Cut to the Chaise
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With her wedding day mere weeks away, home stager Caprice De Luca is busy arranging every last detail for the reception at Rambling Vines Winery—a stylish venue she redecorated two years earlier. But the closer the bride-to-be gets to saying, “I do,” the more a celebration at Rambling Vines seems like a terrible mistake. As financial mishaps and unhappy customers put the winery in the red, an unidentified criminal plots to sour the business’s already ailing reputation. Worst of all, a romance from co-owner Michelle Dodd’s past could leave a permanent stain on Caprice’s best friend’s current love life. When Michelle’s aloof husband is found stabbed to death on a chaise lounge in the tasting room, Caprice vows to name the calculating culprit and set things right before her dream nuptials dissolve into a deadly nightmare . . .
Release date: November 27, 2018
Publisher: Kensington Books
Print pages: 242
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Cut to the Chaise
Karen Rose Smith
Caprice De Luca believed in telling the truth. But as she met her sisters and her best friend Roz in the parking lot of Rambling Vines Winery, she wondered if the truth was always the best option.
Should she tell Roz now?
Should she tell her before the big day when Caprice would marry Grant Weatherford and then they would have their reception here?
Travis Dodd and his wife Michelle had decided to modernize Rambling Vines Winery two years ago with a full-out marketing campaign to promote the winery not only in Kismet but across the state of Pennsylvania. However, there was a reason Michelle had chosen Caprice De Luca Home Staging and Designs to redo the tasting room, the events room, as well as the first floor of the house on the estate. Roz didn’t know what that reason was.
Her older sister Nikki pushed her blond-highlighted brown hair over her shoulder and gave Caprice a look that clearly said she should tell Roz now. Caprice’s younger sister Bella, her tumbling black curls around her face as wayward as she sometimes could be, elbowed her as they walked toward the tasting room. Caprice delayed the moment of truth by admiring the porch that wrapped around three sides of the building housing Rambling Vines’ tasting room, offices, and winery. The events room was in a separate building.
“I can’t believe I’ve never been here before,” Bella said. “The winery is only a few miles out of town.”
All four women studied the entrance where stone pillars supported the porch roof. Roz held on to the cedar banister and climbed the two steps to the porch. Her violet sheath emphasized her slim figure, while her blond hair and gold earrings gleamed in the April sunlight. In response to Bella’s comment, Roz frowned. “As much as Vince likes wineries, I’m surprised he never brought me here.”
There was a reason for that, Caprice thought with a sigh. Was Roz’s musing an opening she should take?
She was about to say to Roz, Let’s sit on the porch and talk. There were several high-backed rockers lining the porch with short round tables between them. But before she could say the words, Travis Dodd appeared in the doorway.
Travis was about five-foot-ten, not as tall as Grant. After all, Caprice measured everybody by Grant’s height. To her, her fiancé was sexy and handsome and everything a man should be all combined in one.
Travis looked as if he were dressed for a business meeting in a suit that Caprice decided might be custom-made. The silk tie was Hermès. His sandy blond hair looked a bit too perfectly styled and he sported that new scruffy beard look as if he’d grown two days of stubble and left it there. Still, he was handsome, and in the past, he’d been nothing but charming.
Now he smiled at them, his blue eyes going from one of them to the next. “It’s good to see you ladies,” he said in a smoothly suave voice. “Michelle is tied up with a phone call, but she’ll be here shortly.”
Caprice introduced Roz and her sisters, and he shook all of their hands. “Let me show you the tasting room until Michelle arrives. I know it won’t come into play for your wedding reception but your guests might wander in and out and take a look around the winery. That’s what brings back repeat customers.” He nodded to Bella, Roz, and Nikki and in a conspiratorial voice added, “That’s how Caprice’s name gets spread far and wide. You wouldn’t believe how many people ask who decorated the tasting room and the events room, let alone the house.”
Caprice’s reputation mostly spread by word of mouth, and she was indeed grateful that the Dodds’ guests and customers asked about the renovations and designs.
“She even found us the perfect furniture,” Travis said as they went inside. “Exactly what we wanted.”
Caprice had been a bit surprised when Michelle and Travis had wanted her to redo the tasting room with something totally different than they’d had before. Like many tasting rooms, there had been a counter and stools where a sommelier served wine and snacks. The couple had assured her over and over that they wanted something totally unique and mentioned settees and chaise lounges and a table large enough to sit six comfortably. A bar, yes, for whoever was managing the tasting room. But they’d requested a stone front and a granite surface on it. Shelves crafted of cedar like the banisters outside ran up the wall behind the counter, displaying bottles of wine. Wood and stone were everywhere.
Roz pointed across the room. “I love that teal chaise.”
The teal leather also covered two club-like chairs at the other side of the room with a dark pine table between them. Another chaise in claret leather was accompanied by several uniquely designed chairs in the grouping, while a low dark pine coffee table angled between them. The teal and claret were picked up again by the glasses and dishes and cups and saucers stacked on a shelf behind the bar. Throw rugs with those same colors dotted the rust-colored ceramic tile floor.
“These pendant lights above the bar are amazing,” Nikki commented, pointing to the teal hand-blown glass.
“And that chandelier,” Bella said. “I’d find a place to put that in my house if I could.”
The chandelier was multi-tiered copper that blended in with the native stone and the browns of the rest of the room.
All of a sudden, Michelle came running in through the front door of the tasting room like a swift wind.
“I’m sorry I’m late,” she said breathlessly. “I stopped to feed the stray dog who’s been hanging around on the tasting room porch.”
“We didn’t see one,” Nikki said.
“Oh, he followed me up to the house. But I don’t want to let him in. You know, fleas and all. So I put a bed around the corner on the porch and his bowls are there too. He’s been hanging around since yesterday.”
Somehow Michelle had come to stand beside Roz. She was wearing a two-piece cream pantsuit. Both women were fashionable, svelte blondes with green eyes. At that moment, Caprice knew she didn’t want her friend to be blindsided. She had to tell her about Michelle. What if Michelle let something slip?
Travis said, “If you’ll excuse me, Michelle will continue your tour. Caprice, we’re so glad that you and Grant chose us for your reception.”
With Grant’s annulment coming through in March, they’d needed to find a reception venue quickly. That was difficult to do when those places were usually booked a year or more in advance. But when Caprice had phoned Michelle, Michelle had checked the winery’s calendar and revealed that she’d had a cancellation in May. She and Travis would be glad to accommodate Caprice and Grant for the reception.
As Michelle nodded to Bella and Nikki and shook hands with Roz, Caprice suspected that Roz thought Nikki had been to the winery before and met Michelle then. And Bella . . .
“This furniture is so trendy,” Bella stated. “The tasting room reminds me of those bookstores that have coffee bars and desserts. Customers can come in, sit, and talk. The atmosphere surely is inviting to bring friends along. It’s much more than a wine-tasting room.”
Michelle nodded. “That’s exactly what we were going for, and Caprice helped us make it happen. Would you like to try out one of the chaise lounges?” she asked, pointing to the teal one.
Nikki crossed to it and flopped down. “It’s comfortable. And the leather coverings are smart because you can clean them easily.”
“Exactly why Caprice recommended them,” Michelle agreed. “Come on. Let’s go out the other exit and I’ll take you over to the events building.”
As they headed toward the heavy wooden door, Michelle motioned to the left. “Our offices, the winery, and the grapes receiving department are over that way. That’s the business part of the enterprise. But the events room is my favorite part of the winery grounds.”
After Michelle opened the door, they all followed a path lined with pansies that led to the events building. The building itself was much different than the winery. A portico reached over the entrance. To the left of the events building sat what looked like a long garage with three double-wide doors.
April wind tossed Caprice’s straight, long, seventies-style dark-brown hair across her face. She didn’t get much of a look at the garage as Michelle ushered them inside the room where Caprice’s wedding reception would be held. It was exciting just walking in as a client of the winery rather than a designer.
In the foyer, Michelle, acting as a tour guide, motioned to the reception area with a beautiful high-gloss polished hardwood floor. The colors in this building were cream and bronze to go with almost any décor a bride would choose. Other events weren’t always as color conscious.
As they strolled into the main room, Caprice’s eyes automatically went to the focal point, a floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace. The cathedral ceiling added to the majesty of the room. French doors led to gardens that were now covered with daffodils. The other wall brought in sunshine through its many windows that stacked their way up to the cathedral ceiling.
“This room almost has a church-like atmosphere,” Nikki noted.
“We do have many weddings take place here too,” Michelle said. “Not just receptions. Weather permitting, we can also hold a wedding outside in the gardens.”
“Grant and Caprice were lucky to line up a date at St. Francis on short notice,” Bella said. “And then with you. I couldn’t have been that patient waiting for an annulment. But it was important for them to be married in the Catholic Church.”
“I imagine so,” Michelle agreed. “The De Lucas’ faith is important to them. It will be a wonderful ceremony, and we’ll make sure we match and complement it with everything we do here. Let me show you to the alcove where the DJ will set up. It’s over there next to the wet bar.”
When Bella and Nikki started following Michelle, Caprice caught Roz’s arm. “Wait here a minute, will you? I’d like to talk to you.”
“Here?” Roz asked, looking surprised.
“I don’t want to wait any longer to tell you what I have to tell you.”
Now Roz looked worried. “You’ve changed your mind about having me in your wedding? Maybe you’d like your Aunt Marie to step in instead since she’s going to be here?”
“No, nothing like that. Of course, I want you in my wedding.” The other women’s voices were muted now as they turned toward the bar. “I need to ask you something,” Caprice said. “Has Vince told you about Michelle?”
Roz looked blank.
It didn’t surprise Caprice that her brother hadn’t told his present live-in girlfriend about an ex. “There’s not that much to tell,” she admitted. “But Vince and Michelle once dated.”
With a smile, Roz gave a small laugh. “I know Vince dated lots of women before me. Kismet is a small town and running into them will happen.”
In spite of Roz’s words, however, Caprice saw her friend studying Michelle more carefully.
All of a sudden Travis came rushing into the events room looking troubled. He targeted his wife and ignored everyone else as he rushed to her. “I have a meeting in Camp Hill. I have to leave right now.”
Caprice watched Travis and Michelle exchange a look. Michelle’s chin went up and she appeared defiant. Travis was looking down at her and his eyes bore the glare of a bully.
After a tense moment or two, Travis maintained, “I don’t know when I’ll be back. I know you can handle everything here.”
Just like that, Travis left again.
Watching Travis and Michelle, Caprice wondered about their marriage. After she’d been married for five years, she hoped she and Grant would still be acting like newlyweds. Were her expectations too high? Maybe, but whenever she considered her parents’ marriage, as well as her grandparents’ marriage, she knew her expectations weren’t set too high.
Michelle shook off Travis’s rudeness and his departure. Waving her hand over the large room, she explained, “Caprice has asked for round tables and tablecloths in pale aqua, rose, and yellow. She told me your dresses are all florals in different styles. We want the room to be a backdrop for her, Grant, and the wedding party. The whole atmosphere will be elegant, fashionable, and unique. We’ll use white wood chairs for the guests and white plates. It will all be striking.”
Caprice hoped that was true. She and Grant had come up with their ideas together. She really cared less about the colors and the state of the room than she did about her marriage to Grant. She simply wanted the day to be special for them and their families, no matter what food they chose or the flavor of cake.
Bella closed one eye and glanced around the room, obviously envisioning it. “That’s so you, Caprice. It will definitely work.”
Nikki asked Michelle, “Did you know that Bella is creating Caprice’s gown? It’s a vintage style and the design is fabulous.” Nikki turned to look at Caprice. “Your fitting is coming up soon, isn’t it?”
“Whenever Bella wants to do it,” Caprice agreed.
Roz usually had an opinion about everything, but Caprice noticed she was being unusually quiet. Was she thinking about the time Vince and Michelle had spent together? Her brother had dated Michelle for a few months and that’s when Caprice and Michelle had become friendly. However, Michelle had wanted more out of the relationship than Vince, who was dating someone just because he liked to date. Michelle cut off their relationship and dumped him. Although Caprice liked to think her talent and reputation had snared Michelle and Travis’s account to renovate the winery, she also believed Michelle had contracted with her because she felt a little guilty about what had happened with Vince.
After Michelle had shown them every nook and cranny of the events room, even a dressing room off to one side where a bride and her bridesmaids could freshen up before their entrance, she guided them outside to the gardens. When they’d passed through the French doors at the rear of the events room, Caprice immediately noticed the riot of color to the right around a huge fountain. The fountain was simple rather than ornate with three tiers in ombre-like colors. The top tier was rust stone, the second tier was brown stone, and the third-tier black stone. Daffodils danced all around the fountain in colorful yellow, white, and blush.
The groaning of a motor caused Caprice to take a few steps forward and look to the left at the long garage. Now two of the doors were open and another had just closed. She caught a glimpse of what looked like a late sixties MG. It was dark green with a high polish.
She pointed to it and asked Michelle, “What year is the MG?”
“That’s right, you like classic cars. You own a restored Camaro,” Michelle remembered. “You and Travis would have common ground there. Restored classic cars are his passion. He has several of them. That’s a ‘65 MG.”
Bella, Roz, and Nikki had walked toward the garden and the fountain. Bella was pointing to a reddish-colored ornamental grass.
Caprice’s attention returned to Michelle. She understood the expense of restoring a car and what those cars were worth if they were restored authentically. “That’s an expensive passion,” came out of her mouth before she could catch it. Then she added, “My car took several years to restore with my dad and Vince’s sweat equity along with some of their friends’ time. But I do love it, so I can understand Travis’s interest in classic cars.”
Michelle motioned to the garage door that wasn’t open. “One you can’t see is a red Thunderbird convertible. We rent it to just-married couples who want unique transportation from the church to the winery. You might want to think about that.”
She’d tell Grant. That was something he might like to do.
After another exacting look at the gardens, they returned inside the events room, all of the women agreeing the landscaper had done a superb job. Caprice knew Michelle hired only the best. The winery’s gardener had planted the gardens to transition from one season to the next, adding annuals for each month. Azaleas would soon be blooming.
After a last examination of the venue, they returned the way they’d come. As Caprice glanced at the entrance to the tasting room, movement on the porch there caught her eye. There was a dog. She supposed it was the stray Michelle had spoken of earlier.
Without thinking twice, she ran over to the porch and walked up to the steps. The dog looked like a Schnoodle, a mixture of schnauzer and poodle. He was about twenty inches high . . . possibly twenty pounds. He tilted his face as he looked at her, and she had to smile. His body was mostly cream, but then he had gray floppy ears, gray around both eyes, and a gray nose that stood out against the creamy face. There was a blaze of gray on his forehead too and along one side of his flank. He was adorable.
“He’s friendly,” Michelle said. “I know how you love animals. Go ahead and give him a pet.”
He was wagging his tail now and coming toward her. Caprice let him smell her hand and then he rubbed his head against it. She scratched behind his ears and he seemed to love that. From her guesstimation, he might be two or three.
“What are you going to do with him?” Caprice asked.
“First, I’m going to call around to all the neighbors to see if anyone lost him. He looks like a mix of a couple of things.”
“After the neighbors, I’ll call veterinarians to see if anybody notified their offices that they lost him. I’m going to make another bed for him on the screened-in porch up at the house tonight. But we can’t keep him because I don’t have time to take care of him. And Travis . . . Travis wouldn’t care about a dog.”
In Caprice’s estimation, if Travis wouldn’t care about a dog, what kind of man was he?
The dog rolled over for Caprice and she rubbed his belly. He put all four paws up in the air and she had to laugh. Who wouldn’t love a dog like this?
She knew Michelle was busy. They should probably leave. Caprice had planned lunch at her place for her sisters and Roz. From Roz’s pensive expression, Caprice had a feeling her friend was going to have questions about Michelle . . . and Vince’s relationship with her.
Just how much should Caprice tell her?
Caprice had prepared lunch for the women early this morning. She knew they’d all want to talk after the winery tour. They always had the best discussions over food. At her house, she fed Lady—her golden cocker spaniel, Sophia—her long-haired calico, and Mirabelle—her white Persian. After eating their lunch, hopefully none of them would be interested in the food on the table.
As the women took seats around the table in her bright kitchen with its vintage buttercup-yellow appliances, Caprice first produced a basket of croissants. Then she pulled the chicken salad she’d made with its slivered almonds, dried cranberries, and celery, out of the refrigerator, setting that next to the croissants. In addition to the chicken salad, she’d prepared a tomato, fresh mozzarella, and oregano salad.
“This looks good.” Nikki pulled her chair in. “Perfect for an April day.”
“I’ll surprise you with dessert after we’ve eaten the salads,” Caprice revealed with a smile as Lady sat beside her chair.
“Uh-oh,” Bella said. “I have a feeling the dessert isn’t low-carb.”
Caprice gave a little shrug and joined them at the table. She was ten to fifteen pounds overweight but her vintage clothes, like the turquoise-and-fuchsia crocheted-lace gauzy blouse with turquoise bell-bottom slacks that she wore today, often hid the fact. She’d long ago accepted the fact that she’d never be a size four or six.
Bella took one of the croissants and began filling it with chicken salad as did everyone. “I’ll have your wedding gown ready for a fitting soon.”
Nikki set her chicken-filled croissant on her lime-green plate and reached for the tomato salad. “I want to be there for the fitting. I can’t wait to see your gown.”
“I’d like to be there too,” Roz said quietly.
Bella picked up her sandwich. “All right. But just the two of you. I want everyone else to be surprised. This is my first wedding creation.”
When Caprice couldn’t find the gown she’d liked in stores or online because she’d wanted a vintage style, Bella had shown her a design and assured Caprice she’d make it for her wedding. It was based on a photo of their Nana’s wedding gown. But she was sure Bella would add embellishments of her own. Caprice hadn’t seen it yet and she couldn’t wait to try it on.
“Did you find shoes?” Nikki asked.
After Caprice took a few swallows of iced tea, she nodded. “I found them at Secrets of the Past. I’ll show you after lunch. They’re white, of course, with a pointy toe and kitten heels. They have a few crystal embellishments.”
Bella poked a tomato and a piece of mozzarella with her fork. “They sound perfect. Not only will you be trying on your wedding gown, but I’ll have the veil there that Mom and Nana bought you. There’s a surprise with tha. . .
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