Hello everyone, today I have something fun to show you. So, let me get right to it! 🙂
How (Not) to Kiss a Toad
Cindy Eller Book One
Elizabeth A Reeves
Genre: Contemporary Fantasy/Paranormal
Number of pages: 314
Word Count: 51,638
Cover Artist: Angela Nelson
Cindy Eller is a witch with a gift for creating decadent desserts highlighting the exotic and spicy flavors of her native Southwest. However, life isn’t always sweet for this magical baker. All her life she’s been cursed– every man she’s ever kissed has turned into a toad. Love isn’t likely to come her way, she knows.
If that weren’t a big enough problem, her ‘curse’ has come to the attention of the Council of Magic and she may never be able to use her powers.
Enter the perfect man– handsome, sweet, and loves food just as much as Cindy does. It would seem to be a match made in Heaven, or is it?
Cindy isn’t the only one keeping secrets.
With toads, cupcakes, romance, magic and ice cream, life never has time to get dull!
Closing the door of the house behind me, I tossed my purse on the couch and threw myself after it. I lay limply for a moment, wondering if I would ever have the energy to move again, then decided to get my — oh, so stylish and oh, so painful — shoes off before I cast off to drama land. If I was going to have a crisis, at least my feet wouldn’t hurt.
My roommate, Jessi, peeked her head around the door of the open freezer, a spoon dangling from her mouth. She looked me up and down, removed the spoon and quipped, “Prince Charming or Toad?”
I rolled my eyes at her. “Toad, of course.” I flopped back down, eyeing her spoon. “What do we have?”
She gave me another long look and disappeared back into the freezer. “I think you need Double Fudge Brownie Cookie Dough.”
I grinned. My roomie so got me. “Hand it over.”
She pitched it underhand and the pint came flying towards me, followed by a spoon. I dug into the rich decadence of the ice cream with a hopeful sigh. In my opinion, there were very few things in life that ice cream couldn’t fix.
As the first velvety icy mouthful slid down my throat, I let out a moan of pleasure, letting all the stress flow off of my shoulders.
SweetDreams Ice Cream had only been available in our grocery store for a few weeks and we were already hooked. It was so good I could even let a bad date roll off my shoulders.
“So…” Jessi flopped down beside me. I squinted at her pint. She was eating Chocolate Cherry Cocoa Bliss. I considered snatching it out of her hands and finishing it for her, but there was nothing wrong with me that ice cream was really going to fix.
“So, nothing,” I said, crossly. “We went to dinner, talked, held hands…”
“Kissed.” Jessi giggled.
I glared at her, then sighed. “Yeah… and …”
“Toadsville!” Jessi giggled again.
“I’m so glad you think my personal life is so hilarious.” I said dryly.
She waved her hands. “No, no, I’m sorry. It’s just… Nathan was so a toad. You know it.”
He sure was. A giant, ugly, warty, slimy Colorado River Toad. He was nearly a pound of toxic waste done naturally.
In my limited experience the outside of the toad matched the inside of the man. Apparently I had just kissed a man whose insides were so gruesome that he was even more hideous than the average toad. Much as I hated bringing another toad home, I’d dodged a silver bullet on that one. If there was a perk to my personal hell, it was that I never dated a bad guy for long.
Not that I dated any guy for long.
I tried to remember why I had gone out with him in the first place, trying to ignore the huge ‘desperate’ sign that was blinking on and off like a huge neon sign in my brain. I sighed again. There had to be one good guy out there somewhere, right? One single someone who was not instant toad material.
“This is it,” I growled, licking my spoon clean. The ice cream was really good, insanely good even. “I’m done with men. I’m going to stick to ice cream.”
Jessi snorted. She’d heard it all before.
“I mean it this time,” I insisted. “I’m just going to focus on my work at the bakery and stop looking for a Prince Charming who obviously doesn’t exist.”
Tansy padded into the living room from her room, complete with pink halter top, baggy flowery pajama pants, and pink bunny slippers. Her light blond hair was gathered up in a rather messy looking ponytail. Her bangs were bound up in pin curls. Her eyes were slightly puffy. She looked like we had roused her up from a deep sleep. Even then she looked like the epitome of the angel next door. She held out her hand. “Ice me, baby.”
Jessi bounced up from the couch with far too much energy for that time of night. I shook my head as she disappeared back into the freezer. Just watching her exhausted me.
“Let’s see,” she said thoughtfully. “I think White Chocolate Strawberry Fantasy should do the trick.”
Jessi was quickly becoming our ice cream therapist. Not that you could ever go wrong with Tansy and pink. Even her car, an old ‘Bug’, was painted a brilliant rosy shade.
Tansy held out her hand and was soon deep in her pint. “This is so good,” she said, around a spoonful. She paused, spoon in the air, as she regarded me.
I cringed, knowing what was coming.
“Ha ha.” I searched in vain for another spoonful of fudgy bliss in my empty pint and sighed. “You guys enjoy my misery way too much.”
“Well, at least you’ll know Prince Charming when he comes around,” Tansy pointed out. “We just have to muddle through like everyone else.”
“We think I’ll know the right guy when he comes around. We don’t know for a fact. It may just be that I’ll be kissing toads until I’m ninety.”
It didn’t seem fair. I wasn’t flat out gorgeous like Jessi or even girl-next-door cute like Tansy, but I wasn’t exactly Hagsville either. Why I was stuck kissing toads instead of having a normal relationship, I didn’t know.
“I swear,” I muttered, “I am cursed.”
“We know,” my roommates chorused. They’d heard it all before. Many times.
My purse made a valiant effort to scoot off of the couch and I grabbed it just as it was about to slide out of reach.
“Oh, no you don’t!” I shuddered.
The worst part of living in the dating world of Toadsville was making sure the repulsive things didn’t get themselves killed before they reverted back to their human forms. Nathan was a particularly icky specimen of toad-kind.
I never knew how much human consciousness my ‘victims’ kept, but there was no way I was letting this nasty creature near my bedroom, even if I did have to keep an eye on him.
Luckily, or sadly, depending on how you looked at it, I was prepared for situations like this.
I carefully dumped my purse out over what we called the Toad Tank. The Toad Tank was half aquarium/terrarium and half doll house. My roommates and I had put it together amid shouts of laughter. There may or may not have been ice cream involved.
I am not responsible for my behavior when under the influence of ice cream.
There was a toady swimming pool on one side of the tank, and a comfy flat stone for sleeping.
Artistic Tansy had supplied a small re-purposed compact mirror and written ‘Beauty is in the Eye…’ around it.
Jessi had supplied the tank with miniature statuary, mostly featuring images of women kissing frogs. Lots of the women sported red hair, which I supposed meant they were supposed to be me.
I gave my purse another good shake over the tank. Out plopped an immense blob of mucus and slime. The size of an overweight pug, he sat blinking maliciously up at us, his chest puffing up as if he considered himself the pinnacle of male toad beauty.
My roommates, used as they were to me bringing home date refuse, gasped in horror.
“Yeah,” I said flatly.
“Gross.” Tansy whispered.
After demolishing another entire pint of ice cream under the baleful watch of my latest warty ward, I decided a long, hot shower was in order. I couldn’t believe I had actually let that thing near me. Was I really that desperate?
“No more men,” I chanted, starting the hot water blasting. “No more dates. No more kissing. I’m done! No. More. Toads.”
I kept chanting my new mantra as I poured half a bottle of sugar-cookie scented shampoo into my hair and started sudsily scrubbing out my miserable night. Once I started in on my equally delicious conditioner I finally began to relax.
Images of fabulous desserts danced through my brain. Banana peanut butter crème brulee, I day-dreamed, or maybe a nice summery orange-scented bread pudding. Suddenly, I couldn’t wait for my four A.M. alarm and a full day of work.
I was one of those lucky few who truly loved my job. I knew that wasn’t always the case and couldn’t help but feel a little smug about it. Sugar High Bakery had been a job of desperation in my college days, begun with the advent of a ‘Help Wanted’ sign over a tray of late-night studying cookies. I’d figured ‘hey, I like food’ and applied. Very quickly after starting work there it had taken over my entire life. I had even dropped out of my pre-law program to take classes at a pastry school to the horror of my entire over-achieving scholastic family.
I had found my true calling in being elbows-deep in flour and butter. My bosses, an adorable older-but-not-elderly couple, had given me free rein with creativity after only a year and one highly successful brownie that was still our number one seller. As long as I kept up with their traditional offerings, to please the long-term customers, I could create what I desired.
I seemed to have pastry-scented dreams these days. Wherever I went, dessert inspirations filled my head. Someday I was going to own my very own bakery and fill the displays with all of my own creations. Visions of handmade truffles spiked with chipotle and my special cinnamon honey caramel chews danced in my head. I could almost taste the scent of baking bread on the air.
With a sigh, I pulled my hair up into a wet ponytail and dragged on my work uniform, a t-shirt and what I called my ‘artistic’ jeans, with the random rips, doodles, and patchwork flowers that I had painstakingly, and clumsily, stitched on myself.
I knew better than to try to sleep when this mood struck me. I would end up lying in bed daydreaming about pastry, sugar, and butter until I got up and did something about it.
Ten minutes later I was unlocking the door of the bakery. Moments after that I was sifting flour while my block of butter softened on the counter and beckoned to my imagination. Puff-pastry nuggets nestled in a sticky sauce, ready for the oven. Mandarin-orange cheesecake and cupcakes formed under my hands. Rows of fresh bread slowly began to fill the cases. My own favorite jalapeno cheddar bagels came out of their water bath and into another oven. Flour and spices and magic filled the air.
Weeks into my early employment as a pastry chef, I had discovered that my rather capricious magic had been drawn to the pastry-creating process. Somehow my basic pastry skills and small gift in magic had combined to make me something more, a bit of a pastry genius.
Sometimes I thought that this exercising of my meager magic talent was the only reason my mother didn’t drag me kicking and screaming back to law school or into some ‘better’ profession, more suited to a child of her womb. Only here, with flour on my hands, did my magic really shine, sometimes quite literally.
My mother was proud of her long legacy of magic. In our quiet community she was considered to be the strongest practitioner in the entire Southwest. Her magic was of the Earth type. She could grow any plant in her extensive gardens. She could even start a small earthquake when truly annoyed (She didn’t ‘get angry.’ That would have suggested she didn’t have mastery of herself, which no one who knew her would ever even insinuate).
She had always blamed the capriciousness of my magic ability on the elusive father-figure I had never met. A long series of men had come into my mother’s life, and left, starting with my own father, whom she stayed resolutely silent about.
I had five half-sisters. Only the twins had the same father. Currently Mom was married to the head of the Western Magic Counsel, which meant she had been calling me with tons of ‘job opportunities’ she felt would be better for me than the bakery. The only thing that helped me keep my patience with her was that she always finished our conversations by asking me to send her a box of my goodies.
It tickled my vanity that even she couldn’t resist my baking.
My magic never worked the same way in two pastries. In some it could intensify flavors, others, well… my lemon meringue pie had a tendency to make people remember the very best day of their lives while they were eating it.
So, as I worked there was always a presence of magic in the air. It shimmered through everything in the bakery, enhancing, changing, and making sure every texture was right. My pie crusts were always perfect and my soufflés never fell. My oven always had exactly the right temperature, and I almost never burned anything.
Not that everything always went smoothly. Even magic couldn’t fix the mess I made when I mistook powdered milk for the flour. In my defense, I had a cold at the time, so the resulting goop was really the fault of a non-functioning nose, not my incompetence.
Before I knew it, Jessi arrived at the bakery to open it for the day. She surveyed the display cases and the bread rack behind the counter and shook her head. “Did you pull another all-nighter?”
I nodded. I was still on a magic high from all the creating, but I knew that I was heading for a crash, if I didn’t get a quick nap. “Make the coffee, will you?” I yawned, heading to the far back of the bakery, where a nice comfy chair was set up just for me.
I was out cold and snoring the second my bum hit the chair. I happily dreamed about making cannoli with lavender honey cream.
When I awoke, the bakery was well into its early morning rush. I helped Jessi dole out the goodies until she shooed me back to the kitchen.
I made cannoli.
They were a big hit. In no time at all, it seemed, we were sold out and I was measuring out homemade fresh ricotta again.
Jessi stuck her head into the kitchen not long after I sent a new tray up to let me know that our customers were hooked.
“We might have to make cannoli a permanent addition to the menu,” Jessi said. “Someone wants to give compliments to the chef. Can you come out?”
I was elbows deep in dough for my cinnamon butter rolls, but I dusted a little flour off of my arms and went out to meet my fan. It was kind of exciting to have my presence requested, as if I were a super star of pastry.
I came out of the kitchen, patting flour dust out of my favorite apron. It featured a grinning skeleton with a bow on her head and right now she had a flour beard to rival Santa’s. I tucked a stray coppery curl back under the bandana I wore over my hair.
Someone was standing near the register. It had to be my fan. He turned towards me. I reached out a hand to shake his. Our eyes met.
And I slipped.
I thought I had a good thirty seconds of hang time while all of the customers stared with horror before I landed hard on my rear end and slid into the wall with a resounding THUD!
My head hit the glass door of the large display fridge where we kept the cheesecakes. I could feel a goose egg rising even as I struggled to my feet.
My cheek bone was already throbbing and, by the tenderness of my face, I knew I was going to end up with black eye.
“Omigosh,” Jessi shrieked so fast that it became one word. “Are you OK?”
I knew my face was scarlet. It took all my willpower not to scuttle back to the kitchen to hide. I was absolutely mortified and what made it worse was that I had a sudden urge to cry. I gulped back the approaching tears and tried to catch hold of my fleeing composure.
“Um,” I managed to say.
“Omigosh,” Jessi said again. “Cindy, this is Timothy Borden, the one who wanted to meet you.”
I put out my hand to shake his before looking up at him, hoping that I didn’t come across too much as a victim of a hit and run with a wall. I glanced up and froze.
He was yummy. I mean yummy as in, I could eat in his face for the rest of my life and not get tired of it… Not in a creepy zombie way, of course.
I was immediately reduced from bumbling idiot to speechless bumbling idiot. He was about six feet tall, nearly a foot taller than me, with dirty-blond hair and the clearest hazel eyes I had ever seen. His eyelashes were beyond ridiculously long, past movie-star and right on to camel-length. The lashes were surprisingly dark around those amazing eyes of his.
He was gorgeous.
And I was staring at him with my mouth open.
“This is our pastry chef,” Jessi nudged me in the ribs so hard I almost fell over… again.
“Um…” I said, brilliantly. “Cindy Eller. Pleasedtomeetcha.”
His eyebrows rose and I cursed myself for not remembering to add in my middle name. ‘Cindy Rachel Eller’ sounds saner than ‘ Cindy Eller’.
He cleared his throat. “I’m sorry? I thought I heard you say…”
If possible, I blushed harder. If my face got any hotter I was going to spontaneously combust. “Cindy Eller.” I carefully enunciated every single syllable of my detested name. “I have an evil mother.”
He cracked a grin that made him even more gorgeous, if that was even possible. I was pretty sure I was starting to drool. So much for avoiding that whole zombie thing. “Not an evil step-mother?”
I shook my head, sure I was creating a flour halo around my head. “Nope. I wish I could say she was my stepmother, but she’s really all mine.”
He laughed and I managed to smile back at him, hopefully not looking too frightening.
Wow, he had serious dimples. He must have frequent dimple mileage.
Darn it. I was staring again.
Toads, I reminded myself. Big, bad, slimy, toxic toads.
It didn’t help.
“This cannoli is spectacular,” Timothy Borden was saying, apparently— and hopefully!— oblivious to my inability to rub two brain cells together in his presence.
“Um,” I dazzled him with my stunning charm and wit. “Thanks.”
“What made you think to use crushed pistachios in the cream filling?”
I shook my head, trying to clear it. “I love pistachios with honey,” I managed, only slightly too fast. “I was thinking they would play off each other with that little hint of lavender.”
He smiled. “I think you aced it. In fact, I’ll take the rest of these. I can’t wait to show them off at work.”
Jessi nodded and started packaging the order.
“Would you like anything else?” I asked, hoping I sounded professional and not… like I was desperately asking him to order a serving of me.
He frowned slightly in thought, creating an adorable crooked furrow between his eyebrows.
“Bad girl,” I told myself. “Toads. Think toads.”
“I’ll take the ‘Road to Bliss’,” he decided, pointing at my brownie creation featuring three kinds of chocolate and Macadamia nuts covered in a shell of ganache.
“One piece?” I asked. “A dozen?”
He shook his head in thought. “No. I’ll just take the whole tray.”
I gaped at him yet again as Jessi compiled his order and rang it up. I stood stupidly as he paid with a credit card.
“You’ll be seeing me again,” he said over his shoulder, as he carried his packages out the door.
“Um,” I cleverly retorted.
*I am supposed to have my review here, but having some technical difficulties means I am apologizing instead 🙂 I hope to have a review for you guys soon!*
About the Author:
Legend has it that Elizabeth A Reeves was born with a book in her hands and immediately requested a pony. Though this story is questionable, it is true that books and horses have been consistent themes in her life. Born in Massachusetts, she was quickly transplanted to Arizona by a professor father and creativity-driven mother, who is the one responsible for saying “If you can’t find a book that you want to read, write a book you want to read.”
In her spare time, she likes to knit, weave, hatch chickens, and chase after her husband and four sons.