Style in a Small Town Mystery #7
Paperback ISBN: 9781939197320
eBook ISBN: 9781939197313
Leave the cannoli. Take the shoes!
When newly engaged amateur sleuth Samantha Kidd discovers the body of a mafia princess dead in fiancé and shoe designer Nick Taylor's showroom, her questions are so numerous she'd need a bookie to keep track. The victim's ties to local organized crime are unexpected. Nick's apparent vow of silence makes Samantha question the vows in their future, and despite past promises, all bets are off. Wise guys and leopard ladies keep her busier than a consigliere during tax season, and if she can't keep her head above water, she'll end up sleeping with the fishes.
Cement Stilettos is the seventh installment in the Style in a Small Town cozy mystery series. If you like mafia mayhem, surprising secrets, and a makeover to end all makeovers, then you’ll love Diane Vallere’s clean mystery.
Looking for your next great read? Fuggedaboudit! Read Cement Stilettos today!
1: Samantha 2.0
For the record, it was seven days after I slipped on the engagement ring when Nick and I got into our first argument. Any judge in the country would have agreed it was all his fault.
“No,” he said.
“’No?’ Just— ‘no’? You’re saying no to me just like that?” I slammed my coffee cup on my kitchen counter a little too hard, and hot liquid splashed out onto my thumb. I shook the droplets off and blotted the spill with a paper towel.
“That’s right. I’m saying no, just like that. I mean it, Kidd. Don’t fight me on this.”
“But it’s my life, and I can do whatever I want with it. And just because we’re getting married—someday—doesn’t mean you can tell me what to do.”
Logan, my black cat and second-in-command in Chez Kidd, slunk into the kitchen and buried his head in his bowl. He’d been slightly less vocal about supporting me since I put him on a diet a few months ago, but still, I’d hoped for a hiss or a growl to let Nick know it was two against one.
“I’m not telling you what to do,” Nick said. “I’m telling you what you’re not going to do. You’re not spending the last day of your first vacation in two years traipsing around run-down factories in a sketchy part of town with me.”
“Why not? Like you said, it’s my last day of vacation. I should be able to spend it how I want. Besides, you’re leaving for Italy in a week.”
“I would have thought you’d be more interested in going to Italy with me. Italy has pizza.”
“Empty factories sound interesting. You never know what you’ll find,” I said. “Besides, I want to spend more time with you.”
“That’s sweet, Kidd. It is. But after I gave you forty pair of shoes for Christmas, you forgot I was even in the room. My showroom manager already arranged my schedule for today, and it’s going to be tight. You’ll be a distraction.” I crossed my arms over my pajamas. “A good distraction. But why visiting empty factories sounds more interesting to you than milking the last day of your vacation is beyond me.”
He may have had a point.
“Fine,” I said. “Go conquer the designer shoe world.”
He bent down and kissed me. “I have to get going. Meet me at my showroom tonight? I’ll take you out to dinner. But don’t show up a minute before six because I do have a lot of work to do.”
“Okay.” I pretended to pout. He kissed me again and then left.
I cleaned up after a breakfast of toaster waffles and coffee and went to the bedroom. It may seem odd that my first proper vacation in two years was making me antsy. Sure, the first few days came with the luxuries of sleeping in, eating ice cream for breakfast, and helping Logan play with his new catnip toys, but after being employment-challenged for almost two years, the aimless days were starting to feel familiar, and not in a good way. Everybody I knew had either returned to work or had a baby. (One person I knew had a baby, but she’d temporarily moved in with her brother in Philly while her house here in Ribbon was being prepped for sale.)
Nick wasn’t being entirely altruistic when he turned down my offer to “help” him. The last time I’d tried to help him at work hadn’t ended well. It may have had something to do with me prioritizing a murder investigation over the work he’d expected from me. I liked to think I’d matured a bit since then, but I understood why he wasn’t willing to chance it. Nick didn’t know I’d kicked off the new year and our engagement with a whole battery of resolutions. I was going to be a better version of myself: more focused, professional, and thoughtful. I was going to become Samantha 2.0.
I showered and changed into a white shirt and black leather leggings and blow dried my hair. I added silver hoop earrings and a silver tank watch, pulled on a navy-blue shrunken blazer and ankle booties, kissed Logan between his pointy black ears, and headed to the store where I worked, one day early.
Tradava was a local department store in the process of establishing itself as a reputable, mid-range retailer. Growing up, I remembered the store for its toy department and annual outdoor tent sales of aisles bursting with discount items. As a teen, I’d spent a fair portion of my allowance on accessories like lace gloves, gummy bracelets, and the occasional Flashdance sweatshirt. I’d moved away for college and then work in New York City, but two years ago, when I gave up the life I knew, I’d moved back and stumbled into a job working at the store. In my time away, they’d leveraged their roots in the community to build their brand as a family-owned chain with ties to the bigger cities of Philadelphia and New York to the east.
I parked around back of the store in the employee lot. The biting January wind snapped at my cheeks and whipped my hair around my face. I flipped the collar of my peacoat up to ward off the wind and ran in long strides across the lot, catching up with my good friend Eddie Adams. Eddie was the visual director for Tradava and, thanks to the task of maintaining the store’s display standards over the holiday season, the resident grouch.
“Don’t tell me her highness is gracing the store with her presence,” he said. “Is your sabbatical over already?”
“It was a week of vacation, and it’s over tomorrow. I came in today to ease my way back into my routine.”
“You’re afraid the store managers are going to forget they hired you. Out of sight, out of mind.”
I’d known Eddie since high school, though our friendship had become solid since my moving back to the town where I grew up. We shared the same taste in music (80s New Wave) and movies (John Hughes) but were opposites when it came to food territory. (He ate vegetables. I preferred crunchy snack foods, pizza, and anything on Jamie Oliver’s “Do Not Eat” list.) I benefitted from his link to the store gossip chain, though I secretly questioned how often he traded gossip about me to maintain the in-and-out flow of insider information.
We flashed our employee IDs and headed to the elevators. “Did you hear anything about Cat?” Eddie asked.
Cat Lestes, the aforementioned friend with a baby, had left town in her third trimester after her husband of ten years had been murdered. We’d been keeping in touch over phone calls, emails, and texts, but once the baby arrived, she had considerably less time to chat.
“She had a girl. Six pounds, healthy. Already has orange fuzz on top of her head.”
“That is going to be one spoiled baby,” he said. I knew he was right.
I changed the subject. “Anything I need to know about the store?”
“Sales, down. Mess, up. Staff, idiots. Stress-to-booze ratio, two to one.”
“I guess that’s better than one to two.”
He tipped his head and his brows pulled together. He tipped his head the other direction.
“Yeah, one to two. That’s what I meant.”
Eddie held the heavy glass door open for me and then followed me down the corridor. He stopped by his office. “Coffee at eleven?”
“Sounds like a plan.”
I rounded the corner and went into the small, two-desk office where Retrofit for Tradava operated. My colleague, Nancie Townsend, stood behind her desk with an open cardboard box in front of her.
“Sam! God, I missed you. Come here and give me a hug.” She dropped two heavy crystal candlesticks into the box and came out from behind the desk, smothering me in an embrace. “I have news. I can’t believe it. I’m engaged! It’s like a dream come true. It’s perfection!”
“You’re engaged?” I asked, instantly regretting the incredulity that snuck into my voice. “Is it—”
“No, not him. You don’t know the guy. He’s a curator for a small museum in New Mexico. Sweet guy. As sweet as can be. I’ve never lived in New Mexico—heck, I’ve never lived west of Ohio! —but sometimes you have to make sacrifices for love.”
“You’re moving? To New Mexico?” I stepped back from Nancie and took in the desk, the partially empty shelves, and the rather large rock on her left ring finger. “But what about Tradava? And Retrofit? You made this magazine what it is. What’s going to happen to it?”
Right around my last birthday, I’d been a very overworked employee at a start-up online fashion magazine called Retrofit. A series of events led to Tradava acquiring the operation and absorbing us into their advertising wing with the task of putting out a cross between a catalog and a fashion magazine, otherwise known as a magalog.
“We both know I’m not cut out for corporate life in a department store where I have to back trends that were approved in a boardroom. I loved the start-up phase of Retrofit. Before we were bought out. We wrote what we wanted to write and worked when we wanted to work. We were allowed to have an opinion. This”—she gestured to the walls around us—“is great for security, but not much else.”
“It’s too soon for you to leave.” I said. “Tradava bought Retrofit last year. We haven’t had a chance to put our stamp on things.”
It hadn’t been easy to create cohesive trend stories based on what the buyers had already ordered, but Nancie and I had managed. We had five catalogs completed for the upcoming spring season. It was time to start planning pre-fall. “Now that we’re caught up, we’re definitely going to have a say in what we feature and how we write about it. That’s why they wanted us.”
Nancie took my hand and smiled. “Sam, Tradava is your world, not mine.” She squeezed my hand and looked down at it. “Is that what I think it is? It’s an engagement ring too. To Nick? Nick Taylor? You lucky thing. I knew you two could work it out. Oh my God, we’re both engaged. It’s double perfection!” She squished me into another hug. “We can both give notice, and because of all the work we did before the holidays, Tradava will have plenty of time to reorganize and do whatever they want to do with the catalog. Everything is going to work out perfectly.”
“I don’t want to give notice,” I said.
Nancie shrugged and went back to packing her box of personal items while I hung up my coat and moved to my desk.
Nancie was a big fan of perfection. She chatted on about how different her life was going to be after she got married, how she planned to help at the museum as unofficial assistant curator, and how she’d need a whole new wardrobe because her current dress code of black and white was a little stark compared to the vibrant colors of the Southwest art scene.
I cued up my email and scribbled a few notes onto my agenda, all the while feeling a growing sense of discontent. Would it work out perfectly? Or was I destined to follow in her footsteps and become Mrs. Nick Taylor, the wife of a popular shoe designer, who lacked her own identity?