After ten years away, Keeley Carpenter is excited to be back in Belfrey, the traditional English village hometown she fled as a shy teen, with a plan to reopen her father's neglected butcher shop as a yoga café, where she will sell delicious vegetarian food by day and teach yoga classes at night. However the more traditional residents of Belfrey do not take kindly to this idea-or really anything they deem even remotely "New Age-y." Within an hour of her arrival, Keeley comes face to face with Detective Constable Ben Taylor, who tells her that someone has just tried to burn down her shop. When officers arrived to stop the blaze, a body was found upstairs. Horrified by this news, Keeley is also startled to be reintroduced to Ben as DC Taylor, as he was her high school crush. In spite of her instant attraction to him, Keeley is determined to keep Ben at arm's length.
As she settles back in to Belfrey and makes plans for her opening day, she soon finds herself embroiled in a murder investigation. When Keeley starts being threatened herself, she realizes someone may be out to kill more than her business prospects - but can she and Ben find the culprit before it's too late? A warm, intriguing cozy debut that includes recipes from Keeley's café, Downward Facing Death is perfect for fans of Laura Childs and Cleo Coyle.
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Downward Facing Death
By Michelle Kelly
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Michelle Kelly
All rights reserved.
Baking bread and horse manure.
They were the first things Keeley could smell as she stepped off the train at the metal stop sign that passed for a station in Belfrey, Derbyshire. Home.
Except that, after she had been away for so long and adapted so eagerly to city life, it didn't feel like a homecoming at all. Nevertheless, she remembered these smells as she bumped her luggage up the stone steps leading to the High Street. The horse manure wafted down from the surrounding farms that were tucked away in the lines and folds of the hilly landscape. The bread came from the High Street itself, with its various craft stores, coffeehouses, and "olde worlde" sweet shops, all jostling with each other for supremacy.
Her mouth was dry. Ignoring the fancy coffee shop, and even the traditional eatery with its selection of local produce, Keeley made her way to the pub, the Tavern, halfway up the street. It was a run-down place that stuck out like a nicotine-stained thumb against the vintage shop fronts and cobbled streets, which were still strung with bunting from the Easter Festival.
The soles of her sneakers stuck to the threadbare carpet as she walked in, and she breathed a sigh of relief that she had remembered to change out of her pumps. Satin and the beer-sodden floor of the Tavern did not mix.
Keeley tugged her zebra-print luggage inside and straightened up as the bar door swung shut behind her, leaving her blinking in the suddenly dim light. She grinned into the darkness, waiting for her enthusiastic welcome home.
One that never came. One solitary, gruff voice piped up from the corner.
"All right, duck? Are you lost?" The man's face showed genuine concern, though his expression was nearly lost amid the sun-beaten lines of his face. He was small but wiry, with that lean strength and straight back that characterized men of a certain age and type in Belfrey.
Keeley squinted at the familiar face, struggling for a name, then hurried over and sat down opposite the man as it came to her.
"Jack Tibbons?" Keeley beamed at him, wondering how she could have forgotten the old man. Not only was he sitting at the very same table he always sat at when she had frequented the Tavern with her father, but he was also her father's best friend. "It's me, Keeley. George Carpenter's daughter."
Her father had been the local butcher — the only butcher within a ten-mile radius, in fact — around Belfrey for years, having inherited the business from his father and grandfather and great-grandfather before him. Everyone in Belfrey knew George Carpenter. The day of his funeral, it seemed as though the whole town had turned out.
Jack's face showed surprise, then recognition as he looked Keeley up and down. She could hardly blame him, she supposed, for not recognizing her straightaway. Eight years of living in London, then an ashram in India, then a two-year sabbatical in New York teaching hot yoga to classes of sleek and streamlined professionals had left her slimmer, more tanned, and with a poise that she certainly hadn't possessed when she left Belfrey.
"So it is. Well, I suppose I had better buy you a drink. Tom!" he shouted at the empty bar, "Get the girl a drink, will you?"
A guy about her own age, with long hair and a beard, and a metal ring through his nose that made her wince just looking at it, came out from a door behind the bar, looking bored until he laid eyes on Keeley. He did a double take, and Keeley realized she wasn't the only one who had changed in her absence. Tom, the manager's son, had been a short-haired, cherub-faced teenager the last time she saw him. He was also, she noticed as she stood up and went to the bar, nearly twice the height he had been. Craning her neck to look at him, she almost wished she had kept on the heels.
"Small white wine please," she said.
"You're back, then?" He sounded almost disgruntled, as if annoyed she had been away so long. "I thought you'd gone off to some fancy place in India?"
"I was studying yoga and nutrition," Keeley told him, thinking that the ashram she had stayed in could hardly be described as "fancy." For six months, she had slept on a mattress on the floor and gotten up at five every morning. "I'm a qualified teacher and nutritionist now. I've been working in New York, and I'm about to open a lifestyle café." She allowed herself a smug smile at the last two words. The Yoga Café would be an entirely new concept for the small English town, and she was rather proud of the idea even if it wasn't entirely her own, but rather inspired by the local juice bar she had frequented in Manhattan.
"In New York?" Jack looked puzzled, while Tom reached up for a glass and started wiping it with a grimy-looking tea towel. His face was carefully blank. Keeley sighed. He obviously wasn't going to be rushing to one of her classes or popping over to sample a tofu burger with quinoa.
"No," she explained patiently to Jack. "Here in Belfrey. Right here, in fact." She waved an arm in the direction of the street outside. "In my father's old shop."
Carpenter's Butchers was her legacy, one that had been left in her mother's less-than-loving hands over the years. Hands that had more or less washed themselves of not just the shop but Belfrey, too, whisking Keeley away to London the day after her father's funeral. The store had carried on being a butcher's for a while, managed by Jack Tibbons himself until his arthritis set in and he could no longer handle a cleaver; then the premises were rented out as an embroidery shop until the recent recession hit and left it empty and abandoned for nearly a year. "Do something with that shop," her mother had snapped during one of her monthly phone calls to Keeley in New York (her mother made no pretense of wanting to be "close" to her only daughter), "or I'm going to sell it." And so here she was.
The irony of turning a former butcher's into a vegetarian café wasn't lost on Keeley, but she liked to think her father would have encouraged her to follow her dreams.
"I'm going to be selling vegetarian dishes, healthy and tasty foods, and in the evenings, I'll be holding yoga classes...." She trailed off from her proud sales spiel when she saw both Jack and the barman looking at her in horror. She had expected some confusion, distaste even, perhaps indifference — but abject horror? That seemed a little extreme, even from a former butcher and a metal-head bartender who looked as though he occasionally bathed in pigs' blood.
"You don't know, then, duck? I thought that's what you were back for." Jack patted her arm in sympathy. Keeley frowned at him.
Before Jack could answer, the door opened, bringing in a swath of light that temporarily blinded Keeley as she turned to see the newcomer. Whoever it was had made both Jack and Tom suddenly spring to attention. A male figure stood like a silhouette in the flash of sunshine, slowly becoming more distinct as the door creaked shut and Keeley blinked to clear her vision. Before her stood a guy who was most certainly the finest specimen of a male she had seen in a long time. With close-clipped dark hair, a perfectly honed physique, and a dimpled chin coupled with a strong jaw, he was a poster boy for the alpha male. It was a shame he was also a jerk.
Not that she knew whether or not he actually was a jerk, of course, but looking like that, it was inevitable. He was precisely the type of guy she had avoided for most of her adult life, preferring arty, sensitive types that she could have conversations with about philosophy and the like. She always prided herself on not being shallow, not falling over her feet for a man just because he happened to raise her estrogen levels. She had slipped up, with her first serious boyfriend, at the tender ages of eighteen to twenty-one, and he had been reason enough for her to avoid his type ever since. Before her ill-fated first love, she'd had a crush on that same type of guy, but that was way back in her first year at Belfrey High School, when she had mooned over Benjamin Taylor from afar, hoping he would notice her. He never did, no matter how many times she walked past his table in the canteen, hoping to catch his eye, or moved her chair closer to his in Maths class. While other boys at school had teased her, dubbing her "Lardypants," Ben Taylor never showed the slightest indication that he was even aware of her existence.
As this new vision of masculinity approached, Keeley noted how Jack nodded at him with obvious respect and Tom seemed to shrink into himself, almost as if he expected chastisement. Who was this guy?
"Hello, Ben," Jack said in the same tone he might have said, "Greetings, Your Highness," and Keeley experienced a moment of confusion, then an ominous dawning clarity. How could she not have realized it was him? The dimple in his chin should have given it away instantly.
Benjamin Taylor! Immediately, Keeley felt like that shy, plump eleven-year-old and blushed from the roots of her hair to her shell pink–painted toenails. She took a deep breath and let it out through her lips in increments, curling her tongue. It was a breathing technique designed to cool unwanted emotions. For the first time, it didn't work; only made her cheeks flame hotter as she accidentally let out a low whistling noise that sounded very much as if she had appraised Ben and liked what she was seeing.
Ben turned to her and raised an amused eyebrow.
"I wasn't whistling at you," she said hurriedly. "I was, er, doing my breathing exercises."
Now Ben looked both amused and perplexed. Jack jumped in before Keeley could embarrass herself any further.
"This is George Carpenter's girl. It's her that's taken on the old shop."
Was Keeley imagining things, or had there been a meaningful tone to Jack's voice? As if they all knew something she didn't. Ben looked at her, his expression grim, and Keeley felt her stomach sink. Something was very definitely wrong here. Ben held an object up to her face, and it took a moment for her to register what it was. A police badge.
"I'm Detective Constable Taylor," Ben said, "and I'm going to have to ask you a few questions."
"Er, about what?" This homecoming was rapidly turning into an episode of The Twilight Zone. Ben looked surprised.
"She doesn't know," Jack said, shaking his head.
"Miss Carpenter," Ben said, his words dropping like stones, "someone tried to burn down your shop last night."
SITALI — COOLING BREATH
To soothe and calm the nervous system in times of stress or anxiety. Such as being confronted with your high school crush in less-than-optimal circumstances. Also useful for hot flashes.
Purse your lips as if blowing a kiss.
Curl up the sides of your tongue.
Let your tongue "float" so it doesn't touch the roof or floor of your mouth.
Inhale and exhale slowly, using your tongue like a straw to draw the air in and out.
Try not to whistle. Particularly at your former crush!CHAPTER 2
Keeley sank farther into her chair, her legs trembling.
"Burn it down?" she parroted, her mind skittering in a hundred different directions, trying to get a grasp on this new information and failing. She had a sudden and vivid craving for a bacon-and-sausage sandwich — for years, her favorite comfort food.
Breathe, she told herself. Find a focus point and breathe into your center.
Taking a deep breath, she focused on a point on Ben's shirt directly in front of her and noticed how it skimmed over obviously defined pectorals to tuck neatly into the waistband of his dark trousers, which fit his lean hips and strong thighs in a way that reminded her more of a catalog model than of the quintessential country cop. ... Okay, maybe this wasn't helping.
"Miss Carpenter?" Ben looked more than a little bemused, and Keeley's eyes snapped back up to his face.
"Yes. Sorry. It's just a shock."
Jack patted her arm in sympathy again, and Tom pushed a glass of water over the counter toward her. Keeley went over and took it from him with a smile, grateful for the small kindness. This, as well as her father's shop, had been one of the things that had pulled her back to Belfrey; the sense of community and of looking after their own that had felt so suffocating to her at the age of seventeen was like a balm ten years later.
Except that when she looked again at Ben, his eyes didn't seem kind at all. They looked suspicious.
"I've been trying to call you all day, Miss Carpenter. We spoke to your mother, and she told us you should have arrived in Belfrey two days ago."
Keeley froze as the meaning of Ben's words sank in. He thought she was to blame for this. She took a sip of water to calm the stab of anger in her belly.
Which she then spat all over that well-fitting shirt. As Ben jumped back, cursing, Keeley turned horrified eyes to Tom.
"What on earth was in that water?"
"Water? That was vodka," Tom said, grinning. "It's good for shock." Across from her, she heard Jack starting to chuckle. Keeley slammed the glass down onto the table, spilling the offending vodka, and stood up, glaring at Ben, who was now wiping his shirt with a bar towel and looking less than pleased.
"Can I see the premises?" Only now did the full implications of the news hit her. If the damage was severe, then her plans to open the café would go up in smoke along with the building! There was no way she would convince her mother to pay for a full renovation.
Ben cocked his head to one side a little, as if weighing up both her words and the possibility that she was responsible for the fire.
"I'll take you over there now."
"It's my shop," Keeley pointed out. "I hardly need a chaperone."
"It may be your shop," Ben said, unfazed by her curt tone, "but it's also a crime scene."
He placed a hand on the small of her back, the briefest of touches, as he guided her toward the door. Keeley flinched away at the heat of his palm through the thin fabric of her blouse, an image of him in the school canteen flashing through her mind unbidden. He hadn't given any sign of recognizing her, though he must know who she was by the name; everyone in Belfrey knew everyone else. Ignoring the outstretched hand ready to take her luggage, Keeley stepped out into the warm air, blinking as the bright spring sunshine hit her. While she followed Ben down the meandering hill of the High Street, her heart thudded as she waited to see what damage had been done. Thankfully, the front of the shop at least looked fine. Fumbling for her keys in her handbag, she noticed her fingers shaking. A few openly curious faces peered out of shop windows nearby, but Keeley ignored them, swung open the door, and stepped inside, Ben close behind her.
A wave of nostalgia hit her. Although the shop itself was empty apart from a small counter, she immediately pictured her father behind his rows of meat, a smile on his adorably fat face, and felt again like a schoolgirl running in to embrace her dad on her way home from class. He had never judged her, never made her feel less than adequate or pinched the roll of puppy fat at her waist with a pursed mouth and disapproving eyes — unlike her mother. Darla Carpenter's dissatisfaction with both her husband and her daughter had been evident pretty much every day that Keeley could remember.
Pushing the memories and sting of tears aside, Keeley strode through to the small kitchen at the back of the shop, aware of Ben's keen eyes upon her. The smell of charred wood and brick hit her instantly, and she surveyed the damage with an unsettling mixture of emotions. Relief that it wasn't as bad as she had feared — though the back door and frame were all but burned to a crisp and the back wall was seared black — and horror that someone, anyone, could deliberately do such a thing. It seemed almost a macabre joke that it should happen here, in this very room, defiling her father's memory.
"Was it kids, maybe?" she asked hopefully. Teenagers perhaps, hanging around, playing a silly game, a prank that had gotten out of hand. Ben paused, obviously unsure how much to tell her, and Keeley felt like stamping her foot with frustration.
"It's my shop," she pointed out. "I have a right to know what happened."
Ben shrugged. "As I said, Miss Carpenter" — she wondered why he didn't call her Keeley and concluded that he didn't remember her at all — "we have been trying to reach you. Your mother seemed to be under the impression you were arriving here before today. You're renting Rose Cottage from Mrs. Rowland, I believe."
Excerpted from Downward Facing Death by Michelle Kelly. Copyright © 2015 Michelle Kelly. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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