Authors: CeeCee James
THE SWEET TASTE OF MURDER
Copyright © 2016 by CeeCee James
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
~For my Family…333~
he mercury hovered a gnat’s eyebrow below 96 degrees on this unseasonably warm May day. In the shade of a striped umbrella outside the Sweet Sandwiches Deli, Elise and Lavina split a plate of macaroons with their sweet tea.
“Come on. You know you’ve always wanted to.” Lavina waggled long nails at Elise, her crazy red hair spilling around the silk bandana she wore to tame her curls. “Those tickets are just for the taking!”
The tickets she referred to were for two free passes aboard the Norwegian Cruise ship. Her sugar daddy had just given them to her. At least Elise called him sugar daddy, but Lavina would call him her long-term boyfriend—who happened to be twenty-six years older than her own thirty-four years.
“Age doesn’t matter,” Lavina always told her. And, after seeing how happy Lavina was, Elise guessed she was probably right. Lavina was always sharing stories about cruises, Island hopping, and expensive gifts. But even with their expensive lifestyle, those two would always settle back like homing pigeons, watching Dancing With The Stars, over ice-cream.
Unlike Elise, who watched T.V. alone.
There was just one troubling thing. Elise had never met Lavina’s boyfriend. She only knew him as Mr. G.
Today, Elise had barged into Sweet Sandwiches to search out her best friend. This shop was Lavina’s baby, who’d purchased the business over three years ago. In a twisted irony, the high maintenance socialite liked deli meat, and was happy to don the rubber gloves and cut roast beef, sandwich-thin, whenever the customer ordered it.
Elise didn’t have any room to talk about job choices. She was still searching for one after her husband of ten years left her for his secretary. Elise didn’t know which part of Mark leaving was worse, that he left her in such a stereotypical way, or that he took the blender. Elise loved that thing and had been planning to use it for many more years to try and lose some weight.
Turns out separation was a much better alternative–-over 195 pounds, and fifteen of that dropped off from her own body.
Still, after hearing how happy Lavina was with Mr. G on their last trip, Elise wouldn’t mind seeing some of the weight return in the form of another man. But Elise wasn’t holding her breath. It was time to get back on her two feet and figure out what the rest of her thirties was going to look like.
“Come on. You have to go!” Lavina cackled and continued to wave the cruise pamphlet. “Mr. G is busy that week, and I’d rather die than go by myself! I need my wingman!” She grabbed Elise’s arm. “Please, please, please, please.”
Elise stared at her nails. “When was the last time you had your nails done?” Lavina’s manicure was perfect as usual, but Elise liked to yank her chain.
Lavina frowned as she looked at them. “Last week. Why? You think they’re grown out already?”
Elise swatted at a fly trying to do the Cupid Shuffle on one of the cookies. “Just kidding you. They’re perfect, just like everything else about you. Anyway, I’ve gotta get going.” She watched the fly buzz away, squinting up at the cerulean blue sky.
“Where are you off too?”
“My first job back in town. Dog walking.”
Lavina raised her eyebrows. “You know what people are going to say. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. They still have their nose out of joint since you left Angel Lake for that lawyer.”
“Let them say it.” Elise shrugged, pushing her dark hair off her shoulders. She had left Tennessee all starry eyed after falling for a big city lawyer who’d just happen to be eating in the restaurant she worked at. She’d let Mark sweep her off her feet and into New Hampshire for the last ten years.
People had called her a trophy wife since he was eight years her senior. And it turned out to be too true. Brought out on special occasions, but otherwise, she had been left alone in their four-story Victorian built house.
She remembered clearly the day she’d read the text message. Mark’s phone had been sitting out on the kitchen counter as he poured himself a drink. It buzzed, and Elise couldn’t help but look at it.
Her name was Stephanie.
Elise had sunk onto the Victorian couch, one she never wanted, forced into her life along with a suffocation of silks and gaudy baubles, and pressed her fingers to her forehead. So overwhelmed. Scared. Angry. Betrayed.
She looked at her left hand now, smooth and white, showing a fresh indentation on the third finger. Softly, she rubbed at it before standing. “Let them say it,” she repeated. Then, hugging her friend and getting a blast of the scent of hairspray, she continued. “As long as I have you, Vi, I’m good.”
“Oh you have me,” Lavina retorted with a chuckle. “I suppose along with a few canine friends, I guess.”
At the grocery store, Elise scanned the cereal shelf. Ever since she’d been married, Mark had kept them on a strict food diet. Steel-cut oats for the morning, followed by a green smoothie.
Her eyes lit up when she saw the familiar red box with the leprechaun.
Why not. I do what I want to do
. She grabbed the box and turned it over. Her elation plummeted at the ingredient list. Over eighteen grams of sugar.
Don’t care… so worth it.
“Wow, Elise… didn’t think I’d be seeing you around here.”
Elise looked up, startled at the unexpected voice. A tall man in dark police gear strolled up to her.
Brad Carter. The last time she’d seen him he’d been hitching his belt tighter around pants that threatened to fall off his skinny hips. She’d been leaving for college and waved out the window as the bus pulled from the curb.
“It’s been a long time!” She injected a confident note in her voice.
Wait. What was still in her hands? The cereal? She casually set it back on the shelf and took a step in the direction of the Grape Nuts.
“You putting that back?” He grinned. “Seem to remember you always bringing a box to the camp-outs. You ate it around the fire like it was dessert.”
“You still remember that?” Elise chuckled, and tucked her hair behind her ear. “Good memories. Sometimes makes me sad to be an adult now.”
“So, you back for a while?” His tone was casual as he shook a chilled Starbucks coffee drink.
“Still drinking those, huh? I’m here for a bit.”
“Like you already know, old habits die hard.”
“You got me there. Wow, Detective huh? You’ve definitely made a few changes.”
He looked down at his badge, his bicep flexing under his shirt. “A few changes huh? Don’t tell me you still remember me as a pimply faced skinny teenager. Damn, has it been that long?” He looked at her, and his eyes narrowed. “It has been that long. Look at you.” A slow grin spread across his face.
She snorted. “I guess I was skinny and pimply faced back then too.”
“Nah. You were beautiful. You’ve always been beautiful. Used to get me tongue-tied back in the day.” He cleared his throat. “I’m sorry to hear about you and your husband.”
Inwardly, Elise cringed. Apparently, the gossip mill was still alive and strong in Angel Lake. She nodded and put on a brave smile. “Better to find out now, I guess.”
His eyes flicked towards hers. “He’s a rotten scum-bag if you don’t mind.”
Elise couldn’t help smiling at his response. “I’ve called him worse.”
He rocked back and forth on his heels, then cleared his throat. “Well, I should be going. Enjoy your Lucky Charms. I won’t tell anyone.” He gave her a wink and headed down the aisle.
She shook her head. The reality of being back in her hometown just smacked her full in the face. Everyone must know about Mark. That he’d cheated. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Time to put your big girl panties on,” she muttered, then lunged for the Lucky Charms.
lise’s first stop that morning led her to Ms. Perkins’ house, her old school teacher as well as the first person to hire her since she’d been back in town.
“Well, look at you, Elise. I swear I ain’t seen you in a month of Sundays. I’m so glad you are back. How’s your mama?” The white-haired woman beamed up at Elise from a height of nearly two feet shorter. Her wrinkled cheeks were tinged the same apple-pink of her checked shirt. Elise leaned down to give her a hug and breathed in deeply. She smelled faintly of baby powder.
“Glad to be back, Ms. Perkins. Mom and Dad are good and enjoying their retirement down in Florida.”
“Please, dear. It must be at least twenty years since I was your third-grade teacher. You’re all grown up now. Call me Rose.”
Elise nodded even as her stomach shifted uncomfortably. What was it about calling people by their first name after years of only knowing them by their last? It felt so strange.
“Rose. Okay, then. I just want to thank you for this opportunity. Your dog is amazing.” She bent down to scratch the neck of the Pekinese. “And thank you for the recommendation.” She had two more dogs to walk thanks to her old school teacher.
“My pleasure, dear. Just a little something to hold you over until you get back on your feet. Or, who knows? Maybe the start of a new venture. And I know my pup just loves it! I haven’t been able to walk him as much since my hip surgery.”
Elise made what she hoped was the appropriate noise in response. The Pekinese, a sweet little boy named Horace, licked her hand. “Actually, I’ve always wanted to own my own kennel and groom shop. This is a good start.”