Dana Lewis is marrying Jason Forrester, a talented reporter and the love of her life. She couldn’t dream of a better venue than the farm where she works, and her friends are determined to give her the wedding of her dreams. Even her florist, Bethany Lancaster, is making sure she has just the right flowers. But Dana’s happiness wilts when she finds Bethany shot dead—and discovers her friend was a busybody with a blackmail list longer than a cathedral veil. With so many enemies, finding Bethany’s killer seems all but impossible. And when Dana herself is eyed as a suspect, she’ll have to chase down the culprit faster than she can say, “I do”—or she’ll be trading in her wedding dress for prison stripes . . .
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“Cleverly plotted…Plenty of suspects and potential motives keep readers guessing until the very end!” —RT Book Reviews on Green Living Can Be Deadly
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Marriage Is Pure Murder
By Staci McLaughlin
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Staci McLaughlin
All rights reserved.
I woke before my alarm rang, and practically hopped out of bed. With the workday looming before me and my wedding day approaching, my mind was already racing. After a quick shower, I donned a pair of blue jeans and a long-sleeved work shirt with O'Connell Organic Farm and Spa embroidered on the front pocket. I stuck my phone in my pocket, grabbed my sunglasses, and glanced around my bedroom to make sure I wasn't forgetting anything.
Satisfied, I headed to the kitchen for coffee. My younger sister, Ashlee, was already sitting at the table, clutching her cup of coffee with both hands. Her blond hair, three shades lighter than mine, was piled on top of her head in a frizzled mess.
She looked at me with bloodshot eyes. "Why is six-thirty so early in the morning?" she asked with a groan.
She wasn't an early riser on her best day, and I couldn't help needling her. "It's only early if you go to bed too late," I said in a loud voice. She winced at the noise. "Why are you up anyway?" I asked.
"My boss's cousin has a dog that needs an operation. Since he's doing it for free, my boss wanted to squeeze it in before our regular appointments and insisted the entire staff be there, too."
I poured myself a cup of coffee, added a spoonful of sugar, and took a sip. "Getting up early for work just this once won't kill you. I do it every day." I picked up one of my sneakers off the floor and slid my foot inside. "You could have gone to bed at a reasonable hour, you know."
She glowered at me. "I was on a date."
No surprise there. Ashlee was always dating guys she met at the vet's office where she worked, or that she met at the grocery store, or waiting in line at the coffee shop, or when friends set her up. Her main criteria for any guy seemed to be their hotness, as Ashlee herself would say.
"I had to stop by Brittany's on my way home," she said. "Logan and I met up with a bunch of his friends, and one of them is totally perfect for her. By the time I finished describing him, one of our favorite shows came on. Next thing I knew, it was after midnight."
"Just think," I said, tying my other shoe, "in another week and a half, you and Brittany will be sharing this place. You can tell her all about your dates the second you get home."
Ashlee shook her head, letting loose a cascade of hair on one side. "I still can't believe you and Jason are getting hitched. My sister, old and married already." She let out a pretend sob.
"Hey, I'm not even thirty."
"You will be in a few months. That means I only have three more years before my life is over, too."
I couldn't help but laugh. "Stop being so melodramatic. Being almost thirty isn't bad, even if I did yank out a gray hair the other day."
Ashlee's hand flew to her head. "Tell me you're joking. Am I going to start getting gray hairs, too?" "You never know. Don't forget Uncle Fred's hair turned white at thirty-five. One of us could have gotten stuck with his genes."
"I bet it's because he got married so young. Weren't he and Aunt Lucy teenagers?" She grimaced, as if marrying that young was a death sentence. "And you're getting married at the farm. Where's the grand ballroom with the chandelier? The chocolate fountain? The swan ice sculpture?"
"I don't need a big shindig. The highlight of the day is that I'm marrying the guy I love. And let's not forget Jason and I are trying to keep this whole affair on a budget."
She made a face. "Budget, schmudget. Just wait until I get married. My wedding will be so awesome people will be tweeting about it for weeks. Facebook and Instagram will explode from all the pictures my friends will be posting." She held up a hand. "Not that I'm planning on getting stuck with the same guy anytime soon. I'll leave that to you."
"Thank you." I rose from my chair, placed my coffee cup in the sink, and pulled my jacket from the hall closet. "Make sure you don't sneak back to bed once I'm out the door."
Her eyes lit up, as if considering the suggestion. If she did go back to bed, she'd better not count on me to stick around and wake her up. I had to get to work.
With a last good-bye, I stepped out of the apartment. The early-November morning brought a chill to my skin, and I stopped to pull on my jacket before I headed down the stairs to my Civic. It started without too much protest, and I soon found myself cruising down Main Street, Blossom Valley's major artery through the downtown. The town would never be as trendy or artsy as Mendocino, the seaside tourist destination just over the hill, but Blossom Valley had a homey, small-town vibe that I loved. Having only five thousand residents probably helped.
On my way past the Don't Dilly-Dahlia Flower Shop, I checked to see if anyone was there, but the place was closed at this early hour. I had an appointment during my lunch break with the owner, Bethany Lancaster, to go over final decisions about my wedding bouquet. With the big event only days away, I was getting down to the last-minute details.
I almost slammed on my brakes at the thought. While I'd had five months to savor Jason's proposal, the idea of my actually being married still seemed more like a hypothetical situation. The reality probably wouldn't sink in until I was walking down the aisle and saying, "I do."
I had met my fiancé, Jason Forrester, at the O'Connell farm after a guest was murdered there. It wasn't the most auspicious beginning to a relationship. As lead reporter for the Blossom Valley Herald, Jason had been so focused on the story that I'd found him pushy and overbearing when we'd first started talking, and I'd wanted nothing to do with him. Now, I couldn't picture my life without him.
Turning my attention to my driving, I merged onto the highway that led out to the farm. A few miles and three turns later, I pulled into the far corner of the farm's parking lot.
Esther O'Connell and her husband had always wanted to turn their modest farm into a bed-and-breakfast someday, but her husband had died before they could finish their plans. Esther had no experience in the hospitality business, but she'd decided to carry on their dream by adding a row of guest cabins, further developing the trails that wound through the back of the property, and making sure any meals served in the dining room used vegetables from her own garden. More recently, she'd added a spa, where guests could be pampered with facials and massages. I'd worked here as the marketing guru from the first day and practically considered the farm a second home.
I got out of my car and followed the side path past the vegetable garden and to the guest cabins. With the spa off to my right, I turned left and crossed the patio. I caught a whiff of the fragrant rosemary in the herb garden as I entered the farmhouse through the back door.
In the kitchen, Zennia Patrakio, the farm's healthy and organic-centric cook, sat at the kitchen table with a tray full of stuffed mushrooms near her elbow. Her long dark hair, with hints of gray, hung in a braid down her back, and Birkenstocks peeked out from under a long cotton skirt.
As a fast-food enthusiast from a young age, I'd been repulsed and slightly terrified by Zennia's tofu fish sticks and wheatgrass shots when I'd first started sampling her inventive cuisine. Lately, though, I often found her dishes downright tasty, even if she did use a ridiculous amount of vegetables.
I studied the contents of the cookie sheet. "You're serving stuffed mushrooms for breakfast?" I asked.
Zennia laughed. Her light, twinkly laugh always made me smile in return. "Of course not. My eggwhite and broccoli casserole is in the oven. While I have a few minutes, I thought I'd experiment with a new appetizer." She picked up a mushroom. "Here, try one."
I stuffed the mushroom into my mouth and raised my eyebrows as the flavors of goat cheese and roasted red pepper exploded over my tongue. "Wow, this is really good, Zennia."
"I'm glad to hear you say that. If you think the mushrooms are delicious, then I'm sure your wedding guests will, too."
Zennia had witnessed Jason's marriage proposal and been absolutely thrilled when I'd said yes. Once she found out I'd be holding the reception here at the farm, she'd offered to cater the event.
I bent down and gave her a hug. "I can't thank you enough for everything you're doing for me."
She patted my back. "You're more than welcome. And I even promise to use plenty of butter and cheese, just this once. One day of eating all that saturated fat won't damage your arteries too much."
"And let's not forget the luscious cake with buttercream frosting from the Hand in the Cookie Jar bakery." I licked my lips as I remembered the cakes I'd sampled there.
Zennia cringed. "Maybe I'll add a vegetable platter to the menu." She checked the rooster clock on the wall and stood up. "But right now, I'd better finish getting breakfast ready for the guests."
"Need any help?" I asked.
She shook her head as she slipped on a pair of oven mitts. "I've got it covered, thanks."
I left Zennia to her preparations and headed out of the kitchen. Voices drifted toward me from the dining room, but I went straight into the office across the hall and sat down at the desk. While I waited for the computer to boot up, I hung my jacket on the back of the chair, put my purse in the bottom desk drawer, and checked my cell phone for messages.
I had a text from Jason, inviting me over tonight for home-cooked beef stroganoff. We spent almost every Friday night together, but we usually went to the Breaking Bread Diner for a burger or fish and chips. I felt a warm glow in my chest as I thought about how lucky I was to be marrying a man who made me homemade meals. I quickly texted back my acceptance; then I set the phone on the desk and started my workday.
As the sole marketing person, I performed a variety of tasks, including creating and placing ads in local publications, designing brochures and pamphlets, maintaining the Web site, and coming up with different ways to attract new customers and keep the old ones coming back. So far, our loyalty programs, coupons, and two-for-one manicure and lunch deals had proved the most popular.
When I wasn't working on marketing-related tasks, I helped with odd jobs around the farm. Some days I filled in for Gordon Stewart, the farm's focused and money-conscious manager, at the front desk when he had to run errands, helped Zennia serve meals to the guests, or restocked towels and other supplies for Gretchen Levitt, the young masseuse and facial expert who spent her days running the spa that Esther had built. When there were no other pressing matters, I occasionally resorted to cleaning out the pigsty.
By now, I was almost as familiar with the farm as Esther. While uploading pictures of the duck pond and flower garden to the farm's Web site one day, I'd realized what a perfect location the farm would be for our wedding ceremony. When I'd suggested the idea to Esther, she'd been downright tickled. And as I'd started nailing down the specifics, I'd realized that Esther's farm would be a fantastic place for anyone to get hitched, not just Jason and me.
If everything went according to plan, my first order of business after returning from my Hawaiian honeymoon would be to start advertising the farm as the perfect getaway destination for a wedding in the country. Though we'd had a steady rise in business since first opening, too many people still didn't know we existed. This little venture might finally put Esther's place on the map.
As if on cue, Esther walked into the office. "Morning, Dana," she said as she ran a hand through her curly gray hair.
"Hi, Esther. Did you need to use the computer?" I asked.
"No, I'm just here to look for some papers I misplaced. Don't let me interrupt your work." She pulled open the bottom drawer of the small file cabinet in the corner and started digging through the folders.
I turned back to the computer and opened a pamphlet I'd been designing. As I moved the images around on the screen, Esther muttered behind me, "I'd swear I left it in here." I continued to work while she mumbled to herself.
After a few minutes, I heard an "Aha!" and spun around in the chair. Esther held a small stack of papers aloft as if it was the National Dairy Championship trophy and she'd just won a year's supply of ice cream. When she caught me looking, she gave me a sheepish grin. "I'll get out of your hair."
I held up my hand. "Hang on. As long as you're here, let me get your input on this pamphlet."
Esther stepped up and leaned over my shoulder. "What a lovely photo of the vegetable garden," she said as she read through the material. "And I like how you mention how close we are to Mendocino. Everyone loves the cute little shops and the beach."
"Considering it's less than an hour away, it seems like a waste not to capitalize on it."
Esther nodded and patted her curls. "I wouldn't change a thing. After all, a bird in the hand is worth two hands in the bush."
Esther's version of the proverb was a little off, but I knew what she meant. "I'm glad you like it." She left the office, while I continued my work.
I spent the rest of the morning printing out samples and fine-tuning the pictures and text. Around eleven, I went into the kitchen and washed my hands so I could help Zennia with lunch prep, watching the rooster clock as I did so. I didn't want to be late for my appointment at the flower shop.
At a quarter to twelve, I stopped in the bathroom to freshen up and then grabbed my purse from the office before heading to my car. Bethany and I had already met on two previous occasions to decide on the flowers for my bouquet, as well as Ashlee's, who was maid of honor, and in the boutonnieres for Jason and his best man.
Bethany had insisted on one final meeting after telling me about all the brides she'd dealt with who had last-minute changes. I knew I wouldn't be switching my selection from the tiny roses and delphiniums I'd picked out from the samples she'd shown me, but another meeting to verify my order couldn't hurt.
I exited the freeway, drove partway down Main Street, and pulled into a space in front of the Don't Dilly-Dahlia Flower Shop. The electric Open sign flickered in the window, the only change from when I'd driven by on my way to work this morning.
Grabbing my purse off the passenger seat, I got out of the car, locked it, and stepped up onto the sidewalk. Next door, the Get the Scoop ice cream parlor had its front doors propped open, but I didn't see any customers inside. I guessed ice cream didn't sound as appetizing on a cool November day as it might in the middle of summer. A teenaged girl mopping the floor under the round tables smiled at me on my way by.
Smiling in return, I grabbed the doorknob to the flower shop and twisted it.
I frowned and glanced at the Open sign merrily flickering away.
I turned the knob again but got the same result. I pulled my phone from my pocket and checked the time.
Noon on the dot.
Had Bethany forgotten about our appointment? But why was the door locked in the middle of the day?
Perhaps she'd been called away on a flower-related emergency, though I couldn't imagine what would be considered a flower emergency. Maybe a couple had decided to elope and needed a bouquet right away. Maybe a woman had broken up with her boyfriend and he'd ordered five dozen roses to try to woo her back. I looked at my phone again to see if she'd called or texted, but she hadn't.
Cupping my hands against the glass door, I peered inside. The cool fall air made my hot breath fog the window, and I shifted to the side for a better look.
The lights were on, and I could see the displays of flowers and plants that filled the small space. What I couldn't see were any people. I knocked on the glass, just in case Bethany was in a corner of the shop out of my line of vision.
Unease started to grow in the pit of my stomach as I waited for a response. For our first two meetings, Bethany had been prepared and waiting. She'd had binders full of photos set up on the counter and a pot of coffee brewing in the back. Her sudden absence seemed out of character.
What if she'd somehow injured herself and was lying inside? What if she'd been robbed and was tied up in the back?
I knocked again, but no one came to the door. After waiting a few more seconds, I took a step back and glanced around. My eyes settled on the side alley just past the ice cream shop. I knew it led to a small parking lot in back, where there were rear exits to all the businesses. If I couldn't get in through the front door, maybe I could get in through the back.
I just hoped Bethany was all right.
Excerpted from Marriage Is Pure Murder by Staci McLaughlin. Copyright © 2017 Staci McLaughlin. 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Title: Marriage Is Pure Murder - Blossom Valley Mystery Book 6 Publisher: Staci McLaughlin Published: Kensington Books Pages: 352 Genre: Mystery & Thrillers Sub-Genre: Women Sleuths, Cozy Mystery, Suspense, Amateur Sleuths ISBN: 9780758294920 ASIN: B01LJKQFH6 Reviewed For NetGalley and Kensington Books Reviewer: DelAnne Rating: 4.5 Stars Wedding bells are ringing at the O’Connell Organic Farm and Spa in California’s postcard-perfect Blossom Valley. The entire staff is pitching in to send one of their own down the aisle. But no one knew the nuptials could turn up so many secrets—or that marriage and murder could go hand in hand . . . Dana Lewis is marrying Jason Forrester, a talented reporter and the love of her life. She couldn’t dream of a better venue than the farm where she works, and her friends are determined to give her the wedding of her dreams. Even her florist, Bethany Lancaster, is making sure she has just the right flowers. But Dana’s happiness wilts when she finds Bethany shot dead—and discovers her friend was a busybody with a blackmail list longer than a cathedral veil. With so many enemies, finding Bethany’s killer seems all but impossible. And when Dana herself is eyed as a suspect, she’ll have to chase down the culprit faster than she can say, “I do”—or she’ll be trading in her wedding dress for prison stripes . . . Staci McLaughlin as usual has managed to come up with a new way of presenting a cozy type murder mystery with enough uniqueness to keep you wondering where she continues to come up with her ideas. The characters are well developed and believable. The plot is laid out so that it flows smoothly and quickly. As always I am thrilled to read any new offering by Ms. McLaughlin. I look forward to book 7 in the series My rating of "Marriage Is Pure Murder - Blossom Valley Mystery Book 6" is 4.5 out of 5 stars.
MARRIAGE IS PURE MURDER is pure cozy reading delightfulness. Six books into the Blossom Valley Mysteries, and author Staci McLaughlin is still producing a tasty read. Like the other books I’ve read in this series so far (trying to catch up on the ones I have missed), MARRIAGE IS PURE MURDER starts off fast and funny, with the promise of being a wonderful read. It kept that promise. This series is loaded with a host of truly entertaining main characters who become more fleshed out with every book. I can tell you for certain you are going to have at least three favorites by the end of this story. Staci McLaughlin did an exceptional job with MARRIAGE IS PURE MURDER. The mystery was a strong one with more than enough suspects to keep it interesting, and to make me determined to solve it before the reveal. And the parts of the story leading up to Dana’s impending wedding were fun with all the preparation talk. And Wilbur! Well, his antics alone will cause you to laugh out loud. Add to that a happy and satisfying ending and you have a cozy mystery you will be happy you read. Remember to take a look at the back of the book for Tips and Recipes from the O’Connell Organic Farm and Spa!
Marriage is Pure Murder by Staci McLaughlin is the sixth book in A Blossom Valley Mystery series. It is early November and Dana Lewis is getting ready for her wedding to Jason Forrester at the O’Connell Organic Farm and Spa in Blossom Valley. Dana is visiting the florist, Bethany Lancaster at the Don’t Dilly-Dahlia Flower Shop to go over the final details. Bethany seems to know particulars about Dana’s life that she did not share with her and the florist probes for more information. Later that day Dana receives a call from Bethany. One of the flowers Dana wanted for the wedding is no longer available, and Bethany needs Dana to stop by after work to pick a replacement. Dana arrives at the flower shop to find the lights out and the door locked. She goes around back and finds the alley door unlocked. Dana enters to find Bethany on the floor with blood pooling around her head. Detective Palmer is assigned the case, and he considers Dana a suspect (based on very flimsy evidence). Dana wants this matter cleared up before her wedding. She starts asking questions about Bethany and discovers that she was a blackmailer. Bethany used people’s secrets to her advantage. That certainly opens up the suspect pool. But one person had more to lose than any of the others. Will Dana make it to her wedding or will it turn into a funeral? Marriage is Pure Murder is nicely written and has a good pace which makes for an easy to read cozy mystery. The mystery was slightly more complex than those in previous books in this series (which appealed to me). I liked how one little detail gave away the killer’s identity to Dana in the book. The ending is sweet and will provide readers with a laugh. I give Marriage is Pure Murder 3.5 out of 5 stars. I do wish that there had been more substance (depth) and less time devoted to Wilbur and food descriptions. I was curious as to the name of Dana’s mother. It was not mentioned once throughout the book. I found Dana’s sister, Ashlee to be infantile, selfish and annoying (I really did not like her). I sincerely hope that we see less of her in future novels. Marriage is Pure Murder is a cute, lighthearted story that will appeal to many readers.
Dana Lewis is looking forward to her upcoming wedding. Things are going well but she needs to make a last minute change in flower choices. Instead, when she shows up at the florist she finds the owner dead in the back room. Dana can't help but start asking questions and comes up with a short suspect list including a man that is interested in dating her mom. This cozy mystery is an easy read with realistic characters. It is book 6 in A Blossom Valley Mystery series.
Blossom Valley, California is the setting for this incredible mystery by Staci McLaughlin. Preparing for her wedding to Jason, Dana is busy organizing her big day and working as the marketing director for the O’Connell Organic Farm and Spa. Having the wedding at the farm makes sense and the lovely, quiet setting couldn't be more perfect. The last thing she has to do is finalize her flower order and prepare for her magical day. Stepping into the Don't Dilly-Dahlia flower shop should be easy, however, what Dana finds will soon rock the small town and make everyone look suspicious. Blossom Valley is full of secrets and someone loves to delve into people's lives, dragging their secrets out little by little, until they reveal all. Is this the reason for the murder? Did this person dog to deep? Find out May 30, 2017 when Kensington Books releases this fantastic story. I voluntarily read an ARC of this book provided by the publisher & NetGalley.