Spicy Lasagna Murder: Book 13 in The Darling Deli Series (2 page)

BOOK: Spicy Lasagna Murder: Book 13 in The Darling Deli Series
13.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“Time for breakfast?” she asked. Recognizing the word, he leapt up and darted over to the back door, skidding to a stop just before he ran into it. Keeva, the giant Irish wolfhound that she had taken in a few months ago, loped over from the other end of the yard to investigate all the fuss. Smiling, Moira pulled the door open and let both dogs trot into the mudroom before following herself.

While the dogs gobbled their kibble, Moira pulled on her boots and double-checked her reflection in the mirror that hung inside the door of the hall closet. Her naturally curly hair was pulled up in a ponytail in deference to the breeze outside. She was wearing a maroon sweater and dark blue boot-cut jeans, which went well with the simple black, flat-soled boots she had decided on. She expected to walk quite a bit today, and the prospect of struggling through a corn maze in high heels didn’t appeal to her.

All in all, she thought she looked pretty good for a woman of her age. The scar on her forehead from her car accident was all but gone, thankfully. She had gotten tired of the constant questions about what had happened. Her shape wasn’t bad either. In her opinion she could stand to lose a few pounds, but considering that she spent all day around delicious food in which she was free to indulge, she wasn’t doing too poorly. At least her jeans still fit. Though maybe that didn’t mean much, considering that she had only bought them a few months ago.

A sleek back car pulled up her driveway, pulling her attention away from her reflection. She smiled as she always did when she saw that car. David was there.

David Morris was a private investigator who lived in Lake Marion, the next town over from her. They had met last winter when she had hired him to help solve a murder that had been linked to the deli, and their relationship had developed from there. They had shared many ups and downs together over the past months; she hadn’t expected to be in a relationship after her husband had left her.

“You look wonderful,” he said as he greeted her at the door. “But then you always do. Are you ready, or should I shut my car off and come in?”

“Just let me grab my purse and say goodbye to the dogs, and then I’ll be ready to go,” she said.

A minute later she was sliding into the passenger seat next to David. The heat was on low, and a song was playing softly on the radio. She set her purse down at her feet and leaned back against the seat, relaxing. The private investigator smiled over at her and gave her hand a squeeze before putting the car into gear and turning around in her driveway. They were off at last, to one of Moira’s favorite events of the season.

“So, how has everything been going?” he asked her as he drove. They hadn’t been able to see each other over the past week, and it was always nice to catch up on each other’s lives.

“Well, business at the deli has picked up since the weather got better,” she told him. “And as you saw, the dogs are both still doing well. I guess nothing really interesting has happened lately.”

“As far as I’m concerned, that’s a good thing.” He smiled at her. “How’s Candice?”

“Really well. She’s gotten a few orders for those custom chocolate molds that she was so excited about a few weeks ago. I think she would be doing even better if the store was in a bigger town—or even a city. Her homemade candies, chocolates, and fudges are so good, and she has great prices. I think there would be quite a few chances for her to take bulk orders if she had opened the store somewhere like Traverse City,” Moira told him.

“Has she thought about selling anything online?” the private investigator asked. “If she offered shipping, I bet she would get a lot of business. Plenty of people would want delicious, affordable chocolates in custom shapes. She could market to other businesses, graduation parties… the potential would be endless.”

“That’s a great idea,” she said. “I’ll tell her about it next time I see her. It would be amazing if she could build a national client base.”

She spent the rest of the drive contemplating the opportunities that Candice would have if she managed to succeed in selling custom candies and chocolates online.
Is there any sort of special licensing she would need to get?
she wondered. She would have to do some research—but later. Today she was determined to enjoy her date with David at the corn maze without any distractions.

Farmer Samwell and his wife lived outside of town on an expansive slice of land. Moira wasn’t sure how many acres they had, but she knew his property extended as far as the eye could see when she looked out from the farm house. The orchards had rows of trees perfectly straight and beautifully tended, and the Samwells also had two big barns, one recently granted a plaque from the Michigan Barn Preservation Society, while the other served as home for his horses, a team of which was already hooked up to the hay wagon when they pulled up the driveway. There was also a long, low building which housed the dairy cattle, and of course, the Samwells’ pride and joy: the rolling fields of corn.

“I guess we can park here,” David said, easing the car onto the grass next to a large SUV. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a corn maze. I’m glad we could both get the day off.” He gave her a quick kiss on the cheek before getting out of the car. She followed suit.

“Ms. Darling,” the farmer exclaimed when they approached the large tent under which people were gathering, where food was laid out on long tables and multiple coolers were filled to the brim with drinks and ice. “I’m so glad you were able to come.”

“Thanks for the invite, Mr. Samwell,” she said with a smile. “It looks better than ever this year. This is David Morris. He works in Lake Marion as a private investigator. You might have heard of him.”

“Indeed, I think I have. It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Morris.”

He shook David’s hand.

“This is quite the set-up you have here,” David told the farmer. “I can see why Moira was looking forward to this so much.”

“Every year it just gets better and better,” Moira told them. “I love the kickoff to the corn maze. It really makes it feel like fall.”

“Well you aren’t going to like my news, then,” he told her. A quick look over his shoulder confirmed that there was no one else within earshot. He leaned closer to them and said in a low voice, “It isn’t public knowledge yet, but this is going to be my last year here. I’m planning on retiring, and hopefully moving with Augusta somewhere that’s better for our health.”

“Oh no. Will the farm be closing down?” she asked.

“No, no, I plan on keeping it and renting out the land for use. I’m hoping to keep up most of the same crops here, just with different people tending to them. Renting out the house and land should be enough to keep the two of us afloat for quite some time.”

“That sounds like the perfect plan,” Moira told him. “I’m glad you’re going to get the chance to take some time for yourselves. Where do you think you’re going to move to?”

“Florida,” he said with a self-conscious grin. “Cliché, I know. A lot of people retire there, but for good reason. It’s affordable, with a great climate and great food.”

“That sounds nice,” she told him. “I hope the two of you enjoy living there. You’ve definitely earned it. Keeping this place up and running must have taken a lot of hard work over the years.”

“It was a labor of love,” he told her. “It was nice talking to you, Ms. Darling, Mr. Morris. You two have a nice time and enjoy yourselves. I have to go and greet some of my other guests.”

Moira thanked him once again for the invitation, then turned to walk with David over to the food tent. He took her hand and smiled down at her, and she leaned into him, happy. This day was turning out to be just wonderful.



After checking out what the food tables offered and saying hi to the few other guests that she knew, David and Moira decided to turn their attention to the corn maze.

“Better to figure it out before we eat too much,” he said. “We can come back and get our plates once we’ve earned it.”

“And then, after we don’t feel like walking anywhere, we can take a hayride,” she said, looking over to where the two beautiful bay horses were hitched to the wagon.

“Sounds like a plan,” the private investigator said with a grin.

The corn maze was different each year. The farmhand waiting at the entrance offered to give them a map of it, but they both declined, preferring to figure it out on their own. Moira knew from experience that the farmer tried to make the maze as tricky as possible, and it was always satisfying to make her way through without any help.

The farmhand asked them to wait for a few minutes so that they wouldn’t run into the last person who had gone into the maze. When he gave them the signal, the couple stepped forward eagerly. Once the tall stalks of corn surrounded them, it was as if they had entered another word entirely. The noise from the people chatting under the food tent died away, and other than the faint whinny of a horse and the lowing of the cows in the distance, they could have been anywhere.

“Does he do a haunted maze in October?” David asked as they walked. They were taking turns deciding which way to go, and so far hadn’t been able to tell if they were making progress or not.

“Yep,” she said. “He actually does two; a smaller maze for kids with things that are more fun than frightening, and a really creepy one for adults. Candice and I have gone every year for a long time.”

“That sounds fun,” he said, grinning. “I’ll have to check it out this year.”

They continued walking. The day, which had started off chilly, was heating up, thanks to the cloudless sky. Moira was beginning to wish she had worn a different top, or at least brought a shirt so that she could take off her sweater. The thought of the cold soda in the coolers back at the food tent made her quicken her step.

“What’s that?” David asked suddenly, pointing over the corn.

Moira looked in the direction he had indicated to see a black plume of smoke floating into the clear blue sky.

“Hmm,” she said. “Maybe they started the bonfire early today for some reason. They usually wait until it gets dark, though.”

David glanced at his watch.

“It’s only eleven,” he said. “It has to be something else.”

Moira frowned, but couldn’t think of what it could be. The barbecue? But that wouldn’t send up such a big plume of smoke, would it?

When they heard the screams, they both broke into a jog.

“Which way?” David said when they reached a T in the path.

“I don’t know!” the deli owner exclaimed. “Just choose a direction, I’ll follow.”

He chose right, and they both ran down the rows of corn. David took the turns quickly, making split-second decisions that Moira trusted. The plume of smoke in the sky got darker, and both of them could smell wood burning. At last they burst through the maze’s exit. Both of them stumbled to a halt as they saw the smoke billowing from the old barn’s door only a few dozen yards in front of them.

“Oh my goodness,” Moira exhaled, frozen in spot as flames licked through the small windows in the top half of the barn. A black pillar of smoke was already beginning to rise into the clear sky.

“Keep back,” David warned, putting a hand on her shoulder. “Old buildings can go up in flames fast, and you don’t want to be near it when it collapses.”

She took a step back, remembering the fire damage suffered by her own house all those months ago. The poor thing had barely been standing after the flames had been put out, and it had been built much more solidly than this barn was. How quickly would the fire engines be able to get here? Was there any hope of saving it?

“I hope no one was inside,” she said. At least she knew that there were no horses or other animals inside it—as far as she knew, Luke Samwell only used it to store hay, straw, and old equipment. He didn’t want to risk it collapsing on his animals during a storm. What on earth could have happened? Had one of the guests foolishly flicked a cigarette onto a pile of dry straw?

“Has anyone called this in?” David muttered, gazing at the crowd of people that was gathering some distance away from the barn. Moira looked too, but couldn’t see a single person with their cell phone to their ear. A few were recording the blaze, their phones held out in front of them with the camera pointing at the barn.

“My cell phone’s in my purse,” Moira said after quickly checking her pockets. “Should I go get it?”

“No, I’ll go. I left mine in the car as well, so I wouldn’t be distracted by work calls.” He shook his head, annoyed at himself. “Next time I’ll just leave it on silent. You stay here—don’t go any closer, and don’t disappear somewhere. The sooner we can get everyone accounted for and make sure no one’s missing, the better. I’ll be right back.”

She watched him turn and quickly jog off toward the farmhouse where they had parked the car. A giant
brought her attention back to the burning barn. She saw sparks fly up through the window only to fizzle out as they fell through the air. Her gaze went back to the group of people over by the food. Should she join them?
David asked me to stay here
, she thought.
If he turns around and sees that I’m gone, he’ll be worried. But I’m right by the exit to the corn maze. If anyone else comes out, I can warn them to keep back and tell them that David’s going to call for help.

BOOK: Spicy Lasagna Murder: Book 13 in The Darling Deli Series
13.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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