Never Trust a Skinny Cupcake Baker (Death by Cupcake Book 1) (5 page)

BOOK: Never Trust a Skinny Cupcake Baker (Death by Cupcake Book 1)
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Chapter
9

Keep
Calm. There’s nothing a cupcake can’t solve.

As I rush to my bike, which I had thrown haphazardly on the
grass in front of Bascom Hall, I text Ben and ask him to meet me at the bakery.
Before I manage to straddle my ride, there’s a beep from my phone indicating a
message. He’ll meet me at the bakery in ten minutes.

I peddle my butt off and make it to the bakery before Ben
arrives. Fortunately, one of our part-timers is managing the bakery front while
Anna bakes and sings off-key in the kitchen. She watches me enter with a scowl.
No doubt angry that I took off when she was swamped, but one look at my flushed
face has her stopping in her tracks.

“What’s going on?”

I shake my head. “I’m waiting for Ben and then we’ll talk.”
I push through the swinging door into the café in time to see Ben enter. He
immediately rushes to me.

“Are you okay?” He asks as he pulls me into a hug.

“We need to talk.” I take his hand and pull him though the
kitchen into my office. Anna sees us and immediately washes her hands before
joining us. I collapse in my office chair and take a deep breath before
blurting out, “We need to find Dolly’s killer.”

“WHAT?” Ben explodes while Anna jumps up and down clapping.

“Please, let me explain.” I’m pleading with Ben while Anna
is doing a victory dance of some sort. “Anna, you’re not helping.” She yelps
and sits in a chair. Ben closes my office door but doesn’t relax. He stands
with his back leaning against the door, and his arms crossed over his broad
chest, which makes his biceps bulge and would be intimidating as all get out if
I didn’t know the man is just a big teddy bear.

“I’m going to lose my position at the University if I can’t
prove I’m innocent before the semester starts.” My eyes tear up at the idea,
but I blink fast and manage to hold them back.

“Sweetheart,” Ben whispers, and somehow I’m in his arms.
He’s sitting in my chair, and I’m cradled in his lap. “They can’t do that.” He
kisses my forehead and cuddles me close.

“Unfortunately, they can.” I take a deep breath and confess
something I would never admit to Dean Jorgenson. “There’s a clause in my
contract about impropriety.”

Anna jumps up from her chair and explodes. “You did nothing
improper! You are accused of a murder you didn’t commit! This isn’t fair.”

“Life isn’t fair,” I mumble.

My words enrage the pixie. She slams her tiny fist on my
desk and shouts, “You’ve had enough unfairness in your life. You worked so hard
for this. I’m going to hurt those German department jerks!”

Ben hugs me close at Anna’s reference to my less than
stellar life story. It’s not really that horrible. It is what it is. My parents
died in a car crash when I was a teenager. Although I had an aunt and uncle
somewhere in the middle of nowhere Nebraska who were willing to take me in
despite the fact that we had never met, I didn’t want to move. I was seventeen
at the time and a senior in high school. I’d already secured early acceptance
into the University where I now teach with an academic scholarship to boot.
Unfortunately, my dad was at fault in the accident that killed him and my mom,
and the insurance used his negligence as an excuse to not pay out. I ended up
selling the house, Mom’s car, even the furniture to have enough money to pay
for their hospital costs and funeral. I ended up working at Gretchen’s bakery
to pay for the tiny apartment I had moved in to after being emancipated.
Gretchen became my new family. She left me the bakery when she passed. In her
will, she stated she wanted me to sell the bakery and use the money to pay for
my living costs while I finished my doctorate, but I couldn’t do it. The
bakery’s been in her family for three generations, and I couldn’t just throw
that history away. Instead, with Anna’s baking genius, I’ve managed to make the
bakery into a profitable business, which pays the bills while I’m waiting for a
full-time professor position to open up at the University. 

Naturally, Ben is the voice of reason. “It’s too dangerous
for you to go off half-cocked looking for a killer. You don’t know what you’re
doing.”

I lean away from Ben’s comforting arms and stare him down.
“What choice do I have? The fall semester starts in two weeks. If I’m not cleared
of any ‘impropriety’ before then, my current suspension will be made
permanent.”

“Are they even looking for the real killer?” Anna pipes up.
“I read somewhere that once someone decides a person is guilty, then it’s nearly
impossible to convince them they’re wrong.” I roll my eyes at Anna. She loves
pop psychology. Unfortunately, she gets most of her ‘information’ from women’s
magazines and those ridiculous quizzes they always seem to be printing.

Ben wiggles beneath me. I tilt my head in question at him.
What’s
he hiding?
His face turns a lovely shade of pink, but I continue to stare
him down. Finally, he shakes his head and admits, “Duchamp and Smits are
convinced Callie is the murderer. They’re focusing all their attention on her.”

“Why?” I thought I had poked some gigantic holes in their
less than stellar case against me.

“Sweetheart, they’re new to the homicide squad, and you made
fools out of them. The entire squad is laughing at them. They’re out to prove
something now.”

“Men,” I huff. Ben just shrugs.

“Well, that just cinches it doesn’t it?” Anna jumps up from
her chair and starts pacing my office. “We’re going to have to find the killer
ourselves.” She stops and stares at Ben. “What do you know about the case?”

Ben shrugs. “Not much. Just what I told you before. Dolly
was poisoned, and they assume it was the cupcake that killed her.”  

“I’ve been thinking about that.” I push my slipping glasses
back up my nose. “How did they figure out it was poison so quickly? I’m not an
expert or anything but doesn’t it take longer to do a tox screen or whatever
it’s called?”

Ben smiles, and his dimple is visible. “I think they’re
assuming.” Anna claps and starts to rant again, but Ben cuts her off. “But the
circumstantial evidence is pretty damning. Dolly died while in the middle of
eating the cupcake. A witness says she complained about the cupcake tasting
‘funky’ before she collapsed. It looked like she had a heart attack but with
her age and fitness level…” He shrugs as his voice trails off.

“When was this supposed poisoning?” Anna asks, and I turn to
her and nearly fall out of Ben’s lap in surprise. She’s sitting in a chair
scratching away with a pen and paper. Where did my pixie go?

“Right after your pole dancing class last week Tuesday.”

Anna looks up and studies Ben. “Anything else you can tell
us about the case?”

Ben shakes his head. “Not really. I’m not on the homicide
squad, and they know that Callie’s my girlfriend. The detectives are being
quite secretive.”

Girlfriend?
When did that happen? We’ve been on one
date. I look up at Ben in question, and he’s staring at me as if to dare me to
contradict him. Do I want to contradict him? I give my head a little shake.
“We’ll talk about that girlfriend comment later,” I whisper to him.

He leans down and gives me a quick kiss before moving his
mouth to my ear to whisper, “Talk all you want, sweetheart. You’re mine and
everyone knows it. Stop fighting it.”

I push my glasses back up and shake my head at his audacity.
Where did my gentle giant go? Speaking of which, “You need to go.”

Ben startles in surprise. “You want me to go?”

“You can’t be involved, Ben,” answers Anna.

He looks at me for confirmation. “I won’t have you risking
your job over this.”

He stares at me, and I want to squirm, but I have to stand
firm. He loves his job. I can’t let him throw that away for me. I’m just not
worth it. Finally, he nods. “Okay, I’ll go but only because you’re agreeing
that you’re girlfriend.” I start to protest, but he just talks right over my
protests. “And on two conditions.”

“Name them.” I glower at him.

“One, I have resources you can only dream of. If you need
help, you come to me and I’ll see what I can do.” Easy enough. I nod. “And if
things get dangerous, you’re done.”

“But...” I start to speak, and Ben cuts me off again.

“I’m not budging on this. It took me a year to get you. Now
that I’ve got you, I’m not giving you up.”

Reluctantly, I nod. I don’t think there’s any chance of
danger, anyway. Ben picks me up and sets me on my feet so he can stand. He
pushes out of the chair and then grabs my hand. “Walk me out.” I follow him
through the kitchen to the back door.

“Why are you going out the back way?”

He smirks at me and leans close. “So I can do this.” He
crushes his mouth on mine, and I’m lost in a haze of pleasure. After a few
minutes, he slows the kiss and pulls away. “Fight me all you want, Callie, but
you’re mine.” He turns and quickly exits the bakery before I have a chance to
catch my breath; let alone come up with some sort of reply to his declaration.

Chapter
10

“Wow,
that Lean Cuisine really filled me up,” said no one, ever.

I wander through the kitchen in a bit of a fog. Anna grabs
my arm and pulls me into my office. She sets me down on one of the chairs in front
of my desk and grabs the other one. She pulls a notebook towards her. “Okay,
where do we start?”

Where do we start?
What’s she talking about? I shake
my head to clear my Ben-fog. Oh yeah, Dolly’s murder. “I have no idea. I guess
we need to find someone who would want to kill her.”

Anna clicks her pen on and off several times before
responding. “I imagine there are a lot of people who hate her.”

I shake my head at her. “There’s a huge difference between
hating someone and actually killing them.” I start to warm to the subject.
“Think about it. Someone took the time and energy to come here and buy a
cupcake and then poison it and give it to Dolly. And then they tried to frame
me. This took time and premeditation. I doubt it’s just someone who doesn’t like
her class.”

Anna slumps back in her chair. “I guess you’re right.”

“And the gym manager, Janet, told me that her classes are
really popular. So I doubt it’s someone from one of her classes.”

“So, how are we going to find someone who wanted to kill her?”

“Hmmm…” I drum my fingers on the desk. “It has to be someone
she knew well, right? Someone who knew when she was giving classes and knew
about the incident with her car.” Anna nods eagerly. I sit up when an idea hits
me. “We need her address book.”

“And how are we going to get her address book?”

“Hold on.” I hold up a finger and grab my phone from my
desk. I quickly dial Ben’s number. “Hey Ben. Question for you. Do you know
where Dolly’s phone is?” I listen to Ben’s answer before hanging up the phone and
explaining to Anna. “No dice. Dolly’s phone was on her when she was murdered so
it’s in evidence.”

“Shoot!”

I barely hear Anna’s shout. My eyes are focused on my
laptop. “I wonder…”

“You wonder what?”

I turn to Anna who looks annoyed at my evasiveness. “I have
my phone synced to my laptop. Just in case I lose my phone or something. Maybe
Dolly has a computer or laptop at her house and…”

Anna is typing on my laptop before I can even manage to
finish my thought. “Crud! Dolly’s address is unlisted.”

“But the gym must have her address. She’s an employee so
they’d need it for their records and such.” I reach for my phone but then stop.
“I can’t call and ask for Dolly’s address. I’m a suspect in her murder.”

“I’ll do it.” Anna grabs her phone and starts scrolling
through her contacts. “What was that manager’s name?”

“Janet,” I whisper as Anna’s call is already being picked
up.

“Can I talk to Janet, please?” Anna smiles and drums her
fingers as she waits. “Hi Janet! This is Anna. I’m a member… I was just wondering
if you have Dolly’s address. I want to send some flowers or something.”

I shake my head at Anna’s lame excuse.

“Oh, yeah, the funeral home would be better.” Anna grabs a
pen and paper. She scribbles the name of the funeral home down. “Thanks, Janet!”

“Well, that sucks,” she says as she throws the phone on my
desk. “What now?”

I shrug because I have no idea. It’s not like I’m an expert
at criminal investigations. If you want to debate great German authors, I’m
your girl. Solving murders? No clue.

Anna jumps and starts to clap. Uh oh. “Why don’t we get the
information from the gym?”

“How?”

She waves her hand at my practical question. “No worries.
I’ll just ask the receptionist. She likes me.” She stands and moves to the kitchen.
“We’ll have to wait until closing, though. I need to get some baking done.”

♥♥♥

I’m really hoping that Anna changes her mind before closing
time but no such luck. She doesn’t give me a chance to balk and rushes me out
the back door pushing me towards the gym once the bakery is shut down. Just
before we enter the gym, my phone vibrates in my pocket. It’s Ben wondering
where I am. Shoot! He must be at the bakery to walk me to my apartment. I
quickly type that I’m at the gym. There. That should satisfy him.

Anna and I walk into the gym, and she heads directly to the
receptionist while I hang back. Access to the gym is via a gate for which you
need a pass card. The receptionist sits at a curved desk next to the gate and
can buzz people in if necessary. There’s a small seating area before the entry.
I grab a magazine from the table and hide behind it while Anna talks to the
receptionist.

After a few moments of speaking Anna shakes her head and
swipes her card for access to the gym. What’s she doing? My phone rings. It’s
Anna.

“What are you doing?” I whisper.

“She wouldn’t give me Dolly’s address. We need to create a
diversion, and then you can snoop in her computer.”

“Me?” I shout and then remember I’m supposed to be
incognito. “Why can’t you snoop?”

“Because you can’t make a scene when you’re not supposed to
be here. Duh. Don’t swipe your card either. They probably make records of
that.”

I start to protest but Anna’s already hung up. Typical. And
then I hear her screaming. “Oh my God. Somebody help! I think this lady in the
locker room is having a heart attack!” And then she’s next to the receptionist
pulling her to the locker room. “You’ve got to help me!” They turn a corner,
and Anna looks back at me and winks before pointing to the desk and mouthing,
GO
.

It looks like I don’t have a choice. This is beyond stupid.
Not that that stops me or anything. I walk to the desk and try to reach the
computer, but I’m too short.
Bugger
. What now? I jump up and try to
crawl over the desk only I end up jumping too far and going up and over the
desk. I somehow manage to not crack my skull and land on my butt. I rub my sore
bottom for a second before grabbing the keyboard and starting to search. Lucky
for me, there’s an icon on the home page titled ‘employee contact information’.
I click on it and find Dolly’s information. I grab a sticky note and scribble
down her address.  

I need to get out of here. I shove the sticky note in my
back pocket and put the keyboard back. I get to my knees and slowly peek out
from behind the desk.
Fiddlesticks!
Ben is standing there with his arms
crossed over his chest staring down at me. He shakes his head before reaching
over and hauling me over the desk. He places me on my feet before asking,
“Where’s Anna?”

“I think she’s in the locker room.”

“No doubt causing trouble.”

I just shrug in answer. He shakes his head again and grabs
my hand before pulling me out of the gym. We walk a few yards before he pulls
me into an alleyway. He pushes me against the wall and boxes me in with his hands
flat against the wall next to my head.

“What were you thinking?” Oh, he’s really mad. I can see a
vein bulging in his forehead.

“We just wanted to get Dolly’s home address.”

He sighs and closes his eyes. He takes a moment before
opening his eyes. “That’s information I could have gotten you. I told you to
let me help with the details. If Duchamps finds out you were sneaking around at
Dolly’s gym, he’s going to use that against you.”

I shake my head. “No one saw me.” He raises an eyebrow at
me. “Well, except you. And I don’t want you to get into any trouble at work.”

He takes a deep breath and moves his hands to my face.
“Sweetheart, I love that you’re worried about me, but I can take care of
myself. You’re the one of accused of murder.” He doesn’t give me a chance to
respond before he’s kissing me.

“Hey big guy!” Ben releases my lips to look at Anna who’s
standing at the entrance to the alley. “Can you cool it? I need to get out of
here – like now!”

Ben shakes his head but grabs my hand and walks to Anna. He
grabs her hand with his free one. “Come on, you two. Time you get back to the
bakery.”

We walk back to the bakery with Ben keeping a hold of both
of us. Anna keeps looking back as if the hounds of hell are chasing her. But
there’s no one. Anna’s type of chaos-causing usually leaves confusion in its
wake and not fury. For some reason, people have a hard time believing a tiny,
pink-haired fairy is evil.

The second we near the bakery, Anna squirms loose of Ben’s
hold and grabs her bike from the alley behind the bakery and takes off, still
looking behind her for pursuers. I shake my head at her and open the door to my
apartment. I turn to say good-bye to Ben, but he’s right on my tails.

“What are you doing, Ben?” His recent pushy behavior is
nothing like the past year of sweet date requests and walking me home after
work.

“I’m coming in with you.”

I put my hand up to stop him. “I’ve got work to do.”
Assuming I can manage to keep my teaching job that is.

Ben isn’t deterred. “I’ll watch the game while you work, and
then we’ll order in.”

“Sounds like you’ve got it all planned out.”

He sighs and drops his forehead to mine. “Sweetheart, give
me this. You getting hauled into the police station scared the pants off of me.
I’m finally getting the chance at making you mine. I can’t lose you now.”

Wow, that’s sweet. I melt. Who wouldn’t? I don’t say another
word and let him follow me up to my apartment. Ben plops down on my sofa, and I
head to the kitchen table to get some teaching prep done. I spend two hours
working on a syllabus for the class and preparing my first lecture. The
doorbell rings and brings me out of my groove.

“Food’s here,” Ben yells as he takes off down the stairs to
greet the delivery person. He comes back up with several bags smelling like
curry.

“Mmm… Indian.” I leave my work and grab some plates and
utensils from the kitchen before joining Ben on the sofa. He’s laying the food
out on the coffee table. It looks like enough food to feed an army. “Think you
got enough food?”

“I’m a big guy. I need a lot of fuel. Want to watch a
movie?”

I nod and start filling my plate up with Tikka Masala and
Butter Chicken. I do love Indian food. Ben puts a movie in and joins me on the
sofa. He makes my full plate look like an appetizer. He’s not kidding about
eating a lot of food.

We eat in silence while we watch the movie. I finish my
plate and put it on the table before curling up on the sofa. Ben turns to me.
“Don’t you want any more? There’s plenty of food.”

I shake my head. “I shouldn’t. I gain weight really easy and
it’s not as if I’m not big enough as it is. Nobody wants a fat girlfriend.”

Ben slowly puts his plate down and turns to me. He leans
over and grabs my face between his huge paws. “Beautiful, look at me. I’m a big
guy. I don’t want a skinny girlfriend who looks like she’ll break if I hug her
too tight and only eats salads. I love your curves. You’re not fat. You look
like a woman should look, all soft curves.” And then he proceeds to show me
that yes, indeed, he does love my curves. 

BOOK: Never Trust a Skinny Cupcake Baker (Death by Cupcake Book 1)
2.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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