USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR
Book 2 of the Death by Chocolate Series.
Rodney Bradford comes into Lindsay's restaurant, offers to buy her small house for double its value, eats her brownies, and drops dead on the sidewalk in front. Then someone breaks into her house and tries to dig up her basement. Next her almost-ex-husband offers to sign the divorce papers, but only if she'll give him her small, old house and take his big, new house instead.
Suddenly everybody wants Lindsay's house. Is there oil under the basement, plans to bring the railroad through, pirate treasure buried in the basement? A second break-in occurs and causes her cat, King Henry, to launch into full attack mode, taking a few chunks out of the intruder.
Lindsay enlists the aid of her enigmatic neighbor, Fred, to help solve the mystery while trying to keep her police detective boyfriend, Trent, from getting in their way with his insistence on all those silly cop rules.
On the positive side, sales skyrocket for the special dessert Lindsay calls Murdered Man's Brownies. Prisoners, murderers, crazy relatives and strippers are all part of the chaos in this second book of the Death by Chocolate series.
BONUS! Chocolate recipes at the end of the book. Poison optional.
“Are you out of your freaking mind? No, you cannot have my house.” I spoke the words through gritted teeth to keep myself from shouting since it was noon and my small restaurant, Death by Chocolate, was packed. I didn’t want my customers to hear me screaming at my almost-ex-husband. Might ruin their appetite for dessert. I had no doubt Rick deliberately chose that setting so I wouldn’t yell at him.
“Lindsay, you’d have to be crazy to pass up a deal like this.” Rick leaned across the counter and gave me his most engaging, most insincere real estate salesman smile. “You’ll get almost twice what that old place is worth, and I’ll sign the divorce papers the minute you sign the Contract for Sale.”
Rick knew how to work me. He’d convinced me to marry him in the first place and now he’d delayed our divorce for almost a year. Every time I got a court date, he got a continuance. I really, really wanted him to sign those papers and I certainly could have used the extra money, but I’ve learned not to trust a Rick bearing gifts. He was up to something. Had he discovered my house had oil under the basement? Was the railroad scheduled to come through? I was pretty sure those things only happened in old movies, but I was equally sure this deal would have some money in it for Rick, more than was in it for me.
“Do you not see that I’m busy right now? Go away.” I turned to the man who’d taken a seat on the stool next to where Rick stood. “What can I get for you, sir? Our special today is a ham sandwich and a piece of Sinful Chocolate Cake.”
“I’m not leaving,” Rick said. “I’m meeting my client here. Throw a little business your way. We’ll be at that table in the corner in case you change your mind. Give it some thought.” He smiled and winked as he walked across the room.
Had I really once thought that smile was sexy?
Paula Roberts, my best friend and co-worker, was waiting tables while I took care of the counter. That meant she’d have to deal with him. Not that I wished Rick on her, but better her than me. At least he was a good tipper, especially when he was with a client. The old impress.
For the next hour I focused on serving sandwiches and chocolate goodies and tried to ignore Rick. I did notice that an older male joined him. Probably really was a real client. I’d expected him to bring in his latest bimbo. Excuse me…I mean, his latest girlfriend.
The man was likely the client who wanted to buy my house since he and Rick kept looking at me.
When Rick and I split up he moved his bimbo-of-the-month, Muffy, into the big home we once shared, and I moved into one of our small rental properties in the Kansas City suburb of Pleasant Grove. I wasn’t happy about it at the time, but I’d since become quite fond of that house. It has character and personality as well as great neighbors. Paula and her son, Zach, live on one side with my OCD computer nerd friend, Fred Sommers, on the other.
True, with as much money as Rick was offering, I could buy the vacant house across the street and fix it up, thus retaining my neighbors. That was just one of the many reasons I didn’t trust the whole deal. Why would anybody offer that much more than the house was worth? I did not for one minute believe Rick’s story that his client’s grandparents had lived in the house and he wanted it for sentimental value. What a crock.
The lunch crowd began to thin, and I noticed Rick and his client still sitting at the corner table. Across the room Paula cleared the dirty dishes off the table next to them and exchanged a raised-eyebrow look with me. I repressed a sigh as I handed the last lady at the bar a to-go bag with half a dozen gluten-free chocolate chip cookies. Rick was obviously planning to wait until everybody was gone then ambush me. He didn’t like not getting his way. That’s why our divorce was still pending. He didn’t want it, and if he didn’t want something, he’d figure a way to stop that something from happening.
A few months before he had kicked Muffy out and decided he wanted me back in. By that time I’d recovered from the temporary insanity that had induced me to marry him in the first place and got a cat instead. That cat loves my house. Make that, our house. King Henry took ownership the day he moved in.
The last customer left the counter. Besides Rick and his buddy, only one other table remained occupied. An older man and a younger woman sat there, nibbling on their cookies, talking softly and laughing. Probably married but not to each other.
Paula took her load of dishes to the kitchen then returned to where I stood behind the cash register. After her evil ex-husband was sent to prison last fall, she quit coloring her blonde hair brown and came out of hiding, but she still wore her self-appointed uniform of long sleeves and ankle-length skirts to hide the scars he’d left. I’d worn the same uniform for a while to make her feel comfortable but had recently gone back to jeans and white shirts. I’d tripped on those long skirts too many times.
“They didn’t order anything except desert, and Rick gave me a twenty dollar tip,” she said. “Watch your back.”
“He wants my house.”
“What?” Her eyes widened in surprise. “He made you take that house so he could keep the big one!”
“Shhh. Here they come.”
“I’ll just step into the kitchen and eavesdrop.” Paula vanished into the back room.
“Lindsay, I’d like you to meet Rodney Bradford.”
The tall man with gray hair, acne-scarred skin and dark eyes wore a business suit, but he didn’t look like a business person…more like a member of the mob cleaned up for trial. He gave me a big smile and extended a large hand across the counter. “Good to meet you, Lindsay.”
I took his hand automatically. It was thick, hard and callused. He didn’t grip too tightly, didn’t hang on too long, didn’t do anything wrong, but something about him creeped me out. Maybe just because he was hanging with Rick. Or maybe it was something to do with the darkness that seemed to expand out from those eyes and surround the man.
Nah, that was silly. Probably just because he was hanging with Rick.
“Can we talk outside?” Bradford asked, his gaze shifting nervously around the restaurant, looking at the couple in the corner as if they might be spies.
“No,” I said. “The acoustics are just fine in here. Feel free to speak.”
“Lindsay.” Rick spoke my name as if it was a threat, but then he gave a big salesman smile. “Please?”
I considered the situation. Stand there and argue with a man whose ears were tuned to hear only his own words or go outside with the two of them, then run back inside and lock the door. “Fine.” I took a fortifying sip of my current Coke, set it on the counter and headed for the front door.
Outside I led them away from the door but still in the shade of my awning. It was a hot day. I stopped in front of the sign painted on my window, positioning myself directly beneath the words Death by and obscuring most of the word Chocolate. I figured that would make a nice picture, though Bradford was probably too dense to get it and Rick was too self-consumed.
“Rodney is interested in purchasing that little house you’re living in, the one you and I own,” Rick said, ramping up the wattage on his smile.
Jerk. Reminding me the house was still community property, that we were still legally—no, I can’t say the “m” word when it relates to Rick. We were still legally bound.
I smiled with the same degree of sincerity as he did. That would be…none. “You mean my home? I’m not interested in selling.”
“It would mean a whole lot to me,” Rodney said. “My grandparents used to live there. That house has got sentimental value.” He paused, blinked and seemed confused for a second. Was this guy sick? His tanned skin did look kind of pallid. He swallowed, recovered and continued. “I used to visit them when I was a boy. Some of the best memories of my life. Now they’re—” He lowered his gaze, and this time his pause was deliberate. Con job. I’d seen Rick do it too many times not to recognize it. “They’re in heaven, and I’d just like to be able to go to that old house, sleep in my old room, sit on the porch like we used to and remember the good times.”
I was sorry to hear the nice elderly couple Rick and I bought the house from was dead. They’d seemed healthy, looking forward to life in a retirement village. “The house across the street is for sale. You could buy it, get a pair of binoculars and sit on the porch every day looking at my house.”
“Lindsay!” Rick exclaimed.
Beads of sweat broke out on Rodney’s forehead. The temperature was in the 80s, but the shade was cool. Was my refusal freaking him out that bad? “I’ve got a little money,” he said. His voice suddenly sounded creaky. “I’ll pay you more than you’d get anywhere else just so I can have my dear old grandmother’s house.”
“I’m sorry. It’s not for sale. If you’ll excuse me, I don’t want to leave Paula with all the cleanup.”
I took a step toward the door.
Rodney cleared his throat. “Could I have a glass of water?”
A stalling tactic. I sighed. “Sure.”
I went inside.
Paula had come back from the kitchen to stand beside the door. “Don’t sell him your house.”
“Don’t worry.” I poured a glass of ice water and went back out, planning to hand it to the man then run inside while he was drinking.
He raised his head to look at me. His skin was really pale and his eyes had a shiny cast to them. Maybe this was more than frustration at being thwarted. My cookies had nuts. I hoped he wasn’t allergic. If he went into anaphylactic shock and died, it wouldn’t be good publicity for the diner.
He reached a hand toward the glass, his eyes rolled up in his head, he groaned and slowly crumpled to the sidewalk.
“Did you bring a drunk man into my restaurant?” I demanded of Rick, hoping that’s what it was. I didn’t need my place to be quarantined for an outbreak of malaria or shut down because my cookies made somebody sick.
Rick sank to the ground beside the man. Paula rushed out. The couple at the corner table stood and looked through the window. I held onto the glass of water as if it was a glass of Coke and prayed for a verdict of too many beers.
“Call 911!” Rick shouted.
I set the water on the sidewalk, fumbled in the pocket of my jeans for my cell phone and punched in the three ominous numbers.
Paula rose, her face pale, her expression solemn. “Lindsay, he’s dead.”
The couple exploded through the door and hauled butt out of there. They didn’t want to be seen on the ten o’clock news.
This was worse than getting sick. Heart attack? Nut allergies? Please, not poisoned chocolate again! “You don’t know that he’s dead,” I snapped. “You thought your husband was dead just because you shot him, but he was still alive.”
Rick stood. He’d lost his salesman's smile. Damn. That did not bode well.
Someone answered my phone call. “911. What is your emergency?”
I swallowed and spoke into the phone. “I think I just killed a man. I mean…my cookies killed a man. I mean—”
“He had the brownie,” Paula interrupted.
I didn’t correct the 911 lady. Cookies or brownies, a man had just died after eating my dessert. Even if it was a good old-fashioned heart attack, death and desserts just don’t go well together.