Life is sweet and business is booming at the Fairy Tale Cupcakes bakeryand the fact that Mel and Joe are getting married is the icing on the cake. Their reception will be held at the swanky resort where Oz works as the pastry chef. The wedding planning is all fun-fetti and games until Mel and Joe meet the head chef at the resort who has been making Oz's life miserable. When the eccentric chef insults Mel's bakery, Oz gets into a blowout argument with the culinary prima donna.
Things turn extra sour when the chef is murdered, and Oz is the police's main suspect. As the countdown to the wedding day begins, Mel, Joe, and the rest of the Fairy Tale Cupcake crew must sift through clues to catch the real killer and clear Oz's name before their wedding plans are totally battered and baked.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
"Wow, I just realized you're going to be a DeLaura and I'm not," Angie Harper said.
"Maybe." Melanie Cooper opened the door for her friend as they exited their co-owned bakery, Fairy Tale Cupcakes, and walked to Mel's car.
Well, Mel walked, Angie waddled. At thirty-two weeks, pregnant and being slight in stature, Angie carried her baby high and tight, looking like she'd strapped a basketball to her midsection.
"You're not going to take the DeLaura family name?" Angie asked. She sounded shocked. Mel was marrying Angie's older brother Joe DeLaura, who was smack in the middle of her seven older brothers.
"I haven't decided," Mel said. "We're a few weeks out yet, so I have time."
"Not if the brothers find out," Angie said. "You know they'll have something to say about it. What about Joe, what does he think?"
"He said I can do whatever I want," Mel said.
"Good," Angie said.
"What made you decide to take Tate's name?" Mel asked. She was genuinely curious as to why her normally independent-minded friend had gone traditional on the name thing.
Angie hugged her belly. "I surprised myself with that one, too, but I wanted to feel like I was becoming someone new. Also, Tate offered to become a DeLaura, so I felt like if it wasn't a big deal for him, it didn't need to be one for me. Also, there are enough DeLauras already. Besides, we've agreed that all of our kids will have DeLaura as a middle name, so that was enough for me."
"I imagine Joe and I will come up with something similar," Mel said. She opened the passenger-side door so Angie could slide into the front seat. "Maybe we—"
"Haven't you had that baby yet, Harper?"
Uh-oh. Mel glanced up and saw Olivia Puckett bearing down on them with her usual no-nonsense stride. A rival bakery owner, Olivia always wore a blue chef's coat and had her curly gray hair contained in an unruly topknot. She was not known for her tact or her diplomacy, and when she and Angie bumped into each other, it was usually with the force of two similarly charged magnets. They repelled each other.
"Not yet," Angie replied. She smiled at Olivia. "And how are you today?"
Olivia stumbled. She blinked. She frowned. "You look like you're having twins."
Mel hissed a breath. Didn't Olivia know not to comment on a pregnant woman's belly? This was going to get ugly. She glanced around the street, looking for help. There was no one. It was still early in the day for any tourists to be roaming Old Town Scottsdale. She reached for the phone in her purse. Marty Zelaznik, their main employee, was actually dating Olivia, and Mel figured it was his responsibility to rein her in. Not that Mel was afraid of Olivia. She glanced at the other woman's muscled forearms. Okay, she was a little afraid.
"Not twins," Angie said. She continued smiling and shrugged. "Just a big, bouncy, healthy baby."
Mel gave her a side eye. Was Angie okay? Had she spiked a fever? Usually, about now, the insults would be volleying back and forth between these women like a badminton birdie. Mel glanced at her friend's eyes. Were her pupils dilated?
Olivia's mouth twisted up as tight as her topknot. "Well, you should be grateful. Elephants gestate for twenty-three months."
"Twenty-two months, actually," Angie said. Then she leaned in and said in a conspiratorial whisper,
"You wouldn't believe the number of people who have shared that factoid with me."
"Yeah, well . . ." Olivia looked flummoxed. "It's almost two years."
"Crazy, right?" Angie shook her head in wonder.
Olivia turned to Mel. "What's wrong with her?"
Mel shrugged. "Search me."
Angie reached over and patted Olivia's arm. "Have I ever told you how flattering that shade of blue is on you? You're really very pretty, you know."
Olivia started to back away. She glanced at Mel with wide eyes. "You should take her to the emergency room."
Then she hurried down the sidewalk as if she were afraid that Angie's sudden bout of niceness might be contagious. As soon as she was out of earshot, Mel burst out laughing. She turned to Angie and asked, "Is that your new way to drive her bananas?"
Angie looked puzzled. "I have no idea what you mean. I adore Olivia."
With that, she slid into the passenger seat, moving her legs so that Mel could shut the door after her. They were on their way to visit their former employee and friend Oscar Ruiz, known to all as Oz, at the Sun Dial Resort, where he was the master pastry chef. Mel and Joe were having their small wedding reception there, and Oz was baking the cupcakes, naturally, but now she wondered if perhaps Olivia wasn't right. Maybe she should take Angie to see her obstetrician on the way. Of all the symptoms she'd read about pregnancy, a personality transplant wasn't one of them.
Mel circled the car and got into the driver's seat. She glanced at Angie and said, "Feeling dehydrated at all?"
"No, I had a huge glass of water before we left the bakery."
"And you've been taking your vitamins."
Angie glanced at her as Mel started the car and left her parking spot to merge onto the street.
"What?" Angie asked.
"Nope, I know you like I know my own eyebrows," Angie said. "That 'huh' wasn't nothing."
"I'm just surprised, that's all," Mel said.
"Surprised by what?"
"Your reaction to Olivia," Mel said. "You know she was trying to insult you."
Angie shrugged. She hugged her belly and said, "Whatever. I don't have time for that. Besides, I don't want to injure the baby's psyche by thinking bad thoughts."
"Is that possible?" Mel asked. That was a level of motherhood she wasn't sure she could handle.
"I don't want to take any chances," Angie said. "You know, some people say I have a temper."
"Really?" Mel asked. She wondered if she managed to feign surprise successfully. "You don't say."
"I know, shocked me, too," Angie said. "But I've read every pregnancy book out there and I just don't want to goof this up, so I've been doing a lot of meditation over the past few weeks and really trying to find my mama Zen."
Mel paused at a red light and turned to look at her friend. Angie had her long dark curls held in a band at the nape of her neck. Her maternity dress was a loosely fitting swing dress in a pretty shade of pink. She looked about as angelic as Mel had ever seen her. She reached across the console and squeezed Angie's hand.
"That is one lucky baby to have you for a mom," she said.
In an instant Angie's eyes filled with tears and she gulped. "You think so? I just want to be the best mom ever."
"You've got this," Mel said. "No doubt."
She handed Angie a tissue from the pack in the glove box and Angie blew her nose. It sounded like someone stepped on a goose. Mel turned her head to hide her smile. At least that hadn't changed.
"All right, enough sentiment," Angie said. She waved her tissue at the window. "Aren't there cupcakes waiting for us? Onward!"
Relieved, Mel put the Mini Cooper in gear and headed for the resort.
The Sun Dial Resort was on the north side of Old Town. A classic resort built in the 1950s, the heyday of the tourist district, when cowboys and the Old West were all the rage, the Sun Dial had a very Frank Lloyd Wright mid-century modern vibe going on, which had appealed to Mel and Joe for the wedding reception even before Oz had taken the job as head pastry chef.
Mel parked in the visitors' lot and she and Angie strolled to the main entrance, passing the valet parking attendants and walking up the cobbled pathway under the giant, circular cement structures that provided shade. Succulent gardens lined both sides of the walkway and a fountain trickled in the center of the garden on the right. The base was done in copper with a teal patina, and perched in the middle was an enormous glass orb of delicious swirls of white and apple green with water pumping up through its center to pour out of the top and spill into the basin below.
Mel paused to study the glass-and-copper piece. She felt an ache in her chest. Angie stepped beside her and linked her arm with Mel's. "One of Rene's?"
"I think so," Mel said. Her voice came out gruff as her throat was tight. Rene had been a local glass artist who had befriended Mel and Angie when they'd first opened their bakery. She had been murdered several months ago, and Mel still struggled with the loss of their friend. Rene had been such a force of nature in the community. Kind and generous, she'd even created the wedding topper for Mel and Joe's cake.
"She's still with us," Angie said. She put her hand over her heart. "I can feel her here."
Mel nodded. She could, too.
She shook her head and turned towards the large double doors. "Let's go find Oz and drown our sorrows in some decadent buttercream."
"Okay, but I get double portions," Angie said. She patted her belly. "I'm eating for two."
Mel laughed. "You've been using that for months. What are you going to do when the baby is born?"
"Well, I'll have to keep my strength up, won't I, to keep up with the rigorous nursing schedule of a newborn?"
"Fair point," Mel conceded.
They strode down the hallway, past the reception desk, through the large dining room. It was a sight to behold, with retro aqua-upholstered square-edged furniture, low kidney-shaped tables, and chrome starbursts decorating the walls. Mel felt as if she were walking back in time with the stonework walls and curved wood completing the mid-century vibe.
The swinging doors that led into the kitchens loomed ahead and there, in his chef whites, with his chef toque perched on his head, was Oz. Mel felt a smile curve her mouth when she saw him. It was ridiculous to feel as if she hadn't seen him in months. He lived above their bakery in her old apartment and popped down to visit a couple of times each week. Still, he wasn't in their day-to-day lives anymore, and she missed him. Partly, because he was the best at wrestling Marty, their octogenarian wildcard, into line, but also because he just had that Oz essence of calm competence that she enjoyed so much.
At six foot four, he was tall with wide shoulders and muscled forearms. He looked as if he'd be more at home on a football field or wearing a tool belt than an apron, but no. Not Oz. His enormous hands could craft the most delicate flower petals out of fondant, and his intuitive taste for mixing new combinations of flavors like Earl Grey and lemon or rose and pistachio was unparalleled.
"Oz!" Angie let go of Mel's arm and darted forward. She held her arms wide, and when she was within range she launched herself, hugging him hard around the middle. Oz let out an oof but didn't stumble, and bent over and hugged her back. The affection between them was tangible and Mel knew Angie missed Oz as much as she did.
"Good to see you, Ange," he said.
"Yeah, yeah." She tipped her head back to look at his face. "'Can I use the facilities? 'Cause being pregnant makes me pee like Seabiscuit.'"
Oz barked out a laugh and then, because it was a long-running game between them, he identified the movie she had just quoted. "Juno."
"Nailed it." Angie held up her hand for a high five. Oz slapped her palm and then pointed across the dining room to an alcove that had the word Restrooms on a sign above it.
"Be right back," Angie called to Mel. "Don't start taste testing without me!"
"We have to wait for Joe," Mel reminded her.
Angie sent her a thumbs-up as she disappeared around the corner. Mel turned back to Oz and stepped in for a hug.
"This is not the Oz I'm used to seeing, in his Metallica T-shirts and ripped jeans," she said. After a quick squeeze, she let him go and stepped back, taking in the professional Oz in front of her.
"Since working here, I've gotten more into the Grateful Dead," he said.
"'Sugar Magnolia'?" she asked.
"'Ripple,'" he said. "This place can harsh a dude's mellow, if you know what I mean."
"Oh, yeah. During my first high-end kitchen gig, I used to bake at work and then go home and stress-bake and eat," Mel said. "Productive but also rather sad."
Oz laughed. "I'll stick with tunes, thanks."
She glanced around the dining room. It was massive and overlooked the golf course. In contrast, the room she and Joe were going to hold their reception in was a smaller venue set aside specifically for events. Their wedding was a small gathering of about fifty people, give or take a plus-one, because that's the way they wanted it.
A clattering noise came from the kitchen behind them and Oz visibly started. Mel frowned.
"Are you happy here, Oz?"
She had never asked him during the past six months if he was happy. Partly, she didn't want to know if he was. It was childish, she knew, to want him to regret leaving their bakery family, but it was what it was. She missed him and she wanted him to feel the same. If he said he was ecstatic and only regretted not leaving sooner, she'd be crushed flatter than rolled-out fondant.
"Happy is such a nebulous term," Oz said. He shrugged. "I mean, what is happiness anyway?"
"Being mindful and living your life with intention," Mel said. She'd thought long and hard about all of these things when she was just starting out. It was why she'd given up her misguided stint in the corporate world to open her bakery. If this was a pop quiz, she'd get an A. "You know, like going to work every day, doing something you enjoy with people you like."
"I'd say I'm running at about sixty percent," Oz said.
Mel latched on to the number. "So, you're not happy."
He smiled at her with a knowing look. "I'm not not happy."
"I'm confused," she said. "That percentage is not awesome."
"Sorry." He gestured to the kitchen behind him. "This is just a bit more complicated than the cupcake bakery. Lots of personalities, lots of hidden agendas, and power plays. I just want to bake."
“You’re a purist,” Mel said. “I get it. You might be better served having your own bakery, you know, like a franchise of a successful place but one you could call your own.”
Oz looked at her. “I can’t afford to buy into the Fairy Tale Cupcakes franchise,” he said.
“No buts.” Oz held up his hand in a stop gesture. “I have to be able to stand on my own in the industry. I don’t want to be your charity case.”
“Oz, you’re a brilliant chef,” she said. “You don’t have to have a franchise. We could make you an executive chef in charge of new flavors.”
“I thought that was your job,” he said.
“I could share,” Mel said. “I’m getting married and Joe and I are considering having kids. I might have to make some changes and there’s no one I would trust more in the research and development of Fairy Tale Cupcakes than you.”
Oz bowed his head. A tinge of pink colored his cheeks. For years he’d worn a long fringe of hair that covered his eyes, but he’d recently cut the bangs off and it still disconcerted Mel to see his pretty long-lashed eyes, which were a soft brown, looking at her with shy embarrassment.
“Thanks,” he said. “That means a lot.”
“I mean every word.”
“Is she trying to talk you into coming back to Fairy Tale Cupcakes?” Angie asked as she joined them.
Oz grinned and said, “She’s—”
A horrific crash sounded from behind him, and he jumped and spun around. Before Mel could blink, he was pushing through the swinging doors to the kitchen.
Mel and Angie exchanged a look and hurried after him.
The yelling started almost immediately.
“Of all the worthless, stupid, idiotic sauciers I’ve ever had, you are the absolute worst.” An older male chef was yelling at a young female, who stood trembling under his wrath. “It’s a good thing you’re easy on the eyes or I’d fire you right here, right now!”