tell me, Rachel, what is it that makes you so stupendous?”
She gave him her most flirtatious smile. “Sorry, I can’t reveal my secrets either.”
“Afraid if I found out the truth, I might not think you’re so impressively great?”
Rachel froze, fearing Mike the magician might be a mind reader as well. Careful to
keep her smile intact, she forced herself to laugh off his comment.
“I just don’t think it’s nice to brag,” she responded playfully.
“Chicken,” he taunted in an equally playful tone as he made his way toward the party
Despite the uneasy feeling he’d discovered more about her in three minutes than most
men did in three years, she wished he’d stayed to chat a few minutes more.
Andi Burke, wearing one of the new, hot-pink Creative Cupcakes bibbed aprons, came
in from the kitchen and stared at the cupcake mess on the floor. “What happened here?”
“Zorro came in, gave me a panic attack, and the tray slipped out of my hands.” Rachel
grabbed a couple of paper towels and squatted down to scoop up the crumpled cake and
splattered frosting before her OCD kitchen safety friend could comment further. “Don’t
worry, I’ll take care of the mess.”
“I should have told you Officer Lockwell hired a magician for his daughter’s birthday
party.” Andi bent to help her, and when they stood back up, she asked, “Did you speak
Rachel nodded, her gaze on the connecting door to the party room as it opened, and
Mike reappeared. Tipping his head toward them as he walked across the floor, he said,
“Good afternoon, ladies.”
Mike went out the front door, and Rachel hurried around the display case of cupcakes
and crossed over to the shop’s square, six-foot-high, street-side window. She leaned
her head toward the glass and watched him take four three-by-three-foot black painted
boxes out of the back of a van.
“You should go after him,” Andi teased, her voice filled with amusement. “He’s very
“How can you tell?” Rachel drew away from the window, afraid Mike might catch her
spying on him. “He’s got a black mask covering the upper half of his face. He could
have sunken eyes, shaved eyebrows, and facial tattoos.”
Andi laughed. “He doesn’t, and I know you like guys with dark hair. He’s not as tall
as my Jake, but he’s still got a great build.”
“Better not let Jake hear you say that,” Rachel retorted. “And how do you know he
has a great build? The guy’s wrapped in a cape.”
“I’ve seen him before,” Andi said. “Without the cape.”
“His photo was in the newspaper two weeks ago,” Andi confided. “The senior editor
assigned Jake to write an article on Mike Palmer’s set models.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Mike Palmer created the miniature model replica of the medieval city of Hilltop for
Battle for Warrior Mountain
and worked on set pieces for many other movies filmed around Astoria. His structural
designs are so intricate that when the camera zooms in close, it looks real.”
Mike returned through the front door, wheeling in the black boxes on an orange dolly.
Rachel caught her breath as he looked her way before proceeding toward the party room
with his equipment. Did the masked man find her as intriguing as she found him?
Andi’s younger sister, Kim, came in from the kitchen with a large tray of red velvet
cupcakes with cherry cream cheese frosting. The three of them together, with Andi’s
boyfriend, Jake Hartman, as their financial partner, had managed to open Creative
Cupcakes a month and a half earlier.
“Who’s he?” Kim asked. She placed the cupcakes on the marble counter and pointed toward
the billowing black cape of the magician.
“Mike the Magnificent,” Rachel said dreamily.
his wife, son, and daughter entered the shop a short while later. The first time
Rachel had met him, he’d written her a parking ticket. Since then, he had helped chase
off a group of fanatical Zumba dancers who were trying to shut down Creative Cupcakes
and had become one of their biggest supporters. Both were good reasons for her to
reverse her original harsh feelings toward the blond, burly man.
“Happy Birthday, Caitlin,” Rachel greeted his six-year-old daughter. “Ready for the
“I hope he pulls a rabbit out of his hat,” Caitlin said, her eyes sparkling. “I asked
for a rabbit for my birthday.”
“She wanted one last month for Easter,” Officer Lockwell confided. “But I told her
the bunnies were busy delivering eggs.”
“There are always more rabbits in April,” Andi told Caitlin and winked conspiratorially
at her father. “Aren’t there?”
Officer Lockwell shifted his gaze to the ceiling.
“Should we go to the party room?” Rachel asked, leading the way.
“Here are two more,” Jake Hartman said, ushering his little girl, Taylor, and Andi’s
daughter, Mia, into the shop. Both six-year-olds attended the same kindergarten class
as Caitlin at Astor Elementary.
Andi stepped forward and gave Jake a kiss before he had to head back to work at the
“Is he a real magician, Mom?” Mia asked Andi, hugging her legs as Mike the Magnificent
came out to welcome them.
“As real as they get,” Andi assured her.
Rachel exchanged a look with Andi above Mia’s head and smiled. “I wonder if he needs
N THE PRIVACY
of the kitchen, Andi pulled the pink bandana off Rachel’s hair. “That’s better. Now
primp your curls.”
“And don’t forget to swing your hips as you serve the cupcakes,” Kim added. “Maybe
Magic Mike will wave his wand and whisk you under his cape for a kiss.”
“I can hope,” Rachel said. “I haven’t had a date in two weeks.”
“Is that a new record?” Andi teased.
“Maybe if you kept one guy around long enough, you wouldn’t have to worry about finding
a date,” Kim said, arching one of her delicate dark eyebrows.
“Oh, no!” Rachel shook her head. “Rule number one:
date the same man three times in a row. First dates are fabulous, second dates fun,
but third dates? That’s when guys start to think they freaking know you, and the relationship
fails. Better to stick with two dates and forget the rest.”
“Jake and I continue to have fun,” Andi argued.
“That’s because you and Jake are made for each other.” Rachel picked up the tray of
cupcakes they’d decorated to look like white rabbits peeking out from chocolate top
hats. “And so far, I haven’t met any man who looks at me the way he looks at you.
,” she said, pausing to make sure her friend got the hint, “I’d marry him.”
Andi pushed a strand of her long, dark blond hair behind her ear and blushed. “Maybe
Mike will be your man.”
“Maybe,” Rachel conceded and smiled. “But every relationship starts with a first date.”
the room, Mike was in the middle of performing a card trick. She scanned the faces
of the two dozen kids sitting at the long, rectangular tables covered with pink partyware
and colorful birthday presents. Mike did a good job of holding their attention. They
sat in wide-eyed fascination. Not one of them noticed her as she distributed the cupcakes
to each place setting.
Next, Mike the Magnificent showed the audience the inside of his empty black top hat.
Placing the hat right-side up on one of his black boxes, he waved his wand over the
top and quickly flipped the hat upside down again. Rachel smiled as he invited the
birthday girl up to the hat. The six-year-old reached her hand in and pulled out a
fake toy bunny with big, white floppy ears.
Caitlin looked at Mike, her eyes betraying her disappointment, then mumbled, “Thanks.”
“Were you hoping for a real rabbit?” Mike asked her.
“Let’s try that again.” Mike told Caitlin to put the stuffed bunny back into the hat.
Then he turned the hat over and placed it down on the black box again. He waved the
wand. This time when he turned the hat over a live rabbit with big, white floppy ears
poked its head up over the top of the rim.