GOODBYE CRULLER WORLD
The yelling began almost the second I started walking down the driveway between Deputy Donut, the café that my father-in-law and I owned, and Dressed to Kill, Jenn Zeeland’s cute clothing boutique.
The loud argument wasn’t going on inside Deputy Donut, where Tom was finishing the day’s tidying. It was going on inside Dressed to Kill, where I was heading. I couldn’t make out the words, but the women spewing them were obviously angry.
I almost turned around and went back to Deputy Donut.
However, it was nearly five. In ten minutes, Dressed to Kill would close for two weeks, and I needed the black jeans and white shirts that I’d ordered. Besides, what if Jenn was in danger?
I hurried to the front of Dressed to Kill.
I wasn’t about to barge inside without peeking in first. Jenn’s display windows were lovely, but I couldn’t see beyond her hand-knit sweaters, mittens, scarves, and hats, and the cords and down-filled vests that went with them. The clothes were draped over antique skis, sleds, skates, and snowshoes. In one window, an electric fireplace sent warm hues rippling over the entire scene. It could have been very welcoming if women inside the store hadn’t been screaming at each other only seconds before.
A red-faced woman burst out of Dressed to Kill. She muttered, “Don’t go in there,” budged past me, and raced south on Wisconsin Street.
My training kicked in. Get a description, Emily.
I guessed she was in her mid to late forties. She was tall and angular with straight brown, flyaway hair. Her mid-calf, flowing dress, a floral print in blue and white, hung several inches below an unbuttoned navy wool coat. She hadn’t zipped up the sides of her tan, knee-high leather boots. With their tops flapping and threatening to trip her with each step, she ran past the bookstore and the artisan’s co-op, and then she turned right and disappeared. For a few seconds, I heard the clap, clap, clap of those unzipped boots.
I had never seen her before.
I again considered returning to Deputy Donut. Before Tom and I opened our coffee and donut shop, he had been Fallingbrook’s police chief. Tom could handle whatever had gone on inside Dressed to Kill.
And so can you, Emily.
I pulled the door open. Tiny bells jingled.
Usually, unless Jenn was busy with a customer, she heard the bells, peeked around racks of clothing, and greeted me.
This time, she didn’t. I was getting twitchy.
That shouting I’d heard earlier . . .
And now, this breathless quiet . . .
I told myself I was being overly dramatic. Jenn knew I was coming. Besides, she was probably immersed in wedding preparations.
I tiptoed into the store. I couldn’t help touching, with one tentative finger, an emerald green velvet cocktail dress. It would be perfect for Jenn’s reception the next night, but I was attending the reception late, only to keep the donut wall stocked, and I would be wearing my Deputy Donut uniform. The black jeans and white shirt would be new, though, if Jenn was here to give them to me.
“Jenn?” I called.
I walked farther into the store, past a table of neatly folded sequined sweaters. “Jenn?”
Near the back of the store, a door slammed or something fell.
“Jenn!” I sounded a little frantic. “Are you here?” If she didn’t answer by the count of ten, I was going back to Deputy Donut for Tom.
I got to eight, and then footsteps approached from the office beyond the dressing cubicles. Someone vigorously blew a nose.
Tall and slender, dressed in tight jeans and a luscious coral sweater that she must have designed, Jenn came out from between the dressing rooms. Her head was bowed, and her long blond hair hung down like curtains, concealing the sides of her face. “Hey, Emily,” she mumbled toward her sweater. “I’ll get the things you ordered.” She walked away quickly, like she didn’t want me to get a good look at her.
It was too late.
I’d already noticed her red and swollen eyelids.
The poor thing. She was only a little older than I was, in her mid-thirties, but the sad eyes aged her, and in less than twenty-four hours, she was scheduled to wow everyone with her long white dress and the radiance that wedding guests expected from brides.
She returned, holding the clothes, which were on hangers, high, as if she were hiding behind them. She walked to the cash desk at the front of the store and hung the garments on a rack. I followed. Fiddling with receipts and invoices, she didn’t meet my gaze. “These should fit,” she said. “Teensy for you and muscular for Tom.”
I tried to prolong the joking atmosphere. “You’ve changed the names of sizes?” She raised her face, and I couldn’t ignore the tear rolling down her cheek. “What’s wrong, Jenn?”
“Everything. I wish I had your curls.”
I couldn’t believe she was crying because she didn’t have a crop of unruly dark curls.
“AND those vivid blue eyes.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said. “Nearly everyone wants straight blond hair like yours, and your hazel eyes are beautiful. Besides, curls seldom behave the way I want them to.” Plunking a hand on my Deputy Donut cap, a police hat with a faux-fur donut attached where the badge would ordinarily be, I accidentally pushed the cap down. It nearly covered my eyes. “It’s a good thing I designed a hat to hide my hair at work.” I shoved the hat up again. “The bad news is that when I remove it every evening, I have a bad case of hat head.”
“The blond is out of a bottle, but the straight is real. Without the help of chemicals, my hair is mousey brown. Like my sister’s. Do you know Suzanne?”
She was jumping so quickly from subject to subject that I couldn’t do much besides shake my head and clench my teeth to prevent my mouth from gaping open.
“She just left,” Jenn said. “I thought maybe you saw her. She’s my half-sister, really. We had different fathers. She’s ten years older, and when our mother got sick, Suzanne promised to look after me. I was only nine. Looking after is one thing, but...” She blew her nose again. “Smothering is quite another. I mean, we work together here all right.”
“Here? I never saw her before today.” I didn’t mean to sound skeptical.
“We own Dressed to Kill together, fifty-fifty. She does the books, usually at night, long after you’ve closed Deputy Donut. She doesn’t like dealing with customers or ordering clothes, so I do all that. She says it would be different if we sold shoes. She loves shoes and knows just about everything there is to know about footwear.”
Maybe wearing boots unzipped and flopping around one’s ankles was the latest trend. Would knowledge about footwear make someone cry? “Did she upset you?”
Jenn wailed, “She told me to cancel the wedding. Told me!”
All I managed was, “oh.” Did Jenn’s half-sister want Jenn’s fiancé for herself?
Apparently not. “She hates Roger! She always has. She never gave him half a chance.”
Still not knowing quite what to say, I mumbled something meant to sound sympathetic.
“I never should have agreed to marry him in the first place, but the wedding’s tomorrow, and now it’s way too late to change my mind.”
Seriously confused, I held up a hand. “Wait. Don’t you want to marry him?”
“Yes. No.” She strode to the cash desk and grabbed a fresh tissue. “I don’t know. To make matters worse, I haven’t told Roger that I invited my old boyfriend to the wedding and reception. There was never a right time to tell Roger. And my old boyfriend and I are just friends, really, but he’s one of my best friends.”
I saw where this could pose a problem. “Maybe you should tell Roger before tomorrow. Or, wouldn’t a best friend understand if you uninvited him?”
She clicked long and shapely nails against the cash desk. “I couldn’t do either of those things. Uninviting someone would be just too rude. And I don’t want to make Roger angry tonight, the night before our wedding. I’ll just have to trust that he won’t make a scene tomorrow.”
Some people were really good at causing problems for themselves. I suggested, “If you’re not sure about marrying Roger, maybe you could postpone the wedding until you know what you want to do.”
“I do know. Marry Roger. I’m just having pre-wedding jitters, I guess. They say every bride has them.”
I’d never had the least doubt about marrying Alec.
As if I’d said it aloud, she apologized. “I shouldn’t be reminding you. You must miss your husband.”
“That’s okay. I’ve finally reached the stage where thinking about him brings back wonderful memories.” Still, I couldn’t help remembering the night that my detective husband was killed while on duty, and it still hurt. “Why did your sister wait so long to tell you to cancel the wedding?”
Jenn bowed her head again, letting her hair fall in front of her face. “She’s been saying it all along. She told me to stop seeing him when we were first dating. Like it’s any of her business, you know? And this afternoon, she went ballistic on me, screaming, yelling, the whole nine yards. For no reason, other than this last-ditch attempt to get me to drop Roger.”
“Is she married?”
“No. Never has been. And I know she cares about me, really. It’s just that . . .”
“Smothering,” I repeated.
“She doesn’t want me to move away from Fallingbrook, either.”
“Are you going to? We’d all miss you—and your wonderful shop. I love how you turned your online knitting and knitwear design business into a bricks-and-mortar store.” And I’d been buying a lot of sweaters . . . “But you can run your online store from wherever you live, can’t you?”
“I don’t plan to close Dressed to Kill, but Suzanne says that Roger won’t let me stay in business, period. She thinks he’s jealous of my success. But how could he be? He’s doing great as a life coach, even though he inherited so much from some distant relative that he doesn’t have to work. Suzanne says that Roger has always moved around, and he’s not going to want to stay in Fallingbrook. She even uses his wealth against him, saying it will allow him to live anywhere.” Jenn’s face crumpled and tears welled in her eyes. “Just now, she accused me of being a gold-digger.”
“That’s nonsense.” Jenn seemed too sweet to marry a man only for his money. She had to care about him. “He used to live in Fallingbrook, didn’t he? And he came back, so maybe he’s ready to settle down, with you, here.”
“I hope so. I don’t think I could bear to part with Dressed to Kill.” She gave a resigned little shrug. “But I might have to. The things we do for love.” Her half-hearted attempt at a smile didn’t reach her eyes. “And the things we do because we’ve already planned a wedding. Maybe I could have cancelled it a year or even six months ago, but now it’s too late. For instance, you and Tom—you wouldn’t let me put down a deposit. You built that donut wall and you’re planning to stay up tomorrow night to provide late-night snacks for our guests. You’ve probably ordered tons of extra ingredients for the donuts and crullers. I can’t ask you to cancel now.”
“It wouldn’t be a problem. We can use that donut wall another time, and the ingredients will keep. But you’d lose your deposit on the banquet hall rental and the meals you ordered, and you probably can’t send your dress back, and . . .” Why was I giving her excuses to marry someone who, I was beginning to suspect, might make her unhappy?
“Yeah, it’s definitely too late. And I want to marry Roger. I do.” She gave me a watery smile. “‘I do.’ See? I’m already practicing my lines for tomorrow.”