~ excerpt ~
by Cindy Davis

12:22 p.m. The monkshood-laced cake should be half done. Claire turned and retraced her steps, her heart fluttering and a cold clamminess breaking out on her palms. She jammed her hands in her jacket pockets and wiped her hands on the lining. All the way up the driveway, she pictured herself handing Sean the plate, the slice of cake resplendent under its thick layer of dark chocolate frosting and symmetrical row of chocolate chips around the top edge. He'd thank her profusely, might even kiss her cheek. That thought gave her a funny feeling inside. Her son had never kissed her. How could he? He'd grown up thinking Edna was his mother.

Edna had done a marvelous job with him, Claire had to admit. It wasn't her fault he'd taken his father's genes. Claire pushed the thought of Sean's father from her head. He wasn't worthy of anything more than a fleeting memory. The slime had run for the hills as soon as the "p" word had come from Claire's lips.

The air was filled with the delicious chocolate aroma. She wondered how potent the poison was all the way outdoors. Should she hold her breath or would the air disperse it? Claire walked slowly up the driveway. As she got about halfway, the timer went off. Her heart did a flip-flop. She took an extra deep breath and stepped indoors.

She took one pan from the oven, hurried to set it on the back porch to cool, raced away and took a breath, then did the same thing for the second layer. Sitting on the windowsill, they looked perfectly normal.

Claire left the blanket hanging in the doorway and the ingredients on the counter. Her meticulous nature pecked at her to clean things up, but she wasn't certain the air was fit to breathe yet. She'd wait till morning to wash up and whip the frosting. One single slice of cake for Sean. Not the whole thing because he might give a piece to someone else.

Claire poured some brandy. Yes, morning was soon enough to dispose of the remaining cake; break it into chunks and wash the pieces down the garbage disposal. Just some bleach afterwards and it would all be gone. The authorities would determine that the cake killed Sean, but who'd baked it would remain a mystery.

She chuckled, imagining Sean's face as he received what she'd come to think of as his death-day cake.