Sweet Ride

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Caleigh is known in the States as the Cupcake Chick. Now she's in London, hoping a TV network will make her dreams of international baking stardom come true. When a handsome taxi driver whisks her and a tray of cupcakes to a party, he might play a larger role in her future than she expected... 

This story was contributed by Tamara Lush 


With a yank, I pull the belt around the insulated cupcake holder and secure it in the backseat of the taxi like it's a particularly chunky pink baby.

"You'll need to buckle up as well," comes the growly, British-accented voice in the front.

"Duh," I mutter.

"Where to?"

I let out a grunt and search my purse for the phone. A few taps later, and I glance up, confused.

"Over here, on the right. You're in London, not America. We drive on the right side of the road here."

I roll my eyes. I'm past the point of jokes, because traffic's heavy and I'll be late for this Valentine's Day party hosted by the Food Channel UK. "Camden House, it's an event venue." I give him the address, but he cuts me off. So much for British politeness.

"I'm well aware of Camden House."

"Just get me there as fast as you can without ruining these cupcakes."

"Of course. I can smell the vanilla and sugar from here. Fancy giving me one instead of a tip?"

I glance over at the driver, whose face is in profile. Good lord. Are all cabbies here this handsome? That guy's jaw could slice a box of chocolates clean in two, it's so sharp.

"Sorry. Can't. I only have a dozen, and they're for a party." Red velvet, my specialty. All to surprise the two network bigwigs and hopefully win my own program here in London. I'd been invited as a special guest but figured I'd take the initiative and wow them while pitching a new show.

"You look familiar," the cabbie calls out. "You're that cupcake chick on American TV."

"Yeah. That's me." Literally. My show is called The Cupcake Chick. My cheeks flare with heat. Someone in London recognized me, probably because of all the press I'd gotten lately. It makes me want to squeal out loud, but something about the man's baritone and his French cuffs grazing his big, masculine hands make me want to act older than my twenty-three years.

My phone buzzes. It's Mom. I'm lonely for my parents and their log cabin in the Maine woods, and for my family's bakery in Portland. It's three days before Valentine's Day and I'm halfway across the world in a strange city, staying at a sterile Airbnb with a gourmet kitchen where I'd whipped up a batch of my most popular creations.

"Hey, Mom."

"Honey, Jason's here and he wants to say hi."

I rake in a breath. "Well, Mother, people in hell want ice water. Will you give up, please? I refuse to talk with him."

"Caleigh," Mom's voice drops to a whisper, "Jason didn't cheat on you. He told me the story. Drove all the way up from Boston today to bring us gifts, and we talked while drinking my special coffee."

"You wasted coffee and your artisan almond-flavored liqueur on that jerk? Did he tell you I walked in on him and his secretary? Did he explain how he called me by her name while we were—" I glance up at the cabbie. The corners of his mouth turn up.

"Glad you're enjoying the show," I snark at the taxi driver. "Mom, I need to go. I'm in a cab on the way to the network. Whatever you do, do not give Jason the dog. Cupid. Is. Mine."

I punch the off button, slightly embarrassed of how I'd yelled. So undignified.

"Cupid?" The cabbie's laughing, sending a swell of annoyance into my chest.

"My rescue mutt." I eye the guy's muscular arms. Lord, he's practically busting out of that white button-down. And those expensive cufflinks. Platinum, probably. Huh. Odd, for a cabbie. Or maybe they're paid a lot more in London. Regardless, I should be nicer to him, prove that Americans have manners, too.

"Jason sounds like a tosser."

"A what?" We go over a pothole and I press my hand into the cupcake holder. "Please be careful. Precious cargo back here."

Another low chuckle. He's maddening yet sexy. Figures I'd be attracted to him, because I seemingly have a flashing neon sign on my forehead that says I LOVE PROBLEMATIC MEN.

"Local slang. A jerk, as you said."

"You don't know the half of it."

I stare out the window. The city's gorgeous at night, the fog whispering past stately old buildings. As I'm pondering whether the structures are Victorian or Edwardian — I'm such an American, don't know my history at all — the taxi pulls to a curb.

"Why don't you let me take you to dinner, and you can tell me all of it?" He twists in his seat, an arrogant grin on his face.

"Thanks, but no. I've sworn off men." This Henry Cavill look-alike is the last thing I need during my week here. I grab a fistful of cash, then unbuckle myself and the cupcake holder. By the time I'm finished, the guy's already opening the door closest to the sidewalk.

"Allow me." He whisks the cupcakes from the taxi, and I scramble after, probably flashing all of London in my short, red dress. I stumble in the three-inch black heels, and he catches my elbow while keeping a firm grip on the cupcake holder. Goosebumps flare up my arm, and I'm glad I'm well covered in my tan raincoat I'd bought yesterday.

Even in the streetlight glow, I notice the driver's beautiful green eyes. And his wavy dark hair. And how he's a head taller than me. Blergh. When I flew here, I vowed I wasn't dating for a long while. Even if it's a handsome stranger in London.

I hand him the cash and grab the cupcakes, mumbling a thank you as I stalk off.

The party is exactly as my agent said it would be: swanky and subdued. The strains of Chet Baker's trumpet waft softly through the air. The catering staff finds a fancy silver platter for my cupcakes, and I arrange them perfectly. Thank goodness they survived that taxi ride.

Everyone oohs and ahhs over the pink handmade hearts atop the elaborate white rose-shaped frosting. One of the network owners, a guy named Ross, wolfs down my creation in two bites.

"Brilliant," Ross says, dabbing a dollop of frosting from his chin. "Can't wait for my partner Lennox to try these. He'll be here soon. We'd love to make you an offer. We've been following your show, and think you're unique and quirky."

That's me. Unique and quirky.

"Can you believe, Lennox is participating in a reality show where he pretends to be a cabbie. He's gone undercover, and they film his interactions with tiny cameras in the taxi. He's finishing his last shift tonight. Oh, look. There he is now." Ross points over my shoulder.

As I turn, I choke on my champagne as I see the cabbie — my gorgeous cabbie — saunter toward me in a tuxedo. He stops in front of my silver platter of red velvet cupcakes, his blue eyes trained on me.

"May I have one now?" he asks, a cocky grin spreading on his face.

***************


Tamara Lush writes sweet-hot romance. She guarantees maddeningly gorgeous (and slightly arrogant) heroes, and happy-ever-afters where the heroine always gets her man, a dream job, and a puppy. Read more from Tamara here.

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