Sisters Bernie and Libby, owners of A Taste of Heaven, have plans to partner up with the Just Chocolate store for a taste-tempting Valentine's Day fundraiser featuring pairings of exotic chocolates, food, and wine, as well as a bachelor auction. And though Bernie isn’t too happy about her boyfriend volunteering to be auctioned off, she’s got too much on her plate to be jealous: one of the coolers is leaking; they need a new butter supplier, and the mother of a very good client has died.
Putting their preparations on hold, Bernie and Libby attend the funeral, only to be recruited to help solve a mystery. In an old cemetery-turned-lover’s-lane, the body of Ted Gorman has been found in someone else’s grave. The same Ted Gorman who supposedly died in a fiery car crash weeks earlier.
Ted was the owner–with his wife–of Just Chocolate. So now, as Bernie and Libby continue working with the grieving widow, they open up a mixed box of dark financial scandal, sticky family ties, bittersweet passion, and just desserts.
Includes scrumptious dessert recipes for you to try!
“Fans of culinary cozies by Joanne Fluke and Diane Mott Davidson will enjoy discovering Crawford.” –Library Journal
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A CATERED VALENTINE'S DAYA Mystery with Recipes
By ISIS CRAWFORD
Kensington Publishing Corp.Copyright © 2007 Isis Crawford
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBernie entered the room ahead of her sister. Drats, she thought as she looked around. There were no empty seats, at least none that she and Libby could get to easily. Plus, the minister was already giving his eulogy, which meant they'd missed most of the ceremony. This was not good. Not good at all. Being late to a movie was one thing; being late to a funeral was quite another.
"I told you we should have left earlier," Libby hissed in her ear.
Bernie grunted. She wasn't taking the blame for this one. She wasn't the one who had decided they had to go to the funeral at the last minute. And she wasn't the one who'd decided that wearing her Dolce & Gabbana slacks and a mauve blouse wasn't "respectful enough," an archaic concept if she'd ever heard one.
The lady in the last row was wearing red and the woman right next to her had on a pink jacket, for heaven's sake. It wasn't Bernie's fault her navy suit was hiding underneath her ski stuff or that her navy suede pumps had gotten stuck behind her travel bag. How often did she wear this kind of stuff? Never. That's how often. At least not since she'd quit her straight job five years ago. More like ten actually.
Bernie automatically rebuttoned her top suit button so the lace on her cami wouldn't show. So maybe she had taken a little more time than was strictly necessaryputting on her eyeliner and mascara. So maybe she did hate funerals.
Okay, loathed them. Had ever since Uncle Tom's coffin slid out of the hearse on the way to the funeral and got hit by a milk truck. She hadn't had a milk shake since that day, and they had been her favorite food. Bernie repressed a shudder. Uncle Tom all over the highway had not been a pretty sight. Fortunately Aunt Ethel had been too drunk to make much sense of what was going on.
Bernie sighed. When she died she wanted to be cremated and have her ashes shot into space. Or sent down in the deepest chasm in the ocean or scattered in the Himalayas. The walk would do Libby good. After all, she kept saying she had to get more exercise. Bernie luxuriated in the thought of Libby trudging up the side of the mountain, bearing her ashes through a blizzard.
One thing was for sure. Bernie didn't want to be laid out in some funeral parlor-a term that harkened back to the days when the dead where laid out in their houses, not carted off to funeral homes. And why did this funeral home have to feature beige as its dominant color? Talk about drab. Bernie shook her head. No, siree, Bob, as her dad liked to say. Now, if she were doing this place she'd do it in shades of light green, green being the color of renewal.
Bernie moved her silver and onyx ring up and down her finger while she surveyed the room. Okay, so Libby was correct-not that she'd ever tell her that. They should have gotten here earlier. In a situation like this, being conspicuous was not necessarily a plus. After thirty seconds or so Bernie spotted two seats. Unfortunately they were smack dab in the middle of the third row. Better to stand in the back, she reasoned, never mind that the shoes she had on weren't made for standing, but then four-inch heels rarely were. She was just going to make that suggestion to Libby when an usher appeared and started herding them toward the third row. By now the minister was in full oration mode.
Bernie caught the words "kindly" and "charitable" and "loved the outdoors" and "dog lover." This was not the mother of Mrs. Vongel that she'd heard about, she reflected as she began making her way down the row. The mother she'd heard about had allergies to every living thing and spent most of her time behind her triple-sealed windows watching the Shopping Channel and buying exercise equipment she never used. But that was the thing with eulogies.
Most of what was said wasn't true anyway. At least not in her experience. Look at what the priest had said about Ann Higgenbottom and her scones. The pride of the parish, he'd called them, when actually they'd been responsible for more cases of dyspepsia than anything else served at the potlucks.
"Excuse me. Excuse me," Bernie whispered as a chorus of "ouchs" and "reallys" followed her down the row.
Finally she arrived at her seat.
"I told you this would happen," Libby hissed as she plopped herself down next to Bernie.
Bernie noted she was red in the face. Bernie wondered if it was from anger or embarrassment. Probably both.
"Yes, you did. Several times in fact," Bernie retorted.
She was about to add something to the effect that Libby's habit of repeating things didn't help anything when she caught a glimpse of the puckered lips of the lady sitting next to her and decided that in this case silence really was golden.
Instead Bernie settled into her chair, which kept shifting from side to side whenever she crossed and uncrossed her legs, and attempted to focus on what the minister was saying, but despite her best intentions she found her attention drifting.
She started thinking about the new oven they'd installed at A Little Taste of Heaven. Had she known what a big deal it was going to be she never would have purchased it. According to the sales rep, the oven was supposed to do everything from bake bread to darn socks in half the time. And as a bonus it was supposed to save on energy costs. Maybe it would too-if they could ever get it up and running.
First they'd had problems securing it; then they'd had problems with the gas line, and now they were having problems with the baking times, but that was the least of it because there was one thing the sales rep hadn't mentioned-even though she should have known it. The oven put out more BTUs, considerably more BTUs, than their old oven. Which meant they needed a new exhaust system, including a recirculating fan. Just the thought made her wince.
This was going to involve major construction. Wait until she told Libby. Libby didn't know yet. She'd been at the market when the housing inspector had stopped by. Bernie flicked her hair back. She was going to tell Libby-once she found the right time-which seemed to be never.
All this aggravation for only six thousand dollars too. What a deal. And the exhaust system was probably going to cost another four thousand, one thousand to have it installed, and three thousand for the ductwork by the time the construction company was done, never mind the mess and disruption the workmen were going to cause.
Libby was ready to kill her, and she didn't blame her sister one bit.
Fortunately, they still had one of the old ovens left, one of the old reliable ovens as Libby was fond of saying, but that wasn't enough with Valentine's Day coming up and all the cakes and cookies they were contracted to make, not to mention the fund-raiser they were doing at Just Chocolate.
They'd have to subcontract some of their baking. That was all there was to that. Libby would object, but what else could they do? Unless of course they could get the new oven up and running. Libby was right. They should have stuck with what they had. Sometimes new is not a good thing. Bernie sighed as she thought of the havoc she'd unintentionally wrought.
She'd just have to speak to the serviceman's supervisor and see if she could get him to speed things up. She hated to do it, but they were running out of options. She was composing her conversation when she felt a poke in her ribs.
Libby cupped her hand and whispered into her ear, "I don't recognize anyone here."
It occurred to Bernie that she didn't either, which was strange with Longely being a fairly small place. "I don't either," she allowed.
Libby tugged at her sleeve. "Do you suppose we're in the wrong place?"
"Don't be ridiculous," Bernie shot back.
How could they be in the wrong place? That wasn't possible.
Libby tugged at her sleeve again. "I hate to tell you this, but Mrs. Vongel's mother's name was Janet."
"So?" Bernie answered. She was still wondering how to tell Libby what the code enforcement officer had told her.
"Will you two be quiet?" the lady next to her snapped. "Bad enough that you had to be late. At least have the decency to be quiet. Have some respect for the dead, for heaven's sake."
"Sorry," Bernie murmured.
The woman snorted and turned her attention back to the minister. Well, they certainly weren't making friends and influencing people today, Bernie thought as she felt another tug on her arm.
She turned and put a finger on her lips. "Not now," she told Libby as the man in front of them turned around and sniffed.
"But, Bernie," Libby persisted.
"The minister is talking about Janet Voiton. Voiton. Not Vongel. We're in the wrong funeral."
Chapter TwoLibby closed her eyes for a moment. She was so sorry she was right. She wanted so badly to be wrong. But she wasn't. How had this happened? She couldn't believe she and Bernie had done this. No, actually she could. It seemed as if these days anything that could go wrong did. She felt like Lot. Okay, maybe that was a slight exaggeration, but not by much. Witness the batch of dough she'd made this morning. She'd forgotten to put in the yeast. She never did that. Ever. At least she hadn't since high school when the rolls she was making for Thanksgiving hadn't risen. They'd been like little rocks.
And then there were her new black pants, the ones Bernie called her old lady pants, just because they had an elastic waist. Was it so wrong to want to be comfortable? Was that such a crime? But the elastic in the waistband had ripped as she and Bernie were driving here, and on top of that the heels on her good black shoes were so rundown they looked as if they'd been chewed on by her neighbor's Jack Russell terrier. Her mother would not have approved. And Libby didn't even want to think about what her grandmother would have said.
And then Amber and Googie had both been late arriving at the shop-both claimed they'd been sick, which Libby didn't quite believe-but that didn't matter. What mattered was that the special lunch salad A Little Taste of Heaven was featuring-roasted sweet potatoes and fennel on a bed of arugula with a sprinkling of roasted walnuts-still needed to be prepped.
But possibly the worst thing that had happened this morning was that her oven-her one remaining oven-was turning unreliable so that the first batch of scones she'd baked had been raw in the center, a fact she hadn't noticed until Mrs. Schneider had called it to her attention by spitting out a piece of scone in front of the ten other customers. This was not what you called good business.
Libby glanced at her watch. The repairman was supposed to be at the shop in an hour and a half to recalibrate the oven, and she and Bernie had to be back by then. She'd told Amber what to tell the repairman, but the truth was she didn't quite trust Amber to relay the information correctly. She tended to get things mixed up, or as Bernie would say, "ditz out," especially now that she was in love. All she ever talked about these days was what her boyfriend Dickie said. It was "Dickie said this" and "Dickie did that." Libby hoped she wasn't that bad with Marvin.
And then on top of everything else they were late to the funeral. If it had been up to Libby they never would have come, but then Bree had called her up and suggested she and Bernie put in an appearance.
"Dear Catherine will appreciate it," were Bree's exact words. Libby didn't feel as if she could say no. Of course, she never said no to Bree, as Bernie was the first one to point out. But how could you say no to the social arbiter of Longely? Half of Libby's business would be gone. She pushed a lock of hair behind her ears. The names Voiton and Vongel were so similar. What were the odds?
And she'd wondered why no one looked familiar here when she'd come in. Why hadn't she acted on that feeling? Why had she told herself she was crazy? Why hadn't she taken a moment to read the sign more closely instead of rushing in like some crazy woman?
If she hadn't been so preoccupied with the ovens at A Little Taste of Heaven she would have. She wanted to kick herself. Instead she reached into her bag to get a square of 70 percent pure Venezuelan chocolate before she remembered she'd eaten the last piece when they'd walked into the funeral home. And just when she'd needed it the most too.
Okay, Libby, she told herself. Relax. This isn't the end of the world. The question was what to do about it. Of course, they could just sit through the funeral. But then they'd miss Mrs. Vongel's mother's funeral. And that would be bad.
Libby thought about what her mom would have done in this situation, but it wasn't much help because her mom would never have gotten herself into this situation in the first place. She wouldn't have been late and she would have stopped to read the card on the easel by the door. Libby bit at her cuticle with her front teeth. No. They'd just have to leave. Leave now. Libby turned toward Bernie and jerked her head in the direction of the door.
"Let's go," she mouthed.
Bernie raised an eyebrow.
Libby shook her head.
"Are you sure?" Bernie whispered.
"Absolutely," Libby whispered back.
The man in front of her turned his head and said, "Have the decency to behave yourself."
Libby could feel herself turning red. She wanted to shrink into the floor. She hated calling attention to herself. She was the person who waited to pee in the movies until it was over because she didn't want to disturb other people, and now she was going to do something that would make everyone look at her. She could feel her heart start to race. Don't be such a chicken, she told herself. Just do it. Now. She took a deep breath and stood up.
"Excuse me," she murmured as she stepped on people's feet. "So sorry."
In the background she heard Bernie say, "She gets these really bad migraines. Can't stop throwing up. That's why we have to go. Now."
Leave it to Bernie to make me into a public spectacle, Libby thought bitterly as she reached the end of the aisle.
"Migraine?" she said when they got outside. "I throw up? That's attractive."
Bernie shrugged. "It was effective. People let us through really quickly."
"That isn't the point."
"I thought it was. Anyway, what else was I supposed to say? That we wandered into the wrong funeral by mistake?"
"You could have made up something else."
"This was the first thing that occurred to me."
"And by the way, your blouse is open."
Libby looked down. The third button on her blouse had come undone. "Why didn't you tell me before?" she wailed.
"If I had seen it I would have. It must have opened when you stood up. Remember, I followed you out."
Wonderful, Libby thought. Now she was an exhibitionist as well as a funeral disturber.
"I'm coming apart at the seams," she moaned.
"If you bought better quality clothes you wouldn't have that problem."
"There's nothing wrong with Marshall's," Libby heard herself snap. "Not everyone can shop at The Most." Let alone fit into their clothes.
Bernie made a rude noise.
Libby wanted to say that she didn't see the sense in spending hundreds of dollars on a skirt, especially these days, what with the condition the oven was in, but she decided now was not the time to start a fight with her sister.
"Can we leave my clothes alone and concentrate on getting to the correct funeral?" Libby said instead.
"By all means. So where do you think the Vongel funeral is anyway?" Bernie replied. "This place is huge."
Libby looked around. On this they could both agree. It was true. The Hanson Funeral Home was now extremely large. Libby remembered when the place could only accommodate two funerals, but in the past year Marvin's father had gone on a building spree. He'd kept on adding room after room. Now the place could fit ten to twelve "bereavements," as Clayton liked to call them.
Excerpted from A CATERED VALENTINE'S DAY by ISIS CRAWFORD Copyright © 2007 by Isis Crawford. Excerpted by permission.
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