Repairs are under way at Rebecca Anderson’s gourmet popcorn shop. With production of her tasty treats on hold, Rebecca has plenty of time to read the old diary she discovered hidden in the shop’s walls. It’s a fun peek into her town’s history…until the diary’s abrupt ending leaves Rebecca wondering whether she’s actually stumbled upon a cold case.
Unfortunately for Rebecca, mysteries are popping up right and left. When local busybody Lloyd McLaughlin is found dead, the police suspect he was poisoned by Rebecca’s popcorn. But Rebecca has only made one batch of popcorn recently, and it wasn’t intended for Lloyd. Nothing about Lloyd’s death makes sense—until Rebecca discovers a startling connection between the missing diary-writer and the murdered man.
Now, with her reputation on the line, Rebecca must discover who’s been cooking up murder—both in the past and in the present.
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I walked over to the bars of my jail cell. "Hey! Anybody out there? I want my phone call. Don't I get a phone call?" My voice echoed down the short hallway. I could practically hear it bouncing off the door that shut the cell block off from the Sheriff's Department.
Nobody answered. I waited a few minutes, then yelled again. More echoes. Still no answers. Something made my heart flutter. Not in a good "I just saw a boy I think is cute" way. In a bad "how did I end up in this bank of four cells off a concrete hallway with a big old steel door at the end?" kind of way. I wasn't sure what it was that made the flutter, but I thought it might be fear.
Well, screw fear.
I flung myself onto my bunk and immediately regretted it. The mattress was beyond thin. The metal springs beneath it reverberated up my spine and made my head ache. I needed to come up with a plan. I needed to think. Too bad the red-hot haze of fury covered everything in my brain with a deep coat of rage. The rage did help push the fear to the far edges of my consciousness, though, so it wasn't entirely useless. I pulled my legs up crisscross-applesauce and tried to do some of the deep-breathing exercises Annie, my flower-child-in-more-than-one-way friend, had been teaching me to help deal with the stress of having my kitchen under construction again. Not cooking was hard on me. Having my business close just as I was starting to get it off the ground was even harder.
At first I sounded like a horse that had been ridden hard and put away wet. Nothing but deep snorts out of my nose. They echoed off the cement-block walls around me. After a few repetitions, however, the red haze in my head receded to a pinkish tone and then down almost to a rosy hue and my breathing became even and deep. Tension flowed out of my neck and shoulders, down my arms and out my fingertips. I wouldn't say I was at peace, but I could think in something other than expletives.
"You settling down now?" A woman lay on the bottom bunk of the cell next to mine, her arm flung up over her face. I'd been so angry about my situation and intent on letting the world know it, I hadn't even noticed her there when I'd been led in or when my cell had been locked behind me or when Sheriff Dan Cooper, my brother-in-law and the person I considered my best friend, had then walked out of the cell block and shut the door behind him.
It took me a few minutes to recognize the woman in the cell. I was used to seeing her with her hair done, her makeup perfect, her designer clothes pressed and lovely, not in an orange jumpsuit and with an inch of gray roots showing on her scalp and without so much as lip gloss. "Hi, Cathy, I didn't realize this was where you were."
"Did you think I was on a cruise to the Bahamas?" She didn't move her arm from her face. "Or perhaps spending a little time in Paris?"
I hadn't thought that. I hadn't thought much since I'd read about her arrest on the front page of the Grand Lake Sentinel. It had been big news. Of course, my various arrests had also been front-page news in the Sentinel, too. This current one hadn't appeared yet, but given time I was sure they'd get to it. I hoped they wouldn't use my mug shot this time. It never looked good. Something about the lighting was permanently unflattering. I'm on the pale side. Fluorescents totally wash me out.
The difference between the news of my various arrests and Cathy's, however, was that it looked like Cathy might actually have done what she was accused of doing. I was always innocent of all charges. Well, innocent-ish, at the very least. "No. I guess I hadn't thought about where you would be while you waited for your trial," I finally answered.
"When all your assets are seized as evidence in an investigation, it's a little tricky to make your bail." She turned on her side so her back was to me. I had been dismissed. Whatever. It wasn't like I'd be here long. It was all a mistake, a miscarriage of justice, a terrible blunder.
I went back to the bars and yelled some more. No one came until I resorted to running my comb up and down the bars and yelling, "Attica! Attica!"
The green metal door at the end of the corridor flew open. All six foot two inches of Deputy Glenn Huerta strode in.
"Settle down," he growled at me. "Why on earth are you making a ruckus?"
"Because I haven't had my phone call." I crossed my arms over my chest and glared up at him. I'm tall, but Glenn's taller. And broader. And significantly more muscly. I didn't care. I was not backing down. I was pissed and I was pretty sure my rights were being violated in some way. Perhaps dozens of ways. The man would not keep me down.
Glenn snorted. "You don't have a lawyer. I heard Garrett fired you as a client. Who you gonna call?"
I resisted the temptation to answer with "Ghostbusters." It wasn't a joking matter. Glenn had heard right. My boyfriend, who had also been my lawyer through a few misadventures, was part of the reason I was locked up in the first place. So I said, "I'm going to call your girlfriend."
"I don't have a girlfriend." He blushed, though.
"Yeah. Right. You don't have a girlfriend and I don't have a knife sharpener." The rage was seeping back. I took another step toward my bars to go eyeball to eyeball with Huerta. "I. Want. My. Phone. Call."
He glared, but said, "I'll see what I can do."
When I'd mentioned Glenn's girlfriend, I had been referring to Cynthia Harlen. Cynthia was a kick-ass lawyer, a real looker, and Garrett's ex. I couldn't think of a more perfect choice to get me out of my present pickle. She'd do the job and we'd piss off Garrett and Dan in the process, which suited me just fine. The two of them had pissed me off plenty. Huerta hadn't pissed me off, but it was fun to watch Cynthia and him when they were around each other. Whenever she and Huerta were in the same room together, the sexual tension was so thick I doubt I could have cut it with my sharpest knife, and I have some pretty damn sharp knives. I hadn't been joking about my sharpener.
I went back to my bunk and sat down more carefully. I'm not sure what that mattress was, but it was definitely not a pillow top. My back was going to kill me if I had to sleep on that thing. I wouldn't have to, though. Cynthia would get me out.
I looked around, but there really wasn't anything to look at. My cell had one bunk bed, one sink and one metal toilet with no seat. There wasn't even any interesting graffiti on the walls, nothing to distract myself with to make the time go faster. I twisted around so I was facing Cathy's cell.
"You've been in here the whole time? Since your arrest?" I asked her back.
There was a hesitation, then she rolled over so she was facing me. "Yep. Right here. Except for the hour each day that I get to go out and exercise. Oh, and shower time. That's always a treat." She did look pale. And haggard. Her skin looked rough and dry. Did I mention those gray roots?
I didn't feel sorry for her, though. If the accusations that were leveled against her were true-and the evidence being stacked up certainly made it look that way-she deserved it. She'd been the city comptroller for six years. One of the most trusted women in Grand Lake. She'd been the project manager for pretty much every improvement in the town. Every pothole that got filled. Every new ramada put up in a park. Every expansion to the library went through Cathy Hanover. She'd been efficient and calm and resourceful. That had been true of how she'd run those projects and also apparently true of how she'd bilked tens of thousands of dollars from the city of Grand Lake over the last six years.
It had been a clever scam, really. She'd created fake vendors, complete with bank accounts in nearby towns. Then those vendors had bid on projects being done in Grand Lake. Not big stuff. Not the renovation of the high school cafeteria that had cost thousands and thousands of dollars. Little things. Supplying paper towels or nails for other projects. A few hundred dollars here. A few there. Nothing big enough to make anyone raise an eyebrow, but plenty once it added up.
"So what are you in for?" she asked.
"Obstruction of justice."
She put her arm back over her eyes. "Amateur."
It hadnÕt been my intention to obstruct justice. IÕd actually been seeking justice when I showed up at Lloyd McLaughlinÕs wake. Of course, it was mainly justice for me, although I figured Lloyd would get a little bit along the way. Call it enlightened self-interest. So enlightened, in fact, that I didnÕt even feel bad that he wasnÕt my first priority. Well, not super bad. After all, I hadnÕt even known who Lloyd was when he died. IÕd first heard about his death at dinner with my sister, Haley; my bestie brother-
in-law, Sheriff Dan Cooper; and my boo, who was at that time still my lawyer, Garrett Mills.
"You okay?" I'd asked Dan as we cleared the table. His plate had still been half full at the end of the meal and he was usually nothing if not a good eater. It all seemed to go directly to his shoulders, which were broad and strong, but he was almost always a member of the clean-plate club, especially if I helped cook.
"I saw something today I can't seem to unsee." He'd winced. "It's actually more that I smelled something that I can't seem to unsmell."
"What happened?" That did not sound good.
"I'm surprised you don't already know." He'd crossed his arms over his chest and shot me some side-eye. "You seem to know about almost everything that goes on in this town before I do."
I knew what he meant although I didn't think he should get pissy with me about it. I didn't set out to be one of the premier stops on the gossip underground of Grand Lake. It just happened that way. Besides, it wasn't that way at the moment. "My gossip lines have dried up with the shop being closed." My gourmet popcorn shop, POPS, was closed while damage from a grease fire was being repaired. "Most of the time I heard stuff because people come in for a cup of coffee and some Coco Pop Fudge. No shop. No Coco Pop. No Coco Pop. No gossip. It's not like I go out seeking it. It comes to me. It probably helps that nobody sees me as The Man." Sharing a juicy tidbit with someone who gives you chocolate is totally different than informing on someone to the local constabulary.
"She's right," Garrett said. "No one wants to be a rat. Snitches get stitches."
I smiled at him for backing me up. And for being generally a nice guy. And for being cute. And for being a good kisser.
Dan looked down at his uniform. "I can see that." He hesitated a moment more and then blurted, "Lloyd McLaughlin died."
The name hadn't rung one single bell for me, not even a tinkle of the smallest kind of bell. "Who?"
"Lloyd McLaughlin. Lives-lived-out by Highway 2 in one of the new developments. Did some kind of computer consulting," Dan said.
I shook my head. "Nope. Never heard of him. I apparently didn't go to high school with him and he apparently doesn't eat popcorn." Those would be the two main ways I knew everyone whom I knew here in Grand Lake. "How did he die?"
"We're not sure yet, but it didn't look natural." That pained expression passed over Dan's face. "However he died, it was messy."
I paused, mid-plate scrape. "Murder? Again?"
Dan rubbed his face. "I know. It's getting to be a little too commonplace around here for my tastes."
"Way too commonplace," Haley said. She glanced over at me from her spot at the end of the table. Baby Emily slept peacefully in her arms. Haley looked like she was about two seconds from sleep herself. "You know before you moved back we hadn't had a murder in Grand Lake since Clea Tamarack hit her husband over the head with a frying pan for forgetting to pick up milk on the way home, and there are some who still count that as accidental."
"How on earth could that be seen as accidental?" Garrett asked. He hadn't lived here long and was still learning our ways.
Haley shrugged. "She said she was waving the pan in the air to dry it and Albert's head got in the way."
Garrett stared. "And people believed her?"
Haley shifted my niece in her arms and stuck her hand out and made a comme ci, comme a gesture. "Nothing's impossible and Albert was really frustrating. Still, that was the last one before you moved home." She pointed at me.
"You're blaming me?" I stared at my sister in disbelief.
She readjusted the baby in her arms. "No, but it's starting to feel weird. You know what I mean?"
I did. I didn't want to admit it, but I did. This would be the third murder in less than a year. I sat down next to Dan. "I take it the scene was pretty bad."
He leaned back in his chair and let his head loll back. "It wasn't a day on the lake, that's for sure."
I put my hand over his. I knew all too well what it felt like to stumble across a dead body. I knew how it could haunt you, popping into your mind at the most inopportune moments. I knew how it could change how you saw your life. And your food. "Anything I can do?" I asked.
He shot bolt upright. "No. There's absolutely nothing you can do. This has nothing to do with you and you need to stay out of it, Rebecca. I'm serious."
I sat back, stung. "I know that. I don't even know who this Lloyd guy is. Why on earth would I have anything to do with it?"