Authors: Connie Shelton
The Fourth Samantha
“Shelton continues to combine suspenseful storytelling
with sensitive portrayals of complex family relationships.” —
“...a wonderful, easy flow that draws in the reader.”
—Amazon 5-Star review
me, I enjoy mysteries infused with a little touch of magic and a dream that
anything is possible.” —Amazon 5-Star review
Shelton gets better with every book she writes.”
Cold sunlight glittered on the
frosted stalks of dead carnations and gladioli that rested against Iris
Cardwell’s headstone. Samantha Sweet took a deep breath against the tears that
wanted to clog her throat. She reached for Beau’s gloved hand. He gave a squeeze.
“It’s been a month but I still
haven’t quite accepted it,” she said. Sam’s experiences with the healing touch
she’d acquired from a local
worked wonders in some cases but none
of her efforts, it seemed, had been quite good enough this time.
“She had good doctors and they
tried. That second stroke was just too much.” He blinked hard and Sam,
noticing, stared at the ground.
Beau pulled her hand upward and
kissed her fingers through her purple woolen mitten.
“I should bring some bags out
here and clear away the flowers,” he said.
“They look sad.”
“Mama had a good, long life. She
held on for a long time after Dad . . .”
She sniffed and nodded, letting
the silence settle into a comfortable one.
Beau blew out a white cloud of
warm breath. “Well, darlin’, it’s Monday morning and I gotta be at my desk
He placed a gentle hand at her
back and guided her toward his department cruiser parked at the edge of the
Me, too, Sam thought. Although it
was barely daylight, she was already late to open the bakery but she’d been
unable to refuse Beau’s wish to stop by his mother’s gravesite after he’d spent
a night of restless dreams. Her own thoughts were filled with plans for their
At Sweet’s Sweets, Sam’s assistants
were busy and the kitchen felt toasty warm and redolent with the spicy smell of
apple-cinnamon scones and her nutmeg-laced crumb cake. Sam picked up the design
sketches for her wedding cake. The three tiers would be iced in pale ivory
buttercream with just a hint of rose, a champagne tone that she would match
exactly to her dress. Mauve roses, stargazer lilies, and clusters of sugar
daisies would form a thick bouquet on top, then trail down the tiers between
swags of traditional bunting and delicate piping.
“It’s going to be fantastic,
Mom.” Her daughter Kelly stared over Sam’s shoulder.
“A year ago, I would have never
imagined marrying Beau Cardwell.” He, the county sheriff who could be posing
for sexy men’s cologne ads, and she the pudgy baker who’d met him while on her
other job, breaking into a house.
“But you are. And Valentine’s Day
is the perfect time.”
Sam looked back at the sketches. “This is way too much cake for
such a small gathering. And I was thinking of doing a groom’s cake for Beau, as
well. Maybe a law enforcement theme, or, I don’t know, perhaps something
whimsical with his ranch animals on it.”
Kelly smiled, no doubt imagining
the two dogs cavorting over the top of a chocolate cake, Beau’s favorite.
“Well, you’ve got only a week to decide.”
One week. Her stomach fluttered.
Sam scanned the kitchen, trying
to fix her mind around the crazy amount of work this Valentine week. Her
stainless steel worktable was covered with heart-shaped cakes on turntables,
awaiting decorations. She’d become so adept at piping out freeform hearts that
she could do them in her sleep. Her assistant, Becky Harper, stood at the far
end with a fat pastry bag in hand, looping rose petals onto a waxed paper
square on top of a flower nail nearly as quickly as Sam could do it herself. A
tray of the finished flowers—red, white and pink—sat on the table, and as Becky
filled each one she carried it to the large walk-in fridge so the flowers could
properly set up. Sam would need them for replacement cakes and cupcakes, which
had been practically flying out of the display cases all week.
“We went to the cemetery this
morning,” she said in a low voice.
Kelly bit at her lip. “I really
miss her, Mom.” She had worked for Beau as caregiver to his aging mother until
a stroke in December put Iris into the hospital then in a nursing home. Kelly
quickly found employment at Puppy Chic, the dog grooming shop next to the
bakery, and the hours were reasonable enough that she often went by the home
during the holidays and stayed with Iris through the evenings, reading books to
a group of the elderly inhabitants. Until that second stroke.
Sam slid her arm around Kelly’s
shoulders and planted a kiss on the top of her brown curls.
“I better get going,” Kelly said.
“Riki’s got a full house this morning.” She gave her mother a quick hug before
heading toward the back door.
Meanwhile, Sam had her hands full
with wedding plans. The thought of her parents and sister coming from
Cottonville, Texas here to Taos, spending time with Beau whom they’d only met
once, less than a month ago, and all the little details of the wedding in the
parlor at her best friend’s bed and breakfast—it was all beginning to make
Sam’s head hurt.
She set the sketches back on her
desk and picked up a pastry bag full of hot pink icing. With a number 32
decorating tip, she began piping a shell border on one of the heart cakes. The
squeeze-relax rhythm of the work put Sam into the place she liked best, the
world of creating beautiful objects from butter and sugar. Minutes passed and
her mind settled. She switched tips and added string work to a couple of the
cakes, then retrieved a tray of roses from the fridge and began setting them in
place. A few leaves, her neat lettering proclaiming Happy Valentine’s Day, and
she soon had six cakes ready for the displays out front.
She balanced one cake on each
hand and headed for the sales area where a customer was picking up a box of
cupcakes she’d just purchased.
“Here, Jen, can you grab one of
Her assistant turned from the register
and reached for the cake, sliding the glass door of the case open with her free
“I’d swear that they get prettier
all the time,” Jen said.
It was a little hard to come up
with brand-new ideas when the standard Valentine colors of pink and red, and
the standard gifts of roses and chocolates remained favorites with the
customers. But she had to admit that she’d been pretty successful at adding
little twists; the bright fondant coatings, classic brocade textures and
sparkling gold and silver accents had gone over so well with her custom
designed cakes that she’d thrown in a few of those details for the stock cakes
“There are more in the back,” Sam
told Jen. “Give me a hand?”
The only two customers were
taking their time about deciding, so Jen excused herself and followed Sam to
the kitchen. The minute they walked back into the sales room with the new
creations, both patrons spotted what they wanted. One woman took an oval cake
covered in red fondant with quilting and gold beads, topped with white frosting
carnations and an impressive fondant bow. The other exclaimed over one of the
heart-shaped cakes with traditional red roses and ribbons of icing which
trailed over the sides. Jen rang up their sales and sent them out with her
customary, “Have a magical day!”
Sam stood at the beverage bar,
where she poured herself a mug of their signature blend coffee and closed her
eyes as she took the first sip.
“Good thing we got the two extra
bakers, huh,” Jen said, stepping from behind the counter to organize and wipe
down the bistro tables that looked like they’d seen several visitors already
“No kidding. I don’t know what
I’d be doing right now.” Sam sipped at the coffee and willed some extra energy
into her limbs. “What I
be doing is working on my chocolate
techniques. I don’t know . . . I’m just not getting the results Bobul did.”
“Well, he was really experienced.
You can’t expect to be that good right away.”
“I’d just like to be a hundredth
as good. Skilled enough to produce something I could put out for the customers
When the mysterious European
chocolatier had showed up before Christmas, his delectable creations wowed the
customers, sending Sam’s holiday sales skyward. Then, just as silently as he’d
arrived, he’d left on Christmas Eve. Sam had stopped by his rented cabin, but
the place was abandoned. Eerily abandoned. She had no idea where he’d gone, but
felt sure he wasn’t still in Taos. She would have heard about it if his
chocolates were being sold anywhere else—it was a small town.
Meanwhile, Sam had spent every
Saturday of the past month driving to Santa Fe for classes on chocolate-making
techniques. Although she’d managed to turn out a passable Belgian chocolate for
dipping strawberries, and she could now mold and unmold shaped pieces without
breaking half of them, nothing she’d created so far came even close to the
flavor, texture and whatever magical thing that Gustav Bobul had done to turn
her clients into raving chocoholics.
A customer walked in, grabbing
Jen’s attention, and Sam carried her own mug to the kitchen. At her desk, she
reached for the bin where she stacked the order forms for all their custom
work. She verified that all the pages were in sequence by delivery date,
discovering what she already knew—the early part of the week had practically
nothing due, but the weekend and Valentine’s Day, they’d be slammed.
Twelve proposal cakes and four
weddings in addition to her own—what on earth had she been thinking, agreeing
to February fourteenth as her wedding day? Beau didn’t care; he’d told her that
a lunch-hour ceremony in the judge’s office would be fine with him. Typically
male, he was only thinking of the fact that they would soon be living together,
sharing their lives.
Sam wanted that, too. But she
also wanted their wedding day to be special. It was her first time at this, his
second. His first marriage lasted five years and ended with his model-gorgeous
wife deciding that life in this little town would never suit her and figuring
out that she would never convert Beau to a city guy. Sam’s past included a hot
time with the charmer who fathered Kelly, an escape from commitment there, and
thirty years of sporadic dating while she raised a kid on her own. No man had
ever struck a chord with her the way Beau did; there’d been absolutely no one
she could envision committing to for a lifetime. Until now.
She touched the antique garnet
ring on her left hand, remembering how Iris had pressed it into Beau’s palm
Christmas night, insisting that he should give it to Sam to formalize their
engagement. The ensuing six weeks had become a flurry of plans and decisions
saddened by the sudden absence of Iris. Now—in memory of that sweet older
woman—Sam wanted to make their wedding a special day, with her beautiful creamy
lace dress, her friends and family near, and the cake of her dreams.
She’d made hundreds of lovely
cakes for lovely brides but there was that one fantastic creation, still in her
head, that she’d never made for anyone else. It wouldn’t be the biggest cake of
her career—far from it—but it would be hers. She glanced again at her sketches.
“Ms Sweet?” It was Sandy, one of
her temporary bakers. “I just wanted to check this with you? These four layers
are to be carrot cake, right?”
The woman phrased every sentence
as a question, from
I’d like a job here?
I guess I’ll go home now?
The first few days of this had annoyed Sam to no end but she finally made up
her mind that she couldn’t let it get to her. Sandy would only be here this
month, and she really did know her way around a commercial bakery.
“That’s correct,” Sam said. “Hey,
thanks. I was just glancing through the orders and it looks like you’ve checked
off quite a few of them.”
Although the ideal situation was
to bake, decorate and deliver a cake within two days, they simply didn’t have
the staff or oven space to handle the volume this week. So Sam had decided that
they would bake a lot of the layers and put them in the freezer for a few days
before decorating. This morning when she’d arrived she noticed that Sandy and
Cathy were taking that decision to heart.
Still, most of Sam’s work would
necessarily fall right at the end. Friday through Monday were going to get
absolutely crazy. And Tuesday was her wedding day. Of course, there was one way
. . . but it involved calling upon her source of mystical power—dare she call
it magic?—something she’d resolved to cut from her life. Something she still
hadn’t fully revealed to Beau.