A Teaspoon of Desire
Tristan Delgado has talent. How else could he have landed a job working as a pastry chef for one of the most sought-after caterers in Seattle? What he doesn’t have is money. He’s barely making ends meet as it is, and when his sister escapes an abusive husband, he doesn’t hesitate to take her in. Twice the people means twice the mouths to feed, and Tristan is running out of options.
Henry Isaacson is cocky, and he’s okay with that. He has a job he loves, a successful pastry shop, and he’s been chosen to appear on Get Baked, an elite baking competition. This is his chance to prove he’s a cut above the very best and get the recognition he deserves. But his excitement soon deflates like a poorly timed soufflé when he encounters the last person he expects: his old rival, Tristan.
The prize money is just what Tristan needs, but once he realizes he’ll be competing against Henry, everything changes. Henry’s always been smug, annoyingly handsome, and even more annoyingly talented. Tristan can’t afford distractions, but the heat between them is undeniable. Someone will win, and someone will lose, but one thing’s for sure: they’re in for more than a dash of romance.
Reader discretion advised. This title contains the following sensitive themes:
References to past child abuse.
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish. Click on a label to reveal its content.
Themes: abandonment, acceptance, anxiety, celebrity / fame, child abuse / neglect, duty, enemies to lovers, family, hurt / comfort, illness / injury, mental illness, politics / power struggle, protection, self-confidence, trust issues, workplace romance
San Francisco whirred past the taxi’s windows, skyscrapers and bright sun and somehow even more people than Seattle. San Fran was the only big PNW city Henry Isaacson hadn’t visited. Until today. Bubbles danced under his skin and his belly fluttered with butterflies. He couldn’t keep the smile from his lips, not that he tried all that hard.
The cabbie—a twisted tree-trunk troll of a man—didn’t pull over to the curb, stopping instead in the street in front of the Hotel Majestic, a cracked-stucco building that didn’t even begin to live up to its name. “Here, right?”
Henry glanced up, double-checking the sign to make certain this was actually the Hotel Majestic. And it sure appeared to be, in spite of the overwhelming weight of irony. “As far as I know.” He reached into his back pocket for his wallet. “What do I owe you?”
The cabbie pointed a gnarled finger at the red-numbered counter mounted on the dashboard: $24.57.
Frisco is spendy. And I called it Frisco. Off to a great start. Henry thumbed out a ten and a twenty and handed them through the tight opening in the plexiglass shield. “Keep the change. Just let me get my suitcases out of the back?”
“Sure. Hurry, though.”
Henry jumped out and ran to the back. The trunk popped open, and he hauled out three new suitcases and a duffel bag that was embarrassingly ratty and worn. I haven’t been to the gym in two years. You’d think it would be in better condition.
A couple of people whizzed around the parked cab, middle fingers extended.
He slammed the trunk closed and waved through the back window. Off drove the beaten-up yellow chariot. Henry lugged his stuff onto the sidewalk, doing his best to make apologetic faces at everyone who had to go around him. Not easy. He could hardly feel bad about what he was doing. In spite of his churning stomach acid, joy buoyed in his chest more and more with each step closer to the revolving hotel door.
Once he reached the entrance, Henry set everything down and gazed across the tableau around him. The buildings shot up high, but a single two-story across the street was low enough to leave him a perfect view of the Golden Gate Bridge, which stood bright red against the sea, and truly massive.
“Can I help you with your bags?” An older white gentleman stepped up, pushing a faux-brass bell cart in front of him. “You look like you're laden down pretty well.”
“Thank you. Stopped to take in the city. Probably shouldn’t block up all the foot traffic.” Henry loaded his suitcases and duffel bag onto the carpeted base of the cart, then slid his wallet free again. He handed the . . . in his fifties could he be called a bellboy? He handed the man a couple of bucks. “Have a good day.”
“You as well, sir. You as well.”
There was no line at the desk—a stroke of luck. Maybe it’s a good omen. If the rest of Henry’s trip went so smoothly, he wouldn’t be caught complaining. He pushed the cart up to the front desk. “Hi, I’m checking in. Name’s Isaacson.”
The woman behind the desk—ruddy-skinned with sleek black hair—tapped her keyboard a few times. “First name?”
“Henry. I’m here for Get Baked.”
“We get that a lot since they legalized weed. Just don’t do anything stupid. Public intoxication’s still illegal.”
“No . . . Get Baked. The competition? We’re supposed to tell you when we check in.”
She finally looked at him, nodding rapidly and smiling. “Right. My bad. The coffee machine is broken, so I’m running on empty.” She glanced at the screen again, made a few more entries. “There you are. They hide these room blocks behind special codes. Stupid system, but you’re definitely here. I will need a credit card.”
“Yeah. One second.” He dug his card out of its pocket and laid it on the faux-granite laminate. He hadn’t necessarily planned on paying for the visit—a network like Eatery TV should have had plenty of money to comp a few hotel rooms—but it would be a drop in the bucket once he took home that prize money.
She ran the card. “So, big bad baker man. You going to win? Should I get your autograph now, while it’s still free?”
“I didn’t come all the way down here to walk home with empty pockets.” Henry chuckled, leaning against the bell cart. “And as for my autograph, you can always give me a receipt to sign.” He certainly wanted to win. A competition for the best bakers and pastry chefs in America, and put on by Dexter Wilson of all people? Money aside, the sheer clout that victory could award was dizzying. Not that he was about to turn down the prize money, either.
The clerk handed back his card. “Okay, we’ve got that on file in case there’s any damage, but it looks like the costs of the room are covered for your stay. So, nothing else to worry about.” She grabbed a key card and put it into the little encoding machine, then passed it across. “You’re on the fourth floor, wing two. Away from most of the noise and bustle. They booked the whole wing, so you’ll probably get a peek at who you’re up against.”
Henry grinned, both at her and at the notion that he could spy on some of his competition. “Have a nice day.”
“You too. And good luck.”
She said the last of it to his back as he pushed his cart to the elevator doors. Henry pressed Up and the doors slid open. No wait there, either. Auspicious. He tapped Four. The whole carriage shuddered and a faint smell of smoke filled the space. Henry only spent a few seconds imagining himself hurtling to his death.
Eventually, the doors slid apart to reveal a tacky hallway: Overactive party-vomit wallpaper and muted, paisley floors bedecked with the odd divot or cigarette burn to break things up.
Henry followed the faded signs to Wing Two, then he checked the key sleeve for his room number: 4208. Down toward the end of the wing. It did seem fairly quiet, though. God knew he’d probably need his sleep if he was going to keep up with the competition.
Henry was good at what he did. He’d built a successful pâtisserie in Seattle with his own damn hands and a pastry bag. That was apparently why the network had approached him in the first place. Young, gay baking entrepreneur with a well-reviewed business and a handful of awards under his belt. What wasn’t to like? But he was facing the worst sort of opponents he could imagine: the unknown. Maybe all of them had gone to Le Cordon Bleu or worked at Le Cinq or did something else French that he couldn’t translate.
Then again, the whole point was to overcome the impossible foe. He wanted to test his mettle against the best of the best. That was what Eatery TV had promised him when he’d gotten the invite. That was what they’d promised in that promo trailer making the rounds online too. So they could throw all that at him and more: Henry was there to fight. And he liked his odds.
Henry nodded at his own thoughts, thankful no one else was around to see him. He rounded a corner toward the single-digit rooms and, at last, wasn’t alone. Someone else was crouching down in front of one of the doors. Henry’s eyes bobbed straight down to a pert ass wrapped in navy denim. Have company and a view. Nice. He stared longer than polite society would have allowed, but there was no harm in window-shopping.
His gaze raked up to a gray and fuchsia long-sleeved shirt, riding high at the hem to reveal a Hanes waistband and a small—but definitely present—barbed-wire tramp stamp. Higher still, those striped sleeves hugged tight to the stranger’s biceps, and cleanly coiffed chocolate hair swirled atop his head. A cigarette sat behind Mr. Surprise Sexy’s right ear.
And finally, Henry looked to the bags piled by his door. He could learn plenty about someone by seeing what they carried with them. One in particular was halfway unzipped with chef’s whites peeking out. At least I’ll have some eye candy while I’m here. He wasn’t so hopeful to think he’d get laid, but he wasn’t so hopeless to squash that dream yet.
Henry cleared his throat, earning a jump of surprise from the stranger. “You need a hand?”
“No, no, I’m fine.” Surprise Sexy waved off the offer, still not turning. “Need to stop trying to do forty-seven things at once.”
Sexy voice too. Familiar? Maybe. Sounded like one of those Hollywood hunks. It was rough with barbs, the kind of voice that hooked the listener in and refused to let go.
Henry stepped closer. “Let me hold the door open for you.”
“Well, thanks.” The stranger righted, pulling the hem of his shirt down. But when it looked like he was about to finally turn around, he jerked back and ducked to zip up the bag with the chef’s whites. “You here for the show? Or you just unlucky enough to be put out in the middle of bumfuck Egypt?”
“Show. My flight got in today.”
“Mine too.” He hauled his bag up onto one shoulder, then slipped his key card into the slot.
Henry stepped over and held the weighted hotel door open . . . right as Surprise Sexy shifted himself around again to grab a piece of luggage. So still no face. Henry sighed. “Well, we’ll probably be seeing a lot of each other.”
Sexy shrugged. “Unless one of us gets sent packing week one.”
Henry snickered, smashing himself as far back against the door as he could manage. “I would have to change my name and disappear for a while if that happened.”
The stranger’s laugh held onto Henry tight and left a trail of warmth in its wake. “Solid plan.” He loaded in his last two bags, then stepped back into the hallway. “So, I should probably introduce myself.”
At last, he faced Henry head-on. Smiling . . . and then not smiling anymore as his eyes locked on, hardening. “Isaacson. I guess we’ve already met.”
Henry couldn’t keep his jaw from dropping. Casablanca played through his head. Of all the cooking competitions in all the hotels in all the world, you had to walk into mine. “Tristan.” As quickly as it had dropped, Henry’s jaw clenched tight. “Congrats on making the cut.”
“Yeah. Thanks.” Tristan closed his eyes and sighed. “How’s the shop?”
“Fantastic, as usual. How’s the catering?”
“Going well. Word of mouth.”
Yeah, no shit. “I should get into my room. Shower off the plane funk.”
“Well . . . bye.”
Tristan slipped inside with no other word than that. Henry stared at his door as though he might be able to bust it down by force of will. Tristan goddamn Delgado. The pastry chef who had put Carlita’s Catering Services at the top of the list for wedding season . . . and knocked Henry to the wayside before he could establish a foothold in the Seattle catering world.
Henry headed for his room, a couple of doors down. What were the odds? Had the showrunners picked the pair of them on purpose, figuring two Seattleites inside the industry would know each other? Had they somehow known that there might be drama with the two of them? Right. I’m sure these TV execs are following internal Seattle catering happenings. It wasn’t even like he and Tristan had a real feud. Not up to Bette Davis and Joan Crawford levels, at least. They simply had . . . animosity.
A healthy dollop of animosity, which the Seattle high-life circulars, newsletters, and magazines did their part to keep alive, intentionally or not. For the past three years, Henry and Tristan had traded back and forth for various awards and recognition from all those stupid publications.
They were mainly stupid because Tristan was up by two awards on Henry.
The first time Henry had run into him had been at an awards event. It had been just after he’d started to get his feet under him at the shop, when he’d already been setting the groundwork to bust into catering. A small awards ceremony, because it wasn’t like the Washington LGBT Culinary Society had been about to rent out Benaroya Hall. But pleasant enough, and he’d been happy to get the nod.
It had been nice hobnobbing with his peers. He and his boyfriend at the time, Lance, had been checking out the local sexy chefs, and they’d both—of course—been drawn over to Tristan. Not only because he was lovely, which he undoubtedly was, but because he was lovely and had been standing by himself, tucked away in a corner.
“Hi. I’m Henry. You all alone?”
“Yeah.” Tristan stared at a nearby centerpiece as he spoke, not at Henry. Didn’t even try to make his lack of eye contact covert. But Henry was persistent, and they’d eventually gotten talking, mostly about food, of course.
They must have been standing there talking for an hour when Henry reached out to take his arm, lead him back to Lance, since they were getting on so well.
And that’s when Tristan freaked, shoving Henry’s hand away, and darting out of the room.
After that, he’d avoided Henry the rest of the night. For what? Fucking nothing. Daring to try to be nice, that’s all Henry had done. It hadn’t been as if Tristan had suddenly had to run home or something He’d reappeared ten minutes later. But he’d patently avoided Henry at every turn.
Triple the slight when Tristan had won the Culinary Society Award for Best New Pastry Chef.
Henry forced himself to leave everything behind when he walked through door 4208. Leave the competition and ego and strife out there for when they would be useful instead of bringing them into his one place of respite.
The room was okay enough. Nothing worth posting about—not that he could post a damn thing until the competitors were announced, anyway. Media silence or he’d be tossed out. He’d had to tell everyone but Carrie he was taking an extended vacation down in California. Only she and Athena knew what was really going on, out of pure necessity. Athena because she had to run the shop, and Carrie because she was his roommate and best friend in the entire world. He hadn’t even told his parents why he was going down.
His phone buzzed, apparently prompted by the universe. He slipped it from his pocket to see a message from Carrie. You make it in one piece?
Henry tapped back a quick response. Of course. Don’t you think I’d be haunting your ass if I’d died in a fiery crash?
He could be playful with her, act like himself. Something that felt normal. She was trustworthy, too. She wouldn’t spill. Henry sighed and unloaded his bags on the foot of the bed, then pulled the blinds aside. A somehow better view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the silver, sparkling water crashing against the pylons. He could have done with tighter quarters, though. The room felt massive, like it would swallow him. Massive . . . and lonely. Henry didn’t live alone. He’d tried it once and had barely made it through his lease. Alone, he could only distract himself so long, then he had to face his thoughts.
And chances were high that those thoughts would be drifting toward Tristan a lot, whether he left that all outside or not.
It figured things would turn out this way, didn’t it? He’d assumed the worst part of the competition would be the unknowns: his opponents’ pasts, their training, their raw talent.
But now he was faced with Tristan, who was definitely not an unknown. Who was a damn good pastry chef. And that drove home the reality of the whole contest: he was going to need to work his ass off to prove himself.
The hopeful bubbles in Henry’s stomach slowly popped.
“Henry’s here. Henry fucking Isaacson.” Just when Tristan had left Seattle behind for the moment, here he was, presented with a constant reminder of the city and all the stresses it brought with it. He unpacked his bags, sliding his clothes into the drawers beneath the flat screen. He’d tossed the Bible into the closet to make room for more important things. He’d try to remember to put it back before checkout so the cleaning staff didn’t have to locate it.
“Henry fucking Isaacson!” As though saying it louder could make the universe understand his indignation better. Henry owned a perfect little pâtisserie, right in the U District. He ran it, he controlled it. And damn it all if it wasn’t successful . . . and if the baking he put out of that shop wasn’t completely fucking delicious. Delicious baking that Henry got to decide on himself, day in, day out.
On the other hand, Tristan worked for a curt, semi-militaristic woman, making wedding cakes and petit fours and everything else with sugar in it for the bride’s special day. He knew he was good enough to run a shop, but with his bills stacking up faster than his paychecks lately, there was no way he could even take a swing at owning his own business. And with his sister now living with him indefinitely, those bills would be stacking even faster and higher.
Which is why I can’t let Henry get into my head. He needed the money—both the winnings and the money Eatery would pay for his appearance on each episode . . . and the bonus Carlita had offered him for going on the show. Since the publicity from this show was likely to be strong, she’d promised him five hundred bucks for every episode he appeared on. With his student debt, it was hard to say no to any of that.
Most importantly, he didn’t want to leave any excuse for Lucia to go back to Robert, and if she thought she was a burden on his finances . . .
Tristan packed away the last of his clothing, then sat gingerly on the edge of the bed. He slid his phone out of his pocket and dialed home.
One ring. Two rings.
“Hey, I made it in.” Tristan pulled the cigarette from behind his ear and twiddled it between his fingers. “You doing okay?”
“You’ve only been gone for four hours,” Lucia’s voice creaked out. “I think I can make it four hours without my big brother.”
“I know you can. It’s your big brother’s job to worry anyway.”
“I’m okay. Karen’s coming to stay with me for a while.”
Thank God we held on to her after high school. Most of their friends had peeled off, as tended to happen, but not Karen. Which was a blessing for both of them. She had a reasonable head on her shoulders. She’d been right there alongside Tristan, telling Lucia to leave that bastard husband of hers for the last couple of years. Plus she was a cop’s daughter. “And you know what to do if he tries to contact you.”
“Come on, Tristan.”
He pressed the issue. “Don’t pick up. You promised me you wouldn’t talk to him while I was gone. That was the deal.”
“I remember. I don’t need you to keep bringing it up.” A bit of her old fire still peeked through. Robert hadn’t totally beaten that out of her. “Stop thinking about me. You keep your head in this thing, not back home. You promised me you’d try if I stayed.”
“I haven’t even seen the kitchen yet. I only got to the hotel ten, fifteen minutes ago.”
“Still: you promised.”
“And I’ll keep my promise.” When she’d shown up in tears at his door again, he’d nearly canceled on the competition. Family was family. Period. He’d have found a way to make ends meet, even if it had meant more debt and credit cards and who knew how many more years working for Carlita with his creativity on a choke chain. But Lucia had made him swear, said she’d walk right out the door if he put off this trip for her. And there’d been too much of a chance she could have ended up back at her old house if she’d walked out. At Robert’s house.
At the mere thought, he clenched and unclenched his fingers around the phone. “I’ll keep my ringer on the whole time.”
Lucia sighed. “They won’t let you do that. You could be cheating somehow.”
“I’ll work it out. You call me if you need anything. I can be home in a few hours if you need me.” He’d still get however much pay he’d already earned. From the show and Carlita. “You call me, Lucia. I mean it. I’ll take the signing bonus, flip them off, and head back.”
“I’m pretty sure you’re lying. But thanks.” Her voice softened slightly. “And you’ll call me every night?”
“Of course. I’ll find out when we finish up every day and we’ll plan from there.”
“Thank you.” Another little crack in her voice. “I mean, I don’t know where I’d go—”
“I’m your brother. It’s what family does.” Anything to get her away from Robert. Even a temporary fix was preferable to the alternative. “Now go on and enjoy your day. I need to get in the shower before they call us down to tour the kitchen. You have no idea how disgusting I look.”
“I’m sure you look fine.” She sighed. “Good luck, Tristan. I know you’re going to do great.”
“We’ll see. Maybe I’m up against Julia Child reincarnated.”
“You could smoke Julia Child. Unless they ask you to roast a chicken. Then I don’t know.”
He chuckled. “I love you.”
“I love you too. Night.” She hung up.
Tristan set his phone down and flopped back on the bed. A king-size, where he could actually stretch out. A room where he could spread out. No one else to bother him—thank God they weren’t sharing, because with his luck he’d have ended up with Henry fucking Isaacson—just a place to relax and sleep.
That was the intention, anyway. But after two seconds, Tristan snatched up his phone to watch the promo trailer yet again. He knew almost nothing about the show he was walking into. Not really. The producers had reached out to him through Carlita a few months prior—apparently his awards and write-ups had caught their attention—and he’d had an interview with them over video call. Some basic info had been traded back and forth, about his past employers and his training. Then seven weeks ago, a representative from Eatery TV had flown out to Seattle to talk with him in person and try his food. After that, he’d been signing contracts and getting the rundown on what they were willing to tell him. Which hadn’t been a lot. Filming dates, location, compensation. Nothing that would “give away the game,” as the rep had said, but a baseline. If not a very useful one.
However, he had access to their teaser trailer. Fifty-three seconds of heavily edited footage that he kept watching and watching, hoping he’d be able to glean something from it that hadn’t shown up the last half-dozen times.
One last attempt. He queued up his obsession once again. An acid-green background, followed by a glint of silver. A butcher knife whistling past before slamming through a big, white-frosted cake and revealing the pale brown interior. The knife stuck into the green wall behind it with a satisfying thud as the words began to flash by.
America’s Top Bakers
Competing for a Quarter Million
Nine Won’t Make the CUT
One Will Rise to the Top
The knife was pulled out, smeared with white frosting and little brown crumbs. Probably spice cake or carrot cake. Which still tells me nothing.
A sharp musical sting gave way to the next bevy of words floating past.
An All-American Baking Showdown
Judged by Dexter Wilson
That was the most concrete fact the trailer provided, but it was info he’d also gotten from the Eatery TV rep. It wasn’t that useful. Dexter Wilson was famous for writing Everything You Need to Know About Baking. Which meant his competition show could be pulling from anything.
The show’s logo pushed onto the screen for the last few seconds, followed by Coming Soon to Eatery TV. And that was it. Still providing no clues, but it brought up all his worries about competing yet again. In front of Dexter Wilson, no less. Plus two other judges yet to be revealed.
Honestly, the only thing this trailer made clear to him was that they were trying to sell themselves as bigger, bolder, and more American than any other big baking show on air. Sounds like a perfect fit for my personality. And while I’m lying to myself, maybe I’m queen of the lizard people.
Tristan shook himself and shut the phone off, placing it facedown against the pillow for good measure. This was his only sanctuary during his time here. He needed to stop polluting it. Relax and sleep, don’t fret and overthink.
Relax and sleep and shower. He needed to wash up and change clothes before he had to head to the studio for the first time. His outfit was cute enough, but hardly professional. Plus his shirt rode up in the back, and the last thing he wanted was to show skin and maybe have to answer uncomfortable questions if the hem went a little too high. Not here.
Tristan rose and strolled into the bathroom, which was right by the door. He shook his head up at the universe. “Henry fucking Isaacson.”
The TV station’s white kidnapper van trundled along the San Francisco streets. Tristan kept his gaze fixed out the window at the endless industrial expanse of neutral-toned buildings and jerky traffic, patently ignoring Henry fucking Isaacson sandwiched right against him. All hot and muscular and smelling tantalizingly of coconut.
The contestants had been packed into two of these Free Candy vans, five apiece. Tristan and Henry, along with three women in this one. Three guys and two women in the other van. Tristan took a deep breath—trying not to speculate too much about his competition—and fucking coconut filled his lungs. It had to be a smell he loved, didn’t it?
Tristan wasn’t blind or stupid. Henry was a sexy son of a bitch. He had been as long as they’d been running in the same circles. Expressive, nutmeg eyes, perfect teeth, the right amount of scruff on his chin, and fit. Very fit. If he wasn’t so infuriatingly successful—and if his ego wasn’t quite so large—Tristan would have been happy to hit him up for a roll in the hay. After enough vodka sodas to get him into a hookup mood, anyway.
Vodka sodas in his own house where he didn’t have to deal with crowds, preferably.
He might have had the chance at that first meeting if he hadn’t blown that introduction, and Henry hadn’t shown his true colors after that. They’d had such a nice conversation, then Henry tried to lead him somewhere—by the arm. And he’d wrapped his fingers around one of Tristan’s scars, launching him into a panic attack. He’d realized it was irrational after a breather in the bathroom. But when he tried to come back out and apologize, there had been no opening, just icy indifference . . . which had only intensified when Tristan had beaten him.
The van stopped and so did Tristan’s train of thought. The driver, a rotund, gray-haired man, turned his head and smiled back at everyone. “Okay, let’s load out. You’ve all got a busy day ahead of you.”
Tristan opened the door without hesitation. Anything to get away from the overbearing coconut and all the useless thoughts that came along with it.
They were in a crowded parking garage, now, under bright white fluorescent lights. It smelled slightly of exhaust and tar, but not too bad.
The three women piled out along with Henry. They'd all exchanged names on the drive over, but otherwise, it had been pretty silent inside. Hezzie was dusky-skinned, middle-aged, with broad hips. Willa brought to mind a scarecrow, with frizzy silver hair framing a wrinkled, pink face. The last one, Nina, had red hair and was so pale she could have burned in the moonlight.
“You’ve all made it, that’s wonderful!” A tiny white woman in a business suit scurried into sight, wringing her hands and wearing a slightly manic grin. Blonde hair hung in a tight ponytail between her shoulder blades. “Come on, no need to stand out here in this smelly old garage all day.” She waved them toward the door as the second van pulled in, and that was their entire introduction.
Tristan still hadn’t talked to anyone other than Henry, but there was no time right now. The squirrelly blonde had already darted through the door. Tristan made sure to hang back and fall out of coconut range from Henry. Of course, that was perfectly inside of stare-at-his-ass range, which really didn’t help matters any. The khakis hugged Henry’s curves very well. Those taut, squeezable curves. Maybe I should bang him and get it out of my system. Then I can move on.
They tracked through a lot of dark, cluttered hallways. Tristan could barely see their guide darting around ahead of the group. People rolled huge stacks of boxes and chairs at dangerous clips, celebrity chefs he recognized from overpriced cookbooks strolled around, and a general miasma of noise and unpleasantness floated through the space.
“It’s right over here, guys.” The blonde’s squeaky, overly adorable voice carried all the way back, as though she were standing directly in front of Tristan. “Now remember, smiles make for happy judges, and happy judges let you stick around longer!”
Tristan forced his lips to curve up. After all, what could it hurt to try to act personable if it made him money? Sure, his baking should be what made him stay, but when in Rome.
They exited the dark backstage and walked into the cleanest kitchen on Earth. There was no ceiling. Instead, scaffolding hung with huge, bright lights. Other than that, the whole space was beyond perfect. Ten individual stations, each with an oven, a range, a proper KitchenAid mixer—probably product placement—and an array of other appliances. The space was decorated in lurid, candy-bright colors, including the big acid-green Get Baked logo at the back of the set, looming high above everything else. The wal