Read The Bake-Off Online

Authors: Beth Kendrick

The Bake-Off (23 page)

“It's the special souvenir nature leaves on your stomach after nine months of carrying multiples. Picture saggy elephant skin that's been mauled by a mountain lion.” Amy popped open the DVD case. “So are we going to watch this or what? Grammy Syl's not going to sleep forever, you know.”
Linnie shoved her chair back from the table. “I'm not watching that with you!”
“Fine, I'll watch it on my own. Don't hoard all the high-class-hooker tips for yourself. I've been married for seven years; my bedroom routine could use a little spicing up.”
“Brandon doesn't strike me as the spicy type.”
“You'd be surprised.” Amy winked. “The buttoned-up, repressed guys are always the kinkiest.”
“We're both going to be scarred for life by the end of this afternoon.”
“Probably.” Amy sounded cheerful. “Now fire up the DVD player and let's broaden our intellectual horizons.”
Chapter 18

D
amn,” Amy murmured later that afternoon as they rolled out pie dough under Grammy's tutelage. “That's one thing to cross off my life list. Who knew porn would be so, well, pornographic?”
“My sensibilities may never recover.” Linnie still looked a little shell-shocked. Only four minutes into the DVD, she had turned off the TV and announced she'd seen enough. “And if I'm expected to contort myself and carry on like a strumpet with men who look like cast rejects from
Jersey Shore
, then I'm going to be bad in bed forever.”
“Stop ruining this for yourself. I promise you, guys care more about your attitude than technical proficiency. Nobody's sitting there with a scorecard, judging you.”
“Now, remember what I said about overmixing.” Grammy sprinkled a light coating of flour across the top of the priceless antique table. “If you insist on using the food processor, go easy on the ‘pulse' button. And once you've mixed in all your liquid ingredients, it's too late to add more flour.”
Amy tried to look earnest and attentive, succeeded for about thirty seconds, then nudged Linnie again. “The real question is, What are you going to wear? The MIT sweatshirt with nothing under it? A Fair Isle negligee?”
“Girls.” Grammy Syl rapped her wooden spoon against the table. “Stop that whispering and pay attention. I don't want to have to tell you again.”
Amy dropped her head and resumed work on her szarlotka crust, which had taken on the pale, uniform texture of manila card stock. Not a butter striation in sight. “Yes, ma'am.”
“What are you two being so secretive about, anyway?” Grammy demanded. “I hope for your sake you're not conspiring against me.”
“You know we'd never do that, Grammy,” Amy said.
“Never,” Linnie added. Then she turned back to Amy and said out of the side of her mouth, “By the way, I'm totally going to call her doctor later and make sure everything's okay.”
“Good idea. I can help you get around those pesky HIPAA regulations if you want.”
“How?”
“I've got my Grammy Syl impersonation down to an art form. How do you think I got away with Senior Skip Day in high school?”
Grammy exclaimed something in Polish, scraped up her piecrust-in-progress, and tossed it in the trash. “That's it. If you two aren't going to pay attention, I'm not going to waste my breath.”
“We're sorry!” Amy said. “We're listening.”
But Grammy had taken off her apron. “We could all use a break.” She assessed Linnie's striated, symmetrical circle of dough with approval. “Very nice, darling. That looks perfect.”
“If it's not perfect, it's pointless. That's my motto,” Linnie said. But she didn't sound at all pleased about this.
Grammy stepped into the powder room to wash her hands, and when she emerged, the customary snap had returned to her blue eyes. “Let's go out and have dinner someplace nice to celebrate your victory at the semifinals. Anywhere you want. What'll it be?”
“The Confectionistas texted me and said they're going to some world-famous steakhouse in Brooklyn tonight,” Amy said. “We're more than welcome to join them.”
“Sounds delightful. I only brought a simple skirt, but I can dress it up with accessories,” Grammy said. “Linnie, my love, did you happen to bring my grandmother's brooch? Any chance you'd let me borrow it for the evening?”
Amy froze, but Linnie didn't hesitate. “Gosh, Grammy, I didn't pack it. I was afraid to take it on the plane.”
The furrows above Grammy's mouth deepened. “You left it somewhere secure, I hope?”
“Of course. It's in my safety-deposit box.” Linnie made lying look so easy and natural. She didn't sweat or fidget; her gaze never wavered.
Grammy smiled fondly at her granddaughter. “It means so much to me to know that you have it, that you can pass it on to your own daughters one day.”
“Well.” Linnie finally faltered a bit. “I might never get married.”
“You will,” Grammy said with absolute authority. “I know these things.”
“Really?” Amy asked. “What else do you know? Are we going to win on Friday? Is there anything juicy in my future?”
“I'm not a carnival psychic, darling. Just because I know things doesn't mean that I'm under any obligation to tell you.” She traded her small pearl studs for a bigger set and winked at them. “But as for the finals on Friday . . . Let's just say I've got a good feeling.”
 

L
adies, may I take your orders?” The lanky young server seemed slightly overwhelmed by the crowd of brightly dressed women talking and laughing at the private table tucked away in the back room of the masculine, dimly lit steakhouse. Though the main dining room retained a hushed atmosphere of refinement, the Confectionistas brought the party with them wherever they went. Everyone finished remarking over the menu offerings, and requests came tumbling out on top of one another:
“I'll have the sirloin medallion, please.”
“How are the seared scallops? Be honest.”
“We'd like to get a round of martinis for the whole table, please. Actually, could you just bring us a pitcher or would that be too déclassé?”
“Linnie,” Grammy piped up. “Would you care to share the lobster with me?”
“I'd love to,” Linnie replied.
The waiter made the rounds patiently, answering every question and accommodating every special order, until he arrived at Amy.
“And for you, madam?”
Amy nibbled her lower lip. “I'll have the garden salad. Dressing on the side.”
“What?” Steph cried. “Honey, you're on vacation!”
“This is the best steakhouse in the known universe,” Susan said. “Indulge a little.”
In the face of all this peer pressure, Amy relented and asked for filet mignon, but when her dinner arrived, she left her meat and martini untouched, restricting herself to leafy greens and a few mushrooms.
“What's up with you?” Linnie asked after swallowing a mouthful of butter-drenched lobster.
“I can't eat anything,” Amy explained. “I have to try to lose some weight before the photo shoot tomorrow morning.”
Linnie did her patented Stare of Disdain. “I have so many things to say about that, but I'm not even going to start.”
Melissa leaned over from across the table and yelled at them, “Ladies, your grandmother rocks.”
Grammy beamed.

Mais oui!
She's like the grande dame of the Confectionistas,” Chantal agreed.
“Really, Mrs. Bialek,” Joan said, “it is so great that you spent all those years baking with your granddaughters.”
Grammy shot a look over at Amy. “Pardon?”
“Oh, yes.” Amy slung her arm around Grammy. “I told them all about how we learned to bake, and the
pâte à choux
I made when I was five.”
“I see. Well, they get all their baking talent from me,” Grammy boasted. “And my girls have always been close. That's how Linnie got her nickname, you know.”
“How?” Bridget asked, swilling her second martini.
“Yeah,” Linnie said. “How?”
“When Linnie was a baby, Amy couldn't pronounce Vasylina. So she started calling you ‘Linnie,' and it stuck.” Grammy smiled at the memory. “She would correct people anytime they called you anything else.”
“I didn't know that,” said Amy.
“Neither did I,” said Linnie.
“Well, it's the truth. Your father wanted to call her Syl or Sylvie, but you wouldn't hear of it.” Grammy said this in such a way that Amy believed her, even though all three of them knew everything else was wishful thinking and outright lies. “You took her under your wing as soon as she was born, and she's been there ever since. Now. Who wants dessert?”
 

O
h my God,” Linnie said as the group poured out of the steakhouse and into a waiting group of cabs. “Is Grammy
drunk
?”
“Heavens no, Vasylina,” Grammy admonished, stumbling a bit as the heel of her boot caught on a crack in the sidewalk. “I only had the tiniest nip of sherry.”
“She's sloshed,” Amy confirmed. “You must have inherited your lightweight tendencies from her, too, along with all that baking talent.” She herself hadn't touched a drop, and started shivering as soon as the icy winter winds smacked her in the face.
She waved good-bye to the departing Confectionistas, and put a steadying arm around her grandmother. “Hey, Grammy, there's a coffee shop right over there. Let's run in and get a cup of cocoa to warm us up. Linnie, you want anything?”
Linnie looked offended. “Am I not invited to Starbucks?”
Amy used her other arm to steer her sister in the direction of the neon-lit lingerie shop on the corner. “You need to pick up a few things.”
“Who wants to go for a carriage ride in Central Park after this?” asked Grammy. “Or, ooh, we could go ice-skating!”
“She is not mixing sherry and skating,” Linnie declared. “I forbid it.”
“Let me worry about her,” Amy said. “Now skedaddle, and don't come back until you've found something that's going to inspire that guy to break another lamp.”
 

W
ait till you see what I got,” Linnie said after they'd returned to the hotel suite and tucked Grammy into bed with a bottle of Gatorade and strict instructions to alert them if she needed anything else. “It's utterly racy and scandalous.”
Amy snuggled under the comforter and stretched out her legs—the sitting room sofa had turned out to be surprisingly comfortable. “Let's see.”
Linnie tossed over the shopping bag. Amy peeled back the layers of floral-scented tissue paper to reveal a very modest set of boy shorts and a bra in a blue-and-green tartan pattern. She managed to bite her tongue, but her eyes must have betrayed her, because Linnie instantly demanded, “What's wrong?”
“Nothing. It's, uh, it's very you.”
“Don't give me that.” Linnie bristled. “Why are you laughing?”
“I'm not.” Amy couldn't hide her smile. “It's just that you said ‘racy and scandalous,' so I was expecting a little more La Perla and a little less Brooks Brothers.”
“Well, I like it and I'm the one wearing it.” Linnie flounced over to the bathroom, changed out of her clothes and into her new undergarments, yanked a sweatshirt and jeans on top of that, raked a comb through her hair, and settled into her makeshift nest of pillows and quilts on the floor with the poise and posture of a visiting dignitary. “And you'd better not thrash around and keep me up all night.”
“I won't thrash if you won't speak in tongues,” Amy said.
“How dare you? I do not speak in tongues in my sleep.”
“Latin. Ancient Greek. Whatever, it's creepy.”
“All right, girls,” Grammy called from the bedroom. “Lights-out.”
“She sounds so tired,” Amy said. “Do you think she's okay?”
“It's probably just the sherry wearing off.” But Linnie sounded doubtful.
“Sleep,” Grammy barked. “Now.”
Without another word of protest, Amy reached over and turned off the light.
The room was completely dark, except for the red smoke-detector light on the ceiling. A few minutes later, Amy heard the sound she would forever associate with breaking curfew on Friday nights: the soft rumble of Grammy's snoring.
“Okay.” She reached down and poked Linnie's shoulder. “The coast is clear. Be back before sunrise, and remember: Have fun.”
Chapter 19
W
hen Linnie arrived at the door to Cam McMillan's penthouse suite, she had two uncomfortable realizations:
1. The sales tag was still attached to her underpants and digging into her hip.
2. She had no idea what she was going to say when he opened the door.
She reached under the waistband of her jeans, ripped off the tag, and stuffed it into her pocket. One problem solved, one to go. She cast her mind back to the afternoon's X-rated tutorial and decided that words probably weren't necessary. She'd simply grab him, kiss him, and rip off his clothes.
Just as soon as she scrounged up the courage to knock.
She shifted her weight from foot to foot, staring at the tiny round peephole in the door.
Okay, on the count of three.
One . . . two . . . two and a half . . . two and six-elevenths . . .
This was ridiculous. He probably wasn't even in there right now. And if by some remote chance he was, it was so rude to show up unannounced, although technically he had invited her, but—

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