THE FOCACCIA FATALITY, Book 3 in the Deadly Bakery Series
Author: J.M. Griffin
Melina Cameron is single, and looking. For a date. Not another dead body.
Her former flame, the sexy Scotsman, Aidan Sinclair, went MIA after he proposed a few months ago, so Melina isn’t wasting any more bread and tears on that one! When hunky police detective Porter Anderson asks her out, she says yes. She could do worse than dating a cop. She and Porter already have a lot in common given her penchant for finding dead bodies.
When high-ranking politician Vincent Gallagher hires Melina to cater his swanky party, and specifically requests her famous focaccia, Melina looks forward to the event, and the potential new customers it could bring. Not to mention, flirting with the cute waiters.
But two things happen on that fateful night that could change the course of Melina’s future. First, Aidan walks into the party with a tall, sultry blonde. Second, that same tall, sultry blonde winds up dead, and Melina is the one who discovers the body!
This can’t be good for business let alone Melina’s love life.
Now, Melina has to figure out how to stay away from Aidan, and figure out who killed the blonde, or she might be the one to take the fall.
Another cute book in this series. It is more of a novella in length which is ok with me! This mystery was interesting in the fact that the killer wasn’t really one of the characters, so if you can figure it out you are smarter than me! That didn’t really detract from the story and I think this book focused more on the personal life than the mystery. I still enjoyed the book, it was just different.
We give it 4 paws up
A Focaccia Fatality
Weeks turned into months, which had passed in a flurry of activity. My bakery business had grown and Sean had dropped a few hours of the selling burden. While I piled rolls on shelves under the glass countertop and stacked loaves in baskets tipped on their sides that were braced against shelf edges, it occurred to me that another holiday season was fast approaching. Thanksgiving had just come and gone. Christmas loomed on the horizon with only three weeks to go.
My grandmother, an elderly woman who’d fallen hard for a Scotsman living in her apartment complex, had decided to enjoy life more and stay out of trouble. Glad that she’d done so, I’d searched high and low for a helper to fill the hours Seanmhair’s absence had left vacant. A middle-aged woman had been referred to me by one of my fellow business tenants. We’d hit it off immediately, and I’d hired her on the spot. I usually go with my first impression, and was happy I’d done so this time round.
The rear door of my kitchen opened, bringing with it a cold wind off the bay. In a rush, Seanmhair, pronounced shen-u-ver, tossed her hat, coat and handbag into the tiny alcove I used as an office. The Hole in the Wall Bakery is in a string of eight shops housed in a historical building on Wickendon Street. This delightful part of the historic neighborhood bordered Narragansett Bay’s east edge of Providence, Rhode Island.
With a chuckle, I asked, “Late night?”
Seanmhair smiled and brushed away the question. “Not at all, I had to wait for an accident to be cleared from Benefit Street. Cars were lined up in funeral procession order. The only thing missing was a hearse.”
Her explanation tickled me. Tying her apron around her plump middle, my grandmother resembled a sweet little gnome. Seanmhair swept past just as the front door to the bakery opened.
“I can see that I’ve arrived just in time. There are four customers tumbling through the door,” she murmured over her shoulder.
Her warm greeting came through the double doors, which separated the kitchen from the store front, as they swung to and fro. With a grin, I returned to work and shuffled through the mail left by the postman. What looked like a greeting card lay at the bottom of the bundle. Curious, I stared at the postmark, ran my fingers over the smooth vellum surface of the envelope and dreaded opening it. The card held a Scotland postmark.
A Christmas greeting lay inside. I studied the gold embellishment that rimmed the inside edge of the card front. A Christmas tree, adorned with colorful ribbon was featured in the center space. Slightly hesitant, I opened the card and read the handwritten greeting. Aidan wished me merry holidays and noted on the bottom that he hadn’t forgotten we had unfinished, personal business. No explanation of where he’d gone, why he’d never shown up or called, nothing to indicate whether I’d see him again or not. I crumpled and tossed his card aside as Seanmhair waddled into the alcove.
I looked up from the desk. “What’s up?”
She gave the crumpled vellum a brief glance and then said a gentleman was out front and insisted on speaking with me.
“Did he seem perturbed?” I asked softly. The fall had been hell, summer a nightmare, and all I wanted was a quiet holiday season. We’d gotten through Thanksgiving without a murder or an attempted one. If Christmas was the same, I could greet the New Year with pleasure.
Standing on her tiptoes, Seanmhair peered at the man through the porthole window of the door and whispered, “He’s well-dressed, business-like, and determined to speak to you personally. He doesn’t appear upset, so why don’t you go along and deal with him?”
Doing as she’d asked, I gave her a nod and a wink. I strode into the shop and smiled at the stocky, middle-aged man I’d seen on the local news. A Rhode Island politician of sorts, Vincent Gallagher chewed a mouthful of Focaccia bread he’d taken from the sliced chunks in the counter basket. I found more people bought different types of bread when they had an opportunity to taste them and left a basket of various nibbles out daily.
He extended his hand and I shook it. “Mr. Gallagher, nice to see you. What can I do for you today?” I asked with a smile.
“My wife adores this bakery and suggested I place an order. Since I was nearby, I decided to stop in. We’re having a party at my home. Olga would like you to make various breads and rolls for our guests. There should be at least four or five different kinds of both for people to select from.” He bit off and chewed another mouthful of focaccia while he glanced at the shelves. He held up the morsel of bread in his hand and asked, “Can you bring some of this? I haven’t had any like it since my grandmother passed away.” He smacked his lips. “Very tasty, Ms. Cameron.”
I smiled at his lip smacking antics, and agreed to his request. We set a date and time for delivery. Gallagher asked that I stay during the shindig to refill containers as needed and rambled on about the guest list while I wrote his instructions down on the order pad. “How many guests are you expecting?” I asked.
“Forty to fifty. Mostly close friends and fellow politicians.”
“Do any of them have dietary needs? You know, wheat allergies, and such?”
“Not to my knowledge. I’ll have Olga find out and call you,” he answered.
“That would be wonderful, thank you. I’ll see you next week. Please call if there are any changes in the order,” I said. His flaming red curls bobbed when he nodded. After he finally moseyed through front door, Seanmhair joined me behind the counter.
“He’s a weird mix, that one,” she muttered. “Half Italian and half Irish. What a combination. He does look more Irish, though, don’t you think?”
“Mm, red hair, pale skin, stocky, and smells like cigars. You’re right, he’s quite a blend of both nationalities.” I tucked the order from the pad into my apron pocket.
About to walk away from Seanmhair, I stopped cold when she asked, “Why did you crumple that beautiful card from Aidan?”
“No reason,” I answered as glanced over my shoulder and scooted into the kitchen, all the while knowing Seanmhair would never leave it at that. Sometimes it sucks to be right.
Hot on my heels, Seanmhair rocketed in right behind me. “You haven’t heard from him for some time, then? Is that why you’re upset?”
With a sigh, I turned to her. “If you must know, he was supposed to stop and see me the day after Mr. Seever was arrested. He didn’t come by, call, email, text or anything else until that card arrived.” I raised my hands and said, “I haven’t any idea what’s going on with him. He blows hot and cold at the best of times. There’s no excuse for his actions, Sean. None.”
Silence speaks volumes, or so it’s said. Seanmhair waited until I stopped pacing and asked, “What did he mean by personal business?”
In search of something to say that wouldn’t be a lie, I shrugged and opened my mouth, not knowing what would come out. The bell over the door jingled, signaling a customer, which took Seanmhair out of my way and into theirs.
“We’re not finished with this conversation. I’ll be back in a jiffy,” she said with raised brows and a meaningful look.
As she rang up sales, I considered Aidan’s actions. I’d stopped worrying over the reason I hadn’t heard from him. I’d once considered him the man of my dreams, but now I wasn’t so sure. His handsome features and charming personality no longer took front and center when I thought of romance. The last time I’d seen him, he’d asked me to marry him. We’d been celebrating the introduction of his ale to Rhode Islanders at a local pub by drinking too much of it, at least, I had.
Why had he abandoned me? What had happened to make him change his mind about marriage? Or had he? Aidan’s silence was both disturbing and a relief. If he’d come back the next day as promised, would I have said yes or no to his proposal? The answer hadn’t come, no matter how I’d tried to make a final decision.
I picked up the wrinkled card which Seanmhair had smoothed out, and read it over again. Disappointment, combined with anger swept over me at the way I’d been treated. The card hit the trash basket and I returned to work. I had orders to fill, and presents to shop for. There was no time to feel misused, insecure, or angry. As far as I was concerned, those were negatives that weren’t part of my lifestyle.
Seanmhair stayed busy, while I figured out what breads and rolls to make for Mr. Gallagher’s party. Scribbled notes lay next to the various cookbooks littering the stainless steel worktable. Satisfied with the variety, I added focaccia to the list and pinned it to the office wall.
I heard, rather than saw, Samantha Carter stumble into the kitchen. Tall and clumsy, the middle-aged woman was a dear. Her angular features and tightly secured graying hair were softened by her wide smile that made everyone she met smile in return.
“Glad you’re here, Samantha,” I called to her.
“The traffic is hellish today,” she grumbled as she clomped into the alcove. Her height alone overshadowed me, let alone her wide-shouldered frame.
With a grin, I said, “Sean had the same issue this morning.”
I’d no sooner mentioned her, when Seanmhair entered the room. Space was tight and made all the more so when a plump woman and a tall, broad woman crowded into the cramped office space with me. I shooed them away and breathed in relief when they’d backed out.
“Melina, you need more space for an office,” Samantha remarked.
“If only that could be done.” I laughed. “Where would I put the ovens?”
“Point taken,” she said with a grin.
“We’re down to a dozen flatbread,” Seanmhair informed me while she donned her hat and coat. “The rest is in pretty good standing. You should be okay for the remainder of the day.”
“Great, thanks, Sean,” I said and kissed her cheek.
“We’ll finish that talk tomorrow,” she said with a sly glance.
“What talk?” I asked as if I didn’t know.
Her eyes narrowed, Seanmhair gave me a serious look. “You know which talk.” She slid her handbag onto her arm and gave me a smile before she left.
Off the hook for the moment, I breathed a sigh and joined Samantha in the shop. She’d begun to bag rolls as she did every day. While I stared out the front windows, I heard her say, “Something bothering you today, Melina?”
“Not really, I’m simple wondering if we can manage getting through the holidays without a catastrophe of any kind,” I said with a grin as Samantha plunked three bags of rolls into a basket.
With a chuckle, she said, “You’re too funny. I’m sure we’ll be so busy we won’t have time for murder and mayhem.”
I nodded and went toward the kitchen. I’d reached the swinging doors when a customer entered. I glanced back and stopped short. Detective Porter Anderson stepped inside and gave me a wide grin. Relief that this wasn’t an official visit swept over me and I smiled in return.
“Hey Porter, good to see you,” I said.
“You, too, Melina. My mother called and asked if I’d get some rolls for her, so I figured I’d stop by and see what you have left.” He eyed the offerings and plucked a piece of focaccia from the basket. While he studied the variety of breads, he munched the focaccia and took more.
When he’d placed his order, Samantha bundled the bread into a paper bag and readily took his money. I told her to include a loaf of focaccia at no charge. A look of surprise crossed her face, but she nodded and added the loaf while Porter insisted it wasn’t necessary.
“Just take the bread,” I remarked dryly. “Otherwise, you’ll only be on the back doorstep later filching a sandwich made from it.” On more than one occasion the detective had come to the shop to question me concerning his investigation, only to end up eating half of a sandwich I’d made for myself.
He laughed, nodded, and asked if he could speak with me privately. Motioning him into the kitchen, I sat on a stool near the table filled with cookbooks and he took a seat across from me.
“What can I do for you?” I asked warily. It was unlike Porter to say he wasn’t here on business and then ask to speak in private.
“The department is having a holiday party this weekend. I wondered if you’d accompany me?” he asked sheepishly.
“You want me to go to your party?” I asked with surprised pleasure.
He dipped his head and said, ‘If you’re not busy, that is. Or engaged to the Scotsman, or whatever.”
I shook my head. “I’m definitely not engaged to anyone, and I’d enjoy being your date.”
His face lit up as he smiled which brought a light chuckle from me. “Great, I’ll pick you up at eight on Saturday night.”
“Good enough. I’ll be ready,” I said and watched him leave by way of the front door.
My spirits soared as I considered an evening out with a nice guy, who was a bit on the shy side, except when it came to police business. Filled with excitement, I rushed out the back door along the railed deck that ran the length of the building and softly opened the door to BettyJo’s tarot card shop. I listened a moment to see if she was in the middle of a reading. The shop was silent so I entered and called her name.
BettyJo Seever and I had been friends for years. While I’d become a bread baker, BettyJo had realized she had a knack for reading tarot cards and telling fortunes. Coincidentally, we ended up next door to one another. Her Tingly Tarots Shop was well known and frequented by everyone from the rich to middle class, and even high school and college students came for readings. Her popularity never waned, no matter the time of year.
Footsteps sounded on the stairs and I looked up. Garbed in her tarot reading attire which gave her a gypsyish appearance, BettyJo seemed to drift into the room. Her willowy figure was surrounded by black and purple gauze-like fabric with tiny golden stars and moons printed on the fabric. Wrapped around her forehead, lay a deep purple, band of velvet embellished with sparkling beads.
I grinned and said, “I’d guess you’re reading today.”
She nodded and swirled in a circle. “This is my new outfit. Do you like it? The old one was getting a bit worn around the edges.”
“Very nice, I like it a lot. The style becomes you.”
“Thanks. What brings you over?” BettyJo asked.
“Porter just stopped by.” When BettyJo’s face paled, I shook my head and said, “It’s not what you think. No crime has been committed on our watch, he simply wanted to ask me out.” I giggled as if I were a fifteen year old asked to the prom by the football team captain.
BettyJo gasped. “Get out, really? I told you he liked you, didn’t I? What did you say?”
“I said I’d be delighted to go to the party with him,” I said with a sniff. “After all, Aidan has made it quite clear he’s no longer interested, so why the hell not get on with my life, right?”
With a sad look, BettyJo said, “True, but I know you aren’t taken with Porter like you are with Aidan. It’s really Aidan’s loss, Melina.”
The doorbell chimed as clients entered BettyJo’s sitting area. She glanced over her shoulder and then at me and murmured, “I’ll come over after they’ve left. We’ll grab a bite to eat, if you can, that is?”
“Sure thing. See you later.”
* * *
My mood light, I left Samantha to handle the shop and straighten the kitchen while I rifled my closet for an outfit to wear on my date. Shopping isn’t my strongest area of expertise. That area would be bread making. I dreaded going to malls and wandering aimlessly from one store to another without the slightest idea of what to buy. Slumped against the door jamb, I gazed at the array of clothing that did nothing to make me want to wear any of it to a party with Porter.
I leaned into the closet, peered toward the furthest end of it and locked my gaze onto the least likely, but most tempting of outfits. I pulled the rich red dress, layered with sparkling stones across the bodice, off the rack and sized it up. I’d bought it in January when stores were attempting to unload their stock. I draped the dress against me and gave it the once over in the full length mirror than hung on the closet door. This was exactly what I’d hoped to find among my belongings. I quickly tried it on and realized it fit me better than it had when I’d bought it.
Happy to not have to shop for a dress, I hung it up and skipped down the stairs and into the kitchen.
After the bakery was closed and Samantha had gone for the day, BettyJo sauntered in. Chatting, we walked up the street to Mack and Mutt’s sandwich shop on the corner of our long building. I mentioned the dress I planned to wear and asked to borrow some jewelry from BettyJo to complete the look I wanted for the party.
Excitedly, she said, “I have the perfect set. You’ll love it. When we get back, I’ll bring it over.”
About the Author
J.M. Griffin/Dana Stone grew up in rural Maine. She relocated to Rhode Island and lives in the north western part of the state with her husband and two cats. J.M.’s first published novel For Love of Livvy, began a series of humorous mysteries featuring Lavinia “Vinnie” Esposito. J.M. has also written a romance under the pseudonym Dana Stone.