Authors: Patti Benning
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Tomato Basil Murder
Book Seven in the Darling Deli Series
Copyright 2016 Summer Prescott Books
All Rights Reserved
. No part of this publication nor any of the information herein may be quoted from, nor reproduced, in any form, including but not limited to: printing, scanning, photocopying or any other printed, digital, or audio formats, without prior express written consent of the copyright holder.
**This book is a work of fiction. Any similarities to persons, living or dead, places of business, or situations past or present, is completely unintentional.
Book seven of The Darling Deli Series
“Are you sure you’re going to be okay until Darrin gets here?” Moira Darling asked Meg Brownell, her most recent hire. The young woman nodded, her bobbed hair bouncing.
“I’ll be fine, Ms. D. It’s only an hour, and we haven’t been that busy today,” she replied, enthusiastic as ever. “You go ahead and help Candice. The deli will be in good hands.”
Moira knew her employee was more than capable of handling any routine issues that might come up, but she was always reluctant to leave the deli when her assistant manager Darrin wasn’t there. Darling’s DELIcious Delights was her pride and joy; the little deli was proof to her that even a middle-aged woman like herself could still start something new and make a difference in the world, no matter how small. It was her pride and joy and, other than the raising of her twenty-year-old daughter, the greatest accomplishment of her life so far.
Candice, about to embark on a business venture of her own, had asked Moira to visit her in Lake Marion to go over the final renovation plans for the toy store that would soon be her daughter’s candy shop.
The deli will be fine
, Moira told herself.
Meg is smart; she can manage it on her own for an hour. Give the girl some credit.
“All right,” she said at last. “I know you’ll do fine. Don’t hesitate to call me if you need anything, though.”
“I won’t, Ms. D. Have a nice day. Tell Candice ‘hi’ for me.” Meg waved her boss out the door with a smile.
After a quick pit stop at her small apartment on the outskirts of town to get Maverick, her German shepherd, she was on her way. Lake Marion was a scenic twenty-minute drive away from her hometown of Maple Creek, and Moira had traveled the distance so often in the last few months that sometimes she thought she could do it in her sleep.
Out of habit, she grabbed her phone to call her sort-of boyfriend, David Morris, to see if he could meet her for lunch. Just before she pressed the speed dial button, she remembered that he was out of town. The handsome private investigator was at a conference in Maryland until next Monday, so until then, she was on her own.
When the familiar blue crescent of the town’s namesake lake appeared through the trees, she knew she was close. Easing off on the gas as she entered the town limits, she unrolled the passenger window for Maverick, who happily stuck his head out, long pink tongue lolling in the wind. She had adopted the German shepherd only a few months ago, when his previous owner had been arrested for murder. The dog had fit into her life seamlessly, and she would forever be thankful that a fireman had saved him from the fire that had destroyed her house the month before.
Living in the apartment wasn’t terrible; her neighbors were friendly and one of them had even become a regular at the deli after discovering that Moira owned it. However, the tiny living space was a far cry from the gorgeous house that she had lived in for over twenty years. Sometimes she still woke up in her small, dark bedroom wondering where she was, the fire and subsequent move nothing but a nightmare for a few wonderful moments. Then she remembered everything that had been lost in the house fire, and her tears welled up again.
It was hard to be unhappy right now, however. The day was beautiful, and as she pulled into the small parking lot behind Candice’s store, she found herself looking forward to spending the next few hours with her daughter. The twenty-year-old had lived with Moira until recently, and she often found herself missing her daughter’s constant company.
She let herself in the old toy store’s back door, which was propped open, and made her way through to the open front room, Maverick racing eagerly ahead of her. The room was empty; even the shelves were gone, the walls bare as Candice prepared the store to be repainted. The huge picture window at the front of the store was stripped of the signs and posters that had accumulated on it during the toy store’s long life, and now let in a generous amount of sunlight. Located right at the center of the small town, on Main Street, the store was sure to get a lot of business—or so Moira and Candice hoped.
“Thanks for coming, Mom,” Candice said. She was sitting on a folding chair at the counter, her blonde hair pulled back in a messy bun. “They want to start installing the floors next week, so I have to be completely sure of what I want. It’s harder to decide than I thought it would be.”
“Well, let’s see what you’ve got to choose from,” Moira said, unfolding a second chair and setting it up next to her daughter. “You’ll probably want something pretty hardy, since you’ll have a lot of children in your store. I’m surprised this wood held up for as long as it did.” She gazed across the worn flooring of the toy store. It badly needed re-staining, and parts of it had water damage. She had to agree with her daughter that completely new flooring would look best and, as long as they chose something other than wood, would require less upkeep in the long run.
They eventually settled on a light-colored laminate that looked like wood but would be much easier to clean and take care of. As Candice described her plans for painting and installing new shelves, Moira smiled and thought back to her exciting first days of making plans for the deli. Like Candice, she had taken over a store that was going out of business. In her case, the owner of the bakery had been more than happy to give her a deal on some of the appliances as well, which had been a blessing for the just-starting-out deli owner. Candice would have to purchase her own new appliances, but the small business loan would cover nearly everything.
“Have you thought of a name for the store yet?” Moira asked, idly flipping through a catalog advertising custom paper and plastic bags, trays, and even molds.
Maybe I should order some for the deli
, she thought.
“Not yet.” Her daughter sighed. “That’s another thing I’ll have to make a decision about. I don’t know how I’ll do it without second-guessing myself.”
“Just go with your gut,” Moira told her with a smile. “I’m sure whatever you choose will be perfect.”
“I hope so. I’m excited about this, Mom, but it’s all so stressful.”
“I have an idea,” her mother replied, looking out the window at the gorgeous day with clear blue skies. “Let’s go to the beach this weekend for a mother-daughter day of de-stressing. I have Sunday off.”
“Oh.” Candice bit her lip. “Um, actually, Dad is coming to visit, and I was going to spend the weekend hanging out with him. Didn’t he tell you?”
“No. He hasn’t said anything.” She frowned. Her ex-husband lived on the other side of the country, and rarely came to visit. She hadn’t seen him in years, and wasn’t sure she needed to now.
“Oh, well, he should be here Friday, and he’s staying until Sunday evening. Maybe we can all go out to dinner or something,” her daughter said, a hopeful glint in her eye.
“Maybe,” Moira said reluctantly. She knew her daughter still entertained dreams of her parents getting back together, and she didn’t want to encourage any false hopes. “I’ll have to check my schedule.” She sighed and looked out the window again. Somehow the sunny day didn’t look so bright any more.
She drove the long way home after leaving Candice’s store that afternoon. She wouldn’t be needed at the deli, and she didn’t want to spend the rest of the evening sitting around her tiny apartment. A glance at the clock told her it was a bit late to go to the lake; there would only be about an hour of good sun left, and after she stopped at home to get her bathing suit, a couple of towels, and Maverick’s long leash, there would hardly be any time at all.
A scenic drive will have to do
, she told herself.
As she drove, she couldn’t help but think of the conversation she and her daughter had had earlier. Mike was coming to Maple Creek. She hadn’t seen him since Candice’s high school graduation—had it really been three years?
Does he know about the house?
she wondered. Candice had certainly told him, though Moira knew that the responsibility should have fallen on her own shoulders. She really should have called him weeks ago to tell him about the fire. Though his name was no longer on the deed, it had been their house for nearly ten years.
Shaking her head, wishing she could snap out of her introspective mood, Moira eased her car around a tight curve. She was going slowly enough to catch sight of the For Sale sign partly hidden behind the branches of an enthusiastic bush. Her curiosity piqued, she allowed the car to slow to a stop on the gravel shoulder.
Moving the branches aside, she saw the
sign had a street address and phone number written on it in permanent marker along with Maple Creek Realty’s logo. She looked around until she spotted a mailbox just past her car with a matching address.
A house for sale out here, huh?
It is a nice area…
The woods between Lake Marion and Maple Creek were thick, and on this road most houses were far enough back that you couldn’t even see them through the trees.
I’m not ready to buy a new house yet
, she told herself.
And even if I was, I probably couldn’t afford to get one in such a nice area.
Even though she knew it would be best just to get back in the car and drive on, she couldn’t help but keep staring at the sign she had almost missed. She didn’t necessarily believe in fate, but it couldn’t hurt to look.
She drove slowly up the gravel driveway, planning on just getting close enough to get a look at the house before leaving. She wasn’t prepared for the gorgeous two-story stone house that appeared when she rounded a curve, and she felt an immediate desire to start figuring out what it would take to buy it.
The house was nestled in a small clearing, surrounded by trees. There was a large garden currently in bloom with a multitude of flowers, some of which Moira couldn’t even name. Maverick, who had his entire head hanging out the window in an effort to see what their unplanned stop was all about, barked at a black squirrel that was busily foraging on the forest floor. The air was a few degrees cooler under the canopy, and the shade rippled as the leaves far above danced in the wind. It was beautiful.
I would love to live here
, she thought.
I would love to call this place home.
“Is this the one?” Madeline Frau asked, turning her computer so Moira could see the screen. “It’s the only one I can find on Morel Street.”
“Yes, that’s it.” She gazed at the photo of the beautiful stone house, then glanced at the price and sighed. She doubted she would be able to afford it, not after cosigning the small business loan for Candice.