CHAPTER 1 A
n hour before dawn Solay was out of bed, dressed and ready to take on the new day. Situated beneath her modest apartment was her cupcake bakery, called Scandalicious. In six short months, Solay’s store-front business had taken off like a rocket. Known for their eye-catching appearance and scandalously delicious flavor, Solay’s cupcakes were all the rage.
Keeping costs down, Solay offered limited selections. Racy menu items like Double Chocolate Decadence (chocolate cake and frosting), Red Hot Passion (red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting), and Vanilla Kiss (vanilla bean cake topped with hot pink butter cream) added to the allure of Scandalicious.
For special orders only, Solay offered gourmet and savory cupcakes.
The Moulin Rouge-themed bakery was filled with antique furnishings and elaborate embellishments. A crystal drop chandelier cast sultry lighting upon walls that were painted a shameless, bright red. In the center of the back wall was a provocative wall sculpture—hot-pink, neon lips. A full-length floor mirror was draped with matching feather boas on either side. The latest sensual addition to the dining area was a foot-and-a-half-tall pair of legs that were adorned with seamed stockings and stilettos.
Solay walked swiftly past the black velvet couch that was situated in a cozy corner. A red brocade chaise lounge was directly behind bistro-style chairs and tables. Feeling a twinge of dissatisfaction,
she stopped suddenly and looked around the small dining area. She needed a bigger space. The wrought-iron tables and chairs were crammed together; there wasn’t nearly enough seating to accommodate her growing clientele.
An unfamiliar sweet and spicy scent wafted from the kitchen. Holding a clipboard, Solay strolled behind the empty display case and pushed open the door to the kitchen with her hip. Her baking assistant, Melanee, was hunched over a butcher block table, chopping ginger root—of all things! Her work station was cluttered with oranges, lemon peels, ginger root, a vast assortment of spices, and expensive-looking cellophane bags filled with gourmet caramel.
Solay scanned the odd assemblage of ingredients, and scowled at her baking assistant. “What’s going on? What’re you baking, Melanee?” Solay tried to keep an even tone, but the quaver in her voice indicated that she was livid.
“I’ve been working on some new flavor profiles,” Melanee said confidently as she carefully sliced oranges. “We discussed a new addition to the menu, so I came up with an orange ginger cupcake, with a couple of twists.” Melanee gave Solay a conspiratorial wink, and then jumped up and pulled a tray of cupcakes from the oven.
Solay felt anger settling around her, infuriated by the gall of Melanee. Melanee wasn’t the loud, in-your-face type. She was quietly willful. And somewhat sneaky, in Solay’s opinion.
Melanee picked up another orange, cut it down the middle. “I’ll use our signature butter cream frosting, but it’s gonna be kick-ass when I mix in some tangy orange and lemon zest. I’m gonna drizzle it with caramel, and then I’ll add extra flair and drama by topping it off with a caramelized orange slice.”
Solay found it odd for Melanee to talk about flair and drama.
Everything about Melanee was drab. She was straight up and down, and very thin. She seemed to have lost so much weight in the past month, she was beginning to look undernourished—scary skinny. She wore big, unflattering eyeglasses, and her wardrobe was nondescript. She came to work every day, wearing loose jeans, sneakers, and T-shirt—and of course, the Scandalicious logo apron. She never changed her hairdo, kept her dry-looking hair pulled back in a boring, short ponytail at all times. Melanee didn’t know the meaning of fashion or glamour.
Normally quiet and extremely focused on baking, Melanee didn’t engage in a lot of chit-chat while on the job, but when she started yakking about one of her signature recipes, she could go on and on until your eyes glazed over. Solay felt a yawn coming on as Melanee droned on about her ginger- and orange-flavored cupcake.
When Solay heard Melanee say, “I’m gonna call my creation, the Screamin’ Orgasm,” she became totally alert.
“Screamin’ Orgasm?” Solay repeated, shocked that Melanee, the seeming prude, was talking openly about an orgasm.
“The family-friendly version will be simply called The Screamin’ O,” Melanee continued, covering her mouth as she giggled nervously. Then she took a deep breath and returned to her normal personality. “I thought it would be real cool if we featured each of my creations on the chalkboard. At the top of the menu it should say: ‘Melanee’s Delectable Special.’” Melanee eyed Solay, wearing a challengingly serious expression.
Solay’s jaw became unhinged. Breathe, Solay. Count to ten before you go off on this heifer.
Melanee was in serious violation. Who did this mousey little chick think she was, telling Solay what she was planning to put on the chalkboard? A violation of this magnitude warranted a long rant, but time was ticking, and Solay didn’t have
the time for the luxury of giving Melanee a piece of her mind. Too angry for words, she pointed at the clock on the wall.
“I lost track of time, but when you see how popular my gourmet cupcakes will be, you’ll understand that it was well worth the time invested,” Melanee said, with a smirk.
“I can’t believe you’re playing around with a new addition to the menu without asking for permission. Do you realize that business opens in a few hours?” Solay snarled.
Sulking, Melanee grudgingly rose from the butcher block table. “I’ll start mixing up the red velvet batter while the Screamin’ O’s are cooling off.”
“The display case is empty! It should be at least half-filled with trays of red velvet, chocolate, and
vanilla cupcakes. What would possess you to waste precious time, experimenting with new flavor profiles?”
Melanee pinched her lips together and gave Solay a piercing look of irritation. “I’m not experimenting. I’m a trained pastry chef and—”
“You’re a pastry school dropout,” Solay reminded her, snarling. “You have a lot of gall referring to yourself as a pastry chef. Furthermore, I run this business…not you! How dare you take the liberty of ordering a bunch of expensive items without my asking?”
“I thought you wanted to keep up with the competition. Improving that boring menu is the first step,” Melanee said boldly.
“I don’t have to keep up with anyone. My cupcakes sell like crazy; obviously my menu doesn’t require improvement.” Solay slammed the clipboard on a table, and huffily tied on a full-length apron. Pissed off, she yanked the fridge open and began grabbing ingredients: eggs, cream, and butter. In a metal bowl, she blended several cups of flour and sugar in with the dairy products and began beating the hell out the mixture.
Melanee touched the tops of her freshly baked cupcakes, and began scooping them out of the twelve compartments. “Wanna taste one?” she offered, ignoring Solay’s foul mood.
Solay turned her nose up. “Look, I don’t have time to taste a damn thing. At exactly seven-thirty, customers are gonna come stampeding through the door. You’re wasting time, Melanee. No, start hustling. I wanna see tons of velvet coming out of the oven.”
Melanee looked at her fragrant creations and gave a loud sigh. “What do you want me to do—trash the Screamin’ O’s?”
“I don’t care what you do with that ginger crap. Eat them for lunch…give them to the homeless.” Solay looked at her clipboard. “I came downstairs to tell you that I have a huge special order. One hundred cupcakes for a bridal shower. I planned on personally working on the order for most of the morning. But now that I have to pitch in and help you, I don’t know how I’m going to get it all done.”
Solay was piping frosting onto a batch of chocolate cupcakes when the old-fashioned bell ding-donged above the front door.
“Morning, ladies” Vidal called with a musical lilt to his voice. Vidal worked the cash register, took phone orders, ran errands, and did a little bit of everything, except bake.
“Vidal! I need you in the kitchen,” Solay yelled.
Fashion savvy, Vidal was looking particularly dapper in a cotton twill driving cap atop neck-length hair that was highlighted and coiffed by a stylist. Dark gray tailored trousers fit his lean body to a tee. His cherry gingham-checked shirt was coordinated with a dark cardigan sweater and a bold gray plaid scarf was knotted around his neck.
He owned more shoes than both Solay and Melanee. He possessed oodles of accessories to complete his look: belts, ties, cuff links, hats, scarves, pocket squares, sunglasses, brooches, and earrings. You name the trinket, and Vidal not only owned it, he wore
it well. It was a mystery to Solay how the man maintained such a stylish wardrobe with the meager paycheck he earned from the bakery.
Peering through tinted shades, and clenching his chin as he appraised the women’s aprons that were dusted with flour and splashed with frosting and other unidentifiable stains, Vidal quipped, “Y’all look like hell. What’s been going on back here—a cupcake war?”
“There’s no time for humor,” Solay chastised. “We have a situation, and I need you mixing batter—”
“Nuh-uh,” he protested, shaking his long hair that was flat-ironed daily for a bouncy look. He pulled off his shades, revealing a subtle stroke of dark brown guy-liner on his lower lid. Annoyed, he blinked mascara-covered lashes and waved a manicured finger. “I don’t know anything about stirring up batter, chile.” He scowled excessively, as if he’d been asked to kill, pluck, and cut up a chicken. “I can’t work back here with my Dolce and Gabbana pants on,” he said, folding his arms.
“This is a crisis, and I’m not going to argue with you, Vidal,” Solay informed with a penetrating stare.
Vidal folded his arms. “You should have warned me. Had I known that you expected me to get all dusty, I would have thrown on something raggedy—something cheap and Old Navy-ish.”
Solay was unfazed. “Grab an apron, Vidal, and get to work on the vanilla cupcakes.”
“Solay, I can’t be back here in this stuffy kitchen with all these ovens going. I’m a people pleaser, that’s why I work the front.”
Solay held up her hand. “You’re whatever I need you to be, Vidal. Now get into an apron. Follow the recipe; don’t get creative.” She pointed to the recipes posted on the wall. “I have an important client that I have to focus on. I’ll be damned if I’m going
to lose business because Melanee decided that she wanted to get fancy today.”
A look passed between Vidal and Melanee.
“I’ll be working in my apartment for a few hours. Call upstairs if you need me.”
Vidal folded his arms and grumbled under his breath.
“Listen, I want this problem rectified. If that case isn’t filled up by the time customers begin arriving, both of you can start looking for work elsewhere!” Solay grabbed her clipboard, then wheeled around. She banged open the kitchen door with her shoulder.
“Oh, my Gawd, what’s Miss Thang’s problem?” Vidal inquired in a voice raised in exasperation.
“Dick! She needs to get laid,” Melanee said with a snort. “If Solay wants to rectify something, she should start by ending her sex drought. Some good dick would put a smile on her face, and we wouldn’t have to deal with her being so mean and cranky all the time.”
Solay heard Melanee’s bitchy remarks, and felt offended. I’m not mean and cranky! I’m a businesswoman. My schedule is too demanding to put up with the emotional attachments that always develop whenever I attempt to have a friend with benefits.