After cranky Chamber of Commerce receptionist Betsy Dittmeyer is crushed by a fallen bookcase, the next item to be read is her will, which is packed with surprises. It seems Betsy was hiding volumes of secrets behind her perpetual frown—one of which might have been a motive for murder.
While Tricia tries to help Angelica—the newly elected Chamber of Commerce president—solve the mystery, she discovers a hidden chapter in her own family history. And with her ex-husband and the chief of police vying for her affections, it’s doubly hard to focus on who buried Betsy in a tomb of tomes.
But Tricia and Angelica will need to watch their step carefully to make sure the killer doesn’t catch them between the stacks.
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For once the winter weather seemed to be cooperating, meaning that unless any unforeseen complications arose, Tricia Miles, owner of the mystery bookstore Haven’t Got a Clue, would get a lot accomplished on that particular Saturday in February. No ice, no snow, and though the sun had not yet made an appearance in Booktown, otherwise known as Stoneham, New Hampshire, the skies were due to clear before lunchtime—hopefully bringing plenty of book-buying customers with it.
Meanwhile, Tricia and her sister, Angelica, who owned not only the Cookery bookstore, but a charming retro café, Booked for Lunch, and had a half share in a local bed-and-breakfast called the Sheer Comfort Inn, had a date to look over a private book collection. These kinds of sales were few and far between, and their window to make a bid on the collection was narrow—between ten and eleven o’clock.
Tricia glanced at her watch. It was 9:55 and Angelica wasn’t yet ready to leave.
“Ange, will you hurry,” she called, but Angelica was deep in conversation with her new receptionist. In actuality, Betsy Dittmeyerwasn’t Angelica’s personal secretary, but she was employed by the local Chamber of Commerce. Angelica had won the election for the presidency back in November and had officially taken office some five weeks before. Things hadn’t gone so well during that time. The former Chamber president, and Angelica’s former lover, had made the transition as difficult as possible. So had the Chamber’s receptionist.
“I don’t know how much longer I can tolerate this impossible situation,” Betsy cried, and sighed dramatically.
“I’m sorry,” Angelica apologized as she struggled into the sleeves of her leather jacket, “but you, more than anyone else, should understand the Chamber’s predicament. When Bob Kelly terminated our lease on the former Chamber building, we had to scramble. I’m giving up a large portion of my storeroom until other arrangements can be made.”
“It’s embarrassing and inconvenient to have to share restroom facilities with the general public,” Betsy huffed, setting her wastebasket filled with candy and other junk-food wrappers, as well as a load of dirty tissues, on the floor, and her key ring on the counter. She must have been on her way to tote the trash out back when she stopped to berate Angelica. Prim and proper, Betsy lived her life by Robert’s Rules of Order. At fifty-something, she was barrel shaped with brown hair streaked with gray. She took no guff from anyone, and she didn’t encourage frivolity of any sort. Tricia doubted the woman had ever smiled, let alone laughed. She watched as, with exaggerated care, Betsy yanked the sleeves of her maroon sweater over her wrists, then pulled it down over her rather large derriere.
Tricia glanced at her watch once more. Thanks to Betsy, they’d hardly have time to look at the books before they would have to make a decision on whether or not to buy them. Betsy had a penchant for being annoying. And according to Angelica, the woman spent an inordinate amount of time tying up the Cookery’s facilities, usually timing her bathroom breaks for when the store was full of paying customers in need of a restroom visit.
“I’ve got feelers out on several properties that might be available for rent, but Mr. Kelly hasn’t been helpful about setting up the appointments,” Angelica explained. And it was irritating that the property owners insisted that Angelica go through Bob. How long could they afford not to rent to the Chamber, and was Bob subsidizing them in the interim out of spite? He couldn’t do it forever, but meanwhile Angelica’s patience was near the snapping point, which was evident by the tightness in her voice.
And it wasn’t surprising that Angelica had a hard time holding on to her temper. Betsy constantly complained, despite the fact they’d been over the same ground at least a hundred times since Angelica had won the election, beating Bob by a handful of votes to become Chamber president on the first of the year. Meanwhile, the Chamber’s former digs up the street had remained empty and unrented. Spoilsport Bob had declined to even contemplate negotiating a new lease.
Luckily the door opened, interrupting what was sure to be another tense conversation. Unfortunately it was Frannie Mae Armstrong who entered the Cookery. Frannie had been the Chamber’s previous receptionist. Bob had fired her, but not only had Angelica hired her to manage the Cookery, she’d given her a fat raise and health-care benefits, too. Betsy resented that fact and made no bones about it.
“Good morning, all,” Frannie called cheerfully. “Isn’t it a lovely day?”
It was not. The sky was steel gray, but she knew the sound of her Texas twang set Betsy’s teeth on edge. She zeroed in on the Chamber’s only employee. “And how are you today, Betsy, dear?”
“Just fine,” Betsy grated. “I have work to do. I’d best get to it,” she said, pivoted, and flounced toward the back of the store to empty her wastebasket.
Angelica waited until Betsy was out of earshot before she spoke. “Really, Frannie, must you tease her so?”
Frannie feigned innocence as she shrugged out of her leather bomber jacket and set it on the sales counter. “Why I’m always as sweet to her as my mama’s homemade peach pie. I can’t help it if Betsy is such a disagreeable person.”
Angelica frowned. “No, I suppose you can’t.”
The door opened again and two women dressed for the arctic entered the store. Customers were so rare these days that both Angelica and Frannie practically leapt to attention. “Welcome to the Cookery,” Angelica said rather enthusiastically.
“Please don’t hesitate to ask if you need assistance,” Frannie called out.
The women nodded and stepped farther into the store to browse.
Angelica picked up the conversation where she’d left off. “I’ve got a hard decision in front of me. The Chamber can have a full-time receptionist who does little else but take potty breaks and complains, or we can have a part-time employee and rent office space. At this moment I’m leaning heavily toward that second alternative. All we need is a tiny storefront and there isn’t one available right now.”
“What about renting a bungalow at the Brookview Inn?” Tricia suggested.
Angelica shook her head. “The cost would be prohibitive.”
The bell over the door jingled again and Tricia looked up to see Charlie, the sixty-something mailman, come through the door. He was bundled in his regulation coat and hat, with a big leather pouch slung over his shoulder. “Mail call!” he said cheerfully. He handed the bills and junk mail to Angelica.
“Thanks.” She set them on the counter and turned her attention back to Tricia and Frannie.
“If Bob is keeping you from his clients, maybe you should just forget about him. Why not place an ad in the Stoneham Weekly News?”
Angelica sighed. “Yes, I suppose I could. I’ll call Russ today. Better yet, maybe I should just go over there.”
They heard a bang from the floor above and instinctively looked up. Had Betsy just slammed a file drawer shut?
Tricia looked at Frannie—the eyes and ears of Stoneham. “I’m surprised you don’t know of any places to rent in the area.”
Frannie crossed her arms over her bright green aloha shirt decorated with parrots, and frowned. “Believe me, I’d like to get rid of Betsy just as much as anyone else around here, but most of the available rentals I know about are in Milford—and I know you want the Chamber to stay here in the village,” she said, focusing on Angelica. “It’s just too bad Bob Kelly owns just about all the rental property in town.”
They heard another bang and instinctively looked up at the painted tin ceiling. Betsy really was riled.
“That has got to change,” Angelica said, ignoring the sounds above and frowning. “I wonder if I should go to the town hall and look up all the property in town—see who owns it, and ask if I can rent something, even just a room for a few months, until we can figure out where the Chamber’s new home will be.”
They heard a tremendous crash that seemed to shake the whole building.
“What on earth is Betsy up to?” Tricia asked. “Dumping bookshelves?”
Angelica sighed and shook her head just as the door opened, allowing four or five people to crowd into the store, which suddenly made it feel that much smaller. Where had they come from? And more important, were they going to visit Haven’t Got a Clue before they left the village?
“I should go hang up my coat,” Frannie said, excused herself, and threaded her way through the customers.
“Ange, we really need to leave. We’re already late to look at that book collection,” Tricia said.
“I’m sorry. With everything that’s going on around here, I almost forgot.” She pulled on her gloves and grabbed her purse from the sales counter.
Tricia shivered and crossed her arms over her coat. “Did you forget to turn the heat up this morning?”
“It’s on an automatic timer. It comes on half an hour before the store opens.”
Frannie approached. “That darn Betsy. She left the back door wide open when she took out the trash.”
“That’s not the first time she’s done that,” Angelica groused. “Looks like I’m going to have to have another little talk with her.”
“It’s okay. I shut and locked it, and reset the alarm,” Frannie said, taking her accustomed station behind the cash desk.
They heard more banging, but it didn’t seem to be directly overhead.
Angelica looked up at the ceiling. “What in the world is going on up there?”
“I don’t think it’s coming from the storeroom,” Tricia said.
“You don’t think Betsy was angry enough to go up and trash my apartment, do you?” Angelica asked.
“From what you’ve said, anything is possible when it comes to Betsy.”
“I’d better go up and see,” Angelica said, already heading for the back of the store and the door marked PRIVATE.
“Ange, we’re already late,” Tricia called.
“It’ll only take a minute,” Angelica called over her shoulder.
Tricia knew if she wasn’t around to speed things along that Angelica might get distracted once again, and hurried to follow.
The two of them rushed up the stairs. It had suddenly gotten very quiet. Was Betsy over her snit and goofing off with her feet up on the desk and a romance novel open on her lap? Betsy was the only person Tricia had ever met who could look industrious while doing absolutely nothing.
“Something’s not right,” Angelica said as they rounded the landing and saw that the door to the storeroom was ajar. From the floor above, they heard muffled barking from Angelica’s bichon frise, Sarge. Tricia felt Angelica’s index finger poke her shoulder. “Go on in,” she urged.
Tricia’s stomach knotted, but despite her misgivings she also knew if she wanted to assess those books for sale she’d have to move things along. She charged ahead and entered the storeroom-turned-office and cringed at the sight of the mess. How on earth had Betsy created so much chaos in so little time? Chairs were overturned, files were dumped on the floor, the computer tower had been knocked over, and the monitor screen had been smashed, with cracks radiating in a kind of starburst pattern. In the back of the storeroom was an overturned bookcase that had been filled with Angelica’s excess stock of vintage cookbooks.
And underneath it lay Betsy Dittmeyer . . . squashed flat.
Without conscious thought, Tricia whipped out her cell phone and punched in an all-too-familiar number—911—to report the accident.
When she ended the call, she looked straight at her sister. “You stay here, and I’ll go down and wait for the police.”
“Me?” Angelica practically squealed. “I don’t want to stay with her—she’s . . . she’s dead. And dead people creep me out. You stay here. You’re used to finding and dealing with dead people.”
“I am not,” Tricia protested, but by the time the words had left her mouth, Angelica had hightailed it out of the storeroom and down the stairs to her shop.
Tricia glanced back down at Betsy. She hadn’t been attractive in life, and death hadn’t made any improvements. Her eyes bulged, and her mouth was open, her chin bloodied, exactly what Tricia would have expected from someone who’d been crushed. It seemed incredible that Tricia had spoken to the woman only minutes before and now she was so thoroughly dead. She looked away, taking in the storeroom. How on God’s earth did Betsy make all that mess before she toppled the bookcase on herself?
The sound of a siren broke the quiet. Tricia turned away and took several deep breaths to quell her queasy stomach. Soon the sound of footsteps on the stairs caused her to look up, and her ex-lover, Chief Grant Baker of the Stoneham Police Department, appeared before her with Angelica right behind him. “The ambulance is on its way,” he said, nearly breathless.
“You can cancel it. Betsy’s dead,” Tricia said.
“How do you know?” he asked, hustling past her to get to the body.
“Dead people cease to bleed.”
The chief looked down at Betsy’s lifeless form, then up, his gaze darting around the room. “What happened here?”
“Betsy and I had a tiny tiff before she came up here to work,” Angelica sheepishly admitted. “We heard a lot of noise and figured she was throwing a tantrum up here. Then there was a terrible crash, and it got really quiet. Tricia and I ran up the stairs and . . . this is how we found her.”
Baker nodded grimly, and then began to pick his way through the room, presumably looking for clues.
Tricia shivered in a draft. “It sure is nippy up here. Is the heat up here on a timer, too?”
“It was toasty warm the last time I was in here—which was last night,” Angelica said.
“This doesn’t feel normal,” Tricia said, frowning, while Baker continued his circuit around the storeroom.
Angelica darted into the open stairwell and looked up. “Good grief! My apartment door is wide open. I never leave it unlocked. Oh, my! Sarge!” she cried, and bolted up the flight of stairs.
“Wait! Grant!” Tricia hollered, but instead of waiting for him, she ran up the stairs after Angelica.
Bursting through the doorway to the back of the apartment, Tricia saw no trace of Angelica and pounded down the hall toward the kitchen, where she found her sister cradling her tiny bichon frise.
“Mommy’s little boy,” Angelica crooned as she kissed the top of the fluffy dog’s head while he furiously tried to lick her in return.
“I take it he’s okay,” Tricia said with relief. Sarge had once been kicked like a football, causing internal injuries. She didn’t wait for an answer. “Why is it so cold in here?” She looked around the kitchen. None of the windows were open. She wandered from the kitchen to the living room and into the bedroom. Sure enough, the window that overlooked the alley was wide open. She went to shut it and saw that the fire escape ladder had been extended. If she touched the window, she might obliterate fingerprint evidence.
Chief Baker barreled into the room. “Don’t touch that!”
Tricia whirled. “I wasn’t going to.”
Baker practically knocked her over as he shoved her aside. He stuck his head out of the window, looking from right to left. “Damn. No one in sight. But there may be footprint evidence in the snow. I’d better call in the sheriff’s tactical squad to check things out.”
“A lot of people walk their dogs along the alley,” Tricia said, knowing Angelica was among them.
“Will you please close that window!” Angelica said sharply. “I’m not heating the great outdoors, you know.”
“This window will stay open until the lab team dusts it for fingerprints,” Baker ordered.
“That will make my bedroom uninhabitable. I’ve seen the way you guys throw that stuff around and it’s damn hard to clean up—and goodness knows none of your men ever clean up the messes they leave.”
“This apartment, and especially this bedroom, is off-limits, so why don’t you ladies go back downstairs.”
“And do what? Twiddle my thumbs while you and your men keep customers out of my store?” Angelica demanded.
“May I remind you that your secretary was just found dead on your premises—”
“She was the Chamber’s receptionist—not secretary,” Angelica interrupted.
“—and possibly due to foul play?” Baker continued. “You don’t seem very concerned.”
“Of course I’m concerned—and very upset. Whoever did that to Betsy also kicked in my apartment door, invaded my home, and could have hurt or killed my dog. And now your men are going to blitz my bedroom and keep me out of my own home for goodness knows how long.”
“It’ll only be for a few hours. Now, go over to Tricia’s store. I’ll be over there as soon as I can, and you’ll be back in your store and apartment by tonight,” Baker said with more consideration.
“Very well,” Angelica agreed, but not at all graciously. “Tricia!” she called.
“Go on ahead. I want to talk to the chief.”
Angelica frowned, pivoted, and left the room. Tricia turned back to Baker.
“What did you want to tell me?” he asked.
“Don’t even bother to consider me, Angelica, or even Frannie as suspects in what now looks like a possible murder.”
“Are you saying you all had motives to kill Mrs. Dittmeyer?” he asked wryly.
“Of course not. We were all in the Cookery when all the noise broke out. And there were customers there who can corroborate that, too.”
“Did you get their names? Because when I got here Frannie was the only one in the store. And as far as I’m concerned, everyone is a suspect until I can rule them out.”
“Thank you once again for your unwavering belief in me,” Tricia said with heavy sarcasm. “May I go?”
“No. I didn’t see the back entrance open.”
“Betsy had just emptied her wastebasket and left the back door open. Frannie shut and locked it.”
“Then you don’t know for sure that Frannie was telling the truth.”
“We could feel a draft, and I don’t doubt Frannie was telling the truth.”
“Did you see the open door?”
“No, I was standing at the front of the store with Angelica.”
“Did you see anyone else you recognized in the store at the time of the . . . upset?”
Tricia shook her head.
“That means Mrs. Dittmeyer could have let her killer into the shop.”
“I guess. As I said, there were a bunch of customers in the store at the time, and Charlie the mailman was there a few minutes before we heard the ruckus.”
“Did you see him leave?”
Tricia thought about it. “No. But that doesn’t mean anything. Angelica and Frannie and I were talking. We weren’t paying attention to anything else that was going on—until all the noise started upstairs.”
“And you thought the victim was making it?”
Tricia nodded. “As Angelica said, she and Betsy had been discussing the limitations of using the storeroom as the Chamber headquarters. Betsy made it plain she was not happy with the situation, and we figured she was throwing a tantrum.”
“Did she regularly do such things?” Baker demanded.
Tricia shrugged and heard others tromping around the apartment. “I don’t know. I didn’t hang out with the woman.”
“And why was that?” Baker asked.
“Because she wasn’t very nice. Or at least not very warm and welcoming.”
“What about the mailman?”
“Charlie? He’s a sweetheart. I suppose you can find him at the post office—after he’s finished his route, that is.”
“Chief?” Officer Henderson called.
Baker held up a hand to stall him. “We’ll talk later,” he told Tricia in dismissal.
She nodded, turned, and waited for the officer to move away from the doorway so she could escape. So much for getting anything accomplished during the rest of the morning—and there was no way she’d be able to visit the estate sale to look at the books on offer.
Tricia found the Cookery crowded with the entire Stoneham police force, who demanded she stay until Chief Baker verified that she was allowed to leave, which took another ten minutes—minutes in which she was not allowed to speak with Frannie, Angelica, or anyone else. When she was finally allowed to return to her store, Tricia pondered the fact that Stoneham seemed to have become the death capital of southern New Hampshire. And why, oh, why, did she always seem to be the one to keep stumbling over the newly deceased?
While she loathed being called the village jinx, Tricia was beginning to think the title might just be apropos.
With all the chaos going on at the Cookery, Tricia was happy to return to her own store and its relative peace. Relative because her assistant, Pixie Poe, was singing. As she studied the order forms before her, Tricia desperately tried to ignore her employee’s slightly off-key rendition of “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” As it was, Tricia had been afraid Angelica might wait out the police presence at her own store by hanging out at Haven’t Got a Clue, but instead she’d chosen to go across the street to Booked for Lunch, the tiny retro café she owned and operated.
Pixie dressed exclusively in vintage togs, so one never knew what era she was likely to represent on any given day. Today she seemed to be channeling the Andrews Sisters, looking like a rather long-in-the-tooth Patty, with shoulder-length blonde hair, pancake makeup, and ruby-colored lips and nails. The customers loved her, and sales had skyrocketed since she’d come to work at Haven’t Got a Clue. Tricia had rewarded her with several raises and was thinking of giving her another.
While Tricia’s other employee, Mr. Everett, dusted the back shelves, Pixie once again wandered over to the big display window to look outside, checking out what she could see of the mix of official cars and people, and the investigation into Betsy Dittmeyer’s death.
“They haven’t taken the body out yet,” she said with what sounded like disappointment.
“And when they do, there’ll be nothing to see,” Tricia chided her.
“I know. It’s just . . . well, with the screws blocking the sidewalk, we aren’t going to have any customers, so I’ve gotta do something to keep from getting bored.”
“Why don’t you go read a book,” Tricia encouraged.
“Really?” Pixie asked with delight. “Great. I’m working my way through Dashiell Hammett once again. Love that Maltese Falcon.” Tricia watched her go over to one of the shelves, pluck out a book, and then flop down into the readers’ nook.
Tricia sighed and went back to her paperwork. Pixie might not be working, but neither was she singing.
The little bell over the door rang cheerfully, causing both Tricia and Pixie to look up, but instead of a customer it was Ginny Wilson-Barbero who entered Haven’t Got a Clue. Unfortunately, her demeanor was anything but cheerful. Tricia didn’t bother with the usual pleasantries. “Is something wrong?”
“Not at all,” Ginny said, her voice high and squeaky.
“Hi, Ginny!” Pixie called without looking up from her book.
“Hi, Pixie. How are you?”
“Just Yankee Doodle dandy!” she said and, unfortunately, began to hum as she read. From the back of the store, Mr. Everett waved his lamb’s-wool duster in greeting and went back to work.
Ginny inched closer to the sales desk. “I saw the police cars. Well, who could miss them? Rumor has it that Betsy Dittmeyer was killed this morning over at the Cookery.”
“I’m afraid it’s true.”
“By a bookcase?” Ginny asked.
Tricia nodded grimly. “Fully loaded.”
“Messy,” Ginny said and winced.
“Yes,” Tricia agreed. She noted that Ginny’s eyes were bloodshot and her nose was red, although she didn’t sound like she had a cold. “Are you sure there’s nothing wrong?”
Ginny’s eyes filled with tears. “Have you got a couple of minutes to talk?”
Tricia looked over at Pixie, who had turned to look their way. “Sure, Mr. E and I can hold down the fort,” Pixie said. As usual, she’d been eavesdropping.
“Come on,” Tricia said and came out from behind the cash desk and wrapped an arm around Ginny’s shoulder. “We’ll go upstairs and have a nice cup of cocoa.”
Ginny sniffed and allowed herself to be guided through the shop. Miss Marple joined them, scampering up the stairs, while Tricia and Ginny followed until they reached the third floor and Tricia’s loft apartment. Tricia unlocked the door and let them in. “Let me take your coat.”
Ginny shrugged out of the sleeves of her coat, handing it to Tricia, who hung it on the coat tree by the door. She hurried over to the kitchen counter and filled the electric kettle with water, then got out mugs and packets of cocoa mix. “I hope you don’t mind instant. Of course, Angelica would make it from whole milk, and the finest Swiss ground chocolate.”
“She does tend to go overboard,” Ginny admitted, then dug for a tissue in the pocket of her skirt and blew her nose.
“I’m afraid I don’t have much to serve a guest. I don’t really keep cookies or desserts up here. But we’ve got some thumbprint cookies down in the store. I could dash down and—”
Ginny shook her head. “No, thanks. The last thing I need right now are more calories.”
“What’s wrong?” Tricia asked. “Have you and Antonio had a fight?”
“Oh, no. He’s the sweetest, nicest man in the world—well, apart from Mr. Everett. I love him to death. I’ve never had an unhappy minute with him.”
“But you don’t look very happy right now. Is it the job?” Tricia prompted, since Ginny didn’t seem to be in a hurry to explain.
Again Ginny shook her head. Her gaze fell and her lower lip trembled, and then she nodded. “I guess it is my job I’m worried about.” She nodded once more. “Yes, that’s exactly it. I’m afraid I’m going to lose the Happy Domestic.”
“Why? I thought it was doing well. That you were in the black and your boss, Nigela Ricita, was very happy with your work.”
“She is. Or so Antonio tells me.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
The kettle chose that moment to come to a boil, and Tricia turned her attention to the cocoa at hand, pouring the water into the cups and mixing the contents with spoons. She grabbed a couple of paper napkins from the holder, set them on the kitchen island, and placed the mugs on them.
Tricia waited, but Ginny didn’t seem able to meet her gaze.
“Ginny, please, tell me what’s wrong.”
Ginny looked up, her eyes filling with tears, her face screwing into an expression of total misery. “I’m . . . I’m pregnant.”
“Pregnant?” Tricia cried and leapt forward to embrace her friend. “That’s wonderful. Oh, I’m so happy for both of you.”
But Ginny didn’t move. She stood rock still.
Tricia pulled back, studying Ginny’s face. “This is wonderful news. Why aren’t you happy?”
“Part of me is happy,” she cried, “but most of me didn’t plan for this to happen for another couple of years.”
“What does Antonio think about it?”
Ginny looked away. “I haven’t told him.”
Ginny waved her hands in the air as though to stop an oncoming scolding. “I can’t tell him. Not when I feel this way.”
“Okay, so the timing isn’t what you’d originally planned, but you’ll make the best mama in all of Stoneham.”
“But what about the Happy Domestic?” she cried.
“What about it?”
“As far as I’m concerned, it belongs to me. Maybe not on paper, but I’ve put my heart and soul into that store.”
“And you’ve done a wonderful job—”
“But what if they take it away from me?”
“Antonio and Nigela Ricita.”
“Why would they take it away from you?”
“Because,” she said and sat down at the island, placing her hands around the steaming mug, “I just have this feeling . . . maybe it’s the name of the store . . . the Happy Domestic. I don’t want them to force me to be just a housewife.”
“What makes you think they’d do that?”
“Let’s face it; the former owner didn’t have a happy domestic life. She and her husband fought about the business after their son arrived. And then a plane dropped out of the sky and killed her. What if the place is cursed?”
“Hey, I’m supposed to be the village jinx, not you,” Tricia reminded Ginny.
“Deborah Black wasn’t good at juggling her business and her home life. What if I can’t do it, either?”
Tricia sighed, exasperated. “I have faith in you. And if you’ll let them, I’m sure Antonio and Nigela Ricita will, too.”
Ginny picked up her cup, blew on the hot liquid, and took a tiny sip. “This wasn’t supposed to happen. Not now. The timing just isn’t right.”
“You weren’t thinking of . . .” Tricia found she couldn’t even say the words.
Ginny raised her gaze just a trifle, looking guilty. “I did . . . for about a second and a half. This is something I want. But not right now.”
“Why did you tell me first?” Tricia asked. “Are you looking for advice?”
“Not exactly,” Ginny admitted, taking another sip. “I know what you’re going to say: ‘Talk to Antonio.’”
“He is your husband,” Tricia reminded her.
“Like I could forget that,” Ginny said with a shadow of her old laugh.
“Talk to him. I’m sure your fears are all blown out of proportion. It’s probably the hormones.”
Ginny shrugged, and drank more of her cocoa. “I feel so selfish.”
“Motherhood is a big responsibility,” Tricia said. “It will change your life, but not for the worse.”
“I’m sure of it.”
Ginny nodded wearily and tipped her head to take in the last of her cocoa. “I really need to get back to my store.”
The women set their dirty mugs in the sink and Ginny retrieved her coat before they headed to the stairs that took them back to Haven’t Got a Clue. Still seated in a chair in the nook, Pixie looked up over the top of her book. “Is everything okay?”
“It will be,” Tricia said and forced a smile. Before she and Ginny made it halfway to the exit, the door burst open and Nikki Brimfield-Smith entered.
“I’ve got the most wonderful news!” she cried, zeroing in on Tricia and rushing forward. “Russ and I are having a baby!”
Stunned, Tricia stood rock still with her mouth agape. Ginny, the poor soul, burst into tears.
Nikki appeared unsure of herself. “Isn’t anyone going to say anything?”
“Congratulations,” Tricia managed, but Ginny made a break for the door Nikki had just entered. She and Tricia watched as Ginny slammed the door behind her.
Nikki frowned. “She could have at least pretended to be happy for us.”
“I’m sure she is,” Tricia said, “but Ginny is pretty upset this morning. If you’d told her the moon was made of green cheese she probably would have had the same reaction.”
Nikki stared at the closed door, miffed, then turned back to Tricia. “And what do you think about my news?”
Tricia forced a smile. “I think it’s terrific. How far along are you?”
“Have you picked out any names?” she asked, trying to sound thrilled.
“We won’t even consider names until after we find out the baby’s gender.”
Tricia nodded. She wasn’t sure what to say next.
“Since I found out earlier this morning, all I can think about is selling the Patisserie and becoming a stay-at-home mom.”
“Oh,” was all Tricia could think of to say.
“You don’t think I should?” Nikki challenged, not sounding at all sure herself.
“You should do whatever makes you happy. But are you sure you want to do that? You trained so hard to become a pastry chef. You worked so hard to take possession of the bakery.”
“Nothing is more important to us than giving our child the most nurturing environment. And that means devoting my entire life to him or her.”
The door opened and an older man entered, his cheeks chapped from the wind. He paused, pulled off a pair of brown leather gloves, and retrieved a slip of paper from his coat pocket. “Can someone help me find these books?”
Pixie was about to get up from her chair, but Tricia shook her head and she sat back down. Likewise, Mr. Everett, who’d been about to bound forward, did an abrupt about-face.
“I’d be glad to.” Tricia turned back to Nikki. “I’m sorry, but I’ve got a customer—and as I’m sure you already know, they seem to be a rarity these days. Congratulations to both you and Russ. You’ll make fine parents.”
Nikki frowned and turned for the door without another word. She’d obviously expected a more enthusiastic reception to her announcement. Shoulders slumped, she left the shop without another word and quietly closed the door behind her.
Tricia sighed. Two women, two announcements—two very different reactions. And Tricia found she didn’t envy either Ginny or Nikki.
* * *
The morning’s only customer turned out to be a good one. After browsing for just under an hour, he’d purchased nearly three hundred dollars’ worth of books. Since it was nearly their lunchtime anyway, Mr. Everett and Pixie helped carry the books to the customer’s car before they headed off for the Bookshelf Diner to eat.
Tricia settled behind the cash desk, determined to battle the pile of paperwork before her when the shop door opened once again. This time, it was not a customer but Christopher Benson, Tricia’s ex-husband, who’d taken up residence across the street in the apartment over the Nigela Ricita Associates office where he worked.
“What brings you to Haven’t Got a Clue?” Tricia asked, looking straight into Christopher’s mesmerizing green eyes. She always thought they were his best physical trait. Dressed in jeans, a bulky sweater, and a ski jacket, he looked like he might be about to pose for a spread in an L.L. Bean catalog.
“I happened to be looking out my office window when I saw Pixie and Mr. Everett go out for lunch. I thought you might want some company.”
Tricia looked over her shoulder at Miss Marple, who was asleep on her perch behind the cash desk. “I’m never lonely when I’m with my cat. You see, she stuck with me through thick and thin. Like when my husband left me,” Tricia said, keeping her tone light and even.
“Touché,” Christopher reluctantly agreed.
“Now, why did you really come here today?”
“I’ve seen the police and rescue vehicles come and go, and I’ve heard all the gossip. And I know how wrapped up you get whenever there’s a crime in Stoneham.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Everybody knows you like to think of yourself as a much younger and prettier Agatha Christie.”
“I do not.” She frowned. “Well, I will accept the ‘prettier’ part.”
“From what I hear, you’ve helped the cops solve several crimes in the past couple of years.”
“I was just being a good citizen.”
“I hoped that when your employees return from their lunch that we could go somewhere to eat and maybe talk about Betsy Dittmeyer.”
“And what did you know about Betsy?”
“I am the only financial advisor in town. You’d be surprised how many clients I’ve accumulated in such a short period.” He’d moved to town only two months before.
“I thought you worked for Nigela Ricita Associates.”
“Not exclusively. I’m on a retainer, but I still have several hours free every day.”
“What about client confidentiality? Aren’t you afraid that if you talk to me about a client’s financial situation that your other clients might find out and take their business away from you?”
“I happen to trust you. I know you wouldn’t go blab whatever I tell you to anyone—except maybe Angelica, and she can keep a secret, too.”
“How would you know that?”
He shrugged. “We’ve talked.”
“Has Angelica hired you to give her financial advice?” Tricia asked, surprised.
“Okay, so what is Angelica’s financial status?”
Christopher shook his head. “I can’t tell you that.”
“Why, because she’s still alive?”
He nodded. “Pretty much.”
“Have you spoken to Chief Baker about Betsy?”
He nodded. “I thought it might be pertinent.”
“And was it?”
“He seemed to think so. And so will you.”
“Okay, I’m game.”
“Great, then you’ll go out to lunch with me?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“You do need to eat,” he said reasonably.
“Why can’t you just tell me now?”
“I don’t mind being seen with you. Do you mind being seen with me?”
Tricia sighed. She was getting tired of the runaround. “Level with me. Please?”
“Okay.” Christopher shoved his hands into his jacket pockets. “But only because I feel I owe you. I realize now it was downright cruel of me to leave you the way I did.”
“Yes, you hurt me, but I’m over it now. I like my life the way it is. Believe it or not, I’m not pining for you. You don’t have to buy me expensive jewelry or do anything else to make up for it. It’s behind us now. I’ve moved on. It’s time you did, too.”
“You’re absolutely right. But is it wrong for me to still enjoy your company? We have a history. If nothing else, I’d like us to be friends.”
“We are friends. Just not close friends.”
Christopher frowned. “I suppose you’re right.”
“And does this mean you aren’t going to tell me about Betsy’s finances?”
He sighed. “I guess I could, at least until a customer comes in.” He straightened. “You might not believe it, but Betsy Dittmeyer was a multimillionaire.”
Dumpy, unattractive, Betsy? The one who was afraid the Chamber of Commerce might reduce her from a full-time to a part-time employee? “You’ve got to be kidding,” Tricia said, flabbergasted.
Christopher shook his head. “It seems she’d had several large judgments from civil suits. Not only that, but not long ago she’d changed the beneficiary for nearly all of her accounts.”
“And who was the unlucky person to lose Betsy’s favor?”
“Joelle Morrison?” Tricia asked.
“Do you know her?”
“We’ve spoken on a number of occasions,” Tricia admitted, neglecting to add that she’d led the wedding planner to believe she and Christopher might be on the verge of reconciliation—all in the name of gathering information on a previous murder investigation. “Do you know if Betsy told Joelle she’d been cut out of the will?”
Again, Christopher shook his head.
“Do you think the loss of such a large inheritance could be the reason Betsy was murdered?” Tricia blurted.
“Not necessarily. Betsy assured me her sister had no idea of her personal worth, but Chief Baker was sure interested. Apparently he thinks it makes a good motive for murder.”
It certainly did. “Who was the lucky new benefactor? Anyone we know?”
“The Stoneham Food Shelf, several charities involved in cancer research, and a living trust.”
“Wait a minute. Betsy always acted like she was broke. She certainly didn’t dress the part of a millionaire—or flaunt the fact she had the kind of money you’re suggesting. So unless she was just spiteful, Joelle had no real reason to kill her sister.”
“Perhaps Betsy taunted her about the disinheritance. If she did, I have no knowledge of it—and maybe no one else did, either. They may never have spoken about it. Do you talk money with Angelica?”
Angelica had once told Tricia that she’d written a will leaving all her worldly goods to Tricia—and vice versa, but they hadn’t spoken of it since. “No. And she rarely mentions it to me, either.”
“There you go.”
“So does this make Joelle a truly viable suspect, or would you rule her out?” Tricia asked.
“That’s not up to either of us to decide. But I’m sure your boyfriend, Chief Baker, will.”
Tricia felt her insides tighten. “I wish you wouldn’t refer to him that way. We are no longer an item . . . not that we ever really were.”
“Too bad for him. You’re a remarkable woman, Tricia. The kindest I’ve ever come across.”
She certainly didn’t feel that way today. Not after her encounter with Nikki . . . and now with Christopher. Still, she replied, “Flattery will get you nowhere.”
“No, I really mean it.”
But before he could elaborate, the shop door opened and an elderly female customer entered.
Tricia made eye contact with the woman and managed a smile. “Good afternoon. Welcome to Haven’t Got a Clue. I’m Tricia. Please let me know if you need any help.”
“Thank you,” the old lady said and moseyed over to one of the bookshelves.
“I guess that’s the end of our conversation,” Christopher said with yet another shrug.
“I guess,” Tricia agreed, and for some unfathomable reason she actually felt a pang of regret.
“That lunch invitation is still good. I mean, you do need sustenance to stay alive. If none of the local restaurants appeal to you, I make a mean risotto.”
There was no way Tricia would allow herself to visit her ex-husband’s apartment. She worried that, plied with enough wine, she might finish the evening in his bed—and she really didn’t want that to happen. “Thank you, but no thank you.”
“No matter how much you deny it, it’s not over between us, Tricia. One day we will get back together.”
Tricia said nothing. She didn’t want to encourage him. And she didn’t want to admit that somewhere in her heart of hearts she still cared more for him than she wanted or would ever admit. She didn’t want to give him that much power over her ever again.
Christopher cast a glance toward the back of the shop where Tricia’s lone customer still browsed. “Well, I guess I’d better go. If you won’t eat with me, can I at least bring you a sandwich or something?”
“I usually have lunch with Angelica at Booked for Lunch after it closes.”
“I know. I often see you cross the street around two o’clock.”
“Have you been spying on me?” Tricia asked, although she wouldn’t be at all surprised if he had. He certainly lived close enough to observe her comings and goings.
“Not spying. I just happen to look out my window when I’m not busy. If you’re there—I see you. If you’re not, I don’t.”
“And do you find yourself without something to do on a regular basis?” she asked and found herself smiling. Good grief, was she actually flirting with her ex-husband?
Christopher’s smile was wistful. “Sometimes.”
The door opened and another customer entered the store. Tricia gave her usual canned line about giving assistance before turning back to Christopher.
“Are you sure I can’t get you something? A cappuccino? Espresso? A big greasy burger and a slice of cheesecake?”
“No, nothing, thank you.”
Christopher’s smile morphed into something a little more sly. “I guess I’ll be seeing you around, then.”
“I guess so,” Tricia said.
Excerpted from "Book Clubbed"
Copyright © 2015 Lorna Barrett.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Praise for the New York Times Bestselling Booktown Mysteries
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“Lorna Barrett’s new cozy creation…has it all: wonderful old books, quirky characters, a clever mystery, and a cat named Miss Marple!”—Roberta Isleib, author of Asking for Murder
“A mystery bookstore in a sleepy New England town, a cat named Miss Marple, a nasty murder, and a determined heroine make Barrett’s delightful debut mystery everything a cozy lover could want and more. Bravo!”—Leann Sweeney, author of The Cat, the Mill and the Murder
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