Book 12 in the Killer Coffee Cozy Mystery Series
In the quaint town of Honey Springs, the Bean Hive Coffee Shop is the heart and soul of the community, and its vivacious owner, Roxy Bloom, is always ready to serve up a steaming cup of java with a side of gossip. But when a brewing storm of real estate treachery ends with the cold-blooded murder of a local agent, Roxy finds herself in the thick of a frothy whodunit that’s anything but decaffeinated.
The victim, a hotshot real estate agent, had been spearheading a massive development project that went sour after an intrepid environmentalist unearthed a reason for the town to put the kibosh on the plan. Now, with the town’s picturesque charm drawing tourists in droves, Roxy must grind through a list of suspects as long as a coffee bean’s journey from farm to cup.
From double-shot deceptions to espresso intrigues, Roxy’s quest to unmask the Cappuccino Criminal will plunge her deep into the dark heart of Buzz Springs’ seedy underbelly. As she sifts through a muddy mixture of secrets, lies, and steamed milk, Roxy will have to rely on her wit, intuition, and the help of her loyal friends to solve the mystery before it boils over and scalds them all.
In this steamy, cozy mystery with a frothy blend of suspense and humor, the stakes have never been higher—or the coffee stronger. It’s time for Roxy Bloom to pull the perfect shot and catch the Cappuccino Criminal before their next bitter brew leaves someone else in the grinder. So, curl up with a cup of your favorite beverage, and join Roxy in this un-put-downable tale of murder, mystery, and macchiatos.
Book 12 in the Killer Coffee Cozy Mystery Series
I knew the smell anywhere.
It wasn’t the aroma of the freshly brewed coffee that filled the air at the Bean Hive, my coffee shop, and it wasn’t the smell of the warm and inviting pastries filling the glass display counters. Nor was it the scent of the strong and rich aromas from the espresso coming from the hissing espresso machine.
“Good morning, Loretta.” It was Loretta Bebe’s perfume wafting through the coffee shop as soon as she walked in, adding an extra layer to the sensory experience.
She must have literally bathed in the stuff because as soon as she flung the door open, the stench of her perfume saturated every corner of the small coffee shop.
“I have no idea how you do it, Roxy.” She had already made it to the counter before I’d turned around to actually put eyes on her. “You know it’s me before you even look at me.”
“You have a vibe.” I smiled and watched her pluck the gloves off her hands, finger by finger, before she neatly laid them over the top of and between the handles of her pocketbook.
I would never hurt Loretta’s feelings in a million years. She’d probably not care, but still. The community had welcomed me with open arms a few years ago when I decided to leave my job as a lawyer to fulfill my dreams of opening my very own coffee shop. Granted, I was getting a divorce, but all of that was behind me.
Until it wasn’t, and my ex, Kirk, and his wife, Jennifer, brought their new baby in here to grab their daily afternoon cold brews.
“A vibe?” she asked, nervously raking her fingernails across the edges of her short black hair. “I bet it’s the Cherokee in me.”
“Yep, I betcha that’s it, Low-retta.” The sarcasm was thick as it came out of Bunny Bowowski’s mouth as she did a drive-by behind me with a couple of customer orders on her tray. Her soft gray hair was parted to the side and cut at chin length. She didn’t bother wearing the shirt with the coffee shop’s logo I’d purchased for the employees to wear.
Instead, she opted to keep her shoulders covered. Bunny and her best friend, Mae Belle Donovan, had started a knitting club that met at the coffee shop every Sunday afternoon during the winter.
Honey Springs was a tourist town on Lake Honey Springs in Kentucky, and the tourists didn’t really come during the snowy winters, which allowed me to have different operating hours for each season. It only made sense to close the shop on Sunday, making it a perfect spot for Bunny and her group. I wasn’t sure what they’d do about the new spring hours when we opened for a few hours after church. I didn’t ask. Bunny always had a plan.
“I wasn’t talkin’ to you, Bunny.” Loretta snarled. The white line where the tanning bed couldn’t reach showed when she crinkled her nose. “I don’t know why you keep her around. She’s not good for business.”
“Bunny?” I asked Loretta. I turned my back on her so I could make her usual black coffee and disguise the smile on my face, knowing Bunny was getting Loretta’s goat. “Everyone loves her.” I pointed my chin into the coffee shop for Loretta to turn and look at the customer Bunny had in stitches about something she was saying.
“She’s harmless.” I put the coffee down next to the register and looked at my elderly employee.
Bunny Bowowski waddled over to the next table, and by the way the customer waved their hand in the air, I knew Bunny was asking them if she could get them anything else.
“You’re a saint for putting up with her,” Loretta said. The line of bracelets jingled and jangled as she fiddled with the zipper of her wallet to retrieve money.
I smiled. If you only knew that was what people say to me about you, I thought to myself.
“That’s the girl from the environmental office,” Loretta said about the customer in the corner. “I can’t believe what they are thinking about doing down there past the Cocoon Inn.”
“You said the key words.” I took the money Loretta had tucked in between her fingers, admiring how her long red nails shone. I stuck the cash in the register. “‘Thinking about.’” I straightened out the information card for the pet of the week Louise Carlton had left on the counter before I grabbed the carafe of freshly brewed coffee to go and fill up customers’ cups.
It was free refills, and the fuller their mugs were, the more they ate, and that’s where I made the most money.
Pet of the week was a feature I offered to the Pet Palace, the local SPCA, where I kept one of the animals in the coffee shop for the week to help out with their adoptions. There were many hoops we had to jump through with the local health department when I opened the Bean Hive, but it was well worth the hassle when an animal was adopted.
It was kinda like one of those cat cafés but with more than just cats. This week, Louise had brought in the cutest speckled puppy. I knew it wouldn’t take long before someone adopted him.
Currently, he was snuggled up against Pepper, my gray schnauzer, who was a staple around here. Me and Patrick, my husband, also had a black standard poodle, Sassy. Sassy loved to go to Cane Constructions with Patrick. Really, I think she liked riding around to the various sites in his big truck with her head out the window.
“We have to talk!” The voice was loud enough to catch my attention and take me out of my conversation with Loretta. Not only did I look, but everyone must’ve also heard because the chatter inside the Bean Hive had ceased.
With the handle of the coffee carafe in my hand, I twisted around to see what all the ruckus was about.
It was Leandar Taylor, a local Realtor.
At five feet, ten inches, he had a lean and athletic build in his charcoal-gray tailored suit. The coat was open, and his crisp white dress shirt was tight enough to show he must work out with weights. He wore a leather belt, and when he pointed at Danielle, the cuff of his suit coat inched up enough to expose the designer watch on his wrist.
My mom had mentioned Leandar before and commented on his polished image.
I’d never met the man, and today wasn’t a great example of a first meeting.
“I’m sorry, but I’m having my breakfast,” Danielle said to him, but her eyes were shifting left to right to see if anyone was looking.
Now everyone was staring.
Danielle was a woman of striking appearance. She had chestnut-brown hair that tumbled down her back in loose waves. Her eyes were a piercing shade of emerald green and blinked back what I thought was a look of grave concern on her face.
“I don’t care. We have to talk and talk now.” He shoved his big finger in her face and tapped the toe of his fancy black snakeskin boots with toe brass. “You won’t get away with these lies. I’ve already got a call in to your boss, and I know your history. When he calls me back, you bet I’m going to pull that card.”
“Please leave me alone,” she whispered. Red blotches started to crawl up her neck. “I’m more than happy to meet with you at the site or somewhere else later this evening.”
She pulled out what appeared to be a day planner from the bag on the floor.
“I don’t want no stinking appointment. Right here and right now.”
Leandar’s demands were enough for me to put the carafe down and go over to tell him to leave or tell them to take whatever was going on between them outside on the pier. I hurried around the counter and grabbed a hot drink Bunny had just made for a customer.
“I’ll leave you alone and won’t tell your boss about you if you do what is right.” Leandar planted the palms of his hands flat against the table and got up in Danielle’s face. “You only have yourself to blame for what is coming your way.”
“Excuse me. Leandar, right?” I interrupted him and looked at the hot drink. I couldn’t help but notice those fancy brass fittings on the toe of his boots had his initials engraved on them.
“Here’s a delicious cappuccino for you.” I read the label before I shoved it into his face. “Please enjoy it outside.”
“I didn’t order a cappuccino, and the name says ‘Frank.’” He read off the name we’d written on it.
“It’s on the house.” I gestured for him to leave.
His lips curled in, and his nostrils flared like a bull’s before it rushed a matador. His eyes bore into mine.
“I’d like you to leave my coffee shop now.” I pinched out a smile. “And I’ll be sure to tell my mama, Penny Bloom, you said hello.”
Mentioning my mama was something I rarely did to scare off people. She wasn’t at all scary, but I’d heard her talk about Leandar. He and my mama were in the same industry.
Real estate agents.
It was a competitive business, and there weren’t very many in Honey Springs. But they had their own little network, and Leandar knew if word got around he was making a scene, it wouldn’t go well with the others in their little circle.
So I used Mama to get his attention in this situation.
And I would be sure to tell her he stopped in.
His eyes moved past my shoulder, and he gave one more good, hard, and scary stare at Danielle. Poor lady, her hives had almost covered her entire neck area and were now creeping up to her jaw.
“I’ll see you later.” He held up Frank’s cappuccino. “Thanks for the coffee. Tell Penny we need to get together soon.”
“Oh, I’ll tell her,” I muttered behind my gritted-teeth smile. “To stay far away from you,” I finished saying after he shut the door behind him. I turned around to face Danielle. “I’m so sorry. Are you okay?” I asked, pulling out the empty seat at the small café table to sit.
“I’ve lost my appetite.” She pushed the plated strawberry scone away from her. “I’m sorry he made such a scene.”
“It’s okay. I’m sorry he did that to you.” I pointed to her hands and forearms where more hives had popped up.
“I get hives when people confront me.” She snorted and placed her hands in her lap. “Nothing a little prednisone can’t fix.” She pulled a bottle out of the workbag sitting on the floor.
“Wow.” I laughed. “People confront you often?”
“In this line of business, they do.” Danielle had been coming into the Bean Hive for a couple of weeks every morning.
She’d introduced herself but never told me why she was in town.
“So you’re in Honey Springs for business?” I asked.
“Yes. Initially, I was hired by Blackwood Associates to come and evaluate a potential piece of property down past the local inn for a new county-club development,” she confirmed. “But then there were some findings coming back that I’d sent off some samples of, and honestly, I’m hoping Blackwood Associates will rethink the location if they still want to use Honey Springs.”
There were rumors of a big country club coming to Honey Springs, and I’d heard rumblings about it during one of our chamber of commerce meetings. Golf didn’t interest me, so I didn’t listen very closely to the debate, but when there was a country club being built, I would definitely try to get in front of the owners or shareholders to get my coffee in there.
After all, now that we had the space with the roastery next door, I was making all sorts of my own concoctions. I could easily make a blend just for a country club.
“What are you looking for when these companies hire you?” I asked, very curious now.
“It depends, but mainly things like environmental impacts of the proposed development. This assessment would involve studying the local ecosystem, habitats, and species, as well as understanding how construction and operation of the country club might affect the environment.” From what it sounded like, she was saying Blackwood Associates really did care about the areas where they planned to build, which seemed rather nice.
“I think that’s wonderful.” I had to talk a little louder because the Bean Hive was filled with the morning customers chatting and enjoying their drinks. “I’m all about keeping Honey Springs a tourist destination where visitors come to enjoy the nature and beauty.”
Honey Springs was a wonderful place not only for couples to come to stay in one of the cozy cabins the town had to offer for romantic getaways but also for families to enjoy Lake Honey Springs.
The Bean Hive was located on the boardwalk along with several other little locally owned mom-and-pop shops.
I glanced over at the counter. Bunny had restocked the variety of pastries, muffins, and biscuits, and my baristas were busy taking orders and making drinks. It wasn’t until after the roastery was up and running that I’d had to hire two new full-time employees. I still kept the afternoon shift for the local high schoolers who worked for me.
The sounds of the espresso machines hissing and the spoons clinking against ceramic mugs were comforting to me, were enough for me to realize life had gone back to normal in the coffeehouse.
“I’m sure Leandar heard about some of my initial findings because he’s standing to gain over half a million in commission from the sale of the land alone, not even including what they will give him for the condominiums they are going to build.” As Danielle told me about the plans Blackwood Associates had made for the lakefront property, the more I wished I’d paid attention during the chamber meetings.
“You said something about findings that might make them change their minds.” She nodded, and I continued, “What do you do then?”
I didn’t ask about what she found. If Bunny was here, she’d get the information, no problem. But I didn’t want to seem too nosy yet.
“I’ll be visiting the site to engage with local stakeholders, such as community members, local organizations, and government officials. They could be providing information about the potential environmental impacts, discussing mitigation measures, or soliciting feedback on the proposed development. Blackwood Associates are very involved with the communities where they build.” She stood up and gathered her things.
Standing at five foot eight, Danielle appeared to be athletic, from what I would bet had been from years spent exploring the great outdoors.
Her sun-kissed skin bore the marks of a life spent in the elements, with a smattering of freckles across her nose and cheeks. Her style was practical and functional. She was often seen wearing cargo pants, sturdy boots, and lightweight jackets that allowed her to navigate the rugged terrain with ease.
“If you’ll excuse me.” She pushed in the chair, and I stood up. “I need to make some calls. I’m afraid my reports for your lake town have now turned to advocating for the protection of the lake and its surrounding environment around the development.”
“Oh. That doesn’t sound good,” I blurted out.
“If you want to save Honey Springs, I suggest you come to the emergency meeting I’m going to ask your mayor to hold tonight.” She shook her head, leaving me standing there feeling gut punched.
“I told you, she’s up to somethin’ ’round here.” I hadn’t heard Loretta walk up behind me. Her accent had taken a fifty-degree dive.
I knew that accent, and it was never followed up by anything good.
“Excuse me.” A gentleman with glasses came up to me. “I’m Frank. Did you just give my cappuccino away?”
end of excerpt
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