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Authors: Liz Mugavero

Murder Most Finicky

BOOK: Murder Most Finicky
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“Pierre had a recipe?”
Greta nodded slyly. “He had a couple of them. Bigger than even the cupcakes.” She, Stan, and Jessie looked down at Stan's plate, where only a couple of crumbs remained.
“Did anyone know about the recipes? Was he close to unveiling them?” Stan asked.
“He was close. He didn't talk about it much. I'm not even sure what type of pastry. I guessed it had something to do with chocolate. They don't call him Monsieur Chocolate for nothing. That man is a
with chocolate in any form.” Her eyes took on a dreamy look, and Stan noticed she'd fallen back to speaking in the present tense. “He didn't want to jinx himself by saying too much. These recipes are like, the Holy Grail for these guys, you know? If it gets into the wrong hands your career is over. But over the past few weeks especially, he was jazzed. He told me this recipe would change the pastry landscape. I think he was going to do some test groups before a mass rollout, but it was definitely happening soon.”
Stan and Jessie looked at each other. Stan knew they were thinking the same thing: Was this recipe enough to kill for?
Books by Liz Mugavero
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation
Murder Most Finicky
Liz Mugavero
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
For Kim, my favorite foodie, always. xo
Chapter 1
Cooking is like love. It should be entered into
with abandon or not at all.
—Harriet van Horne
“Ouch. The blindfold's too tight.” Stan Connor reached up to adjust the scarf digging into her eyes and wondered why on earth she'd agreed to this. Of course, she hadn't realized blindfolds would be involved when she accepted the invitation to a weekend retreat for Sheldon Allyn's “star chefs.”
“I'll fix it, Ms. Connor. How's this? Better?” Her would-be captor loosened the tie and gave the scarf a satisfied tug. He had politely introduced himself as Joaquin Leroy, assistant to Sheldon Allyn, before blindfolding her. Joaquin had green fingernails, candy-apple red hair, and smelled like he'd bathed in Drakkar Noir.
Stan wiggled her nose and opened and closed her eyes behind the purple silk a few times to adjust the material. At least it felt supersoft. “All good,” she said, flashing a thumbs-up. Since the last time she'd been blindfolded she'd been pinning the tail on the donkey at her sixth birthday party, she wasn't exactly sure how it should feel. But it wasn't terrible.
“Excellent!” Joaquin said, clapping his hands.
“And you can call me Stan,” she said. “Ms. Connor is too formal.”
“That's such a trendy name,” Joaquin said. “I adore it. Is it real?”
“It's short for Kristan,” she explained. “Does Nutty need to be blindfolded, too?” Stan's Maine coon cat sat at her feet. She could feel his tail swishing with his displeasure at this event. For one, he was in a harness and leash. Nutty didn't do harnesses; he found them demeaning. And he hadn't had any snacks since early this morning. Completely out of routine, and Nutty swore by his routine.
Joaquin laughed. “I think the cat can keep a secret. We're going to get into the truck now. You'll be in the back near all the sweet-smelling ingredients. Think of it as your limousine for the day. Isn't that fun?”
Stan had seen “the truck” and wasn't sure how much fun it would be. The bright yellow boxy structure with neon green trim and pink lettering spelling out E
did not look like a “travel-instyle” vehicle. Those mobile pastry trucks didn't even look like they had anywhere to sit in the back. Hopefully they weren't going far. Maybe she'd get a cupcake for her troubles. She directed her brightest smile in the direction she thought Joaquin stood. “Fabulous!”
It wouldn't do to show a lack of enthusiasm. As Sheldon's assistant, Joaquin would report back on everyone's reaction to this exercise. And Sheldon—more commonly known as Mr. Pastry to his foodie fans—expected enthusiasm from his people. Especially at a weekend retreat for his star chefs, no matter how eccentric the arranged mode of arrival. Like a blindfolded jaunt in the back of a pastry truck to an undisclosed location.
The cryptic invitations Stan and Nutty each received promised a fabulous weekend of food and fun that would've been political suicide to ignore, given her still-in-its-infancy partnership with Sheldon for a pet patisserie in her Frog Ledge, Connecticut, hometown.
So this morning she'd kissed her pub owner boyfriend, Jake McGee, good-bye, loaded Nutty into the car, and driven from Frog Ledge to downtown Newport, Rhode Island. The address on the invitation took her to the downtown parking lot, where Sheldon had arranged for her to leave her car. The ocean air beckoned on this beautiful August day. If the bus—well, pastry truck—didn't leave soon she might have to wander over to the beach and dip her toes in.
But Joaquin was moving things along. “I'll help you into the truck now. Let me take your bag.” He took it from her hand and grasped her arm, leading her up the metal ramp used to load supplies. Nutty stopped moving. Stan tugged. Nutty resisted.
“Come on, Nutter,” she urged. “We're going for another ride.”
Nutty meowed.
Joaquin laughed. “Stubborn fella, eh? I'll get him.” Joaquin clanged back down the ramp, then rejoined Stan a few seconds later. “All set. You can sit right here.” He guided her to what felt like a bench seat. Once she sat, he deposited Nutty in her lap. “Right next to Mr. McLeod. And we're off! Next stop, well, it's a surprise.”
She heard his footsteps moving away, then a thud as he jumped to the ground. The back door to the pastry truck slammed shut behind him. “Why'd you do that, Nutty?” She stroked his fur. “I promise we'll have fun.”
He meowed at her again, an agitated cry. She hoped he wasn't sick.
Joaquin climbed into the driver's seat up front a minute later and started the engine. She lifted her blindfold just a smidge to see the guy in the truck with her.
“Don't do that, honey!” Joaquin's singsong voice sounded over some sort of tinny speaker system. “I can see you!”
Okay, that was creepy.
“Sorry!” she called. “You think he can hear us, too?” Stan whispered to her companion. She'd gotten a quick glimpse before Joaquin caught her. Young, tanned, and blond, he'd certainly be handsome behind the gaudy, glittery, green silk scarf tied around his eyes.
“I have no idea,” he said.
They both paused, waiting to hear if Joaquin would answer them like the voice of God from above. He didn't. As the truck maneuvered out of the parking lot and turned left Stan felt herself lurch off balance, almost landing in her companion's lap.
“Sorry,” she said, bracing herself on the slim bench. Thank goodness Joaquin hadn't tied her hands, too. “I'm Stan Connor, by the way. Seeing as we weren't properly introduced.”
A pause. Typical reaction to her nickname. She'd shortened Kristan to Stan as a teenager, mainly because it annoyed her mother. It had stuck. She'd later found it worked to her advantage in corporate America. It threw people off nicely. Another reason to keep it.
When her companion spoke again she thought his voice sounded a little odd. “You're the pet chef. Cool.”
He recognized her name? She immediately felt stupid, since she didn't know any of the other chefs. Certainly not this guy. “And what do you cook? What's your first name, by the way?” she asked.
“Sorry. I'm Kyle. I'm a vegan chef.”
“Nice to meet you,” Stan said.
“Likewise. So what do you think would happen if we both revolted and took the stupid blindfolds off? I think I have glitter in my eyes.”
Stan laughed. “I'm jealous my scarf doesn't have glitter. I bet we'd get dragged to Sheldon's office and get detention or something. I don't want to cause trouble. Especially since it's my first rodeo with him and his crew.”
“I guess.” Kyle sighed. “I hope this isn't some cockamamy idea that's going to get us all thrown in jail or something.”
Stan's eyes widened behind her blindfold. “Has that happened before?”
“Not that I know of, but with Sheldon, all bets are off.” Kyle grabbed for something to hold on to as the truck took another sharp turn, this time to the right. “Really, someone should teach his entourage how to drive.”
“You don't sound thrilled to be here,” Stan said as Nutty attempted to wiggle away from her. He leaned over and rubbed against Kyle.
“What the heck is that?” he exclaimed.
“That's Nutty, my cat,” Stan said. “He's very friendly.”
Kyle laughed. “I wasn't expecting a handful of fur. To answer your question—no, I'm not a fan of surprises. A ‘delectable weekend in glorious Newport, Rhode Island, celebrating the most exquisite talent in the food industry today,' like the invitation said, is one thing. Having to get there blindfolded is another. But he loves games.”
“How long have you worked with Sheldon?” Stan asked. She still didn't know what to expect from her new—what was he, anyway? Business partner? Colleague? She'd done her research, watched his guest appearances on The Food Channel
and visited his shop in Providence, but hadn't spent much time with him yet. And the brief time they'd spent together had been wrapped up in negotiations about the shop, which they hoped to open by the end of the year.
“Long enough to know he's crazy as a loon,” Kyle said, and Stan could sense an edge to his humorous tone.
Stan'd gotten that vibe about Sheldon as well but had been willing to overlook it, hoping it was his attract-new-talent persona. Before she could probe more deeply the truck engaged in another hair-raising turn, then began climbing a hill. It lurched to another, more final stop, and she heard the sound of a parking brake scraping into place.
Kyle sighed again. “Get ready,” he said. “Looks like we're here. And a word of advice? Expect the unexpected.”
BOOK: Murder Most Finicky
10.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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