A baker provides the sweetest escape for an actor in this charming romantic comedy.
Actor Ryan Kwok is back in Toronto after the promotional tour for his latest film, a rom-com that is getting less-than-stellar reviews. After years of constant work and the sudden death of his mother, Ryan is taking some much-needed time off. But as he tries to be supportive to his family, he struggles with his loss and doesn't know how to talk to his dad—who now trolls him on Twitter instead of meeting him for dim sum.
Innovative baker Lindsay McLeod meets Ryan when he knocks over two dozen specialty donuts at her bakery. Their relationship is off to a messy start, but there’s no denying their immediate attraction. When Ryan signs up for a celebrity episode of Baking Fail, he asks Lindsay to teach him how to bake and she agrees.
As Lindsay and Ryan spend time together, bonding over grief and bubble tea, it starts to feel like they’re cooking up something sweeter than cupcakes in the kitchen.
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About the Author
Jackie lives in Toronto with her husband, and despite living in Canada her whole life, she hates winter. When she’s not writing, she enjoys gelato, gourmet donuts, cooking, hiking, and reading on the balcony when it’s raining.
Read an Excerpt
When Ryan Kwok woke up on Tuesday morning, he discovered his abs had become a social media sensation.
It had started with a scathing review of his latest movie.
The best part of That Kind of Wedding? Ryan Kwok's abs. But the last thing Canada needs is another actor named Ryan.
It was his first leading role, and the critical response had been a bit of a mixed bag-okay, leaning toward negative-so this review wasn't exactly a surprise.
The review didn't appear in a major publication, but the author had started a thread on Twitter dedicated to his abs, cataloging their obvious beauty and many talents, complete with close-up shots from the trailer and his Instagram account. She appeared to be quite a fan of his abs, even if she liked nothing else about the rom-com.
And that thread? It had gone viral.
He'd had a spike in Instagram followers.
#StarringRyanKwoksAbs was trending.
People were discussing the roles his abs could play in movies, how they should appear in postapocalyptic and period pieces alike.
When he'd gone to bed at eleven last night, there hadn't been a whiff of this.
And now . . .
Well, he couldn't help but laugh.
"Good job, boys," he said, looking down at the body part that was now gaining international fame. If he was honest, they weren't quite as glorious as they'd been when That Kind of Wedding was filmed. In the past four months, he'd been following his diet and workout routine . . . mostly. But the past four months had been the worst of his life.
At least now the promotional tour was over. He'd struggled to fake a smile for late-night talk show hosts, given what was happening in his family and-
Oh, dear God.
Ryan's dad was going to see this, dammit.
Once upon a time, he'd assumed his father didn't pay attention. But a year ago, he'd caught his father looking at his Twitter account.
That was quite a shock, considering his father was anti-Twitter and all social media. In fact, Dad was anti a lot of things. He was also anti-stoner-movies, as Ryan had learned when he'd filmed The Journey of the Baked Alaska, though this hadn't surprised him one bit. And anti-sitcoms, which Ryan had known his whole life.
This hadn't changed when Ryan got his first break in Just Another New York Sitcom several years back.
Speaking of Just Another New York Sitcom . . .
He had a text from Melvin, one of his co-stars on the show.
Please convey my congratulations to your abs.
Lindsay McLeod wasn't used to seeing abs in her Instagram feed. Mostly she saw pictures of Toronto. And food. Lots of food.
She gave the photo a few seconds of attention and idly wondered if the man in question would ever eat anything as delicious as her chocolate espresso donuts, or whether such indulgences were strictly off-limits for this Ryan Kwok guy.
Then she uploaded a photo of her latest creation.
New donut alert! Here for spring: matcha tiramisu donuts
A couple of hours later, Lindsay was piping buttercream onto some chocolate raspberry cupcakes when Raquel came into the kitchen.
"Your mother's here," Raquel said, gesturing to the front of the bakery.
Excellent timing for once.
Ever since Lindsay's mom had moved downtown five months ago, she'd been popping into Kensington Bake Shop-the bakery Lindsay ran with her best friend, Noreen-on a semi-regular basis, and she had an uncanny ability to arrive at the worst possible moments. Last time, it had been literally a minute after Noreen had spilled cherry jelly on the floor, on a day when they were running way behind because of a malfunctioning oven.
But today, even though Noreen was away on her honeymoon, everything was in order, more or less. Lindsay could spare five minutes to talk to her mother.
"Oh, I should probably mention," Raquel said. "Your mother's not alone."
Yes, sometimes Lindsay's mom brought one of her friends into the bakery. She was always bragging about Lindsay's donuts, cupcakes, and other creations, and she wanted to show them off to everyone she knew. Sometimes it was a little embarrassing, but it was all good.
"In fact," Raquel continued, "I'm pretty sure she's on a date."
Say what now?
Lindsay washed her hands, then headed to the front. As always, the simple elegance of the shop made her smile. She and Noreen had argued for ages over paint chips; Noreen had eventually won, and Lindsay had to agree her friend had been right. The light blue was perfect. On the walls were two watercolors: one of donuts and one of cupcakes. There were only four tables-all cream in color-with small glass vases, each containing a single flower. Space was expensive in downtown Toronto.
Lindsay's mom wasn't seated at one of the tables. No, her Asian mother and an unfamiliar middle-aged white man were peering at the display cases.
The appearance of the man gave Lindsay pause.
He looked, well, a bit like her dad.
Not enough that she thought she'd seen a ghost, but it was a little eerie. Though his build was similar, it was his haircut more than anything else. That terrible haircut her father had gotten every six weeks at the local barber?
She'd never thought she'd see it again, but here it was.
"The orange cardamom is my favorite," Mom said to her companion. She pointed at the display case to the left of the cash register, which contained today's eight varieties of donuts. "The filling is custard with a hint of cardamom, and the orange cardamom glaze is delicious. And that candied slice of orange? Mmm."
"Hi, Mom," Lindsay said. "Maybe you should work here. Your sales pitches are great."
"Lindsay, this is Wade. Wade, this is my daughter, Lindsay."
Lindsay would have stuck out her hand, but she was behind the glass display case, and it would have been awkward.
"Hi," she said. "Nice to meet you."
"You're giving me a weird look," Mom said.
"No, I'm not."
"Wade and I just had our first date at that Italian restaurant on Baldwin, and since we were in the area . . ."
Bringing a man to meet your daughter on your very first date seemed a little much. Especially when the daughter in question had no idea you were dating.
In theory, Lindsay was fine with her mother going on dates-yes, this was something she'd thought about before. Her father had been gone for seven years. Her mother had an active social life, and it was surprising this hadn't happened sooner.
But theory was different from practice.
Now that Lindsay was confronted-unexpectedly, at that-with a man her mother was seeing, a man who was not her father, she was digging her fingernails into her hands so hard they'd surely leave marks. And her mother was acting as though this was all no big deal.
"The chocolate espresso is really good, too," Mom said to Wade. "It's filled with a chocolate espresso custard-I think they should include the filling on the labels, don't you think? Because you can't see it. So they should tell people. I do recommend getting a donut, and not something else, because that's their thing." She glanced at the cupcakes, cookies, and squares to the right of the cash register before turning back to the donuts. "Lindsay, the matcha tiramisu-is that new?"
"Yes, today is the first day we're selling it."
"And the filling?"
"Matcha mascarpone cream."
Mom turned back to her date, who looked overwhelmed by the choices. "And I suggest getting a donut with a filling. The others aren't as exciting, aside from the one with cream cheese frosting, but they don't have it today."
Her mom was talking too much, which meant she was nervous.
Lindsay managed a small smile.
Eventually, poor Wade decided on the orange cardamom and Mom decided to try the matcha tiramisu. Lindsay left them alone with their donuts and coffee as she headed to the back to finish those chocolate raspberry cupcakes, but the perfect swirls of pink buttercream, garnished with chocolate shavings and raspberries, didn't lift her spirits. Nor did the aroma of fresh donuts-Beth was taking some out of the deep fryer now.
Lindsay's mother was dating. Her best friend was now married after a whirlwind romance. Of course she didn't object to either of those, but she didn't want things to change quite so much, so quickly.
Another thing that had changed recently: Lindsay's living situation. She and Noreen used to live in a cramped apartment within walking distance of Kensington Market. It had been chosen for its proximity to the bakery more than anything else, and they'd lived there together for nearly four years.
But now Noreen lived with her husband-or she would, once she got back from India-and Lindsay had moved into a building near Wellesley, with a roommate she didn't know at all.
At first she'd looked for a place to live by herself, but vacancies were low and prices were high in Toronto, so she'd started considering alternatives. This woman, Vivian Liao, was about her age. She owned a two-bedroom condo and was looking for a roommate.
Lindsay found the situation a little puzzling. Someone her age owning a two-bedroom condo in downtown Toronto? This woman must be making very good money at her job in finance.
Except she was renting out the second bedroom . . . so why hadn't she bought a one-bedroom place instead?
It clearly wasn't because Vivian wanted the companionship of a roommate. Vivian had been polite but not super friendly when Lindsay had toured the suite. Lindsay figured that would change once she moved in, but no. Vivian wasn't a terrible roommate . . . she was just a little distant and kept to herself, and she often seemed to be busy.
Which was fine. And it was Vivian's place.
But Lindsay had hoped to be friends with her new roommate, though she supposed things didn't always work that way. She was just used to living with her best friend, and the idea that a living situation could be like this-well, it had never occurred to her.
And now that her best friend was out of the country for a month, she could use a friend. Someone to tell, however briefly, about the day's events. My mom showed up at the bakery today with a date. Who looked disconcertingly like my father.
Lindsay didn't need a deep talk about her feelings. She could have just half laughed about it with someone, you know?
Except Vivian didn't know much about her. They'd had a short conversation about their careers, but that was about all. Vivian didn't know anything about Lindsay's family.
When Lindsay got home that day-though the place didn't quite feel like home yet-Vivian popped out of her room, still immaculately dressed in one of the pantsuits she always wore to work, and said, "I'm heading out soon to run errands. Just wanted you to know you have mail." She nodded at the small table by the entrance.
Huh. Lindsay had yet to receive mail at this address.
It was a wedding invitation-one of her friends from university was getting married to her longtime boyfriend-and had been forwarded from her old apartment, the place that still felt like home to her. That old apartment had been furnished with IKEA furniture, including a wobbly coffee table they hadn't assembled properly, and a large assortment of clashing throw pillows. The new apartment felt more grown-up, but nowhere near as cozy.
Lindsay brought the invitation into her room, then went to the kitchen and made herself a Havarti grilled cheese sandwich for dinner, as she'd done so many times before, in all the many places she'd lived. It had been her father's favorite.
As she thought of everything that had happened recently, everything that had changed, she couldn't help feeling like she was being left behind.
How about I drive up to Markham this weekend?" Ryan suggested. "We can have dim sum."
On the other end of the phone, his father grunted.
Yup, that sounded about right.
"I have work to do," Dad said.
"Not all weekend, surely."
"I need to vacuum. Wash the towels."
Ryan sighed as he leaned back against the arm of his couch. "Okay. Fine. You don't want to see me."
He'd done as little traveling as possible lately, staying in Toronto so he could be there for his father and sister.
It wasn't going well.
Everything was off-kilter now, and he felt like he was stuck. He couldn't fix anything.
But for the next few months, until he started filming For the Blood, this was his priority: his family.
"Ah, don't be so dramatic." But Dad didn't disagree. "You can have dim sum downtown."
"You'll drive here to have it with me?"
"Not this weekend, no."
"Aiyah, why are you bugging me like this?"
Well, Ryan didn't feel like providing a serious answer to that question.
"I was reading reviews of your movie," Dad said. "They're not great, did you know?"
"Yes, Dad, I know."
"Apparently you look attractive, though." Dad gave a derisive snort. "Good you are focusing on the important things in life. I have seen so many shirtless pictures of you today. That's all anyone seems to care about. Why do you post so many shirtless pictures?"
"A lot of them are from movies."
"And the ones on Instagram? You posted those yourself."
So Dad was anti-shirtless-pictures, too. Not surprising.
When he was a child, Ryan's father had basically been antiwhatever Ryan wanted to do, and acting had been at the top of the list.
Dad's interests could be summed up as follows: engineering, nature documentaries, Canadian Tire, and CBC Radio. Whenever he read a book or watched a show, he wanted to learn something. He was a bit of a snob and didn't approve of most things considered "entertainment." A movie that just made you laugh or forget about your problems for a little while? To him, it was worthless if it didn't make you think.
Their relationship had always been difficult.
However, they'd reached an uneasy truce after Ryan's Golden Globe nomination, which was enough to make his acting career seem legitimate and had only earned a single "Why didn't you get an Oscar nomination instead?" comment.
And now Ryan's father had seen his son's abs' journey across the internet.
Ryan could appreciate this was awkward for him, but Dad hadn't needed to bring this up-or google Ryan on a regular basis-though perhaps it was easier than talking about other things.
"You should make more movies like Unraveling," Dad said, naming the movie that had earned Ryan his Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor. A small-budget film that had been more successful than anticipated.