Book 3 in the Camos and Cupcakes
Don’t miss out on the exciting conclusion to the Camos and Cupcakes series from USA Today bestselling author Melissa Schroeder.
Hey, there. Fritz O’Bryan at your service, the only remaining single guy in the Camos and Cupcakes shop. My friends call me a player, and I try to live up to their expectations. I mean, the women of San Antonio are relying on me to save them from boredom.
That is until I find myself practically homeless thanks to my jerk of a cat. The last person I expect to save me is world class chef Savannah Martinez. With the temperament of a Hell’s Kitchen reject, she’s the kind of woman I usually avoid. Still, beggars can’t be choosers, so I take her up on her offer.
It doesn’t take long to discover that prickly woman is kind of sweet. She shows me time and again that she does have a softer side, one that I definitely want to get to know. And when her world implodes, I’m more than happy to be the soft place for her to fall.
Losing my heart to her was never in my plans. Now that it’s happened, I have to convince her that I not only know how to play the game, but I know how to win her heart.
Warning: This book includes more cupcakes (of course), a trip to the altar for Ginger Jesus and his Sunshine, more time with EJ’s Gran, a bachelorette party, drunken reveals, and a turn on the dance floor that leaves the hero…floored. This seduction is slow and easy and…well, let’s not get into that too much. This might be the last of the Camos and Cupcakes guys, but it isn’t the last trip into their world, so don’t cry, just be happy. Oh, did I mention…CUPCAKES?!
This book will release directly into KU.
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Book 3 in the Camos and Cupcakes
Someone is going home in a body bag.
That’s the only thought running through my mind at the moment and, seriously, it could be me. More than once I’ve had to deal with some problem that a head chef shouldn’t have to deal with. But, thanks to Frontiere stealing my manager—who walked out without notice, by the way—I’m now stuck dealing with my employees. All of which either have some kind of stick up their butts or are involved with someone else who also works in my restaurant.
“Now, let me get this straight, Toby.” He smiles at me because he isn’t the sharpest of tools—and he is a tool—and has never seen me lose my cool. “You feel you can’t work on the same shifts as Laurel because you went out on three dates and then she decided not to go out with you again? Did I get that right?”
The boy definitely hasn’t been around long enough because the fucker nods and smiles as if he thinks this is something that I really give a fuck about. We have an hour before the rush of a Friday, and he’s acting like I’m his therapist.
“Okay, boys and girls, let me give you a little lesson. When Chef—that would be me, by the way—is at work in the kitchen, she doesn’t give a flying fuck about you, your feelings, or basically anything in your life that has nothing to do with this kitchen. There are only three things that I care about in my kitchen. Mario,” I point at my sous chef, “do you think you could give everyone those three things?”
My sous chef smiles the beautiful smile that shows both of his damn dimples because he likes when I go in for the kill.
“Okay, folks, you can come to Chef about anything in the kitchen. When it comes to the food, Chef is fine with you coming to her. But there are only three things she cares about outside of that. One, if you are sick, you can tell her. If it is something that can also make her sick, yell across the room but don’t come within ten feet of her. Texting is preferred. Second, if there is a threat to life. That includes any kind of situation with a weapon and only credible bomb threats. Third, sexual harassment. Chef doesn’t put up with that in her kitchen. You have a problem with a coworker—no matter who that person is in the food chain—let her know. She will kick ass. That’s it.”
“Thank you, Mario.”
“So, next time you want to date or bump uglies remember this: I. Don’t. Care. Keep it out of the workplace. Your feelings are hurt? Get. Over. It. Don’t date here if you can’t deal with that. Now, please, let’s get our asses in gear.”
Mario and I share a look when they all just stand there.
“Go!” he shouts.
They scatter like roaches. I draw in a deep breath and try to get my blood pressure under control.
“I think Freddy might have hired a bunch of assholes in the last couple of months to really screw us,” he says.
I open my eyes and smile at him. “Might be. Might be that they’re just young and inexperienced.”
“Half of them are older than you.”
I roll my eyes. “My Uncle Tito used to say I was born old.”
I walk back to the office. I’m already getting one of those headaches that will stay with me for the next few days if I’m not careful.
“Stop trying to change the subject,” he says.
“I wasn’t. Just…some people never mature. Look at my brothers,” I say digging through my purse. Please, I really can’t have a migraine today. Or tomorrow. I can have all the migraines on Sunday, but I have two twelve-hour days back-to-back, and I can’t deal with this shit if I’m in that much pain.
“You need to spend time outside of the restaurant.”
When I find my prescription bottle at the very freaking fraking bottom of my purse, I smile—but even that hurts. Fuck. This is going to be bad.
“Savannah,” he says, and I look up at him. Mario is about five years older than I am. He worked his way up through our organization of Hispanic and TexMex restaurants and I love him. Ugh, not like that. He’s pretty, but too pretty for me. Also, he prefers dicks to vaginas. He’s also married to a big ass bruiser who would kick my ass.
He looks at the bottle in my hand. “Have you talked to your parents?”
I roll my eyes as I toss the pill in my mouth and take a long swallow of water. “You know that’s useless.”
“You have to start standing up for yourself.”
I hate the way I feel when he says that. He says it a lot, and I know he’s worried about me. It comes from a place of love, but it still makes me feel small.
“I will. I just…I have to get through spring.”
“And before this, you just had to get through the winter. Before long, you’ll look back on all those lost days and realize you didn’t have a life.”
I sigh. “I know.”
He pats my shoulder. “I just worry about you.”
I nod and look over on my desk at the picture of my Uncle Tito. I know it’s old school, but I need him there. It’s the picture I took the day I left for culinary school. He was so happy for me, so hopeful that I would escape the pull of tradition. I just wish I had.
“He must have been a force of nature,” Mario says. I glance up at him and smile.
The sound of a large crash comes from the kitchen, and the noise of it reverberates through my brain. I close my eyes and swallow the bile that rises up. I might have let this headache go a little too long.
“Sit here for a little bit,” Mario says.
I open my eyes. “Dude, I’m the Chef. I can’t just sit here.”
He rolls his eyes and I rise; thankful the room doesn’t spin. “Let’s get our asses in gear. We’ll have a ton of obnoxious tourists in tonight.”
“Thank god we’re working in the kitchen.”
It’s close to eleven that night when I step out of the kitchen to survey the room. The influx has slowed down, although we have quite a few people at the bar. I walk over to talk to my brother Austin.
“Hey, Chef,” he says with a smirk.
“What’s that for?”
“Sorry. I thought maybe the ‘Chef only likes three things’ speech made it a rule that we had to call you Chef.”
I roll my eyes. “I just can’t right now.”
He frowns. “What’s up?”
I sigh. “Migraine at the start of shift.”
“Why didn’t you let Mario handle it?”
“Because he’s working Sunday and Monday.”
“So you’re gonna what…lay around?” he asks, a thread of sarcasm just thick enough that it leaves me a little irritated. Over the last year, he’s grown increasingly belligerent. Granted, it’s in a passive aggressive way because we were raised by two people who take passive aggression to Olympic levels. If it were a true sport, my mother would be the Michael Phelps of passive aggressive competitions. Truthfully, I’ll take that over the times she goes in for the kill. It always leaves someone bloody.
The truth is I’ll be working from home. I have to plan the new summer menu items, and I have to go through a lot of names for the new manager job. I’ll be doing it from home at least.
“One of your cupcake bros is here.”
He motions with his head and I follow the movement. Fritz O’Bryan, one of the three men who opened up the cupcake shop a couple years ago. My breath catches and I hate that. I know it is due to his pretty face, not to mention those cobalt eyes. All of the men who co-own the Camos and Cupcakes shop are attractive but for some reason, it’s only Fritz who makes me nervous.
He’s sitting in one of the round booths. Actually, it’s my table. Well, yeah, more than my table because it’s in my restaurant. It’s the one that I always sit at with EJ and Allison.
I take in the thick dark hair, his light beard, and those twinkling eyes. He’s with a woman—of course. I believe there has been some group message texts discussing the fact that his dick will fall off thanks to all the women he sleeps with. The woman sitting beside him is pretty typical for him. She’s one of those blonde Barbie doll looking kind of women. All plastic. Her clothing leaves a little to be desired. It just looks so…tight. Having a great body and wanting to show it off is one thing. That’s a woman’s prerogative. Her clothes are so damned tight, I think they might be bruising her ribs.
The makeup is kind of scary on a few levels. The fake lashes, the excessively glossed lips—with injections to make them overly plump—and the smoky eye that rivals any drag queen at Illusions. Again, nothing wrong with that, but it just looks so…ugh, gross. It will take a chisel and hammer to get that crap off her face.
Fritz notices me and gives me a wave and a smile. I decide I’ll be nice for once this month. Yeah, I’m only nice once a month and this is it, so don’t any of you people think you can ask me for a favor for the rest of April.
I walk over, not understanding why I suddenly have butterflies in my tummy. I don’t get giddy about men. I don’t have crushes, but nonetheless, my mouth is dry, and my heart is thumping against my chest so hard I’m afraid I’ll pass out. It’s probably due to forgetting to eat dinner—again—and the fact that Fritz looks especially pretty tonight. He’s wearing a dark red button-down shirt, the sleeves rolled up so I can see his ink. The cotton fabric stretches across his massive chest. I see him so often next to Ed and Harry—who are in the giant category—that I forget Fritz is no peewee.
“Savannah, you’re here,” he says. I quirk an eyebrow because I am pretty sure most of my friends know I practically live at La Trinidad. “Savannah, Gwen.”
“Nice to meet you Gwen,” I say.
“Oh, are you one of the people who works here?” she asks. Jesus, her teeth are so bright, I think I was just blinded by them.
“Yep,” I respond, popping the “p”.
“Savannah is the head chef here,” Fritz offers.
“Oh, so you’re a cook.”
I feel my headache returning, along with the twitch behind my eye. “No. Cook’s aren’t chefs.”
She shrugs. “I wouldn’t know.”
“You don’t say.”
When I look at Fritz, his eyes are dancing with humor. This is when he is his most attractive. And, those are the kinds of thoughts that get a girl in trouble. Especially with a manwhore like Fritz.
“Actually, Gwen, Savannah runs the entire family business of—how many restaurants?”
The woman’s eyes widen. “What are you? Twenty-two?”
I shake my head. “No, almost twenty-nine.”
“Oh,” she says, apparently thinking about that little bit of news. I’m waiting for her to make a comment about my age. I might have a bit of a complex thanks to my mother.
“Since you run the restaurants, I just wanted to say that maybe you should think about adding some nonfat cheese items.”
I blink. “Excuse me?”
“Some people don’t like all that fat.”
“That’s exactly why we have a lot of grilled fish and chicken, all cooked without cheese.”
They are low-carb and low-fat, and I had to fight my parents on the issue. My father just complained about them the other day, even though they are some of my best sellers.
“Oh, well, I like cheese. So, I would prefer to order something with cheese on it, just without fat.”
Jesus, where does he find these chicks? She thinks I should change my menu because she deigned to slap her bony ass down in a booth in my restaurant. You can’t live in San Antonio and not know about the Martinez family and their restaurants. If she hasn’t been in one of our establishments, she has been living under a rock.
With the need in my gut to tell her exactly where to stick her cheese sticks, I smile. I know it’s not a nice smile, but it’s the best I can do at the moment. Also, it keeps me from smacking Ms. Skin and Bones upside the head.
“I will definitely take it under advisement.”
“Yeah, goodie.” I toss of look of irritation at Fritz. “I have to get back to work.”
“See ya later, Savannah,” Fritz says with an expression that tells me he’s enjoying the hell out of this.
“Sure,” I say. This is what men go for. Brainless, self-centered women. Well, not all men. His business partners Ed and Harry are engaged to my two best friends, but Fritz is more of the norm, while his partners have to be the exception.
I know men. I have four brothers and work in an industry that is dominated by men behind the scenes. I know they aren’t all like that, but as I glance at my brother, who is leaning over the bar and flirting with a customer, I know most of them are. Or, at least, the pretty ones are. Steering clear of them is my best bet to protect my heart.
Is it any wonder I’m a virgin at almost thirty?
Okay, I don’t date, so that might be part of the reason. I don’t have the time or the inclination. I would have no idea how to weed out all the horn dogs. So, until I figure that out, I’ll just comfort myself with food and, well, my vibrator. Food is my friend and will never be mean to me. It will be there in the dark to make me feel better. If I could marry cheese, I would. Despite the fact that I haven’t really enjoyed a meal in forever, I step back into my kitchen and smile. Here, I know what I want and how I want it. Until I have time, this will just have to do.
First thing you need to know about me: I love women. All women. Short, tall, skinny, plump, any hair color, ethnicity, any woman. I find them enthralling, sometimes irritating, and always amazing. It comes from growing up in a house of women—or as I called it: Vagina Island. I have four sisters. My father worked long hours and had to travel a lot for work. That left me with a house full of women: my four sisters, Mom, and Grannie Pam. I learned first-hand just how fascinating women are. They are strong, but also soft and alluring. And so smart. So amazingly brilliant it stuns me sometimes. I love to see how their minds work. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy their company—even if I have no plans to talk them into bed. They are always a joy to talk to because they intrigue me on so many levels.
I glance at Gwen as we make our way up the stairs to her apartment. Okay, maybe present company excluded. I’m not trying to be mean. I met her last week when I was interviewed about the shop. That’s my job and I excel at it. I always see meeting women as a side benefit. She’s attractive, with the kind of curves that make most men beg for her to pay attention to them. Me…I’m bored. She’s not that bad, but damn, the woman is vapid. She has spent the last fifteen minutes talking about her nails. Her nails! I just want to get her to her apartment and get out of here. Believe me, I know that women can definitely go on about things—and I usually enjoy that. In fact, I listened to Savannah talk about her knives, those ones she carries back and forth to work. Granted, she was threatening Harry with them at the time, but listening to her explanation on why to keep them sharp was utterly fascinating.
Why did Savannah pop up in my head? That incident happened almost a year ago. Being that she’s Allison and EJ’s best friend, and her best friends are marrying mine, well, it’s natural that I know her, but I have never thought of her in a sexual way.
Okay, now you know I just lied to you, and I feel really bad about it too. I have thought about her that way but, hey, men always think about women that way. There are varying degrees of that fantasy, of course. Savannah is definitely in the never gonna happen category. She’s like a sister.
And now I have just lied to you again. I can promise that I never thought of any of my four sisters that way because…ew. But I put her in that sort of sister-like category with Allison and EJ. I find her attractive and, if we weren’t who we were in the world, I would definitely try to get a chance to fuck her. The truth is, though, she’s off limits because she’s one of those women who would expect more than a few quick fucks.
At this point, you might think I’m an asshole who lies and cheats. I don’t. I’m upfront with every woman I date. They know the lay of the land, and I don’t ever lie to them about my intentions. Some of them might get ideas, but I have never told a woman I believed in forever. That requires love, and I’m not sure I have that in me. I usually don’t think so much about those kinds of things, but since my friends have paired off, I’ve been thinking about it more and more.
“What do you think?” Gwen asks cutting into my thoughts.
I blink. Oh fuck. She expects me to answer that question. I calm myself down and remember life with those four sisters who expect me to pay attention all the time.
“What are the choices again?”
Then she starts talking about whether she should stick with silk nails or go back to the other kind whatever the fuck kind that is.
“Silk,” I say. Yep, I know about them. Four sisters and a mother. My oldest sister loves all things nails, and I have heard enough about fucking nails to last me a lifetime. Thankfully, Caro yaps at her husband now, and I don’t have to hear about it. That is, unless she is texting me about her nails. She does this from time to time because she knows it irritates the living shit out of me.
Gwen’s face lightens and she smiles at me as we arrive at her door. Apparently, that was the right answer. I think it might have just been a test that I passed.
“Would you like to come in?” The hooded look, the way she’s licking her lips, everything about her screams sex. I mean, that’s why women go out with me, right? I do have a reputation, especially with a lot of the women who handle interviews for publications. But I only have one answer.
Nope. No way.
That should scare me, but it doesn’t. I’m not as horny as I was a decade ago. In my mid-thirties, I have a more discerning taste. Also, I can’t stand a self-centered woman. One who knows her worth, I am all down for that and find it as sexy as hell. So, worried about your own hair and nails that you spend your first date talking about them? Boring and a turn off.
“Not tonight,” I say with a smile and she pouts. I really hate women who pout like that. It’s a ploy, a game to her. I like the game normally, but the ingenuine actions aren’t fun, they’re cloying. Another strike against her. “I have to be at the shop at six in the morning.”
“Oh, okay,” she says, her expression clearing. I brush my mouth over hers, trying to give her the kiss she’s expecting. When she pulls back, she’s smiling, and I have to wonder about it. I felt nothing in that kiss and apparently, she didn’t notice.
“I’ll talk to you later,” she says. I know she wants me to say that I’ll call, but remember, I said I don’t lie or cheat. Not my thing.
I smile and wait until she slips into her apartment and locks the door. I take my time walking to my truck and try to figure out what’s going on. I’ve felt a little off lately. Don’t get me wrong, now that I know what she’s like, Gwen isn’t the kind of woman I would want to date or even fuck. She’s not bright and all she cares about is herself. Not once did she ask about me or the charity the guys and I are starting. I heard about her extensions, her shopping trips to New York, and how much she spent on her car. The only good part to the night was the expression on Savannah’s face when Gwen suggested they use nonfat cheese.
I slip into my truck and start back to my apartment. I don’t live that far away, and this part of San Antonio isn’t busy this time of night. I hate my apartment, but it’s what I can afford right now. Grannie Pam’s retirement home is expensive, and since she was diagnosed with dementia last year, it’s important to keep her in familiar surroundings. My parents and I help her out because that’s what family does. Her funds cover most of her care, but I think it’s important that she has an apartment by herself in the facility. So, I have to watch my money for the time being, but it’s worth it. I would do anything for Grannie Pam, including taking in that dumbass cat, General McLovin. He hates me and the feeling is mutual, but she couldn’t take care of him anymore, so I took him.
I pull into my complex and park my truck. Walking to my apartment, I wonder about my dating activities. Lately, there hasn’t been as much activity and it doesn’t totally bother me. I’m thirty-five, not eighteen, and I was bound to slow down. Is it natural or is it because my friends have fallen in love? I don’t really know, but at the moment, I don’t care. I wasn’t lying to Gwen. I’m opening the shop tomorrow, the cupcake shop everyone loves. Thankfully, I’m only working out front and Ed will be in the back, but it’s just us until noon.
Not a bad life considering less than five years ago, we were all risking our lives for our country. I don’t regret my time in the service, but we were all ready to get out. The shop keeps us busy, and it isn’t easy work. Still, it’s damned easier than our Army careers. Plus, as Allison would say: CUPCAKES!
When I reach my third-floor apartment, there’s a note on the door.
Eviction: As per your lease, you have five days to vacate your apartment due to violating the no pet rule.
Well, fuck me.
End of Excerpt
...the tempo of their romance from friends to roommates to soul mates was spot on.
Every page will have you enthralled and panting for more.
This is a wonderful story full of passion and family drama. What doesn’t seem as if it should work becomes an unqualified success.
What an amazing story...