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MURDER at the ALTAR (The Wedding Planner Mysteries Book 3)
 

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MURDER at the ALTAR (The Wedding Planner Mysteries Book 3)


  MURDER at the ALTAR

  The Wedding Planner Mysteries 3

  J E A N I N E S P O O N E R

  KITTY SINCLAIR, The Wedding Planner Mysteries

  Love, Laughter, and Murder Ever After

  Bride and Doom

  Murder At The Altar

  Engaged to be Murdered

  A Match Made In Murder

  Copyright © 2015

  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

  Table of Contents

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter One

  She was running out of mansions. It wasn’t as if every millionaire in Greenwich was dying to rent his or her estate for twelve hours. This one would have to be it. She’d sell the bride on this location and she’d sell hard. Taking no for an answer wouldn’t be an option. You’d think a couple of agnostics would’ve been less picky. After all, Kitty had shown them a historic farmhouse set deep within the Connecticut countryside that met their requirements, a beautiful maritime hotel right on the harbor that had a rustic charm, and a Victorian palace built of limestone and granite circa 1886, which was a Colonial flagship in the heart of Greenwich. But the bride had vetoed them all, not to mention the four private estates at which she’d taken painstaking measures to arrange site visits.

  Gretchen Downey hadn’t fallen in love with any of them, as though falling in love with the ceremony location was imperative. Kitty used to think so, but after working with the bride for three weeks she’d loosened her grip on the notion. Time was running out. Kitty looked up at the massive estate, took a deep breath, and told herself this would be the one. No matter what, Gretchen Downey would not leave here today until she’d signed contracts booking the mansion. Period.

  Kitty felt a pang of anxiety, and then pushed it deep down into the pit of her stomach and buried it under a blueberry muffin, as she began scarfing it down, having skipped breakfast that morning.

  The Georgian mansion sat on five acres of pristine countryside. At 15,800-square-feet, the home included six bedrooms, seven full bathrooms, and two half baths, a wine cellar and golf room, and was flanked by eight expansive terraces. Most importantly, it had a ballroom, an unusual feature for its architectural style, which would be the perfect place to hold the ceremony.

  Kitty marveled up at the three-story, granite house, eyeing its black shutters and arching oak entrance, which was bordered by two stone sphinx’s and potted, yellow marigolds that boasted early autumn charm. The early September weather was perfect for a wedding. It’d cooled off, yet warm breezes rolled through, lending a lazy summer feel to the otherwise crisp air.

  She swallowed the last of her muffin, dusted her fingers off, and pushed the heavy oak and glass door open. As she entered, her heels clicked across the threshold into the marble entryway inside. After six feet of marble, the entryway unfolded into a grand sitting room that was bathed in sunlight. Its lofty ceiling and arching oak doorways drew the eye deeper into the estate where sitting rooms, a library, a billiard, and most importantly the ballroom awaited her.

  Kitty wasted no time skirting through the mansion toward the ballroom, which was surrounded on three sides by floor to ceiling glass doors that overlooked a wrapping terrace and rolling hills beyond. In the distance, she noted the tree line, dense with luscious oaks. It was beautiful, and come sunset the sky would turn pink and purple and orange as the bride and groom expressed their heartfelt vows.

  At the head of the ballroom sat a glass roundel that would be just perfect for the altar. Kitty stood there and turned and turned, assessing the ballroom and then the landscape beyond the glass. Yes, this would be the altar, she decided. Gretchen would have to agree.

  There came a knock at the door that Kitty was lucky to hear given how deep into the mansion she was. She started off rushing through the house and pulled the heavy door inward with a grunt.

  “Gretchen! Did you find it easily?”

  “I figured it out,” she grumbled, eyes turning flat. “Your directions included a lot of bearing right and bearing left. All this bearing. It seemed confusing and I doubt it’ll look good on the back of a wedding invitation.”

  Kitty made a concerted effort not to knit her brow.

  “Please, come in,” said Kitty, inviting the bride to enter as well as abandon her negativity, not that Gretchen seemed inclined to do either. The woman lingered in the doorway and sniffed.

  “What’s that smell?”

  Kitty sniffed, and then breathed in deeply. “I don’t smell anything.”

  “Smells odd.”

  Kitty could smell polished oak and cut grass, neither of which were offensive, and that’s when she knew Gretchen was plotting to turn down this location. Well, Kitty wasn’t having it.

  “Let me give you a tour,” she suggested, closing the door at once and forcing the bride to step quickly across the marble.

  Gretchen shuffled inside, with her black patent-leather heels tapping in short strides thanks to her gray, pencil skirt that was so tight she could barely get one foot in front of the other. That was Gretchen in a nutshell—uptight. Even her dark hair was slicked into a firmly coiled bun and her blouse seemed constricting, hugging her ribs like a corset. She pulled her large sunglasses off her prissy face and squinted through the sunlight as though she were the victim of it.

  After walking her through the various sitting rooms, library and billiard, as well as a few bedrooms so that Gretchen would grasp the magnitude and overall spirit of the mansion, Kitty led the bride into the ballroom.

  “This is the perfect space for the ceremony,” Kitty said excitedly, as though she could breathe life into the woman’s dead eyes.

  “I’m not seeing it.” Gretchen’s arms were folded and she kept staring at the floor. “It’s too white.”

  “That’s what’s perfect about it,” Kitty countered in a tone that remained upbeat. “The marble floor, the 24-carat engraved mirror accents that frame the glass walls, all this natural light, it’s heavenly. Just picture the room filled with white, cloth-covered chairs facing the roundel here.” Kitty stood in the semi-circular alcove as Gretchen would in a week’s time. “This is where I envision the altar should be.”

  Gretchen scrunched her nose at that and turned sour.

  Trying not to sigh, Kitty asked, “Would it help if David weighed in on this?”

  “I suppose,” she said, pulling her Blackberry from her black clutch that was so small Kitty hadn’t even seen it tucked under Gretchen’s thin arm.

  “Excellent.” It was hard not to sound relieved. The groom, David Cartwright, had been the voice of reason through this entire process. When Gretchen had turned down every font for the
announcement, David stepped up and backed Kitty’s suggestion for Edwardian Script. When Gretchen had turned her nose up at all of Harry Collins’ wedding cake samples, David voiced Kitty’s logic that classic vanilla would do just fine. And when the picky bride had refused every gown she’d tried on, David had expressed Kitty’s frustration, shoved a Vera Wang in his fiancée's face and insisted she go with that one, though his choice of words hadn’t been as PG.

  “Let me make a few calls,” she went on. “I’d like my mother’s opinion as well.”

  Kitty widened her eyes at that. If Gretchen was difficult, her mother was impossible. But what choice did Kitty have?

  “Take your time.”

  With her Blackberry pressed to her hear, Gretchen remarked, “I’m not sure it’s agnostic enough.” She sniffed. “Smells Christian.”

  There is nothing Christian about the place, absolutely nothing.

  Kitty waited patiently while the bride wrapped up her calls.

  “They shouldn’t take longer than ten minutes,” said Gretchen, dialing the last number. “I’d like Marcus to have a look, too.”

  “Marcus?”

  “Marcus Joseph, the officiator,” said Gretchen, reminding Kitty that her best friend was an ordained minister for the sole purposes of marrying agnostics in the area who refused to hire a priest, pastor, Rabbi, or other religious official to preside over their matrimonial ceremonies. “He’ll be the judge.”

  “Great,” Kitty grumbled under her breath. “I’ll put on a pot of coffee and boil some water for tea in case anyone’s inclined.”

  She padded off toward the kitchen before Gretchen had the chance to acknowledge the offer. Knowing Gretchen, she’d object and then insist Kitty invent some kind of impossible brew, because coffee and tea sounded Catholic.

  Kitty plucked three boxes of tea from the glass front cupboards and set them on the granite isle, which spanned nine and a half feet up the center of the grand kitchen. Earl grey, chamomile, and peppermint seemed a wide enough selection, so Kitty filled a kettle under the faucet, set it on the burner and then hopped to filling the coffee maker with aromatic grounds.

  That’s when Sterling came to mind. Sterling in a suit to be exact. The man could clean up nice and there was something incredibly sexy about seeing those neck tattoos creep out from his pressed shirt collar or along his forearms when his sleeves were casually rolled up. Not that she’d be permitted to bring a guest to the Downey - Cartwright wedding, but if she could, it’d be Sterling. She’d take every chance she could get to see him dressed up. It was becoming her new favorite thing.

  Which isn’t to say they hadn’t been hitting bump after bump in their rocky romance. Sterling had continued to be flighty and at times withdrawn, pushing her away as if he could deny his true feelings. But they’d been managing to navigate the treacherous waters of their conflicting wants and needs, and the good times—the laughter and passion and nights she’d hoped would never end—far outweighed the occasional friction.

  Kitty liked to tell herself so far so good, and it had been, but one thing nagged her. She wasn’t his girlfriend. He wasn’t her boyfriend. And at times she feared she’d reached a glass ceiling in their relationship, a purgatory of sorts, the no man’s land of not quite taking the leap into titles and exclusivity. Not that he was seeing anyone else or that she needed a title to feel secure, but his resistance to the idea, which she’d only tiptoed around mind you, made her nervous, as though the ground beneath her feet wasn’t entirely solid.

  It was that sense of nervousness that compelled Kitty to give him a quick call, as she listened to the coffee maker gurgle and trickle into the carafe. Hearing his voice would soothe her unease, or at least that’s what she told herself. Deep down she was perpetually terrified he’d disappear again, and these quick calls tended to prove to her that, in fact, he was sticking around. He was still here and would be for sure until she slept through another sunrise.

  He picked up after the third ring.

  “What are you wearing?” he asked by way of a greeting.

  It made her smile and let out a breathy laugh.

  “Come on, out with it,” he prodded.

  “That’s not why I’m calling.” Her attempt to sound stern was a bust that he saw through easily.

  “Sure it is.” He sounded relaxed and she pictured him leaning casually back in his desk chair at the precinct. Maybe he was drawing in a deep breath, chest expanding, black tee hugging his muscular frame. Maybe he was running a hand through his gray cowlicks, flexing his biceps at the same time. “Well?”

  “My lavender dress,” she whispered.

  “The sleeveless one? The short one? The cocktail dress?”

  It struck her how many lavender dresses she owned. “No, the sundress.”

  “With the ruffles?”

  “Yeah, happy?”

  “What’s underneath?”

  “Sterling!”

  He laughed and then his partner said something crude in the background.

  Kitty rolled her eyes and got to the point. “Are we still on for La Luna tonight?”

  “Eight o’clock,” he said easily, to confirm he hadn’t forgotten. “I’ll be there.” Then he paused and tried to coax it out of her. “Anything else?”

  He was getting to know her a bit too well and had a way of teasing her for her need to briefly connect here and there over the phone. But if he knew she felt that way, why was it so hard for him to call her his girlfriend?

  “Nope, just that,” she said, tone hitching up in such a way that betrayed her answer.

  “You sure?” He leaned into her, but not in the way she preferred.

  “Yup, I’m sure.”

  “Alright,” he said softly. “I’ll see you later, Doll.”

  “Bye Sterling.”

  She listened to him hang up, but couldn’t bring herself to lower her cell, not just yet anyway. She could still hear his deep voice in her ear. Tingles were still sweeping through her body. She hoped he wouldn’t have an early morning tomorrow. Maybe he’d stay over, sleep with her through the night, and she'd get to wake up next to him. It had been challenging to get him to do that. In fact, he never had. Sterling was a very hard nut to crack.

  “Hello!” A singsong voice echoed through the mansion and in a heartbeat Kitty knew it was Mrs. Downey, or Roberta, as she preferred to be called.

  The kettle shrieked on the burner so Kitty flipped it off then rushed to the entryway where Roberta was standing, eyeing the magnificent architecture all around her.

  “Good afternoon, Roberta,” she said, giving the bride’s mother a warm squeeze. “Thank you for coming.”

  Kitty motioned to shut the door when Mr. Downey stepped through, wiping his brow of sweat that the long walk up the cul-de-sac had caused.

  “Cliff, it’s good to see you,” she smiled.

  “Please, call me Mr. Downey,” he barked in a gruff tone to which Roberta smacked his chest playfully to prevent him from embarrassing her further.

  “Gretchen’s in the ballroom where the ceremony will take place should you all like this location for the wedding,” Kitty explained, as she led them straight through the mansion.

  To her surprise, Roberta seemed receptive to the house and complimented several features as they passed the sitting rooms and library.

  “I can see it now,” Roberta went on. “The guests will cozy up in the various lounges—”

  “And there’s a beautiful stone terrace out back,” Kitty added, pointing out the options the Downey’s guests would have available to them.

  “Lovely,” Roberta remarked. “Does Gretchen love it?”

  Does Gretchen love anything? Was the real question…

  “I think she’d appreciate your input,” said Kitty not wanting to color the bride’s mother with the bride’s attitude, which hadn’t been favoring the estate in any way, shape, or form.

  Mother and daughter looked extremely similar, Kitty noticed as Roberta exclaimed when she saw
her polished daughter turn from the afternoon light that was streaming through the glass doors and smile. Other than being a tad overweight and having thick bands of gray hair pulled neatly into her slick bun, Roberta looked just like her daughter, albeit decades older.

  “This is the place,” Roberta announced, influencing her daughter to lighten up.

  “Father? Do you like it too?”

  Cliff held his breath and turned three-hundred-and-sixty degrees, sizing up the entire room before he confirmed. “I think we have our location.”

  Just then overlapping voices billowed from the entryway.

  “I hope David brought Marcus,” said Gretchen, hurrying out of the ballroom to meet her fiancé and his parents.

  “Can I offer anyone tea or coffee?” Kitty asked. She got a few nods and smiles so she rushed off to the kitchen, pulled a silver tray from the cabinet under the isle, and set out the tea, carafe, cream and sugar jars, and several teacups on top, and then made her careful way back to the ballroom where she set the beverages on a mahogany bar at the south wall. The Cartwright’s were milling about the ballroom as David conversed with his bride, expelling her concerns no doubt.

  “Help yourselves,” she announced, and then padded back into the kitchen to fetch the teakettle.

  As she rounded back, she heard a confident knock at the front door.

  “Coming!”

  Kitty made quick work of traversing the marble entryway, pulled the door open and was met with the dark eyes of a handsome gentleman, whose tall stature and easy smile told her he could be none other than Marcus Joseph, the ordained non-denominational minister.

  “Mr. Joseph?”

  “Please, call me Marcus,” he said with a lilt that made his sexual preference clear to Kitty.

  “I’m Kitty Sinclair, the wedding planner,” she said, allowing him entry. “We’re hoping you approve the mansion.” She kicked herself for sounding desperate, but that’s what she was.

  “I certainly love it from the outside,” he said, as they walked to the ballroom. “Can’t wait for the grand tour.”

 
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