Authors: Patti Benning
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Spicy Lasagna Murder
Book Thirteen in the Darling Deli Series
Copyright 2016 Summer Prescott Books
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Book Thirteen in the Darling Deli Series
Moira Darling looked out the large-pane window at the front of her deli and sighed. The weather, which had been dismal all week, seemed to have reached an all-time low. A cold rain was falling outside—the sort of drizzle that could last all day—and an intermittent wind occasionally gusted with enough force to drive the water droplets against the face of the little store.
I don’t blame anyone for wanting to stay nice and warm in their homes in this weather
, she thought. Business at Darling’s DELIcious Delights had been slower than usual since the rain had started, and it wasn’t likely to pick up any time soon.
She already missed the hot, sunny days of summer. What had happened to the year? So much had happened in what seemed like such a short period of time. Since last winter she had expanded her business, found an amazing man to share life’s ups and downs, bought a new house, and even a new car.
The SUV that was currently sitting in the parking lot getting rained on was a pale mint green, a color that went well with her own green eyes. A step above her previous car, which had gotten totaled a few weeks ago when she was ran off the road by a madman, the SUV had a lot more space for her two large dogs. It also had a sunroof, a backup camera which came in useful when Keeva’s and Maverick’s heads were blocking her view out the back window, and the ability to communicate with her phone to make calls and send text messages using voice commands. She hadn’t quite figured out all the bells and whistles, but knew those features would come in handy.
Her train of thought was interrupted when an old, beat-up white pickup truck pulled into the parking lot. The deli owner jumped up from her seat, glad to finally have a customer. Whoever had decided to come in on such a dreary day was sure to want a nice warm cup of coffee or bowl of soup, and Moira had the best soup in town.
A moment later she recognized the figure that approaching through the rain. It was Luke Samwell, an organic farmer who supplied her with over half of her fresh produce and meat.
What is he doing here?
she wondered. He stopped in occasionally to see how she was doing and talk about any changes in his crops that he was planning on making in the next year, but he rarely stopped in just to eat. This wasn’t the sort of weather she would expect to see him in, anyway. The farmer was a stickler about safety, and she couldn’t imagine him venturing out in so much wind and rain unless it was important.
“Hello, Mr. Samwell,” she said as he came in and shook off his umbrella. “What can I get you?”
“Oh nothing, thank you, Ms. Darling. I just thought I’d stop by and deliver your invitation to my corn maze in person. Its opening day is next week.” The older man reached into his coat pocket and pulled out an ivory envelope. He handed it to her, then paused to cough. Moira frowned. He didn’t sound good.
“Thanks, I’ll be sure to put it in my calendar,” she told him. “I always love going.” Every year the farmer invited his loyal customers to a day of fun at his corn maze, which he intricately redesigned each autumn. The deli owner had always had fun at the event; it was a great way to get to know the other local farmers and small business owners.
“Slow today?” he asked, looking around at the empty deli.
“Yeah, it’s this weather. No one wants to drive in it. I was surprised to see you pull up, to be honest.”
“I had a doctor’s appointment that I couldn’t put off anymore,” he said with a grimace, taking his glasses off to clean them as they fogged up from the warmer air of the deli.
“Oh… well, I hope it went all right,” she said.
“They never do at my age.” He heaved a sigh, then shook his head and gave her a quick smile. “I look forward to seeing you at the corn maze. It’s going to be extra special this year.”
He turned on his heel and left. Moira watched until he was safely in his truck, then went behind the register to perch on the stool and take a look at her invitation. Sure enough, it included a plus one. She smiled and pulled out her cell phone after making sure no one else was pulling into the parking lot. With any luck, she would have a date this year.
“Hey, Ms. D,” Darrin said as he let himself in a few hours later. “How’s it been going today?”
Darrin, a tall young man with dark hair in his early twenties, was the employee who had been with Moira at the deli the longest. He was hard working and reliable, and had been doing a stellar job as the manager for the last few months.
“Slow,” she told him. “I wouldn’t want it to be like this every day, but it’s been a nice change of pace.” She held up her book, a mystery novel by one of her favorite authors, and he smiled.
“A day to relax every once in a while isn’t a bad thing,” he agreed. “And we’re usually busy enough to more than make up for days like this.”
It was true. Darling’s DELIcious Delights had seen a major boost in business over the past year, so much so that Moira had expanded the deli’s hours, bought a refrigerated truck for catering, and even had a website professionally designed to help streamline things. What had started as a hobby had grown into so much more.
“With that catering job in a couple of weeks, we’ll easily more than make up for missing out on some business today,” she agreed. “Speaking of that… I’m guessing that’s why you’re here?”
Her employee nodded. “I figured it’s as good a day as any to get a start on those order forms. This way I won’t have to try to do it while also ringing up customers or serving food.”
Moira chuckled. “You’re quite a hard worker, Darrin. Coming in even on your day off—and in weather like this, no less—to work on order forms… I honestly don’t know if even I would have shown the same dedication to work at your age.”
“It’s easy when you like your job, Ms. D,” he said.
“I guess it is,” she said with a smile, thinking of all of the extra hours she had put in at the deli herself.
“Hey, look, someone braved the weather,” he said suddenly, nodding toward the windows. Moira looked out to see another familiar car pulling in. It was Martha, one of her best friends and confidantes. Both were busy women, and rarely got the chance to see each other more often than once a week, so surprise visits like this were a treat.
“Oh boy,” the other woman said as she hurried inside, her jacket pulled up over her head to fend off the rain. “This is insane. I miss the sun.”
“Me too,” the deli owner said. “It’s great to see you though, sun or no. Do you want a coffee or anything?”
“Coffee, sure. I won’t stay for long, though. I got off work early because according to the news, this is only supposed to get worse this evening. I want to get home and let Diamond out before it starts thundering. Poor thing is afraid of storms.”
Diamond was a little black-and-white dog that Martha had rescued a few months ago. She got along famously with Maverick and Keeva, and was generally a cheerful little canine. Moira didn’t know much about her history, but the dog was certainly loved now.
“She’s such a sweetheart. I’m sure with you comforting her it won’t be too bad,” she told her friend.
“That’s my hope. I actually stopped by to ask you about her. Would it be all right if I dropped her off this weekend? Sorry for not giving you more notice, but my boss needs me at a conference down in Lansing since his normal assistant is getting surgery.”
“Sure, she’s never any trouble. I’m always happy to watch her.”
“Thanks. It means a lot to me. I hate having to kennel her.”
“Well, I love having a third dog around for the weekend, and I’m pretty sure my two enjoy it, too.”
“Do you think you’ll ever get a third one of your own?” her friend asked.
“No way,” Moira said with a chuckle. “I think three would be too many for me to have permanently. How would I give them all enough attention? When it’s just for a weekend, I don’t feel bad giving Diamond extra attention because I know Keeva and Maverick will have me to themselves again in just a few days.”
“Maybe you could foster dogs,” Martha mused. “Anyway, I should get going. I can’t wait to get home, dry off, and settle in with Diamond. It’s been a long day for me so far. Thanks for the coffee.”
“No problem. I’ll see you on Friday when you drop off Diamond. Be careful driving home—visibility must be terrible out there.”
She watched her friend pull up her jacket up and dash from the deli to her car. With a chuckle, Moira grabbed the empty coffee cup and slipped through the sliding door to the kitchen. Maybe she
look into fostering dogs with nowhere else to go. The only problem would be not keeping all of them.
The day of the corn maze was bright and chilly. Even though autumn had just begun, the promise of winter was already in the air. Standing on the back porch while the dogs sniffed around the yard, she could smell the smoky scent of a neighbor’s wood-burning stove. The leaves on the trees had even more color than they had last week, and as she watched, a light breeze knocked one of the drier ones to the ground, which Maverick, her German shepherd, trotted over to examine hopefully. Deciding it wasn’t food, he quickly lost interest and padded over to sit in front of Moira.