SPRINKLE WITH MURDER
“Does she really think we don’t see her?” Angie DeLaura asked her best friend and business partner Melanie Cooper.
Mel blew her blonde bangs off of her forehead and came around the counter of her cupcake display case to glance out the front window with Angie.
“How many times has she driven by today?” she asked.
“Seven times since we opened this morning,” Angie said. “And twelve yesterday.”
“You would think if she were so worried about our shop stealing her customers, she’d be slaving away in her kitchen baking something.”
“You’d think,” Angie agreed.
Just then the icing pink, refrigerated van did another slow drive by their window. Both Angie and Mel smiled and waved. Olivia Puckett, the driver of the van and owner of a nearby bakery called Confections, gave them a wide-eyed stare and stomped on the gas, bumping the curb with her tire in her haste to get away.
“Maybe she’ll get a flat,” Angie said.
“We can always hope,” Mel agreed.
Mel turned around. She refused to let Olivia Puckett’s paranoia dampen her joy with her own shop. Fairy Tale Cupcakes had been a dream of Mel’s for several years, and now it was finally open.
She loved everything about this petite shop nestled in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale. With a western wear store next door and a tattoo parlor on the corner, Mel felt as if she fit right in with the amalgam of quirky shops that filled this quaint neighborhood.
She had chosen a retro fifties décor. Everything was in shades of pink and gray with lots of chrome and glass.
Her main investor and childhood friend, Tate Harper, had made her tone down the pink a few notches as he said it made him feel constipated. Whatever.
Angie was refilling the silver napkin holders on the booth tables in front of the window, and she glanced frequently at the street to see if Olivia made another pass. Angie had been Mel’s best friend for twenty-two years, since the first day of sixth grade when Angie moved to Scottsdale from Queens, New York.
Seated alphabetically, they ended up next to one another in homeroom. Mel had a powerful sweet tooth as a young teen and frequently kept a stash of candy on her person. On that day, she had a milk chocolate candy bar, the kind without nuts.
Unfortunately, this same sweet tooth caused Mel to be on the chubby side, which made her the object of much teasing. Wanting to be nice to the new girl, however, Mel offered Angie half of her candy bar. Angie looked so grateful that Mel knew she’d found a kindred candy freak. But when she reached across the aisle to hand Angie the chocolate, the class bully Jeff Stanton snatched it out of her hand with a mean laugh and said, “Thanks, fatso.”
Mel probably would have shed some private tears in the girl’s bathroom, but Angie had exploded out of her seat and grabbed the candy out of Jeff’s hand before he could shove it into his mouth.
“Who are you calling ‘fatso’?” she asked and she poked him in the belly. Hard.
Jeff looked like he was going to slug her, but just then Joe DeLaura strode into the room. He was tall and muscular and he was swinging his car keys around his index finger as if he hadn’t quite gotten used to the fact that they were his, or maybe he was just showing off. Either way, he frowned at Jeff and reached around him to hand Angie a paper lunch bag.
“You forgot your lunch in my car, Ange,” he said.
“Thanks, Joe,” she said. She was still glaring at Jeff.
“Need any back up?” Joe asked, glaring at Jeff, too. Jeff visibly shrank on the spot.
“Nope,” she said as Jeff scuttled back towards his desk.
“I’ll pick you up after school,” he said.
Angie quickly leaned over to Mel. “You want to come over to my house today?”
“Sure,” Mel agreed.
“And…hey, what’s your name?” Angie asked.
“Melanie,” she said.
“And my friend Melanie, too,” Angie called after Joe.
He glanced at Mel and shrugged. “Sure. See you.”
It had marked the beginning of a perfect friendship. Then and now, Angie reminded Mel of a firecracker. Mel never knew when Angie was going to blow but when she did it was usually a sight to behold. Angela Marie DeLaura was short, with a curvy figure and long wavy brown hair that reached halfway down her back. Her large chocolate brown eyes were sharp with intelligence and warm with humor. She had a smile that lit up her whole face and she frequently used it to charm her way out of anything she didn’t like doing.
Tall and lanky, Mel had no curves to brag about. Because she spent so much time in the kitchen she kept her pale blonde hair cropped short in the back and long on top, giving her a thick set of bangs to keep from appearing too boyish. With her pale hair, pale skin and hazel blue-green eyes, Mel knew she and Angie were complete opposites, but then, maybe that’s why they were such good friends. They balanced one another.
The bells on the door jangled and Mel put on her greet the customer face. As soon as she recognized the tall man bearing two big boxes, however, her smile dimmed.
“Oh, it’s you,” she said.
“Gee, it’s great to see you, too,” Tate Harper said. He put the boxes on one of the small café tables and stretched the kinks out of his back.
He was wearing his work clothes, a white dress shirt and charcoal gray slacks. His red power tie was askew but Mel was pretty sure she could check her lipstick in the shine of his shoes.
Tate Harper, her other long time friend, was handsome in a prep school raised with gobs of money, never had a worry in his life sort of way. But Mel had known him through voice changes, pimples and braces. He would always be the big brother she’d never known she wanted until he strolled into her life at the age of eleven, quoting Groucho Marx and making her laugh so hard in study hall that she got detention for a week.
“I’m sorry,” Mel said. “I thought you were a customer.”
“Hunh,” he said. He gave a dramatic sigh and ran a hand through his wavy brown hair. “You know, ‘It’s better to be looked over than overlooked’.”
“Save it, Mae West,” she chided him and he grinned. They had been trading classic movie lines since the day he had caused her to get all of those detentions. A few months later Angie made their duo a trio and for the next seven years, the three of them wiled away most of their weekends watching old movies and eating junk food in the mini movie theater Tate’s parents had custom built in their house.
“Well, at least I got a smile out of Angie,” he said.
“Be serious,” she said from her spot in the booth by the window. “I’m laughing at you.”
“Where’s the love?” Tate asked. He spread his arms wide. “I sacrifice my lunch hour to come over here and help and what do I get? No love.”
Both Angie and Mel stepped forward and gave him quick hugs. He looked somewhat mollified.
“I just picked these up from the printer,” he said. He opened the box on top and pulled out several bright pink flyers advertising the bakery’s weekly specials. “I’ve got a connection with the local paper and he says we can get these inserted in Sunday’s edition.”
“Excellent work, partner,” Mel said and gave him a high five.
“That should make Olivia keel over on the spot,” Angie said. “I’d love to see her face when she opens her paper and there we are.”
“Is she still staking out the shop?” Tate asked.
“Yes,” Angie and Mel said together.
“Maybe we should go and talk to her,” Tate said. “I mean we’re only making cupcakes, she’s got the whole cookie, cake and brownie market to herself.”
“Oh, I’ll talk to her all right,” Angie said with a wave of her fist. “I’ll give her five good reasons to buzz off.”
Mel and Tate exchanged a worried look. It was hard to say whether Angie would actually punch out Olivia since things like that had been known to happen in the past. In fact, when they were in high school, one of the mean girls had spread rumors about Tate’s sexual orientation because he refused to take her out. Angie had subsequently spent her foreign language lab sitting behind the same girl carefully cutting a big chunk of the girl’s hair off. With her head phones on, the girl had never heard her and left the lab looking like a badly shorn poodle. As a general rule, it was never wise to mess with Angie or anyone she cared about.
“Maybe we should just give her a week or two to calm down,” Mel said.
“That sounds like a good plan,” Tate said quickly. He looked relieved. “Besides, you’re going to be too busy over the next few weeks to waste any time confronting Olivia.”
“I am?” Mel asked.
“Yes.” Tate grinned. “Christie and I talked about it last night, and we agreed that you should be the one to bake our wedding cupcakes.”
Angie dropped a napkin holder onto the black and white tile floor.
“Damn,” she muttered as she scooped it up and examined it. “I’m such a butter fingers. I’d better replace this one.”
Mel watched Angie disappear into the back room with the dented napkin holder. Good thing they’d ordered a few extra.
“So, you and Christie are going with cupcakes?” she asked. She hoped her voice didn’t sound as strained as it felt.
“Yeah, Christie was thinking of getting a couture cake to reflect her clothing design business, but I told her that was ridiculous since I’ve invested in Fairy Tale Cupcakes. This will be a great showcase for the shop. We’re inviting five hundred people.”
“Five hundred?” she repeated. “Wow. I don’t even know five hundred people.”
“Don’t worry,” he said. “I insist upon paying full price.”
“No, no,” Mel refused. “You’re a partner.”
“I won’t take no for an answer,” he said and glanced at his watch. “I’d better run. I have a meeting with a client at two.”
“Bye, Ange,” Tate yelled towards the back. There was no reply. “See ya, Mel. I’ll have Christie stop in to go over the details.”
“Sounds great,” she lied.
Her heart sank as the door banged shut behind Tate. This was bad, very bad. Mostly, because she wanted to like his fiancé, she really did, but she just didn’t.
Christie Stevens was about as vapid a person as Melanie had ever had the misfortune to meet. The first night she and Angie had joined Tate and Christie for dinner, Christie had spent the entire meal complaining about her manicure. At least five times she asked them if her nails looked like they were made of gold. Apparently, she’d told her manicurist to use Gold Fiction polish by Chanel. But at thirty dollars a bottle, she was wondering if her nail girl had ripped her off and used some cheap knock off instead.
By the second course, Angie had excused herself to go to the bathroom at least three times, and Mel had decided there wasn’t enough wine at the bar to get her though the longest dinner ever and she was debating stabbing herself with her salad fork to get out of it. But then, Christie got a call on her cell phone, which she talked on all the way through the main course and halfway through dessert.
When Tate first started dating her, Mel was sure it wouldn’t last. But then, oh horror, in a few short weeks and much to her and Angie’s shock, Tate and Christie got engaged.
Mel and Angie were flabbergasted. Neither of them had seen this coming. And if Mel was having a hard time with it, Angie, with her mercurial temper, couldn’t even be in the same room with Christie for fear she would say something that would destroy her friendship with Tate forever. Truly, it was a nightmare.
Angie reappeared with a new napkin holder. “Is Tate gone?”
“Just left,” Mel said. “He yelled good-bye.”
They were silent for a moment both staring at the door.
“’Getting married has ruined a lot of good men’,” Angie observed.
“Dodge City, 1939, well said,” Mel noted with a laugh.
“Nuts, I thought I could sneak that one by you.” Angie snapped her fingers.
“Fat chance.” Mel was an old movie buff of the first order. It would take more than Dodge City to stump her.
She felt a sudden pang as she wondered if Tate would still be a part of their late night movie viewings. She knew Christie could not possibly be interested, and she doubted she was going to let Tate continue to join them. She didn’t want to think about how much she would miss him.
She told herself not to panic. The wedding was still a couple of months away. Maybe he would get struck by a lightning bolt and snap out of it. But somehow she doubted he’d get that lucky.
TITLES BY SERIES:
Bluff Point Romance
Library Lover's Mysteries
London Hat Shop Mysteries
Good Buy Girls Mysteries, writing as Josie Belle
Decoupage Mysteries, writing as Lucy Lawrence