On Track with Icing
She’s everything he wanted in a woman…except for one thing.
Plus-sized bakery owner Jacqui Jacobson’s confidence is at an all-time low after her public divorce and her ex-husband’s despicable accusations. So the last person she expects to show interest in her is racing hot-shot Nick Barrister. But when the two click over her risqué cake designs, it seems like icing on the cake.
However, Jacqui hasn’t told him that not being able to have children was the main cause for her marriage ending. As her relationship with Nick turns from casual to serious he expresses his desire for children, and now time is running out. Can she tell him first before her ex-husband, who has reared his ugly head and is determined to destroy her new-found happiness, beats her to it? And will Nick still want her once he finds out?
Shawn is so going to owe me, Nick thought as he opened the door to the bakery. This was not part of the job description. The chime of the doorway reminded him of the one from his favorite childhood candy store, and he grinned. He looked around the shop, the colors also reminiscent of the candy store. The bakery’s walls were decorated in pastels and the floor was set in a series of multi-colored tiles alternating with white in a checkerboard pattern. The yeasty aroma of baking bread still permeated the air. He’d died and gone to heaven.
Instead of the rotund, pock-faced chocolatier who had owned the candy shop, the woman who stepped from behind the counter stole his breath. She was lovely, with a voluptuous figure. Her smile was beautiful, lighting her up from within. He had the sudden urge to unwind the coil of her hair to see how long it was.
“Good afternoon! How can I help you?”
And she was tall. She topped him by a good four inches. The dark-haired beauty before him had a gorgeous, kissable mouth, and glowing cheeks. Her wide-set, deep green eyes sparkled like the sea.
Nick cleared his throat, “I need to order a cake.”
“Sure.” She reached across the counter, the action pulling her top across her luscious curves and giving him a tantalizing glimpse of her cleavage. But it was her stunning gray-green eyes that captured the majority of his attention.
He’d gotten so lost in the pool of her gorgeous gaze that he missed her question. He smiled sheepishly. “I’m sorry?”
“For your cake.” Was that amusement in her voice? “What would you like?”
He had no clue how to respond.
“Is the cake for you or for someone else?”
Yep. She was laughing at him. Heat rose to his face. “Someone else,” he replied.
“Male? Female?” She rapidly fired off the questions.
“Male.” He cleared his throat. Where had this embarrassment come from? He was usually more female-savvy, but for some reason this voluptuous woman fried his circuits. Maybe it was because he was used to handling the stick-thin women at the track who propositioned him with trashy come-ons about making sure all of his pistons were firing. This woman, though, he would love to get to know away from the track.
At thirty-five years old, thoughts of settling down and starting a family had begun going through his mind every once in a while. Not that he thought of marriage often – more like never – but when he did, his bride was always a nameless, faceless supermodel-like figure swathed in white satin and lace. Unfortunately life at two hundred miles per hour didn’t leave much time for a personal life.
“Occasion?” Her lyrical voice slid down his spine like a caress.
“I’m sorry?” he said again.
“Birthday?” she suggested.
“Uh, no,” he stammered, his discomfiture over having to order his friend’s cake intensifying. He shifted his weight. “Bachelor party.”
“Ah.” She pointed to a thick black three-ring binder propped open on a display board. “Feel free to browse through the designs. Let me know if you find one you think your friend would like.”
“Thank you.” He gave her the smile made famous by the media in all of his Victory Lane celebrations before sinking into the book like a lifeline, feeling out of his element in the Candyland-style shop that was Jacqui’s Bakery.
Nick turned several pages with the intention of going right to the bachelor section, but found himself looking at the wedding cakes instead. As he flipped through the pages he felt both uncomfortable and intrigued. It wasn’t something he did every day, but the sheer artistry of the cakes amazed him. They were all perfectly displayed; the lettering in even, precise cursive. No doubt done by hand. Ribbons, string work, every flower imaginable and adornments resembling his grandmother’s embroidery were all showcased in her designs. The deceptively simple, classy, elegant ones caught his attention the most. He finally flipped to bachelor and bachelorette selection. They ranged from funny to outrageously raunchy to downright pornographic.
He couldn’t help it; he laughed. “Don’t you get turned on by these cakes?”
The woman across from him shrugged, and a corner of her mouth kicked up in a sexy little half-smile. “I guess I don’t think about it anymore, I’ve been creating them for so long.”
The faint color settling high across her cheekbones was endearing. He’d been around brazen pageant queens and pit lizards so long that the blushing beauty before him was refreshing.
As much pride as she took in her work, Nick wondered if she carried the same level of commitment over to other aspects of her life. Something told him she’d be worth the time and effort it would take to get to know her.
Nick turned the page and spotted the shape of a woman’s body, anatomically correct, covered in an icing corset. Attached were garters with rosebuds, which held up lace-trimmed, thigh-high fishnet stockings. The most startling feature, however, was the swirls of brown at the juncture of the thighs.
“That’s my favorite,” the woman behind the counter said, twirling the pen between her slender fingers. “There’s a cherry hidden beneath the chocolate icing, and I use them for the nipples as well.”
He couldn’t hide his surprise as their gazes held. The sparkle of mischief in her eyes had him chuckling again. And if he wasn’t mistaken, the gray-green color changed to emerald. The racy design put them on a more equal footing, and he became more comfortable talking with her.
While he appreciated the art of the cake, he couldn’t help thinking he’d be embarrassed making that cake more than once. He bared his teeth in a wolfish grin. “May I ask why it’s your favorite?” “No reason. I just like creating beautiful things,” she said evasively. “Did you find a cake that would be suitable for your friend?”
Her carefully worded question had Nick smiling even broader. “Don’t you mean to ask if I saw anything I liked? Or if I saw anything that interested me?” He paused, still grinning. “As a matter of fact, the answer is yes on both counts.” He hesitated for effect, and then waggled his eyebrows in an exaggerated Groucho Marx imitation as he said, “Yes to all three if you count the cake.”
He’d never had this much fun flirting with a woman before. He delighted in her response to his teasing, and watched as she gathered her wits and pulled her professional discretion around her like a cloak.
“So you’re interested in the bustier then?” she asked.
Her voice wasn’t quite steady, which sent sparks of pleasure shooting through his system like electricity. “I’m definitely interested,” he said suggestively, watching her blush again.
“Which cake?” she managed to ask, though not without difficulty.
Nick let her change the subject for the time being. It was time to discuss business anyway. The pleasure could come after. There would be pleasure. Any woman who created such risqué cake designs would know how to have fun and enjoy life.
“I’ll take that one,” he said, indicating the bustier design. “Where are the prices?”
“The standard pricing guide for the sheet cakes is on the wall,” she said pointing behind her. “But the specialty cakes in the book are based on how elaborate the design is.”
“Makes sense,” he said, nodding.
She flipped to one of her floral tiered creations. “Especially with the wedding cakes. My specialty is the handmade flowers. It sets my bakery above the rest, and I absolutely love the therapy of making them.”
“So you’re –”
She nodded. “Yes, I’m Jacqui.”
He pointed to the flowers on the cake. “They look too real to be icing.”
“They’re not,” Jacqui explained. “At least not butter cream or royal icing.”
Nick looked at the flowers again, then back at Jacqui. There was a husky quality to her voice that he loved, and wanted to keep her talking. She had grace and elegance. Her overall package knocked him in the solar plexus and he had difficulty remembering his own name. To make her feel more at ease with him, he asked, “What is it, then?”
“Gum paste. It’s rolled out like cookie dough and dries like porcelain, but it’s really delicate and can be damaged easily. I color the finished flowers with food-safe chalk dust brushed onto each petal, air brush, or in some cases I dip the whole flower into liquid food dye. Gum paste is edible, but I wouldn’t recommend eating it because of the wires.”
He looked at a few more cakes. “I like the look.”
“I do, as well. It’s really dramatic in this cake, with the bold color against the pure white butter cream.” She flipped to a wedding cake where she’d applied the technique. “Many of my past clients saved the gum paste toppers as souvenirs because if they’re handled just right they last forever.”
“If I ever get married that’s definitely the cake I’ll be looking for.”
“I’d be honored if you kept my bakery in mind when planning such an occasion.”
Nick didn’t want her to just be honored at the thought of doing a cake for his wedding. It surprised him how much he wanted her to be a part of that wedding, and not just as the bakery service. As his bride? Could they create a future together? The thoughts came completely from left field and momentarily blindsided him like a T-bone crash at Bristol. He filed the information away in his brain for pondering at a later date.
Nick placed the order for his friend, and fellow racecar driver, Shawn Sheldon. Shawn’s bachelor party coincided with the October night race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina. Nick found it amazing that he’d lived in the posh Lake Norman neighborhood north of Charlotte for most of his racing career, yet he’d never heard of Jacqui’s until he’d passed by on a detour through Center City.
Nick gave Jacqui the time he’d pick up the cake on his way to the track. Shawn’s either going to love it or he’ll kill me, Nick thought as he walked out the door. But it wasn’t the risqué cake or his friend’s reaction that he thought about as he climbed into his Mustang. It was Jacqui.
A nicely written romance and this being the author’s first full length novel – there is a lot to look forward to from her. She does a great job and I enjoyed Jacqui and Nick’s story and I’m looking forward to reading more by Ms. Bower.
Some stuff I loved about the story, is the fact that the author didn’t stick with perfect characters, or a perfect couple that society has deemed the norm. Jacqui is a plus size girl and tall, where Nick is shorter than her by several inches. It’s nice to see the author not shying away from it and taking the easy way out and also not letting it bother her characters. Some things I didn’t like so much, is the romance was shot out of the cannon at warp speed. Jacqui is divorced from an emotionally abusive ex-husband, and for her to kick it into high gear so quickly is a bit unrealistic. Secondly, she runs so hot and cold in the beginning, I surprised Nick didn’t have whiplash. When Nick orders a cake at Jacqui’s bakery the first time they meet, they talk for a very short time and when Nick leaves, he’s already has the word “family” floating in his head.
With all this said, this is a nicely written story – and even though the plot is a bit predictable with the bad-guy-ex, it’s a sexy, easy read that jumps away from the norm and well worth a look.
Reviewed by Cyrene