Publisher: Cardinal Press, LLC
Formats: eBook, print
After life takes five women on different paths, a death brings them home. But friendship might not be enough to keep them together.
Cupcakes & Crumbs
After life takes five women on different paths, a death brings them home. But friendship might not be enough to keep them together.
When Bria Landon and her estranged father each inherit fifty percent of a small-town cupcake shop, her dad hires her worst enemy, and first love, to turn the place into a soulless franchise…or sell it.
To save her aunt’s legacy, Bria needs the help of people who love the bakery as much as she does—her old friends who worked there fifteen years ago. Except each woman is dealing with her own problem:
Juliet, who's trying to prove she’s more than a trophy wife; Missy, a widow who fears losing the job she loves; Nell, who's meddling mother won't stop playing matchmaker; and Selena, a life coach who excels at fixing everyone else's lives…but hasn't a clue what's missing in her own.
Each woman wants to believe their friendship can overcome anything. But as the Berry Lake Cupcake Posse reunite to save their beloved cupcake shop, they soon discover the undertaking will bring more trouble than they expected.
Read this exciting new romantic women’s fiction series about friendship and family today!
Read an Except
As the sun climbed above the horizon, strokes of lavender, orange, and pink painted the awakening sky. Sunrise had once been Bria Landon’s favorite time of day in Berry Lake, Washington, but that had been a lifetime ago. She was only up early this morning because fewer people would be out. If she hurried, she might make it to the cupcake shop before she saw anyone or vice versa.
Please let that be the case.
She wasn’t taking any chances.
Since leaving her aunt’s house, Bria focused on the sidewalk where grass grew between some cracks and dirt filled others. At least there were no bugs. Even if there were, she wouldn’t look up. She didn’t want to notice if someone exited Brew and Steep—the only place on Main Street open this early—and be forced to say hello.
But no one expected much from the once-chubby eighteen-year-old girl who’d left this town and her aunt behind fifteen years ago.
The prodigal niece.
That was what her aunt jokingly—and lovingly—called Bria.
Had called her, that was.
Ever since Aunt Elise’s cancer diagnosis three years ago, Bria had tried to make up for not returning sooner by visiting as much as possible. She’d done everything she could for her aunt, and in the process, become reacquainted with people she’d long forgotten. But the idea of smiling or waving to anyone right now made her queasy. Forget about chatting for a minute or twelve—which was something else folks did there. That was beyond her.
Who was she kidding?
Everything Bria did lately was difficult, and she hated that.
And this day, of all days, might completely do her in.
The reading of the will took place tomorrow. Until then, the employees at the Berry Lake Cupcake Shop counted on Bria to make decisions regarding the bakery. No one knew what Elise Landon had decided to do with her estate, other than asking Bria to be her personal representative. Soon, everyone’s question about the fate of the Berry Lake Cupcake Shop would be answered. But today, the staff looked to Bria for answers.
What would have been Elise’s fifty-seventh birthday.
The only problem?
Bria hadn’t a clue what to tell them. Not when her brain barely functioned. She wasn’t sleeping or eating. What friendliness remained had been buried alongside the woman who was the closest thing to a mother she’d ever known. She wished people would leave her alone.
Not her aunt’s employees, who needed her input.
Some claimed there were no stupid questions, but Bria disagreed. How did people think she was doing when her heart was in pieces, as if sliced and diced by a skilled teppanyaki chef?
Forget replying with anything other than an “I’m fine” or “I’m okay” or “I’m doing better.” No one wanted to hear the truth about how angry she was at cancer, at the doctors, and at her aunt. Especially Aunt Elise for stopping her treatments, throwing herself an over-the-top goodbye party, and leaving this world on her terms.
But it sucked for Bria.
As she continued down Main Street, her shoes slapping against the cement, she rubbed her tired eyes.
Going along with her aunt’s wishes had been the hardest thing Bria had ever done, but she loved Aunt Elise enough to let her go.
To say goodbye.
Even if fifty-six was too young to die.
Bria ignored the vise tightening around her heart. She had a feeling it would be like this for a while.
The countdown to Aunt Elise’s last breath had been both painful and beautiful. Bria tried to focus on the beauty, but she didn’t always succeed. Still, the final minutes with her aunt would be etched in her memories forever.
Live, laugh, and love for both of us, my sweet Bria.
I can do the first two, but you only added the third one to see how badly I’ll mess up yet another relationship.
We both know I’ll be like you, Auntie. Single, happy, and satisfied with the decisions I’ve made.
You know what I always say. Cupcakes are better than men, but a few good ones are out there. You might find one who’s as sweet as buttercream icing.
There’d been a cheekiness to the curve of her aunt’s lips and peace in her eyes—something missing since the cancer returned. At that moment, she’d known Elise was ready to say goodbye. But the knowledge didn’t fill the hole her aunt’s absence left in Bria’s heart.
Her hands balled, so she flexed her fingers. If she gave in to the pain, it might consume her completely.
Just keep moving.
Everyone knew cancer would kill Elise Landon, including Bria, which was why she’d dropped everything when she’d gotten the call last month, taken family leave from her job as a CPA, and flown from San Diego to be with her aunt. What most didn’t understand was the knowing hadn’t made her aunt’s death easier to accept. It hadn’t prepared Bria for the onslaught of grief that ebbed and flowed like the tides back home, only on a less regular schedule.
She couldn’t wait to return to San Diego. There, she was one more cog among many at the accounting firm. No one there cared about her aunt, this town, or Bria’s past here. None of her neighbors, whose names she didn’t remember, would fill her condo’s fridge with meals. And the questions—the stupid, stupid questions—about her, her aunt’s house, and the cupcake shop would stop.
Oh, how she wanted it all to stop.
If leaving after the funeral had been an option, Bria would already be gone. But she needed to attend the reading of the will and do whatever her aunt requested she do as the personal representative. After that, Bria would put this town and the memories of it behind her, once and for all. Until then, she would take it step by step, day by day, until nothing remained on her to-do list.
Should the cupcake shop celebrate their late owner’s birthday or not? Aunt Elise had left instructions about everything else, but why not this?
Each year, her aunt celebrated her birthday by giving away mini cupcakes to every customer who came into the shop and offering significant discounts on other products until the inventory ran out. People visited the town specifically for the sale. It was chaotic, but Elise had thrived upon the craziness.
Keeping the tradition alive for their loyal customers made good business sense, but Bria worried about the shop’s staff. The last few weeks, after Elise no longer had the strength to leave the house, had been difficult for the employees. They might not feel up to the madness the birthday celebration sale brought.
Should she take a vote?
That might be the best solution since the sale affected the employees most.
Bria crossed the street, making a beeline to her aunt’s legacy, the Berry Lake Cupcake Shop. Even though a Closedsign hung in the front window, the lights were on in the kitchen, signaling the morning baking was underway.
She unlocked the door. As she opened it, a familiar bell jingled, and she stepped inside.
The scent of chocolate hit first. A kaleidoscope of memories sent her doubling over. She inhaled deeply, letting the aroma sink into her before standing upright. She closed her eyes and then opened them.
It was like stepping back in time. Nothing had changed, including the interior with dinged and scratched bistro tables and chairs and faded walls in need of fresh paint. Her aunt had planned a complete remodel—Bria saw the renovation plans—but that had been put on hold three years ago.
The glass display on the right side of the counter was empty, but sixteen flavors of cupcakes would soon fill the shelves. She glanced at the doorway to the kitchen, waiting for Aunt Elise to appear wearing an apron, a hairnet, and a bright smile.
Only that didn’t happen.
And it wouldn’t ever again.
A lump burned in Bria’s throat. The corners of her eyes stung. She’d avoided this place for a reason, but she needed to be there now.
As she wrapped her arms over her stomach, she studied the framed photographs—more than twenty-five of them—hanging on the purple-painted wall. Each featured employees who’d worked there during a given year or specific season. Elise gave each group a nickname and engraved it on the frames: The Crew, The Squad, The Mix, The Team, the list went on.
One picture stuck out—The Posse engraved on the frame.
A smile tugged on the corners of Bria’s mouth. She’d been so proud to belong to that group fifteen years ago. The photograph showed herself, Aunt Elise, Missy, Juliet, Nell, and Selena. They’d all worn the pink T-shirts they’d made with the Berry Lake Cupcake Posse in big block letters.
That summer saved her from a broken heart, humiliation, and tumbling headfirst into an eating disorder. Their group had been a mix of ages—seventeen to twenty-two—but they’d bonded as they worked together, talking about their futures and learning how to bake cupcakes with sprinkles of life wisdom thrown in by Aunt Elise, their fearless leader.
Missy Hanford never left Berry Lake. She’d been the youngest at seventeen and still worked at the cupcake shop. Nell Culpepper returned to town after a broken engagement and worked as an RN at the hospital. Juliet Monroe moved back last year with her wealthy husband. And Selena Tremblay, aka Selena T, was as famous as her hockey-player husband and lived in Seattle.
Bria didn’t remember if any of them except Missy attended the funeral on Saturday. The day remained a blur, other than the knowledge that the one person who should have been there never showed up. Not surprising. Her father’s relationship with Elise—his younger sister—had been strained for years. But Bria thought—hoped—her dad would come through this once. She guessed that meant he wouldn’t be at the lawyer’s office tomorrow morning.
“Missy?” Bria called out.
“I’m okay. Just dropped something.” Three months ago, Missy took over running the shop for Elise, and her aunt made it clear she wanted Missy in charge long after she was gone. “Come to the kitchen.”
Each step felt as if Bria were wading through marshmallow fondant. Her feet kept sticking to the tile floor. Not really, but she hated knowing her aunt would never bake in the kitchen again. Slowly, she trudged forward to where trays of unfrosted cupcakes sat on a wheeled sheet pan rack.
Everything looked the same as always—from the Hobart mixer to the double-deck, full-sized convection oven, yet the person who’d built this place from nothing more than her dreams was missing.
Bria cleared her dry throat. “Good morning.”
“Hey. What a nice surprise.” Missy wore the shop’s all-white uniform, a hairnet, and a baker’s cap. Plastic gloves covered her hands. “I didn’t expect to see you here this early. Are you having trouble sleeping?”
Of course, Missy, who’d become a widow at twenty-three, understood. Bria should have remembered that. She nodded. “Does it get easier?”
“Define easier?” Missy stood at the stainless steel worktable and used an ice cream scooper to fill the liners with chocolate batter. “It’s been nine years, and not a day goes by I don’t think about Rob. But I cry less, sleep more, and no longer wish I wouldn’t wake up.”
Guilt coated Bria’s mouth. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here to help you.”
“Your life was two states away. The same as it is now.” The words came out in a matter-of-fact tone. A hundred-and-eighty-degree shift from the dreamy teenager all those years ago who’d talked nonstop about weddings, babies, and Rob. “I wouldn’t have realized you were there, anyway. I was that out of it. But Jenny took care of me, and your aunt helped, too. Without them, my two cats, and this job, I’m not sure what would’ve happened to me.”
“Thank goodness for your sister-in-law and Elise.” Missy was a year younger than Bria. They’d known of each other in high school, but they hadn’t hung out. Not until working together that summer. “But I should have come because we’re friends.”
“And we always will be.” A timer dinged. Missy removed a pan from the oven. “Are you nervous about the reading of the will tomorrow?”
“Curious, but my aunt’s biggest wish was for the shop to continue without her. That’s why she made you the manager.”
“Elise told me I always had a place here, but…” One side of Missy’s mouth curved. “You could be the new owner.”
“If that’s the case, I’ll be a long-distance one.” Bria had left baking behind when she’d set off to college. “Which is why I’m so happy you’re here. Elise trusted you to keep the bakery going, and so do I.”
“At your service.” Missy bowed. “I’ll always be here for you.”
“Thanks.” Bria wished she could say the same thing in return, but another life—her real one—waited for her in San Diego. Now that her aunt no longer needed her, there was no reason to stay in Berry Lake. “I don’t know what I’d do without you. Today…”
“I’m doubling the number of employees on each shift to handle the birthday sale. People will come in and out as their schedule allows, but that’s how it’s been in the past. I hope that’s okay. I assumed you’d want to go ahead with the annual celebration.”
Guess I’ve been worried for nothing. “If you and the others are okay with it?”
Missy nodded. “There might be some tears, but it’s what Elise would want us to do.”“True.” And that gave Bria an idea about how to decide things. She would ask herself what Elise would do in the situation. That would be better than second-guessing herself. “If my aunt were here, she’d put me to work today. What can I do?”