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When Intentions turn Savage

The best chocolate begins with imagination and ends in murder. 

Making chocolate is a labor of love and an age-old art. As a connoisseur of the sweet, creamy stuff herself, Blaise is excited to be working at an exclusive confectioner’s shop, run by a woman whose reputation for being a creative chocolatier is legendary. Madeline Foss’s past might be murky and slightly dark, but her chocolate is delicious. And nothing says love like chocolate. Or at least, that’s what Blaise has always believed.

But when her new boss ends up dead, she quickly realizes that nothing says murder like jealousy and ambition. And there isn’t enough chocolate in the world to overcome a savage intent.


She floated into the room in a cloud of raspberry and chocolate chiffon, her arms waving around her head and her eyes swiveling to take in every display with a slightly hostile, but eminently discerning eye. “Les grains de café enrobés de chocolat!”

Blaise settled the last perfectly formed rectangle of toffee onto its tray in the glass case and glanced up. “I’ve got them ready to put out. I’ll do those next.”

Madeline Foss nodded and stopped in the middle of the cozy little shop, an index finger pressed against her ruby-red lips as her cool, gray gaze swept the tables and danced over the glass display cases. “The brittle is messy,” she told Blaise.

“I know. I’ll do that after the chocolate covered coffee beans.”

Les grains de café enrobés de chocolat,” Madeline corrected, her upturned nose lifting with disdain.

“The grains de whatever, yes.” Head down so her boss couldn’t see when she rolled her eyes, Blaise closed the case and moved over to the tray of pretty plastic containers filled with coffee beans coated in creamy, rich chocolate. She fought the urge to inhale their scent, knowing that Madeline, in her Queen of England persona, would consider it gauche.

Madeline’s cell rang and she tugged it from an invisible pocket in the cloud of chiffon, glaring at the screen. “I’ll be in my office, Blaise.” She turned and swept toward the back of the shop, her outfit billowing around her like a designer flag in a windstorm.

“Yes?” Her voice was tight and shrill. It was her “I don’t like you, so why are you talking to me” voice.

Blaise shook her head. She’d taken the job as an experiment, thinking she might like to get into the confectionary business. She’d learned a lot and enjoyed creating the sweet delicacies as much as watching people’s eyes light up when they came through the door and looked around. But dealing with the talented yet decidedly temperamental Madeline had been a bit more than Blaise had bargained for.

Still, she’d been surprised to discover she really liked her new boss. Once she’d realized there was a soft center under all that prickliness.

Her own cell rang a couple of moments later as the back door snicked closed, sending a cold draft of early Winter air in Blaise’s direction. Blaise frowned toward the hallway that led to Madeline’s office, the private restroom, and the exit.

Had her boss left for the day without saying anything?

Irritation flaring, Blaise answered her phone without looking to see who it was. “Hello?”

A shrill bark met her greeting. Her temper sifted away and Blaise grinned. “Hey, Miss Ivy. How’s my beautiful girl?”

Panting noises preceded a soft whine, and Blaise chuckled. “Dolfe, how many times have I told you not to whine on the phone.”

“It works for the fur-brats,” a sexy, deep voice told her.

“That’s because they’re little and cute.”

“I’m not cute?” His voice filled with pretend hurt.

“Cute is not the word I’d use for you, no.” Gorgeous. Sexy. Painfully masculine. She grinned.

His chuckle made her all warm and sizzly inside. “What time will you be done tonight? The brats and I want to go to that new drive-in restaurant for dinner.”

“The brats told you that, huh?”

“They did. I happen to speak fluent fur-brat.”

Laughing, she glanced through the front windows at the lead-gray sky beyond. “It’s cold and ugly outside, Honeybun.”

“We won’t be getting out of the car.” She could almost hear him smile. “Besides, I’ll keep you warm.”

“More like the two dogs on my lap will keep me warm. You won’t be able to reach me through all the fur and teeth.”

Dolfe sighed. “Story of my life. Time?”

“Five o’clock. I’m almost done setting up for tomorrow.”

“Perfect. We’ll see you then.”

A short, muffled scream had Blaise turning toward the back again. “What the…?” She disconnected and started toward the office. “Madeline?”

The hall was empty. The office door was locked. Madeline kept it locked whenever she left the room. Blaise’s boss wasn’t a very trusting person and the office’s proximity to the back exit, which led to an alley featuring a stinky dumpster, a few employee cars, and zero security cameras didn’t improve her trust issues.

Blaise tugged the bathroom door open and stuck her head inside. “Madeline?”

Nothing.

A cold breeze skimmed down the hall and the metal door to the alley clacked against the frame. It wasn’t latched.

It was unlike her boss to leave it open. Unless she’d been in a hurry. Or upset.

Frowning, Blaise hurried toward the door and eased it open, peering into the alley as an icy blast of wind scoured across the space, sending bits of debris skimming over the dingy asphalt and carrying the stench of the dumpster down the way to her nose.

Her boss’s car was still there, sitting alone under the security light that hadn’t come on yet.

“Madeline…?” Blaise’s voice cut off as she spotted a length of raspberry chiffon dancing on the air near the dumpster. Shivering violently, Blaise stepped into the alley. “What are you doing out here? You’re going to get frostbite.” She headed for the cloud of chiffon, rubbing her arms and looking around for any indication of why Madeline had come into the alley.

“You know, I took the trash out earlier, right?”

A pale hand lifted above the dumpster and Blaise gave a startled yelp as a rangy orange cat jumped from the rusty container and dropped lightly to the ground. The cat turned to stare at her, its startling green gaze filled with distrust. The stray’s tail whipped from side to side and Blaise took note of the dark stains around its mouth. She grimaced. “Dumpster diving, huh?”

Madeline must have been trying to capture the cat. The woman was cat crazy. She had six cats of her own, all rescued off the streets of Indianapolis. Blaise frowned as the cat ran away, her gaze drawn to the pale hand resting against the side of the dumpster. “Please tell me you didn’t fall into that dumpster trying to help the cat?”

She stepped on something that crunched under her boot. Looking down, Blaise frowned at the familiar phone, its back encased in faux purple jewels. She picked it up and grimaced at the cracked screen. “Um, Madeline…I think I broke your phone.”

Silence met her statement. “Madeline?”

Blaise hurried over, jerking to a stop as she got close enough to see inside the trash receptacle.

Blaise gave a sharp scream, her hand snapping up to cover her mouth.

“Oh, Maddie…” Tears burned her eyes and slid down her cheeks, dripping to the stained and debris-strewn asphalt beneath her boots.

Madeline didn’t respond.

She’d never respond again.

Wherein May was Sad out of only one Eye

I tucked the tiny bottle of fake tears more deeply into my tissue and sniffed daintily, scoping out the assembled crowd of mourners with a practiced eye. My baby blues caught on a handsome, dark-haired man standing back from the rest, and I did one of those embarrassing jerk-away things with my eyes, hoping he didn’t notice me noticing him again.

He totally noticed me.

He’d been staring at me since I’d arrived at the viewing an hour earlier. And his expression was anything but friendly. Somehow my eyes kept traveling to him, though I swear on the life of my spunky Pomeranian, Shakespeare, that it was pure accident.

I wasn’t ogling the mourners.

Really, I wasn’t.

Of its own volition, my gaze accidentally slipped over the spot where he’d been again, and I blinked.

He was gone.

To cover my surprise, I turned to the elderly woman next to me and let my bottom lip quiver. I gave a practiced little sob and squeezed the fake tears in my tissue just as a big hand landed on my shoulder.

I yelped, gripped the tiny bottle as if it was the only thing keeping me from plunging a thousand feet off a bridge to my death, and then yelped again as I shot a stream of faux sadness right into one wide blue eye.

Fake tears ran like the River Jordan down my artificially pale cheek. “Oh!” I exclaimed as I tried to deal with the mess.

I jerked around to eye the owner of the hand and forgot how to speak.

Across the room he’d been yummy, definitely an eight-star performance on opening night. But up close and personal, Mr. Hostile was a solid fifteen stars, with a good three-minute standing ovation added in.

Even with the glare on his face.

I couldn’t help wondering why he seemed so angry with me. Surely it wasn’t because I was ogling him at the viewing of the man who was supposed to be my boyfriend. I gave that one a few moments of thought.

Nah. That couldn’t be it.

Hostile Hottie stuck the hand he’d accosted me with in front of my face, all but daring me to shake it. “Eddie Deitz.”

I blinked. “Huh?” Brilliant, MayBell. Oscar-worthy response.

My poor tissue was swamped with fake tears, and there were more of them trailing down one cheek. I couldn’t seem to get them under control. So, I decided to embrace the dramatic substance of the moment. I quivered my bottom lip and sniffled behind the lump of saturated tissue.

Accepting his challenge, I placed a limp paw into his and allowed it to be pumped. “MayBell Ferth. It’s a pleasure.”

Ugh! I wanted to kick myself. Who says that at a funeral? Jeezopete!

His gorgeous green gaze narrowed slightly, bringing my attention to the thick fringe of black lashes framing his eyes.

I’d do a year’s worth of PiYo classes to have lashes like that. And that was saying something because I hated PiYo with the power of a thousand suns.

“Is there something wrong with your eye?” he asked.

I mopped ineffectually at the fake tears with my soggy tissue. “Um, no, I’m just sad.”

Stupid, May. Stupid.

His expression told me he didn’t believe I was sad out of only one eye. I couldn’t blame him for his skepticism.

NOTE: Mourning Commute is available exclusively on Amazon. If you don't have a Kindle you can use Amazon's free Reading App. That's how I read on all my Apple devices! It's also available in Print. 

Happy Sleuthing!

A Strange Profession Makes Great Fiction!

 

 

When I was asked to write Mourning Commute, I spent some time pondering the idea of hired mourning. It wasn't the first time I'd thought about it, I'd actually already written a scene with paid mourners. Perhaps you recall this dignified and sedate scene from Naval Gazing?

***

A long, wailing sob broke the stillness, its fulsome, alarming tenor enough to break through even the little old man’s stupor. He flinched once but, no doubt suffering under nine decades of emphasis on manners and how to behave in polite society, kept his gaze fixed on the casket in front of him.

However, the emitter of the wail was not to be ignored. Another hefty wail broke the silence and it seemed the sound broke something loose in the rest of the assembled mourners. Loud sobbing bubbled up to fill the previously mostly silent cemetery. The sound rose to match the wailing in loudness and, in one or two instances rose above it.

Not to be outdone, one mourner called out, “Help me Lord Ja-eee-sus!” Sounding like a good old-fashioned television preacher working a crowd for money.

With that, the stakes were raised. Never one to let someone beat her at her own game, Agnes let off wailing and, giving her competition a very un-Christian glare, threw back her head and screamed, flinging herself forward toward the unsuspecting deceased.

Unfortunately for everyone involved, Agnes caught her oversized sneaker on a blade of grass and toppled, arms akimbo, onto the surface of the casket.

Everything stopped. It was as if someone had been playing with a time machine and, seeing the pure entertainment value in that place and time, hit a giant ‘Pause’ button to savor the train wreck more completely.

***

Yeah, not Agnes's finest moment. But you have to admit it was a good bit of acting. #:0) The truth is that professional mourning has been a “thing” for a very long time. It has its roots in several cultures and is mentioned several times in the Bible. In ancient times, the profession was meant to comfort and entertain a grieving family and was performed mostly by women. The jobs were coveted because they provided a way for women to earn their own money. For the deceased, having paid mourners was a sign of prosperity and importance.

Like her ancient sisters, May Ferth believes her job is a comfort to her clients. She takes great pride in serving the grieving family's needs. But it soon turns out to be the role of her life. May bumps up against a cold-blooded killer while performing her part, and is soon running for her life in a truly ugly pair of shoes!