A Taste for Love: Chapter 27


“Are you paying attention?”

I throw James an irritated glance. We’re alone in the back kitchen of the bakery, something Mom only allowed because she needed to get set up for Eastern Sun Bank’s charity festival tonight. James is supposed to be learning how to create flowers in a raindrop cake, but I’ve been talking to myself. Instead, he’s been staring at his phone for the last twenty minutes. Judging by the way he’s scrolling, he’s online shopping.

I sigh and put the syringe of colored gelatin back into its cup.

“James.”

He doesn’t hear me, engrossed in whatever item he’s staring at.

“James!”

His head snaps up this time, instantly contrite when he realizes what he’s missed. James tucks the phone into his pocket and comes around the stainless steel table. When he reaches for me, I shake him off with narrowed eyes.

“You know, if you were going to play around during these private lessons, you shouldn’t have accepted them from Sammy.”

“That was nice of him to offer,” James agrees, smirking. “Although I admit I might have said something to convince him.”

“Then all the more reason to pay attention.”

“I’m sorry, Bun. I didn’t mean to ignore you.”

James tries to dimple his way into convincing me to forgive him, but the smile has no luster for me today.

I cross my arms over my chest. “What can you possibly be looking at that’s so interesting, anyway?”

He starts to answer but suddenly squints at me.

“You know,” he replies, dragging out the words, “you kind of remind me of your mom right now.”

I choke on the insult. “Get out.”

“Oh, come on, Bun . . .”

“Get out.”

He stares at me with puppy eyes until I waver a tiny bit, then swoops in and captures my lips in a kiss. We’ve shared so many over the last few months, but it always feels new. In fact, we’re getting better at turning up the heat. My arms snake up his neck, fingers threading through his hair as he pulls me ever closer. I’m so focused on the way his hands roam down to my hips I nearly miss the buzzing oven timer.

“Oh! It’s gonna burn!”

I throw on the mitts and run over to pop the doors open. A few minutes later, the tray has been safely transferred onto the cooling rack, and I breathe a sigh of a relief. I head back to the table, where both a batch of unfinished mango milk custard buns and my demo raindrop cake are sitting.

I’m not even trying to think about the fact that we’re launching my baking recipe book tonight. Dad helped me self-publish it, and I was shocked when Mom ordered copies to sell at the bakery. I was even more surprised when Chef Anthony offered to keep some in the BCCI gift shop too. He even sponsored me for some of next year’s summer courses. I couldn’t wait to tell James.

That reminds me of what I’m juggling to give him these lessons. My annoyance returns.

“Let’s just stop for today. You’d rather be on your phone, and I need to get these buns baked for Eastern Sun Bank’s charity festival tonight.”

He cocks an eyebrow. “What’s the drive for again?”

“You should know,” I chide him as I scoop custard into a pastry bag. “Your uncle’s donating the proceeds to local elementary school libraries for books and author events.”

“That’s very noble of him.”

“Yes, and I need to get these done in the next hour for our booth. So why don’t you go meet up with Ben and Grace so I can finish?”

I turn my attention back to the baking. As I pick up a bun to fill, he sidles up next to me.

“How many of these do you have left to make?”

I stop and do a quick count. “This batch and one more.”

“How about I help?”

I eye him up and down. “You’ll get those nice clothes dirty.”

“Hmm. I guess you’re right.”

I’m instantly suspicious of the mischievous smirk on his face. He tugs his shirt out of his pants and unbuttons it, shrugging it off and giving me an eyeful of his bare chest.

“You can’t bake like that!” I sputter. “It’s not . . . sanitary.”

James feigns a sigh and grabs hold of a nearby apron. After securing it around his waist, he does a little twirl.

“Ta-da! Problem solved. Now tell me what I need to do.”

The buns take twice as long as they should to make, mostly because I keep gawking at my boyfriend. He certainly doesn’t help, spending a great deal of time flexing his muscles as he kneads the dough. By the time we’re done, I’m wound tighter than the elastic band holding my hair back. The devilish glint in his brown eyes only infuriates me more.

Well, two can play at this game.

“Will you help me deliver these buns to the booth?” I ask casually. “Mom wanted to go make sure my book is displayed properly.”

“Of course.”

I wrap each bun carefully in cellophane and lay them in the largest paper box we have. I then tape the top and side flaps and send him on his way. The minute his car pulls out of the plaza, I jump into action. I grab the clothes I brought from home and change before putting the finishing touches on my face using the makeup bag Jeannie left for me. My hair is the last step, and once I’m finished, I take a look at my reflection.

While trees are changing color in other parts of the country, it still feels like summer in Houston. The skin at my waist peeks out from beneath my blush lace crop top, and I’ve paired it with a pleated black skirt and my favorite white sneakers. I’ve also left my hair down this time, with rose gold bobby pins glinting off my black locks. Another layer of lip gloss later, I’m done.

I dash back into the kitchen to wait for James to pick me up. While I’m there, my phone goes off. It’s a text from Jeannie.

Good luck tonight! I’m sorry I couldn’t be there.

I smile. When Jeannie went back to New York, she decided to quit modeling and finally declared a major—psychology. She said she was inspired by what I said to her about being such a good listener. Even though she was super nervous to tell our parents, they had nothing but encouraging things to say.

Thanks, sis. Miss you.

I snap a quick picture of my outfit and send it to her.

Very nice! she texts back. Jeannie approved.

BTW, tell Brandon I said hi.

Brandon’s her new boyfriend. They met right after she moved into the new condo Ben’s mom found her.

Will do. Gotta run. Talk later!

Another text pops up right before I lock my phone. This one’s from Sarah.

Get your butt over here! We’re starving, and Edward’s dying to try those buns!

The bell over the front door jingles as James enters the shop. I send Sarah a quick reply and tuck my phone into my back pocket. Then I grab a cloth and pretend to clean.

“I’m back, L—”

He makes a choked sound. I glance up innocently, secretly reveling at the look on his face.

“Oh, good! I’m ready to go.”

I brush past him, purposely trailing my fingers lightly up his arm as I make my way to the door. I’m barely through the curtain before he twirls me around and tugs me against him. I fight the urge to sink into him.

“We’ve gotta go, James. It’s my big night, remember? Everyone’s probably waiting.”

“Liza.”

I’m the one ignoring him this time, counting the steps to freedom.

“Liza.”

I keep moving, even though the air crackles like the top of a bo luo bun. I reach for the door and dash out. His footsteps are no match for the pounding of my heart, but he catches up with me nonetheless. James doesn’t let me escape this time, spinning me to face him as he backs me against the car. I giggle as he reaches up to twirl a lock of my hair around his finger.

“Are you punishing me for earlier?”

I bat my lashes as I play with one of the buttons on his shirt.

“Actually, I figured since you’d rather be dating your phone, I’d find myself a new boyfriend.”

“Liza.”

James whispers my name and presses closer, the aroma of mangos and butter flooding my nostrils. I resist the temptation to inhale deeply.

“Do you know why I was on my phone today?”

I jut out my chin. “Do you know my knee is at the perfect angle to inflict bodily injury?”

James laughs and backs away, hands up in surrender.

“Okay, okay, fine, but before you do that . . .”

He unlocks the driver’s side door and reaches down to retrieve a blue-and-white Tiffany box.

“I was on my phone because I was checking to make sure this was delivered to Ben’s house.”

“You’re buying gifts for Ben now?”

He makes an exasperated sound. “Just open it.”

I purposely drag things out for another minute before reaching into the felt pouch. I pull out a silver charm bracelet with a miniature cupcake charm and a small Tiffany’s heart tag dangling from its links.

“Turn it around.”

I gasp when I see our initials engraved on the back. He helps me put it on and then smiles sweetly at me.

“Happy sixth-month anniversary.”

As touched as I am, I eye him suspiciously. “We’ve only officially been dating for five months.”

“I know, but it’s six months since I met you in the parking lot at Salvis. I knew that day I wanted to be with you.”

“How did you know?”

“Because you didn’t hide your feelings from me, even if it meant telling me I was a jerk. Almost everyone I’ve known has always agreed with everything I said and did. They didn’t really care about me. They only cared about my family’s money and the connections we had.”

I stare deep into his eyes, marveling at the once-hidden depths within them. To think I was so determined to paint him a villain I nearly overlooked all the pieces that didn’t fit.

Now, that would have been a recipe for disaster.

I shrug. “Well, I can’t make any promises when it comes to my mom, but I’m not interested in those things.”

“So you wouldn’t dump me if all I could do was bake?”

I grab hold of his collar and yank his head down for a kiss.

“Just as long as you remember I like things hot.”

As James’s fingers graze the bare skin at my waist, he whispers his answer against my lips.

“Now, that I could never forget.”

Comment

  1. Eva says:

    Great book! Excellent use of Pride and Prejudice elements, but used in a unique and original way. My only question is: did I miss a part where Ben was publicly cleared of being at fault for vandalizing the competition? He agreed to have his name smeared so they could trap Nathan, but I didn’t see anything about him being innocent and announcing that he not only agreed to be falsely accused, but he voluntarily left the competition. Considering that he left New York to avoid false accusations, it’s really strange that an announcement of his innocence was lacking.

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