On Any Given Sundae ~ excerpt
is about a shy dessert cookbook writer and the high-school football star (turned successful restaurant owner) she always had a crush on. The two of them end up running an ice cream parlor for the summer and, well, it is a romantic comedy...so love is in the air, along with the delectable scent of hot-fudge sauce, caramel and whipped cream...
Hope you enjoy this excerpt (copyright Marilyn Brant 2011) of the book!
It was long, Elizabeth Daniels noted. Without a doubt, Jacques’s was several inches longer than most.
She leaned in, scanned it and ran her index finger along its prodigious length. She heard Jacques’s quick intake of breath.
Silken to the touch, yet deliciously firm. Broad. Sleek. Inviting. She nodded her approval, swallowed and brought her lips to its soft-brown side. A thick, creamy droplet poised on the tip. She moaned, anticipating the coming moments. Her tongue snaked out to lick the end clean.
“Mmmm,” she murmured.
“C’mon. Go for it,” Jacques urged, tension filling his voice. “Pleeeeease. You’re killing me.”
“Elizabeth, I’m pleading with you.”
“Oh, all right.” She licked the tip again, inhaled deeply and took a big bite.
Jacques exploded next to her. “Well?”
“Incredible,” she declared. “This is the single best éclair I’ve had in months.” She glanced at Jacques’s expression. “Years,” she amended.
“And you’re absolutely right. This new recipe is even better than your last batch. It has to be featured in the book. In fact, I’m giving you the cover spread for the pastries chapter.”
“Yes! Yes!” The portly, thirty-six-year-old French chef did a little jig in the front aisle of Tutti-Frutti, the ice cream parlor and confectionary shop where she and Jacques worked part time. Elizabeth’s uncle and his business partner owned the place, and they’d turned it into “The Coolest Hotspot” in Wilmington Bay, Wisconsin.
Elizabeth grinned at her good friend’s jubilance. Jacques’s enthusiasm was one of the many things she adored about him. Another thing was that, despite the remnants of Jacques’s French accent, they spoke the same language—a vernacular inhabited by fillo dough, shaved almond bark and imported spices. As one of the few people she could be herself around, the Frenchman was worth his weight in dutched cocoa.
Jacques pranced around a little more, his receding hairline becoming more prominent when he jumped. “I knew you’d love it, chéri,” he said. “Didn’t I tell you you’d love it?”
“You told me.”
Elizabeth wiped the chocolate frosting and custard splotches off her chin before scribbling a few cursory comments in her notebook. She hadn’t exaggerated in her assessment. Every one of Jacques’s creations was bigger and better than the competition. She needed her first solo dessert cookbook—Perfect Pastries, Pralines and Parfaits—to do the same.
He gave her a saucy wink. “You know, I think you need to take my marriage proposal more seriously, ma petite brioche. Just imagine the two of us together. We could bring tasty comfort to millions of people daily. Sweet-toothed folks the world over,” he raised his voice and waved his oven mitt in the air with fervor, “will flock to Wilmington Bay to see where this wonder all began.” He beamed at her. “Jacques and Elizabeth—Saviors of the Dessert Deprived.”
“Please tell me that’s not going to be our slogan.”
He shrugged. “I will leave the naming up to you, but I’ll be hurt if you don’t think it through just a bit. Our possible engagement, I mean.” He couldn’t disguise the mischievous glint in his eye. “Friendship is the key to long-lasting love. I’d be honored to marry such a good friend as you, Elizabeth.” His voice dropped. “If you’ll have me.”
She walked to where he stood behind the counter and threw her arms around him. “You are an amazing man…and yet, totally, unbelievably insincere on this subject.” She punched him on the shoulder. “But thanks for trying to cheer me up. I may have given up looking for love, but one of these days you’ll find someone worthy of you.”
“Nonsense. You’re just saying ‘no’ now because you want the empire all to yourself, you greedy girl!” He dipped her backward, as if in a finale to a dance routine, and planted a brotherly kiss on her forehead. “In another year or two you’ll be ready for me.”
She laughed and they stepped apart. Their conversations were peppered with moments like this: Jacques tossing a half-hearted proposal her way and her waving him off until next time. There was truly no romantic chemistry between them, but loneliness made people play these kinds of games. They’d spent hours recounting their relationship woes, alongside their other close friends, Nick and Gretchen. All of them had known too many years of heartbreak.
“So, it’s a bright and lovely Sunday morning. What else is on your agenda today?” he said as he walked over to the oven and pulled out a steaming batch of fresh cranberry croissants. Elizabeth could feel the butter clogging her arteries from across the room.
“I’ve got some rewrites to do on the pecan-praline cookies,” she told him. “I had Nick try out the lead recipe, and he said the tops burned if we left them in at three hundred seventy-five degrees for the whole twelve minutes. They’re only supposed to be ‘golden brown.’”
“It’s always something.”
“Exactly.” She sighed.
“I’ll bring you one of these to taste when I’m done,” Jacques said, taking the croissant tray into the backroom to decorate the pastries with icing.
Just then, her uncle, Siegfried Finklehooper, burst through the front door. From the look on his face, she knew bad news had crossed his path, and now it was going to cross hers.
“Hi, Uncle Siegfried,” she said. “What’s wrong?” She brushed a strand of frizzy reddish-brown hair away from her eyes and stared at him. His blue eyes flashed with strange brightness.
“I need your help, Liebling,” her uncle said, using his native German endearment for “darling,” which would’ve made her smile at any other time. He’d called her mother that, too, when she was alive.
“Of course,” she said.
“I must go back to Bavaria.”
“When? Why?” Elizabeth’s worry gene jumped into gear and her pulse picked up speed. She could only think of one reason he’d have to go to Germany. “Is it Aunt Anita?”
He nodded, and Elizabeth knew he’d be flying out immediately. He’d promised his late wife, Elizabeth’s wonderful Auntie Bette, he would never let her sister Anita die alone. But at age seventy-two, that wouldn’t be an easy trip for Uncle Siegfried to make.
“I can come with you,” she blurted. “Let me go home to pack and—”
“No, no, Liebling. You have a deadline on your cookbook, and I must be gone for several weeks, maybe a month. Either until she recovers or until…” He let that distressing thought trail off. “Pauly’s going with me.”
“I, um…really?” she said. Pauly Carrera, her uncle’s business partner of forty years, was a full-blooded Italian a few years older than Uncle Siegfried. He was also cantankerous, prickly and on the opposite side of obliging. “But, who’s going to run the shop then?”
Pauly chose that moment to make his entrance. “Did you tell her yet?” he said in a gruff voice to her uncle.
Uncle Siegfried shot him an irritated look. “We leave tonight, Liebling,” he explained to Elizabeth. “And we were hoping we could count on you to be in charge while we’re away.”
“Me?” Her pulse halted mid-beat. As it was, she would barely make her deadline on the cookbook but, looking at her uncle’s face, she knew she’d have to burn a lot of midnight oil this summer because she couldn’t say no to him. “Oh, sure—if—if that’s what you think is b-best.” There were also her nerves and her “minor” public-speaking problem, but she’d just have to deal with those issues too.
“Thank you,” Uncle Siegfried said. “You’re one of the few people we’d trust with Tutti-Frutti, and you know we could never afford to close the shop for that long.”
“Don’t worry,” she said, rubbing gently the paper-thin skin on her uncle’s hand, praying she could handle this task. “I’ll take care of everything.”
Pauly coughed and patted his chest with his fist. “Well, it’s not like you’ll have to do it all alone.”
“Why?” Elizabeth couldn’t disguise her surprise at this news. “Who else will be here?”
Pauly shot her a curious stare. “Didn’t your uncle tell you anything? You know my nephew? Roberto Gabinarri?” He rolled his R’s in that deeply Italian way. It sounded beautiful, but all she could think was, Oh, my God. No!
She took three very deep breaths. “Y-You mean R-Rob?”
“Yeah, yeah, that’s what he always goes by, I guess,” Pauly said with a shrug. “Well, he’s coming up to help, too. Between the two of you, you shouldn’t have any problems keeping the place together for a few weeks.”
This wasn’t happening. She wasn’t hearing his name again after all of these years. Ten years, for goodness sake. There was absolutely no way she could—or would—work with him. None. She’d never be able to speak a coherent sentence in his presence.
“You’ve already t-t-talked to him?” God help her. If Pauly set things up with Rob, there’d be no way for her to get out of this without looking even more foolish than she felt.
Pauly nodded vigorously, and Elizabeth’s heart sank to her toes. “In a manner of speaking,” Pauly said.
She opened her mouth to question him but her throat clenched up. It was like high school all over again. Before she could force the words out, Uncle Siegfried interrupted.
“We’re so grateful to you, Liebling.” Her uncle waved a sheet of paper at her. “I wrote down Anita’s home phone number and address, in case any questions come up.”
Pauly shot a rare grin in her direction. “But don’t worry. This will be easy for you. And Roberto—he’s a wiz at these things.”
“Um, w-when will he be here?” she managed to ask.
Pauly pulled out his cell phone. “Let me just check on that now.” He rushed out of the room.
Uncle Siegfried gave her a fierce hug and dropped the shop’s keys in her lap.
Rob Gabinarri was enjoying the sound of his own voice in his latest battle of wits with Miguel, the style consultant for his Chicago restaurant, when the phone rang.
“Rob Gabinarri, proprietor. The Playbook,” he said into the receiver, feeling the usual pride at the words. He never got tired of announcing his ownership of this place.
“Roberto!” his Uncle Pauly said.
Rob checked the date. It wasn’t his birthday. It wasn’t Christmas. It wasn’t the NFL Playoffs or anytime close to the Super Bowl. Something must be wrong with somebody.
“Uncle Pauly, how are you? Is everything all right in Wilmington Bay?”
“Everyone in the family? Mama and Tony and Maria-Louisa and the kids and—”
“Oh, they’re all fine. Just fine. But I need your help.”
This stopped Rob cold. The last time his independent uncle had asked for anybody’s help, big hair and legwarmers had still been in fashion. No matter what, there was no way Rob could decline. Family always came first.
“Of course. What do you need?”
“You’re the boss of that hotshot restaurant, right?”
“Right,” Rob said, his pride wavering a bit as apprehension seeped in.
“You make the rules and set the schedules, right?”
“So, what you say is what goes, right?”
The last of his pride was now replaced by full-fledged anxiety. “Uh, right.”
“So, you could take some time off now, couldn’t you, Roberto?”
“I, well…sure. I guess so, but…” Please, please don’t tell me I need to leave the safety of downtown Chicago and return to suffocating small-town Wilmington Bay. Please, no.
“I need you to come back to Wilmington Bay for a coupla weeks. Help us out here in the shop.”
Damn! “I—well, I’m not so good with sweets, Uncle Pauly. Is there anything I can do for you from here? Anything I could send up? Supplies, maybe? I could hire a person who could step in for a while and—”
“Dire sciocchezze. You’re talking nonsense, boy. You’re great with sweets, and we need you.”
Rob stifled a heavy sigh. “Okay. When do you need me?”
There was a pause on the line. “Is three hours too soon?” his uncle asked, his brusque voice unusually cheerful. “How about four?”
Elizabeth rarely swore aloud but, in her mind, she was cursing not just a blue streak, but also a red, orange, yellow and green streak. She was, in fact, well on her way to a complete blasphemous rainbow, and Rob Gabinarri hadn’t even arrived yet.
Of all people. She never thought she’d have to make it through so much as a ten-minute soda pop break with him again. The boy who’d broken her heart and didn’t even know it.
Or maybe he did know it.
She couldn’t decide which was the greater tragedy.
A snazzy red Porsche convertible squealed to a stop behind her sensible blue Toyota Camry, and the town’s Golden Boy stepped out of the car and into the empty confectionary shop.
“Hey, Lizzy. Long time, no see,” he said, glancing around the shop in a frantic kind of way.
“E-Elizabeth,” she corrected automatically.
“Oh, all right. Sorry.”
She stared at him, which of course he didn’t notice because he was too busy looking at everything else in the place besides her.
He walked into the backroom then out of it again.
He peered into the washrooms.
He opened and shut a few closets.
He paced back and forth, sat down in a booth, got back up and paced some more.
The guy was as tall and muscular and breathtaking as he’d been a decade before when he used to saunter through the unremarkable halls of Wilmington Bay High School, oblivious to anyone and anything beyond the football field and his bevy of admirers. If it were possible, he seemed even more youthful and in command now than he did at age eighteen.
And she felt about as queasy as she’d felt the last time they’d been face to face.
Finally, his pacing stopped. “Where is my uncle?” he asked in a husky whisper, directing the query at a tray of chocolate-dipped sugar cookies. “Uncle?” he called out. “Uncle Pauly?”
She wanted to tell him, but the words were lodged in her esophagus and, anyway, he wasn’t talking to her.
He strode into the backroom again, as if convinced the elderly Italian man could be found hiding behind a jar of candied cherries or a vat of butterscotch syrup. The long black eyelashes blinked in confusion when he emerged into the main shop once again, his gaze and those nutmeg-brown eyes directed at her.
“Don’t tell me he left already.” This was more a threat than a question. He shook his head at her as though that gesture alone would discourage an affirmative reply.
She held her breath and nodded.
“Where is he?”
She pursed her lips, just as she’d learned in her special speech tutorials so long ago, formed the first letter and tried to push it out of her mouth. But
she stuttered anyway.
“L-Lufthansa. F-Fl-Flight four-oh-three.”
He cocked his gorgeous head to one side and stared at her in the way she’d grown so accustomed to during her miserable school years: Poor Old Lizzy, the look said. What a geeky dweeb.
“What time is it scheduled to depart?” he asked her with an affected gentleness that made her want to rip out his vocal cords.
She tapped her watch and gathered her courage for whatever might happen next. “T-Twenty m-m-minutes a-ago.”
“Oh, bloody hellfire!” Rob shouted, adding several inventive phrases to his curse before pausing to take a breath.
Elizabeth had managed to squeeze out a few additional syllables of explanation, but Rob was quick to catch on to the full meaning, she noticed, even when words were left unspoken.
“Uncle Pauly said he’d be gone only a couple of weeks.” He rubbed his palms against his eyes. “Not a freaking month. And he never mentioned Europe.” He pounded his fist on the ice-cream-window part of the counter three times in rapid succession. “He said everything would be explained when I got up here.” He turned toward her. “Guess you were elected to supply the details.”
If she’d been capable of it, she would’ve laughed. Oh, yeah. Now that was a first. One for the record books. Elizabeth Daniels: Verbal Disseminator of Information. Hee-hee. Ha-ha.
“S-Sorry,” she said.
He paused. “I didn’t mean it like that. I’m just…” But words must have defied him, too because he left the sentence uncompleted.
A jangling of bells broke the silence.
“Howdy, folks,” the chatty old florist from down the block said. “Hey, Pauly, Siegfried,” he called. “Need to get me a double scoop of Cherry-Almond S—” He stopped mid-speech and surveyed Rob from the top of his dark Italian head right down to his pricey black-and-white Nikes. “Holy Hydrangea. Is that really Roberto Gabinarri standing in front of me?”
Rob grinned but a look of something other than gratification (wariness, perhaps?) slid over his face like a well-formed mask. “Good to see you again, sir. You’re looking fit as ever.”
The gentleman shook his head as if disbelieving the sight. “Been blazing a hot trail through Chicago, I hear. But, we’ve all missed you in Wilmington Bay, son. Does your uncle know you’re back?” He didn’t wait for Rob to answer. “Pauly! Siegfried!” He raised his palms. “Where are they?”
She watched Rob inhale several slow breaths. She could almost see him selecting his words with precision, the way a pastry chef might chose just the right filling for a pie.
“They’re taking a much-deserved vacation,” he said, nodding sagely at the older gentleman and motioning him closer as if letting him in on a deep family secret. “And we couldn’t let them close the shop now, could we? During June?”
The florist’s eyes grew large. “Oh, no.”
“Of course not. Especially since their best customers were counting on them.” Rob winked at the man and grabbed an ice cream scoop. “This cone’s on the house,” he said, digging into the tub of Cherry-Almond Swirl and piling the sweet concoction in massive, if inexpert, blobs atop a sugar cone. “Uncle Pauly’s orders.”
So Rob was going to start bribing and spin-doctoring, was he? Fine. She’d play along. In fact, she had to hand it to him. Considering the look of bliss on the talkative florist’s face, the gossip he’d inevitably spread about them could only be in their favor. She clamped her mouth shut and did her part by passing the man a paper napkin and shooting him a closed-lipped smile.
“Why, thank you, dearie,” the florist said to her. “Gotta get back to talking to my geraniums and begonias before they start complaining.” He licked his cone and twinkled his delight at her with his eyes.
She waved him off without uttering a sound, a trick she’d perfected through years of social avoidance, then she grabbed her notebook and ripped out the page she’d been working on. She handed it to Rob.
“What’s this?” he said, slumping against the counter.
With her pen, she pointed to the heading she’d written in block letters.
“A schedule? For what? The shop?” He stared at her as if this were the most foreign of concepts.
“For us? To divide up the opening and closing times?”
Good. He could read. She nodded again.
“But who’s going to work the shifts in between? Last time I talked with Uncle Pauly, he said he and Siegfried were doing most of the serving themselves. Said they didn’t trust many people and they’d only hire out part-time helpers during really busy times or when one of them was sick.”
She knew this, which was why she’d have to rely more heavily on Jacques, and why she’d called both Gretchen and Nick and told them they absolutely had to come over tomorrow to help her with this. She was desperate.
“M-M-My fr-friends will be w-working here,” she said.
“Well, great,” he said, looking relieved. “Hey, I mean, if you think you can handle all of the organizing, get trustworthy people to take the over shifts and all, you can count on me to chip in with other things. Funding their salaries for the month. Doing all the stock ordering. Sending out publicity notices. Anything you need, just so I can be back in Chicago soon.”
She winced. She’d been especially dreading relaying this part of Pauly’s parting message. Although she didn’t know the precise reason, she sensed Rob wouldn’t like the news. “Y-You can’t l-leave.”
“Why not?” he said, but the uneasiness in his tone convinced her he wasn’t surprised there might be a complication.
“P-Pauly called your m-m-mother. T-Told her to expect you for Sunday d-d-dinner tonight. And every n-night.”
She pushed her long, unruly hair out of her eyes and blinked at him. Funny, she’d never before seen the Golden Boy’s rugged olive complexion look quite so peaked.
“Lizzy,” he said, setting her carefully constructed schedule back on the counter. “You’re looking at a dead man.”
And with that, he collapsed into a six-foot heap of hunky male onto the floor.
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