"You need to get to the corner of Fifth and Scottsdale. Now."
"Angie?" Melanie Cooper barely recognized her business partner's voice through her sleep induced haze. "What's going on?"
"Fifth and Scottsdale," Angie DeLaura repeated. The phone went dead.
Mel glanced at the cell phone in her hand then at her alarm clock which read six fifty-seven. A phone call this early in the morning had better mean Angie's car was on fire or worse.
She heaved her comforter off and rolled out of the bed. Mel didn't like mornings on the best of days, but in January, even in Scottsdale, Arizona, it was surely a crime to be dragged out of bed before the sun, especially without a cup of coffee to chase away the morning chill. Still, Angie was her best friend going on twenty plus years. She wouldn't have called if it wasn’t important.
That thought got Mel moving. She grabbed a thick hooded sweatshirt and tugged it on over her flannel pajamas. She could feel the static raise her short blonde hair up and she imagined she looked like a troll doll on a bad hair day, without the cute belly button showing. She jammed her feet into her slip-on sneakers and grabbed her keys.
Mel lived in a snug studio apartment above her cupcake bakery, Fairy Tale Cupcakes, in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale. Angie was her partner, along with their other childhood friend Tate Harper, who was their main investor. Fifth and Scottsdale was only a block away. She could be there in minutes.
She pounded down the back stairs and hurried to her red Mini-Cooper, which was parked in an adjacent lot. Two quick rights and she slid into a parking spot in front of an art gallery. The commuter traffic was just beginning and the light at the four way stop had an impressive line of cars waiting for it to change. Mel spotted Angie sitting on a wooden bench just south of the corner.
She didn't appear to be sporting burns or lacerations, so a car accident was out of the question.
"What's up?" Mel asked as she slid onto the bench beside her.
"Wait for it," Angie said and handed her a large, steaming latte in a tall paper cup.
Ah, Mel’s will to live increased ten fold.
Angie held up her hand and Mel took a sip from her cup, knowing it would do no good to press. Angie was stubborn like that.
The steaming swallow of coffee was halfway down her throat, when she glanced up and saw a six foot tall cupcake come around the corner, approaching the crosswalk. Her coffee shot back up her throat and she erupted into a fit of coughing, causing Angie to pound her on the back.
Mel shoved her aside as soon as she could drag in a breath and goggled at the enormous pink confection strutting between the idling vehicles. It only took a moment to recognize her arch enemy, but there was no doubt about it. The cupcake was Olivia Puckett!
She was wearing a blue satin skirt, pleated accordion style and topped by a pink puffy blouse, stuffed to resemble frosting and beaded to give it a sprinkle effect. She wore this over bright blue support hose and broad white high heels. A big round cherry sat on top of her head tied under her chin like a bonnet. She was handing out bright pink flyers, one of which Angie shoved into Mel's hands.
"Free Cupcakes!" it read in bold print. It was a coupon to anyone who entered Confections Olivia’s rival bakery.
"Do you think it's a felony to hit a cupcake with your car?" Mel asked.
“Hard to say, you might want to check with Uncle Stan first,” Angie said.
Mel’s Uncle Stan was a detective in the Scottsdale Police Department. She supposed she could ask, but somehow she didn’t think she’d like the answer.
The light changed and they watched as the enormous cupcake was caught in the crosswalk and had to hustle her pleated derriere out of the way before the rude honks escalated to rude hand gestures.
It was then, as she tottered on the curb, trying to catch her balance, that the giant cupcake spotted Angie and Mel. She gave them a calculated glance as if she considered them potential customers but then recognition kicked in. Her ingratiating smile morphed into a look of haughty disdain, impressive with a cherry the size of a bowling ball on her head, and she turned away from them with her nose in the air.
“You’d think after her psychotic niece murdered Christie Stevens last Fall, Olivia would strive to maintain a lower profile,” Angie said.
"You'd think," Mel agreed. "Especially since I got fingered for the murder and Christie was Tate's fiancé."
"You're just lucky you figured it out in time," Angie said. "Wide black and white stripes only look good on zebras."
A honk blared and Mel glanced up in time to see a silver Lexus pass by Olivia, who dropped her basket in surprise. The Lexus zoomed away and Mel recognized the driver as Tate, their business partner. Before she could retrieve her basket, Olivia’s bright pink coupons were jettisoned by a blast of exhaust from a passing Escalade and it looked like an impromptu ticker tape parade.
Mel felt Angie nudge her when a motorcycle cop with his lights flashing pulled up alongside the giant cupcake. Over the roar of traffic, it was impossible to hear the conversation but judging by Olivia's wild hand gestures and bobbing cherry hat, it wasn't going her way.
Just then Tate pulled up beside them and said, “’What we're dealing with here is a complete lack of respect for the law.’”
“Buford T. Justice from Smokey and the Bandit,” Mel identified the line. “That’s such a man movie.”
“It’s a classic,” Tate said as he pushed open the passenger door.
Mel glanced up and saw Olivia gesturing wildly in their direction. The police officer was studying them over the top of his sunglasses.
“We can debate what merits a classic movie later,” Angie said and gave Mel a shove into the car. “Get in! Put your pedal to the metal, Bandit!”
Tate stepped on the gas and they shot out into the traffic. Mel and Angie smiled and waved as they passed Olivia while the officer scribbled a citation on his pad, tore it off and handed it to Olivia with a flourish. She looked ready to spit sprinkles at them and Mel sank back into her seat, clutching her latte with a smile.
“Well, that was worth getting up before the sun,” she said.
Tate circled the block and parked in front of Fairy Tale Cupcakes.
He opened the car doors for Angie and Mel and said, “Probably, we should wait before we go get your cars.”
“We’ll get them later,” Mel said. “I have to prep for my couples’ cooking club tonight.”
“Ah, yes, your lead up to Valentine’s Day,” Tate said.
“How’s that going?”
“Five couples for four weekly nights of baking fun,” Mel said. “Other than the Bickersons, it’s going well.”
“Bickersons?” he asked.
“That’s what we call the Bakersons,” Angie said. “Neither one of them knows a pastry bag from a garbage bag but they’ll fight to the death about it.”
“Some couples are like that,” Tate said.
Angie fished the keys to the shop out of her purse and led the way into the bakery.
Mel glanced at Tate out of the corner of her eye as she followed him into the shop. It had been three months since his fiancé had been murdered and even though he had been duped into getting engaged to her (she drugged him and then pretended he proposed), Mel wondered if the upcoming lovers’ holiday was making him wistful.
“Thank God I don’t have to buy anyone flowers or candy or even a card,” he said. He shuddered in his impeccably cut navy blue suit. Well, that answered that.
Angie glanced at him with a small smile. “’Hearts will be practical only when they are made unbreakable.’”
“Wizard of Oz,” Tate identified the quote. “Nice.”
Angie bowed her head in acknowledgment before flicking on the overhead lights.
“For the record, my heart is not broken,” he protested. “Merely dented.”
Angie grinned at him and Mel felt an anxiety butterfly flap its wings down in her belly. How could Tate not see that when Angie smiled at him her heart was in her eyes? She literally lit up from the inside. A beautiful girl to begin with, when she looked at Tate, she was breathtaking.
Mel was torn between wanting to smack Tate into getting a clue and keeping him ignorant for the sake of their friendship. After all, what if Angie and Tate did get together? She’d be shut out. It was completely selfish, but she wasn’t sure if she was ready for that.
The three of them had met when they were in junior high school. A mutual love of old movies and junk food had sealed their friendship, which was now going on twenty years. They still spent almost every weekend together watching old movies and liked to quote them to one another and see if they could stump each other.
Tate pushed back his starched cuff and checked his slim Omega. “Gotta go. Big meeting with the share holders. Call me if the giant cupcake causes anymore trouble.”
“Will do,” Mel and Angie answered together.
Tate hugged each of them in turn and then left. The bells on the door handle jangled in his wake.
Mel and Angie exchanged a look, and Angie shook her head. “No, I’m not going to tell him how I feel.”
“Change of subject please,” Angie said as she pushed through the swinging door into the kitchen beyond. “Like when are you and Joe going to seal the deal?”
Mel followed her. “What makes you think we haven’t?”
“Oh, please, if you and Joe had slept together, I’d know,” she said.
Mel couldn’t argue the point, well, she could but it would be futile. Angie had known her forever and Joe was Angie’s older brother, one of her seven older brothers, so she’d known him even longer. There was no hiding from Angie.
Mel had lusted for Joe DeLaura from the first time she clapped eyes on him when she was twelve years old. And now, they were actually dating. Sometimes she had to pinch herself to believe it. But then, when she remembered they hadn’t progressed much passed hand holding, she began to fret.
“Change of subject,” she said.
Angie gave her a knowing nod. “Fine. What are we baking tonight?”
“Kiss Me Cupcakes.”
“Sounds as if we could both use a batch of those. Describe please.”
Angie dropped her purse on the steel work table and headed straight for the coffee pot. Mel talked while Angie started a fresh pot.
“It’s a chocolate mint chip cupcake with red and white swirled mint icing and a big Hersey's Kiss planted in the middle.”
“Wrapper on or off?”
“On,” Mel said. “I like the silver foil as a decoration.”
“Do I need to run to Smart and Final for any supplies?” Angie asked.
Mel checked the stock in the large plastic bins they kept along one wall of the shop. Flour, check. Sugar, check. Baking powder and soda, check. Then she poked her head in the large walk in refrigerator. Butter, check. Eggs, check. And lastly, she looked in the pantry for the lesser used items. Peppermint extract, check. Chocolate, in all shapes and sizes, check.
“No, I think we’re good,” she said. “I’m going to go grab a shower. Give me fifteen and we can get started.”
“You got it,” Angie said. “You do realize, though, that Olivia has issued a challenge that can’t be ignored.”
“Don’t you worry,” Mel said. “It won’t be. I promise.”