Cat has a full plate at her Aspen Hills Warm Springs Resort, as a group of aspiring cozy mystery authors arrives for a writers retreat. So when baker Dee Dee Meyer stirs up trouble by filing a false complaint with the health inspector against the B&B—all because she insists Cat's best friend Shauna stole her recipes—Cat marches into the shop to confront her.
But Dee Dee's about to have her own batch of trouble. Greyson Finn—a celebrity chef and, until today, one of Denver's most eligible bachelors—has been found dead in her bakery. Cat's uncle Pete, who happens to be the chief of police, warns her not to engage in any half-baked sleuthing. But as her curiosity rises, Cat's determined to discover who served the chef his just desserts—before the killer takes a powder . . .
Praise for Lynn Cahoon
“Better get your flashlight handy, A Story to Kill will keep you reading all night.”
—Laura Bradford, author of the Amish Mysteries
“Lynn Cahoon has created an absorbing, good fun mystery in Mission to Murder.”
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I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.
— T. S. Eliot
There is nothing like the taste of coffee, first thing in the morning. Maybe it's the warmth flowing through your body. (Or maybe it's the jolt of caffeine.) The mixture did miracles for a wake-up call.
Cat Latimer sat at the country farm table that could seat up to ten, twelve if her guests squeezed close, and inhaled her first cup. Fall had come softly to the small Colorado town of Aspen Hills. Cat loved the mild weather as well as the fallen leaves covering the yards and the sidewalks. Covington College had opened the last week of August for fall semester, so the town streets and shops were filled with college students.
The kitchen in the big house was warm and cozy, even though it was as large as some commercial kitchens. She'd started to think of the area as Shauna's domain, but they spent more time together here than anywhere else in the entire house. Especially during retreat weeks.
Cat watched as Shauna Marie Clodagh took a batch of brownies out of the oven. She had adapted well to Colorado life and had taken on the role of house mom when the writers were in session. That gave Cat the time to be the writer in residence, a role she didn't understand most days. But if Cat was being honest with herself, she loved running the Warm Springs Writers' Retreat almost as much as she loved writing novels. Well, almost.
The back door opened and Seth Howard wandered into the kitchen. Stripping off his jacket, he hung it up on the coatrack and went to the sink to wash. The guy looked like he worked with his hands (as he should), his broad shoulders and blond hair making her think of Thor. "Smells wonderful in here. I hope I can snag a brownie or two for the drive to Denver."
"If you feed Snow and the feline herd for me this morning, I think I can arrange that." Shauna got plates out of the cupboard and served a cheesy bacon skillet dish she'd been experimenting with all week. They'd gained a horse in the last few months along with a cat who just happened to be pregnant. Now, the barn was booming with life after sitting silent for years.
"Done and done." Seth crossed over to the table after grabbing a cup of coffee and leaned down to kiss Cat. "Good morning. I didn't know if I'd see you before heading off to the airport."
"It's not that late." Cat glanced at her watch. "Just because the two of you like to start your day at five doesn't mean everyone has to. Most creative types like to give our brain time to wake up. But you're right, I'm usually up earlier than this."
"Whatever makes you feel better, slug bug." He sat next to her and opened the paper. "I have to say, I like it when all the guests show up on one flight. What do these guys write again?"
"Cozy mysteries. They all are a part of a critique group out of the Midwest. Cincinnati, maybe?"
"I believe they're from Chicago." Shauna set plates in front of everyone. "I'm so excited to do the cooking class with them. It will give me a good indication of whether or not my recipes are ready to be included in the cookbook. I can't believe I'm putting together a book! I thought that dream would never happen."
"We still have to get you an agent and hopefully a publisher, but if no one snatches this up, we'll do it ourselves." Cat thought about the huge amount she and Shauna would have to learn to figure out the ins and outs of self-publishing, but if her friend wanted to publish a cookbook, she wasn't going to say it was too hard. Besides, it would be a great addition to the retreat.
"After we do this trial run, I'll have the proposal ready next week." Shauna smiled at her. "Get that scared look off your face. We're going to get picked up by a publisher, I can feel it."
"Your mouth to God's ears." Sometimes getting published was more about luck and determination than talent. However, Shauna had all three. Cat knew she wouldn't give up until she had the finished project in her hands. And if it was important to Shauna, Cat decided it was important to her too.
"So, cozy mysteries? What are those?" Seth had finished the paper and pushed it into the center of the table as he finished his breakfast.
"Low on gore, low on sex, high on fun." Cat laughed. "I thought about writing one before I started with Tori's book, but I got distracted. I think you'll like this group. I got an e-mail from one telling me how excited they all were to be coming."
"Well, like I said, having them all on one flight has made my life easy." Seth glanced over at Shauna, who was writing in her notebook, her breakfast forgotten. "You going to be ready to teach class tomorrow?"
"Teaching is kind of an overstatement. I'm going to cook and they'll help." Shauna held up her notebook. "I'm writing it all out today. That way when I'm cooking, I won't forget a step and ruin our final product. And, I'm sending them home with a folder that has all the recipes we'll do on Sunday."
"Sounds good." Cat focused on her breakfast. "If you're cooking this, they're going to be wowed."
"It's one of the recipes. I'm doing three savory and three sweet." She peered at her notes. "You think that's enough? I want them to feel like they got their money's worth since the extra day is costing them more."
"We'll be fine." Cat took the last bite of her breakfast, then, as she dropped her plate off in the sink, cut a brownie and sat it on a napkin. She filled up her coffee mug. "I'm heading upstairs to write. Let me know when you're back."
"That will work." Seth was on his phone now, probably checking the scores. Shauna was studying her lists. Cat shook her head.
"I could have said I was going to start a new career pole dancing and you two would have had the same reaction." Cat paused at the door to the hallway.
"Not really." Seth didn't even look at her. "If you'd said that, I would have definitely had a reaction. I'm not sure I want my girlfriend in that line of work."
"Well, let's hope the retreat keeps doing well so we don't have to cross that bridge." She smiled at him. "Drive safe."
"You got it."
She headed to the staircase and climbed the two flights to the third floor where she had her office. The third floor also had four bedrooms, one for her, one for Shauna, and two more rooms they used during retreat weeks. One was for Seth as he'd started staying over during the retreat just in case. The other was a guest room for out of town speakers. So far, they'd only utilized it once, but it was nice to have it available. Instead of turning right toward the bedrooms, she turned left to her turret office.
She'd teased her ex-husband, Michael, that the only reason she'd wanted the house was this room. It was over his study on the first floor and a row of rooms they hadn't remodeled on the second. Why they'd even considered buying the too large Victorian in the early years of their marriage had been a testament to the hope they'd felt. A life that never materialized as she divorced him and moved to California, unable to stay in the area. When he'd died, he'd left her the house. An act of kindness she still appreciated.
Opening the door, she found the office bathed in golden light. The room was windowed on three sides, and the other had wall-to-ceiling bookshelves that she'd filled with her favorite novels as well as her teaching library. She hadn't been a professor long, but she'd loved the idea of teaching a lot more than the practical side of the profession. She'd loved books, which led her to two career paths — teaching about books and being a librarian. Since then, she'd found a third path that she'd never thought would come true. She was a full-time author. And with the income from the retreat, she didn't have to think about working a day job. Of course, the money Michael had left her also helped her stay out of the job-seeking lines.
She opened her Word document and reread a couple of pages where she'd left off yesterday. She made a few minor changes, glanced at her outline, then fell into the world of Tori and the magical boarding school she'd been sent to once her powers started to manifest. Like Covington College in Cat's real life, Tori's high school was starting up football and the fall concert season. She hoped Tori would enjoy listening to the new bands she was being exposed to as much as Cat did. She shook her head. Tori wasn't real, but sometimes, it felt like she was, and that wasn't a bad feeling, not at all.
A knock pulled her out of the story and, when she glanced at the clock, she realized she'd been writing for almost four hours. Seth should be returning in less than an hour. And she was starving. She stood and crossed over to the door. "Sorry, I lost track of time. Do you need help getting everything ready?"
"Actually, I've made lunch and thought you might be hungry." Shauna walked over to the wall of windows and looked out over the back pasture where Snow, her horse, grazed in the field. "I still can't believe she's mine."
Shauna's now deceased boyfriend had done all right by her. He'd actually done all right by everyone. Kevin had left three sons. One boy he'd fathered young, then abandoned. The other two were twins he'd fathered with a one-night stand. He'd taken care of their mother in the will, and even his friend who'd been like a brother, and there wasn't any fighting for more money. Cat guessed when the money was enough, there weren't any hard feelings. Shauna was comfortably well off and had dividends in Shield Holdings, now that Kevin's will had been probated. But the most precious thing Kevin had left her was grazing in that pasture.
Cat moved over to stand by Shauna. "She's a great addition to the place. Well, she and the brood."
"We really need to think about what we're going to do with those kittens. I've got Angelica scheduled for her surgery next month. The vet wanted to wait until she was done nursing. They'll be ready for new homes in a couple of weeks." Shauna turned toward Cat. "Did you want to keep one or two more?"
Cat hadn't been raised with pets. Her mom had been adamant that she didn't need another mouth to feed. "I'd always really wanted a dog, but I'm falling in love with that little white one."
"Princess? She's a cutie. We can keep them all if you want. I'll pay the vet bills." Shauna smiled as Snow kicked up her heels in the pasture, then took off on a run. "I don't have anything else to spend my money on."
"You could travel." Cat settled on the couch leaning her head on her arm as she rested. "You don't have to stay in Colorado."
"Are you trying to get rid of me?" Shauna plopped into the other side of the couch. "I like my life here. When I don't, I'll let you know. But for right now, it's good. Maybe we should plan a trip for the two of us next month after the retreat. We could go back east and check out the historic sights. Or head back to California to catch some waves. Do you think Seth would watch the menagerie?"
"Let's talk about this next week when the retreat is over. I'd love a quick trip out of town. The timing's great. I'm between contracts right now so I don't have anything due." The book she was currently writing was the next in the series, but without a contract, she didn't know when or if it would be published.
"Are you worried?" As usual, Shauna got to the heart of the words Cat hadn't said.
She continued to watch the horse run circles in the pasture. Was she worried? Or was it the fact she didn't have control over what would happen next that was bugging her. "Alexa, you know my agent, says not to worry, that they'll come back for more books. It's just hard to be waiting on them to make a decision."
"Then it's settled. We'll take a trip and get you out of this funk. Besides, I need the distraction too. Getting out of town is the best thing we can do for both of us." Shauna patted her leg. "Come down stairs and let's eat. I want to run the retreat schedule by you. I've ordered pizza and salads for dinner tonight for all of us. And I set up movies in the living room, just in case they don't want to jump into writing after traveling all day."
"You're really good at this hostess thing." Cat followed Shauna out of her office after saving her work on the computer. Worries could wait until after the retreat. Right now, she had to morph into an author in residence and be a good hostess too. The only problem was Shauna was better at the role than she was.
They were sitting eating at the table when a series of hard raps came on the back door. Cat started to stand, but Shauna waved her down. "I'll get it."
When Shauna opened the door, a short, blond-haired woman pushed her way in. "You're not going to get away with this."
"I don't know what you're talking about." Shauna crossed her arms and glared at the woman.
"Oh, don't play that innocent act with me. It might have worked on Kevin, but I know what you're about. I know you're cooking my recipes and planning on putting them into a cookbook." The woman poked Shauna in the chest. "Just because you're pretty doesn't mean you can steal from people who are more talented than you in the kitchen."
"Give me a break, Dee Dee. I can bake circles around you." Shauna stepped forward and poked the woman in return. "I've been to that place you call a bakery and you don't have to worry about anyone stealing your recipes, because no one likes your food."
"That's not true." Dee Dee's voice went up a few octaves and she stepped closer to Shauna.
Cat decided she needed to move in between the women before someone threw the first punch. She needed Shauna here tomorrow for the cooking demonstration. It wouldn't be good if she wound up in jail on assault charges. She crossed the room and moved her body in between the two women. "Now, Dee Dee, calm down. You know Shauna wouldn't steal your recipes."
"That's not what I'm hearing." Dee Dee seethed. "It's all over town."
"Maybe you should check your sources before you come over to my kitchen and start causing trouble." Shauna tried to step forward, but Cat's hand on her stomach stopped her.
"Shauna, you should be more open to discussing this." When Shauna glared at Cat, she shrugged. "I think maybe you just identified the problem. Dee Dee, who told you about Shauna stealing your recipes?"
"Sure, you'd like it if I told you, then something bad could happen to the woman and I'd probably be to blame." Dee Dee stepped toward the door. "You just remember, you're on notice. If I find one recipe of mine in your rotation, I'm going to sue. Both of you."
Cat and Shauna watched as Dee Dee stormed out. Cat tried on a laugh for measure. "Well, that was interesting."
"The woman is crazy. She tried to sue the grocery store, saying they stole her bread recipe for the in-store bakery. But the store got it from their chain headquarters and proved that to her lawyer, so she had to back down." Shauna sank into her chair and glanced up at the cabinet where she kept the scotch whiskey. "The woman is a menace."
"Well, you haven't stolen any of her recipes, right?"
When Shauna didn't answer right away, Cat came to sit beside her. "Shauna? What's going on?"
"There's really only a few ways to make a scone. And maybe I had one there and then came home and tried to replicate it. Of course, mine's way better than what she serves in that shop of hers." Shauna tried a weak smile. "Isn't imitation the best form of flattery?"CHAPTER 2
Seth got back with the guests right before the pizza delivery from Reno's arrived, so as Shauna and Cat checked them in and handed each guest a key, Seth helped take the baggage up to their rooms. Bren Baker was the first to step up to the registration desk. Bren was an attractive woman with short black hair. She had a rock on her finger that must have run the buyer back a few bills. Cat handed her a registration card.
"I know you write cozy mysteries, but do you want to tell me what type?" Cat watched as the woman pulled a pen out of a very expensive purse or a very good knockoff.
"I'm the small-town queen of the group. My series is set in Texas, outside Dallas." She frowned at the markings, then, looking around to see who was watching, pulled out a pair of glasses.
"Uh oh, Bren's pulling out the cheaters. She's getting serious." The woman behind her laughed as Cat handed her a form to complete as well. "Bren hates to mar her beauty with glasses."
"Boys don't make passes at girls who wear glasses," Bren shot back at her friend. "You should know that, Colleen. I've tried to coach you on how to score your next husband enough times."
"Bren, the only men who are here are Rick and our driver, Seth." Colleen turned to Seth, who was bringing in the last load of luggage. "Seth, that's your name, right?"
"Yes, it's Seth. And no, I'm not on the market. My dance card has been taken away by that lovely lady who's giving out the registration cards." He slapped the other man, Rick, on the arm. "Thanks for helping with the luggage, man."
"No problem. I'm sure you have to carry a bunch all by yourself. It's not usual to find a male author at one of these, right?" Rick took the card Cat handed him and pulled a pen out of his shirt pocket.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Sconed To Death"
Copyright © 2019 Lynn Cahoon.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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