A Catered Doggie Wedding
- Book info
- Author updates
When Bernie and Libby Simmons, sisters and co-owners of A Little Taste of Heaven, are hired to cater a posh pooch party, they wind up stepping into a fresh murder investigation!
At A Little Taste of Heaven, Bernie and Libby Simmons cater all sorts of affairs, from book clubs to bridal showers and everything in between. So when their counterman, Googie, asks them to cater a doggie wedding for his girlfriend Jenni’s eight-month-old golden retrievers, they jump on the opportunity. The reception, which will also serve as a grand opening for Jennie’s new doggie daycare center, is no small affair. Bertha and Ernie—the bride and groom—will be celebrating with more than a hundred guests, including the puppers’ pals and their people.
But all weddings, even shaggy shindigs, come with some drama. Not everyone in town is excited about the upcoming pup-tuials—or Jenni’s business. Someone is sending threatening messages to Bernie, Libby, and others in town, warning them to cancel the festivities. But when folks start dying under curious circumstances, Bernie and Libby know it’s up to them to untangle the leads and find the murderer before anyone else bites it.
Includes Original Recipes for You to Try!
Release date: June 28, 2022
Publisher: Kensington Books
Print pages: 336
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
A Catered Doggie Wedding
Who would have thought it would have ended with a body? Actually two. Certainly they hadn’t. It’s true there was the email Bernie had gotten later that evening. Don’t cater the wedding. You’ll be sorry if you do. That should have warned them something was afoot.
But it hadn’t. Bernie had shown it to her sister, then deleted it. They both agreed it was ridiculous. Who would object to the wedding? Dog-hating trolls? Or maybe it was a joke. Or a competitor wanting the job? There were lots of possibilities. But the sisters were tired. It had been a long day—they’d catered a luncheon for the Longely Garden Club and a bridal shower for Mrs. Kimbell’s niece—and it was late, so they’d blown the email off and gone to bed.
But honestly, as Bernie later confessed, even if they’d known what was going to happen, they would have taken the job, anyway. On principle. Because neither she nor her sister liked being told what to do. And there was the curiosity factor, not to mention the “helping someone out” factor. But they might have been more careful. Taken more precautions. Not that it probably would have made a difference when all was said and done.
Googie had shown up fifteen minutes early that morning, an unusual occurrence for their twenty-four-year-old, six-foot, five-inch counterman, and been extra helpful throughout the day.
“I have a favor to ask,” he’d said as he’d put the half-full tub of A Taste of Heaven’s famous freshly made cabbage, jicama, and pineapple coleslaw back in the cooler for the night.
“Ah,” Libby replied, looking up from the tray of chocolate ginger cookies she was covering with plastic wrap to keep them fresh for the next day and thinking that now Googie’s behavior made sense. He’d even cleaned out the mixers without being asked.
Googie closed the cooler’s sliding glass door. “Well, not really a favor,” he amended. “We’ll pay.”
“Be still my heart,” Bernie remarked as she came out of the prep room. It was seven forty-five, and the shop was closing for the evening. Normally, they closed at seven in the summer, but tonight they’d stayed open later to accommodate one of their customers.
“Ha ha. Very funny,” Googie shot back.
Bernie grinned. “I thought it was. Seriously, what do you need?”
“We need you to cater a wedding,” Googie explained. “We thought we could do it by ourselves, but the wedding has gotten bigger. A lot bigger, actually.”
“Oh my God! You and Jennie are getting married,” Bernie shrieked, rushing to embrace him.
“Not exactly,” Googie replied, smiling sheepishly as he took a step back. He wasn’t a huggy, kissy kinda guy. “Bertha and Ernie are.” And he pointed through the opened door to the sidewalk, where his two eight-month-old golden retrievers were sitting. They wagged their tails in unison and woofed. His girlfriend, Jennie, grinned and waved.
“Ah, puppy love is a beautiful thing,” Bernie observed.
Googie pressed an imaginary button. “Wrong choice. Try again.”
“A shotgun wedding?”
Googie feigned outrage. “I’m shocked you would suggest something like that.”
“I believe the phrase is shocked and appalled,” Bernie said.
Googie gave her a blank look.
“Casablanca?” Bernie said.
Googie shook his head.
“Obviously, you’re not a lover of old movies,” Bernie told him.
“Westerns,” Googie said. “I like Westerns.”
“Me too,” Bernie agreed, changing the subject. “Too bad about the puppies. I would have taken one.”
Googie raised an eyebrow. “Would you really?”
“Yes,” Bernie said at the same time her sister said, “No.”
“In any case,” Bernie continued, “they’re adorable, and I’m sure the wedding will be, too.”
Libby wasn’t so sure about that. She remembered the cat wedding she and her sister had catered some years ago. That hadn’t gone well. To say the least. But then again, cats weren’t known for their ability to take directions.
“You’re serious?” she asked, turning to face Googie.
“I’m serious,” Googie assured her. “Jennie is opening up a doggie day-care center where Beerly There was.”
Bernie whistled. “I bet Renee isn’t happy,” Bernie observed, Renee being the owner of the high-end dress store next door.
Googie frowned. “Talk about an understatement. She tried to get a restraining order. Something about an untenable atmosphere imperiling her business—whatever that means.”
“It means she doesn’t want dogs around,” Bernie said. “Of course, she wasn’t too happy about the restaurant, either,” Bernie reflected. “I guess she should have read her lease more carefully.”
“Meaning some commercial leases have exclusion clauses. Obviously, Renee’s doesn’t.”
Googie’s frown deepened. “I don’t know about clauses, but I do know she’s a . . .”
“Little tightly wound,” Bernie said. She had been going to say bitch but had decided against it.
Googie laughed. “So you know her?” he asked.
“I do,” Bernie replied, thinking about her last encounter with Renee. She’d bought a dress there last year and discovered a small rip in one of the seams when she’d gotten it home. Not a problem, Bernie had thought. At least it shouldn’t have been, but when she’d returned the dress the next day, Renee had accused Bernie of doing it herself. They’d finally come to an agreement, but the incident had left a bad taste in Bernie’s mouth, and she hadn’t shopped there since.
Googie sighed. “I hope she calms down.”
“Me too,” Bernie said, even though she was pretty sure Renee wasn’t going to. But Bernie didn’t say that. What would be the point? The lease had already been signed; the damage done. “So when are you and Jennie getting married?” Bernie teased, changing the subject. “We could have a double wedding.”
“Ha. Ha. Very funny,” Googie replied.
“Maybe I should ask Jennie what she thinks,” Bernie mused.
“Don’t you dare,” Googie cried, a look of panic on his face.
Bernie lifted her hand. “Peace. Just kidding.”
“I hope so. Now, as I was saying,” Googie went on before Bernie could say anything else, “Jennie thought the wedding would be a good way to advertise the opening of Woof Woof. We have Marcy Black as the florist and Denise Alvarez as the photographer, and we were hoping to have you guys as the caterers. We started with ten people, but now we’re up to . . .” He paused for a minute to do a mental count. “Oh, maybe a hundred.”
“A hundred?” Libby repeated.
“Maybe a few more if we count the wedding party,” Googie allowed.
“Is the wedding party canine or human?” Bernie asked.
“Canine, of course,” Googie replied, “but I was talking about their handlers.”
“Finger foods,” Libby said suddenly, thinking out loud about the menu. ”Definitely finger foods.”
“Pigs in a blanket. Dog-shaped crackers with a variety of cheeses. Melon strips cut into bone shapes and wrapped in prosciutto,” Bernie suggested. “Maybe a paw print wedding cake?”
Googie beamed. “So that’s a yes? You’ll take the job?”
Libby answered for herself and her sister. “We will.” And with that she and Bernie went outside to greet the bride and the groom.
Jennie squealed and clapped her hands when she heard the verdict. “Oh, thank you. Thank you. This is going to be amazing.” She turned to the goldens. “Right, Bertha? Right, Ernie?”
Ernie and Bertha wagged their tails so hard, their rear ends wiggled from side to side. Then Bertha jumped up and gave Libby a big, wet dog smooch on the mouth.
“Eww. Dog germs,” Libby cried, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, while Bernie laughed.
“We’re working on their manners,” Jennie said, apologizing, while trying and failing to stop Ernie from ramming his nose into Bernie’s crotch and sniffing. “I guess he likes you,” Jennie said, grabbing the eighty-pound golden retriever’s collar and pulling him back as he tried to dive between Bernie’s legs.
“I guess he does,” Bernie said, scratching Ernie’s back. His fur felt soft against her fingers. “So where’s the reception going to be held?”
“At Woof Woof. The same place as the wedding,” Jennie said. “Want to see it?”
Jennie nodded. “The reno isn’t done yet, we still have to do most of the build-out, but it’ll give you an idea. The whole thing is going to be state of the art.”
“Sure. Why not?” Bernie replied. “Just give us another twenty minutes to finish closing up, and we’ll be right over.”
Jennie hugged them both. “This is going to be perfect,” she gushed. “Absolutely perfect.”
“We’re going to be late,” Libby observed. It had taken her and her sister a little longer to close the shop than they’d anticipated.
“Ten minutes,” Bernie replied as she stopped for the light on Elmcrest.
Five motorcyclists roared by them, the noise taking over the street; then it faded as they receded into the distance. Old guys looking to recapture their joyriding days, Bernie thought as the light turned green. She wasn’t in a rush to arrive at their destination. It was a lovely summer evening, and she was reveling in its embrace. The day had cooled off, and the breeze coming through Mathilda’s opened windows brought with it the sweet scent of early June. It had been an unusually long, cold, and wet spring, and the trees had greened out and gotten their summer outfits on later than usual.
Limestone Plaza was a cute little cul-de-sac that butted up against an upscale residential neighborhood. Shops fronted the sidewalk. Behind them a meadow filled with dandelions and clover sloped down to a small creek where watercress grew. There was a New York–style steak house on one side of the road, as well as a fancy beauty salon and spa, a jewelry store, a wine shop, a yoga studio, and a small gift shop that specialized in organic handmade objects.
Woof Woof was located on the opposite side of the street, next to Renee’s shop, the two places forming a triangle with the yoga studio and the beauty salon. Large cedar barrels filled with begonias and ivy demarcated the line between the sidewalk and the street, while wire baskets full of pink and purple impatiens hung from the lampposts. In the afternoon, the parking spaces were filled with doctors’ wives’ BMWs and Infinitis, but now the stores were closed, and the street was empty, the freshly painted white lines vivid against the blacktop. Only a handful of vehicles remained, and they belonged to the people dining at the steak house.
Bernie had just reached the cul-de-sac and was singing along to “Dancing in the Street” when she heard yelling intertwined with barking. The sounds grew louder as they got closer. “Ah, nothing like the sweet sound of conflict on a summer’s eve,” she remarked, paraphrasing a line from Apocalypse Now.
Libby turned toward her sister. “Do those voices belong to whom I think they do?” she asked.
Bernie pressed her lips together, gave the van a little more gas, and rounded the corner as she spoke. “That would be a yes.”
“They’re not exactly evenly matched,” Libby commented as she watched Jennie and Renee facing off on the sidewalk.
“Definitely not,” Bernie agreed. She put Renee at five feet, two inches tall and one hundred pounds, if that, while Jennie was five feet, eight inches tall and a fit 140 pounds.
“Very far from,” Libby observed.
“My money’s on Renee in a full-on catfight, though,” Bernie added as she brought Mathilda to a stop in front of the two women. “What she lacks in height she makes up for in ferocity.”
“Definitely,” Libby said as Renee and Jennie stopped screaming at each other and faced the van.
“Are you two trying out for the new all girls Wrestle-Mania team?” Bernie asked as she exited Mathilda. “I understand they’re looking for new recruits. I can see it now.” Bernie lifted her hand and painted an imaginary banner in the sky. “The fashionista vs. the granolista. I bet it would be a cult hit on Netflix.”
“Cute,” Renee said.
Bernie gave her, her best smile. “I like to think I am.”
“Thank God you’re here,” Jennie said at the same time Renee told Bernie she wasn’t talking about her.
“See, she likes me,” Bernie said, pointing to Jennie.
“She likes them, too,” Renee said, nodding to the goldens. “It wasn’t intended as a compliment.”
Bertha and Ernie barked and wagged their tails.
“How can anyone not like them?” Jennie demanded.
“Yeah,” Bernie said, raising her voice to be heard over the dogs. “Inquiring minds want to know.”
Renee glared at her. “Oh joy,” she said. “Just what we need.”
“A charming woman with an excellent fashion sense?” Bernie chirped, because sometimes she couldn’t help herself.
Renee snorted and patted her curly red hair into place. “I would love someone like that . . . if they were here. Unfortunately, they’re not.”
“Is that any way to treat an old customer?” Bernie asked as she reflected that if Renee fell off a boat, she’d sink under the weight of all the jewelry she was wearing. “Tell me,” she asked Renee, referring to the necklaces and bracelets she had on, “do you take off all those necklaces and bracelets every night?”
“I’d go broke if I had customers like you,” Renee retorted, ignoring Bernie’s question.
“I hear that’s what you’re doing,” Bernie shot back as Ernie and Bertha charged toward her, their tails going back and forth like metronomes.
Renee glowered. “I don’t know where you’re getting your news from, but you should find a new source.”
“I think my source is pretty accurate,” Bernie lied, because there was no source. She’d made her comment up.
“And who would that be?” Renee demanded.
“I’m not at liberty to say,” Bernie answered. As she spoke, she reflected that Renee had lost more weight. She wasn’t quite skin and bones, but she was getting there. Her cheekbones looked sharp enough to slice bread. For a moment, Bernie wondered if Renee was sick.
Renee put her hands on her hips. “What are you doing here, anyway?”
“Sightseeing,” Bernie replied.
“Our job,” Libby said. She wanted to say something cutting and witty, but nothing came to mind. It would later, of course. Probably at two in the morning. That’s the way it always seemed to work with her.
“What job?” Renee demanded. Then an expression of horror crossed her face as it hit her. She turned her head and narrowed her eyes. “Are you going to have some sort of event here, Jennifer?”
Jennie straightened her shoulders and stuck out her chin. “As a matter of fact, I am.” She had to yell to be heard over Bertha and Ernie’s barking.
“And what would that be?”
Renee lifted an eyebrow. “You’re getting married here? In your place?” Her tone was incredulous. “What an . . . interesting choice.”
“I’m not getting married.” Jennie pointed to the dogs. “They are. On Sunday morning.”
“This Sunday?” Renee squeaked.
“No,” Jennie replied. “Two weeks from this coming one. It’s not like it’s going to interfere with you or anything.”
“That’s when I’m having my Missoni trunk show,” Renee cried. “You have to change it.”
“I can’t,” Jennifer told her.
“Of course you can,” Renee insisted.
“No, I can’t. I already put down payments for the florist, the photographer, and the invitations.”
“So cancel them.”
“I can’t. I’ll lose my money.”
Renee rolled her eyes. “Working close to the margins, are we? How many people are you inviting?”
“About one hundred,” Jennie answered. “More or less.”
Renee looked as if she was going to faint. “Are you serious?”
“It’s a way to advertise Woof Woof’s opening.”
“When is your trunk show?” Bernie asked Renee.
“That Sunday at noon.”
“The wedding is in the morning,” Jennie said. “The two events won’t interfere with each other. See, no problem. Everything is going to be fine.”
“No. It will not be,” Renee countered. Then she pointed to the large mound of dog poop on the ground. “What about that?”
“What about it?” Jennie asked.
“That’s what I’m talking about. Are you just going to leave it there?”
“Hardly. For your information, I was about to clean it up when you started screaming at me.”
“Right,” Renee shot back.
“Are you calling me a liar?” Jennie demanded.
“You said it. I didn’t,” Renee replied.
Two splotches of color appeared on Jennie’s cheeks. She was about to take a step toward Renee, but Bernie stepped between the two women before she could.
“I don’t understand your problem, Renee,” she said as she scratched Ernie’s big blocky head. He barked and leaned against her.
“My problem, Bernie, is that she shouldn’t be here,” Renee replied, using a tone usually reserved for speaking to two-year-olds.
“I have as much right to be here as you,” Jennie countered. Bertha and Ernie woofed in agreement.
“No, you don’t,” Renee snapped.
“The landlord thinks I do.” Jennie pointed to the goldens. “So do they.”
Renee rolled her eyes again. “You don’t get it, do you?”
“There’s nothing to get,” Jennie said.
Renee went on. “I’m trying to do you a favor. Ruffo is just using you to make me leave. He wants to empty the place out.”
Jennie shrugged. “I’ll take my chances.”
“Fine, but then he’ll do the same thing to you. You’re throwing money in the garbage. How much are you spending on the reno anyway?”
“Enough,” Jennie said as she swatted at a mosquito. “But if he wanted to empty out this strip mall, why rent to me at all? Why not leave the space empty? It makes no sense.”
“I’ll tell you why. He just heard the rumors about Syntech coming in and building a campus here,” Renee said. “Listen,” she repeated, “I’m trying to help you.”
“Sure you are.” Jennie pointed to the brick neocolonial building in back of them. “I know the branch manager, and he said they’re remodeling. Why would they be doing that if Syntech was coming in?”
Renee shrugged. “Have it your own way.”
“You just don’t want me here!”
“You’re right,” Renee said. “I don’t. What do you think one of my customers is going to say when she steps in poop in her Manolos? I’ll tell you. She’s not going to want to come back.”
“She’s not going to step in poop,” Jennie protested.
“Even if she doesn’t, she’ll hear the dogs barking on the other side of the wall, she’ll smell them, and she’ll hear them when they’re in the backyard.”
Jennie frowned. “Some people like dogs.”
“I’m sure they do, but I’m trying to sell three-thousand-dollar dresses here. You think that’s easy?”
“I wouldn’t know, but I don’t see what that has to do with my dogs.”
“It’s about atmosphere, not that you’d get it.”
“You’re right. I don’t,” Jennie told her. “Like I don’t get spending all that money on a piece of clothing when you could be using it to do good.”
And that was the point at which Ernie broke free from Jennie’s restraining hand and licked Renee’s Chanel skirt.
Unprepared for the assault, Renee stumbled backward. Her heel caught in a crack in the concrete path, and she slipped and sat down in Ernie’s poop.
Which was when Libby and Bernie did the unforgivable.
They started to laugh.
“I couldn’t help it,” Bernie told Brandon as she drank a wheat beer. “I laughed until I cried. Literally.”
“Me too,” Libby said to Marvin, raising her voice slightly so she could be heard over the whir of the overhead fans, the buzz of customers’ voices, and the sports announcer on the TV.
The sisters were sitting at the bar at RJ’s, having a beer with their beaus, as their mom would have called Brandon and Marvin, while regaling them with their latest adventure.
“And then what happened?” Brandon asked after he’d scanned the bar for anyone wanting a refill.
Usually, the big barn of a place was empty on a summer’s night, but for some reason, this evening RJ’s was full, the patrons’ laughter rising and falling like waves in the ocean while the neon beer signs decorating the walls pulsed in time to an unknown rhythm. The Longely softball team was congregated at the far end of the bar, clinking bottles to celebrate their surprise victory of the season, while a noisy game of darts was underway in the backroom, and the pool table had been taken over by two overdressed couples up from New York City, who were spending more time arguing than playing.
“Renee turned red in the face,” Bernie said after taking another sip of her beer. “I’m talking bright red. Crimson, really.” She stifled a yawn. It had been a very long day.
“I was convinced we were going to have to call nine-one-one,” Libby interjected. “I thought Renee was going to have a stroke.”
“It didn’t help that Bertha and Ernie ran over and started licking Renee’s face,” Bernie added.
“They were probably just trying to cheer her up,” Marvin posited as he grabbed a handful of peanuts out of the bowl in front of him and began tossing them in his mouth one at a time. “Although I’m sure Renee didn’t see it that way.”
“No, she didn’t,” Libby agreed, giggling at the memory. “She started shrieking like someone was trying to kill her.”
“Which made Ernie and Bertha lick all the harder.” Bernie emptied her glass, then fished out the orange slice in it, ate it, deposited the rind on her napkin, and asked Brandon for another wheat beer before continuing. “On a totally different note, is it true that Syntech is moving in here?” Bernie asked, referring to the company that was tagged to become the next Google.
“That’s TBD,” Brandon said as he placed her glass in front of her.
Bernie raised an eyebrow. “Meaning?”
“To be decided,” Brandon told her. “Why are you asking?”
Bernie told him as she held the glass up and studied it before taking a sip. The golden color. The tiny bubbles. They always reminded her of summer.
“So Renee was lying?” Libby asked. She was always amazed by how much Brandon knew about what was going on in Longely.
“I’d say exaggerating,” Brandon replied.
“I don’t envy you guys having to deal with her,” Marvin said, giving his full attention to the conversation instead of half watching the Mets on the TV above the bar. Then he explained. “A week after her aunt’s funeral, she came into the office, waving our bill in her hand, accusing us of double billing her, yelling she was going to the police.”
“And had you?” Brandon kidded.
“Yeah. We charged her for two caskets instead of one.”
“So what happened?” L. . .
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...