Love, Laughter, and Murder Ever After (The Wedding Planner Mysteries Book 1), страница 1
Love, Laughter, and Murder Ever After
The Wedding Planner Mysteries 1
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
Catherine Sinclair nervously gulped lemon water and resisted every urge to pull out her compact mirror and give herself the once over. That would seem vain. Men were put off by vanity. At least that was what she’d read, heard, and obsessed over during her quest to pinpoint the precise reason or (gulp) reasons she’d been painfully single and ever ready to mingle for the past (cringe) eight years.
A gentle spring breeze blew through the sidewalk cafe where she was sitting and waiting, punctual to the tune of fifteen minutes early, and wrestling down swells of hope in her anticipation to meet the first of three blind dates her friend Trudy had set up for her this month. Trudy was a hairdresser who seemed to have her thumb on the pulse of single men in this quaint city, Greenwich, the wealthiest in all of Connecticut.
If her memory served her, and the rearview mirror in her car could be trusted, her choppy, brown locks hung at carefully mussed angles falling just above her shoulders. Her blue eye shadow popped with the kind of color that brought out her strangely hazel eyes, a chaotic mix of brown and green and blue streaking each iris. And her rosy cheeks and painted lips matched the pink, ruffling sundress she wore. She looked fine. No need to double check with her mirror.
She'd nearly emptied the breadbasket that sat at the center of the table, but hadn’t realized it until she stared down at the last roll. Wrinkly raisins poked through its crust. She couldn’t stand raisins and wasn’t especially fond of grapes unless they came fermented in a long-stem glass.
“More Perrier?” Her waiter asked, as he appeared at her table, startling her.
“A glass of Riesling, if it’s chilled,” she said, and then became momentarily lost in over analyzing the timbre of her voice. Was it annoying?
The waiter, a lanky young man, whose slouching posture and easy smile told her waiting tables was how he tackled his student loans during the long, lazy summer, simply raised his brow as if to suggest it might be a bit early for wine, but he liked her all the more for it.
“I’ll freshen up this breadbasket while I’m at it,” he mentioned, swiping it up before he wove his way through the cafe tables to fetch her chilled, white wine.
She resumed gulping down lemon water, and soon a wealth of ice filled her mouth, causing an excruciating coldness to surge through her head and make her squeak. It was then that she spat the cubes back into the glass.
It was also then that she realized her date had arrived—tall, dark, handsome, and staring down at her with a glint of mild repulsion in his otherwise dreamy eyes.
“Oh!” She hopped to her feet to properly greet him, but could she speak? The ice had numbed her tongue.
“Catherine Sinclair?” He asked with the kind of slowly dawning apprehension that indicated he hoped he’d approached the wrong table.
“Please, call me Kitty.”
“Grant Peterson.” His tone was deep and smooth. Oh, he had a good voice.
In a burst of nerves and exuberance, Kitty threw her arms up, going in for a warm hug. She hadn’t realized he’d extended his hand for a formal shake. And because of the clashing gestures he accidentally caught her boob when she embraced him.
It was more sex than she’d had in years.
But she drew away fast, smiled sheepishly, searching his eyes for any indication the ice was now broken. It wasn’t. He merely cleared his throat and pulled out his chair.
“Trudy tells me you’re an investor.” Kitty dove into conversation excitedly as she plopped into her seat, elbows planted on the table, chin in hands, leaning in with awe and wonder. Her lashes fluttered. Men like that, right? “What kind of companies do you invest in?”
“The kind that interests me,” he said, leaning back and drinking in the scenery.
He took a moment to smooth down the front of his crisply pressed suit, while Kitty wrapped her brain around the meaning behind his mysterious demeanor. His eyes had yet to return to her.
“I find that fascinating,” she offered as a means to prod him on.
“So do I,” he grinned, gaze touching her before a blonde in a slinky dress swayed down the sidewalk and stole his attention.
Kitty kept her chin up, but definitely pulled away from the table, folded her hands on her lap, and hoped like hell her wine was on the way.
“How did you get into investing?” She asked, keeping her tone even and her intent polite.
“I have tons of money. It’s ridiculous. I was traveling for years. Have you traveled? You don’t look like it. I decided I wanted my money to grow and since I’m smart—I’m practically a genius if case you were wondering—I knew investing was the best option.”
She knew she was glaring, but didn’t do much to change it.
The waiter deposited her drink and Kitty wasted no time draining the glass. It risked his judgment, but quite frankly, she wasn’t sure he’d notice. He seemed to be looking through her, probably at a woman behind her.
Kitty mustered up a shred of optimism and said, “I started my own wedding planning business.”
“I don’t drink wine,” he announced, “unless it’s a five-hundred-dollar bottle.” He wasn’t speaking to her. He was addressing the waiter, who didn’t look impressed. “Whiskey. Anything from the top shelf.”
This guy was too much. Trudy could expect to get an ear full, as far as she was concerned.
“I can tell you what you’re doing wrong in your business,” he offered, glancing down at her from his high horse.
“I’m not doing anything wrong.”
“Then why do you dress like that?”
“Do you work out?”
“I didn’t think so.”
“Another Riesling!” Kitty shouted over her shoulder as if to say Mayday.
“How old are you?” He scrutinized.
“Twenty-nine.” She was spitting words through her teeth at this point.
“I’d have guessed older.”
Kitty’s eyes glazed over, fantasies of stabbing him with her fork swirling in the forefront of her m
The waiter padded over and set their drinks on the table then fled in a way that made her jealous.
“Tell me,” he went on despite the disgust that was rolling off of her. “Did you want to head back to my place?”
Kitty stared at him in utter disbelief, eyes white all around, and her mouth pressed into a grimacing pucker. In the next instant, she was on her feet, grabbing the drinks in balled fists, Riesling in the left, whiskey in the right, and splashed them into his face.
He gasped, shocked, and tended to blotting his face, but she didn’t know that. She was already cutting through the cafe, determined to put that disaster behind her.
The nerve of that guy, the gall, the absolute shamelessness.
And to think she had two more blind dates ahead of her. She might have to reconsider.
As she made her way up the street, passing sunny boutiques, fragrant flower shops, and relaxed restaurants, Kitty reminded herself that her wedding planning business would be a success, she had a great figure that didn’t require painstaking hours on a treadmill, and her sense of fashion was on point with the latest trends. Sure, it’d be nice to meet Mr. Right, but she didn’t need a man. She was content. She felt whole. She had a great life.
And she’d be damned if she'd let a stranger bring her down.
It was all so new, her storefront wedding planning company, Happily Ever After. On the sidewalk, she took a moment to admire the pink, cursive letters across the glass door, and then did a quick check that the white lilies and invitation display that filled the window was still perfectly arranged. It was, so she unlocked the front door, flipped the sign from closed to open, and made her way through, weaving between the various display tables topped with framed photos and catalogs of every wedding aspect imaginable: locations, floral arrangements, cakes, caterers, bridal attire, bridesmaid’s dress options, and the list went on.
The endeavor had been daring if not daunting, but it had always been Kitty’s dream to run her own business. After years working for a corporate event planning company that had overlooked her talents and drained her energy, Kitty had made the leap. She’d secured a small business loan, signed the lease on the store, and courted her old contacts. The dream was alive and had breathed new life into her, but her first client had yet to reach the altar.
She made fast work of muscling a folding table open and setting it on its feet. She then tossed a white tablecloth over it and set a vase of lilies and roses at its center. Recalling she’d have two sets of parents in addition to the bride and groom, she pulled the appropriate number of chairs around the table then crossed to the wedding cake display at the far end of the store. After selecting a number of brochures along with a thick binder of vendors, she placed them artfully along the table.
She was right on time, and for Kitty that meant she had minutes to spare. The baker would be here soon.
Pending his arrival, she stole away to the ladies room in the back, washed her hands and spruced up her makeup with blush and powder she kept hidden in a drawer beneath the sink, and then studied her reflection in the mirror.
“You’ll get through this,” she told herself, as she reviewed her features and practiced smiling. “The bride’s not that bad.”
But she was.
The term Bridezilla held knew meaning ever since Kitty had first met Contessa von Winkle, and no amount of building herself up in the bathroom would equip Kitty well enough in her task of making the difficult twenty-four year old happy. But that wouldn’t stop her from trying.
“Kitty!” She heard a man calling from within the store and recognized the voice immediately. It was her friend and baker, Harry Collins.
“Coming!” she called, giving herself one last look in the mirror.
She liked how her hair framed her face, accentuating her round cheekbones and soft jaw. The pink sundress she wore had a conservative cut, high at the neckline, low to the knees, and yet the cottony material flattered her curves. A sudden wave of insult rolled through her when she remembered the terrible date she’d survived only moments ago, but she pushed the sting down, smiled brightly, and threw the ladies room door open, ready to face the rest of her day.
Harry Collins, a man as sweet, layered, and full bodied as the cakes he made, stood with a stack of boxes piled so high in his arms that Kitty could only see the top of his head, wispy hair sprouting up in a dainty tuft.
“Let me help you with those!” Kitty rushed over and relieved him of the upper three boxes. “You’ve outdone yourself, Harry,” she commented as they brought the boxes to the table and set them down.
“It’s the standard batch,” he assured her, popping the lids back.
The sugary scent of chocolate, coconut, and vanilla wafted up, dazzling her senses.
“Mind you, the wedding party will be sampling not only wedding cakes, but also an assortment of desserts for the buffet,” he explained.
“My goodness, it’s a feast,” she marveled.
Harry patted his round belly then smoothed down his white smock, absorbing the compliment. For a gentle man in his early fifties, Harry was everything you’d expect in a baker, a jolly perfectionist with a passion for sweets.
He wasted no time setting out the samples, which he organized by flavor, clustering the milk chocolates with dark, vanilla with its fruity alternatives, and keeping the more exotic options together at the far end. Kitty hung back as he worked and eyed each piece for inspiration as well as blemishes. To Kitty, everything had to be just so.
“How’d your date go?” He asked with interest.
“How did you know about my date?”
Greenwich was a small town despite its sizable population, and the gossip mill took to churning whenever two eligible—albeit clashing—singles were seen together out and about, especially when cocktails were involved.
“Grant Peterson has quite a reputation, you know,” Harry went on, sly smile curling at the corner of his friendly face.
“No, I didn’t know that. A little warning next time,” she said dryly.
“So he made the usual forward advance?” He asked on a chuckle. “Never trust a man who’ll spend two hundred on a trim.”
“Lesson learned.” She owed Trudy a phone call. One of the samples caught Kitty’s eye. “What flavor is that?”
He diverted his attention from a set of chocolate truffles he’d been shuffling on a porcelain plate to see which sample she’d pointed to.
“It’s lemon custard set in vanilla cake.”
“I didn’t notice it on the website.” Kitty leaned closer and noticed it looked peculiar, but then again, she’d never inspected custard cake up close.
“I know a few things about Duke von Winkle,” he commented, referring to the bride’s father, who was something of a Dot.com tycoon. The man had made a fortune buying and selling technology apps and software companies, and was famous in his own right around these parts—Connecticut on the whole, but Greenwich specifically. “Lemon custard is his personal favorite so I figured I’d wow him if I could.”
“Good thinking,” she said, praising him with a playful elbow jab to his side. “What are those flecks there?” She asked. If Harry was a perfectionist, Kitty was his tyrannical counterpart, though manners and good intentions were at the heart of her scrutiny.
“What flecks?” He leaned in to examine the custard. “Oh, I sprinkle a dash of salt at times to bring out the flavor.”
To Kitty’s untrained eye it didn’t much look like salt, but she shrugged, happy enough that her curiosity had been quelled.
Just in the nick of time, Kitty and Harry stripped the boxes from the table and set them in the closet, emerging the moment Contessa von Winkle stepped boldly through the glass entrance door, her groom, Charles Astoria at her heels.
Taking a deep breath and boasting a confident smile, Kitty willed her skin to thicken as she approached the bride.
“Contessa, you look lovely.” As always, Kitty went in for a light hug, but Contessa
It stung a bit, but she smiled right through it, took Contessa’s hand and shook it.
“Charles,” she said, greeting the groom with a firm handshake as well. “It’s nice to see you.”
“Naturally,” he said, though Kitty couldn’t be sure if the dashing, trust fund man-child was agreeing with her or returning the sentiment.
“This is Harry Collins from Delectable Desserts.”
Harry stepped forward and gave them each a nodding bow, though his hands were clasped behind his back.
“I’m so excited to share his cakes with you,” she went on.
“Daddy’s parking the Lexus,” Contessa huffed as though the inconvenience was an insult she couldn’t bear.
“The Lexus is perfectly fine,” Charles uttered to his fiancé under his breath, but it only incensed her.
Her eyes widened and she shot him a look. “We had to roll through Greenwich thanks to traffic,” she sneered. “Everyone saw us.”
“What’s the problem?” Kitty asked ready to supply a solution, or at the very least a cocktail, to calm her nerves.
“Daddy knows I can’t stand being seen in that ratty car,” she whined. “I’ve told him countless times it’s got to be the Jaguar or nothing at all.”
Kitty glanced demurely over her shoulder at Harry to quarantine her shock. He was on the same page and once her eyes had returned to their normal size, she turned back, smiled, and invited them to get situated at the table.
Contessa looked down her nose at the cakes and muttered something about getting fat, but Charles took to her side and consoled her.
“Are they gluten free?” She asked, but it came on a sharp tongue.
“They should really be gluten free,” Contessa went on explaining the faulty logic of her unfounded complaint. “Gluten makes people sick.”
“It doesn’t make people sick,” snapped Charles.
“You don’t know. You don’t read the articles,” she argued.
The woman was on the brink of tears and for the life of her, Kitty became suddenly arrested by a bad case of the giggles, which she choked down, forcing herself to fake a cough. Harry patted her back then whispered, “Unbelievable.”