Red Hot Murder Chapter 1
A Charlie Kingsley Mystery Book
“Charlie, you are a lifesaver,” Cherry gushed as I handed her a bag of tea. “I don’t even want to think about what I would have done if I had run out.”
“I’m glad I didn’t let you down,” I said, trying to keep my face composed. Cherry was a good customer and fun to talk to, but she had a tendency to exaggerate.
“So am I,” she said, swiping at her strawberry-blonde curls and pushing them out of her green eyes. “With my wedding coming up, I can’t afford any setbacks with my complexion. You should see my beauty routine.” She rolled her eyes. “It takes hours. What we women subject ourselves to in the name of youth and beauty! It’s nuts. At least I can relax when I drink a cup of your tea.”
“It’s tough,” I agreed, with real sympathy. Even though Cherry was in her late twenties and still as cute and perky as she likely was when she was the captain of the Redemption High School cheerleading squad, she was already terrified at the prospect of getting old. She reminded me of the women I used to associate with when I was back in New York—all the rich wives who didn’t work and spent their days worrying about being replaced by a younger model when they grew “too old.” I wished there was something other than tea I could give her that would make her feel better about aging gracefully.
Alas, even though I was a firm believer that the right tea could pretty much cure anything, that was a little out of my league.
I ran a tea business out of my home, and I grew many of the herbs and flowers I used in my blends in my backyard. While I had a few popular recipes, like my lemon-lavender and Deep Sleep teas, some of my customers wanted specialized blends. Cherry was one of them. Hers was customized to help her skin maintain its youthful appearance.
“Oh,” I continued. “I almost forgot. It sounds like congratulations are in order. You’ve finally set a date!”
Cherry’s face faltered. “Well, it’s not official. Yet. But that should all change tonight.”
“Oh, that’s exciting! What’s happening tonight?”
She leaned closer to me as if we were in a crowded restaurant rather than my empty kitchen, and she didn’t want anyone to overhear us. Well, empty other than Midnight, my black cat, who didn’t appear to be listening to us anyway as he napped in the sun. “It’s a surprise. All I know is I’m supposed to get dressed up and be ready at 7 p.m. sharp.”
“Oooh, a romantic surprise. How fun,” I said, feeling a little pang. I immediately pushed it away, though. It was better for everyone if I didn’t date. Especially one specific member of the Redemption Police Department named Brandon Wyle.
“I know, I can’t wait,” Cherry said, tucking the bag of tea into her purse and rooting around for her wallet. Her cheeks had flushed pink, which made her look even more appealing. “Marcus has never done anything like this before, so what else could it be but to finally set the date? And it’s perfect timing with Valentine’s Day just a few weeks away.”
“You did tell me how much he loves making grand gestures,” I said.
Cherry nodded as she finally fished her wallet out. “He does,” she sighed. “Like the time he threw that surprise birthday party for me. Or when he whisked me off to that romantic bed-and-breakfast for last year’s Valentine’s Day celebration.”
“He’s definitely a keeper,” I said. Truth be told, I had no idea if he was or not, as I had never even met the man. All I knew was what Cherry shared with me, which on the surface, sounded amazing.
But dig a little deeper, and things weren’t quite so rosy. The fact they had been engaged for a while now, at least a couple of years, with no actual wedding date in sight set off more than a few alarm bells. However, it wasn’t enough to deter Cherry from closing the deal with him.
“He is,” Cherry agreed as she opened her wallet. “You’re definitely invited to the wedding. I can’t wait for you to meet him. In fact, I’d love for you to be my Bride Whisperer. Anastasia has raved about you.”
“Well, I appreciate that,” I said, even though I wasn’t sure how keen I was to step into that role again. Dealing with one Bridezilla was enough. Plus, I ended up having to solve a murder while carrying out my Bride Whisperer duties.
“You really are the best,” Cherry continued as she handed me a few bills. “And I know I should have called you sooner, but it was only yesterday that I realized I had hardly any tea left. It’s been so crazy busy; I can’t keep anything straight anymore. Between the wedding and work, and now getting ready for this unexpected business trip, it’s been madness. Absolute madness.”
“I get it,” I said, although a part of me wanted to ask her how she, of all people, was complaining about going on a business trip. She was a travel agent, after all. “Luckily, I had all the ingredients ready, so all I had to do was put it together.”
“Well, thank you again,” Cherry said as she slung her purse over her shoulder. “I hate to run like this, but I still have a million things to do today.”
“Oh, well, hold on a second. I need to get you your change.” I moved toward my own purse, hoping I had enough singles.
Cherry waved me off. “Don’t worry about it. I appreciate you doing this rush job. Besides, I really do have to go. I’ve got a hot date to get ready for.” She winked at me and hurried away, her heels clacking on the kitchen floor as she made her way toward the front door.
Midnight picked up his head and stared at me with his emerald-green eyes. “Don’t give me that look,” I said. “You and I both know the last thing I need is a romantic surprise date.”
He yawned, showing off an impressive array of teeth.
“I’m not going to argue with you,” I said, briskly moving into the kitchen. I had a sudden urge to bake a fresh batch of my famous chocolate chip cookies.
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