Chintz Calhoun snuggled closer to her husband, Callum, on the couch. His long legs reached all the way to the end of their sectional. Hers stopped somewhere between his knees and ankles. When they stood next to each other, the top of her head—with her short, tight, brown curls—fit under his chin. For once, they both had a Saturday off. She didn’t have a party to cater, and he was off-duty at the station. At least, he was off duty until his cell phone rang. Which, of course, it did.
He glanced at the I.D. and sighed. She knew that sound.
“Work?” she asked.
With a nod, he sat up and pressed the phone to his ear. When he finished listening, he gave her an apologetic look. “Two women went to a friend’s apartment and found her body in the kitchen. They got there before her chicken and shrimp kebabs smoked up the entire room.”
How much of a coincidence was that? She’d made a similar dish for a party she’d catered. “Those were a big hit when I served them a week ago.”
She scooted aside so that Callum could push to his feet. He scrubbed his hand through his thick, black hair, trying to tame it. “Damon said the girl had your recipe on her countertop.”
She interrupted. “Damon’s working the case?” Callum invited him to their house often for supper. He was one of those guys with short, sandy hair and a medium build who was easy to overlook until you got to know him better. He used that to his advantage on the job.
Callum tucked his t-shirt into his jeans. “He asked about your recipe, and the victim’s friends said you’d catered an event she went to and she asked you for it. She expected you to tell her it was a secret, but you copied it off for her instead.”
“I remember that girl. Really shy.” Chintz put a hand to her throat. Callum covered lots of homicides, but those victims were anonymous. She’d never met them. She’d liked this girl. “She blushed all the way to her hairline when she asked me for the ingredients.”
Callum headed to the bedroom, returning with a button down, short sleeve shirt over his white tee. “Well, someone killed her, slit her throat.”
Ugh! Too much information. Chintz winced, stunned. Who could hate the girl she’d met? She’d worn a nice dress to the party that looked attractive, but nothing like the expensive outfits most of the guests wore.
Callum bent to kiss the top of her head before he started to the door, his chocolate brown eyes filled with concern. “What are you going to do while I’m gone?”
Good question. “I might as well make a few things ahead for the party I’m catering tomorrow.” Her client had invited twenty friends over for an old-fashioned English tea. Finger foods took more time to prepare. She could make the chicken salad tonight to spoon into phyllo shells tomorrow. She could make the pimiento cheese for the tiny sandwich triangles, too. She’d already made the mini-eclairs and lavender sugar cookies yesterday and frozen them. Dirndle was coming early tomorrow morning to help finish up the rest. Her younger sister was a bookkeeper but loved to help with the catering.
“Mom didn’t give me any of her imagination,” she often complained. “I can’t come up with anything original or creative, but I can follow your instructions and recipes. We should have been reversed. I should be the most creative, since she gave me a more offbeat name than yours. That’s what happens when your mom’s a fabric artist, I guess.”
Mom had gotten a little carried away when she named them. And Dad, an engineer—the practical one in the family—never told their mother no. Chintz waved Callum off, then shut and locked the door before padding to the kitchen. Had the girl who’d died locked her door? A woman who lived alone shouldn’t take chances.
Once in the kitchen, she opened the floor to ceiling pantry to grab ingredients. When she and Callum married, they’d looked for a house with professional gourmet appliances and lots of space. He liked clean lines with no clutter. Was a bit OCD. And that’s how they’d ended up here, in a two-story, brown house with an oblique roof that resembled a tall A-frame with lots of glass.
As Chintz covered the granite counter with ingredients, she checked her menu. Cucumber sandwiches and scones with clotted cream—those would have to wait until tomorrow, but she’d already made the jams for the scones. Pimiento sandwiches—she opened the cream cheese to let it soften. She loaded four dozen eggs into saucepans to boil for egg salad. Then she checked the list for the other finger sandwiches—tuna salad and homemade ham salad with pecans and apples. She decided to make the bite-size tarts tonight, too.
Callum was gone longer than she expected. When he finally got home, she’d cleaned the last bowl she’d dirtied and poured herself a glass of wine. He went to the refrigerator, grabbed a beer, and came to sit next to her at the kitchen island.
She studied his face. “That bad?”
“Everyone in the apartment building liked Shayla. Said she’d taken an old lady who lived down the hall and was getting forgetful under her wing. The guy who lived across from her told us he saw Mrs. Lebowitz leave Shayla’s at five forty-five. Her friends got there at six. Whoever killed her must have been hiding in her apartment. Her friends said she never dated, hardly ever went out. Everyone where she worked liked her. She was fully dressed, so no pervert.” He took a long swig of his beer. “So far, I don’t see any motivation for someone to harm her.”
Chintz laid her hand on top of his. “You will. You’ll find who killed her. You’re good at your job.”
He frowned, and his expression told her that his thoughts were back at the crime scene. “There was something odd about her death. We found a list, printed from a computer, in her apron pocket. It had five names on it with a checkmark next to Shayla’s. When we looked up the other four people, not one of them had been at the party she attended.”
Dread slithered down Chintz’s spine. “Do you think someone means to kill each person on the list?”
“I sure as hell hope not, but we can’t rule that out. We warned them to be careful and explained why.”
“Any fingerprints on the paper the list was printed on?”
He shook his head. “No fingerprints anywhere. So far, we’ve turned up nothing. But we’re just getting started.”
“Anything to connect the five people?”
Another no. “They don’t work together, don’t belong to the same church. But like I said, it’s still early in the investigation. Maybe we’ll get lucky.” He drained the bottle and stood to toss it in the recycle bin. With visible effort, he tried to shift gears. “You in the mood for a movie? Something funny and silly so that we don’t have to think?”
“I’m game.” She waited for him to rent a comedy and stretch out on the couch before she dropped next to him, pressing her back against his torso. Seven years ago, when they married, his abs were rock hard and she was ten pounds thinner. But she liked his new softer physique. He was more comfortable. And he swore that there was just more of her to love.
He put his arm over her, tugging her closer. “We’re a perfect fit.”
She smiled. When she was with Callum, everything was better. He’d keep digging until he found the information he needed. And then he’d put Shayla’s killer behind bars for a long time.