Can she have it all? Or will starting over leave a bad taste in her mouth?
Abigail Mullins is in the business of happy ever afters. Owner of a London boutique cake shop, she caters to brides wishing to express themselves in unusual ways, and relishes her small, creative life.
That quiet life is disturbed when intriguing, albeit lonely, socialite Dillon Wheeler literally crashes into her life, and one of her clever cake concepts becomes an overnight sensation. Now the media is asking questions about the woman behind the cake. Not only does this new-found popularity threaten the anonymous life she’s created, but it brings in a customer who might otherwise never have found her. A customer from Abigail’s life before London, who knows what Abigail did to escape it, and who could ruin everything.
For who’s going to trust her with their happy ever after once they know what she did to sabotage her own?
A compelling contemporary romance that touches on issues of domestic violence and substance abuse, Have Your Cake is about a woman’s self-reinvention, determination against all odds, and ultimately, her way back in to love.
Break and make
Abigail didn’t have time to fight for her life. She was on a critical deadline, so critical injuries had to wait.
Even so, the world took a sharp step to the left.
She curled over the steering wheel and closed her eyes. Crushed them shut as glass shattered and metal screamed. The impact was a full, many-faced sound that came at her from all directions. Car against car, then precious cargo against the floor of the van. The sudden hold of the seatbelt and the mushroom of air from her lungs. Then another impact, this time on the left.
Another collision, another hit.
The world jumped a fraction to the right, then steadied.
Her body didn’t uncoil at once. She stayed still, spine curved, head pillowed in the bend of her arm, fingers painfully tight on the steering wheel, until the white noise cleared and she could make out the individual sounds of shocked pedestrians, whirring engines, and general city life.
There was nothing general about this morning, not anymore.
She looked into the cargo area before she thought to look at herself. Within the small space of purpose-designed racks was utter devastation. Quite possibly a total loss, she would have to get back there to know for sure.
Which meant unfastening the seatbelt that was determined to hold her in the moment. It retracted with a brisk whir, but the door wasn’t so obliging. It opened a fraction then something cracked. She gave it a futile push, then saw through the window that she was parallel to a building; clear off the road, across the pavement, and flush against a rendered brick wall.
Abigail turned in her seat just as a face appeared in the passenger window. She registered the countless pieces of glass before she registered the man’s shock. She’d be finding pieces for weeks. She’d be … late.
Her hands started to shake. She held them up to watch them, and felt strangely disconnected from her body. Her mind was screaming. Late late late.
‘You’re okay,’ the man said, except his words were more question than reassurance. He sounded far away. ‘I’m going to get you out, okay?’ His face disappeared.
She could see a wedge of his shoulder—his suit jacket folding and straining as he pulled at the door. Then his face reappeared. There was so little colour in it. His eyes were red and his pupils were dilated. His hair was wild. There was a small piece of glass tangled in the hair above his right ear and a line of blood between his nostril and top lip.
‘It’s stuck,’ he said. ‘It’s …’
Broken. Crushed. Inoperable. In short, not her way out.
He eyed the window. ‘I can lift you through—’
‘No. I’ll go through the back.’ She gripped the steering wheel and half-turned in her seat to check her legs still worked before she committed her weight to them.
‘Of course.’ The man’s face was the kind of desperate she associated with a long-awaited reunion. His eyes were pinched and his mouth was open in wordless wanting. His anxiety made her heart trip. How bad did she look that he watched her that way? She didn’t feel hurt, but shock could be a mask. She knew this better than most.
She’d check herself over on the street. Get him to stop looking at her like that.
She swung her feet into the narrow passage between the front seats, pushed herself up, and, bent at the waist, eased herself through.
It was a disaster movie. A battlefield of bodies. It was Gotham in the battle between Superman and General Zod: a scene of utter, senseless destruction. Nothing had been spared. Days of work had been lost. The boxes had split open and the contents had toppled free. There was cake and frosting everywhere, like spilled blood. Four centrepieces and three bouquets irreparably damaged. A mess of parts and smeared imagination.
Abigail thought of the bride and felt sick.
The back doors of the van opened and the white-faced man was there again. His owl-like eyes followed her as she stepped over the carnage, then his hands were holding her, helping her down. She wobbled after the step down to the road and he steadied her, but then she thought she might wobble again when she saw the crowd. Dozens of people had gathered around the back of the van. Some of them watched her with concern, others with interest. Some took photos, others seemed to be recording the moment.
She turned away from the voyeurs, and saw the cause of it all for the first time.
A Humvee. An enormous, sand-coloured military truck, half buried in the side of her van, which had warped around it to absorb the impact. Only the Humvee’s back tyres were still on the road. The front tyres were in a parking space that had been blessedly empty, whereas all four of the van’s tyres were on the footpath.
‘Oh my god.’ A terrible, choking thought occurred to her as she looked at the side of the van flush against the wall. ‘Was anyone—?’
‘Just you,’ the man said quickly, anticipating her question. ‘There was no-one there. But you’re hurt. You’re bleeding. You’re shaking.’ He let go of her to drag his arms free of his suit jacket. He put it around her, over the pale pink dress she’d worn just for this delivery, that she’d thought might delight the bride because it matched her bouquets. She lifted her still shaking hands to hold the jacket in place.
Without his suit jacket, the man’s appearance was changed. Gone was the businessman. He’d been wearing a collarless V-neck T-shirt beneath the formal jacket, crumpled and stained near the hip. She realised now that he wore jeans, dark denim that at a glance could be mistaken for suit trousers. There was such earnestness in his face, such complete absorption in her well-being, that he had to be the other driver.
‘You hit me,’ she said. She touched a tender spot at her temple. It was unexpectedly slick. She looked at her fingers—at the blood—and couldn’t remember what she’d just said.
‘Yes.’ He sounded agonised. ‘I’m so sorry. I didn’t see you.’
They both looked at the van. At the customised marmalade yellow paintwork that could be seen from two blocks away, that she’d chosen for its presence. She glanced back at him and he hung his head.
Very slowly, giving her legs time to steady, she inched around the back to better see the impact.
The metal looked so soft and pliable, bent around the other car the way it was. Glass was everywhere. The tinted windows had shattered, in effect halving her company logo. Only the bottom left corner of the image was distinguishable in the snarl. Her eyes followed the curving font, the lower part of the B that should have blended perfectly with the image to its right—but there was a headlight lodged there instead.
The crunch of glass made her turn.
A woman was picking her way towards her, placing the heels of her stilettos carefully between the small piles of glass. She wore a power suit; a beautiful pencil skirt and matching jacket, with a temper-red ruffled blouse to break up the black. ‘I saw everything,’ she said. She held out a business card. Her name, Joanna Maison, was embossed gold beneath the logo of a legal firm. She was a senior partner. ‘You weren’t at fault. I’ve written down all the details and I called the police, they’re on their way.’
‘Thank you.’ Abigail’s response was automatic, as was lifting her hand to accept the card being passed to her. She wasn’t in this moment. She was in another one. In a moment that was coming, that would begin the second this woman stopped talking to her.
‘Are you all right? I could call an ambulance too.’
‘I don’t need an ambulance.’
‘Once the shock wears off you may feel differently.’ Joanna angled her head and regarded her. ‘I know your company; I saw it on Instagram.’
Abigail smiled distractedly.
‘Sorry, not relevant. Listen, I have to go, but like I said; I’ve written down all the details you need. Get your insurance company to call me. Call me yourself if you need anything cleared up. Joanna.’
Abigail hastened to shake Joanna’s offered hand. ‘Abigail Mullins.’
‘I’m sorry this happened to you.’
When Joanna left, Abigail looked back at the portion of her logo. She pulled her phone from her pocket, checked the time then began taking pictures. Once she’d documented everything, she called Brittany.
Her apprentice answered on the third ring. ‘Hey, boss.’
‘It’s all gone.’
‘Did they love it? Did she cry?’ Brit loved when brides cried, she considered it part of the payment package.
‘Not gone delivered—’ Abigail glanced at the skin of frosting on her shoe, ‘—gone destroyed. So’s the van.’
‘Holy shit. But you’re okay?’
‘I’m fine, but we have to start again. I don’t know when I’ll be back there, but I need you to drop what you’re doing and—’
‘I’ve got it. I’ll pull the extras from the front and get started on more.’ She was talking fast, hastening from one place to another. ‘But I can’t be in two places at once.’
‘Close up. Post something online. A free cupcake to anyone who takes a picture of themselves in front of the closed sign. They can collect when they next come in.’
‘I wish I could think like you in a crisis.’
‘Don’t say it.’
‘You’re my hero.’
Abigail closed her eyes. A smile teased the corner of her mouth but didn’t amount to anything. ‘I’ll be back as soon as I can.’
Abigail ended the call, then immediately called her insurance provider. She was on hold long enough to climb back into the van, stumble through the mess and retrieve her handbag from the floor in front of the passenger seat. When an operator answered, Abigail gave her details and requested a tow truck.
The man’s face appeared in the passenger window again. ‘I’m so sorry.’ He’d smeared the blood between his nose and lip.
‘Are you hurt?’ she asked, shouldering her bag and turning back to the cargo hold.
‘No,’ he said. ‘At least I don’t think so.’
‘Good. Then help me with this.’
There was no response, but a moment later he appeared at the back.
Abigail reached into the crushed sponge cake and withdrew a long plastic stand. She handed it to him, not bothering to wipe it down. Pink and yellow was everywhere, and in some places blended together, making a pale orange. It was on the floor and walls, on her hands and feet, and now it was on his hands and shirtfront. She plunged into the second mess and withdrew a second cake stand. She handed this to the man too.
‘You were … delivering these?’ He sounded like he didn’t want the answer.
‘Yes. Now I’ll deliver others.’ She thrust a third cake stand into his arms.
His expression brightened. ‘You have more?’
His hopeful smile slipped.
‘What’s your name?’ She dropped to her haunches to tear a bouquet handle free from the mess. Something was building inside of her. Something Brittany would call resourcefulness, but Abigail considered basic survival. She was pulling strength from the air and solutions from her blood. She was still in control of the outcome, that wasn’t lost to her yet.
‘And what do you do, Dillon? Are you in the military?’
Why else would he be driving a camouflaged tank-like thing on the streets of London?
‘No,’ he said. ‘I do cars.’
She looked up at him. ‘How ironic. Dillon, you’re about to branch out.’
He shuffled the cake stands so he could take the handle she held out to him. ‘What do you mean?’
‘I mean you’re going to help me get all of this back to my shop, and you’re going to help me get all of the replacements to the wedding.’
His mouth popped open.
‘Don’t you even dare,’ she cautioned. ‘You’ve totalled my work van, totalled my product, and now my reputation’s on the line. If you “do cars”, as you say, get on your phone and get one to my shop.’ She looked up. Pulled a handle from a foam ball as if she were pulling a knife from a man’s back. ‘A big car. Send it to Neal’s Yard in Camden Park.’
She lifted a plastic bag full of piping bags off the floor and hooked the handles over his fingers.
Wonder? No, obedience. And surprise. This man, this … Dillon, had crashed into a woman’s life and now she was crashing into his, giving him orders. She’d laugh but her sense of humour had taken a hit too. It was somewhere in here amongst her broken creations and cupcake wrappers, mangled and bruised.
The police arrived when Dillon was on the phone. Abigail gave a quick statement, supplied her details, then slammed the back doors shut as Dillon was approached to give the same. She locked up despite the missing windows, then ducked into a corner store and bought a roll of garbage bags.
Back on the street she tore one free and dumped the roll into her handbag. She thumbed open the plastic, waved air into the bag to open it, then strode over to Dillon and the police officers. She held the mouth of the bag open beneath Dillon’s loaded arms. He glanced at her uncertainly, then let it all go. The cake stands and handles toppled noisily inside.
She took a photo of the destroyed stock—another insurance claim—and had a taxi waiting when Dillon was finished giving his statement.
He lowered himself onto the backseat slower than someone his age typically might do.
‘Are you sure you’re not hurt?’ she asked, handing him his suit jacket when he was settled. She shoved the large black bag between her feet.
The taxi driver glanced in his rear-view mirror.
‘I’m fine.’ Dillon said this on a wheeze. He leaned towards the driver. ‘Neal’s Yard, Camden Park.’
‘Right-o.’ The driver checked over his shoulder, then the car began to move.
Abigail and Dillon both stared out the left window as they pulled away from the scene of the crash, each of them cataloguing the destruction.
‘When’s the wedding?’
‘Four.’ She reached into her handbag and handed him a tissue.
He stared at her, confused. She touched the skin between her nose and mouth and nodded when he wiped the blood away. She pressed another tissue to her temple.
Dillon checked his watch. Rose gold encircling multiple time-zones. Expensive. Beautiful. He whistled through his teeth, something Abigail had never managed to learn. ‘Tight.’
‘And it’s across town. Cazenove.’
‘Too tight. You want me to just buy you something to replace all that stuff?’ He pointed his thumb towards the back window, at the wreck that would soon be towed and the crushed food that would soon spoil.
‘“All that stuff” is custom-made,’ she said. ‘It needs to be custom-made again.’
‘How long will that take?’
Dillon shifted in his seat. ‘Will it really take three hours or is it only allowed to take three hours?’
Abigail smiled. ‘You’re quick.’ She paused. ‘So how fast were you going?’
Dillon closed his eyes and dropped his head against the headrest. ‘Too fast.’
‘Mobile phone, pretty woman?’
Eyes still closed, he pressed his lips together in a grimace. ‘Neither.’
He didn’t answer.
Abigail took the opportunity to look at him unobserved. She guessed he was approximately her age, late thirties at most. He had a heart-shaped face and a few day’s growth shadowing his jaw and cheeks. His lashes were long, his nose was broad, and his wide, thin mouth was presently pressed into an unhappy crease. He would be handsome if he wasn’t so haggard. He wore fatigue the way others wore make-up. Abigail frowned. Now that she was looking for signs of exhaustion, she found them easily. Shadows under the eyes, dry skin and heavy limbs. His lips were cracked and his eyes were bloodshot.
‘Did you fall asleep at the wheel?’ she asked quietly.
Her voice startled him. Rocked him awake. ‘No. No, but I feel sick.’
‘You want a garbage bag?’
He roused himself, pushed himself up a little straighter in the seat. ‘Maybe later. Can I just pay you?’
‘You mean pay me off? No.’
They rode the rest of the way in silence.
Abigail stepped from the taxi without offering to pay. She twisted the plastic bag closed and hoisted it over her shoulder, then waited on the footpath for Dillon to hand over some cash and join her. He moved slowly. The adrenaline appeared to have leeched out of him and left him depleted, like a used balloon. He dragged his jacket back on like there were weights sewn into the lining.
Shabby. A beautiful suit jacket, designer jeans and a gorgeous watch, but shabby. His hair was long enough to have its own ideas, his shoelace was undone, and he looked so exhausted he might curl up on a low wall and sleep. She snapped her fingers in front of his face and he blinked her into focus.
‘Mope on your own time. You owe me this, move your feet.’
He followed her through the narrow passage that led to Neal’s Yard, one of the most colourful places in London. All manner of buildings reached towards the concrete-coloured sky, their windows and doors a bold rainbow of colour that nudged Abigail’s mood in the right direction. She stepped around a couple posing for a picture, the rainbow at their backs, and breathed in the wonderful smell of fresh pastry from the Beatha Bakery.
Later. A reward for this day. For what she was about to do and about to accomplish.
She set the bag down in front of Boucake, her pride and joy, her home away from home, and began to search for her keys. The closed sign was up as she’d asked, and the door blind was down. Light peeked over the window display room divider. Brittany would be in the back, hopefully up to her elbows in fresh fondant and buttercream frosting.
Abigail’s fingers closed around her enormous key chain at the same time that a man appeared at her side; a much neater, straighter man than the one who should have been there. He slapped his hand against the electric orange doorframe and cursed.
Abigail bent forward to catch his eye. ‘Hello. Urgent?’
‘I’m Abigail, I own this place. Do you have an urgent order?’
The man’s expression changed at once. He withdrew his hand. ‘I’m sorry I hit your door.’
She smiled easily. ‘I do like this door.’
‘It’s my anniversary on Monday.’
Boucake had a two-day minimum for custom orders and it was Saturday, which explained the door slap.
‘Well, lucky you, you’re my customer of the day. Get out your phone.’ She pushed the door key into the lock, then she gave him her number. ‘Text me your order. Check on the website for flavours and styles. Screenshot what you want if it’s easier. I’ll make it Monday morning, that okay?’
The man did a little bounce, which was kind of cute. ‘That would be amazing. My name’s Danny.’
‘Danny, I’m going to knock ten per cent off for the inconvenience, and thanks so much for stopping by.’
Danny left happier than he might have done had the shop been open.
Abigail turned to invite her hostage inside, but she was alone. Her mouth opened and her shoulders dropped. He may have been the reason for this whole mess and acting a little worse for wear, but she’d needed him. Now she might not—
She saw him, stumbling out of Arran’s convenience store, squinting against the muted light of midday. He was holding a small plastic bag to his chest and drinking from a Powerade bottle the same blue as the windows next door. He paused, looked around, spotted her, then lurched in her direction.
She pushed the shop door open then crossed her arms.
‘Go easy,’ he muttered. ‘I was just in a car accident, I need this.’
She stepped back so he could pass. ‘We have a first aid kit in the back, you can use whatever you need.’
She followed him inside, locked them in, then strode around the counter. She didn’t bother with her usual spiel, he wasn’t a customer after all. Instead she left him staring at the vases on the glass shelves lining the pinstriped walls, and the white silk curtains that bunched in the centre of the ceiling, and stepped through to the back.
Her apprentice was exactly where Abigail had hoped she’d be: bent double over the industrial-sized planetary mixer. Brittany was in her early twenties and in a few short months they had found a rhythm in working together. When her wild black curls weren’t bundled into a hairnet, they tumbled down to her impossibly narrow hips. She wore overalls at least two sizes too big for her over a tight shirt that barely covered her ribs, and at least two dozen thin rubber bracelets on each wrist. She wasn’t what Abigail had pictured when she’d advertised for help, but Brittany had proven an invaluable counterbalance to Abigail’s propensity to stress. Because nothing got Brittany worked up.
Except puppies. Puppies tended to cost Abigail at least ten minutes of Brittany’s productivity anytime one passed the shop.
Brittany turned and her enormous dark eyes widened. ‘Hey! What hurts?’
‘Our deadline hurts. I think it’s concussed.’
‘We better keep it awake then.’ Without prompting, Brittany got her up to speed. ‘We had enough extras for two of the three bouquets. The cupcakes are ready and this here is enough frosting for the rest. We’ve run out of the flute centrepiece stands, but I was about to break apart some of the displays.’
Abigail held up the garbage bag. ‘I’ve got them.’
‘Cool.’ Brittany opened her arms wide. ‘Need a cuddle?’
Abigail’s lips twitched. ‘I’m fine.’
‘Okay, but while we’re checking in; seriously, my boss was just in a car accident and I’m pretty shaken up about it, you know? I could really do with a cuddle.’
Abigail laughed and put the bulging bag between them. ‘Cuddle yourself.’
‘Don’t be like that.’ Brittany ducked her head and did a little shuffle, an exaggerated step forward. ‘Hug it out, A.’
They weren’t going to move on from this moment until Brittany got what she wanted—she was incorrigible—so Abigail dropped the bag to her side and opened one arm in resignation. The tiny five-foot-three woman, elevated to at least five-foot-five in her platform Doc Martins, danced forward with a triumphant whoop, and slapped her arms around Abigail’s waist.
She swayed them both side to side, pretended to purr, then wrenched suddenly away. ‘Dude, we’re closed.’ She glanced at Abigail. ‘You didn’t lock the door behind you?’
Abigail turned, saw Dillon in the doorway to the kitchen, then hurried to explain. ‘I did. This is Dillon, he’s going to be helping us this afternoon. Dillon, Brittany. As they say, many hands.’ She left the adage unfinished and lifted the bag onto the workbench. It was wide enough that four people could lay comfortably across it, and at least twelve-feet long. The far corner was crowded with cupcakes Brittany had pulled from the shop display and over five dozen naked cupcakes ready to be adorned.
Brittany stepped around Abigail and extended her hand. Dillon took it and they shook.
‘You hit her, didn’t you?’ Brittany asked, grinning. ‘You hit her and she bullied you into making it up to her.’
‘Which I will,’ Dillon said.
Brittany clapped her hands together and pushed them against her chin. ‘This is awesome.’
‘Got any aspirin?’
‘Ha! Yes.’ She twirled on her heel and raced off to collect some.
Abigail turned to him. There was some more colour in his face now, no doubt in part from the sugar hit he’d drank in record time. ‘Okay, time to work. You’ll want to take that jacket off, this will be messy.’
He set his small plastic bag down and shrugged his jacket off. He was muscular, she hadn’t realised when he’d taken it off the first time. The sleeves of his shirt strained over his biceps and pecs. There were two points of colour from his nose bleed, otherwise he was all white and black. Except for his mood: that appeared rather grey.
‘Woah,’ Brittany said, reappearing in the kitchen. She waved her hand up and down in Dillon’s direction. ‘You just went from nine to five in like, two seconds. Is that blood?’ Without waiting for an answer, she rounded on Abigail. ‘Are you bleeding?’
‘I’m not now.’
‘Where?’ Brittany asked.
‘You hit your head?’
Abigail threw up her hands. ‘Enough! Deadline, remember?’ She pointed at Dillon. ‘You.’ She pointed at the garbage bag. ‘Please wash and dry the centrepiece stands and bouquet handles. You.’ She pointed at Brittany. ‘Get back to whatever you were doing.’
Brittany tossed a blister pack of aspirin into Dillon’s unsuspecting hands, then hurried back to the giant mixer. She checked inside, turned the beater off and raised it out of the way. She was scraping mounds of the stuff into medium bowls by the time Abigail had lifted her apron from its hook and put it on. Abigail tucked her hair into a hairnet, then carried a spare over to her long-haired temp.
Dillon blinked at the frilly apron with Boucake’s logo tastefully centred on the chest pocket, and pressed his lips together as if to catch a laugh.
Abigail lifted her chin, pushed the hairnet against Dillon’s chest, then moved over to the waiting cupcakes.
Brittany was right: there were just enough pre-mades to recreate the bridesmaid bouquets. They always made extras in case of drops or inconsistencies, with the added bonus that the shop’s products of the day shared the theme of Boucake’s most recent custom order. It kept people coming back because one day was never like the other.
The glass display counter was no doubt looking mighty bare at the moment.
For the next two hours, Abigail’s focus was blinkered. Brittany anchored foam balls onto the freshly washed handles and added the decorative trim, while Abigail piped new roses onto cupcake batches baked fresh that morning. Puppy-belly pink with lemon-coloured accents. Dillon assembled the transport boxes and generally did what he was told, then the stepladders were brought out and the women began fixing their re-creations onto the Styrofoam balls atop the strong plastic flutes.
Abigail held her piping bag at the ready, this one full of rich green. Its nozzle was a clever little shape that created a leaf. ‘We’ll need your van here in twenty minutes,’ she said to Dillon, who was standing nearby with his mouth open. ‘Do you know if it’s on its way?’
He reanimated. Blinked first at the sugared floral arrangement blossoming before his eyes, then at the would-be florist atop the ladder. He looked ridiculous in a hairnet. ‘I’ll call him. It won’t be a problem, the lot’s not far from here.’
He pulled his phone from his pocket and stepped into the shopfront to make the call.
Abigail watched him go, then resumed creating leaves. Below her, Brittany’s fingers had slowed on the bride’s bouquet. She’d been placing silver cachous—sugar balls—between the buttercream petals using long tweezers, but now she was staring up at Abigail’s profile.
‘He’s hot,’ she said without preamble.
‘He’s a mess.’
‘He’s a hot mess. He’s just been in a car accident.’
‘So have I, and I don’t look like that.’
Brittany considered this. ‘With all due respect, A, I think you could be a bull-riding junkie and still look better than the rest of us. We don’t all have your class.’
Abigail paused to look down at her. ‘A bull-riding junkie?’
‘I’m just saying, he’s had a rough day. He’s wrecked his car, he’s wrecked your car, and he’s still not sure if he’s wrecked your business. He’s a mess but he’s here.’ She glanced towards the door Dillon had left ajar. ‘All I’m saying is—’
‘Brittany, I don’t mind if you go out with the guy who broke my car.’ She continued to pipe.
‘That’s generous, but I meant you. You should date him. He keeps staring at you. I reckon if I wasn’t here he would’ve made some kind of move by now. Maybe hauled you onto the counter, rolled you around in the buttercream.’ She waved her hands over the table, clearly picturing the sugar-smudged scene, and grinned.
‘I’ve lost enough product for one day, thanks.’
Brittany stood. It didn’t make much difference to her height as she’d been on a high stool, but it made Abigail pause again.
‘A, this is fate. You go from work to home, and back again. It’s a sad little loop.’
‘Sorry. It’s a mildly pathetic little loop that needs to be broken. Cue the hot mess who literally crashed into your life. I’ve been thinking about this and it’s the only way you were going to meet someone, short of hitting on one of the marrieds who come into the shop.’
‘Not all our male customers are married.’
Brittany angled her head in a wordless challenge, then said, ‘If not married, then at least looking elsewhere. This place is hardly a magnet for eligible bachelors.’
Abigail considered arguing in favour of those who bought cupcake bouquets for their relatives, but in the end didn’t bother. She stepped down from the stepladder, inched it over to the third and final centrepiece, and climbed back up.
She had noticed Dillon’s eyes following her about the room. At first she’d thought he’d been waiting for instructions, for a way to make himself useful, but then she’d realised he’d watched her even when he’d been doing his various tasks. Chances were he was cursing the woman who’d hijacked his day. She’d been bossy and stressed, and not the least bit flirtatious.
He’d enjoyed talking to Brittany though, who’d jabbered away about road accident statistics and some of the finer details of the business. They’d taken a break to look at Boucake photos on Abigail’s phone, and even posed for a goofy photo together on Dillon’s phone. They’d clicked.
Abigail wasn’t altogether sure Brittany was reading the signs right. Abigail hadn’t been on the receiving end of a single one of his top-teethed smiles, whereas Brittany had been the recipient and cause of many.
He’d livened somewhat over the last hour, although he’d ducked into the bathroom twice. To be sick, she suspected. Shock, maybe. An aversion to obligation, whatever. He was here and he wasn’t complaining, so he could take as many bathroom breaks as he needed.
Abigail turned the centrepiece on its rotating stand, piped in two dozen leaves, then exchanged the piping bag for delicate ropes of candied beads. She fixed these between the petals and let them trail from the body of the bouquet like pieces of a grand chandelier.
She turned it once, then again, then stepped down to regard her work from a distance.
Breathtaking. Perhaps even better than the first ones.
Abigail had had the idea to fill the hollow stands with white ribbon and irregular lengths of the candied ropes, and the effect was striking. Infinitely more elegant. Something she would have to adopt in future creations.
‘Looks brilliant,’ Brittany said, stepping back too. She hastened forward to wipe a smudge of frosting off the middle bouquet handle, then was back at Abigail’s side, sucking on her finger.
Abigail raised her eyebrow.
‘What?’ Brittany asked. ‘We’ve finished, haven’t we?’
Abigail laughed and put her arm around the young woman she’d be lost without. This wouldn’t have been possible without her, and probably wouldn’t have been possible without Dillon either. They’d made it. All of it in less than three hours. Having the cupcakes made for two of the bouquets had saved them loads of time, and Brittany had been so busy in the store she’d not had time to pack much away in the back, so all the right colours and adornments had been within reach. It had all worked out.
Brittany held up her hand and Abigail high-fived it.
Dillon stepped through the door, looking even better than he had when he’d left. His neutral expression became one of surprise when Brittany lunged towards him. She offered her hand, he high-fived it, then Brittany swivelled on her heel and punched the air with two fists.
‘Go team!’ she crowed.
‘Don’t get too cocky,’ Abigail cautioned, crossing the room to collect one of the boxes Dillon had put together. ‘We’ve got to deliver them yet.’
She carried the box over to the nearest centrepiece. Dillon and Brittany flanked her as she flipped the lid back and checked the inside supports. The boxes were custom-made for their various creations, and Dillon had done a good job putting them together without instructions.
‘Okay,’ she said, stepping in front of Dillon and getting her hands in place. ‘Okay.’ She wriggled her fingers, closed them around the thickest part of the fluted stand, and gave it a little wiggle.
Dillon hissed, but nothing toppled. Nothing even moved. It was secure.
Brittany’s smaller hands appeared on the stand, her arms under and over Abigail’s in just the right way. Months of practice. She counted them down from three, then together they lifted the centrepiece off its rotating cake stand and lowered it carefully into the box. They did this twice more, then put the smaller, lighter bouquets into the smaller boxes with considerably more ease.
Lastly came the dry ice; long thin sachets cold enough to blitz a fingerprint, lowered into purpose-built voids either side of the middle.
Dillon watched them put the lids in place, then seemed to realise the next part was on him. ‘Steve’s parked down the street. I’ll get him to come to the loading bay now.’
Abigail and Brittany didn’t stop. Brittany draped ribbon the colour of fairy floss around the bouquet boxes as Abigail lit the wick of a plum-red stick of wax. She dripped the wax onto the ribbon, securing it in place, then pressed a small gold seal against it—the company’s logo surrounded by a heart. Two more times, then there was only the delivery to be done.
When they pulled their hairnets off, it felt as good as popping the cork on a bottle of bubbly.
The three of them carried the boxes out to the loading bay with the same degree of care given to a newborn. And the van was perfect. It had cargo holds almost perfectly fit-for-purpose. Steve, a thin blond-haired man with a pronounced chin, helped with the bouquets then leapt back behind the wheel.
‘Steve’s driving me?’ Abigail asked, taking the box of spare piping bags from Brittany and sliding it into the back.
‘Driving us,’ Dillon said. He pushed his hand across his mouth, which rustled the plastic bag hanging from his wrist. ‘I’m too shaky to do it myself. I figured you might feel the same.’
She closed the back doors and wiped her hands. ‘You don’t have to come to the venue. I just needed you for all of this.’ She gestured at the shop. ‘I’m grateful,’ she began, but he held his hand up and stopped her.
‘I’m seeing this through.’
Brittany clapped her hands. ‘Go! For god’s sake, go!’
‘Right.’ Abigail felt the gears in her body start again. ‘I need my handbag.’ Brittany dropped it onto her shoulder. ‘Oh. Thank you. Go home, don’t open up again.’
‘Just as well, there’s nothing to sell now anyway.’ Brittany reached around Abigail and untied the apron strings, then held her hand out.
Abigail lifted the apron clear of her head and handed it over. ‘No. I’ll fix that tonight.’
‘Want me to come back?’ Brittany asked.
‘No. You were magnificent today. Thank you.’
The women hugged, then Abigail hastened around to the passenger side of the van. She wanted to be on her way, but there was time enough to leave Brittany alone with the man who smiled only for her.
Inside the van, Steve welcomed her with a hearty hello. His smile was apologetic, as if Dillon’s actions were somehow his to answer for. She wondered if he was Dillon’s boss. He was dressed in pressed trousers and a collared shirt the colour of a midlife crisis convertible; a full-bodied red that spoke of speed and power. There was a small emblem sewn onto the breast pocket: a chrome mag wheel with a word beneath it that she didn’t get a chance to read before he turned back to the steering wheel.
‘Where’re we off to?’ he asked.
Abigail gave him the address and he whistled.
‘Across town.’ He glanced at her. ‘But we’ll make it. A few sharp turns and a lot of acceleration and we’ll even be early.’
She smiled. He’d clearly been briefed on the fragility of his cargo.
Dillon appeared at the passenger door and lifted himself up onto the bench seat. Abigail scooted closer to Steve, belted up, then they were on their way.
It took forty-eight minutes to get from Camden Park to Cazenove—traffic was bad. All the while, Abigail tried to place the curious smell that clung to Dillon’s skin, something she hadn’t noticed before because there’d been more space between them, and the smell of sugar and sponge had overridden everything else. It was unfamiliar. Sweet, but a touch unwelcoming. It made her so aware of her lungs.
She was relieved when it was time to step out of the van. She took a deep drag of fresh air before she joined the others at the back.
‘Let’s take the bouquets in first,’ she said. ‘Give the bride something to gush over.’
Steve changed the direction of his hands and lifted the nearest bouquet box. Abigail took the bride’s one for herself, and Dillon took the third. They walked in a strange kind of procession, through the wrought iron driveway gates thrown wide, to the front door where Abigail used her knuckle to press the doorbell. There were blush pink ribbons and baby’s breath blooms tied to the screen door.
A man opened the inside door. He was shadowed through the screen, but Abigail knew at once that she was looking at the father of the bride. He looked handsome and so sentimental about what must be going on inside that Abigail felt a small ache in her heart. She’d never had a father figure, and would never know this familial joy.
‘Mr Moore?’ Abigail ventured.
‘Yes, I’m Randall Moore.’
‘I’m Abigail from Boucake. We have your daughter’s bouquets.’
‘Oh, wonderful.’ He sprang towards the screen door and Abigail stepped aside. He waved her in, then waited as the men behind her followed her inside. ‘May I see?’ His voice had become child-like, as if the question were naughty.
Abigail knew from her consultation with the bride that Lucy’s family was sceptical about her choice to substitute traditional flowers for sugar creations—it would be exciting to see his reaction.
Alas, ‘There’s a wax seal on each.’
Randall’s face fell.
‘Is Lucy here?’
‘Abby! Abbyabbyabbyabby!’ A blur of pink and silver silk exploded out of the nearest room—the bride-to-be in a pretty robe with Chinese blossoms. Three months ago she’d had peroxide blonde hair and a nose ring. Today she was a chocolate brunette and the small hoop had been exchanged for a pink sapphire. ‘You’re early! I love that you’re early!’
Abigail glanced at Dillon. ‘Not too early I hope.’
‘No! Can I see?’
‘You can do whatever you like. This one is yours.’ Abigail lifted the box in her arms a fraction.
Lucy whirled around. ‘Come see this,’ she called into the next room, ‘it’s the flowers!’
They were almost trampled by two bridesmaids and two mothers.
Dillon and Steve hastily set their boxes down on the nearby dining table because there were elbows flying everywhere.
With everyone gathered around her, Lucy broke the wax seal with a little squeal, then carefully lifted the lid away. The collective gasp made Abigail’s heart soar.
‘I thought you were getting cakes?’ Randall commented, leaning over the bobbing heads.
Lucy laughed. ‘Dad, these are cakes. Lots of little, beautiful cakes.’
Randall leaned closer. He examined the delicate petal work, the colour gradation and the leaves, then frowned and straightened. ‘I’ll be damned,’ he muttered.
It was the kind of reaction Abigail woke up for each day.
‘They won’t lose their shape before the ceremony?’ one of the older women asked. Not easily impressed, Abigail thought, and clearly prone to worry.
‘I’ve supplied dry ice to keep them cool. The packets will last for hours. Put the bouquets back in their boxes after you’ve got the photos you want, and leave them in until you’re ready for your aisle music. They’ll be perfect for a good two hours after the ceremony, maybe more with this kind of day as it’s not too warm.’ She glanced at Lucy and winked. ‘Just remember to keep them a good distance from your dress.’ She looked over to the mother who’d spoken. ‘We’ll get the centrepieces in place now, but we’ll leave them in their boxes. When you’re ready for them, the box tears apart in a very special way. Could I show you how so you can tell who you need to?’
The worrier straightened her spine and lifted her chin. ‘Of course,’ she said importantly.
‘It’s perfect,’ Lucy said. She leaned around the box and kissed Abigail smartly on the cheek. ‘You’re perfect. Thank you so much.’
‘You helped make these?’ one of the bridesmaids asked Dillon. She trailed her fingers over one of the boxes on the table as she eyed the smudges of colour on his shirt. He’d mocked Abigail’s apron at first, but had later acknowledged the need for it. There was as much pink on his shirt as there was on the screen door. His flat mouth opened a fraction. He looked to Steve for help, but Steve just shrugged.
‘He was a big help,’ Abigail said, and smiled. She turned back to Lucy. ‘We’ll get out of the way. Congratulations. Remember: I want you to shove at least one of these into someone’s face, you got it?’
Lucy giggled. ‘I’ve already picked my victim.’
Abigail handed over the bride’s bouquet, then led the way outside. Back to the van for the last three boxes, both mothers close on her heels.
Dillon stood close by when Abigail settled a centrepiece on the table, and watched as she explained how to unfold the box and tear it free without needing to lift the whole thing again. There were discreet little perforations on the bottom, varying sizes of circles to accommodate varying sizes of vases. Only a perfectly sized circle of reinforced cardboard would be left behind.
‘What if the tablecloths aren’t white?’ he asked, when the women were satisfied and the pair of them were walking back to the van.
‘I can’t solve all the world’s problems,’ Abigail replied, smiling. ‘If they’re not white and they don’t want a little white circle under the vase, they’ll just have to lift it out of the box the old-fashioned way.’
She began to laugh. Exhilaration. Relief. Despite everything, she was here and her clients were happy. The business would live to see another five-star rating. She pushed her hands through her hair and filled her lungs properly for what felt like the first time all day.
They reached the passenger door of the van. Dillon put his hand on the handle before she could.
‘How early are we?’ he asked.
Abigail crossed her arms and looked away. She couldn’t fight the smile that pulled her lips wide. ‘The ceremony begins at five-thirty.’
She looked back. Dillon was finally smiling at her. That curious, top-teeth smile she’d thought only for effervescent twenty-five-year-olds. ‘Clever,’ he said. ‘A soft deadline.’
She uncrossed her arms. ‘Thank you for everything.’
Abigail conceded this with a chuckle. ‘Well, not quite. But thank you for everything after.’
Something moved into his eyes. Something shadowed and intense, something serious and intriguing. He moved a fraction closer and that sweet smell filled her nose again. It smelled like trespass and indulgence. Like one of those secrets best not shared.
‘Can I take you to tea?’ he asked quietly. He seemed to not know where to put his gaze; on her eyes, on the wrinkles she got on her nose when she smiled, on her mouth. He looked like he was trying to see all of her at once, and the intensity of his attention was dizzying. ‘Not tonight,’ he clarified. ‘I know you’re busy. But soon?’
She pressed her lips together and angled her head to the side. There was a warmth low in her belly that appreciated his attention, and her legs seemed to wish to draw her closer. He smiled in anticipation, as if hearing her thoughts.
‘I’m really flattered,’ she said. ‘But hell no.’