Authors: Catherine Bruns
It was as if someone had twisted a knife in my back. The pain was intense.
"You bitch." Josie gritted her teeth.
Kate stared at Josie in surprise then turned back to her niece. "Tell me. Who is this man?"
Charlotte wiped her eyes with a napkin. "Vido Falzo."
"Dang," Josie breathed. "So it
true. Vido and Amanda—how freaky is that?"
I nodded my head absently as I descended the slick marble driveway. Fortunately, the gate was wide open, so no need for me to stop. Kate had probably called ahead and told Mr. Personality Guard she wanted us off the property as soon as possible.
I couldn't stop thinking about Mike. What was he doing at Amanda's apartment? And why did I even care?
"Hel-lo, Sal?" Josie waved her hand at me.
"Oh, sorry." I chewed on my lower lip. "My mind must have been somewhere else."
She looked at me sideways. "Uh-huh. I know where your mind is."
"What are you talking about?"
"Hey, I don't care what geeky Charlotte says. There's no way Mike would have been dating Amanda."
I turned onto the main road as my phone pinged from the backseat. "Someone texted me. Can you grab my cell and see who it is?"
Josie reached into the backseat for my purse. "Ooh, maybe it's Mr. Hottie Policeman. He's missing you already."
I laughed. "Yeah, right. Brian's leaving at four in the morning. I'm guessing he's in dreamland right about now."
"Dreaming of you, I'm sure." Josie teased as she studied my phone. "Oh boy. It's from Gianna."
Josie read aloud. "Where are you? Stop by the house. Dad thinks his time has come. About to go out of my mind. I'm moving in with you."
I groaned as I switched lanes. "You see? If the shop doesn't make it, I think I'd rather be a homeless person than move back there. Send her a text, and tell her I'm on my way, please. Do you want to come along?"
Josie's fingers moved swiftly on my phone. "Hell, no. I'll take a house full of screaming kids over that drama any day." She put the phone back in my purse. "Okay, so we need to figure out our next move."
"What next move?" I asked.
"We have to think about who might have done this. So far we have Vido, Mike, the girls at the spa—"
I frowned. "Take Mike off that list. I know he didn't kill her."
"You don't know anything. People change. Maybe she was blackmailing him."
I burst out laughing. "But she's the one who had all the money."
"There are lots of other reasons to blackmail people, silly. Why don't you ask him yourself?"
I stopped for a red light and turned to face her. "Are you nuts? What on earth would I say?"
"Did I say talking had to be involved?" Josie smiled.
"Look, I was drunk the other night. That will never happen again."
She ignored me. "And we'll have to talk to Vido. Maybe tomorrow morning when he comes by to get the cookies for the baby shower." Josie snapped her fingers. "I've got it. Afterward, you and I will visit Amanda's spa. I could use a massage, and the birthday cake I sold to Mrs. O'Brien should pay for it."
"I don't think Brian will like us going around questioning everyone."
"Brian can take over when he gets back from his trip. We don't have time to fool around here. Sure, we've got people coming in to the store, but they're not buying much. I'd better cut back on making cookies for a while. Look at all the ones we didn't sell the last few days."
I sighed. "I'll take them to the homeless shelter tomorrow. Why not make someone else's life better if we can?"
"I don't have a problem with that. What bothers me is the money we're losing. I've got four kids to feed."
"If something happens, I'll find a way to help you. I promise."
Josie squeezed my arm. "You've already done more than enough. I don't want to be a charity case."
"It's not charity. It's a friend helping out another friend." I stared sideways at her, a lump in my throat. "There's nothing I wouldn't do for you. I hope you know that."
Josie wiped at her eyes. "Same here. Stop getting all sentimental on me."
"Remember how you jumped in and saved me at the lake when I couldn't swim?"
She chuckled. "Yeah. And remember how I was the one who pushed you in?"
We laughed, recalling one of the rare fights we'd had growing up. Josie had been so jealous in fifth grade when Jimmy Caruthers revealed he wanted to ask me to the spring dance instead of her.
I pulled into Josie's driveway. The cozy, beige bungalow was awash with light and looked inviting.
"So we'll do it? Visit the spa tomorrow, I mean?" Josie raised her eyebrows at me.
I nodded. "I'll ask Gianna if she can watch the shop for a couple of hours."
"Perfect." Josie reached for her handbag. "I'll open the shop at nine, then call and schedule some appointments for us at the spa. Want to come in and say hi to the kids? I asked Rob to keep them up until I got home."
As she spoke, the front door opened, and two little figures appeared in the doorway, both in footie pajamas, one holding onto a blanket. Another little boy peered out at us from a window. He spotted Josie and waved. The two in the doorway cried "Mommy" simultaneously.
I smiled. "No, I'd better get over to the house before Gianna has a stroke."
"Okay." Josie reached back into the car to give me a squeeze. "See you tomorrow, partner."
She ran toward the house, where she was instantly enveloped in hugs. With my car window down, shrieks of laughter filled my ears. Rob met Josie at the door and kissed her as she took the baby from his arms. They all waved to me then the door closed behind them.
There were tears in my eyes as I drove away.
* * *
Gianna met me at the front door. She looked tired and drawn. "I haven't been feeling well all day. I've gotten no studying done, and now this. I hope you brought liquor."
I hugged her and walked into the house. "Where is he?"
Before Gianna could reply, my father's voice boomed from the living room. "Is that my baby girl? Come say good-bye to your father."
Grandma Rosa was in the foyer, shaking her head. "Crazier than a loon. He went to the doctor today."
Panicked, I looked from Gianna to my grandmother. "You didn't tell me that part. What happened?"
Grandma made a face. "Nothing. They told him he is in perfect health."
"Gianna," my father yelled. "Bring me the tape measure. I don't know which one of these coffins I can fit in."
My sister clenched her jaw. "That's it. I'm going to bed. I can't take any more."
"Have you eaten?" Grandma Rosa asked me.
"I'm fine. Don't go to any trouble on my account."
"You need dinner. Look at how skinny you are." She poked at my ribs.
I rubbed my eyes. "It's a little late for dinner."
"Nonsense," my grandmother scoffed. "In an Italian family, it is never too late for dinner."
"Stay the night," Gianna pleaded. "I need someone sane here. Besides Grandma, that is."
Normally, I would have said no, but after witnessing the heartwarming scene at Josie's house, a sensation of loneliness had settled over me. I didn't want to go home to my empty apartment. "Okay, on one condition."
Gianna shook her head. "I'm not measuring him for his coffin. I did it last week."
My sister and grandmother followed me into the kitchen as I grabbed the tape measure out of the junk drawer. "I need you to watch the shop for me tomorrow afternoon."
"I've got to study," Gianna objected. "I'm way behind."
I sat down at the table and stifled a yawn. "Please? It won't be so bad. Most people are coming in out of curiosity, so there won't be much to do." I wanted to bite my tongue off as soon as I said the words. If my grandmother knew things were getting bad, she'd whip out her checkbook, and I didn't want that.
"So you're not making any sales?"
"We're making sales. It could be a little better though." That was the understatement of the year.
Gianna reached over and patted my hand. "As soon as the situation blows over with Amanda, things will get better. I'll come over. Let me know what time you need me."
My father roared. "Hey, I'm dying in here. Doesn't anyone care?"
"Stupido," Grandma yelled. "Keep your pants on."
"Where's Mom?" I asked.
Grandma Rosa grunted while she made the sign of the cross. "She is off with those flighty real estate friends of hers at some awards banquet. God knows what she is doing."
"Awards banquet? But she hasn't sold anything." I was confused.
My grandmother waved her hand in an annoyed gesture. "Your mama—she is what they call a nutsy cookie."
I chuckled. "That's nutsy cuckoo, Grandma."
She grunted while she hunted around in the cabinet for something. "That works too."
Gianna raised her eyebrows at me. "They're both driving Grandma and me bonkers. I think
should get awards."
Grandma Rosa slammed a bottle of amaretto on the table and reached back into the cabinet for three shot glasses.
I raised my hand. "None for me."
"I think there is beer in the fridge." Grandma downed her drink in record time.
I shook my head, remembering the other night with embarrassment. "Thanks, but I'm done with beer."
Gianna grinned. "Oh, that's right. I want all the juicy details."
I feared the expression on my face might give me away. "What are you talking about?"
"Josie said he kissed you."
My cheeks grew hot. "I was drunk. He was all over me."
"Mike? I'll bet." Gianna winked.
Grandma Rosa's eyes widened, and she refilled her glass.
My father's voice shook the room. "Nobody cares about the breadwinner. Well, you'll care when there's no one to pay the bills around here."
I sighed and rose from the table.
"No." Grandma gestured to my sister. "You go. I must talk to Sally."
Gianna groaned. "Oh, come on, Grandma."
My grandmother yelled something at her in Italian that we didn't understand and pointed to the living room. Gianna grabbed the tape measure and slunk out of the kitchen without another word.
"So what is this about you and the police officer?"
I was thunderstruck. "Where did you hear that?"
My grandmother reached into the fridge to get me a ginger ale. "Mrs. O'Brien saw you two having dinner earlier tonight. I guess that is why you are not hungry." She rolled her eyes at me.
I bit my lip so I wouldn't laugh. "It wasn't like that, Grandma. We were talking about Amanda."
"I hear he is a nice-looking boy."
"Yes, he's handsome."
"Mike is a nice boy too. Handsome. He took good care of his mama when she was dying, and Lord knows she did not deserve it. The way she and that husband of hers used to smack him around all the time. Absolutely shameful."
I nodded sadly. Mike had told me several times how empty his life had been until he had found me. It still hurt to think about.
"You should not have broken up with him." Grandma shook her head. "You never gave him a chance to explain. He should have been your husband, not that—that clown in Florida."
I choked on the soda I was swallowing then wiped my mouth with the back of my hand while I thought about how to respond. "It never would have worked, believe me."
"A nice boy," Grandma repeated. "If he sees me at the store, he carries my groceries to the car. What man does that these days?" She pointed her finger. "He still loves you."
"He's a suspect."
She frowned, the lines in her face deepening further. "A suspect? For Amanda's death?"
"I'm afraid so."
I expected my grandmother to cry out in alarm, but she kept her calm gaze fixed on me. "Baloney. Everyone she knew is a suspect, even me. I wanted to kill her myself after what she did to you."
I was shocked. "Grandma!"
Without further comment, she reached back into the fridge and produced a piece of her famous homemade cheesecake for me. I licked my lips, and my stomach growled. I'd been too nervous to eat at the diner, but I was starving now.
Grandma beamed. "Your favorite. I made it especially for you."
I closed my eyes and savored the first bite, letting the rich taste of sweet ricotta roll over my tongue. With a moan, I reached over to hug her. "Yum. You're the best."
She folded her hands on the table while she watched me eat. "Mike would not have done that, and you know it."
I sighed, resigned to following my gut intuition. "Yeah, I do."
"You will have to make a choice soon."
She wasn't making any sense. "What choice?"
Gianna came back in the room and tossed the tape measure on the table. "He's freaking out. He thinks he shrunk half a foot since last week."
"I need to sleep. The crazies get up early around here." Grandma stood then kissed us each on the cheek. "Pleasant dreams."