It’s Valentine’s Day in Tinker’s Cove, Maine, but when it comes to foul play, Pennysaver reporter Lucy Stone can’t sugar-coat the truth . . .
Lucy has barely arrived at her first library board meeting when the new librarian is found dead in the basement. The agitated group assumes Bitsy Howell was killed by an outsider—until Detective Lt. Horowitz announces that the killer is among them. Lucy knew that Bitsy rubbed some people the wrong way. But she has a hunch the murderous motives run a lot deeper. And as she snoops into the curious lifestyles and shocking secrets of Tinker’s Cove’s most solid citizens, what she finds is far from hearts and flowers . . .
CHOCOLATE COVERED MURDER
Despite the frigid winter temperatures, to boost the economy, Tinker’s Cove is launching a travel promotion for Valentine’s Day. Lucy is assigned a puff piece on upscale Chanticleer Chocolate—and its deliciously handsome owner. But there’s another tantalizing tart behind the counter—sultry store manager Tamzin Graves. Leaving a throng of jealous women in her wake, it’s almost no surprise when Tamzin turns up dead, her body covered in chocolate. And as Lucy closes in on the culprit, she may find herself locked in the clutches of a half-baked killer . . .
About the Author
LESLIE MEIER is the acclaimed author of over twenty Lucy Stone mysteries and has also written for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. She is currently at work on the next Lucy Stone mystery. Readers can visit her website at www.LeslieMeier.com.
Read an Excerpt
That country was ruled by a wise king and his beautiful and kind queen ...
In the big kitchen of her restored farmhouse on Red Top Road, Lucy Stone sang a little song as she tucked the last of the breakfast dishes into the dishwasher. She couldn't help feeling cheerful. Today, after what seemed like a solid month of cloudy skies and snowstorms, the sun was finally shining. The sky was a cloudless, bright blue. The pine trees in the woods bordering the yard were deep green, frosted with white. Mounds of snow covered her car, the shed, the garden fence; everything sparkled in the sunlight. It was so bright that she had to squint when she looked out the window.
Inside, it revealed crumbs and dust that had gone unnoticed in the dim, cloud-filtered daylight of recent weeks, along with a few dried-out pine needles from the Christmas tree. As the dishwasher hummed she wiped off the counters with a sponge and straightened the mess of papers that had collected on the round golden oak table.
Looking at the now neat but ever-growing pile, she gave a big sigh. It was her "to-do" list. Bills to pay, car insurance renewal forms to file, bank statements to balance, income tax forms to complete. A partially completed feature story she was writing for the local paper, The Pennysaver. The latest issue of Maine Library Journal.
She glanced at the clock — it was a few minutes past eight. A peek in the family room revealed that her four-year-old daughter, Zoe, was happily playing a game on the family computer. She was the only one home besides Lucy. Lucy's husband, Bill, a restoration carpenter, was already at work. The older children were all in school: Toby, sixteen, and Elizabeth, fourteen, attended high school, and ten-year-old Sara was in third grade at the Tinker's Cove Elementary School.
No time like the present, decided Lucy, sitting down and picking up the magazine. The board meeting wasn't until eleven; she had plenty of time to read it and become familiar with library issues. It was her first meeting as a director and she wanted to make a good impression.
An hour later, her head was buzzing. What had she gotten herself into? Being a library director was a bigger responsibility than she thought. Budgets. Maintenance. Circulation. Employee relations. Acquisitions. Censorship. Information technology. Not to mention security.
She had no idea security was a big issue for libraries, but it was. Thanks to the journal she now knew that seven librarians in New England had been the victims of brutal attacks in the last year, and one had been raped. "Librarians, generally women, often work alone at night, so they are natural targets," explained the state library commissioner. "Libraries often contain valuable artifacts and rare books, not to mention an increasing amount of computer equipment. We have to be more vigilant about security, something we have tended to take for granted."
Poor Bitsy, thought Lucy, resolving to ask her fellow board members if the new addition had been equipped with an alarm system. If it hadn't been, it should, and the older part of the building should be included, too.
The dishwasher clicked off and Lucy checked the clock. Already past nine and she wasn't dressed yet. Neither was Zoe, she realized.
"Come on, sweetie," called Lucy, standing in the doorway. "We have to get dressed. It's story hour day."
Zoe didn't move from the computer. Lucy repeated her request.
"Zoe, time to get dressed."
"I don't want to."
Surprised at this answer, Lucy crossed the room and peered over her daughter's shoulder at the brightly colored screen, where lime green robots were chasing a little brown bunny. "Is it a good game?" she asked.
Zoe didn't answer. Her attention was fixed on the screen; her chubby fingers were busy pushing buttons on the control pad.
"I'll tell you what," said Lucy, in a cheerful but firm voice. "You can play a little longer, while I get dressed. But then we'll have to turn off the computer. Okay?"
She looked expectantly at Zoe, waiting for an answer, and thought she detected a little nod. Good enough. She hurried upstairs, wondering exactly what a library director should wear.
* * *
Returning to the family room a half hour later, Lucy was pleased with her choice. She was wearing her good wool slacks, a turtleneck jersey, and the extravagantly expensive designer sweater Bill had given her for Christmas. She had added a simple gold chain and a pair of pearl earrings.
Now for the next challenge, she thought, surveying the family room where Zoe was still absorbed in "Bunny Beware." Another gift from Bill, but Lucy wasn't sure she approved of this one.
"Zoe, honey. Remember our bargain? Mommy's all dressed. Now it's your turn."
"I'm busy," said Zoe. The computer game had apparently rendered her immobile. Powerful electronic forces, emanating from the screen, had seized control of the little girl's mind and body. Something had to be done.
Lucy switched off the machine.
"Whaaaaaaa!" shrieked Zoe.
"It's time to get dressed," said Lucy. "You don't want to miss story hour, do you?"
"Story hour's dumb and Miss Howell's mean!"
"Zoe, that's enough," said Lucy, firmly taking her daughter's hand and leading her to the stairs. "What do you want to wear today? How about your turtleneck with the hearts? It's only two weeks 'til Valentine's Day, you know."
* * *
It was well after ten when Lucy and Zoe, bundled against the single-digit weather in bulky down parkas and snow boots, left the house. Bill and Toby had shoveled a path to the driveway earlier that morning, but they hadn't cleared the snow off the car. With a gloved hand Lucy scraped the snow away from the door handle and pulled. It didn't budge. It was frozen shut by a layer of ice that had formed underneath the snow.
"This is going to take a while," Lucy told Zoe. "Why don't you make some snow angels for Mommy?"
* * *
It was a quarter to eleven when Lucy and Zoe finally got under way in the old Subaru station wagon. Thank goodness for four-wheel drive, thought Lucy, as they made steady but slow progress over the snow-covered roads. In Tinker's Cove the DPW plowed, but set the blades high, leaving an inch or two of snow to protect the expensive asphalt.
If you didn't like snow, thought Lucy, you shouldn't live in Maine. At least not this winter with record low temperatures and unusually heavy snowfalls. Fortunately, she loved cold weather and always felt a sense of excitement when the flakes began to fall. As she drove along, she was enchanted by the way last night's storm had turned the bare winter trees into a glistening fairyland.
Turning onto Main Street, she thought that Tinker's Cove, with its red brick storefronts and tall-steepled white church, was truly a picture-perfect New England town. Today, however, Main Street seemed deserted; few people were out and about in the bitter cold. She spotted Mr. Ericson, the postman, bundled up in a red and black buffalo plaid jacket and a checked wool cap with black fur earflaps. She gave the horn a friendly toot as she passed him.
Turning into the library parking lot, she saw there were a number of cars. No wonder, she thought; she was late. It was already ten past eleven. Story hour was bound to attract a crowd of mothers and kids tired of being cooped up at home. The directors would also have gathered for their meeting. She parked the car and helped Zoe out of her seatbelt and booster seat and they hurried up the narrow path between the snowbanks.
"We're late, we're late," she began.
"For an important date!" exclaimed Zoe, completing the rhyme and stamping her purple Barbie boots on the cocoa fiber mat.
"For my first meeting," fretted Lucy, as she pulled open the door.CHAPTER 2
When Snow White awakened from her nap, she was surprised to see the Seven Dwarves ...
As they entered the library, Lucy's eyes were drawn as always to the softly gleaming pewter tankard that sat in a locked display case in the entry. A neatly printed label identified it as "Josiah's Tankard" and noted it had been presented to the library in 1887 by Henry Hopkins, the last surviving descendent of Josiah Hopkins, who was the first European to settle in Tinker's Cove. The tankard, which had been handed down through the family, was said to have been brought from England by Josiah.
If one looked closely, and the light was right, an elaborate design featuring a flowering shrub with a bird perched on one of the branches could still be discerned in the tankard's worn and battered surface. The initials "J" and "H" were somewhat easier to see, along with the date, 1698.
Lucy thought the library was a fitting place for the tankard, which represented the long history of the little town that was first incorporated in 1703. Whatever drew Josiah Hopkins to this rugged spot on the Maine coast was a puzzle, considering the brutally cold winters and the stony soil unfit for farming, but the homestead he built had stood until just a few years ago when it had burned to the ground in a spectacular fire that had claimed the life of Lucy's friend, Monica Mayes.
The homestead was gone, but the tankard had survived, safe in the library. Lucy found that comforting, just as she believed it was a privilege to live in a house that had sheltered many generations before her family had moved in. Living in a place that had ties to the past gave her a sense of security; she liked knowing that she was yet another link in a long chain of mothers and fathers and children connecting the unknowable future to the past.
Today, however, Lucy and Zoe didn't have time to admire the tankard. Instead, they pushed open the second set of doors and greeted Miss Tilley, who was seated at the circulation desk.
"I see they've put you back to work," said Lucy.
Miss Tilley had been the librarian for years, until she retired and Bitsy took her place. With her white hair and china blue eyes, Miss Tilley looked like the very image of a sweet old lady. Lucy knew better, and enjoyed her old friend's tart wit and sharp tongue.
"There should be a volunteer on duty, considering that Bitsy has story hour today, but nobody has shown up yet," said Miss Tilley, who only allowed her very dearest friends to call her by her first name, Julia. She was holding the "Date Due" stamp as if she couldn't wait to use it.
Lucy knelt to unfasten Zoe's pink parka, and gave her a little pat in the direction of the children's room. "See you later, sweetie," she said, watching as Zoe went to join her friends.
"We never had these problems when I was in charge," said Miss Tilley, leaning forward and whispering loudly to Lucy. "The volunteers knew that they were expected to come on their assigned days."
"Well, Bitsy has had a lot on her mind with the new addition and all." Lucy looked around, noting how well the new construction meshed with the older portions of the building. "It looks great, doesn't it?"
"Hummph," snorted Miss Tilley. "I just hope the heating bill doesn't bankrupt us."
"I doubt it will. Nowadays they use lots of insulation." Lucy looked around. "So where does the board meet?" she asked.
"We've always used the reference room, but I expect that will change now that we have that conference room. Why they put it in the cellar is something I'll never understand. Cellars are for storage — they're not fit for human habitation."
"Is that where everyone is?" asked Lucy, smiling at Miss Tilley's stubborn resistance to change.
"Not yet. I think they're still in Bitsy's office," said Miss Tilley, taking a pile of books that a young mother was returning. "That will be seventy-five cents," she said, sounding awfully pleased to have caught the overdue books.
Lucy went around the desk and down the dark little hallway leading to Bitsy's office. She smoothed her sweater nervously and took a deep breath, then pushed open the door.
"If it isn't our newest member," exclaimed Gerald Asquith, greeting her warmly. "Welcome! Everybody — this is Lucy Stone, who's made quite a little reputation for herself as a writer for our local newspaper, The Pennysaver."
"A very little reputation," said Lucy, blushing. She enjoyed freelance writing for the paper, but was rarely able to manage more than one or two feature stories a month.
"I'm Ed Bumpus," said Ed, leaning forward in his chair to shake her hand. "I know your husband, Bill. We're in the same business."
"I've heard him speak of you," said Lucy, giving him a friendly smile. She looked around at the others, searching for familiar faces. "I know Corney, of course, but you probably don't remember me. I've attended some of your workshops. I enjoyed them very much."
Lucy extended her hand but Corney ignored it, merely nodding vacantly and murmuring, "Oh, yes."
"Hayden Northcross, here," said Hayden, promptly filling the void and taking Lucy's hand with both of his. "I must say it's nice to have some new blood on the board."
"I guess we're all here then, except for Chuck," said Ed. Lucy couldn't decide if he was grumbling, or if his voice always sounded that gruff.
"You know he tends to run late," said Corney, leaping to the absent member's defense. "After all, he's a lawyer. He'll be here."
"It's well after eleven — shall we go down?" suggested Gerald.
There was a murmur of assent, and the directors began moving toward the door.
"You know, Bitsy seems to have less and less control over those children every week," said Corney, hearing the noise from the children's room.
"She's not there," said Lucy, observing the group of lively preschoolers and a handful of chatting mothers. "Where could she be?"
"I think she said she was going down to the workroom," offered Gerald.
"Maybe she's lost track of the time. I'll run ahead and remind her," volunteered Lucy, eager to be helpful.
"Young legs," said Gerald, nodding approvingly as Lucy headed in the direction of the stairway.
"I'll see if Miss Tilley's free," said Corney, as if to remind everyone that she used to be the youngest person on the board and, even though she now had to share that distinction, was still no older than Lucy.
Corney was just approaching the circulation desk when Chuck Canaday made his appearance, bursting through the doors with his unbuttoned coat flapping about him, bringing a wave of cold air.
"Ooh — it's cold out there," said Corney, wrapping her arms across her chest and greeting him with a smile.
"It's invigorating," said Chuck, giving his thick mop of gray hair a shake. "Makes me wish I had more time for skiing."
"Me, too," agreed Corney. "I had a great time at Brewster Mountain last weekend."
"Really? How was the snow?"
"Uh-hmm." Miss Tilley interrupted their little exchange. "Everyone's waiting for us. It's time we joined the meeting."
"Who'll watch the desk?" asked Corney.
"Bitsy will have to do it — there's no one else," said Miss Tilley. "It's not very busy, and she can leave story hour if the need arises."
Chuck and Corney's eyes met; Corney gave a little shrug, and they followed Miss Tilley toward the waiting group.
* * *
Having left the others at the office, Lucy hurried across the children's room where she was happy to see that Zoe was busy chatting with her friend, Sadie Orenstein. Whatever do four-year-olds talk about? she wondered, as she pulled open the steel door to the stairs. As she thumped down in her snow boots she noticed the mess of paper and art supplies spilled at the foot of the stairs, and quickly picked them up, wondering what had happened. She set the box down in the corner and pulled open the door to the conference room, flicking on the lights.
"Bitsy?" she called. "Are you down here?"
Receiving no answer, Lucy went on through to the workroom door. She gave a little knock and pulled it open.
It took a moment or two for her to register the sight: Bitsy was lying flat on her back, legs and arms awkwardly akimbo, like one of Zoe's discarded dolls.
"Oh, my God," exclaimed Lucy, rushing toward her. She bent over the fallen woman, noticing her eyes were wide open and there was an odd look of surprise on her face. Lucy instinctively stepped back, and saw a hole in Bitsy's cardigan sweater, just above her heart. It was then she noticed the puddle of blood seeping beneath Bitsy's body.
Repulsed, Lucy forced herself to search for a pulse and reached for Bitsy's wrist with trembling hands, hoping to find a flutter of life. Her arm felt heavy, like a dead weight, and Lucy knew it was futile. It was obvious Bitsy was dead.
Lucy's heart was racing and she felt dizzy and sick to her stomach as she backed away from the body. This was no longer Bitsy; this was something horrifying and frightening. She was shaking all over, and her teeth were chattering. She had only one thought: she had to get away. She turned and fled, running out of the workroom, across the conference room, and up the stairs. Throwing open the door, she ran smack into the group of directors. Suddenly speechless, her mouth made a noiseless little "O."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Valentine Candy Murder"
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