Cold Cut Murder: Book Three in The Darling Deli Series (2 page)

BOOK: Cold Cut Murder: Book Three in The Darling Deli Series
12.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“I… I wanted to know if you would like to go to the dance with me,” he said, mumbling the first part of the sentence, then saying the last part so quickly that she almost didn’t catch it. It took Moira a moment to realize that he meant the yearly Valentine’s dance. She blinked, not sure what to say. She hadn’t even really considered going to the dance this year, let along with some guy that she didn’t know.

“I’m sorry,” she told him. “I don’t think I’m going to go this year, plus I don’t know you well enough to accept an invitation like that. Thanks for asking me, though.” She gave him a gentle smile, hoping that he couldn’t see how uncomfortable she was.

“The dance isn’t until next Sunday,” he told her. “You have a whole week to get to know me. Don’t you think you might change your mind?”
Is he really arguing with me to try to get me to go on a date with him?
she wondered.

“I’m just not interested. Sorry,” she said. She pulled the deli’s front door open again, letting a blast of icy air in. “Thanks for asking me though, and I do really appreciate your business. I hope to see you again while we’re open.” When he didn’t move right away, she began to be worried that he was going to try to argue with her more, but after a second or two he huffed and walked through the open door, leaving without saying a word or looking back.

Moira was shaken by the incident, and decided to call her friend. As soon as she finished preparing the beef soup, she pulled out her phone and dialed Martha. It only took her a few minutes to relate the story, and she found that just telling someone else about it made her feel better.

“He just seemed sort of strange,” she told her friend. “And he was pretty upset that I said no.”

“I think it’s sweet,” Martha said. “He has obviously liked you for a while, if he’s been coming to the deli and buying stuff just for a chance to see you.”

“Do you think I should have agreed to go with him?” she asked.

“I mean, not necessarily with him, but I think you might have fun if you go to the dance. You haven’t dated for a while, have you?”

“No,” Moira admitted. “I just don’t have the time.”

“You should make time,” her friend told her. “I’m sure there are plenty of guys that would be happy to go to the dance with you.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Moira said with a laugh. “Thanks for the vote of confidence, though.”

“Any time,” Martha said. “That’s what friends are for, isn’t it?”


The first day of the Winter Festival turned out to be a busy one at the deli. Moira was beginning to wish that she had scheduled more workers than just Dante and herself, but Darrin and Candice had come in early the day before to help her decorate; besides, her daughter was busy making cookies. It was nice to see a long line of customers at her register, and as long as Dante was willing to switch places with her every now and then, she was happy to work through the day without a break.

Candice stopped by shortly after the lunch rush with two platters full of sugar cookies, some decorated like snowflakes, others with a Valentine’s Day theme. Moira was impressed with what her daughter had managed to bake in such a short time; she herself had never been one for baking cookies—desserts weren’t her forte.

“Do you need me to stay, Mom, or do you want me to get started on tomorrow’s cookies?” her daughter asked.

“How about you go home and make the batch for tomorrow; I think Dante and I will do all right here.”

“Sounds good. I’ll make extras for us.” Candice gave her a quick smile and left, letting the door swing shut behind her. A moment later, it opened again. A woman a few years younger than Moira strode in. She was wearing dark boots and a long black coat, and her red hair was pulled up in a tight bun on the top of her head. It was evident by the way she was dressed that she wasn’t from the town; most likely she was a tourist here for the Winter Festival.

“Hello, and welcome to Darling’s DELIcious Delights,” the deli owner greeted her. “How can I help you?”

“Are you the owner?” the woman asked.

“Yes, I am. Moira Darling.” She extended her hand, and the other woman gave it a brisk shake.

“Denise Donovan,” she replied. “I’m the owner of the Redwood Grill—the new restaurant in town. You may have heard of us.”

“I have, actually,” Moira said. “It’s nice to meet you. I didn’t know your restaurant was open yet. I’ll have to stop by sometime.”

“Our grand opening is tonight. Feel free to come if you would like. I’m expecting it to be busy. We’ve been working hard to get everything ready for the first night of the Winter Festival.”

“I’ll see if my daughter wants to go there for dinner with me after we close. I’ll go even if she doesn’t want to, though.” She smiled at the other woman. “It’s nice to see another businesswoman. If you don’t mind me asking, where are you from?”

“I was born in California, but moved to Michigan when I got married. This is the second restaurant in the chain; my husband runs the other one. He’s in town right now to help out with opening night, though.” She returned Moira’s smile, the sharp lines of her face softening for a moment. “Thank you for your kind words. I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting you to be so friendly. The man who owns that diner didn’t seem very happy that yet another restaurant was opening up in town.”

“Arlo’s just grumpy, he’ll come around,” Moira assured her. “And I think our restaurants are different enough that there won’t be much of a problem. Plus, we women have got to stick together.” The two business owners traded another quick smile before Denise left to finish preparing for her grand opening. Moira watched her go, feeling happier than she had since her strange encounter with the man that morning. It seemed that she had just made another friend.

After closing the deli for the evening, she made a quick stop at home to change and see if Candice wanted to go to the Redwood Grill with her. The house was warm from all of the baking that her daughter had been doing, and the air smelled like cookies. She was amazed to see plate after plate of sugar cookies when she walked into the kitchen; Candice really had been busy.

It only took a few moments for her daughter to agree to go with her to the new restaurant. Moira waited in the kitchen while the young woman changed, and was unable to resist eating one of the cookies. The homemade frosting was perfect, and had dried to a crisp layer on top of the cookie itself, which was moist and full of flavor.
I’ll really have to watch what I eat this week if I don’t want to go up a pant size
, she thought. She had terrible willpower around desserts; it was one of the reasons that she didn’t bake much.

“All right, I’m ready,” Candice said, bounding into the room in a rush of perfume and sleek blonde hair. Moira had suggested that they both wear something dressier than usual, and her daughter had definitely gone all out.

“Let’s go,” she replied, feeling her stomach growl. The cookie had been tasty, but it wasn’t filling. “I’m starving.”


The Redwood Grill might have been in the same building as the Soup Shoppe, but it couldn’t have looked more different. The windows were now tinted so that the diners inside had privacy, and the sign glowed a deep red in the dark winter night. Inside, the air smelled of sizzling meat and a mouthwatering mixture of spices. Moira was glad to see that the restaurant was indeed busy; people were milling around at the bar and chatting as they waited for a table, and waiters and waitresses rushed back and forth carrying trays laden with food. When Moira gave her name to the hostess, she was surprised to find that Denise had reserved a table for them.

“What do you think?” she asked her daughter as the server led them through the busy restaurant to a secluded corner booth in the back.

“It seems nice.” Candice looked around, admiration evident. “It’s a lot fancier than any other place in town. I think they’ll do well—as long as the food is up to par, of course.”

They ordered drinks from the server, and then began perusing the menu, occasionally looking up to make comments to each other about what was being offered. The Redwood Grill had steaks in every cut imaginable, but also fresh seafood, tempting pasta entrées, and a whole menu page devoted to desserts.

“Hey, Mom,” her daughter whispered suddenly, her eyes shifting to the left. “Look over there. Isn’t that the food critic that gave us a bad review last year?” Moira followed the young woman’s gaze and saw the familiar curls of the man who had refused to finish her soup a year ago.

“It’s definitely him,” she whispered back. “Oh dear, I hope he gives Denise a fair review. She’s obviously put a lot of work into the place.”

“I’m sure he will,” her daughter replied. “Everything here looks and smells delicious. He’d be crazy to try to give this place a bad review. I can’t wait to try something—I just can’t decide what.”

A few minutes after their food appeared and they had had a chance to taste each of the dishes that they had ordered—each one seeming better than the next—a handsome man who looked to be about Moira’s age appeared at the table. He was finely dressed, with a sharp black suit, a silk tie, and shoes that looked like they cost more than Moira’s car. There was a red rose tucked into his lapel, which he straightened before speaking.

“Johan Donovan,” he said by way of introduction. “I hope our food is satisfactory. My wife tells me that you are quite the chef yourself.” His dark brown eyes met Moira’s as he said this, and to her embarrassment she felt a flush rise on her cheeks. The wine must be going to her head—this man was obviously Denise’s husband, and thus completely unavailable.

“Everything is delicious,” she assured him. “The steak was cooked perfectly, not overdone like it seems to be at most restaurants, and the potatoes are creamy and practically melt in your mouth.”

“You’ve definitely won us over,” Candice chimed in. “I don’t know how I’m going to stay away from this place.”

“No need to stay away,” Johan said with a smile. “We’re open every evening, and welcome your company.” He took Moira’s hand, and, to her surprise, kissed the back of it. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Darling. If you ever need anything, don’t hesitate to call. We restaurateurs have to stick together.” He slipped a business card out of his pocket and put it on the table, then released her hand. “I’ll have someone bring you a dessert menu—you
try the lava cake, it’s our chef’s special. On the house, of course.” He gave them a wink, just as the tall, red-headed form of Denise appeared at his shoulder.

“Johan,” she said sharply. “One of the busboys just quit, and the sous chef is having a mental breakdown. I need you in back of the house,
with things. I thought we were past all this?” She arched her eyebrow, giving Moira an icy look. Confused, the deli owner looked away, pretending to focus on her food in an effort to give the pair privacy for what was obviously a personal conversation.

“I was just saying hi to your new friend, dear,” he said. “It’s best to stay on good terms with the competition, don’t you agree? I’ll go take care of the sous chef now, don’t you worry.” With that, he drifted off, weaving his way around busy servers and bustling customers with ease.

“My husband,” Denise said simply, looking after him with an unreadable expression. She turned back to Moira, none of her earlier friendliness visible. “I just came by to see how you are doing, but it looks like he beat me to it. I hope the two of you have a good night, and
try the lava cake.” A humorless smile twisted her lips. “It’s to die for.”

It was late by the time the two women got home. Both of them had eaten far too much at the restaurant, but the juicy steaks had been worth it. The lava cake had been amazing as well, though she would have enjoyed it more if she hadn’t been trying to figure out what had happened between her and Denise. She had thought that the two of them had hit it off when they spoke at the deli. Maybe Denise had just been stressed at the grill tonight—logical, as it was the grand opening. Either way, the Redwood Grill had just become a new favorite for both her and Candice, though they would have to restrain themselves to eating there just once or twice a month. The food wasn’t cheap, and the portions weren’t small, bad for both her wallet and her waistline.

Full and groggy, she managed to drag herself upstairs and change into her pajamas before she collapsed into bed. It had been a fun evening, and she was beginning to look forward to the rest of the week, even though it would be busy. The Winter Festival marked the last long stretch of winter before spring came, and she was looking forward to all of the opportunities of the year ahead.


The second day of the Winter Festival was in full swing as she drove into town that morning. Banners hung from windows, announcing the week’s sales, and snowflakes and Valentine’s hearts seemed to be everywhere she looked. The small bed and breakfast on Main Street had a full parking lot, and there were plenty of pedestrians traveling to-and-fro on the sidewalk. It was turning out to be a busy week, which Moira welcomed. She was more than happy to help Candice with her dream of opening a candy shop, but the money had to come from somewhere.

She was humming to herself as she unlocked the deli’s front door, eager to get started on the day’s soups—curried corn chowder, and green bean minestrone. She had never made the corn chowder before, but the recipe looked simple and delicious. After wiping her shoes off on the rug, she made her way to the cash register to unlock it and make sure they had enough one-dollar bills for the day. A shadowy form in the corner caught her eye, and she looked up, choking back a scream when she saw the man sitting at the corner table.

He was sitting slouched in the bistro chair, head drooping towards his chest. The brown curls of his hair looked familiar to Moira, but her panicked mind couldn’t place them. He was wearing a brown suit, and had a red rose tucked into his lapel pocket. What was he
here? He looked like he was passed out. Was it possible that some drunk had wandered in late last night? No… the front door had definitely been locked when she got here, and she only used the side door for deliveries—it locked automatically when it was shut.

BOOK: Cold Cut Murder: Book Three in The Darling Deli Series
12.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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