Winter has come to Wildwood Cove, and riding in on the chill is Wally Fowler. Although he's been away for years, establishing his reputation as the self-proclaimed Waffle King, the wealthy blowhard has returned to the coastal community to make money, not friends-by pitting his hot and trendy Waffle Kingdom against Marley McKinney's cozy pancake house, The Flip Side. Wally doesn't see anything wrong in a little healthy competition, until he's murdered in his own state-of-the art kitchen.
Marley isn't surprised when the authorities sniff around The Flip Side for a motive, but it's her best friend Lisa who gets grilled, given her sticky history with the victim. When a second murder rocks the town, it makes it harder than ever for Marley to clear Lisa's name. Marley's afraid that she's next in line to die-and the way things are looking, the odds of surviving her investigation could be stacked against her.
About the Author
Marguerite Gavin is a seasoned theater veteran, a five-time nominee for the prestigious Audie Award, and the winner of numerous AudioFile Earphones and Publishers Weekly awards. Marguerite has been an actor, director, and audiobook narrator for her entire professional career, and has over four hundred titles to her credit.
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My car's headlights cut through the darkness, illuminating the driving rain. The windshield wipers swished back and forth in a rapid rhythm as I carefully navigated my way along the deserted streets of Wildwood Cove. Normally I preferred to walk to work each morning, trekking along the beach so I could listen to the crashing waves and smell the salty air. Lately, however, I'd been making more use of my blue hatchback. Over the past several days the weather had been less than inviting, drizzling with rain if not outright pouring, and chilly enough that the occasional glob of slush splattered against my windshield along with the pelting raindrops.
The rain was supposed to let up in the next day or so, according to the weather forecast, so I hoped it wouldn't be much longer before I could get back to enjoying my early morning walks along the shoreline. For the moment, though, I was grateful for the warmth and shelter of my car.
When I turned into the small parking lot behind The Flip Side pancake house, I pulled up next to the only other car in the lot — a baby-blue classic Volkswagen bug belonging to The Flip Side's chef, Ivan Kaminski. He arrived even earlier than I did each morning, as did his assistant, Tommy Park. It was barely six o'clock, but I knew the two of them would have been working for a good while already.
I shut off my car's engine and grabbed my tote bag off the passenger seat, steeling myself for the upcoming dash through the pouring rain to the back door of the pancake house. As soon as I climbed out into the rain, I slammed the car door, ducked my head, and made a beeline for the slim bit of shelter provided by the recessed doorway.
Despite having spent mere seconds exposed to the elements, I had damp hair and droplets of water running down my face. I wiped them away with my sleeve and jiggled my ring of keys until I found the right one. As I put the key into the door, I caught sight of something white from the corner of my eye. A flyer lay plastered against the pavement, waterlogged and with a muddy footprint stamped across it.
I darted out of the shelter of the doorway and peeled the soggy paper off the ground. When I was once again out of the rain, I peered at the flyer, the exterior light above my head providing me with enough illumination to read by.
When I took in the bold black words printed across the saturated paper, my former good mood did a nosedive. I'd seen the flyer before. I'd seen several them, in fact, plastered all over town on utility poles, signposts, and community notice boards. I'd also received one in the mail. That one had gone straight into the recycling bin. This one I crumpled up in my hand as I unlocked the door, the words Wally's Waffle Kingdom disappearing from sight as the paper scrunched up into a soggy ball.
Once inside, I unlocked the door to my office and tossed the scrunched flyer into the wastepaper basket. If I never saw another one, I'd be happy, although I knew the advertisement wasn't the real problem. That was the Waffle Kingdom itself. The Flip Side had become a fixture in the small seaside town of Wildwood Cove, with many faithful customers who returned again and again to enjoy Ivan's scrumptious breakfast creations. There were other restaurants and cafés around town, but none of them specialized in breakfast foods like The Flip Side did.
Up until a couple of weeks ago, I'd never really worried about competition. Then Wally Fowler had moved to town — moved back to town actually, since he'd grown up here — and my mind had remained unsettled ever since. I wasn't about to roll over and give up on the pancake house just because of some competition, but I couldn't keep my niggling concern at bay.
If the Waffle Kingdom's fare was as good as the flyer proclaimed (the best waffles EVER!) it wasn't unrealistic to think that The Flip Side would lose some of its business to the new establishment. In the summertime, when tourists flocked to the small town, that might not be such a problem. There would probably be enough business for both restaurants during those weeks. But during the rest of the year? That could be a definite issue.
I'd been hoping to give each of my three full-time employees a raise in the near future. Now I was keeping that plan to myself, unsure if I'd be able to follow through. I'd have to wait and see what happened once the waffle house opened. As Wally and his flyers had been announcing to the whole town for several days, the grand opening of the Waffle Kingdom would take place next week.
It would take time to know the full extent of the effect on The Flip Side, so I was determined to carry on as usual. I just wished I could get rid of that ever-present worry lingering at the back of my mind.
With the wet flyer in the trash and my jacket hung on the coat stand, I ran a hand through my damp curls and made my way into the dining area. I flipped on the lights, and immediately some of the tension that had crept into my shoulders fizzled away. There was something so comforting about the cozy pancake house. Like the beach and the charming town, The Flip Side had easily worked its way into my heart, becoming a second home away from my blue-and-white beachfront Victorian.
Smiling, I glanced out the large front windows, seeing nothing but inky darkness and rivulets of water running down the panes.
Well, almost nothing else.
I walked quickly across the room to the front door, bone-chilling damp air hitting me as soon as I pushed it open. Staying beneath the awning so I wouldn't get soaked, I approached the two white rectangles taped to one of the windows, spaced a couple of feet apart. When I got close enough to recognize them as two more Waffle Kingdom flyers, I let out a growl of annoyance.
Ripping the flyers off the glass, I stormed back into the pancake house.
"Of all the nerve!"
Twenty-one-year-old Tommy Park poked his head out the pass-through window to the kitchen. "What's up?" he asked.
I waved the crumpled flyers. "Wally the Waffle King strikes again."
The kitchen door swung open and Ivan appeared. Tommy ducked away from the window and came through the door a second later.
"These were taped to the front window," I said, waving the flyers again.
Ivan grabbed one and glowered at the piece of paper. While an intimidating scowl was the chef's typical expression, this one was far darker than usual.
"He's rubbing your nose in it," he declared, crumpling the flyer as his large hand closed into a fist.
Tommy took the other flyer from me. "Totally not cool."
"It's one thing to open up a waffle house that will compete directly with us," I said, "but it's hitting a new low by plastering the ads all over the front of this place."
"He's trying to get under your skin." Ivan tossed the crumpled flyer toward the wastepaper basket, making a perfect shot.
"But why? Does he really think annoying us will get us to close up shop so all our business goes his way?"
"Not going to happen," Tommy said.
"Definitely not," I agreed. "But why else try to aggravate us?"
"Probably for fun," Ivan said. "Some people enjoy riling others up."
"That's true." I'd learned that firsthand several months back when a bitter and vengeful woman had tried to make my life miserable.
"And I hear Wally Fowler's a slimeball," Tommy said. "I'm not sure anyone in town actually likes him."
Ivan nodded his agreement. "Wildwood Cove would be better off without him."
If enough people believed that, maybe I had nothing to worry about. The townsfolk weren't likely to give the self-proclaimed Waffle King their business if they despised him.
"I guess it's best to ignore him and focus on keeping our customers happy, like we always do," I decided.
"Sounds like a plan." With a flick of his wrist, Tommy sent the second flyer arcing into the trash can.
He returned to the kitchen and Ivan followed after him, his scowl as dark as ever. Was he more worried about the new waffle house than he was letting on? With his bulging muscles, numerous tattoos, and dark, intense eyes, Ivan wasn't one to be easily fazed. But something in his face led me to believe he was taking the potential problem posed by Wally and his waffle house very seriously.
My worries tried to resurface, but I forced them back down, focusing on starting a fire in the stone fireplace to keep myself busy. The Flip Side would be fine, I told myself. It was a well-established restaurant, with a solid and loyal customer base that loved Ivan's cooking and the cozy atmosphere.
Surely it would take more than Wally the Waffle King to destroy what we had here. After all, how much damage could one man cause?
* * *
About an hour after opening, the pancake house was getting busy. The town was waking up, the residents heading out to brave the weather, some of them ending up at The Flip Side. All of the tables near the cheery, crackling fire had been claimed, the welcoming warmth of the flames drawing in the customers as they escaped the cold and the rain. On my way around the restaurant to offer refills of coffee, I paused to talk with two of The Flip Side's most loyal and reliable customers, Gary and Ed. They were lifelong residents of Wildwood Cove and had been best friends since they were five years old. Now retired, they split most of their time between the pancake house, the local seniors' activity center, and the bowling alley.
"What do you know about this Waffle Kingdom that's opening up next week, Marley?" Ed asked.
"I've heard the self-proclaimed Waffle King grew up here in Wildwood Cove," I said. "But other than that, I really don't know anything more than what's on those flyers he's spread around town."
"A waste of paper, if you ask me," Gary spoke up as he poured maple syrup over his stack of pancakes. "Why would anyone eat there when they could come here? It's not like anyone can compete with Ivan's cooking."
I smiled. "Hopefully you're not the only ones who feel that way."
"We're not," Ed assured me. "And I don't think it'll much matter to people that Wally grew up in Wildwood Cove. He's been away for years, and he wasn't good for much when he was here."
"I've yet to run across a fan of his," I said, topping up the coffee mugs.
Gary chewed on a forkful of pancakes. "Adam Silvester was buddies with Wally back in the day, but I don't know if they stayed in touch. And there's his sister, Vicky, of course. Half-sister, technically. But aside from those two, I'm not sure if anyone's much keen on Wally. People around here have long memories."
I wasn't sure what he meant by that, but I needed to move along and see to other customers.
"I guess we'll have to see what happens when the waffle house opens," I said, happy that I managed to sound unconcerned.
"You'll never find us over there, that's for sure," Ed declared. He lowered his voice. "Unless you want us to go undercover to do some recon."
I couldn't help but smile again. "I doubt that will be necessary, but thank you."
Gary saluted me with his coffee mug. "You can count on us, Marley."
Cheered by their support, I thanked them again and moved on to the next table.
The breakfast rush kept me and Leigh — The Flip Side's full-time waitress — busy for the next hour or so, but I eventually found time to slip into the kitchen and make myself a cup of tea.
"Are you going to the ladies' night at the hardware store tonight, Marley?" Leigh asked as she pushed through the kitchen door, bringing a load of dirty dishes with her.
"I'm planning on it. Are you?"
"No, I'll be looking after the kids. Greg's working at the store tonight."
I took a cautious sip of my hot tea. "I can't help but be amused that ladies' night at the hardware store is an actual thing."
"It's a tradition," Ivan said as he flipped pancakes on the griddle.
"It's true," Leigh confirmed. "The store's been holding this event for more than ten years now. I know it might sound a bit odd at first, but it's really popular. And good fun too. Aside from having things on sale, they have door prizes, demos, samples to give away, and really good food."
"Free food?" Tommy said as he drizzled melted chocolate over a plate of crêpes. "Are you sure your husband can't sneak me in?"
"Sorry, Tommy," Leigh said with a smile. "You'll have to wait for Customer Appreciation Day in the spring." She returned her attention to me. "It's a good chance for you to get some Christmas shopping done. Maybe you'll find something for Brett."
"Maybe," I said, "but he probably already owns at least one of everything the store has for sale." My boyfriend had his own lawn and garden care company, and during the winters he helped out with his dad's home renovation business. He had a whole workshop full of tools behind his house. "I might get something for myself, though. I'll need a few things if I'm going to make a garden in the spring."
"Don't forget to try the mini cupcakes while you're there," Leigh advised. "Greg already knows he's supposed to smuggle one home for me."
She disappeared through the swinging door. I drank down my tea and followed after her a few minutes later. I spent some time in the office between the breakfast and lunch rushes, but then I was back out at the front of the house helping Leigh.
I carried a plate of bacon cheddar waffles over to a man I'd seen in The Flip Side three or four times before. Prior to that morning, I hadn't known anything about him aside from his name — Adam Silvester — but thanks to my chat with Ed and Gary earlier, I now knew he had once been friends with Wally Fowler.
There wasn't anything about Adam that screamed or even whispered lowlife, but maybe I had a distorted view of Wally. Even if I didn't, the fact that Adam had been buddies with Wally back in high school didn't mean he was a bad guy. They weren't necessarily friends any longer, and I couldn't say that I'd always picked the best people for friends when I was a teenager.
As far as I remembered, I'd only ever seen Adam at The Flip Side on his own. While he was always polite, he kept mostly to himself, gazing out the window as he ate or reading the latest issue of the town's local newspaper. That was what he was doing today, perusing the articles as he started in on his waffles.
I cleared up the neighboring table and carried the dirty dishes into the kitchen before delivering mocha mascarpone crêpes and blueberry crumble pancakes to hungry customers. I glanced out the window on my way back to the kitchen, noting that the rain had stopped and the sun was attempting to peek through the clouds. As I was leaving the dining area for the kitchen, the front door opened, admitting three new arrivals — two men and a woman. I didn't alter my path.
Leigh darted through the kitchen door behind me, grabbing my arm.
"That's him!" she said in an urgent whisper.
"Him who?" I asked as I set down two dirty coffee mugs.
"Wally Fowler," Leigh said, keeping her voice low. "The so-called Waffle King."
"He's here?" Ivan's question boomed across the kitchen. "Why?"
"I don't know, but I guess we'll find out." Leigh hurried out of the kitchen.
I followed right on her heels, ready to finally meet Wally the Waffle King.CHAPTER 2
I approached Wally Fowler with a mixture of curiosity and trepidation. He wasn't quite six feet tall and was on the hefty side. His head was bald on top, while mousy-brown frizz stuck out from the sides. His watery-blue eyes gave me an uneasy feeling, as did the oily smile that spread across his face when he noticed me heading his way.
"Wally the Waffle King," he said, loud enough for everyone in the pancake house to hear. He stuck out his hand. "Are you the proprietor?" I shook his offered hand but released it as quickly as I could without being too rude. "That's right. Marley McKinney."
His two companions hovered behind him, looking as though they wished they were anywhere else. The man was tall and burly with a short, dark beard and brown eyes that didn't settle on any particular point. The woman appeared to be about my age. She had the same mousy-brown hair — though much more of it — as Wally, and the same pale blue eyes, making me wonder if the two of them were related.
"Chester and Vicky and I decided to come over and check out your little place," Wally said, his gaze sweeping over the dining area.
Some of the customers continued eating, but most were watching the scene unfolding by the cash counter.
"Quaint, don't you think?" Wally jabbed his elbow into Chester's ribs.
Chester kept his expression neutral and didn't speak.
I forced myself to smile, though I wanted nothing more than for Wally to leave.
"It was nice of you to stop by," I said, doing my best to sound unfazed by Wally's clear attempt to insult me.
"I'm sure you've heard that the Waffle Kingdom will be opening next week."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Yeast of Eden"
Copyright © 2018 Sarah Fox.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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