Jenn McKinlay

New York Times Bestselling Author

CLOCHE AND DAGGER

Chapter One

“Scarlett Elizabeth Parker, put down the MoonPie and listen to me,” Vivian Tremont ordered.
I held my cell phone away from my ear and frowned at it. How could my cousin who was almost five thousand miles away and in another country know I was eating a MoonPie? I put it down on my coffee table and swallowed the bite of cookie, marshmallow and chocolate I’d just taken.
“I’m not eating a MoonPie,” I said. Technically, it was not a lie since I had just put it down.
“Oh, please, I know you, pet,” Vivian said in her crisp British way. “You always eat MoonPies when you’re upset.”
“How’s business?” I asked. I had learned in my twenty seven years of knowing her that a change of subject was the only way to throw Viv of track.
“Not good because I’m too busy worrying about you,” she returned. Obviously, she was not to be thwarted today. “Now, here’s what I think you should do.”
Viv paused to take a deep breath and I thought about how much I disliked any sentence that had “you should” in it. Still, she was winding up for what sounded like it would be a lengthy monologue, so I decided to make use of the time by finishing my MoonPie.
“Now you know Mim left the hat shop to both of us,” she said. “I know you had other career aspirations but since those have imploded, I think it’s time for you to come to London and take up your half of the business.”
I choked on a bit of cookie. I had to give it to her. I hadn’t seen that one coming.
“I thought you said you weren’t eating a MoonPie,” she said.
“Well, actually, I’m choking on one,” I said through my hacking cough.
“How can you eat that rot?” she asked.
“Aw, come on,” I said. “I know you ate the box that I sent you for Christmas.”
“I tried a nibble to be polite,” she said.
“Ha, you ate them and liked them, I know you did,” I said.
“If I did it was the child in me acting out, so it doesn’t count because I can’t be held accountable for what childish me does. Now moving on,” she said. “What do you think of my idea?”
I paused before I answered. Mim was our grandmother and when she had passed away five years before, she had left Mims’s Whims, her millinery business, half to Vivian, who was already working for her, and half to me. Viv had been a natural fit. She had grown up down the street from the Notting Hill shop and had spent her teen and university years working with Mim.
As for me, I was born and bred in Florida and although I had spent my school breaks with Mim and Viv, I didn’t know squat about the hat business, which was why I had gone into the hospitality business after college, working at the posh Santiago
Hotel chain headquartered in Tampa.
“Oh, come on, it’s your legacy,” Viv cajoled. “Besides, your life is in the loo, love. It’s best you put some miles between you and that blighter who broke your heart.”
“Uff.” I huffed out a breath as a sharp pain stabbed me somewhere in the vicinity of my chest, although it could have been angina from my steady diet of MoonPies, Pringles and French onion dip. I picked up the big box of MoonPies I’d scored at the Publix grocery store a few nights before. It was light, too light. I shook it. Empty. Damn.
“He isn’t a—“ I began but Viv cut me off.
“No! Do not defend that pile of rubbish to me. The man led you to believe he was available and then you find out that he hasn’t left his wife at all by walking in on a lavish anniversary party that he threw for her,” she fumed. “I’m delighted that you lobbed chunks of five thousand dollar cake at him. It’s a shame your escapade got recorded and went viral on the Internet, but it was no less than he deserved.”
I felt my insides wither as they were clutched in the unforgiving fist of humiliation. I had watched the clip of the video, repeatedly, hoping my shame would become less horrific with each viewing. It never did.
On the grainy video, I looked like a deranged redheaded banshee, grabbing fistfuls of the gorgeous three tier cake and flinging them at a man in an impeccable tuxedo, while he held up his arms and tried to protect his handsome face from a frosting pelting. The nicest comment posted about the video was that I had an arm like Nolan Ryan in his prime.
“I don’t know, Viv,” I said.
“How long has it been since you’ve showered?” she asked. “Or left your flat?”
“Three days,” I said.
“That’s it then, either you come here under your own power or I’m coming to get you,” she said. “I’m booking you a ticket now for the first flight out of Tampa International tomorrow. Are you in?”
I thought about staying holed up in my apartment until I died. It had a certain appeal. Then I thought about fleeing the country to be with my cousin. It had slightly more appeal.
“All right,” I agreed. “Book it.”