Authors: Jenn McKinlay
Table of Contents
Death with Chocolate on Top
Mel rounded a rack of skirts and froze. A leg, a very slim leg in black hose, wearing a Christian Louboutin platform pump with a bright red heel, was sticking out from under a hanging rack of evening gowns. Mel knew right away this was no mannequin that had toppled over.
She ran across the floor, ducking under gowns. Sure enough, Christie was sprawled as if shed fallen and had knocked herself out. For a nanosecond, Mel was sure Christie must have tripped and banged her head. But her pasty coloring alerted Mel that something was wrong, very wrong.
Christie, are you all right? she asked. She put a hand on each side of Christies face and patted her cheeks. She felt stiff to the touch, and Mel yanked her hands back.
Mel stared at Christies chest, but there was no rise and fall. She put a finger on Christies exposed wrist, hoping to find a pulse. A cupcake, covered in dark chocolate fondant, rolled out of her curled fingers . . .
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SPRINKLE WITH MURDER
A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author
Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / March 2010
Copyright Š 2010 by Jennifer McKinlay Orf.
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eISBN : 978-1-101-18548-3
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For my mom, Susan Norris McKinlay,
I love you more than cupcakes !
People often ask where I get my ideas. Usually, I shrug because I have no idea. But with
Sprinkle with Murder
, I have to say, it was a little more in my face. In the course of one week, I listened as a soon-to-be married coworker agonized over what flavor cupcakes to have in her wedding cake tower, then my agents partner blogged about how she checked out the local cupcake bakery in every city to which she traveled, and finally, a dear friend stopped by my house to tell me that a cupcake bakery had opened nearby and that they sold shots of frosting. It was the rule of threes and just like that I knew I had to set a mystery series in a cupcake bakery. So, I give thanks to Tara Dietz, Jessica Faust, and Sheila Levine for making my muse hungry for cupcakes.
Thanks must be given to my agent, Jacky Sach, for her skill and enthusiasm. Truly, youre the best. More thanks to my editors Allison Brandau to start and Kate Seaver to finish, with loads of help along the way from Katherine Pelz and Megan Swartz.
Id also like to give a nod to my writing pals, the Ladies of the Loop, my fellow blog pals at the Mystery Lovers Kitchen, and for daily inspiration the gals at the blog Cupcakes Take the Cake. Locally, I must acknowledge Lulus Cupcakes for being so gracious in answering my questions, giving me a tour of the kitchen, and for having the best chocoschnitzel cupcake ever.
I must thank my readers, Susan McKinlay, Susie Matazzoni, Jan Buckwalter, and Tom Gemberling for their always spot-on input. Also, I need to send hugs to my extended family, the McKinlays and the Orfs, who have patiently encouraged me through the highs and lows of a writers life. And finally, first in my heart but last on the page, I want to give crusher hugs to my dudes, Wyatt, Beckett, and Chris Hansen Orf, you three are the frosting on my cupcake. I love you!
Does she really think we dont see her? Angie DeLaura asked her best friend and business partner Melanie Cooper.
Mel blew her blonde bangs off of her forehead and came around the counter of the cupcake display case to glance out the front window with Angie.
How many times has she driven by today? she asked.
Seven times since we opened this morning, and twelve yesterday.
Youd think if she was so worried about our shop stealing her customers, shed be slaving away in her kitchen baking something.
Youd think, Angie agreed.
Just then the icing pink, refrigerated van did another slow drive by their window. Angie and Mel smiled and waved. Olivia Puckett, the driver of the van and owner of a nearby bakery called Confections, gave them a wide-eyed stare and stomped on the gas, bumping the curb with one of the vans tires in her haste to get away.
Maybe shell get a flat, Angie said.
We can always hope, Mel agreed.
Mel turned around. She refused to let Olivia Pucketts paranoia dampen her joy with her own shop. Fairy Tale Cupcakes had been a dream of Mels for several years, and now it was finally open.
She loved everything about this petite shop nestled in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale. With a western wear store next door and a tattoo parlor on the corner, Mel felt as if she fit right in with the amalgam of quirky shops that filled this quaint neighborhood.
She had chosen a retro fifties décor. Everything was in shades of pink and gray with lots of chrome and glass.
Her main investor and childhood friend, Tate Harper, had made her tone down the pink a few notches; he said it made him feel constipated. Whatever.
Angie was refilling the silver napkin holders on the booth tables in front of the window, and she glanced frequently at the street to see if Olivia made another pass. Angie had been Mels best friend for twenty-two years, since the first day of sixth grade when they met in home-room.
Students were seated alphabetically, so she and Mel ended up next to each other. Mel had a powerful sweet tooth and frequently kept a stash of candy on her person. On that day, she had a milk chocolate bar, the kind without nuts.
Unfortunately, her sweet tooth caused Mel to be on the chubby side, which made her the object of much teasing. Wanting to be nice to the new girl, however, she offered Angie half of her candy bar. Angie looked so grateful that Mel knew shed found a kindred candy freak. But when she reached across the aisle to hand Angie the chocolate, the class bully, Jeff Stanton, snatched it out of her hand with a mean laugh and said, Thanks, Fatso.
Mel probably would have shed some private tears in the girls bathroom, but Angie had exploded out of her seat and grabbed the candy out of Jeffs hand before he could shove it into his mouth.
Who are you calling Fatso? she asked, and she poked him in the belly. Hard.
Jeff looked like he was going to slug her, but just then Joe DeLaura strode into the room. He was tall and muscular, and he was swinging his car keys around his index finger as if he hadnt quite gotten used to the fact that they were his. Or maybe he was just showing off. Either way, he frowned at Jeff and reached around him to hand Angie a paper lunch bag.
You forgot your lunch in my car, Ange, he said.
Thanks, Joe. She was still glaring at Jeff.
Need any backup? Joe asked, glaring at Jeff, too. Jeff visibly shrank on the spot.
Nope, she said as Jeff scuttled back towards his desk.
Ill pick you up after school.
Angie quickly leaned over to Mel. You want to come over to my house today?
Sure, Mel agreed.
And . . . hey, whats your name? Angie asked.
And my friend Melanie, too, Angie called after Joe.
He glanced at Mel and shrugged. Sure. See you.
It had marked the beginning of a perfect friendship. Then and now, Angie reminded Mel of a firecracker. Mel never knew when Angie was going to explode, and when she did, it was usually a sight to behold. Angela Marie DeLaura was short, with a curvy figure and long, wavy brown hair that reached halfway down her back. Her large, chocolate brown eyes were sharp with intelligence and warm with humor. She had a smile that lit up her whole face, and she frequently used it to charm her way out of anything she didnt like doing.
Having grown up tall and lanky, Mel had no curves to brag about. And now that she spent so much time in the kitchen, baking cupcakes, she kept her pale blonde hair cropped short in the back and long on top, giving her a thick set of bangs to keep from appearing too boyish. With her pale hair, pale skin, and blue-green eyes, Mel knew she and Angie were complete opposites, but maybe thats why they were such good friends. They balanced each other.
The bells on the door jangled, and Mel put on her greet-the-customer face. As soon as she recognized the tall man bearing two big boxes, however, her smile dimmed.
Oh, its you.
Gee, its great to see you, too, Tate Harper said. He put the boxes on one of the small café tables and stretched the kinks out of his back.
He was wearing his work clothes: a white dress shirt and charcoal gray slacks. His red power tie was askew, but Mel was pretty sure she could check her lipstick in the shine of his shoes.
Tate Harper, her other longtime friend, was handsome in a prep school raised with gobs of money, never had a worry in his life sort of way. But Mel had known him through a voice change, pimples, and braces. He would always be the big brother shed never known she wanted until he strolled into her life at the age of eleven, quoting Groucho Marx and making her laugh so hard in study hall that she got detention for a week.
Im sorry, Mel said. I thought you were a customer.
Hunh. Tate gave a dramatic sigh and ran a hand through his wavy brown hair. You know, Its better to be looked over than overlooked.
Save it, Mae West, Mel chided him, and he grinned.
They had been trading classic movie lines since the day he had caused her to get detention. A few months later Angie made their duo a trio, and for the next seven years, the three of them whiled away most of their weekends watching old movies and eating junk food in the mini movie theater Tates parents had in their house.
Well, at least I got a smile out of Angie, Tate said.
Be serious, Angie said from her spot in the booth by the window. Im laughing
Wheres the love? Tate spread his arms wide. I sacrifice my lunch hour to come over here and help, and what do I get? No love.
Both Angie and Mel stepped forward and gave him quick hugs. He looked somewhat mollified.
I just picked these up from the printer, he said. He opened the box on top and pulled out several bright pink flyers advertising the bakerys weekly specials. Ive got a connection at the local paper, and he says we can get these inserted in Sundays edition.
Excellent work, partner. Mel gave him a high five.
That should make Olivia keel over on the spot, Angie said. Id love to see her face when she opens her paper, and there we are.
Is she still staking out the shop? Tate asked.
Yes, Angie and Mel answered together.
Maybe we should go and talk to her, Tate said. I mean, were only making cupcakes; shes got the whole cookie, cake, and brownie market to herself.
Oh, Ill talk to her all right. Angie waved her fist. Ill give her five good reasons to buzz off.
Mel and Tate exchanged a worried look. It was hard to say whether Angie would actually punch out Olivia, since things like that had been known to happen in the past. In fact, when they were in high school, one of the mean girls had spread rumors about Tates sexual orientation because he refused to take her out. Angie had subsequently spent her foreign language lab sitting behind the same girl, carefully cutting a big chunk of the girls hair off. With her headphones on, the girl had never heard her, and left the lab looking like a badly shorn poodle. As a general rule, it was never wise to mess with Angie or anyone she cared about.
Maybe we should just give her a week or two to calm down, Mel said.
That sounds like a good plan, Tate said quickly. He looked relieved. Besides, youre going to be too busy over the next few weeks to waste any time confronting Olivia.
I am? Mel asked.
Yes. Tate grinned. Christie and I talked about it last night, and we agreed that you should be the one to bake our wedding cupcakes.
Angie dropped a napkin holder onto the black-and-white tile floor.
Damn, she muttered as she scooped it up and examined it. Im such a butterfingers. Id better replace this one.
Mel watched Angie disappear into the back room with the dented napkin holder. Good thing theyd ordered a few extra.
So, you and Christie are going with cupcakes? she asked. She hoped her voice didnt sound as strained as it felt.
Yeah, Christie was thinking of getting a couture cake to reflect her clothing design business, but I told her that was ridiculous, since Ive invested in Fairy Tale Cupcakes. This will be a great showcase for the shop. Were inviting five hundred people.
Five hundred? Mel repeated. Wow! I dont even know five hundred people.
Dont worry, I insist upon paying full price.
No, no, Mel refused. Youre a partner.
I wont take no for an answer. Tate glanced at his watch. Id better run. I have a meeting with a client at two.
Bye, Ange, Tate yelled towards the back. There was no reply. See ya, Mel. Ill have Christie stop in to go over the details.
Sounds great, she lied.
Her heart sank as the door banged shut behind Tate. This was bad, very bad. Mostly, because she wanted to like his fiancée, she really did, but she just didnt.
Christie Stevens was about as vapid a person as Melanie had ever had the misfortune to meet. The first night she and Angie had joined Tate and Christie for dinner, Christie had spent the entire meal complaining about her manicure. At least five times she asked them if her nails looked like they were made of gold. Apparently, shed told her manicurist to use Gold Fiction polish by Chanel. But at thirty dollars a bottle, she was wondering if her nail girl had ripped her off and used some cheap knockoff instead.
By the second course, Angie had excused herself to go to the bathroom at least three times, and Mel had decided there wasnt enough wine at the bar to get her through the longest dinner ever; she was debating stabbing herself with her salad fork to get out of it. But then, Christie got a call on her cell phone, which she talked on all the way through the main course and halfway through dessert.
When Tate first started dating her, Mel was sure it wouldnt last. But then, oh horror, in a few short weeks and much to her and Angies shock, Tate and Christie got engaged.
Mel and Angie were flabbergasted. Neither of them had seen this coming. And if Mel was having a hard time with it, Angie, with her mercurial temper, couldnt even be in the same room with Christie for fear she would say something that would destroy her friendship with Tate forever. Truly, it was a nightmare.
Angie reappeared with a new napkin holder. Is Tate gone?
Just left, Mel said. He yelled good-bye.
They were silent for a moment, both staring at the door.
Getting married has ruined a lot of good men, Angie observed.
, 1939, well said, Mel noted with a laugh.
Nuts, I thought I could sneak that one by you. Angie snapped her fingers.
Fat chance. Mel was an old-movie buff of the first order. It would take more than
to stump her.
She felt a sudden pang as she wondered if Tate would still be a part of their late-night movie viewings. She knew Christie could not possibly be interested, and she doubted she was going to let Tate continue to join them. She didnt want to think about how much she would miss him.
She told herself not to panic. The wedding was still a couple of months away. Maybe he would get struck by a lightning bolt and snap out of it. But somehow she doubted hed get that lucky.