Freshly Ground Murder
Book 3 in the Killer Coffee Cozy Mystery Series
The holidays have arrived, and nothing is going to steal the joy of Roxanne Bloom’s first Christmas in Honey Springs.
The town’s annual Christmas in the Park is underway and includes a Christmas Pawrade that’ll help the furry residents at Pet Palace get a home for Christmas. It’s not the four-legged creatures that steal the show, it’s the pair of legs sticking out from the Christmas tree lighting ceremony that has all the town talking.
The suspects are piling up faster than the falling snow, while a murderer is on the loose. Roxy can’t let this ruin her first Christmas in Honey Springs and soon realizes it’s the ghosts of Christmas past that holds the real clues. But can she get this mystery solved in time for the holidays?
Includes Holiday Recipes from The Bean Hive!
Freshly Ground Murder
Book 3 in the Killer Coffee Cozy Mystery Series
Freshly Ground Murder
“I love you my big dark, tall and delicious yummy goodness.” Happily I sighed, and then breathed in deeply the aroma, letting the Christmas Harvest dark roast curl up around and in my nose.
I didn’t care what anyone said. That first sip of coffee had a way of creeping into my soul and tapping into a joy that I couldn’t explain. The view wasn’t bad either. Especially since The Bean Hive coffee shop had the best location on the boardwalk and view of Lake Honey Springs. Even in the winter.
Pepper, my Schnauzer and trusted four-legged furry companion, stretched and whined.
“You’re my favorite salt-and-pepper guy.” I bent down to pat him with my free hand and he rolled over, belly up for a good scratch.
I wrapped my hands around the warm mug and smiled as the tree across the lake stood bare, so tall as they stretched up into darkness toward the sky. The light snoring sound of Pepper and the wafted smell of the Santa Kiss Cookies baking, kept me warm even though the moon helped keep the winter chill in the air at five-thirty a.m.
“Want to go potty before we get started?” I asked Pepper like he was going to answer me. He sort of does. His tail wagged and he bounced around.
The chime over the door dinged and he bounded out onto the boardwalk.
“Which way?” I asked giving him the choice of left or right because The Bean Hive was located right in the middle of the boardwalk so it didn’t matter which end we headed toward to find the green space Pepper needed. “Right it is.”
In the darkness of the early morning, the twinkling lights strung along the boardwalk by the beautification committee lit our way. The poinsettias were bright red and perfectly nestled into the hanging baskets from the dowel rods of the carriage lights that dotted our way along the wood planks. The little flags hung down from the potted Christmas plants with a big gold star. In the middle of the star it read Christmas In The Park Honey.
None of the shops along the board walk opened as early as The Bean Hive.
We passed the Queen of the Day Boutique, Buzz In-and-Out Diner, Odd Ink, Honey Comb Salon and Wild and Whimsy Antique store, which happened to be my second favorite shop on the boardwalk. Bev and Dan Teagarden always keep back little treasures they think I’d like. They were always spot on.
The Marina was located on the far end and off the boardwalk. Pepper did his business while I glanced over all the covered and winterized boats that had so much life a few short months ago. If I closed my eyes, I could hear the rumble of the engines echoing off the limestone walled around the lake during the summer season.
Off in the distance was Cocoon Hotel. It was the only hotel in our small Kentucky town. There were so many seasonal cabins to rent that Cocoon Hotel was normally not booked. But that didn’t stop Camey Montgomery from ordering coffee and a sweet treat from me for her hospitality area.
“All done?” I bent down and patted Pepper when he bolted back up the steps from the grassy area. The whip of the wind chilled me to the bone. “We need to get you a sweater from Walk In The Bark.”
He yipped. He knew that name really well. It was the pet store located on the far end of the other side of the boardwalk and a place Pepper got special treatment. Why wouldn’t he? He’s precious.
The oven timer was going off when we got back to the shop
Pepper and I walked through the swinging door that led into the kitchen portion of the coffeehouse. In the spring, it’d be a year ago that I’d opened the door to The Bean Hive. A coffeehouse was exactly what Honey Springs, Kentucky needed. No place better than the newly revitalized and renovated boardwalk.
Even though Lake Honey Springs brought in a lot of tourists for the summer, our Christmas Celebration wasn’t one to miss. From what I heard…I’ve never been in Honey Springs for Christmas, but the excitement around it makes me feel like I have.
I didn’t grow up in Honey Springs. My aunt Maxine Bloom lived here (she’s my father’s sister) and he’d bring me for long summers here. As my memory served me right, it felt like home. So naturally when I got my heart broken, I ran to Honey Springs. While I was looking for some of Aunt Maxi’s southern home cooking for comfort food, she gave me a knock in the head.
“You’re gonna put your boots on and get down and dirty. It’s high time you hold your head high and follow your real dream. Now go on and put some lipstick on.” Then she brought me here. The empty building and dilapidated boardwalk had both seen better days.
“Oh my, my.” I opened the oven. My mouth instantly started to water just eyeing the Santa Kisses. “I’ve outdone myself.” I rubbed my hands down my The Bean Hive apron and couldn’t wait to get my hands on the kisses.
Long gone was the musty smell of the restaurant before me. The smell of coffee was now infused in every square inch.
“Just one.” I looked down at Pepper who was eagerly waiting for something to eat.
While I waited for it to cool, I gave Pepper a scoop of kibble and grabbed one of the domed platters to put the Santa Kisses on. They were going right on top of the counter.
The round cookie had the perfect light browning. I closed my eyes and let the perfect combination of sugar, pumpkin, chocolate chips, and nutmeg melt in my mouth
“Do I smell Santa Kiss cookies?” I barely got my cookie swallowed before I heard my landlord come in the coffeehouse and quickly arranged the first batch of cookies on the platter.
“Aunt Maxi.” I pushed the kitchen door with the platter in my hands and watched her face light up with delight.
“You’ve got a good nose.” I set the platter on top of the counter and went over to help her out of her getup.
She looked like a bag lady dressed in an oversized coat, big scarf twisted around her neck and knit cap pulled down on her face. Her cross body purse was strapped across her body and she was busy stuffing her gloves in the front pocket. When she tugged the cap off of her head, my jaw dropped.
“Silver bells,” she sang and swayed back and forth. “Silver bells. It’s Christmas time in Honey Springs.”
Pepper yipped and yapped. He acted as though he didn’t recognize her.
“What?” She looked at me.
“Your hair is really silver.” I couldn’t stop staring, though I shouldn’t be surprised, but this was the first time I’d ever seen her hair look even close to her age.
She raked her fingers in her hair, making it stand up even more before she tugged a big can of hairspray from her bag.
“This weather does nothing for my hair,” she grumbled under her breath and threw her head down, spraying that sticky junk all over.
“Go to the bathroom.” I snapped my fingers and pointed my finger toward the bathroom the customers used.
“Give your aunt a hug.” She ignored my comment and held her arms wide open, the hairspray still in her grips.
“You’re something else.” I gave in and hugged her, then she gave my hair a few sprays letting out a big cackle. I fanned my hand in front of my face. “I’ve got to get my Christmas Harvest brewing to overtake that smell before someone walks in and thinks we are a hair salon.”
“What can I help you with?” Aunt Maxi asked.
She was really good at pitching in wherever and did so without asking most days.
“You can refill all the tea bags at the tea station. Refill all the to-go cups as well as set up the Honey Springs mugs.” I nodded toward the end of the counter where the tea bar was located.
There was a hot tea, cold tea self-serve counter. It offered a nice selection of gourmet teas and loose-leaf teas that could be made hot or cold. The cute antique teapots I’d gotten from Wild and Whimsy were perfect if a customer came in and wanted a pot of hot tea. I could fix it for them or they could fix their own to their taste and as many pots as they needed.
While she did that, I headed behind the counter and started to concoct my Christmas Harvest Blend in light, dark and decaffeinated. I took my Bean Hive grog blend as the base. It was more of a full-bodied coffee that was perfect with the cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and vanilla bean that was added to create the perfect Christmas Harvest blend.
It’d been so popular over the past few weeks, I couldn’t even keep in stock the mason jars I filled and wrapped a red grosgrain ribbon around for customers to purchase.
Aunt Maxi was finished in no time and had moved on to the coffee bar on the opposite end of the counter. She glanced over to see if the six thermoses were finished brewing so she could put them in place. The coffee bar was on the honor system, which meant there was a jar where customers could put their money in and get their own coffee. Sometimes the coffeehouse got busy and it was those times that customers came in and only wanted a cup of coffee. It was a perfect system for me anyways. But the creamer, sugar, sugar substitutes, honey, cinnamon, stirs, napkins and to-go cups needed to be refilled.
It only took a few minutes for me to blend the grog and add the ingredients to get the morning brew started. The smell of the cinnamon really did make it feel like Christmas.
“Are you going to the tree lighting tonight?” I asked Aunt Maxi while I got started on the Gingerbread Mischiefs to make for the furry friends that come into the coffeehouse with their owners.
“Of course. You’re going to love it.” She ran her hand along the piece of antique furniture I’d turned into the coffee bar.
I was actually proud of the entire coffeehouse. I’d taken and redone all of it by watching all sorts of DIY videos off YouTube. The walls were shiplap that I’d created from painted plywood. The counter was “L” shaped with a glass counter top with all the goodies stored below. Instead in investing in fancy industrial menus, I took big chalkboards and hung them to the wall and over the counter. The menus listed the weekly specials and all the fancy coffee drinks I made to order.
“I can’t wait.” I scooped some more kibble in Pepper’s bowl before I pushed through the kitchen to get more cookies out and in the oven as well as start on the furry friends’ treats. “Plus I’m going to get a tree from the lot and get this place all decorated. I’ve been driving by the lot and getting really excited with all the fun lights and decorations.”
With the current cold temperatures and light snow, it was just way too cold for Pepper and me to ride the bicycle to the boardwalk or even into downtown. Everything in Honey Springs was just a hop and a skip away so having a car was more of a nuisance than a necessity.
On the way back from getting more Santa Kisses out of the oven and putting the trays in the cooling rack, I grabbed the cinnamon, ginger, flour and cloves from the dry ingredients shelf and the oil, molasses and water I needed from the wet ingredients shelf. The gingerbread man cookie cutter was a perfect choice for my furry friends’ treats. A surefire hit.
“Brrr… it sure is cold out there.” Bunny Bowowski, my only employee, waddled through the swinging door with her brown pocket book snug in the crook of her arm. She hung it on the coatrack along with her coat. She tied the apron around her neck and around her waist, over her housedress.
“It is cold and I love it. Cold weather makes for a lot of coffee-loving customers.” I smiled and measured, mixed and blended the ingredients. “How are you this morning?”
“You know. This weather makes me all creaky.” She ran her fingers along her grey chin-length bob. “Plus this Secret Santa thing is driving me nuts.”
“It might be driving you crazy, but the beautification committee has really outdone themselves this holiday.” I wanted her to know that I appreciated all the hard work she and the other women on the committee put in to decorate the town. “I absolutely love all the boardwalk decorations.”
“I just can’t believe I let Mae Belle Donovan talk all these people into doing a Secret Santa exchange.” She huffed and moseyed over to me. “What are you rolling out there? It smells so good.”
“Gingerbread Mischiefs for our four-legged friends.” I pushed the gingerbread man cookie cutter down into the dough and placed the cut figures on the parchment paper.
She got herself a cup of the Christmas Harvest coffee and took a sip with her eyes closed.
“Good, huh?” I smiled at her reaction. The reaction from her and my other customers were far different from the last customers I’d had as a lawyer.
“You’ve outdone yourself too.” She eyed the cookies on the rack and took a couple before she headed back out the kitchen door.
While I got the cookies in the oven and set the timer for twenty-five minutes, I refilled my cup to join the two women already arguing over who knows what. Bunny and Aunt Maxi picked at each other, but that’s all it was.
“What are you two fussing at now?” I asked with a tray of Rudolph Quiche that was perfectly named from the red bell peppers cooked throughout.
My specialty was the coffee and all the fixins, but I also offered a breakfast item that was usually a quiche, a lunch offering and I was closed for supper. The food items were offered the entire week along with the simple desserts and pastries I made. During the winter season, I was closed on Sunday’s. That changed once the warmer weather hit because customers loved to gather before and after church. On Sunday I’d spend the day making the food items for the upcoming week as well as changing out the chalkboard menus, which made it easy to come in here in the morning and pull out anything I could freeze.
“I wanted to know what happened to her hair.” Bunny’s nose curled as she took the plates of quiche from me and began to place them in the glass cases.
Aunt Maxi was wiping down the few café tables that dotted the inside of the coffeehouse before she walked over and turned the open sign on the door.
“If it weren’t for that whole Secret Santa thing, my hair would be red like the seasonal color,” Aunt Maxi said over her shoulder. “Who is my Secret Santa?”
“I don’t know. We didn’t write down the pairings.” Bunny leaned her hip on the counter and held the cup up to her nose. “It’s awful funny that they gave you hair dye.”
“Why?” Aunt Maxi glared.
The bell over the door dinged. Otis Peavler shuffled through the door. The cold air whipped in behind him, causing me to look at the fireplace. I’d yet to get around to lighting it this morning.
“Do you mind grabbing some of that wood for me, Otis?” I asked my shop neighbor. “I’ll get your usual.”
Otis was the owner of Odd Ink, the tattoo parlor next door to me. I wasn’t sure how old he was but he had to be in his late seventies or early eighties. Most of the elderly women in town always fawned over him, but Juanita Lynn Anderson had laid claim to him a long time ago.
“Don’t worry about the Coffee Chips.” He referred to the signature cookies that were always in the coffeehouse. “I’ll just have a large cup of the Christmas Harvest blend with a little room for some cream.”
“Okay.” I stopped and watched him for a second as he stacked the wood into the fireplace and used one of the prelit logs to start a spark.
It was odd for him not to get a batch of the cookies along with his coffee. He was a regular and he’s never not gotten the treats.
“Can I interest you in anything else? On the house since you made my fire.” I poured him a to-go cup and slid it across the counter.
“Nah. Doc Kels said I’ve got to cut back on my sweets. I got a diabetes diagnosis.” He frowned. There was such a sadness in his eyes. “It’s going to be strange not having my usual schedule,” his voice trailed.
There seemed to be more meaning behind his sadness, but I wasn’t going to pry. I’d leave that up to Aunt Maxi.
“You and Juanita haven’t had a fuss have you?” Aunt Maxi cozied on up to Otis and put her hand on this forearm.
“Girl, you better watch yourself,” Bunny quipped. “Juanita is like one of them ninja people when it comes to her man.”
Otis’s attitude took a little lift with the attention and big smile on his face.
“Ladies, ladies.” He tsked. “I’ve only got eyes for my Juanita.”
“Then why don’t she support you and come to church?” Bunny Bowowski acted as the church police. In a small town like Honey Springs, everyone went to church. Most of the time it was more of a social gathering than anything else. “Or why don’t y’all just get hitched?”
“Why don’t you two stop being nosy?” I asked and winked at Otis. “I can dig up some really good sugar free recipes if you want.”
“Nah. I’m good. Vegetables for me.” He gave a nod and headed on out of the coffeehouse, but not without being nearly knocked over by Louise Carlton and a pet carrier.
“What was his problem?” Louise glanced out the coffeehouse windows and watched Otis hurry back to his shop.
“He must be in a hurry.” I shrugged and walked around the counter to see what sweet animal she’d brought from Pet Palace.
Louise was the owner of Pet Palace, Honey Springs’s version of an SPCA. Every week she brings a different animal to be featured at the coffeehouse to be adopted. It was a sticky situation with the health department, but we got around it and the community loved it.
Pepper ran over to sniff the carrier.
“This is Felix the cat.” She put the carrier on the floor.
I bent down and looked at the scared kitten.
“What on earth did you do to your hair?” Louise focused her attention on Aunt Maxi while Pepper and I focused on Felix.
Felix gave a little open-mouthed hiss at Pepper when Pepper stuck his nose up to the carrier, but it didn’t bother Pepper any. Pepper had stolen my heart when I went to Pet Palace so he was used to being with all sorts of animals.
“Well, Felix,” I picked up the carrier and took it back by Pepper’s doggie bed near the counter. “You’re going to find a special someone and we are so glad to have you as our guest.”
I set the carrier on the floor and opened the door. Pepper was so instinctive. He sat next to the carrier and didn’t force himself on Felix.
“That darn Secret Santa.” Aunt Maxi eyed Louise. “Are you my Secret Santa?”
“No. I certainly wouldn’t’ve given you hair dye. And you certainly didn’t have to use it.” Louise shook her head and walked over to Felix. “He’s a special fellow. He’s been living in the woods as a feral. I finally caught him and it’s taken a few weeks to get him to rehabilitate. He’s very lovable after he gets over the initial shock.”
She set a bag of kibble and some toys on the counter. It was just best to leave Felix alone and let him get used to the smells and sounds of the coffeehouse, which shouldn’t take long since he’s been in Pet Palace with all the noises there.
“I’ve got to run, but here are some flyers for the Christmas Pawrade.” She took them out of her purse.
“Just lay them on the counter next to the cash register. That way we can give one to everyone who pays.” It was going to be so much fun having a parade with all animals. Apparently, they’d been doing it for a couple of years and it’s a perfect time for the animals to get a home for Christmas.
With the smooth Christmas music playing in the background, the warm smell of cinnamon floating around along with the coffee, and the flicker of the fire in the fireplace, my soul was full. It was already going to be the best Christmas ever. I could feel it.
“Just hear those sleigh bells ringlin’, jing, jing, jinglin’ too.” Penny Bloom, my mom, sing-sang when I walked into All About The Details, the only event planning shop in Honey Springs and just a few doors down from the coffeehouse.
She waved me over and patted the chair next to her. Aunt Maxi was sitting right next to her and patted the chair on the other side. This little invitation to sit with them wasn’t a friendly gesture of sorts. It was a competition on who’d I sit by.
I waved at them and tucked my head, heading up to see Jean Hill about the tree farm order she’d put in. Not that I needed to clarify anything, but I did want to waste some time in hopes that other committee members would file in and take those seats.
I love my Aunt Maxi just as much as I love my mom. Of course Mom and I are just finding a new sort of relationship that’s not so volatile since she never supported my visits with my father to Honey Springs when I was a child. That was her fault for not coming with us. Aunt Maxi had a way of taking things too personal and their relationship took a toll. Mom and I were working at repairing the past while Aunt Maxi and her would rather sweep it under the rug and play nice.
Whatever it took was fine with me because I didn’t have time to police them.
“Roxy,” Jean smiled and gave me a hug. “I’m so happy to see you. Even though we got to talk on the phone, it’s not the same as seeing you coming to the Farmer’s Market.” She patted my arm. “It’s a shame we can’t have the market open all year long.”
“It’s good to see you too.” I returned the smile to my dear old friend.
Recently her husband, Fred, had been a victim of a terrible murder and she’d put on a brave face since then. I loved getting all my fresh ingredients from them. Everything made in the coffeehouse that I could buy locally sourced, I did. Hill’s Orchard had many wonderful fruits and vegetables.
“Are you ready for the big tree lighting?” I asked.
“Oh yes. I swear Fred must’ve sent some special kisses over the tree farm this year because we have some real beauties.” Her face lit up. “I’ve got one that would look so nice in the coffeehouse window.”
“I’ll take your word for it. You hold it back for me.” I nodded. “I’ve got your orders all ready to go. Can you think of anything else you might need?”
“No, dear.” Her hand traveled my arm to my hand where she continued to pat it. “It’s so kind of you to ask, but I think we’ve got it all squared away.”
“If everyone wouldn’t mind to take a seat, we’d like to get things started.” Loretta Bebe’s drawn-out southern words trickled through the microphone.
“Who gave her a microphone?’ Jean joked.
“Beats me.” I winked and took the seat right where I was standing. Jean took the one next to me. I didn’t bother turning around to Mom and Aunt Maxi. I could already feel the heat of their death stares.
“I’m so excited to be the new beautification committee president for this term.” Low-retta, exactly how she says her name, beamed from ear-to-ear. Even her dark fake-and-bake tan that normally was a dull skin tone sparkled. “As you know this year’s Christmas theme in Honey Springs is Christmas In The Park. I’m very excited this is going to be my very first event as president. I’ve asked Mr. Rich from Honey Springs National Bank to join us this morning for our very last meeting of the year so we can go over the yearly budget for next year.”
When Evan Rich took the microphone from Loretta, I started to zone out and thought about exactly where I was going to put the Christmas tree in the shop. The only reason I was on any of the committees was to stay informed. It was the lawyer in me, a trait I couldn’t just shake. I also couldn’t help but notice that Otis wasn’t there in his usual upfront spot. There was something off with Otis today. Maybe I’d drop him off an afternoon coffee just to check on him.
After the meeting I wanted to make sure I talked to Evan. He’d been so kind to me in the past year, helping me with laws among other things I snooped into.
“How is Emily doing?” I asked him about his daughter, an amazing young woman who’d worked for me a little bit in the summer.
In fact, I wanted her to take over all the baking and become sort of a partner. Emily’s parents really wanted to see her go to college, but it was going to be a waste of talent and time because Emily had no interest in the higher education degree they wanted her to get. It took a bit of coaxing, but they finally understood her love and began to appreciate her talent in and around the kitchen.
“She’s doing amazing. She’s loving Paris. She sends these text pictures of her designs and they look straight out of a pasty magazine.” The pride not only was in his voice but on his face. “We can never thank you enough for the opportunity you’ve given her.”
“I’m so glad my connection worked out,” I said.
I wasn’t a pastry chef by any stretch of the imagination. When I’d gone to barista school, there were a lot of students who also created the most magnificent pastries to go along with their coffee creations. Most of them had already gone to pastry school at these crazy far-off places and a few had become very good friends. Just a few short phone calls and Emily was off to Paris to enjoy the beginning of her life.
“She’s coming home for Christmas, so I’m sure you’re going to get a visitor.” He shook his finger at me. “But don’t take too much of her time. We want to see her too,” he joked because he knew that she spent many hours with me this summer and we’d get lost, never realizing we’d worked straight through the night a few times.
“I won’t.” I laughed. “Will I see you at the tree lighting?”
“You will.” He nodded. “Merry Christmas, Roxy.”
“Merry Christmas.” I waved and was happy to notice the event center had cleared, which meant Mom and Aunt Maxi had too.
The boardwalk was so festive and packed with holiday shoppers. Since I knew the Bunny had everything and everyone in Honey Springs under control, I strolled and took my time.
The Beautification Committee had also invested in a sound system for the boardwalk and the sweet Christmas sounds of Bing Crosby’s carols floated along the light snowfall.
“Excuse me.” I made my way around a middle-age man standing in the middle of the boardwalk, right in front of Odd Ink. He was looking side-to-side. “Can I help you find something?” I offered with a kind smile. “Or you can come into The Bean Hive for a warm cup of coffee?” I noticed him shivering. “On the house.”
“That’s very kind of you. I’m actually looking for a hotel or motel to stay for the festival.” He had nice green eyes and blond crew-cut hair. He wore a blue peacoat and a pair of jeans with the edges tucked into some Bean Boots. He looked to be around fifty years old.
“Why don’t you come in and get a cup of coffee. I’ve got to take some goodies to Camey Montgomery over at the Cocoon Hotel on the other side of the marina.” I pointed to the big white structure. He turned around and looked. “This is the Odd Ink Tattoo parlor and unless you’re getting some ink, I don’t think Otis Peavler has any beds in there,” I joked.
“Sounds great.” He nodded. “Walker.” He held his hand out.
“Roxanne Bloom.” I shook it. It was a nice firm shake. “But my friends call me Roxy.”
“Roxy. You look like a Roxy.” He grinned.
“You mean all Roxys have curly black hair that looks like car struts?” I laughed. I jerked my head toward The Bean Hive. “Lets go. It’s getting cold.”
The Bean Hive was buzzing and while I got the order ready for Camey, Walker stood by the fire and warmed himself with a nice cup of the Christmas Harvest. Bunny had everything under control so I went into the back and got the order in bags and ready to go.
“Where did Walker go?” I asked Bunny when I came back out and looked around.
“He’s right over there.” She gestured to Felix’s cage.
Walker had coaxed Felix out somehow and without holding him there, Felix was standing on Walker’s leg and batting at Pepper’s nose.
“So you met Felix.” I was careful not to get too close to the shy cat. “I’m shocked he’s out. He’s not been out of that cage all morning.”
“What’s the deal with the little guy?” Walker stood up and Felix ran back into the cage.
“Let’s walk and I’ll tell you all about it.” I looked at Pepper. “Want to go see Camey?”
He wagged his little stumpy tail and darted in and out of the customers beating us to the door.
Walker had a couple of the bags in his hands and I had a couple. We strolled along the boardwalk while I gave him a brief history of why Felix was in the coffeehouse as well as the background on The Bean Hive.
“Hold on a second.” I stopped when I saw Otis. “Hey, Otis. I missed you at the beautification meeting today.” He and Walker looked between each other.
Walker must’ve gotten the hint that Otis was uncomfortable talking to me in front of him, so he took a few steps ahead.
“I’m wrapping up the year-end business stuff so I couldn’t make it.” Otis leaned a bit and glanced over my shoulder at Walker. “Who’s that?”
“He’s a tourist and I’m taking him to the Cocoon to get a room while he’s in town for the festival. I’ve got some fresh coffee next door. I bet if you give Bunny a wink, she’ll give you a cup.” I nudged him before I started to walk away. “I’ll see you at the tree lighting.”
Walker practically knew everything about me and Honey Springs by the time we’d gotten to the front porch of the Cocoon Hotel. I didn’t know a thing about him. But I made him promise that he’d be at the tree lighting because it was going to be a spectacular part of the festival he couldn’t miss.
The historic white mansion that was built in 1841 had been in Camey’s family for years. Camey had hired Cane Construction to help reconstruct the old structure into an amazing hotel that was situated right on the Lake Honey Springs and was able to keep the cozy character. The two-story white brick with the double porches across both stories was something to behold. Even Walker gasped when he saw it.
“Amazing, right?” I sucked in a deep breath. My insides tickled. I was hoping to have a wedding there someday. I’d already planned it out in my head how the pictures would look.
“That’s some really fancy iron work.” He noted the black iron railing that ran along the entire front of the porches and the marble staircases on each side of the front entrance. The summer and fall flowers had quickly been replaced with the colorful poinsettias of white, red, and pink. Even the stone statue in the middle of the fountain had been replaced by a living Christmas tree which was smart because the fountain base continually gave it plenty of water.
“If it looks this beautiful in the winter, I can only imagine the summer season.” He shook his head. Even the tree trunks couldn’t escape being wrapped in white Christmas lights.
The lit up, live garland was strung across the balconies and there was a wreath on each of the floor to ceiling windows that dotted the front of the mansion. I’m not sure how Camey did it, but there were some twinkling Christmas lights along the entire top of the hotel that made it feel. . . magical.
The inside was as warm and inviting as the outside. And it was like stepping into a Southern Living Magazine from the North Pole.
“Roxy,” Camey clasped her hands together. Her scarlet hair was pulled back and her thick bangs hung straight down and stopped right above her brows. She was very fashion-forward with her hair. Something I was very jealous of. I envied her and her youthful appearance for a middle-aged woman. “Your Santa Kisses are a hit. But the coffee is to die for.”
“Santa Kisses?” Walker looked at me.
“You’ll have to have a few.” I held the bags up and Camey took them. “Camey, this is Walker. He’s looking for a place to stay while attending the festival.”
“Wonderful.” Her dimples deepened when she smiled. She’d never been married or had children. This hotel was her life. She put so much work and effort into it. Everyone loved how welcoming she was.
“Yes. Wonderful.” Walker stared back at her.
My ah-oh, there’s an attraction here meter went off. It was my cue to get going.
“Walker, do you mind helping Camey with the bags because I’ve got to get going. I need to close The Bean Hive in time to get home and get ready for the tree lighting,” I said. “I hope you’re coming.”
“He can ride with me,” Camey suggested. “There’s a few of us going from here and we’re taking the hotel shuttle.”
“Sounds good.” He held up the bags in his hands. “Lead the way.”
“You can get started right that way and I’ll be with you shortly.” She pointed and when he was out of earshot, she whispered, “My oh my, is this my Christmas gift from my Secret Santa? Are you my Secret Santa?”
I laughed. “Hardly. He just seems a little lost.”
“Oh, honey.” She wiggled her brows. “I can help him find his way.”
“You are bad, Camey Montgomery.” I simply shook my head and went on my way.
“Poor Walker,” I said to Pepper on our way back to the boardwalk. “He’s gonna have the best Christmas ever.”
Pepper yipped in delight.
“Ho, ho, ho. Santa hears you’ve been a very, very, very good little girl this year.” The jovial deep voice came from the Santa standing on the doorstep of my log cabin as he did a little jig.
“Santa,” I played along. “Did you bring me a fiancé for Christmas?”
“You have to give old Santa a kiss before I tell.” He stepped forward.
I tugged the beard down and planted a nice kiss on Patrick Cane, my fiancé.
“What on earth are you doing in a Santa outfit?” I asked and dragged him in from the cold.
“I was at Central Park making sure all the lighting and construction for the event was ready to go when Otis called Low-retta the last minute, said he wasn’t able to make it this year.” He put out his hands. “She was in tears. I blurted it out of my mouth that I’d do it.”
“You’re my hero,” I joked and pulled him in for another kiss.
“I’m a sucker for a woman in need.” He teased and bent down to pat Pepper. “Sassy is in the car waiting on you.”
Pepper yipped and jumped.
“But Santa has something for you in his bag.” Patrick dug deep in the bag and pulled out a red dog sweater with a green Christmas tree. “Sassy has one with Rudolf.”
“Oh Patrick. I do love you.” I never imagined a year ago that I’d be this happy.
Patrick Cane and I had been summer sweethearts. We were silly teenagers that spent many night at the lake and running around the boardwalk. After high school, I was all steam ahead for college. My father had suddenly died and I focused on going to law school. My focus was so intense that I didn’t marry my ex-husband for love, I married for partnership. A law partnership. I’d not been to Honey Springs in over ten years, so when my life came to a crashing halt after I found my husband consulting one of our law clients in more ways than the law, I knew Aunt Maxi was exactly the comfort I needed. I just didn’t figure Patrick Cane would be part of that comfort.
The first day I opened The Bean Hive and Patrick Cane walked in. . .my heart stopped. For the first few days I tried and tried to ignore him and actually push him away by being mean, but he wasn’t budging. There was no denying the chemistry that we’d claimed was just teenage puppy love. And frankly, I was tired of playing games with my life and ready to move forward not only with my dream of opening a coffeehouse, but with the love of my life.
“Roxy?” Patrick’s hand waved in front of my face. “Where did you just go?”
“I was just thinking how different my life is now and how happy I am.” I grabbed my coat and Patrick helped me put it on.
“You deserve to be happy and I hope I’m a big part of that,” his face softened and his big brown eyes melted my insides.
“You have everything to do with it.” I wrapped my arm in his arm. “Let’s go before we miss the lighting.”
The temperature had taken a big dip after the sunset. Patrick’s truck was nice and warm. Sassy was a black standard Poodle that had adopted Patrick when she was featured at Pet Palace. He didn’t want a dog, but she had her eyes set on him and wasn’t about to let him get away. She and Pepper were big buddies. This was going to be the best Christmas ever.
Honey Springs wasn’t that big and it didn’t take long to get from one place to another, especially when driving. It was a seven-minute drive from the cabin and soon we were parked in front of Central Park where the festivities were taking place.
Central Park was located right in the middle of downtown. Right across from the park was the courthouse and the surrounding buildings were the medical building, a few knick-knack boutiques, and a couple of different other businesses. The carriage lights that were lighting up the downtown area were dressed exactly like the ones on the boardwalk.
“This holiday couldn’t get any better.” A happy sigh escaped me.
The white twinkling lights were strung all the way around the white picket fence surrounding the park. Tall Christmas pines stood like highly decorated soldiers and were all lit up around the entire park. And with the light dusting of snow, it truly looked like a magical wonderland. The gazebo waslit up and a big neon sign read Christmas In The Park.
“Loretta probably didn’t spare no expense.”
“You have no idea how much electricity my men had to feed.” Patrick shook his head. He was the owner of Cane Construction. He was not only handsome but he was handy. “She had a list a mile long.”
“I hope you didn’t skimp out on my booth.” I narrowed my eyes and warned him.
“Nope. You’ve got the best set up here.” He winked, got out of the truck and walked around to open my door.
Sassy and Pepper didn’t require a leash since they were both so well trained and stuck by mine and Patrick’s side.
“I put your booth up near the tree lot.” Patrick had insisted on helping me with the booth and all the electrical plugs I’d need for the coffee and teas.
On a night as chilly as tonight, I figured we’d be doing a lot of business. Bunny and Aunt Maxi had volunteered to bring all the food and beverage items I needed.
“There’s the tree lot.” I pointed to the right side of the gazebo. It was a perfect spot.
The Crooked Cat Bookstore had erected a fake igloo with shelves of books, mainly ones that were geared to the season. Wild and Whimsy Antiques had made a lovely replica of a Santa’s house with a fireplace and all the items in their booth were for sale. Even the chair they had out for Santa to sit on was for sale.
“Are you going to have to stand if they sell that?” I joked on our way back to my booth and nearly fell over with joy when I saw The Bean Hive logo hanging from a rod on the outside with a little Santa hat on the bee in the logo.
In the right corner of my booth, there was a Christmas tree with white lights and the ornaments were all sorts of bee items. There was a small glass case with the coffee pots on one side and the teas on the other. In the glass case my sweet treats were displayed with the item’s name written on small chalkboards. He’d even gotten a couple small café tables and chairs to fit under the tent.
“You are so amazing.” I sucked in a deep breath. “How on earth did you pull all of this off?”
“As you can see, there are price tags on all the furniture and the tree, so if someone wants to buy them, we’re in trouble. I borrowed it all from Wild and Whimsy. They were delighted to help me out since it was you.” He put his arm around me and we stood outside looking into the booth that already had customers.
“I guess I better get in there and help Bunny before she quits on me.” I gave Patrick a kiss and sent him, Sassy and Pepper on their way until I’d meet them for the actual tree lighting ceremony.
Throughout the next few days, the Christmas In the Park would be open during the day and closed at night. There were several local vendors that had rented booths to sell their homemade items. Along with food, they sold jewelry, quilts, carvings, and many crocheted things.
What I loved most about it was that part of the proceeds went to Pet Palace.
“Are you ready to go watch them press the big button?” Bunny untied her apron. “It’s about that time.”
“I am.” I nodded and closed everything down since the customers had gotten refills and walked over to the gazebo where Loretta had gotten ahold of the microphone once again.
While she thanked everyone for being there, I walked into the tree lot to see exactly what tree Jean had for me.
“Well.” She twirled a nice and small Douglass fir. “I thought this one would look so pretty in the coffeehouse window. And it was the last tree Fred had planted.”
With no hesitation, I said, “I’ll take it.”
“I’ll leave it right here and we can settle up later. I want to see the tree lighting because it was one of ours.” Jean had done such a great job in preserving Fred’s memory.
I maneuvered my way in and out of the crowd to find Patrick up near the front next to Aunt Maxi, Bunny and Mom. The dogs were lying by his feet. Next to us were my friends from all the shops. Camey and Walker were also up front and it appeared that she was talking his ear off.
Loretta gave Patrick the nod that told him to kill the power.
When Loretta pushed up the big fake on button, he’d reconnect the electric so it would have a dramatic effect.
“On the count of three. Y’all ready?” Loretta’s voice echoed into the dark. “One, two, three. Merry Christ….”
The lights came on and Loretta fainted. I’d like to say she fainted from the sheer excitement of the beauty of the tree. But I believe it was the legs and the feet that stuck out from underneath the tree and bound by lit up Christmas lights that knocked her out cold.
“Call 9-1-1,” Mom looked over at me before she rushed over to person under the tree.
“I’ll get the lights on without the tree.” Patrick did some fast work on the electrical box.
For a second I sat there stunned. Had Patrick somehow gotten the electrical lines crossed? Was whoever under the tree messing with the tree? Why was someone under the tree?
“What about her?” Aunt Maxi’s nose curled and she pointed to poor ole Low-retta.
“Aw, leave her.” Bunny nudged Aunt Maxi. “Them Cherokee spirits she’s always yammering on about will take care of her.”
Mom looked over at me.
“Did you call 9-1-1?” she asked.
“Oh. No.” I shook my head and reached for my phone.
“It ain’t going to do no good.” Mom shook her head. “Otis Peavler is dead.”
“Otis Peavler?” I glanced around and looked at the crowd that’d gathered so tightly around the gazebo to get a gander. I half expected to see him in the crowd, but quickly realized I’d not seen him at all.
“Spencer, there’s an Otis Peavler under the tree.” The words fell out of my mouth when I called Sheriff Spencer Shepard on his cell phone. Something I probably shouldn’t’ve done, but calling him directly seemed to bypass all those unnecessary steps.
“Roxy?” he questioned.
“I mean. Otis Peavler’s legs are sticking out of the tree. And Mom said he’s dead.” I rambled on and knew I was making sense in my jumbled head, but couldn’t get the words to clearly come out.
“Roxy, calm down.” Spencer didn’t sound calm. “Where are you?”
“Where are you? Why aren’t you at the tree lighting?” It was odd that he wasn’t there or any police for that matter.
“What about the legs under the tree? Are you telling me that you’re at the tree lighting and something bad has happened to someone?”
“Otis Peavler is dead under the tree. The tree that’s supposed to be lit up but not now.” I let out a deep sigh when I realized I got Otis and dead out in one breath.
The phone clicked and went dead.
Before I could even gather what was going on around me, there were sirens and lights barreling down Main Street and some officers had already begun crowd control, pushing all back everyone toward the outer edges of Central Park.
“Come on.” Patrick put his hand on my back. “There’s nothing we can do. Let’s go over to the booth and offer some free coffee to the crowd. It doesn’t look they’re going anywhere anytime soon.”
We passed Spencer on the way over and our eyes met as he rushed off toward the other police.
“That wasn’t planned at all.” Patrick handed out the Styrofoam cups filled with coffee to people as they passed by.
Mom was being interviewed by Spencer. Bunny and Aunt Maxi sat in one of the café tables in the booth while I continued to fill up cups and take them to Patrick.
“I’d say not. You know.” I thought for a minute. “I asked Otis if he was coming to the tree lighting and he didn’t seem interested. I figured he was getting up in age and didn’t want to come.” I handed him another cup. “Do you think he was electrocuted?”
“No.” Patrick got a little defensive. “Do you think I didn’t go over the panels here and every single string of lights to make sure nothing like that would happen?”
“Patrick, it was merely a suggestion. I mean, wasn’t there a string of lights wrapped around the ankles?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I didn’t pay too much attention. Besides, Otis was older and he probably had a heart attack.” He handed a cup of coffee to someone walking by. “Complimentary tonight.”
The person looked grateful and tried to smile through the awful tragedy.
The red and white lights from the two ambulances that were called fit in nicely with the rest of Christmas in the Park, only one of them was for Loretta while the other for Otis.
“What do you think happened?” Aunt Maxi stood up. Her head bobbed and weaved as the EMTs pushed the gurney past us.
“I have no idea.” I shrugged and looked around. It appeared everyone had stuck around to see what’d happened and heard about the free coffee because I didn’t have time to look at nothing but the little nob on the coffee maker and cups.
“Do you think he got electrocuted?” Mom asked Patrick, but then grabbed Sheriff Spencer Shepard by the arm. “Did he get electrocuted?”
“Ma’am, I can’t disclose any particulars at this time. The only thing I can say is that Otis Peavler is dead.” Spencer’s words hit me and sent a chill through me more than the worst blizzard I’d ever been in.
My brows furrowed. There was something that wasn’t right. Otis Peavler might’ve been a little older, but he was in great shape, but then I remembered.
“He had been diagnosed with diabetes recently.” Even though he was dead, it did make me feel better that he was murdered.
“Don’t be going around and getting any ideas in that caffeinated head of yours,” he warned like he’d done the past two times that I happened to stick my nose into a case when they were murdered.
“You don’t have to worry. I’m not, but. . .” I started to make a suggestion.
“But nothing.” Patrick took me by the arm. “You heard Spencer. It’s doing Otis no good with all of us standing around gawking while the police try to do their job and determine what happened.”
“Patrick is right. You do seem to take special interest in dead bodies,” Mom agreed with Patrick.
“Murdered dead bodies. Let’s get that straight,” Aunt Maxi corrected her.
“I’m a lawyer. It’s in my blood.” I had to throw that out that.
“Honey, nothing but curiosity and coffee is running through your blood.” Aunt Maxi’s eyes slid over to the ambulance when they slammed the back doors.