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Mother's Day, Muffins, and Murder (Mom Zone Series #10)

Mother's Day, Muffins, and Murder (Mom Zone Series #10)

by Sara Rosett
Mother's Day, Muffins, and Murder (Mom Zone Series #10)

Mother's Day, Muffins, and Murder (Mom Zone Series #10)

by Sara Rosett

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Overview

A small-town Georgia PTA mom teams up with her rival to take down a killer in this cozy mystery by a USA Today–bestselling author.

As a regular volunteer at North Dawkins Elementary, Ellie would never miss the annual Mother’s Day breakfast—even if she has to tolerate the likes of Gabrielle Matheson. The rivals aren’t exactly sworn enemies, though Ellie still thinks there’s only room for one professional organizer in their small Georgia town. But when Gabrielle reports finding a dead body inside the supply closet, the two women form an alliance to teach a killer a lesson in justice . . .

Ellie will leave no desk unturned to protect her kids and expose the cunning criminal’s identity. Because if she doesn’t, the killer may chalk up another textbook case of murder . . .

Praise for Sara Rosett’s Ellie Avery Mysteries

“Rosett’s latest Ellie Avery mystery is about a woman trying to protect her family, and that’s a message most of us can relate to.” —RT Book Reviews

“Sparkling . . . Rosett skillfully interweaves a subplot and provides practical tips.” —Publishers Weekly

Don’t miss Ellie Avery’s great tips for PTA moms!</


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781617731525
Publisher: Kensington
Publication date: 03/28/2017
Series: Mom Zone Series , #10
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 268,489
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Sara Rosett, born and raised in Amarillo, Texas, is the wife of an Air Force pilot. She and her husband live in Houston, Texas, with their two children and dog. Sara is the author of nine previous Ellie Avery mysteries. Her writing has also appeared in Chicken Soup for the Military Wife’s Soul. Sara is a member of Sisters in Crime, Girlfriends Book Club blog, and the Deadly Divas, who are four nice women who happen to write about murder. Please visit her website, www.sararosett.com, or connect with Sara on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Goodreads.

Read an Excerpt

Mother's Day, Muffins, and Murder


By Sara Rosett

KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.

Copyright © 2017 Sara Rosett
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61773-152-5


CHAPTER 1

"How many more days of school are left?" Livvy asked.

"I'm not sure." I waited until Nathan climbed out of the minivan after Livvy, then picked up the plastic container of blueberry muffins, as well as paper plates and napkins, and clicked the button on the key fob to lock the minivan. "Let's see — it's the second week of May, so you probably have around fifteen days or so left."

We turned toward the low, flat-roofed brick elementary school building. Despite it being thirty minutes before the first bell of the day, the school parking lot was packed, and I'd had to park at the farthest point away from the school, on the grass near the fence that enclosed the school grounds. The sun was barely over the tops of the tall pines that ringed the outer edge of the back of the school's property, but the air was already dense and muggy. Spring was a fleeting season in middle Georgia. Ninety-degree days had been our norm for several weeks, and today would be just the same, sunny and humid.

I'd parked beside an old Subaru. The hatchback was open and a small, gray-headed woman was pulling something out of the back of the car. "Twelve," she said as we came even with her. "Twelve days left in the school year, not counting today — for students, that is. Teachers have seventeen."

"Mrs. Harris," Livvy said with delight as she moved to give the woman a hug. I smiled, glad to see that despite the grownup veneer Livvy had acquired over the last year or so — she was a big fifth-grader now — she was still happy to see her former first-grade teaching assistant.

Mrs. Harris pulled Livvy in for a tight hug against her flat chest. I wasn't sure how old Mrs. Harris was. Wrinkles scored her face, and she'd tamed her iron-colored hair, which was wiry with white strands, into a flat bowl cut that just brushed her eyebrows, earlobes, and the back of her neck, a few inches above her collar. With her inquisitive dark eyes and delicate frame, she reminded me of a sparrow. She had a way of nudging the students toward the right answer with her encouraging smile and expressive face, something I'd seen firsthand when I'd volunteered in the classroom, first with Livvy and then with Nathan.

The first-grade teachers might rotate in and out, but Mrs. Harris was a steady, unchanging presence in the first-grade hallway. She worked with Mrs. Dunst, who had been Nathan's first-grade teacher last year.

Nathan played it a bit cooler, but he gave her his full attention when Mrs. Harris looked toward him and asked, "So how is your year going, Nathan? Isn't that nice Mr. Spagnatilli your teacher this year for second grade?"

Nathan nodded. "Yes, Mr. S. That's what we call him. He's great."

I exchanged a glance with Mrs. Harris. "High praise, indeed," she said, and I agreed.

"He likes science, and he has a snake," Nathan said. "In the classroom."

Livvy rolled her eyes. "It's in a tank."

"So I've heard," Mrs. Harris said. "And fish, too."

Nathan's head bobbed again. "Yep. And a full-size skeleton, so we can learn about bones and everything. He's cool. He let us decorate Mr. Metacarpal — that's the skeleton — for Halloween."

"Excellent," Mrs. Harris said. "Now, I wonder if you could help me?" she asked, and I recognized the inquisitive tone she used in the classroom. She managed to convey that Livvy and Nathan helping her would be both a privilege and an honor. I'd seen her in action when the kids had been in first grade, and she always had kids straining, their arms raised high in the air, in hopes that they would be the lucky one she singled out to help her.

Both kids instantly said yes, and she turned to the open hatchback. "I have quite a load of muffins in here, and I have to get them to the first-grade classrooms."

Livvy had already shifted a plastic tub into her arms. Nathan said, "I can take two. No, three."

Mrs. Harris removed the top tub, which was teetering dangerously, from Nathan's arms. "Two is more than enough, Nathan. Thank you. Just drop them in the classroom, and go to the cafeteria."

The classrooms didn't open until eight o'clock, and students who arrived between seven-fifty and eight o'clock went directly to the cafeteria to wait for the bell that signaled they could go to their classrooms. The kids hurried away at their quick pace, while I waited for Mrs. Harris. She picked up the last tub of muffins, closed the hatchback, then fell into step with me.

"So you're the designated muffin person today?" I asked.

"Oh, yes. I always think it's a bit sad to ask the mothers to bake and bring muffins for their own celebration," she said with a birdlike tilt of her head toward the plastic container I carried. Today, as the sign in front of the school proclaimed, was Wednesday — 5/10 — Muffins with Mom Day, the school's nod to Mother's Day. The sign also listed the next end-of-year activity, Field Day, which was scheduled for Thursday and Friday. I had pretty much cleared my calendar for the rest of this week because I knew I would be at the school for Field Day, and next week was Teacher Appreciation Week, which I had agreed to coordinate.

"After all," Mrs. Harris continued, "we don't ask the fathers to bring donuts for Donuts with Dad Day."

"Funny how it always works out that way, isn't it?" I missed the days of having my kids in Mrs. Harris's classroom. She was as much about looking after the parents as she was about caring for the kids. I was now a seasoned "room mom," and looking back, I could see that Mrs. Harris had done a lot, and she didn't focus only on the kids. She'd also helped ease the parents through the transition to sending their kids to class each day.

A car pulled into the lot, and we both shifted to the left, as far as we could get from the blue Ford Fiesta. It whipped through the parking lot, bumped off the edge of the asphalt, and surged onto the grass between the two wavy rows of cars that had parked rather haphazardly in an open area, the elementary school's makeshift overflow lot. A tight turn slewed the car into a slot barely wide enough for it, between two hulking SUVs. The door opened a crack, and a blond head popped out. The woman worked her way out of the car, contorting herself in the narrow space, reminding me of those nature shows where you see a butterfly fighting its way out of a chrysalis.

She wrestled a huge tote bag out of the car behind her, then emerged from between the two cars and smoothed her Peter Pan shirt collar. "Hello, Mrs. Harris," she said as she caught sight of us.

"Ms. McCormick," Mrs. Harris said with a nod. I slid my gaze toward Mrs. Harris. There was something in her tone, a reservation, that hadn't been there moments before.

Ms. McCormick was all breathless smiles. "Gorgeous day, isn't it?" Her eyes were startling blue, so much so that I wondered if they were those fake contact lenses that you can get to change your eye color. Dark lashes fringed her vibrant eyes, and a bright shade of red lipstick highlighted her full lips. "Hectic morning. I'm running late." She slung a tote bag over her shoulder. "Have to dash." She motored away, her heels sinking into the grass, making her work even harder to cover the ground to the parking lot.

"She's the new teacher?" I asked. I knew one of the fifth-grade math teachers had moved in January, and Ms. McCormick was the new math teacher. Mid-year moves weren't that unusual in North Dawkins since it was a community that surrounded an Air Force base, which was where my husband, Mitch, worked.

Livvy had Ms. McCormick for one class period each day and had mentioned her. I now understood why she said Ms. McCormick was like a Disney princess. My part-time organizing business had taken up a lot of my time lately, and I hadn't been at the school volunteering as much during the last few months, so I hadn't met Ms. McCormick yet. I had asked my friend Abby, who was a teacher at the school and a fellow military spouse, if she'd met Ms. McCormick, and Abby had described her as a big-eyed beauty with a perky disposition. The profusion of happy faces and exclamation notes on homework pages suddenly made more sense, as did all the smiley-face emoticons in my email updates from Livvy's math teacher.

"Yes. She's been with us since Christmas break." Mrs. Harris's head was tilted back, her eyes narrowed thoughtfully as she watched the progress of Ms. McCormick across the asphalt to the school. "It's just not natural, you know," she muttered under her breath.

"What?" I asked.

"That buoyant disposition, not when you're in the public education system, anyway. I'm waiting for her to crack. It worries me." She raised her eyebrows and glanced over at me, seeming to realize that she'd spoken her thoughts aloud. "Of course, she seems to be an excellent teacher, and I shouldn't have —"

"Don't worry, Mrs. Harris," I said. "I won't say anything. But I know what you mean." I realized that Mrs. Harris had touched on the exact thing that had struck me. "I get her biweekly class update emails." The frequency of the emails surprised me. Most teachers only sent out the required quarterly grade report. "Her emails are very upbeat, rah-rah-type updates." I'd assumed that she was layering on the encouragement to motivate her students, but it did seem a little over the top.

"Yes," Mrs. Harris said. "Well, she is young. First teaching assignment, I believe."

We walked by the bus circle, then followed the sidewalk around the main parking area until we came to the school's wide, covered porch-like entry. I tugged open the heavy door for Mrs. Harris, then stepped inside behind her.

"Ellie," a voice thick with a Southern accent called, and I turned to see the woman who had been my arch-nemesis in the organizing world, Gabrielle Matheson, emerging from the school office into the lobby. I'd been the sole professional organizer in the small town of North Dawkins, Georgia, until newly divorced Gabrielle moved here and set up shop. After a rather rocky start, we'd become ... well, not exactly friends. More like business associates with very different temperaments who managed to get along ... most of the time. "I didn't know you'd be here today, honey."

To Gabrielle, everyone was "honey" or "sweetie." The men in her orbit ate it up. The women were less enthusiastic — at least that had been my observation. I would be the first person to admit that statement sounded catty, but it was true. Gabrielle was a gorgeous woman in her early forties — long black hair, beautiful green eyes, and high cheekbones coupled with a figure that curved in all the right places — it was easy to see why she was such a hit with the male portion of the population. She normally wore power suits with nipped-in waists and filmy shells with deep necklines, but today she was dressed down in a sleeveless green cotton tank and black skinny jeans.

I held up the plastic tub. "Muffins with Mom."

She looked toward the painted banner hanging across the wall that welcomed the moms to the school. "Oh, yes. That is so sweet, that you have time to come here and relax with your children."

So it was going to be one of those days. I fixed a smile on my face. "Yes, that is my favorite way to relax, supervising twenty-two eight-year-olds hyped up on sugar at eight in the morning."

She put her hand on my arm. "Oh, Ellie, you are so funny. I'd love to stay and chat, but I have to get these forms copied and distributed. It's the final stage of my de-cluttering plan for the classrooms. I'm implementing it personally in each school." She shrugged her shoulder slightly. "It's just so exciting and rewarding to see it all come together."

I wrinkled my nose at her. "I bet it is." The fact that Gabrielle had snagged the contract to help the school district reduce their paper consumption and increase efficiency was still a sore spot with me. She'd parlayed the initial job into several additional contracts that kept her very busy. I knew about the new contracts because she was always sure to give me an update whenever our paths crossed.

Take the high road, I mentally recited. It was a mantra that I tended to repeat when I was around Gabrielle. "I'll let you get to it," I said, and moved to the school's office to sign in and get my volunteer sticker. Student safety was always a concern, and anyone entering the school had to check in at the office, no matter how brief the visit.

Several moms were on their way out of the office, rectangular labels with their names and student associations stuck to their shirts. I put the muffins down on the tall counter that ran across the office, dividing it from the desks and the principal's enclosed office area in the back. As I typed my name into the search bar on the computer, I said hello to one of the "office ladies," as the kids called them. In the course of the last few years, I'd volunteered so much that I knew most of the women. "Is Marie out?" I asked, looking toward the first desk on the left, which didn't have Marie's usual pink cardigan draped over the rolling desk chair. There were also no papers or file folders stacked on the desk, only a couple of gnome figurines, a name plate that read MARIE ORMSBY, and one of those calendars made of two block letters that have different digits cut on each side and can be rotated to display the correct date. I'd seen them everywhere around the school. All the teachers and staff had one because Mrs. Kirk had given them out at the beginning of the year at the first staff meeting.

"No." Peg Watson shook her head, but didn't turn from stuffing pale blue envelopes into the wall of cubbyholes, the teachers' mailboxes. "She's on vacation this week. Jekyll Island."

"Oh, we went to one of the barrier islands last year," I said. "For a wedding. It was ... well, it turned out to be quite an event."

"Hmm ..." murmured Peg, but she didn't turn or look my way, so I didn't say anything else. I'd never heard Peg say more than five words anytime I'd been in. The most I saw of her was the top of her dark brown hair because she usually had her head bent over some task at her desk and let the other ladies in the office do all the chatting with the moms who came to check in for volunteer work. I thought she was in her thirties, but I wasn't sure because I'd never really gotten a good look at her.

"So Marie was able to work in one last vacation before her retirement? That's nice," I said.

"Yes." Peg picked up a stack of orange interoffice envelopes and moved back to the first cubbyhole.

The computer designated for volunteer check-in was an old model, and I had to wait while it processed my entry. Without Marie there to chat with, the office seemed very quiet except for the snick of paper going into the cubbies and the distant hum of the air conditioner unit outside the window. The small printer beside the computer finally spit out my name tag, sounding extremely loud in the small room. At the back of the room, the office for the principal, Mrs. Kirk, was empty. I knew she was outside, keeping an eye on the arrival of students, as she did every morning.

I'd once asked Marie if I'd done something to offend Peg — you never want to tick off the office ladies — but Marie had waved her hand and said, "Oh, she's just shy. Don't give it a second thought."

Marie was Peg's opposite, a sweet, cheerful, and chatty motherly woman with determinedly blond hair fluffing out around her face. She had been at the school since it opened its doors in 1985, and she was retiring at the end of this school year. I'd gotten to know her quite well this year because I had helped coordinate the gift wrap fundraising sale before Christmas.

A couple of moms on the PTA had argued that we needed to do another fundraiser before the school year ended, but that idea had gone down in flames at the last PTA meeting. Marie had been very interested in whether or not the idea of another fundraiser would go forward. She was the person who handled all the details for the PTA, placing orders, making deposits, following up on deliveries. A second round of fundraising would mean a lot of work for her.

I should let her know she was off the hook. "I need to leave a message for Marie," I said as another mom entered the office and headed for the check-in computer.

Peg tilted her head toward the end of the counter. "There's a sticky note and pen."

I jotted a quick note to Marie with the news that the idea for another fundraiser was a no-go, then pushed through the swinging half door at the end of the counter. "I'll leave it on her desk," I said as I stuck it on the one and zero of her block calendar. She'd be sure to see it there. I wasn't too confident that, if I left it with Peg, it would actually reach Marie.

Kids and moms were flowing into the lobby as I left the office to hurry down the hallway to Nathan's room. His teacher, Mr. Spagnatilli, and I quickly set up the muffins, paper plates, and napkins as well as the cartons of juice that he'd brought before the first bell rang, signaling that kids could go to their classrooms. The Muffins with Mom event took place during the twenty-minute window when the kids could arrive and go directly to their classrooms. Nathan arrived, and he and I ate muffins, with me squeezed into a little chair beside his desk. "We're making something for our moms this week," Nathan informed me as we munched on our blueberry muffins.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Mother's Day, Muffins, and Murder by Sara Rosett. Copyright © 2017 Sara Rosett. 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.

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