Trigger Yappy by Diana Orgain is the 2nd book in the Roundup Crew series (Available December 6, 2016).
Although still not quite a dog lover, Maggie Patterson meets with her new group of dog-loving friends for “Yappy Hour” every Friday night in the sleepy seaside town of Pacific Cove, CA. Both she and her sister Rachel have put the past murderous summer behind them, with Rachel even securing a headline feature for the Wine & Bark in the famous Doggie Day magazine. But when her sister comes down with a case of salmonella poisoning, Maggie is left to run the business in her absence. Even worse, Maggie overhears an argument between her friend Yolanda and Bonnie, who runs the Chic Chickie shop. Then poor Bonnie turns up dead.
With evidence pilling up against Yolanda, the Roundup Crew is desperate to find the real killer and convince Maggie to investigate. With the help of charming detective Officer Brad Brooks, Maggie finds that everyone has a motive, even some of her beloved Roundup Crew friends. Maggie must put her new job as a purser on hold while she tracks down a murderer. Will Maggie’s investigation kill her budding romance with Officer Brooks? Sometimes getting to the truth is not for the faint of bark…er…heart. Between running the bar, managing her love life, and solving a murder in time for the editorial spread, things are about to get a little hairy in this laugh-out-loud cozy mystery.
“The wine is smooth, right?” the stubbled face in front of me asked.
At the moment, it was difficult to discern any qualities the wine might have to offer. In a few days, I would report for my very first bookkeeper/purser assignment with Soleado Mexican Riviera Cruise Line. Last night had been my going away party and, regrettably, I’d over indulged. But this morning my sister, Rachel, owner of the Wine and Bark—a wine bar that catered to dog owners and their beloved beasts—had confessed that she had also indulged a bit too much. She wasn’t even able to get out of bed.
She’d begged me to meet Hendrick, the proprietor of Verdant Vines, and select a few varieties to feature at the Wine and Bark. I suppose the feeling of guilt at abandoning my sister and Pacific Cove in favor of the Mexican Riviera was too much to bear, so I’d agreed to meet Hendrick and taste test.
I tapped on the laminated sheet of prices that lay between the wine vendor and myself. “I can’t make any money at these prices.”
Hendrick shrugged. “I can knock a dollar off for you.”
I nearly gagged on the, admittedly getting smoother by the sip, Merlot. A dollar off would barely put a dent in the price.
Hendrick ignored my expression and carried on with his sales pitch. “We specialize in green energy. Verdant Vines owns a wind turbine that harnesses the power of the unique air currents that run through the Central Valley.”
“Someone would need to be made of green to fork over the kind of cash you’re asking,” I said.
Before Hendrick could reply, the doors to the Wine and Bark flew open and Yolanda bustled in. She was the chief organizer of the Roundup Crew, a group that met every Friday on the beach to walk dogs and ultimately end up at Rachel’s bar for “Yappy Hour.” She wore her trademark skintight leather pants, strappy sandals, and an animal print halter top. Her hair was blown in Marilyn Monroe–style curls and she cradled her Yorkie, Beepo, in her arms.
Beepo gave a lukewarm yap at seeing me.
Beepo and I had a complicated relationship.
Yolanda held the door for another woman, one I’d never seen before. The woman was rail thin with dark, straight hair. She wore a severe expression, but on her head was a ridiculous hat; perched atop the hat was a chicken with one very long feather decidedly pointing to the east.
Good grief! What was the woman thinking?
The only thing I’d seen in recent history as ridiculous as that hat were Yolanda’s “designer” chicken purses.
The woman took one look at Hendrick, who was leaning against the bar, and bristled. He jolted himself up straight, as if he’d been just been electrocuted. He turned away from her and locked eyes with me.
There was definitely a story there. But before I could probe, Yolanda rapped on the bar with her long painted nails and said, “Maggie! What are you doing here? I would have thought you’d be home packing! Where’s Rachel?”
“Unfortunately, she’s in bed ill.”
Yolanda waved a hand around dismissing Rachel’s illness. “Probably a case of partying too hard.” She put a possessive arm around the woman next to her. “Fran and I will take a table, we have some business to discuss.” She eyed the open bottle between Hendrick and me. “Is that a new wine you’re sampling for the bar?”
Fran shrugged Yolanda’s arm from her shoulders and Hendrick took a sharp inhale as if readying himself for attack. Instead, Fran said, “The Merlot is the best anyone could offer. Take my word for it.”
Hendrick relaxed. “That’s kind of you to say.”
The corners of Fran’s mouth turned downward. “It’s the truth. I may not miss you, but I do miss the wine.”
A scowl passed over Hendrick’s handsome features, but Fran turned quickly before she could see it.
Yolanda and Fran clacked over to a private table, and I resisted the urge to ask Hendrick about Fran. He leaned over and dug into his wine case, producing another bottle that he plunked down on the bar. “This is the best wine for your budget. And it’s her favorite. Go ahead and serve them this one.”
He uncorked the bottle with a flourish and poured out a taste for me in a clean glass. “It’s a full-bodied wine with a velvet finish.”
I sipped the wine and immediately wanted more. No wonder this was Fran’s favorite.
Hendrick smiled at my reaction. “If you like fuller wines, I have some other samples—”
“Are we going to get some service here or what?” Fran yelled, twisting around in her chair to look at me.
Hendrick pushed a business card in my direction and closed his wine case. “I hope we can do business together soon, Maggie. Perhaps you can make it up to the winery tomorrow. I have tastings starting in the morning. You can sample anything you like.”
There was no way with my full schedule that I could squeeze in a winery tour, but I didn’t want to rude, so I smiled and said, “Thank you.”
He nodded and then disappeared out the front without a glance back in Fran’s direction, leaving me to wonder about the obvious bad blood between them. I grabbed two clean wineglasses and the bottle Hendrick had left and high-tailed it over to their table before Fran could bark at me again.
As I approached, Fran’s phone buzzed from the depths of her purse. She hiked the purse onto her lap and began to sort through it. I placed the glasses on the table and poured the wine. Yolanda did her best to ignore me, but I was still able to catch her eye and quirk an eyebrow in Fran’s direction giving her my best get-a-load-of-that-hat expression.
Yolanda frowned and Beepo growled.
I shrugged. There was no accounting for taste.
Fran produced the vibrating phone from her bag with such a flourish she knocked the freshly poured wine all over the table.
“Shoot!” she exclaimed. “Why did you put that so close to me? Is this the first table you’ve ever waited?”
I grabbed the towel hanging from my back pocket and took a deep breath, trying to hang on to my sanity. After all, the Mexican Riveria was beckoning. I wiped the table and offered her a sincere apology, even though it had been clearly her fault she’d spilled the wine. “My apologies, Fran. Please enjoy a round on the house.”
She barely acknowledged me as she answered her phone. “Yes? What is it, Cornelia?” she demanded into the receiver.
I had barely escaped their table and reached the relative safety behind the bar when I spotted Gus DelVecchio making his way across the shared patio between the Wine and Bark and DelVecchio’s restaurant. My hangover quickly dissipated. Dressed in tight blue jeans and a snug black shirt, he radiated his usual animal magnetism. My heart skipped a beat as he pushed open the door and entered. He flashed a warm smile and approached the bar.
“Hi, Maggie,” he said.
For no good reason, I blushed. “Hi, Gus,” I muttered shyly, like a schoolgirl overrun with hormones. Gus and I had only met a few weeks earlier, but we’d quickly struck up a friendship. Only problem was, I’d struck up an equally quick friendship with Officer Brad Brooks, and dating two men at the same time was not only completely foreign to me, it was also a bit treacherous.
After careful deliberation, I’d decided not to invite either to my going-away party. It had only been Rachel, myself, and our great-uncle Ernest, aka Grunkly.
Gus reached across the bar and grabbed my hand. “It’s good to see you. Did you have a nice time last night with your family?”
Yolanda and Fran craned to see what was happening between Gus and me, although for all I knew they were checking out his backside. I mean, that’s what I would have been doing if I had their vantage point.
“Stop being such a nervous Nellie, Cornelia!” Fran screamed into her phone.
Gus ignored them, leaning in closer toward me. “I missed you. I wanted to talk to you about something.” He freed my hand and ran his fingers through his thick dark hair.
I poured him a glass of the Verdant Vines Merlot and watched him work his lower lip.
Uh-oh. He’s nervous about something. Does he have bad news for me?
My stomach clenched at the thought.
“It’s about the restaurant.” He fixed his dark eyes on mine. “I think I need to keep it closed awhile … I need to … you know … figure things out.”
I knew Gus had recently inherited one hundred percent of the restaurant from his partner and had some restructuring in mind, but I couldn’t guess what was causing him such distress at the moment.
I pushed the glass of wine toward him, but he reached for my hand again instead of the glass. He laced his fingers through mine and said, “Maggie, I got an offer I want to discuss with you.”
“That’s not even close to a fair price!” Fran shouted at Yolanda.
Gus glanced over his shoulder at Yolanda and Fran’s table. Fran had hung up the phone and she and Yolanda were now having an animated discussion. Yolanda looked insulted and Beepo yowled.
“Now is probably not a good time,” Gus said.
I tugged on Gus’s hand. “Come to the back. I should get started on the Arf d’oeuvres.”
He laughed as he followed me to the makeshift kitchen. “Not the Arf d’oeuvres!”
I yanked open the freezer and pulled out a bag of frozen little hot dogs wrapped in mini-croissants. Gus made a face, as if merely watching the proceedings offended his palate, but since he was the best chef in town I forgave his food snobbery. In fact, I secretly wished he was getting ready to ask me to dinner.
I turned from him and put the dogs in a blanket onto a baking sheet. From behind me, he snaked an arm around my waist. He moved his lips close to my ear and asked, “Are you really going to take that purser job?”
His breath on my ear warmed my blood, and as I much as I wanted to say, “Forget the stupid job,” I knew I couldn’t. My failed stint as a financial advisor in New York had put a significant drain on my savings and now California rent was driving the nail in the coffin of what remained.
Not to mention, I’d wanted to travel, right? The Mexican Riviera, the Bahamas, the Florida Keys, they were practically shouting my name. And I’d be away from the dogs … away from the bar … away from Pacific Cove …
Gus’s body heat drew me in and I leaned against him for a moment. “You’re not making it easy,” I grumbled.
“I’m glad to hear that,” he whispered. “What time do you get off?”
I slipped out of his embrace and turned the oven on. “I’m not technically supposed to be working. Rachel promised she’d be here by Yappy Hour.”
Gus and I both glanced at the oven clock at the same time. Five minutes till. So like Rachel to be late. She’d be milking my covering for her at the bar for as long as she could.
Gus smiled. “In that case, how about I…” He reached for my hip just as my phone rang from inside my pants pocket. He pulled his hand away, as if the ringing phone had given him a shock.
He bit his lip. “Do you need to get that?”
I didn’t even want to look at my phone. Who was more important than Gus at this moment? Wasn’t he about to suggest making me dinner? Or was I just daydreaming?
“No,” I said.
He lowered his gaze. “It could be Officer Brooks.”
That was a setup. I knew. He was prompting me to say he was more important than Brad, but that sort of talk wasn’t going to get me anywhere. Instead, I said, “Probably Rachel telling me she’s going to be late.”
He watched me expectantly. My phone stopped ringing and even though I felt compelled to pull out my phone and check the missed-call log, I didn’t. Instead, I said, “What did you want to tell me?”
He shifted his weight, and the oven, having reached its preheated temperature, beeped. Almost on instinct, he reached over and grabbed the cookie sheet and popped it in the oven.
I laughed. “I feel like I’m forcing you to cook Arf d’oeuvres against your will.”
He smiled. “Cooking is in my blood. See, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about. I received an opportunity that’s hard to pass up.”
“What is it?”
“I got a call from one of the producers of Gourmet Games. They want to fly me out to New York to audition.”
I clapped a hand over my mouth and squealed. Gourmet Games was quickly becoming one of the top-rated cooking reality shows on television. “Oh my goodness! Gus, you have to take it! This could be the opportunity of a lifetime.”
He smiled sadly at me and reached for my face. He cradled my chin in his hand and said, “I know. It’s just that they want me to fly out right away … I don’t…”
“I’m going to be on the cruise. You know that. This is perfect timing.”
My phone rang again and he frowned.
“When do you leave?” I asked, ignoring my phone.
“I should go home and pack. There’s a red-eye tonight out of SFO.”
My throat suddenly became dry and I realized how much I’d miss him. I wrapped my arms around his neck and pressed my check against his.
“Tonight?” I asked.
“I know it’s sudden, but—”
“No. No. You should go. You have to go. I’m just going to miss you, is all,” I said.
“I’m going to miss you, too. But, if I don’t get cast,” he said. “I’ll be back in town before your cruise is over.”
“They’d be crazy not to cast you, Gus.”
He shrugged. “I hope I can out cook the competition.”
“You can out cook anyone!”
“The competition is going to be top rate. I have to bring my A-game. In fact—”
A terrible screeching from the bar cut off his words and we both rushed out to the bar toward the sound. Yolanda and Fran were standing, facing each other and screaming. Beepo was emitting a high-pitched bark and growl.
“What’s going on?” I demanded.
“You’re a fraud!” Yolanda said to Fran.
“I’m not selling!” Fran said, fixing her chicken hat so that the tail feather waved under Yolanda’s nose.
Beepo dove out of Yolanda’s arms and straight for the chicken on top of Fran’s head.
Fran screamed. Gus hurried over to disentangle the dog from Fran’s hat.
“Calm down!” I said.
Fran yanked her hat out of Gus’s hand and stormed toward the front door. “You can forget about your chicken empire, Yolanda. That’ll happen over my dead body!” She pulled open the front door and exited with bravado.
Beepo howled after her.
Gus turned to me and I shrugged. We both looked at Yolanda.
Yolanda affectionately stroked Beepo’s triangle ears. “Hush now, Beep.” She put Beepo down, then looked at Gus and said, “There’s no talking to some people. I wanted to buy out her hat business, but she went cuckoo on me.”
Gus smirked but didn’t say a word.
My phone rang again from inside my pocket. Gus leaned in and kissed me. “I think you have your hands full here, Maggie.”
I clutched at his arm. “Good luck! Let me know what happens, okay?”
He nodded. “I will.” He waved at us and stepped toward the front door.
I pulled the phone and glanced at the caller ID: Rachel.
Yolanda sipped what was left of her wine, but quirked an eyebrow at me to let me know she was waiting on me.
I answered the phone. “Hi, Rach.”
Silence greeted me.
A voice I didn’t recognize came on the line. “Ms. Patterson?”
My stomach clenched. Who was this? Where was Rachel?
“This is Nurse Joan. Your sister asked me to phone you to let you know that’s she’s been admitted to the hospital.”
Yolanda hurried over to me with a look of alarm on her face. “What’s going on?” She pressed her ear close to my phone.
“She has a case of salmonella poisoning,” Nurse Joan said. “Basically, she ate some bad chicken.”
“There’s no such thing as a bad chicken!” Yolanda squawked.
Copyright © 2016 Diana Orgain.
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Diana Orgain is the USA Today bestselling author of the Maternal Instincts mystery series and the co-author of Gilt Trip in the New York Times bestselling Scrapbooking Mystery Series by Laura Childs. She holds a B.A and M.F.A. in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. She lives in San Francisco, CA, with her husband and three children.