I have a short mystery in the anthology MURDER THEY WROTE. Jazzi, Ansel, and Jerod have volunteered to renovate the kitchen, dining room, and half bath of a grand, old house for charity. The rooms are in much worse shape than they expected. But that’s not the worst of their problems. They meet Earnestine Peabody and quickly learn she’s constantly digging for dirt on their fellow designers:
They were gathered at the Formica table, drawing up plans, when a woman teetered into the room. She wore an aqua dress with a straight skirt and matching high heels. Her black, chin-length hair was crimped into elaborate waves, and her eye makeup was the same shade of aqua as her dress. Jazzi blinked, taken aback for a moment.
The woman gushed, “I’m Earnestine Peabody, the caterer for the house’s grand opening. I was so excited when Edmund told me you were here. Will the new kitchen have plenty of space for me to assemble and heat the food I’m preparing? I’m going to make lots of little finger foods to place around the ground floor of the house. Do you have any idea what your plans are for your rooms yet?”
Jerod had been sketching ideas as they brainstormed. He moved his drawings for her to see.
She clapped her hands. “Perfect! I can set finger sandwiches on the worktable in the kitchen. And I’ll put coffee urns and pitchers of lemonade on the countertops. The lavender and lemon refrigerator cookies can go on the dining room table.”
Ansel glanced at Jazzi and frowned. She knew that look. Her Viking was unimpressed. “Do you have treats for every room?”
“I’ll have dishes of party mix in the ballroom, popcorn in the billiard room, cheese and crackers in the lounge, and Rice Krispy treats in the library.” She beamed, pleased with herself.
“Silas must have given you a small budget to work with,” Jerod said.
Earnestine scowled at him. “What makes you think that?”
Her cousin realized his mistake too late. He scurried to redeem himself. “This is going to be a big event. No caviar? No shrimp cocktail?”
The caterer’s laugh tinkled. “We’re expecting far too many people for anything like that, silly.”
He nodded agreement. “Let’s hope so. The more visitors, the more profits for charities, right?”
“So true.” She touched his arm in a flirtatious way. “It’s going to be fun working with you, I can tell.”
Ansel squashed the smile that was starting, but his blue eyes glittered with laughter. Jerod threw a dirty look his way. No men were more married than the guys in their family and their friends.
“Well, I’ve bothered you long enough,” Earnestine said with another exaggerated smile. “I’m going to introduce myself to the other designers. And the adorable man who’s decorating the conservatory told me to pass along his salutations to you.”
“Did you get his name?” Jazzi asked.
“Reuben something, he said he’s known you for ages.”
Jazzi smiled. She should have known Reuben would be invited to share his expertise on this project. When she’d rented a ground floor apartment in West Central, he’d been her upstairs neighbor. His many clients never tired of singing his praises.
Earnestine cocked her head, obviously curious. “I’ve heard a few worrying rumors about him. Surely, they’re not true. He seems so charming.”
Jazzi’s hands went to her hips. “Whatever you heard, I wouldn’t believe it. I’ve known him a long time, and I admire and respect him.”
“But he does like his drinks, doesn’t he?”
“So what? He’s smart about it, never drinks and drives. And he doesn’t over indulge often, only when he can crash at a friend’s for the night.”
Earnestine pressed her red lips into a moue. “And he occasionally enjoys smoking? Pot, I mean.”
Jazzi stared at her, beginning to loathe the woman. “Are you trying to start trouble? I don’t like it when someone trash talks a friend.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. I was just surprised when I heard that.”
“What’s it to you?” Ansel asked. “Who cares what someone does in private?”
Earnestine threw her arms in the air in surrender. “Reuben’s so lucky to have such staunch defenders. I beg your pardon. Let’s pretend this never happened.”