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Frothy Foul Play

Part of the Killer Coffee Cozy Mystery Series

Welcome to the Bean Hive Coffeehouse where the coffee is as hot as the gossip!

And The Bean Hive Coffee shop was usually the magnet to where it all occurred.

Honey Springs, Kentucky is abuzz with the opening of a new holistic health spa. There are all sorts of outsiders in town to visit and participate in the opening. A reviewer from a famous magazine is there, but he has the bad habit of writing scathing reviews of everywhere he visits.

Could this be trouble for the grand opening?

Add to the mix Loretta Bebe (the town socialite) wants her granddaughter, Birdie, to work for Roxy, so what if she has a bad reputation that’s a mile long?

Things get a little frothy after the famous magazine reviewer turns up dead and the weapon is found on Birdie.

Do you think Loretta is going to let anyone but Roxy Bloom use her lawyering skills to solve the murder?
You’re darn-tootin’ she aint!

Grab your coffee and hold on to your hat, this southern mystery is full of red-herrings with all sorts of snorts that’ll having you wanting to stay for bit longer at the Bean Hive!

Frothy Foul Play

Excerpt

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Chapter One

Morning was always my favorite part of the day. Maybe it was the feeling of a fresh start. Maybe it was the amazing sunrise that lit up the sky with glorious oranges and reds that skidded across the calm water of Lake Honey Springs. Or just maybe it was the smell of the freshly brewed coffee that filtered throughout the Bean Hive, my coffee shop.

I sighed as I shifted my gaze away from the boardwalk and peered over my shoulder at the clock on the wall behind the counter.

Soon, my only employee would be walking through the door, and shortly after that, she’d be followed by our first customer of the day.

I was very appreciative of my customers, but the sound of Pepper, my schnauzer, snoring lightly, all snuggled up in his bed next to the fireplace, sparked a joy deep in my heart.

With a mug of hot coffee nestled between my hands, I turned my eyes back on the sunrise, inhaling a deep breath to get the most aromatic possible whiff of my cup of wake-me-up, and then closed my eyes. I felt the first warm rays of sun reach down the pier and across the boardwalk and kiss my face.

“Welcome, sun,” I whispered and opened my eyes, pushing my black curly hair behind my shoulders.

I set my cup down, firmly planted my elbows on the long bar that ran across the front of the entire coffee shop, and rested my chin in my hands as I reflected on what the day ahead was going to look like.

With all this Zen talk from Crissy Lane about her new Bee Happy Resort adventure, I thought she might be converting me over to the quiet life.

Drip, drip, drip.

The sound of the industrial coffee makers working was music to my ears. The smell of the freshly roasted beans I’d created in my own roastery blanketed the coffee shop, lending warm and cozy comfort to what was a cool morning.

With what few moments I had left to myself before the hustle and bustle, I closed my eyes again. I couldn’t stop myself from smiling when I thought about Crissy Lane. She told me that if I outwardly smiled, then I’d smile inwardly too. She was right. Or it was the coffee. Either way, I was willing to give her the credit.

Knock, knock, knock.

I plucked one eye open to see who on earth was tapping on the picture window in front of me.

There was no denying that the big-haired shadow standing right in the way of the morning sunrise was in fact my Aunt Maxine Bloom.

“Whatcha doing in there?” she mouthed through the glass before pointing with her free hand to the door, motioning for me to open up while using her other hand to steady her bike, which she refused to put in the bike rack on the edge of the boardwalk.

Instead, she propped it up against the front of the coffee shop and jerked her hobo bag out of the wire basket strapped to the front.

Pepper heard her and came running to the door, wagging his little tail in anticipation of the treat he knew Aunt Maxi had for him.

 

Aunt Maxi bolted into the door once I unlocked it. “I said, ‘What are you doing with your eyes closed?’ Are you tired? Are you and Patrick having problems?” She gasped, dropping her bag to the ground and throwing her hands over her mouth. “Oh my gawd! You’re pregnant!”

“No. No. And no!” That last “no” definitely ended in an exclamation point. Not that I didn’t want children, but Patrick Cane and I hadn’t been married too terribly long, and we still just wanted to enjoy our time together. “The only kids I’ve got are Pepper and Sassy.”

I picked up her bag, shooing Pepper from it, and handed it to her.

Aunt Maxi cocked her head to the side and shook it before resigning to the little silver-and-white dog begging at her feet.

“I reckon you do have these little babies.” She wagged her finger, gesturing for me to open her bag. Once I did, she reached in and pulled out a plastic baggie with the Walk in the Bark logo printed on the front and tasty homemade dog treats inside. “Where’s Sassy?” she asked, looking around for the black standard poodle that I’d gotten with the marriage.

“Patrick took her to work with him today. He’s got a few things to finish at the Bee Happy Resort before Crissy’s big weekend. Sassy loves running around the island while he works there.” The sun’s rays had finally made their way across the entire shop, giving it an inviting glow.

“New hair color?” I asked when I noticed the bright-yellow color and purple streaks in her hair.

“I like it.” She raked her hand upward through her hair. “It’s bright and cheery.”

“It is that.” I gave her a hug. I loved how she was her own person and never cared what others thought about her ever-changing hair colors. “I’m guessing Crissy’s new replacement did that?” I asked after I gave her another quick hug.

Aunt Maxi only pulled out a can of hairspray from her bag.

“Oh no. Don’t you be spraying that in here,” I told her and reached around to flip the Closed sign on the door to Open, even though it technically wasn’t opening time.

Did she ever listen to me? Nope.

“Now Roxanne Bloom, you the higher the hair, the closer to God and good Gawd almighty, I’m gettin’ up there in age so my appointment might be getting closer,” she teased about getting older.

She pressed her finger on the aerosol can’s nozzle and sprayed it at full strength all over her head, missing most of her hair.

“Pft, pft.” I spat and waved my hand in front of my face as I passed her on my way to the back of the coffeehouse.

There was no time to dillydally. I had to get the rest of the coffee shop ready to open, and that meant the opening ritual.

“Stop spraying that stuff in here. It might get on the food,” I said as I went over my mental checklist of tasks like refilling the coffee-bar condiments and the tea bar.

“It’s no different than dog hair or cat hair or whatever else Louise Carlton will be bringing in today.” She shrugged and put the can back in her bag as she weaved in and out of the tables on her way back to the counter.

“I don’t know what animal Louise is bringing in this morning, but I’m excited to give the baby a fur-ever home.” I delighted in the fact that I had a small hand in giving the homeless animals in Honey Springs a warm and loving home.

There was no doubt that I’d jumped through a lot of hoops to get the health department to even approve the collaboration I had with Pet Palace. It was what some towns called the SPCA, but since Honey Springs was a small Kentucky town, there weren’t any sort of funds for a local SPCA. That’s when Louise Carlton had opened the nonprofit no-kill shelter, where I volunteered once a week like most of us around here.

In fact, I’d had a terrible case of loneliness when I moved to Honey Springs permanently and opened the coffeehouse upon being nudged by Aunt Maxi. I’d met Louise when she came in to get a cup of coffee, and she’d told me she had the cure for my lonely nights. That cure was Pepper.

I knew I had to help other little furry animals find homes, so each week, I began featuring one of the Pet Palace animals at the coffeehouse, and we’d had a one hundred percent adoption streak.

“Did you know all the rooms at the Cocoon Hotel are booked?” Aunt Maxi made small talk while I checked on the status of the coffeepots, which were in full percolating mode. She was referring to the only hotel in Honey Springs that was right next to the boardwalk.

I nodded and got out the container of creamer to fill up the little ceramic cows on all of the café tables that dotted the inside of the coffeehouse. “That’s a good thing for Crissy. I’m excited for her.”

“I’m gonna help you so that I can sit with my niece for a good cup of coffee this morning.” Aunt Maxi looked back at the door. “Where is your employee, anyways?”

She hung her purse on the coatrack next to the counter in exchange for one of the Bean Hive aprons I required the employees to wear while they were working.

“She has gone with Floyd to visit his family out of town.” I looked to see Aunt Maxi’s reaction, but to my surprise, there didn’t seem to be one.

Aunt Maxi looked around and immediately started to work on the checklist for opening the coffee shop.

I loved that about her. Even though she didn’t work here, she always wanted what was best for me and helped me whenever she could. Plus, she had never been one of those people who was good at idly sitting around while things needed to be accomplished. She was one of those people who could just pick up a task before being told to do it. She had an eye for seeing what needed to be done and doing it.

“Thank you for helping me.” I loved her so much. She was the reason I came to stay here every summer and the reason I lived here now. “I’m sure Bunny will be here any minute.”

“Why aren’t these youngins doing all of this at closing?” Aunt Maxi huffed even though she loved when I praised her. She made her way over to the far end of the L-shaped counter, where the tea bar was located.

“Hmmm. Let me see.” Aunt Maxi reviewed the station to see what needed to be done. She moved various packets of tea and opened the base cabinets to get more single-serves and refill the loose teas containers of condiments like honey, stir sticks, and sweeteners.

“It’s hard to find good help nowadays,” I said and made sure the centerpieces on each café table were properly placed.

When I’d opened the Bean Hive, I knew it had an atmosphere that was warm and inviting. The coffee was just a bonus, along with the cozy community.

“Hi do,” Bunny Bowowski trilled when she shuffled through the door, letting the cold air rush in behind her.

“Speak of the devil,” Aunt Maxi said under her breath and brushed the edge of the apron along the top of the tea bar to clean off any spillage before she headed to the opposite side of the counter to tidy up the coffee self-serve bar.

“What on earth does that mean, Maxine Bloom?” Bunny gave Aunt Maxi a hard stare as she pulled the pins from her hair that were holding her pillbox hat in place. It was no secret they weren’t the best of friends, and Aunt Maxi was good at poking the bear.

“Roxy was saying how it was hard to get good help, and well”—Aunt Maxi shrugged—“you walked in.”

“Oh, stop it. I wasn’t talking about you.” I rushed over to help Bunny with her things. She was elderly and slow, but she was good at making customers feel welcome. Plus, she needed something to do during the days, so when she’d asked for a job, I was delighted to have her.

“We were talking about the afternoon kids completing the checklist, like restocking the coffee and tea bar.” I put the creamer container on the table and gave Aunt Maxi a little bow. “Which I’m grateful Aunt Maxi is doing for us.”

“Doing for Roxanne.” Aunt Maxi made it clear she wasn’t doing Bunny any favors.

“I don’t know what I’d do if you two ever got along,” I teased as I placed Bunny’s handbag underneath the counter and headed back through the swinging door to the kitchen, where I needed to get another container of creamer to have on hand at the counter and check on the sweet treats in the oven.

I wasn’t back there for too long by myself because Bunny, Aunt Maxi, and Pepper had followed me. Aunt Maxi planted herself on the stool that butted up to the metal workstation table where I did all the preparing for the cooking and baking.

Aunt Maxi licked her lips when she noticed the donuts I’d taken out of the fryer earlier this morning and placed on the cooling rack so I could get them iced and displayed before the first customer of the day. “I love a good donut.”

“Your favorite too.” I opened the oven door to check on the muffins and set the timers for a smidgen longer since I noticed they weren’t quite done.

The other oven had the breakfast quiches, and they were still a little jiggly in the middle, so I upped the time on those too.

“We need to keep an eye on the quiches,” I told Bunny on my way over to the walk-in refrigerator to get the container of creamer.

“Strawberry and cream?” Aunt Maxi’s eyes grew, and she licked her lips like she could taste them.

“Those aren’t for you,” Bunny told Aunt Maxi in a sharp voice. “Let me get you a coffee.” Bunny made her way over to my small coffeepot that I kept in the kitchen for us and made herself as well as Aunt Maxi a cup of coffee.

“Mm-hmm,” I ho-hummed and bent down to grab the creamer from the refrigerator. “And the donuts are for book club tonight, so none this morning.” I put the creamer next to her on the workstation table so she could doctor up her coffee.

“All of those can’t be for book club.” Aunt Maxi leaned a little to the left to look around me at the cooling rack of all the donuts. “One little tiny one?” She used her thumb and pointer finger to show me just how tiny she meant, with her eye looking through the space between them.

“Nope.” I stopped and took a treat from Pepper’s treat jar since he was so cute sitting next to Aunt Maxi, hoping she would get a donut and accidentally drop a morsel for him. “You haven’t told me why you’re out so early this morning.”

The bell above the door in the coffeehouse dinged, and we all looked at one another. I nodded over to the muffins, cookies, and bagels I’d already gotten on the display trays.

“Everyone grab a tray. We’ve got an early one.” I walked through the swinging kitchen door with the creamer in one hand and a glass pie plate holding a blueberry tarte in the other. Aunt Maxi and Bunny both followed me with their hands full.

“Good morning,” I called out to our first customer of the day, who was next to the self-serve, pay-by-good-faith coffee bar. “I’ve got the coffee coming right up. Just got finished brewing.”

I put the creamer on the counter along with the tarte, and then Bunny’s eyes met mine, and she knew what I was thinking. She began to put all the treats in the display cases, write their names on the small chalkboards on the front, and write all the specials on one of the big chalkboards on the wall while I continued to put the coffee carafes on the coffee bar.

The Bean Hive was located in the middle of the boardwalk, right across from the pier and a perfect stop for anyone who worked in downtown Honey Springs or even just for the tourists who came to visit our little town.

I was very proud of how I’d transformed the old building and kept the exposed brick walls and wooden ceiling beams in their original form.

With some elbow grease—and binge-watching DIY videos on YouTube to figure out how to make the necessary repairs for inspection to pass—The Bean Hive had become a great success over the years, and the friendships I’d built had become priceless.

“To answer your question from a few minutes ago—I dropped by to ask if you were going to book club and wanted to pick me up tonight,” Aunt Maxi said.

“Yes, I’m going, and yes, I’ll pick you up.” Not that I was planning on leaving the coffeehouse today, since the book club was at the Crooked Cat, the bookstore at the end of the boardwalk.

I was involved in a lot of committees in Honey Springs, and some days, it was just easier to stay at the coffeehouse all day instead of driving to my house, which was really only a seven-minute drive. Plus, there was always something to do here.

“Is there anything else we can get you?” I asked the customer and received a shake of his head before he dropped his dollars in the good-faith jar. “We have some delicious cream cheese–topped carrot-and-raisin muffins that pair well with our in-house New Year Blend I noticed you got.”

“No. I’m sure I’ll be coming back for some more later this week.” He sounded pretty confident, and that made me curious as to why he was in Honey Springs, since I didn’t recognize him–which told me he was a tourist.

“Are you here for pleasure or business?”

He turned around when I asked him the question and unzipped his coat as he surveyed the coffee shop.

“I guess you could say both.” He offered a smile.

“My wife begged me to come and do an article on the new health and wellness spa. Honey Happy, or…” He trailed off as he tried to recall the right name. “We just pulled into town and are about to get our room.”

“Bee Happy Resort?” Excitement filled every part of me, knowing how much work Crissy had put into her new retreat resort over the past nine or ten months.

“Yes, for the retreat, but we aren’t staying at the resort itself,” he said with a stiff voice. He rolled his hand in the air, with the stir stick between his fingers.  “Anyways, my wife likes all the holistic stuff, and I write for Healthy Women’s Magazine.” He looked around. “In fact, I just might like to do an article on this little gem.” He smiled again, and this time, his dimples deepened above the beard.

“Really?” This seemed like a nice opportunity for me and one I didn’t want to pass up. “I’d love for you to.” I hurried over to the counter and plucked a tissue from the box. “Let me get you some strawberry-and-cream donuts to take back to your wife as well as one of the carrot muffins.”

“I wouldn’t want to…” He was going to try to stop me, but I wasn’t going to let that happen.

“I insist.” I actually put two muffins in the box. “I think you’re going to fall in love with our welcoming community while your wife is enjoying her retreat at the Bee Happy Resort.”

The door of the coffeehouse opened.

Crissy Lane walked in, and with the sun up over the trees, the rays sprinkled in and cast yellow highlights on Crissy’s sun-washed blond hair, which wasn’t at all natural as she proclaimed.

“Speaking of Bee Happy Resort.” I turned his attention to Crissy as I waved her over. “This is the owner, Crissy Lane.”

“Crissy, this is—” I turned to my customer. “I’m sorry. I didn’t get your name.”

“Tom Foster.” He took the box of treats from me.

“Crissy, Tom and his wife are here for the opening of Bee Happy Resort.” This was great because that meant there were two people going to her grand opening weekend.

The reservations for the weekend retreat had been slow when she’d opened them up a couple of months ago and had started her marketing campaign to push for clients. She’d been driving all of her friends crazy about coming because she needed warm bodies to fill the camera space since she’d sent out all the media releases with free treatments for the first five reporters and social media influencers to sign up.

“It’s so nice to meet you early.” Crissy smiled, batting her long fake eyelashes at him.

Pretty much everything on her was fake, down to her ta-tas. She had a heart of gold and truly did love all things spa. Since she was already a nail technician as well as a hairdresser, opening a resort was in her wheelhouse, and she was good at it.

However, I did love her natural red hair to her box-dye job. She had the cutest red freckles along her checks that made an adorable bridge across her nose that were the same shade as her real hair color, but she tried to cover those, too, with all sorts of makeup.

“He’s with the Healthy Women’s Magazine.” I bounced on my toes at the thought of him actually doing an article on The Bean Hive.

“Then we have to sit down, and you can let me show you the ins and outs of the spa. I think your readers are going to love it.” She curled her hand into the crook of his elbow, her long nails capturing the fabric of his shirt like a cat clawing its prey. “I insist on giving your wife a free facial that she’ll never forget.” Crissy’s twangy voice dripped with Southern charm as she steered him away from the coffee bar. “Where are y’all staying?”

“The Cocoon,” I overheard him tell Crissy. I smiled since it was so good Crissy’s new endeavor was bringing in business for Camey Montgomery, the owner of The Cocoon Hotel. Tom was probably on the boardwalk this morning taking a stroll when he just so happened upon The Bean Hive for a great cup of coffee, if I did say so myself.

“What’s all the nonsense about?” Aunt Maxi asked, both of us watching as Crissy took him over to the couch next to the fireplace and helped prop his back up with a few of the pillows.

“Crissy being Crissy.” I laughed and turned back to Aunt Maxi. “I’ll pick you up around five for book club.”

“Mm-hmm. Did you tell her?” Aunt Maxi threw a glance over at Crissy.

“No.” I shook my head and knew that after her little meeting with Tom, I had to tell her I didn’t have anyone to work at the Bean Hive for the weekend, so I wasn’t going to be able to go to her grand opening. “But I will.”

“I don’t envy you.” Aunt Maxi patted me on the arm. “Anyways, I’ve got to get going.” She grabbed her hobo bag from the coat tree and pulled it across her body. She put her hand in the bag and pulled out a small thermos. “I’ve got to meet an Airbnb client in about ten minutes, so I wanted to grab a couple of donuts and a cup of coffee to take.” She unscrewed the lid and put the thermos under the coffee carafe, filling it up.

“You are brilliant.” I couldn’t stop but smile at her coming here to get my coffee to entice her new tenants. “Make sure you leave a Bean Hive business card next to the goodies. I’ll be sure to bring you a couple strawberry-and-cream ones at the book club.” I buttoned the top button of her coat for her. “Make sure you bundle up. I have no idea why you rode your bike, anyways. It’s still not spring and it’s cold.”

“I’ll be fine. I’ll see you at five p.m. sharp.” She gave me a long-level look that reminded me of how she liked to be on time and not late.

Honey Springs was such a small community that every business was pretty much independently owned, and we relied on each other to promote and support our businesses. That’s why I used the Bee Farm’s honey in all of my recipes that called for honey, kept the information for the Cocoon Hotel at the counter, and promoted adoptions for Pet Palace, among many other things.

“I’ll be there,” I assured her but didn’t commit to an exact time in fear I wouldn’t be able to close on time since I didn’t have any help this afternoon.

I walked her to the door and watched her secure the thermos and to-go box of donuts in her wire basket before she tried to pedal off, nearly running over Louise Carlton in the process.

“Bunny,” I called over my shoulder when I saw Louise Carlton say something to Aunt Maxi before Aunt Maxi left in the direction of the Cocoon Hotel. “Do you mind changing the menus? Louise is here, and it looks like she’s got a cat in the carrier.”

“I reckon I can.” Bunny tried not to show how much she really did like to draw on the chalkboard menus that I’d opted for instead of paper menus.

When I originally opened The Bean Hive, I had attached the chalkboard menus to the wall, which forced me to either take them down or stand on a stool to write on them. Patrick decided he’d had enough worrying about me falling off the stool, so he created a pully system that allowed us to move the boards up and down with a chain, making it easier for Bunny to take over that job.

“The specials are written on the piece of paper next to the register,” I told her and headed over to the door to let Louise in since her hands were full. “Don’t forget to add the cream cheese–topped carrot-and-raisin muffins.”

It was a new recipe that I had taken into great consideration when I’d made the New Year Blend at my roastery. I wanted to create a menu that married the food with the coffee choices. Since we weren’t open on Sundays, I spent most of those afternoons testing and trying out various combinations to come up with just the right pairing. I was very proud of this new muffin-and-coffee combination.

“Good morning!” Louise’s smile was as bright at the morning sun. Her eyes lit up underneath her bangs as the sun bounced off the silver bob that made her look so sophisticated. “You aren’t going to believe this little beauty.”

She held up the cage of the cutest smoosh-faced black kitten.

“Achoo!” The loudest sneeze came from Tom Foster, making me jump all the way to heaven.

“Good morning!” Bunny hollered, throwing her hands up to her chest. “You almost made me pee myself.”

“Is-is-is…” He stood up from the couch where Crissy had him pinned, his nose curled and his eyes squinted. “Is that a—achoo!” He snorted. “Cat?”

end of excerpt

Frothy Foul Play

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Feb 25, 2021

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