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She stood across the display case from Mel in her blue chef's coat looking like she wanted some dough to knead, or more accurately some butt to kick. Mel glanced at Marty, Olivia's sort of boyfriend, and he gave her a sheepish shrug.
"What if it is?" Angie asked.
She turned and strode toward Olivia, looking like she was getting ready to do some damage. To Olivia's credit, she didn't even flinch, which was saying something since the two of them had rumbled before.
Tate deftly slid in between Angie and Olivia and looped his arm around Angie's shoulders, anchoring her to his side. He met Mel's gaze over Angie's head and gave her a bug-eyed look that she interpreted to mean he wanted her to take the discussion elsewhere.
Right, because Olivia was about as easy to move as a mountain. Feeling cranky about the Vegas sitch, Mel opted to go on the offensive instead.
"Maybe we are. What's it to you?"
Tate's eyes almost popped out of his head while Marty clapped his hands onto his bald head as if he had just witnessed a car crash and had no idea what to do.
"I'll tell you what's it to me, Princess," Olivia snarled. "With a tasty knuckle sandwich."
She began to roll up her sleeves. Mel stepped around the counter. She was feeling just ornery enough to welcome a scuffle. She and Olivia started to circle each other like two boxers squaring off in a ring.
"I can serve up a pretty mean five across the lip when I want to," Mel said. She hoped she was the only one who heard the lack of confidence in her voice. Truth to be told, when upset, she was more of a snacker than a fighter.
"Code Blue," Tate said to Marty.
"What?" Marty squawked.
"Code Blue!" Tate yelled. The veins in his neck began to pop and Mel wondered how much pressure he was exerting to keep Angie in place. "We talked about this; this is a Code Blue situation."
"I can't remember what Code Blue means!" Marty cried.
"Think!" Tate growled.
Marty's face puckered up with the effort. Then he broke into a smile. "Oh, yeah!"
With a smooth move the likes of which were seen only in Fred Astaire movies, he vaulted over the counter by swinging his legs up and over the side, dropping to his feet right in front of Olivia.
She looked surprised and then went to move him aside, but Marty wasn't having it.
"No, Liv," Marty said. "We need to talk."
Olivia made a face like she'd just tasted something sour.
"You just don't want me to pound your boss into the tile," she said. She sounded put out about the whole thing and Mel felt behooved to protest.
"Who says you're going to pound me? I could take you with one hand tied behind my back," Mel said. She lifted her right arm and flexed her muscle; it sagged and she hastily put her arm down.
"This thing between you and me," Marty said. He pointed from her to him and back. "We need to make it official."
Olivia blinked. Her mouth trembled and her eyes got watery with tears. "Oh, Martin, I don't know what to say."
"That's right," he said. He puffed out his chest as if he was quite proud of himself for coming to this place in life. "I think it's time you became my official girlfriend."
Olivia's face fell. "What?"
"That's right," he said. "I want to make you my main squeeze."
Olivia plopped her hands on her hips and glared. "What does that mean? I get a dresser drawer in your bedroom of my own now? Is that the elevated status you're offering me?"
"I thought you'd be happy," he said. "You're always asking me where this is going. I figured we could make our coupleness official-like."
"Official-like? We've been dating for over six months. I thought I already was your girlfriend," she said.
"Oh," Marty said. He cast Tate a worried look, who helped him out with a shrug.
"Martin Zelaznik, you're about as romantic as a case of beer," Olivia snapped.
"Hey, a microbrew can be very romantic!" Marty argued.
"To a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal," Olivia shouted.
"She has a point," Angie said. "Six months is a long time for a woman to go undefined."
"True that," Mel said. "You really can't string a girl along like that."
Marty looked outraged. "What? You're on her side now?"
Mel and Angie exchanged a look of understanding with Olivia. Then they nodded.
"Well, if that don't beat all," Marty exploded. He glowered at Olivia. "Fine, if you're looking for more from me then spell it out. What do you want exactly?"
"Living together," Olivia said. "If we're a couple, then I want that crinkled-up old face to be the first thing I see every morning and the last thing I see before I go to sleep."
"Is she even listening to herself speak?" Tate asked Angie.
"Shh," Angie hissed.
"But . . . but . . . but . . ." Marty stammered.
"I'm giving you one week to decide," Olivia said. "If you choose not to live together then we're done, finished, as in, Hit the road, Jack, and don't you come back no more, no more, no more, no more."
Mel glanced at Marty while Olivia sang the rest of her ultimatum. He looked like he'd been smacked upside the head with a rolling pin.
Olivia turned and strode to the door. "Oh, and Princess, I hope your Las Vegas franchise blows up in your face but thanks for having my back with him."
Olivia jerked her thumb at Marty and Mel nodded. She wasn't sure if she and Olivia had just bonded or not. She suspected not since Olivia was still cursing the possible franchise.
The door shut behind her and they all turned to look at Marty, who slid into one of the dining booths like he was a melting ice cream cone.
"Live together?" he asked. "As in cohabit?"
Tate sat across from him and leaned across the table to pat his arm. "You okay?"
"This is all your fault," Marty said. He pointed a bony finger at Tate like he wanted to stick it right in his eye.
"My fault?" Tate asked. "How do you figure?"
"Code Blue," Marty said. "You had to call Code Blue."
"There was going to be a smack-down," Tate said. "We agreed that if that ever happened, you would step up and distract Olivia with relationship stuff."
"Really?" Angie pushed Tate farther into the booth and sat down beside him. "When did you two pumpkin heads come up with that plan?"
"About the time Marty and Olivia started their thing," Tate said. "I knew there would come a day when she would barge in here and start something. This was our agreed-upon plan to, er, redirect her ire."
"Well, that sure worked out, now didn't it?" Marty asked. His sarcasm was thick enough to frost cupcakes with. "Now what am I going to do?"
"Looks like you have to make a decision," Mel said. She sat beside him and patted his shoulder.
"Aw, man," Marty whined.
"Look, it could be worse," Angie said. "She could be pressuring you to get married."
Marty gave her a flat stare.
"Or not," Angie added before glancing away.
"One week," Marty moaned. "How am I supposed to figure out the rest of my life in one week?"
"It'll be okay," Tate assured him. "We'll be in Vegas, so you'll have the whole place to yourself, plenty of time to think things through."
"I've got a better idea," Marty said. "How about I go to Vegas and you stay here."
"You know I would absolutely take you up on that if it weren't for the whole franchising thing," Tate said. Mel thought it spoke well of him that he managed to look so earnest. "We're going to be so bored what with meetings with the lawyers and the person wanting to buy in and looking at real estate. Really, it's going to be a total snooze fest. Right, girls?"
"Right," Angie said. She kicked Mel under the table and Mel added, "Ouch . . . right."
One look at Marty's narrowed gaze and Mel knew he didn't believe them, not even a little.
Berkley Prime Crime titles by Jenn McKinlay.
Cupcake Bakery Mysteries.
SPRINKLE WITH MURDER.
BUTTERCREAM BUMP OFF.
DEATH BY THE DOZEN.
RED VELVET REVENGE.
GOING, GOING, GANACHE.
SUGAR AND ICED.
DARK CHOCOLATE DEMISE.
Library Lover's Mysteries.
BOOKS CAN BE DECEIVING.
DUE OR DIE.
BOOK, LINE, AND SINKER.
READ IT AND WEEP.
ON BORROWED TIME.
A LIKELY STORY.
Hat Shop Mysteries.
CLOCHE AND DAGGER.
DEATH OF A MAD HATTER.
AT THE DROP OF A HAT.
COPY CAP MURDER.