—Duffy Brown on Bearly Departed
As autumn air settles into the quaint small town of Silver Hollow, there’s nothing more popular than Sasha’s teddy bears—and murder in cold blood . . .
Silver Bear Shop and Factory manager Sasha Silverman is cozying up to the fall season by hosting Silver Hollow’s Cranbeary Tea Party, the opening event of the village’s Oktobear Fest—a too-cute celebration themed around teddy bears. She barely has a moment to agonize over the return of her former high school rival, Holly Parker, whose new toy and bookstore in town could spell big trouble for the Silver Bear Shop and her cousin’s small bookstore . . .
But when Sasha discovers Holly’s shop assistant dead with a knife plunged in her body, the unpleasant woman suddenly looks like a real backstabber. So does Sasha’s ex-husband, rumored to have rekindled the fiery extramarital affair he once had with the victim. Now, before a gruesome homicide case takes the fun out of both the Fest and her personal life, Sasha must identify the true culprit from a daunting suspect list—or risk becoming as lifeless as one of her stuffed bears . . .
Praise for BEARLY DEPARTED
“You’ll fall in love with this delightful debut mystery.”
—Victoria Thompson, bestselling author of Murder in Morningside Heights
“The first in a new series features a complex plot awash in red herrings, a perky heroine . . . and everything you ever wanted to know about teddy bears.”—Kirkus Reviews
“The appealing, impulsive amateur sleuth, dedicated to the family business, will appeal to fans of character-driven cozies.” —Library Journal
“Entertaining . . . inhabited by quirky, fully developed characters and good dogs and cats.” —Publishers Weekly
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"She's so furry! I love her." The little girl hugged the brown bear dressed in a striped orange sweater. "Can I keep her, Mom? Please?"
"We'll see," the woman said with a smile. "You have plenty of stuffed animals at home, remember, and a few teddy bears. Why do you want another one?"
"She told me she wants to come home." The child lifted the bear from its high chair and held it near her ear. "Her name is Daisy. She wants to play with my other teddies."
"Then Daddy will buy Daisy as an early birthday present."
I set a plate of cranberry scones on their table with a smile. Kids and their imaginations could be so precious. "I'll update my list," I said. "Daisy the tan bear to the young lady in the flowered blue dress, table five."
"Thank you, Ms. Silverman," the mom said. "My husband will be picking us up at four o'clock and he can pay you then."
"Of course. And please. Call me Sasha."
"Everyone's friendly here in Silver Hollow. It's wonderful, so charming."
I thanked her and delivered scones to the next table. Thank goodness I'd brought several teddies to sell from the Silver Bear Shop & Factory — which my parents owned, and I managed over the last seven years. My sister, Maddie, who staffed the office, figured a few kids might forget to bring one to the tea party. I checked the list at the front register. Five had sold, a nice bonus. Maddie had also left coupons for fifteen percent off any bear and accessories at each place setting. People seemed to appreciate that.
Things were going well for a busy Saturday on October's first weekend, when people could be attending football games or doing yard work instead. Our event was the kickoff for the village's Oktobear Fest, and we'd been worried. The committee insisted on changing the name to the First Annual Cran-beary Tea Party, despite the flyers we'd passed out last month, but no matter. Tickets sold out within a week. And everyone seemed to enjoy the new Queen Bess Tea Room, housed in the former Silver Leaf Bed and Breakfast.
Owners Arthur and Trina Wentworth, newly arrived from England, had set up tables in the parlors and the adjoining library. Laughter and chatter echoed in each redecorated room. Many of the mothers wore hats along with their daughters; at several tables, dads and little brothers joined in the fun. The children paid more attention to the teddy bears, however, than eating the quiche, salads, scones, and savory sandwiches. Maddie and I poured tea — Lady Grey, Cinnamon Spice, Black Currant, or Cranberry herbal — and waited tables.
Despite my killer sinus headache due to fall allergy season, I was thrilled the tea party was a smashing success. I sneezed into the crook of my elbow. Thank goodness I'd worn the lavender cardigan over a sleeveless dress with butterflies on the skirt. Maddie wore a pale blue cardigan over her floral dress — our makeshift uniforms as temporary waitstaff at the tea room. The Wentworths had yet to hire anyone besides the cook, a young woman from Ann Arbor, who'd prepared the creamy butternut squash soup, sandwiches, and scones.
My best friend, Elle Cooper, smothered a wide grin from where she sat at a nearby table with her young daughters. "I wish Mary Kate could see you as a waitress. The baby got sick this morning, and she feels terrible missing this."
"I wish I could refund her ticket money."
"She won't care. Your nose is all red, Sasha." Elle searched her dress pockets. "I've got an allergy pill. Somewhere."
"I took one. An hour ago." I sneezed again. "Could be the eucalyptus in the vases. Or the goldenrod. But I'm glad the Wentworths bought this bed-and-breakfast. Converting it into a tea room was a fabulous idea."
"I always thought it was too small as an inn anyway, with only four bedrooms upstairs." Elle hooked a thumb toward the back. "I hear they're almost done converting that back closet into a second restroom with handicap access."
"I'm shocked they turned this place into a showpiece so fast."
So much had changed in the short time since "Will's Folly." That's what Silver Hollow residents now called the murder of the Silver Bear Shop & Factory's sales rep, Will Taylor, before Labor Day. Few were sad; Will hadn't been popular with our workers. Still, others had been affected in the aftermath. Murder was a nasty business. Sales at the shop boomed from all the publicity, good and bad, and visitors to the area tripled. But I wasn't proud of nearly getting myself killed by sleuthing. I'd learned my lesson.
In record time, the Wentworths had hired a crew to clear out and clean the entire Queen Anne–style house from top to bottom. Then they brought in a massive black walnut sideboard for the front parlor, plus square tables and chintz-covered chairs in a pink, green, and gold rose pattern. They'd installed teacup chandeliers, four in each parlor and two in the library. Crisp linen cloths in pastel pink or green draped the tables with white lace overlays. Place settings in an eclectic array of teacups, saucers, plates, and flatware added to the charm. Gold-framed landscapes of the English countryside and castles hung on the walls.
I had to admit the tea room was an improvement over the dowdy bed-and-breakfast.
"Celia! Stop that," Elle hissed to her younger daughter, who was dunking a shabby teddy bear's nose into her full teacup.
"Mom, she spilled all over the tablecloth," said her older daughter, Cara.
"I've got it." I mopped the liquid with extra napkins. Both girls wore party dresses and hair ribbons, and I recognized Elle's pale blue dress from a shopping trip we'd taken last spring. "Which of the sandwiches did you like best, girls?"
"The strawberry cream cheese," Celia sang out.
"I like the peanut butter ones," Cara said, "but they need more jelly."
"Jam, not jelly. And no, teddies can't eat or drink," Elle said. The girls giggled at the wet smear on Celia's bear. "Now behave, or we won't be able to come next year."
"I'd better get back to work. Of course I'll bring more scones," I said when the woman at the next table waved me over. "I hope you're enjoying the tea party."
"Yes, indeed. We're planning on a visit to the new toy and bookstore, too."
When she turned to speak to her friends, I noted Elle's discomfort. Maddie, Mary Kate, and I were all worried sick for her and my cousin Matt. Bad enough that people ordered books online instead of visiting small bookstores like The Cat's Cradle. But the competition from Holly Parker's new toy and bookshop, Through the Looking Glass, would draw customers away and cut into their profits. I knew full well that Matt and Elle were barely surviving.
I glanced at the large corner table where Holly sat with a red-haired woman. Holly and I shared a bitter rivalry long ago in high school; she hadn't changed her hairstyle, still wearing it straight and long, although her tortoiseshell glasses looked modern. I tried to keep an open mind about her return to Silver Hollow, although I had to wonder why she chose to open a shop two weeks ago in direct competition. That didn't set well with my family.
Holly looked like an ingénue in a white dress with a row of sparkly rhinestones along the neckline. She'd always favored white, from what I recalled, which set off the natural olive hue of her complexion and tanned limbs. A bright pink jacket with silver bling spelling out THINK PINK was draped behind her chair. That reminded me of her extensive collection of Pink Panther memorabilia. Or perhaps "obsession" was more apropos.
To each their own.
I wasn't pleased reading Dave Fox's Silver Hollow Herald, which quoted Holly as saying "Our shop is already number one in sales here in Silver Hollow." That seemed a stretch. Maddie had witnessed her double-parking in the middle of Theodore Lane and getting ticketed by the local police for it, over the weekend when she'd moved into the former Holly Jolly Christmas shop. That reminded me. I needed to ask about some lost merchandise.
"Are you both enjoying the party?" I asked. Holly beamed at me.
"Oh, yes! I'm so glad we got tickets. It's so sweet, seeing all the little kids with their teddy bears. I hope you don't mind that I passed out a few flyers for my shop."
Since she'd already done so, I figured it was useless to object. "Gina Lawson," the red-haired woman said, and gave me a firm handshake. "I'm Holly's shop assistant, marketing guru, and publicity person."
"Nice to meet you, Gina." I eyed her short tomato-red pixie haircut, gelled up in a curved ridge, rocker-style, and heart-shaped face. "Sounds like you know your promo stuff. I've seen a lot of your social media lately. Tweets and Facebook posts about the new store."
Gina smiled, a bit slyly I thought, so I addressed Holly. "I should have asked you long before now, but did you come across any of our silver or white teddy bears? Among all the items left behind in the Holly Jolly shop, I mean. We had half a dozen bears displayed there."
Holly looked sorrowful. "No. We tossed broken ornaments, scads of nonworking fairy lights, and empty boxes. It was such a mess cleaning up."
"Well, thanks anyway."
I headed toward my sister, who stood near the front entrance. Maddie snapped photos of various guests. She'd already taken multiple shots of the table settings before anyone arrived. "Isn't Flynn coming?" she asked. "I thought I saw his name —"
"On the guest list? I hope not. I'm shocked Mayor Bloom showed up," I said.
Across the room from Holly and Gina's table, Cal Bloom sat with his wife and ninety-year-old mother-in-law. The Blooms were old friends with my parents. While the mayor's presence in a roomful of mostly women and little girls seemed odd, he appeared to be enjoying himself. His booming laugh caused others around them to join in.
"Mom and Mrs. Davison seem to be having a good time," my sister said.
Barbara Davison, in a bright orange dress and wide-brimmed straw hat, sat with our mother, Judith Silverman, whose teal outfit and fascinator clashed with her friend. The way they giggled like schoolgirls made me wonder if Mom hadn't topped their teacups with a nip of something else. She did love brandy. Barbara clapped a hand over her mouth to stifle a huge guffaw, in fact, which brought on a glare from Mayor Bloom.
"What are they talking about?" I muttered.
"— and I paid a fortune. The restorer used an old fur worn by Alex's mother to fashion a teddy bear," Mom was saying. "And then someone snatched Minky Bear! Right out of the house, under our very noses. I have no idea how."
"Must have been one of the maids," Barbara said. "Did you report it stolen?"
"Yes, but nothing ever came of it."
I noted how both Holly and Gina seemed to be enraptured by their conversation. "What a tragedy," Holly said. "A real mink bear. That must have been precious."
"Yes. And I wouldn't let my girls play with it, ever."
That was certainly true. Not that Maddie or I ever wanted to touch it. Grandma Helen Silverman never let us do anything except sit quiet when we visited her house as children. A teddy bear made of her mink stole didn't appeal to me, especially with its staring beady eyes and those tiny dangling paws. Minky Bear was incredibly soft, but ugh. Bad memories.
After stacking soiled plates, I headed to the kitchen and almost collided with Maddie. She sailed past with a presumably empty teapot in each hand. Skirts swirling, her high heels muted by the carpet, she looked fresh and vibrant. My feet were killing me in flats, and although I spent most of my days standing behind the shop counter, I was exhausted. Maybe I needed to start working out more often. Instead I snitched a crab tartlet.
"Uh-oh. Speak of the devil," Maddie said, and nodded toward the front door.
I peeked around the doorway to see my ex-husband, Flynn Hanson, waltz into the parlor. He made a beeline for Holly's table. Gina Lawson must have been expecting him, since she rose to her feet, arms folded over her ample chest. They exchanged heated words, from what little I could see after taking a tray of fresh scones across the room. But everyone witnessed Gina and Flynn marching over to the mayor's table before handing him a sheet of paper.
"Mr. Mayor, this is a copy of the court summons I filed on behalf of my client, Ms. Gina Lawson," Flynn said. "This serves as notice of a debt collection complaint against you —"
"And I shall answer with a countersuit," Bloom interrupted. "If Ms. Lawson continues this ridiculous claim, she will lose. I owe her nothing, Mr. Hanson. You could have served this at any time, but here? At a teddy bear party with children present? That's a bit dramatic."
"Whoa," Maddie whispered to me. "Didn't expect fireworks here of all places."
I noticed the very pregnant Lisa Blake, who'd been sitting at a nearby table with her two little boys, rise unsteadily to her feet. She herded the kids toward the door; they clutched their bears, restless and fidgety, ready to leave early. Holly cut off their retreat, however. I kept an eye on them while also watching the exchange between Flynn, Gina, and Mayor Bloom, whose voices had dropped. Cal Bloom snatched the paper from Flynn in disgust and departed without a backward glance. His wife followed, pushing her mother's wheelchair.
Gina and Flynn headed for the farthest corner of the back room. Now that Lisa Blake had departed, Holly waved a hand toward Gina and Flynn. "Hard to believe she's going after the mayor, huh?" she asked me before I could escape. "I've seen the new television commercials, the ones with 'Flynn Wins,' pretty much every morning. He's a pistol, all right. I've heard Hanson's the star of the Legal Eagles team, and they're going gangbusters since he joined them."
"Uh. Yeah," I said and glanced at my sister, now busy chatting with a friend in the back parlor. Maddie was out of range to rescue me. "Yeah, I know all about the Legal Eagles. Excuse me, but we've got to bring out the desserts."
I retreated to the kitchen. Maddie beat me to the doorway, however. Gina and Flynn still had their heads together, and Holly soon joined them. My sister pulled me out of sight beyond the swinging doors. She waved her cell phone in triumph.
"That red-haired woman, Gina Lawson? She's trouble. Mark my words."
"I'll explain later, okay? We've got work to do."
Inside the kitchen, we found Trina Wentworth at the prep table arranging the last plate of iced cookies from Fresh Grounds. She placed a row of chocolate tarts around the outer edge and then waved to the cook who headed out the back door.
"Here I thought you were getting tea cakes from the village bakery," she said. "Pretty in Pink, isn't it? I adore their striped awning."
"The owner's son died several weeks ago." I chose not to go into the details, given how that was all tied in to Will's Folly. "At the funeral, Vivian Grant told us she couldn't handle a special order. Plus she's short-staffed. But we promised to use her bakery for our next teddy bear–themed event. In November."
"I must say, these cookies are brilliant!" Trina bit into an extra. "Scrummy, too."
"Aren't they sweet?" I was pleased with Mary Kate's iced cookie design, shaped as plump tan teddy bears popping from orange pumpkins. "I love these little leaf hats on the bears, too. So adorable."
Trina wore an apron over her rose-print skirt. Her blond bob swooped with every move when she hurried to set cookie plates on all the tables in the tea room. Her tall, silver-haired husband followed behind with two more plates. My sister poked my shoulder.
"Quit sneaking the crumbs and help deliver the desserts."
I crammed the rest of the broken cookie — fewer calories than eating a whole one, of course — and rushed to help. Then I tracked Maddie down in a corner of the library. "What did you mean by Gina Lawson being trouble?"
"Shh! She might hear you."
I grabbed the empty teapot she handed to me and headed to the kitchen again. Everyone oohed and aahed over the tarts and cookies. Relieved, I watched Gina, Holly, and Flynn return to their table, heads together. No doubt they were discussing Gina's lawsuit against Mayor Bloom. What was that all about anyway? My curiosity mounted higher when Flynn stood and headed my way. Uh-oh. I ran for the kitchen and ducked out of sight.
Flynn Hanson had recently moved back to Michigan from Florida. Why had he come today? I knew he hated tea. He also disliked kids of any age — which was the second reason I filed for divorce. Number one? His cheating ways. Flynn actually admitted that he hoped I'd "get over" my desire for a family. As if! I loved kids. The biggest draw to working at the Silver Bear Shop was seeing their joy among all the teddy bears.
Excerpted from "Bear Witness to Murder"
Copyright © 2018 Meg Macy.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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