ENGAGED TO BE MURDERED (The Wedding Planner Mysteries Book 4) (6 page)

BOOK: ENGAGED TO BE MURDERED (The Wedding Planner Mysteries Book 4)
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              “Excuse me. What are these?”

              Annoyed, the kid sighed, held up a finger, and speed read through his novel until he found another good stopping place. Then he sauntered over, head cocked to the left so he could glare at her sideways.

              “Those? Those are tinctures.”

              “Tinctures?”

              He pulled a number of bottles out and set them on the counter for her inspection.

              “This one’s rose,” he stated, turning a bottle over in his hands until its label faced her. “It’s a scent.”

              Kitty smirked her irritation. She was well aware rose was a scent, but didn’t understand what the purpose of selling it in a jewelry store was.

              “It’s silver polish,” he explained off her confused look. “You rub it into the jewelry with a cloth.”

              “I see.”

              “It’s Sadie’s product. I’m not sure if she invented the idea of putting scents in the oil, but that’s what this is. You got rose, lavender, lily, sandalwood, which is meant for the men's jewelry, and pine, another masculine scent. Interested?”

              “Possibly,” said Kitty thinking fast. “Are there any in the back?”

              He cocked his head, this time in the opposite direction.

              “In the studio?”

              “I’m not going to sell you a used bottle,” he smirked as though he was doing her a favor.

              “Why not? I’ll pay full price. I’d like to buy all the tinctures back there in the studio.”

              The kid whistled then shook his head as if to imply she was nuts. “They’re thirty a bottle.”

              “Thirty dollars?” She exclaimed, astonished, as she lifted one of the bottles to meet her eye. “It’s barely an ounce.”

              “Yeah, well, the rent’s too damn high.”

             
That was no excuse, and how would he know how high the rent was?
But Kitty couldn’t argue or haggle. “Fine. I’ll pay. Just bring what you have and quickly please.”

              Just as the kid was passing through the curtain, Sadie came out, wiping grease from her hands with a rag. The task held her full attention, but eventually she lifted her gaze and found Kitty directly in front of her.

              “Enjoy the party last night?” Kitty asked then quickly realized it was a morbid question.

              Sadie shrugged. “Sure, I love a little murder with my whiskey.”

             
How would she know it was murder?

              “Speaking of,” Kitty said with a smile. “I presume you put those bottles to good use.”

              “If you’re asking if I took the scotch and whiskey home with me, I did. Got a problem with that?”

              “I don’t, no. But my
boyfriend
did.” Kitty’s new favorite thing was not only using the term, boyfriend, but emphasizing the word.

              “Oh, you mean the hunk who was flirting with me?” she said with a snide smile.

              Kitty couldn’t maintain her preferred level of grace. Her entire face fell then pinched into a furious glare.

              “He liked my tats,” she went on then pulled the waist of her leather pants down so Kitty could see the back curve of her left hip, revealing a small skull and crossbones tattoo. “Especially this one. Made an excuse of grazing his finger over it and everything.”

              Kitty wanted to doubt that, but Sadie’s confidence made it difficult.

              “If you’re here to find out if I slept with him, I haven’t.”

              “That’s not why I’m—”

              “Yet.” Sadie took a step back and looked her up and down. “I’m so his type,” she went on. “I wonder what he’s doing with you. Maybe he lost a bet.”

              Kitty’s mouth was ajar.

              “I’m looking forward to seeing him.”

              Suddenly, Kitty realized Sadie was only trying to provoke her, but why? They’d managed to be civil to one another throughout dealing with Trudy’s engagement ring. Sadie had never come off intentionally abrasive or threatening. What had changed?

              Then it struck her. It very well could be about Sterling. Sadie hadn’t actually known Kitty was with him. She’d have no reason to know. Maybe she liked what she’d seen in him at the party and instantly decided Kitty was the enemy.

              “Hang on,” Kitty said, shaking out of her silent analysis. “You aren’t going to see Sterling.”

              “Sure I am. He called me and everything. We’re getting lunch.”

              Kitty’s blood started boiling, but she drew in a deep breath to center herself.

              “You and I had an agreement that you would resize Trudy’s ring and you didn’t. You hired a third party.”

              “How would you know?”

              “You told Trudy yourself in the supermarket yesterday morning, saying the ring had been ready for a week. I demand to know why you lied to me and I demand to know the name of the consultant who did the actual work.”

              “You’ve got a lot of demands,” Sadie mused. “What you don’t have is leverage.”

              Kitty glared.

              “The work is done. I gave you the ring.”

              “It killed Margie.”

              “That’s not my problem. All I know is our business has concluded, and I’m about to meet your boyfriend for a lunch date.”

              “Do you have any idea how guilty you look?” Kitty asked, but it didn’t rattle her.

              Sadie chuckled. “I know exactly what I look like... the kind of woman Sterling wants.” The jeweler let that hang so Kitty would quaver then said, “If you’ll excuse me. I ought to freshen up, and by freshen up I mean swig a little of that fine whiskey you gave me. Men like Sterling love it when their chicks come a bit boozy.”

              Sadie disappeared behind the curtain. 

             
The nerve of that woman!

              Well, this little venture certainly backfired.

              Kitty produced her cell phone as she padded toward the glass door. She was terrified to confront Sterling, but something told her Sadie wasn’t lying. The woman probably knew that nothing hurt like the truth, and she’d delivered quite a blow.

              Sterling’s line rang and rang.

              “Hey Miss!”

              Kitty turned just shy of the door and saw the kid jog over with a paper bag.

              She’d entirely forgotten.

              “Goodness,” she said, feeling the bag’s weight in her arms. “How much?”

              “Hundred eighty... plus tax.”

              Appalled, Kitty reasoned she had no choice. Any lead was better than none. She slapped two bills into the kid's hand and told him to keep the change.

              “A twenty dollar tip?” He questioned.

              “You want me to take it back?”

              “No!” Then he smiled, brightly flashing the innocence he’d worked hard to mask with piercings and tattoos. “Thanks so much!”

              Before turning for the door, it occurred to her that this kid might serve another purpose.

              “Do you know of a consultant Sadie works with?”

              “Consultant?”

              “Yeah, anyone who also models jewelry back there with her when she’s pressed for time?”

              “Oh, you mean Jimmy?”

              Kitty raised her brows. “Jimmy? Does he have a last name?”

              “Yeah,” he replied, but had to fall into deep thought before he found the surname. “Kimball. That’s it. James Kimball. Tall guy. Buzzed hair, right? Always wears a suit.”

             
The man from the coffee shop.

              “Do you know if he worked on Trudy Sanders’ engagement ring for the Sanders - Walsh wedding?”

              “I’m really not sure.”

              “How does Sadie know Jimmy Kimball?”

              He shook his head.

              “Do you know Mr. Kimball’s phone number? Could you get it for me?”

              “Oh, hey, I really don’t know.”

              “I just gave you a twenty dollar tip!”

              The kid sighed and Kitty could tell he wanted to help, but didn’t have the information on hand.

              “All I know is that he’s staying at the Harbor Inn on Pleasant Lane. It’s across from the Spotted Pig.”

              “The bar?”

              “It’s also a music venue,” he smiled proudly, as though he was in the know when it came to cool after-hours joints.

              “Thanks, oh and if Sadie asks where the studio tinctures went—”

              “I won’t say a thing.”

              Kitty turned for the door as soon as she noticed Sadie had returned behind the counter, and she didn’t get two steps before Sterling stepped in from the street.

              For once in his life, he looked like he’d actually put some thought into his appearance.

Chapter Six

              “What are you doing here?” He asked through a nervous grin, his voice low and discreet.

              But she didn’t answer. Kitty stared at him as though his very presence at Adorned was some kind of blow he hadn’t meant to cause. Her hazel eyes fell into a hurt squint. Her mouth slumped into a pinched frown. Then she drew in a deep breath, puffed her chest and held her head high.

              “You look nice,” she commented, but it sounded like an accusation.

              “Thanks?”

              Sterling ran his palm down the front of his green sweater then glanced at his shoes—polished leather boots tucked under black jeans, and yes they were new. Yes he looked nice.
What was the problem?

              “Why do you look so nice, Sterling?”

              He shouldn’t have glanced over his shoulder to see if Sadie was behind the counter, but that’s what he did. It was only when he returned his gaze to Kitty that he realized the gesture had come across like his answer to her pained question.

              “Oh, no,” he said, studying her expression. “No, that’s not why I look nice.”

              She raised her brows, not buying it.

              “You asked me to look into Sadie and that’s what I’m here to do.”

              “Did you have to dress so well?” she snapped, leaning in. She sniffed. “You smell good too.”

              It wasn’t a compliment.

              “I showered. I do that sometimes.”

              Kitty huffed, tossed her hair, and was sure to clip his arm with her shoulder as she barreled past him for the door.

              For all his efforts to keep things good between them, he’d ruined it in one fell swoop, having the audacity to bathe and pull on a new pair of jeans for once in his life. Sometimes there was just no winning with that woman. Even still, watching her sashay down the snowy sidewalk with her dress swaying and wedged heels stomping warmed his heart.

              She wasn’t just a crazy woman. She was
his
crazy woman, and he wouldn’t trade her for the world, though at the moment he was pretty sure she’d trade him for boxed wine and a night with Trudy, unfettered by his closed off nature and hungry eyes.

              When she disappeared into her Fiat, he said a silent prayer that he wouldn’t get a call later that she’d been arrested. Then he turned for Sadie Francis.

              What’s the opposite of a sight for sore eyes? Because whatever that was, described Sadie. Yet the woman brought a smile to his face.

              She was the totality of every chick he’d been tight with in college: one of the dudes, a girl who’d knock back whiskeys and have something to say about the game on TV, someone who could throw down in a dive bar if push came to shove and give decent dating advice when the girl he really wanted was slipping away.

              They’d had a few laughs at Happily Ever After last night before poor Margie McAlister had dropped dead. They’d given each other bro’ed out tours of their tattoos, trying to outdo one another and prove they had more ink. He’d won, but not by a landslide.

              As he came to the glass counter, Sadie smirked wickedly at him and tapped her many rings against the glass. Sterling had to remind himself that just because Sadie looked like his old friends from years back, didn’t mean she wasn’t his prime suspect. She’d have to prove she hadn’t been the only person who’d handled Trudy’s engagement ring. If she couldn’t, he’d have to take her downtown.

              “She doesn’t get you, you know,” said Sadie, tone raspy from too many cigarettes and maybe a touch of allure.

              “Who? Kitty?”

              “Opposites don’t always attract as well as you’d think,” she went on. “You fight with the priss all the time, don’t you?”

              It was more like a statement and Sterling wasn’t sure he should indulge her, though he was curious. Maybe she’d have some advice for handling a doll like Kitty.

              “Fighting ain’t all bad,” he offered.

              Sadie’s lip curled into an asymmetrical smile that told Sterling he’d been more suggestive than he’d meant.

              “We don’t really fight.”

              Her hand wrapped his forearm and she whispered, “Sure you do.”

              Sterling stared at her hand and realized the true reason Kitty had been astonished he’d dressed well.

              Not willing to release him before she’d gotten her full point across, Sadie seductively grazed her thumb over his tattoo and eyed him with unmistakable interest.

              Sterling let out an uncomfortable yet smirking sigh and slowly drew his hand away from the counter so she’d have to let him go. She did, but the stance she took after was equally heavy-handed, hip thrust out, back arched to help her boobs swell under the leather that held them.

              He’d never actually gone for a girl like Sadie. He liked his women soft and feminine, albeit modelesque. Kitty had certainly been an exception, but his favorite one.

              He couldn’t remember what he might’ve done to lead this woman on.

              “You know I’m here to ask you a few things,” he stated, but in a kind tone so she wouldn’t feel rejected. If she really was interested in him, he could use it to his advantage. If Sadie felt that divulging the facts would bond them that could prove very, very useful.

              “Shoot,” she said by way of an invitation.

              “Can we go someplace private?”

              She was grinning again.

              “Maybe in the back?”

              “You got it.”

              Sadie produced a pack of cigarettes from her cleavage as she led Sterling around the black curtain. The back studio was a mess of dust and hardware. There were several machines that he assumed aided in the craft of making jewelry. He noted a kiln, a number of presses, as well as large bins stocked full with different kinds of metals.

              He was ready with his lighter before Sadie could produce hers. She sucked hard on her cigarette, pulling in the flame, and never took her eyes off him.

              Sterling shook one of his own cigarettes from the soft pack he kept in his front pocket and lit up as well.

              As he took a few drags to get his head straight, Sadie hopped up on a large table in the center of the studio, and widened her legs.

              Sterling wondered if she had any idea how masculine she looked. Yes, she had curves and dressed to flaunt them, but her actual posture, the way she held herself, could rival any man. Not to mention that having that many tattoos, that many piercings, sent a certain message to the world, and not necessarily a good one. It wasn’t lost on him that he was exercising a huge double standard, but it was what it was. Tattoos on a man were sexy and considered a sign of rugged strength. When found on a woman, they tended to scream
lesbian
or
my uncle did things to me I’ll never forget.

              “So are we just gonna stare at each other?” She asked with a flirty edge of sarcasm. “Or would you like to come a little closer?”

              He laughed, pulled on his cigarette, as he eyed her then said, “I have a few questions, like I said.”

              “I’m waiting.”

              “You received Trudy’s engagement ring to be resized three weeks ago and it was Kitty Sinclair who dropped it off with you.”

              She angled her eyes away from the stream of smoke that was billowing up from her cigarette. “That’s right.”

              “And you did the work, alone?”

              “Mostly.”

              “Who helped you?”

              “I have lots of helpers. You saw Kyle in the front. I have other employees. Nothing’s locked back here. They all have keys.”

              “I’m talking about who else handled the diamond ring.”

              “Is that really what killed her?”

              Sterling held her gaze, which was enough of an answer.

              “I wouldn’t want to kill that woman, I didn’t even know her.”

              “I think Margie’s death wasn’t expected. It was Trudy’s ring after all.”

              “I don’t know Trudy,” she countered.

              “I want names, Sadie.” His tone had dropped. He didn’t have time for games.

              Evidently, Sadie did, which she indicated by pulling down the front zipper of her leather corset. “Is that all you want?”

              A colossal waste of time, thought Sterling as he slammed his palm to the glass door, throwing it open and stomping out of Adorned.

              As he walked through snow and wind gusts he couldn’t help but wonder if Kitty had made better progress. She’d been there for a reason and she certainly had her ways. He’d half a mind to ask her directly, but he’d made such a consistent stand against her meddling that he knew to ask would condone that type of behavior in the first place. Still, he couldn’t stop himself from feeling dire curiosity.

              Sadie had given him nothing except an unsolicited peek at the twins, which he’d diverted his gaze from the second he’d realized her intension. It’d been worse than accidentally glimpsing the sun. The image was burned into his retina. Close his eyes or keep them open, there they were, two mounds he’d never wanted to see.

              He’d need at least an hour with Kitty between the sheets to flush Sadie from his system, but he’d no chance of getting that kind of time with her. Not unless he felt like groveling through his reasons for daring to wear new pants.

              Sterling yanked his Jeep’s driver’s side door open and hopped in then slammed it shut.

              He was unnerved and annoyed and downright anxious, but as much as he’d like to direct his anger at Sadie Francis, Sterling realized he could only be mad at himself. It wasn’t that he was pissed for inadvertently leading a biker chick on or because he was in the doghouse again with Kitty, a hole he could never seem to fully dig himself out of. It was because he’d opened up to her about his mother and his wife. She didn’t need to know about any of that. And sharing it with her had left him raw and out of sorts.

              Some demons were best left in the past.

              As if by divine intervention, Sterling was jerked to the present when his cell phone vibrated in his pocket.

              He swiped the screen fast and stated his name.

              “It’s Greer over in forensics,” a surly woman explained.

              “What’s up?”

              “Kitty Sinclair paid me a visit. You might want to get over here.”

BOOK: ENGAGED TO BE MURDERED (The Wedding Planner Mysteries Book 4)
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