Killer Cupcakes – Addison Moore

I see dead people. Mostly I see dead pets, but on the rare occasion I do see a dearly departed of the human variety. But right now, all I can see, hear, or think about is accomplishing the task at hand. “Get it in, Lemon,” Everett grunts. “I don’t know how much longer I can hold on.” “I’m trying,” I grunt right back. “It doesn’t seem to fit.” I can hardly get the words out as I struggle and squirm. “Lottie?” Noah’s voice floats from somewhere down below. “My God, you’re going to kill her,” he howls and I’m guessing that last part was meant for Everett. I’m currently standing on Everett’s shoulder, partially that is. In truth, I’m leaning hard against the awning just outside my shop, the Cutie Pie Bakery and Cakery, as I struggle to attach a sign to a metal hook that the city uses to hang garland on at Christmastime. A body pops up next to me and I look over to see Noah’s deep green eyes and his dimples digging in deep as he manages to hitch the sign right where it needs to be. “Thank you,” I say as Everett helps bounce me down into his waiting arms and dots my lips with a kiss. Judge Essex Everett Baxter is my current plus one—or he was.

Initially, I dated Noah, and we were hot and heavy until that wife he was hiding from me breezed into Honey Hollow and decided she wanted him back. Of course, once I learned of the matrimonial blunder, I went straight into his old stepbrother’s—Everett’s— arms. Noah’s divorce finally came through and Everett suggested I try to gain some real closure with Noah before we moved in a matrimonial direction of our own. But then, a few days ago the unthinkable happened. And, as it stands, it looks as if I’m legally married to Noah. It’s a long story. In fact, once the festivities here come to a close today, Noah and I are off on our first official date as a married couple. Noah gets down from the ladder and quickly folds it back up. “Looks like I saved the day.” He offers a sly grin to Everett.

Everett and Noah were related briefly in high school and got along great up until Noah saw fit to steal Everett’s girlfriend—Coconut Featherhead—but we’ll get to her in a minute. Suffice it to say, they haven’t gotten along ever since. And once I came into the picture, it only seemed to compound their hatred for one another. They’ve been getting along in a hobbling sort of way for the last month or so but, let’s call a spade a spade, they’re still tottering on the edge of oblivion. It’s the first Saturday in October, the day of the first official Haunted Honey Hollow month-long festival in which our little spooktacular corner of Vermont embraces the fact things are darn right horrifying in our neck of the twisted woods. It’s true. We’ve had thirteen murders in thirteen months and, as strange as it sounds, I’ve had the displeasure of finding each and every corpse thus far. To make things worse, each and every corpse happened to be either holding, attempting to swallow, or in very close proximity to one of my tasty treats. And because of that grizzly fact, Noah and Everett teamed up and bought me an adorable yet deadly Glock. I try to keep it in my purse wherever I go.

And when I’m at the bakery, I usually put it in the ground safe in my office if I bring it at all. And that’s where Ethel, the aforementioned Glock, is at the moment—tucked away in my ground safe. I glance up at the sky. It’s a little past noon, but you wouldn’t know it, what with all the dark storm clouds looming overhead. It looks more like evening than it does the afternoon, but that sure didn’t stop the throngs of people who have clustered right here on Main Street as they converge to join the festivities. Every business in town is offering up their wares and scares to the tourists and townies alike. My bakery is giving away free cupcakes this afternoon in honor of the scary shenanigans that are bound to ensue. I’ve set out three tables laden with the frosted little confections, and I’ve just put a sign up top that reads Come and get your FREE cupcakes! The cupcakes are adorably scary, all frosted like the Halloween spectacles they are in orange, purple, green, and black. I’ve placed gummy worms and gummy fingers over the tops of them, tiny pumpkins and candy corn, too. And there are a few with candy skulls and colorful monster faces.

It’s a feast for the eyes as much as it will be for the palate. The festival features just about everything you could think of. There are haunted carriage rides, games with questionable prizes, face painting, and enthusiastic artists who are willing to sketch out a spooky version of whoever is brave enough to pay for a sitting. There’s even a pumpkin carving station down the street. And, of course, Mayor Nash is dressed up like a werewolf, taking pictures with the masses as he makes his way down Main Street. A few months back, I learned that Mayor Nash was my biological father. I was adopted as an infant by Joseph and Miranda Lemon and happily raised with two wonderful sisters. But last January, my biological mother, Carlotta Sawyer, barreled back onto the scene, and then months later she rather indelicately revealed who her baby daddy was, and now I have more parents than I know what to do with. That’s not entirely true. My real daddy, the aforementioned Joseph Lemon, passed away over a decade ago.

But between my mother, Carlotta my bio mom, and Mayor Nash, I’m usually ducking for parental cover. I might be twenty-seven, but that doesn’t stop the three of them from freely tossing their opinions my way. Everett wraps an arm around my shoulders, and I look up at him and sigh. Everett is a god among men with his jet-black hair and ocean blue eyes. He’s serious and pensive and getting a smile out of him is rather hard-won. He’s heart-stoppingly sexy, and every woman in all of Vermont seems to have him on her radar. His first name is actually Essex, but he much prefers for the masses to call him Everett. However, for some reason, the women he’s done some serious mattress moves with have garnered the honor to call him by his proper moniker—his mother and sister withstanding, of course, because that’s the only name they’ve ever called him by. Noah is a heartthrob himself, with his dark hair that turns red at the tips in the sun, evergreen eyes, and deep-welled dimples that have the power to melt me to a puddle at the sight of them. He’s a homicide detective down in Ashford County, and I’m pretty sure women at every stage and age of life wouldn’t mind him doing a very thorough pat-down of their person.

Here’s the kicker. I’m in love with them both. It’s not fair that I’ve accidentally given my heart away to two handsome men, but, as it stands, I happen to be legally bound to one of them at the moment. Everett blows out a breath as he takes in the burgeoning crowd quickly taking over Main Street. “What else can we do to help out?” He lands a sweet kiss to the top of my head. “Nothing. You’ve done far too much today already,” I say. “The kitchen staff is helping give away the goodies, and Lily is manning the register. I’ll float in and out, making sure everything is running smoothly.” “Perfect.

” Noah’s dimples invert. “Then maybe in a little bit you and I can catch one of those haunted carriage rides. I hear it’s the ride of a lifetime—the last ride of your lifetime.” Everett grunts, “I’d be careful if I were you, Lemon. He’s been prone to pull a fast one on you before. I’d ask for a clear-cut definition of what exactly he’s asking you to ride.” I swat Everett on his rock-hard stomach for teasing me. As far back as I can remember, Everett almost exclusively calls me by my surname, and I don’t mind one bit. The fast one he’s referring to is the accidental marriage Noah and I found ourselves in. But that wasn’t at all Noah’s fault—at least not his alone.

We both walked into that one. And the funny thing is, we meant every word we exchanged in that questionable ceremony. It was beautiful and, frighteningly enough, it was real, too. “Noah, that sounds lovely. A haunted carriage ride might be exactly what I need to tone down my anxiety over this entire event. A month-long celebration of the spookiest time of year sounded brilliant when my mother birthed the idea, but the thought of putting the entire town on display for thirty days straight is already panning out to be a bit more taxing than I bargained for.” A pair of hands covers Noah’s eyes, and judging by that all too familiar engagement ring glittering in my face, I know exactly who’s playing peek-a-boo with my new husband —and it’s not me. Cormack jumps into our midst, laughing up a storm as if she hit the brewery on the corner good and hard. “Boo!” She smacks Noah with a kiss right on the lips. Cormack is the aforementioned Coconut Featherhead.

She happens to be delusional enough to believe that she and Noah are engaged. Last month, she went as far as throwing a surprise engagement party for her and Noah—and oddly enough, she threw one for Everett and me as well. Cormack is an impossibly thin blonde with celadon green eyes and bony features. She comes from old money and has a penchant for flashy clothes, cars, and purses. Before Noah can respond to the assault, my sisters, Meg and Lainey, pop up. Meg has long since dyed her blonde locks raven’s wing black, and it looks stunning juxtaposed against her ice blue eyes. Lainey shares my caramel-colored hair and hazel eyes—so much so that when we were little, I had hoped my parents had the details of my adoption wrong. Meg slaps Cormack on the back. “How’d you take the news, Mac Nut?” She turns my way. “I can’t believe Noah wifed with you a bouquet of dried flowers.

” It’s true. I held a bouquet of dried flowers for the ceremony and I felt like the luckiest bride in the world. Even though we tied what we thought was the faux knot in Pastor Gaines’ office with zero pomp and circumstance, that rugged little ceremony will forever hold a special place in my heart. I shake my head at my sister, silently begging her not to speak another word. I know for a fact that Noah has a very distinct and intricate plan on how to make things clear to Cormack once and for all regarding where they stand. He’s tried alerting her to the fact that they are not a couple in the past, and somehow it always seems to bring them closer to the altar rather than farther from it. Everett leans in. “Let Meg take over, Lemon. This might be the most entertaining part of the day.” “Or the scariest.

” Noah lifts a finger as if ready to interject, but Meg hops right in front of Cormack. “I’m talking about the wedding that took place,” my sister snarks. Cormack is quick to bat Meg away like a giant gnat just as a rush of tourists comes and attacks my cupcake stand. “What are you talking about? What wedding?” Cormack takes up Noah’s hand and looks as if she’s about to bolt off with him in an effort to escape my intimidating sister. Truthfully, who could blame her? Meg has always had an intimidating air about her. In fact, she spent a good portion of the last few years on the female wrestling circuit in Las Vegas. Mom ambles up. Her hair looks wild and her face is pinched red. She has a look of fire in her eyes and she’s clearly worked up over something. “You don’t get to talk to me that way,” she growls at the poor soul behind her.

“You have no idea how outraged I am right now. I’m fit to be tied. I’m fit to kill!” She stomps on up. “Lottie, what can I do to help?” I glance past her and spot a pasty-faced Pastor Gaines trailing her. He’s got on a rather loud purple and green striped sweater, and I can’t help but think it looks as if he’s dressed appropriately for the haunted lunacy that’s about to ensue. Oh my goodness, she was telling off her boy toy. Pastor Gaines and my mother have dated for the last few months, but I don’t trust Pastor Gaines as far as I can throw him. In fact, just last month, Noah and I discovered that his real name is Stephen Heartwood. What kind of pastor has the need to change his identity? Everett thought maybe he had a good reason for it. But I think there’s something sinister afoot.

So I gave my mother the heads-up and made her promise not to say a word while Noah and I investigated it further, but it looks as if it’s all coming to a head for her. “Go inside,” I tell her. “Lily will gladly give you something to do.” She nods before glancing his way. “And don’t follow me. I’m at a breaking point today.” She ducks into the bakery, and he glares my way a moment. Stephen Gaines—Heartwood, whoever he is, always has a smile plastered to his obnoxious face, and this moment is no different. It’s tight and manufactured, but nonetheless it never leaves his face. “Lottie.

” His dark eyes linger over mine as he heads in after her. Some men simply don’t know the value of following orders. Everett leans in again. “You want me to go after him?” “Not yet,” I say as Cormack struggles to leave our intimate circle with Noah stapled to her hand, but now it’s Lainey jumping in front of her. “Let go of that man!” Lainey does a karate chop move that renders Cormack Noahless. I’d laugh because it’s a touch comical, but I’m terrified this will turn ugly fast. Personally, I don’t want to be around once Cormack is given the news. Her delusional relationship with Noah has been spurring her along for the last few months. There’s no telling what might unravel once the truth comes out. Meg wraps an arm around Lainey’s shoulders.

“That’s right.” Meg flashes a short-lived smile. “Noah Fox is a married man, and he’s not married to you, missy, so take a haunted hike. Or better yet, step out in front of the next haunted chariot. Trust me, no one is going to stop you. Least of all this poor man you’ve been terrorizing.” “Meg!” I try to pull her back, but she’s proving immovable. “Enough is enough, Lot,” Meg riots. “You have to be tough with some people or they won’t accept the truth.” She turns back to Cormack.

“Noah married Lottie a few days ago. They’ve already hopped on the baby train, too. So get out of their way or I’ll forcibly remove you.” “Oh God,” I groan as Everett holds me back. Cormack’s lips contort into all sorts of scary shapes as she turns to Noah. “What is she rambling about?” She swats both Lainey and Meg with her pricey purse until they offer her decent clearance in which to leave our circle. “It’s true.” Noah looks my way. “Lottie and I were married just a few days ago.” “What?” Cormack squawks as she trots in front of him.

“What do you mean you married Luella?” Dear Lord. I groan at the malfeasance she keeps perpetuating when it comes to my rightful moniker. For reasons unbeknownst to me, both Cormack and Noah’s ex-wife, Britney, cannot get my name right to save their lives. Speaking of which, the blonde bombshell herself struts up in a body-hugging cat suit, her hourglass figure on full display—and she’s earned it. Britney is a franchisee of the Swift Cycle gyms. She’s planted one across the street and has an entire slew of them all around the great state of Vermont. She’s a real-life blonde version of Jessica Rabbit, a sultry vixen that doles out the sass and doesn’t take flack from anyone. “What did I miss?” she pants to Everett as a loose strand of hair covers her left eye. I’m not entirely sure Britney has two eyes. In fact, I don’t think she does.

I’ve yet to see that sultry hairstyle dislodge itself to prove me wrong. My half-brother, Finn, is standing by her side and offers me a friendly wave. He’s Mayor Nash’s son and my newfound brother. He shares my caramel-colored hair and hazel eyes and looks like the adorable boy next door. He runs the Sugar Bowl Resort up north, but he’s been spending a lot of time in Honey Hollow with his new sweetie, Britney. “You didn’t miss a thing,” I say to Britney just as something soft and furry brushes against my right arm, and I look over to find that a black cat has jumped onto my cupcake table. It’s about a foot tall, seated, and its glowing green eyes are pointed straight at Cormack as if it were settling in to watch the show. I’m about to shoo it away when Cormack groans as if she were just hit with a bullet. “Noah Corbin Fox!” Her voice booms over the expanse, and I’d swear there was a silent lull for a solid two seconds on Main Street in her honor. “What is this about?” A breath hitches in her throat as she freezes solid a moment.

“Oh, I get it.” Her head tips back as she lets out a frightening laugh. Everett leans in. “That’s the cackle of a madwoman.” “You’re not wrong,” I whisper back. Cormack brays like a dolphin. “Noah, say you’re teasing. With all these people around you’re bound to start rumors. Think of poor Essex. He and Lolly are practically married themselves.

” “I wish,” Everett whispers the word hot into my ear, and a shiver rides through me. Noah rubs his eyes a moment as if trying to wake from a very bad dream. “It’s not a joke, Cormack. In fact”— he takes a few bold steps in my direction, and suddenly I’m fearing for both our necks—“Lottie, I spoke with my counselor and she suggests you join me for the session.” Cormack balks, “You want her to join us? Noah, we’re not bringing her to our couple’s counseling. Lolita, you can just march yourself right back into your little bakery and take your fiancé along with you. You don’t have to attend a single counseling session with my beloved and me.” Meg steps in. “Nutcase!” she riots in Cormack’s face. “The dude is off the market.

” Cormack remains unfazed as she lifts her ring finger and shows off the glittering rock, albeit a replica of the real deal. “Darn tootin’, missy.” Cormack flaunts her faux engagement ring enthusiastically as if she were sharing a far more colorful finger with us. “The man is off the market, and he’s mine!” Lainey tosses her hands in the air. “All right, let me at her. Listen here and listen good, Featherby. Noah purchased that ring on your finger for my sister. He didn’t give it to you. You pried it out of his closet!” It’s true. Cormack found the ring that was intended for me and quickly popped it on without giving Noah a chance to explain.

The growing crowd around us gasps. A robust band of tourists has amassed along with the fine yet eager-to-know-the-truth people of Honey Hollow. Oh dear. This is turning into a certifiable nightmare. “Noah?” His name comes from Cormack, low and throaty and dare I say a tad bit threatening. “Is this true?” “It’s true.” His dimples invert, no smile, and the collective crowd seems to stop breathing. It is true. In fact, the ring on her finger is a replica that Cormack herself had made of the original—and thankfully so. Her farce was heartbreaking enough to witness without the thought of her wearing the treasure Noah bought with me in mind.

A high-pitched scream knifes its way out of Cormack’s throat, and if I didn’t know better, I’d think it served as some sort of tribal communication system between her and her old sorority sisters. Cormack reaches back and snaps a cupcake off the table and jams the frosting in Noah’s face. And before I know it, she’s picked up another one and another as she pelts him a mile a minute. The black cat lets out a deafening roar as it jumps on all fours, its hair standing on end giving it an electrocuted appeal. I’m about to reach for the poor thing and pull it to safety when it turns around and jumps through the glass and into my shop, sending my heart right up my throat. That wasn’t just any black cat. That was a supernatural specter who comes bearing bad news for its previous owner. And by bad news, I mean death. Meg holds her hands to her mouth like a megaphone. “FOOD FIGHT!” And soon enough, it’s raining cupcakes in every direction.

Everett catches one midflight and gently dots my lips with it before kissing off the frosting. Meg laughs as she spots us. “Looks like fun.” I hook my gaze to Everett as the melee ensues. “And in a bit, it’s going to look like murder.” His eyes widen as if to ask the question and I nod. “It’s happening again,” I say. “Death has come to Honey Hollow.” Everett exhales deeply. “And someone will die today.

” C C H A P T E R 2 haos. Complete and utter chaos. Everett pulls me out of the madness as we ditch into the bakery and watch Noah try his best to subdue a cupcake wielding Cormack. Lily runs up. “Oh, Lottie!” Lily Swanson is a brunette stunner who has worked for me since the bakery opened a year ago. She happens to be best friends with Naomi Turner, my best friend’s—Keelie Turner’s—twin. But Lily and Naomi have since had a falling-out over Noah’s younger brother, Alex. He’s a muscular ex-Marine turned investment banker who strolled into town a few months back and stole a few hearts and destroyed a few friendships along the way. Lily and Naomi were his first casualties. “Lottie”—Lily drops her face in her hands a moment—“we worked all morning to get those cupcakes out there for the public to enjoy.

” “Don’t I know it. I just wish I could fix this mess.” She makes a face. “Speaking of which, you need to remember to fix the ground safe. The lid won’t lock, and you’ve still got last night’s deposit in there.” “I’m one step ahead of you. I already have a locksmith scheduled to come out tomorrow. I just wish I was one step ahead of this food fight.” A cupcake hits the window with a splat, leaving a bright orange stain in its wake. Meg and Lainey head inside, laughing hysterically as frosting drips from their hair, and my mother and Pastor Gaines run out from the back to see what the commotion is about.

My mother’s hair looks like a hurricane just blew through it. Her blouse is buttoned in all the wrong places, and her pants look as if she’s hiked them up in haste. I’m betting she has. It looks as if she went from furious with the sneaky shepherd to passionate in a single coital bound. “Mother, where were you?” I ask, exasperated at the thought of what might have been happening between the two of them. A guttural laugh emits from her as she wiggles her shoulders. “Mom! A minute ago, you were threatening to kill him. And, seeing that things clearly went sideways for you in that department, I volunteer to do the deed myself!” Before I can lunge onto the demon, the entire bakery floods with the frosting covered masses. Noah threads his way through the crowd as he makes his way over. His hair is slicked with black frosting and it’s a good, not to mention delicious, look on him.

“Cormack took off.” He pauses a moment to shoot my sisters a wry look. “She’s threatening to do all kinds of things. I think I’d better find her—maybe talk to her in private.” Everett’s chest bucks with a silent laugh. “Something you should have done months ago.” He looks my way. “Have you noticed he has a pattern of omitting pertinent information from women?” Meg jumps forward. “And don’t forget stringing them along in false relationships.” Noah groans, “I’ll catch up with you tonight, Lottie.

Everett, try not to stir the pot while I’m gone.” He takes off just as the floodgates open, and soon enough both the bakery and the Honey Pot Diner are filled with patrons. The Honey Pot Diner is connected to the bakery by way of a walk-through built into our conjoining wall. Both places once belonged to my grandmother, Nell Sawyer, who left every piece of real estate she owned to yours truly. Nell died last January, but the will was contested by my uncle who sorely lost his legal battle last month and now, indeed, I own what feels like every bit of real estate under the sun. Everett promised he’d go over it all with me and help me get organized. I’ve never been a land baron before, and I have no idea what to do next. The Honey Pot is where I worked for years, alongside Keelie, right up until Nell helped me open this place. In the center of the Honey Pot’s adorable dining room there’s a large resin oak tree with its center hollowed out. A honey pot sits inside, dripping its golden goodness, surrounded by resin bees.

The branches of that oak stretch across the ceiling and right into my bakery. And each of those branches is covered in twinkle lights. It adds a magical appeal to both establishments, especially on a dark cloudy day like today. Mom looks to my sisters. “I’ll try to reserve us all a table at the Honey Pot.” “It’s no use.” Keelie comes over, her blonde curls bouncing over her shoulders. “We’ve got a two-hour wait as it stands. No offense, but this Haunted Honey Hollow thing might be working a little too good.” “Agree,” I say as I spot my spooky kooky bio mom seemingly talking to herself in the corner.

But, alas, she’s chatting up a storm with that fluffy black no-doubt-about-it supernatural cat. “Would you please excuse us?” I pull Everett along with me. Only Everett and Noah are apprised of my transmundane status, further classified as supersensual. At first, when I started seeing long deceased pets—and on occasion the rare dead human—it served as a rather harmless bad omen for their loved ones. And that usually translated into nothing more than a sprained ankle at best, but now it almost certainly means death. And slowly over the last solid year my supersensual powers have begun to grow. About a few months ago, the dead garnered the ability to move things within the material world—whenever they wished. And as of recently, I can hear the dead —and fortunately for me, these ghostly pets and people love to jabber. I give Everett’s hand a squeeze. For some reason, I discovered that I act as a conduit.

And if someone touches me, they can then hear what the dead have to say as well. That gorgeous ebony fur ball sits fanning his long plume of a tail over his back as it regales Carlotta with a story. Its fur shimmers as if a spray of stars is trapped inside its fur and it looks perfectly magical. “Lottie! Judge Sexy!” Carlotta pats the spot next to her. “Take a seat and join the party. Thirteen here was just about to tell me about the scariest Halloween Eve he’s ever seen.” “A boy, huh?” I give him a quick scratch behind the ears and he shivers as he leans against my fingers hard. It never fails to amuse me the way the dead can feel as solid as they please just before they dissolve to nothing. “What’s this Thirteen business?” The cat growls, “That’s my name.” His neon green eyes shine like beacons.

“Thirteen?” Everett tips his ear this way as if he didn’t hear right. “That is correct.” His tiny pink nose turns toward Carlotta. “Thirteen is the name my master gave me.” I lean in hard, a breath hitching in my throat. “What’s your master’s name?” “I would love to tell you.” His voice grows faint as he dissipates to nothing. Carlotta bounces out of her seat, looking every bit like an older version of me. “Now look what you did. Didn’t your mother ever teach you not to be nosy?” I can’t help but roll my eyes.

Mayor Nash pops up from behind holding out a cupcake toward Carlotta. “Lottie, Judge Baxter.” He tips his head forward, and his werewolf-inspired ears nearly fall off. He’s covered with fur from head to toe, and he’s got long, claw-like contraptions over his hands. “Quite a mess out there, but I managed to salvage what I could.” He pats his belly as he laughs. “Well, thank you,” I say, glancing out the window at the cupcake-covered street. “I have a feeling I can use all the help I can get.” A stream of tourists bustles out the front door, and I spot Pastor Gaines wiggling his way inside like a salmon swimming upstream. He’s donned a black leather jacket and a baby blue button-down shirt underneath and looks as if he’s dressed to impress my mother.

I bet someone pelted him good with my cupcakes for it to sponsor a wardrobe change. Although, I don’t see why he’d wear that malfeasance of a sweater to begin with. Being pelted with cupcakes or not, the sweater deserved the incinerator. I head on over and block his path. “You have a lot of nerve, you know that?” His smile widens, but his brows dip as if he were confused by my comment. “What may I help you with, dear?” “Oh, please. You’ve done enough. And since my mother didn’t kill you, I might just have to do it myself!” A hush falls over the café for a solid second before the conversations roar back to life. “Excuse me.” He nods his way past me as he heads into the Honey Pot.

Everett comes over and blows out a deep breath. “Why don’t we lock ourselves in your office and forget about all the chaos out here?” His thumb glides over my lips like a dark promise. “Believe you me, I’d take you up on it if I didn’t know my mother and Pastor Gaines defiled it.” My fingers slap over my lips a moment. “Oh my goodness, Everett. I’m a married woman! And I happen to be married to someone else entirely.” A hard groan comes from me. “I can’t sleep with you anymore.” “Noah,” he growls his name out like a threat—and I’m convinced it’s a real one. And as if on cue, Noah himself burrows through the crowd.

“Where is she?” His eyes are wild, and he looks disheveled and frustrated. The front of his shirt is covered with purple fingerprints—I’m guessing Cormack’s. “I don’t know.” I hike up on my tiptoes and crane my neck as I look around. “How did you possibly lose her?” Believe me, he’s tried, and it’s proved impossible for months. Everett grunts, “He didn’t lose her. He escaped.” “That makes more sense,” I say just as Everett gives Noah a hard shove to the chest. “And I finally caught onto your matrimonial shenanigans,” Everett roars. “You did this because you knew she wouldn’t sleep with me as long as she was legally bolted to your side.

” Noah’s dimples press in. “I don’t know what the hell you’re talking—” He pauses midflight as his mouth rounds out into a perfect O and he looks my way. “So now she’s cut you off? The tables have turned, huh, buddy?” An easy grin glides across his face. It’s true. Everett cut me off a few weeks back so that I could gain some closure once and for all with Noah. I’m pretty sure our jaunt to the proverbial altar was a turn in the wrong direction as far as closure goes. “Don’t you smile at her like that!” The sound of a screaming female, extricating the words like a war cry, comes from behind, and I turn to find Cormack storming her way over as she makes her way through the kitchen. “What are you doing back there?” I holler as I head that way myself and note the entire kitchen island is brimming with unfrosted cupcakes. My God, what am I thinking? I have a bakery to run. I certainly don’t have time for Cormack Featherhead’s shenanigans.

“Cormack, get out there and make sure Everett and Noah don’t kill each other.” I think on it for a moment. “They’re fighting over you.” That stroke to her ego should assure she interjects herself between them for a good long hour. She sucks in a quick breath. “I knew it. Essex wants me back, too. Of course, he does. That boy has always loved me. But don’t you worry, Loki.

The Big Boss and I are just going through a rough patch. Cold feet is a very real thing.” Big Boss. I shudder at the nickname Cormack has for Noah. I’ve never understood it since bossing her around is the last thing Noah wants to do. In fact, he doesn’t want anything to do with her at all. Cormack is basically a stalker, and I think I’ve just sicced her on poor Everett, too. “Cold feet? You keep believing that,” I mutter as I put on an apron, pick up a piping bag, and get straight to work. She takes off in a furor, her high heels leaving a muddy trail in their wake, and I groan. “No, no.” The last thing I need is someone from the health department shutting me down on the busiest day of the year. “Lily?” I call out, but she’s too swamped with customers to hear me. The rest of the kitchen staff has migrated right back where they belong—to the Honey Pot Diner—and left me to my own devices. I land the piping bag where I found it and head to the back for a mop, but it’s not in the janitorial supply closet. It’s still outside drying off from its initial use this morning. I head out to the alley behind the shop and steal a moment to take in the crisp autumn breeze. There’s an old sweetgum tree across the way, and tucked in its branches I spot that spectral black cat, Thirteen, glowing as if it had an entire constellation of stars trapped in its fur. A smile comes to me. That’s the way the dead always look, and I do love their ethereal glow. I traipse across the way to have a private chat with the cute little beast, only to trip over something solid, yet rather soft at the very same time. I land on all fours and find myself nearly eye to eye with an all too familiar face—Pastor Gaines. But this time he’s not offering that eerie smile. Instead, his mouth is smeared with orange frosting, and one of my cupcakes is still clutched in his hand. My mother won’t have to worry about him bothering her anymore. Pastor Gaines is dead.

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