THE GREAT JEWEL ROBBERY
by Elizabeth McKenna
* Cozy Mystery *
Author: Elizabeth McKenna
Genre: Cozy Mystery
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The handsome stranger held the mini-mart door open for me, and I gazed up into twinkling, meadow-green eyes. I kid you not. I had read about twinkling eyes in more than one romance book, but this was the first time I’d seen them live and in action. He was dressed for an early-September day on the lake with plaid swim shorts to his knees and a white T-shirt hanging around his neck. My eyes shifted to the “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service” sign that was displayed prominently in the gas station’s window. I checked his feet. At least he was wearing sandals.
I must have been staring too long because Grace pushed me from behind. The bare skin of my shoulder inadvertently brushed across his well-defined, caramel-colored chest and something akin to a spark sent heat rippling down my arm. When a curve of his lips revealed straight, white teeth perfect for biting things, I mumbled an apology and hurried to the snack aisle.
“Hi, Tom,” he called out to the cashier, confirming that he was a local. “I’m on pump six, but I need to grab a few things.”
Tom nodded. “No problem, dude. Take your time.”
“What type of chips should we get?” Grace asked, bringing my attention to more pressing matters than my tingling skin.
We had stopped for snacks on our way to the Twelve Gables Bed & Breakfast to avoid paying minibar prices. Grace was covering a charity ball being held at the Brauns’ lakeside mansion in Fontana, Wisconsin, for the Chicago Tribune, and I was her plus one. Besides the black-tie affair tonight, guests could spend Saturday through Monday relaxing by the pool or boating on the lake. It had sounded like a cushy assignment to me, but to Grace, it was another perfect example of how people used her connections to get what they wanted.
Having grown up with the fashionable people her editor wanted to feature, she was stuck on the Life & Style desk, though she yearned to write a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative article on some injustice in the world. Since Edward and Ivy Braun were family friends of Grace’s, this weekend’s assignment immediately went to her. She hated using friendships in this way, but she couldn’t refuse her editor if she wanted to keep her job.
“Maybe Chex Mix and Doritos? You choose.” I already had spied a lone glazed donut in the bakery case next to the register, and I was an enthusiast when it came to sugary confections.
I wandered through the other aisles while I waited for her to decide on a snack. Grace didn’t eat junk food often, so what to get was a serious decision worth slow and thoughtful deliberation. Based on her furrowed brow, we would be here for a while.
Mr. Green Eyes plopped three bottles of water and a Gatorade on the counter. “Gimme that donut too, please.”
I stopped so abruptly that my left ankle gave out, and I had to grab the metal handle of a nearby drink cooler to steady myself. I limped over to Grace. “That guy is buying my donut!”
She blinked her eyes slowly at me. “Your donut? Don’t they have more than one?”
“Probably not.” Yes, I was being petty. It was only a donut, but once I committed to sugar, I liked to follow through.
“Just pick out something else.” She pointed to a pack of chocolate chip cookies with an expiration date two years in the future. “Get those.”
My nose scrunched in revulsion. “I’d rather eat sawdust. The taste would be the same but with fewer calories.”
“Emma,” she said in her best schoolmarm voice. “You realize that Chef Porter will be laying out a whole table of luscious desserts for us to gorge ourselves on tonight?”
I did, but I didn’t know how to tell Grace that sometimes the frou-frou desserts of her people turned me off. Sometimes a girl just wanted a glazed donut. It was safe and comforting, and right now, I needed all the comfort I could get.
We had met freshmen year at Northwestern University in Journalism 101 and became instant friends despite being from different worlds. I was on a financial-need scholarship. Her father had a building on campus named after him. I was so nervous that I had forgotten a pencil. She had ten and gave me two “in case one broke.” We’ve been inseparable ever since, always living together and now working as reporters at the Tribune. She was like the sister I never had but without all the petty fighting.
She finally chose some corn chips and sashayed to the checkout.
“Excuse me,” I said to the cashier. “Do you have more donuts? Preferably glazed.”
The cashier’s bored eyes shifted to the bakery case and then to me. “Nope.”
“Are you sure? Maybe you have more in the back somewhere?”
“Ryan got the last one. Maybe if you hurry, you can buy it from him.”
Grace snickered beside me.
I pulled the bag of chips out of her hands and slid it across the counter. “We’ll just take this.”
By the time we got outside, Ryan, a.k.a. The Green-Eyed Donut Thief, was gone.
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