Death by Vanilla Latte (Bookstore Café Mystery #4)320
Death by Vanilla Latte (Bookstore Café Mystery #4)320
Paperback(Mass Market Paperback)
Ever since café owner Krissy Hancock settled into a relationship and—mostly—forgot about old flames, life has become surprisingly serene. Too bad her father, famed mystery writer James Hancock, had to pay an unexpected visit to Death by Coffee and brew up a batch of trouble...
While caught off-guard by her dad’s presence, Krissy never dreamed he’d become the biggest murder suspect in town. But that’s exactly what happens when James’s boorish agent—a man he allegedly fired just hours earlier—is found cold and lifeless, a still-warm vanilla latte resting by his hand...
With Pine Hills divided over her father’s innocence and a fanatical fan keen on locking the author away for safe keeping, Krissy must end the madness and identify the real criminal—even if that means meeting an ex or two along the way. But as her social life becomes increasingly chaotic, Krissy may be caught in a case that’s far too hot to handle...
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|Series:||Bookstore Café Series , #4|
|Product dimensions:||4.20(w) x 6.60(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
Alex Erickson has always wanted to write, even at a young, impressionable age. He’s always had an interest in the motive behind murder, which has led him down his current path. He’s always ready with a witty—at least in his opinion—quip, and tries to keep every conversation light and friendly. Alex lives in Ohio with his family and resident felines, who provide endless amounts of inspiration. You can visit him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/AEricksonbooks and on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/alexericksonbooks.
Read an Excerpt
Death by Vanilla Latte
By Alex Erickson
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Eric S. Moore
All rights reserved.
A contented sigh slipped through me as I finished the last page of the book I'd spent the entire morning reading. My orange cat, Misfit, was curled up in my lap, purring softly. A now-cold mug of coffee sat just out of reach on the coffee table, where I'd left it about two hours ago. The soggy cookie inside would end up in the trash, but I was okay with that. This was about as close to bliss as I could come.
My eyes strayed to the wall clock, and I sighed.
"I'm sorry," I said, running a hand down the soft length of my cat.
He glanced up at me and gave me a silent "please don't" look.
"I wish I could stay forever," I told him. "But I have to work." I picked him up, causing him to make a meow of protest, and then I deposited him on the warm spot on the couch where I'd just been sitting. He glared at me once, swished his tail, and then jumped down. He then stretched, gave me one last angry look, and padded his way to the bedroom, where he'd pout for the rest of the day.
I didn't let his sour grapes shake my good mood, however. Whistling to myself, I rinsed out my coffee mug, put it upside down in the sink, grabbed my purse, and headed out the door.
Afternoon sunlight warmed the inside of my car on a day that was just shy of being chilly. I drove, music blaring, and sang along like a fool, even when I really didn't know the words. I passed by Phantastic Candies and waved to Jules Phan, who'd poked his head out the door to see what all the ruckus was about. He returned the wave with a bemused smile.
A few minutes later, I was parked down the street from Death by Coffee, having struggled to find a spot closer. I wondered if there was any way we might buy one of the nearby lots and turn it into a parking lot, but after only a moment's thought, I decided it would probably cost too much. The shop might be doing better than ever, but that didn't mean we could up and spend however much we wanted, even if it might help the business grow.
Besides, the short walk would do me some good. I kept promising myself I'd work out, yet it seemed the only exercise I got these days came in the form of work. Maybe I'd start doing sit-ups next week.
And maybe I'd hit the lottery while I was at it. Both were just as likely.
Only slightly winded, I pushed through the front door. Lena Allison and Jeff Braun were both behind the counter, hard at work. The line was short, but most of the tables were full, telling me it had been a pretty busy morning. Upstairs, Vicki was talking to a pair of middle-aged women near the bookshelves, using her charms to sell a book or two.
"Ms. Hancock!" Lena said as I came around the counter. "It's a great day, isn't it? A really great day." Her grin was a little too wide, and she was dancing from foot to foot.
I cocked an eyebrow at her and then turned to Jeff, who just about tripped over himself spinning away. He started filling a cup even though no one had ordered anything to drink.
"What's going on?" I asked.
"What do you mean?" Lena ran her fingers through her short purple hair and refused to meet my eye.
"You called me Ms. Hancock. You never do that." She shrugged. "Thought I'd try it out. A little much?"
As a customer came to the counter, Lena spun around and let out a big sigh before saying, "Welcome to Death by Coffee! What can I get you?"
I watched her a moment, perplexed, and then with a shrug of my own, I went into the office to deposit my purse. I snatched the apron off the wall by the door, and then headed back to the front to start what was beginning to look like a very peculiar day.
"How did opening go?" I asked Jeff, who was still standing by the coffeepots. Today was the first day he'd opened with Vicki, and I was curious to see how he liked it.
"It was okay, ma'am," he said, lowering his gaze.
"Krissy," I reminded him. "Call me Krissy."
He nodded, still not meeting my eye. "Sorry."
I patted him on the shoulder. "Go ahead and clock out."
He scurried off, seemingly relieved I hadn't kept him there any longer than I had. He'd never quite gotten over his shyness, but I was slowly trying to break through to him. He was a hard worker despite being something of a slow learner. He was doing just fine, which was a relief, considering how the last guy I'd hired turned out.
I spent the next half hour making sure the coffee was fresh and replacing the cookies in the display case with fresh ones. I whistled while I worked, though I was still worried by Lena's strange behavior. I'd had to run inventory all last week, and boy, let me tell you, that wasn't something I enjoyed. No one had ever told me how hard owning your own business could be, especially when it came to making sure you were fully stocked. I'm forever thankful Vicki handled most of the behind-the- scenes stuff, because if it had been left to me, we'd have closed within months of opening. Let's just say, money and paperwork aren't my strong suit.
The front door opened, and a thin man with flyaway brown hair and glasses entered, carrying two heavy-looking boxes. He was sweating profusely from the weight and looked as if he was seconds from collapse. His eyes flickered my way, but he didn't come to the counter. Instead, he went straight up the stairs to where Vicki was waiting. She relieved him of one of the boxes, and together they carried them to the back.
"Who's that?" I asked.
"Stock delivery?" Lena replied, though she winced as she said it.
"We get our books shipped," I said. "He's not our usual delivery guy."
"Maybe he's new."
"Okay, where's his uniform, then?" I glanced out the front door. "Or his truck?" Lena shrugged, and then spun on her heel to walk straight into the back.
What in the world is going on here?
I was about to head upstairs and ask Vicki about it, when the door opened again and my answer strode through.
I sucked in a shocked breath and staggered back a step. "Dad?"
James Hancock, retired mystery author, and father to yours truly, smiled as he walked over to me. His beard was trimmed, as was what was left of his hair. He was smiling, and I swear I saw a tear in his eye when he held out his arms to me.
"What are you doing here?" I asked, coming around the counter to give him a hug. "Not that I mind that you came. You never told me you were coming!"
He chuckled — a dry, raspy sound that resonated through my entire body and brought memories of long nights sitting around a crackling fire, him typing away on his typewriter, and then later, laptop, and me reading a favorite novel.
"I had business and I wanted to surprise you." His voice was gravelly from years of trouble with his throat. I always found it fit him just right, made him sound like one of those old-time detectives with a cigarette hanging loose from his lips, calling all the women dames, much like quite a few of his creations did.
"Well, I'm definitely surprised!" And then realization dawned. I turned to find Lena grinning from behind the counter. "You knew!"
She rolled her eyes. "Of course I knew." She was practically beaming.
I turned back to Dad, not quite believing he was actually there. When I'd moved to Pine Hills, I'd left him behind, knowing how much it would hurt to be away from him, but needing the fresh start. It was surprising how good it felt to have him here now, even though I'd been blindsided by his sudden appearance.
"Why are you here exactly?" I asked, suddenly worried something was wrong. "Are you sick?"
He looked surprised for an instant before his smile returned. "No, I'm not sick." He cleared his throat, rubbed at his beard. He looked down at his hands for a second, before looking up and giving me a sideways smile. "I sort of have a new book coming out."
"You what?" I blinked at him. "But you're retired!"
"Semiretired," he countered. "You know I couldn't just up and quit. The story was burning in me for a while now, so I decided to go ahead and write it down." He took me by the arms and looked me in the eye. "I swear I took care of myself this time. No fasting or skipping showers just to finish up a page."
His health was part of the reason he'd retired in the first place. I got my obsessiveness from him. He would forget to eat, forget to change clothes, or sleep, just so he could finish one last chapter. He never mistreated us or totally abandoned his family, though there were some days you could tell he wanted to get back to writing. His dedication is what made him such a good writer, though it definitely took a toll on his well-being.
"When's it coming out?" I asked, and then remembering the boxes that had come in a few minutes before, I added, "Is it out now?"
"No, not now," he said with a laugh. "I'm going to do a reading from the new book and then sign some of my old novels. Rick thought it would be a good idea to make an event of it, and where better than right here, in a store that bears the name of one of my books?"
At mention of Dad's agent, my mood darkened just a little. "Rick? Is he here?"
As if he'd been summoned, the door opened and in walked Rick Wiseman. He was wearing a suit that looked as if it had come off a bargain-bin rack, though he wore it well. His hair was much thinner than when I'd last seen him, but he'd stopped trying to cover it with a comb-over by cutting it short, instead. When he saw me standing next to my dad, he grinned. He was holding a travel coffee mug with his name written on it in big black letters.
"Kristina!" he said, holding out his arms for me. "I'm so glad to see you."
"Rick," I said, not budging from where I stood. One glance at my dad, and I forced myself to turn my scowl into a friendly smile. Rick had just gotten here, so there was no reason to sour the festive mood with my distaste for the man.
"You've grown up so much," he said, seemingly oblivious to how I felt about him.
"I have." I hadn't seen Rick for at least ten years now, and I'd hoped to go another ten or twenty before I ever saw him again.
"We should get together and catch up sometime." He glanced around the coffee shop. "Somewhere nice."
I caught the implication, and my smile grew even more strained. "Want a refill?" I asked, nodding toward his coffee mug. "What are you having?"
He shook his head and grimaced. "Vanilla latte. Made it myself. Brought the machine with me so I wouldn't have to drink something from a package."
I bit my lip hard enough I very nearly drew blood.
"It is quite a quaint little place you have here," he said. "Could use some paint, but I think it'll be fine." His attention snapped over my shoulder. "Cameron! There are five more boxes outside and they aren't going to walk themselves in here."
I glanced back to find the man who'd carried in the boxes hurrying down the stairs, and away from Vicki, who he'd obviously been talking to. "Sorry, Mr. Wiseman."
"Don't 'Mr. Wiseman' me." Rick sighed. "Come on. Let's make sure you don't mess something else up. ..." He turned back to me. "Nice to see you again. We'll definitely have to talk."
Rick strode out ahead of Cameron, who kept his head down all the way out of the store. The poor guy looked as if this sort of thing happened all the time.
"Why is he here?" I asked Dad, who was watching the display with a frown of his own.
"He wanted to come. When we arranged this with Vicki, I'd thought we'd have copies of the new book, but production got pushed back. I told Rick it wasn't necessary to come now that I'm only selling older novels, but he'd insisted."
"That poor man." I hoped Rick wasn't loading Cameron down with all five boxes of books at the same time. "Is he Rick's son?"
Dad laughed. "No, not his son. I guess you'd call him his assistant. Cameron Little has been working at the agency for the last year now, though I'm not sure what all he does."
"Why does he put up with him?" I wondered out loud.
Dad gave me a look. "Now, Buttercup, Rick works hard. He can be abrasive, but his heart is in the right place. I'm sure they both get quite a lot out of their working relationship."
I wondered about that, but kept my opinion to myself. Rick had always rubbed me the wrong way. His smiles never felt quite genuine, like he was calculating how he could use you while he studied you. And then with the way he'd insult you without really insulting you ... I don't know. Maybe he wasn't as bad as I made him out to be, and I should give him a chance to prove it.
The door opened, and I braced myself for another interaction with Rick, but instead, I was broadsided by something far, far worse.
Rita Jablonski made it all of two steps inside before it registered who was standing just inside the door.
"Oh!" It came out as a surprised sound as her eyes widened. Then, her hand fluttered to her chest as she realized exactly who she was looking at. "Is it really ..." She sucked in a breath, and for a moment I thought she might let out one of those screams teenaged girls make when they see their favorite pop star.
"Rita," I said, hoping to stem the tide before she started gushing, but it was too late.
"James Hancock! It's really you." She started breathing in and out like she might hyperventilate. She fanned herself off as she hurried over to where we stood. "I can't believe it. You've finally come after all this time. It's a blessing, I tell you. A downright blessing straight from heaven, sent to me on this most blessed of days."
"Hi," Dad said, holding out a hand, polite as ever.
"I am James. You are?"
"Oh, dear me." Rita was flushed as she took his hand. "Rita Jablonski. I'm your number one fan."
I just about choked. We went from overexcited teenager straight to Misery. Could this get any worse?
"It's very nice to meet you, Rita," Dad said, practiced smile in place.
"We've met before," she said with a wave of her hand. "I got your autograph from a signing you held a few years back. I traveled quite a ways to meet you then." Her eyes widened. "Are you doing a signing here in Pine Hills? Please tell me you are! I can't imagine what other reason you'd have to come to our little town."
I cleared my throat, but I might as well not have been there.
"I am," Dad said, his smile turning amused. "It won't be until this weekend, however."
Rita just about glowed with excitement. "That means you'll be here all week!" I could see the wheels spinning behind her eyes and knew whatever she was thinking couldn't be good.
"Rita," I said, forcing her to look at me. "Dad and I haven't seen each other for a few months now. We'd like to have a few minutes to catch up, if that's okay?"
"That's fine, dear," she said, actually shooing me away. "You'll have plenty of time to catch up, I'm sure."
Behind her, the door opened and Cameron came in, three boxes in his arms this time. Rick trailed behind, carrying only his coffee mug. The least he could have done was to offer to carry the last two boxes, but apparently physical labor was beneath him.
"I have an idea!" Rita said, clapping her hands together and startling me. "We hold a writers' group meeting every Tuesday night. You should come and talk to our members!"
"I wouldn't want to intrude," Dad said, for the first time sounding uncertain.
"Nonsense!" Rita patted him on the hand. "It will be a special meeting, one held in your honor. I'll let everyone know you're going to be there and they can prepare for it. I bet we'll have at least three times as many people show up, all because of you! It's going to be fantastic!"
And before my dad could protest, Rita spun away. Her cell phone was in her hand even before she reached the door. As she stepped out on the sidewalk, I could hear her say, "Georgina! You won't believe who I just ran into!" And then the door closed, and she was gone.
"What just happened?" Dad asked, a bemused expression on his face.
"You don't have to go," I said. "Rita gets overexcited at times and forgets that people sometimes like to make up their own minds about what they do."
"She seems nice enough."
"She is," I said. "But if you let her, she'll have you paraded all over town. You won't have a moment's peace."
Dad patted me on the arm. "I'm in town, so I might as well go. I'd like to get to know the people here and the writers' group seems like the perfect place to start."
"Are you sure?"
A crash and a pained yowl caused us to turn. Cameron lay sprawled on the floor, the boxes of books spilled before him. The store cat, Trouble, sat a few feet away, licking his back foot and glaring at the poor assistant like he'd stepped on him on purpose.
"Be more careful with those!" Rick shouted. "What is wrong with you?"
"I'd better go help out," Dad said with a sigh.
He kissed me on the forehead. "It's good to see you, Buttercup."
"You too, Dad."
And then he was running up the stairs in a vain attempt to calm his raging agent and to help the battered assistant get to his feet. Vicki was there to comfort her poor black-and-white kitty.
Excerpted from Death by Vanilla Latte by Alex Erickson. Copyright © 2017 Eric S. Moore. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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