Murder comes well-seasoned in spunky amateur sleuth Piper Prescott's newest case in the charming, "must-read" (Publishers Weekly) Spice Shop mystery series
About the Author
The author of the Bunco Babes mystery series, GAIL OUST is often accused of flunking retirement. Hearing the words "maybe it's a dead body" while golfing fired her imagination for writing a cozy. Ever since then, she has spent more time on a computer than at a golf course. She lives with her husband in McCormick, South Carolina.
Read an Excerpt
A Spice Shop Mystery
By Gail Oust
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Gail Oust
All rights reserved.
Cinnamon from Ceylon. Nutmeg from Grenada. Cloves from Madagascar. A regular United Nations lined the shelves of Spice It Up! Pleased, I stepped back to admire the window display I'd just finished. The collection of baking spices paired with the large wicker basket of red Cortland apples as nicely as cheese did with crackers.
In spite of naysayers, Spice It Up!, my little spice shop on the town square in Brandywine Creek, Georgia, was flourishing. Certain folks — they shall remain nameless — were reluctant to admit that a former country club wife who'd been dumped by her ambulance-chasing, skirt-chasing husband of twenty-some years could morph into a successful shopkeeper. But I'd done it. I'd showed them.
With a contented sigh, I returned to my place behind the counter, intending to check inventory. I'd no sooner clicked on the computer than Melly Prescott, my former mother-in-law, burst through the door.
"Piper," she gasped. "I practically ran all the way over."
I stared at her, aghast. Melly, run? Never in a million years. Not even if her house were on fire. It simply wasn't her nature to hurry. "Melly, are you all right?"
Melly pressed a blue-veined hand against her twinset-clad chest. "I'm fine, dear, really," she panted. "Give me a minute to catch my breath, is all."
I went over to her and, taking her elbow, guided her toward one of the stools I kept behind the counter. I studied her more closely. She looked ... different. Her usual not-a-hair-out-of-place silver pageboy was mussed. If that weren't alarming enough, she'd ventured out in public without first applying lipstick.
Melly managed a laugh, albeit a breathless one. "The way my heart's pounding, you'd think I'd just won a dance contest."
"Sit down. I'll get you some water." Racing for the small fridge at the rear of the shop, I patted the pocket of my sunny yellow apron with its chili pepper logo for the reassuring outline of my cell phone. I might need to dial 911. Melly not only looked different, but she was behaving strangely as well. Was this a warning sign of a stroke?
Casey, my mutt of many breeds, woke from his snooze at the foot of the back stairs leading up to my apartment. My scruffy pet raised his head, one ear cocked, as if to ask what all the commotion was about. When I ignored him, he resumed his afternoon nap.
I snatched a bottle of water from the fridge, twisted off the cap, and hurried to Melly's side. "Here you go."
"Thanks, dear." Melly took an unladylike gulp.
Although her breathing was less ragged, Melly's color was still high, her cheeks flushed, and her eyes mirror bright. I berated myself for not taking the CPR course offered at the fire station. One never knew when that information might come in handy. What is the rule of thumb these days? I wondered. Were people still doing mouth-to-mouth? Was it chest compressions only? Or both? I made a mental note to Google this later.
"You haven't stopped taking your blood pressure medication, have you?" I inquired, eyeing her nervously.
"Mercy sakes, no," she said. "I'm fit as a fiddle."
I regarded her thoughtfully. Melly had to be in her seventies, but other than that, I didn't have a clue which end of the spectrum her birthday fell upon. I doubted even CJ — her son, my ex — knew his mother's exact age. According to the Melly Prescott Book of Etiquette, never ask a woman her age. Never. And if — I shuddered at the prospect — a person unwittingly breached the etiquette protocols, a bald-faced lie was perfectly acceptable.
"Melly" — I channeled my inner yoga instructor — "why don't you take a deep, calming breath, then tell me what's going on."
She withdrew an envelope from the pocket of her A-line skirt. "I wanted you to be the first to see the letter that arrived in the afternoon mail."
Before she could explain further, a woman who looked startlingly familiar, yet drastically different, charged through the door. "Honeybun, wait till I tell you ..."
Melly and I gaped at the new arrival dressed in red with blond hair styled in a beehive. Hoops the size of tangerines dangled from her earlobes. Strappy sandals with three-inch wedge heels were also a clue. Big earrings, high heels, and bright colors pointed in only one direction. I was the first to recover from surprise. "Reba Mae Johnson, that you?"
Opposite as opposite could be on the outside, Reba Mae, my BFF, and I were two peas in a pod when it came to things that mattered. Where I was barely five foot two, with unruly red curls and eyes as green as a tomcat's, Reba Mae was tall and statuesque, with fair skin and eyes a pretty soft brown. Her hair color varied with her mood — or maybe the moon. Yesterday it had been jet black; today it was sunflower yellow. The two of us had bonded years ago over diapers, teething, and soap operas.
Melly pursed her lips, her urgent news temporarily forgotten. "Girl, what have you gone and done to yourself this time? You look like a floozy."
Unabashed, Reba Mae patted her sky-high do. "You know what they say, Melly. The higher the hair, the closer to God."
"Hmph." Melly sniffed. "If that's true, you oughta be close enough to whisper in his ear."
"Stop!" I held up my hand like a traffic cop. "Will one of you kindly tell me what's going on?"
Both of them began talking at once.
"I just received the most wonderful —," Melly gushed.
"Y'all won't believe —," Reba Mae said — so excited, she couldn't stand still.
They stopped midsentence and glared at each other.
"I was here first," Melly pointed out. After sliding off the stool she occupied, she insinuated her smaller self between me and Reba Mae, who towered over us. "Piper, dear, I wanted you to be the first to hear my news."
Reba Mae, not about to be outdone, gently but firmly elbowed Melly aside. "Piper, you're gonna freak once I tell you —"
"Not so fast, missy." Melly glowered at Reba Mae.
"Ladies, ladies," I said, shaking my head in disbelief. "You're behaving like a pair of six-year-olds. Don't make me give you a time-out."
Again, Melly sniffed, affronted. Reba Mae, on the other hand, pouted — she actually pouted. I hated to see a forty-something woman pout. It wasn't a pretty sight.
"Fine," Reba Mae conceded grudgingly. "Age before beauty."
"Reba Mae Johnson," I scolded. "Shame on you. That's no way for you to speak to my mother-in-law."
"Ex-mother-in-law," Reba Mae and Melly chorused in perfect two-part harmony.
"Right," I muttered. "Nice to see that you finally see eye to eye on something. Now, someone, please tell me what the heck's going on."
Melly took the high ground. "Go on, Reba Mae, you first."
Reba Mae, not to be outdone, folded her arms across her impressive bosom. "No, you go first. I insist."
Unbelievable! We had apparently reached a stalemate. I tucked an errant red curl behind one ear. "Why don't we just flip a coin and settle this thing once and for all?"
I fished a shiny copper penny from the need-a-penny dish next to my antique cash register.
"Very well," Melly agreed in a put-upon tone. "I'll take heads."
"Fine," Reba Mae said, sounding equally prim. "Tails."
I rolled my eyes, a gesture I'd acquired from my daughter, Lindsey, who turned seventeen in late July. Teens, I'd discovered, were hands-down experts when it came to eye rolls. "All righty, then." I placed the coin on my closed fist and tossed it into the air. It landed on the heart pine floor and spun around a few times before coming to rest.
"Tails," Reba Mae crowed. "I got the part."
"And I'm going to be rich," Melly announced, not missing a beat.
"Part? What part?" My head swiveled from one woman to the other. "Rich ... how rich?"
"I'm gonna be Truvy Jones." Reba Mae enveloped me in a hug that nearly cracked my ribs. "The opera house is puttin' on Steel Magnolias. Since I own and operate the Klassy Kut — the best little ol' beauty shop in Brandywine Creek — the director said I'd be perfect for the role."
I hugged her back. "That's wonderful, Reba Mae. You'll make the best Truvy ever."
Melly cleared her throat to regain my attention. "My turn for a hug." She put her arms around me in a stiff embrace, gave me an anemic squeeze, and just as quickly released me.
I tried not to show my surprise at this unprecedented display of affection. Now, I know hugging is second nature to most Southerners, but Melly Prescott didn't number among them. I swear the woman must have been at the hairdresser's the day the good Lord dispensed the hugging gene.
Melly's face was wreathed in a smile the size of Texas. "I'm going to be rich, Piper. Not just rich, but filthy rich. And I owe it all to you."
"Me? What did I do?"
"You feelin' okay, Melly?" Reba Mae asked, genuine concern on her face. "You look a mite feverish. Maybe you should sit a spell."
"Never felt better." Melly waved a sheet of paper, which by this time was a bit crumpled. "I'm too excited to sit still, although I do feel a little flushed."
Melly, excited? Flushed? Reba Mae and I exchanged nervous glances. Melly was scaring me. I regarded her worriedly. Eyes — the same blue gray as my ex-husband's and my daughter's — sparkled, her cheeks rosy. "How long has it been since your last physical?"
"Here, read this." She shoved the letter into my hands. "This will explain everything."
"What's it say?" Reba Mae huddled closer so she could read over my shoulder.
I scanned the contents. It seemed a company called Trustychipdesign.com was prepared to make Melly a generous — make that very generous — offer for software she'd developed. After attending a trade show in Atlanta, the owners of the company planned to stop by Brandywine Creek and seal the deal in person. If all went according to plan, Melly would soon be a wealthy woman.
"Melly, this is wonderful news," I said, "but I can't take credit for your accomplishment."
"Of course you can, dear," she corrected. "If I hadn't been so bored one afternoon while you were out running errands, I never would have been tempted to experiment with the software on your computer. I never would have discovered where my true talents lay."
I recalled how upset I'd been several months ago when I returned to Spice It Up! and, much to my chagrin, discovered Melly had tinkered with my pricey point-of-sale software program. Guess all that tinkering had paid off.
"Next to yours, my grand announcement seems like small potatoes," Reba Mae complained.
"Now, now, don't say that." Melly, no doubt feeling magnanimous, patted her arm. "Steel Magnolias is a wonderful play. Why, I saw it years ago and cried my eyes out. It was funny yet poignant. I loved seeing how all the women supported one another."
"I never saw the play," I confessed, "but I saw the movie version. Sorry, but I can't remember who played Truvy."
Reba Mae patted the blond confection atop her head. "Dolly Parton."
"Well, then, that explains the do."
"It's a wig," she explained needlessly. "The director, Sandy Granger, let me borrow it. Said she used it last year as part of a Halloween costume. Sandy claimed wearing it would help me get into character."
"All this good news calls for a celebration. And I have just the thing." Not waiting for an answer, I turned and ran up the stairs to my apartment. I returned minutes later with a bottle of champagne. "I've been saving this for a special occasion, and as occasions go, they don't get any more special than this."
"I'll get cups." Reba Mae dashed toward the rear of my shop and brought back three dainty teacups.
"Mmm, I don't normally imbibe in spirits." Melly eyed the bottle of bubbly, then broke into another smile. "But I suppose it won't hurt to indulge just this once."
I filled the teacups, then handed one to Melly and one to Reba Mae. I raised mine in a salute. "To Melly, soon to become the toast of the town. And to you, Reba Mae, a star is born. You, ladies, rock!"
"Hear! Hear!" they said as our cups clinked together.
The three of us proceeded to get comfy as we sipped and chatted. Melly and I claimed the pair of stools. Reba Mae perched on the edge of the counter, crossed her long legs, and let them dangle. I felt my chest swell with pride at seeing the pair looking so happy, so pleased with themselves.
Melly chuckled. "I can't wait to see the expressions on everyone's faces when I make my grand announcement at computer club."
"Wish I could be a fly on the wall," Reba Mae said.
"Yeah, me too," I replied.
Melly smiled again, smugly. "Just because Thompson Gray's the president, folks think he is the be-all, end-all when it comes to computers. They tend to overlook comments from a woman of a certain age. Will they be surprised at hearing my news!"
Thompson owned and operated Gray's Hardware, down the block from Spice It Up! He'd returned to Brandywine Creek several years ago after his father passed away suddenly. He lived with his mother, and as far as I knew, he'd never married, never even had a serious relationship. And, if rumors were true, it wasn't for lack of trying on Thompson's part. "When's the next meeting?" I asked idly.
"Tonight at seven o'clock," Melly replied. "I volunteered to bring refreshments. How well do you think gingersnaps go with champagne?"
"Honey, everythin' goes well with champagne," Reba Mae drawled as she motioned to refill our cups.
"I really shouldn't," Melly demurred, then changed her mind. "Oh, why not? What harm can it do?"
We were giggling like schoolgirls at a pajama party when my ex-husband strolled in, looking dapper in his designer duds. CJ took in the scene at a glance, then fixed his gaze on the nearly empty champagne bottle. His sandy brows drew together in a frown. "Y'all ought to be ashamed. Drinkin' like fish, and it's not even five o'clock yet."
Melly raised her cup. "It's five o'clock somewhere, son. Care to join us?"CHAPTER 2
"What's the occasion? Did Scooter here" — CJ gave me a patronizing wink — "manage to break even for a change?"
I cringed at hearing the nickname I'd once found endearing but now loathed. As for his snide remark, I refused to take the bait. "Sorry to disappoint you, CJ, but I'm happy to report business is brisk at Spice It Up!"
"That so?" CJ surveyed the exposed brick and wood beams of my shop. He was an attractive man with golden blond hair, styled not cut, and slate blue eyes. His thickening waistline — blame it on a fondness for fine Kentucky bourbon and prime rib — was camouflaged by an expertly tailored suit. "You might want to consider usin' some of those big bucks to spruce up this place," he continued. "Might want to ask Amber for advice. That girl's got style."
Mention of Miss Homewrecker set my teeth on edge. Reba Mae sucked in a breath; Melly pressed her lips together in disapproval. I may not have been number one on my ex-mother-in-law's personal hit parade, but she wasn't happy her only son had sullied the family name by discarding his wife and hooking up with a former beauty queen. The lovebirds were planning a destination wedding over the Christmas holidays. The honor of my presence hadn't been requested at the nuptials.
"What brings you here, CJ? Can't find an ambulance to chase?" Reba Mae asked.
CJ snapped to attention. "Reba Mae, that you? What have you gone and done to yourself? You look like a floozy."
Floozy? Hadn't I heard that same word from Melly's mouth? It was "déjà vu all over again," to quote Yogi Berra, my father's favorite philosopher.
Reba Mae patted her blond wig and batted her lashes. "You should be so lucky, darlin'."
As usual, CJ's attention skidded from Reba Mae's hair to her 38DDs framed to full advantage in a cherry red scoop-neck top.
"What did bring you here, CJ?" I repeated.
After digging into his pants pockets, CJ fished out a set of car keys and placed it on the counter in front of me. "Thought I'd stop by and drop off Lindsey's car keys. Tell her I had Reba Mae's boy rotate the tires and change the oil."
"Sure thing," I said, taking the keys and tossing them into a drawer. Lindsey's red Mustang convertible had been a bone of contention when CJ presented it to her on her sixteenth birthday. A consolation prize of sorts for having divorced parents.
Excerpted from Cinnamon Toasted by Gail Oust. Copyright © 2015 Gail Oust. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Author Gail Oust really spices up mystery in this new installment of the Spice Shop Mysteries! Blending just the right combination of the ingredients mystery, action, and humor, author Oust has created a cozy that is to be savored. CINNAMON TOASTED had me at page one. This was another title that found me reading much later into the night than I had planned. The excellent story moved at a fast pace with each new chapter being better than the one before. There were twists and turns in the first-rate plot that lead all the way to the spectacular ending! If you’re looking to add some flavor to your reading, you’re going to want to read CINNAMON TOASTED! If you haven’t read the other books in this series, no worries, you won’t feel lost. But I do suggest reading the first two because they are really good. Don’t miss the yummy recipes at the back of the book!
Dollycas’s Thoughts In this third Spice Shop Mystery Piper’s ex mother-in-law gets to spend a lot more time with Piper. You see a dead man has been found at the bottom of Melly’s basement stairs and her home is a crime scene so she is forced to move in with Piper in her apartment above her shop. Of course she could go stay with her son in his McMansion but he his fiancee is doing a bit of redecorating. Then there is the fact that Melly is the prime suspect. The dead man was in town with his partner to buy an upgrade she had designed for their point-of-sale software. It seems Melly is a computer whiz. The fact that the man had died the night before and Melly called Piper first before the police has Chief McBride pretty suspicious. It doesn’t take long for Piper to enlist Reba Mae’s help in trying to find out what really happened. Fall is a busy time in Brandywine Creek with Oktoberfest, high school football and a production of Steel Magnolias at the opera house. Piper is stocking up on spices for all the upcoming festivities, including a huge party featuring German cuisine, her daughter is a cheerleader who is sweet on the quarterback and Reba Mae has been cast to Truvy in the play. Now the have to add a murder investigation. Gail Oust has created a mystery that is spiced up with quite a bit of humor too. Piper and Reba Mae’s hi-jinks will have you laughing out loud. All the characters have grown since the start of the series. It was a joy to get to know Melly better. She really is quite a lady. Piper is so self assured. She has a great relationship with her former mother-in-law and her ex husband too, even though he left her for Amber, a much younger woman. She does struggle with her daughter wanting to spend so much time with Amber but they are pretty close in age. :) Her relationship with Doug, the veterinarian is starting to warm up although she and McBride have a little vibe too. Everyone needs a best friend like Rebe Mae. She follows Piper lead and they get in some crazy situations. With a great plot and subplots that work Oust has given us an upbeat story cozy readers will truly enjoy. We learn more about spices too. There is also a gingersnap recipe in the back of the book I can’t wait to try.
Cinnamon Toasted by Gail Oust is the third book in her Spice Shop Mystery series; and my favorite so far in this series. Piper Prescott's Spice It Up! shop is doing well in Brandywine Creek now. She has plans to expand her inventory to include additional kitchen items along with her world-wide spices. Her ex-mother-in-law, Melly, who helps at the shop part time has also developed her own interests in computer programming. Who knew that Melly was a geek under the sweater sets and pearls? She is so good that her tweaks for Piper's point-of-sale program has brought her the attention of the owners of the program. Rusty and Chip come to town to talk to Melly; but the negotiations come to an abrupt halt when Chip dies. The secondary characters are becoming more developed now. This book allowed readers to get to know Melly much better and that was enjoyable. McBride is good man and is good at his job. Piper and McBride would really work well together if he would be just a little more open to listening to her when she gets information. He cares about Piper, even though she can't see it; and I think he's trying to protect her. I love the friendship between Piper and Reba Mae. They make an awesome and fun crime fighting duo.The twists, the clues and the red herrings kept me turning the pages. I didn't have any idea who was behind the murder and the attempted murders until the reveal. I received an ARC from NetGalley and St. Martin's Press/Minotaur Books in exchange for an honest review.