A Sheetcake Named Desire

Sweet Success can be a motive for murder.

There aren’t many things pastry chef Rita Lucero hates more than losing. But two years after her marriage to fellow baker Philippe Renier fell apart, she’s still trying to get him to sign the divorce papers. Exasperated, Rita visits Philippe’s high-end New Orleans shop, Zydeco Cakes, to get his signature–and discovers that her marriage is already over when she finds Philippe dead with a chef’s knife in his chest.

Rita is shocked to discover the body, and overwhelmed to learn that since the divorce wasn’t final, she now inherits part ownership in Zydeco Cakes. But it’s a mixed blessing: the gorgeous shop is actually in financial trouble, and Rita’s windfall sets her up as a prime suspect in Philippe’s murder. Her former mother-in-law demands that Rita find out who killed her son, and his former employees don’t know whether to trust her. The feeling is mutual–especially since the real culprit is still out there, and Rita may be the next victim served.

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first in the Piece of Cake mystery series

(copyrighted material)



The Mississippi riverboat cake tilted on the table in front of me, its fondant paddle wheel askew, gashes of lemony yellow cake gaping in its once-smooth white surface. In the five years I’ve been working as a cake artist, this was the worst disaster I’d ever seen. Repairing the badly damaged three-foot cake would have been a daunting task under ideal conditions. In my current situation, the job was almost overwhelming.

Trickles of nervous perspiration snaked down my back as I studied the wreck from every angle. I could feel the staff of Zydeco Cakes watching me intently as I sorted through possible ways to proceed.

First priority: stay calm. Not easy under the circumstances. The stakes were as high as they got in the world of professional cake decorating. The cake was due in less than three hours at the grand opening of a new riverboat cruise line, for folks with money and influence. Failure to deliver on time would have a far-reaching impact on Zydeco’s reputation. For a cake artist, reputation is every bit as important as talent.

The staff at Zydeco had already suffered a blow today. I couldn’t let them down again.

The air conditioner was cranked up to keep the work area cool, but the intense heat and humidity of New Orleans in July still managed to creep into the building somehow. The undercurrents of tension that ebbed and flowed through the room didn’t help me keep my cool either.

My name is Rita Lucero, and I’m a trained cake artist, a graduate of the French Pastry School in Chicago. Currently wasting my fancy training by working as sous chef in my uncle Nestor’s Mexican restaurant inAlbuquerque. So what was I doing sweating over a cake in New Orleans?

It was the same pending divorce that had left me chopping onions by the bushel that had brought me to theCrescent City for a few days. But now, instead of getting my ex’s signature on our divorce settlement, I was standing in his bakery, shaking the dust off my cake decorating skills.

Taking a deep breath to calm my nerves, I closed my eyes and counted to ten—a trick my aunt Yolanda had taught me when I was thirteen and angry with the world. It didn’t always work, but I hadn’t given up trying. I needed to focus, but concentration was hard to find in a room full of tense, anxious people.

When I opened my eyes again, Zydeco’s manager, Edie Bryce, was staring up at me, a deep scowl accentuating her round face and the almond-shaped eyes she’d inherited from a Chinese grandmother. To the uninformed, Edie resembles the stereotypical porcelain doll, but I learned a long time ago not to underestimate her.

“So?” she demanded. “Can you do it or not, Rita?”

“I’m thinking.”

“Think faster! That cake is due for delivery in less than three hours.”

Not helpful. “Nobody’s more aware of the clock than I am,” I assured her. “Just back off a little, okay? Pushing through this too quickly is guaranteed to make things worse.”

Edie’s frown deepened, and impatience flashed in her dark eyes. She muttered something under her breath and turned away, but I knew she’d be back soon. Patience has never been one of her virtues.

I glanced around at the others, some of whom I’d known since pastry school. The rest I’d met just a couple hours earlier, and I was still struggling to remember their names. “We’re going to need buttercream,” I said to no one in particular. “Lots of it.”


Berkley Prime Crime: ISBN-13: 9780425242742

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