Authors: Jeanine Spooner
A MATCH MADE IN MURDER
The Wedding Planner Mysteries 5
J E A N I N E S P O O N E R
Love, Laughter, and Murder Ever After
Bride and Doom
Murder At The Altar
Engaged to be Murdered
A Match Made In Murder
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This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, contact the publisher at [email protected]
This is a work of fiction. All characters appearing in this work are products of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to events, businesses, companies, institutions, and real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Cover Design By: Nieves Barreto
Finally, it was her turn. After years of working for an event planning company that had never truly recognized her talents, where she’d been assigned all the weddings they’d pulled in and had slaved to make the clients happy; after breaking off on her own and starting her own business where the work had been more rewarding, and certainly daunting—brides and grooms and murders, oh my! Now, the only wedding Kitty was planning was her own. And she couldn’t have been happier.
The snow had melted, giving way to a muddy spring, rainy nights and humid mornings, but the miserable weather eventually warmed up, dried the mud and sod, and all of Greenwich was left blooming. June was beautiful. There was no better time to get married.
Kitty had gotten in the habit of taking early morning hikes through a trail that extended from the edge of her property into the woods. At first hiking had started as an effort to lose some of the weight she’d gained in response to Trudy’s rapid weight loss. But now that she’d slimmed down to her original dress size, she maintained the routine. She liked it. The air was cool and crisp. The landscape was quiet except for the occasional hoot of a morning dove or rustle of chipmunks gathering acorns in the brush. Just Kitty and nature. Her time alone, which these days she never seemed to have.
Her life had completely changed overnight. As soon as Sterling had proposed in the church at Trudy’s wedding, he’d lowered the many walls surrounding him. He’d moved into her little, blue house on Orchard Street. He’d made every effort to be home if he wasn’t working a complicated case. They went out some nights, others they stayed in, talking and relaxing on the couch like best friends until their appetite for more stirred and they migrated to the bedroom. It was all she'd ever wanted.
But it was also intense. Kitty had been independent for so long, her entire adult life, truth be told. And often she craved a few hours of solitary silence, which these hikes afforded her.
The trail stretched out in a lazy zigzagging path that seemed to have been made naturally from the long, rainy months. The dirt was encrusted with patterns that to Kitty’s untrained eye looked like the work of runoff. It was narrow, but the brush and trees that flanked it were sparse, allowing sunlight and the surrounding scenery to bleed through.
She carried on, boots stomping over twigs and pinecones that crunched delightfully. The steady incline was just enough to keep her heart rate up, but not so steep that she felt like she was exercising.
Soon she came to her favorite part of the trail where it crested then opened into an endless field.
As she looked down at the landscape, marveling at a single pond that sat in low elevation, Kitty felt suddenly overwhelmed. There was so much she had to accomplish today. Her wedding was in less than a week—four days to be precise—and though she technically wasn’t behind schedule compared to the other weddings she’d planned, tonight she had the added pressure of dedicating her evening to getting to know Sterling’s family, introducing them to her parents, keeping them entertained, and making sure everyone got along.
They were all due to arrive this afternoon. The hard part had yet to come. And once it arrived, she might not get another hike like this until after she was Mrs. Kitty Slaughter.
She swallowed hard at the thought of her married name.
It sounded awful, like a woman who killed cats in her bathtub.
Mrs. Catherine Slaughter?
Mrs. Kitty Sinclair-Slaughter?
Mrs. Catherine Sinclair-Slaughter?
She’d come up with something suitable...
A twig snapped a few yards behind her then Kitty noticed the steady thuds of boots approaching and for a split second feared the worst. The curse. For as many weddings Kitty had been at the helm of over the course of the past year where no one died, she’d organized just as many where people had. And ever since Sterling proposed, she’d been plagued with the dread that her wedding would fall prey to the same misfortune.
But when she turned swiftly, defenses flying up as fast as her fists, she saw Sterling padding up the trail.
For as much as Kitty loved her morning hikes, Sterling hated them. He didn’t see the sense in her going off alone into the woods. He didn’t like her being alone especially when it took her well over an hour to return. More and more he’d been crashing her alone time. She should’ve known this morning would be no different.
“It kind of defeats the purpose of having some time to myself if you keep trekking after me,” she pointed out with an easy smile.
Sterling was breathing heavily, his black tee tightening with each swell of his chest, as he inhaled deeply. His stride was firm and the slight roll of his shoulders with each step lent just enough swagger to his gait that Kitty couldn’t fight the feeling she was glad he’d come.
“Hey Karate Kitty,” he said, making fun of her stance, her fists in the air that would’ve looked like she was waxing on and waxing off had they been in motion. “Where’s the derringer I gave you?”
Kitty relaxed into her hip then planted her fist there, while the other hand brushed her brown, choppy locks off her dewy cheek.
“Where would I keep it?” She challenged, glancing down at her taupe short-shorts and yellow tee, both of which clung tightly to her figure.
“In the holster I gave you,” he countered, pointing out another item she’d failed to bring.
“It’s safe out here, Sterling.” Kitty really meant to appeal to him. She didn’t like that she had to constantly assert her need for these hikes and she really wished he’d drop his concern and simply let her have them. “There’s no need to bring a pistol.”
He looked off toward the pond, a way of dismissing her, but not in such an outright manner that it’d start a fight. She caught it, though.
“I’m heading back now anyway,” she stated, stalking toward the path that ended where he was standing.
Kitty didn’t like Sterling’s expectation that she should carry a weapon and she liked it even less that he assumed she’d know what to do with it if she truly was facing clear and present danger. But she understood his reasons. Or at least she thought she did. They were both afraid there could be a murder associated with their wedding. But for some reason Sterling seemed entirely focused on the possibility that it would be Kitty who could be harmed.
For all the ways in which Sterling had opened up to her ever since their engagement, he still kept a stiff upper lip when it came to elaborating on his wife’s death and it’s likeness to his mother's. She had questions, yet she’d respected his privacy and held her tongue whenever the urge arose.
Sterling grasped her hand as she attempted to pass then pulled her against him until he had her cradled.
“You’re going to meet my dad tonight,” he cooed, but not without an edge of nervousness.
“And you’re going to meet my parents,” she reminded him.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he smiled.
“Me too,” she said then turned a bit dark herself. “What if our parents don’t get along?”
“Oh, they won’t,” he said easily, as though the idea both frightened and tickled him. “My money’s on this being a total disaster.”
She tried to thwack him, but he was holding her too tightly, so she settled on a kiss.
“I have a good feeling about this,” she said softly when he eased back to look at her.
She shrugged and held his waist a little tighter. “About our wedding day, I do.”
Sterling laughed, not at the sentiment, but at the fact that Kitty had managed to work the phrase
into most of their conversations these days as though she was practicing or relishing in the two words she’d get to say once and never again.
“Good,” he said, stroking his hands down her arms before releasing her and heading back down the trail. “That makes one of us.”
Sterling laced his fingers with Kitty’s and they started for the long walk home.
As they disappeared into the tree line, a lone hiker who had been kneeling at the edge of the pond, rose and stared at the couple.
A poisoned necklace might not do it this time, but it would be done.
Kitty Sinclair was as good as dead.
The day was an absolute blur.
Kitty reviewed decorative options, clicking through web pages at her desk in Happily Ever After and trying to visualize how the various ideas might compliment the William Wallace, but it wasn’t always easy wrapping her head around flower schemes and balloon bushels adorning a yacht.
That’s what the William Wallace was, Greenwich Harbor’s largest 19th Century yacht that looked more like a rustic Viking ship than one you’d find the rich and famous cruising on.
It was, undoubtedly, the perfect wedding location. It was docked at the piers across from the Delamar Hotel where the majority of their out-of-town guests would be staying, which made it convenient. And sitting in the harbor as it was, created the most exquisite backdrop for the nuptials, which Kitty and Sterling had decided would commence at sunset. Best of all, the county clerk’s office had agreed to allow the William Wallace out into the harbor for a two hour ride so that the entire wedding celebration could dance and drink and laugh as they glided along, looking out at Greenwich, which would surely be sparkling.
But it was hard to visualize decorating the yacht, which held its own distinct charm.
Kitty minimized her web pages and pulled up one for Harry’s bakery, Delectable Desserts. She needed to pick out the wedding cake, as well as other dessert options. But like the last task, she found it difficult to concentrate. She much preferred staring at her engagement ring, which was just as girly and modest as she was.
She realized she was suddenly pressed for time, and that's when things started getting really busy. She flew over to Glamorous Gowns then made a pit stop at Trendy Tuxedo to be certain both her gown and Sterling’s suit were coming along in their alterations.
She went to Harry’s next to touch base even though she hadn’t made up her mind, and lastly she circled back to Adorned, now under new management since Sadie, along with Patrick McAlister and the true culprit, Carl, had been arrested for the murder of Margie McAlister. The new owner, Cora, had been working on their wedding bands, which Kitty had devised to be sterling silver (hilarious!) with white platinum edges for a little glimmer.
It seemed no matter how much she rushed around, she wasn’t actually accomplishing anything, and by the time the clock above her desk at Happily Ever After chimed five o’clock, Kitty had to admit defeat and promise herself she’d get down to serious business tomorrow. For now, it was imperative to get home, get showered and changed, and get to the restaurant on time.
Tonight was a big night.
Kitty quickly jotted down a to-do list for tomorrow and left the pad to the right of her keyboard then collected her purse and blazer and began locking up. As she did, she had a curious feeling as if she was being watched. But that was impossible. She was alone in the store. There was no one lingering on the sidewalk outside. Sterling must have rattled her so much that morning that fear had seeped into her subconscious. She was being silly. She shook the notion from her head, as she flipped off the lights at the back of her store. But as she crossed through to the entrance, preparing to shut those lights and set the alarm, paranoia nagged at her so strongly she couldn’t ignore it.
Why did she feel eyes on her?
She threaded her arms through her blazer then secured her purse over her shoulder and squeezed the mass of it between her arm and ribs. She could feel the pistol inside. She’d half a mind to hold it, but then she wouldn’t have the hands to set the alarms and lock up properly. Not to mention if anyone were to take notice, the rumor mills would never end, and quite frankly they were bad enough already.
Kitty told herself to stay calm and went through the motions of heading out. When she was safely tucked behind the wheel of her Fiat she wasted no time hitting the power-lock switch. And it was then that she breathed a sigh of relief.
She whipped around, gaze locking on the backseat when she felt a sudden stab of eyes on her, but she soon relaxed. The backseat was empty. She was fine.
Driving through town at a clip, Kitty centered her thoughts on what she might wear this evening to meet Sterling’s dad. She was certainly excited. So excited, in fact, that she felt panicked. She wanted to make a good impression. She wanted everything to go smoothly. Sterling hadn’t given her much information about his father other than the tidbit that he lived up north and had never remarried. She had so many questions for the man, but realistically she knew she wouldn’t be able to ask. His wife had been murdered, though Sterling hadn’t put it together until twenty years later when his own wife had died by way of the same poisoned necklace.
Kitty had assumed that Sterling had shared that discovery with his father at the time, but Sterling hadn’t actually specified one way or the other.
What she was most nervous about, other than blurting out the wrong question and embarrassing herself, was that her parents were highly inquisitive folks. She’d made a point not to tell them about Sterling’s dark past, but knowing them, as soon as they knew his name and likewise his father’s, they would’ve hopped on the internet to gather as much as they could.
It wasn’t that they were nosey or insensitive. They were a lot like Kitty in fact. Or, it should be said that she was a lot like them: good natured, curious, smart, and fearless in the face of discovering all that they craved knowing. They were librarians after all, knowing everything there was to know was their lifeblood.
When she reached the house she saw Sterling’s Jeep parked out front so she pulled up beside it then turned her car off. It was very good that he’d beat her home. Hopefully, he’d be stepping out of the shower as soon as she got in. She’d pick out his clothes even though she knew he hated that. Then she’d jump in the shower and get ready.
Sometimes their timing was flawless.
But Sterling wasn’t hopping out of the shower. He wasn’t even bathed. He sat on the living room couch, beer in hand, brows knit together as though a troubling matter was weighing heavily on his mind.
“Rough day?” She asked when what she really wanted to do was yell at him for dilly-dallying when they had less than an hour to get to the restaurant.
“You could say that,” he said in an absentminded manner before taking a long haul from his beer.
Kitty watched him work the beer around his mouth then swallow hard, lips pressing into a grimace as soon as he’d gotten it down. She lowered into the adjacent armchair and stared at him, trying to figure out the real source of his anxiety.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
Sterling held her gaze, but he wasn’t coming out with it. Then she saw his eyes shift and he feigned a crooked smirk as if that’d set her mind at ease.
“Listen,” she went on. “If you’re worried about me meeting your dad, that’s understandable. I’m worried about you meeting my parents. The one saving grace is that my cousin’s coming and she’s a pretty good buffer. Not that my parents are intolerable, but I’m sure I’ll be mortified. Who knows what they’ll say?”
“I’m not worried about you meeting my dad,” he assured her, staring down at his beer, while he picked at the damp label that was peeling off the glass of its own accord.
“Then what is it?”
Sterling’s lips parted as though he was about to come clean. He paused, took a breath, sighed then abruptly stalked down the hall toward the bedroom.
“Why don’t you hop in the shower?” She called out.
“I need to figure out what to wear,” he shouted.
“I’ll handle that.”
Sterling padded back through the hall then rounded into the bathroom and closed the door without latching it. Soon Kitty heard the shower spray and the sounds of his belt then pants dropping to the tiles.
She made quick work of pulling a pair of black slacks from their closet then sorting through an assortment of button-down shirts she’d picked up over the months that Sterling never seemed to wear. When she found a pale purple one she knew would bring out the green in his eyes, she set both on the foot of the bed, then took to selecting dress socks, a black tie, and dark dress shoes. It was fairly warm and their dinner reservation was on the terrace at the Delamar Hotel, so Kitty reasoned there’d be no need for Sterling to wear a suit jacket.
With his outfit squared away, she rifled through her dresses. Kitty was tempted to wear a pale purple dress, but knew Sterling well enough to figure he’d have a problem with matching her. It had been cute when they were dating, but only in the context of showing up to one of her weddings. Now that they were officially engaged, Sterling couldn’t stand being matchy-matchy.
He padded into the bedroom holding a towel around his waist. He was dripping. Clearly the towel was only meant to cover him up and not actually serve its purpose.
“Careful you don’t drip on your outfit,” she mentioned. “Water stains.”
He had no response, but minded her instructions and made sure to steer clear of the clothes she’d set out.
Something was really eating him.
Despite Sterling’s mood and the way in which it distracted Kitty as she hustled to get ready, they managed to arrive at the Delamar on time.
Kitty stepped out of the Jeep and fluffed her flowing yellow dress so the wrinkles wouldn’t set, as Sterling handed his keys to the valet.
When he reached her he offered his arm, which Kitty grasped and together they started for the terrace restaurant through the lobby and just beyond the lounge.
“You look nice,” he whispered, leaning in and charming her as though he’d snapped out of his funk and returned to his usual self.
“So do you,” she smiled.
The air was warm on the terrace in contrast to the crisp AC that filled the lounge. It smelled like cut grass and savory entrees. Kitty realized she was starving as they approached the hostess.
Sterling stated their last names for the girl, who didn’t get a chance to review her reservation book and show them to the table.
Kitty’s mother shrieked with delight from across the way, standing and waving and smiling and, of course, mortifying Kitty.
“Oh God, she’s enthusiastic,” she muttered through her teeth as she smiled wide and waved back.
“Nothing wrong with that,” said Sterling.
They made their way through the restaurant.
Kitty embraced her mother, who was a short, plump version of her. Penny’s hair was cut sharply and well styled into the same choppy locks that Kitty wore. Her makeup was done up bright and bold, and she wore a purple dress with a gray shawl wrapped around her shoulders.
“I see you swung by Beehive,” Kitty mused as she released her mother to look her up and down.
“I did!” she squealed, ecstatic.
“Trudy did a great job,” she complimented, and then teased, “Looks familiar.”
“Well, you've always had great taste!”
Sterling seemed to hang back awkwardly and observe the exchange with a mix of terror and curiosity.
“This must be Sterling!” Penny exclaimed as she spilled past Kitty to embrace her soon-to-be son-in-law.
Sterling grunted. The woman was strong.
Penny stepped back and stared up at him. She was beaming.
“God bless you,” she said, which surprised Kitty. Her mother wasn’t the religious sort and the tone she used implied Penny thought it nothing short of a miracle that someone had actually proposed to her daughter.
“Where’s Daddy?” Kitty asked, pulling her mother off Sterling. The woman had clamped her hands around his and Kitty could tell Sterling felt a bit trapped.
“He’s in the little boy’s room.”
“Ugh, don’t call it that.”
“Because it doesn’t make sense,” said Kitty, reverting into a whiny teen.
Penny smiled at Sterling as though he was on her side.
“A big-time detective,” said Penny.
“Why don’t we have a seat,” Kitty suggested, getting her mother off the subject. She was feeling more embarrassed than usual.
They sat and Penny dove into all she’d read about his most recent cases. She flattered him and at times offered her perspective on the killer’s motive. And Sterling seemed to appreciate the topic if for no other reason than Penny was rambling on and he couldn’t get a word in, which suited him just fine. He’d rather listen to a conversation than carry it.