A Sweet Deal

For those who don’t know, Juggernaut published one of my cutest/sweetest romances in early April. It’s called A Sweet Deal. Download the book from the website/app here.

Meanwhile, here’s a free preview.

 

 

Chapter One

What to do when you drop your Kindle in the toilet?

Rumana taps out the question on her phone, her fingers shaking slightly.

The search throws up several ideas. The most common suggestion – put the Kindle in a bag of rice and not switch it on. But Rumana’s gaze is snagged when she comes to her favourite author’s name. Stephen King. She taps on the link and the website opens.

‘If you drop a book into the toilet, you can fish it out, dry it off and read that book. But if you drop your Kindle in the toilet, you’re pretty well done.’

‘Fuck,’ she mutters as she stares at the dripping Kindle she’s placed on the sink. Her mother had hated it when she took books inside the loo. And when she got her Kindle, it was obvious that that was going inside too. Placing her phone carefully on the window ledge, Rumana gets up, zips up her jeans, and purses her mouth.

Bag of rice, here we come, she thinks as she washes her hands and then pushes her wavy hair away from her face. But no one tells me whether I should wash it once more, just in case, since it fell into the toilet. Ugh.

Neharika will be of no help. An avid paperback reader, she’d scoffed at Rumana when she bought her Kindle. Rumana would often smile at her friend sweetly whenever she pulled it out from her bag to read during the interminable waiting they had to do – waiting for the café name to be registered, or the contractors to show up with the labour during their months of preparation. If she was without a paperback, Neharika couldn’t do anything but sketch or doodle on her faithful but battered Samsung Note 2, her only concession to technology apart from her laptop.

Maybe it’s time to throw it away, Rumana thinks as she looks at the Kindle once again. It’s gross to think about how it slipped from her hand and fell into the toilet with a splat. Yuck. Thankfully this had happened right after she’d entered the loo, or else there would be no doubt she’d have to throw it.

But now? She can’t bring herself to do it. Her Kindle has been with her for years, her companion on long flights and train journeys and sometimes even on the awful commute to work when she’d take an auto and not her scooter. It’s not just the question of getting another one. It’s this one that she’d miss.

She picks up her phone, pushes it inside her pocket and walks out of the loo, game face on because it’s going to be a busy day. It’s a Saturday and the café has been booked for a birthday party for the following day. Parties are good for business, and the owners, Rumana and Neharika, have a ton of work to do.

***

‘This menu needs something more,’ Neharika says as Rumana picks up her apron and ties it tightly around her waist.

‘Like?’

‘I don’t know. I’m so fed up of this Frozen theme. Sick of it,’ she mutters. ‘We’re doing the centrepiece cake, that huge thingy with the Elsa figurine, blue buttercream and snowflake cupcakes, Olaf cake pops, party favours with snowflake cookies…’

‘Nothing savoury?’ Rumana asks as she looks at the notes Neharika has made on a sketch pad.

‘Umm…’

‘Look up something on Pinterest? I have to find me a bag of rice,’ Rumana says as she looks around their store room.

‘For what?’ Neharika trails behind her, pencil tucked behind her ear.

‘Never mind,’ Rumana mutters. ‘Just check Pinterest and see if there’s some way we can come up with some cheese based savoury treat which can fit into the theme as well.’

Neharika frowns at her and then heads back to the café counter where she powers up her laptop and starts browsing.

‘Jackpot!’ she yells sometime later, startling Rumana, who has been pouring rice into a plastic bag. Shaking her head, Rumana tries to take the bag of rice back into the bathroom without Neharika spotting her, or she’ll never hear the end of it.

Kindle packed into rice, she looks around for a place to hide it until it dries completely. She stashes it on a shelf on top of the sink and heads back outside.

‘Cheese puffs. We can make them look like the trolls!’ Neharika announces.

‘Awesome.’

Rumana gets started with work. They’d opened the café, Not Too Sweet, six months ago, and it’s been a slow, painful process. Every bit of money they’d managed to save as corporate drones in their previous lives had gone into the cafe and it would take some time till they broke even. Until then, it was a slog fest.

They had a smart-mouthed twenty-year-old who helped them out with all their outdoor chores. He also doubled up as the waiter during opening hours.

‘I hope you texted Vinod,’ says Neharika as she starts the batter for the cake.

‘I thought you did,’ Rumana says, handing her the flour.

Neharika glares at her. Before Rumana can reply, the door opens and Vinod lounges in empty-handed.

‘Bloody hell,’ Rumana mutters. ‘Stop. Stop right there before you enter.’

‘Huh?’

Despite being on the verge of twenty-one, Vinod has still retained the sloth-like ways characteristic of teenagers. If he gets behind the counter, he doesn’t move until they physically kick him out.

‘We need you to get these things,’ Neharika says, scribbling everything on a paper and handing it to him.

He stares at the list like it’s a vile snake.

‘Money?’ he asks.

‘I thought…’ Neharika looks at Rumana who stares back at her balefully.

‘Babe, we need to communicate better and not look like such fools,’ Rumana mutters under her breath as she pulls out the cash box from the drawer. The birthday client had given them an advance, which should hopefully cover all the costs.

‘Especially in front of him,’ Neharika agrees as she watches Rumana count the money and hand it to Vinod.

Vinod leaves the way he came, slowly, as if each step he took is boring the life out of him. Rumana sighs loudly.

‘It’s a good thing we have all the essentials and just need those few extras,’ she says as she lines a cake pan with baking parchment paper.

‘I think we’re going to be really behind as it is,’ Neharika says.

They work in silence. There’s a lot to be done before the café opens at 12.30, drawing the small lunch time crowd that drops by for their grilled sandwiches, pastas and bakes. The party starts at 4 p.m. tomorrow and they’re going to have to work through the rest of the day and most of the night to have things ready in time.

Vinod returns two hours later with all the things they’d asked for. Blue and silver balloons, edible blue ink, blue and silver sugar balls, cupcake liners, cake pop sticks, the works. Vinod is a good-natured boy but his laziness is legendary, and yet he works for them because Rumana has known Vinod all her life. He’s her family driver’s son and his father had often despaired about what would become of him when he dropped out of school in class eight. Since then, he’s been wasting time, not sticking to any job until Rumana came up with the café plan. While he still needs prodding every now and then, he manages to get their work done, which is more than they can say.

They can’t afford more staff right now, although if all goes well, they’ll soon hire a chef who can handle most of the work while they could focus on developing their business.

Vinod slaps a glossy flyer on to the work table between them.

‘What’s this?’ Rumana asks, picking it up with her flour-covered hand.

Neharika, who is getting the white chocolate frosting ready for the Olaf cake pops, turns to look and is surprised to see her best friend’s face turn pale.

‘What happened?’ she asks, wiping her hands on her apron and walking towards Rumana who hands her the flyer in silence.

It’s an advertisement for an upcoming patisserie. And by the looks of it, it’s going to be a really fancy place. The worrying part is that Daniyal’s Desserts is opening literally next door. It’s the kind of competition that could shut them down in weeks.

Liked what you read? Then download the full book here.