Authors: Nancy J. Parra
PRAISE FOR THE PERFECT PROPOSALS MYSTERIES
“[A] captivating read you can't put down.”
âDuffy Brown, national bestselling author of the Consignment Shop Mysteries
“I can't wait until the next book.”
âJ. J. Cook, national bestselling author of the Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade Mysteries
“Pulled me right from the first chapter and I practically read this one in one sitting.”
âCozy Mystery Book Reviews
“[A] funny, romantic plot with a twist of a mysteryÂ .Â .Â . [A] treat for readers.”
âRT Book Reviews
PRAISE FOR THE BAKER'S TREAT MYSTERIES
“A mouthwatering debutÂ .Â .Â . Clever, original, and appealing, with gluten-free recipes to die for.”
New York Times
bestselling author of the Death on Demand Mysteries
“[A] sweet treat that's sure to delight!”
âPeg Cochran, national bestselling author of the Gourmet De-Lite Mysteries
“Could murder be any sweeter?”
âConnie Archer, national bestselling author of the Soup Lover's Mysteries
“A lively, sassy heroine!”
âJoAnna Carl, national bestselling author of the Chocoholic Mysteries
“You'll devour every morsel.”
âAvery Aames, Agatha Awardâwinning author of the Cheese Shop Mysteries
Baker's Treat Mysteries
GLUTEN FOR PUNISHMENT
MURDER GONE A-RYE
FLOURLESS TO STOP HIM
Perfect Proposals Mysteries
ENGAGED IN MURDER
BODICE OF EVIDENCE
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A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author
Copyright Â© 2016 by Julie Hyzy.
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eBook ISBN: 9780698135031
Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / May 2016
Cover illustration by Ben Perini.
Cover design by Sandra Chiu.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
This book is for Jeanette Hait Blanco. Thank you for your unconditional friendship, wisdom and joy, and for sharing adventures with
It takes a village to create a book. Special thanks to my editor, Michelle; her assistant, Bethany; and all the copyeditors, production folks, and proofreaders at Berkley Prime Crime. Thanks, too, to my agent, Paige Wheeler, who keeps me on track and helps me make a living doing what I love. Finally, thanks to the readers who keep buying my books, sharing my stories, and allowing me to be a part of their lives. You all
“Get ready,” I called to the wedding party and the rest of our family and friends outside the church. The bridesmaids and groomsmen lined either side of the church stairs.
We waited patiently for the photographer to finish taking pictures and for Felicity and Warren to come out of the church. I passed out small bags of rice and birdseed along with bubbles. The rice was a nod to my parents who insisted that only rice was a sign of good luck. I argued that birdseed was better because rice was bad for the birds. Felicity had tried to solve the problem by asking for bubbles to be blown when they came out of the church. Somehow we ended up with all three.
I had paid the altar boys twenty dollars each to sweep up the stairs after we left. That way no birds would be harmed.
“Here they come!” George Grayson, Warren's best man, shouted.
Everyone cheered as Felicity and Warren stepped out hand in hand. We tossed the seeds and rice and blew bubbles as they stopped at the top of the steps and kissed. Their shiny new rings caught the evening light. Felicity's veil fluttered in the wind and they pulled back, ducking from our pelting, and ran to the waiting limo. The rest of the bridal party jumped into waiting cars and chased them through town, honking and waving.
I sat in the back of George's Lexus next to Warren's sister, Whitney, and her boyfriend, Carlton, while George's girlfriend, Kelli, sat in the passenger seat. I felt like a fifth wheel without a date. My new boyfriend Gage's mother had fallen this morning and broken her ankle. He'd been so sorry to miss the wedding, I told him I completely understood. Besides, George was supposed to be my “date” for the night. It was weird how they always matched the best man and maid of honor even though they were rarely a couple in real life. Tradition, I guess.
“That was the most beautiful wedding I've ever attended,” Whitney said.
“And she's attended a lot,” Kelli said with laughter in her eyes.
“Wait for the reception,” I said. “Our families went all out.”
“Wedding traditions are so much fun,” Whitney said, and looked at Carlton with love in her eyes. “Don't you think so?”
“Sure,” he said, and patted her hand. “Especially the open bar.”
“And the garter toss,” George added.
Kelli smacked his arm.
“What?” George said, and everybody laughed.
My parents had asked if I wanted to ride with them, but I really wanted to be around the cool kids for once. When else could I do that except when I was part of my little sister's wedding party? It didn't matter that Warren and his friends were all trust-fund kids while my dad was a plumber and my mom taught piano lessons. We were all a cobbled-together family now.
“Kelli, Pepper's the one I was telling you about,” Whitney said with a wink.
“Oh, the one with the business?” Kelli asked.
I frowned, not sure what they were trying to say. “Are you talking about Perfectâ”
“Yes,” Whitney said, cutting me off and touching my arm with a second wink. “Kelli and I are really interested in that thing that you do.”
“You mean plan proâ”
“Parties,” Whitney cut me off again. Her blue eyes twinkled.
“Really? What kind of parties?” Carlton asked.
“The kind of parties girls like,” Whitney said.
“Oh, you mean like lingerie parties?” Carlton's expression perked up.
“No,” I said as I felt my cheeks turn pink.
“Princess parties,” Whitney said. “Felicity told me you did a little mermaid one recently.”
“Oh,” I said. “Yes, yes, I did.” This time I nodded. I wasn't sure why they were not simply stating what I really didâplan wedding proposalsâbut I went along anyway.
“Is there delicious cake?” George asked. “I like delicious cake.”
I could see his blue gaze in the rearview mirror. “Yes,” I said. George was Warren's best friend, and since Warren helped me start my business I knew that George knew what I did. It didn't take much deduction to understand that Carlton was the only one not in on the full conversation.
“Well,” Carlton said. “I'm for any party with delicious cake.”
“So am I,” Whitney said, and patted Carlton's hand. “We'll talk more later. Kelli has a friend who needs a princess party.”
“Sounds perfect,” I said, and smiled.
It's tradition to drive around town with your “Just Married” decorated cars and honk and wave at the locals. We drove around for a good half hour. Long enough for the rest of the guests to arrive at the swanky country club Warren's parents had insisted we use as the reception venue. My parents had argued over it for a full month. There was no way they could afford the country club, and my father's pride was not going to let Warren's family pay. It was the bride's family who paid for the wedding.
I tried to tell my father that times had changed. But there was no getting around his devotion to tradition. Finally
Warren and Felicity had brought both families together and announced that they were paying for the wedding. Period. At that moment I saw relief on my mother's face and a wide smile and nod on Warren's mother's face. Meanwhile my father's face turned red. I held my breath. I thought for sure he was going to have a stroke.
Felicity, in her gentle way, took my dad by the hand and pulled him into a corner and spoke to him one-on-one. Finally, my father relented and the wedding was on. The compromise had been that Felicity and Warren would get married in the big old church where my parents and grandparents had gotten married.
My family was nothing if not traditional.
We pulled up to the front of the club and valets rushed out to take the car. Doors were opened for us and we gathered our coats around us as we stepped out into the cool Chicago night. My sister was born under a lucky star. Not only did she meet and marry a millionaire, but the winter weather had stayed away for her special day. It was relatively warm for early December at 50 degrees. Still, I could smell snow in the air as I stepped toward the double doors of the club.
“Hurry in,” Whitney said. “The bride and groom are right behind us.”
I followed as the rest of the wedding party laughed their way inside. We shucked our winter dress coats, handing them off to the coat check girls. Then we gathered at the mouth of the ballroom, which was brightly lit with twinkle lights and candles. There was a three-piece orchestra playing in what would later become the dance floor.
Warren's mother had hired a wedding planner with big plans. Luckily Felicity loved the woman. The planner was brilliant. She took my sister's ideas and turned them up ten notches. I stepped farther into the ballroom to see my mom and dad already standing near the head table with champagne in their hands.
“Here they are,” the wedding planner, Donna, said as Warren and Felicity slipped into the foyer. Warren wore a black wool dress coat over his tux. His dark hair was cut close with a seemingly effortless look of prep and class. His black shoes shone in the twinkle lights that covered the entrance to the country club.
Felicity wore a pearl cashmere coat with ermine fur trim and white kid gloves that came up to her wrists. Her blond hair was done in a French twist. For the reception, she had changed into a shorter veil. She took off her coat and handed it to the coat check girl. Her dress was a lovely abalone-colored silk that shimmered in the lightest of blues and pinks and whites. The top was a delicate pale bluish white lace that covered the strapless part of the pearl silk and formed a portrait collar and three-quarter-length sleeve. The gown narrowed at the waist then flared slightly, falling to the ground.
The skirt was in two parts: an overlay of satin and lace that fell at a diagonal to reveal a panel of white embroidered flowers on silk. The same flowers were embroidered on the bottom of the long train. Donna hurried behind Felicity to button the train up. The buttons were designed
to create a shorter bustle effect that allowed the bride to sit and dance without dragging the train behind her.
“Okay,” Donna said with a smile. “Here we go, folks. Bridesmaids and groomsmen first, then best man and maid of honor, then the bride and groom.” She gave a sign to the orchestra and they paused. The DJ stepped up and made the announcement as we entered the ballroom.
Everything was perfect, from the food to the dancing to the traditions of cutting the cake and tossing the garter.
It was tradition in my family for the bride and groom to leave the wedding reception first. They were supposed to sneak away for their big night, but usually the sneaking was seen by everyone and they were followed out by catcalls, whistles, and congratulations. After Felicity and Warren had left, my dad took his tux coat off and undid his tie. Mom still sparkled with joy and tears. The orchestra had been replaced by the DJ, who currently played slow songs as couples danced.
Having nothing much to do but watch others dance, I offered to get Whitney a drink from the bar.
“Sure, a Cosmo, please,” she said.
“I'll come with you,” George said. “Kelli's in the little girls' room and I know she'll want something when she gets back.” George was handsome in his custom tux. His hair was cut in a neat preppy style that was longer on top and shorter near his neck and ears. Even though it was winter in Chicago, George, Kelli, and Whitney looked golden with tans that didn't come out of a spray booth.
Everyone in the bridal party had flown to St. Bart's the week before to rest up before the big event.
I had begged off. First of all, I didn't have the money to spend a week on a tropical island. Secondly, I had a new business to nurture. Perfect Proposals had had a slow but steady stream of clients. Planning proposals and engagement parties was a lot of fun and hard work. This kind of business needed consistent word of mouth, and that meant I had to find every opportunity to work. So I had stayed home.
I knew that I practically glowed in the dark in comparison to the rest of the wedding party. After all, I had redhead skin, which was pale to begin with, but winter pale was blinding. Luckily I sort of sparkled in the low twinkle lights the room was decorated in.
“Hey, George, how's it going?” A man who looked to be in his early fifties came up and shook George's hand. He was dressed in a black tux cut to fit his mid-sized frame. He had short black hair with gray at the temples. “Is this your new girlfriend?”
“Hello, Judge Abernethy, good to see you,” George said smoothly. “No, I'm still with Kelli. This is Pepper Pomeroy. Pepper, let me introduce Judge Winston Abernethy.”
“Nice to meet you,” I said, and shook his hand.
“Part of the bridal party,” the judge said, his dark blue eyes sparkling. “Oh, yes, you are the maid of honor. Are you related to the bride or the groom?”
“Felicity is my sister,” I said.
“Beauty runs in the family,” the judge said, and stepped closer.
“It does,” George said smoothly, and put his arm around me, gently moving me forward in the line. “How's your wife and kids?”
Judge Abernethy chuckled. “Anne's fine. Beatrice's at Brown University and Joe's at MIT.”
“Sounds like you have bright children,” I said.
“They're good kids. They have their heads on straight,” the judge said.
“Excuse me, dear,” a thin, older woman said to catch my attention. “Are you Pepper Pomeroy?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Mrs. Fulcrum,” she said and held out her hand. I shook it on instinct. Her handshake was firm and in charge. “I understand you planned Warren and Felicity's proposal event.”
“Yes,” I said. “Besides being Felicity's sisterâ”
“And maid of honor,” George added.
“And maid of honor,” I said and sent him a sidelong look to tell him I thought he was being silly. “I'm the owner of Perfect Proposals. It's a high-end proposal planning business.”
“Good,” she said and ran her hand over her perfect hair, flashing a massive diamond encrusted wedding ring set. “Do you have a card? I am looking for someone like you to plan a proposal.”
“Yes,” I said and dug a business card out of my clutch. “Is this for yourself or a friend.”
“Oh, dear no,” she said with a well-practiced laugh. “It's for my son.” She took my card and slipped it in her Dior clutch. “I'll call you next week.”
“I look forward to it,” I said.
She turned and waved at another woman who was also very thin and dressed in a designer outfit.
“Oh, Mrs. Fulcrum,” George whispered near my ear. “You're in the big money now.”
“What can I get you?” the female bartender asked. She was about five foot four and scary skinny. Her black slacks and white shirt hung on her frame. She wore simple makeup, but compared to the other female bartender beside her, she looked as if she'd lived a rough life. In fact, she seemed just a little out of place for waitstaff at a wedding.