The diva frosts a cupcake

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Contents

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

CUPCAKES AND PUPCAKES | Guest List

CUPCAKES AND PUPCAKES | Dinner Menu

 

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

CHAPTER TWELVE

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

CHAPTER NINETEEN

CHAPTER TWENTY

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

CHAPTER THIRTY

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE

CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE

CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX

CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN

CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT

 

RECIPES & COOKING TIPS

The Diva Frosts a Cupcake

KRISTA DAVIS

PRAISE FOR THE AGATHA AWARD–NOMINATED DOMESTIC DIVA MYSTERIES

The Diva Digs up the Dirt

“Perfectly enjoyable.”

—RT Book Reviews

“A satisfying, complex story . . . [An] enjoyable mystery . . . Poignant, but also funny at times.”

—Vibrant Nation

“The Diva Digs up the Dirtdefinitely hit the spot . . . [A] fun mystery and a great way to spend a few hours by the pool or at the beach.”

—Booking Mama

The Diva Haunts the House

“The quirky characters are well developed, the story line is as crisp as a fall apple, and the twists and turns are as tight as a corkscrew.”

—AnnArbor.com

“Davis finely blends mystery and comedy, keepingThe Diva Haunts the Houseentertaining and alluring.”

—SeattlePI.com

The Diva Cooks a Goose

“For fans of Donna Andrews and Diane Mott Davidson . . . [A] real winner.”

—The Season

“Sophie keeps a cool head . . . ensuring a Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.”

—The Mystery Reader

“A great whodunit.”

—Once Upon a Romance

“This is not your run-of-the-mill cozy; the characters are real to life, interesting, and keep you wondering what will happen next. Krista Davis writes one enjoyable read.”

—The Romance Readers Connection

The Diva Paints the Town

“[Davis] handles this tricky tale with aplomb and fills it with a cast of eccentrics . . . And the three animals are endlessly amusing. Davis includes several recipes, and although the novel takes place during a Virginia winter, the strawberry daiquiris will have you pretending it’s summer.”

—Richmond Times-Dispatch

“Davis plates up another delectable whodunit, complete with recipes. Indeed, her novels are every bit as good as Diane Mott Davidson’s Goldy Schulz mysteries.”

—Shine

“Davis’s latest is an enjoyable mystery that includes decorating tips, a few pets, an unusual bequest, and recipes . . . Once again, Krista Davis brings us interesting, fun characters.”

—Lesa’s Book Critiques

“Ms. Davis immerses the reader into the world of interior design.”

—TwoLips Reviews

The Diva Takes the Cake

“The Diva Takes the Cakedoes just that—takes the cake.”

—The Romance Readers Connection

“Mistaken identities, half truths, buried secrets, missing jewelry, wedding jitters, and family squabbles are whipped into a sweet froth in this second of the Domestic Diva Mysteries . . . [A] fun little bonbon of a book to enjoy on the beach or as a break from any wedding plans.”

—ReviewingTheEvidence.com

“Sure to thrill cozy fans.”

—Fresh Fiction

“Davis has devised a delightful romp, with engaging characters and a nicely crafted setting in which to place them. The author sets just the right tone to match her diva’s perfect centerpieces, tablescapes, and lighting effects.”

—Shine

The Diva Runs Out of Thyme

“[A] tricky whodunit laced with delectable food . . . [A] fine mystery that’s stuffed with suspects—and a reminder that nobody’s Thanksgiving is perfect.”

—Richmond Times-Dispatch

“A mouthwatering mix of murder, mirth, and mayhem, nicely spiced by new author Krista Davis.”

—Mary Jane Maffini, author ofThe Busy Woman’s Guide to Murder

“This cozy mystery delivers a plethora of useful household tips and mouthwatering recipes immersed within a keep-you-guessing plot filled with suspicious-acting characters, and twists and turns around every corner. Davis’s smart writing style and engaging characters are sure to garner fans.”

—AuthorsDen.com

“Filled with humor, delicious recipes, and holiday decorating tips,The Diva Runs Out of Thymeis a lighthearted mystery that is sure to get you in the Thanksgiving mood . . . [A] must-read to prepare for the holiday season!”

—The Romance Readers Connection

“[A] fun romp into the world of food, murder, and mayhem.”

—Armchair Interviews

“The Diva Runs Out of Thymeis as much comedy as mystery . . . [A] really good book . . . [A] series worth watching.”

—Mysterious Reviews

“An entertaining mystery novel with charming characters. The plot of the mystery is well drawn out . . . Davis is an excellent mystery author.”

—MyShelf.com

“The beginning of a good culinary cozy series with some interesting and different characters.”

—Gumshoe Review

Berkley Prime Crime titles by Krista Davis

THE DIVA RUNS OUT OF THYME

THE DIVA TAKES THE CAKE

THE DIVA PAINTS THE TOWN

THE DIVA COOKS A GOOSE

THE DIVA HAUNTS THE HOUSE

THE DIVA DIGS UP THE DIRT

THE DIVA FROSTS A CUPCAKE

THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA

USA | Canada | UK | Ireland | Australia | New Zealand | India | South Africa | China

Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

For more information about the Penguin Group, visit penguin.com.

THE DIVA FROSTS A CUPCAKE

A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author

Copyright © 2013 by Cristina Ryplansky.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

Berkley Prime Crime Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group.

BERKLEY®PRIME CRIME and the PRIME CRIME logo are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,

a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

ISBN: 978-0-425-25813-2

eBook ISBN: 978-1-101-62342-8

PUBLISHING HISTORY

Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / June 2013

Cover illustration by Teresa Fasolino.

Cover design by Diana Kolsky.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

PUBLISHER’S NOTE: The recipes contained in this book are to be followed exactly as written. The publisher is not responsible for your specific health or allergy needs that may require medical supervision. The publisher is not responsible for any adverse reactions to the recipes contained in this book.

 

For the Plothatchers,

who always have an answer, a suggestion, or a great idea,

and are there no matter what.

They are my watercooler when I need a break,

a shoulder to lean on, and have become

my very dear friends:

Janet Bolin, Peg Cochran, Kaye George,

Daryl Wood Gerber, Janet Koch,

and Marilyn Levinson.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Very special thanks to Laura Owens, D.V.M., for explaining the treatment of chocolate ingestion by dogs. Many thanks yet again to Lucy Zahray for her amazing knowledge and helpfulness about poisonous plants. And to my mother, Marianne, and my friends Betsy Strickland, Susan Erba, Amy Wheeler, and David Erba for patiently testing cupcake after cupcake without ever complaining about sugar rushes. I must thank my brilliant editor, Sandra Harding, whose edits always result in a stronger book, even when they present challenges. My agent, Jessica Faust, has been supportive and helpful and is always very wise. What would I do without Sandy and Jessica to keep me on track? Teresa Fasolino has painted another fabulous cover for Sophie and her friends, this time depicting the heart of Old Town so beautifully. Special thanks to Andy Ball for his eagle eye in catching my errors. As always, any mistakes are my own. I am grateful to all of you.

CUPCAKES and PUPCAKES

Gala Eight-Course Dinner

Black Tie

By Ticket Only. Sold Out.

Guests

General Euclid German

Alex German

Nick Rigas

Clarissa Osbourne

Maurice Lester

Mars Winston

Myra Liebling

Humphrey Brown

Francine Vanderhoosen

Officer Wong

Bernie Frei

Martha (Chihuahua)

Daisy (mixed hound)

Guinevere (gray cat)

Buddy (black-and-tan rescue dog)

Bakers

Sugar Baby Cupcakes

   Renee Gatewood

   Joy Bickford

   Muffin Pruitt

Cupcake Saloon

Natasha

Cake My Day

   Spenser Osbourne

Sugar Mama Cupcakes

   Joy Bickford

The Laughing Hound

CUPCAKES & PUPCAKES

Dinner Menu

Amuse Bouche

Asparagus Mini-cupcake

Appetizer

Avocado and Black Bean Cupcake

Fish Course

Salmon Cupcake

Les Légumes

Spinach Cupcake

Entrée

Rosemary Bacon Corn Cupcake

Bison Lasagna Cupcake

Cheese Course

Blueberry Cheesecake Cupcake

Fruit

Strawberry Cupcake

Dessert

Salted Caramel Cupcake

Coco Loco (Chocolate Coconut) Cupcake

CHAPTER ONE

Dear Sophie,

I am lactose intolerant, so I avoid cream cheese and buttercream frostings on cupcakes. The bakery near my office sells delicious mocha cupcakes that I eat all the time without problems. My grandfather’s new wife swears there’s no cream cheese or butter in the frosting of her mocha cupcakes, but I get sick every time I eat one. I’m worried about what she might be putting in them . . .

—Hold the Milk Please in Cream City, Ohio

Dear Hold the Milk Please,

Many cupcake recipes call for milk or cream in the cake portion and that could be the cause of your discomfort. If you’re truly concerned that she’s adding something more sinister, you might wish to have one of her cupcakes analyzed.

—Sophie

The creepy sensation of being watched overcame me. I was standing in line to buy coffee at a take-out window in Old Town, far too early in the morning for my taste. Shivering in the chilly spring weather, I gazed around and snuggled deeper into my rose-colored fleece pullover.

A few people ahead of me in line, a slender woman observed me. She didn’t avert her piercing eyes, even when I looked straight at her. Brunette with deep auburn overtones, her freckles shone through a thin dusting of makeup. A long ski-jump nose brought perkiness to her face, and laugh lines had begun to develop around her mouth. She seemed vaguely familiar to me, and I sought to place her. She wore understated Old Town chic—dark brown jeans with a green suede jacket. The chunky gold bracelet on her wrist might have been costume jewelry, but the casual leather bag that hung from a long strap over her shoulder saidmoneyin no uncertain terms.

She strode over to me. “I defended you for dating Wolf. Under the circumstances, it seemed reasonable.”

I braced myself. Her tone was level, but I detected a note of hostility. Why would she declare such a thing? My relationship with my boyfriend, Wolf, had recently come to an abrupt end because of a very complicated situation. I’d heard that some people felt I never should have dated him, and in hindsight I had thought that myself. Did she want me to thank her for standing up for me?

“I guess I was wrong. Apparently you lack the character I attributed to you. Have you no morals? No shame?”

As shocked as I was by her words, I was even more painfully aware of the interest of everyone around us. “I . . . I’m sorry. I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Let’s not add insult here by feigning ignorance. We both know what you have done.” She lowered her voice to a whisper, and her tone grew hard. “Just know that I will fight you. I might not look like much, but I can play dirty—and I will if I have to.”

She strode away with her head held high, completely unflustered, as though pleased with herself. I, on the other hand, could feel my face flushing hot.

All the eyes watching her turned back to me. A few eyebrows rose. I tried hard to smile and managed a shrug. I wanted to think she had mistaken me for someone else, but the part about Wolf led me to believe she had the right person. My relationship with Wolf had broken off about nine months earlier. What on earth could I have done to upset her so much? Better yet, whowasshe?

The thought of turning and running crossed my mind, but I really did want coffee, and I had promised my best friend and across-the-street neighbor, Nina Reid Norwood, that I would bring her some. Besides, whatever dreadful thing the woman thought I’d done—I had a completely clear conscience. Part of me hoped our paths wouldn’t cross again, yet I also hoped I might see her from afar when Nina was around. Maybe Nina could place her.

Gasps and whispers about Sugar Baby drew me out of my thoughts about the angry woman.

Frowning, I turned in the direction of the bakery. Just down the side street, I could see the familiar pink awning with chocolate polka dots and trim.

“Excuse me,” I said to the man in front of me. “What’s going on with Sugar Baby?”

“Look across the street. Renee and Joy split up, and Joy pulled a fast one. Cupcake war has begun in Old Town.”

Sure enough, a new storefront had appeared directly across the street from Sugar Baby. A blue awning with brown polka dots and trim hung over a large window. Even from a distance, I could make out the name of the business—Sugar Mama. Except for the blue color and the one word name difference, it wasidenticalto Sugar Baby.

I tried to hear what the people in line for coffee were saying.

“Apparently their business partnership broke up over a man.”

“It must have been more than that. They’re such nice women.”

“Joy has a temper. Were you ever in the shop when something went wrong? I saw her throw a cupcake once!”

“I wonder who their assistant, Muffin, went with? She’s the one with the real talent.”

“I’m sure it was a fight over money. It always is in partnerships.”

No one seemed to know. Not that it was any of my business. Still, it would be the talk of the town for a while.

I tried to shake my troubled mood, ordered three grande lattes, and carried them across the street to Market Square, where Nina waited with my mixed-breed hound, Daisy.

“Humphrey still hasn’t shown up.” Nina glared at me as though I were responsible. “He promised he would help us.”

Itwasodd. Humphrey might be a bit of a nerd, but he was always reliable and punctual. It worried me that he hadn’t arrived. I didn’t dare say that though, out of fear that it would send Nina into a tailspin.

At six in the morning, only a few early birds had started to set up their booths for Cupcakes and Pupcakes, Nina’s first major fundraising event. Tension ran from her tight lips to her clenched fists, all the way down to the sneaker-clad foot that twisted nervously on the red brick plaza.

On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, the general public could buy cupcakes at booths operated by bakers who had come from all over the metropolitan Washington, DC, area, and then cast a vote at Nina’s booth for the best cupcake.

Dog and cat owners would browse through rainbows of leashes, beds, and clothing for their little darlings. A portion of all the profits would be donated to local animal rescue groups.

Tickets for Saturday evening’s gala event had sold out weeks ago. The highlight of the weekend, it featured an eight-course cupcake dinner in a park on the Potomac River. Dogs were invited, naturally, for their own special eight-course dinner of pupcakes. Local bakers and chefs were providing the fabulous fare.

“You didn’t have breakfast, did you?” Nina was always hungry but never cooked. I knew I should have brought food, but I’d rolled out of bed at the last minute, secure in the belief that there was no point in baking muffins when we were going to be surrounded by cupcakes anyway.

She sipped her latte. “Where do you think Humphrey could be? He’s going to throw us off schedule.”

She had a much bigger problem to deal with. I had to tell her about Renee and Joy splitting up. Sugar Baby was supposed to provide a cupcake course for the gala dinner tomorrow night.

I told her in as calm a voice as I could muster.

She responded with a deer-in-headlights look. “One of them had better make the cupcake course they promised for tomorrow night! Why did this have to happen right now? They couldn’t have waited until next week? Just a couple of days?”

“You go get the dogs and cats, and I’ll have everything set up here by the time you return. Then you can talk to Renee and Joy to straighten out that mess.”

“Not by yourself, you won’t!”

Technically, she was right about that. “Humphrey will be here any minute, I’m sure. Now go!”

The heavenly scent of our freshly brewed coffee wafted to me. I sipped the hot liquid, savoring the rich brew with the slightest note of hazelnut. If Nina would finally leave, I could scare up a little breakfast for her to chow down on when she returned. Renee Gatewood of Sugar Baby Cupcakes was already setting up her booth. Maybe I could buy some cupcakes from her before she was officially open for business.

Nina spotted her at about the same time. Poor Nina was so stressed that her elbows and shoulders pumped when she hustled over to talk with Renee.

I set to work, flipping out the legs on a table. Nina returned in time to help me turn it upright and tug it into a spot that would be the front of the booth.

“At least tomorrow’s dinner isn’t a problem. Renee says she committed to supplying cupcakes, and she’ll have them there on time.” She blew a loud breath of air out of her mouth. “One problem resolved. I can’t wait around for Humphrey any longer, though.”

I grabbed Daisy’s leash and walked Nina to her car, trying to calm her by assuring her everything would work out fine. As soon as she left, I navigated the booths being set up, and was headed toward Sugar Baby’s booth to buy cupcakes when I spotted Humphrey.

He was pitching in all right—over at Renee Gatewood’s Sugar Baby Cupcakes booth! Had he forgotten about Nina’s adoption booth? I marched over to him. “What are you doinghere? Where’s Renee?”

“Morning, Sophie!” sang Humphrey. I’d never heard him sound so cheerful.

Red spots flushed his pale cheeks, reminding me of a painted porcelain doll’s face. He had snapped his navy blue jacket at the neck against the chilly air. The dark color emphasized his pasty skin and hair so blond it was very nearly white. Renee was nowhere to be seen, but Officer Wong was eyeing the cupcake assortment.

As I recalled, the African-American policewoman was a huge fan of cupcakes. On the petite side, she had the well-rounded figure of a woman who liked to eat, causing her uniform to stretch tight. She sported a new hairstyle of soft curls, shorter toward her neck and longer on top. One curl dared to curve down on her forehead, giving the look a touch of sass. I had always envied her flawless complexion.

Wong glanced at me. “Have you tried the Mint Cookies and Cream Cupcake or the White Chocolate Raspberry Cupcake?”

“I haven’t tasted either one.” They sounded delicious, though. I looked around for Renee. “Is she open for business?”

Humphrey placed a Mint Cookies and Cream Cupcake and a White Chocolate Raspberry Cupcake into a box with ease, as though he’d done it all his life. “Renee had to go back to the bakery, so I’m filling in. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind if I sold a few cupcakes. Don’t worry, I didn’t forget about you and Nina. As soon as Renee returns, I’ll be over to help you.”

Wong reached for the box Humphrey handed out to her. “I don’t know what got into all these cupcake bakers. First Joy and Renee split up”—she looked over at me—“who’d ever have expected that? And some idiot broke into Cake My Day last night.”

CHAPTER TWO

Dear Natasha,

I am one of your biggest fans and never miss your show. My five dogs are my babies. I wish you would do a show with your dog. Do you cook fabulous gourmet dishes for her? I bet you’ve built her a one-of-a-kind dog bed. Please do a show on dogs!

—Goldendoodle Mom in Dog Walk, Kentucky

Dear Goldendoodle Mom,

Dog cookies are baking in the oven as I write this. My sweet dog is always dressed in an adorable outfit, and she sleeps in a four-poster bed with a canopy. Thanks for your suggestion for a “dog show”!

—Natasha

As soon as Wong saidCake My Day, I knew who the irate woman had been. The angry face that had stayed with me like a persistent raincloud belonged to Clarissa Osbourne. She and her husband, Spenser, owned the Cake My Day chain of cupcakeries. “Someone must have had a major cupcake attack,” I joked. “Why would anyone break into a cupcakery?”

“Same reason they burglarize other stores and people’s homes—they’re after money.” Wong opened the box, lifted out a cupcake with pink frosting, and smelled it. “Ahh, doesn’t get any better than this.” She bit into it and pretended to melt.

I handed Humphrey some cash. “Bring breakfast when you come. What’s in a breakfast cupcake?” I peered at something crumbed on top of the frosting.

“Maple buttermilk cake with maple frosting, sprinkled with bacon.” He rattled it off like a pro.

“Are you moonlighting at Sugar Baby?” I teased.

Humphrey blushed. “Of course not. But I’ve tried all their flavors.”

“I think I’ll pass on the ones with bacon, but Strawberry Lemonade sounds good.”

He waved me away. “They’re on me. I’ll be there as soon as Renee comes back.”

“Don’t forget to bring cupcakes.”

Daisy and I returned to our own booth. I hooked her leash onto a table leg and flipped out the legs of two more tables. It turned out they weren’t at all difficult to flip upright by myself.

Humphrey soon arrived and helped move them into position under the tent awning, creating a U-shaped booth.

“Give me a hand with the cages?”

They weren’t particularly heavy, but the cat cages were large and unwieldy. We placed them on the table in the back where the canopy would shield the cats from the sun, and had just lined up the cages when Humphrey grabbed my arm, and whispered, “Whatever Myra wants, help me get out of it.”

“Myra? Who is Myra?”

Humphrey nudged me with his elbow.

A woman with generous curves descended upon us. Her teeth shone such a bright white I feared they might glow in the dark. Black eyeliner rimmed her expressive eyes and turquoise waves decorated her eyelids. Big, jet black hair sported an occasional turquoise tip. Her fuchsia and black zebra-striped leather jacket would have been sufficiently eye-catching on its own, but she had paired it with fuchsia leggings that hugged her body like a second skin. She turned heads as she sashayed her way toward us, the tight leggings showing off more than I wanted to see of her swaying hips. A purse decorated with a rainbow of hearts hung on her forearm, and interlocking heart earrings dangled down to her shoulders.

“Humphrey,” she scolded sweetly, “you didn’t come to work last night. I was hoping I’d see you because I have an extra ticket to the cupcake feast tomorrow. Would you do me the honor of accompanying me?” Her voice surprised me. Soft and gentle, it didn’t match her bold appearance.

Behind her, I could see Renee Gatewood in the Sugar Baby Cupcakes booth stretching her neck and leaning a bit to see what was going on.

“Sorry, Myra. I bought a ticket months ago.” Humphrey’s shoulders relaxed.

“Oh! You bad, bad boy. Now what will I do with my extra one?”

Maurice Lester, a curmudgeon if I’d ever met one, ambled up. His nose arced outward rather prominently and was as narrow as he was thin. In dire need of a cut, his white hair hung limply along the sides of his face.

Maurice was so fixated on Myra that I didn’t think he noticed anything else. “I’ll go with you, my dear. I would be honored to be your escort.”

Myra cringed at his words. “I thought you already had a ticket.”

“No matter.” He smiled, revealing long, horsey teeth. “They’ve been sold out for months. I can probably sell it for twice what I paid for it.”

I stepped in to save poor Myra. “I believe scalping tickets is illegal. I’ll just refund your money, Myra.” Good thing I’d brought some extra cash for shopping. I held the bills out to her.

Maurice reached for them, but Myra snatched them away from him, and in spite of the heavy makeup, I could see gratitude in her expression.

“The tickets were ridiculously expensive,” Maurice complained.

I bit my lip to keep from saying what I thought—No oneforced him to buy one. Besides, it was all for a very worthy cause.

Myra edged away from Maurice. “Well, I’ll see you later.” She touched Humphrey’s sleeve, showing off long green fingernails with flashes of blue sparkle.

The pink circles on Humphrey’s cheeks radiated larger.

If Myra thought she would lose Maurice by leaving, she was dead wrong. He turned on his heel and hurried to catch up to her.

“I can’t believe you didn’t tell me about Myra.” Poor Humphrey had the worst luck with women. It probably didn’t help that he looked like the proverbial ninety-pound weakling and that he was as timid as he was pale, a shrinking violet, really. Totally clueless about women but painfully knowledgeable about many other things. We’d grown up together in a small Virginia town. When we were in school, he’d had a huge crush on me. Immersed in my own childhood issues, I had no idea about his young love until a few years ago when he confessed. Humphrey reminded me a little bit of a dog, in a good way—a loyal friend, on the ball and protective but prone to making a mess in the wrong yard.

Now that I looked at him more carefully, it dawned on me that his fleece pullover was hiding a little paunch. He’d put on some weight in his face, too. It filled him out a little bit and looked good on him.

“A woman is interested in you? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Myra works at the funeral home with me, but she’s not my type. She’s nice enough, but she’s rather boisterous. Draws too much attention to herself.”

What a shame. Finally, a woman who liked Humphrey, and he was being picky? “Have you gone out with her? Maybe she’s not so bad. She certainly seems to like you.” I returned to work, placing cerise cloths over two of the tables.

“At the office Christmas party last year she drank too much and started slinging her bra over her head like it was a rodeo lasso.”

Ouch. I bet she regretted that in the morning—in more ways than one. “Maurice certainly seems interested in her.”

“I loathe that man. He’s as cheap and tawdry as they come. He hangs around at the funeral home all the time to be near Myra. She hates it. Half the time she hides from him.”

“Can’t you put a stop to that?”

“He claims he’s there for the viewings that are open to the public.”

Humphrey was setting out the stack of adoption forms when Renee Gatewood rushed over. Every bit as petite and sweet as the cupcakes she baked, even her ruffled pink apron with chocolate polka dots and the Sugar Baby Cupcakes logo on it screamed sugar. “Humphrey, sweetie, could you do me a big favor? I’m short-handed and, as you well know,everything,just everything, has gone wrong.”

Sweetie?Had I entered some alternate universe where Humphrey actually attracted women? I lifted the box for best cupcake votes and took my time placing it on the table next to the adoption forms so I could watch what happened.

She brushed hair the color of light brown sugar out of her eyes. Her pixie face wrinkled with worry. “I found a desk for sale that I really need.” She gazed my way and angled toward me. “It’s so cute and dainty, with a fold-down writing area and the most darling little cubbyholes. I’m stuck here all day, and I have to bake cupcakes tonight. Could you be a dear and pick it up for me?”

“Of course!” Humphrey agreed fast. Too fast.

“Oh! You’re wonderful. Just wonderful!” She flitted back to her booth, sold a box of cupcakes, and returned. “Here’s the check to pay for it, and this is the address. I’ve asked Muffin to unlock the back door for you at the bakery, so you can swing it by whenever you have the time. I don’t know how I’ll ever thank you.”

From the look on Humphrey’s face, I had a pretty good idea that dating him would be thanks enough. Or were they already dating?

“It’s nothing. Glad to help.”

The second she flew back to her booth, Humphrey turned to me in a panic. “May I borrow your car? Mine isn’t big enough to transport a desk!”

I shouldn’t have laughed, but he was so desperate and earnest. “Yeah, sure. So what’s going on between you and Renee?”

His pale face flushed again. “Nothing.”

I dragged a dog pen to the open side of the booth. “Here, hold this. If nothing is going on, how come you were helping her set up her booth?”

“You and Nina weren’t here when I arrived this morning. Poor Renee was frazzled, so I offered to lend a hand. You needn’t sound so suspicious. All I did was help in the shop while Renee carried cupcakes over from the bakery.”

“I saw Joy’s new shop across the street.”

“Renee had no idea that was coming. The poor thing didn’t get any sleep last night. Joy blindsided her. It was a double whammy because they lived together. She lost her business partner and roommate.”

“She must have known something. When did Joy put up the big awning?”

“It was covered for days!” Humphrey sounded scandalized. “She did everything she could to hide her plans from poor Renee.”

Tugging, I unfolded the pen into an octagonal corral with a gate. Several dogs would fit easily. I handed him one end of a banner to attach to the poles that held up the back of the booth.

“I always thought Joy was such a nice person,” he continued. “But she left Renee high and dry. Didn’t even let on that she was leaving. Joy packed up her things and moved out.”

I frowned at him. Why did I think he might not know the full story? Renee must have suspected something. Surely they’d had a disagreement or a falling out.

We didn’t finish the booth a minute too soon. I was admiring the banner that saidCupcakes and Pupcakes Adoptions, Adopt a Pet and Save a Life, Donations Welcome,when a honking car horn caught our attention.

Nina had pulled up in a van. She reached out of the window and waved at us.

Minutes later, five dogs eagerly sniffed the corral from the inside, tails wagging, while Daisy welcomed them from the other side.

When four cats and seven kittens were safely caged and already being observed by admirers, Nina unfolded a chair and collapsed into it. “What a morning! It’s not even nine o’clock yet, and I’m ready for a nap. Are those cupcakes? Is one for me?” She selected one and peeled back the cupcake paper without waiting for an answer.

“Maybe I can pick up the animals tomorrow morning,” I offered.

She gave me a dark look. “That was the easy part. Besides, I need your help for the big cupcake feast tomorrow. If I ever want to do a fundraiser like Cupcakes and Pupcakes again, please shoot me and put me out of my misery. My phone has been ringing all morning. As soon as I finish one call, another one comes in.” She moaned so loud that the dogs stared at her. “People are crazy, nutso, cuckoo, and just plain weird. I’d rather work with a dog or a cat any day.”

I grinned at her exaggeration. As a professional event planner, I knew what she was going through. Last-minute cancellations and broken promises were the norm. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

Nina leaned back in the flimsy chair, her legs stretched out in front of her. “More coffee, please. And more cupcakes. I’m begging you. We’re surrounded by them, but I don’t have the strength to browse at the moment.”

It didn’t take much coaxing, because I’d been itching to have a look around now that everyone was set up.

I strolled past several cupcake booths, admiring colorful cupcakes set out in amazing displays. Renee at Sugar Baby had piped artistic kitty faces on her cupcakes. At Sweet Cakes, they had topped their cupcakes with dog faces made of icing and sprinkles. Heavenly Cupcakes had placed fat little marzipan dogs dusted with brown and gold colors atop their cupcakes. No two were alike. Some of the featured cupcakes were works of art. I couldn’t imagine biting into little frosting schnauzers and bulldogs. There were cupcakes representing every imaginable breed of dog and cat. Everyone had joined in the swing of things. Nina might be exhausted, but she had pulled off quite an extravaganza.

The buying had already begun, with Old Town’s dog owners eagerly browsing through booths with their pooches, purchasing dog outfits and toys from vendors geared to canine needs.

I picked up more lattes to boost our energy. On my way back, I bought three Dark Side Chocolate Cupcakes that were chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. Darling white puppy and kitten faces cut out of fondant adorned the tops. Just in case chocolate didn’t appeal to Humphrey and Nina, I also bought three Caramel Spice Cupcakes with white icing. Tiny signs that saidWoof!jutted out of the icing at a slant. And so Daisy wouldn’t feel left out, I bought her a barley apple pupcake iced with cream cheese.

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