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Chapter One

“No, I’m not feeling it,” Amy Pierson said. “Do it again, and this time try to give it that southwestern city-girl flare. This photo shoot is for Southwest Style magazine, after all.”
Angie DeLaura looked at Melanie Cooper as if to ask if she could please hurl a cupcake at the bossy butt in the couture suit. Mel gave a slight shake of her blond head in the negative. She didn’t want to move too much and have Amy yell at her again.
It was mid-October in Scottsdale, Arizona, and although the sun was hot the breeze was cool, keeping the inordinate amount of makeup Mel had on from melting off her face. She and Angie were outside their bakery in the small patio area, posing for a picture to run alongside the piece that had been written about them for an upcoming issue of South¬west Style, the premiere magazine about urban living in the desert.
What Mel had assumed would be a staff photographer snapping a picture of them behind the counter in the bakery had turned into a full-on spread, featuring Mel and Angie in poofy retro-fifties skirts, with crinolines, and starched cot¬ton blouses with pearls.
Because Scottsdale’s heyday had been the fifties and be¬cause the bakery was decorated in a retro-fifties style, Amy Pierson, the magazine’s art director, had decided to run with the fifties theme, and thus Mel and Angie found them¬selves outfitted like June Cleaver in stilettos.
The makeup artist had teased Angie’s long brown hair into an updo a la Audrey Hepburn, while Mel’s short blond locks had been styled in lush waves reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe. They were tricked out in an ultra-feminine chic style that made them positively unrecognizable.
“My head itches,” Angie whispered.
“My feet hurt,” Mel returned. The high heels they had been put in were arch-crampers, and Mel longed for her beat up Keds, her comfy jeans, and a simple T-shirt.
“Okay, ladies, let’s see those smiles,” the photographer said. He was a young guy named Chad, who happily snapped away while Mel and Angie stood frozen, sur¬rounded by tiers and trays of cupcakes, trying to look like they were having the time of their lives.
Fairy Tale Cupcakes, their bakery in Old Town Scotts¬dale, was in the heart of the tourist district, which was one of the many reasons for their success. They did loads of special orders, but their walk-in traffic kept them steadily busy with drop-ins who wanted to fortify themselves with a cupcake or two before, during, and after a day of doing the tourist thing.
Mel observed the crowd gathering to watch and hoped that Marty Zelaznik and Oz Ruiz, their two bakery employ¬ees, were inside preparing for the crush once the magazine people departed.
The magazine had asked Mel to design cupcakes that would reflect the Southwest, so she had used bright fondant to create cupcakes devoted to cactus-flower blossoms. Each cupcake sported a flower, so magenta prickly-pear blooms blended with white and yellow saguaro flowers in several tiers of cupcakes that were festive and lovely and very southwestern.
Mel wasn’t entirely comfortable with the dolled-up-babe look she and Angie were using to represent the bakery. But given that the magazine had a national subscription base of several hundred thousand, she was determined to do what¬ever it took to get in print. The coverage would go a long way towards making Fairy Tale Cupcakes the place to buy cupcakes in the Valley of the Sun.
Chad’s camera clicked repeatedly as he moved, stepping closer and then backing away, dropping to one knee and then climbing onto a chair, all to get the shots he wanted. Mel smiled until her face hurt and her eyes began to cross. Angie was making small whimpering noises in the back of her throat as Chad paused in front of them. Snap. Snap. Snap.
“No!” Amy said, peering over his shoulder to study them. “I’m still not feeling it. Chad, let’s discuss. Maybe it’s the lighting.”
“Relax, ladies, but don’t move too far,” Chad said as he went to confer with Amy.
“ ‘Every girl on every page of Quality has grace, ele¬gance, and pizzazz. Now, what’s wrong with bringing out a girl who has character, spirit, and intelligence?’ ” Angie muttered to Mel.
Classic movie buffs, they had played this game with their friend Tate Harper since they were kids. Mel was about to identify the movie when a voice from nearby said, “ ‘That certainly would be novel in a fashion magazine.’ ”
Mel and Angie both turned to look at the man who had spoken.
“Funny Face with Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire,” he said. “Good one.”
“Looks like we found a new member of our tribe,” Mel said. She held out her hand to him. “Melanie Cooper.”
“Angie DeLaura,” Angie said as she did the same.
The tall, red-haired man smiled as he shook each of their hands. He was dressed in all black and had the chiseled good looks of a male model. Mel noticed that his hand was soft to the touch and his fingernails were neatly trimmed and buffed. She sighed. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had a professional manicure.
“Justin Freehold,” he said. “Creative director for SWS.”
“Is it just me, Justin,” Angie asked, “or do there seem to be an awful lot of chefs in this photo-shoot kitchen?”
“Nice mixed metaphor,” Mel said. “But she’s right. Who are all of these people?”
Justin scanned the crowd.
“Good question,” he said. “Pretty much anyone with their name on the masthead of the magazine is here, and that’s why.”
He jerked his head in the direction of a man standing apart. He was tall and fit but looked to be somewhere in his
fifties as his dark hair was giving way to silver. He had laugh lines that creased the corners of his eyes, but he also sported a hard jaw that made Mel think he was accustomed to making tough decisions.
“That would be our new leader, Ian Hannigan,” Justin said. “He just bought the magazine and saved it from an untimely death. Everyone is determined to shine under his ever-watchful gaze.”
“So that’s why this went from a ‘say cheese’ to a ‘strike a pose’ layout,” Angie said. “I suppose in the end it will be better for the bakery, but when we get done, I may just shave my head. Honestly, feel this.”
She raised her right hand and patted her head. It didn’t move. Curious, Mel touched the loaf of hair on Angie’s head. Yep, it was as crusty on the outside as a baguette.
“Wow,” she said.
“More like ow,” Angie retorted.
Justin squinted into the crowd. “I know most everyone here, except for her. Does she work for you?”
Mel followed the line of his gaze. Striding through the crowd with her stocky frame wedged into a polka dot blouse and a black poodle skirt with a pink poodle on it, and wearing black-and-white saddle shoes, was Olivia Puckett. She was also hoisting a tray of brightly colored cupcakes over her head.
“Please tell me I’m hallucinating,” Angie said.
“Okay, but you have to do the same for me,” Mel said.
Olivia owned the rival bakery Confections and, for rea¬sons unknown to Mel, she had developed a pathological competitiveness with Mel and Angie. It seemed if there was baking attention to be had, Olivia wanted all of it.
“Oh, yoo-hoo, magazine people,” Olivia called. “If you’re having a hard time photographing these two, I’d be happy to fill in.”
“Is she for real?” Angie snapped. “I did not let them do this to me”— he pointed to her head—so that woman could march in here in that ridiculous skirt and take over our photo shoot.”
“I’ll take care of this,” Justin said. “I can’t imagine Amy would do a switch-up like this at the eleventh hour.”
Mel watched as Justin approached Amy and Chad and the silver-haired Ian Hannigan, along with several other in-timidatingly well-coifed people. They huddled together like players on a football team, and Mel was alarmed when she saw Amy’s head break out of the circle and stare at Olivia with a considering look.
“This is unbelievable,” Angie said.
“What’s the holdup?” a cranky voice asked from behind Mel. “How long does it take to snap a few pictures?”
Mel turned to find that Marty and Oz had slipped out the front door of the bakery to join them.
“What’s she doing here?” Oz asked. He did not have to specify that he was talking about Olivia.
“Trying to horn in on our photo shoot,” Mel said. “Ap-parently, Angie and I are so un-photogenic that they’re ac-tually considering it.”
“Aw, what’s the matter, princess?” Olivia sneered as she ambled over to the patio. “You don’t really think you’re model material do you?”
Mel heaved a sigh. She was pretty sure she was develop¬ing a bunion on her right foot, and the last thing she needed was a battle with Olivia.
“How did you find out about this?” she asked.
Olivia shrugged. “I have my ways.” 6
Her eyes shifted away, however, and the piercing truth hit Mel like a dart in a bull’s eye.
“You have a spy!”
“What? No, I don’t!”
“Oh my god, look at her face!” Oz said. “She’s totally lying.”
“I am not,” Olivia huffed.
“Then how did you know to dress in that getup?” Marty asked as he moved in front of Mel and Angie, as if to pro¬tect them. “Someone tipped you off that they were doing a fifties theme.”
“Listen, old man,” Olivia said—
“Who are you calling old, gray beard?” Marty inter¬rupted.
“Ah!” Olivia took one hand off the tray of cupcakes she was still holding to feel her chin for errant whiskers.
Feeling none, she snarled at Marty, grabbed a vivid pink cupcake off her tray and lobbed it at him.
Marty ducked, and it landed in Angie’s hair and got wedged there like a bird in a nest. Angie wobbled on her feet; obviously the weight of the cupcake in her already heavy hair had knocked her off balance.
“Ha! How’d you like that, princess?” Olivia cackled. “I’ve got one with your name on it, too.”
“Stop calling me princess!” Mel snapped, trying to steady Angie as she listed to one side.
“No?” Olivia asked. “How about I call you b—?”
A white cactus flower cupcake landed with smack-dab precision right in Olivia’s piehole. Mel whipped her head around and saw Marty looking at her with an innocent ex-pression.
“What?” he asked. “I slipped.”
“Nice,” Oz said, and the two exchanged a knuckle bump. “Pitcher?”
“All-American,” Marty said. “You know, back in the day.”
Mel propped Angie against the table. Angie gave Marty an impressed thumbs-up, but Mel knew retaliation—
Smack! A cupcake slammed into the side of her head. The cake thudded to the ground, but she could feel the frosting ooze down her face as it slid out of her short blonde hair and landed on her shoulder.
Now she was mad. Mel forgot about Ian Hannigan, the owner of the magazine. She forgot that they were supposed to be here to showcase their shop with a happy, peppy photo shoot. Without thinking of the consequences of her actions, Mel snatched up the spotlighted extra large cupcake in the center of the table and charged at Olivia with a roar remi¬niscent of Mel Gibson’s character in Braveheart.