She fixed the dish towel over the cookies, then snagged the basket by the handle and grabbed the vase of flowers in her other hand. She went into the house through the garage, putting the cookies and the flowers on the kitchen counter, then went back to wheel her bike inside and shut the garage door.
She went to work making an orange pound cake. The recipe was her mother’s, except for the orange bit, which Ivy had added on her own. The simple ingredients—butter, flour, sugar, eggs and the orange zest—were about all Ivy had on hand unless she made another trip to the Shop & Save.
When the batter was mixed and poured into a Bundt pan, something Bridget had no doubt added to Hank’s kitchen, Ivy slid the cake into the oven, then cleaned up. Job done, she went to her bedroom to study her slim clothing options and figure out what she had to wear that was presentable for a family dinner.
As the aroma of the cake wafted upstairs, her stomach started to rumble.
She glanced down at her torso. “Seriously? Lunch was enormous.”
But that was the blessing and the curse of a shifter’s metabolism. After settling on the jeans she was currently wearing with the nicest top she’d brought, a simple silky tee in deep cobalt blue, she grabbed her phone off the bed and ran back downstairs to check on the cake.
She set her phone on the counter and peeked into the oven. The cake was coming along nicely and making the whole house smell incredible.
She turned around to grab her phone and found herself face to face with the basket of cookies as her stomach rumbled again.
Hard to deny cookies. She pulled the dishcloth off. The note said welcome to the neighborhood, Ivy. Not Hank. He already lived here, he didn’t need to be welcomed. That meant technically the cookies were hers.
They looked like chocolate chip. She took the plate out of the basket, lifted the cling wrap and sniffed. Definitely chocolate chip. Hard to go wrong with a classic.
Her stomach growled in agreement.
She checked the time. The pound cake had another forty-five minutes in the oven. Hank would be home in an hour and a half. Dinner wasn’t for another hour or so after that.
Plenty of time to eat some cookies and not ruin her appetite.
She put the plate down, then poured herself a big glass of milk and took a seat at the counter.
She slipped one of the cookies from underneath the cling wrap and took a big bite. Crispy, chocolatey and…she stopped chewing. There was an odd aftertaste. Nothing she recognized.
Numbness spread over her tongue and mouth.
She ran to the sink and spit out the remnants of the cookie, but she’d already swallowed some.
The numbness sank into her muscles. Her knees buckled. She reached into her back pocket for her phone, realizing she’d left it on the counter by the basket.
The kitchen phone was closer. She just made it, collapsing onto the floor as her hand closed over the receiver and yanked it from the cradle. Her muscles were seizing, turning her fingers into stiff, useless digits, but she managed 911.
“Hello, this is 911. What’s your emergency?”
She opened her mouth and nothing came out, her vocal cords frozen as the poison anesthetized her. She banged the phone on the floor, hoping that would be enough. A second later, the phone dropped out of her useless hands.
Darkness swept in around the edges of her consciousness, clawing at her. She clung to the will to live, focusing on the faces of the only two people who’d ever brought her happiness, Charlie and Hank.
Then the poison took them, too.
Hank!” Birdie’s shrill cry filled the reception area.
He leaned around the side of his desk so he could make eye contact with Birdie through his open office door. “That phone has an intercom feature.”
She pointed at him with the phone. “But you’re right there.”
“Do I have a call?”
“Yes.” She leaned the phone against your shoulder. “The com center just called with a possible prank 911 dialed from your address.”
Hank jumped up. “Like hell it’s a prank.” Ivy wouldn’t do that. “I’m on my way, but radio Deputy Cruz and send him, too.” He grabbed his hat and raced to his duty car. Nothing in his gut said this was a prank call. Whatever was going on was intentional, he could feel it. The hang up call at his house, then the pictures of Charlie, now this? It wasn’t a coincidence.
He made the drive to his house in record time. Nothing looked amiss. He opened the garage and went in just as Cruz pulled into the driveway behind him.
Cruz jumped out of the car. “What’s going on?”
Hank shook his head. “Do a perimeter check. I’ll secure the inside.”
Cruz nodded and started around the house.
Hank went through the laundry room and checked both directions before proceeding toward the kitchen. The house smelled good. She must have been baking. Had there been a kitchen fire? He didn’t smell smoke. “Ivy?”
No response. Where was she? He put his hand on his duty weapon as he rounded the corner.
And saw a body.
Ivy was sprawled on the floor, the phone near her right hand.
He yelled for Cruz as he went to his knees and scooped her into his arms. She was breathing. Barely. “Ivy, can you hear me?”
He squeezed the radio on his shoulder. “Get an ambulance here now.”
The radio crackled with the dispatch’s affirmation.
Foamy spittle dotted the corner of Ivy’s mouth. He leaned in and sniffed, then recoiled in recognition. Sweet and bitter.