SURVIVAL OF THE FRITTERS

Chapter 1

Tom stopped coating hot apple fritters in that tantalizing mixture of cinnamon and sugar. He stared over the half wall separating Deputy Donut's kitchen from our dining area. "One of our regulars is missing."

        Naturally, Tom noticed when folks didn't show up for their usual coffee break. Before his stint as Fallingbrook's police chief, he'd been a detective. 

          "Once a cop, always a cop," I teased.

          "You got it, Emily. I might have retired from the force, but . . ." He pointed at his hat. "I'm still the chief and I've got the fuzz hat to prove it."

          Tom's Deputy Donut hat was a pretend police cap with a fuzzy donut glued on where the badge would be. The rakish way the hat tilted on Tom's short gray hair echoed the tilt of the police hat on the cat silhouette printed on our dishes and embroidered on our aprons. "Not necessarily." I raised my eyes as if I could see the top of my head and my own Deputy Donut hat, identical to Tom's. "Here, we're both chief." In addition to our hats and aprons, we both wore black jeans and white shirts. "Who's missing?"

          "Georgia Treetor."

          I stopped smiling. I liked Georgia. A lot.


 . . . continues


          

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GOODBYE CRULLER WORLD

Chapter 1

The  yelling began almost the second I started walking down the driveway  between Deputy Donut, the café that my father-in-law and I owned, and  Dressed to Kill, Jenn Zeeland’s cute clothing boutique.
            The loud argument wasn’t going on inside Deputy Donut, where Tom was  finishing the day’s tidying. It was going on inside Dressed to Kill,  where I was heading. I couldn’t make out the words, but the women  spewing them were obviously angry.
           I almost turned around and went back to Deputy Donut.
           However, it was nearly five. In ten minutes, Dressed to Kill would  close for two weeks, and I needed the black jeans and white shirts that  I’d ordered. Besides, what if Jenn was in danger?
           I hurried to the front of Dressed to Kill.
            I wasn’t about to barge inside without peeking in first. Jenn’s display  windows were lovely, but I couldn’t see beyond her hand-knit sweaters,  mittens, scarves, and hats, and the cords and down-filled vests that  went with them. The clothes were draped over antique skis, sleds,  skates, and snowshoes. In one window, an electric fireplace sent warm  hues rippling over the entire scene. It could have been very welcoming  if women inside the store hadn’t been screaming at each other only  seconds before.
            A red-faced woman burst out of Dressed to  Kill. She muttered, “Don’t go in there,” budged past me, and raced  south on Wisconsin Street.
            My training kicked in. Get a description, Emily.
             I guessed she was in her mid to late forties. She was tall and angular  with straight brown, flyaway hair. Her mid-calf, flowing dress, a floral  print in blue and white, hung several inches below an unbuttoned navy  wool coat. She hadn’t zipped up the sides of her tan, knee-high leather  boots. With their tops flapping and threatening to trip her with each  step, she ran past the bookstore and the artisan’s co-op, and then she  turned right and disappeared. For a few seconds, I heard the clap, clap,  clap of those unzipped boots.
            I had never seen her before.
             I again considered returning to Deputy Donut. Before Tom and I opened  our coffee and donut shop, he had been Fallingbrook’s police chief. Tom  could handle whatever had gone on inside Dressed to Kill.
            And so can you, Emily.
            I pulled the door open. Tiny bells jingled.
            Usually, unless Jenn was busy with a customer, she heard the bells, peeked around racks of clothing, and greeted me.
            This time, she didn’t. I was getting twitchy.
            That shouting I’d heard earlier . . .
            And now, this breathless quiet . . . 


. . . continues

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JEALOUSY FILLED DONUTS

Chapter 1

Every  morning, the aromas in the Deputy Donut kitchen were enticing, and the  morning of July Fourth was no different. I smelled coffee, yeast dough,  cinnamon, nutmeg, and the two types of jelly we’d just opened—raspberry  and blueberry.
            I was in the midst of an argument.
             Well, sort of. Making a very stern face, I settled my Deputy Donut hat  firmly on my rowdy curls. “It’s perfectly fair, Tom,” I informed my  father-in-law. “I won the coin toss, and I’m driving our donut  car in the parade this morning.” Unfortunately, the hat did not quite  give me the authority of a real police hat, maybe because of the fuzzy  white donut glued in front where the badge should be.
            Tom  was also trying to look serious, a difficult task considering that his  dark brown eyes were twinkling and his Deputy Donut hat was jammed  crookedly on his salt-and-pepper hair. “Emily,” he warned, “I’m the  police chief.”
            “Retired,” I reminded him. “And our donut car police cruiser is from 1950, way before you were a rookie cop.”
            “All the more reason for me to drive it. You’re barely over thirty.”
             “And a half. When you were my age, you drove real police cars with real  sirens and real flashing lights. It’s only fair for me to drive our  pretend cruiser this morning while you and Jocelyn keep making Fourth of  July donuts.”
            Tom grinned at our new assistant. “Never expect to win an argument with Emily.”
            Jocelyn’s dazzling smile included both of us. “With either of you.”

             The athletic nineteen-year-old was dressed like Tom and I were, in  knee-length black shorts, white polo shirt, Deputy Donut apron, and  donut-trimmed “police” hat. Like me, she had dark hair, but she pinned  hers, which was long and straight, into a bun she wore low to  accommodate the cap. Her eyes were almost black, not blue like mine.
            Pasting on a fake glower, Tom shook his index finger at me. “Someday, I’m going to drive that car.”
            I frowned and wagged my finger right back at him. “How about next Fourth of July?”
            Off to my side, something whirred and clicked.
             Jocelyn glanced past me. Her smile disappeared, leaving her face blank  and unreadable. She twirled on one toe and glided out of the kitchen and  into our storeroom, out of sight of Tom and of me. And also out of  sight of everyone in our dining room.
            I turned toward the sounds I’d heard.
             A man on the other side of our serving counter lowered a camera from  his face. Like nearly everyone else besides Jocelyn, he was taller than I  was, maybe about five ten, but his slight stoop made him appear  shorter. He seemed too thin for his faded jeans, khaki photographer’s  vest, and formerly white T-shirt that must have been washed with the  dark clothes. Everything about his face seemed droopy—skin, eyes, mouth.  Wrinkles bracketed his mouth. He looked about forty but could have been  thirty.
            I asked him, “What would you like? In honor of  the Fourth of July, our special coffee today is one of the few coffees  grown in the U.S., Ka’u from Hawaii. Like all Hawaiian coffees, it’s  mellow and flavorful.”
            Still holding his camera near one  shoulder, the man gave me a long, silent, and disapproving look. Without  a word, he turned around and walked quickly but quietly out of the  café.
            That was odd.
            Jocelyn’s abrupt departure a few moments before was even odder.


. . . continues

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