Authors: Catherine Bruns
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TASTES LIKE MURDER
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Copyright © 2015 by Catherine Bruns
Cover design by Yocla Designs
Gemma Halliday Publishing
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
There are several people to whom I owe a debt of gratitude for their help with this book, beginning with retired Troy, NY Police Captain Terrance Buchanan for sharing his knowledge and wisdom with me. Patti and Frank Ricupero and Susan Bellai were beyond generous to donate the use of their delicious family recipes. Special props to critique partners Diane Bator and Dani-Lyn Alexander who always gave it to me straight. Beta readers Constance Atwater and Krista Gardner had great ideas and never tired of listening to me ramble on about "my story." To my family for their support, especially my husband Frank for his infinite patience. Last but certainly not least, a huge thank you to publisher Gemma Halliday for believing in my writing and helping me to realize my dream.
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Mrs. Gavelli wagged her stubby finger. "You no forget my free fortune
this time. I tell your grandmama if you cheat me."
My mouth fell open in surprise, but I knew better than to argue with the elderly, Italian lady who stood before my display case, dressed in a drab, gray housecoat. It was shocking how well her outfit matched her coarse hair, pulled back from her stern face in a severe bun. As she reached down to scratch her leg, she succeeded in pushing her knee-highs farther down her calves. One more movement and they'd be level with her black Birkenstocks.
"No, Mrs. Gavelli. You have my word."
My best friend and partner, Josie Sullivan, appeared in the doorway. She'd been icing cookies in the back room for a delivery tomorrow. "Mrs. G, you're fogging up the glass on our case with your breath. Are you buying something or not?"
Nicoletta Gavelli snorted as she pointed at the tray of chocolate-dipped fortune cookies that lined the bottom shelf of our display case. They had been my idea to lure more business into the shop, giving us a unique flair. The sign written in blue Magic Marker on the glass read:
Buy a cookie—get a free fortune.
They were easy enough for Josie to make, but she thought I was wasting my money on them. I didn't care. Although frugal about other matters concerning my business, this small expense didn't worry me. I enjoyed seeing the delighted expressions on children's faces when they opened them.
Mrs. Gavelli continued her tirade in broken English. "You no fool me, Sally Muccio. You be up to no good since you work your wiles on my grandson."
She'd never let the incident with Johnny go. As tempting as it was to throw her out of my shop, I had a soft spot for the old lady and her sharp tongue, though it was pretty obvious she'd never cared for me. Nicoletta had lived next door to my parents ever since I could remember and was good friends with my Grandma Rosa. To this day, she still insists I tried to take advantage of her grandson, Johnny, when in fact it was Johnny who had lured me into their darkened garage at the tender age of six. Johnny, much more mature and reckless at the ripe old age of eight, informed me there was a great game called Doctor which we should play. He even went so far as to say he'd give me an ice cream cone afterward. I was foolish enough to believe him. Even then it was all about food for me.
"No fortune cookie till you buy something." Josie folded her arms triumphantly across her chest.
Mrs. Gavelli let out a loud harrumph. "Josie, you never change. No respect for elders. That mouth, she never stop. Why you not home with babies?"
"My husband's there, Mrs. G. He works nights, remember?"
"Yah, sure he home. I bet he drink the beer till he pass out."
Josie narrowed her blue eyes. "We're running a business here. Are you buying something or not?"
Mrs. Gavelli snickered at her. "Some business. You bake cookies all day. Is no real job." She turned to me. "You need new husband. I see why old one leave you now."
I wasn't sure which of her remarks stung the most, the one about my ex-husband or the one that insulted our new profession, which I happened to be very proud of.
Josie's face turned as red as her hair. "Colin was a cheating bum. Sally left him, not the other way around."
"It's okay, Josie." I was afraid she might start flinging cookies at Mrs. Gavelli's head. "Let it go."
Mrs. Gavelli waved her hand. "Whatever. Give me Italian butter cookie. And why so many American cookies? You Sicilian, for God's sake. Why you got chocolate chip cookies touching Italian ones?"
"Because they're a huge seller, and we do have other customers besides Italians." I reached for a piece of waxed paper.
"Italians rule this town, missy."
I laughed. Her statement was true enough. I placed the cookie in a small, white bag. "That'll be one dollar and twenty-five cents."
"Is too much. Why you cheat me?"
"Oh, dear God," Josie muttered under her breath.
I didn't want to fight with Nicoletta. Deep down inside there was always a tiny flicker of hope that maybe someday she'd approve of me. "Okay, Mrs. G. There's a special today. Two cookies for one seventy-five."
Mrs. Gavelli sniffed and reached inside her leather handbag. "Good, I take. And you give me free fortune." She rapped on the glass with her fingernail. "I take those two on end."
I tried to explain. "Mrs. G, it's one free fortune cookie per person, with purchase."
"Yah, but I buy two cookie."
She was confusing me. I already knew I was going to lose this argument.
Josie wrinkled her nose. "Mrs. G, you get one free fortune cookie. It doesn't matter if you buy a dozen cookies. You only get one."
She stomped her foot. "You crazy? What the matter, you cheap or something?"
I gave in and placed the two fortune cookies in the bag with the others.
Josie made a face. "Sal—"
I shook my head at her. "Never mind." These two were going to be the death of me.
Josie whispered a curse word as Mrs. Gavelli grabbed her loot, reached for a fortune cookie, and immediately broke it apart. The lines in her face deepened as she read the paper and then stared at me with disgust.
"What this?" She waved the piece of paper.
I blinked. "Um, the fortune, Mrs. G."
"This no fortune. This crap." She sneered and read aloud from the strip of paper. "May you always have good appetite?" Mrs. Gavelli grunted and threw the paper on the blue-and-white, checkered vinyl floor. "Garbage."
"Pick that up." Josie's face was scarlet.
Mrs. Gavelli placed her hands on her well-rounded hips and glared stubbornly back at Josie.
I grabbed my friend's arm before she could move forward. "You can't hit the customers. It's bad for business."
Josie's mouth twitched in a smile, and she laughed. Mrs. Gavelli watched us suspiciously, bringing her index finger to her head in a circular motion. "Crazy loons."
"Have a pleasant day, Mrs. G," Josie managed to say with a straight face.
Mrs. Gavelli huffed. "You girls better be good. I keep an eye on you."
The bells over my door tinkled in the waft of humid air, which rushed inside after her much-needed departure.
Josie leaned down to pick up the paper and waved it at me. "Why do you let her talk to you like that?"
"Oh, her bark is worse than her bite." Maybe. "You have to ease up. What if there had been another customer in here?"
She frowned and walked into the back room. "I'm sorry. You know I wouldn't have hit her. But it
I followed Josie out of the storefront, into the area designated as our kitchen or prep area. As my principal and only baker, Josie spent most of her day back here. In addition to the ovens, there was also a large wooden block table in the center of the room used for making doughs and decorating cookies. Surrounding the table was a stainless steel refrigerator, upright freezer, two-bowl sink, and dishwasher.
I grabbed a spoon and lowered it into the steel bowl standing underneath the commercial mixer filled with buttercream frosting Josie had recently prepared.
She held her arms open wide. "That's why you wait on the customers, and I stay back here. I have no patience for her sort."
With a grin, I flicked the spoon and watched as the frosting splattered against Josie's cheek. Surprised, she laughed and picked up another spoon, dipped it into the buttercream, and smeared it down the side of my face before I could react.
"Don't get me started, girlfriend. Even on my worst day, I can still manage to kick your scrawny butt."
That was an understatement. Josie had always been tough as nails.
I reached for a dishtowel to wipe my face. "Correction. The only reason you are back here is because of your amazing talent. But we can't afford to offend any customers, especially when the place is brand new. I want this to work more than anything."
"Me, too. And it
work. We've got a cookie delivery scheduled for tomorrow night. Maybe more on the way, too."
My pulse quickened. "Awesome. Did you call Vido? Is he available?"
"He's going to pick them up tomorrow night before we close." She laughed. "Vido worships the ground I walk on. He's always available."
"You'd better not let Rob hear you say that."
"Oh, please. He's fine." Rob and Josie had married nine years earlier, almost right out of high school, when Josie found out she was pregnant with the first of their four adorable boys. "When you've been married as long as we have, you know what the other one's thinking. Trust me."
I avoided her eyes and stared down at the table, but she was quick to catch my expression.
"Oh gosh, Sal, I'm sorry. That was a stupid thing to say."
I managed a smile. "It's okay. I mean, hey, we were only married five years."
"That's still a long time."
I refilled the spoon and brought it to my lips, savoring the sweet, creamy taste. "Your buttercream is the best. And apparently five years wasn't long enough. I didn't know him like I thought I did."
"Now that the divorce is final, you can start making yourself available for the opposite sex again."
"No, it's way too soon. I don't want to rush into anything. Plus, I need to concentrate on the business. That's all I have time for right now."
Josie's eyes gleamed. "I think we ought to concentrate on celebrating your newfound freedom. Let's go out for drinks tonight."
I started to wash the dishes in the sink. "How're you going to do that? What about the kids?"
"Rob's off the next couple of nights."
"Gee, maybe he'd like to spend some time with his wife for a change."
Josie made a face. "Oh, please. He gets poker night with his buddies. I deserve a night out with my friends, too."
I adored Josie but also envied her. Rob was a loving husband who only had eyes for her. Not that Josie was shabby to look at. After four kids, she still had a great figure, was a good mother, and a fantastic baker.
I did okay with the doughs but was terrible when it came to decorating. Even though I'd put up the capital, this business wouldn't have been possible without her. I glanced at my watch. Nearly seven—closing time. "All right. One drink. And don't invite everybody in town, either. Only a couple of friends. I can't stand to hear one more 'I'm sorry.'"
Josie shook her head at me. "You can't keep hiding from people. Besides, pretty much everyone already knows anyway."
You had to love small towns. Everyone knew everything about your life. I turned off the water. "Did you finish the dough for the baby shower on Saturday?"
"Yes, ma'am. I'll bake and frost them early that morning. And please don't ignore me. You know I hate that."
"I said I'll go. And I'm not hiding from anyone. I want to forget about the past and move on." For the first time in over a year, I was starting to get excited about what the future might hold in store for me. My dream of a happily-ever-after life with Colin may have been shattered, but it was time to start over. A new beginning.
Josie had her cell phone in hand. "That's my girl. Okay, I'll call Ellen. She's back on days at the hospital, so I think she's around. What about Gianna?"
"I'm not sure. She's been studying like crazy for the bar. I'll send her a text and ask."
My baby sister was a recent graduate of Harvard Law School. Besides being drop-dead gorgeous, she was also brilliant. Those were two valid reasons to hate her, but I couldn't do it. We'd always been very close. The state bar examination was being held in a few months, and Gianna was sick with worry she wouldn't pass. I knew otherwise. She'd ace it, the thought making me want to burst with pride.
My fingers flew as I typed out the words.
Going to Ralph's with Josie and Ellen George. Quick drink—wanna come along?
Gianna must have had her iPhone by her side as I received a
See you in a half hour
I texted back a quick
, which I knew she loathed.
Josie's lilting voice filled the room. Her cell phone was carefully balanced on her shoulder while she expertly removed a tray of raspberry cheesecake cookies from the oven and placed them on a cooling rack. She was taking them home to her kids tonight.
I drooled at the smell. Growing up in an Italian family, food had always been plentiful and a passion for me. No one ever left the table hungry. My mother loved telling people the story of how I'd sneak downstairs in the middle of the night to empty my grandmother's cookie jar. Ever since the shop had opened, I seemed to hear it more often. "We should have known then you'd wind up owning a bakery," she'd laughed.
Josie snapped her phone shut. "All set. Ellen will meet us there in about an hour." She turned the oven off and threw her apron in the laundry basket next to the sink. She undid the knotted bun on top of her head, and her auburn hair spilled over her shoulders in a thick, rich curtain.