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Wild Holiday Nights

By: Samantha Hunter

1

CALLA MICHAELS NEVER wanted to see another holly leaf or berry ever again. She’d always loved the dark green holiday plant, with its pointy leaves and ripe, red berries. But after hand-shaping two hundred of them from gum paste—accented with twenty-four-karat gold leaf—for the holiday wedding cake she was decorating, she was over it.

Still, while she was tired of Christmas themes, she was doing the work she loved. Good thing, since she had one more wedding cake to make before she was done. Spring and summer would bring much more variety, she mused as she applied the last berry to the delicate edge of the pristine white cake before standing back to assess her work.

Perfect. Absolutely gorgeous. The decoration wasn’t the only thing that was custom—the inside of the cake had to be as special as the outside, and Calla often created flavor profiles requested by clients. This one was a butter-mint cake with white chocolate filling between the layers. The next cake would be rum-pecan.

All she had to do was load this one into the truck and get it to the restaurant downtown. They would store it for the wedding the day after next. Then she could take a short break before she started work on the final cake, which was needed for Christmas Day—only ten days away.

It didn’t escape her that she still had a ton of shopping to do. If she couldn’t be home for Christmas this year, the least she could do was to send some gifts from the Big Apple. It didn’t make up for her not being there, especially not for her mother, but Calla really had no choice.

She had to work straight through Christmas Eve, then she would take Christmas Day off, sleep and get back to it the next day. She’d managed to contract for three New Year’s cakes, which was a lot to do in one week, so she had to keep moving. Those orders would give her enough to pay the rent and supplies through January.

Her funky little storefront in Chelsea had been expensive, but it was a good location. One she could barely afford, but the eclectic local food scene helped her visibility. Still, she’d have to double her business in the coming year to stay alive, and she really needed to hire part-time help.

That meant there was no way she could go home for Christmas. It was difficult getting her family to understand. Hers was a law enforcement clan—even her mother worked at the sheriff’s office. Her father and brothers all worked for assorted law enforcement agencies. Her sister was a firefighter.

Calla baked cakes for a living.

She could still hear her mother’s voice on the phone. Calla, I understand when your brothers or sister have to work a shift over the holidays, but how is it that you can’t ever seem to make it home?

Her siblings saved lives, after all. Her mother hadn’t said that explicitly, but she might as well have. Calla knew her career choice puzzled them. They had no idea how competitive the big-city food scene was. But this was her dream, and it had taken everything she had to get here. It was going to take even more to stay.

Calla’s Cakes was the result of arduous training at culinary school and graduating at the top of her class. That had been followed by internships at some of the best bakeries. Now she was trying to make it on her own in the middle of one of the biggest cities in the world. Not an endeavor for the fainthearted. Unfortunately, it had meant missing several holidays along the way, but that was the cost of running her business.

Her mother had suggested she come back to Houston and open a shop there, or in the small town near their ranch. That might have been a possibility if she had smaller goals, but New York was where Calla had always wanted to be. She missed her family, but this city felt like home.

Being here pushed her to be at the top of her game—better than the best.

She loved her family, and they said they were proud of her, but as she’d pursued her ambitions, the gap had widened. They just didn’t understand how she could be so passionate about her work.

What she did was important to the people she baked for, though, and it was why they were willing to pay her a premium for something special. Something unique that would become one of their most cherished memories. It wasn’t life or death, but it was part of her customers’ dreams. Their happily ever afters.

She smiled as she rolled the cart holding the cake to the back room. She’d load it into a refrigerated case for safe transport, and then she’d get a night’s sleep. She could do some shopping tomorrow, pack gifts off in the mail, before starting the next cake.

Opening the back doors, she patted her pockets and realized she didn’t have the keys to the van.

She went back in and found them on the counter, then returned to load up the cake. As she started to do that, though, the hairs on her neck stood up. She wasn’t alone.

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