Authors: Geralyn Dawson
Tags: #Romance, #General, #Book 2 of The Bad Luck Wedding Series, #Historical, #Fiction
THE BAD LUCK WEDDING CAKE
Copyright 1998, 2011 by Geralyn Dawson
All Rights Reserved.
No part of this work may be reproduced in any fashion without the express, written consent of the copyright holder.
The Bad Luck Wedding Dress is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed herein are fictitious and are not based on any real persons living or dead.
Cover art by Stephanie Knautz
For Caitlin Michelle Williams
I sang it on the day you were born,
And it is still the song in my heart.
You are my sunshine.
If you roll out a pie crust before dawn on New Year’s Day, you’ll have a year of bad luck.
Fort Worth, Texas, 1880
TYE McBRIDE’S NOSE TWITCHED, then wrinkled. His eyes cracked open and immediately started to water. Grimacing, he muttered into his pillow, “What in the world died?”
The smell was enough to knock a buzzard off his dinner.
The stink interfered with his thinking, too. His thoughts flowed slow as molasses, and he had to work to make sense of his surroundings. Where was he?
Scenes from the previous evening flashed in his mind. Hell’s Half Acre. Rachel Warden’s whorehouse. Ah, damn. Afraid to look, Tye rolled onto his back and cautiously felt the mattress beside him. Nobody there. Good.
Slowly, he opened his eyes fully. The familiar gaslight fixture hanging from the wall established his position. He lay in his own bed in the apartment above his sister-in-law’s dress shop, Fortune’s Design. So, if he was home, alone, then what the hell was the stench?
He twisted his neck toward his armpit and sniffed. Wasn’t him. Lifting his head, he squinted against the light filtering through the windowpane and attempted to gauge the time. Early morning. Very early morning by the looks of it. When had he come to bed? Had he slept at all? The weariness clinging to him like a hangover suggested otherwise.
Groggily, he sat up. He grabbed his pillow and held it against his face, cloaking the odor permeating the room. He forced himself to focus, and finally, one by one, memories of the previous evening trickled through the muddle in his mind. Tinny saloon music. The scent of stale perfume and hard liquor. Gunshots. Blood.
Just another night in Hell’s Half Acre.
Located in the heart of town, the Acre specialized in serving up violence and vice to any and all who wished to partake. Liquor, gambling, and women were the core industry of the Acre; murder and mayhem oftentimes its product.
Because he was a man who indulged in a vice now and again, Tye had visited Fort Worth’s tenderloin a time or two during his extended visit to town. His favorite haunt, the Green Parrot Saloon, billed itself as a one-stop entertainment emporium. Services provided on its first floor included dining, drinking, and dancing. Gambling and whoring remained strictly second-story sport. Tye enjoyed the ambiance and convenience the Parrot presented. He had made friends of the owner, who, in deference to the fact that Tye had sworn off liquor, laid in a generous supply of his favorite root beer.
But Tye hadn’t been drinking soda water last night. He had not visited the Parrot at all. “I went to Rachel Warden’s,” he said, remembering. “Why?”
He groaned as the reason came to him in a flash. His nieces. His brother Trace’s daughters. The girls known in Fort Worth as the McBride Menaces.
And the puppy.
The dog was the reason for his mush-mindedness. He’d paid for a puppy, not a poke, at the whorehouse last night. After putting his nieces to bed, he’d headed to the Acre and bought the six-week-old mutt from one of Rachel’s girls.
The puppy was a cute little boy dog with small dappled paws, a terrier snout, and a beagle body. Tye knew the girls would love him. They adored animals and their menagerie included everything from a pet armadillo to a prized collection of doodlebugs. Tye had decided a friskier—and hardier—pet was needed once he realized the extent of their enthrallment with Spike, their so-called fortune-telling perch. Besides, he’d much rather take a dog for a walk than cart along a fishbowl on neighborhood treks with the girls, like he’d been doing of late.
He had reminded himself of that fact off and on all night when the pup’s constant crying kept him awake. It wasn’t until he’d let the damn thing sleep in bed with him, curled up against his belly, that the animal finally went to sleep.
But the dog wasn’t in his bed now. He glanced around his bedroom. The animal wasn’t anywhere to be seen. Then Tye spied the half-opened door. “Aw, hell.”
He swung his legs from the bed, and a fresh whiff of the putrid scent hit him like a fist and served to clear away the last of the cobwebs clinging in his mind.
The puppy. The smell.
Even as his gaze searched the floor, he realized the odor smelled different from what he could expect an untrained puppy to leave behind. This was more of a burnt-fur smell.
His eyes widened and his chin slowly dropped. The puppy. The smell.
His troublemaking nieces.
In his mind he heard the echo of little Katrina’s voice as she begged him for a pet.
I’ll take good care of it, Uncle Tye. I’ll feed it and brush it and give it nice warm baths
Warm baths. Hot water.
“Holy hell!” he cried, shoving to his feet “They’ve cooked the dog!”
CLAIRE DONOVAN dabbed a handkerchief at her tearing eyes and wondered once again at the creative thinking behind her great-grandmother’s recipe for the flavoring extract the Donovan Baking Company used to such success. The family called the brew Magic, and its formula remained a closely held secret.
Unlike her brothers, who had received the recipe upon their eighteenth birthdays, Claire had waited until she turned twenty-three before her parents entrusted her with the knowledge. Even then she’d suspected they’d misled her. Sugar and honey and lemon peel in the recipe, yes. But chopped cabbage, pickled beets, and cauliflower?
Her mother had only smiled and urged her to give it a try. Claire then made her first batch of Magic and sure enough, the strange combination of thirty ingredients did indeed cook down to a syrup so extraordinarily delicious that a single spoonful added to a batter turned an appetizing cake into a Magical Cake.
Magical Cakes, in turn, had propelled a small family bakery into a prosperous business whose three bakeries produced goods of renown all along the Gulf coast.
Of course, it had taken more than extra-special bakery items to make the Donovan Baking Company the success it was today. It had taken Claire’s brother Patrick and his idea for an advertisement. Patrick had been the one to parlay a musing from Great-grandmother Gertrude’s journal into a legend. She had written that the marriages of those couples who served a Magical Cake at their weddings appeared to be blessed with an extra measure of happiness and prosperity. Patrick had publicized his great-grandmother’s observation and, five years ago, the first of many articles about Donovan’s Magical Wedding Cakes had appeared in the
It proved to be the beginning of the end for Claire.
“Oh, stop thinking about it,” she grumbled to herself, her knife slicing emphatically through a head of cauliflower. She was in the midst of a new beginning—a new business in a new city, far away from family and former fiancés. Besides, she needed to keep her mind on her work. It wouldn’t do to make a mistake in the recipe.
The ingredients for Magic were expensive; her money in limited supply. The rent and renovations on her bakery shop space had used up more of her cash than she had anticipated. “That’s another mistake I made,” she said with a sigh. If she’d better estimated the cost of establishing a new life, she’d have taken more than her jewelry and half her designated dowry funds with her when she fled Galveston on her wedding day.
Claire stirred the final ingredient into her mixture, checked to ensure it remained at a slow boil, and placed the lid on her tall soup pot. Flipping her favorite hourglass timer, she paused as her gaze fixed on the trickling sand. Sixty more minutes of cooking, then another hour or so of bottling, and she’d be through with this chore for a good three months. Thank goodness.
Of course, as much as she disliked making Magic, she’d be happy to repeat the task weekly if it meant the citizens of Fort Worth found The Confectionary’s baked goods worthy of their support
. Claire thought it a particularly good title for her shop. The name Donovan wasn’t part of it anywhere.
Lining her utensils, pots, and pans in customary washing order on her cutting board, she hummed an upbeat tune as she mentally inventoried her supplies. She needed to order more sugarhouse molasses, cloves, and gelatin from Mr. Hankins at Fort Worth City Mercantile. She likely had enough flour, pulverized sugar, and cinnamon. Better check on the carbonate of ammonia. She hoped to be ready to open for business within two weeks.
She had finished washing and had picked up her dish towel when she heard the first thud coming from the rooms above her. Alarmed, she glanced toward the ceiling.
When she leased the shop space a little over a month ago, she had also asked to rent the lodgings above it. Her landlord, Trace McBride, had been apologetic but firm in his decision to keep the rooms reserved as a haven for his expectant wife on the days she insisted on working at her dress design shop next door. He kindly offered her another property, which she now shared with the local schoolteacher, Miss Blackstone.
But shortly after Claire signed her lease, the McBrides had left town on a belated honeymoon. Jenny McBride certainly wasn’t resting upstairs today. The place should be empty.
Don’t borrow trouble
, Claire told herself. She had no reason for worry. Despite the fact that Fort Worth had become the murder capital of the world west of the Mississippi, the sheriff kept that type of activity primarily confined to the Acre. She had never once felt less than safe here in this building.
Well, except for when the sisters from the Catholic church across the street paid a call. That Sister Gonzaga was downright scary.
Still, when she heard a second noise above her—one that sounded suspiciously like a slamming door—she realized just how alone she was in the building this early in the day. Jenny McBride’s employee, Mrs. Moore, wasn’t due to open the dress shop next door for hours. Unbidden, the memory of her father’s constant caution to keep her doors locked fluttered like a red flag in her mind.
Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to heed his warnings now and again.
Setting down her dishcloth, Claire stepped into the public room and gave it a sweeping glance. Her shop was divided into two main sections, with her kitchen in the back portion. The front room contained a display case for her baked goods, counter space, and five sets of small round tables and chairs for patrons who wished to consume their purchases in the shop. The store remained empty, thank goodness.
Her gaze drifted toward the unlocked front door that led to a small vestibule rather than directly onto the street. Upon entering the Rankin Building, customers faced three doors. The center door opened to the staircase leading to the apartment above, the right door to Fortune’s Design, the left to the bakery.
Claire took two steps forward until the footsteps pounding down the apartment stairs brought her to a dead stop. She gasped softly when a shadow flickered in the frosted glass that decorated the door. Whirling around, she fled back into her kitchen.
The front door hinges creaked as Claire stepped quietly to her worktable and picked up her paring knife. In her mind, she heard her brother Patrick say, “You’re quick, Claire. A man gives you trouble, you go for the throat.”
Lord help her, she didn’t want to hurt anyone.
She glanced toward the door leading to the alley and quickly debated whether to flee or hide. She chose the latter, thinking it best to stay out of the way of whatever trouble headed her direction.
, she thought with a sudden burst of courage,
I’ve done enough fleeing from problems recently
. She was finished with that.
She dropped to her knees and started to duck beneath the broad oak worktable when a near-naked man burst into her kitchen hollering, “Girls, get the dog off the stove!”
Claire froze. He was tall and broad and wore only a pair of white men’s drawers, their legs hemmed indecently and unevenly short, halfway down his thighs. Red embroidered hearts adorned the cotton garment. Recognizing her landlord, Claire climbed to her feet “Mr. McBride?”
He paused only long enough to give her a harried, curious look. “Where are the girls?”
He rushed toward the stove where her Magic bubbled. When he reached for the handles on the pot Claire tore her gaze off the expanse of masculine bare chest and lunged forward. “What are you doing? Get away from my Magic!”
“Magic?” He yanked the soup pot off the fire, cursing beneath his breath and waving his hands. He hadn’t bothered to grab a towel before grabbing the hot metal. “His name was Ralph.”
“The Blessings must have thought to give him a bath on the stove.”
The Blessings? What was he talking about? And why was he standing half-naked in her kitchen?
Claire couldn’t remember ever being this flustered. The last time a man who was not one of her relations huddled with her beside the stove, she’d found herself engaged before sunset. And Reid Jamieson had been wearing clothes at the time.
At least she wouldn’t end up betrothed to Trace McBride; he was very much married.
And he was also supposed to be in the Caribbean with his wife, Jenny.
Claire gawked at the stranger’s face. “Who are you?”
“Ah, Ralph,” he murmured, his stare fastened on the soup pot. “I thought the girls were old enough to care for a dog. They do all right with the armadillo. Of course, it’s damn near impossible to kill an armadillo. Dogs aren’t nearly so hardy. I should have left the poor pup at the whorehouse.”
Green eyes cut in her direction. “They are hiding, aren’t they? The stink must have scared them off.” He reached for the pot’s lid, and his voice sounded grieved as he added, “I’ll take care of this, but would you please go find my nieces?”
Still holding the knife, Claire lifted her hand. “Touch that kettle, and I’ll take your hand off. It ruins the recipe if you peek.”
“Recipe!” The man’s eyes rounded in horror. “You’ve cooked the puppy on purpose?”
“The puppy is under the table.”
“You’ve already removed the corpse?”
Claire pointed toward a basket beneath the table. “He’s asleep, you imbecile. I didn’t cook your dog. That’s my Magic cooking on the stove.”