Authors: Jeanine Spooner
ENGAGED TO BE MURDERED
The Wedding Planner Mysteries 4
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
All Rights Reserved.
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
Mittens would’ve been a nice touch. Snow drifted down in big, fluffy chunks, as Kitty made her careful way up the sidewalk as her black-wedge boots tapped against flattened snow over asphalt. Her fingers wouldn’t be so cold if she’d shoved her hands deep into the pockets of her pink peacoat, which was what she’d told herself to do when she realized driving over she’d forgotten her mittens. But then she remembered the flowers, her order, and the silly insistence she’d made to pick them up instead of having them delivered.
Barely able to see over the tops of the five bouquets she carried, Kitty developed a sidestepping method of getting to Happily Ever After, leading with her left hip like a crab. At least she’d had the good sense to snug a hat on her head and wrap a warm scarf around her neck, both of which had been the products of a long, slow autumn. She'd taken up knitting in the lull.
Spring and summer were truly the height of the wedding season. Business had tapered off greatly as autumn’s chill had swept through Greenwich, and now that it was mid-December, business had all but dried up.
That didn’t mean that Kitty wasn’t hustling and marketing like crazy, taking out ads in the local paper and developing a handsome website. Couples were still getting engaged all over this town, she told herself. Might as well get them to start thinking about their nuptials, maybe even instill a little fear in them—
get a jump on it now or risk stress!
Of course, her ads and efforts remained positive. She’d held weekly mixers at her store, in fact, inviting the single, eligible, and seeking bachelors and bachelorettes of Greenwich to Happily Ever After every Thursday night to sip wine, mingle, and hopefully make love connections. That’s what all these flowers were for: to spruce up the store, keep it fragrant for this evening, and to dole out to all the ladies as they left, so they could feel like they’d caught the bouquet and were therefore next to be married.
Just as Kitty reached the glass door, she slipped and skidded on a patch of ice hiding under the snowdrift that had built in front of her store. Luckily, she righted her balance and saved herself from a sore bottom. It took some fancy maneuvering, but she managed to produce her key and soon she was walking through her cozy shop to the long white table toward the back where she gently set the bouquets.
She pivoted, giving her little store the once over. She’d pushed herself to be hyper-vigilant over the past few months warding against dust, wilting flowers, fading cards, anything that would reveal to passersby that her thriving business was perhaps drying up.
“Weddings are seasonal,” she said out loud as a reminder. “Things’ll pick up.”
Forcing an upbeat attitude, Kitty padded into the storage closet behind the bathroom in the very back of the store and piled up as many bouquet stands as she could fit in her arms then took to the task of arranging the bouquets on the white table.
Once she felt satisfied they wouldn’t lose shape and were properly displayed, she started up a little classical music, keeping the volume low, popped a bottle of champagne to keep her spirits high, and sat down with a rose-colored binder she kept hidden in the bottom drawer of her desk.
As she sipped champagne from a dainty flute, she began flipping through the binder. The very first page held a photo of her and Sterling under its glossy plastic. In it, Sterling hugged her from behind, as she laughed, autumn leaves falling all around them with the Greenwich landscape in the background. Trudy had taken the shot last October when they’d ventured on a double date. Kitty remembered the joy she’d exuded. The laughter, the lightness, the almost hysterical elation had been for no other reason than Ronald had finally waddled his way out of frame.
Trudy and Ronald were still together. She had no other weddings to plan but theirs. It would be a winter wedding, a winter wonderland if Kitty could execute her vision. And she would. It wasn’t lost on Kitty that this wedding was an act of charity—Trudy throwing her a little business during the slowest months. She knew her best friend would’ve preferred to wed in the spring when the flowers bloomed and the air was warm. Trudy was a friend like no other, and Kitty couldn’t help but feel like she was losing her more and more with each passing day.
Having slipped into a sad thought, Kitty turned the page, eyeing a collage of wedding gowns she hoped to wear one day. The glossy on the opposite side contained a number of tuxedos she had no hope Sterling would ever wear. She had no real hope of any of this in fact. Sterling was nowhere near ready for marriage. They hadn’t even moved in together. But a girl could dream, couldn’t she?
When she reached the end of her secret binder she closed it up, poured herself more champagne, and wondered if she should call the jeweler, Sadie Francis.
Kitty glanced up and gazed out her storefront windows. The snow had picked up, but not the wind. It was floating down, thick and white and beautiful. She drew in a deep breath to enjoy the moment, but something in the back of her mind nagged her.
It was Trudy’s wedding—Trudy to be precise. She’d always looked like a pinup girl from the ‘50’s, voluptuous, well styled, a woman who embraced her curves and dressed to flaunt them. In the face of the upcoming ceremony, her friend had gone off the deep end. Why did brides often get obsessed with losing weight? She’d already landed the perfect man, or at the very least a man that was perfect for her, and yet Trudy had all but lost her mind to the notion she would need to lose twenty-five pounds. Even Ronald had begged her to keep her figure, but there was just no reasoning with Trudy. She’d set her heart on being a size four, and by God she’d done it.
Kitty pulled her cell phone out of her purse and dialed Sadie Francis. As it rang she watched daylight disappear into the dark, gray haze of night beyond the store windows. The sparse stream of pedestrians dissipated until there didn’t seem to be a soul around. That was how long it took Sadie to pick up.
“Adorned.” Kitty knew it was Sadie who’d answered on the twelfth ring. The raspy, rock and roll voice was unmistakable. Kitty pictured Sadie leaning over her shop counter, tattooed arms flexing under the weight of her androgynous body.
“Hi Sadie, this is Kitty Sinclair,” she said with an easy smile that helped her tone come across lighthearted.
Sadie exhaled into the receiver as though she was inconvenienced.
“Is the ring ready?”
Sadie cleared her throat and Kitty heard the crackle of a cigarette, lit with the help of a match flame.
“Sure is,” said Sadie, who then pushed smoke through her lips on a hard exhale. “Real bitch if you ask me.”
For a moment Kitty was taken aback, then she realized the rough and tumble jeweler was referring to the engagement ring and not to her best friend, Trudy.
“Resizing it from a seven to a six was nothing short of surgery. The woman could’ve clipped on a plastic tightener.”
That had been Sadie’s original recommendation when Kitty had brought Trudy’s engagement ring to her three weeks ago.
“All these brides, man,” she went on. “You know that friend of yours is only going to gain the weight back and then she’ll have to fork over another few hundred for me to shape it wide again.”
“Yes, I know, Sadie. We really appreciate it.”
“Yeah,” she groaned. “That’s what they all say.”
“Can I pick it up at some point... today?”
“I’m closing up.” It sounded dismissive.
“I can come over right now,” Kitty offered.
“Like I said, I’m closing—”
Kitty snorted a laugh that was genuine. “Sadie, it’s barely four-thirty.”
“Yeah and I barely have any customers so it barely makes sense for me to stay open another hour.”
“I’m not arguing with you there, but my goodness, you’re three doors down. I can be there in fifteen seconds.”
Kitty didn’t see how that could possibly be true, but didn’t want to call her out on it. As a general rule, Kitty never challenged a woman who wore more than 70% leather at any one given time.
“You’re single, right?” Kitty asked as soon as the idea struck her.
“You hittin’ on me, Kitty cat?”
Kitty blinked at the endearment then shook off momentary bewilderment.
“I’m having my singles’ mixer tonight,” she began.
“Oh right, one of those.” Sadie sounded unimpressed, but hadn’t insulted her directly so there just might be a chance.
“They’re a lot of fun,” she went on selling hard. “We never run out of champagne and there’s always plenty of people here. And Harry Collins is bringing cake!”
“Plenty of people?” Sadie was skeptical.
“Admittedly more girls than guys, but the eligible bachelors that do come are truly quality men. It’ll probably be worth your while, and if not you can always head out.”
“Quality men?” she asked as though that defined the polar opposite of what she was looking for.
“You’d really have to come and see for yourself. Bring the ring. I’ll pay you in cash.”
Kitty knew where this was going and sweetened the pot. “And a few bottles of whiskey.”
“Kentucky bourbon or single malt?” she asked with a kind tone, genuinely interested.
Good grief, a wealth of handsome men couldn’t get Sadie Francis to a mixer, but her booze of choice would?
“I’ll have both for you here, Sadie. It’s no problem. Trudy’s very eager to get that diamond back on her finger.”
“You got yourself a deal, Kit-Kat.”
Oy with the nicknames!
“Wonderful, I’ll see you at five-fifteen,” she said and drew the phone from her ear.
“I’ll be late,” said Sadie, tinny through the receiver. “I hate being early for those kinds of things.”
“Five-fifteen isn’t early, Sadie. It’s on time.”
“In my world anything sooner than forty-five minutes late is early.”
The life this woman led.
“Very well. I’ll see you when I do.”
Kitty hung up fast before the woman could make any more demands. Then she looked outside at the snow and darkness and wondered what she’d have to do to get Sterling to pick up a few bottles of liquor. The last thing Kitty wanted was to venture into the cold.
The thing about Sterling was that he still gave her butterflies, and it seemed the better they were doing in their relationship—the fewer the fights and the more laughs—the worse her nerves got in anticipation of seeing him. She liked it. She took it as a good sign, but it strangely unnerved her. Part of her knew that making that secret scrapbook of their future wedding hadn’t helped. That’s where the anxiety was stemming. She hoped to walk down the aisle with him one day. And hope itself had thrust Kitty into a pressure cooker of sorts.
Nervous as she was at the idea of seeing him—Sterling had gotten into the habit of not only coming to her mixers, but enjoying them and he’d surely be in her company soon; Kitty thought it best to give herself the once over before she dared get him on the phone.
Quick to her feet, she padded into the bathroom and shut the door as though anything less than the upmost privacy would thwart her efforts.
Thanks to Trudy’s rapid and abundant weight loss, during the past few months Kitty had taken on a sort of passive protest and had often found herself overeating to compensate for her friend’s refusal to do the same. The image that now stared back at Kitty in the mirror wasn’t entirely to her liking because of this. Her cheeks looked a touch plump and her dress, a knit, long sleeve number that clung tightly all around and fell just above her knees, fit a bit too snuggly. She liked the shade, though: maroon. It conjured the holidays, which were just around the corner.
Kitty made fast work of fluffing her brown, chunky locks and holding the new shape with hair spray then swiped on more lavender eye shadow followed by a bright dusting of pink rogue. Lastly, she opted for a touch of clear gloss on her lips, which she worked in, pressing and puckering, as she slowly turned to check herself out from all angles.
Good enough for a phone call, she noted, before making her way back into the store.
“Harry! Let me help you!”
The baker was wedged in the front door. The cake boxes he balanced were at risk for tumbling out of his arms under the weight of glass that pressed in on him from the side, but Kitty was fast to rush over and pull the door inward. Once he cleared it, she pulled the upper-most three boxes from the stack and together they made their way to the white table.