Cold Cut Murder: Book Three in The Darling Deli Series

BOOK: Cold Cut Murder: Book Three in The Darling Deli Series
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TABLE OF CONTENTS

COLD CUT MURDER

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

CHAPTER TWELVE

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

 

 

 

Cold Cut Murder

Book Three in the Darling Deli Series

By

Patti Benning

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright 2016 Summer Prescott Books

All Rights Reserved
. No part of this publication nor any of the information herein may be quoted from, nor reproduced, in any form, including but not limited to: printing, scanning, photocopying or any other printed, digital, or audio formats, without prior express written consent of the copyright holder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

**This book is a work of fiction. Any similarities to persons, living or dead, places of business, or situations past or present, is completely unintentional.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

COLD CUT MURDER

Book Three of The Darling Deli Series

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

Moira Darling stood outside with her hands on her hips, assessing the huge banner that read Welcome to the Annual Maple Creek Winter Festival. Candice and Darrin were hanging it in the window of her deli, Darling’s DELIcious Delights, and depending on her to tell them when it was evenly centered in the front of the store. After a moment, she gave them a thumbs up and headed back inside to congratulate them. The banner had taken them the better part of the morning to create, and it had been a pain to get it hung straight across the front window. But now, thanks to the hard work of her employees, the deli was beginning to look ready for the biggest tourist event of the season.

“What else do we have left to do, Mom?” Candice asked once Moira had gotten inside and stamped the snow off her boots.

“I was thinking we could hand some paper snowflakes like we did last year, and we can put some red and pink lights out for Valentine’s Day. Plus, of course, all the extra cooking. Are you sure you still want to be in charge of the cookies?” She didn’t doubt that her daughter could handle it, but she knew from experience that making enough cookies would be hard work. The deli didn’t usually serve any freshly made foods other than soups, salads, and sandwiches, but one of the local churches did a charity drive every year during the Winter Festival, and all of the of the small businesses joined in. Most of the proceeds from the cookies would be donated, and last year alone the deli had sold a few hundred of them on the busiest day.

“Definitely,” her daughter replied. “You’ll have enough on your plate without having to worry about that, too.”

 

“Just make sure you leave yourself enough time to do something fun. I heard that they’re actually hiring a live band for the Valentine’s dance this year,” she said. She herself hadn’t gone to the dance for a few years, but she knew her daughter loved that sort of thing.

“Don’t worry, I wouldn’t miss the dance for anything,” Candice said with a grin. She looked like she was about to say something else, but whipped her head around and gasped when something in the deli’s kitchen began a high-pitched beeping.

“Oh, the fudge is ready,” she exclaimed. “You two wait here—you’ve got to try it!”

Moira and Darrin both tried not to laugh as the young woman ran into the kitchen to check on the state of her fudge. Her daughter had recently declared that her dream was to open a candy shop, and she had been experimenting with recipes for the last few weeks. Most of what she made was quite good, but there had been a few questionable results. Luckily, everyone who worked at the deli was more than happy to taste test Candice’s experiments—after all, they were used to Moira using them as guinea pigs for new soup recipes.

Her daughter cut the fudge into manageable pieces in the back, the deli owner began straightening the food on the refrigerated shelves, and Darrin rang up a customer at the register. Besides the daily special, which in the winter was usually soup and a sandwich, the deli also sold a variety of fresh cheeses, meats, sauces, and even fruit and vegetable drinks. Moira was proud of the fact that everything she sold was from local farmers and small businesses. Her store was the only one like it in town, and she usually kept up a pretty good stream of business even in the off season. When the weather warmed up and tourists began visiting the small town, she knew that she and her employees would be busier than ever.

“Moira, I’m glad I caught you before you closed for the day,” a familiar voice rang out. She straightened and looked around to see Martha, a woman her own age who was quickly becoming a close friend.

“It’s nice to see you,” she replied with a smile. “Are you stopping by for something in particular, or just to say hi?”

“Oh, a bit of both,” her friend said. “I’ve got some news you might want to hear, plus I couldn’t resist seeing what your special is today. You always have the best food.”

“Well, today we’ve got split pea and ham soup, and toasted Italian bread sandwiches with cold cuts, ham, bacon, onion, and lettuce,” she said, gesturing to the small blackboard next to the register.

“Isn’t that the soup that the food critic refused to finish?” Martha asked, raising her eyebrows.

“You remember that, do you?” Moira shook her head. “That man was a joke. He said that the soup was too chunky, and he hated the chunks of ham in it. Enough other people told me that they loved it that I decided not to change the recipe, but I’ll definitely be serving him something else if he comes back this year.” During the Winter Festival the year before, a food critic had come to town to try out the food at each local business. She didn’t think that he had given any place in town more than three stars.

“I’ll take a bowl of it; I don’t need some strange man to tell me what’s good food and what isn’t.”

She followed the deli owner to the register, where another customer was just finishing up and order. He gave Moira a nervous smile when she saw him.
He looks familiar
, she thought. She realized that she’d seen the same guy each day this week. She returned his smile; it looked like she had a new regular.

“You shouldn’t even let him in if he comes back this year,” Martha continued as she waited in line. “Bad reviews from a food critic might not mean much to the locals, but it could make an impact on the tourists.”

“I don’t think I can just deny him service,” she pointed out. “Besides, I don’t think the opinions of one unfair critic will be too bad for business.”

“I hope not,” her friend said. “I’d hate to see you have to close down.” She paused while the man in front of her gathered up his food and moved out of the way before continuing, “Oh, that actually brings me to my other news. I’m sure you know that the guy who bought the Soup Shoppe shut down the one in town?”

“I sure did,” Moira said as she keyed in the other woman’s order and rang her up. “It was in the paper a few weeks ago. I’ve gotten a few of my customers back, which is nice.”

“Well, someone is opening
another
restaurant there,” Martha told her. “I think it’s some sort of steakhouse.”

“That’ll be great; I won’t have to drive to Lake Marion if I want a nice dinner.”

“But… aren’t you worried about the competition?” her friend asked, surprised by Moira’s calm attitude.

“Not really,” she said. “A steakhouse will actually be less competition than the Soup Shoppe was; I don’t serve steaks, after all.”

“I suppose,” her friend said with a shrug. “One more thing. Are you going to that dance they have in City Hall every year?”

“I wasn’t planning on it,” Moira said.

“Well, I know a guy who might like to take you. His name is Marcus, and he’s from Lake Marion. I went on a few dates with his cousin. He seems nice, if you’re interested.” Martha smiled and raised an eyebrow. “Unless you’ve got someone else in mind to go with?”
Moira immediately thought of David Morris, the good-looking private investigator she had met the year before and blushed. “I really wasn’t planning on going at all. I’m too old for that sort of thing.”

“Nonsense.” Her friend patted her hand reassuringly. “Just think about it, all right?”

After promising that she would indeed think about it, Moira excused herself for a moment to duck into the kitchen and serve up a to-go bowl of the split pea soup. Candice was just finishing up with the fudge, and she handed her mother a piece. Moira was happy when the creamy chocolate fudge melted in her mouth; it was delicious.

“Do you mind if I give Martha a piece of this?” she asked her daughter. “It’s amazing. Some of the best fudge I’ve ever had, in fact.”

“Thanks, Mom.” Her daughter grinned at her. “Sure, I’ll wrap some up for her. Tell her I’ll be right out.”

After Martha left, the three of them began the familiar routine of closing up the deli. The extra soup was poured into to-go containers; she gave Darrin half and took the rest for herself. Most nights, she and Candice ate leftovers from the deli for dinner, but she made a point of cooking something new or going out to eat at least once a week. Tonight looked like it would be a soup night though; the pea soup hadn’t sold as well as she had expected. Maybe Martha was right; maybe the food critic was worse for business than she had thought.

CHAPTER TWO

The next day, she and Dante were the only ones scheduled to work, although Candice would be stopping in later with the first batch of cookies. Moira was at the store at least six days a week, and sometimes worked whole months without a single day off. She was devoted to the store, and her hard work had paid off; she was making a good living for herself and could even help support her daughter in chasing her dreams.

She usually got to the deli an hour or so before it was supposed to open so that she could get the soup of the day simmering away and ready to be served to hungry customers, but since today was Sunday—the first day of the week-long Winter Festival—she knew that she would have even more work than usual to do. Normally in the off-season she only offered one soup each day and suggested a sandwich to go with it, but this week, to cater to the differing tastes of the visitors, she would be making multiple soups each day in addition to offering hot apple cider and cookies. The Winter Festival was important to the whole town, both because of its long tradition and the financial boost it gave the tourist town during the slow days of winter.

She got started on the first soup, a simple beef and veggie soup. Once the beef broth was simmering away, she dumped in sliced carrots, pearl onions, freshly snapped green beans, and cubed golden potatoes. She was in the middle of slicing the thick chunk of beef when she heard a knock at the deli’s front door.
That’s odd
, she thought, freezing mid-slice with the knife gripped tightly in her hand. She had learned caution over the last few months after two people she knew had been murdered. She used to think that Maple Creek was a safe town where nothing bad ever happened. Now she knew otherwise; bad things could happen no matter where you were.

The person knocked again, so she set down the knife and quickly washed her hands in the kitchen sink. She wasn’t expecting any deliveries today, and her daughter and employees all had keys to let themselves in. Anyone else that she knew would either call her, or just wait until the deli was open to visit.

She was surprised to see the man from yesterday at the front door—the one that had been there while she and Martha had been talking. He was tall, with sandy blond hair and glasses, and seemed almost constantly nervous. She didn’t know his name, but he seemed to be her newest regular.

“I’m sorry,” she when she unlocked and opened the front door, “but we aren’t open yet. But please come back in a few hours.”

“Oh—I was actually hoping to talk to you,” he said, looking down at the snow sidewalk. “I saw your car in the parking lot, and thought you might be less busy if I talked to you now, before the deli is open.”

“Well, I’ve got soup on the stove, so I don’t have long.” She hesitated, then decided to let the man in. “What’s your name?” she asked as she stepped aside so he could pass her. “I know I’ve seen you a few times, but I don’t think I’ve managed to catch it.”

“Steven,” he told her. “And I know yours already. Thanks for letting me come in, Moira.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” she said. “What did you want to talk to me about?”
Maybe they sent a different food critic this year,
she thought. But no, it wouldn’t make sense for him to eat at her restaurant so often without telling her, and besides, the food critic didn’t usually come until the Winter Festival had started—this man had been coming in all week.

BOOK: Cold Cut Murder: Book Three in The Darling Deli Series
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