Read 8 Sweet Payback Online

Authors: Connie Shelton

8 Sweet Payback


Eighth Samantha Sweet Mystery






A bright pink bunny stared upward
at Samantha Sweet with blank white eyes. She picked up her pastry bag of dark
chocolate frosting and added pupils, giving the last of the two dozen Easter
cupcakes its own little perky personality. A tray of the fluffy cottontails, in
shades of pastel yellow, lavender, pink and green waited on Sam’s worktable to
be sold away to homes all over Taos county and devoured by sugar-hyped
children. She picked up the tray and carried it to the showroom of Sweet’s

“Those are adorable!” exclaimed
her slender assistant, Jennifer Baca, who turned from the cash register and
slid open the glass door on their vintage display case. She made space between
the half-empty tray of Sam’s secret-recipe amaretto cheesecake and another of
spring-chick cookies which the shop’s decorator, Becky Harper, had finished
only minutes before.

“Three days to go,” Sam said. “I
hate to say this, but I’m glad we don’t have another complicated holiday for

Jen sent Sam a sideways glance. “I
think you said the same thing after Christmas and again at Valentine’s Day. But
when each new season comes along you’re right in there, coming up with
fantastic new pastries.” She gave her boss a wink. “You love this.”

Sam had to admit it—she did love
her work. Opening her own pastry shop had been a lifelong dream and eighteen
months into the venture she was still thrilled with the results. Her location,
just two blocks off the famed Taos Plaza, was ideal for attracting tourists as
well as locals. The winter ski season had been good and the crowd of
spring-breakers exceptional this year. Traditionally, the northern New Mexico
ski areas closed right after Easter weekend and the locals took their own
vacations, getting away from the bipolar moods of the weather, seeking out
warmer climes along the Gulf Coast or Mexico. But this year the spring
temperatures had risen earlier than normal; skiing was finished by the end of
March and now in early April everyone was ready to toss aside heavy coats,
break out pastel cottons and enjoy some time outdoors. Apparently the cakes,
cookies and chocolates from Sweet’s Sweets were to play a big part in the
upcoming weekend festivities—Sam and crew couldn’t seem to bake and decorate
fast enough.

“I took two more orders for the
Easter Basket cakes,” Jen said, handing the forms over to Sam as soon as she
had set down the cupcake tray.

“Woo. Maybe I’d better make up a few
extras. I have a feeling people will be popping in for them right up to the
last minute on Saturday.”

“Think you created a monster?” Jen
asked with a chuckle, pointing to the complicated display model in the front

Sam had come up with the idea of
sculpting a large layer cake into the shape of a basket, frosting it a golden
tan and piping it with a basket-weave pattern. She’d filled it with hand-crafted
chocolates, decorated Easter egg petit fours, an assortment of their pastel
cookies and cupcakes, and topped it with a handmade chocolate bunny. Crowning
the whole thing was a curved handle formed of white modeling chocolate and tied
with a huge fondant bow. The entire confection was edible and from the moment
she’d placed one in the window display, the orders had come non-stop.

After attempting to bake, decorate
and assemble each one herself Sam realized she had to streamline the process.
Her head baker, Julio, could crank out cake layers, cookies and cupcakes by the
dozens but Sam and her assistant decorator, Becky, were running ragged to keep
up. They’d finally gotten a little ahead of the rush last week by devoting one
entire day to making chocolates and cookies so they would have a supply on
hand. But the cakes could only be done a day or two before delivery, so there
was still a push to turn out a dozen or more each day—in addition to their
normal flow of birthdays and weddings and other special occasions. Sam had
shifted the kitchen duties a little, enlisting Julio’s help in a few aspects of
the decorating and bringing in a part-timer just to keep the dishwashing under
control and provide that necessary extra pair of hands when there were heavy
cakes to be moved around and delivered.

She surveyed the display case from
the front, satisfied that there was enough stock to get them through the
morning. Grabbing a cup of coffee and the order forms from Jen, she headed back
to the kitchen.

“Sam, can you take a look at
this?” Becky called out. “I don’t think I’m getting the spray right.”

On the worktable in front of her
sat a small two-tier cake—a six-inch layer topped by a very small four-inch
one—covered in smooth white fondant. A trail of tiny pink rosebuds cascaded
down the side and Becky had done a nice job of arranging them so they appeared
to pool at the base of the cake into an almost-liquid puddle of flowers.

“I wanted it to be similar to the
one you made for yours and Beau’s six-month anniversary. That’s the occasion
for this couple too. But that little spray of flowers you did on top of yours .
. . I’m just not getting it.”

Sam smiled and reached for a package
of thin, nearly-invisible floral wire. A celebration for six months of marriage
had seemed a little silly, but she’d wanted to mark the occasion with something
nice. The girls in the shop had thought it the most romantic gesture ever and
had begun selling their customers on the idea of having their own done.

“All you do,” she told Becky, “is
clip the wire to the length you want. Not too long or it will overwhelm the
design. Then take your little bits of pink fondant, like so. Give a twist.
Attach the petal to the wire . . .” She pinched the malleable sugar dough into
petal shapes and stuck them to the thin wire. “When it’s fairly full of petals,
just bend it into the littlest bit of an arc. And don’t put too many on the
cake. Half a dozen should be plenty for the size of this piece.”

Becky quickly mastered the
technique and within a few minutes carried the finished cake to their big,
walk-in fridge for storage until the customer came to pick it up. Sam told
Julio about the extra layers they would need for the Easter Basket cakes and
was pleased when he immediately began loading the ingredients for the batter
into the big Hobart mixer. The tattooed biker had startled her a bit when he
first applied for the job, but his expertise in a commercial kitchen quickly
became evident and now she wasn’t sure what she would do without him. He didn’t
much engage in the friendly chit-chat with the women, just quietly and
efficiently did his work.

Sam surveyed the room. Her desk looked,
for once, fairly organized. She picked up the stack of order sheets and was in
the process of checking them against the contents of the fridge when the back
door opened.

“Hey, Mom. Hi, everybody.” Kelly
walked in and dipped a finger into a smear of chocolate frosting that hadn’t
yet been wiped off the stainless steel worktable, popping it into her mouth.
“Ooh, yum.” She went back for a second swipe at it.

“What’s up?” Sam was getting
better about not jumping to conclusions, but since Kelly often showed up with
an unsolved crisis she’d learned not to assume it was just a friendly visit.

“Oh, not much. Things are slow
next door, so I thought I’d leave a little early and get a head start on dinner
at home.
, I’m inviting you and
Beau if you’re not doing anything else.”

“You want to cook for us? Wow—I’m

“It’s kind of an experiment. I
found a recipe in a magazine for this way to do pork tenderloin with a maple
glaze and some kind of pecan crust. It looked so good in the picture . . .”

“Let me make sure Beau isn’t going
to be tied up.” Sam picked up her phone and hit the number for her husband.

As sheriff of Taos County, Beau
never knew what each day would bring and that always left Sam unsure what their
dinner plans might be. More often than not, she either picked up something
ready-made at the store or they ate out. It was far from a healthy lifestyle
and she had vowed more than once to be more diligent. Now, with the offer of a
home-cooked meal, even one labeled ‘experimental’ by her thirty-five-year-old
daughter, she hoped he would have the evening free.

“I will be out of here by six,”
Beau said, “and you can tell Kelly that I am looking forward to her meal.”

Sam turned to Kelly. “He can make
it, and I don’t have any houses to break into this week, so we’ll be there.
Want me to bring dessert?”

“Whatever you made that has this
on it,” Kelly said with a smile and another swipe at the chocolate frosting.
She left as quickly as she’d arrived, saying she had to brush out a cocker
spaniel’s new haircut and then she was leaving for home.

“At least it’s convenient that she
got the job at Puppy Chic,” Becky said.

“Sometimes more than others,” Sam
answered, scanning the room to see where those chocolate Kahlua cupcakes had

She caught the expression from her
part-time holiday employee. Whenever someone learned that Sam also broke into
houses for a living, there were always raised eyebrows. The fact that Sam was
under contract to the Department of Agriculture to get inside abandoned houses,
clean them up, and maintain the property until it could be sold usually answered
most of those questions. She quickly ran through all that once again.

“At the moment, I’m blissfully
free of that obligation,” she said. “Foreclosures are down a bit, and that’s
good news for everyone.”

She boxed up a half-dozen Kahlua
cupcakes as she talked, then checked with Jen out front to see if everything
was ready so they could close for the night. A half-hour later she pulled up
beside her old house, the home she’d bought more than thirty years ago and left
in Kelly’s care when she married Beau and moved out to his ranch property on
the north end of town. His department cruiser drove in beside her bakery van
before she had reached the back door.

“Hey you,” he said, pulling off
his Stetson and bending toward Sam for a kiss.

She balanced the bakery box on one
hand, enjoying the kiss and marveling that this movie-star-handsome man had
fallen in love with her. Good looking, romantic, kind and considerate, even
law-abiding. And, he respected her opinions, sharing details from some of his
cases and asking her ideas on them—what more could she have wished for? Maybe
all new brides felt that way, but Sam never wanted to forget just how lucky she

A sound at the back door, and
Kelly was standing there with a teasing look in her eye. “Newlyweds. You know I
can only let this behavior slide for another few months. By the one-year mark
you’ll have to start acting like old, married folks.”

“Have to?” Sam asked.

Beau just laughed. He took the
bakery box and handed it over to Kelly.

Inside, Sam noticed more changes.
Kelly had obviously been thrift-store shopping and added a shelving unit in the
living room for the stereo that used to be in her bedroom. Sam felt some pangs
about leaving this home and its convenience to the plaza and her shop. But
Beau’s log home, with acreage, dogs and horses, was so spacious and nice that
she’d been happy to let Kelly take over the little two-bedroom adobe near the
center of town. New placemats at the kitchen table, some kind of potpourri and
the house was scented with a new ambiance. She sniffed the air. Potpourri
wasn’t the only enticing fragrance; her stomach growled a little as she
realized how appetizing the dinner smelled.

“Come on in,” Kelly said, setting
the cupcakes on the countertop. “I’m just finishing the salad, veggies are
going into the steamer right now, and the meat will be out—” An oven timer
dinged. “Right about now.”

Sam offered to help and Kelly
steered her toward an unopened bottle of wine and three stemmed glasses.

“Beau, if you want to escape the
kitchen, someone left a Santa Fe newspaper in the shop today and I brought it
home. I think I left it beside the big easy chair in the living room.”

“Haven’t seen one of those in
ages,” he said. “I’ll leave you ladies to it if you don’t need any help in the

Sam filled wine glasses and the
meal went together quickly. When she stepped into the living room to tell Beau
it was ready, she caught an exclamation from him.

“Look at this,” he said. “The Taos
Sheriff’s Department got a mention.”

“Really? What’s up?”

He held up the lower half of the
front page for her to see. The headline read, “Two Taos County Men Get Early
Prison Release.” She took the paper and was about four words into the story
when Kelly peered around the corner.

“Hey, guys? Dinner?”

Sam sensed that Beau wanted to
discuss the story further, but it would be rude to keep Kelly’s meal waiting.
She folded the page and carried it to the kitchen, laying it beside her
backpack so she would remember to take it home. Kelly handed Sam the bowl of
steamed vegetables and Beau the platter of sliced tenderloin.

“So, Mom, you said you were fresh
out of caretaking jobs at the moment?” Kelly posed the question while she
swabbed a piece of the meat in the accompanying maple glaze. Minutes into the
meal, they had all pronounced the new recipe a keeper.

“Delbert Crow hasn’t called in
weeks, and I’m hoping it stays that way.”

“Ever since our honeymoon, those
duties seem to have tapered off,” Beau said.

“Well, I had asked him to cut back
on my workload, offer more cases to his other contractors. I just didn’t think
he would really do it.” She speared a tender-crisp carrot. “I’m not

Kelly entertained them with a
story of a terrier who, determined not to have a bath this morning, had hidden
himself behind one of the dog crates at Puppy Chic and how she and the owner,
Erika Davis-Jones, had nearly gone into a panic that he might have gotten
outside somehow in the crazy traffic near the plaza.

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