Crimped To Death
Book 2 in the Divorced Diva Cozy Mystery Series
The Divorced Divas are a motley crew of women, all of whom are not afraid to stand up to the men who scorned them. During their beaded jewelry classes, the Divas plot ways to kill their exes. . .pretend play of course.
Someone in Swanee, Kentucky is trying to stop the group of women from meeting and will stop at nothing to make that happen. . .including the murder of Diva Bernadine’s ex-husband using one of The Beaded Dragonfly’s crimping tools as the weapon.
Holly Harper and the Diva’s must set aside their beading projects to clear Bernadine’s name and find the killer—before another Diva’s ex becomes the next victim…
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Crimped To Death
Book 2 in the Divorced Diva Cozy Mystery Series
Crimped To Death
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Honk, honk. Willow squeaked and rolled her ball around. Honk.
“The Beaded Dragonfly,” I answered the old rotary-dial phone that hung on the wall in my bead shop.
I still smiled every single time I said my business name. It was mine, all mine.
“Yes. I understand,” I said into the phone and looked out the big front window of the shop.
The light pink awning that hung over the storefront doors with The Beaded Dragonfly printed in black flapped in the morning breeze. The dragonfly mascot with the beaded tail was printed on the windows. The sun hit the tail of the dragonfly and projected the colors on the wall of the shop like a rainbow. It was truly magical. Exactly everything I had always dreamed of.
Honk, honk, honk. Willow batted the ball with her nose better than soccer players used their feet.
I tried not to laugh at how cute my pet pig was. “Your daughter’s wedding jewelry will be just as beautiful as Margaret McGee’s.”
The day was turning out to be a beautiful day and the beads glistened throughout the store showing all of their brilliance. The large windows were big assets. I knew the natural light that shone through would give each bead and gem the sparkle that would set my bead shop apart from any other.
The front door flew open; just like a tornado Marlene Dietrich flew in for her afternoon shift at The Beaded Dragonfly, my lapidary.
Weak, weak, weak. Willow’s tail twirled and she darted into the storage room in the back of the shop as fast as her little hooves could carry her.
As soon as she saw Marlene and her sky-high heels take the first step onto the hardwood floor, she was out of there.
“You better run.” Marlene cackled and held her foot in the air, heel jabbing toward Willow. “I love pork on a stick, it’s called a corn dog!”
Marlene’s foot dropped and in one swift kick, she sent Willow’s ball into The Under.
Sigh. I let out a long, deep breath. The Under.
To most people The Under of things probably didn’t bother them. Me, well. . .I’m a different story. Even as a child I never liked The Under. The Under of beds, The Under of cars, even basements in houses were Unders. I had never explored the true reasons why I had never liked The Under, but I would think it would have to do with all the scariness of a monster Under the bed theory you heard about as a child.
Regardless, I never stuck my hand in The Under unless I had a big light illuminating the entire dark space.
“No. Not just as beautiful. Even better than Margaret McGee’s jewelry.” I gave Marlene the stink eye as she sashayed her long-legged, leopard-print wearing, hip-hugging, skin-tight jeggings legs toward me. “Great. I will mark you down. See you then.”
I placed the phone back in it’s cradle and grabbed the calendar next to the cash register laying on the glass counter and marked the new appointment with a mother of the bride.
“Really, Marlene? Must you always come in here and torment Willow?” I asked and put the calendar back.
“She’s the one who started it.” Marlene slid off her long leather gloves one finger at a time and dropped them on the counter.
Marlene didn’t give scaring poor Willow a second thought. She unbuttoned her coat and hung it on the coat tree at the front of the shop near the door.
“Besides, you really shouldn’t bring your pet to work.” Marlene cocked her perfectly waxed brow and tugged on the v-neck part of her black top, tucking her girls away for the day.
I ignored her and looked at the list of clients I had on the schedule.
Marlene leaned on the counter and drummed her long red acrylic fingernails on the glass.
“Whatcha doing?” She batted her long, fake, implanted eyelashes.
“Working.” I looked at her, a little irked by her cool manner. I pointed to the stack of boxes in the corner of the room that was filled with merchandise that needed to be placed on display. “Something you should be doing.”
Marlene Dietrich had been working for me every since she stepped high-heeled into Swanee, Kentucky and she knew exactly what her job duties were. Unpack new inventory, put new inventory on the shelves, and answer the phone. Easy.
She and Willow were enemies from the start. Willow was scared of Marlene’s boisterous cackle, not to mention the spikes on her shoes. Marlene loved to aggravate my poor pig.
“Did you have enough coffee this morning?” Marlene chomped on her gum. I could smell it and almost taste it. “Because I can run down to Second Cup and get you one. Plus I have to drop off a new batch of Agnes’s fudge.”
“No I don’t need a cup of coffee.” I glanced up and glared at her. “I need you to unpack those boxes.” I pointed over to the three stacked boxes in the far corner of the store.
“Fine.” She dragged her hot pink purse toward her and took out a small plastic container filled with fudge. She took her gum out and stuck it right on top of the cash register. She took a piece of Agnes Pearl’s delicious chocolaty treat out of the container and took a big bite. Her eyes closed. “Mmm.” Her eyes opened. “You sure you don’t want a piece?”
“Marlene, Food Watchers would call you a saboteur.” I pushed the container away.
The smell alone would make me gain five pounds and tonight was my weigh-in night.
“Okay.” She put the container back in her purse and pushed it toward me to stick it behind the counter. Her long nails plucked the wad of gum off the cash register and plopped it back in her mouth.
My eyes lowered and my nose curled as I watched middle-aged Marlene strut her thin body over to the boxes. I had to admit I was jealous.
I looked down into the glass counter. My dull brown hair fell into my face and I tucked a falling strand behind my ear. It wasn’t a secret that after my divorce from what’s his name, I had put on a few pounds and clothes with elastic waistbands had become my best friend.
A few months ago I decided to make a change and join Food Watchers. I had been really watching my weight and lost a few pounds, but not enough to really make a difference. Yet.
“Oh, these are beautiful.” Marlene dangled a strand of coral beads in the air.
The sunlight gushed through the front windows, and hit the gems perfectly as the prisms bounced off the ceiling and walls.
“I can put these on my new necklace.” The words of excitement oozed out of her mouth like honey.
One good thing about Marlene, she showed up to work and she loved to design jewelry, which was altogether a plus for me.
“Oh no you won’t,” I assured her. “Those are for the new bridal line.”
She snarled and stuck them where they were supposed to go, the new bridal side of the shop. The right side of the lapidary was big enough for me to have a small café table with two chairs and a display case for unique and expensive beads a bride would wear on her wedding day.
I used that side of the shop for bridal consults and the other side of the shop for beading classes for customers, as well as the pre-made jewelry selection for anyone who wanted to buy, not make.
“The Divas would love them.” Marlene took one last look at the coral beads before she reluctantly dangled them on the hook that was meant just for them.
“I’m sure they would, but I have to make a living,” I reminded her.
The Divorced Divas, the Divas, for short, was a group formed in the most unlikely of ways. I was driving through Swanee during a rough day. Sean, my ex—aka what’s his name—hadn’t paid the alimony, and in the back of my head, I knew I needed to make a payment to the Sloans for rent.
The church sign read, “If you are divorced. Stop here. Meeting at 7pm.” As luck would have it, it was seven p.m. I whipped my little VW Beetle into the parking lot and marched right in.
The women greeted me with open arms, and we’ve been close ever since.
We found laughter and tears while bashing our ex-husbands and cheering each other on. Diva Flora White tended to take suggestions literally. Once, she cut all the armpits out of her ex-husband Bennie’s, shirts, put them in a garbage bag and dumped canned kidney beans on them. When he came to get his garbage bags of expensive lawyer clothes, he had a little treat inside. Needless to say, the Divas group got a visit from Noah Druck, our local cop. He suggested we bash our ex-husbands only figuratively from then on, unless we wanted a slew of lawsuits.
We Divas loved meeting and came up with all sorts of fun evil plots to hurt our exes in our heads, but that’s where they stayed. The church wasn’t able to accommodate additional meeting times, so we moved them to different Divas’ houses, a hotel I had rented on the edge of town, and then finally to The Beaded Dragonfly.
“Good afternoon.” Donovan Scott strolled through the door with two cups of welcomed coffee in his hands. “I thought you might need one of these.”
He stood there, devilishly handsome with a nice smile on his face. His dimples deepened, making his blue eyes stick out even more against his olive skin.
“You were right.” My heart sank into my stomach. “I do need an afternoon pick-me-up to get through the rest of the day.”
I tugged my shirt down below my waist and walked from behind the counter. I couldn’t hide my body behind it forever. Since I had been going to Food Watchers, I started taking daily walks with Diva Bernadine Frisk, plus I had also been taking a self-defense class from Donovan—as well as a going on a couple of dates with him.
The word date was used loosely. Most of the time it was late night conversations at his house. We had yet to take our relationship to anything more than kissing. Though it wasn’t far from my mind. After all, I was a woman in need.
“That was a big hike yesterday.” He walked toward me with the cup held out in front of him. His fingers touched mine, sending a zinging shock through my core. “I’m glad we decided to venture out.”
Ahem. Marlene cleared her throat.
I had totally forgotten she was there. That was one thing Donovan did to me. . .made me forget my surroundings and drop the world from around me. That was a good sign. Something a man hadn’t done for me in a long time.
“Marlene, you know Donovan.” I gestured between the two. “Don’t you have some fudge to deliver to Second Cup? I bet Bernadine is waiting for it.”
Diva Bernadine was also my neighbor; she lived in a huge cabin across the lake from my little cottage—that was why it made it so easy for me to have a daily walk. She and I both did Food Watchers and kept each other accountable.
Recently she opened up a coffee shop in the middle of town, Second Cup, after she and Henry, her ex-ass, went to court for a fifth time. She realized she couldn’t rely on him, so she’s putting her alimony money to good use and investing in her future with the only café in town. Unfortunately, Henry moved back to Swanee and not only opened up a dental office, decided to sue Bernadine for a sixth time. This time he was suing to stop all alimony payments.
You could only imagine what all the Divas had planned for him.
“I guess I will do this later.” Marlene left the boxes where she found them and went behind the counter to get her purse. “I’ll be back.” She gave Donovan the stare down as she passed us on her way out.
Marlene wasn’t a big fan of Donovan. She adored my ex-ass. Only because he flashed his playboy smile and complimented her whenever he saw her, sending her body into full-on shivers.
Technically, Marlene was an honorary Diva. She loved to date the wealthy men that were on their way to the home of the near death, i.e. nursing homes. She enjoyed the lavish lifestyles they could give her, which didn’t include marriage. Marlene definitely saw marriage as a ball and chain.
Unfortunately, her love ’em and leave ’em attitude came to an abrupt halt when she crossed the wrong ex-wife a few months ago. She’s been on a man dry spell for a while, making her cranky. I’d give her a few more months and she’ll be back to her old self.
“Thank you so much.” A half smile crossed my face as I watched her leave the shop.
I turned to Donovan. His gaze met mine and made my heart flutter. He grinned and straightened his shoulders.
“You look great.” He pulled a chair out from under one the six tables where I host beading classes.
“Thank you.” I felt my cheeks redden. I looked away.
Nervously, I picked at the edges of the coffee cup sleeve. We weren’t used to being out in the public. It wasn’t his doing. It was mine and I couldn’t figure out why. Sean knew I was going on dates with Donovan, but I had never been on any dates other than with Sean. I did a lot of self talk about how it was just not a routine and I needed to go with the flow. Only the flow was always going against me.
Willow poked her head out of the storage room. When she saw Donovan, she ran out squealing with her tail twirling like a helicopter propeller. She loved Donovan and I was quickly thinking I did too.
Donovan bent down and gave her a good piggy pat, sending her into grunts and groans that only sounded right coming from a pig. He got up and walked over to the table.
“What do you have going on today?” Donovan sat down next to me and Willow plopped her big piggy booty on the floor and leaned up against Donovan.
He scooted the metal chair closer to me and rested his arm on the back of my chair. Being this close to him made me a little dizzy and I tried to throttle that feeling by talking aimlessly. Willow scooted with him.
“I have brides to talk to and beads to polish.” I lifted the cup to my mouth and took a sip. I used my free hand to rub Willow’s head. “These brides are crazy.”
After Margaret McGee—Swanee’s closest thing to a royal daughter with her perfectly put together mom and Bear McGee, the county attorney as a father—hired The Beaded Dragonfly to design her wedding jewelry for her and her bridesmaids, my business took off.
Brides from all around Swanee were hiring me with no expense spared to do their weddings and one up Margaret.
“You’re right.” I took another sip of the coffee. “This does hit the spot.”
“I couldn’t resist.” He leaned in and his lips slowly descended to meet mine for a nice soft kiss. “I was on my way to my afternoon class and decided you just might need an afternoon pick-me-up.”
Not only was Donovan a buff and hot self-defense instructor, he was also a computer professor at the local community college. Muscles and brains were a lethal combination for me.
“The coffee or the kiss?” I joked about which one might be the pick-me-up he was talking about.
“Both.” He put his hands on my shoulders and gave me a little massage.
“That feels good.” I shrugged my shoulders to my ears. “I had no idea how sore I was going to be from yesterday’s hike. I thought I was in better shape since I had been walking with Bernadine.”
Donovan and I had gone on our third date last night. We did a hike through the wooded area of Swanee, up and around the lake near my house. Bernadine and I had been in a habit of walking the lake shoreline, but Donovan had me hiking the woods.
“Will you be at the self-defense class tonight?” he asked.
This was Donovan’s way of finding out if I was going to be available after the class. We hadn’t really committed to exclusively dating each other, but I could feel it coming. He was a little older than me, way more mature than I was and I liked that about him.
“I have Margaret McGee’s Wine and Bead class tonight and you never know how long that is going to take.” I took another sip.
Though I would much rather spend time with him, I had a business to run.
Wine and Bead class had become a very popular class. I served wine for the four weekly classes while the participants made a couple pieces of jewelry. It was a great class for friends and family to take. Margaret McGee was hosting her own Wine and Bead class for her seven bridesmaids. She said that they have all been busy and she wanted them to stay in touch, so she paid for a full class session for just her group.
This meant I had two Wine and Bead classes each week for the next four weeks. Tonight was the start of Margaret’s class.
“Maybe I should have given you a shot of Bailey’s in that coffee.” Donovan laughed, the lines around his eyes deepened as his smile widened. He got up. “I better go.”
I stood up and Willow jumped to her hooves. She stared at us. Donovan reached out and pulled me to him. There was no denying the electricity bouncing off his chest into my heart.
“Thank you.” I put my arms around him and looked up into his eyes. His dimples deepened and my heart beat faster.
The mere touch of his hand sent a warming shiver through me. He pulled me into a snug hug against his body. My head fit perfectly against his chest.
Ding. The bell over the shop rang out.
“Isn’t this cute?” Sean Harper, my ex-ass, stood in the doorway with the antique chandelier I had wanted from our divorce to hang up in the shop.
Sean’s grandmother had given him the most beautiful chandelier. A real chandelier; not just any old light. It was adorned with the most beautiful crystal beads in all shades of pink and red. I had no clue about its monetary value. I just knew that I loved it because of its beading elements.
Weak, weak, weak. Willow darted back and forth between Donovan and Sean. She loved them both and was confused on whom she wanted to be pet by. I completely understood how she felt.
“Sean.” Donovan let me go and gave what’s his name a man nod. He looked at me. His eyes were cold and proud. “Holly, I’ll call you later.”
“Okay.” I smiled and waved him off.
Unsure of what to do in the situation, I grabbed my coffee off the table and walked back over to the counter.
Sean stepped aside and bent down to pat Willow—letting Donovan walk out. Donovan didn’t turn back around and Sean’s eyes didn’t leave mine nor did his hands leave Willow.
“Really, Hol?” Sean asked using the name he had given me when we were married.
“You don’t have the right to call me Hol anymore.” It got my goat every time he shortened my name. “Holly. My name is Holly.”
“Holly Harper.” His playboy grin crossed his lips. “Don’t forget that you still have my name.”
“Trust me.” I glared at him. “If it wasn’t a hassle to change it and all the documents in my name for the shop, I would have gotten rid of Harper a long time ago.”
Groink, groink, groink. Willow stopped shy of the storage room door and looked back. She hated when Sean and I fought. She was just like a little kid. Our little kid.
“It’s okay, girl.” He put the chandelier on one of the tables and bent down, calling her over.
“I’m so glad one of my girls is glad to see me.” He didn’t bother to look up to see my reaction.
Willow plopped down with her legs sprawled out and then flipped on her back. She loved a good belly scratch.
“We aren’t your girls anymore.” I patted my leg for Willow to get up. “Remember? You changed all of that when you realized you didn’t want us.”
I still never knew what had happened between us. I thought we were happy and my weight proved it. He hated the fact I was wearing elastic-waistband pants and I hated he spent all his time drinking with his buddies at The Livin’ End.
“I’ve changed.” He picked up the chandelier off the floor and walked over to the counter. He pointed to the spot above the cash register. “Here?”
“Yes.” I couldn’t wait to see the beautiful light installed in the shop.
If it weren’t for me saving Sean’s ass. . .again, I would have never gotten my hands on the chandelier. I guess you could say it was my payment for saving his life. Literally.
“I’m going to get some tools from my truck.” He walked to the door and turned back to look at me.
The gaze was a little too long. I looked away and grabbed the schedule, pretending to work. I didn’t know whom I was kidding. When Sean was around, it was hard for me to concentrate on anything other than my fingers going around his neck. He might have left me, but my heart hadn’t fully left him, even though I was trying to move on with Donovan.
Sean was the only handyman around town. He owned Sean’s Little Shack Handyman Service. I hated to admit it, but he was good at what he did. And all the Divas used him. He had them eating out of his hand.
Within seconds he was back in the shop with all sorts of tools to install the chandelier.
“So are you dating the teacher?” Sean had grabbed the ladder from the storage room and shimmied up it.
“We’ve gone on a couple of dates.” I pretended not to pay him any attention. “Not that it’s any of your business.”
I grabbed a silver cloth and worked my way down the silver findings. They needed to be polished and it was a mindless activity.
“What do you see in him?” Sean asked before a rush of girls came in the shop. His green eyes pierced me.
The bell dinged, giving me the perfect excuse to look away from him.
“Hi girls.” I greeted them and took note of the time.
They waved and made their way around the shop oohing and awing over the shiny beads.
Most of the high school girls came in to see what I had put on sale or what my latest creation was. They were perfect advertisements for me. Plus they let me in on all the latest beading designs.
Every once in a while I would glance over at Sean. He wasn’t dressed in his usual handyman overalls that he insisted he wear while working. He was in a pair of light colored jeans and a black plaid long-sleeved shirt with the sleeves rolled up perfectly on his toned forearms.
His shaggy blond hair was perfect next to his tanned face. His jaw set tense as he concentrated on not getting electrocuted.
Girls, girls, girls. Sean’s phone sang out from the cell phone clip that was pinned on his belt.
“You still have Mötley Crüe as your ringtone?” I rolled my eyes.
The girls giggled from the other side of the room. They pointed and stared at Sean. He was hot.
“Sean’s Little Shack,” he answered and got down from the ladder.
While he put the ladder back into the storage room, I tried to listen to what he was saying, but couldn’t make it out.
“I’m back.” Marlene strutted back into the shop. “Bernadine said she’d just meet you at the fat meeting.”
“Seriously?” I asked Marlene. “Don’t you have a filter?”
“What?” She shrugged. “I call it what it is.”
I shook my head. It was almost time for my weekly Food Watchers meeting and weigh-in. I was starving and I hoped the scales showed it.
“Hey, handsome.” Marlene squealed when Sean came out of the storage room. “I didn’t know you were here or I would have come back sooner.” She winked, chomped her gum, and ran her finger down his arm. He blushed. “If you need a date to the Barn Dance, let me know.” She winked and blew him an air kiss.
“I don’t think I could handle a woman like you,” Sean’s southern drawl was reeling Marlene right on in.
“I’ll be gentle,” she teased and looked at me. “What?” she asked when she saw I was not amused. “Holly Harper, how can you not look at those eyes and be drawn back in? You were one lucky girl.”
“He was one lucky guy.” I directed her to the stacked boxes.
“Slave driver.” She wiggled her way back over to the unfinished boxes.
She did make me wonder whom Sean would take to the annual Barn Dance. He never missed it and was never alone.
“I’m going to kill Henry Frisk!” Bernadine stomped her feet as we waited in line to be weighed at our weekly Food Watchers meeting. Her jade eyes narrowed, and she folded her arms across her chest. The velour green jumpsuit looked good against her long red hair. She huffed, “I honestly can’t believe he moved back here.” She held a piece of paper in her hand. “And if he thinks I’m going to pay for some interior decorator bill that costs as much as my monthly alimony, he’s crazy!”
Bernadine had to be the neatest person in Swanee, right down to her appearance. Bernadine and Henry’s marriage was like the ones you hear about where the couple wakes up one day and realize that they don’t know each other.
He’d come out better off than Bernadine. She got the house on the lake across from my cottage, and he got their huge mansion in Ft. Myers, Florida. There was still a bitter taste in Bernadine’s mouth. After all, she had moved to Swanee for him.
Henry thought he wanted the small town life, while she wanted the beach and sand. When it came down to the end, Bernadine was the one who ended up loving Swanee and all her new friends.
I extended my arm with my key fob pointed toward my car and clicked it to make sure the doors were locked. I had parked next to the cutest yellow Fiat with new tags.
Bernadine handed me the piece of crinkled paper.
“This is an almost eight thousand dollar bill,” I said, clearly surprised by the number.
I was stunned at first because she said that was about as much as she had gotten in alimony, but I knew she was kidding. There was no way she was getting that much alimony. Was she? “He wants you to pay this?”
“Yes. I’ve never even heard of this place. Buskins Interiors.” The lines between her brows creased. She ran her finger between her eyes. “I need to use the money for these stress lines he’s giving me.”
“I can help you right here.” Charlie St. Clair, the Food Watchers Specialist, oozed with enthusiasm that pretty much made me nauseous. “You look great Bernadine.”
Of course she was all happy and chipper with her spirit hands, big boobs, five-foot-seven-inch thin frame, and to make it worse, perfect cheekbones.
I rolled my eyes and looked into the meeting room while Charlie buttered up little butterball Bernadine. In fact, I thought Bernadine looked like she had gained a few pounds. But like a tick-a-lock, I kept my mouth shut.
The meeting was located in one big room with ten rows of yellow chairs. There were three workstations with computers and floor scales along with a Food Watchers Specialist in matching yellow shirts and khaki pants.
I looked awful in yellow, but not Charlie. I bet she looked good in everything.
“Anyway,” Bernadine peeled off the My Name Is sticker and stuck it right on her boob. She sat in Charlie’s chair and tied her running shoes back up.
Charlie cocked her perfectly sculpted brows, twitched her lips and held her hand out for me to give her my weigh-in log.
“Well?” The enthusiasm she had for Bernadine wasn’t oozing for me. She smacked the name sticker on the counter for me to fill out. “I have a full line of people waiting. Are you weighing or not?”
My mouth opened, then I snapped it shut in fear I would start a war of words. I decided my best revenge would be to lose more weight and look better than her. I took my shoes off because every single ounce counted when on the scale.
“He wants to take me back to court to stop the alimony because I opened Second Cup.” Bernadine slipped her bangle bracelets on her wrist. “It’s bad enough he moved back here, but to take me back to court.”
I slapped my weigh-in chart on the counter for Charlie to gawk at. Charlie tapped on her computer keyboard and didn’t pay any attention to me like she did Bernadine.
“Step up,” Charlie said in a monotone voice.
“And to think that he sold that Ft. Myers house for over two million dollars. He doesn’t need the piddly money he gives me each month.” Bernadine brushed her hair behind her ears. “I told Flora to call in her favor that her ex-ass owes her because I was going to hire him as my lawyer.”
“That is a great idea,” I said and stepped up on the scale.
I held my breath wondering if air weighed anything.
“Get off.” Charlie tapped on the computer before she wrote on my paper. “Down a pound.”
“Yay!” Bernadine hopped off the chair. “I think I found it.” She winked and patted her belly. “I guess the smells from the café are making me gain. I swear I haven’t ventured from my healthy eating.”
Bernadine had a perplexed look on her face like she was contemplating what she had said. She pulled a Ziploc baggie full of carrots and celery out of the zippered pocket of her jumpsuit jacket. She always carried a Ziploc baggie full of some sort of veggies. And somehow Willow always ate them, leaving little for Bernadine.
“Oh, Bernadine.” Charlie’s happy chirp was back. She pulled a little brown wrapper from underneath the counter. “Here is Barbie’s latest fat-free dessert. We hope you decide to carry it in Second Cup.”
Excitement twirled in my stomach, or maybe it was starvation twirling, but I couldn’t wait to get my sample of Barbie’s new treat.
Barbie was one of those icons who had the one name like Madonna, Beyoncé, Cher. Barbie.
She was Ms. Food Watchers herself. She owned and operated Food Watchers. Lately she had ventured out into decadent desserts and gave samples out to the attendees. There was a display of them in the lobby of Food Watchers and Bernadine had started featuring a few in her shop.
I stood there waiting eagerly for my sample. Bernadine popped hers in her mouth.
“Delicious.” Bernadine closed her eyes and chewed slowly. My mouth watered. She licked her fingers.
“I’m sorry,” Charlie said apologetically and I actually thought she meant it. “I’m all out.”
“No problem.” I waved it off and followed Bernadine into the meeting room up to the front row like we did every week.
Me, I’d stay way in the back. Last seat in fact. But not Bernadine. She likes to be front and center. Everywhere.
“Why am I gaining weight?” Bernadine wiggled her fingers and winked hello to a few other members.
“It’s only a pound.” I sat down and waited for the big show to start. “We can walk that off.”
“If you find time away from Donovan Scott.” Bernadine winked right before the lights dimmed and the disco ball in the center of the meeting room was turned up to high.
The mirror ball swirled around. The reflection darted off the excited members’ faces as they clapped, hooted and hollered in anticipation for Ms. Food Watchers to make her weekly appearance.
“Is everybody ready?” A loud voice boomed over the intercom.
Every single person had a big smile on their face, as if some Hollywood megastar had just walked into the room. Enthusiastically, we clapped to the beat of the music. A couple of people let out a few hoots, hollers, and double-finger whistles.
The clapping and swaying was infectious. Raucous music was blared and the mirror ball stopped to make room for the streaming spot light. They rotated in the center of the room.
My toes began to tap like they had a mind of their own. Well, a little sway too and fro isn’t going to hurt anyone, I thought. When in Rome.
The members in the center aisle parted as a tall, blond, gazelle-like Barbie made her way through the crowd. She held a microphone in one hand and greeted her eager, food-deprived acolytes with the other.
Ms. Food Watchers. Envy chilled through me as my eyes traveled up her legs to her cinched waist and ending at her big happy smile.
“Hello!” She sang out when she got to the front of the room and hopped up on the small stage right in front of Bernadine and me. “Is everyone ready to lose some weight this week?”
I had to shield my eyes from the glare of her pro-white dentals.
Bernadine nudged me. “She’s going to Henry’s practice now. Damn,” she leaned a little closer to me, “he never got my teeth that white.”
“I said,” she repeated as if the yells and screams that rattled the place weren’t loud enough, “Is everybody ready to lose some weight?” Barbie pumped her fists in the air and the crowd erupted in even louder cheers.
“I swear this is a cult,” I leaned over and whispered in Bernadine’s ear.
She probably didn’t hear me. In true cult style, Bernadine’s eyes were locked on Barbie as she cheered and fist pumped right along with the rest of them.
On nights of beading classes, I closed the shop around a quarter to six. That way, it gave me time to move the tables a little closer together and get out bead-boards for each beader along with their own set of tools.
“1,2,3,” I counted out the crimping tools from the shelf in the storage room. I needed twelve all together.
The crimp tool was the most important beading tool in my opinion. It was the instrument that squished the crimp bead or other findings to complete the beading project.
“I’m back,” Marlene yelled from the front of the shop.
Marlene tended The Beaded Dragonfly while I went to my Food Watchers meeting. When I got back, she left to go get Agnes Pearl. Marlene lived with Agnes. Agnes hired Marlene before Marlene’s high heel planted on the ground when she first came to Swanee.
Marlene needed a job and Agnes was looking for an “Agnes keeper”, someone to keep her company, though Marlene did things like go to the grocery for Agnes and picked up around the house. Saying Marlene was cleaning Agnes’s house was a stretch.
At a spry eighty-five years old, Agnes probably took care of Marlene instead of the other way around. Especially since she had that new eye surgery and she can see like a teenager with perfect vision.
“I’ll be out in a minute.” I grabbed a few more items like the Acu-flex beading wire.
I found it to be the most durable wire when making jewelry and I wanted to make sure I let Margaret and her friends use the best of the best for their Wine and Bead class. Margaret McGee spreading the word and wearing my designs was better than any paid advertising I could have ever done.
“I told her to go for more money.” Agnes Pearl adjusted her turban. Today’s choice was bright yellow with a green plastic emerald in the dead center. “He is a low-down dirty dog if you ask me.” Agnes nodded and hugged Cheri as they exchanged the news about Bernadine’s situation.
Nobody was asking her. But that was what you had to love about Agnes. She was old and like most old people, she spoke her mind.
Cheri lived in the apartment above The Beaded Dragonfly. She was a local college student who not only worked a few hours a week for me for extra money, but she loved Willow. Bless Cheri’s heart, she was a savior. She took Willow for her daily walks while I was busy around the shop.
Cheri adjusted the beret on the top of her head. She was so pretty with her straight brown hair and blunt bangs.
Don’t be cruel. Cheri’s phone belted out. She looked at it. Her big brown eyes popped. “Oh, I gotta take this.” She disappeared into the storage room.
Cheri was fun and young. She was the fly-by-your-seat Diva who had gotten married at the age of nineteen in a quickie wedding in Vegas by. . .you guessed it, an Elvis impersonator. The next day her annulment was just as quick, making her a Divorced Diva.
“What do you think about that jerk?” Agnes Pearl asked me. Her eyes narrowed.
Without asking her whom she was talking about, I knew. Henry Frisk. He was a jerk for showing up in Swanee after he hated it, suing Bernadine yet again, and taking business from Kevin Russell. Kevin had been the only dentist in Swanee for as long as I could remember. He never had to worry about competition. Until now.
“I heard Dr. Russell confronted him at the Barn Dance meeting last night about how Henry was stealing Dr. Russell’s clients.” Agnes picked at the wispy pieces of hair sticking out of her turban next to her ear.
“Did they really?” Flora’s head was tilted to the side. Her cell phone was wedged between her ear and shoulder. “Hey, gotta go,” she said to the recipient on the other end. She sat her designer handbag on the table and planted her butt in the chair next to Agnes. “Dish.”
“You should know more than us.” Marlene put small five-millimeter sterling silver round beads in small bowls for me. “Damn,” she murmured when a couple bounced off the glass.
“Marlene!” I groaned as I watched them bounce right into The Under. “I hope you know that I’m putting cleaning The Under on your to-do list.”
“Whatever.” Marlene shrugged. She and I both knew she wasn’t going to bend over, ass in the air, for stray beads. A man. . . maybe. . .beads. No.
The jingle bells rang over the shop door. Margaret and a couple of her bridesmaids came in.
“Hi girls.” I waved them in. “Sit anywhere. I’m just getting all the wine and beads ready.”
“So, this is what you do?” Charlie from Food Watchers walked in with the group.
“You two know each other?” Margaret’s voice raised in excitement. “Holly Harper is the best jewelry designer ever,” Margaret squealed and grabbed Charlie’s hand dragging her to an empty table next to the gossip sessions some of the Divas were having.
“Anyway, I was at Second Cup when Henry came in and told Bernadine that she was going to get a subpoena to go back to court. And. . .” Marlene looked around, she leaned over the table so Flora and Agnes could hear her. “He said something about a life insurance policy about to come due and he was glad she wasn’t getting a damn dime.”
“He said damn dime?” Agnes asked.
“He’s got more nerve than Carter’s got liver pills.” Agnes Pearl was steaming.
Agnes Pearl was not one to mess around with. She was the wealthiest widow in Swanee. She might be a couple cups of crazy, but she never messed around when it came to money.
“I told Flora she needed to call your ex.” She pointed her long acrylic nails toward Flora.
“Marlene,” I interrupted. “Can you help me with the refreshments?” I asked on the way to the storage room where I had to make room for Cheri and Willow.
“I’m going to take her for a quick walk.” Cheri held Willow’s leash in her hand.
Willow was so proud; she high-stepped out into the shop until she saw Marlene coming toward us.
Weak, weak, weak. She tried to dart into The Under of the closest shelf; her butt wouldn’t fit no matter how hard she tried to wedge herself and besides the leash wasn’t long enough.
“I’ve been craving ham all day! Get me the salt shaker.” Marlene cackled before she disappeared in the back.
“Don’t listen to mean old Marlene.” Cheri bent down and patted Willow on the head before Willow scampered out the door as Bernadine came in.
With the wine almost gone and the energy level of the bead shop on acceleration, I announced that the class for this week would be ending in about fifteen minutes, which was around nine p.m.
You would think three hours was plenty of time to string an entire jewelry set, but not with chatty Margaret and her group of friends. Along with her group of six and the six Divas, we had a full house.
The jingle bells chimed over the door.
“Sorry ladies,” Sean apologized when he looked around the room. He held up one of the red gems that went with the chandelier he had wired and put up earlier in the shop. “I found this in my truck this afternoon and wanted to be sure to attach it.” He flashed his million-dollar playboy smile. “It’s a beauty, but not to its full potential if not all the pieces are there.”
Ugh. And this was why I could never date him again. Sean never knew when to turn on the charm around other women, causing them to fall at his feet.
“Hi, Sean.” Charlie stood up and held the beading wire by the end. The uncrimped side.
Ping, ping, ping. One-by-one all the beads that took her three hours to string hit the tile floor and found their way into the different Unders.
“No!” I scrambled to the floor as Willow made a mad dash out of the storage room to gobble up all the round gems. Cheri grabbed her. The beads were lost to The Under.
“There goes some profit.” I threw my hands in the air and then stuck my hand out for Sean to give me the damn piece so he could get the hell out of here. “I’ll attach it.”
Granted, I probably wouldn’t take the time to get the ladder and do it, but I wanted him out as quickly as possible. He was creating all kinds of havoc.
“I could never let you get up on a ladder, Hol.” Sean quickly grabbed the ladder and was halfway up.
There wasn’t much I could do but shoot darts at him out of my eyes and hope he’d fall off the ladder. Not hurting him of course, but a broken leg that would keep him away from me. Away from the female society. Was that too much to ask?
“Oops.” Charlie playfully shrugged and walked over to the ladder. She held onto the ladder as he climbed up. “I can hold it steady.”
He looked down, straight into her cleavage. He smiled.
“I wondered when I was going to see you again.” Charlie shuffled her feet, tucked a piece of her hair behind her ear and shrugged her shoulders toward him.
“Two hands.” I gestured out in front of me like I was holding on to the ladder. Charlie was too busy flirting to even realize she didn’t have one single finger on the ladder.
“How about tonight?” Sean ignored me, hung the gem on the light and did a little hop off the ladder.
“We can knock back a few at The Livin’ End.” He took his phone out of his back pocket. “What’s your address and phone number?”
My mouth dropped open. My eyes slid over to the Diva table. I thought Agnes Pearl’s false teeth were going to come tumbling out. Cheri tapped Agnes’s chin. Agnes’s mouth shut just like a Venus Fly-trap. Marlene chomped her gum and stared at them. Cheri shook her head. Bernadine and Flora were busy elbowing each other.
Ahem. I cleared my throat and held the door open.
“Two can play this game,” Sean whispered and referred to Donovan when he walked past me.
I slammed the door behind him causing all the shelves up against the walls to rattle.
“No!” I screamed as a few of the bins of beads tumbled to the ground and bounced around until they found their way into The Under.
“Don’t worry.” Marlene held her hands in the air. “I’ve got it.”