This follow-up to A Cupcake Christmas, continues the Icing on the Cupcake series. Matt and Clara have been busy running Soulful Java. Matt focusing on the coffee side of the business, while Clara has helped drive bakery sales.
When they land a contract to be the exclusive coffee provider of the renowned Landmark Resort chain, they are invited to a complementary weekend at the luxurious ‘Landmark Resort’ in the Blue Ridge Mountains of NC on Valentine’s week. The couple enjoy adventures from skiing to baking and quiet romantic dinners.
Enjoy this romantic tale of coffee, cupcakes and love just in time for Valentines.
Icing on the Cupcake Series: A Valentine’s Surprise
“It smells heavenly in here,” Matt inhaled the sweet scents as he entered the kitchen at Soulful Java. The coffee and cupcake shop is a gathering place in historic downtown Bedford Springs.
“I’ve been baking a storm all morning,” Clara hand mixing her batter. “With Valentine’s Day around the corner, cupcake and coffee orders are through the roof.”
“Love is in the air,” Matt kissed Clara’s cheek. The business partners have been dating for six weeks. “These cupcakes look delicious…”
“I’m testing out a batch my new Valentine’s Day recipe. “Meet my newest creation – Cherry Cinnamon Delights,” Clara noted, dusting off apron. “Chocolate cake blended chopped cherry topped with my cream cheese frosting and cinnamon candy hearts.”
“Yum. Can I try one?”
“Just one I’m donating the rest of the batch to the St. Valentine’s Day fundraiser at church.” Clara offered to volunteer to help her parish raise move with the St. Valentine’s Day Fair. The profits to community outreach.
“Another winner,” Matt savored the chocolate cupcake. “These cupcakes would pair well with our cherry mocha blend.” Matt suggested.
“You gave me an idea for another recipe – ‘Mocha Love.’” Clara jotted down her idea in her ‘cupcake notebook.’ As head baker and partner of Soulful Java, she is always creating new desserts to satisfy coffee shop guests.
The business partners had been going non-stop since Clara took over managing the day-to-day operations after Christmas. Business has continued to boom, especially with Valentine’s Day party orders.
“I have a meeting in a few but wanted to stop by with good news and a surprise.”
“You piqued my interest,” Clara lifted her gaze to Matt.
“Good news – Soulful Java is going to be the official coffee roaster of the Landmark Hotel Chain.”
“That is wonderful news.”
Landmark Hotels is a well-known boutique hotel chain in the southeast. Locally, they own several high-end bed and breakfasts in the greater Bedford Springs area. Their jewel however is the world-renowned Landmark Resort in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
“They want us to create a custom blend for guests that they will sell at their properties.”
“This is so exciting!”
“The cherry on top is they have invited us for a long weekend to tour their signature property – The Landmark Resort. We can handle business and enjoy one of the world’s most iconic resorts.”
“That is a great surprise. I’ve always wanted to stay at The Landmark, it is legendary.”
“I had hoped we could get away for Valentine’s Day – but with all the holiday orders I recommended we leave a few days later…Does President’s Day weekend work for you?”
“That’s great – I have the holiday off from FinTech…” Clara glanced at the calendar. Outside of her role as co-operator and head baker at Soulful Java, Clara also works as a software consultant for FinTech. She negotiates high powered deals for twenty hours a week, with the rest of her time spent at the coffee shop.
Matt on the other hand balances his coffee shop career with his architectural firm. Usually, Matt can juggle his schedule to be at the shop full time, but he is currently working on a big project for the community college.
“We can enjoy time away from our busy schedule without worrying about lattes and icing.”
“Sounds fun and romantic,” Clara smiled thinking about the fun they’d have together. “Lacy can handle the weekend shifts that weekend and I can have Molly and Lexie man the shop on Monday.”
Clara was grateful that they’d added staff since Christmas. Neither she nor Matt had a weekend off since New Year’s. Lacy works fulltime in software but has a background as a barista and agreed to management the shop during the weekend. The extra staff were keeping time management in order.
“Great! I’ve got to run, but are you free for dinner?”
“I’ll be here till eight finishing up Valentine’s Day orders.”
“See you then.”
As Clara put the icing on the final cupcake, she felt butterflies in her stomach. Going to the Landmark Resort was a dream come true – the opportunity to spend a romantic weekend with Matt while promoting their business.
Still, it was a lot to take in. Clara had never been a big fan of Valentine’s Day – well asides from her weakness for sweets, especially conversation hearts. She used to jokingly refer to it as ‘single’s awareness day,’ until Matt swept her off her feet. This would be their first Valentine’s together.
“Well, every girl deserves a fairytale moment now and then,” Clara looked up to heaven. “Thanks God, for the grace.”
“Hey sis, you free?” Clara’s sister, Emily called right after Matt left.
“Let me put you on speakerphone. I’m rolling cookie dough now.” Clara explained. “I’m baking grandmothers buttermilk sugar cookies.”
“I’m baking grandmother’s sugar cookie recipe.”
“Gram always let me sample the batch after you baked them.” Emily is a fire hazard in the kitchen. Her skill and hobby of passion is sewing.
“I’m going to decorate them to look like conversation hearts.”
“Creative.” Emily shifted conversation. “I know you are super busy, but I have a board meeting for the community center and hoped you could watch Lucy tomorrow.”
Emily works as interior designer and owns a real estate staging business with her husband, Eric. In her free time, she volunteers as board member for the local community center. The center services the entire community, but Emily focuses on organizing outreach including the ‘the Blue Sofa Project,’ helping needy families get furniture.
“I’ll be working at the shop, but you can drop Lucy off here.” Clara loves to spend time with her nine-year-old niece, Lucy. In fact, Lucy is the one who helped get Clara’s cupcake business off the ground. “She can help decorate cupcakes.”
“You are an angel.” Emily and her sister are best friends. “I’m grateful that you are doing so well at Soulful Java.”
“I thought the layoff from Data Dot would kill me, but God works in mysterious ways and now I can work my passion – baking and sales.”
“Any special plans for Valentine’s Day,” Emily always curious to know more about her sister’s budding relationship with Matt.
“Matt and I might catch dinner and movie, but honestly we’re super busy with holiday orders. Coffee and cupcakes are the best way to show someone you care.”
“Excluding jewelry,” Emily joked. “But seriously coffee and cupcakes are the way to a person’s heart.”
“I do have exciting news…Matt and I are going on a weekend getaway to The Landmark.” Clara filled her sister in on the details.
“Wow – that is wonderful.”
“I can’t wait! I’ve always wanted to go but could never get off work.” Prior to her cupcake career, Clara worked at a fast-paced software sales job. When she was laid off, she started baking cupcakes to earn income.
“We went on our anniversary a few years back. It is heavenly. The food is amazing.”
“Matt signed us up for a cooking class with their pastry chef – he is world renowned.” Clara in heaven thinking about learning from a master like Landmark Pastry Chef, Gerard Deveraux.
“Romance is in the air. When is the wedding?”
“Emily, be quiet. Matt and I just started dating a few months ago. This isn’t a Christmas movie where the guy and girl get married after the first date.”
“I will admit I’ve watched way too many rom-coms lately, but you and Matt are so cute together.” Emily laughed. “I’ll drop Lucy off after school.”
“Hey frosty,” Matt met-up with Clara at Soulful ava just after eight. “Ready for dinner.”
“I’m famished,” Clara had restrained from eating any of her cupcake creations, except for a few taste tests. “Where do you want to eat?”
“What about Skyline Pizza – they are open late with a great view?”
“Plus, it is within walking distance,” Clara agreed.
Bedford Springs has become a bustling restaurant scene as tech startups and local businesses have reinvested in downtown. The Skyline Diner is a local favorite. The Italian eatery is on the top floor of the historic Moorcroft Building and offers great views of the city.
Clara and Matt decided to split the Greek Salad with the pineapple pizza.
“I’m so excited to visit the Landmark,” Clara squeezed Matt’s hand. “I’m proud of Soulful Java being the top coffee of such a premier hotel chain.”
“Thanks to your marketing and sales savvy – we’ve been getting lots of specialty orders and contracts with outside vendors.”
“The online coffee club is really picking up.” Clara noted before enjoying a scrumptious bite of the cheesy goodness of the deep-dish pizza.”
“I was thinking we should host a few more events this spring – to build up the coffee community.”
“I’ve been brewing up some ideas. I was thinking that we could host more music events and maybe an art show.” Clara brainstorming. “We have the big banquet room that we rarely use – so we have some space. We need to utilize it otherwise we’re just wasting rent.”
“Eventually I thought we could host cooking and coffee barista classes in the banquet room,” Matt offered. “But it will have to be later down the line. When we have more bandwidth.”
The partners in business and love continued to converse – enjoying creating a business plan for their shop. Clara and Matt are both creative – Clara has the business sense from her corporate years, and Matt the structural and design experience.
“I can’t wait for The Landmark! Especially the lesson with Chef Gerard.”
“I’m sure he’ll fall in love with your cupcakes.”
“I don’t know about that,” Clara laughed. “I’ll be a little bit of a schoolgirl around him. I’m obsessed with his cookbook ‘Better with Icing.’”
“We can go skiing too.”
“I don’t know if you want me on the slopes with you. Emily and I got stranded for three hours on a ski lift when we went to Ski Mountain in middle school. The gondola broke, but honestly, I was the worst skier. Even the bunny slope felt like Mt. Everest.”
“It doesn’t hurt to try again. This time if you fall, I’ll be there to catch you.”
“Only the ski run is followed with hot cocoa and fire.”
“Marshmallows included.” Matt sipped on the diner’s signature orange lemonade.
“How are things going with the project at the community college.”
“It is going to be groundbreaking – no pun intended. The project is fully LEED certified – eco friendly and will empower students with flexible workspaces and the technology they need to succeed. It is exciting to be leading the charge.”
“How did I end up with such a charming, intelligent and amazing guy – architect and barista.”
“Well, you are the icing on the cake.”
“So, you only fell in love with me because of my cupcakes?”
“Hardly. The minute I saw you at the Winter Festival I knew you were the girl. The cupcakes were just a sweetener.”
After paying the tab, the pair strolled back to Soulful Java enjoying the moonlight. For the first time, the perpetually single Clara Keene wouldn’t be single for Valentine’s Day, and it felt wonderful. The wonder in being with someone she truly loved – a best friend and business partner.
“Goodnight frosty,” Matt kissed Clara sweetly.
“Meow,” Clara’s adorable orange tabby, Pumpkin Spice rubbed her feet.
“Hi sweet kitty,” Clara groggily rolled out of bed. The baker is admittedly not a morning person but working at Soulful Java demanded a six-a.m. start. Her tabby had become her morning alarm.
Clara sifted through her closet and pulled on her go to baking apparel: a pair or relaxed dark denim jeans with a Soulful Java vee neck long sleeved tee. Emily had been kind enough to design and sew several special aprons.
“Pumpkin I’ll see you later sweetie,” Clara is not embarrassed that she talks to her cat regularly. Animal lovers understand that your pet is part of your family.
The morning rush at Soulful Java was hectic. Part-time baristas, Jenny Powell and Mark Watts managing the latte brewing while Clara helped run the register and serve the pastries.
Clara’s official baking business is ‘Clara’s Cupcake Creations’ – but she bakes everything from scones to cookies and cinnamon rolls. With Soulful Java as a base, she also runs a pastry catering business, which paired with Matt’s coffee blends has been booming.
After managing the morning rush, Clara left for several hours to go to FinTech. She dusted off the flour and changed into a business suit. FinTech is launching a new product and sales division. The CEO has been relying on Clara to consult on the project.
Blending her love of technology sales and cupcakes, while a time management balancing act, has been a joy for Clara. She loves to connect with people and solve problems.
Following the productive half day at FinTech, Clara returned to Soulful Java to manage the afternoon shift and work on the next batch of Valentine’s Day cupcake orders. Today was extra special as Lucy and her friend Becca, Matt’s niece, would be on site.
“Aunt Clara!” Lucy ran up and hugged her aunt. The nine-year-old was carrying her favorite doll, Samantha. “Becca and I can’t wait to help you bake.”
“My favorite bakers! Can I interest you some hot cocoa before we start baking?”
“Actually, I’d like a Kid’s Unicorn Frappuccino,” Lucy pleaded. The caffeine-free drink was created specifically for kids but has become a mainstay for regulars too.
“Since it is V-Day month, okay,” Clara asked afternoon barista Lexie to whip up the colorful frozen drink.
“Here you go, princesses,” Lexie served the drinks. “Extra fairy dust – aka sprinkles.”
“So good!!!” The best friends squealed.
Clara and the girls spend the rest of the afternoon in the kitchen. Clara had some vanilla cupcakes Lucy and Becca could decorate for their school Valentine’s Day party.
“I love your cupcake decorations. They look delicious!” Clara encouraged the young bakers. “I have some craft supplies – do you two want to make some cards for your classmates?”
“Yes, and we can make some decorations for the shop too,” Becca suggested.
“Thanks for watching Lucy and Becca,” Emily picked the girls up just after six.
“Always a joy.” Clara offered her sister a cup of coffee.
“Thanks, I needed the pick me up.”
“How was your meeting at the Center?”
“Great, we’re planning a spring fundraiser and I’m starting a Dress for Success closet.”
“I’m proud of you Em.”
“Back at you,” they hugged. “See you at the Valentine’s Fair tomorrow night?”
“Yes, I will be selling coffee and cupcakes. Hopefully we raise a lot of money for the outreach fund.
Clara and Matt were ships passing in the night as he arrived at Soulful Java at six-thirty p.m.
“Busy day at Soulful Java. We sold out of cupcakes.”
“They are irresistible.”
“Hate to kiss and run, but I’ve got some errands to run. Plus pumpkin spice needs some treats.”
“Call you later?”
“Love you.” The words felt so good off Clara’s tongue.
The week before Valentine’s Day at Soulful Java was nonstop from last minute catering orders to in store events.
Clara manned a booth at her church’s Valentine’s Fair. The fun fair is organized by Clara’s friend Lydia Williams and features a bake sale, family crafts and jazz music.
“Thanks so much for helping with the fundraiser. The cupcakes and coffee are the best.” Lydia smiled. “How are things going at the shop?”
“Busy. I am so grateful to God for the opportunity to bake professionally while still having time to focus on my passion for sales.”
“God turned your lay off into a blessing. And it doesn’t hurt you have a great guy by your side.”
Clara delivered dozens of orders on Valentine’s Day with Matt’s company truck. Meanwhile at Soulful Java Matt and the crew served up ‘Raspberry Love Lattes’ ‘Heartbreaker mocha’ and ‘Cherry cordial hot cocoa.’
They closed the doors just after nine o’clock.
“I know it’s late and we are both exhausted, but will you indulge my romantic side for an hour?” Matt crooked grin reminds Clara of Harrison Ford.
“True love is still wanting to spend time with a girl cover in flour,” Clara stealing a kiss. “What did you have in mind Romeo?”
Matt led Clara to the banquet room where he’d set up a candlelit dinner with take out from one of their favorite area eateries – Luna’s.
“Luna’s lasagna with lemon chicken? This is so thoughtful.”
“We’ll continue to celebrate Valentine’s over the weekend at The Landmark, but I wanted to do something special tonight. Since you and your cupcakes entered my life – everything has been sweeter.”
“Matt, I’ve not been the best with romance. I was married to my work – but spending time with you it feels like being home. You are my best friend and business partner. I’m excited for our future together.”
“I used to make fun of Valentine’s but after meeting you…it clicked. I am the sap I used to make fun of…”
“So, I made you a sap?” Clara kidded. “I’m a fool for you so I guess we’re both smitten.”
They ended the evening dancing to Judy Garland’s ‘Embraceable You.’
“I always pack too much,” Clara surveyed her two suitcases and a day bag. “I just don’t want to forget anything – we are going skiing, the spa, business meetings, dinner…”
“Meow,” Pumpkin Spice jumped into the open suitcase.
“Oh, sweet kitty, I wish I could take you with me, but you get to stay at home and be watched by Aunt Emily.”
“MRROW,” Pumpkin Spice was not impressed.
“I promise, you’ll enjoy bird watching on your cat condo versus the four-hour winding road to the mountains. Plus, I’ll leave extra treats.”
The answer seemed to satisfy the orange tabby, who hopped out of the suitcase and rubbed against Clara’s leg.
In a few hours, Clara and Matt would be hitting the road for a four-day rendezvous at the glamourous Landmark Resort. Tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains just outside of Blowing Rock, North Carolina, the Landmark has been serving guests for over 100 years. It has been featured in top travel magazines for its savory cuisine, amazing views, and stately estate grounds.
Clara carried her luggage downstairs and texted Matt.
“I’m ready for our adventure.”
“Hey frosty, you look gorgeous,” Matt picked Clara up just after ten.
“I’m super excited for our getaway. We are going to have a blast.”
“What are you most looking forward to on the trip?” Matt asked as he loaded the car
“Other than spending time with you? I can’t wait for the private baking lesson with Chef Gerard. I just hope he likes my cupcakes.” Clara had baked a Valentine’s sampler of her best holiday cupcakes.
“How could he not?” Matt encouraged. “What should we listen to on the drive to the mountains?”
“I made a road trip music with our favorites…Steve Miller Band, Paul Simon, The Cars, Tom Petty, John Denver…as well as some bluegrass to fit the mountain mood” Clara and Matt love music from classical to classic rock to modern roots.
“Let’s roll.” The duo drove west jamming to good music and enjoying great conversation.
Four hours later they pulled into the quaint resort town of Blowing Rock. Located in northwest NC right off the Blue Ridge Parkway, Blowing Rock is known for its idyllic shops, restaurants, and picturesque mountain views.
“One of my favorite coffee shops is in Blowing Rock. I thought we could sample their java before checking in at The Landmark.”
“I could use a pick me up.”
After finding a parking spot off Main Street, Matt led Clara to popular local coffee shop, Camp Coffee. Housed in a cozy standing room only storefront.
“Camp Coffee has a robust great dark roast,” Matt loves dark coffee. Clara sicks with medium roasts.
“The seasonal latte menu is amazing.” Clara and Matt have tried to connect and partner with other regional roasters. They were part of a coffee exchange – where they sold other area roasters beans.
“Welcome to Campfire Coffee…what can I prepare for you today?” The friendly barista greeted them.
“The campfire mocha looks decadent.”
“It is, a mix of coffee, chocolate, marshmallow syrup…it tastes like a smore.”
“How can I resist that mocha goodness,” Clara ordered.
“I’ll stick with my old standby – dark roast, with a hint of cream.”
Matt and Clara discussed the coffee business with the baristas and invited them to visit Soulful Java sometime.
“You know a smores cupcake would be scrumptious. I can put graham cracker crumbles on the icing and have a marshmallow center.”
“Always dreaming up your next delectable creation,” Matt teased as they strolled down Main Street.
They enjoyed browsing the eclectic mix of shops from outdoor apparel to home furnishings and bird shop. Blowing Rock has shops for everyone.
“We can check into the resort soon,” Matt noticed the time. “They have a wine tasting at six and then we can enjoy dinner at the Chalet Restaurant.”
The Landmark Resort is thirty minutes from Blowing Rock in the heart of Blue Ridge. Winter is a popular season at the resort, which boasts several downhill and cross-country trails.
“We lucked out with the weather. Crisp and cold, but sunny blue skies.” Clara enjoys chilly weather – she loves to wear flannels, sweaters, and boots. Winter her fashion season.
“The resort just had six inches of snow earlier this week, so we’ll enjoy fresh powder with clear skies.”
“Did you ski a lot growing up? Clara ask as they wound the curve toward the entrance to The Landmark Resort.
“My uncle has a place at Beech Mountain near here – he talk me to ski,” Matt explained. “Every winter we’d fly to Big Sky in Montana.”
“Hopefully I don’t fall down on the bunny slopes again,” Clara blushed. She was more a hiking type – snow sports were not her thing.
“You’ll be fine.” Matt reassured her. “We’re here!”
Turning the bend and twisting up a steep hill led to a backcountry paradise, thousands of acres of mountain wilderness anchored by The Landmark Resort.
“Wow,” Clara struggled for words as she took in the view of the stunning hotel. The stone resort looks like a Scottish castle set on a hill. “I feel as though we are going to a winter castle.”
“It a mountain palace of – the resort is designed to reflect the beauty of the mountains combined with the glamour of the roaring 1920s. Famous jazz singers and authors frequented the landmark in the 1920s and 30s. During the Depression and World War II, the Landmark continued to serve hospitality and serve the community,” Matt explained.
“I booked us a spot on the guided architecture tour on Sunday afternoon,” Clara surprised Matt.
“I am beyond excited for that. The Landmark is one of the jewels of historic hotel architecture.”
Pulling up to the entrance, an attendant and bellhop greeted the couple.
“Welcome to The Landmark.”
“Matt Orsay and Clara Keene, checking in.”
“We are so grateful that you are joining us.” The attendant and bellhop started to unload the luggage while Matt and Clara checked in.
“We are so pleased to have you join us,” Mr. Jourdan, the hotel manager welcomed them. “Matthew, it is good to see you again and you must be Clara.”
“Thank you for choosing Soulful Java as the official roaster of Landmark,” Clara gracious.
“We thank you both. Your coffee has delighted guests and we’ve gotten so many complements,” Mr. Jourdan smiled. “I’ve included access to all the amenities The Landmark has to offer. If you need anything, please let our concierge know.”
“This suite is fantastic – I feel like I stepped back in time to a classic Hollywood retreat.” Clara has classic looks emulating golden screen actress Myrna Loy. “It has two bedrooms, a glamorous bathroom, fireplace and that view…I’ve never seen a more gorgeous view.”
“We got the executive suite,” Matt was impressed. “You take the larger bedroom – it has a nicer view.”
“The most exciting part of this room is that it has Soulful Java coffee for the guests.”
The pair enjoyed relaxing in the room for the next hour, sitting by the gas fireplace hand in hand.
“Let’s head downstairs for the wine tasting?” Clara suggested. They changed into dinnerware and headed to the bar, which is just off the lobby. The Landmark serves several regional wines including Biltmore Estate reserves.
“I’d love to visit Biltmore next Christmas,” Clara thought aloud as she sampled the merlot.
“That would be fun,” Matt agreed before digging into the charcuterie board.
Live music played softly in the background as the fire roared from the large stone fireplace.
The hotel has several restaurants – including a laid-back Americana restaurant geared for families, the high-end Landmark Grill and low-key upscale Chalet Restaurant. They also have a coffee shop – now using only Soulful Java blends.
While waiting for their dinner reservation, Clara and Matt enjoyed a game of checkers. The resort is full of hidden nooks for guests to enjoy quiet conversation, play board games or read a book.
Known for its 25 high beam ceilings, The Chalet is a throwback to the Après Ski lodges of Switzerland.
“Everything looks so delicious on the menu – I don’t know what to order,” Clara mulled. “I think I’ll try the pecan crusted mountain trout.”
“All of their food comes from local farms – organic farm to table,” Matt noted. “Their filet mignon is legendary. wrapped with bacon and sauteed in their remoulade sauce.”
The couple enjoyed the candlelit dinner surrounded by the ambiance of the mountain Chalet; the roaring fire crackling and the soothing sounds of resident pianist softening the mood.
“This steak is the best I’ve ever eaten.” Matt offered Clara a sample of the filet mignon.
“It is mouthwatering and perfectly seasoned.” Clara savored the bite.
“And the mountain trout is amazing too,” Matt complimented. “Props to the chef.”
“Can I interest you in dessert?” The server stopped by. “We have a delicious raspberry souffle topped with homemade cream.”
“YUM,” Clara salivating over the dessert menu – her baking brain in overdrive.
“My girlfriend is an amazing baker,” Matt explained their story about Soulful Java and Clara Cupcake Creations.
“I cannot wait to take the cooking class with Chef Gerard tomorrow.”
“He is fantastic – you will learn so much from his class.”
“I will try the raspberry souffle,” Clara decided.
“I’ll order the chocolate caramel chess pie.”
“And two ‘Soulful Java’ coffees. It is the official coffee of The Landmark now,” Clara smiled.
The dessert exceeded expectations. The evening was a dream come true for Clara – Matt is so caring and great with conversation. She had to pinch herself to make sure it was real.
“I thank God every day he brough us together,” Matt leaned in for a kiss. “Thanks for being my best friend.”
“I love you,” Clara let the words come out. They felt effortless. She couldn’t worry about her heart getting broken…the moment was too perfect. She and Matt were in it for the long haul.
“Are you up to a game of Monopoly in the game room before we call it a night.”
“Yes, but I warn you I will beat you. I’m the Monopoly master,” Clara kidded. The couple enjoy playing board games together– they even set up a game corner at Soulful Java. It had been a popular draw for repeat customers, who liked to have a community gathering spot to connect over coffee and cupcakes.
The game room at The Landmark is just off the main lobby and includes knotted wood pine and stone from nearby quarries.
“This hotel is full of so many nooks – you can get lost here – from the cozy library to the game room and bar.” Clara observing the architecture.
“As an architect, I’m in full on geek mode – I love the design of this hotel. It reminds me of the Omni Grove Hotel in Asheville…it is earthy and opulent.”
“We’ve stepped into a bygone era. The history and beauty of this place…the land and the architecture.”
“Your smile,” Matt teased. “It is getting late; we better get some sleep. We have a busy day tomorrow.”
“Skiing, cooking, spa – so many adventures and so little time.” Clara dreamily thought about the day’s itinerary.
“Sweet dreams, my love.” Matt and Clara met in a passionate kiss before saying their final goodnight. Each retiring to their private room in the suite.
Clara struggled to sleep – her heart racing still over the moon about her weekend with Matt and the anticipation of taking a baking class from Chef Gerard.
“God thank you for these blessings,” Clara speaks to God as a best friend – conversationally, but with reverence. Her faith helps get her through the day. “Please help me to not break my leg on the bunny slope and for Gerard to like my cupcakes.”
The sun peaked through the picture window, bleeding warmth into the hotel suite. Clara pulled back the curtains, revealing a stunning view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The smoke of fog enveloping the blue hills in a mystical quality. Snow capped peaks in the distance.
Clara has always loved the mountains. Sure, the beach is fun, but the mountains have a way of filling her with a peace and wonder.
The Landmark is perfectly designed to reflect the grandeur of the land. Every detail from the windows to placement of every room is meant to showcase the glory of the Blue Ridge.
“Good morning, beautiful,” Matt met Clara by the crackling fire. “I ordered room service – breakfast is on the table.”
“What did you order?”
“Your favorite – western omelet with a fresh blueberry scone.”
“You know me too well.” Clara bite into the delectable scone. “I need to get this recipe. I think they added lavender. It is so yummy.”
“Apparently is guarded secret, but I’m sure you can figure it out.” Matt took a bite of his breakfast sandwich.
“When are we due at the slopes?”
“In an hour. We check in and they will fit us in the gear, and we’ll have our lesson.”
“I appreciate you babysitting me on the bunny hop – I know you are a seasoned skier.”
“Don’t mention it – I’m more interested in you than skiing anyway. Besides you’ll be flying down the slopes on your own in no time.”
“I don’t know if flying sounds safe? Maybe sliding down, the slopes – that seems more feasible.”
After breakfast, they changed into their ski clothes. In anticipation for their trip, Clara purchased waterproof Patagonia pants from Great Outdoor Provision Company in Bedford Springs.
They loaded the ski shuttle from the main lobby, which takes you to the top of the mountain. The summit has another lodge (part of the Landmark) specifically for skiers and a pro shop.
Prior to their lesson they were fitted into their ski boots, ski suit and skis. The process needed to be perfect to ensure correct and accident prevention on the slopes.
“I feel like Lindsay Vonn,” Clara laughed. “At least I’m dressed the part of a world class champion.”
The started the beginner class for adults just after nine o’clock. The air was cold, just under thirty degrees, with the sun and clear sky brightening the mood.
“I’m Tamara and I’m your ski instructor today. A little background on me – I started skiing at age five and competed in the Olympic trials. I’ve taught skiing in Switzerland and Montana – but my home is right here at The Landmark.”
“Wow – she really is a pro,” Clara whispered to Matt. She felt awkward, like a duck in her skis feeling the crunch of snow beneath her. Still, Clara was determined to learn how to ski – well at least not fall down before lunch.
The lesson was excellent, Tamara was patient and explained the tips and tricks to walk in your skis and how to navigate when skiing cross country style or on a simple downhill run.
Clara fell down a few times learning how to turn and maneuver but Matt was there to catch her and she end the lesson with a successful run.
“I think you have made a skier of me,” Clara surprised how much fun had on the slope.
“So, you are ready for the Death Diamond Ridge then,” Matt joked.
“We’ll save that for Sunday,” Clara rolled her eyes.
After checking in the ski gear and they enjoyed a spiced hot cocoa at The Summit Outpost. Clara hit the gift shop and purchased a few souvenirs – including ski bears for Lucy and Becca.
“It’s almost noon,” Matt checked his phone. “Are you hungry?”
“We could grab a quick sandwich at the Après Ski Bar,” Clara suggested. “We need to be quick though – our meeting with lesson with Chef Gerard is at 3 p.m. I don’t want to be late.”
“We’ll be there on time,” Matt assured her.
The Après Ski Bar is a laid-back deli that overlooks the ski slopes. It serves a variety of sandwiches and healthy meals, like handcrafted trail mix and granola.
“Skiing really works up an appetite. I’m sure my legs will be sore tomorrow, but I had a blast.” Clara surveyed the menu and settled on the ‘Little Switzerland sandwich,’ – Ham and Swiss on a Croissant. Matt got the roast beef melt.
As they ate, Clara enjoyed looking out the window at the snow. The Landmark is over 6,000 feet in elevation. Western North Carolina is home to some of the largest peaks east of the Mississippi. While it is a milder climate, this part of NC does get its fair share snow.
Following the quick lunch, they took the shuttle back to the main resort. Clara showered and changed. She wanted to impress Chef Gerard. She’d followed his career for years and the opportunity to learn from him was a dream come true.
“Don’t overdress, you are going to be covered in flour after all.”
“Don’t worry. I can be fashionable and covered in batter.” Clara donning light denim jeans and her ‘Clara’s Cupcake Creations’ shirt. “I have special aprons for us – courtesy of Emily.”
“Your sister is quite the designer.” Matt had no shame in wearing an apron. He learned that after spilling coffee on his favorite shirt at Soulful Java.
Clara grabbed her box of sample cupcakes – a gift to Chef Gerard and said a prayer. “Lord please help me to learn from Chef and not blow up his kitchen.”
“It’s Chef Gerard,” Clara giddy as a schoolgirl. She learned about the chef from following his YouTube Channel – ‘Getting into the Mix – Kitchen Essentials.’ Chef Gerard has appeared on The Food Network and dozens of magazines. He has made a name for himself at The Landmark. The hotel advertises ‘Baking weekends with Chef Gerard.’
Matt loved seeing Clara so happy. He couldn’t help but smile. She was the icing on his cake – her presence at Soulful Java had turned his business around, but Clara’s lovely personality had him hooked for life.
“Welcome bakers! I am Chef Gerard and I’m pleased to have you join us today for our baking party. I call it a party because baking desserts should always be fun,” Chef spoke with a slight French accent. He’d been born in France but grew up mostly in the US. “I want you to have fun baking today.”
Clara surveyed the room, the class had twelve other students…mostly couples.
“While I am sure many of you are lifelong bakers and even professional bakers,” Chef Gerard looked at Clara. She wondered if he knew about her business. She dismissed the idea. “And some of you have never baked at all. Either way today is a fresh start. We are going to ‘Get into the Mix’ with one of my favorite Valentine’s Day treats. We are going to make Lovestruck Heart Cakes. Love strikes every heart, and these cakes are sure to make you fall in love with baking.”
“Sounds heavenly,” Clara hanging on every word.
Each student had a table with supplies, including an oven and refrigerator. It felt a bit like MasterChef. The ingredients and recipe were on the table.
“You can follow-along with the recipe, but to start, take my special cake mix. I won’t tell you the secret ingredient. But we do sell the mix in the bakeshop on site.”
“Clever,” Matt laughed.
“Put the cake mix into the red bowl and add in the cocoa powder. In a separate bowl, crack the eggs and mix them with the sugar…” Chef Gerard continued to guide the bakers as they mixed the sweet concoction and then baked the mini cakes in the oven.
Chef Gerard was engaging and made time to circle the room and help where it was needed. Once the cakes were out of the oven and cooled, the bakers then added sweet cream raspberry frosting and strawberry and chocolate drizzle on top.
Chef sampled each baker’s final word and answered any questions about the recipe.
“Chef Gerard, it is such a pleasure to meet you,” Clara weak in the knees. She hoped he liked her Lovestruck Heart sample. “I run a bakery and you have inspired me so much.”
“Well judging by your cake you are quite the baker. You added another flavor to my recipe?”
“I had some full bean vanilla and thought it would help at aroma and bring together the flavors.” Clara explained, trying to speak without stammering.
“Well done…” Chef commended.
“I actually brought you a few cupcake samples,” Clara gave him the backstory on Soulful Java and Clara’s Cupcake Creations.
“These are wonderful cupcakes – I’m tempted to hire you at the Landmark, but I know I can’t afford you,” Chef smiled with a light laugh. “Seriously though, we must stay in touch. I love to mentor young bakers and your are quite a talent.”
“Really?” Clara dumbfounded.
“The icing on the cake, truly,” Gerard honest.
“Can you believe that Chef Gerard loved my cupcakes?” Clara talking a mile a minute to Matt as they exited the class.
“Of course! From the moment I tasted your Nutcracker Sweet cupcake at the winter festival – I knew you were the best baker around.”
“I’m just glad Chef Gerard sees my talent – and the class was so wonderful. I learned a lot of baking techniques from him.” Clara noted as they walked through the lobby. “Plus know I know you are good at baking too.” Matt had done a great job with his Lovestruck cake.
“I don’t know about that…”
“You are good in the kitchen – and I can always use a smart, handsome and talented baker to help out.”
“Come on frosty, let’s grab a hot coffee and we can eat our lovestruck cakes by the fireplace.”
The couple sat side by side on a cozy leather sofa by the large lobby fireplace, embraced in the moment – allowing time to stand still. Outside the blue skies had faded into night. A forecast of snow circulating the lobby conversation.
“We might get snowed in,” Clara pondered.
“Worse places to be stuck.”
Clara and Matt decided to get appetizers and drinks from the bar area for dinner. They split the Lodge Salad, with dried cherries, blueberries, and walnuts. They also enjoyed the homemade mango salsa and lime tortilla chips.
After dinner, they explored the hotel, settling into the library. Matt enjoyed browsing an architecture book on the history of the Landmark, while Clara found a mystery set in the area. It was nice to relax, reading good books, as the evening snow flurries glistened outside.
“The snow is so pretty,” Clara stared out the window.
“They should get around an inch or two by tomorrow.”
“Fresh powder is good for skiers.”
“Or a snowball fight,” Matt suggested.
“I don’t think you want to get iced by me.”
“Come on frosty – a little snow by moonlight could be fun. We’ll be right outside, not wandering in the slippery slopes of the backcountry.”
“I can handle a snowball fight, just need to change into my snow boots and grab gloves.”
Winterized the couple headed out into the blustery cold as the thick steady snow fell fast and hard. The fluffy flakes stuck to the prior layers of snow, sparkling like diamonds under the moonlight.
“Watch out,” Clara threw a large snowball towards Matt. It just swiped him.
“Back at you!”
The couple enjoyed the playful snow banter, chasing each other in the snow. The stole a few snow kisses when they collapsed in the fresh snow, allowing the powder to fall on their faces as they made snow angels.
“That was so much fun, but if we stay out here one more minute I will freeze to death!” Clara
“Likewise,” Matt agreed.
The Landmark is known for its underground stone pool and large hot tub. The couple changed into their swim gear and enjoyed a late-night dip in the hot tub and the pool.
Clara loves the fact that she can be herself with Matt. He thinks she is beautiful no matter what and well Matt…he has silver screen good looks– but what kept Clara hooked was Matt’s kind heart.
Matt enjoyed Clara’s business savvy and quick wit, coupled with her classic good looks, and winning personality.
“Thanks for this getaway,” Clara whispered in Matt’s ear. “The Landmark is so romantic and meeting Chef Gerard.”
“That was a fun class.”
“We definitely need to offer some special classes at Soulful Java.”
“Agreed. I have a great lecture series on coffees and how we source our beans from Costa Rica and Ecuador. We can also teach our patrons the art of being a barista.”
“I love it. We could offer some baking classes too. I’d have to think about the logistics, but it would be a fun way to promote the shop and our brand.”
They capped off the magical evening sitting by the fire in their suite, watching the snow fall gracefully through the picture window.
“I could stay here with you forever,” Clara squeezed Matt’s hand.
“Let’s just savor the moment,” Matt held her close.
Matt and Clara enjoyed a cozy breakfast in the Blue Ridge Dining Room, that overlooks the sunset vista with views of Grandfather Mountain in the far distance.
The breakfast nook is beautifully appointed, with a hand painted craftsman style ceiling.
“These dishes are beautiful.” Clara admired the breakfast bowls and mugs.
“The dishes are from a local pottery shop and are specially designed for the Landmark.”
“We should get some pottery in Soulful Java. My friend Josie has a pottery studio at The Art’s Cooperative. She could design mugs for Soulful Java.”
“I like that idea.”
Clara and Matt thoroughly enjoyed the buffet, which showcases a delightful assortment of fresh fruit, French toast, waffles, gluten free muffins, bacon, sausage, omelets, and veggie options.
“I love the blend of coffee you created for the hotel. If we get another big account like The Landmark, we might need to expand our roast space,” Clara sipped on the medium roast with a hit of hazelnut.
Following the hearty meal, they attended the morning church service located in the resort’s ‘Our Lady of Peace’ chapel. The chapel includes a beautiful picture window overlooking a garden waterfall. The window is surrounded by gorgeous stained glass depicting scenes from the life of Christ.
“We have been so blessed with this trip.” Clara and Matt took time for quiet reflection in the chapel.
“We have two days left in paradise, what do you want to do today?” Matt leaned towards Clara.
“I scheduled the architecture tour at 1 p.m. and other than that, I’m just happy spending time together.” Clara smiled. “When is our business meeting with hotel management.”
“Tomorrow afternoon before we leave.”
“They have been so gracious treating us to this weekend.”
“It all goes back to you pushing me to look for partner businesses to sell our coffee too. Your business proposal got us in the door.”
“Yes, but you have the best java beans in the region. You know your coffee.”
“The snow stopped, and skies are clearing…” Matt noticed, getting an idea for a surprise. “Do you mind going to the gift shop and getting Lucy and Becca those tie dye hoodies.”
“Always happy to go shopping, but where are you going?”
“Going to check in on Lacy at the shop and need to stop by the concierge.”
“You are mysterious, Matt,” Clara kidded, sensing he was up to something. “Meet you in the room in twenty minutes?”
Clara enjoyed perusing the main lodge gift shop, which features a variety of apparel, decorative art pieces, food items like boysenberry jam and coffee. Clara purchased a tee shirt and got Matt a ski jacket. The girls, Becca and Lucy would like the tie dye sweatshirts with their stuffed teddy bears.
While Clara was in the gift shop, Matt arranged a special surprise with the concierge.
“Mr. Orsay, this will sweep your girlfriend off her feet.”
The Landmark architecture tour starts in the lobby under the magnificent, handcrafted Tiffany chandelier. The hour-long tour details the history of the hotel from the 1920s to present day.
The architect in Matt hung on every word of the tour guide, Morty Williams. Morty is an animated a retired architecture professor from App State who knew the hotel’s architecture backward and forwards.
“It was built by a wealthy fabric titan who made his fortune in Greensboro, North Carolina. After visiting nearby Blowing Rock, the family decided to invest in the area and open The Landmark,” Morty explained. “It’s opening attracted the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald and dignitaries of state.”
Tour highlights include the hotel’s grand ballroom with its stone and wooden columns; the Frank Lloyd Wright inspired library and the conservatory with a year-round variety of plants and flowers.
“Each hotel room is unique and designed to make you feel as though you stepped into an elegant home. The Landmark is dedicated to hospitality. We want every guest to feel like a friend.”
“Does The Landmark decorate for Christmas? I bet it would be gorgeous with all the gre “The Landmark is magical at Christmas,” Morty reminisced. “We have dozens of fresh trees decorated beautifully. We also host tons of fun events like the Gingerbread Bake Off and Santa Town.”
The tour wrapped up in the bake shop.
“I’ve got to try the Caramel Biscotti Cupcake with butternut cream.” Clara surveyed the menu. “What a great recipe idea.”
“Chef Gerard has a lot of great recipes. I can’t wait to ‘get into the mix’ with his recipes in our kitchen.”
“I love to see you smile frosty.” Matt held her hand. “Listen, I have a special surprise for you.”
“We didn’t get to truly celebrate Valentine’s Day and I wanted to do something romantic.”
“This entire weekend is more romantic than Roman Holiday,” Clara referenced one of their favorite movies.
“I still have a surprise up my sleeve. Why don’t you enjoy that spa date you have planned and then we’ll meet just after six in the room?”
“The anticipation is killing me,” Clara pressed for surprise details.
“My lips are sealed. Just relax and enjoy the spa. I’ll see you in a few hours.”
“You are a cute rascal,” Clara stole a kiss before heading to the spa.
Clara has never been one to treat herself to a spa day. Balancing her career between consulting and baking – making time for self-care was last on Clara’s list. She felt a twinge of guilt to spend three hours getting pampered at the premier Landmark Spa.
That guilt quickly faded after her relaxing massage and facial. That was followed a wash and blow dry – giving her the glam of the red carpet.
“I feel like a new woman,” Clara surveying her suave makeover in the mirror.
“You look terrific,” the hairdresser affirmed.
“I cannot wait to see my boyfriend. He has a special surprise for me. I can’t wait to find out what it is.”
“Sounds very romantic.”
“It’s new to me. I’ve always been single, but Matt is a winner.”
“You look ravishing,” Matt met Clara in the suite. “You always look beautiful, but I like your hairstyle.”
“Thanks, the spa was very relaxing.”
“I am glad you enjoyed yourself.”
“I’m on the edge of my seat…what is your big surprise.”
“Go ahead and get dressed in some warm outdoor gear.”
“Are we going skiing?” Clara perplexed.
“Just trust me.”
“I trust you.” Clara trying to figure out what Matt had in store that demanded she dress in snow gear. “If we are going to be outside, check on your bed. I got you a nice new ski jacket.”
“The Helly Hanson one?” Matt touched that Clara bought him the ski jacket he’d been eyeing in the gift shop. “You are something, frosty. I love it.”
“Okay Valentine, I’ll get dressed, but I can’t wait much longer for this surprise.”
Dressed in a cute, but warm outfit, Clara put on her winter jacket and snow boots. Matt looked sharp in his new jacket.
“Frosty, ready for an adventure?”
“With you, I’d go anywhere.”
“Here we are,” Matt led Clara through the outdoor courtyard to the stables. “Your horse drawn carriage awaits.”
“What in the world?” Clara trying to wrap her mind around the fact she had a carriage waiting for her with the man of her dreams by her side.
“We are going on a horse drawn carriage ride through the snow.”
“That is romantic and a big surprise.”
“You haven’t seen the entire surprise,” Matt cracked his sly grin as he put his arm around Clara.
The carriage galloped softly in the snow in a scene reminiscent of a Robert Frost poem. The full moon radiated cool moonbeams through the darkness of the night.
“This is so fun.” Clara squeezed Matt.
“I hope you are hungry,” Matt noted as the carriage slowed by a cabin in the wood.
The coachmen escorted them off the carriage.
“Your dinner awaits.” The couple was led into the cabin where a private dinner was set up in the rustic cabin. A fire blazed as they sat at the dining room table.
“Good evening Mr. Orsay and Ms. Keene, Chef has prepared our lemon blueberry chicken and raspberry BBQ ribs with wild rice and sauteed asparagus.”
“Matt – you planned all of this? I’m overwhelmed.”
“A little sentimental perhaps, but I wanted to do something special before we get back into the daily grind of Soulful Java and work. The Landmark is a fairytale so why not enjoy it a bit.”
“I’ll never forget this weekend,” Clara lips curved into a smile. “Yes, The Landmark is a fairytale – but the memories I treasure are with you.”
The couple melted into a long kiss. It was the perfect ending to the tail end of their getaway.
After loading their car, Clara and Matt had a business lunch with the management team for The Landmark, including Chef Gerard.
“I have been salivating over your cupcakes,” Chef Gerard told Clara. “You have a wonderful talent. I’d love to work with you in my kitchen.”
Chef Gerard offered to schedule several Zoom meetings with Clara to share recipe ideas. He also volunteered to visit Soulful Java in the spring for a book signing.
“The Landmark is fully committed to continuing our partnership with Soulful Java,” hotel president, Molly Samson advised. “If fact we’d like to work with Clara on a special cupcake recipe to pair with the coffee.”
“I’d be honored, but you have Chef Gerard…”
“Yes, and Chef suggested it. We loved your Raspberry Mocha Coffee Cupcakes and would like them to be a signature dish in our sweet shop.”
“That really is the icing on the cake,” Clara pinching herself.
“Clara darling, we have so many fun adventures ahead of us.”
“With java and cupcakes – how can we go wrong?”
Note: This is part of The Icing on the Cupcake series.
Book one is ‘A Cupcake Christmas’ – also available on adelelassitercreative.com
Forgive any typos.