The best chocolate begins with imagination and ends in murder.
Making chocolate is a labor of love and an age-old art. As a connoisseur of the sweet, creamy stuff herself, Blaise is excited to be working at an exclusive confectioner’s shop, run by a woman whose reputation for being a creative chocolatier is legendary. Madeline Foss’s past might be murky and slightly dark, but her chocolate is delicious. And nothing says love like chocolate. Or at least, that’s what Blaise has always believed.
But when her new boss ends up dead, she quickly realizes that nothing says murder like jealousy and ambition. And there isn’t enough chocolate in the world to overcome a savage intent.
She floated into the room in a cloud of raspberry and chocolate chiffon, her arms waving around her head and her eyes swiveling to take in every display with a slightly hostile, but eminently discerning eye. “Les grains de café enrobés de chocolat!”
Blaise settled the last perfectly formed rectangle of toffee onto its tray in the glass case and glanced up. “I’ve got them ready to put out. I’ll do those next.”
Madeline Foss nodded and stopped in the middle of the cozy little shop, an index finger pressed against her ruby-red lips as her cool, gray gaze swept the tables and danced over the glass display cases. “The brittle is messy,” she told Blaise.
“I know. I’ll do that after the chocolate covered coffee beans.”
“Les grains de café enrobés de chocolat,” Madeline corrected, her upturned nose lifting with disdain.
“The grains de whatever, yes.” Head down so her boss couldn’t see when she rolled her eyes, Blaise closed the case and moved over to the tray of pretty plastic containers filled with coffee beans coated in creamy, rich chocolate. She fought the urge to inhale their scent, knowing that Madeline, in her Queen of England persona, would consider it gauche.
Madeline’s cell rang and she tugged it from an invisible pocket in the cloud of chiffon, glaring at the screen. “I’ll be in my office, Blaise.” She turned and swept toward the back of the shop, her outfit billowing around her like a designer flag in a windstorm.
“Yes?” Her voice was tight and shrill. It was her “I don’t like you, so why are you talking to me” voice.
Blaise shook her head. She’d taken the job as an experiment, thinking she might like to get into the confectionary business. She’d learned a lot and enjoyed creating the sweet delicacies as much as watching people’s eyes light up when they came through the door and looked around. But dealing with the talented yet decidedly temperamental Madeline had been a bit more than Blaise had bargained for.
Still, she’d been surprised to discover she really liked her new boss. Once she’d realized there was a soft center under all that prickliness.
Her own cell rang a couple of moments later as the back door snicked closed, sending a cold draft of early Winter air in Blaise’s direction. Blaise frowned toward the hallway that led to Madeline’s office, the private restroom, and the exit.
Had her boss left for the day without saying anything?
Irritation flaring, Blaise answered her phone without looking to see who it was. “Hello?”
A shrill bark met her greeting. Her temper sifted away and Blaise grinned. “Hey, Miss Ivy. How’s my beautiful girl?”
Panting noises preceded a soft whine, and Blaise chuckled. “Dolfe, how many times have I told you not to whine on the phone.”
“It works for the fur-brats,” a sexy, deep voice told her.
“That’s because they’re little and cute.”
“I’m not cute?” His voice filled with pretend hurt.
“Cute is not the word I’d use for you, no.” Gorgeous. Sexy. Painfully masculine. She grinned.
His chuckle made her all warm and sizzly inside. “What time will you be done tonight? The brats and I want to go to that new drive-in restaurant for dinner.”
“The brats told you that, huh?”
“They did. I happen to speak fluent fur-brat.”
Laughing, she glanced through the front windows at the lead-gray sky beyond. “It’s cold and ugly outside, Honeybun.”
“We won’t be getting out of the car.” She could almost hear him smile. “Besides, I’ll keep you warm.”
“More like the two dogs on my lap will keep me warm. You won’t be able to reach me through all the fur and teeth.”
Dolfe sighed. “Story of my life. Time?”
“Five o’clock. I’m almost done setting up for tomorrow.”
“Perfect. We’ll see you then.”
A short, muffled scream had Blaise turning toward the back again. “What the…?” She disconnected and started toward the office. “Madeline?”
The hall was empty. The office door was locked. Madeline kept it locked whenever she left the room. Blaise’s boss wasn’t a very trusting person and the office’s proximity to the back exit, which led to an alley featuring a stinky dumpster, a few employee cars, and zero security cameras didn’t improve her trust issues.
Blaise tugged the bathroom door open and stuck her head inside. “Madeline?”
A cold breeze skimmed down the hall and the metal door to the alley clacked against the frame. It wasn’t latched.
It was unlike her boss to leave it open. Unless she’d been in a hurry. Or upset.
Frowning, Blaise hurried toward the door and eased it open, peering into the alley as an icy blast of wind scoured across the space, sending bits of debris skimming over the dingy asphalt and carrying the stench of the dumpster down the way to her nose.
Her boss’s car was still there, sitting alone under the security light that hadn’t come on yet.
“Madeline…?” Blaise’s voice cut off as she spotted a length of raspberry chiffon dancing on the air near the dumpster. Shivering violently, Blaise stepped into the alley. “What are you doing out here? You’re going to get frostbite.” She headed for the cloud of chiffon, rubbing her arms and looking around for any indication of why Madeline had come into the alley.
“You know, I took the trash out earlier, right?”
A pale hand lifted above the dumpster and Blaise gave a startled yelp as a rangy orange cat jumped from the rusty container and dropped lightly to the ground. The cat turned to stare at her, its startling green gaze filled with distrust. The stray’s tail whipped from side to side and Blaise took note of the dark stains around its mouth. She grimaced. “Dumpster diving, huh?”
Madeline must have been trying to capture the cat. The woman was cat crazy. She had six cats of her own, all rescued off the streets of Indianapolis. Blaise frowned as the cat ran away, her gaze drawn to the pale hand resting against the side of the dumpster. “Please tell me you didn’t fall into that dumpster trying to help the cat?”
She stepped on something that crunched under her boot. Looking down, Blaise frowned at the familiar phone, its back encased in faux purple jewels. She picked it up and grimaced at the cracked screen. “Um, Madeline…I think I broke your phone.”
Silence met her statement. “Madeline?”
Blaise hurried over, jerking to a stop as she got close enough to see inside the trash receptacle.
Blaise gave a sharp scream, her hand snapping up to cover her mouth.
“Oh, Maddie…” Tears burned her eyes and slid down her cheeks, dripping to the stained and debris-strewn asphalt beneath her boots.
Madeline didn’t respond.
She’d never respond again.