Cake Popped Off (Cupcake Catering Mystery Series) by Kim Davis
About Cake Popped Off
Cozy Mystery 2nd in the Series
Publisher: Cinnamon & Sugar Press (September 22, 2020)
Print Length: 295 pages Digital ASIN: B08DZ7Z96H
Cupcake caterer Emory Martinez is hosting a Halloween bash alongside her octogenarian employer, Tillie. With guests dressed in elaborate costumes, the band is rocking, the cocktails are flowing, and tempers are flaring when the hired Bavarian Barmaid tries to hook a rich, hapless husband. Except one of her targets happens to be Emory’s brother-in-law, which bodes ill for his pregnant wife. When Emory tracks down the distraught barmaid, instead of finding the young woman in tears, she finds her dead. Can she explain to the new detective on the scene why the Bavarian Barmaid was murdered in Emory’s bathtub with Emory’s Poison Apple Cake Pops stuffed into her mouth?
With an angry pregnant sister to contend with, she promises to clear her brother-in-law’s name. As Emory starts asking questions and tracking down the identity of the costumed guests, she finds reasons to suspect her brother-in-law has been hiding a guilty secret. Her search leads her to a web of blackmail and betrayal amongst the posh setting of the local country club crowd. Can Emory sift through the lies she’s being told and find the killer? She’ll need to step up her investigation before another victim is sent to the great pumpkin patch in the sky.
🎃🎃🎃 Includes spooky Halloween recipes! 🎃🎃🎃
A low roar filled my ears right before a whoosh of hot blue flames raced toward my face. Blistering heat singed my bangs, but I stood still, rooted in place. I couldn’t move. My mind screamed for me to get a fire extinguisher, except I had no idea which cabinet held it. Large hands shoved me aside then slammed the oven door shut. I watched, mesmerized, as the flames flickered out.
“What are you trying to do, burn my grandmother’s house down?” The deep voice sounded angry.
I turned to see dark-green eyes that smoldered in a classically handsome face. A scowl created furrow lines in his forehead that his carefully coiffed blond hair didn’t quite cover up. He must have been the heir apparent to the Skyler family business and fortune. I had been warned about him… by his own grandmother. Just my luck he had caught me in the middle of a bad cupcake experiment.
“Uh, no. That was definitely an accident.” I held out my hand. “I’m Emory Martinez. Thanks for putting out the flambé.”
He looked at my offered hand, studied my ample figure, then turned away. Apparently, he didn’t want to get his impeccably manicured fingers sticky with the smear of buttercream on my palm. After I washed and dried my hands, I smoothed my frizzy red hair away from my face. I had made an impression, but unfortunately, it wasn’t a good one.
“What’s all this?” He gestured at the row of liquor bottles lined up on the butcher block island. “My grandmother isn’t supposed to consume more than four ounces of red wine with dinner each day. Has my father allowed an alcoholic to care for my grandmother?”
My face burned, and I wished someone had warned me that Theodore Preston Skyler was going to make a surprise visit. I would’ve scurried back to my pool house after preparing his grandmother’s breakfast and hidden until the coast was clear. The man seemed as pretentious as his name.
“No, definitely not. I almost never drink.” That might have been true up until almost three months ago. However, since I’d moved there to care for Tillie, the feisty octogenarian had made it her mission to educate me on the finer points of creating then sipping cocktails every evening by the pool. Tillie’s favorite, the gimlet, had become one of mine. Of course, her son and grandson’s recommendation that she limit herself to four ounces of wine with dinner had been met with outright disdain from the woman herself. When I voiced my concern, Tillie assured me that her doctor saw no reason to limit her consumption to the small quantity because she was in perfect health.
“Well, what is all this alcohol doing in the kitchen? Are you stealing from my grandmother?”
“No! These are my own supplies. Tillie—”
“That would be Mrs. Skyler to you, Ms. Martinez,” said the pompous man, who was only a few years older than my twenty-eight. “I’ll have a talk with my father. It’s obvious you’re not the right sort of caretaker for this position.”
My stomach clenched, and my mouth went bone-dry. Ever since I’d discovered that my no-good cheating husband was having an affair with my supposed best friend, my life had spiraled out of control. This job had been a second chance for me to get back on my feet, and I truly loved the elderly woman I lived with. Besides, if I got fired, my mother would kill me.
“You’ll do no such thing, Teddy.” His grandmother marched past her grandson and stood at my side to face him. “This is between your father and me. We both happen to think Emory is perfect for the job.”
He blanched. “Grandmother, please call me Theodore. It’s absurd that I have to keep reminding you.”
“You’ll be called Teddy until you remember to call me Grams or at least Tillie. Honestly, ‘Grandmother’ reminds me of my former mother-in-law, and those memories are best forgotten.”
I cringed. Words like “forgotten,” “memories,” and “remember” were best not brought up. Her son thought she suffered from dementia and wanted me to spy on her so they could move her into a care facility. It appeared her pretentious grandson shared or hoped for the same outcome. I wondered if both men were after her money and property. Despite what they thought, Tillie’s mind was as sharp as a tack, and she lived life to the fullest. It would crush her to lose her independence.
I tuned out their bickering as they went back to the living room to wait for David Skyler, Tillie’s son, to arrive. He’d scheduled a family meeting and requested that I prepare muffins and tea for his sons and mother. Since it was autumn, I had baked pumpkin-spice muffins and put them in the warming drawer. Tillie had recommended a chai blend from her favorite tea shop, and I would steep the tea when Mr. Skyler arrived.
Mr. Skyler paid my generous salary and allowed me to live in Tillie’s luxurious pool house. In exchange, I cooked for his mother and did some accounting and administrative chores for him. The arrangement suited me and left me plenty of time to experiment, bake, and deliver the cupcakes for my fledgling cupcake catering company.
My specialty was creating cupcakes that tasted like cocktails. Fireball Pumpkin-Spice Coffee Cupcakes had been the morning’s experiment. Apparently, I had used too much Fireball in the recipe, which had caused it to flambé. I giggled when I realized the whiskey had lived up to its name. Unfortunately, the centers of the little cakes had cratered like giant sinkholes when I removed them from the oven.
I needed to get the recipe right, since I planned to showcase them at Tillie’s Halloween party the following evening, two weeks before the actual holiday. I hoped the cupcakes would generate some new orders from the seventy-five guests. My sister would cater the party food while I provided the desserts. Besides the Fireball Cupcakes, I planned to make Poison Apple Cupcakes and Poison Apple Cake Pops. Tillie had arranged for a live band and a bartender, which was more evidence of her living life to the fullest.
The gong of the doorbell made me jump, and I rushed to fill the teapot with steaming water to steep the chai blend. I placed the warm muffins on a serving tray and covered them with a pumpkin-print cloth napkin before putting the teapot beside it. I jumped again when a deep masculine voice whispered in my ear, “Let me carry that for you.”
Tillie’s youngest grandson, Brian, was standing right behind me. He could’ve been the twin of his slightly older brother, but whereas Theodore seemed uptight and pretentious most of the time, Brian was happy-go-lucky and quite thoughtful of others. Well, I might have been a bit biased because Brian was a huge flirt and stroked my ego whenever he visited his grandmother.
“My father wants you in on this so-called family meeting.” He picked up the tray.
“Why? I’m not family.”
He shrugged. “I’m only his messenger boy.”
I followed Brian into the living room and noticed a woman standing next to Mr. David Skyler. She looked to be in her late twenties, but it was difficult to tell because of the dramatic makeup troweled onto her face. I suspected that regular visits to a salon resulted in her perfectly coiffed shoulder-length golden-blonde hair, while her toned figure was probably the result of hours spent with a trainer. I took in her designer dress and stiletto heels, which pushed her height to about five foot eight, but she was still six inches shorter than Mr. Skyler.
“Thank you for joining us, Emory. Please make yourself comfortable.” Mr. Skyler motioned toward the couches. The slim European cut of his trousers made him appear lean, while his eyes appeared darker than their normal light-blue hue because of the sky-blue of his buttoned-down shirt.
I sat next to Tillie on the uncomfortable formal loveseat and stared out the window to watch a sailboat bob past in Newport Bay. Tillie squeezed my hand before she picked up her teacup.
“Let me introduce you to my new wife, Barbara.” Mr. Skyler smoothed back his graying hair before putting his arm around the young woman’s waist. “While I realize this is sudden, I hope you’ll be happy for us.”
I finally noticed the quail egg–sized diamond that sat on her ring finger. The teacup clattered against the saucer in Tillie’s hand. I reached out to take it from her before the hot chai spilled onto her cream-colored slacks. The color drained from her face, and she placed her shaky hands back on her lap.
Theodore didn’t hold back, though. “What the…? Your third wife is barely cold in the ground, and you have another to replace her?”
Theodore was the son from Mr. Skyler’s first wife, while Brian was the son from the second. Both marriages had ended in divorce, and Mr. Skyler still paid out a substantial amount of money in alimony each month. I knew because I wrote and mailed the checks to the two women. Brian had told me the third trophy wife had died in a tragic hit-and-run a few weeks before I started working there, and the case hadn’t been solved. Trophy Wife Number Four appeared to be at least thirty years his junior… right around my age.
“I realize this is sudden.” Mr. Skyler’s voice sounded low and angry. “But I expect you to show respect for my decision and for Barbara.”
I glanced at Barbara, expecting to see her to seem embarrassed or shy, given Theodore’s outburst. Instead, she looked like she was gloating over the family’s squabble. Tillie shivered beside me.
“Welcome to the family, Barbara.” Brian’s face looked as if he had bitten into a sour lemon. “How did you two lovebirds meet?”
With her age and her Barbie-doll looks, I expected her voice to be high and breathy. Instead, it was sultry with a hint of an accent, possibly French. I tried to focus on what she was saying instead of her looks.
“We met at a tea shop in London over Easter, and it was love at first sight.” She beamed up at Mr. Skyler, who returned her gaze with adoration. “I quit my job and returned to my home in Washington, DC, so we could be together more often.”
Tillie gasped. I might have done the same. Mr. Skyler had still been married to Wife Number Three during Easter. The new Mrs. Skyler had just insinuated that they had been carrying on an affair for quite a while. I found it suspicious that Wife Number Three was conveniently out of the way, with no arrests in the hit-and-run.
“And what’s your job?” Theodore’s question sounded more like an interrogation. “Are you still working in DC?”
“Not that it’s any of your business, but I’m a consultant. I’ve completed the work for my clients and moved here permanently. Being your father’s wife is my top priority.”
Her description of her background was so vague that I wondered what she consulted on.
Theodore scowled, Brian kept his face bland, and Tillie’s hands still shook. I questioned why Mr. Skyler’s remarriage bothered them so much, aside from the fact that he was making a fool of himself by marrying someone who was clearly in it for the money. Then it dawned on me. Mrs. Skyler would take money from her new husband that otherwise would have gone to his sons.
Mr. Skyler’s voice invaded my thoughts. “Emory, you’ll be providing social secretary services for my new wife,” he said. “Since your mother has connections to the best clubs and philanthropist societies in Orange County, I want you to facilitate getting her introduced and involved.”
I gulped. My cupcake business kept me busy as word of mouth was spreading. I had gotten used to working on Mr. Skyler’s accounting on my own time… like late at night or at the crack of dawn. Being a “social secretary” wasn’t anything that appealed to me, and I didn’t like the sound of my new responsibility. I especially didn’t like the way the new Mrs. Skyler looked at me—her new minion.
“We’d better go.” Mr. Skyler looked at his Rolex. “I’ve chartered a jet to take my bride to St. Thomas for our honeymoon. Theodore, I told the managers that you’re in charge while I’m gone. I don’t want to be disturbed unless it’s an emergency.”
Theodore’s eyes grew wide, and his face turned red. “I hope you have a prenup.”
Mr. Skyler glared at his eldest son. “That is none of your business. I demand respect for myself and my wife.”
“If your new marriage impacts the family business, then it is my concern.” Theodore’s voice was loud in the quiet room.
“Remind me, is your name on the ownership papers of the Skyler Development Company?” Mr. Skyler turned his back on his son and held out his elbow to his bride. “Now, my dear, let’s go start our honeymoon.”
Theodore and Brian exchanged looks that would have ignited a feud if their father had seen them. Witnessing the family quarrel was embarrassing, and I tried to quell my unease over the marriage. I didn’t want to be that woman’s social secretary because I was sure she would go out of her way to make my life miserable.
About Kim Davis
Kim Davis lives in Southern California with her husband. When she's not spending time with her granddaughters she can be found either writing stories or working on her blog, Cinnamon, Sugar, and a Little Bit of Murder or in the kitchen baking up yummy treats. She has published the suspense novel, A GAME OF DECEIT, and cozy mystery, SPRINKLES OF SUSPICION. She also has had several children’s articles published in Cricket, Nature Friend, Skipping Stones, and the Seed of Truth magazines. Kim Davis is a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.