Here is my excerpt from "Three Tiers for Win" that came out with Astraea Press in September. This is Book 2 of The Wedding Girls series. If you've read "Wedding Gown Girl," you'll remember Kienna and Elaine. This excerpt is from near the beginning of the book - Elaine and Win's second meeting. She's asked him to accompany her to her first wedding for her new job of baking wedding cakes:
Elaine was running around her house in a flat panic, trying to find her jewellery, her make-up, which she hardly wore, a pair of high heeled shoes, and the packaging for the cakes. The last icing details had taken forever, and she’d left herself only half an hour to get ready for the wedding. Winston was picking her up in twenty minutes, and she hadn’t straightened her hair yet. Since Kienna had introduced her to a hair-straightener, she’d learnt how to make herself elegant for a change. Not that it could take away all the bumps and misshapes in her body, but it gave her some confidence — getting rid of the mass of curls that never stayed in place. She plugged in the machine and pulled on her stockings. The high heel shoes pinched her toes — it had been about a year ago that she’d worn them to Kienna’s wedding, but obviously the rushing around and standing on her feet for days had made them swell a bit. Her dress was tight around the waist, too, but she sucked in a breath and took the zip to the top. Must be all the taste testing of cake and icing the last few days. She’d made the cake three times until it was perfect and the icing about five times to get the right shade and consistency. After this wedding, she would catch up on all the sleep she’d missed and go on a diet.
As she stood in front of the mirror, pulling her hair through the straightening tongs, she heard a knock on the front door.
“Oh bother, he’s early.” She placed the straightener down without switching it off and pranced to the door in the uncomfortable shoes. As she opened it, all the fears that she hadn’t had time to confront because of the busyness, suffocated her in one moment. Feeling like she may melt into the ground, she looked at the tall, handsome man standing before her.
“Hello,” she mumbled.
He winked at her. “What happened to your hair?”
“Oh!” She felt the side that she hadn’t straightened. “I hadn’t finished straightening it yet when you knocked. Come in,” she croaked out and swallowed the queasy fear lodged in her throat.
What if he was embarrassed to be with her? She was so plain, and in his tuxedo, he could pass for a sex symbol.
“I like the curls. You shouldn’t straighten it,” he said to her back as she ran towards the straightener that was plugged in her bedroom. He didn’t follow her, and she took in several releasing breaths. She had a moment to compose herself and to plan what she would say to him on the way there to make conversation.
“Do you have any food?” he called from the lounge.
“There are some cookies in the kitchen,” she called, and a tiny smile crept up her shaky mouth. She peeped her head out the room towards the passage. “There’s also a meat loaf in the fridge, but I don’t think there’ll be time to heat it up.”
“I can eat it cold.”
She giggled. Even Mick didn’t have the same ferocious appetite that Win had. Imagine being his wife and having to cook for him. Oh, drat. Where did that thought come from? Her hair took on the semblance of feminine style, and she brushed it slightly to add shine. She grabbed her jacket from the bed, pulled the skirt of her red dress straight, and walked to the kitchen. Win had already eaten half a plate of meat loaf.
“It’s delish,” he said once his mouth was empty. “I didn’t have time to eat after my training swim today.”
“You train on a Saturday afternoon too?” Her heart sank. He must be super driven.
He shrugged. “I don’t have a coach anymore so I have to do extra training.”
She didn’t feel it her place to ask why, but wondered if that was wise. Mick wouldn’t be where he was now if it weren’t for his coach, Parker Newborn.
“Oh wait. I didn’t put any jewellery on.” He followed her out the kitchen, and she wondered if he would follow her into her bedroom, but he didn’t. She came out a minute later with her only diamond pendant on, the one from Mick, her closest family member. There was a set of old earrings to match. It was the first time she’d dressed up in months, and she felt good.
“I just need the packaging for the cake,” she said to Win, who was staring at the family photos on the mantelpiece. Warmth flooded her face at the thought of him seeing the pictures of her as a pudgy kid with Curly-Sue hair and Orphan-Annie freckles.
“Wait,” he called. Next minute his hands were on her bare back. “Your hair is caught in the clasp of your necklace.”
Goose bumps ran up her spine at his simple touch as he took her hair out ever so gently. Tears pricked her eyes at his tenderness.
“There we go.” His voice was low, near her ear.
Oh dear! I can’t do this.
“Thank you.” She ran into the kitchen to find the packaging and get away from his nearness. Then she realised she could do with some help. Pausing in the passage, she called over her shoulder. “Will you help me? I’ve never transported such a large cake before. I need to separate the tiers first but will need help in lifting them up and placing them in the boxes. Oh no, I can’t remember where I kept the cake boxes.”
Win stood in front of the cake, his eyebrows raised, his sapphire eyes narrowed.
“It is awful, isn’t it? I knew I shouldn’t have done this.” She held back the tears as she didn’t have time to redo her make-up.
“What are you talking about? It’s awesome.”
“The detail of the icing decorations is amazing. The petals on the flowers and the lacework — all done in icing. I didn’t know it was possible. And it’s huge!”
She grinned. “It robbed me of many hours of sleep.”
“You have a talent.”
“Well, I’ll never get to use the talent if I don’t get this to the reception room of the Crystal Valley Hotel within the next half an hour.”
“So where did you put the cake boxes?”
“I have no idea. I thought I’d put them in the pantry, but I couldn’t find them when I looked earlier. Maybe you can help as you’re much taller. Mick could have put them on the top shelf.”
Win walked into the pantry and peered on the top shelf. He frowned. “Nothing there. Have you asked Mick if he moved them?”
Elaine fumbled for her cell phone out of her handbag and called Mick. He didn’t answer his phone. Panic tightened her chest.
“They must be somewhere,” he said. “I’ll do a search while you think carefully where you may have put them.”
She nodded, embarrassed that he was going to search through her home, but thankful for his take-charge, calming effect on her. Resting her head in her hands and closing her eyes, she thought back to the day she’d bought the boxes. She had brought them inside because she’d put Win’s cake in a box to be delivered to his work. She was still taken aback that he worked in an office and trained as an Olympic swimmer at the same time, without a coach too. How did he survive? No wonder the poor chap was so hungry all the time.
Focus, Lainy, focus. It was so easy to get distracted by thoughts of Win.
“I found them!” she heard him shout from the front door. “You left them in the garage.”
“Oh, did I?” She ran to the garage as best she could in her high heels and grabbed three boxes. Once in the kitchen, she worked on opening one up and putting the little flaps in to make the square shape. Win watched her and then made the second one while she started on the third.
“Are you sure the cake is going to be safe inside these? Won’t it bump against the sides?” he asked.
“I don’t know what to do about that.”
Win gaped at her. “You should have planned ahead for that.”
“I didn’t have time.” Her voice was close to a shout.
He touched her arm as if to assure her that he wanted to help. “Let’s have a look.” He held the box up against the base of the cake. “You’re lucky that the base seems almost the same size as the box so it’s not going to roll around much. I think I should secure it with something anyway. But the smaller tiers are going to roll around.”
“I have some smaller boxes. Look.” She made up another box.
Within ten minutes, the three tiers were secured in their boxes, and her sugar-icing flowers and lace, and the little plastic gold gazebo, were placed neatly in a smaller box. She’d packed a container with her tools and some extra icing to touch the cake up quickly when she got there.
“Good thing it’s fairly cool today so the icing won’t melt,” she said as they walked towards his car. “Oh, dear! Where will we put them? I should have arranged a truck or something with a flat surface.
“Do you have a large board in your garage that we can lay them on in the boot?”
Elaine pressed the remote to open the garage. “There’s the top of an old sewing table of my mom’s.”
“Let me see.” He followed her in. Feeling suddenly overwhelmed by a sense of need for his help and support, Elaine became flustered while looking for it. If only Win wasn’t an athlete and would be interested in someone like her. He made her feel so at peace with the world, so calm and so focused. Oh well, there wasn’t time to pine about that now.
“Here it is,” he said as he pulled the board out from behind the lawnmower.
“Oh no!” Elaine gasped. “Wait here.”
“What now?” She could hear a smile in his voice as though he must be thinking she was a drama queen or too panicky, or worse still, badly disorganized, which was definitely true. After running inside to grab a wet cloth from the kitchen, she came up to Win who was already loading the board in his boot.
“Look at me,” she commanded. He looked at her, all innocence, and she searched for breath. A manly cologne and the scent of freshly washed hair and a touch of his sweat sank into her. The combination warmed her from her toes. She swallowed.
“You’re covered in dust on your nice new tuxedo.” It had to be new. It wasn’t Mick’s, she knew that. Had he bought a new one especially for the day? She suddenly felt all weak and wobbly at the thought that he would go to the trouble of doing that for her.
“There,” she choked out after wiping his one sleeve and abdomen.
“Now you look perfect. Oh!” She placed her hand over her mouth at the statement she’d just made. Whipping herself around, she ran back to the house to put the cloth down and lock up. He mustn’t know that she liked him — it would be mortifying and would set her up for real hurt.
Three Tiers for Win can be bought on Amazon.