London's most refined canines and their humans are gearing up for the Pets and Wellness Society's annual dog showand Betty Wentworth, favorite aunt to Scarlett's fiancé Harrison and proud owner of corgi front-runner Freddy, knows that this could be their year with the right edge. Never one to turn away a corgi in need, Scarlett convinces her milliner cousin, Vivian, to design matching hats for dream team Betty and Freddy as they compete for Best in Show.
It's a tail wagging good time until the dog-food sponsor of the event is found dead and Betty is the prime suspect. Vivian and Scarlett agree to enter the competition in Betty's place and help Harrison catch the real killer before Betty is collared for a crime she didn't commit.
About the Author
In addition to being the author of the Hat Shop Mysteries, Jenn also writes the Cupcake Bakery Mysteries, the Library Lover's Mysteries, the Bluff Point Romances, and the Happily Ever After Romances.
Read an Excerpt
If I held my left hand just so, I could see the diamonds catch and scatter the light, even the dreary February light in London, into a million tiny rainbows. I, Scarlett Parker, was engaged to be married. Harry, excuse me, my fiancé, Harrison Wentworth, proposed to me a few months ago when we were visiting my parents in Connecticut, and I don't think my feet have touched terra firma ever since. And it's not just because of my spectacular ring, although this cushion cut Harry Winston did add a little something to the proposal, but rather because after dating all the wrong men, I finally found my Mr. Right.
I held my hand over my heart and sighed.
"She's doing it again," Fee said. She was standing behind the counter in the middle of the hat shop.
"It's like a trance," Viv said. "Or perhaps a fit. It'll pass."
I turned away from the front window, where I'd been arranging a new display of spring hats before I got distracted by my ring, and glanced at my cousin, Vivian Tremont, and her assistant, Fiona (Fee) Felton. They were both looking at me as if they were convinced I'd lost my mind.
Viv's blue eyes, the only feature we shared, were narrowed and her lips pursed. Her long blond curls were piled on top of her head in a messy bun and she was dressed for warmth in a long pale green tunic sweater over charcoal tights and black boots. If I didn't love her so much, I'd loathe her for being so fairy-tale-princess pretty, but I did love her. She was the closest thing I had to a sister and when my life had imploded a few years ago, she was the one who sent for me, insisting I take my place as her partner in the hat shop that our grandmother Mim had bequeathed to us.
Fee, Viv's assistant, had her head tipped to the side. Her chin-length corkscrew curls, highlighted with vibrant streaks of purple, bounced as she nodded in agreement with Viv's assessment. A beautiful woman, Fee was tall and lithe, with dark eyes and skin, and cheekbones you could slice cucumbers on. She'd been Viv's millinery apprentice while in fashion school but had become a full-time employee once she graduated. It was a good thing I adored her, too, because honestly, hanging out with these two knockouts could damage even the most well-adjusted girl's self-esteem.
Despite a rocky start, I'd been in London for almost three years, and I couldn't imagine spending my days anywhere but our quaint little hat shop, Mim's Whims, on Portobello Road in Notting Hill. Being an American, the hat thing had always been a curiosity for me. Even when I came over to stay with Mim during my school holidays, I never quite understood the passion for hats that exists in Britain. Mim told me that wearing a hat is woven into the social fabric of being British. For the royal family, in particular, protocol dictates that they wear hats to all royal occasions. Royal and upper-class women rarely showed their hair in public before the 1950s, Mim explained, and so the hat remains relevant in British society.
Personally, even though I love the beautiful hats Viv and Fee create, I still don't quite get it. Although, I have to admit, there is no better cure for a bad-hair day than one of Viv's exceptional designs.
"I'm not having a fit," I protested. I tossed my straight red hair over my shoulder in my most diva manner and tipped my nose up in the air. "I'm just happy. Can't a girl be happy without everyone thinking she's bonkers?"
Viv and Fee exchanged a glance and then they broke into matching grins.
"We're just teasing you, yeah?" Fee said. Her nose ring caught the light as she turned her head to the side. She jerked her chin in the direction of the front door and said, "And if I'm not mistaken, here comes the reason you're so daft."
I whirled around and my heart gave a flutter at the sight of the tall man with wavy brown hair and bright green eyes who was approaching our shop. Harry! I was so delighted to see my fiancé; I didn't realize he had someone with him until Viv let out a huff of disgust.
"Is that a dog?" she cried. "Is he bringing it into our shop?"
Harry grinned at me as he pulled open the door, and it took all of my brain power to glance away from him and take in the petite woman and the adorable corgi who had entered the shop beside him.
"Yes, that's definitely a dog," Fee said. "Aw. Look. It's wearing galoshes and a mac."
I glanced down. It was! As giddy as I was about seeing Harry, the sight of the stubby-legged canine in a raincoat about did me in. Totes adorbs! I hurried from the window and dropped to the floor beside the pup.
"Well, aren't you just the cutest thing?" I asked. I held out my hand so we could become acquainted and a cold, wet nose nuzzled my fingers.
"She used to greet me like that," Harry said. His tone was dry, and when I glanced up he was smiling ruefully at the woman beside him.
"By letting you sniff her hand?" the woman asked. She grinned. "That's odd. Is that a new thing you young kids do?"
Harry laughed. "You're a regular card, Aunt Betty."
Aunt Betty! I'd heard stories about her from Harry's parents. Mostly his father since Betty was his little sister. Everyone doted on Aunt Betty.
She was a petite woman but very stylish in a later-year Audrey Hepburn sort of way with her long burgundy wool coat, a jaunty navy and white polka-dot scarf and large sunglasses. Harry gave her a one-armed hug. The obvious affection between them made me smile.
"Aunt Betty, may I introduce you to my friends? Vivian Tremont and Fiona Felton." He gestured to Viv and Fee behind the counter and then said, "And this is my beautiful fiancée, Scarlett Parker. Ginger, this is my absolute favorite aunt in the whole wide world, Betty Wentworth."
"Delightful to meet you," I said. I stood up and shook her gloved hand.
Aunt Betty gave Harry a side-eye. "I'm your only aunt."
"That doesn't make it not true," he said. She laughed and swatted his arm.
"And who is your handsome companion?" I asked.
"She's not talking about me," Harry said. He sounded aggrieved.
"Well, you can't honestly expect to compete with my Freddy, now, can you, dear?" Aunt Betty asked Harrison. "I mean, look at his bum, it's shaped like a heart."
A laugh came out my nose. I took a discreet peek at Freddy's behind underneath the bright yellow raincoat-yup, definitely in the shape of a fuzzy heart. Aw. I felt Harry's gaze upon me and tried to save myself.
"Let me clarify to salvage your self-esteem." I winked at him and turned to Betty. "Who is your handsome four-legged companion?"
Aunt Betty smiled and turned to Harry. "I like her."
"Everyone does," Harry said.
"His full name is Freddy Darling Wentworth, and he is handsome, isn't he?" Aunt Betty asked. "I mean, just look at him, all honey-colored with ears and a good snout. He's a perfect specimen of a corgi. He's descended from the same line as the Queen's dogs, you know."
"Is he?" Fee asked. She came out from behind the counter and knelt in front of Freddy. A cold wet nose poked out from under the large yellow rain hat, and Freddy licked her fingers.
"Yes, he's a Pembroke Welsh corgi from the same lineage as the Queen's beloved Susan," Aunt Betty said.
"That's incredible," I said. "It's like having royalty in the shop. Last time we were so graced was when the Duchess of Sussex and the Duchess of Cambridge came for wedding hats."
"You did not just compare a dog to the royals," Viv said. She looked utterly appalled.
Viv is a monarchist and the royal family is sacrosanct. Probably because they buy a lot of her hats. Not that I'm saying her loyalty could be bought but there was definitely a fiscal relationship there, if you know what I mean. After all, when the Duchess of Sussex wore a particularly cute confection of Viv's, a pale pink cap with matching feathers and Swarovski crystals, the shop got hammered with orders for the same. I swear Viv made that identical hat for a month straight.
"No," I protested. I glanced at the others-only Harry looked like he was trying not to laugh. "Of course not. I just meant he's very much like a royal-you know, he's royal adjacent given that his family tree forks right into Buckingham Palace and all." They stared at me, not moved by my argument in the least. I felt compelled to add, "You know Queen Elizabeth would agree with me."
Fee blew an errant curl out of her eyes. "She does have a point there. The Queen is absolutely mad about her dogs."
"Howling mad, you might say," Harrison said with a mischievous grin.
That seemed to break the tension.
"Pawsitively smitten." Viv chortled.
"She absolutely hounds people about them." Fee laughed.
The three of them were in stitches while Aunt Betty looked at them in dismay. Naturally, I felt obliged to contribute, too, because I can be punny.
"We should call her Queen Elizabark," I said. I chuckled pretty hard. No one else did. Instead, they all went serious. Viv shook her head and Fee sighed. I glanced at Harry, the man who is supposed to have my back, and he winked at me. It was a pity wink. Honestly!
"Nice effort, Ginger," he said.
"Nice effort?" I planted my hands on my hips. "Queen Elizabark-aw, come on, you know that's funny."
Harry looked at Aunt Betty and said, "Americans." Then he shrugged. I swatted his shoulder, knowing it was all in good fun. At least, I'm pretty sure it was. I'd been trying to mix it up in their oh-so-droll British puns for years but with no real success as yet.
"There, there, dear." Aunt Betty patted my arm. "Not everyone has the gift of humor."
I rolled my eyes. Someday I was going to have the last laugh.
"This is all very . . . whatever it is," Viv said. She gestured to us and then to Freddy. "But why is there a dog in my shop, potentially getting hair on my hats?"
"Funny you should ask, Viv," Harry said.
I glanced at him. I knew that tone. This was the voice he used when he was feeling distinctly uncomfortable. Of course, being British, this meant most of the time. I honestly think part of the reason Harry loved me so much was because, being American, I do not have the same overdeveloped sense of unease about all things social.
"The thing is . . ." he began and paused. He put his hand on the back of his neck. I knew this tactic. It was a stalling maneuver Harry used when he was trying to think of exactly how to say something so that it wouldn't come out the wrong way. I crossed my arms. This was sure to be good. "The fact of the matter is, well, we were-"
"The point, dear," Aunt Betty said to Harry. "Get to the point."
Harry looked from her to Viv. "Aunt Betty was hoping you could help Freddy out with his next run at the PAWS dog show."
"PAWS dog show," Aunt Betty repeated. "Freddy's a contender."
Viv frowned. She glanced down at the dog, who was looking up at her from under the brim of his bright yellow hat. "Me? Help Freddy?"
"That's right," Aunt Betty said. She nodded and clapped her hands in front of her chest. Her soft brown eyes sparkled with enthusiasm. "Harry says you're the best milliner in London."
"Well, it would be bad form to argue with the truth, wouldn't it?" Viv asked.
She attempted to look modest but it was a wasted effort. If there was one thing that was true about Viv, it was that she really was the best milliner in London, and I'm not biased because I'm her cousin and we're in business together. She really is extra special. And I can say this as the person who works with the clients and has to convince them that the giant birdcage Viv put on their Ascot hat really will light up their mentions in the society pages in the best possible way.
"Freddy has been runner-up in the PAWS dog show for three years running," Aunt Betty said. "This is his year, I know it. But he needs a little boost."
"Well, given the lack of length in his legs, I can see that," Viv said. "But I'm not sure where I come in."
Fee blew a curl out of her eyes and said, "Don't be thick, Viv, they clearly want you to design a hat for Freddy."
"What?" Viv asked. Her frown stretched into a look of surprise. "I've never designed a hat for a dog before. I don't even know how it would stay on his head."
"Chin strap," I said. She glanced at me. "Sorry, just thinking out loud."
"I don't make hats with chin straps," Viv said. She looked insulted at the thought.
"Sure you do," Fee said. "Remember the darling lace-trimmed bonnets for the youngest flower girls in the royal . . ."
Fee's voice trailed off under the power of Viv's glare.
I figured I'd better mediate the situation before Viv hurt Aunt Betty's feelings and we ended up in an incident. I swear, my job was mostly to mitigate "incidents," which was ironic because it was an incident of my own that landed me here. Thankfully, I wasn't worried about Freddy's feelings, figuring he had enough self-esteem to manage a rejection from Viv.
"Come and sit down," I said to Harry and Aunt Betty. "Maybe if we hear more about what you need, we can help you."
Viv shot me a dark look, which I ignored. I led both Harry and Aunt Betty over to the dark blue easy chairs we had grouped around a glass coffee table on the far side of the shop. This was where Viv did her consultations with clients, over tea and scones, going through our catalog to see what they required for an upcoming event, be it a wedding, funeral, graduation, garden party, you name it.
Freddy trotted after his mama, sitting right at Aunt Betty's feet when she sat on the love seat. Harry sat beside her while Viv and I took the remaining chairs.